Old Odd Ends – a steampunk story

The quaking of the ground shook Dirk’s whole body. His stomach lurched and his legs trembled as he fought to stay upright. Chunks of rock tumbled from the ceiling of the cave, battering at his head and shoulders.

“We’ve got to smash those machines,” he said.

He snatched up an axe handle from beside one of the fanatics he had knocked out and hefted the length of wood, testing its weight and balance. Then, with wobbling steps, he approached the nearest of the two medieval machines that were shaking the cave. Its hammers and levers jerked back and forth with frantic energy, driven by an enormous paddle wheel of ancient wood.

“These are unique artefacts,” Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms said. “We can’t destroy them!”

“They’re gonna shake the whole city down,” Dirk bellowed above the clatter of machinery and falling rocks.

“Then disable them,” Blaze-Simms said. “Please!”

Dirk knew that more lives than theirs were at stake. But he’d never have gotten into events like this if he wasn’t fascinated by the wonders of the world. It would be amazing to show people these devices, hidden for centuries beneath the streets of York.

Instead of striking one of the paddle wheels, he strode out into the stream, icy water soaking him to the waist, and thrust the axe handle through the sturdy oak spokes. Bracing himself, he tried to hold the wheel back, to stop the machine while Blaze-Simms found a way to turn it off.

The machine barely registered his presence. The wheel kept turning, swinging the axe handle around. It smashed into his face. Pain lanced through his jaw as was thrown from his feet.

Dirk fell back into the icy water. Currents churned around him. The paddle wheel caught his leg and dragged him deeper, grinding him against the floor. He was caught between the machine and solid rock, paddles battering his back, breath squeezed from his body. He flailed around, desperately trying to pull himself clear, but the currents dragged him back down.

He could feel his mind fading as the oxygen ran out. In desperation, he grabbed hold of one of the moving paddles. Clinging on with all his might, he let it drag him around, scraping him against the rock and then the rest of the machine, until at last he emerged, gasping and bleeding, into the air.

Flinging himself to one side, he landed heavily on dry ground.

“I say, are you alright?” Blaze-Simms asked. He stood by what looked to be the machine’s controls, a broken lever in his hand. “I’m afraid that woodworm got to this part. Rather stopped me switching it off.”

“That’s it,” Dirk growled as he forced himself to his feet. “To Hell with posterity.”

He picked up a rock and charged at the machine, letting out all his pain and frustration in a mighty roar. He smashed at the controls with the rock. Smashed at the gears. Smashed at the axle, the paddles, the spokes. When a solid length of wood broke free, two long iron nails protruding from his end, he seized hold of that and used it to keep on smashing.

At last, the paddle wheel was reduced to a broken wreck, the gears scattered across the ground. The machine stopped turning.

Up the cave, the other device was still going, still shaking the floor and walls. Dirk raised his improvised club and charged straight at it, like he was back on the battlefields of the Civil War and it was the Confederate lines. He wasn’t just fighting for him, he was fighting for all the other people this thing threatened. For Blaze-Simms. For the inhabitants of the city above their heads. For the poor, deluded fanatics who had set this machine in motion and were now about to be crushed by its work.

He stumbled on the shaking ground and almost lost his footing on a loose rock. But he kept going, charging straight at the heart of the machine, and slammed into the housing of the paddle wheel.

Ancient wood, made brittle by time and fragile by woodworm, exploded into flying splinters. The paddle wheel rolled free, landed with a thud on the stream bed, then began to fall. A sound like screaming filled the cavern as the tortured mass of machinery toppled toward Dirk.

With the last of his energy, he dived away. His bruised shoulder hit the ground and he rolled clear just as the machine crashed down.

At last, the ground stopped shaking and the cave fell still.


Dirk sat enjoying a hearty breakfast of tea and kedgeree. It wasn’t what he usually looked for in a meal, but this was the last day of his holiday and he was feeling adventurous.

A piece of loose plaster fell from the ceiling, landing atop his pile of curried rice and fish.

“They’re finally putting on that performance of Richard the Third this afternoon,” Blaze-Simms said, looking up from his sketches of the earth-shaking machines. “Would you still like to go?”

Dirk shook his head.

“I’ve had enough of digging up medieval things,” he said. “Reckon I’ll just go for a coffee instead.”

* * *


So ends another adventure for the Epiphany Club. If you enjoyed this, you can find more stories featuring Dirk and Blaze-Simms on my steampunk page, including links to buy e-books, which will help to fund my writing and keep these stories coming. And if you’d like a free steampunk e-book, along with short stories straight to your inbox every Friday, then why not sign up for my mailing list.

Next week, something else entirely.

Grim-Visaged War – a steampunk story

Dirk woke up to a throbbing head, rough ground beneath his body, and rope binding his arms and legs. A stone fell from somewhere above, bouncing painfully off his bruised shoulder.

Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and looked around.

He was still in the same cave beneath the streets of York. The fanatics who had knocked him out had opened a set of sluice gates on the stream and now the water was running more fiercely through the centre of the cave, driving the ancient machine whose hammers were shaking the place to pieces. At the end of the stream, they had just finished moving aside a set of boards and rocks, revealing another device.

“This is insane!” Dirk called out, fingers toying with the knots that bound him. “You’re going to get us all killed!”

The leading cultist, a young woman with the ink-stained hands of an amateur scholar, turned to glare at him.

“If that is what it takes to protect good King Richard’s memory, then so be it,” she called out above the hammering of machinery.

She pulled a lever and the mill wheel on the second machine thudded into place. It started to turn, driving a complex set of machinery that made the ground shake more frantically than ever. Beams like giant battering rams pounded the cave walls, driven by the turning of that wheel.

“Richard the Third has been dead for hundreds of years!” Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms called out. He too was tied up, placed in an alcove near where the cultists stood.

“And so he cannot defend himself,” the leader replied. “Only we can protect him from these libels.”

“Those libels are Shakespeare.”

“They are an outrage.”

“You really think he’d want this?” Dirk shouted. The ropes were coming loose but he was running out of time. Even if the city above wasn’t being shaken to pieces, this cave looked like it was about to fall in on them. “Destroying the city he loved?”

“Why else would he make this?” the leader exclaimed. “We are doing his work!”

Her eyes burned with a fever that told Dirk there would be no reasoning.

At last the knots came undone. He waited until the cultists’ backs were turned, then, flinging aside the ropes, he leapt to his feet and charged across the cavern.

The sounds of machinery hid his footfalls. He had almost reached the cultists when one of them turned, saw him, and yelled in alarm.

Two of them moved to block Dirk’s way, but it was the leader who showed real smarts. She grabbed the bound Blaze-Simms and slammed him against the wall, right next to where a mechanical arm was battering away.

“Stop,” she said, “or the machine pounds your friend to paste.”

Dirk skidded to a halt, inches from the nearest cultists. His whole body shook along with the cavern walls. Somewhere above them, he could hear crashing sounds. As the gearwheels turned, rocks and dirt rained down.

“You keep going, we’ll all die anyway,” he said, trying to master his growing sense of alarm.

“But if you move, his death will be your fault,” she replied.

“I say,” Blaze-Simms said, peering over her shoulder at the machine. “What magnificent gearing. But rather primitive.”

Both Dirk and the woman frowned at him.

“This ain’t the time, Tim,” Dirk called out.

“What are you calling primitive?” the leader snapped.

“That.” As Blaze-Simms spoke, a rock fell from the ceiling in front of him. Held up by the cultists pinning him to the wall, he lashed out with his legs, kicking the rock. It went flying into the gears of the machine.

Suddenly, the machine stopped. It still trembled with power, but its gearwheels and its punishing arms would not move. At the heart of the mechanisms, Dirk could see gears straining against the stone that blocked them.

Dirk grabbed the cultists in front of him and smacked their heads together. They slumped to the ground. As the leader turned, Blaze-Simms kicked her, sending her sprawling among the machine’s many arms. Other cultists lashed out at him, but Dirk was in among them now, striking to left and right, knocking heads and sweeping away legs.

Amid the trembling hammers and rams of the machine, the leader got to her feet.

“You will never stop us!” she said. “We have endured down the centuries. We cannot be-”

With a crack, the stone in the gears shattered. Machinery sprang into life. A hammer lashed out and smashed her against the wall.

The last few cultists stared in horror at the mangled remains of their leader. These clearly weren’t seasoned veterans used to blood and horror. They were simple English obsessives, mild-mannered in everything but their fixation on a long dead king.

While they were distracted, it was easy to knock them out.

The crashing had grown louder, the falling rocks more frequent. The mill wheels on the machines spun and churned, turning the flow of water into a maelstrom of destruction.

“What now?” Dirk asked as he untied Blaze-Simms. “Gum them up with more rocks?”

A section of ceiling crashed down, almost crushing them. Dirk’s pulse raced. Of all the ways he’d come close to death, this had to be the craziest. That didn’t mean he was ready to die.

“I don’t know,” Blaze-Simms said, wide-eyed with fear. “But we need to do it fast.”

* * *


The latest Epiphany Club novella, Sieges and Silverwear, is out now:

In the face of war and betrayal, adventurer Dirk Dynamo is still looking for the clues that will take him to the lost Great Library of Alexandria. Arriving at an isolated German castle, he finds his life threatened not just by the enemies prowling its corridors but by an army laying siege outside the walls. Surrounded by traitors, monsters and falling artillery shells, can Dirk escape with his life and with the artefacts he needs, or will he be one more casualty of a nation being born in iron and blood?

The fourth story in the Epiphany Club series, Sieges and Silverware sees Dirk face the consequences of events in Paris and the betrayal he suffered there. No longer just looking for treasure, he must also find a way to mend a broken heart.

So if today’s story seems like your cup of tea, then check out Sieges and Silverware, available now through Amazon and Smashwords.

And come back next week for the climax of Dirk’s adventure beneath the streets of York.


A Thing Devised by the Enemy – a steampunk story

The ground still trembled as Dirk and Blaze-Simms headed deeper into the ground beneath York. The light of their lanterns cast shifting shadows across what was clearly an ancient tunnel, the floor worn smooth by the passing of feet, the nooks and crevices of the walls heavy with dust. Held up by blocks of mismatched stone and pillars of ageing timber, it had the air of a place built in secrecy with the scraps that could be diverted from elsewhere.

Around a bend, the tunnel opened up, leading into a natural cavern. The air was filled with the sound of clattering gears and rushing water. Through the centre of the cavern ran a fast-flowing stream, on which sat a mill-wheel ten feet across. From its wooden housing emerged a series of levers that were pounding at the nearby walls.

“What the hell?” Dirk exclaimed, taking in the bizarre sight.

Blaze-Simms was already out of the tunnel and heading for the machine, magnifying glass in hand.

“It looks late medieval,” he called out. “Oh yes, look, it’s been branded with the seal of Richard III.”

“But why would a king build some wacky machine under the city?” Dirk followed his friend more cautiously. If there was a machine, presumably there were also people running it.

“I have no idea,” Blaze-Simms said, peering into the workings. “All it seems to do is make the earth shake.”

“Well observed,” called out a voice.

A dozen people were approaching from the corners of the cavern. Dirk recognised the grey-haired archivist from the town records building and the history enthusiast he’d met at Micklegate. All of them wore pin badges of a silver crown.

“Richard III was the finest man ever to govern this city,” the archivist said. “He loved York and its people loved him. He left treasures hidden here, things to protect the city. And he left a group to guard them, in case anything happened to him.”

The men and women beamed with pride. They had the mad expression of those truly committed to a cause, an expression Dirk normally only saw on the most fervent of cultists.

“How’s this guarding anyone?” he asked, jerking a thumb toward the machine.

“His final gift,” the young historian said, her eyes wide with excitement. “In case the city ever fell into the hands of Scots or traitors. A way to bring the whole place down.”

“An artificial earthquake,” Blaze-Simms said, his voice filled with wonder. “And using such primitive technology. Truly remarkable.”

“He was a remarkable man,” the archivist said with an edge of anger. “And now they betray him, putting on the play that has slandered him for generations. But the time has come. We will stand for it no longer.”

“You fired up the machine because they’re playing Richard III?” Dirk stared at them in bewilderment. “Are you insane?”

“We will not stand for it,” the historian said, her voice ringing with passion. “Will you?”

Dirk looked across the group. Some of them bore bruises, marking them out as the attackers from the hotel. Many carried clubs or axe handles.

“You can’t destroy a city because they put on a play,” he said. “That ain’t just wrong, it’s downright absurd.”

“Then I’m afraid we can’t let you leave,” the archivist said. “Seize them!”

They surged forward, this band of misguided monarchists. Dirk set his lamp down and raised his fists just before they reached him. Punches flew and clubs swung as they swarmed over him, trying to drag him to the ground. He kicked one guy in the gut, slammed his elbow into another man’s chest, and head-butted a third.

“Dash it all!” Blaze-Simms exclaimed. He’d managed to take down two of his attackers, but another two had gotten hold of his arms and pressed him up against the casing of the machine.

Dirk leapt forward to help his friend. As he did so, something collided with the back of his head. He turned, punched, and turned again, then kicked one of the men in his way. A punch hit him in the nose and blood ran free, but he grabbed his attacker by the scruff of the neck and flung him away.

Now only the young historian stood between him and his captured friend.

She looked down at her injured comrades and then up at Dirk, blood dripping from his face.

“My God,” she exclaimed. “What were we thinking?”

“Can’t say I’ve got an answer,” Dirk said, approaching her. “But let’s get my buddy free and then we can talk this out.”

“Of course,” she said, taking a step towards him. “Only…”

Her knee shot up, hitting Dirk in the groin. As he doubled over in pain, she brought her clenched fists down on the back of his head. His face hit the floor and the world faded to black.

* * *


The latest Epiphany Club novella, Sieges and Silverware, is out today!

In the face of war and betrayal, adventurer Dirk Dynamo is still looking for the clues that will take him to the lost Great Library of Alexandria. Arriving at an isolated German castle, he finds his life threatened not just by the enemies prowling its corridors but by an army laying siege outside the walls. Surrounded by traitors, monsters and falling artillery shells, can Dirk escape with his life and with the artefacts he needs, or will he be one more casualty of a nation being born in iron and blood?

The fourth story in the Epiphany Club series, Sieges and Silverware sees Dirk face the consequences of events in Paris and the betrayal he suffered there. No longer just looking for treasure, he must also find a way to mend a broken heart.

So if today’s story seems like your cup of tea, then check out Sieges and Silverware, available now through Amazon and Smashwords.

And come back next week to see what happens next in the tunnels under York.

The Dark Side of Steampunk

“Steampunk often deals in the exciting and glamorous side of Victoriana. Is it in danger of becoming a reimagining of the Victorian era without the crimes of empire and so perpetuating a one-sided view of our past?”

A friend of mine suggested that question for a panel I chaired at FantasyCon this year. As a fan and a writer of steampunk, it’s an uncomfortable question to address. It’s a question that challenges us. It can feel like an attack on the genre and what we do with it. But I think it’s important not to shy away from that discomfort.

It’s an inescapable fact of history that the achievements of the Victorian era were built on the labour and resources of people from around the world, people who were at best pitifully under-rewarded for their work, at worst enslaved and worked to death, who never saw the benefits of the industrial era that a small elite did. Cotton picked by slaves on American plantations. Resources torn with bloody hands from across Africa and India. The exploitation of impoverished labourers across the industrial slums and enclosed farmlands of Europe. In reality, the achievements that inspire steampunk were the amazing pinnacle of an economy made possible by cruelty and exploitation.

Of course, that same era also created a great distance between the struggles of an increasingly globalised society and its end products. Few in the European and American middle and upper classes had the ability to realise how their cotton blouses, their railway journeys, their Earl Grey tea were made possible, never mind the chasm-spanning bridges and awe-inspiring airships.

So if we never portray the dark side of that era, then yes, we are in danger of perpetuating the same one-sided view that privileged elite had. Because our fantasies shape the way we view reality, in sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious ways. They can perpetuate a view that these achievements don’t have consequences.

This isn’t to argue that every steampunk story should delve deep into the dark side of Victoriana. I want fun adventure romps set in that era. I want secondary steampunk worlds that are all about the sense of wonder. But I want stories that show the dark side as well, so that as a genre we create a varied perspective that encourages discussion about the consequences of industrialisation, consequences we feel to this day.

It’s OK to want comfortable entertainment. But it’s also useful to face the discomfort sometimes. Because the world can be an uncomfortable place and fiction is a safe way of exploring that.

I’ve tried to balance those two things in writing the Epiphany Club books, to have fun and flippant adventures that also expose the bad stuff. The results are inevitably imperfect, but I’m proud of the fact that I’ve at least tried.

* * *

Sieges and Silverware, the fourth Epiphany Club novella, is out on Friday through Amazon and Smashwords.

A Tower of Strength – a steampunk story

You never knew what you might find down a sewer. Dirk Dynamo had learned that the hard way, through encounters with hidden chambers and desperate fugitives, giant rats and mad machines. Given the stink and the filth, he’d have preferred to keep them at arms length. But he had to admit, he was curious to see what would be lurking in the tunnels under York.

Besides, if Blaze-Simms was right and there was something hidden down here, the sewers would be the best way to get close to it.

“It should be around here somewhere,” Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms said, holding up his lantern. The light extended both of their shadows down the tunnels, across brickwork, waste water, and a few scurrying rats. “At least if I remember the documents correctly.”

Dirk brought his own lantern up close to the wall and started examining the brickwork, adjusting the sack of tools on his back as he did so. Without the evidence that had been stolen from Blaze-Simms’s hotel room, there was a risk that they’d just be flailing in the dark, trying to find a hidden chamber Blaze-Simms had glimpsed among those documents. But if they did find it, who knew what might be here?

“This ain’t looking good,” he said as he reached a junction in the tunnel. “No gaps between the bricks, no fresh cement, no scrapes where things have been moved. If there is a way from here into some ancient cavern or chamber, no-one’s been using it.”

“What a shame.” Blaze-Simms crouched at the edge of the sewer water, his tailcoat trailing in the ooze. He took out a magnifying glass and peered at the wall. “But I have to say, the brickwork here is rather good.”

“Not for much longer.” Dirk set down the lantern, pulled a pickaxe out of his bag, and started looking for a likely place to dig.

“I say,” Blaze-Simms said, “is that really a good idea? All we know is that there might be a chamber down here somewhere. You could end up wrecking the sewers for nothing.”

“If the town keeps shaking then plenty of other stuff gets wrecked. You got a better idea?”

“Well, no, but-”

The ground began to tremble, the movement becoming stronger with each passing second. Blaze-Simms staggered to the wall and clung to the slimy bricks to keep himself upright. Dirk planted his feet firmly apart and rode out the quake, watching the water as he did so.

“There!” he exclaimed, pointing to a spot from which the ripples ran in opposite directions. “Under there.”

As the shaking subsided, he began smashing his way through the sewer wall, heading down and away from the tunnel. Blaze-Simms pulled a spade from the bag and set to with enthusiasm.

“How did you know?” he asked

“Years working in mines,” Dirk said. “You learn to spot the signs.”

After a day of intellectual endeavour and unexpected violence, simple physical labour was immensely satisfying. Once they were through the brick wall, the dirt gave way easily and they made swift progress into the ground.

A few feet in, the trembling started again. Clods of earth bounced off Dirk’s head as the ground shook above him. Then a brick fell from the gap in the tunnel wall. It was followed by another and another, clattering down perilously close to Blaze-Simms. Then a chunk of the ground above Dirk gave way, almost knocking him down.

The trembling didn’t stop. Instead it grew more violent, shaking their half-dug tunnel, slopping sewage water down after them.

“We should go back!” Blaze-Simms exclaimed. “Before it caves in on us.”

Frustrated, Dirk swung the pick. He knew that Blaze-Simms was right, but he didn’t want to give up. His bruised shoulder ached, his brow stung where a falling rock had hit it, and he was damned if he was going to give up and start this all over again.

Except that he didn’t really know where they were going, what they would find, if this was really the right direction, if they even-

A tremor, more violent than the rest, shook the tunnel. The ground collapsed in front of him, a dark chasm suddenly opening up.

“There!” he said, pointing into the blackness. “I’ve found what we’re after!”

“But what’s down there?” Blaze-Simms asked, peering past Dirk.

“I don’t know, Dirk said. He ducked out into the sewer, grabbed a lantern, and headed back for the hole. “Let’s you and me find out.”

Naked Villainy – a flash story

Dead Men and Dynamite - coverThe stairs creaked beneath Dirk’s weight as he and Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms made their up to their hotel rooms.

“Make sure to get some sleep,” Dirk said, eyeing up the heap of old papers in Blaze-Simms’s arms. They’d borrowed a lot of material from the York archives, authorised by the mayor to help them investigate why the city kept shaking. Given Blaze-Simms’s delight in late night study, there was a risk that he would be in no condition for real investigation the next day.

“I’ll be find, old chap,” Blaze-Simms said, opening the door to his room. “See you for breakfast!”

Dirk opened the next door and went into his own room. A bowl was steaming on the washstand. Given the luxury of ready hot water, he would always wash at the end of the day, and he stripped off his shirt, looking forward to feeling clean.

As he passed the mirror he paused, caught by the sight of the scars that decorated his muscles, remembering the moments in which they were carved. His reverie was interrupted by a yelp from next door.

Dirk rolled his eyes. Blaze-Simms had probably stumbled across some unusual piece of Latin and was busily translating instead of resting.

A thud followed the yelp. That was less characteristic.

“Tim?” Dirk called out. “You alright?”

For reply, he heard a muffled grunt.

Dirk dashed into the corridor and grabbed the handle of Blaze-Simms’s door. He rattled it futilely. The place was locked.

He didn’t hesitate, despite the vast bruise already decorating his shoulder. He took a step back and then flung himself at the door, as the sounds of a scuffle grew. The door was well built, but not as solid as the ancient oak he’d faced in the city archives. On the third attempt, there was a splintering crash. As the door flew open, he staggered in behind it, finding his footing as he looked around.

Four men, all wearing pillowcases with eyes cut out to hide their faces, were in the room with Blaze-Simms. Two of them had the skinny inventor pinned to the wall, the third had a hand over his mouth and was punching him with the other hand. The fourth man was by the bed, stuffing papers into a pillowcase. All had pins topped with silver crowns through the lapels of their jackets.

In a fraction of a second, Dirk saw an all too familiar choice. Look after someone in danger or protect the evidence to a mystery.

It wasn’t much of a choice.

He grabbed the man punching Blaze-Simms and flung him across the room. One of the others let go and turned to face Dirk, fists raised like a pugilist, while Blaze-Simms tried to wriggle free of his remaining opponent.

Dirk let the guy have the first shot. He wasn’t slow but he clearly wasn’t a pro either and Dirk stepped aside in time for the fist to sail past his face. He grabbed the man’s extended arm, twisted, and took a step to the right. The man howled in pain as Dirk twisted the arm behind his back, then swept his feet out from under him, driving him to the floor. A swift kick left the guy too preoccupied with pain to get back up for a while.

Blaze-Simms was wrestling with one of the intruders, each of them failing to get a solid grip on the other.

As Dirk stepped up to intervene, he caught a movement in the corner of his eye. He turned his head just in time for a bedpan to him square in the face. There was a crashing of shattering porcelain and a crunch that he felt as much as heard, his nose breaking for the third time in his life.

Pain shot through Dirk and his vision blurred but he’d been through worse before. He could make out the shape of the guy in front of him and so he lunged, arms outstretched, catching the intruder with strong hands. He lifted him from his feet and, with a strength reinforced by fury, flung him at the window.

There was a sharp crash, a thud, and a howl of pain from the street below.

As Dirk’s vision returned, he saw the last intruder break free of a winded Blaze-Simms, grab the pillowcase of papers, and dash out of the door. Dirk made to follow him, but his spinning head betrayed him. He stumbled into the door frame and by the time he was back on his feet the man was gone.

He walked back into the room, wiping blood from beneath his nose. He’d be breathing through his mouth for a while, and his face would ache for a week, but he’d been through worse.

“You OK?” he asked Blaze-Simms.

“Better than you look,” his friend replied. “But I’m afraid they got away with our research.”

“Could have been worse,” Dirk said, suppressing his frustration. Sometime in the chaos, the other intruders had gotten away. There was no-one left to question.

A nervous voice from the corridor told him that the hotel owner had come to see what was happening.

“Better get your chequebook out,” he said. “We’re going to be paying for damages.”

“And our investigation?” Blaze-Simms said sadly, looking at where the papers had been.

“We’ll see what we can do.”

So Wise So Young – a flash story

The York city archives were full of the smells of must and dust. With their stone walls, old shelves, and narrow windows, they were like something from the ancient past. A gas lamp provided a modern touch, allowing Dirk Dynamo to read the papers spread out across the table.

“What have we got so far?” he asked.

“Not much,” Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms said, pausing to clean his glasses on a silk handkerchief. “I assumed that, if the ground was shaking, then there would be some sort of geological cause. But I’ve looked over nearly every survey of the area and I can’t find anything to explain it.”

Shuffling footsteps announced the arrival of the grey-haired archivist who had been assigned to help them. He placed a handful of thin folders on the table.

“These are the last of them,” he said, his voice a hoarse rasp. “Is there anything else you would like?”

“Not for now,” Blaze-Simms said. “Thank you.”

The man turned to leave, light glinting for a moment on a silver tie pin in the shape of a crown.

Blaze-Simms flicked through the contents of the folders. Dirk was endlessly amazed not just at his friend’s ability to read so fast but at his ability to take it all in, to find the connections between different information and ideas.

Blaze-Simms frowned.

“Still nothing,” he said, flinging himself down in a chair.

Dirk stared at the maps, diagrams, and reports scattered across the table. As he did so, the ground shook again and a row of books cascaded from the shelves. Outside, falling tiles hit the pavement.

“Where can we look next?” Dirk asked as the disturbance passed.

Blaze-Simms shrugged. “Not a clue, old chap.”

Dirk looked through the documents, but he knew that it was futile – if Blaze-Simms hadn’t found something then he certainly wouldn’t. But being cooped up in this small room for hours wasn’t doing much for his sanity.

Setting the papers aside, he headed off down the corridor. On instinct, he moved with the same silent ease that had let him, despite his bulk, stalk fugitives across the western plains and criminals through the streets of Chicago.

Up ahead, the archivist crossed a junction between stacks of shelves. He was carrying a folder like the ones he had given to Blaze-Simms.

Hadn’t he said there were no more of them? Something was amiss.

Dirk followed the archivist through the stacks, down a staircase, and into a cold corridor junction with no windows. Corridors went off in three directions and he had no idea which way the archivist had gone.

He took a deep breath, suppressing annoyance at himself for letting the guy get away, and considered his options. Two of the corridors were well lit. In the third, someone had turned down the gas lamp, as if they wanted to draw attention away from what lay there.

Down that corridor, Dirk found an old oak door standing ajar. He eased it open and stepped inside.

This was clearly one of the oldest parts of the archive. The walls were lined with rolled up manuscripts and ancient looking books, some preserved in glass cases. On a desk in the middle of the room sat a familiar looking folder.

Dirk opened the folder. Inside was a sheet of paper with the same heading as the geological reports, but just a few short lines of content:

“Regarding the anomalous findings around Micklegate, refer to-”

Beneath that was a reference number similar to those marking the shelves in the room.

As Dirk looked around for the reference number, the door closed behind him. There was a click and a thud of a heavy bolt settling in a lock.

Dirk grabbed the door handle and turned, but it wouldn’t budge.

“Hey!” He hammered at the door. “Hey, let me out!”

No-one answered. Dirk considered how few people he’d seen around this place. No-one would be passing casually by.

Dirk evaluated the door. It was made of heavy, ancient oak, bound in iron. It was sturdy, clearly designed to keep thieves out of this room.

But then Dirk was sturdy too.

He lined up his shoulder and got ready to charge.


Blaze-Simms looked up as Dirk came into the room.

“I say, there you are!” Blaze-Simms said.

“Here I am.” Dirk almost groaned the words. It had taken him an hour to break open the door. Both of his shoulders had been reduced to vast, aching bruises. He hoped it had been worth it. “Got you this.”

He placed the folder on the table in front of Blaze-Simms, and beside it the document referred to inside. Based on the apparent age of manuscript and the wax seal, he guessed it was medieval, but he couldn’t read the strangely written Latin.

Blaze-Simms glanced over the document.

“A construction commission by Richard the Third,” he said with a shrug. “He did a lot of work in York. But that doesn’t help with the town falling down now.”

“What did he want constructed?” Dirk asked wearily. It was hard to accept that, after all this effort, all he had was a red herring.

“Something under Micklegate,” Blaze-Simms said, turning back to his heaps of reports. Then suddenly, as realisation dawned, he looked up. “Under. You think this is causing the problems?”

“I hope so,” Dirk said. “Because if not, I just busted up some ancient architecture for nothing.”

“Well done, old chap!” Blaze-Simms sprang from his seat and slapped Dirk on the shoulder.

Dirk winced.


Glorious Summer – a flash story

Dirk Dynamo liked English summers. They were milder than the ones back home, making for a more relaxing time. And there was so much history to see in this country. Their guest house in York was older than the state he’d grown up in. The city was full of grand old buildings. Proud as he was to live in the age of the steam train and the telegraph, he still loved to see such sights.

“What ho, Dirk!” Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms, Dirk’s long-standing friend and companion in adventure, settled into a seat across the breakfast table. “How’s the tea?”

“Good, I guess.” Dirk had decided that, if he was going to make the most of his English holiday, he should drink tea instead of coffee. But so far he was finding it a bit watery for his tastes. “What you got there?”

Blaze-Simms waved a sheet of expensive writing paper.

“Letter from the mayor! He heard that there were members of the Epiphany Club in town and he has a mystery he wants us to solve.”

“No thanks.” Dirk shook his head. This was the downside of joining a club for scholarly adventurers – people expected you to be ready for action all the time. “I just want to relax, drink some tea, catch a play. They’re doing Richard III at the playhouse and you can’t go wrong with Shakespeare.”

“Did you know that he had strong ties to York?” Blaze-Simms asked, setting aside the letter and buttering some toast. “Popular man around these parts.”

“Hope they don’t mind seeing him as a villain.” Dirk peered at his tea. Was this really how it was meant to taste?

A round man in a pinstripe suit approached their table.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said. “Would you be Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms and Mister Dirk Dynamo?”

“That’s us,” Dirk admitted reluctantly. He had a feeling he knew where this was going. “How can we help?”

“I’m Mayor Arkwright,” the man said. “I wrote to you about the shaking in the centre of town. Some of the older buildings are threatening to collapse and we have no idea what’s behind it. People are terribly put out. We were hoping you could-”

“I’m here on holiday, Mister Mayor,” Dirk said. “Reckon you can find someone else to deal with this.”

“Our local scholars haven’t had any luck,” the Mayor said. “Couldn’t you just-”

“No!” Dirk blushed. He hadn’t meant to be so loud, and now the other diners were staring. He lowered his voice. “I just want a holiday.”

Across the table, Blaze-Simms was scribbling in his ever-present notebook.

“You want to do this, don’t you?” Dirk asked.


“Then you do it by yourself. I’m off out to see the sights.”

Dirk set aside his teacup, got to his feet, and headed out.


For some reason, York’s medieval gates were called bars. Dirk would have to ask Blaze-Simms why later. For now, he was content to stare up at Micklegate Bar, with its crenellated towers and ancient stones.

“Magnificent, isn’t it?” said a woman standing next to Dirk. She had a pencil in her hand and a bundle of sketching paper protruding from a canvas bag. A broach in the shape of a silver crown sparkled in the sunlight.

“Yes, ma’am,” Dirk said. “And amazing it’s still standing.”

“Did you know that they used to display the heads of traitors there?” she asked. “Left them out to rot.”

“Makes me glad we live in civilised times,” Dirk said, turning to her with a smile. “Though it’s good to hear about what came before. Are you a historian?”

“I dabble,” the woman said, smiling at him. “Mostly in the medieval side of-”

The ground shook, almost throwing them from their feet. The woman grabbed Dirk’s arm for support. An ominous grinding sound came from overhead.

On instinct, Dirk jerked away from the ancient gate, pulling the woman with him.

With an almighty thud, a block of stone hit the street where they’d stood a moment before.

At last, the shaking stopped.

“Are you alright?” Dirk asked.

“Yes, thank you,” the woman said. She looked up at the gate, a crenellation now missing from the battlements, and then down at the pencil in her trembling hand. “I think I need a cup of tea.”

“Want some company?” Dirk asked.

“No, no,” she said hastily. “I have some things to, um, to work on.”

Dirk almost laughed out loud. That distracted expression was one he was used to seeing on Blaze-Simms.

“Alright then,” he said. “You take care. I’m off to get theatre tickets.”

As he arrived at the playhouse, a man was pinning notices over the posters for Richard III. “Postponed For Your Safety”, the signs said.

“What’s the problem?” Dirk asked, frowning.

“Earthquakes,” the man said. “Plaster’s coming off the roof. Can’t risk it falling on the audience.”

“How long until the play’s on?”

“How long do earthquakes last?” the man asked with a shrug.

Dirk let out a frustrated sigh. He’d seen a similar sign outside the town museum. So much for his holiday plans.

All he had left was drinking more damn tea.


Blaze-Simms and the Mayor were still at the breakfast table. It was scattered with maps and diagrams, piles of stale toast and cups of cold tea.

Dirk flung himself back into his seat.

“Alright,” he said. “Your damn earthquakes are ruining my holiday anyway. I might as well investigate them.”

“Huzzah!” Blaze-Simms exclaimed.

“But if my holiday’s cancelled…” Dirk waved a waitress over. “I’ll have a coffee please, ma’am.”

* * *


What’s this, an Epiphany Club story? It’s almost as if I wanted to remind you that the latest Epiphany Club novella, Sieges and Silverwear, is about to come out…

In the face of war and betrayal, adventurer Dirk Dynamo is still looking for the clues that will take him to the lost Great Library of Alexandria. Arriving at an isolated German castle, he finds his life threatened not just by the enemies prowling its corridors but by an army laying siege outside the walls. Surrounded by traitors, monsters and falling artillery shells, can Dirk escape with his life and with the artefacts he needs, or will he be one more casualty of a nation being born in iron and blood?

The fourth story in the Epiphany Club series, Sieges and Silverware sees Dirk face the consequences of events in Paris and the betrayal he suffered there. No longer just looking for treasure, he must also find a way to mend a broken heart.

So if today’s story seems like your cup of tea, then you might also like Sieges and Silverware, out on the 27th of October. You can pre-order it now through Amazon and Smashwords.

And come back next week to see where Dirk’s investigation in York takes him.

Now Available for Pre-order – Sieges and Silverware

Huzzah and hoorah! I’ve finally finished writing Sieges and Silverware, the fourth in my Epiphany Club series of novellas.

In the face of war and betrayal, adventurer Dirk Dynamo is still looking for the clues that will take him to the lost Great Library of Alexandria. Arriving at an isolated German castle, he finds his life threatened not just by the enemies prowling its corridors but by an army laying siege outside the walls. Surrounded by traitors, monsters and falling artillery shells, can Dirk escape with his life and with the artefacts he needs, or will he be one more casualty of a nation being born in iron and blood?

The fourth story in the Epiphany Club series, Sieges and Silverware sees Dirk face the consequences of events in Paris and the betrayal he suffered there. No longer just looking for treasure, he must also find a way to mend a broken heart.


I know that this one has been a long time coming and I’m sorry to those of you who’ve been waiting. But now that other parts of life are under control, the final book in the series, Dead Men and Dynamite,  will also be here soon.

Sieges and Silverware is out on the 27th of October. You can pre-order it now through Amazon and Smashwords.

Editing With Lego

It’s editing time, and I’m back to building characters out of Lego to keep me motivated. It might not be the most productive tool for writing, but if it keeps my head in the story then it’s something, right?

So here we have the adventurers of the Epiphany Club fighting invading soldiers in a German castle. If only Sir Timothy was paying attention!