All posts by Set Sytes

Author of all things dark and weird. "I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited." - Sylvia Plath. "When you've fallen on the highway and you're lying in the rain, and they ask you how you're doing, of course you'll say you can't complain. If you're squeezed for information, that's when you've got to play it dumb: You just say you're out there waiting for the miracle, for the miracle to come." - Leonard Cohen

Quetzacthulhu (Part One)

QUETZACTHULHU

By Set Sytes

 

 

There are stories, but stories are always forgotten.

It would have been better if we had only laughed at them. I am sure we once did, for ridicule is what lies in-between remembering and forgetting. We bury the horror, pushing it under centuries of soil. And, eventually, it was nothing to us.

The priests must have known. Before me, they were the only ones who had been down here in these violent depths, where the slaughter seeps through from above and paints the walls forever red. The walls littered with engravings that told us of what was to come.

They must have known, but they never told. What was it to them? A children’s tale? Or some mythic secret, the secret to end all secrets, that only they must be privy to? Either way, they hold responsibility for what happened to us, to our empire. Those countless deaths are because of their folly and pride.

No matter. They are all dead now.

I crouch here, with only you as company. You who I took captive, you who I whip and beat in the darkness.

I will tell you the tale now. I will tell it all as best I can, and hope at least some of it gets through to you. It matters more than anything that it does.

Listen, greedy wretch! Or I will show you true brutality. You may have the beetle when I am done. Listen with every part of you, carve it into your very soul, for generations hence depend on it.

I will begin.

 

*

 

I wish I could tell you that it began with dark omens and portends.

The priests, they were gathering frequently, taking themselves off into the depths of the temples with their muttering – but this was not anything unusual. Our sacrifices seemed to be particularly numerous, the blood on the altar given no time to dry, but this too was not a rare thing. We had recently defeated a band of Tlaxcalans, and the torn flesh of our captives was providing a merry feast for the gods.

Even if there had been an omen, I know that we could not have interpreted it. How could one interpret the coming of such a thing? And even if we had interpreted it, still it could not have helped us prepare ourselves. But it would have been something.

I wish I could tell you that it all started with a great pyramid of flame, or a burning temple, or strokes of lightning from the gods. Boiling lakes, shooting stars, ghostly wails, strange visions and monstrous deformities – these are all dire things that could have warned of the apocalyptic end to our people.

But I can only tell you that it started with nothing. Nothing but the shake and shiver of the earth.

 

I was out with a hunting party the day it came. We were talking, laughing, clutching spears in our hands – and then everything became preternaturally quiet around us. We stopped speaking, and looked around us, expecting ambush. The ground then began to tremble.

I had not experienced such a thing before, but I had heard stories. We staggered back but it seemed like there was nowhere to run to. The trembling became a rumble, and at once all around us the silence burst as great flocks of birds rose screeching into the sky.

Cracks appeared around our feet, thickening and lengthening faster than we could move. The earth was opening up. A warrior slipped, and before we could get to him he was swallowed by soil. One moment there, wailing, the next moment gone – spasming fingertips were the last we saw of him.

We continued to run as breaches of earth raced in our wake. Eventually we seemed to reach a point when the cracks were thinner, the ground sustaining us without collapse, and we paused and looked back, just at the moment it rose.

I thought it a mountain at first, a mossy mountain thrusting upwards with a sickening roar from the bowels of the earth. That was the last moment I considered it to have some strange but natural origin.

For as I stared, the fungal hide of the thing began to seem fleshy and pustulous, and it swelled outwards as it continued its ascent. A dreadful bile rose within me.

The vomit died in my throat, not out of relief but pure shock, as the foul skin opened up, and a blazing yellow sun near blinded me. I reflexively shaded my face with my hands, and as my pupils shrank I saw through my fingers that in the centre of this giant sun was a hole, a black hole. It was then that I realised with palpitating horror what it was.

It was an eye.

And that was when the second opened up, beyond cyclopean in its enormity, and as it rose upwards far above me, tentacles like huge snakes writhed and ululated from underneath, each as big as a house.

A giant maw opened, a dripping cavern of night to engulf the world. I would say if I could go the rest of my life without seeing such a sight again I could be happy, but it is not true, for that image and many others are burned within my brain forever.

I do not know how I found my feet. I remember little about that first confrontation. I only remember vague images of my brothers falling to their knees, gibbering in hysterical lunacy and tearing at their eyes. And yet, somehow, I must have made it back to Tenochtitlan.

They tell me I was gabbling in a monstrous language not known to man, not even to the priests. I do not remember this, but I believe them, for I have since heard others speaking in this nameless tongue. It is hideous to listen to, and to watch the speaker’s mouth try to contort around such abhorrence; it spreads madness and despair like it was a contagion.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh . . . That is all I can remember, and much as I try I cannot pronounce it right – perhaps that is a small mercy. I see you shudder at it – good. Now imagine hearing such words and more in their true fell tongue, chanted maniacally at you by family and friends, their eyes rolling back in their heads, their twisting mouths drooling spit to the floor. Then you might have a fraction of the nightmares I will suffer till the day I am released from this world.

 

Quetzacthulhu

The UK General Election 2017: Voting for Corbyn

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On the 8th of June I’ll be voting Labour. I’ve never voted Labour in my life nor really considered it. While this may be a bit of an echo chamber I wanted to say why I will be this time, despite the fact that I do not have full confidence in a Labour victory, and wonder if they will in fact sadly suffer a large defeat.

I am not voting them simply ‘to win’, and then consider my vote wasted if/when they don’t. I am voting for them because I believe the more support shown for a left alternative the better.

When I was in school I was somewhat vaguely a nationalist, fiercely individualist and proud of our country. Iraq War aside, I was running more or less entirely off my own steam. John Major was in power and then Tony Blair, and politics to me then was simply choosing between two sides both of whom may have been the same lots of people. I found UK politics tremendously dull and stagnant, and it’s no wonder my grasp of things was all over the place or entirely missing, with nobody in charge to instil in me a sense of fairness and empathy for others on a political scale. Instead I turned for a while to anarcho-capitalism and it’s values of inherent self-interest.

My politics have drifted and fluctuated and changed a lot over the years, turning from right to left and lefter still (with brief stray moments far away from the trend), but I know that Corbyn’s attitude and policies are far more in line with my own current and developing principles and sense of fairness and justice than any other politician I have come across.

I am voting for Corbyn because he is the underdog, unfairly hounded by the media who for some reason have virtually given a free pass to the toxic, self-serving, sneering harridan May. I simply do not understand how people can support her in any way. Whether this election runs on politics or personalities, in both senses I find May horrible. I’m not sure I could stand to see her smug victory face.

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I am voting for Labour because the Tories act like they can get away with absolutely anything, say anything, or not say anything at all, and still win by a landslide. The media narrative pushes this as well, and it’d be naive to believe a great amount of people don’t believe this. May could rip a fox apart on live TV and the people would chant strong and stable. Or ‘better of two evils’. I am aghast that this is the case, that after everything people will still vote Tory, and I am determined to stand up against these prevailing winds, even if my voice is lost.

I am voting for Labour because whether this election is or isn’t about Brexit, I consider the Tories to be the worst by far in both regards, and Labour the best chance at standing up to them and diminishing their overall strength. I have zero faith in May and the Tories handling either the country or the Brexit negotiations with anything less than arrogant Trump bluster, incompetence and savage self-interest, and letting the common people bear the harsh brunt of the decisions.

I am voting for Corbyn because I stand up firmly against the ideas that having a beard, not wearing a tie, protesting, not standing up to the national anthem, having peace talks with those we are fighting, and wishing for nuclear disarmament are contrary to being a good leader, or even simply bad qualities to have as a person. I stand up entirely against the nationalistic, jingoistic and xenophobic view of what a leader should be in this day and age – frankly, I stand up against my past self.

To reiterate, Labour may well lose, and it may be by a lot. If I believe in the values I do, if I am opposed to the things I am, then I must do my small part in making them lose by as little as possible. I must do my small part in demonstrating that there will remain support for a true left in the UK. I must lend my voice to the argument that we cannot go on with two almost mirror image parties, go on with the status quo, or with no real lasting change.

I am voting for Labour because I must do my bit, even against all odds, against the prospect of the left dividing and disintegrating for a long time. If I can do anything to stop or slow this happening, even something miniscule or seemingly negligible, then I should.

I am voting for Labour because I see this more and more as a battleground, one where I see clearly which side I should be on. I do not see it as a party divide – I have never been one for party politics – but as something more fundamental, based on attitudes. I understand the right wing. The right believe their money is theirs alone, they worked for it, it’s theirs. That makes sense. They believe in family and work and country, and often faith. The left believe that we should all do what we can to help those less fortunate and make the world a more equal place than it was before. The right believes in conservatism – looking to the past, for traditional values – and the left believes in progressivism – looking at the past but heading to the future and trying to improve our lot, even if that upsets the apple cart. I am not interested in stability and security. I am interested in change.

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I am voting to stand my ground against those who would use ‘do-gooder’ as an insult. Against those who believe nationalist values, security and stability and military strength and isolationism and homogeneity are the most important things for a country rather than addressing the plight of the disadvantaged and vulnerable. That it is better to wave a flag and bow to the Queen than help the homeless off our streets, or to fund the NHS, or to stamp out fox hunting, or educate people.

I am of the opinion altruism, unity and looking forward are essential to the world and its necessary progression and enlightenment, and that looking backwards is only a good thing when it comes to learning from our history and our mistakes. I do not want to stagnate and I do not want to regress. The world has so much further to go and this snail crawl there is not good enough. As a technocrat I believe the left is the way most likely to lead to a New Enlightenment. Invention and scientific breakthroughs owe little to traditionalism.

I am voting for socialist values – despite once seeing socialism as a dirty word, like many still do – because I now believe self-interest is wrong, that it is wrong to not look beyond your own doorstep. Everybody is different, some of us more empathetic than others (and it takes all sorts… almost all sorts…), but while I am no bleeding heart (and often a misanthrope) I decide to lay my hat with those who consider helping others a positive thing.

I argued with a friend during Labour’s leadership election over Corbyn. He believed, as many core Labour voters do, that voting Corbyn in would spell the end of the Labour party. He argued that the most important thing was getting the Tories out of power, and that I was in a privileged position to talk about principles when people were starving and dying out there. He was right, I am in a relatively privileged position. But you can’t simply call for empathy and alleviation for those suffering most right now and decide that that clearly far outweighs support for those countless millions of the future, all those later generations living under the yoke and suffering from the fact nobody ever took a stand against the system because of self-defeating prophecies.

I do not vote on party lines, I am not, except in the present terms, a ‘Labour voter’. I believe that as long as those proposing real change are crushed or ignored or voted against, we will always flip flop back and forth, that people will continuously suffer as they have been doing throughout our political history. It should NOT simply be about who gets into power at one moment to the next. Labour, Tories, Labour, Tories. It’s about exacting change that will last, and not condemning future generations for more of the same, more blame game, more ‘look what your lot did, let’s try our lot now even though we did the same too but worse’. I find looking back at our incredibly long and gruelling two-sides-of-the-same-coin political history frankly shameful, especially that we call ourselves a democracy.

It is not simply the case that people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake now. It is the case that they have always been at stake, and that they always will, unless we show our support for what we think is right and fair in the grand scheme of things. Regardless if it will win or not.

No apathy. Accept cynicism and pessimism and move on, do it anyway. Tell people what you want. You must, or you are not just robbing yourself of a voice, you are letting down those most vulnerable in our society – those now and those that will exist in the future – who need your vote.

I was once young and confused and drawn towards an obsession with the Union Jack and our imperialist history. I was “British and proud”. Now I can quite honestly say I am not proud to be British, and see little to no reason to be.

But I would like to be.

 

Change

 

Awesome Batman Art #2

More great pictures of Batman, his family and his rogues!

 

Nathan Szerdy

Cards by Nathan Szerdy

kidnotorious

arkham_riot_by_kidnotorious

Tom Kelly

bat_storm___by_artist_tom_kelly_by_tomkellyart-d4szs8x

jaytablante

by jaytablante

Brandon Holt

Brandon Holt

Dan Hipp

by Dan Hipp

Godmachine

by Godmachine

Alex Rodway

by alexrodway

Dave Seguin

Dave Seguin

chasingartwork

hit_me__by_chasingartwork-d7urta4

Weary Road

WEARY ROAD

By Set Sytes

 

 

We used to call it Weary Road. We never knew its real name. I went back there, I couldn’t tell you just why, and here I am now, driving down its grey lane, and it seems so very long.

We used to go there whenever there seemed too much chaos for one world to hold. We used to go and sleep together – just sleep. Side by side under the trees on the side of the road. I never liked waking up and leaving that place, and neither did you. We liked leaving the road even less than we liked leaving each other.

The engine is purring, a soft rumble lulling my mind. Music is playing on the stereo, but it seems so quiet, drowned out by a thickness in the air. The soft melody playing in my head is louder.

Trees pass on either side. Their leaves so red in the dropping sun.

It is warm in the car. I look in the mirror and see my own eyes looking back at me. They seem so sad and endless. I force my eyes back down to the road.

I wish you are here with me. We used to fight monsters together, but the monsters outgrew us. They grew and grew and we never did.

You said you’d meet me here, back on Weary Road. I keep thinking I’ll see you standing there, waiting. Some vain hope, for you never appear. You’re something lost, something gone.

I haven’t passed a single car. It’s just the road, and now the light is all gone except that of my headlights, lying soft and white on the tarmac. The trees are all dark but as I approach they turn briefly pale and spectral like tall ghosts.

I’m so tired. My eyes are blinking slower and slower. I feel like I’m wading through the world. The clarity of everything is turned down, like the dial on the stereo. Fading away, replaced by a heavy blanket.

I don’t know how long I’ve been driving. Hours, maybe days now. The road goes on a lot longer than I ever remember. But I think I’ll stay. Sometimes I think I like being tired.

When I close my eyes there’s a slow yawning rush of blood to my head, like water filling a tank. Whenever I open my eyes the world seems different, but I can’t tell you how. Only that it’s winding down.

My speed might have slowed to a crawl. I don’t know. I’m not looking at anything but what’s straight in front of me. That black line prefaced with white, dragged out to the horizon and beyond.

Maybe I never reached the end before. It’s hard to see too far ahead, with the dark cluster of forest and these long, languid bends.

I know you found it hard. I think you wanted to come back here, but maybe you stopped believing it could do anything for you. I think all you really wanted to do was sleep. That’s all I want, anyway.

The car drives on. I am just its passenger. My hands on the wheel are only a pretence; I’m not moving it.

In the back of the car are my father’s gun and a rope to tie with. I can feel them there behind me, like patient devils.

I’ll find you, maybe. I miss you.

When I reach the end of the road, I’ll know.

I’ll see you again, I know. We’ll meet again, down at the end of Weary Road.

I close my eyes and let the car drive.

 

Weary Road

WULF #7

Bad news in that How Not to Kill Yourself won’t come out in paperback this month as expected – the publishing company Microcosm found a load more zines to sell and figured to get through them before it came out. Good news is that gives us more time to get HNTKY shipshape.

Anyway, here’s the seventh lil part to the funny, sexy and bloody sci-fi/fantasy/western/adventure novel WULF.

 

FOUR

 

 

A gush of warm blood soaked his hand. He twisted the blade deeper, felt a sickening snag, and ripped through it with the saw-edge. His hand was almost inside, and the blood, eager in its will to leave the body, ran all the way to his elbow. There was a foul smell: a symptom of a rended stomach.

The woman made a small imitation of a grunt, an echo of surprise. Her lips hung loose and her eyes were bright and looked right into his as she died.

With one aggressive pull his Rathian knife was free, and the woman slipped to the ground. Jay touched his side. He was bleeding himself; her sickle had been . . . provoking.  Unlike her, though, he would certainly live.

He wiped his knife (Ugly was its name, carved into the handle, for ugly was its work) on her breeches, and started to look through her pockets. He found what he was looking for: a drawstring bag of yellow jewels. They shone like bright little suns of piss.

Jay placed the bag in an inside pocket of his jerkin, scanned the horizon, and walked back to his horse. Khyber stood like a shadow under a small stunted alacia. There was a light pink summer blossom in the topmost branches, and it had decorated the ground around him. Some of the petals lay on his back and adrift in his mane, but he made no move to shake them off. His body was sleek black velvet and very warm to the touch, and the hair poured down his shoulders like lava.

‘That’s three down Khy,’ Jay said as he hoisted himself up. He needed no stirrups or saddle. ‘Three down, eight to go.’

Khyber made no noise in reply, but he lifted his head and trotted towards the horizon.

 

He remembered.

He saw faces of all the people he had killed, faces of the people who had tried to kill him. They were mostly the same, but not always.

He saw many women he had lain with, many women he had hunched against, thrust against, pulled forwards, bent over, women whose cheek he had touched and women who he had stripped: all those creatures whose morsels he had tasted. Women who had tried to murder him before, or afterwards. The men who had interrupted, to their shame and anger, and often to their mortal regret.

He remembered why Sal at the bar didn’t like him.

He pictured his laugh: part of him cringed, and part of him didn’t care; only the parts were blending, sipping at each other and spitting back.

He saw perfection, and as he did storm clouds gathered and the lilac in the sky darkened to a bruised magenta, and she became shadowed and lost to him.

Under the Circle’s Shadow . . .

He saw horses rearing in fire and flame as guns cracked around him and cannon fire threw up volcanos of dirt. He remembered scrabbling, coughing, trying to make out the shapes in the smoke and the sprays of blood, and the endless, endless cries.

He heard the kill, kill chant that rumbled through the very soil, rising to bounce back and forth off the high yellow rocks that looked down on them. Kill, kill, kill from hundreds of the lizard like things, the Grey Ark warriors crawling stickily over the stones and splashing in the twin streams that wound towards him.  He remembered a great brick of a man, dark red mottling covering his back in scenes of Hell, standing tall and beating his bare chest, screaming ‘KILL! KILL!’ back at them, raising fat double chambered guns wrapped in leather strips and firing slug after pounding slug at those grey-green fish-people that continued to chant, hurling spears like javelins and some firing their own guns: loathsome squid rifles and sharp anorexic weapons loaded with metal scrap.

He remembered hiding, waiting with a knife in his teeth and two cocked pistols pointing at the slip of daylight that broke the cave wall. Waiting for those filmed yellow eyes to block the light, the first reptilian gaze to be shattered into sunken yolks. Kill, kill, kill. As the others lay dead. Their Red Serant – his name was Babric Twofist, and he had really loved those guns, what had he called them again? That’s it: Bet Fist and Babby Fist. Bet & Babby, the Two Fists – his head was now no longer a part of his body. Not that he’d felt it: he’d already taken three harpoons through one way and out the other.

He saw Savvi, lit under the glow of a blue lamp, the light making her darker, and colder in that beautiful way, like an icicle. They were in a tent, drinking heavily, and it was warm, so warm, they had taken off their shirts . . . He saw himself pawing at her, leering and laughing and making crude come-ons into jokes, and jokes into come-ons. He showed her his new sword; a wicked thing, a saber as yet without a name, and perhaps too nice for one. He showed her his guns and he showed her Ugly. She seemed most interested in the knife, purring in his ear that she liked ugly things.

‘You won’t like me then,’ he’d said. She’d laughed at him and batted his hands away. When he came on too strong, pushing her to the ground, she explained to him, with a smile on her face, how very quickly and easily she could give his penis a snip – well, she added, serrated was a better word, or sliced.

The next day he had woken up with a saber without a name (he never did give it one before it broke, but then again nor did he with any guns; only Ugly carried the honour), two guns, his knife, some ammo, and a furious libido. He was minus all his money (and it had been quite a lot at that point), almost all of his food, the last bottle of vhiskat, and the tent.

At no point did Savvi appear to make him breakfast.

 

He dreamt, and he saw, and he heard, and he remembered. They were not pure memories, only their shades, their fragments – or more correctly their imprints, for they were left behind in the body, ghost copies for the new owner. Something inside was pushing them at him, aggressive but not hostile. He tried to grab at them, but there was so much, and all he could think was heat and sex and of two pistols thick with rust, chambers revolving slower and slower, never stopping. Then his mind saw a stream of gore, and of old friends with sightless black eyes. He thought The Eyes of Rath and he thought Grey Ark and he thought Alexia.

A ring of mountains, a swarm of peaks like the black hunch of crow wings.

Savvi the harlot that never gave.

A tapestry of fucks surrendered.

Cold winds and –

Alexia.

 

Much of what he had dreamt, much of those half-memories that had bubbled up from inside his brain (a brain that had long been used to another mind, and still carried its luggage, still had its pictures hung on the walls), in fact, almost none of it would be remembered the next day. At least not at first.

There was one dream that would keep coming, and it surfed around his other dreams, waiting for its turn.

Eventually it got impatient, and it swooped in.

 

He looked at his alarm clock after he’d put his book down and turned the light out. 3:32. The sheets felt unclean, just like they had felt unclean the night before. There was a faint glow in the corner of his room; he never knew the name of it, only that it didn’t need batteries because it charged itself with daylight. Tucked away as it was, away from the window, it never got much of the solar power it desired – but it was never going to provide enough light to read by, anyway.

Sleep came, as it always did, with excruciating delay. But, thankfully (and perhaps it had been that rare walk to the shops earlier), in an hour he was asleep.

There was a battlefield of broken cars, all used wrecks, all grey and rotting with weeds that cracked and burst like dust when the birds landed.

The birds were diseased ravens with gristly red veins that throbbed over white feathers, and all of them would fly up silently wherever the green eyed man appeared.

The green eyed man was –

‘Wait,’ said a voice. The voice of a young woman. ‘How do I do this . . . Oh, it’s on. Well . . . This is weird, but here goes.’

The cars were all gone, so were the birds, so was the man. There was just the sand, and the lilac sky, and the words that were written as she spoke.

 

Under the Circle’s shadow

Inside the happiest hawk

Beds the key that is hidden

The key that unlocks the door

 

The wind took up as she chanted. Something somewhere rattled.

When she was done, there was a pause, broken only by the wind. Then the voice laughed, and said, ‘I expect you want more than that, don’t you? No problem, I’ve been meaning to fix this . . . I mean a whole year, what a waste of time . . .’

There was another pause.

‘Shit,’ said the woman. ‘Sorry, gotta go. Good luck, please don’t hate me.’ There was a click, and then the world exploded.

 

Red, green, black, blue

White, orange, yellow, purple

Faster and further

Distance travelled in colour

Sound as picture

Light as thought

The key that unlocks the door

Red green black blue

White orange yellow

Purple

Over hill and under stars

We’re going on an adventure

RED GREEN BLACK BLUE

This hurts

WHITE

ORANGE

Stop

YELLOW

PURPLE

We’re going on a

 

wulfcover-2-medium

How Not to Kill Yourself published soon!

Great news – because my don’t-call-it-self-help zine How Not to Kill Yourself has been selling so well, the publishers Microcosm have decided to bring forth the publication/printing date of the paperback forward – a whole year!

It was originally going to be released next spring (well, originally, next winter!) – and that’s still the official release date for Amazon and bookstores and so forth – but if all things go smoothly it will be advance-released later this month on Microcosm’s own site!

Great for me especially, given how hard it was to wait such a very long time…

Watch this space.

The zine can still be bought here.

 

hownottokillyourselfreview_lg

The Violet Dark #6

Here is the fifth little part of the hallucinogenic road thriller/horror The Violet Dark, following directly on from Part 5. You can buy the full novella for mere pennies/cents/whatever on Amazon, or as part of the short story collection Faces in the Dark

 

 

He turned, yelling ‘RUN!’ at her, and as he turned like a circus ride the blot in the grass reached up with a scabbed whip and pulled at his ankle. He lurched at the ground like a coffin-body tipped and evicted. It struck his chin and he suddenly, face in grass, felt coddled by a burrow of ant-things, a swarm of nests gathering up the tangles of his facial hair and tying them to posts, them to ensnare him here like some Gulliver.

Pain bruised its way through his chin, carried up the lines of his jaw by a new postal service of ant-things, the old nervous system left hammered and purged. All innocent backs to the wall.

He was spun by a powerful force, and the galaxy of his vision was inflicted by horror, by a famine of good things and a desolation of ugliness laid bare.

He had only come so close to the face – was it their face? Was it one of many? – about seven times. Seven times seen that black grinning, garing maw, that boiled, pustulous sea. Always at night. In the doomy dive-bar depths of the violet dark. Treasury chest of nightmares.

He shoved with all his ancestral might and the stormcloud crouched over him like a lightless wolf alighted, pulled back by the hem of its neck, its soul’s nametag, by a hand from above only ever visible as forceless void.

Its snout vomited some gurlish possessed dribble, then shrunk back into the huddle of features; the draws, cabinets and chairs that sat, circled and silent in the gloom of the gaunt attic-space of the devil. The door open wide, a cold usher to the wordless guests of the dead.

He realised the shadow was crunched, almost doubled. It was hurt.

He looked around, sweeping the treeline over the road with shipdeck vision. He saw her, running off into where his gaze could not follow. The violet dark between the trees.

He followed on foot, as fast as he could. He realised in slow-motion catch-up, an inside runner huffing to the delivery post to give the updated news, that he had left the shotgun.

He turned and saw that right behind him was the shadow, and suddenly the shotgun was in his hand after all, it was part of him all along, and he raised his hand like the fiery finger of God’s wrath and he squeezed the trigger and the head of the thing – was it a head? Was it one of many? – fell off.

 

She loped through the air like a moonwalker, drifting in terror. It was the fastest her body could agree with her on. She could see next to nothing. Clasped in the bosom of the wood. She stopped, a second-guess, a moment’s premeditation. An image of a sawn-off shotgun.

The sound almost raised the graveful bowels of Hell.

 

She crawled through an orchard of thorns. The twisting claws of the undergrowth. She heard thudding all around, and incoherent screams and warcries. Footsteps of the hunter.

The plants bled together, caught up in this passing storm.

Focus

The plants blood blood of the plants my blood

Focus you fucking bitch whore cunt

Your life depends on it. The barrel of thought rolled into her, and things jammered a little clearer.

Quiet now. Remember the cats – move like them.

She stood up and turned right into him.

Him.

 

Her. After a moment of abject panic, the second before the storm, he saw her for who she was. He knew that light in the world.

He gathered her up in his arms.

 

A bear risen out of the swampy darkness and she wrapped in a bear-hug.

Canoes slit through soft, thin bayous on either side of her. In scared, bewildered embrace.

Into the heart of things.

 

‘What was it?’

‘I call them shadows.’

‘You’ve seen one before?!’

‘Oh, yes. All the time.’

 

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India Bones and the Ship of the Dead #4

Sorry for the delay in India Bones and the Ship of the Dead coming out – it’s been long finished, I’m just waiting on a good cover!

In the meantime, here’s the fourth short installment, leading on from Part 3.

 

*

 

India walked the grey planks of the ship, feeling half-dead himself. Around him skull faces eyed him from empty sockets. There was saltspray coming in off the wind, but no part of the deck or rails felt damp; instead, the wood was dry and dusty and pock-marked. He ran his fingers along the side and it crumbled. He felt like a good enough gale would blow the whole lot into the sea. It almost didn’t seem like wood at all, and he blanched when the idea popped in his head that he was walking on grey bones.

‘You know what mate,’ a voice came from behind him, and he turned to see Grimmer.

‘What?’

‘I never asked you your name. And I called you rude. Where were my manners?’

‘It’s India Bones.’

Grimmer gave a short laugh, and this time India, with fixed attention, saw that the sounds seemed to be in slight discord with the movement of his jaw, and he realised they were not coming from a material presence at all. The mouthless jaw merely worked its best to accompany them.

‘Bones aye?’ Grimmer said. ‘Well you’re in the right company, that’s for sure.’

India looked back out at the sea.

‘You hungry, Mr Bones?’

‘Call me India. You eat?’

‘Sure, sure. Well, we eat for nostalgia, at any rate. But I remember what it’s like to be actually hungry. We’ve got plenty of ship biscuits. Look,’ Grimmer reached into the shadows of his coat and fished out a round black thing. ‘Take it.’

India looked at it. ‘Is it edible?’

‘You’re in no position to turn it down, let’s put it that way.’

‘Alright.’ India took it and bit off a corner. It was chewier than he figured, both salted and sugared, and not half-bad. There was a slight touch of death to it, but nothing’s perfect.

‘How many are on this ship?’ India asked.

‘Thirteen,’ Grimmer said. ‘Can’t make it up, can you? I always wonder if we’re going to get anymore, but it’s been years and no more, so maybe that’s that.’

‘Fourteen, now.’

‘For now. Can’t be having with you ruining our unlucky number,’ Grimmer said.

‘The others keep looking at me.’

‘Of course they do, what do you expect? The living stare at the dead, can’t expect the dead not to stare at the living. But look, none of us jolly rogers means you any harm. See him?’ Grimmer pointed. ‘That’s Sockets. He’s alright, he just stares a lot. And him?’ Grimmer gestured at a large skeleton with a big chest by the mainsail. ‘That’s Big Cage. Wouldn’t hurt a fly. Unless the fly hurt him first, of course. There, she’s Hairless – and ain’t she pleased she can wear a corset now without it being hard to breathe? No more breathing for her, except out of habit.’ Grimmer turned. ‘Over there, looking rightfully sheepish, that’s Spares. Recognise him?’

‘Y-es,’ India said. ‘Yes.’ And he did. Now he saw them one by one, he realised it wasn’t that hard to tell them apart at all. It wasn’t just their clothes and adornments, or their bone structure. There was something about each of them that made them as different individuals as he and Mr Bassard.

India looked further along the ship, and saw a skeleton standing near the helm. He was taller than the others, bar Big Cage, and wore a black tricorne hat and long black coat. Belts glinting with metal were twisted and tied about his bones, and each strap holstered a pistol – three, maybe four in all. But it was the bones themselves that took India’s eyes. Alone amongst the others, his skeleton was as black as his clothes.

‘Ah,’ Grimmer said, seeing where India’s gaze lay. ‘That’s Blackbone. No, we don’t know why he looks like that. Maybe he fell deeper and darker than any of the rest of us, afore he was pulled out of the brine and onto these decks. He doesn’t speak much, and I doubt he wants you here, so best not try and make friends too hard. He’s the least jolly of all of us jolly rogers.’

‘Is he the captain?’

‘No, no. There’s no captain on this ship. But if there was, I reckon it’d be Blackbone.’

‘Can I be captain?’

‘Ha! Bit presumptuous, aren’t you? Bit quick on the draw? No, you can’t be captain. See the ship’s wheel? I told you nobody can touch it, not even Blackbone. The ship is its own master.’

‘I see,’ India said, not really seeing. Grimmer, sensing he wanted to be alone, nodded and strode slowly off.

India leaned over the side and stared at the swell of the sea. A thrill of excitement was beginning to dance around within him, marshalling troops to its cause. An excitement of having truly left Mexico Island for the first time in over thirteen years. On being on board a real ship – a grey, mouldering ship, but a ship no less – and sailing the seas with creatures of dark magic, with the dead, perhaps the only living person to have ever done so.

Well, he always did know he was special.

There was another pang of homesickness, for the alleys of Rug, the Mohawk markets, the comfort and security of Mrs Wayles and the inebriated friendship of Mr Bassard. The palms trees that swayed on the southern beach, the jungles and cliffs in the centre of the island, the Aztec Tomb . . .

But the pang was getting blown away by the sea breeze; wisp by wisp it was being replaced with salt and wood and bones.

He wondered what kind of ship it was. A brig, a frigate? It didn’t quite have the shape of anything he’d seen previously. There was less of a crew than you’d expect for a ship of this size, so a lot of space for him to cast his eyes about, filling his gaze with the huge white sails billowing in the breeze, with the forestry of the masts and the ropes and the netting. He looked at the helm, at the wheel, and imagined commanding the whole ship, turning it to his course, yelling orders to the crew, stuck to his post in sun and storm.

He drank it in, and then he returned his eyes to the sea, and drank that in too.

This wasn’t the same sea he saw from the beaches. There was no shoreline to lap against. Here, the waves moved like beasts, rolling long and fat and huge. No doubt under the surface dark leviathans with unknowable minds and purpose pushed the waves along, guiding them back and forth to each other.

An orange sun beat against his eyes and flashed off the water.

The water that was everywhere and the water that was forever.

India squinted into the sun and looked away. Had that much time passed already? How long had he been out?

He had a funny feeling inside him, a very funny feeling –

The ship plunged into another beast-wave, and the prow soared up over the crest, and India was suddenly, violently sick.

 

*

 

India was laid up in the hammock he’d woken in, belly finally settling and closing eyes witnessing the night through the porthole. The moon flashed over him as the great gloom of sleep folded in.

His thoughts, not yet fully dreaming, drifted like the ocean current back towards Eyeless and Rug, Mohawk and Maiden, back towards the jungles and the cliffs and, finally, deliberately, the Aztec Tomb.

A long time ago, the Caribbean had been ruled by the fabulously rich, and now very dead, Aztec Empire. Nobody were quite sure how it had ended; there were many theories, and maybe all of them were true, maybe none of them. All India knew was that the Aztecs weren’t around anymore. But that didn’t mean they hadn’t left things. There were still ruins, he knew. And where there were ruins there must, inevitably, be treasure.

India would go looking for Aztec Gold. People would laugh at him, tell him he was wasting his time. Everything here was dug up, ransacked, stolen and sold a long time ago. Same the world over. The only thing left was the lost treasure of Bucklemeir Horn, and the search for that had long been abandoned, and its existence become a mere legend.

In time India would agree that Mexico Island was barren as far as riches were concerned. But the world was much bigger; there was West and East Indigo, there was San Dillinger and Tortugal, there was India, the City of Gold on the island of Indiana, that had to have something, of course it did, and these ladies and gents who had spent their whole lives locked in their own houses had never seen any of it. They just assumed. You couldn’t just assume.

There was only one tomb he’d found on Mexico Island, a few miles east of Rug and into the jungles at the top of the cliffs there. He’d scrambled and climbed for an hour, scratched by branches, twisted by vines and cut on rocks, and when he’d got there he’d found a path that had led all the long way back to Rug itself. The tomb had been empty, of course, and not just that, it was also dusted and smoothed and there were fences up and even a sign. There were a few Ratboys and a couple of older Mohawkians lounging around the entrance and inside, drinking and guffawing. They’d given him the eye and he’d given them it back. He’d slouched over to the side of the tomb walls and put his back against it. Eventually he’d gone home.

He’d visited again, many times. He’d soon learned when nobody else would be there and would always come at these times, pacing the tomb and searching for imaginary treasure and cutting down imaginary pirates. He always took the cliff climb up to the tomb. He tried to pretend the path wasn’t there, except on the way back, when he was tired and dirty and often bruised and bleeding, and the moon was out and lit the cliff as the quick route to death. The path lay half gleaming in stops and starts, as though draped silver had itself been clad in shifting, filtered shadows.

India’s breathing slowed, and the shadows of that jungle path danced about him, taking on black, grinning shapes, and then they were sails, whipping at him from all sides with the wind that seemed to suck itself from the very earth, and the trees were gone, the path was gone, there was only water and salt, salt as far as the eye could see . . .

 

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Awesome Batman Art #1

And now for something completely different…

To break up this blog from writing and writing about writing, I thought, being a massive Batman fan, as well as loving cool and interesting art as much as anyone, I’d start including posts showcasing some great art of Batman and his family and rogues gallery that I’ve collected (of which there is an infinite amount out there).

Giving artists their credit is important of course, so I’ll only include ones where I know the artist.

(If anyone wants any of these pictures taken down, just ask)

 

Happy-Mutt

by Happy-Mutt

Francis001

macrotus_by_francis001 2

Blule

Batman by Blule

Daniel Scott Gabriel Murray

Mr. Freeze by Daniel Scott Gabriel Murray

Alex Garner

Batgirl-26

Vvernacatola

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madness_is_the_emergency_exit_by_vvernacatola-d6a292k

Tyskas

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Vartan Garnikyan

Vartan Garnikyan

Ben6835

ben6835

Nox-dl

through_the_dark_city_by_nox_dl-d7jezc6

 

SLADE extract #1

I’ve been working on the sequel to WULF, called SLADE. It’s been hard to find a suitable extract for this site that won’t spoil anything, especially for those who haven’t read any of WULF (but might do one day), but I think this will be fine…

 

He leaned closer, his back permanently hunched as his fingers skittered across the holographic keyboard, for all the world looking as though he was dancing puppets or playing the piano beyond mastery.

One of his hands reached down and plucked a piece of nojo from the desk, deftly peeling it between two fingers and sticking it to the side of his bald head at the same time as another hand did the same with another piece. His round amber eyes flickered for a moment, as he felt the rush. The drug kept his mind working as fast as his fingers.

Nobody could type as fast as a spider. Not with six long spindle-fingers for each thin and hairy arm. Six arms in full, sprouting from a fat, sunken body as black as pitch. Thirty-six fingers to dance across the huge array of holo-keys of every known alphanumeric character and symbol, thrice replicated. Thirty-six fingers to play with people’s lives.

There was a knock at the door and he paused, his hands arching in mid-air. ‘Come in,’ he said, his high voice like the screech of a child.

A woman walked in, her own hands stiff behind her back. ‘Spider, two of our men have been killed. The culprits are a man and a woman unknown to us. Their dress is strange and barbaric, and the man is covered in extensive tattooing.’

He did not turn from his screens. There was a camera in the room and he looked at the woman on the respective monitor. His vibrant orange eyes blinked slowly inwards from the sides like closing elevator doors.

‘Interesting,’ he said. He paused, letting the silence reign through the room, drinking in the woman’s tension.

‘Get eyes on them,’ he said. ‘And patch me in.’

‘Yes, Spider. Will that be all?’

‘Yes.’

The woman nodded her head sharply and left. Her relief was palpable in her step.

The Spider turned his attention to the rest of the screens that covered every inch of the wall. Zoomed out it might look like a compound eye, like that of a giant fly. In front of him were reams of scrolling data, data that would never pause, never stop.

He leaned in.

 

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