Tag Archives: fantasy

WULF #8

Following on from Part 7. You can find it in full on Amazon.

 

FIVE

 

 

He woke up to the sound of melodious squawking and bright rays of white-lilac light. He’d left the window open, and a bird had pushed the curtains aside, letting in a stream of morning glare.

It hopped on the sill and continued to squawk, chirrup and yap to some kind of half-tune. The bird was about a hand high, purple-feathered with a hook beak and a tall, jagged white crest. It shifted feet constantly, cocking its head at him.

A trill, Jay’s mind remembered. Native to Appalia . . . Is that where I am?

He got up, stretched, and shooed the trill away. It yapped again, and then took off, the curtains left flapping behind. He opened them wider, letting in the expanse of the day. There were not many people walking the thoroughfare, and those that did blinked and squinted in the sun. He had slept early and he had woken early, and Nohaven was not a morning town.

A new day, a new world.

A big grin came to his face, and then turned into a grimace as he caught the smell of what could only be himself. He had slept in his clothes and he stank of sweat. He resolved to find a way to wash himself as soon as possible. For now, he removed his shirt and ran the tap, splashing water on his face, neck and pits.

A glint in the corner stole his attention. It was a mirror laid on the floor. He saw the hooks above the basin and realised it had been taken down for some reason. Perhaps the last occupant did not like their own reflection. He picked it up and put it back in place, then he stood and stared.

Whether he felt a chill or a shuddering warmth he could not say, perhaps both. A shiver certainly passed along his spine, but he would not say he felt unpleasant. Looking at a completely different reflection to what you have been used to your entire life is an experience some would call disturbing, others mesmerising, and they’d both be right.

He’d seen bits of him before, of course. He’d seen his arms, looked down at his torso, and been aware of his face in that vague, shadowy way people perceive themselves without a reflection, the blur of the nose and the cheeks and mouth with a presence so permanent to our vision that we forget they are there. He’d almost seen his face reflected in Sav’s eyes.

Here, though, was the full article, and minus the cracks in the mirror it was as clear and defined as it could ever be. He felt like he was looking through a window into another world, seeing another person mimicking his movements.

Then both of you are in another world, for this side of the mirror sure ain’t Kansas.

His face stared back at him, mockingly. A smirk lined his face, carrying up to the dark, glittering eyes. Stop laughing at yourself, he told himself sternly, but he couldn’t help it. His mouth opened in a rogue’s grin, and he shook his head. The man in the reflection did the same.

The same red markings, the tribal wine stains that careened over his body were present on his face. They lined his cheeks and brow like war paint, and yet the effect was more, well, wild, wild and mystical, than savage.

At least I don’t have a red nose.

He spent long minutes inspecting himself, dividing between marvelling at his skin design – the patterns made him want to call them extensive tattooing, but they were all-natural (just look at those hands), and miraculous for it – and his new face: a tough, dark-eyed and somewhat Middle-Eastern looking face, an on-the-dark-and-dirty-side-of-handsome face. He pleased himself thinking it possessed a kind of heroic villainy.

He resolved to let his hair, a stallion black mane on top, grow at the shaved sides, before he would untie the knot that held it back. Facial hair, too. A face like this needed some thick stubble. That’s razors off the shopping list, and good thing too, for a man with no money.

He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out four tiny coins. Scratch that, I have four jackals. Something tells me they’re not worth a loaf of bread.

The coins were replaced, but the hand was found moving inward. One last thing to check.

Jay glanced at the door. There was no lock, but it was at least firmly shut. It wasn’t entirely reassuring, but he couldn’t see why someone would barge in on someone else’s rented room. Unless it’s Savvi? But then again – the voice continued, in a sleazy kind of way – maybe her catchin you pants down is exactly the kind of

‘Shut up,’ Jay said out loud. But he pulled down his pants anyway. He was, after all, still a man in a man’s body. And there are some things a man’s gotta know.

He stood there, no shirt and his pants around his ankles, a stupid smile plastered to his face (but it’s not so stupid, is it? It’s better than the last guy’s smile, remember that? . . . No) as he looked at and touched himself with investigative measure, inflicted with the kind of small amazement that beds well with amusement.

Fronting this amusement, however, there came first relief. Jay was relieved to see that his package didn’t look vastly different to what he was used to. The thing that struck him most, quite aside from the size (his grin increased, although his only comparison beyond the hints of Jay’s memories were those of Earth men), and the single (much larger) nut, was the bendiness; it was quite pliable even when hard, he noticed, and almost stayed in the positions you left it, like plasticine. It had that rubbery quality, both look and touch. The head was tapered slightly. Apart from that, though, it was both recognisable and appreciable as a cock and balls. Thank god for evolutionary similarities, and not giving me tentacles. The only immediate sense of alien was that the whole area was a dark, streaky red.

He enjoyed himself for a while manipulating himself into vague turns, revelling like a child with a toy snake or one of those bendable figurines. He had only meant to check himself out, but found himself quickly carried away.

There was a pressure, an insistence in his lower body that he hadn’t really noticed until its sudden absence. He felt clearer, and he did some stretches as he washed out the sink, wondering at how he could take the time to masturbate, given his utterly incredible situation, and all the things around to discover. But there’d been that urge. His body seemed to belong to that of a wild man turned teenager.

I’m glad red genitals don’t give rise to scarlet semen, or I’d be continuously paranoid I’d ruptured myself.

The stretching felt good. He’d always hated exercise before. But now his muscles were strong, and he felt powerful.

He put his clothes back on, gave one final, eager glance in the mirror – a glance that turned into a searching look – and left the room.

The clerk audibly sighed as Jay walked down the stairs. He was tight-lipped as Jay smiled at him in an attempt to be friendly.

‘Yes?’ the clerk said, raising his bushy eyebrows.

‘Good morning. I was hoping for a shower. Well, to wash myself.’

The clerk sniffed. ‘I am sure you need it. Well. The washroom is out that door.’

‘Oh, good. Is there hot water?’

‘Do we look like a Sturm chamberhouse?’

‘Um, no. I guess not. Thanks.’ Jay pushed through the door. Behind a curtain there was a series of bronze pipes that twisted in wheels before joining up to a spout that hung overhead. Jay found a valve and turned it. A crank increased the pressure until a steady light rainfall of water pattered down into a drain below. It wasn’t cold, more a lukewarm temperature that, if not exactly enjoyable, didn’t make his teeth chatter.

After his shower, he replaced his baggy brown pants (there had been no undergarments) and his boots (sockless, but something about the make of the boots made his feet feel just fine without them; even on his journey to Nohaven his feet had not sweated. In the shower he’d noticed a rubbery hardness to his feet. They were as red as his hands, making his only socks skin-deep). He gave his shirt a cautious smell, but it seemed okay; it had been only him carrying the scent. Perhaps in this world they actually made shirts that resisted odours, or just sweat. Not that the shirt smelled like a rose garden; it spoke to his nostrils of horse, and sand, and a slight spice that he couldn’t place, but felt oddly comforting in the same way home does.

The clerk was gone when he returned, and Jay left the rest house and emerged into the light. He was surprised at how quickly he was becoming accustomed to the colour, although the purple-ringed sun still sent a shiver through his body whenever he looked up. Everybody looked slightly different outside than inside – but then he supposed that was true on Earth, too. There was a transformative quality about it – something that lent a faintly mystical, secretive, almost furtive air to everything – although he had as yet little comparison, for he had not seen this outside world in Earth’s pale light.

He made to go over to the bar, but found himself wandering. After all, he reasoned, she might not even be up yet. He walked along the thoroughfare, and then aimlessly through the town, along dusty streets, turning corners, turning heel and walking back on himself. He drifted in a daze, entranced with no small measure of wonder. People stared at him strangely, for he looked at things like a man born anew.

As he walked his usurped memory offered up morsels, shadows of remembrance. There was the Bone Bin, a windowless establishment – if establishment would ever fit such a jumble of timber. It had been made with boards and bits of boards, stakes and sticks – all made from some kind of – the white gumba tree – and affixed all over with thousands of bent nails. The wood lay crooked off each other, broken planks attached more by spirit than strength to mere shards. It was a ribcage of a house, and seemed to come in layers: for there were many gaps between the bones, but inside he could make out a second shell, one that seemed just as pale and hapless. Inside, he knew, they smoked every kind of smoke there was, and the air within seemed to float with ghosts.

On his left now came the red doors of the brothel, The Drain (his nose wrinkled at the sign). Opposite was a throng of small black children arguing over a furry ball that rolled about on its own volition – a bracker-ball, livin games to some. The leader was taller than the rest, with a gap where his nose should have been. His sunburst eyes flared as he caught sight of Jay, and waved to him. Jay waved back. That’s Jonner, a ragman. He’s alright. He don’t wanna kill you.

There were Appalian mountain men, with their curly hair and square-cropped beards, and silver-haired wardancers with their long locks and naked, studded bellies. He was passed by a couple of cowpokes he knew only by name – Jag and Burl – and reputation as bad news to all sizeable women. There were stalls selling produce of all colours, some that smelled sweet, some like the soil, and some that stank like rotting fish (fasher beans). There was a pink, hairless creature like a bony mole rat the size of a greyhound – erm, somethin, a sab, saber, no, cather-, catmol, no, I’ll get back to you – that skulked past him with arched shoulders, led on a leash by a high-hatted woman with dangling earlobes. He was reminded of that dog from yesterday, that six-legged dog, except it was called a – a dog – oh, okay.

More than not, he simply felt déjà vu, and Jay’s catacombs of memory obstinately turned its back on his questions. If he remembered, it came naturally, in slices, pages so torn they might as well be shreds. He could not force it. Even when he knew a name, or a purpose to something, it was not a real understanding, not a memory he could connect to as though it was his own. It was as though reading about something in a book a long time ago – except the book was in him, and the long time ago only ended yesterday.

 

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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

 

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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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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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Tales of Black Pine Falls: The Preacher and the Goat

There is a place called Black Pine Falls.

A place where everything looks like a shadow of something else. The trees like tall, stiff men in the dark. A forest of people, hiding in mist. Huge caves like open mouths. Somewhere the rush of water.

You might go looking for it.

It’ll let you get close. Maybe you’ll hear the faint cries of children. The soft thump of an axe into wood. The smells of life and death and the swampblood. And just when you’re almost on top of it all it’ll be gone in smoke, leaving you with nothing but echoes.

The people in the town wipe holes on fogged windowpanes and stare out, at the distant lights of your torches and lanterns. Eventually the lights retreat and go out.

You can look as hard as you like. It’ll let you get as close as a whisper in your ear, before there’s nothing, nothing but fog and the clustering trees.

It simply isn’t there.

 

TALES OF BLACK PINE FALLS

The Preacher and the Goat

 

Zebediah Williams, Preacher Williams to the folk of Black Pine Falls, walked out of the town booze store holding the bottle up and his head high. He knew they were looking at him. All of them, judging him. They always were. He could hear the whispers. Screw them. He’d see them at church. He knew their secrets. Why add one more? The town had enough already.

Let them see. He was their preacher and he was drinking. He’d been drinking for a while. He knew it was getting worse. So what? They’d still come. If the goddamn crows didn’t keep them away.

He’d started when Rosie left him in the summer. He wasn’t sure of the day. She left him after the thing with the goat. Now she probably had eyes for all the men. Oh, he knew the score. Nobody ever thought he was right for her. There were lots of tough men in Black Pine Falls; Zebediah was not one of them. Big gal Rosie could beat him in an arm wrestle without trying; he’d always act like he let her win but they both knew.

He was smart though, and god-fearing. That should have been enough. He used to be level-headed too; he used to be as down to earth as Rosie herself. Scorning the superstitions of the townsfolk and their wild stories about trees and phantoms and creatures of the forest. Never a week would go by where you wouldn’t hear somebody tell about some strange thing that happened to them, big or small. Zebediah would call them out for their pagan blasphemies and command them to go to church. And most of them did. Not as many now, but enough.

The weirdness hadn’t come all at once; it’d crept up on him. Just little things, hardly worth mentioning to anyone, confusing, almost inexplicable things that quietly addled his mind. A missing thing here, a strange sound there. Often it was just a peculiar feeling inside. Zebediah blamed it all on lack of sleep and stress put upon him by Rosie. Until that one event that everything changed.

It was the end of the first week of October today. Everyone who lived in stone’s throw of the black pines had breathed their usual sigh of relief after September had passed, just like they always did. Not too relieved, though. Winter wasn’t long off, and Hallows Eve was right around the corner.

Caleb and his family lived in a bad spot, perhaps the worst. The man wasn’t talkative though; Zebediah wondered if Caleb had seen anything like he had. If he had, he seemed to be keeping sane enough. On the outside, at least.

Well, Caleb wasn’t as smart as Zebediah and so had less to lose.

Caleb. Zebediah spat, then took a swig from his bottle as he continued up the hill out of town towards the church. He’d never liked the man. He knew he made eyes at Rosie, even when they were together.

Well, he was welcome to her. They all were. All the logging crews. Fuck her. Why should he care? Caleb was welcome to take her just like he was welcome to be taken by the bogeymen that lived among the pines, any day now.

The thing that shook his grounded world views forever happened last November. It’d been cold, deathly cold for the month. He was blowing out candles at the altar, his back to the pews. The congregation had long left, but he’d kept the candles lit for a while, just kneeled in front of them. Praying, he told himself, but in truth just eager for the warmth.

He kept the last candle to see himself out through the side door and into his small home that adjoined the church. Ready to cover himself in blankets and shiver away the night. Rosie had been out that night, drinking with her friends.

He’d turned, and past the glow of the candle that blurred the centre of his vision, he saw a man sat down on the front pew, bent forward slightly with his arms over his knees and his hands clasped, as though thinking, or praying.

A lesser man than he would have dropped the candle. Then again, his first assumption was that it was one of the townsfolk come back to see him.

And, in a way, it was.

Zebediah moved closer, lowering the candle. That’s when his heart pulled a frozen one. The man was dead. He was a corpse.

The face was deeply wrinkled and stretched thin; the skin must have been sallow away from the candlelight. The eyes were not there, only black, sunken pits, less like someone had gouged out the man’s eyes and more like two small fists had been thrust all the way into his head. Meteor blasts in his face into which no light penetrated.

Zebediah knew him. It was Old Thomas, and he’d died the previous winter. Lost to the snow.

Zebediah was still a statue, unspeaking, unblinking, when Old Thomas turned his head towards him. The sound was something he’d never forget. It was like the uprooting of a sapling, all knots twisting and popping. Zebediah found himself face to face with that sightless dead man, dead man moving, dead man –

‘Don’t mind me Preacher,’ Old Thomas said, in the most terrible death’s rattle. Oh, it was him. It was him alright. ‘I’m just cleaning my sins away. Getting right with the lord.’

Preacher Zebediah Williams’s heart had kicked into furious overdrive at that point, and he’d run yelling out the church and to the town. He barely remembered anything of that night after the point when Old Thomas had spoken, but he knew the aftermath. Sure, he knew how it would have looked.

If only that had been all.

If that had been all, maybe Zebediah could have recovered. Not enough sleep wasn’t a good enough excuse anymore. It had happened, he knew that, even if nobody else did. But it was just one thing. One big thing. But crazy things had happened to a lot of people here. He was allowed one, right?

The distance from Rosie grew over the following months, as Zebediah lost his scepticism towards all things weird and unnatural. He began listening to other people’s stories. Really listening, quiet and nodding. He started to accept some things, such that there was something deathly wrong with the black pines. That there were many things happening that oughtn’t have happened.

He couldn’t remember when in the summer the goat had showed up. June was it, or early July? He knew it was the final straw, the moment when he lost Rosie for good, but that time was so blurry – he measured it in weirdness, not in days and dates.

Summer was a time when the stranger things of Black Pine Falls weren’t supposed to happen. Summer was a warm, peaceful time when you could walk away from the Timbersea and amongst the black pines without any unease. Providing you stayed out of the forest’s dark hearts of course, where the earth itself was black and cold and strewn with bogs that sucked you down. Swampblood, they called it. There must be gasses underneath, for the mud bubbled and burped at you. Even when Zebediah was at his most rational, there was nothing comforting in those places.

So, the goat had come. Nobody knew from where. It didn’t belong to anybody. Fact was nobody could remember there being goats in Black Pine Falls, but he guessed there must have been. Far as he knew the goat just stepped out from the woods and next thing you knew was grazing around the church, ready to meet Rosie.

When they were sure nobody owned it (and they hadn’t reckoned so; everyone knew everyone pretty much, and nobody could keep something like a goat secret for long) Rosie had quickly decided to keep it as a pet. Against Zebediah’s wishes, of course.

He’d lasted longer than he should have – three or four weeks – before he’d made up his mind. Finding goat shit in the aisles was when Zebediah knew the farce had to end. He’d taken the goat out into the woods. Holding the string in one hand, shotgun in the other.

He took him away from the Timbersea and stopped only when they met the stream. Zebediah didn’t know the place; he wasn’t sure he’d ever gone this far out. But a shotgun blast could carry a long way sometimes, and he wanted to be absolutely sure he wouldn’t be heard. He’d tell Rosie the goat escaped.

There’d been something strange about the water this far upstream. There was a silvery quality to it. A kind of dancing light. The sun, of course. Just the sun.

He’d raised the gun and the goat had looked at him. Everything seemed to fall silent. The birds, the breeze, even the sound of the stream.

His finger paused on the trigger.

The goat kept on looking, right in his eyes.

The world had stopped. It was just the two of them, him and the bastard goat, alone in the blackness, with nothing but the silver glint from the stream. Nothing but the –

The goat opened its mouth. ‘What is it you think you’re doing Preacher?’ it said.

Well, yeah, that was it. He’d run back raving, right into Rosie’s bewildered arms. In his madness he let slip his intent. He could have lied if he’d been in his right mind; after all, he’d dropped the shotgun back at the stream.

Rosie had packed her stuff the same day. It made no sense, it was just a goat! Just a fucking goat. At least that’s what he used to think. Didn’t she owe him any loyalty? She got so attached to things. All but him.

You can let a man be as mad as a jackrabbit, but you can’t ever let him kill your pet.

He should have shot the goat. Why didn’t he shoot it? He knew it was still out there, deep in the forest. Or maybe close by, watching him. He’d lost count of the number of nights he’d wake up sweating, the low croak of the goat’s words still ringing in his ears. What is it you think you’re doing Preacher?

What in the hell is it you think you’re doing.

Zebediah took another drink of his bottle, closing in on the church. He could already see the cluster of crows, and he grimaced. One day he’d get another shotgun and blow the whole lot up, bad luck or not. What more bad luck could he have?

His feet struck a rock and he winced, almost tripping over. Truth was that Rosie would have left him anyway. Everyone knew it.

Well, good luck to her. She’d chewed him out too many times. She’d never respected him. Far as he was concerned the bitch could have them all. All at the same time, why the fuck not?

Zebediah wiped his eyes and gripped the bottle tight. He shoved the church door open.

Old Thomas was in his regular spot, sitting hunched forward in the first pew, his pitted sockets staring into Zebediah.

‘What is it you think you’re doing, Preacher?’ he said.

Zebediah threw the bottle, smashing it a foot away from the corpse. What was left dripped down into the floorboards.

‘You shut the hell up Thomas! I ain’t got time for your shit!’

 

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Tales of Black Pine Falls: The Timbersea

There is a place called Black Pine Falls.

A place where everything looks like a shadow of something else. The trees like tall, stiff men in the dark. A forest of people, hiding in mist. Huge caves like open mouths. Somewhere the rush of water.

You might go looking for it.

It’ll let you get close. Maybe you’ll hear the faint cries of children. The soft thump of an axe into wood. The smells of life and death and the swampblood. And just when you’re almost on top of it all it’ll be gone in smoke, leaving you with nothing but echoes.

The people in the town wipe holes on fogged windowpanes and stare out, at the distant lights of your torches and lanterns. Eventually the lights retreat and go out.

You can look as hard as you like. It’ll let you get as close as a whisper in your ear, before there’s nothing, nothing but fog and the clustering trees.

It simply isn’t there.

 

TALES OF BLACK PINE FALLS

The Timbersea

 

They called it the Timbersea. They talked of it like it was a single, definitive place, and not the sprawling, stretched out and patchwork area of woods that curved like a horseshoe around the town. It was home to half a dozen logging camps, but they were always sprouting up and dissolving. Sometimes, as the black pines crept in, the Timbersea was connected only by threads. In winter the black could cut it up entirely, turning it into mere pockets, islands of dark green and brown fighting the darkness. Last November workers swore that they were marooned in a single day. Few believed them; tree-blindness, they called it. Caleb was one of those that believed.

The Timbersea was the only place the forest would let them cut.

They’d fell an area, and the trunks and roots would loosen and come up, as though eager for their own annihilation, happy to be done with it and cleanse the land of their gelded forms. Two of the men would turn the grinder and chew the roots and the branches and all that detritus into chips. When they’d moved on to a new area, they’d replant the previous. The trees grew fast, unnaturally fast. Nowhere stayed clear here for long, nowhere but the White Circle.

Caleb crunched his way to the logging camp. He crested a rise, and stopped to take a breath at the usual spot. Through the trees and at a little distance you could see the church, standing on its own in the light morning fog. It was small and old, and short of visitors. It was partly the season; Preacher Williams held the services earlier, so everybody had time to get back long before sundown, but that wasn’t always good enough. Williams had taken a fancy to blaming the large red-eyed crows that perched above the doorway and around the spire. They were there now; their number seemed to grow every day. Was that a raven leading them?

Truth was the biggest reason for the church’s emptiness wasn’t the crows or the season. It was the holes in the roof that Williams never got around to mending. The mists poured through them and drifted around the aisles, making the seats damp. Nobody wanted a wet ass.

Caleb hefted his axe back on his shoulder and continued. It was just him and Foreman Miller Jones for a spell, sharpening and moving things about; the others arrived soon after. There were nine men in all on their shift, and one woman, Rosie. Rosie was too tough to take shit from any of them. She’d been married to Preacher Williams before the thing with the goat. Ever since (and maybe before), Caleb reckoned that she had a thing for him. Sometimes he wondered if the others reckoned the same thing for themselves.

They began to cut.

You always cut in the Timbersea. You never strayed further, no matter how much the black pines beckoned you. And beckon you they did. There was a siren call, whispers carried on the wind. If you didn’t keep your head strong and focused on your work, they could talk to you, in their wordless way. They wanted to lure you, tempt you into cutting into their oil-dark wood and hear them moan.

Caleb had heard them moan, sure enough. He’d been there. He’d seen it.

He’d nearly been there. He’d almost seen it. Almost in time.

The legend of the Man of the Woods was birthed twenty-one years ago. The name was Paul Bunyan. Caleb and Foreman Miller Jones were the only ones still logging who remembered him (Jones remembered others lost to the black too, men before Caleb’s time). Paul was a big feller, bigger than Caleb, a seven-footer with a chest like a barrel. One day he’d gone for a piss and not returned.

Caleb had gone looking for him, and he’d heard the moan. It came from the invisible, ever-shifting line where the Timbersea met the black. The black pines. The sound was like a great woman in cold pained ecstasy, a ten-layered breath that trembled through the ground under his boots.

Caleb had hesitated, then stormed forward, roaring Paul’s name. He found the man’s hat, strewn with black needles at the foot of a tree. It held a fresh cut in its trunk, and the sap that was pouring out was thick and bubbling and congealing fast. Soon the cut would disappear.

Of the axe and of Paul Bunyan there was no sign.

The hat blew with the wind as Caleb stooped to grab it. It danced further and further away, always just out of reach, and like a fool he chased it. He’d wised up in time enough, thank god, letting it go and racing back to the safety of the Timbersea.

To this day, whenever they stopped for their lunch break or there was a lull in the work, you might think you hear the far-off sound of one man walking through the woods. A large man, a huge man by the sounds of it. Or a faint noise on the wind of an axe thudding, sinking into oil-dark wood.

The day’s work as done as it could be, Miller Jones let them go with enough time to get back before dark. Caleb stomped his tired way back through the forest. There was a knot of black pines that separated him from his cabin, and he would always grit his teeth and stop himself from quickening his pace.

Something that sounded like a whippoorwill called from behind him, but it could have been anything at all. The kids better be shut in tight, he thought, not looking round.

After all, it was September. And the dark belonged to them.

 

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Science fantasy western WULF now available!

Apologies for the delay, I’ve been waiting on the cover (which you can see below – well worth the wait!), but now I’m happy to say the science fantasy western WULF, the first book in The Fifth Place series, is now available as an ebook on Amazon.

You can find it here.

It’s also FREE for today  (19/12/2016) and tomorrow!

 

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All stories free for 3 days! Adult horror, fantasy, dystopian

In advance of WULF imminently becoming an ebook to buy (just waiting on the cover), for 3 days (starting on 13/12/2016) all of my previously published work is free! Click the pictures of the covers below to be taken to the Amazon page to check them out and read samples.

This includes:

Born to be Weird

 

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A short collection of weird, twisted stories, featuring the gothic science story The School of Necromancy (like Harry Potter meets Frankenstein and Lovecraft!) and the very bloody horror The Gauntlet of Gore, which is like nothing else.

Included are the short stories (also available separately):

The School of Necromancy – Deep below the city of York, below the sewers, below the catacombs, lies the School. It is here, if you are privileged to be selected, that you can study the art of raising the dead.

Keep it Clean – Have you ever been swallowed by a public toilet? No? This man has. A truly grotesque and odious tale.

There’s Only One King – Elvis Shadow walks the world, caught between this life and the next. A world containing other half-creatures, other myths and legends.

The Half-School – A dream-like account of a return to an old school.

The Gauntlet of Gore – “When playing the Gauntlet, there are two options. Either you win, or the whole team dies.
Either you die, or you see every other opposing team member blown to bits. There are no corpses, only giblets.”

January 5th – “It was January the 5th, and everywhere things were dead or dying.”

Faces in the Dark

 

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A short collection of strange, paranoid horror stories. Featuring the novella The Violet Dark – a hallucinogenic road horror. Read this toxic lovesong to darkness itself, and see what is meant by ‘a beautiful nightmare’.

Also included are the short stories (also available separately):

Her Parents’ Masks: She has never seen her parents’ real faces. They have worn terrifying buffalo masks from the moment she was born . . .

The Watcher – The air is black, and I do not sleep. The hours tick by. I do not sleep because someone is watching me.

Anamia – Assorted entries from the Anamia Diary, found among possesions. Care is advised before reading, especially for those who have or have had an eating disorder.

The Gremlins – Humanity’s days on this earth are numbered. How do you fight an enemy too small to see?

Dead Streets – A sad and haunted tale.

Moral Zero

 

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This is rock n roll writing. Its energy reminds me of early Amis, its articulation reminiscent of a Tarantino screenplay… Brilliantly sleazy, scum and filth visibly oozes from between the words on the page. Each paragraph leaves you breathless, each moving with such runaway-train speed you almost expect one to crash into the next. And it’s very funny.” – Paul Davenport, author of Not Like The Other Boys

I read this sitting next to my wife and after the first three paragraphs I said, ‘This guy can write’… In a word, this is uncompromising, brutal and pulls no punches.” – Joe Carter, author of The Corruption of Michael Blake

The voyeur. The pervert. The sadist. Three tormented souls in the grotesquely twisted city of Rule treat morality like a plaything in this dystopian thriller.
The voyeur: Knowledge is lust.
The pervert: The fantasy is everything.
The sadist: The answer to all things lies in death.

Mr White. Kidd Red. Johnny Black. Three deviants in a violent, sickly dystopia where completely opposing laws and moral codes are just a short walk away. Guided by a corrupt sense of moral subjectivism, they form an uneasy friendship. Each tormented by his own grotesque existence. But the greatest danger is making sure they don’t lose track of what is real…

Enter the city of Rule and the world of the moral zeroes.

 

You can also find the individual short stories, also free for 3 days,  if you browse my Amazon author page.

WULF coming soon!

The sunken purple of the early evening was blistering itself red. A sky wounding itself. And the man had still not shown.”

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Watch this space!

WULF Part #6

The sixth part of my adult sci-fi/western novel WULF (previously called The Wulf and the Tiger). This follows directly on from the last part.  The full novel will soon be available as an ebook on Amazon (and about time too!).

Warning: Quite a bit of bad language here. Blame Savvi. That’s just how she is.

 

‘You took your time,’ Sav said, long fingers with close-cut nails the colour of chocolate curled around a wide mug. She looked amused.

‘You left me! In the middle of nowhere!’

‘Oh, nonsense,’ she said. ‘You got back alright, didn’t you?’

‘I nearly died! Why couldn’t you just have led me back?’

‘Because you know the way. Or should have done.’

‘Well I didn’t. I don’t.’

‘I see,’ she said, in a bored tone. ‘But you still made it.’

‘Only because of the tiger -’

‘A tiger?’

‘A tiger led me back.’

‘Of course it did. I don’t see one with you, though.’

‘It’s sleeping just outside of town. Or at least it was when I left it.’

‘Mhmm. Ah well.’ She took a gulp from her drink.

Jay took a deep breath. ‘I don’t think you realise the situation I’m in.’

‘Oh, boo-hoo. If I knew you were going to be such a little bitch about it I wouldn’t have saved your life this time. What gives?’

‘Look,’ he said, stopped, and then tried to start again. ‘Look.’

‘What am I looking at? If this is another one of your lengthy come-ons . . .’

‘I have no memory of who I am or where I am.’ He had quickly decided this was a better course of explanation than ‘I appear to be in a different body in a potentially alien land.’

‘That’s unfortunate,’ she replied, dryly. ‘You don’t remember me, then?’

‘I remember -’ he paused. ‘I remember scraps, just like half-formed ideas, or dreams. Many things seem faintly familiar. You, for instance. I feel I have this connection to you. That doesn’t quite explain it, and maybe it’s just that you saved my life, even though you didn’t exactly stick it through, but -’

‘That’s sweet honey, but you’re not the first man to tell me you have a connection to me, or whatever. I suppose you’ve also forgotten all the times you’ve tried to get into my pants?’

A blush failed to materialise. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, in what he thought might pass for an abashed tone.

She stared. ‘Who the fuck are you and what have you done with Jay?’

He shrugged. ‘Am I right in thinking I can trust you?’

Sav laughed, the kind of unsubtle laugh that’s done right in someone’s face. That face being his own. ‘Trust me?’ she cried gleefully. ‘Listen my poor bitch, you can’t trust me an inch. And that’s an inch more than you can offer!’

‘But you must like me, surely?’

‘Not really.’

‘But then why save my life?’

She shrugged. ‘I suppose you amuse me.’ She banged her mug down. ‘Bar keep!’ she yelled. ‘Another!’

The bartender bustled over to her and refilled, smiling lopsidedly at Sav. She glared at Jay, then took the call from a woman chanting for what Jay’s mind translated as “black beer”.

‘You didn’t pay anything.’

‘Course not,’ Sav said, face half-hidden inside her mug. ‘She knows who I am.’

‘And who are you?’

‘Don’t make me repeat myself.’

Jay sighed. The woman was hard work, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. It struck him as funny – odd funny, not ha-ha funny – that he could consider himself a beggar when it came to a lady – a woman, he corrected himself, not a lady – of such looks. Erotic appeal dripped from her, right down to the semi-contemptuous expression she fixed him with.

‘People here are strange,’ he said, looking back to his glass and taking another sip.

‘Speak for yourself, cock-smith.’

‘Can’t you be nice? It’s already a really fucking hard and confusing day, and I’m completely by myself here.’

‘Poor baby.’

‘What I meant was that, well, when I came into town everybody looked at me. I mean everybody. Do they not like outsiders in this town?’

‘Honey, they looked at you because they know you. You’ve been in this town for months. That, and you look like shit.’

‘They can’t know me . . . A man with a big moustache pulled me out of the water trough and didn’t know me, he looked fixing to kill me.’

‘That’ll be Remembrance Ed. Edder Van Took. He’s only got the short term memory. And he hates just about everyone, least of all anybody darker or redder than him. Sometimes he remembers people, but only if he really, really hates them.’

‘Oh.’ Jay took another drink. ‘But if they know me, why all the stares? Just for looking a bit rough and thirsty?’

‘No. Because you were hauled outta here your hands behind your back kicking and screaming early this morning.’

‘By who! Oh. Ah.’ He tapped his fingers on his glass. ‘So they’re all dead then?’

‘Well, the three brothers are, yes.’

‘They were brothers? Oh.’

‘So it’s just the dad left.’

‘Shit.’

‘I’d say he’s old and won’t be a bother, but he got their mother pregnant at twelve. That’s him twelve, I should say. She was a lot older and dead now. And he’s still going, leading his boys.’

‘Can I talk to him about it?’

‘He’s a murderous cunt and his three sons have just died. He won’t have heard about it yet, but he will. You had a hand in one, he’s gonna believe you had a hand in all three. What do you think?’

‘I’ve really got enough to be worrying about. What did I do for them to want to kill me? I mean originally?’

‘You fucked their sister.’

‘Is that all? I mean, their sister? Christ, I bet she was a bit of a sight. I hope she didn’t have a beard too.’

‘I doubt it would have stopped you.’

‘You make me sound like an animal. Wait – she did want to be fucked, didn’t she?’

‘You tell me.’

Jay felt his shoulders slump. ‘I really don’t know anything.’

Sav clapped him on the back cheerfully. ‘There you go, you do know something! You have remembered that you know nothing. This makes you as complete as you ever were.’ She drained her cup and got up. ‘For crying out loud, finish your whiskey already, you wet fucking blanket.’

‘I have a feeling -’ he started.

‘Better stop it then,’ she interrupted, picking up the glass and tipping it to his face. Before he knew it the last mouthfuls of whiskey-substitute was speeding towards his mouth. He gulped twice and Sav let go of the glass; it bounced off his knee and hit the floor, smashing.

His throat roared with fire and instant bile that he struggled to push away. The broken glass hadn’t concerned the other patrons, but the bartender was already over, shouldering past Jay with a broom in her hands.

‘I got it Savvi,’ she said with a beaming smile that crinkled the corners of two rather beautiful big eyes.

‘Thanks, Sal,’ Sav replied. ‘Sorry about Jay Wulf.’

‘It’s fine, fine,’ Sal said, not looking at Jay. ‘Up to his old tricks, I assume?’

‘If you mean being a dick, then yes, why stop now?’ Sav put a hand firmly on Jay’s back and pushed him out the bar before he could respond.

‘I’ve seen you drink better men and women under the table,’ Sav muttered as they returned to outside. The lilac sky had deepened and reddened to a rich magenta. The sun was hidden behind the peaked two-floored building signposted REST HOUSE, giving the edges of the dwelling a vibrant purple glow. It was on the other side of the street, and she steered him in its direction.

‘Tell me something, Sav.’ When she didn’t reply, he turned to her. ‘Savvi?’

‘Uhuh.’

‘When you see me, what you see?’

‘Is this a test?’

‘No. Yes.’

‘I see a cunt.’

‘No, I mean . . . What am I? What . . . race . . . species . . .’

She looked at him askance. ‘You’re a Rathian . . . a human.’

‘A human,’ he repeated. ‘How interesting.’

‘Why is that interesting?’

Jay hesitated, and Sav pushed open the door to the rest house. It swung in with a long, coffin creak. ‘Where I’m from,’ he said under his breath. ‘They call me and people like me human, too.’

‘Have you always been this mad?’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘More so recently. You better get used to it.’

Jay waited as the two of them stood by the door. A small spectacled man behind a desk was filling in some forms, and hadn’t investigated his new customers.

‘Well?’ Sav said. ‘What are you waiting for?’

‘Oh. I thought, I thought -’

‘Are you an invalid? Do it yourself.’

Jay approached the desk, and pulled out the rest of the money from his pockets. ‘Erm, one night, please.’

‘He’ll stay for as long as,’ Sav said. ‘And pay once a week.’

The man peered out at them like a mole. ‘Do I have your word on that, ma’am?’

‘No. If he doesn’t, kick him out. Just don’t come to me asking for money. You won’t get it.’

‘Charming,’ Jay said.

‘First week up front,’ the clerk said stiffly. ‘Ten queens. Plus five queens deposit.’

‘Steep,’ Sav said. ‘What’s this town coming to, that’s what I want to know.’

‘Feel free to take your business elsewhere, ma’am. You know how I feel about this one.’

‘What about me?’ Jay said. ‘Do we know each other?’

‘The gall to ask that,’ the clerk said, his eyes cold. ‘No, you do not know me, Mr Wulf, but I do believe you know my wife.’

‘Oh.’

‘He’s been saying that quite a lot today,’ chipped in Sav.

‘I’m sorry,’ Jay said. ‘I don’t remember anything. Where is your wife?’

‘Kept away from you.’

Jay took Sav aside. ‘I’m not a very nice person, am I?’

‘I told you you were a cunt.’

‘Do you not think it better to go someone where else? A place perhaps where I haven’t fucked the owner’s wife? Or sister, daughter, mother, horse, or any other relation of.’

Sav put her finger on her lower lip and pulled it down thoughtfully, showing the bottom array of little white stones. ‘Hmm,’ she said. ‘I’m not sure that gives us many options’.

‘Come on. Can’t I stay with you?’

‘Are you joking?’

Fifteen queens,’ repeated the clerk. ‘Please.

‘Stop faffing, my horny little beast boy.’ Sav pinched his side and he yelped, dropping a coin. ‘All he wants is the money. Pay up and trouble over.’

Jay picked up the coin and laid them all out on the desk. ‘This is what I have.’

‘You have five kings and ten queens,’ the clerk counted. ‘And four jackals,’ he sniffed.

‘Good. That sounds like enough.’

‘Well it isn’t.’

‘Really?’ Jay pawed at the coins. ‘How many queens to a king?’

‘There are five kings to one queen.’

‘Oh. Um. So I have . . . eleven queens. And four jackals. Which makes . . .’

‘Eleven queens and four jackals.’

‘Unfortunate,’ Sav said. ‘Give him your gun.’

‘My gun? Won’t I be needing that?’

‘You’ll just have to take your chances, until you find another.’

‘Whereabouts am I to find another gun, without any money?’

‘Perhaps you can wrestle one off the next person who tries to kill you.’

‘Sounds great,’ Jay said. He pulled out the gun and laid it on the table with the coins. ‘The gun for the deposit. The queens for the week.’

The clerk wrinkled his nose. ‘Not the finest specimen in the world.’

‘Will it do for the deposit?’

‘Of course it fucking will,’ Sav said. ‘It’s still a gun. People usually want their guns back.’

‘I know the feeling,’ Jay said.

The clerk stooped and placed the gun under the counter, inside a box that he locked with a click. Then he swept the coins off the counter and into his hands, before carefully depositing them one by one (counting all the time) into the till.

‘Your room is upstairs, last on the right.’

‘Do I get a key?’

‘No. There are no keys.’

‘How am I supposed to get in?’

‘You could try pushing,’ the man said flatly, in that kind of polite sarcasm aggravated service staff were so adept at the universe over. ‘That usually works. If that fails you could always try giving it a good hard ram. It seems to be your go-to move, don’t you think? It certainly served you well with my wife.’

‘I’ll be off now,’ Jay said. ‘Sorry again.’

‘Stop apologising for things,’ Sav said. ‘It’s getting boring.’

He turned and noticed she wasn’t following him up the staircase.

‘I’m going back to the bar,’ she said, noticing his expression. She was sat up on the desk; the clerk was trying to busy himself with his forms, and not lose himself in the contours of her lower back and sides that beckoned smooth and honeyed in the gaps in her clothing. ‘And no, I am not sharing a room with you. Not now, not ever.’

‘I didn’t mean -’

‘I’m sure you didn’t.’

‘Where will I find you tomorrow?’

‘Bar.’

‘Alright,’ Jay said. ‘And Sav . . . Thank you.’

‘Pft,’ she said, and she blew him a kiss, smirked, and was gone.

Jay trod with heavy feet up to his room. He still felt awful. He pushed open the door, worried for a second that he would intrude upon some barbaric couple mid-coitus who would nail him to the wall and make him watch.

Don’t be an idiot, he thought. They’d probably just shoot you.

The room was empty, though. He was going to consider that the room really couldn’t be much plainer, but that’s before he noticed the sink. A bed and a sink. That’s enough luxury for today. He rushed to it, turning the single tap on. There was a protesting groan, a rumble, and then to his relief came a trickle of not entirely lukewarm water. He cupped his hands and drank every time they filled up, until he had satiated himself and then some.

He lay on the bed. The door had closed itself. There was a flat white pillow on the bed, and a brown woollen blanket, but no sheets or duvet. He wasn’t about to complain. He got up only to close the curtains, barely registering the now bloody-red sky. What he did see was down on the street; the dog that he had seen from a distance yapping and rushing about was back.

Only it wasn’t a dog. For a start, it had six legs.

Jay shut it out of his sight, and fell back on the bed. The room was starting to lose focus, and he felt a great shuddering yawn run through him, a yawn that never left his mouth.

That creature wasn’t like anything I’ve ever seen before.

Those little black demon spots appeared again. They always danced away from him, seeming to be mocking him.

The sky was purple today.

He felt heavy, like he could sink right through the mattress. The bed propped him up only in the sense a still ocean propped up a floating body.

I’m on another planet.

I’m on another planet, and I’m not even me.

Jay felt the room spin, and his eyes closed, but whether it was by his own volition or not he wasn’t sure.

 

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