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India Bones and the Ship of the Dead #1

Evening all. I am still waiting with infinite impatience to hear back from more agents I have sent samples of WULF to.  I was kind of committed to those characters, so did quite a lot of writing ideas and bits and bobs down for the sequel, SLADE. And sequels after that sequel. But if WULF won’t be accepted, then I should probably put SLADE on the backburner (at least until the point I give up, and put WULF online). Also, sorry for all the capitalised titles. That’s just how I envisage them. Carved in stone. Or maybe just a strange man shouting them at you.

So here is an idea I started ages ago, then gave up on because I wanted to write darker stuff. It’s more for a YA audience, but who knows how it’ll end up, as I often accidentally find my characters swearing, just because that’s how they talk.

It’s called India Bones and the Ship of the Dead and for the life of me can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it on this blog before. It’s the first in a proposed series (stampede before you walk), starting with the protaganist aged 12, like Harry Potter. But with pirates. Not regular pirates though. This is a fantasy world, full of things you think you know but don’t, not like this, and things you don’t know about at all.

Anyway, here’s the first bit. First draft, as usual. Still working out in my head the main character and how he talks. Hope you enjoy.

 

INDIA BONES AND THE SHIP OF THE DEAD

By Set Sytes

 

 

ONE

 

 

‘I can’t sir.’

‘Can’t what, lad?’

‘Can’t drink any more.’

‘Nonsense m’boy! Why, why there’s half the bottle left!’

‘I’m fogged sir. More than that. I’m near half steamed.’

‘And, and boy?’

India coughed wetly and leaned forward. Mr Bassard gave him the bottle and India unsteadily poured another splash of grog into his cup.

‘Aye’, India said, raising the cup and sipping the burn.

‘Good lad.’ Mr Bassard took a deep draught and harrumphed. His big, bushy face was beetroot red and he stomped his boots on the wooden floor. He shook his head fiercely and made an indistinguishable animal noise.

India sipped again and watched as Mr Bassard’s head leaned slowly back, and his eyes drifted closed. Within moments the rumbling of a hog echoed through the shack.

India put down his cup and stood up, and it took a moment to convince himself that he wasn’t on a ship at sea. The floor bucked at him and he moved towards the door as if bobbing on waves.

He outstretched his arm and pushed forward, misjudging the step and sprawling through the entrance onto shadowed sand and a violet, glittering night.

He turned on to his back and crossed his boots before him, the buckles catching the light of the stars and the fireflies carousing in the wind.

‘Aye,’ he said again, and grinned in a very relaxed, muzzy way. Above his head he watched a great cloud sail, lit up by a full moon. He fancied that it looked like a great galleon, and within its misty embrace brawled a crew of pirates and corsairs.

‘A ship in the sky,’ Mrs Wayles would have said. ‘Well of all the things.’

India heard cavorting up ahead, coming along whatever passed for streets in the port town. He ignored them, taking them for its usual night revellers. With great effort he put his hands behind his head, and reminded himself once again that he was missing a hat.

He listened to the gentle lap of waves on shore and closed his eyes to the stars. He imagined himself on that pirate ship, no longer water in the air but wood in the water. Something powerful and brooding, full of joy and adventure and the freedom of rogues.

‘Boy!’ He heard a shout as if it was right by his ears, and he jerked himself up.

‘Aye?’ he said, eyeing the band of coves standing in the sand before him.

One stepped forward, a thin man with a beard to his waist. ‘You drunk lad?’

India waved his hand in the air.

‘How old are you?’

India hiccupped. ‘Thirteen.’

‘Thirteen, by God! It’s that Mr Bassard again, ain’t he damn near set on corrupting all who get by him.’

‘It’s not corrupting,’ said India. ‘It’s warm and fuzzy’.

The man muttered to his fellows and then stepped forward and tried to pull India up. India shook him off, and said he could stand on his own, which he did so, a little clumsily.

‘What’s your name lad?’

India sighed and wondered if the day would come when he could be called Captain, and not boy or lad. ‘The name’s India Bones. If it pleases you,’ he added, with more than an ounce of sarcasm.

‘Bones?’ The man’s eye furrowed. One of the others, a fool in striped pantaloons, whispered something in his ear. ‘Oh, aye,’ the man said. ‘It’s you. Mrs Wayles’s boy.’

‘I suppose.’

‘The orphan,’ said the fool.

India narrowed his eyes. ‘No. My father ain’t dead.’

‘Where is he?’

India didn’t say anything.

The thin man with the long beard put his hands on his hips impatiently. ‘Well, come on with us. You don’t want to miss this.’

‘What is it?’

‘Where have you been lad? It’s the dance of the dead.’

‘Oh.’ India’s fog seemed to clear somewhat and his eyes brightened. ‘All right, I’m coming. Where is it?’

‘It’ll be yonder, by the docks as always.’ The man shifted his pointed finger. ‘You see the blackness of the horizon?’

‘I sure do. It’s night.’

‘The boy’s got lip. Look, that ain’t no natural darkness. See how it seems to pull the waves in. Like some black hole of a line stretching out – but not all the way. See how it stops after a while, on both its sides?’

India nodded. Now he looked, he saw that there was a stripe of utter blackness that sucked in the sky and waters around it. But it was not the horizon, for it occupied only part of it, and beyond its reach was a dark, dark blue.

‘That’s the coming of them,’ the man said. ‘Once every ten years. You won’t remember them last, you’d of been just a babe. The Ship of the Dead. All the way from God-knows-where to Eyeless, Mexico Island, right to our golden doorstep.’ He had a wistful look in his eye, and added, ‘They come to dance.’

 

*

 

India stood looking out the windows of the Merchant Hall. It was a large, swarthy building, the hub of the port, where all the commonfolk and nobles alike came to trade, dally and gossip. He was clustered on all sides by others, all craning their necks at the windows that looked out on the docks. There was a hubbub of excitable chatter, punctuated with words like ‘bones’ and ‘skeletons’.

‘Don’t be scared lad,’ said a tall, white-whiskered gentleman at his shoulder, leaning down to speak in his ear.

India flinched as the man’s breath blew into him. ‘I ain’t scared sir,’ he said.

‘No?’ said the man. ‘I would be. Only a fool is fearless.’

India paused to take this in. He looked out at the sea shining black and smoky. It looked like the clouds had sunk down from the heavens and were writhing on a rolling expanse of tar. The truth was that he was afraid. He didn’t know what to expect, and everyone seemed tense and nervous and all the rushed talk around him made it hard to stay focused. It was always easy to get carried away in crowds. He wondered what each person’s individual reactions to the event would be if they weren’t letting their emotions be used as a mere component of a noisy, irrational mass.

Still, this event was irrational. He had led a fairly ordinary life, for an unholy rascal, as some had dubbed him. Wandering, idle mischiefs, odd jobs and courier work (he called them ‘missions’) for petty gold to squander or lose, some light thievery perhaps (but only when he was hungry, or when it was plain irresistible). The port towns of Eyeless and Maiden, the shanty sprawl of Rug, even the capital of Mohawk, he figured he’d seen enough to say he’d seen it all. The island had never seemed big enough for him. At aged thirteen he already felt he knew it inside and out, and it bored him. But then there was this – this once a decade wonder of the supernatural. Yes, he was afraid, but more than that he was tense with anticipation. He couldn’t wait to see them.

The smoking black line rolled forward, taking over the sea and the sky in its approach. Fog stole onto the shore, and soon most of the beach was invisible. And out of the fog there came a long, slow, horn, and as it cut short there came the unmistakeable creaking of ship masts.

The mist rolled back, as though someone were sweeping it away with a broom. The blackness dissipated, and the beach lay clear and dark gold before them. Anchored in the bay was a grey and white ship, and pulling up to the shoreline were three boats full of the dead.

India barely heard the intake of gasps around him. The older folk, who had seen it once or more before, kept a reverent silence. India himself was struck dumb. His usually indolent eyes were as wide as he’d ever had them, and he dared not blink for fear that the whole scene would evaporate as a dream does upon waking.

The Ship of the Dead! Real magic!

The Merchant Hall was a house of statues as every man, woman and child in there watched the dead leave their boats and crowd together on the beach. They were no corpses, no rotting figures, but bare skeletons all, clothed in pirate and sailor dress. They dumped crates from the boats and pulled out bottles, handing them round. One of them started a fire – India couldn’t see how, but it rose up quickly, with an ice blue flame.

Instruments were brought forth, a fiddle, a guitar and a drum, and the music began. Ethereal lines from the violin, mournful and haunting at first, and then imperial with the pound of the drum: a death march. Then the guitar strummed, and the fiddler and the drummer and the rest were all grins, and the music shifted to one of enchanting, excitable delight.

They began to dance.

 

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The School of Necromancy #2

Good eve to you.

As a further taster, here is the second little part to the short gothic story The School of Necromancy. It seems to be a mite more popular than my other stuff, so thought I’d give it another push. This part is more of a brief background/explanation of the school and its subjects.

You can find it for Kindle here (or, as usual, on your local Amazon, if you are not American).

 

The School of Necromancy

 

The S.O.N. functions as a school and university both. It teaches students aged, with exceptions of mature students and gifted young prodigies, fifteen to twenty-one or twenty-two; a degree, to those staying on past the age of eighteen, being either a three year or four year course.

The subjects we teach are many, but you will, perhaps, sense a common theme. The first couple of years are chiefly theoretical, apart from groundswork, which is, when you rub away the bullshit, gravedigging. Like most schools and universities, nobody takes first years seriously, no matter how lofty their ambitions. You do the work, and you do it well, without complaining, and you just might rise in estimation.

Apart from groundswork, you will study necrochemistry and necrobiology (nec-chem and nec-bio for short), anatomy, mortuary science, embalming, dissection, cremation, history, gothic art, forensic pathology, elementary reanimation, elementary occultism, and so on. Fairly basic stuff, looking back, and some of us, myself included, felt pretty held back. But of course a lot of us had our wild ideas, and without a solid framework to base them on we may have failed later on.

For every year, including the degree years, you will study and take notes from the many-volumed Necronomicon. Not Abdul Alhazred’s book, of course, but the Necronomicon textbook, 7th edition. In its weighty pages contains just about everything, up to a professional level, to do with treating, understanding, raising, and controlling the dead.

If you choose to do a degree (and some of the less gifted or less ambitious students don’t, instead becoming our laboratory assistants or gravediggers), you have a range of subjects to undertake, including: History of the Dead (fusty), History of Necromancy (almost as fusty), Toxicology (poisons), Theoretical Homicide (not strictly theoretical), Demonology (a farce), Black Tarot (don’t get me started), Mortuary Surgery, Reanimation, Experimental Necroscience, Vampiric Studies, the ever-popular Necromancy, and Necromonology (my chosen degree, which involves the study of and establishing control over the dead, the latter being, in my opinion, an ingredient much missing from my peers’ experiments).

The School itself is like an underground castle, or rather network of dungeons, seeing as it is without a top. All work is engaged in underground, with many layers of soil and stone pressing down upon us. Many first years, and some second years, experience what we refer to as ‘the underlows’, as in ‘he can’t come to class, he’s got a bad case of the underlows’. Eventually almost everyone gets used to it, and you get enough night-time fieldwork (mainly in cemeteries) to give you some fresh air. I never had much problem myself – some of the halls are so huge that you may as well be outside, and I never did miss the sunlight.

Allowing for our various racial skin colour differences, we are by and large a pasty bunch, as you might expect. We get what we need from various tonics and pills, but as the food we acquire (don’t ask – you’d be surprised how many associates and graduates of our school are among you) is so excellent, and our scholarly and personal pursuits are so involving (some would say obsessive, and they’d be right), we don’t want for much, beyond what we need for our work.

Roam the stone corridors and halls, the tunnels and staircases, the laboratories and cellars and libraries, the crypts, morgues, test chambers, operating theatres and black chapels, and you will cross many paths with the School’s prowling cats. There are three of them, or three named ones at least, each as dark as the night. The fat, sluggish one with the unfortunate limp, squashed face and mismatched eyes is affectionately named Igor (and I will happily poison any student who picks on him). Then there are the siblings, Minas and Morgul. Minas is the female, quick and sleek; she sees all, hears all, and every intrepid risk-taking student (the majority of them) who wants to last the course should learn who she’s loyal to.

Morgul is the male, and he is really quite huge, more like a panther than a cat, and if you try to kick him you are likely to end up on a dissecting table within the hour.

The students themselves are a mixed bunch. Most of them have black hair, but not as many as used to. In my day it was various shades of black, grey, silver or white, or perhaps, in the case of eccentrics, a very dark brown. These days you’ll often see a student with purple, red, green, blue hair and so on, or only streaks of these colours. Some are undyed, and come as blondes and brunettes. I’m not wholly prejudiced, so don’t treat them too differently, but I will say if you rock up to a forensic pathology class with bright pink hair, don’t be surprised if old Master Scrimpot directs all his most difficult questions to you.

We wear a lot of black, true, but there are also a lot of white lab coats worn out of class (some bloodstained), and brown tweed isn’t out of the question among some of the more mature students and masters. There are coats and cloaks, robes, three piece suits, shirts and jackets, skirts and dresses, corsets and bodices, lace and leather, soft velvet and jangling chains, and even some bare chests here and there, particularly among groundworkers. Styles are all over the place, though usually on the more gothic, formal, or macabre (if you’re trying to be edgy) end of the spectrum. Victorian and Edwardian fashions clash with new pagan which clash with shinobi which clash with new romantic which clash with seventies librarian which clash with thirties suits. And some of us just look like your average Joe/plain Jane. Those are often the ones to watch.

We are generally old-fashioned and semi-traditional, so some of the more radical newer styles are frowned on, and while the dress code is very relaxed, it is there. Cybergoggles will be taken off you in class. All in all though, we all look the same in a lab coat and gloves, up to our elbows in body parts.

 

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The School of Necromancy now available!

The gothic science/gothic horror short story inspired by Harry Potter as much as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H.P. Lovecraft is now available on Amazon!

Better yet, assuming you read this post fast enough, it’s FREE for the rest of today (4/12/14) and tomorrow. Not to fear if you miss it, as it’s mere pennies/cents afterwards.

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. Reanimation, demonology, experimental necroscience, theoretical homicide… It’s all there for the learning, in a vast underground complex of stone corridors and halls, tunnels and staircases, laboratories and cellars and libraries, crypts, morgues, test chambers, operating theatres and black chapels…
It’s all there, that is, if you can keep your head…

 

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The School of Necromancy opening extract

Hello!

I’ve been busy of late, writing various short stories, some of which you can find by visiting my Amazon author page.

I’ll put up excerpts from these (or the entire story, if short enough) on this site in due course, as some are being entered into writing competitions or being submitted for magazines.

Here is the first draft beginning to a story I am currently writing, that is turning out to be the longest short story yet. It’s called The School of Necromancy, and it is about just that . . . think Harry Potter meets Frankenstein . . . and a lot of morbidity, black humour, and a science/classic sci-fi-horror theme over a straightforward magical one. Lighthearted gothic, and with a perhaps Lovecraftian bent to the approach, what with it being a personal account. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The School of Necromancy

 

I’m here to explain some things to you. A lot of questions have been asked, and a lot of people seem to be pretty concerned, so I have taken it upon myself, when no-one else will, to describe to you the events that led to the six dead bodies found about York last week, which has got the constabulary so vexed. There were, in fact, eight bodies. One was homeless, and the homeless are often forgotten. The other was one of us, and we hold onto our own.

The rules have never said ‘Don’t talk about the School’. They in fact say, ‘We recommend, in your best interests, not to talk about the School, for nobody will take you seriously, and if they do, you are likely to meet an untimely demise.’ And so, given that I am confident in my abilities to resist the poorly-concocted assassination attempts of my fellows, and even more confident that nobody who reads this will take me seriously (or, if someone does, that nobody will take them seriously), I feel like I have nothing to lose by writing this, and I have my own dry amusement to gain, like a serial killer might feel smug upon announcing his morbid deeds to somebody who takes the whole thing as a joke. Doubtless some of my fellows will disagree with me, but they always were a bit fusty and overly serious.

I should point out now that I was not the killer. Just to get that out of your heads. In fact, I wasn’t even there, and the story I have to tell is not my own. But I make it my business to know things that happen here, deep under your feet, and I always enjoy interrogating the other students.

My name is Raiden Black, and this is not my story.

As an addendum, before I continue, I want to say that of course it’s not my real name. We are all given new names when we enter the School. Many years ago pretty much half of all the first years would choose ‘Black’ as their surname, and there was a great deal of names like ‘Night’ and ‘Death’ and it all got a bit tedious. Nowadays the masters choose your name for you, and you get three vetoes before you have to suck it up and accept it. I took receiving the now quite elite surname ‘Black’ as a vote of confidence in me, and have endeavoured to remain deserving of it ever since.

Anyway.

 

Find a sewer grate or manhole somewhere in York, somewhere in the centre preferably. You will, of course, have to do this at night, unless you are exceptionally quick and daring, or you have found a perfectly hidden spot. Different cliques of students have their own entrances, and if you find yourself sharing yours with a member of The Brotherhood, you have my sympathies.

Head down into the sewers, and head east. Follow the rats. They always seem to congregate around the School, and we never did quite know why they are drawn here so, but we don’t complain, not when there are so many post-mortem opportunities at hand.

Eventually you won’t need the rats at all, and you can follow your nose. Take the turns where the air is stalest, closest . . . You feel that certain something in the air? You don’t know what it is, but you feel it, just like the rats. Seek out the source, for that is us.

Assuming you have a good sense of direction, and have not become irretrievably lost, nor have you been bitten by a rat carrying one of the new experimental strains of plague we have developed, then you should, eventually, come to a door.

It is of heavy wood, and looks ancient, and no amount of battering force will break it open. Here you must knock a certain number of times, to a certain rhythm. And that is one thing I will not tell you.

You can however, assuming you finished reading this before you set out, go to the gloomiest pubs in York and, on suitable dark, grim nights, find a sallow youth all in black drinking by himself, looking terribly preoccupied with something, and perhaps a trifle jittery. He will have bags under his eyes from lack of sleep and excess of obsession.

He will at first want nothing to do with you, and will be sullen and uncooperative, but ply him with drinks. At the opportune moment, ask him about the secret knock, and he may tell you.

He will of course be lying. That’s one thing we are very good at.

Let’s assume, though, that you now know the secret knock, by fair means or foul, and have rapped sharply on the door in this very particular rhythm. The door opens, slowly, with the groan of a thousand years. There is nobody behind it. You may think it black magic, and I wouldn’t dare ruin it for you.

You’re not at the School yet. Down a spiral staircase of stone steps you go, and as it levels out you find yourself in a series of twisting, crossing corridors. These are the catacombs of York. Our catacombs.

Set into the walls, lit by burning torches, are all manner of artefacts. You may be surprised to see Egyptian sarcophagi and urns, so far away from their origins, along with Greek burial shrouds, and the beaks of plague doctors from the time of the Black Death.

You will see small cairns, caskets, tools of morticians and torturers, stones and pieces of hard wood with strange carvings, pagan statues, death masks, old coins to lay on eyes, cotton to wrap and minerals to sprinkle on the departed. What you will not see, however, no matter what you will most fearfully open, are bodies, not even skeletons. We have claimed them all, for we do not allow waste.

Navigate the catacombs (a clue: follow the eyes), and you will find another staircase, which will lead to one final door, requiring a key to unlock. You don’t have such a key, you say? That is a shame.

Beyond this door lies the School of Necromancy.

There is also a perfectly serviceable lift that cuts out all this, but let’s keep things traditional.

 

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