Tag Archives: original 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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India Bones and the Ship of the Dead #5

Following on from Part 4.

 

THREE

 

 

Over the next few days India got to know the crew fairly well. At first many of them had avoided him, and he’d seen the wariness in others’ eyes when he talked to them. A few were grouchy, and one skeleton by the name of Liver told him to shank off as soon as he approached. But a few were nice, like Big Cage who was as friendly as he was big, or Hairless, who helped him through finding his sea-legs and found him a nautical coat in the hold that was only a little oversized. Spares was always amusing company, especially when he was drunk. Sockets was a bit odd, but India got used to him. And Dessica, another female jolly roger (how they usually seemed to refer to themselves), had spoken to him at length on the movements of whales, the names of all the sails and masts, and even shown him how to tie different kinds of knot. And as the days passed, and India made himself known, rarely staying put for more than the length of a conversation, and helping out when he could, those who avoided him showed their faces, and those who were grouchy softened. It was only Liver who remained unpleasant more often than not, and India had barely exchanged more than a handful of words with Blackbone. Blackbone usually stayed in his cabin, anyway (the only one bar India with his own private cabin), and when they passed each other India would walk fast, for his near-silent presence sent a chill down India’s spine.

It was Grimmer though, who was the surest tether between India and his sanity. From the first day he’d been good to India, helped him help himself and help others whenever he was around, showed him all the parts of the ship, the hold and the forecastle, the gallery and the gun deck where cannons were cobwebbed from disuse. He even took India up to the crow’s nest – thankfully India had always been a good tree climber, but climbing the rigging up so high, and looking down at the long fall to the decks below – well, at least Grimmer had been there for encouragement, and India sure wasn’t going to let himself appear weak in front of a bunch of skeletons. The final few feet had been the worst, but at last he’d toppled into the crow’s nest, breathing hard with the adrenaline, and then spent a good three or four hours reddening with the sun and feeling on top of the world, almost drunk with the sight around him, perched on a swaying wooden spire that rose up like a needle out of the great, eternal ocean. A lonely minaret in a blue desert where he was king.

Eventually though, the seasickness had come on even stronger, not to mention a light-headedness close to fainting, and he’d forced himself to descend. He’d spent a while recovering, and decided to go up there again only rarely.

On the early evening of the fourth day India saw a far-off shape; he borrowed a spyglass off Sockets and saw a red-boarded ship travelling in the other direction. He squinted but in the darkening light couldn’t make out the crew.

‘Are they pirates?’ he asked, feeling excited.

Sockets snatched the spyglass back and looked through. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Merchant ship, probably from East Indigo.’

‘Can they see us?’

Grimmer came up behind him and gripped the rail. ‘Honestly, we don’t rightly know,’ he said. ‘There was another ship yesterday, too. Truth is a number of us don’t care to look anymore, or at least we don’t shout about it if we do see something. We’ve never been boarded, we’ve never even been hailed. We don’t know if it’s just mist they see, or the illusion of a ship of no consequence or interest to anyone, or if they see nothing at all but empty sea. Or maybe they see us just as we are, but then something in them just wipes it from their minds, tells them just to pass on by. A thought that never gets to go anywhere, like it’s been chased off. All we know is the Ship of the Dead ain’t disturbed, and never has been. We’re a ghost on the ocean, mate.’

On the fifth day Grimmer came to him carrying a cutlass, with the golden hilt of another held in the thick sashes that tied around his pelvis. He flipped the sword in his hand deftly and offered it to India hilt first. ‘Here you go mate,’ he said. A few of the others on the deck gathered round, interested.

A one-armed skeleton named Cold Shoulder put his one remaining hand up. ‘Here, he’s a bit young ain’t he?’

Grimmer didn’t turn. ‘He’s got to be able to defend himself, doesn’t he?’

India looked at the blade, at its edge and its wicked point. It caught the light and flashed meanly. ‘I’ll manage without. For now,’ he said.

‘You sure?’ Grimmer said.

‘For now.’

Grimmer shrugged and tossed the sword back on the deck with a clatter. India turned away, but not before stealing one, two more glances at it lying there on the grey wood at his feet.

India remembered when he had last used a blade. He’d grown up fighting with sticks with other kids in the streets and slums of Rug and Mohawk. The orphan gang that called themselves Ratboys infested the alleyways of the poor side of Mohawk, and India had once been well acquainted with them, often fighting with and against them in confrontations ranging from friendly scuffles and stick fencing to scrapping tooth and nail. It was about the time that an increase in girls in the gang led to arguments about a change of name that Skiv became leader. He was a bad-tempered kid, bigger than India and prone to using his fists to get his own way.

Always eager for something greater than pickpocketing, something more dangerous and more impressive, it was India who had come up with the idea of raiding Jack Rush’s house.

Jack Rush was a mean, surly merchant, and he had beaten India severely when he’d caught his pockets being picked just outside his home. India hadn’t been able to walk properly for days, and the bruises had taken much longer to disappear. In the years past he sometimes looked at his reflection in the coastal Mexican seawaters and figured that his face had lost its childishness, had been beaten tougher and rougher and stripped of some measure of innocence.

In retaliation India had come up with the plan, and roped the Ratboys in on it. He’d always been an outsider to them, some days seemingly on their side, some days not. He’d never wanted to answer to somebody else, and certainly not a dumb brutish boy like Skiv.

They entered the house as the moon hung full and watching, breaking the windows and dropping like cats over the sills. The children in the streets knew everything there was worth knowing. They knew that Rush was on an overseas business trip, selling sugar to East Indigo, and would not be back for some time.

They took everything, greedily filling their pockets and pouches with jewellery and silverware and bottles of rum. India had found a necklace. Black stringed, with a pendant of tarnished silver melded to what looked like bone, gold in the very centre and frayed around the edges, like the rays of a moribund sun. He pocketed it. He pocketed something else, too.

He didn’t know who’d started the fire. Somebody knocked over something, playing around with torches and bottles of rum; it could have been anyone. The Ratboys yelled to each other as what seemed a bright, exciting flicker quickly spread and smoke rushed through the air like a punishing phantasm, as though a residing spirit of Jack Rush was left behind as guard.

They’d escaped, all of them thank shank, tumbling from the windows and bursting out the door. As soon as they were clear and most of them had scattered down various alleys, India had turned to receive a blow from Skiv. It connected with an already existing bruise from Rush, and hurt twice as much.

They pounced on each other, fists flying, knees punching into stomachs and feet lashing out. They fought dirty, like wild dogs, breaking apart every few minutes to snarl and spit and curse. Watched hungrily by the others.

‘Give it to me,’ said Skiv.

‘Give you what.’ India wiped the sweat from his face and pulled the straggled hair from his eyes.

‘The necklace. I saw you take it. You owe it to me for what happened back there.’

‘That wasn’t my fault.’

‘It was your idea to raid the place. Give it to me.’

‘You ain’t getting it.’

They met again, and India found his back hurled against the stony ground and pinned. He twisted and kicked and Skiv grabbed his throat and squeezed.

India punched Skiv’s head and his midriff, again and again, but he couldn’t get the angles or the momentum and the blows couldn’t dissuade the hands choking him, robbing him of his energy.

Black and purple motes dotted before his vision and with a sudden, almost instinctive remembrance he pulled out the shining dagger he had taken at the house. It slipped into Skiv’s side as though it was moving through butter. It met no bones.

Skiv fell aside with a yelp, and the dagger sucked itself out, still in India’s hand. India scrambled up, and without looking backwards, at Skiv or the audience of Ratboys, he ran.

India never knew what became of Skiv. He didn’t visit Mohawk again for a year, and when he did he stuck to other districts, and carefully avoided the Ratboys. If Skiv was still alive, then he would want his revenge. And if he wasn’t . . . if he wasn’t, then those loyal to him, or those who counted him among their friends might want their own revenge.

He never knew whether Skiv had lived or died, and he didn’t want to know. He’d thrown the blade away, and he’d never thrown away something valuable before. He remembered crouching outside the Aztec Tomb and shivering in the rain, his hair plastering itself to his face.

He’d never wanted to touch a blade again. He remembered the sound Skiv had made and his eyes. His eyes.

On the deck of the Ship of the Dead, India kicked the cutlass away from him without looking. And fingered the sun pendant that hung from his neck.

 

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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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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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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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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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India Bones and the Ship of the Dead #3

I’ve finished writing my fourth novel! The YA (sort-of, hopefully adults will like it too!) pirate fantasy India Bones and the Ship of the Dead.

I’m editing it ready to send to agents. Also, I’ll have my previous (adult) novel WULF up in its entirety online very soon (about time!), just waiting on a cover.

Here’s the third little part of India Bones, following on directly from the last part I put up here, and beginning at the start of the second chapter.

 

TWO

 

 

He awoke to find himself lying in a hammock in a small wooden cabin with a skeleton staring at him.

Staring may have been the only expression it had to offer, but it did it well. It was wearing a long black coat and a wide-brimmed hat, and it leaned nonchalantly in the doorway in a manner more suited to the living.

‘Ahoy,’ it said.

India shivered and shrank away, as best he could do being in a hammock. His head swayed painfully and the cabin seemed to sway with it.

‘Rude,’ said the skeleton.

India made eye contact and tried to summon some resolve back. ‘Where . . . am I?’ he swallowed mid-sentence to stifle a stammer.

‘Who should be the first question.’

‘Who am I?’

‘Oh, no. Who am I?’

‘Right.’ India sat up in the hammock, his aching head in his hands. His fear was quickly melting away, to be replaced with confusion. ‘Who are you?’

The skeleton inclined its head. ‘My name is Grimmer.’

‘Uh. And where am I Grimmer?’

The skeleton grinned, a skill it was excellent at. ‘Why, you’re on the Ship of the Dead.’

India fell back and closed his eyes. He felt a little nauseous, and dots chased each other under his eyelids.

‘I quite understand,’ Grimmer said.

‘How did I get here?’ India managed at last.

Grimmer sighed. ‘That was Spares. He carried you aboard.’

‘Why?’

‘He thought you were one of us.’

India opened his eyes and dared another look at the skeleton, half-expecting it to have vanished and to see the familiar sight of his room at Mrs Wayles’s. ‘Just because I have face paint on?’ he said. ‘I look nothing like you! You’re – well, you’re dead!’

‘He was very, very drunk. Not that any of us were sober, but he was something else. I’ve already had quite the bone to pick with him. It’ll take him some time to find it.’

‘Mmm.’

‘You see the thing is mate, we can’t just take you back. You’re stuck with us for now. Damn fool Spares.’

India squeezed his eyes shut and opened them once more. Still there. ‘How’s that?’

‘There’s no turning back. The ship has its own course, it sails us you understand.’

‘I don’t.’

‘Truth be told, nor do I much. But that’s how it is. Oh, the crew helps out, but I think that’s more cause we need something to do, a way to be useful. We climb the rigging and hoist the sails and swab the decks. But nobody can turn the wheel. It turns on its own.’

India tried to think this through, and gave up. ‘So . . .’

‘So where we going next? Kingston is our next call. We won’t be putting up to the docks though, but this lonely beach to the west that seems almost nobody knows about but us. See, with small, superstitious towns like Eyeless it’s alright to land near everyone, as they keep their respectful, fearful distance, and besides, we like to put on a bit of a show now and again. The mist and the blackness draws in, the big horn sounds . . . you know, all very fun. Nice and theatrical. But try that somewhere like the thick of Kingston and – I’m not saying they ain’t superstitious too, they all are, but there’ll just be too many people, and with lots of people crowding things there’s always some idiot who gets drunk and comes and spoils things. Not that you’re an idiot. At least you didn’t have a gun. And that face paint. Inspired. Never known anyone alive wanting to look dead before.’

Grimmer tapped his ribcage and tilted his head. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I haven’t had anybody living to talk to for some time. All these words tumbling out.’ He grinned, or rather, something happened to his face that India couldn’t quite explain.

‘How do you speak, Grimmer?’ India asked, realising one of the many paramount things that were bothering him.

‘How’d you mean?’

‘How’d you speak with no tongue?’

‘A tongue’s the least of your worries mate. I haven’t got a voice box neither. Or lips. Or a gullet to drink, lungs to breathe, heart to beat, eyes to see you with.’ Grimmer leaned in. ‘Just cause you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.’ He looked away at the sea. ‘Do you know of phantom limbs?’

India shook his head.

‘When a limb gets amputated, sometimes people get the sensation that it’s still there. They can feel it, and they can feel it working too. Well us skeletons have phantom bodies. They’re stuck to our bones same as yours are. You can’t see them nor touch them, but we got ghost skin and ghost organs all there in order, all working like a shadow of the living. Or at least pretending to.’

India swallowed. The thought was disquieting. ‘What do you really look like then?’

‘I look like this!’ Grimmer opened his arms. ‘Hell, I don’t know what I look like anymore. I’ve known naught but these bones for too long.’

‘How did this happen? I mean, what got you all like this? On this ship, without bodies – well, without bodies to see.’

Grimmer smiled. ‘I wondered when we’d get around to the main thrust of questioning. We’re all sailors see. Pirates, merchants, even a few from various navies. Gave our life to the sea. But when we died we made a bad deal. We sold our bodies.’

‘You mean you sold your souls.’

‘No, we sold our bodies. We kept our souls. All that’s left of our bodies is the bones, and the ghost essence. The soul has had enough time to get used to the form it inhabits that it stays there after the body, the physical tangible body has gone.’

‘Who did you sell it to?’

‘To Davy Jones, of course. Who else? In return we kept our time in this world. Not realising the cost. Not realising we’d stay here, like this, forever. Or until our bones break into tiny pieces and our spirit becomes formless and can do nothing but haunt. After the deal was done some of us dead folk wandered, and still are wandering. They are rare sights, for there aren’t too many of us that made the deal, whose bodies have lasted the wear and tear of this world. You might bump into one on land if you’re terribly lucky. Not counting Tortugal, that is – we got a little spot of our own there. Otherwise it’s a solitary existence. Not many folk want to be friends with the dead. And there ain’t much that satisfies when your body is just a ghost. The best we got is alcohol. That still has a bit of a kick left, when it’s still dripping through our bones. Alcohol and dancing.’

Grimmer sighed. ‘And that’s where the rest of us ended up. The Ship of the Dead. Picking up all the wayward selfish scurves who made the wrong choice at the end of their thieving lives. I don’t know how long it’s been sailing these seas. Nobody does. Since the beginning, perhaps. There’s no captain. The only one sailing it is all the souls of the broken-boned.  Or something else entirely. Who knows how many spirits haunt this ship. Taking it from place to place.’

India was listening open-mouthed. It seemed like something out of some dark fairy tale. ‘Why do you visit Mexico Island to dance once every ten years?’ he asked.

‘Dancing and drinking’s all we have. As for ten years, well we’ve got a lot of places to visit, a lot of distant seas to sail. The ship only seems to get back round to Mexico Island after ten years. Maybe cause it’s out of the way, maybe some other reason we don’ t know. I think a few of the others take ten or so years to visit again, it’s just they’re all at different times. Other places we come to more often. We just fall into the ship’s strange routine. The dead are nothing if not consistent.’

India nodded. ‘I’ve got one more question.’

‘Shoot.’

‘Why are you wearing clothes?’

Grimmer laughed, a strange, clattery sound. ‘Why are you? It’s not cold. There’s little more reason to keep your body covered than ours. But there’s a lot of character in a body’s clothes. When you don’t have meat you can see on you, no real face, only a fading memory of what you used to look like, if that, then having your own clothes can do its bit to make you you. In your own eyes as in the eyes of others.’

‘Well, shank me,’ India said, shaking his head. ‘This is all a bit much.’

Grimmer laughed again. ‘Aye, I know. Look, we’ll drop you off at the Lonely Carib Beach, that’s what we call that place we put in at Kingston. We won’t be dancing there or making much of any kind of spectacle, just sitting and wandering and skimming stones, hidden by jungle. So you can take your leave and head to the city. After that though, afraid you’re on your own.’

‘That’s alright. Thanks. I’ll find some coin and then a ship to take me home.’ India paused. ‘Well. I don’t know. I guess I’ll see how I feel.’

‘First time away from the parents?’

‘My mother is dead,’ India said. ‘I never met my father.’

‘Oh,’ Grimmer said. ‘Sorry to hear that mate. You’re in good company for now. Pretty sure all our parents are long gone.’

‘I want to find my father,’ India said, looking down.

‘I’d put money on it,’ Grimmer said, clapping him on the back. India shivered at the touch, then looked apologetically up.

Grimmer pretended like he hadn’t noticed. ‘I’ll leave you for a bit,’ he said. ‘Let you get your head in order. And I want to talk to some of the others, too.’ He got up and walked out the cabin, leaving India alone.

India sat up in the hammock and put his head in the hands. Not out of upset, but to try and stop the swaying, and get to grips with the situation. He wasn’t quite ready to stand up, fearing he might instantly fall on his face.

He’d tried to leave Mexico Island several times in his life, each time without success. He’d stowed away on ships and either been caught and flogged, or he’d bottled it and took off, flushed with the thrill and fear of getting that far. Last year he’d stayed until they’d weighed anchor and were out in the bay, before being discovered by the bosun. They’d shouted at him and rowed him back to the docks. He’d been thankful for it, as he’d felt a little sick from the whole deal, completely out of his depth as it were. No matter how often he might think of himself as an adventurer or a pirate, truth was he was still just a kid, and he’d lived his own life in a tiny patch of a much wider world.

That was the last time he’d got anywhere, for Mrs Wayles had stepped in, letting it be known to all sailors of Eyeless and Maiden both, that nobody was to give passage to India Bones or else. Even the roughest of sailors had no desire to get on the wrong end of one of Mrs Wayles’s Or Elses, and so India found himself shipblocked as soon as he approached any one of the gangways. Even when he’d gathered enough coin for legal passage, he was turned away.

‘You’re just a babe,’ Mrs Wayles had said. ‘You think you can take on the whole world but you just can’t. Suppose the ship took you and deposited you someplace. Someplace civil even, like Kingston. Then what? How you gonna be feeding yourself? Where will you sleep? The world won’t just turn over on account of your dreams, India. It’ll master you afore you master it. Is that what your father would have wanted? Maybe one day, when you’re all grown up, and when you’re no longer under my care, you can follow in his footsteps. But right now, you just stay here and stay away from those damn docks.’

And so he’d slunk off, undecided whether to scowl or feel sorry for himself, so he’d done a bit of both.

One day.

He’d never much had the patience for reading – he didn’t want to read about things, he wanted to see and experience them for himself – but year after year he’d trace his finger over maps, looking at all the places he wanted to visit, places he knew so little about but fired his imagination with their strange, foreign names and promises of mystery and adventure.

The Caribbean formed the centre of the map, and was rich with opportunities. East of Mexico Island were popular places such as Kingston and J’maika, Colorado and the fabled Indiana, with its capital ‘City of Gold’ that he was named after. Not to mention pirate haven Tortugal, home to the giant mountain of Nassar (that India would one day climb). Kingston was the Caribbean hub, ruled from afar by York, and so frequently on the wrong side of pirates. The joke was that it was called such because everybody there acted like kings, they were that pompous and arrogant.

York was on the Continent, which lay to the north of the Caribbean, and as large (and self-important) as the country and its neighbour Bordeaux were compared to the Caribbean islands, they were dwarfed still by the other lands of the Continent: China, the Harem Empire, and the vast Khan Wastes to their east.

Then there were all the other places in the world any self-respecting adventurer would long to explore. Countries little written about, and some almost entirely unknown in India’s part of the world. The cluster of a thousand tiny islands and networked waterways that was Asia. The sprawling countries of Afrika and Barbary, and the great temples and sphynxes of Gyptia. The deep jungles of Amazonia, and the rolling grasslands and mountain ranges of Zealand to the far south. Maybe even the Northern and Southern Icelands, if he could wrap up well enough for them (he had the feeling that he wouldn’t know what cold really was until he went there).

One day.

And now, here he was, on the Ship of the Dead, with a skeleton crew, and on open water.

No turning back, that’s what Grimmer had told him. No turning back.

India tried to quell the ache within him, but he felt his thirteen years of age keenly, and he had to take a hard grip of the hammock support to steady himself.

He only took his fingers away when he became aware of them hurting, and looking at his fingertips he saw they’d been pressed white.

 

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