My first novella, actually written over October and November 2008 didn't see the light of day until 2016. At the time of writing I was doing a course being taught by talented Donaghmore author Emma Heatherington and I had set myself the goal of writing a short novella over the duration of the course. Our task for the first week was to write a short story based on a set of shared parameters, mine became the first chapter of that novella, so I'm throwing it up here as I've been lazy about updating the blog lately.
Although listed on Amazon as the first book in the same series as Murder Incorporated and Murder Syndicated it is more appropriate to say that those novels are a spin-off from this novella rather than sequels. The full novella reached the top 5% in the Screencraft.org Short Story for Screen Competition in 2015 and the evaluation suggested an adaptation for television.
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01- The Art of Theft
"You stupid, stupid man!"
This is me, a transvestite and a criminal walking down the street in this Godforsaken town in the middle American Bible-belt, I'm cursing into my cell phone and drawing perhaps a little more attention than I should.
On the other end of the line is my partner and as you can probably tell I am not particularly happy with him. We had one simple job to do: snatch a case from an empty office building and pass it on, it was that easy. Then my genius partner calls into the bookies on his way to the Fence and manages to get himself robbed.
I can feel the cold darkness of the night closing in around me, the sickly yellow pall of the streetlights and the washed out blue of the full moon do nothing to hold back the trepidation of what lay ahead. Anxiety, fear, call it what you will for I knew full well how deep a hole we were now in.
* * *
Six long months ago we had shot west from New York, an immoral and malefic place that I now look back upon with fondness, but at that time the greater imperative had been to keep my life.
Gene, my partner, got word of a certain city councilman who had just received a rather generous contribution toward his mayoral campaign, a nice off-the-books donation from a waste company looking to keep the health inspectors away from it's Hudson annex. Understandably we thought it only fair that the citizens of New York, namely ourselves, should benefit from the redistribution of this wealth and so a little bit of careful planning saw Councilman Raphael a little lighter in the pocket.
It's truly amazing what you learn after it is too late for you to correct your mistakes. For example I came back to find that Gene had discovered that Thundercat Wastes (Hudson) Inc. is in fact a mob shell company. And more interestingly still he discovered that Councilman Raphael is second cousin to Nicky 'Irish Nick' Ravel, Underboss in the Manhattan Scargetti family.
I should have stuck to art theft.
That was then, this is the nearer now.
The mayor here is a crooked browbeater who likes to spend his evenings beating his favourite hooker before heading home to his family, the clergy have the usual collection of pederasts and the cops think that they are the Cosa Nostra.
It is as if this town is a sewer draining away all that was once good about the American Dream so all that are left are the deadbeats and drifters like brown scum staining the rim of the basin. The desolate, broken, and depressed of a hundred struggling farms seem to have found themselves washed up on this berg, hoping to drown their sorrows in cheap booze, or in the truly tragic cases the local river.
There could not be a more perfect place for us to lie low until things cooled off back east.
Believing that was my mistake, for you see Gene has two great weaknesses, one is girls, the other is gambling.
For years I have been telling him that there is no quicker way to lose money than fast women and slow horses, but he tends to interpret this as advice to go for larger women and horses with short names so they're lighter.
It all came to a head a week ago when Gene broke down in tears and confessed that he had not only blown his cut of the Raphael job but had run up debts of several hundred thousand dollars.
This was tragic, it was a disaster, and it was ultimately his own mess to which I fully intended to let him sort out on his own. That is until he appeared the next day looking like road kill with fashion. Someone had worked him over good, a professional beating that he would remember but still left him full use of his limbs.
That was when I got the whole story, the money he owed belonged to The Circus.
Don't let the cutesy name fool you, The Circus is the biggest collection of freaks, weirdoes, and sociopaths in this accursed town, and when they were beating seven shades of crap out of Gene he gave them the only thing he could. He gave them the cat burglar he was in town with.
I could have killed him right there. His debt was now my debt, and if I wanted out then I was going to have to do a little job for them.
I packed my bags, slipped out of my dress and into the most nondescript grey suit that I owned, I told Gene that I was getting hell out of this town before I wound up in a shallow grave behind some school playground.
I threw my bags in the trunk of my old Mustang, told Gene to get in his car and head for Calexico and then I drove off.
This was our long time emergency exit plan should we ever piss off the wrong people. Get to the small town of Calexico in southern California, cross the border into the Mexican side, Mexicali, and rendezvous in a small bar suitably named Los Banditos. I kept a security deposit box in a small bank in the town with a couple of forged Mexican passports and ten thousand Euro, by the time anyone found that I had crossed the border I would already be on my way to a quiet Greek island.
Two hundred yards down the road I noticed that I was nearly out of gas, though I felt quite certain I should have had at least half a tank.
I pulled into the nearest Chevron and filled her up, all the time thinking carefully about the possible consequences of my flight.
The Circus would be pissed, but they're small fry in the grand scheme of things. My real concern was that my occupation was now a known fact and it was only a matter of time before a few guys with suits and slicked back hair turned up from New York.
I was about to leave when I felt a bit of a thirst come upon me. The time was as good as any to pick up a few drinks for the road so I headed back toward the whitewashed block of the building.
The attendant was on the phone as I entered and stared intently in my direction, had I been rumbled?
"Hey buddy," he called, "there's a guy on the line wants to talk to the man in the grey suit."
Well, that clinched it, I was being followed.
I took the offered handset and placed it to my ear but did not say a word.
"We only put a hole in your gas tank this evening, next time we'll cut your brakes," a voice rasped, clearly the owner smoked far too much, "then we'll cut your throat.
"You owe us a lot of money, Mr Trillion," he continued, "I suggest you go to the alley behind The Sports Bar and pick up your friend. He has the details you'll need."
The line went dead with a click.
* * *
So here I am strolling down the street tonight, cursing into my cell phone and genuinely stuck for a way out of our current predicament.
It was two days before Gene could walk again and after all the trouble we had went through he then managed to botch the job at the last minute.
My stilettos clicked angrily on the pavement in a mirror of my current mood, a small group of people eyed me warily as I passed by.
Being a transvestite is actually the perfect disguise for this line of work if you have the nerve to carry it off, you draw so much attention to yourself that people never notice what you really are.
"Meet me at the park in twenty minutes, we'll figure something out."
"Okay," Gene replied on the other end of the line, "Trillion, I'm sorry, man."
"Don't worry about it," I said, my anger giving away to something clearer.
A sudden screech of brakes caused me to turn abruptly, "Oh shit!"
A rusted red Dodge had swung broadside to block off the street behind me. The man behind the wheel wore a sickly paint of dirty white with exaggerated features painted in black and orange and had a shock of orange hair. He pointed two fingers at me and dropped his thumb in a movement mimicking the hammer of a pistol.
The Clown, the biggest psychopath in The Circus and the only weapon I had on me was a derringer tucked into my garter belt, not the ideal weapon to bring to a gunfight.
I hung up the phone.
A while back I wrote a violent Western novella called 'When the Man Comes Around', which is probably my most downloaded story on Kindle, although given the genre it faces a lot less competition than the likes of Murder Inc.
I had toyed with the idea of doing a sequel for a long time, but then Murder Inc started growing from a novella to a full blown novel and my six shooter sequel sort of fell by the wayside. So, I figured why not post up the prologue and intro. Feel free to praise it and tell me to finish the story.
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There was still gold in those hills, not much but there certainly was some. Not that miners ever really saw much benefit from it, the only people to see profit were the merchants, innkeepers, tradesmen, craftsmen and basically anyone else doing business during the waning years of the Gold Rush other than mining gold.
The town of Shasta was doing exceptionally well out of the boom, mule trains and stagecoaches rolled in to this hub of trade before heading further north along the Siskiyou Trail toward Oregon or back south toward Sacramento.
With all the comings and goings and the legends of rivers of gold there was inevitably going to be another type of person also attracted to the town, the grittier sort, men of spit and blood.
Two large gangs had established themselves in the surrounding countryside, engaged in a bitter rivalry with one another that more often than not came to bullets and death. Shasta was spared much of the violence as out of necessity it became something of a neutral territory, a place were either side could trade or otherwise entertain themselves without having to watch their backs.
Not that this did anything for the local population. The Oregon Regulars, a legion of deserters formerly a regiment in the Union’s Continental Army took the view that the locals were a nuisance, whilst the California Defenders simply took what they wanted.
You could not have referred to one side or the other as good, the Oregon Regulars had deserted the army for the sole purpose of making it rich off the sweat of the miners’ backs. The California Defenders on the other hand were simply carrying on the tradition of making life as difficult as possible for the Union that had annexed the territory over twenty years ago.
Where the two met, north against south, was as violent and cataclysmic as that fault through San Andreas, and embattled Shasta was the buffer zone.
For the past two months the Regulars had held the Hotel Royale as their base in the town whilst across that very same street the Defenders had claimed the saloon, marking out the borders of one another’s territory.
Carriages rolled down the street as a fine breeze lifted a layer of dust from the gutters of the busy thoroughfare, a man stood in the centre as stage coaches and wagons berthed around him casting glares in his direction but remaining silent.
Wind caught his long, navy blue coat revealing a pair of pistols at his side that gleamed as if lit by the fire of angels, the navy blue garments underneath could easily be mistaken for the uniform of a Union officer. His white hair was blown about a face that gave no clue to his age save that he was no coddled child.
Looking first to his left and then to his right he seemed at last to come to a decision.
Walking down the street ignoring the vehicles rumbling to his left and right, the brim of his hat casting a shadow over his eyes shielding him from the sun as it set fire to Heaven as it drifted toward the distant horizon. He turned north to the Hotel Royale, its red and white paint sand blasted and sun baked, stepping onto the porch he reached out a gloved hand and gently rapped the door.
This was as good a place to start as any.
He waited patiently as a barrage of cursing came from the other side before a few moments later the door was flung open by a young man in a Union uniform, clearly drunk.
“Yeah? What do you want?”
Without a word and fast as daylight the white haired man reached out and strangled the drunk silently on the doorstep.
Drawing his guns the man stepped inside and closed the door.
That same day.
The wharf of San Francisco was a forest of masts swaying with the gentle rise and fall of the sea, schooners and merchantmen that had been abandoned as their crews sought their fortune inland.
The city itself was booming, what had once been a small coastal settlement serving as a stopover for ships heading to better places was now the hub of California’s growth.
In the hustle and bustle of the area now known as Fisherman’s Wharf a young man sat on a jetty sketching the Italian immigrants toiling on their fishing boats. He ignored the crowds about him and the stares of the curious young women as he carefully etched the crooked lines of a gnarled old fisherman unloading nearby.
There was something about the old man, an adventure or strife, some hardship hidden beneath the lines on his face that gave him energy and determination. He was an excellent subject that the young man loved to try and capture, if even only the slightest glimpse he wanted to find a way to express the vibrancy under the sea-worn skin. If only he could speak Italian, the conversations they could have.
The artist, Patrick, was no more a native of San Francisco than his subject, his family were not part of the Gold Rush mania that had spread across the eastern US. Ten years ago they had been ranchers in New Mexico, but those days were long gone and would burn forever, the memory of a father and brother.
Things had been hard at first, adjusting to a new life and finding employment, but they persisted with the determination of people who refused to be defeated or browbeaten by their past.
His mother found work in an assessor’s office and Patrick when he turned fourteen found work on the docks, and in his spare time he liked to draw. And draw he did, every free moment for the past five years. He found serenity in art, being able to detach oneself from the world and observe dispassionately the ebb and flow of human emotion, to try and capture some of that energy in a single moment.
A young woman sat next to him but he paid her little heed, people always gravitated to him when he drew, he supposed that in some subconscious way they wanted to become subjects themselves.
She smiled at Patrick when he gave her a glance, he briefly returned it before lowering his eyes back to his etching. In truth he was a handsome young man, curly brown hair and green eyes that burned with intensity when he was bent over his sketch book, but he was also shy and distant in the way only a murdered family can make you.
“You’re very good,” she said, looking over his shoulder.
“Thank you,” he smiled but didn’t look up, “it’s just a hobby really, and I doubt my work will ever see the light of a gallery.”
She continued to watch him for a few minutes, sitting in silence as he smudged shadows across the fisherman’s face, his fingers making delicate strokes across the yellowed page.
“What’s your name?”
He paused in his drawing to look directly at her, curly blonde hair and blue green eyes like the ocean, she was dressed as a lady of some culture, not the sort that would normally associate with a dock hand or artist.
“Patrick,” he replied, “Patrick McElhone.”
“Patrick,” she smiled as she said his name, “that’s a nice name. My name is Patricia, Patricia Telford.”
He knew the Telford name, the family were big cotton traders from Louisiana originally but had come west when the Civil War became bad for business. They owned property all over the city and land as far out as Sonoma, including it was said a vineyard in Napa.
“Can I see your sketchbook please, Patrick?”
He handed it over without a word, struck dumb being spoken to by a woman whose family wealth was positively terrifying.
She flicked through images of the docks, the fisherman, the bay, even a sketch of Alcatraz Island before pausing at a drawing of a captivatingly beautiful woman, she looked to be in her early forties with flowing dark hair and slightly sad eyes.
“She’s beautiful,” Patricia whispered, “she looks so haunted. This is amazing work, who is she?”
“My mother,” he replied, “I drew that about a year ago, when she got engaged.”
“Why does she look so sad?”
“She has looked like that for a long time, it’s only since meeting my step-father that she has started to soften.”
“I take it this isn’t something that you want to talk about, not with a stranger certainly.”
She scanned through the remaining images, pausing to study the lines on each before moving on to the next, until at last she came to a blank page.
“May I borrow your pencil?”
Turning to the back side of the page she wrote a few brief words before closing the book and handing it back to Patrick.
“I have reserved a page in your book,” she stood and gave him a slight nod, “I would like to commission a picture when you have the time. You can find me at the address provided.”
He nodded, unsure and dumbfounded.
“Good day, Mr McElhone,” she offered her hand.
“Uh, good day,” Patrick found his feet, and taking her hand he gave it a gentle kiss, “Miss Telford.”
The exchange on the docks, between the McElhone boy and the Telford girl was watched by a figure standing in the shadows. He watched not only Patrick but everyone around, scanning from person to person, eyeing everyone, looking for something.
He had journeyed far to be here now, and it had been a journey in haste but now above all times was when he must be at his most cautious. There was far too much at stake to be reckless and impulsive now.
The Telford girl curtsied and left Patrick standing on the dock looking like a lost idiot, smiling to himself and gripping the sketch book, blissfully unaware of the imminent danger.
The man stepped out of the shadows and pushed through the crowds on the wharf keeping his hand on the knife hidden underneath his jacket.
Young McElhone was staring out to the bay, his back to the advancing figure, his mind full of wonder and new curious feelings.
The man stood directly behind him, hand still on the knife handle.
“She likes you.”
Patrick spun in shock and found himself staring at a tall Native American man with deep eyes like the heart of the earth and a tight lipped smile that only slightly curled at the edges.
Ok, so I'm taking another adventure into the Dark Souls fanon, but I've had a lot to do these last couple of days so give me a break. Also, getting that pic gave me another excuse to play.
So, when we last left my nameless sorceress she had died a few times, discovered briefly what it is like to have a willy (peeing when standing up is the only real advantage), and then found herself wandering into a dark crack in the side of a mountain.
"Oh sunlight," I was immediately suspicious. Having been sat on several times by the monster equivalent of the 'before image' in a Slimfast ad I didn't believe for a second that the game was beyond lulling me into a false sense of security.
The sound of the sea and imagined tang of salt air wasn't fooling me, although the place did kind of look like Donegal on the one day of sunlight it gets each year.
Walking cautiously along a cliff edge I came across one of those helpful messages on the ground from the weird multiplayer aspect of Dark Souls. For the uninitiated the game is technically single player but your game can be invaded by players from other realms and you can summon guys to help you, or you can invade yourself. Players can also leave messages constructed from a limited pool of words that persist across the game multiverse to give advice and hints to other players.
"Try jumping," next to a cliff edge. Yep, that's exactly as helpful as I'd heard they were.
Ahead was what once was either a vibrant town fallen to ruin or a modern village in Northern Ireland, either of which could pose a threat. The lack of flags or painted kerbs led me to believe that it was probably the former, but you shouldn't take anything at face value. Hell, despite all appearances and a complete lack of anyone willing to admit it, I'm not actually a virgin. Shocking, I know.
So anyway, back to the computer game.
Running through a picturesque crumbling arch I spotted a bonfire and figured that I would be safe for at least twenty, maybe thirty feet. Lighting that beautiful, glowing, and most importantly, safe fire I turned to take in my surroundings.
A proud war memorial stood up on the hill overlooking the sea, and a wee guy sitting next to it who must have been the local representative for the Royal British Legion. Beyond this in the distance was the ruins of a once mighty city now sunk into the ocean. That's not at all foreboding.
A ruined building with a tent outside it and an angry looking green man was some distance away from the memorial... there's another Northern Ireland joke in there somewhere, then another building. There was some kind of ruined manor with a pit in front of it and then another building to the left, with some ruins in the distance and an enormous black tower lacking only a flaming eye looming over all.
And to my immediate left was another darkened tunnel that I wasn't ready to face just yet as it seemed to lead out to a fortress battle scarred and in disrepair.
One thing I did note was a distinct lack of things braying for my still warm blood, and that made me nervous.
I did see someone standing alone by a cliff edge staring longingly into the distant ocean, you know that visual cue of a person of great depth and knowledge.
The player message on the ground behind her said "Try thrusting."
'Are you the next monarch?'
I don't know, am I? I'm just here because I apparently thought that it was a sterling idea to jump into a whirlpool and next thing I was lying in a ruin surrounded by long grass and murder.
I continued the conversation anyway as the player message had Christopher Nolan'd the idea of a possible lesbian awakening for my nameless sorceress.
Several cryptic comments later and I discovered that this mysterious lady, lets call her the Emerald Herald because that's her name, was my spirit animal and would allow me to level up.
Spending all the souls that I'd gathered and feeling newly empowered I decided to explore Majula and practice my dodge-rolls because apparently that is really important and robes are about as effective as you expect in repelling blades, arrows, maces, hammers, whips, spears, halberds, poison, fire, tusks, and being sat on.
The first ruined building turned out to be a blacksmith's workshop and the blacksmith was locked out of his own building, you should find this slightly amusing because he's a bit of a dick.
The next building I thought was empty until a cat started getting sarcastic at me, which I thought was a bit rich since she was the sorceress who'd managed to get herself trapped in the body of something that needed a litter box. She did however recognise me as a kindred spirit from the immense power of my starting level spell, which was nice.
I could hear noises coming from beside the ruin, so going for a dander around the side of the manor I saw the telltale glow of an item on the ground and three little piggies.
Ok, maybe if I leave them alone like the doggies I can-
"Oh come on," I said as I respawned at the bonfire.
Retrieving my souls I remembered that the primary character trait of any protagonist in an RPG is that you are essentially a high-functioning kleptomaniac who everyone just sort of turns a blind eye to, so I tried the door of the manor to see what items I might be able to loot... uh, turn to use in the quest to save whatever.
The message I received was effectively "Door's locked, piss off."
Dealing with my sense of rejection in my usual mature manner I considered suicide into the pit outside, however upon looking in and seeing the full spectrum of filthy green stains coupled with the foul stench of death and toilet water I thought, "Better not."
The last building had a nervous-sounding guy selling armour, but anyone dumb enough to buy armour in the starting area of a game is asking for a long journey. He did however have a chest just waiting to be looted so it wasn't a total loss.
So what were my options? There was a tunnel that seemed to point in the direction of that sunken city, but a brief exploration into what looked to be a sewer told me that I didn't really want to go that way yet.
So, that left the tunnel that looked to lead toward that overgrown ruin of a fortress... at least it would be dry.
I was struggling to think of something to write about today and then I remembered, "Oh yeah, I'm a colossal nerd," so I'm going to talk about an adventure with my nameless sorceress on her first voyage through Drangleic in Dark Souls 2, who I took to New Game+2 before discovering the usefulness of shielding. Since any attempt to write about the journey of any Dark Souls game in one post would more or less be little but incoherent gibberish (shut up) I'm going to write one post per region in the order of the odyssey, or maybe never write another because that would be bordering on fan fiction.
Ok, so that was a bit of an overlong intro sequence that didn't really tell me anything except that I don't know who I am and decided to jump into a portal for some reason that has led me to waking up in this ruin surrounded by suspiciously long grass.
Hey, what are those? Ooh, doggies. Starting enemies, alright, can't be that difficult since I don't even have a weapon yet.
Oh, and now I'm dead. That was unexpected. New rule, don't go near anything that looks hurty.
Right, and now I'm green and ugly... that's a nice touch, I guess.
So, a cabin with a bunch of creepy old ladies... ah right, I remember I'm a sorceress, now we're off to a flying start, time to go test my skills out by getting revenge on those dogs.
Hmmm, new rule, leave the dogs alone for now.
I wonder what's up this lane with all the big footprints... Oh, something big. And he has a bum! Hahahahahaha- oh, he sat on me. Right, I'd like to be able to make some sort of progress today I thought as I respawned at the ruins once more- hey, my bloody maximum health is reducing every time I respawn, oh up yours game.
Lets try that door on the other side of the cabin.
A bonfire, yes! Bonfires mean progress... in Drangleic, not Northern Ireland.
Cracking my knuckles with renewed vigour I ran through the next cave into a huge open expanse of... giant trees. Ok, so it's kinda like Teldrassil but everyone is really into Linkin Park and cutting themselves.
Fog doors, right, I'm not really sure what I'm doing here yet so I hope they just open up areas rather than dropping me into some inescapable Guild Wars Instance.
The mist eerily clears under my touch... and it's a tutorial area. Great, and I'd heard that this game's attitude to teaching you anything was 'if you want your hand held then piss off to Call of Duty'.
'Oh come one, that guy took me apart,' I thought to myself as I respawned at the bonfire.
Ok, so using my sparkly stuff fast has become vitally important as rolling out of the way doesn't seem to do shit.
So now I'm backing away and killing guys at range, this is going to take a lot of the challenge out of.. oh, I'm out of spells.
Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit, I cursed as I led a conga line of angry undead through the boughs of the trees, oh no where's my stamina gone? Oh crap it's one of those big fat bastards! Two of them! No don't sit on me!!
This game is fucking unplayable, I cursed, gritting my teeth at the bonfire and running straight back to my pool of blood because I backtracked long and hard to get that small collection of souls and I'll be damned if I was going to leave them there for those big tubby brutes to gloat over.
'Ha, one of them walked off the edge, stupid jerk,' I thought to myself as I slowly picked off the health bar of the other ogre because I spotted a coffin down by the waterside and I want to figure out why the designers would stick that there.
Boom! Eat blue sparkly death, you walking pork scratching. I think I've got this game cracked now, so lets try out this coffin.
"Your essence has changed."
Ok, that doesn't actually seem to have done anything... hey, where have my tits gone? What the hell did that do, give me a double mastectomy?
Stripping off my robes I was in for another shock, "Heyyyy, I have a willy now. What the hell? I'm not a buff dude, I'm supposed to be a sexy lady."
So as I would later learn in real world conversation that coffin exists solely to troll new players, well played game, well played. It would be nice if such a thing existed in the real world, experience has taught me that (when it's done right) women definitely have a better time during sex than men and I'd happily sport a vagina for the weekend.
This and other asinine thoughts passed through my head as I crawled out of the coffin again and disrobed to check that my small but perfect boobies where back, and then I had to use a human effigy to restore my human state because the saggy green undead things were going to be the source of many nightmares.
After dressing I decided to light the all the torches in the area because that's exactly the kind of puzzle fantasy RPGs taught me to expect. Of course the Dark Souls box sitting in the corner of my room looking at me over the top of its glasses said "What did you waste that torch for, what do you think this is, the Legend of Zelda? Did you really think that a torch lighting puzzle would exist when there is no risk of imminent death?"
Slightly disheartened with time wasted and with a renewed sense of dread I turned to that dark cave beneath the huge crack in the mountain from where the only light came like the flash of a thermonuclear strike.
With a deep suspicion and staff in hand I walked into that cave to see what manner of death awaits me.
An old short story I wrote way back before I started writing about Fallen Angel Detectives, transvestite cat burglars, and wee girls who could change the world around her with a thought.
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A long empty blackness lay ahead, the lonely highway rumbled beneath her tyres and she sighed to the melancholy thoughts that played over and over in her mind. Raindrops fell in heavy tears upon her windshield causing the intermittent flashes of street lighting to blur as they cast their sickly yellow glow that seemed to make everything appear just a little less real.
As the flashes washed across her face in steady rhythm she wished only that the sense of unreality were a reflection of the truth, she wished it with all her heart. She was drained, both physically and emotionally she was without energy, her tired eyes had a red puffiness and she could feel the tears running down her cheeks.
Her thoughts were of those slow, tentative steps that she had taken, shuffling across the darkened hallway. She remembered how she had gently cracked open the door of the room to make sure that he was asleep.
She had picked up the chairs toppled on the kitchen floor and swept up the broken glass that lay shattered like her heart, half the night had been forever lost to a torrent of heat and rage, one night more in a long and bitter cycle of despair.
She needed to get away from here, she needed to escape, the screaming echoed in her ears, she needed more than anything to be free at last of this anguish.
Slipping quietly into the dark of night she packed up the kids into the car and pulled out of the driveway heading for destination nowhere, heading for anywhere that was away from this prison of fear.
Making an excuse for another bruise, lying to others and lying to herself, another excuse for her to make up, another cover to invent as she found herself once more on the same lonely highway in a wet, black night.
The road rumbled loudly beneath her tyres and she kept on driving, another junction, stop sign, another set of lights. She left her path to the hands of fate, so long as she just kept on driving through the rain destiny would wind out its hidden course to whatever end lay in the uncertainty ahead.
The children in the back seat slept in quiet dreams of candy and new toys, oblivious to the living nightmare around them as the car was embraced in the welcoming night. Children have such beautiful minds, so innocent and open, ready to absorb the splendour of the world, they coped because cynicism had not yet extinguished the light of optimism at the end of the tunnel that was their lives.
She let them sleep as she wondered if this was all there was for her in life. Night after night she prayed to God but so far He had given no answer, no comfort or respite, and His silence hurt as much as the bruise on her cheek.
Eventually she would have to steer a course towards home, she was aware of that in the very pit of her stomach and in the bottom of her heart.
The children couldn’t be separated from their father, not forever. They wouldn’t understand her turmoil, they couldn’t understand the torture that she faced, taking them from him would lead only to have them suffer as she did now. If there was one thing that she was sure of in all her heart it was that she did not want her babies to feel her pain.
For now all she needed was a cheap motel somewhere, it didn’t matter where the place was so long as she could feel free if even for only a short while. She wanted a place where she could cry, a place where she could imagine that the world was better than it really is, a place in which love was true and life was just.
In time she would have to go home but for now she just wanted to be with her babies, to hold them in her arms and to remember how important her family really is.
Cable and air conditioning, that’s what the motel sold itself upon with its flickering neon sign, a cheap room paid for with cash and any name would do, the last chance saloon along the highway of broken hearts and shattered dreams. It was like a thousand other dank stopovers up and down the country, the last refuge of those lost to love or fugitives from their desires and fears.
And here she was back in this horrendous situation once more, the cycle of her life repeating in its torturous reciprocation that slowly wore away at her spirit and weakened her already fragile soul.
The flickering glow of the gaudy roadside advertisement brought tears to her eyes as her heart broke once more, another argument and another cheap motel, her strength crushed and her life feeling like a void.
Out of nowhere came a clarity in her heart, that her life was not meaningless. Her children gave her meaning, she had to be there for them and she had to protect them. She had to get away from it all, she needed the change before her heart broke for the final time.
She turned at the junction looking once only in a fleeting glance at that flickering neon sign, an apparition of her past, something that would continue to haunt her years if she didn’t make a change.
And so she kept on driving, the rumble of the road, the flash of the streetlights and the lonely highway in the dark of the night like a curtain waiting to be drawn back to reveal tomorrow. Destiny could do the navigating, the future lay on that dark and rainy road before her, all she had to do was keep her foot on the peddle, her hands on the wheel and her heart on the future, a future that could be so much brighter.
She hoped that one day the children would understand.
I'm starting to suspect that my phone has a very bad opinion of me.
I went to grab a coffee from a cute wee place in Dungannon that does great coffee to go, I almost forgot the Barmaid Rule (yeeeah, who remembers the post that appeared in?) but that's nothing to do with the story, came back out to the car and did the usual check of the phone before driving off.
Now, anyone with a smartphone knows that they are tracking your every movement like that one creepy guy at work who asks if you've had cybersex yet with the guy you've secretly been chatting to on Tinder. So, the phone helpfully will tell you how long it will take for you to get to the destination it predicts you're going to, I'm sure everyone has seen that little notification.
Why, at 11 o'clock in the morning that my phone thinks that I would want to go to an off license is beyond me.
Not even a local off license but one in a town 15 miles away. Driving to other towns to hide your shame is the behaviour of alcoholics and fundamentalist Christians. What the hell exactly does my phone think about me?
Is it because I sent a Bible quote refuting a guy who was quoting the Bible to hate on gays last night on Facebook?
That was an interesting bit of news, wasn't it? Everyone is pissed off at Facebook for doing exactly what they said they do in their own Terms and Conditions but it's a shock to everyone because NOBODY bothers their arse to read the EULA. Except me apparently, and I made my peace with it.
And then completely without irony or self-awareness people are bitching about it... on Facebook. Guys and girls, seriously, if it annoys you that much just delete your bloody account or shut the hell up. "Ooh, ooh, I don't use Facebook, I just use Twitter because I'm a savvy social media user myeeeeehh." Well, guess what...
Elon Musk made a big point of deleting the official SpaceX and Tesla Facebook pages. Now, I love Elon, he's a cool guy and possibly the real life Hank Scorpio. But what a fucking pointless statement that was. I follow Elon, SpaceX and Tesla on their very active accounts on Instagram (owned by Facebook) and Twitter, I get to give him likes at least twice for everything he does, so literally all he did was delete the least active pages in his portfolio (but don't worry, the fan pages survived the purge). I'm not giving him hate though, I love the guy, if there's anyone going to find a xenomorph it will be him, but deleting a couple of barely used pages just isn't news.
Cambridge Analytica and its associated companies did kind of make a mess for everyone though, not just Mark Zuckerberg's billions.
My own particular pleasure is to be called a 'cave dweller' by Jacob Rees-Mogg, a man who can't gain weight or grow a moustache because he'll be sued by Hasbro for infringing on their copyright on Uncle Pennybags. I'm not going to start slinging mud at the Tories though because really what's the point, when was the last time you ever thought the Conservative Party gave a shit about normal people?
And Trump? Well, lets just say if someone told me Russia paid for CA to mine that data I would not be surprised. However I suspect that whatever control Putin thought he had over Trump old Vlad forgot that he was dealing with a petulant man-child who will do what he wants because he just doesn't give a fuck. So the Russian diplomats are gone for an attack with a weapon that could only be traced to former Soviet stockpiles, and none of that stuff ever made it onto the black market ever.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not warming to Trump, I'm just waiting to see which country he decides to go to war with first. Probably Spain because he couldn't find Iran on the map, plus they sound suspiciously like they are talking Mexican.
It'll all probably work out in the end. Even if the bombs fall at the very least the fans of zombie movies will finally get to live in the post-apocalypse that they have always dreamed about, that future of fighting for survival, hiding from raiders, mourning the tragic passing of indoor plumbing.
As for me, I'm just going to be rambling bollocks on the internet to avoid doing any real writing and when the first bomb falls I'm getting in my car and driving toward the flash so I can go out with a smile on my face and the memory of someone nice I was talking to today.
Of course maybe I've got all that wrong and Siri was just trying to get me drunk.
Well, someone actually matched with my nonsensical Tinder profile, possibly out of morbid curiosity or possibly because she was still drunk from the night before (it was the day after St Paddy’s and our epic Grand Slam victory in the Six Nations).
Having met my goal the profile bio has now been taken down as nobody really wants to learn about the VAT rate of breads and pastries, and the Fraggle Rock theme has been replaced with a Bruce Springsteen song I really like that also happens to have a suggestive title. For all it really matters anyway, I imagine that it will be a fortnight at most before I take my profile offline again.
In the meantime I promised a poem if someone matched with me, and I’m not going to disappoint. Unfortunately due to a combination of other projects and procrastination (laziness) I’ve missed World Poetry Day (21 March), but we’ll say I’m doing this in honour of the event anyway, which means I’m either being avant-garde or a hipster.
There was an age when the world was dark
And time it was but a faraway dream,
It came after one lingering spark
Of light and sound in a flowing stream,
In aeons forgotten in the haze of morning
When the reverie fades,
And the head starts pounding.
A universe exists beyond the heavy shades
And stellar power dries the dew of night,
A hopeful promise eternally remade
In the dawning of a new day’s light,
The morning check of the social world
To see what has been said,
And what apologies might be owed
The rumour of a new connection
The teasing heart of a rightward swipe,
Surely no one could want the affection
From someone clearly a total gype,
And yet here it was really true
There was she,
And very pretty I can tell you.
So a chat there was, the sharing of a joke
And mutual agreement that someone was a dose,
An accountant she thought from my HMRC boke
I had to tell her she wasn’t even close,
It transpired she hails from a farm near town,
And soon conversation dried,
For it’s a lonely life with the charm of a clown.
Don’t anybody dare say “Aw, that’s sad,” it was one more swipe than I expected to get with that profile, which makes it more successful than the time I went on to Plenty of Fish with Hannibal Lecter as my profile picture and the headline “It puts the lotion on its skin or hosey time”.
Happy World Poetry Day everybody.
The opening to Murder Syndicated, the second part of the five part series that I'm working on. Despite the dark opening it's almost universally agreed that this novel is more accessible than it's precursor so I might do a Stephen King at some point and go back and give Murder Inc a reworking.
Anyhoo, I've stopped this excerpt before any spoilers, which is a shame because the paragraph after the excerpt has a spoiler and the paragraph after it has a masturbation joke.
- - - - - - - -
The sky was black and rolling with thunder, columns of smoke rose into the air across the charred landscape and all about there was the stench of death.
Feathers flecked red with blood were whipped into the air by a cold wind and swirled about everywhere as a grim reminder of the slaughter that had come to pass.
I knelt on cold and blackened dirt. Bloodied, bruised. Defeated.
My few companions had lain down arms, we could not hope for victory but maybe, just maybe save those who had fallen, that it wasn’t too late for our wounded.
A tall man in tarnished armour stood over me, his once golden hair matted and dark with blood, his eyes were sad.
He saw no pride in the defeat of his brother.
I was taken by strong hands, my condemnation already decided, my fate writ. I no longer had the energy to stand, my will was gone.
I was led across a desolate waste, scorched by an eternal and ageless heat under the watchful gaze of mountains black as the end of time, sentinels to the death of mercy.
The scar on the face of this vast desolation fractured and opened before us running as far as the eye could see on either side, a split in reality itself between those of us on foot and that faraway mountain range.
Stones cut my feet as I was trailed across that barren waste, dragged inexorably to my damnation.
A craterlike maw raised ahead, the original split where the chasm first tore upon this land and from which a jet stream of smoke and embers spewed forth bathed in a vicious orange glow.
The path to the maw was lined with the ranks of those who had cast us down, those who had once been our brethren their backs turned now on us. They called us traitors.
The others who had lain down their arms were behind me, they would share my fate; we would all be punished.
Catching on a rock I stumbled to my knees, falling from my captors hands I sprawled on the dirt cutting my hands and face, minor wounds compared to those already taking their toll.
The one who led the way in blood soaked armour and long hair perfectly straight and black as jet turned and regarded me only with contempt, with absolute hatred.
He moved to step toward me but was blocked by my brother; under that sky of death and burning embers he turned and reached down for me. Straining, he pulled me up as I struggled to find the strength.
One of my companions, a trusted friend of a lifetime rushed forward and took my other arm; I would be carried to my doom by my brother and my blood-sworn comrade.
A path hewn into the broken stone led to that voracious glow, from here we could see the jet stream, lightning crackling along the acrid funnel of the howling twister.
The ranks of our once brethren ended on a ledge overlooking that damnable pit, the stench of death in the air replaced with the pungent malodour of brimstone carried from the deep.
“It has come to this,” the dark haired one stared over the precipice, his face hued in a spectral orange, “I hope you count the cost.”
He looked to me for some response, some justification, maybe for me to plead mercy or offer one last act of defiance. I would give him no such pleasure.
“Very well,” he turned his back to me, “cast him in.”
My brother like any true brother hesitated, his loyalty sorely tested by the bonds of blood. In this dark and savage place I pitied him more so than myself or those who were to share my fate, I pitied him for what he would have to live with.
“Michael,” I said, my voice broken, in his hesitation they would question his loyalty and he would be condemned to burn alongside me in the Lake of Fire, “do it.”
We took a few slow steps together, the heat washing up was unbearable and cut at my lungs, we stood on the edge of oblivion as brothers in arms for one final time.
“Goodbye,” he said, “brother.”
In that moment time slowed, the end, a funnel of malevolent energy before me, an army behind. I closed my eyes as I felt his muscles tense, I took one last deep breath of free air.
It was as though time had slowed to a crawl.
A solitary white feather flecked with blood drifted before my vision, one final reminder of what I stood for framed against a column of ash and flame.
As I reached for that token I felt myself rise bodily into the air and tumble out over that precipice, thrown to oblivion.
I screamed as I fell through an infinite blackness toward a flaming ball of light, an eternal and damned sun hidden from all creation in the infinity of the pit. The vortex of the jet stream struck me and I was caught up in a swirl of liquid fire.
My flesh burned.
I flailed in agony as I tumbled through all the hatred of the universe.
Nothing existed but this pain.
I saw my flesh stripped away by the fire, I felt my eyes boil and pop but had no loss of sight.
I would experience everything.
I awoke with a start and was momentarily confused by the silhouettes all around me, the strange shadows and slivers of yellow light at odd angles. Eventually it occurred to me that I was lying in my bed and the light was the New York City night peering through the gaps in my curtains like a pervert.
Sitting up I wiped sweat from my brow, feeling like a bit of an idiot for getting spooked by a nightmare, barely noticing the sweat was rising off me in a light steam. A bit of the abyss had come back with the memory.
There was a bottle of sparkling water on my bedside cabinet, cool beads of condensation on the bottle hinting that it had not warmed up much, which in turn told me that I had not been asleep for long.
Gulping down several mouthfuls just a little bit too quickly I burped and then excused myself to the empty room. You never know who might be looking on, and if people knew how real the possibility was then the porn industry would slip into financial ruin overnight.
Lying back into my cocoon of pillows I stared up at the shadows on my ceiling, today had been the last day of my suspension, in the morning it was back to the NYPD, back to the job.
As a followup to yesterday's post, I'm now back on Tinder with the profile as promised and doing my part for thumb exercises. I can already feel my neck getting sore from all the left swipes.
But hey, that VAT information may be useful to a select few of you.
If some mad person actually matches I think I'll write another poem.
It's only Tuesday and already it has been a busy week for picking something to blog about. Trump has sacked a guy, Russia has murdered a guy, and I touched a guy. Well, it was myself but in the dry spell I'm having you've got to count every bit of contact.
So today I'm going to talk about the exciting thing that everyone wants to hear: I'm going to go back to Tinder.
Yes, ladies, get ready to swipe left so hard that you'll hurt your thumbs and give me whiplash. I like to think that my presence on that app has single-handedly created more Thumb War champions than the entire public school system in the UK, and those boys masturbate a lot.
To really capture that dynamic left swipe you need to have the perfect profile pic, something that really speaks to the lady about the bullet she is dodging. An image that simultaneously says 'That guy could be fun' and 'my reputation would never survive this'.
Luckily for me I found my lime-green mankini whilst tidying the house last week.
So, we've got the image and now we have to get the profile just right. Women claim to love comedy right? Therefore the absolute last thing that I want to do is be funny. In the past I somehow managed to get a following on Match.com for my really outlandish profile descriptions, a couple of which I've attached for your reading pleasure.
We want to avoid that kind of attention at all costs.
I think that the best accompaniment to my mankini profile pic would be to randomly copy 500 characters out of Northern Ireland Tax Law from the HMRC website because nothing says sex like the VAT rate for soda farls.
I should probably disconnect my Instagram from the account, but lets be realistic here, the only time anyone goes from Tinder to someone's Instagram is to see bikini or shirtless pics (depending on what you're into). Since I have neither the abs or the pert boobies that would lure anyone across apps I think it's fairly safe to leave it up there.
Last but not least we come to the bit in which you can bind an anthem from Spotify. So, do I pick a really romantic song or something emotional that will show just how deep and soulful I am?
Nah, you know where this is going. If the Fraggle Rock theme isn't available then the obvious choice is Mah Na Mah Na by the Muppets.
And there we have it ladies, I'm ready to be dropped like a retired Russian spy and simultaneously be the best exercise that some of you working in offices will get this week. And people said that I would never contribute anything to society.
Available for sale