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Old 03-16-2022, 03:23 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Just for fun, I've compiled what I believe to be the best of my short (and not so short) stories into an e-book. Anyone who wants a copy feel free to PM or post. It's not like I'm publishing or selling it, but feedback would be nice if you get the chance.

Are there really monsters in the closet?

Who is the strange old man searching for his son, and what connection has he to the woman who has lost her daughter?

Which road, which will determine his future, will Peter choose when he meets the Devil in a forest?

Why does a woman believe that in order to live she must kill everyone she meets?

Do you dare gaze upon the true face of Hitler?

Where does a vampire go when he wants to kick the addiction to blood?

On a distant planet, the sole surviving members of two warring races meet for a final showdown. Who will be the only survivor?

Journeys into Imagination Volume One comes in both epub and Kindle (AZW3) formats, to enable you to read it on Kindle or any e-reader.

Praise for Journeys into Imagination, Volume One:

"What? Who the **** is he? Get that out of my face! I'm not reading that!" - Stephen King

"I'm sorry, we are unable to comment on ongoing legal cases." - Attorneys for Clive Barker

"Look, just let me out of here and I'll say anything you want! Please! I have a family, for God's sake!" - Peter Straub


"THiS COLlectIOn is ver-Y GOOd – anonymous"

“Ay-yi-yi! No me gusta!” - Bumble Bee Man

Other people who downloaded this collection were found to have below average IQ, had problems forming meaningful long-term relationships, and many were later diagnosed as borderline sociopaths.
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Old 03-17-2022, 10:45 AM   #2 (permalink)
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They say hook your audience in the first few minutes of reading...

Extract from "Coming Back to Life" (approx. 9,000 words)

The noise surprises me. I suppose I could say it shocks me, and that might in fact be closer to the truth – certainly more accurate – but then, technically I'm already shocked enough that the loud clang really isn't able to do more than surprise me. Why does it surprise me? Because I hadn't quite expected something so small and, really, relatively light to make such a loud sound. Maybe it didn't. Maybe the effect of its hitting the floor was merely amplified by my own sense of terror, dismay and revulsion, but it certainly rang in my head like the pealing of a bell. A death knell. I almost grin at the irony, but in my situation grinning is not only inadvisable but pretty much impossible, unless I want to go, or seem, completely mad.

I'm not quite sure when, or even why I dropped it, though I think that maybe I didn't: maybe it was all the blood that has made it slip out of my hand, or it could have been, too, that after the deed my fingers, losing their nerve, let it go automatically. It could also have been that horror and revulsion I was talking about a moment ago. Well, you'd be horrified and revolted too if you'd seen what I have.

If you'd done what I've done.

I find my eyes drifting downwards, almost reluctantly, as if pulled there by an undeniable call that has to be resisted, but cannot be. I think I see the knife first. It's lying on the ground, half-shrouded in darkness but still clearly stained bright red, making an odd kind of an exclamation mark with the droplets of blood that led off from it, and made it, just for a moment, seem like the ultimate and absolute end of a sentence whose author will never write another word. Following its track my fiercely resisting eyes, iron filings dragged along by invisible magnets, uncover no final message, no clue left behind as to who had done this, no plea or last farewell or even a curse.

No more words. No exclamation mark, either – it was simply an optical illusion, like the sock that falls from the dryer into the shape of something else, the cloud that assumes a likeness to something recognisable, the image which eventually emerges out of a magic eye picture, as Jesus sometimes emerges from everything from a piece of toast to a pool of oil, visible clearly to some, to others nothing but a confused mess which shapes nothing.

No, the knife does not exclaim, nor does it question. The knife has had no say in this, though it has had the final say, you could say. Sorry for the somewhat rambling narrative here, but I'm sure you can understand I'm pretty much on edge. On edge! More irony! Iron! Well, steel. Iron. Steel. A sharp, dully glowing blade, lifted in the half-gloom to...

I push the image away. I'm not ready to deal with that just yet. Not now. Now I have another image to face, but before I do – and yes, I quite understand that all I'm doing here is delaying an unpleasant but inevitable task, but you would too if you were in my place – let me just complete that apology, which got a little off track when I started making silly puns. I suppose it's my way of dealing with this situation, though I'm sure any shrink worth their salt would tell me that the last thing I'm doing with this situation is dealing with it. Avoidance, they would say. Probably. Keep everything at arm's length, keep looking the other way, talking about other things, focussing on anything but the matter in hand (in hand! Sorry; there I go again) because the reality is too horrible, too scary, too real to face.

They'd be right. I'm sure of it. That's why they get to sit in plush offices in places like Manhattan and Chicago and Boston and look down on the rest of us, why they make more money than you or I could ever... Sorry, once again, I'm rambling. Time to take hold – no! No more puns! - and get this apology out there.

The rambling narrative I referred to earlier is due to this: I'm making this up as I go along. No, that's not as bad as it sounds. It also probably isn't phrased correctly. What I mean to say is that all of this is new to me, and to try to make some sense of it (if such a thing can ever happen) I've taken to writing down everything that happens, as it happens, and, well, it can get a little hard to remember details. My mind seems to be fragmenting, and sometimes I remember things before they've happened, if that doesn't sound like a crazy person talking. And if it does, hell, maybe it is. Maybe I am. Crazy, that is. You'd know. You're the shrink, aren't you? You're not? Oh.

You'll have to excuse me now for a moment. This is the part I always hate. I've come to hate it even more than... well, I'll get to that, and when I do, you might wonder how I don't hate that more than I hate this, but this is my nightmare and I'm trying to maintain whatever slim control I can over it, which isn't much I can tell you. But there I go again, rambling and going off track, running away on tangents while the thing I have to face is a mere flick of my eyes away. Off to the right. Just there. Just out of sight. In the dark.

Perhaps it's best that it is in the dark, but that won't save me. I know it's there, and if I didn't, like some frontier explorer looking for the source of a river I could follow the dark tide that has made tiny little lakes and then flowed onto the blade of the knife, follow it back to its origin, its wellspring. I won't be feted. No ticker-tape parades for me. Nobody wants to know about this particular discovery. I don't want to know about this particular discovery.

But I can't ignore it.
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Old 03-17-2022, 10:48 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Extract from "The Survivors" (approx. 1,600 words)

It was the fifth bar he had tried in the last week, and the last: in the morning his ship left, and he would have to turn his search elsewhere. His ticket was paid for and not refundable, and anyway, what was the point in staying here if she wasn't to be found here? He had a good feeling though. Payment loosens tongues but they don't always speak truly, but there had been something in the eyes of his informant (well, one set of them anyway) which had convinced him that he would find her here.

The barman greeted him with a wide smile, but then, Broloxians greeted everyone with a wide smile: their mouths didn't move at all, so it was the eyes you had to watch, staring at you from those stalks on top of the head that always reminded him of a watermelon, not that such things existed anymore.

“Falcon, yeah?”
“Hawk,” he corrected the Broloxian, who wiggled his stalks.
“Yeah, I knew it was some extinct animal,” he commented, small green and purple bubbles rising from his wide mouth as he spoke. “You're really a human?”
“Right.”
A sound that may have been a whistle, a scream or a burp escaped from the barman. He continued polishing the glass in his hand.
“Thought you guys was all dead,” he commented.
Hawk shrugged. “Not all of us.”
Looking slightly uncomfortable, the Broloxian nodded to a table in the far corner.
“She's waiting for you over there.” He finished polishing the glass, gave it a critical examination and, satisfied, replaced it on the shelf. When he turned back, the human was gone.
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Old 03-17-2022, 11:02 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Extract from "The Last Temptation of Billy the Kid" (approx. 13,000 words)

He knew he was dead before he hit the ground. Seems he remembered that Ben Franklin had once written that there was nothing certain in this world except death and taxes, and while Billy had had no truck with the taxman, leaving such things as bank and train robberies to those better suited to them, like Jesse James and the Youngers, or Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, and as a consequence (or coincidence, he was never sure which, nor cared) the US Government had not seen fit to bother him, death was very familiar to him. After riding side by side with that particular hombre – even if they was more like partners than adversaries – he sure recognised the Grim Reaper when his erstwhile riding buddy rode up to say howdy.

So this was it, he thought, less annoyed about being shot than the manner in which it had occurred. As something of a celebrity in the New Mexico territories, he had always assumed he would die in a gunfight, a shootout or at the hands of one of the many posses various law enforcement officials had set after him, probably most likely thanks to good ol’ Governor Wallace, who had been trying to capture him since he reneged on his promise to pardon the young gunslinger. Shot down, as it were, in a blaze of glory: that was how he wanted to go, how any young gun wanted to go. Like the Vikings a thousand years ago, of whom Billy knew nothing but surely would have approved, an honourable death in battle was what he had hoped for. What’s the point of reaching sixty or seventy and dyin’ in bed? No, go out on your feet, gun blazing at your hip, burning your legend into the consciousness of history. Make them remember you. Make sure nobody ever forgot the name William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid.

But dyin’ here, alone in the dark, unable to see who had shot him, unable to react, defend himself, give a good account before he left, if that was what the Almighty willed? Not the end he had seen for himself. A cowardly thing to do, he mused sourly, as he listened to the blood roar in his ears and his heart begin to slow, unable to pump that blood on account of having a large bullet-hole right through its center. Shoot a man down without any warning, defenceless without his gun, and in the gloom of his bedroom. Bad as shooting a man in the back, and that was bad in Billy’s book.

Of course, in some ways he had known this was how it would end for him. Some years ago, just for fun, he had wandered into one of them county fair deals and allowed a fortune teller to read his palm. Mind you, much of the reason for that was on account of her bein’, far from old and wrinkled and ugly, young, vibrant and very pretty indeed. Mexican gal, black raven hair falling to her slim shoulders, the white dress cut in such a way as to expose more of the flesh of those shoulders than was strictly decent, but Billy wasn’t much concerned with decency. She had smiled at him, and he had sat down, and she had read his palm. But her smile had wavered, vanished as her eyes darkened and she shook her head.

She had looked up then, the smile returning, but one thing Billy was was a good reader of people, and he quietly warned the Mexican woman to give it to him straight. Not that he believed in that nonsense, but he did his best to deal fairly with people and felt it only right that folks ought to repay that respect. He had told her he would know if she was lying. Of course, he had no way of knowing that, but another of Billy’s talents was being real convincing; the six-shooter nestling at his side played a big part in that, he knew. This lady might not know exactly who he was, but she would have no doubt he was an experienced gunman, a cold-hearted cowboy who wouldn’t even think once of shooting her dead if she gave him reason to.

Not that he would, but sometimes people did all the convincing themselves, and if it was to his advantage, well, Billy was not about to go correcting them on their misinterpretations of his temperament, now was he? So, both reluctantly it seemed and with no small amount of fear for her own life (perhaps she was the genuine article and knew whose palm she was reading, knowledge sure to terrify anyone about to deliver such news) she told him what she had read in his future.

“You will die in the dark, alone,” she had told him, her voice flat, emotionless, as if she did not speak the words herself but was merely a vessel for someone or something else to convey the information. “You will never know who your killer is, nor will you have a chance to defend yourself. It will be very quick, over in seconds.” Then her eyes had burned brightly, flashed and lent further credence to the belief that something... something other was in possession of her. “Beware those you call your friends, Senor Bonney.”

The warning had not, at the time, had any great effect on Billy. He knew that many of the men he had ridden with, been imprisoned with, killed with during his short life would likely turn upon him for the enormous reward money being offered for his capture, or even for the prestige and notoriety of being the man who did Billy the Kid in. He had not needed Senorita Marquez to admonish him not to let anyone get too close, not to trust anyone, and really he never had. A lone wolf who occasionally ran with this or that pack, Billy trusted only one person in this world. Whether Pete Maxwell had sold him out to his pursuers or not he could not say – though he was pretty sure, despite the inky gloom into which he had walked just a few moments ago, that his old friend was there in the bedroom – but he knew who had killed him.

Garret was standing over him now, shaking his head (again, barely discernible in the darkness), no doubt proud of himself for having achieved what no other lawman in New Mexico had been capable of. Truth to tell, Sheriff Pat Garret had been on his trail for some time, and had even captured the notorious outlaw once before. Billy had escaped of course, but there was no escaping this. This was the end.

As if to taunt him (which Billy found a little odd, as he had never considered the sheriff a particularly cruel or vindictive man, just a guy doing his job, which Billy had to respect) Garrett was talking to him, though his voice sounded strange and the words didn’t sound right.

“Awful shame,” he said, “endin’ such a promisin’ life in such a manner. Don’t seem right, somehow.”

Billy reckoned he must be just about to step over that threshold and meet his maker, as he couldn’t feel any pain. Squinting down at his chest in the darkness he could have sworn the blood was no longer staining his jacket, but that must have been, he decided, a combination of the poor lighting and the onset of death. He tried to answer but found he couldn’t. That wasn’t surprising in the least. Dying men usually had little to say. Too busy gasping their last. Garrett was talking again.

“Don’t have to be this way, you know.”

Even in the gathering gloom, which, in addition to his eyesight failing from impending death, Billy could have sworn the sheriff’s eyes twinkled. Or flashed.

Now Garrett hunkered down beside him, and he wasn’t.
Garrett, that is. He wasn’t Garrett.

Billy knew Pat Garrett reasonably well – you tend to remember the details of the man who caught you and threw you in jail – and this was not him. This was nobody he knew. A stranger.

“Man oughta have a choice in life,” said the stranger in a philosophical voice. Suddenly, he grinned, his perfectly white teeth all but gleaming in the dark. Billy felt an almost irresistible urge to shield his eyes, though he couldn’t move any part of him, leastways his arms. “Or death,” added the Stranger.

Yeah. Stranger. Not just a stranger; this guy deserved the capitalisation. He wasn’t just some drifter, some unknown person, some nobody. No, no way. This was not nobody. This was about as Somebody as you could get. Billy had no idea why he knew this, but he knew it, was as certain about it as he ever had been about anything in his life.

The Stranger looked directly at him, and suddenly Billy could see everything as clear as if lamps had flooded the room with light, or as if it were day and the sunlight streaming through the windows showed him every detail of the place where he had just died.

Confirming that the Stranger was not Garrett, he now saw the sheriff standing by the bed, where his friend Maxwell also stood, the latter in a half-crouch, rising from the bed as if to either warn Billy (too late of course) or tackle Garrett, or perhaps even to point him out to his killer. There he is! That’s Bonney! Shoot him! No way to know which interpretation was correct; Pete Maxwell’s stance left room for doubt either way, though Billy did notice that his friend’s gun was still holstered, and from the position of his body Maxwell had not been making any attempt to draw it, so maybe he had betrayed the Kid. Who knew, and what did it matter now?

What did matter, and was surely a result of his losing consciousness (why was he not dead yet? Shouldn’t take this long, surely?) was that neither of the two figures by the bed were moving. As if caught in one of those new-fangled photographs, both Maxwell and Garrett seemed frozen in time. Garrett’s gun, pointed up at a sharp angle (no doubt following the recoil as it had been fired) was wreathed in smoke from the discharge, and yet, even this failed to move. Garrett’s eyes, narrowed to slits, surely the better to see in the gloom, looked over at the door through which Billy had made his last ever entrance in this world, and did not flick down to where the stricken gunslinger now lay, while those of Maxwell seemed to focus on Garrett’s revolver, his mouth open in a shout that could, again, have been a warning to Billy or a shout to alert Garrett that his long-sought prey had entered the room. Behind both men, a glass of whisky, knocked over as the two had jumped up, spilled over the side of the locker by the bed, its amber stream stopping halfway to the ground, suspended there as if it were an icicle that had hardened and remained where it was, never reaching the floor.

A quirk of fate had placed Billy in view of the clock, and he now saw that its hands too had been stopped in their usually inexorable journey around the face, prevented from joining together like separated lovers as midnight struck. The longer, thinner minute hand stood just past the painted numeral of eleven, while the hour hand waited impatiently at twelve, but it seemed the tryst would not be completed this night. Not only the men in the room, not only the objects therein, but time itself seemed to stand still. Everything was frozen in place.

Except, of course, for himself.

And the Stranger.

“You want a second chance, Henry?” It was he who now spoke, and his voice, though kind of friendly in an offhand sort of way, was very cold, as if his teeth, his very tongue were made of ice. To his surprise, Billy found he could talk. Not only could he talk, but he could do so without pain lancing through his body. In fact, there was, as he had already remarked to himself, no pain. None at all. And now that the room was brightly lit (whether through the agency of this mysterious grinning Stranger or because he was heading “into the light”) Billy could confirm that he was no longer bleeding. Looking down – an action that caused him, again, and to his considerable surprise, no pain – he could see the smoking hole that had been blown in his chest, could see the dark stain colouring his jacket and the shirt beneath, spreading out from the entry wound like some sort of scarlet spider, but the liquid had stopped dripping. His clothes weren’t dry, for the blood had soaked into his pants as it had exploded out of the wound and spurted down his legs, splashing his boots. But they weren’t getting any wetter.

The wound was still there, but it wasn’t leaking his life fluid out onto the wooden floor any more. The pain was gone, the blood had stopped, and everything bar him and this Stranger seemed to be frozen in place.
Surely, now, he was dead?

“Yes... and no.”
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Old 03-18-2022, 11:03 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Extract from "Fork in the Road" (approx. 6,000 words)

There’s no two ways about it, a dark forest is a scary place to get lost in, even if you’re an adult. Peter was not: he had just recently celebrated his eighth birthday, and while in his mind this might mark him out as no longer a child, in the eyes of the world, the law and of course his parents this is exactly what he was: a child. And not only that, but a lost child too. He knew he should not have wandered off into the wood, but there was something about it that seemed to call to him, as if a voice issued from within the thickets, a siren call that emanated from the darkness and sought to pull him into itself. He had told himself he was not frightened, and this was partially true – when he was outside the forest, or even on the fringes, where he could look back through the tall spruce and sycamore trunks and see the faint lights of the village where he lived, where the comforting sound of traffic making its way up and down the road still came to his ears, and while he could still consider himself connected to the world outside the wood.

But as he had advanced into the thick stand of trees, brushing leaves and the occasional branch away from him, his feet ever less sure as the hilly path turned to a broken, pitted, uneven track of soil and mud, the confidence he had felt on stepping into the wood was deserting him rapidly, and his heart began to hammer as he realised that, dark as the wood was, and having stumbled several times and so become disorientated, he was not at all sure he could find his way back. The trunks of the trees seemed to crowd together, as if purposely blocking his retreat, and forcing him on, deeper and deeper into their domain. Suddenly something fluttered in the gathering gloom – a bird, a bat, something other, he had no idea, but the sound was enough to unnerve him – and he shouted, backing up against one of the larch trees that lined the path ahead.

That was when he saw him.

His heart jumped, and he was not sure whether he should take this as a good or bad sign. One of the things Peter’s mother had always impressed upon him about the forest, presumably in the hopes of keeping her son from exploring that dark place, was that it was a known haunt for what she termed “bad men”. Drug pushers, rapists, paedophiles, perhaps even murderers were known – according to her – to frequent the place and conduct their dark and nefarious business under the lowering eaves. She had frightened her young son with the dread warning that a little boy could be killed and buried in the forest, and nobody would ever find him.

Naturally, this had only made Peter want to investigate the dark, forbidding and forbidden place even more, so he grasped the first opportunity that came his way, part of him perhaps hoping, in that macabre way kids have, to come across one such unmarked grave, the final resting place of some unlucky boy or girl who had fallen foul of the demons of the forest, buried there among the trees and the buzzing insects, another statistic, another unsolved crime, another son or daughter whose parents would never have closure.

A small, mostly unheard or at least ignored voice inside him had whispered that he could become that very victim, something for another kid in the future to come searching for, a curiosity to be explored even as he now explored, but of course like all kids he paid the internal warning no mind.

Not, that is, until the figure appeared before him, seeming, to his childish and (though he refused steadfastly to admit it to himself) terrified mind, to rise up out of the very earth, like a dark tree himself, but one which had grown at an impossibly accelerated rate. He would have said, later, had he been questioned, that the man wore black, but of course here in the depths of the forest, with daylight already fading and little if any sun making its way into the dense copse, he could not tell for sure. But the clothes the man wore looked... wrong, somehow. He tried (as his heart pounded and sweat filmed his hands) to work out why, what was wrong with them, but concluded that it was hardly important. Maybe they looked old, like maybe out of another era? Maybe. He certainly wore the kind of hat Peter had seen in books about Victorian London, a tall, shiny one.

Few people in Yorkshire wore hats, and any that did favoured the typical northern flat cap. This was the fifties; with the war over the trend for wearing the likes of Hombergs, Bowlers and Fedoras was dying out, and while some men still wanted to cover the head, hats were not seen as the status symbol or denoter of class that they were ten years ago. Of course, the city gents in London wore, as they probably always would, bowler hats. But this wasn’t London. This was Cottingley, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, no place further from the centre of political and financial power that was the nation’s capital. So to see a man wearing any hat other than a cap – especially one of those old top hats – well, it marked that person out as... different.

The man stepped forward, seeming to flow like mist, though that could have been a combination of Peter’s fear and the gathering darkness, and smiled at the boy. Peter did not like the smile, but strangely, it made him feel less apprehensive, less frightened. In a clear and cultured voice, the man asked “Do you know who I am, boy?”

Peter shook his head; words would not come, and anyway, he didn’t know the stranger’s identity, had never seen him before. The smile widened and the man swept his tall hat off, bowing low. “Then please allow me to introduce myself,” he grinned. “I’m a man of wealth and taste.” When the boy looked blank, a frown crossed the man’s face, and, as if annoyed with himself for the slip, he muttered “Oh, right. Won’t be written for another, what, thirteen years? In that case,” he spoke out loud again, and again directing his attention towards Peter, “I have many names, but I believe you often call me the Devil.”
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Old 03-18-2022, 11:11 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Extract from "Publish and Be Damned" (approx. 2,700 words)

Cigar clenched firmly between his teeth, Murray smiled and sat back. His arms, exposed under the rolled-up sleeves of his sweat-stained shirt, fat and hairy, locked behind his bald head, lent him the aspect of someone relaxing, though in fact nothing could be further from the truth. This was what he called the “yeah but” stance; the one where he would purse his lips, frown and consider the proposal before him, advise that it had merit but that one thing, or indeed even a number of them had to be changed if it was to have any sort of a chance of succeeding. Many of his clients were familiar with the pose Murray now adopted, and knew what to expect. The four guys who sat in front of him in his office, however, were new – potential clients, not yet taken on – and so could easily misinterpret that look, and that stance, and to be fair, what Murray said next didn't do anything to disabuse them of the notion that things were going well.

“I like it.” Murray shook his head, kind of contradicting what he had said, in their eyes at least. Then he added the rider. “It's got... potential. But a lot of it has to go. And you need a different ending.”

“A different ending?” The suggestion seemed to not only surprise all four of the men, not only the one who had spoken, but to confuse them. “But... but it's all true! The ending can't be changed! You can't change the truth!” Looking at his three companions for confirmation, the young man – Murray was not sure of the name, all four looked the same to him, and what did it matter anyway? - spread his hands as if Murray were some stone idol he was appealing to for better rains. Murray nodded slowly.

“The truth?” His tone of voice clearly indicated that he did not place much credence in this. “The truth, you say?” he repeated, shaking his head, and heaving a sigh. As if he were a large balloon drifting in the sky and releasing his breath had deflated the balloon, he sat forward, brought his arms down like twin cutting blades until they rested on the desk in front of him, where he interlocked his fingers together. “Let me tell you something, boys,” he advised them, with the air of a man who is about to impart a great secret, or give the unworthy the benefit of his vast experience. “I been in this business a long time, and my father before me, and his father before him. Family business, you might say, though of course things were a lot different in my grandfather's day.” For a moment he stopped, looking off into the middle distance, as if perhaps communing with the ghost of his ancestor.

“One thing I learned about this racket,” he told them, his eyes refocusing, hard now, hard like stone. “People don't want to read the truth. They want the truth, they can see it all around them, and it ain't pretty. We live in an occupied state, my friends, as I'm sure you all know. Truth ain't no friend to the likes of us. No.” He unlocked his fingers, placed the palms thus released flat on the desk, and then picked up the manuscript. “People want to be entertained.” The hard look left his eye, replaced by a twinkle that always showed there when he foresaw the possibility of making money. “And there's no doubt this thing is entertaining. I mean.” He grinned, the sharp eyes behind the thick spectacles darting left to right as he flicked through the manuscript. “Angry gods? Cities being destroyed? Floods, pestilence, wars, exiles? This guy here, turned into... ha ha! Brilliant! You know, you could almost say this thing has it all.”

He suddenly threw the carefully-bound pages down on the desk. The light in his eyes flicked out as if someone had thrown a switch. “Almost,” he repeated, like a warning bad news was about to follow. “But they're the good points. As for the bad, well.” The lips pursed again, and Murray leaned back, resuming his former posture. “That's where I come in. You guys have probably read through what you've written and thought, yeah, this is great, this is just what we want to say. And that's fine.” He shrugged his massive shoulders, his eyes looking past them now, not at the possible presence of the ghost of Grandfather Stein, but out across the flat expanse of the trackless desert that could be seen through the large window, a pale yellow sea stretching away, it seemed, to infinity.

“But that's not what you should be thinking.”

One of the other dudes (or it could have been the same one who had spoken; as Murray had noted, it was hard to tell them apart) piped up “It isn't?” Murray looked at him with a mixture of disdain and pity.

“Of course not!” He almost snapped the words. “Who cares what you want to say? It's what they want to hear that's important!” He gestured vaguely at the window, indicating with his bullet head, they supposed, the general public to which they hoped to sell their manuscript. “The average man in the street isn't interested in your philosophy, or your views, or your politics, or your beliefs, or whatever the damn hell you're trying to crowbar in here.” He had had to have this kind of talk with prospective clients before; Murray Stein knew how to deal with this.

“People don't read to learn, they read to escape their horrible lives, to read about, to be another person, in another place, even if just for a short while. They want a good story. And this, my friends, is, or could be, a great story. It could even,” he paused for effect, his eyes still hard but shining now too, a sure indication that he was hearing the ***** of money falling in his mind, a endless cascade of coins, a rain of fortune that could make him the richest... he dragged his attention back to his somewhat dumbstruck (remove the struck part, he thought, perhaps unkindly) clients. “It could even be,” he leaned forward to afford his words the greatest import and emphasis he could, “the greatest story ever told.”
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Old 03-18-2022, 11:39 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Extract from "Evil Never Dies" (approx. 3,300 words)

“Sir? Are you all right? Sir?”

The voice seems to come from far away, but another one is much closer, and while the first one is tinged with an element of concern, uncertainty and respect, this other drips the dark, hot fluid of terror, and agony, and dismay. I can hear the second voice, far louder than the first, the latter seeming to drop away like a stone falling into a deep, deep well, receding out of my hearing, falling away, falling, while the other one rushes up and shouts in my ear as if I am being attacked by a wild beast that has sprung upon me.

Except it is I who am the wild beast, and I the one carrying out the attack.

I feel the solid impact of the blade as it slices into flesh, feel the hot, wet (oh God help me!) delicious spurt of the blood as it fountains up out of the wound, cascading up and over my hand, drenching it in the scarlet life fluid of the woman before me, trickling over my knuckles and down my wrist, splashing over the handle of the knife and making it slippery in my grip. Her blood stains my clothing, seeping into the dark fabric and dripping from my breeches cuffs like dark, devilish red rain to pool on the street below my feet, below her feet, a puddle, a pool, a river in which we could both drown.

But she is the one drowning, and I am the one drowning her. Drowning her in her own blood, puncturing her soft flesh like one of the cursed fictional vampires from the works of Mr. Le Fanu or Lord Byron, sucking out the precious fluid (a phrase comes to me, I know not from where – the blood is the life) with sharp serrated steel instead of razor fang, imbuing her with the personal darkness that groans and writhes inside me, and ensuring that the last moments of her miserable, sad, pointless life are filled with pain and grief and fear and horror.

She is thrashing now, as of course I expected, as I (Lord help me!) hoped she would, trying to fight me off, though she must know it is of no use to attempt such a thing. I am stronger than her, and she, weakened by cheap gin and tired from too many steps taken along these dark and grimy London streets, is easy prey. I am the hunter, she is the quarry, and there is no question as to who will triumph. She would scream, but the gash I tore in her throat makes that impossible; no sound comes out, only blood and more blood.

She is not the first of my victims, and I know with a sinking heart (and, lord forgive me, rising excitement) that she will not be the last. I shake with anticipation and go to work as life flees her body, her bubbling gasps unheard by anyone in the deserted streets around us, the thick London particular shielding us from the most enquiring eyes, a shroud for us both, though only one of us is dying, dead now. We are alone, and there is time. Time to do what must be done, though it sickens me to my very soul and corrupts my heart, telling me that Heaven is forever closed to such as I. I am lost, I am damned, and like one of the damned, I descend into darkness and evil. I revel in it, I lust for it, I thrill to it.

I have no choice.

“Sir? Sir, can you hear me?”
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Old 03-19-2022, 03:23 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Extract from "The Butcher of Barnard's Star" (approx. 2,000 words)

History would give him many names: the Monster of Medigror IX, General Genocide, the Butcher of Barnard's Star, The Killer of Light, Smasher of Galaxies. But Hoshi only knew him as his loving father. As with most tyrants, there was a clearly-defined dichotomy between the man General Ferisal Mo-Shabbath was in public, and the man he was at home. Hoshi was proud of his father, admired his strength and always took to heart the advice the General had given him as a boy: stand firm and nobody will stand in your way.

An outspoken critic of the government of Lavamite III, it was the General who had led the revolt against it and seized power in a coup which was far from bloodless. Setting himself up as the “protector of the planet” he swiftly moved to have his rivals and his enemies killed, having them publicly electo-flayed, a punishment he had come up with himself as the most grisly and painful imaginable, and which, once it was enshrined into the new constitution of the planet (written solely by the General, of course) and became the standard method of execution, saw crime fall across Lavamite III by eighty percent.
Another thing his son could admire about the General. He had brought law and order to a pretty lawless planet.

Down through time and across space, ordinary working men and women have risen from the ranks of the downtrodden to take on the powers that be, usually in the hope of supplanting those powers with their own and thereby changing their respective worlds. Whether for better or worse, well now, that really depends on the man or woman in question.

In the case of Ferisal Jemmeloth, this turned out to be decidedly the latter. Nobody can say what was in the man's mind when he began opposing the corrupt government of Aickbur Westling, though few would have disagreed at the time that a change was required. A popular candidate, admired by over ninety percent of the planet's voters, he was quickly swept into power while the people who had placed him there waited to see how things would improve. The views of General Ferisal, however, and those of the people, did not coincide with each other, and he had no intention of making their lives better, or even bearable.

Perhaps he had, at one time before taking power, valid motives and good intentions, but they were all forgotten, ignored once he took office, and he became not only as corrupt as Westling but infinitely more cruel. Anxious to consolidate his position he did so through the usual expedients of wiping out his enemies, rivals, in fact anyone who didn't agree with his policies in a series of purges. He then abolished all voting rights of the people, along with most other of their rights, and set about making himself as rich as possible.
Nobody stood in his way.

Hoshi's admiration for his father swelled. Other hearts swelled, too, but these soon burst, roasted or just stopped beating in his many torture stations, as the General continued to see enemies everywhere, conspiracy and treachery occupying his every waking moment. Even his most trusted advisor, arriving for work in the morning, could not be sure that he would still be alive in the evening. The paranoia of the leader grew like a bloated monster, and even some of his extended family felt the lethal kiss of the electro-flayer.
Nobody stood in his way.
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Old 03-19-2022, 03:31 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Extract from "Kingdom of rain" (approx. 7,500 words)

Lily was cold, but the old man's words had a power to warm her, banish the chill. It was a feeling she rarely experienced, and she was grateful for the opportunity, determined not to waste it. So she had closed her eyes and tried to shut out the sounds of the pelting rain outside, hopping off the roof of the community centre building, had hugged herself as if she could will heat into her frozen body, had done her best to ignore the icy little trickles of rainwater shivering their way down from her hair along her neck and down her back. Time was limited here, and she was not going to waste it, trembling with cold as she normally did. A sudden catch in her throat screwed her face up, but she raised an impatient hand to her nose, squeezing it and cutting off the sneeze, which died with a kind of little hiccup inside her. Her chest hurt a little, but that was all right. She wasn't about to allow her body to betray her, not here.

She turned and smiled at her mother, grateful to see the warmth and happiness in her face, holding on to her hand, the two of them sharing something wonderful and magical, even if it was only for an hour. Outside the wind shook the windows of the centre, banging impatiently on the glass, trying to break in, but everyone ignored it. Any other day, any other time, it would have their full attention – they would have no choice – but tonight was special. Tonight they could forget the wind and the rain, leave outside the cruel, cold weather they were all used to, and go back in time to a much better place, a much better time, when it hadn't always been this way.

The lights dimmed, and the murmur of conversation that had been rippling around the auditorium faded down, died, and then turned into a smattering of applause as the spotlight on the stage clicked on, illuminating a very old man sitting on a three-legged stool. His face looked wise and very weatherbeaten, and a briar pipe was in his hand as the cone of light picked him out. His eyes scanned the crowd – another good turnout, he was glad to mark – and nodded slowly, raising the pipe to his dried, cracked lips and pulling on its stem deeply, the bowl held in hands that looked like old wood or crinkled up paper. For a long time, he just sat there, looking out into the audience, the only sound, once the applause had died down, the barely audible smack of his lips as he puffed on the pipe.

Clouds of thick smoke wreathed his head, rising up towards the rafters, and Lily marvelled at the fact that it did not bother the audience, as if directed to a safe place by the ancient. Of course, this was her first time here, but Cora and Jonno and Zep had all been here before – Zep had come three times: that's what happens, she supposed in a flash of mild jealousy – when you have rich parents – and they all confirmed what she had not believed at the time, but saw now. Almost a living thing, and if so, a living thing that could be commanded, the smoke emerged in blue-tinged rings from the pipe and climbed lazily up into the darkness, ascending to the high ceiling. She had read the programme, where the proud claim was made that never in once in all the six hundred and forty-four performances that Thusel had given had so much as a wisp of smoke drifted even in the direction of the audience. It was, the writeup proclaimed, a point of honour with the performer.

You could hear a pin drop now, as her mother sometimes said, though why anyone would want to do such a thing was something a four-year-old had no way of knowing. What she did know was that even the few whispers that had broken out intermittently as the crowd waited for the old man to begin had now died away, and total silence reigned across the theatre.

Like all children of her age, Lily began to get restless as the silence stretched on, but she knew that this was a treat, a privilege, and she must simply be patient. It would be worth it, in the end, her mother had promised her. Mum had blown all their savings for the past year on the tickets as a special surprise for her daughter, to make up, she hoped, for the loss of her cat at the beginning of the year. She had worked all hours to earn the money to buy the coveted tickets, and Lily loved her for it. She missed Bootsy something terrible, but she knew her beloved kitty would have wanted her to enjoy this, and she was determined to do so.

Sliding down a little in her seat which, though comfortable, was a little harder than the armchairs at home, Lily spoke to the small doll she held in both hands out in front of her, already in training as the mother she would one day be, copying her own mother as she held the doll up.

“Look, Tanya! It's the Retainer, Thusel the Ancient! How old he looks!”

An annoyed audience member behind her shushed her, then, seeing how old the child was, looked away with slight embarrassment. Lily's mother turned to her, one eye on the stage, a distracted look on her face.

“You know the rules, darling,” she told her daughter in a low a voice as she dared. “No talking. Not even to your dolly.”

This earned her a shushing herself, though whether the source was the same person who had reprimanded Lily was uncertain, and she felt a flush creep up her cheeks, reluctant to turn around.

Total silence returned. Tanya watched proceedings with grave, plastic eyes that neither blinked nor closed. In some ways, the doll's gaze was mimicked by the audience, all of whom stared forward raptly at the stage, with the kind of attention usually only reserved for royalty or rock stars.

In some ways, Thusel the ancient fulfilled both categories.

“Isn't there any beer at this thing?”
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