Bait

“I’m sorry, my dear, but this is the only way.”

Helga wrestled with her bonds. “Please, Professor; let me go. We’ll say no more about it. Please!”

She cast a nervous glance to the clouded night sky. The moon was hidden but she knew as surely as she knew her own name, that it was full. The clouds would soon roll by and the hillside would be bathed in silver.

And then – she shuddered to think what would happen next.

The Professor continued with his preparations, babbling to himself as he laid out pieces of chicken. “It is important to lay a trail,” he muttered. “So that the beast knows where to come.”

Helga’s wrists strained to free themselves of the rope that held them behind her back. Time was running out.

“Please!” she sobbed. “Before it’s too late. Before something happens we will both regret.” That was putting it mildly. But the Professor was obsessed. His eyes glinted with madness. He would not be deterred.

“I know what’s been plaguing this area for months,” he grinned. “I know what has been preying on the sheep. The cattle. The dogs. And that poor child – what was his name?”

“Archie,” said Helga, sadly. Only that morning, the six-year-old had been found in his back garden, with his throat torn out and his innards strewn around the lawn.

“You have nothing to fear,” the Professor patted her cheek. “I shall not be far away. My pistol is primed and loaded with silver bullets. I was a crack shot in my day and I still have my eye.”

Helga was far from reassured.

The clouds crawled away, revealing a fat and pregnant moon, glowing in its fullness.

Helga’s skin tingled. It was time.

In a second, her body elongated, snapping the ropes. Lush, auburn fur sprouted all over her, while her face stretched and elongated into a snout with teeth as long as the Professor’s fingers.

The old man staggered backwards and fell. He held up his hands to protect himself but the beast tore off his arms and flung them across the dewy sward.

The beast licked its slavering chops, preparing to bury its muzzle in the Professor’s soft belly.

The boy – Archie – had been a mistake and one she bitterly regretted, but it was going to be a pleasure to tear the smug old man to shreds.

Use me as werewolf bait, would you? Helga smirked, deep within her animal form. Well, guess what, Professor?

It worked.

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Meanwhile, at the Shrink’s…

Martyn settled back onto the couch and clasped his hands together over his paunch. He’d been looking forward to this session all week. Where else did he get a chance to offload? When else was he the focus of attention? When was it ever all about him?

“For starters,” he began, “I’m fed up. Fed up of people getting my name wrong. How many years have I been going to that coffee shop? And they still get it wrong. Like I’m a normal Martin with an i and not a y. It’s plagued me all my life. I blame my parents. And I get embarrassed about asking for skinny decaff. But the Mrs insists. In fact, she’d rather I didn’t go there at all. Waste of money, she says, when we’re supposed to be saving for a skiing holiday. Times are tough all round. We might not make a full fortnight on the slopes this year and have to cut back to ten days. And we haven’t been able to pop across to the villa as often as we’d like. And then there’s the house move. Well, they say it’s the most stressful thing you can do, don’t they? But, well, we have to up sticks if we want Jolyon to get into that school. So, you can see, Doc, I’m under the cosh at the moment. And sometimes it all gets a bit too much, you know, and I wonder how I’m going to survive.”

There was a moment of silence as Doctor Kang replaced the lid on his fountain pen and put his notebook aside.

“I would like to try something,” he said in an accent Martyn couldn’t place. “A little unorthodox and experimental but I am sure you will benefit.”

“Of course. You’re the doctor, Doc.”

“Very well. This is a new form of regressive therapy.”

“Sounds impressive!”

“I need you to be silent. Now, I want you to close your eyes and think back to a time before your present situation. Before you were married, perhaps. Before you lived at your current address. Before you were at school, even. Before you learned to talk…”

Martyn experienced a curious sensation. He was falling, through a vortex of time, but he could still feel the leather couch, solid under his back and legs. Images, memories flashed before him and he felt the years fall away. His shoes slipped off and fell to the floor. He began to feel smothered and a rising tide of panic overcame him.

“You may open your eyes,” said Doctor Kang.

Martyn did as he was told. The light of the consultation room was harsh and made him squint.

The face of the psychiatrist loomed over him like a harvest moon. Martyn realised he was naked and cupped his hands over his privates.

“What’s going on?” he squeaked like a dog’s toy. He saw he was standing in the circle of his shirt collar.

“Now that you are the size of my fountain pen,” said Doctor Kang, holding the implement next to Martyn to demonstrate, “I shall leave you in the care of my colleague.”

He moved across the room and opened a door.

“Come, Sigmund,” he called. A tabby cat slunk into the room like a silver tiger.

“I shall return in thirty minutes,” Doctor Kang smiled from the doorway. “And then we can talk about your problems.”

pen

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Brough and Miller’s Sixth Outing is out now

The sixth and latest investigation for Dedley detectives Brough and Miller is available now. As usual, the Serious Crimes Division are their usual foul-mouthed and funny selves and somehow the case gets solved.

When a film crew descends on Dedley to resurrect an old soap opera for the big screen, the team at Serious go undercover to catch a murderer. One member short, the detectives find themselves in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Brough and Miller are back for this fast-moving and funny investigation, their sixth but not their last

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Memorial

Tracey approached the war memorial in the park with reluctance. Last year, she’d spent the money her grandmother had given her for flowers on herself. An afternoon at the pictures, a couple of hours of peace away from the demanding old bird. This year, the old bird had got wise and had demanded Tracey bring home a receipt from the florist. Oh, can’t you go yourself, Gran? Tracey’s annual question always met with the same response. I would if I could, my girl. Do you think I enjoy being cooped up in here all day?

Yeah, yeah… Tracey, having pushed Gran’s buttons, got out of there before Gran could pack her off on a guilt trip as well as an errand.

And now, with the flowers grasped tightly in her fist, Tracey was about to do her annual duty.

“Ellis, John.”

She found the name on the plaque and gave it a wipe with her sleeve and leaned the flowers against the stone plinth.

“Thanks, love.”

Tracey was startled. A soldier was standing beside her; she hadn’t seen him approach. “Um, it’s all right,” she shrugged.

They stood looking at the monument in silence. Tracey wanted to go to the bus stop but didn’t wish to appear disrespectful now there was an actual soldier standing there.

“My gran’s boyfriend,” she felt an explanation was due. “Came back from the War with his head blowed off.”

The soldier nodded.

“Only if he hadn’t – if he’d lived, I wouldn’t be here today. Gran wouldn’t have married my granddad and my mum would never have been born, so, you know…”

The soldier nodded again.

“What about you?” she asked, nodding toward the list of names. “Anyone you know? Any family?”

The soldier looked downcast. “Half of those men were in my regiment.”

“You what?”

“All those shattered lives. All those weddings that never happened. All those children who were never born.”

Tracey’s mouth hung open. “You’ve lost your mind, mate. This lot died a long time ago.”

The soldier reached out and grabbed her roughly by the arm. “You could have been mine,” he said with a bitter grimace. “You could have been my granddaughter.”

Tracey struggled to pull herself free. Tears were coursing down the soldier’s pale cheek. And then he turned his head and Tracey saw daylight through the hole where a grenade had blasted half his skull away.

His lips curled back in a rictus. “Tell your gran Jack says hello.”

 flowers

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Next: a book with bite!

I’m currently preparing the manuscript of my next novel for submission to my publisher. Feedback from my readers is good – the book is a little different from the others.

It’s set at the end of the 19th century. Hack writer Hector Mortlake is travelling across Europe in the hope of finding inspiration for a new story. He enlists the people he meets to take part in a story-telling competition (much like The Canterbury Tales) and so the narrative is broken up with the short stories as the characters tell them. I tried to make sure each story is in keeping with the style, period and theme of the main plot. Variations on a theme, you might say.

I’d wanted to write a vampire story – but these have been done to death lately. As a compromise a couple of the short stories have vampire themes: my homage to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which came out around the time my book is set.

As a child I loved to stay up late to watch late-night horror films on BBC2. Hammer Horrors like The Reptile reptile_poster_01

and The Blood Beast Terror

BloodBeastTerrorUKquad

have influenced this book, and then recently I watched Ken Russell’s film adaptation of Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm (I’d found the book hard-going) and loved it (Check it out: not only is a floppy-haired Hugh Grant in it, but there’s also an early appearance from the Doctor himself, Peter Capaldi).lair_of_white_worm_poster_02 Russell’s film tickled me with its saucy humour. This is right up my alley, I thought. Readers of my books will know I can’t resist innuendo – this book is perhaps the most riddled with them.

It’s called KISS OF THE WATER NYMPH and I’m very pleased with it.

Watch this space for more news.

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JUNGLE OUT THERE is OUT THERE!

williamstafford:

Updated post now that that book has been published!

Originally posted on William Stafford the Novelist (not the Poet):

My latest book has been twenty years in the making and was born of my lifelong obsession with Tarzan and the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

erb

I first became aware of Tarzan in the TV series starring Ron Ely

 ron ely

and the old black and white movies of Johnny Weissmuller

 johnny w

– for many, the quintessential ape man.

There was a series on the Disney Channel in the early 1990s in which Tarzan (WolfLarsonwolf larsonwas depicted as an articulate and, of course, buff champion of the environment. This series first gave me the idea for a TV sitcom in which Tarzan, Jane et al decamp from Africa and move into a suburban semi-detached in my home town of Dudley. I wrote six episodes and submitted them to the BBC. I was invited to a meeting at Broadcasting House where I was told they loved my ‘ear’…

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Meanwhile, up at the castle…

“Come in here a moment, would you?”

My father called me into the drawing room. He sounded serious but then he always does. He makes everything sound like one of his scientific lectures, and so I had learned years ago that his tone of voice did not necessarily mean I was in trouble. He was standing in front of the fireplace. A brandy had been poured but was untouched. He saw me eyeing it.

“Perhaps when you are eighteen. Which is why I want to talk to you, my boy.”

Ah, yes. My eighteenth birthday was only days away. I had been asking repeatedly to have a party. My friends from the village would love this place – but none of them have ever seen it. My father has always been unswerving in his insistence that I must never bring anyone back to the castle.

“You’re almost a man now,” he began. “I can hardly believe how the time has flown. But I think – I hope – you are man enough to hear what I am about to tell you. I believe you deserve to know the truth about who you are. About what you are.”

It was a puzzling opener, I had to admit. He gestured to me to be seated.

“My mother?” I prompted. This had to be about my mother – I’d never met her. What could he possibly tell me about my mother that I had not heard before? She had died in a car crash when I was a baby – the same crash that had scarred my entire body for life.

“I’m sorry,” his composure faltered. “But everything I told you when you were a boy is a lie. You have no mother. You never had.”

He wasn’t making sense and I told him so.

“Science can do wonderful things…” he said. There was a pleading look in his eyes, so I encouraged him to continue. He had raised me single-handedly; it’s not unusual for households to have just the one parent. “I have told you you never had a mother. The complete truth is you never had a father either.”

“Then who the hell are you?”

“Please try to remain calm, my boy. Hear me out.”

“You’re telling me I’m adopted!” I leapt to my feet. “Is that what you’re saying? If so, then I must have had a mother and a father somewhere along the line. Who are they? I want to meet them?”

He was shaking his head. He made calm-down gestures, waiting for the storm of my reaction to blow over.

“I’ve told you that you never had a mother or a father. It’s the truth, my boy! And now that you’re an adult, I want to present you to the world. My life’s work, the pinnacle of my achievements. I am so proud of you, my boy.”

“You want to show me off? You’re not making any sense! I’m not the first boy to grow into a man. They’ll have seen it before.”

“Not like you! You’re unique.”

It was my turn for head-shaking.

“Look,” he said and he took a fat notebook from a drawer. It was tightly packed with close handwriting and diagrams and bookmarks. “Please, read this; see for yourself. You are a miracle of science, my boy. You will bring hope to millions! Millions of childless people all over the world.”

My eyes watered. I couldn’t take in the details of the pages I was flicking through.

“I’ll leave you to peruse it. We’ll talk later,” he edged towards the door. “And perhaps, have a drink together. A couple of days early won’t make any difference. What do you say?”

I said nothing. He left me to it.

One of the first pages had a drawing of a baby curled in a womb-like bag suspended between electrodes. Another showed the baby with dotted lines around the wrists and ankles and neck and – all the places where I bear scars to this day.

“I shall tell him he survived a car crash,” my father’s handwriting spidered across the page. “Until he reaches maturity and then, if he likes, I shall reveal this list of donors.”

There had been a car crash – a multiple pile-up from which no one emerged alive.  Newspaper cuttings revealed the bodies of some children had gone missing… I felt sick. I pushed the book away. It fell open at the title page – my ‘father’ always liked to put his name on everything.

How To Make A Family – by Doctor V von Frankenstein.castle-md

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The Squatter

I wake with a start. There’s a noise. I freeze. I listen.

There’s somebody in the house!

I look around for something hefty, something I can use for protection. My ears are straining. They’re downstairs. There’s two – no, three of them – and somehow they have let themselves in. I pad to the top of the stairs. Two men and a woman. The woman is explaining something. She sounds like she owns the place – the cheek of it! What’s she going on about? There’s been problems all through the house? Draughts she says. Drops in temperature. Discolouration on the walls.

What the hell is going on? These are the most peculiar housebreakers I have ever come across.

Oh, there have been others, but I can usually scare them off. They come in here, make themselves at home, until I show myself, and out they run. They don’t come back. But these three are different.

I creep down a few steps and listen. They’re in the kitchen now. One of the men is saying things like ‘it’s more common than you think’ and ‘we’ll have it clean in no time’.

Who the hell are they?

I nip down to the foot of the stairs to try to get a glimpse. I’d like to know who I’m dealing with before I confront them. I am already outnumbered but that’s never been a problem. I’ll soon get these three falling over each other to get through the door.

They’re coming out of the kitchen. I press myself against a wall, clinging to the shadows. I don’t want them to see me yet. I need the element of surprise.

The woman is wearing a suit and carrying a clipboard. Her hair is in a bun and she peers over spectacles. The men are dressed in black. They have strips of white around their necks… One carries a big book, the other a silver cross!

No, no! I can’t have these people in my house!

Get out get out get out!

I fling myself at them. The woman shrieks when she sees me. But the men are too quick for me. One brandishes his crucifix while the other utters an incantation in Latin and I can feel myself fading away, and all I can think is this is their house now…

priest-md

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Rule of Thumb

I don’t know how much longer the barricades will hold. It’s quiet out there now; they are roosting but I know the respite will be brief.

Professor Macomber lies dead in the corner. The coward shot himself in the neck rather than face the consequences of the havoc he has unleashed.

I have burned his notebooks. No one must be able to replicate the evil he has perpetrated on this island – no one must ever know!

He lured me here under false pretences. I was his favourite student, he said. He would like my assistance in cataloguing his discoveries on this remote island off the Chilean coast. I can’t offer you much money, he said, but you will get to spend your summer in a tropical paradise.

Like a fool, I believed him. But that’s the thing with people we idolise, isn’t it? We never suspect they might be up to no good.

“Jon – a – than!” The unnatural voice squawks from the veranda. “I know you’re in there.”

It is Flash. The ringleader. Macomber had brought him into the house and trained him, after a fashion, to act as butler. Flash had been privy to many of our late-night, rum-fuelled conversations in which I questioned the morality of the professor’s experiments.

“The thumb is key,” Macomber said, displaying the digit in question as if I had never seen one, let alone possessed two of my own. “It is the thumb that has elevated Man above the other animals. It is the thumb that has enabled him to reshape his environment. In short, it is the thumb that has allowed Man to rule the world. Once a creature has opposable thumbs, cognitive development is not far behind.”

“But these are birds, Professor. They are not meant to have thumbs or large brains.”

“What a parochial attitude!” the professor grumbled, sinking into one of his funks. “I don’t know why I brought you here.”

“Jon – a – than!” Flash squawks at the door. “We don’t want to hurt you, Jonathan.”

A chorus of cries echoes this remark. I can imagine them all, grouped behind the butler: their colourful crests and dazzling plumage. Their beaks. Their sharp and deadly beaks.  Already they have almost torn the shutters from the windows.

“We don’t want to hurt you,” they parrot over and over.

“Help us,” says Flash. “Help us and we will let you go. I know you pity us, Jonathan.”

“You’re unnatural!” I cry out despite myself. Now there is no doubt where I am. “You’re abominations.”

“We are what you made us.”

I can hear him walking along the veranda. His grey clawed feet scratch the planks. With his crest raised, he is over eight feet tall. He is no doubt looking for a weak spot in my defences.

“Never!” I scream. “You can all go to Hell.”

The man-birds screech and flap. It takes Flash, the most advanced in the transformative process, a while to calm them down.

“We will go to the mainland,” he says, not to them but to me. “With your help. We shall spread across the world and make it our own.”

“Never!” I repeat.

“You will help us, Jon – a – than. If you wish to leave this island alive. You will show us. You will return to us what was taken from us.”

I know what he means at once: the power of flight.

I cannot allow this to happen. It would signal the end of mankind.

I kneel at the professor’s body and prise the revolver from his grasp. In doing so, I almost have to break his thumb.

They’re pecking at the windows again, the door and the walls. It won’t be long before they get in.

I hope there is a bullet left for me.

parrot

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Baby Makes Three

“It’s me!  Open up!”

Cassie’s hand hesitated over the lock.  The image on the CCTV monitor was clear but in that protective clothing, the caller could have been anyone.

“Cassie!  I can’t be sure I wasn’t followed.  Let me in.”  The caller waited a few seconds before adding, “Cassie-Wassie-piddly-poo.”

Cassie hit the lock.  No one but Aidan would call her that.  While the locks turned and slid, she pressed the intercom and called him a pig.  “What if the neighbours heard you?  Calling me that!”

He reminded her there were no neighbours.  As far as he could tell, they were alone for a couple of blocks at least.  Alone in the penthouse flat they had commandeered when it had become clear that the outbreak was out of control and that civilisation – and humanity too, most probably – was facing its end game.

And losing it.

While Aidan went through the decontamination ritual, Cassie tried to appease Wendy who was grizzling in that persistent way she always did when she was hungry.  Which was most of the time.  Cassie cooed and tried to distract the child by wiggling her fingers like a puppet.  Wendy looked at this poorly executed entertainment with disdain and resumed her snivelling.

I’m nineteen, thought Cassie.  I shouldn’t be holed up in here with someone else’s baby.  I should be out in the world, off on adventures and making something of myself.

Ah, yes: the world.  As far as she and Aidan knew, that was gone too.

Aidan, looking raw and damp from the cleansing, placed two cartons of baby formula on a chair.  “That’s the last of it.  At least in this district.”

“That won’t last a week,” said Cassie.  She glanced at the boxes with the happy, gurgling infant on the front and wondered where he was now.  “You’ll have to try harder.”

“Damn it, Cassie.  You think I just stroll down to the corner shop.  Geez; if you knew –”

“If I knew what?”

She looked at him properly then, searching his bare chest and arms for abrasions.

“There were a couple of – guys.  No big deal.  I distracted them by chucking half a brick in the opposite direction.”  He chuckled but it was mirthless.  “Those guys sure are dumb.”

“Turn around.”

“There’s not a mark on me.”

“Turn around!”

Grumbling, he obeyed.  “See!  Not a scratch.  You did a good job of patching up the suit.”

Cassie didn’t seem convinced.  Aidan remembered something.  He picked up the trousers of his protective suit and pulled something from the pocket.

“Look; I found this.”

Cassie recoiled from the filthy square of newspaper he unfolded in front of her.  “I can’t believe you brought something so dirty, so… contaminated in here.”

“No, no; it’s okay.”  He pointed at some print that wasn’t smudged or stained.  “This must have been the last edition they put out before… Anyway, it says here that the scientists believe the plague is airborne.  You can only catch it if it gets in your body from a cough or a sneeze.  Once it lands, it dies.  They recommend avoiding contact with strangers – all strangers – and – Well, that’s all I can read.”

“All the more reason for us to stay here.  You said there’s no one else for blocks around.”

“Except those guys…”

She ignored him.  “We’re all right here.  The three of us.  You, me and Wendy makes three.”  She played with the baby’s toes to make her giggle.

“I don’t know, Cass,” Aidan rubbed the back of his neck.  “Perhaps her mother is still out there, looking for her.”

“No!”

“You shouldn’t have just taken her like that, Cass.  It’s kidnapping!”

Cassie gave a hollow laugh.  “So, lock me up.”

“She’ll slow us down.  When she cries, it’s too loud.  Those guys will hear her.  They’ll find us.”

“Wendy’s a good girl; aren’t you, baby?”  Cassie spoke in silly singsong.  Wendy was unimpressed.

“Listen,” Aidan cleared his throat.  “I’ve told you, we can’t stay here.  We should head out to the country.  We can grow our own food.”

“You’re dreaming!”

“You don’t know what it’s like out there.  It’s all gone.”

“You’ll find something.”

“No.  No, Cass; I’m leaving.  Right now.  You can either come with me or stay here and play Happy Families with the baby.”

He stepped into the protective trousers and pulled them up to his waist.

“No!”  Cassie threw herself at him, beating at his chest with her fists.  “You can’t leave us!  You can’t!”

He held her wrists until her anger subsided.

“Come with me, Cassie-Wassie-piddly-poo,” he whispered.  “Baby makes three.”

“Oh, Aidan,” Cassie sobbed, resting her head against his collarbone.

Behind them, in her makeshift cot, Wendy’s button nose wrinkled.

She sneezed.

baby-silhouette-md

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