So now I know why brakes are good…

So, I am ok…

The thing is that on the way to Buchlyvie a couple of days ago I came around a corner to be confronted by a slow-moving quad bike and a flock of sheep. This led me to put my foot gently on the brakes and plan to drop down a gear or two, but there was a surprise coming. My brakes did not work.

Literally, my right foot was buried into the floor and my Ranger was not slowing down at all, not even noticeably decelerating from my foot having come off the gas. Now when I learned to drive my instructor covered this eventuality, explaining to me that the gearbox and engine can be used very effectively for braking in case of emergency, and indeed getting me to practice doing it. I am very grateful that I had such a meticulous instructor.

I dropped the car into second and started to hope that I would slow down enough that I would not damage the vehicle or myself when I put it into the hedge to avoid committing mass murder on the sheep, and then fate smiled. To my left (if you are reading this elsewhere than the UK or a handful of other countries please try to remember that we, here drive on the left) there was a small lay-by, rather like the road equivalent of an oxbow lake, and so I threw the vehicle into it and completely missed the flock and their guiding shepherd without having to come to a full stop or use the hedge.

Clearly this was a shock; I had not expected my brakes to simply stop working, but I was a long way from anyone who could be of assistance and almost late to see my doctor, so I dredged up my knowledge of how to drive on the gearbox and engine and thanked my lucky stars that the handbrake was still working perfectly. The trip back from the doctor’s surgery was slow and careful, for one thing I did not want to have to do any emergency stops on the handbrake, but I managed to get back to Aberfoyle and put the Ranger, as directed, on the ramp at Trossachs Motor Services.

It took the guys there about 2 minutes to put some new brake fluid into the system and find the leak. I was explaining to Donald Jr. that I was on leave and did not need the vehicle when he very politely let me know that there was no way he was going to let me drive away in the damn thing any way (not that I wanted to), and we all had a good laugh about that, considering the single track road we live up.

So, the moral of this story?

If you put your vehicle in a ditch don’t just assume it’s ok, get it checked over. Oh yeah, and if you drive “stick” and you don’t know how to brake with your gearbox, get someone to show you – you never know when it might save you anything from a hefty bill to your life. So, get your brakes checked, learn to engine brake and use sunscreen…

Photo by Daniel Salgado on Unsplash


Meeting Authors – Part 1 (of a series?)

So, last night I went up to Bedford, from work, to go to an event at the very Rogans’s Books.

For those of you that don’t know – and why would you if you don’t live in Bedford, or attend Children’s Book Festivals (i.e. Booktastic, also run / curated by Rogan’s Books impresario Rachael Rogan, and others – I don’t have names, but I know that their contributions are huge), or indeed simply never have met anyone who has been to the shop. Of course, if you have met someone who has been to the shop, then chances are that sooner rather than later you will also go to the shop and then you’re “in”, forever…

This is Rachael

Portrait of a woman wearing a multi-coloured scarf, standing in front of a display promoting women in STEM.  The woman is Rachael Rogan
This is a portrait of Rachael Rogan in her natural habitat, her own bookshop.

Rachael has started to organise events at the shop, and the inaugural event for adults was last night, Wednesday 20th February 2019, with a visit from Sunday Times Bestselling Author of “The Binding”, Bridget Collins.
This is Bridget:

Portrait of a woman signing copies of a book at a bookshop counter.  The woman is best-selling author, Bridget Collins
Bridget Collins, signing copies of “The Binding” at Rogan’s Books, behind the counter.

The evening began with informal mingling and chatting, as well as nibbles and wine – the most amazing vegan “cheese” straws I have ever tasted – and then was followed by a short reading from “The Binding” given by Bridget herself and then a lively Q&A which offered some really interesting insights into her process as a writer, her career, her inspiration for the book and the way in which it has all come together.

Bridget was really generous with her time, offering entertaining and insightful answers in the Q&A and then really taking time to talk to the attendees while signing copies of her book for us.

It was a real pleasure to meet her and in particular for me that she was kind enough to let me take some photos.

Here are a couple of photos from the Q&A:

A photograph of Bridget Collins and Rachael Rogan sat in front of bookshelves, and before an audience, engaging in a Q&A
Bridget Collins & Rachael Rogan “on stage”
A photograph of Bridget Collins and Rachael Rogan sat in front of bookshelves, and before an audience, engaging in a Q&A - they are both laughing, as are the audience.
Bridget Collins & Rachael Rogan “on stage” – laughter ensued

Rachael informs me that there are going to be more events to come, so keep an eye on the website, or consider following the shop on Facebook, Twitter and / or Instagram.

You wouldn’t want to miss out on meeting someone really interesting and fun, right? And at the same time, what better way to support reading and books than by supporting an independent bookshop, better still an independent bookshop run by a passionate entrepreneur with a deep love of books and bringing reading to life for kids and grown-ups alike.

P.S. I started reading “The Binding” on the train back to London – expect a review, soon.


Cold Morning at the Station

Casements…

The key grinds in the lock, but I am reassured by the agent, in the email, that I should expect this and that the key will turn. I push a little harder and after more troubling sound effects the barrel turns. I feel the bolt pull back and the door springs inward about an inch, as if it had been held closed under tension.

I step inside, into the gloomy vestibule, immediately dancing over empty tile adhesive buckets and discarded broken tools. There is a layer of dust that seems to be so solid that it is undisturbed by my arrival. I find myself wondering where has it all come from? No one has lived here for nearly a decade, and is it not true that house dust is mostly dead skin? How can there be so much dust? It is barely disturbed as I step in and push the door closed; I wonder if it will ever be cleaned away?

The stairs are directly ahead and far more inviting than the dark and dreary corridor leading away towards the dark kitchen at the back of the house. The living room door stands ajar, but even though it is barely half open I can see the stacks of newspapers and magazines that I remember from my childhood. I cannot face the paper-stack maze, yet, I need to open some windows and clear the smell of abandonment out of the place. Similarly I am not enticed by the kitchen the other dark and foreboding rooms on the ground floor, so I mount the staircase instead.

I am amazed that the stairs do not creak as I make my way to the upstairs, not even a low grumble from the bannister as I lean upon it trying to keep my steps on the treads as light as possible, though I have no idea to what end. The smell of emptiness, the musty, yet subtle taint of loneliness and emptiness is not as strong as I reach the first floor, but it is there nonetheless. I stand for a moment at the top of the stairs and close my eyes, remembering a time when these walls were covered in framed photographs and press cuttings, a homespun exhibition of parental pride that has long since been taken down and put who knows where.

I turn the corner and the door to the master bedroom is wide open. Afternoon light is streaming in, diffused by an almost complete blanket of cobwebs strung between the panes of the casement window. Scattered onto the ground there is a broken radiator, some rubble, this is little more than a graveyard for memories. Nothing remains. Gone is the beautiful mahogany wash stand that I used to wonder at, with its large jug and washbowl and its intricate backboard, depicting a coastal scene in the Hebrides. The deep pile carpets, so beloved of his generation and so reviled by my own, are clearly long gone and the floorboards are coated in more of the dust that it now occurs to me may be in part made up of the rotting plaster that is falling from the tops of the walls where they meet the ceiling.

I stand there, transfixed by the neglect and sorrow of a window so bedecked with the trappings of time’s passing. Even the most neglectful householder could never allow such an accumulation of dirt, grime and colonisation of spiders. Simply opening and closing the window every now and again would keep the arachnids at bay, and surely everyone would wash their windows at least once a year?

Stepping into the room, I catch a new smell, the smell of damp and I start to realise why the plaster is rotting. The window frame is rounded at its top by stains on the wall, and I am now sure that the water from the gutter, or perhaps just years of inclement weather with no one in the house to see its effects, has been creeping into the wall above the casement and has been working it destructive magic in the way that only water can.

I am hoping to find some trace of him as I cast my eyes around the room, but there is nothing, not even a discarded letter or trinket, let alone the steamer trunk I was secretly hoping to find. The room seems to me as a skeleton picked clean of the meat that made it his bedroom, all distinguishing features and characters lost to plain floorboards and empty walls, nothing but more rubble and another broken radiator, and just the soft, fractured light from the window.

I retrace my steps onto the landing and realise that I will not be opening any windows, if nothing else I am not certain that it would be a good idea if they are in the process of surrendering to the same rot as the walls. I need to be able to leave the place secure, after all.

I don’t even open the door to the bathroom, something tells me that I don’t want to see it, and I listen to that small voice even though it seems somewhat ridiculous at the same time. Why should I fear the room where he died. It was over a decade ago, surely there is nothing to fear, and yet I cannot steel myself to open it and look inside.

The box room is as empty as the bedroom, and I have almost given up all hope that I will recover any talisman of him from the wreck of his home when I remember the attic. Surely there would be things stored away before the end had come that must lie up there, undisturbed?

I reach into my pocket for the torch that I had been mindful enough to bring, and shine it into the gloom of the box room, looking for the attic door. It is there in the left-hand corner, as I expected, and I shuffle through the dust and plaster rubble and pull it open.

The stairs up into the attic – he would have corrected me and said loft – are not so quiet, creaking and groaning as I place each of my steps on each successive tread. I am not worried that it will give out, but I am puzzled as to how one staircase can be so stalwart and another be so lamenting under the same weight.

The light of my torch is more than enough to find my way to the top of the small flight, and then I am on the boarded platform under the pinnacle of the roof line. I turn my light off for a moment and am plunged into darkness; well at least there are not any large holes in the roof.

I flick the small light back on and start to look around, searching for “boxes of treasure”, as he would have called them. On the edge of the boarded area my light plays across a box with “McCain” printed across the side, faded as if stamped there long ago. Closer inspection shows the words “memories and things” scrawled across the side in his familiar script, and I reach out for the box and pull it across the boards to the space by the top of the stairs where I have the most room to manoeuvre.

The box is old and dry and brittle, the way that cardboard eventually gets to be, and so I am cautious and gentle as I lever the flaps open and point the torch light inside.

The box contains a few of the photographs, in their frames, that I had missed as I climbed the stairs, all of them were pictures of my father as a young man. Some of them in uniform, some in running kit, one in mess kit. If all the rest had been lost or given away, then these were the ones that he could not bear to part with, even if they were in a box above his head, rather than on display. An old diary, a Ronson petrol lighter, an old cigarette tin, Capstan “Full Strength” – though sadly there are none inside. There alongside this ephemera is a bundle of letters, tied with a silver ribbon. I recognise the hand, they were letters from his wife, his first wife, who had sent me cards long after she had otherwise left our lives all those years ago. I wonder if his widow knew that he had kept these at all?

I decide to take the box with me, that this is enough, this is what I was looking for, but then as I am closing up the box my torch plays across a small metal box, almost hidden behind a beam. I cannot unsee it, I am compelled to investigate.

I pull it gently from the shadows and set it on the ground next to the box of memories. It is not heavy, about sixteen inches by nine by five, so an odd shape, but not completely strange. Stamped on the top, on either side of a keyhole and between it and a small handle are his initials, “M N”, in faded gold paint.

The box is plainly locked, so I turn my attention back to the box of knick knacks to see if there is a key amongst the treasures therein. It is not hard to find, it is on a string, looped around an ebony letter opener. I take it out and open the box, which unlike the front door opens smoothly and silently, the lock in perfect working condition, as if it were in regular use.

Inside there are three items that surprise and delight me in equal measure. A Webley service revolver that he must have kept from his time in the Army, during the War. He never spoke of it in life, that I know of, so it must have been a very private keepsake. Alongside it is a small box of ammunition, and a leather-bound notebook. The gun feels heavy, suddenly, in my hand, and while I was not completely comfortable to be holding it, I feel pleased to have this illicit item of his now in my possession. I place it back into the box and lift out the notebook. It is wrapped closed with a leather thong, which I half expect to be brittle with age, but as I untwist and then unwind it I marvel at the way in which it feels supple and warm, like it is new and recently handled. The pages are crowded with his distinctive and almost completely illegible hand, and I realise that I will need better light and perhaps some coffee before I can truly digest the contents. I turn it over my hands as I move to close it, and a playing card falls from between the pages and lands face up on my foot. It is not a playing card, it is a Tarot card; The Magus. The edge of the card is picked out in gold leaf, and the face of the card is inhabited by a hooded figure, energy crackling around one hand, a strange sigil held in the other. Unexpected, to say the least.

I am filled with a desire to leave, and the sure, concurrent knowledge that I cannot leave these things here. I hurriedly return the card to its place between the leaves of the notebook, wrap it closed and place it back into the lock box. I lock it up, place it inside the memory box and put the key around my neck and tuck it inside my shirt, hiding it from view. Then I close up the flaps and lift the box up in my hands and carefully pick my way back down the attic stairs.

I glance, quickly, into the bedroom as I pass, but the afternoon light has been diminished, perhaps by a passing cloud, and the odd character of the place is reduced to a sad, empty room. The window is no longer captivating, more simply ordinary and uninspiring. How telling that light holds the key to so much of that which commands my attention. I wonder if I have somehow removed the last of him, or indeed any character from the place, but I push that thought aside and head down the main stairs to the door.

As I emerge onto the front path with the box of memories tucked under my arm I breathe deeply of the fresh, outside air and feel an unexpected sense of relief to be out of his house. I close and lock the door, and head to my car, keen to retreat to my own, living, vibrant sanctuary that is my apartment so that I can investigate his notebook more completely. That and consider what I should do with the gun.

(This story was inspired by an Instagram post, which you can see here -> joannafurniss )


More random creativity…

Last night I was struck by an idea, and I got it out on the nearest thing to hand, which was ello.co, but seeing as no one sees what I put there, I thought that I would put it here as well and then hopefully 4 or 5 people will see it… 😉

=========================

There was not a lot of life out on the street that night. Normally when Frank stepped out of his building to have a late-night smoke he was immediately plunged into a hustle and bustle that would rival SoHo in New York or Soho in London, not that anyone often spoke in raptured tones about the fact that Makati is another city that usually does not sleep.

He looked around, wondering where everybody was. Sure if it had been late at night on Easter Saturday, or New Years or Christmas Day, times when the city was indeed quiet; quiet like a ghost town in fact, then there would have been no puzzle to solve. As it was, the year was already in full swing, and yet here he was on a street that was dead by comparison even to those special times. He could not hear a single vehicle – normally he could hear traffic noise up on the thirty-seventh floor, even in the wee small hours of the night. The guards were there, and they did not seem confused, perhaps he was imagining it.

He lit his cigarette and leaned back against the cool concrete, looking up at the stars through the architectural forest of the high rises, trying to shake the odd feeling and to enjoy the tranquility of the moment. His phone buzzed in his pocket. He considered leaving it there, surely there was nothing that could not wait until he had finished his smoke – it was just after two? He took another drag and was just relaxing once more when the phone nudged him again. He dug it out of his pocket and unlocked the screen, expecting to see an alert from someone in the UK who knew the time difference well enough, but also knew him well enough to know that he would be awake.

He had not expected it to be a couple of texts from Georgie.


I had a moment of creativity…

…and I just wrote this thought down into ello.co, but I know no one will see it there, so I am re-posting it here.


As I looked out over the glassy surface of the calm South China Sea, that was lapping at my feet, I was filled with an utterly profound sense of longing; to be free of the air. All I wanted was to be able to slip under the surface and explore the shallows and the depths without the artifice of technology or fear of pressure. The sea is beautiful and terrible, but we are no longer free to be at one with her, our bodies are not compatible with her depths nor can we breathe the oxygen that we need from liquid so we are air-bound, no matter what we might dream of.

The soft golden glow of the sunset was narrowing to a thin line of fire across the horizon as I turned away from the water and slowly made my way back up the thin strand and across the garden to where my family were crowded around the fire, waiting for flames to die to embers so that we could lay the day’s catch over the heat.

The sounds of conversation and the clinking of beer bottles trickled over the grass from the deck towards me, and the longing slipped away from me to be replaced by the warmth of the love I held for the people I was walking towards; my anchors in the air-bound world, but such wonderful enlivening ties to bind me here.


NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 10

Richard looked around the room at the men on front of him. He knew all of them by name and reputation, but he had never before laid eyes upon any of them apart from his commanding officer, Colonel Chambers, the man who had been speaking and was now staring at him intently, clearly awaiting some kind of response.
“Colonel, I am in absolutely no doubt that I made at least two fatal strikes on the subject and that my third strike was also a grievous wound at the very least. The first was a clean penetration of the throat, bisecting the entire vascular bundle, trachea, oesophagus, carotid artery and jugular vein. That wound alone should have killed the subject in forty to ninety seconds at the absolute outside. The second wound was, at least as far as I could tell, an on-target strike to the heart and the blade easily penetrated that organ based on the power and angle of attack. The third strike was to the abdomen, a deep, downward thrust designed to perforate the small intestine. I would have been striking for the liver, but the target made a sudden move despite his injuries that left me no clear angle. The entire attack lasted a little over two seconds and the subject fell immediately to the ground. I observed his inability to speak, due to the severed trachea, and an amount of bleeding in the following ten seconds that led me to be convinced that the subject would shortly be dead. I was about to deal with the witness when I was surprised by other civilians on the street and so I elected to flee, reasonably convinced that I could not be identified, but that I was unlikely to be able to make my escape if I did not move before the bystanders reached me. My last look at the subject confirmed my previous conclusions, the subject was unconscious and lying in a pool of blood consistent with the loss of two to three pints of blood in what amounted to around twenty seconds. As far as I was concerned he was a corpse.”
The various other men at the table were nodding and making notes; there was a low hum of comments made to one another at a volume designed to ensure that Richard could not hear what they were saying. The Colonel spoke once more;
“Major Redus, your account is compelling and consistent, to the point that it feels like the truth rather than a crafted account. I think that we can assume that there is more than meets the eye with Mr. Foster and while this may mean that we cancel or perhaps merely postpone the action that you were tasked with it does not mean that you are finished with it. I realise that your main area of operations is in wet work, but I assume that you are up to date on surveillance, legend and data gathering as well?”
“Yes Colonel, in fact my previous assignment was all dry work.”
“Very well, in that case I want you to pick up the trail wherever you can and start unravelling Mr. Caine Foster until we know who and what we are dealing with. I am afraid that central surveillance has been unable to keep up with the subject because he rented a car, presumably assuming that we would have lo-jacked his personal vehicle, and unfortunately he has used a rental firm that we have not, as yet, compromised. As such he might be anywhere. We do know where the girl, Andrea Richardson, has gone. She has been using public transport and her credit card, so either she and Foster have assumed that she is not a target or she is bait. I suggest that you report to Lieutenant Colonel Braythorne in Surveillance for a full briefing on our current level of coverage on Richardson and Foster and then see if you can’t get into her life. We know that she has a return flight to the US in seven days from now, so you don’t have long. Still if you can earn her trust you may be able to gain access to her phone and thereby email etc. and with any luck get some clues from Foster about his location, assuming that they are still in contact. Of course if she’s bait, well…”
The Colonel tailed off and cracked a rather wicked smile that Richard mirrored back to him, after all the unspoken thought was clear and while he was clear on his duty he was also clear that it needed to appear that he took pleasure in it. He did not take pleasure in killing, but despite the fact that the Praetorians were supposed to be the sin eaters of all the Soldiers of Christ, and as such should revel in their bloody ways, so as to draw all of the sin onto themselves he found it hard to glory in something that he simply saw as necessary.
“Anyway, if there is nothing further, you should be on your way Major, much to do!”
Richard was almost out of his chair when one of the other men around the table spoke;
“Major, may I offer you one word of warning?”
The voice was coming from Brigadier General Lawrence Cummings, perhaps the most famous Praetorian of all time, and something of a hero to Richard. He snapped to attention and replied,
“Yes, Sir, I would be honoured.”
The grizzled old man leaned into the light and fixed Richard with a stern look, cleared his throat and then prodding the table with his index finger in the cadence of his delivery;
“Next time you are bothered about being caught, try to remember that you can always kill yourself in custody, so finish the job at hand and embrace the fate that God has in store for you.”
As the words slammed into him, making him experience them as the verbal beating that he had no doubt they were intended to be, he felt a chill advancing down his spine, as if an icy, dead hand were lightly brushing down his back and it took every ounce of self-control to keep his eyes on the General and not turn and flee. He managed to stammer out,
“Yes, Sir. Of course, Sir.”
before the General burst into fits of laughter and waved him away. Colonel Chambers put his hand discretely on Richard’s forearm and said quietly;
“Off you go, I will see you before you leave, come to my office after Braythorne has brought you up to speed and you’ve drawn your kit for the op.”
Richard nodded, saluted the committee and left the room.
“Bloody Hell St. John, did you really need to do that to the poor boy?”
The voice was coming from the corner of the room, from a high-backed chair that was facing away from the table and as such the occupant had been hidden from Major Richard Redus. The chair moved slightly and a tall, thin man of indeterminate middle-age stepped out of the shadows and walked towards the committee table.
“I’m sorry, Hugh, I did not realise that we were molly coddling the Praetorians these days? Besides, I think that he took it rather well!”
At this they all fell into laughter once more, an easy, genuine laughter between comrades and equals that went on for quite some time. Eventually Hugh, General Hugh Petherbridge, head of the military wing of The Soldiers of Christ outside the United States, brought them all to order and sat down at the table;
“The real question here, gentlemen, is what are we dealing with in the shape of Caine Foster?”


The air was cold on Nicholas’s face when he stepped down out of the van. He loved to be out in the countryside at night; he particularly liked being out at the fishing lake. His father had bought the plot when he was a boy, and all of his good memories of his father were being there with him, building the cabin, learning how to fish, taking his first drink. His mother had not wanted Nicholas to go out there with him, but once the divorce had become final and his father was granted weekend custody there was little that she could do to stop it. All he had needed to do was report back that they had stayed in and watched videos at his father’s flat and she was none the wiser. The moon was high, and as he looked out over the water his eyes adjusted to the moonlight. A big full moon like that one was almost as good as daylight once his eyes had adjusted. He could see clear across the water to the other cabins, none of them had any lights on, but then even if there had been anyone else around they were not likely to be awake at three in the morning. The quiet was loud to him, not in an oppressive way, not in a way that was uncomfortable to him. Far from it he welcomed it, he felt as though it was wrapped around him like a blanket, protecting him from harm. Out there by the lake, in the cold and dark before the dawn he was closer to God than he was at any other time. He could feel his presence, like a steadying hand upon his shoulder, calming his soul and reassuring him that he was there by Nicholas’s side. The boat was in good shape. Even though he had not been up for a few weeks the cover had kept the rain off, so there was no need to bale out before loading Mrs Foster’s body in. It was easy to get her out of the van and into the boat, but that was mostly because there was no one here to worry about, he did not need to hide the fact the he was moving a body, but then that was why he brought them here, that and the feeling that he was bringing them to be with God.
It only took a few minutes to row out to the spot where he had given each of them to the lake for safe keeping. The sense of peace and wellbeing he felt only increased the closer he got to the place where his angels were waiting for him beneath the water. It was deep out in the middle, deep enough that no one could see them, but he knew that they were there, standing in the depths waiting for him to come and see them. When he got to the place, he could tell by the sight lines he had on one of the cabins and two distinctive trees, he eased the weighted end of the bag over the side of the boat, slipping her plastic encased body into the water feet first. He watched her disappear into the inky depths and then he sat down in the middle of the boat and prayed that God would take her soul, that he had made shiny and new and spirit her up to Heaven to be with his other angels.


NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 9

“I don’t expect you to to take it all in right away. I have to be honest, the only reason that I am telling you is that you saw me survive an attack that I should in no way have survived and I felt that I was left with no options other than tell you or disappear. If I trusted you any less I would have put my plans for leaving Caine Foster behind into motion ahead of schedule and disappeared, but I do trust you, not that I can explain precisely why, so here I am doing something that I almost never do, telling someone my truth.”
“Well, I appreciate the trust, Caine, I just hope that I can live up to it. So what’s the plan, I mean you must have some idea who attacked you and why. Does it have anything to do with your, er, status?”
“I’ve been thinking about it, and I did rather expect you to ask that. There are other people like me, I know because I have met some of them, and they in turn told me of others, but there is no great contest going on where we secretly fight one another with swords and try to decapitate each other. That really is just the movies, well and TV too, but frankly they never should have done that TV series. I digress. My point is that I don’t think my ‘status’, as you put it, has anything to do with the attack. In fact I think that it may have been as mundane and pathetic as my having upset a group of religious nutcases with my last book. I don’t know if you read it, but the main character was a vocal and rather disrespectful atheist?”
“Of course I read it, everyone did after all the attention that Transom got. The first genre novel ever to make it onto the Booker shortlist and then It didn’t win! Everyone wanted to see what you would do next. Of course now I know that you didn’t do it next, but at the time we were all eager to read the next Caine Foster novel. I remember the character, Guy Forrester, right? He was a bit of a prick about the religion thing, but I don’t remember him being particularly extreme.”
“Well, I didn’t think that he was either, but about a week after “Ride the Moon” came out I started getting death threats, through my agent not directly at first anyway. They were all from a group calling themselves The Soldiers of Christ, and basically they were repeated admonishments over my Godless ways and notifications of my imminent demise at the hands of their faithful warriors. We told the Police, but none of us took any of it very seriously. For one thing no one had heard of the group and even if they had, there were strong indications from the threats that they were in the US and seeing as I was not it became even less likely that I was going to worry about these people. Of course when Bradshaw was caught and the Police got that confession out of him it did cross my mind that maybe he had targeted Fran as a punishment for “Ride the Moon”, after all his spouting about God and cleansing the souls of his victims and all of that was enough to make me wonder. It turned out he had the reading age of a nine year old and the Police found no indication that he had ever read one of my books, so I stopped worrying about that connection as well. Anyway, the threats stopped coming after about six months and I thought no more of it until last night in the hospital. The person that attacked us, and I am assuming that they were male but I can’t be sure, was not a petty criminal, they knew how to use that knife and they were not interested in robbing us. The only thing that person was trying to do was kill me, and perhaps you too Andrea, and so I started to wonder about the threats again. I began to wonder if they had simply been biding their time, or worse still if they were not very clever and it had taken them this long to find me, but either way it seems that someone is serious enough about doing me harm that they are prepared to get someone capable involved.”
“What do you mean capable?”
“Whoever that was, they knew how to fight, properly. That was an assassin, plain and simple. What I don’t know yet is whether or not they were simply a hired gun, so to speak, or if they were actually invested in the attempt beyond a paycheque. If they were, then I expect that I am still in danger, and my concern is that I am unlikely to get the local Police to take it all that seriously and then there is the issue that if you are around me then you are probably either a target as well by this point, or at least at risk of being considered an acceptable collateral loss. I think that we might as well assume that getting out of town and lying low somewhere might be a good idea. If the assassin is motivated to try again I would rather make it hard for them to find me, find us.”
“Where do you want to go? More to the point if it’s going to be safer maybe we should go to different places and meet up in a few days or weeks? I’ve found you now and we’ve definitely gotten past the hard part of the whole ‘hi I’m your dead wife’s half-sister that you never met’ conversation, so perhaps we should be as cautious as we can be. I have a flight back to the States in eight days time anyway…”
It occurred to me for the first time that Andrea probably had a job to go back to, a life, her own future. Sure she had traveled to the UK to find out about her sister, but she had not been planning on staying; she had probably not been planning on meeting an immortal and having her entire understanding of the world stood on its head. I had formulated this entire thought about her and I hitting the road together to lay low, when in reality she was going to have to leave me and my world and go back to her own. It certainly changed my outlook on the whole idea of laying low, and now I was starting to think about other alternatives, choices which I could not make with Andrea in tow.
“Well, Andrea, I’ve been thinking about taking a trip to the States for a while, and there are a few people I might try to see here before I do, so I guess it would make sense for us to take separate roads for a while and then meet up again in a couple of weeks. I had not really considered that you would need to go home at some point, Hell I haven’t even asked you where home is.”
She chuckled, not at my oversight, but more at the absurdity of the situation, I believe.
“Caine, it never occurred to me, but there’s a lot of things that by now a normal friendship would have covered long ago. I live in Maine, I work at a small municipal airport in a place called Greenville, as an administrator. I’m planning to go back there, in fact I’ll fly all the way home thanks to the discounts and so forth that I can get as an insider. If you want to come and find me there in a few days, even a couple of weeks then that would be great, but I don’t want you to think that I expect you to come. I mean it’s in the middle of nowhere, in the heart of rural Maine, so if it was not on your list of places to visit then I would understand.”
“Andrea, I would love to see where you live. I guess that I will be in touch before I get too close, see if you can’t help me out with flying in as well. I mean, I like to drive, but the idea of flying in is oddly exciting.”
We swapped cellphone numbers and email addresses and made plans to leave the next morning, then Andrea turned in for the night. I sat up for a while, nursing a large dram of single malt and trying to decide whether I would head to Scotland or Berlin the next morning after I’d dropped Andrea at the train. I wondered if the reason I could not sleep was that I was starting to fear that the assassin would be back, but I knew in my heart that it was nothing to do with that. If he came I would be as ready as I could be and that would either save me or end me. No the real issue was that I had a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that this was the beginning of something that was going to end up being bigger than me, bigger than I imagined, and I was not looking forward to that.


“You were not successful, you do realise that don’t you?”
Richard nodded
“We have confirmation that Caine Foster is still alive, despite your claim that you had dealt him a series of fatal wounds. The question that we need to answer is whether or not you were mistaken, because if you were not then something much more interesting is going on here.”


NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 8

Apologies for not posting until today (day 9), but we had guests over yesterday and then I just forgot… I didn’t manage the daily target, but seeing as I am ahead… Today I hope to make up the deficit regardless.


In my long life I have only revealed my secret to a handful of people, and generally this stage of the proceedings comes with a great deal of disbelief followed by a progression of fear, then anger and then finally a mixture of wonder and sadness, but I had never been in this position before, of having to clarify what someone had actually witnessed. If it sounds a little far fetched that I had never had to take someone aside and explain after they saw something I would rather they had not, then I would have to agree with you, but a mixture of extreme caution, an amount of cunning and a lot of luck had brought me this far nonetheless. If you are wondering why I trusted Andrea with my secret so easily, so soon after meeting her, well at the time I did not believe that I had any other choice. Based on what she had seen I did not believe I was going to be able to explain things away, and anyway she was family. Fran had known my truth, why not share it with her sister?
“I had a normal childhood and early life, normal at least for an affluent child of Roman citizens. I learned to read and write, to perform what we now call mathematics, I learned about the law, the political structures of the Republic and the Empire, our history and beyond all of that I learned to be a soldier. At the age of seventeen I became what we would now see as a junior officer in the Roman army, and I started to live the life of a career soldier. I was a reasonable leader and tactician and I became better, learning in the service of great men. Eventually, by the time I was nearly forty years old and with many campaigns behind me I had risen to the level of being a general, a leader of several legions of Roman soldiers. I was a powerful man and while that definitely had its positives, it also brought with it the politics and the enemies that all people who wield power must deal with. It was on the eve of my fortieth birthday that the assassin broke into my family villa and slew my two sisters, their husbands and all of their children and attempted to kill me. He was a skilled warrior and he caught me unprepared, unprotected and armed only with a wooden club that I had taken from a Germanic tribesman, that was mounted on the wall over my bed. I hurt him, it is fair to say, before he plunged the gladius he brought with him into my stomach. I do not know which of us was the more surprised when I simply grabbed his hand, the one on the hilt, and pulled him closer, pushing the sword deeper into my gut and out through my back, so that I could head butt him. His eyes filled with tears, his nose streamed with blood, and as he reflexively stumbled backwards, releasing the sword that was now lodged firmly in my body, I caved in his skull with the club and then fell to my knees. I was sure that my life was at an end, and that the end would come in the form of hours of pain and suffering as with most grave gut wounds before the invention of surgery and antibiotics. I supposed that if I could bring myself to pull out the blade my wound would bleed freely and at least I would be released from that mortal coil as painlessly as possible. I gritted my teeth, grasped the blade just in front of the hilt with both hands and pulled. If you have not been stabbed it is hard to describe the feeling, the strange mixture of sliding and dragging as the blade is pulled back out through the wound, but hard as it may be to describe it is neither pleasant nor easy to forget, and even now my memory of that moment sends a chill through me. I dropped the gladius on the floor and sank down next to it, welcoming death as an inescapable final journey. You may imagine that I was very surprised to be awoken by one of my retainers at around dawn. He had risen early, as was his habit, and begun to make preparations for breakfast, putting the kitchen slaves to work and rousing the cook from his slumber. He was walking across the portico when he discovered the body of my elder sister Aurelia. Her body was posed in a rather sordid manner, a spear protruding from her chest, facing the main doors of the villa. Presumably the assassin, whose identity I never learned, had been given specific instructions on how to engineer as much shock as possible with his handiwork. After laying her body down and covering her with his own toga my, I suppose the current term would be butler, ran to my chamber to check on me and found me asleep next to the body of our assailant, a strange man that he had never seen before. As I said, I was surprised to be alive, even more surprised to find that there was no evidence of my being hurt, my wound having completely healed, and on reflection I was lucky that he was shaken enough to believe that I had caught myself with the kosh, after dealing with the assassin, knocking myself out.”
Andrea laughed quietly at this and I was relieved that despite the seriousness of what I was telling her she was able to see the funny side of anything at all.
“Anyway, from that day I have not aged one single day nor have I been laid low even for a moment by any illness, and despite suffering many potentially fatal hurts over the years I have always recovered and healed in the way that you saw the night before last. Clearly I have had to learn how to hide my condition from others, if only to be able to do anything remotely normal with this immense tract of time I have available to me.”
“You know Caine, that’s an amazing story, but I can see why you wouldn’t want everyone to know, as they would be on you all the time to reveal how you became like this. I mean it’s the ultimate dream of humanity, right? Death is the great leveller, it comes to us all. Just imagine what people would pay for your blood.”
I threw her a look;
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to be bleeding you while you sleep or anything, I was just thinking out loud. I mean there is a part of me that has to believe you because I’ve seen you not die when you should have done, but I’ll be honest I am still reeling.”


NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 7 (Warning potential trigger content)

When the end came it was a blessed relief. The countless offences that he had committed against her body had long since mounted to a crescendo of suffering and pain that had broken the very last part of her spirit. Her whole being was numb and all that she could really do was hope for death. She could feel his foetid breath on her cheek, the weight of his body along her back and legs; dimly she was aware that he was inside her again. It barely registered any more, so thoroughly had he beaten, cut and abused her already that it was almost unimportant; she pushed that awareness away and tried to call in the blackness that she was starting to see around the periphery of her vision. And it came to her. It was only for the tiniest moment that she felt the knife and then everything became easier, simpler in fact, and she drifted away.


He slept with her corpse after that last moment of ecstasy, as he had with all of his girls, and as ever he slept deeply and peacefully slumped over his kill.
When he awoke, in the dawn light, he felt rested and powerful, as though he had stepped out of Hell and into the sight of God; at least that was what he would tell anyone if they asked. He sat up, stretched and looked across at her inert body. Her eyes were wide open, seeming to stare intently at a bloodied chisel that happened to be on the bench, but even he could see that there was no light behind those eyes. That was the start of his melancholy on that occasion. Like a drug user, Nicholas Bradshaw had become used to a come-down after his particular brand of high. It began with a realisation that the journey was over, that there were no more games to play or experiences to explore with his victim, not that he saw them as victims you understand, but we can see the truth of that, can we not? Then slowly as the glow of refreshment and fulfilment faded he would fall into the routine of cleaning up, and therein lay the real disappointment, he had to give up his kill. He knew that he could not keep their bodies, that the smell alone was more than likely to rouse suspicion against him, and so he had been hiding their bodies far away from his workshop since the beginning, but this separation was hard for him and the creeping realisation that it had to happen and he would have to knuckle down and sort out the situation always tarnished the perfection of the time before.
He hopped off the bench and set about cleaning the floor of any visible trace of blood. As he went he retrieved discarded tools and collected them together in a wire basket, ready to move on to the next part of the process which would be to wash, dry and return each one to its proper place.
Once the floor was clean he laid out the body bag next to the bench and then rolled the corpse off onto the open bag. He dotted half-bricks around the body and laid a large length of old chain at the feet. Satisfied than the bag would be weighed down enough he zipped the bag up and slid it over to the van, loading it in and closing the side door in the same matter of fact way as if it were a bag of reclaimed pipes or cable. He washed the floor again around the bench and then cleaned all of the blood from the bench as well. Finally he went to the shower cubicle at the back of the workshop and washed himself, taking particular care with his hair and his nails.
When it was all done there was nothing to suggest that the space was anything but a workshop, and while he knew that exhaustive forensic examination would find evidence of blood and hair skin that there might be little or no reasonable explanation for, the important aspect was to ensure than no one became suspicious enough to even suggest such an inspection.
He checked the time, it was too late to head out to the lake as he would need the cover of darkness to properly hide her away. He decided that the day could definitely be a rest day, so he locked the van, locked away the camcorder and his computer and then locked up the workshop and wandered down the road to the café; it was time for a fry-up and then later he would watch some of the film he had shot the night before while he waited for night to come so that he could take Mrs. Foster to her final resting place.


It was only a day later that I was discharged from the hospital, with a course of antibiotics to keep the wound from becoming infected and strict instructions to visit my local GPs surgery to have my dressing changed every couple of days, not that I was actually going to bother with either. Andrea had come back over to Norwich to meet me and pottered about the City for a little while before the moment in which we both knew that it was time to head back to my place and have a conversation about what had really happened.
We did not even try and make small talk on the train ride back to Cromer. Andrea stared out of the window, seemingly greedy for yet more views of the British countryside, not matter what the weather was doing. I busied myself with that day’s edition of the Guardian, in particular a biting editorial into the revelations surrounding a Labour minister who had not only been caught with a couple of prostitutes, but they had turned out to be under age and he had been giving them cocaine as well. Now all of this seems rather sordidly familiar, but the real irony came from the fact that he was not only a lay preacher, but that he was a lay preacher who railed against carnal vices and the loose sexual mores of society, and who had famously led a Parliamentary commission on child sex trafficking only a couple of years before. It is true that it was a shocking tale, and it is also true that there was an effort to limit the sensationalist, lurid tone of the coverage – presumably because of the Guardian’s political bias more than any sense of propriety as I am certain that they would have offered a great-sized serving of glee had the individual in question been a Tory. As I read the article I realised that I was nodding, in agreement, and at a certain point I realised that I was unsurprised by any of it. I don’t have a moral judgement about using prostitutes per se, but I am opposed to frequenting prostitutes that one is aware are under age. Like most people I do not agree with anyone being forced into working as a prostitute and there is almost no chance that the two girls he was found with were willing participants in the transaction, so at least on that level there was absolutely nothing to do but condemn his activities, and yet I was not filled with outrage or surprise. I realised that I was utterly used to the horrors men do, and finally I was sickened.
I put the paper down on the seat next to me and sighed. Andrea noted my demeanour and gave me that look, the one that says “huh?”.
“Oh, nothing, just a depressing article. I am troubled by how little surprises me any longer. I mean I am offended by the bad things that people do, sometimes even disgusted, but it’s never a surprise any more.”
Andrea nodded and shook her head in a delightful moment of her body expressing the cognitive dissonance of her reaction so completely;
“Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s sad that we take if for granted that people are evil and disgusting.”
We sat in silence for the rest of the journey, which did not last all that long anyway, and then we walked back to my loft on Firkin Street.


“Tell me why you are not dead, Caine.”
We had barely closed the door on the outside world when this questyearsion came skittering across the space between us, and I was not really ready for it, even though I knew it had been clamouring to escape Andrea’s lips for a little under forty-eight hours.
“Can I make some tea and can we sit down first, please?”
Andrea laughed, nodded and motioned toward the kitchen as if to suggest I should hurry. I certainly did get on with it and a few moments later we were back in our respective seats in the living room, each armed with tea and a cigarette, and I no longer had any reason to delay.
“I want you to know that I am sorry you had to see what you saw, it must have been very frightening. I have become accustomed to violence over the years, though to be honest I have been lucky enough to stay away from it since the War, but still most people are not even remotely able to cope with real violence when they are confronted with it unless they have been desensitised by repeated exposure, and from the reaction I remember I don’t believe you fall into that category, so for what it may be worth I am sorry.”
I paused and she nodded, but clearly had nothing to add, so I carried on,
“I understand that your question comes from an understanding on your part that by any reasonable standard, people who are stabbed through the neck with large knives rarely survive the experience and yet you saw that happen to me and I am not only still alive but there is no visible evidence on my neck of the wound I received there. There is no easy way to say this, nor can I offer much in the way of explanation, but the simple truth is that I cannot die. I was born in what modern historians would call 36 B.C., to an affluent and well respected family in what is now Italy but was then a part of the Roman Empire, and my name then was Marcus Gallicus.”
I looked up to try and gauge her reaction, but her face was impassive and I had no sense of what she was thinking.


NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 6

Once we were both certain that enough time had elapsed for the two Police officers to actually be gone, we turned to each other, Andrea poised to speak as I gave her a look that while warm and kind, I hoped, conveyed in no uncertain terms that this was not the time and place for her questions. Thankfully she read my face correctly and we fell into easy conversation about how we never got that drink and where I would take her for dinner once I was liberated from my incarceration. A few hours later a different nurse came bustling through and amongst other things reminded Andrea politely but firmly that she would not be able to stay past the end of visiting hours. I gave her my house keys and some cash – after some investigation we had found my wallet, keys and phone in the bedside cabinet, as if they had been transferred there by some unseen valet – and encouraged her to head back to Cromer and make herself at home in my loft. We said our goodbyes and I was left alone to wonder if there was anything remotely predictable about my having been attacked, and if so who had I angered that much, or if indeed I had been the victim of a genuinely random act of violence.


It was cold in the dark, she could feel what she assumed was a metal floor under her legs where they protruded from under her skirt. It took a few more moments, but fear was the next thing that she experienced. As her awareness grew she realised that she was gagged and restrained, her hands tied behind her back and her ankles tied together, and she also knew that she was not where she was supposed to be. She reached back for her last memory; she was walking down the street, on the well-lit side, away from her mother’s house and towards Hampstead Tube, and then, nothing. She tried to calm herself, to control the urge to scream and thrash around; something in the back of her mind was telling her that it would do no good and that she would need her strength.
She closed her eyes, not that it made much difference as it was already completely dark, and started to use her senses more precisely in order to try and understand her situation. The metal floor was a good place to start, what sort of places had a metal floor? Was she in a shipping container, or on a boat of some kind, or in a tractor trailer? She was mulling over the options one by one when this first question was answered for her. She heard the sound of a car door being pulled open and then a couple of moments later the same door being slammed shut. Finally after a few more seconds she heard the van being started and then the engine idling and the metal floor that she was resting on began vibrating gently. She was in the back of a van. Suddenly light streamed into her field of view as what looked like an inspection hatch opened and she saw the outline of a face. Her sense of smell was suddenly assaulted by the pungent odour of a takeaway kebab and she was suddenly experiencing pangs of hunger. She waited, expecting the outline of a face to either become easier to see, or for whoever it was to speak to her, but as quickly and unexpectedly as the hatch had been opened, it snapped shut again. She felt the van pull away and they were on the road.
She tried to count, to have some idea of how long they had driven for, but it was too difficult to focus on the counting with all of the questions and fears roiling in her mind. She tried to listen out for any kind of audible cues that would give her some sense of where she was or where she was being taken, but again she found it hard to concentrate and equally hard to hear anything at all beyond the dull hum of the engine and the sound of the road under the tyres. By the time the van came to a complete stop and the engine was turned off she had lost all track of time and had given up all hope of knowing where she was.
She had expected to be removed from the back of the van pretty much immediately, but even after she was certain that the vehicle was parked somewhere time dragged on as she was left lying there alone. Her mind wandered. She wondered what time it was, whether or not Caine had realised that she was not going to be at home on time, or even that anything was wrong. She started to wonder what this person, who had clearly abducted her, wanted, but she backed away from that line of speculation pretty quickly and tried to focus on what she would do when she finally got home. She was thirsty and tired and increasingly she was aware that if much more time passed she was going to need to use the bathroom; she had not “been” before she left her mother’s place. Her mother! Caine would definitely have realised that she was not home and his first course of action would have been to call her mother to confirm that she had left as usual. Her mother was going to be descending into the madness of worry that can only be experienced by a parent. She felt guilty that her husband and mother would be suffering with the concern and worry of her absence, but that guilt was quickly replaced with anger against her abducter and sadness of her own that she was not with Caine.
It was at this point that the fear crept back in. She started to be unable to prevent her mind from wandering down terrifying avenues of possibility as she started to imagine the horror that might await her. Every woman has their own personal, private fear about being at the mercy of a man who wishes to hurt them and take advantage of them and now all of the horrifying scenarios that she had banished to the darker recesses of her mind were rushing to the surface and spilling over into her thoughts, like a saucepan boiling over. As she wrestled with her own mind, trying to put certain things from her mind and recover control, she realised that she had involuntarily adopted a foetal position despite the discomfort of having her hands tied behind her. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes and trickling down her face completely unbidden and uncontrollable and as the weight of all that fear and anticipation broke her she started to convulse with muffled sobs, which had the gag been removed would have been loud and plaintive, like the keening of the bereaved.
She did not know how long she had been crying there, in the dark when the side door of the van was opened and once more light streamed into the van and over her face.
“Hello Mrs. Foster. I see you are under no illusions about what is happening to you. That’s good, it is far harder to deal with women who have not accepted that I am in control and that I control their destiny.”
His voice was like treacle, soft and rich and dark, but there was an unmistakeable edge of menace that set her off into another fit of sobs and her body shook, inflicting new and terrible pain on her wrists as the cable-tie cuffs started to bite and actually cut into her flesh as her body was contorted by the hand of fear. She could feel the blood dripping down over her fingers and she started to feel sick.
He reached into the van and towards her body; every fibre of her being was screaming inside her head to resist, to kick or head butt him as soon as he came close, but already the fight was gone out of her. Her body went limp, quite against her will and he easily dragged her towards him and then lifted her onto his shoulder. Her vision swam and she passed out.
When she came to she was no longer gagged, but she was duct-taped to a bentwood chair, wearing only her underwear in a cold and dimly lit space that looked like a workshop. There was small table about five feet directly in front of her with a computer monitor standing on it, the picture was a freeze frame of another woman taped to the very same chair in nothing but her underwear. Off to her right there was a tripod atop which, staring at her with its unblinking cyclopean eye, was a camcorder. She could hear the man moving around behind her, but she could not crane her neck far enough around to see what he was doing.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Foster, you will see what I am doing soon enough, please don’t put yourself to any further discomfort by trying to turn around in the chair. I promise you that I have made certain that you are quite secure. Why don’t you watch a film I made a couple of weeks ago while you wait.”
With that the screen in front of her burst into life, the image breaking from its frozen state and the film ran. A frightened looking woman in her mid to late thirties with a healthy figure and long wavy red hair was tied to chair. She was looking around in dismay and Fran could hear the sounds of someone moving around out of shot. The woman was frantically trying to move her arms which her secured like her own with duct-tape, and trying to crane her neck around to see the person making the noises off camera.
“Who’s there?”
Fran was surprised by the sound; for some reason she had not expected dialogue.
“Please! Please, just let me go? I won’t tell, I promise, just please let me go?”
The woman was breathless and, like Fran, had obviously been crying.
“PLEASE! Look, please don’t hurt me. I have kids, you know? Two little boys and they are going to be so scared, they won’t know where their mummy is… PLEASE!”
Fran wanted to turn away, wanted to close her eyes but she could not. She was watching her own fate unfold and despite the tide of fear that was riding once more within her she could not look away.
A man entered the frame from the shadows, behind the woman on the chair. In what looked to be a deliberate choice his head was cropped out of the frame, but the rest of his body was visible in all its naked horror. Flabby and pale, and sporting a hard but unimpressive erection he sidled up behind the woman and placed his left hand on her right shoulder. Then the voice that Fran had heard before, soft and almost sweet yet dark and intangibly unpleasant;
“Quiet now.”