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Review My Work / The Colony -1996 words
« on: March 09, 2018, 11:16:32 AM »
Hi, This is the first 2000 words of an 8000 word short story I've just finished.

Grateful for any feedback you can give.

Genre is a bit of a mixed bag. Suspense/horror, maybe.


The Chosen will be gathered and the Prophecies will come to pass.
A messenger will come bearing the sign of the Hydra.
And the messenger will be offered to the First Born.
A darkness will fall and day will become night.
The sky will rain with the righteous fire of the first-born.
The Chosen will submit, and be saved.

[The Colony Scroll - translated from the original Latin by Professor William Gershalt, Oxford University, October 2021]


Jessica placed the note in her pocket, worrying it between her thumb and index finger. She sat on a lop-sided chair her father had made, an attempt to add comfort to what he referred to as their family ‘lodge’. In truth, it was little more than a damp, wooden shack, offering cursory relief from the elements.

She smiled at the thought of Josiah coming up with a plan.

Despite all the talk of rejecting modern life, the Colony still sent its dirty linen to the laundromat in town. It was Jess’ job to take the delivery from Kelly Wilmslow, a girl she'd known at school.

Non-believers were not allowed inside, so Jessica met her at the gates. When Kelly passed the first set of sheets across, Jess felt the note being pressed into her hand, under the sheets. They held each other's eyes for a moment without saying a word.

In the shack, she read, “Meet me at our place in the woods. Tonight, 7 O’clock. I miss you. Josiah.”

For a moment, the misery of the past month lifted from her shoulders. Her parents' decision to enter the Colony and the privations of life inside were something that Jess wanted no part of. She surveyed the squalor around her and felt the emotion rising in her throat.  Jess closed her eyes.

Touching the note again, she thought of Josiah. She recalled an image of him on the beach, laughing, during their trip to Brighton the previous Autumn. They’d told their parents they would be away with the school, a sixth-form excursion to the seaside. But it had just been them, together and alone for the first time. They visited the arcades, walked on the beach and drank for long-hours in the bars. Josiah booked two separate rooms at the hotel, but by the second night they needed only one.


The Preacher entered his cabin and closed the door.

The spacious single room served as a study, kitchen and living quarters. It was basic, in-keeping with their values, but much larger than the other lodges. His Brethren understood his position and responsibilities. There would be no begrudging the inequity.
He sat at his desk and clasped his hands.

For the first time, he sensed doubt among them. The uninvited questions and the diffidence of their manners had been building for a time. Thursday worship, the holiest session of the week, was supposed to be a time of reflection and contemplation. With their insolence, a few had betrayed a lack of true faith. How many did they speak for?

Alice Cuthbert was the worst of them, the leader of the malcontents. Always passive aggressive. “When will the messenger come, Preacher? You say he will be here soon, but when?” A motherly doubter. The children were hungry, she said. They needed more food, more meat, more vegetables. Always more, more, more.

He stood and paced the room. A chair blocked his path. The Preacher picked it up and flung it violently against the wall. When it crashed to the floor intact, he retrieved the chair and swung it against a pillar, over and over again, until each piece had broken away and he was left with a single wooden leg dangling from his hand. Sweating, breathing heavily, he tossed it away and sank to his knees.

They dared to question him?

In the twelve years it had taken to build this place, they had all made sacrifices, but he took the burden of leadership. In the beginning there had been just a handful, but his word had spread and their numbers had grown. With each new arrival, a bargain was struck. Conform to his strictions, and in return, he would ready them for The Reckoning. The Preacher was a man of his word, and he would remind them of their mission here.

He picked himself up and strode towards door. Outside, on the porch of his lodge, he found Greg , a large and forceful man who did not know the meaning of ‘doubt’.

“Fetch Alice Cuthbert and her family. Place them in the pit for three days.”

Hopkins nodded. “The children too, Mr. Preacher, Sir?”

“The children too.” he said.


Josiah took care not to be seen leaving the southern end of town on foot. Cars and buses bound for Stratford took that route all the time, but there was no reason to be walking in the area, unless they meant to visit the Colony.

Any driver could see the route from the main road. Beyond a thick copse of trees and a derelict barn lay the banks of the Stour. Cross the footbridge and you arrived at the old Friern Farmstead, a collection of fields broken up and sold off in the 90's. The two largest meadows eventually came under the ownership of Elton Digweed. And the rest, as the people of Shipston-on-Stour were fond of saying, was history.

From a distance, the settlement looked pre-historic. Perhaps twenty wooden huts built in rudimentary fashion, peppering the fields, interspersed with smoking fires and people moving between them. There was no way to tell the Colonists apart from the hill. They all wore the same plain hessian uniform, even the children. At the northern tip of the settlement, built on a raised bank, was a larger, more substantial building. Everyone agreed this must be Digweed’s residence.

Jos knew people gossiped about anyone seen in the general direction of those huts. Children were warned to stay clear by their parents and teachers. Suspicion still lingered over poor Sam Harwood, months after he'd fished the river from the wrong bank.

To avoid such a fate, Josiah rode to the Sports and Social Club and dumped his bike next to the clubhouse. By the time he'd crossed the football pitches, his boots were caked with mud and his hands were frozen. He vaulted the stile and hurried down the pathway dividing Jim Buchan’s land. At the river, the path turned north, tracking the bank towards Long Compton.

He took a full minute to check his surroundings, rolled up his jeans and waded into the ice-cold water. Half way across, a river rat broke the surface and eyed him suspiciously. He swiped his hand against the current and the creature swam away.

In the fading light, the boy climbed the bank and dried himself with a rag from his back-pack. He put on his socks and boots and continued through the woods.

If Jessica had received his message, she would be waiting on the far side of the trees. He pictured her, standing in the clearing, her arms gathered around her with a smile forming at the edge of her lips. Thinking of him, anticipating him. They had not seen each other in almost a month.

The night before, Jos’ father had visited him in his room, awkwardly staging a father-son talk. He was worried about Jos, he said, everyone was. He hardly ate, his school work had dropped off. Even his friends were concerned. It was time, his Father said, to move on from Jessica.

"Move on."

All that experience and still his father used those words. As if Jessica were a bump in the road, an experience to be mused upon in later life. It was difficult to forgive.

Through the trees, beyond the walls, he spotted the flickering glow of their fires. She must be able to slip away, he thought. They couldn't watch each other constantly.

He recalled the warning signs before Jessica and her parents had disappeared. The Preacher’s leaflets on the Rowley's coffee table and the curious questions Jess' mother would ask Josiah when he called. Had he heard the rumours of his strange powers? Did he think there was truth to them?

The Colony held outreach sessions once a week in Shipston’s community hall. Most who attended were out of town, crackpots who'd picked up the story from the media or the internet.

Jessica’s parents had gone along, then things started to spiral out of control.

Josiah should've acted then. He should have told people about Mrs. Rowley or watched the house to make sure nothing happened. Instead, he went on as though everything was fine and a week later, they were gone.

In the woods, he reached the clearing. “Jess.” he said. “Jess, are you there?”

He walked on, wet grass clinging to his ankles. “It’s Jos. I came to get you.”

More silence. He felt foolish now. He’d rehearsed their reunion so many times; it hadn’t occurred that she might not be there. He shuffled around the edge of the clearing, finding only darkness between the trees.

Josiah heard a feint rustling, low to the ground. It could have been an animal, but there was something purposefully furtive in the sound. He approached slowly. “Jess? Is that you?”

Her voice came from behind, soft and inviting, “Josiah.”

He turned. She stood in front of him, dressed in plain, off-white overalls, a crochet blanket draped across her shoulders. Her hair had been cut short and her skin was paler than he remembered.

He took a deep inward breath, steeling himself against his emotions.

“Are you okay?” he said.

She dropped her eyes and covered her face with her hands.

The blow to the back of his head was sudden and heavy, impacting at the base of the skull, sending shockwaves of pain across his shoulders and spine. In the split-second of consciousness before he hit the ground, Josiah heard a male voice growl and heavy footsteps beating towards him.

“Take him.”


Consciousness returned in short, painful bursts.

Strong hands gripped his shoulders and legs. Mud and mulch passed beneath as they carried him.

Next, they were turning him over, struggling to get him through the door of a wooden hut. One said,

“The blood makes him slippery.”

Josiah faded again, but for longer this time. When he came to, he was sitting up in a chair. The pain at the back of his head mixed with the sensation of hands tending to his wound. A cloth soaked with cool water dabbed at the cut.

From behind, she whispered into his ear. “Don’t speak.” With the sound of her voice and her breath on his neck, his senses revived. Josiah tried to move his hands, only to find them bound to the arms of the chair.

“Cut these, and we’ll run,” he said.

“Quiet. They have someone on the door.”

Josiah saw that a bearded man stood sentry at the open entrance.

She whispered again, so quietly he could hardly make out the words.

“You shouldn’t have come. They found the note. They think you’re a sign.”

“A sign? A sign for what?”

“You’re in danger. So am I.”

“I can get you out. I can.”

“Stop. I had a way to get out.” He sensed her hands shaking. Was it anger or fear? “Now we’re all in danger.”

The bearded man finally noticed their urgent whispers, and came into the room. Up close, Josiah recognised him as Mr White, his old Maths teacher. People in town said he’d retired and left to live in the city.

There was no sign of recognition for his former pupil, just a blunt instruction for Jess. “Clean him, bandage him and get out.” His voice carried a furious edge.

White remained until Jess finished dressing the wound. As she left, her fingers brushed gently over the back of his hand.

Review My Work / Rye Hill - 1997 words
« on: December 13, 2017, 05:48:38 PM »


I've started a piece which may end up at around 10k words. It's Horror/Sci-Fi, multiple POV.  Probably alternating between three main characters. Pulpy stuff, but hopefully populated with some realistic characters. The setting is modern day South London. 

I'm looking for reader reaction.  Is this grabbing you?  Would you read on?

Thanks in advance for the feedback.


Phil sits on the top deck, holding a paperback in his left hand, staring out of the window. The gloom of the evening presses in on the bus, but he sees only the lights and the faces of the people. 
Six more stops and he’ll be with her.  
The mental image of Isla’s face, smiling as she opens the door, is so sharp, so vivid, it has the quality of a premonition. Isla might be coy when he arrives, kissing his cheek and leading him by the hand into her flat. Or she might pounce before the door even closes. Either is fine with him. 
The bus pulls into Nigel Road and the thin northernmost tip of Peckham Rye Common appears outside his window. To the west, above the Dulwich skyline, he sees the orange glow of flames, flickering against the clouds. A house fire, he assumes.
As if though reading his thoughts, two fire engines and a police car charge past. 
A large elderly man in a dirty green jacket stumbles up the stairs and drops into the seat in front. He smells of booze and sweat and his skin is dangerously pale.
A teenage girl, sitting across the aisle, stands and moves towards the back of the bus. Phil thinks about doing the same, but the drunk turns and speaks to him, “It’s crazy out there. You know?”
Phil shakes his head and smiles. “Sorry?”
The old man’s jaw drops and Phil wonders if he’s having a seizure. Before he can ask if he’s okay, the man turns and slumps across the seats.
Phil wants to give someone a knowing grin. ‘Look at me, dealing with the drunk’, but nobody is making eye contact. A middle-aged woman has her face immersed in a phone. A well-dressed professional nods along to cordless headphones. 
Five more stops. 
The 343 reaches the traffic lights and Phil is gagging from the smell. He nestles his shoulder and nose into the window and breaths in cold air. The Common is broad now, the green sweep of grass and trees still visible in the descending light.  
In the distance, the road to the west of the Common is blocked. Two cars have collided, coming to rest across the carriageway. Drivers trapped in the traffic get out to investigate. To Phil, it looks serious. The front ends of both cars have crumpled inwards. 
He thinks, ‘It is crazy out there.” and takes out his phone, snapping pictures of the crashed cars with quick-fire taps. 
A movement outside catches his attention. He leans closer and sees something moving across the Common. It is large, black and irregular, with so many moving parts, he finds it hard to focus. At first, its speed makes Phil think of a converted vehicle, a motorbike perhaps, decorated to look like some hideous insect.  He screws up his nose and presses his forehead against the glass.
It is making a direct line towards a woman with a buggy. She’s seen the black swirl approaching and is standing stock still, waiting for it. Even from the bus, Phil can see her tilting her head, trying to understand what she is seeing.  
In the last second, the woman grabs the buggy and tries to pull out of the way, but it is too late. At the point of contact, Phil finally discerns its form. The blur of jagged black lines propelling it forwards can be only one thing: legs.
In the silence of the bus, he stands and pounds on the window.  
“Help her!” He shouts, “Somebody help her!”
The Tesco security guard says Roger didn’t pay for two of the beers, but he did, he’s sure of it, and what the hell is he supposed to do when the till thing doesn’t beep when it’s supposed to? If they want to get all of the money right all of the time, maybe they should do it the old-fashioned way and get someone to do it for him.
But now the guy is talking too fast and he’s shouting and Roger can’t understand a word.
He takes two of the cans out of the carrier bag and throws them on the floor, then pulls his arm away from the security guard and scurries out of the shop. There is shouting and laughing behind him, but he pays no mind. ‘Keep moving’, he thinks.
Outside, he feels the cold through his cheap coat and thinks about getting into bed with his cans of beer and warming up and making the shakes go, but then his cheeks burn because he knows what Susan would think. He pushes that thought aside, and says the words out loud this time, “Keep moving, Roger.” 
He has to cross the big junction on Peckham Rye West, but it’s easier than usual because all of the traffic has stopped. People are blasting their horns and one guy is craning his neck out of the window and shouting filthy words.  
Roger walks between the cars and hurries onto the path which crosses the Common. Two young women, walking towards him, stare in silence as he goes by. One of them looks a bit like Susan, but without the kindness in her eyes. As they pass, he turns to look at them. He does that sometimes, and he wishes he could help himself. But, instead of looking at them, his attention is taken by a figure swaying in the trees. 
He laughs because someone is playing a joke. The Council, probably, has put a great big, black statue in the trees. What is it? A huge bug, a spider? It looks almost alive. If it weren’t for the bus, the 343 he can hear approaching, he might take a closer look.  
He runs for the stop and the wheezing in his chest is bad, but Roger gets inside the doors just as they’re closing. The driver snarls because he doesn’t have a card, so he shouts, “I’ll come back down, fella.”
The bus pulls off, which is good, because the driver won’t be an arsehole and call the police. He climbs the stairs and flops down on the seat. Roger wants to talk to someone so that he doesn’t start thinking about the dive he’s staying in. 
The guy behind him looks like a good sort, and he’s thinking of that big spider thing, so he says “Weird as shit. Don’t go out there.” But just as he does, he looks out of the window and see’s that the two girls are lying on the grass in the middle of the Common and the big black thing is walking away from them. It is walking on eight long, black legs.
The image is too much. With the drink in his system and the pressure he's been under, it overwhelm’s him. He slumps his head down onto the seat next to him, hiding from the hideous thing outside.
The young guy is shouting and banging on the window. Alisha thinks this is strange because it's the well dressed man who is raving and not the stinking bum sat in front. 
A decade of travelling on buses in South London has taught Alisha one lesson: Don't engage. Guy hits on you? Don't engage. Someone blasts their music in your ear? Don't engage. And top of the list, crazy guy starts shouting crazy shit? Don’t engage. 
But this is different. His tone, his appearance, the way he's suddenly jumped up, out of nothing. “Help her!” He shouts, “Somebody help her!”
Silhouettes of the Rye Hill Park towers loom against the grey sky ahead. The next stop is hers, so she stands and walks down the aisle, watching him. The lights inside the bus reflect against the glass. She can't see what he’s shouting at, but there is something out there, movement where there’s usually dead space.
The guy turns and sees her. He says, “Don't get off. Whatever you do, don't get off the bus.”
In ten seconds, they’ll reach her stop and she doesn't want to miss it. Alisha has to make dinner tonight and her mum will be wondering where she is. But this guy is real. Something has spooked him. She steps into the empty seat behind him and puts her face to the glass. 
And she is flying. 
The sensation of moving through the air comes a moment before the smashing, crunching sound from the front of the bus. Her hip catches the seat in front and she knows the pain will be severe even before she lands.
She comes down on top of the drunk, who is on the floor, in front of his seat. 

The high pitched ringing in her ears subsides and she can hear a scraping and scratching sound coming from the lower deck. Glass is breaking. People are screaming. A recorded voice is loud and insistent, almost drowning out the terror of the people downstairs.  “This is an emergency. Please vacate the bus via the nearest exit. This is an emergency. Please vacate the bus via the near . . ." Abruptly it stops.
She looks up at the ceiling and all is red, so she sweeps her hand across her eyes to clear the blood. The guy underneath her is shouting and Alisha lifts herself up and shifts onto the seat.  Her head is cut and her hip hurts, but she’s relived to find she is still in one piece.

The people downstairs continue screaming.  A woman’s voice can be heard above all the others. “Get it off me!  Get it off me!”  Alisha has never been in a bus crash before, nor any other kind of traffic accident, but she knows this is the wrong soundtrack.  The worst should be over. People may be injured, some might even be dead.  There should be crying and wailing and movement.  Not screaming, not the pure terror she can hear coming from below.

Around her, the top deck passengers are getting to their feet. There must be ten people stirring themselves, all in various stages of shock. 

The only exception is the woman from the shop on Cheltenham Road.  Mrs Chopra. Alisha has known her since she was small. She would go with her brother to the corner shop on Sunday, after tea, where they were allowed to buy one sweet, or an ice cream in the summer.  Mrs Chopra was always friendly, always treated them like they mattered.

They’d said ‘Hi’ to each other when Alisha had got on the 343 just half-an-hour ago, but now Mrs Chopra wasn’t moving.  Her forehead has caved in, smashed on the metal bar of the seat in front.

A guy in a pin-striped suit, with Bose headphones round his neck shouts, “What the fuck happened?”

What she hears now is not his words, but the silence that follows.  The screaming below has stopped, so has that scratching sound.

She sees what is making that awful scraping sound is and she knows why the woman downstairs was shouting. Across the Common, on the roads, in the playground, climbing up the houses and the trees, she can see them.

Monsters. There is no other word.

Huge black, arachnoids, their huge bodies and heads carried along by impossibly long legs.  She a sees a man with long blonde hair wearing a blue tracksuit, running away from the bus. One of the spiders changes direction and chases, scuttling at twice the man's speed.  A front limb reaches out and sweeps his feet from under him.  He lands heavily on his shoulder and it it's on him, spearing his body over and over with it’s razor sharp legs.  Then the head descends and pincer fangs gouge at his body. 

All across the Common and the park beyond, they are hunting. 

Alisha drops her head, and brings her shaking hands together in prayer.

Review My Work / The Piece - 1637 words
« on: November 10, 2017, 12:11:25 PM »
This is the first part of 6k suspense story. 

Appreciate reader responses and criticism.


David rests his hand on hers. Julia is on the verge of tears and he wants to reach out and hold her. Her head dips and turns away, thick brown curls fall across her eyes.

A month after their split, this is the first meeting. A 'casual' coffee before work, the demands of the office and the bustle of a Monday morning supposedly keeping it short and detached. Practicalities have been addressed. They've arranged a time to pick up his things. The process of selling the flat will begin next week.

"Julia," he says.

She retrieves her hand and stands. The moisture in her eyes is gone. Her voice is low and cold. "You ruined it, David.” She shakes her head, “Idiot."

Two women at the neighbouring table turn and stare.

She speaks again, louder this time. "blocked idiot." She walks out, without looking back.

David holds his head in his hands. Julia. Perfect, beautiful Julia. Did she ever say a harsh word to him in the seven years they were together? Now this.

He knows she's right, that's the worst of it. His 'indiscretion', was nobody's fault but his own. A pointless, reckless kiss with a work colleague at a Christmas party.

Their life together had been good. Loving, mutually supportive. Everyday she gave him advice and everyday he would take it, helping him to over come so many of life's obstacles, big or small. On top of her day job, she studied for her Masters in Economics, taking classes every night of the week. He wanted to see more of her, but the time they did have together should have been enough.

If it weren't for the people at the neighbouring table, still watching whilst they pretend to talk, he would weep. Big boy David Mansfield would blub like a baby, and he’d be worthy of their contempt.

Instead, he stands, takes a breath and sets off down the Euston Road towards his office.

He arrives at his desk via the elevator at the back of the building. Taking the normal route would mean passing the Comms team, which is where Sally Winchester works. A month on from the party and he still receives knowing glances and raised eyebrows from her colleagues.

With the depressed mood of his morning settling over him, David turns on his PC and checks his emails. Among the spam and work related messages is one from the Chief Executive. 

"Dear Colleagues,

It is with great regret than I write to inform you of the sudden passing of our colleague Jocelyn Moore . . ."

David stops for a moment. Something about the name jars.

Jocelyn was a valued colleague in our Information Technology team, working with us for over seven years. Her death has come as a great shock to us all. If and when we receive details of funeral or memorial arrangements from Jocelyn's family, we will share this with you. For now, I'm sure you will join me in passing on our sincere condolences to Jocelyn's friends, family and loved ones at this difficult time." 

David leans back in his chair, tilting his head to one side.

Jocelyn Moore. Jocelyn Moore.

Where has he heard that name? When nothing comes, he gets on with replying to emails and writing a brief on three potential clients. At 11AM, his manager, Gina, takes him into a side office for their regular one to one. As the conversation draws to a close, she mentions that he seems distracted and asks if “everything is okay?" She means the split with Julia, everybody knows about that. He doesn’t have the energy to tell her he’s trying to remember who Jocelyn Moore is, or was.

Back at his desk, he searches on Google, Facebook and Twitter. The few matches he finds mean nothing.

He takes lunch in the canteen with a couple of guys from Finance. Afterwards, instead of going back to his desk, he takes the lift to the sixth floor and finds the suite of desks reserved for the IT team. He knows one of the guys sat there, tapping away on a laptop.

"Hey Bobby, how's it going?"

Bobby stops and looks up. "David."

"Look, I saw the message about Jocelyn Moore."

Bobby closes his eyes and nods. "Total tragedy. Nobody can believe it."

"I never saw her here, in the office. Never came across her."

Bobby said, "Not surprising. She worked on the big software projects, mainly"

"What happened? An illness?" David says.

"Accident. Stepped out in front of a bus, somewhere in Islington last week. We only found out on Friday."

"Jesus." David shuffles on his feet, unsure of how to move to his next question. "So, ever since I got that email this morning, I've been thinking I know her name. I didn't meet Jocelyn here, but I know the name. You don't have a picture of her, do you?

"Don't think so. She had a thing about that. Didn't like photos."

"Oh. Okay."

"Wait, there was one which we teased her about. We took a pic of all of us together when we went out for a curry last year. I've got it saved somewhere."

"You teased her?"

Bobby smiles to himself. "You'll see. She ruined the photo."

David says, "Can you show me?"

"I'll have to hunt it out. I'll email it over.”

Later that day, just as David is thinking of calling Bobby to remind him, an email appears.

Bobby’s message says, “I told her I’d deleted it.”

David opens the attachment and scans the image. 

It’s a group of twelve sat at a restaurant table, all rosy cheeked and toasting the camera with their drinks. The photo is almost perfect, capturing the warmth and camaraderie between its subjects, except for the blonde haired figure in the top right-hand corner. 

She is standing and turning away from the camera. Her hair is mousy and tasseled in the “gypsy” style, fashionable a few years ago. Jocelyn's left hand is pushing back her chair and the other is on the rise towards her face. David can see why they teased her.

Despite her evasive action, the woman has failed to turn away quickly enough and her profile is only slightly blurred. It takes him a few more seconds before landing the answer.

He frowns and whispers, “Jocelyn.” 


Seventeen years ago David secured a dead end job working for a PR firm, specialising in Government Relations. Dead end because all those in junior positions were young, ambitious and without the one thing they needed to progress in their chosen industry: contacts. They would do research, set up events, produce reports. Then the Account Executive would sweep in and take the credit.

The only compensating factor was the social side of the job. He was new to the city, fresh from university and living in a dive flat in Brent. Most of his colleagues were living a similar lifestyle. Soon enough, Friday night’s at the pub were being reprised three or four times a week. Formidable, frustrated young people doing their best to obliterate the loneliness of the big city.

They frequented a place called “The Old Cask”, three doors down from the office. It was the kind of pub his Dad would call “an old boozer”. Oak panelling, random sepia objects covering the walls and the (not unpleasant) smell of beer, soaked into wood. The group from the office were installed at their usual table and David had gone to the bar.

As he waited to be served, a figure appeared in his elbow. 

He paid no mind until she said, “Hello David.”

He turned and smiled. She was young and beautiful, with mousy blonde hair, pale white skin and deep red lipstick. He stared at her in silence. 

When he recovered himself, he said, “Sorry. Do we know each other?”

She touched her thick, silken hair. “Aren’t you going to buy us a drink?”

The “us” threw David and he peered over her shoulder. Visibly shrinking behind was a girl of similar age, around twenty, with a pinched expression and lank, jet black hair. She was tiny and painfully thin. 

Her companion continued, “I’m Jocelyn and this is Erika. We see you in here sometimes and we want to talk.”

David furrowed his brow, “Okay. What about?”

She put her hand on his arm and led him to a table on the other side of the pub. She sat next to him, close, and Erika settled opposite. From across the room, Andy, one of David’s friends from work, gave him a quizzical look. 

Jocelyn said, “We’re students. Sociology at UCL. We need case studies for my theses. The behaviour of young men in western metropolitan conurbations. I’ve seen you around a few times. I think you’d give us some useful information.”

It was a strange and unexpected request. David, now recovering his senses after Jocelyn’s initial approach, was about to stand, politely refuse and return to his friends. Then he felt Jocelyn’s hand slide across the inside of his thigh. 

“You will help us, won’t you, David?”

He paused before answering, savouring the intimacy, but ashamed of his weakness. “Of course.” he said. 

She removed her hand and motioned to Erika. Her companion reached into a satchel and took out a pile of paper. 

Jocelyn said, “We need you to complete this questionnaire. Now, tonight.”

David, irritated by the abrupt command, shook his head, “I’ll do it another time,” He pointed to his friends. “I’m enjoying a night out.”

Jocelyn tensed. “We’d like you to do it now. I think you’ll do that for me, won't you David?”

“And what if I don’t?”

She placed her hand over her mouth and giggled. “If you don’t, I won’t sleep with you.”

Review My Work / 'The Idea' - 1974 words
« on: August 26, 2017, 08:35:53 PM »
This is the first half of a short story called 'The Idea'. I'm looking for feedback both on detail and general quality. Genre is suspense.

Just one other thing, I realise the subject matter here is writing and writers.  I've just gone with this because I wanted to write the story. So, no need to let me know that nobody publishes stories about writers!


Jessica Howard-Peterson shifted into third and put her foot down, propelling her SUV past the car in front. The road was hers. She maintained pressure on the pedal, arrowing down the country road.

She wanted this over as soon as possible. Get there, find out what the hell he wanted and get out.

Was it wrong to think in those terms, about a man who’d suffered such a terrible misfortune? Gerald Stevens was a shit of the highest order, and it would take more than a car crash for her to revise that opinion.

His home loomed into view as the car ascended a hill. A tall and substantial townhouse, incongruously built in the Warwickshire countryside. She’d seen it twice before. Once to attend a party organised by his agent, the second time to confront him over an affair with a much younger author, a friend of Jessica's of whom she was particularly protective. On this latter occasion, she'd changed her mind at the last moment and continued on to Stratford Upon Avon. The affair had ended, but not before Stevens reduced the woman to a shell of her former self.

Perversely, to the outside world, they were considered respectful rivals. Peerless contemporaries, pursuing a creative duel which drove them both to new heights.

She recalled Hodder purchasing her debut novel ‘Devil Season’ all those years ago. They sent advance copies to certain authors to help generate buzz. In response, Stevens wrote her a letter, a handwritten note in which he identified numerous plot holes and weaknesses in her writing style. To receive such a thing from an established author had been a bitter blow. She took weeks to see it for what it was: a spiteful grenade tossed in her direction, intended to shatter her confidence.

‘Devil Season’ became a bestseller, which became a hit film, which promoted a lucrative book deal. The letter was forgotten, but Gerald Stevens would not recede so quietly from her life.

Over the years, a pattern emerged. She did her best to avoid crossing paths with him, whilst he did the opposite. Stevens turned up to the same parties, wrote reviews of her novels in the national press, even dated her friends.

She turned the SUV through the gates and into the long gravel driveway. In the distance she spotted Stevens' daughter waiting at the expansive front door.

Jessica recalled their peculiar phone conversation from the day before.

“He wants to see you. He’s weak. We don’t know how long it will be," Alison Stevens had said.

“I wouldn’t want to disturb him. Not at this time.”

“He can hardly speak at all, but when he does, all he talks about is you.”

After a moment’s thought, Jess had said, “Please don’t think I’m being dismissive. It’s just, Gerald and I have never been close.”

“He says it’s important, crucial somehow.” There had been something in the young woman's tone of voice, a desperation, which hit home. After all, imagine growing up with Gerald Stevens as your father.

By the time she’d parked and stepped out of the car, Alison Stevens was approaching

“Thank you. Thank you so much,” she said.

There were bags under her eyes and her hair was a mess, but beneath the burdens of her father’s accident, Jessica noted Alison Stevens’s delicate good looks. ‘A pretty little thing’ her mother would have said.

Jessica embraced her.

“How is he?” she asked.

Alison shook her head, “He has the best care money can buy. But he’s here, at home, for a reason. The doctors say it’s only a matter of time.”

They walked into the house and up the four flights of stairs.  "He wanted to see the hills," Alison explained, "so we put his bed in the study."

At the top of the stairway they walked down a lengthy corridor and reached a large door, Alison paused and drew herself up with a long inward breath. She opened the door and stood to the side. “He wants to see you alone. Undisturbed. You can tell the nurse to come out.”

Jessica entered the room. Ahead, she could see a large set of glass doors opening onto a balcony. Thick, dark clouds obscured the landscape beyond.

As she went further into the room, it opened out to reveal a four poster bed surrounded with tethered pumps and drips. To the side , a young female nurse sat on a chair, immersed in the screen of her mobile phone.

She looked up, frowned and put her finger to her lips. “Not now. He's sleeping.”

Jessica was about to retreat when a weak but irritated voice rose from the bed.

“Who put you in charge, silly bitch?”

On closer inspection, Jessica detected the bandaged head buried among the pillows and bed linen.

The nurse said “Mr Stevens. I'm responsible for ensuring that that you . . .”

“You're responsible for nothing. Now leave us alone to talk.”

Jessica could see the woman wrestling with her pride, and relenting. Walking past, she said, “You’ve got ten minutes.”

When she was gone, Jessica moved closer and stood over the bed. Her disdain for the man wavered. There was almost nothing left. He was pale, almost blue. Tubes extended from his nose and mouth. On his arms, resting above the sheets, loose skin melted over the bones.

“I haven’t eaten for three weeks.” he said, as if reading her thoughts. “I was crushed. Did you know?”

"I did," she said. "I'm so sorry, Gerald."

“Stomach won’t hold anything but liquid. It’s a mess under here.”

Looking down at the twisted shape under the sheets, she shivered. “I’m so, so sorry.”

“I’m going to die. They aren’t sure when. But soon.”

Not knowing what to say, she dropped her eyes. When the silence became intolerable, she said, “Gerald, why did you ask me . . .”

“Sit down, woman. Sit down.”

She did as instructed. It was odd how such a little thing, an impoliteness, a reminder of his brusque manner, could bring back the enmity.

“I asked you here because we’re friends.” he said.

She mulled this for a moment, “No. I don’t believe we are, Gerald.”

He spluttered and for a moment she thought he was having a seizure. She realised he was laughing.

"That's what I like about you," he said, "honesty. It shines through in your writing.”

She said nothing in response, eager to avoid diversions.

When the spluttering subsided, he continued. “I've always had the sense you look down on my work, Jessica. A lack of respect for my end product. Is that fair?”

“We’re very different writers.”

“That's not what I asked.”

She sighed, “Gerald, I am so sorry. For the pain you are in and the pain this must cause your family. But I do not understand why I’m here. Why I have been . . .” she paused, then said it, “. . . summoned.”

“I'm taking up your time? You must be busy with your next novel.”

He always knew where to sting.

She thought of the email she’d received from her agent that morning. A breezy greeting, an unamusing anecdote about a visit to the gym, followed by the inevitable enquiry: “How's the novel coming along? Anything you can send me?”

“I'm just curious.” Jessica said, “I'd like to help, if I can.”

“You can help me and you can help yourself.” A wide smile stretched across his face.

Jessica shifted in her chair, “How?”

“You’re one of the few people who’ll understand. I’ll do my best to give this some . . . context.”

Whatever his injuries, Stevens was not paralysed. He shifted himself up in the bed so his head could turn towards her.

“You know those moments,” he said, “when an idea comes, when the nuts and bolts of a story form in the mind’s eye?”

She nodded.

Stevens went on, “One minute you're thinking about the weather and the next, it hits you. Wham! And if it’s a good one, a really good one, it's exhilarating, right?”

“Sure. That's happened,” she said.

“Until recently, I never had to work at it. They just came. Some better than others, sure, but they arrived nice and regular.”

This was the first time he’d spoken to her about his craft. It brought him to life, a flickering light behind the eyes.

“That’s the part of the job I love the most. When the ideas come, nothing else seems important. I have to do them justice.”

“You did, Gerald. You can be proud.”

“But they dried up.”

For a terrifying moment, Jessica thought he might burst into tears.

“Did that happen to you?” he went on. “Did they stop coming?”

“No,” she lied.

“Something about me. Something about my lifestyle meant the production line ground to a halt,” he said.

“It can happen.”

“I went two years with nothing useable. I rehashed old set-ups. I went back over my notes from my younger days and found a few things. But I couldn't do it anymore."

“That's tough, Gerald, but where do I come in?”

“Wait, wait. Let me tell you the whole thing. Give me that.”

She raised an apologetic hand.

He continued, “Four weeks ago I was driving home from London. I'd had meetings with my agent and my publisher. I was in a good mood. HBO were enquiring about my Linton James series, more meetings to come, but it looked promising.”

He turned onto his side, grimacing. When he settled, he looked up at her and smiled again. She couldn’t say what troubled her about this, not yet, but she was more certain than ever that Gerald Stevens was not a man to trust.

“I was passing a set of fields in the car. Just pasture. Big green squares with nothing distinctive about them. Something made me turn and look. A tiny movement in the corner of the field. It was a man wearing headphones, wielding a metal detector. In that split second, something clicked. It was the trees, it was the field, it was something my agent had said the day before, but most of all, it was the image of that lone man, searching for something in the middle of the field.

“It all came together, and I mean everything. As if it had built up over the last few years. Water against a dam. When it broke, it was majestic. In the space of a second I had it all. The main character, the terrible people he would ally with, the human motivation at the heart of the story. This wasn't just good. This was the best I'd ever had.”

He was breathless, panting with excitement.

“So I had to get home, it was desperately important for me to get home and write as soon as possible. And you know what happened next?”

She tilted her head. “The accident, on the bridge.”

“Two miles from home. It was all my fault. I was driving too fast, not concentrating.”

“And me? What does this have to do with me?”

“I'm in too much pain. These tubes keep me alive, but it can't go on. I need this to end, but not before the idea is safe. I want this novel written and I want to leave it in safe hands."

“You want me to write it? Gerald, thank you, but I do my own stuff.”

"But you've never done anything this good. Trust me."

"Gerald, I'm going to go now." She stood and turned to walk away.

His voice broke to a higher note, “Just . . . let me tell you the idea. Just hear me out.”

Jess stopped and looked up to the ceiling, knowing she would regret walking out on a dying man. She turned and went back to the chair. “Okay. Tell me Gerald.”

She leaned in, over the bed.

He began in a whisper. “It goes like this . . .”


Review My Work / The Gate - 1381 words. Adult content
« on: July 04, 2017, 04:36:46 PM »

Would be grateful for feedback on this horror short story.


When I was young, they found out I was different to the other girls.

For the first six months of high school, I did all I could to stay out of the changing rooms. I would be ill or have "girl problems" or feint in the hallway. My fellow pupils gossiped and the teachers shook their heads, but it kept me away from prying eyes.

In the end, the Head of Sports came out to our run-down house and spoke to my Mother. Perhaps I could've begged, told the truth, asked them to make an exception. But I was thirteen years old.
My mother knew the reason for my behaviour, of course. She'd known this would happen from the moment the mid-wife eyed her newborn daughter with such puzzlement. It made no difference, she nodded along to their demands, and agreed to a new approach.

They made me change in the same room as those girls. Worse still, afterwards, they made me walk into the communal showers with only my hands to cover myself. They looked and they saw, and the possibility of friendship or normality in my teenage years was gone.


That was thirty two years ago, give or take. My mother is gone now, killed by something akin to nervous exhaustion, when I was seventeen. The doctors were vague about what took her, but I know her precious pills played a part.

I sold the house and used the money to put myself through university. When I graduated I secured a trainee position at the British Library. To my surprise, the move to London was a release, the anonymity of the city suiting my desire for solitude. Colleagues from the Library were polite and kind, rarely prying, and I enjoyed the work. After a couple of years renting, I bought an ex-council flat in the south-east of the city, with a park and Overground station nearby.

I formed friendships with my colleagues and there was one man in particular I became close with. We'd go out on dates, to the cinema or restaurants, always finishing with a friendly embrace on my doorstep. It could only end one way, so when he asked me about our relationship, where it might lead, I had to tell him I was interested only in friendship. We tried to maintain what we had, but soon stopped seeing each other.
Eventually, he married a pretty woman from another department. They have two children now.


I read about Daniel Brindley in the newspaper, the free one they hand out at tube stations. I was glancing through on my way home from work, when I stopped at the picture of a middle-aged man with thick black curls and dark green eyes. It was a close-up, a police photo taken at a time when he had every right to be perturbed. Yet the man in the photograph appeared so assured, it was uncanny. His confidence shone out of the page and I found myself sitting there, reading the article three times over, my tube stop passing by, unnoticed.

The paper revealed the superficial facts. Brindley was appealing to the Home Secretary to visit his infirmed mother. She had only months to live. In the 1980's he'd killed seven people over a three year period. Two men and five women. He did so across a wide geographical area, on one occasion travelling from his home in North London to Carmarthenshire in Wales, to kidnap and kill. His modus operandi, the paper said, was always the same. He would connect with his victims through personal ads in magazines, both straight and gay, gain their trust, then kill them with a kitchen knife.

One curious fact stood out above all others: none of the bodies had been found.


In that first picture, and all the others, I could feel David Brindley reaching out to me. Once I'd read all the articles and books, I was left with no choice but to write to him.

The reply came within the week. He'd been expecting my letter, he said, and understood why I was confused. He told me to be patient, that it was important not to change any of my daily routines. They would be watching.

His concern was touching, but much of the letter made no sense to me. He wrote of devils, the righteous and a gateway for the rapture. Yet, in the final line he connected with me, made me understand.

“Julia" he wrote, "You have been chosen, and those who are chosen carry the mark. Do you have the mark? I know that you do and it has brought you great anguish.”

It was the lawyer who delivered the letters from then on, coming to my house once a week, waiting and taking my replies back to the prison. David said there were people reading his mail, spying on him. The lawyer was the only safe way.

It didn't take long before he told me where the bodies were. There was no special seal on the envelope, no extra precautions taken. He just wrote the address and told me where to go.

The lawyer drove me there in his expensive car, saying nothing through the entire journey. When we reached the place, an isolated, derelict farmhouse on the Warwickshire-Gloucestershire border, he handed me a shovel, told me he would be back in a week and drove away.

I found the bones just where David said, in the soil on a small parcel of land behind the barn. They came out of the ground in a muddle, an arm, a leg, half a cranium. I took them out and threw them into a wheelbarrow, just like David had told me to. More and more came. Towards the end of the day, my arms tired and the light fading, I pulled out a complete skull, wispy strands of blonde hair still attached.

It was small. Like a child's.


There had been mistakes, David said. He had followers the police knew nothing about. People who started out as honest and true, but turned out to be doubters. They used him as cover, did things they should not have done, indulged dark appetites. He cast them out but it was too late, the police had caught up with David by then. If only he'd had me to rely on back then.

The bones were the important thing. The lawyer bought more letters and David told me what to do. He drew pictures, intricate arrangements of how they should be laid out. In the barn, there was a door in the floor, hidden by dirt. .

I had to clean the room from top to bottom, the bones too. David said that was important. When I was finished

I laid them out on the basement floor, just the ways he'd shown me.


It's almost done now, just one more bone to go. It must be placed at a forty five degree angle from the left eye socket of the seventh skull. This will complete the third interlocking ring at the base of the pentagram and the face of the beast.

The shapes I've made match David's drawing perfectly, but I could have done it from memory. All he needed to say was “Follow the mark.”

It stretches from my inner left thigh, twisting around my vagina, ending beneath my right hip. A pentagram above four rings, topped by the hideous face of The Beast.  They called me “Devil Cunt” at school. The whole town knew about it. Even the drunks who hung around the park benches shouted my special name when I passed.

“There she goes. Show us yer Devil cunt love!”

They'll see the Devil now. They’ll see things they never dreamed possible.

I take off all my clothes and place them in a neat pile in the corner. The cold air in the basement is refreshing against my ski, crisp and bracing. I arch my neck and stretch out my arms, savouring the power coursing through me, letting it flow.

I step forwards, pause for a moment, the bone between my thumb and forefinger, bend and place it carefully in the allotted space.

After the silence, slowly it comes, beautiful and rhythmic. Closer and closer. Louder and louder.

The sound of hooves.


Review My Work / The Callback - 1134 words - adult content
« on: June 13, 2017, 05:14:44 PM »

This is a short, short story which I'd be grateful for feedback on. 


I've got all the signs: sweaty palms, heavy breathing, heart-beat throbbing around my ears. Worst of all is this nagging feeling I shouldn't be here at all, that I've made some awful mistake.

A year with no money coming in has reduced me to this. My wife, Alison, understanding at first, gradually allowing resentment to get the better of her. Even Jenny, our five year old, has been asking questions. Why does Daddy stay at home? Why can't we go on holiday? Why can't I have new shoes?

It's deathly quiet here. Not the London offices they used for the first interview, instead we're at some kind of warehouse. Possibly an attempt to bring a "back to the shop floor" feel to proceedings. I'm sat on a plastic chair, staring at the door of a side office, waiting for them to call me in. There is a dark red mark on the cream door, just above the handle. I focus on it, slowing my breathing, trying in vain to clear my mind.

Alison tells me I become nervous for all the wrong reasons. I'm caught in a "negative feedback loop", which means I expect bad things to happen because they've happened to me in the past. Apparently, all I have to do is imagine positive outcomes and I'll be liberated. My wife has become a grade A bitch.

Beyond the door, I can hear the low hum of their chatter. Preparing their questions, refining a strategy to get under my skin. Just once, I need to relax and be the person I know I can be. Likeable, focused, determined.

None of this should phase me. I had thirteen years as the sales director for a mid-sized firm. I joined from school and worked my way up, got to a salary which makes people sit up and take notice. Let's face it, Alison wouldn't have given me the time of day if I hadn't been pulling in six figures.

I loved that job, loved the people, loved the firm and loved the kudos. My Mum would tell her friends at the hairdressers how well her Mikey was doing.

Thank God she can't see me now.

I memorised their names before the first interview, determined to make a connection with the crucial first handshake.

Debbie Hibbert, the HR Partner. Sharp suited and full of management speak bullshit. Steve Scott, Director of Sales. My kind of guy, the badge on his lapel giving him away as a rugby man. And then the Big Kahuna, Anthony Lincoln, founder and CEO of Lincoln construction. A fifty year old so epically lacking in self-awareness that he's retained the goatee, pony tail and sports jacket.

What have you come as today, Tony? A wanker from 1992?

I wanted to say that to him, I really did. Instead I shook his hand and said what he wanted to hear. And here I am.

A female voice is raised from beyond the door. Debbie Hibbert is upset about something. She came across as superior last time around, enjoying the power of the situation just a little too much. I recall stumbling over my words at one point, mispronouncing "paradigm" and seeing her suppress a laugh.

I've been here for an hour now. Understandable if another candidate is running over, but they said I was the first one up.

I stand, walk over and turn my ear to the door. Silence.

My fingers brush the handle and I look down. Some of the redness has transferred to the tip of my index finger. I bring it up and take a closer look. Paint?

I wonder, again, why on earth would they have brought me here? "One day you'll poke that nose somewhere and it'll get chopped off!" Mum used to say that all the time.

She died last week. A stroke, the same day they rang me about the interview.

I knock on the door, a jaunty rap. I hear a noise from inside. Not quite a "come in" but something, certainly.

I open up and look in. They're all sat there, Debbie, Steve and Anthony.

"Is it time to start?" I ask.

Steve nods, I think, so I walk into the room and close the door.

I take the seat in front of them. We are separated only by a plastic table, the kind of thing you see in a work shed.

None of them say anything. Thirty seconds goes by.

"Good to see you all again." I say, followed by a nervous laugh. I cringe inwardly.

I look to Steve again, he seems to be in charge of proceedings. To be honest, he looks a mess. Those same marks on the door have made it onto his white shirt and he has some nasty looking cuts on his head and neck.

At last he speaks to me. "Please." He says. Then, after a pause, "No more."

It’s difficult to hear what he’s saying, the words gargling up from his throat, like he has a breathing problem. This is not quite the professional approach I was expecting.

“No more what? You asked me here, remember?”

I lean back and really take them in. All three have their arms locked rigid at their sides, like soldiers stood to attention, but still sitting in their chairs.

It's really not right, calling me in like this, making me come all this way and then treating me so shabbily. They are less than professionally attired. Next to Steve, Debbie looks like she's just rolled out of bed. Hair all over the place, mascara smeared down her face. And she has those same red marks all over her.

Worst of all is Tony Lincoln. He's slumped on the chair, head rocked back with his tongue protruding from his mouth. Is he asleep?

Naturally, I'm disappointed, but there is an upside. Faced with this rabble, my confidence has come soaring back.

"We should get started shouldn't we." I beam my finest go-getter smile. "Tony, doesn't seem interested anymore, so why don't we get going with you two."
Debbie screams "Please, no! Pleeeeease!"

When she finally quietens, Steve speaks, his voice breaking with emotion. "We're sorry about the phone call. We really are Mike." He's nodding away, imploring me to believe him. "We've decided we were wrong. Haven't we Debbie?"

Debbie says, "Yes. We want to give you the job."

Such sweet joy. Finally I will be back where I belong.

I smile. "Thank you."

Steve says, “So you can put it down then?”

I lift my left hand and see what I’m holding. I don’t recall picking up a hammer, but it must be there for a reason.

What a shame it has to be this way. I lift it high above my head and smile again.


Review My Work / The Target - final part - (1944 words)
« on: May 24, 2017, 06:20:45 PM »


This is the second half of a suspense short story.  First half was posted here last week. Grateful for any feedback / tips on improving it.

I've never asked for a face to face before.

They pay us the money and they give us the jobs, but as soon as your behaviour becomes 'disruptive', you're on borrowed time. I have known three associates, two of whom I considered friends, who were involuntarily retired due to behavioural difficulties. And when I say retired, I don't mean they got a pension and a carriage clock.

So there are certain rules it makes sense to follow. Never forget to check your box, don't hang out with any suspect persons (which is pretty much anybody in my book) and above all, do not ask too many questions. Operational detail is fine. Those little packs they leave for us are usually full of holes. Flight times, known associates, I even had one pack which left out the description and photographs of the target. When that happens you book time on a secure line with your handler and the questions get answered.

Issues arise when you ask the ‘why’ question. Never question their motives. To do so is to question their authority. They have limited respect for us. We are killers and they bow to our usefulness, but we are not permitted to second guess decisions made by important people not just higher up the food chain, but at the very top.

So I thought long and hard before I made the call and booked this meeting. I'm sat in the lobby of a budget hotel on the Euston Road in central London.

A man in an inexpensive grey suit arrives to collect me and we travel up to the meeting room in silence. When I enter, James Westland sits behind a desk, pages of notes spread in front of him. This is only the third time I have met him. The first was on a US helicopter extracting me from Southern Syria. He needed an urgent debrief on my operations. The last was in a hotel similar to this one for a psych evaluation.

He is twelve types of asshole rolled into human form.

Westland neither looks up nor speaks as I sit down in the chair opposite him. The grey suit takes a seat behind me.

After a predictable pause he says, "So what's this all about Jenson?"

"The kid." I say. "You want me to kill a kid, and I need a better reason than 'necessary collateral.'"

"You don't need reasons, you need to do as you're blocked told, Jenson." Finally, the prick looks up from his notes.

"I need more. He's seven for Christ's sake. Seven."

He exhales. "The minor goes everywhere with him. Martenson has full Russian citizenship and so does his son."


"So we can't leave witnesses and we can’t adopt a Russian child into the loving arms of the British state without giving us the mother of all diplomatic headaches."

"So we murder a child, to save us the hassle?"

"We don’t. You do. And nobody is any the wiser." He smirks at me in what he believes is a conciliatory gesture. It makes me want to tear his arms off.

He goes on. "This has been signed off at the highest level."

"This isn't right."

Westland snaps back at me. "Do I need to be concerned about you? Do I need to think about a
Jenson retirement plan?"

I am silent for a few seconds, shocked that he’s played this card so early. "You don't need to consider that. I was just . . ."

"Just what? You are questioning the chain of command. You are presuming to make moral judgements about what is and is not necessary to protect the interests of this country."

"I needed to be sure this is legit."

"Jenson you're our best. I know. But should I be standing you down from this one?"

Nobody gets stood down. It's a death sentence.

"No. I'm fine. I needed somebody to tell me it had to be done."

"Okay." He leans back in his chair and grins. "So we're good?"

It's all I can do to not leap across the desk and kill him, punching my way through his face.

I look up at the clock on the wall behind him and concentrate on the second hand moving from the ten to the twelve.

"We're good." I say.


On a technical level, the operation is simple. We get in, we take them out, we disappear.

Phillips and I are booked into rooms on the same floor as Martenson. Our cover, as always, is that of businessmen here to seal a deal with a Madrid based firm. We speak to each other in Spanish at the reception desk, going over some minor details of the deal.

We both know the plan. The Madrid team have already bugged the suite where Martenson will stay with his son. Phillips and I will listen in on their arrival and move into the room when they leave. If they don't leave, we wait until they’re both asleep and enter via the balcony.

In my room, I set up the equipment and plug my earphones in. It takes two hours for them to arrive, earlier than we'd expected.

"OK dude, put your bags over there. Put Jimmy somewhere safe.”

I imagine the boy some favoured teddy bear on his pillow.   

Martenson goes on. “You tired?" His accent is a strange mix of Mancunian and Russian

The kid says "I’m okay. Can we have pizza, Dad?" As the kid speaks, I look again at his picture.

They talk more about their arrangements for the evening. The boy finds the Disney Channel on TV and keeps telling his dad who all the characters are. "Goofy is silly . . . Mini is the girl, she's boring. . . Mickey is the main one. It's his show."

"I know pal. I used to watch them when I was little."

"No you didn't!"

"I did." They laugh together, as though they've shared a wonderful joke. I think of Joey, screaming with delight as he began his descent.

After another hour, they go down to the hotel restaurant for pizza. "Can I bring Jimmy with me, dad?"

"Sure. Why not?"

As soon as they're in the lift, I'm at the door with Phillips keeping watch further down the corridor. Madrid station have provided key cards which open the doors, so I place it on the reader and enter.

The large suite is still tidy with a few clothes and toys scattered about. Resting on the pillow of the single bed is a furry brown fox. Phillips follows me in and, in silence, we take up our positions. I go into the bathroom, step into the bath and pull across the shower curtain. Beyond the bathroom door I can hear Phillips settling himself into the walk-in wardrobe. I take my Glock 9mm from my ankle strap and attach the silencer.

In the two weeks since my meeting with Westland, I've thought long and hard about how I would approach tonight. I could have insisted Phillips take the kid, but I know they will look closely at me now. They'll have told Phillips to keep an eye on me and ask for a full report when he gets back.

The meeting with Westland was a huge mistake. I exposed myself, showed them I was not the machine they thought I was. If this doesn't go smoothly, they’ll dispense with me.

I have to take out the kid, and do it well.

I think about the choices I've made during my life, not just with Joey, but all the rest too. Joining the army, the village in Helmand, the jobs I’ve done for the Ministry. Men and women, good guys and bad guys, who knows? I went down a road and I knew where I was going. I thought I could escape.

Kill enough people and none of them are my responsibility. I'm just processing meat.

For a while I believed it.

Now this. A child. There is no escape from this.

I sit down in the bath and try to block it all out. Hours go by and I think of nothing except little Joey and the cat and the river.

There are sounds outside, Martenson and the child's voice. Happy voices, something about sauce on the kid's face.

The lock beeps and the hotel room door opens. I step out of the bath and listen to them walk past the bathroom. Martenson is saying "Time for bed Mister. Big day tomorrow . . ."

The kid trails behind him and I take the chance. I step out into the corridor and grab him by the neck of his t-shirt. He gives a small yelp and I see his father turn. I pull the kid in, close the door, then lock it. I hold him against me, my hand over his mouth.

Outside, I hear steps. Martenson shouts "No."
Then the muffled thuds of Phillips' gun. The boy doesn't know it yet, but his father is dead. There are more heavy sounds as Phillips rearranges Martenson's body. He knows what the police will look for and he'll make no mistakes. After a period of silence I hear his voice at the door.

It is the first time he has spoken since we were in the hotel lobby. "Jenson. You done in there?"

My hand is still on the boy's mouth and I can feel his tears rolling onto my fingers.

"Just a moment." I say.

I push the child away and turn him around to face me.

I have never seen terror like it. He sobs, "Where's my Daddy?"

Phillips speaks again from the other side of the door. "Jenson, Just blocked do it."

As I raise the gun, my hand is shaking.

I try not to look into the kids eyes, concentrating instead on the section of his forehead which I must blow away.

"Jenson. Do it!"

My gun is dropping a little, so I raise it again to show myself that a decision has been made.

I fire.

The bullet hits the towels shelved above the kid's head.

I put my finger to my lips. He’s smart. Even in his state of distress, he understands.

To Phillips I say, "It's done." and flick the lock. I stand back as he comes through the door. When he steps into view, I open up. Four shots, three to his chest, the fourth glancing his left shoulder.

He falls back into the wall of hallway and slumps to the ground. I follow him out and stand over him, checking the pulse.

With my hand still on Phillips' neck, I say to the kid. “Let’s get out of here.”

A high-pitched but clear voice responds from behind me. "Jimmy's gonna get you Mister."

I turn and there is a loud 'pop', then another, then another.

I face him. The boy is stood, feet spread, arms locked, the gun high out in front. The way they teach you at any good gun club.

'Jimmy', I see now, is a .22 calibre Springfield XD, semi-automatic pistol. The leg of his blue jeans is hitched up to reveal a miniature ankle holster.

Even with the blood running from the side of my neck, I could raise my gun. I could kill him, perhaps save myself.  Instead I let the lightheadedness wash over me and sink to my knees.

I see Joey's face now and I feel, for the first time, the full weight of his loss. My little brother, gone in a moment of curiosity.

I open my eyes and the sound comes again.

'Pop', pop’.


Review My Work / The Target - 1995 words
« on: May 18, 2017, 05:09:16 AM »

Grateful for any feedback on this short story. The genre is suspense. I've finished the first draft. The full version is about 4K words, so this is the first half.


I nod at Sandra and she smiles, wiggling her fingers at me from behind the window. She thinks I use the box for my business, a non-existent tech company just off on Old Street.

This is my seventh check point in sixteen years. Manchester, São Paulo, Birmingham, Athens, Kiev and Edinburgh have all been my home. I've got one responsibility each day. Rain, wind or shine, I check the box.

The room is too bright, the tube lighting hissing above my head. The walls are covered with grey metal post boxes, numbered one to five hundred. I approach box 323 and open it with my card.

Inside, there's a large brown envelope.

I shouldn't get this shiver of anticipation, I know. I should not be smiling. But you've got to understand, when a man is this good at something, one of the absolute best, he needs to let it show.


My little brother could see it.

As kids, we lived in a mobile home parked on farmland next to a small Warwickshire town. Mum left when we were young, I was eight and Joey four. The old man worked on building sites when he was sober and served behind the bar of a local pub when he wasn't.

Life was tough, particularly at school, where Joey and I were tarred with the 'gippo' brush.

But there were good times too. The farmer was a kind man who took pity on the three of us. He brought milk and cuts of meat when he had them spare, and he gave Joey and I the run of the place. A hundred acres of fields and hills with the river Stour running through the middle of it all. We grew up fishing that river, playing hide and seek in the woods and building dens in the trees.

One Autumn day, I couldn't have been more than ten years old, we took a closer look at the big barn to the west of the farmhouse. We knew we weren't supposed to go in there, but that was part of the attraction. I remember Joey jumping into the hay pile and screaming when two mice scurried out from underneath. He calmed down and we climbed the ladder into the loft. To our delight, we found a treasure trove of old tools and other farm junk. We messed around with them until Joey looked behind a pile of firewood stacked in the corner.

"Hey, Danny. Come and look." He said.

I went over. At Joey's feet was a cat lying on its side and six tiny kittens, trying to get to their mother's milk. It didn't look like they were having much success. The kittens were frail and sluggish. Their mother was still, taking slow deeps breaths, her eyes glazed.

"What do we do? Tell the farmer?" Joey asked.

"How'll we explain finding them?" I said.

That's when the cat let out an awful sound. A long, low-pitched whine of pure agony.

I could see Joey's lips shake. "It's real bad for the mum, Danny. What'll we do?" He did his best to hold back the tears.

"It's okay." I said and went back to the junk. I emptied one of the wooden trays and passed it to Joey. "Put the little ones in there and take them outside. I'll take care of their mum."

"How?" He asked.

I looked at him for a short while, unsure if I should tell him. "Just get the little ones outside."

He picked up the kittens, placed them in the tray and carried them down the ladder.

When he was gone, I knelt down by that big moggy and lifted her head in my hand. I can still see its eyes now, panic and desperation all rolled into one. She began to let out another one of those awful moans.

Before the sound could rise, I snapped its neck.


I get out of the lift and enter my penthouse apartment.

It's open plan with a mezzanine for the two bedrooms. Seven hundred square feet of luxury fittings, a huge earth stone kitchen, ultra HD home cinema and Bose SR sound system. Since I moved in two years ago, the cleaners are the only other people to set foot inside.

I make myself coffee and settle on the sofa to read. Inside the envelope is a twelve page dossier. The top page is standard format, "Top Secret, Level 7 Clearance only" emblazoned across the top.

"Targets: Bryce Martenson and Stephen Rodrigo (NC).

Required outcome: Both deceased

Location: Targets travel from Moscow to Argentina on 17-02-17 (full flight details in the appendix A). They have a one day stopover in Madrid en route. They will be staying at the Ritz (Plaza de la Lealtad. Room 327.

Method: Any means necessary.

Cover: Scene must look like a disturbed robbery."

Next to the word "robbery", a handwritten note is inserted. "Same as Milan '06"

It is Westland’s handwriting, my MI6 handler. In Milan, Phillips and I had waited in the hotel room of an oil Sheikh and his wife. The guy was siphoning money off from his business interests to fund Al-Queada operations in Iraq. But Westland was mis-remembering. We didn't make it look like a robbery. I defiled the bodies to fit with a series of mafia hits.

"Same as Milan." I said to myself. "Prick."

At the top of the next page there are three photographs of the same man. In two of them he is chubby faced, walking down the street unaware of being photographed. In the third, he is younger and slimmer, smiling for a passport picture.

"Bryce Martenson is a UK national, genius hacker and traitor. Born in Salford, Lancs, he studied Programming at Cambridge. He was thrown out and arrested in his second year for taking down his College's server and wiping their financial records. On his release from a six month stretch, he set up his own tech consulting company: Bitlife PLC

Martenson operated an above the line consultancy but secured financial success through illegal corporate hacking and cyber-attacks, funded by unscrupulous rivals. As the business grew, numerous attempts were made by the Serious Fraud Office to seek convictions and close him down. In 2010, when the net was finally closing, Martenson travelled to Serbia, ostensibly on holiday with his wife (Stephanie Rodrigo) and his newborn child.

All three of them disappeared off the grid and didn't show up again until 2011. Operatives identified Martenson meeting with Russian FSB agents in Moscow and tracked him and his family to a luxury complex in the centre of the city. Since that time it has become clear Martenson's expertise is a central cog in the Russian cyber terrorism operation. His involvement has been verified in attacks on the London Olympics, US and UK elections and a variety of other highly disruptive attacks on the institutions of the British State.

His trip to Argentina is thought to be for high-level discussions with Government officials. We believe the Russians are contracting him out to conduct similar attacks for other hostile states."

More information than they usually give. I don't distinguish on the grounds of motive, but it feels like they're making a little more effort than usual.

Now for Stephen Rodrigo, the NC, necessary collateral. I'm guessing a family member from the wife’s side who helped to bring them over, FSB agent.

I flip the page.

Staring back at me is a picture of a boy. Six years old, maybe seven.


Snapping a cat's neck doesn't turn you into a killer. But it was the start of something, the first time I experienced the power, the raw, instinctual freedom the act bestows.

Joey could see me changing and it concerned him. The fun went out of our games. We stopped our imaginary adventures in the woods and I lost the patience for fishing. Instead I spent more time on my own, walking the hills and woods looking for prey. I bought a sling shot from a mail order catalogue and used it on birds, rabbits and squirrels on the farm.

It went on like that for a while. The two of us drifting apart, the older we got, the harder Dad drank. I hung out with some of the tougher kids from school and got into a few scrapes with the police. Social services hovered around for a while, threatening to take us into care if Dad didn't get his act together. Things were getting low and the twelve-year-old me did not understand how to arrest the slide.

Then the snow came. Six days of heavy snowfall was unheard of in the midlands, but it just wouldn't stop. People round town had smiles on their faces, amused at the "extreme" weather hitting our sleepy town.

For the first time in a year, Joey and I went out into the fields together, making snowmen and chucking snowballs at each other. Something about that great big blanket of white seemed to snap me out of my dark mood and reminded me of how much fun I could have with my little brother.

We made an igloo and jumped into the drifts. One time, even dad came out with us for a snowball fight. For me, it felt like a release of pressure, a chance that things might get better.

It happened on the second day of the thaw.

Joey wanted to go sledging. It wasn't my idea. I told him the snow was getting thin and it wouldn't be much fun. We had this green plastic thing that dad had brought home a few days before. God knows how he'd got hold of it, but I doubt it was paid for.

To my surprise the hills were still slick and made for a good ride. We picked out a few good runs, but we both knew it would be faster further west, on the banks.

The only issue was the river. I took the first go and stopped a good ten metres before the bank. When I stood up from the sledge, I looked down into the half frozen river and a thought crossed my mind. What would it be like? What would it feel like to just keep going and descend into the ice and the water?

I turned around and looked up at my little brother. He was jumping up and down, excited at how fast I’d gone, anticipating his turn. I dragged the sledge back up to the top and let him climb inside.

If I close my eyes now, I can still feel my fingers pressing onto the back of his Parker jacket, I can see his little hands holding on tight to the thin rope.

"You ready?" I said.

"Go Danny. Let me go."

He didn't ask me to push him, he asked me to let him go. Somewhere inside his seven-year-old mind, he'd calculated that a push wasn't needed, or might even put him in peril. So why did I do it? I propelled him forwards, my hands still on his back. I told myself it would be more fun for him, that he would want to go faster.

Then I stopped and I watched Joey fly down the hill. At first I could hear cries of joy, but as he approached the bottom of the hill, they stopped. He could see what I could see, the river getting too close, too fast.

I didn't move until I knew he was going over, I sprinted down the hill, falling over several times as I went. By the time I reached the river bank all I could see was the green sledge, upright, floating away to the east. Joey was nowhere.

I should have dove in. I should have tried to save him. Instead, I stood there and watched the ice and the dirty water carry the sledge away.

Review My Work / The Cleansing Soil -1997 words
« on: February 26, 2017, 12:43:48 PM »

This is the first part of a suspense/horror short story called 'The Cleansing Soil'. Any feedback gratefully received.


I followed Gethyn through the door and the heat of the pub smothered me. A blanket of warm, stale air draped over the sepia decor.

I spotted them in the corner before Gethyn pointed the way, sat around a small circular table, leaning in to speak, their heads almost touching. It should have been a commonplace sight - scruffy middle age men, chatting in a pub - but there was something amiss. I knew it, even then.

One of the men, a heavyset lump with huge hands and an ugly bald patch in the centre of his head, jabbed his finger at the table when he spoke.

Sat opposite, a biker or a heavy metal obsessive - I always struggle to tell the difference - listened intently. He wore a thick, long beard and a black t-shirt which clung to his flabby arms. Next to him, was a smaller man with unhealthily pale skin and patchy stubble.

As soon as he saw us approaching, the big guy stopped speaking, mid-flow.

Gethyn introduced me by my user name “Gino”.  He added only that I was “. . . the metal detector I told you about"

The big guy was Christopher.  The little one and the biker were Jinks and Fenton, respectively.  Gethyn went off to fetch our drinks, and I took my seat.

“So,” I said, “What’s the big mystery?” I couldn’t suppress a nervous laugh.

Jinks sneered. “Something funny?”

Christopher raised his palm. “Easy, Jinks.” We remained in silence until Gethyn returned with the drinks.

Christopher said to me. "So you like looking for things?"

"I like finding them." I said.

He sniffed. "How’d you get to hear about us?"

I looked at Gethyn. “I thought he'd explained?”

Christopher shook his head. “Never mind what he said. I want you to tell me.”.

"Gethyn." I said. "He picked me up from a metal detecting chat board, on a thread about current affairs. He put something up about the wife and daughter who went missing in Exeter, the ones where everyone knew the husband was dodgy from the start." They all nodded.

"He said they might be buried in Wynton Forest. He had all these theories about why it would be there. The distance from the home, the soil, the isolation, all that jazz."

Christopher smiled. "Yes, Gethyn has his theories."

"I thought it was smart, the way he put it all together, so I replied to see what else he had to say. That was it, for a week or two. Then I got a private message asking if I wanted to meet up with a few people. Some experts. ”

The biker, Fenton, piped up. "So you think you can just turn up and join us?"

"Join what?" I said and turned to Christopher. "Your turn, isn't it?"

"We could tell you, but where's the fun in that?" He downed the remains of his pint and stood up. "We'll show you."


We followed in Gethyn's car.

I exhaled. "I'm not sure about this. It's not personal, you seem like a decent guy, but this isn't what I was expecting."

"Stick with it. You got anything better to do today?"

Once, I'd been the guy who jumped at the chance to share my plans. Science Museum with the kids, a surprise birthday dinner with my wife, a weekend away with the boys. I was Mr. Nauseatingly blocked Conventional, and I didn't mind letting you know it.

That was Before.

Before, I didn't need to scout around on internet chat boards for the pleasure of human company.

After a few more miles we turned onto a remote country road and parked up next to some woods. By the time Gethyn and I had joined the others, they were taking shovels and pitch-forks out of the boot.

"And they’re for?" I said.

Jinks and Fenton exchanged a look, but remained silent. Gethyn put his arm around my shoulder and said. "Gino, you're gonna love this."

The light was beginning to drop and a mild chill had entered the air. We walked into the woods, Jinks scurrying alongside Christopher to guide the way.   In time, the woods became more dense, the ground underfoot more difficult. Fenton tripped on a fallen branch and Gethyn helped him up. None of the men spoke, except for Jinks' occasional directions.

After twenty minutes, Christopher halted and turned to face me.

"Gino." He said, the others gathering around us. "Let me ask you a question. What's your greatest discovery? Metal detecting, or anything else. What's given you the biggest buzz."

I hadn't been expecting the question, but I answered without hesitation. "Greenock, 1992. I was on a weekend trip with my club. There were twenty of us staying at the hotel in town. We’d been covering fields near the site of an old fort when I found seven Roman coins, the club secretary stood by my side."

"A beautiful moment, wasn't it?"

"I was eighteen, and I'd beaten them all. Fantastic."

"A proud discovery, but humbling also. Am I right?"

I'd never heard it put that way before. "Yes. Humbled by the objects, by the passage of time."

He nodded. "You're close. To the beauty. The objects and passage of time, they are wondrous but only for one reason. Which is . . .?" He raised a finger in anticipation.

I shrugged. He tilted his head to one side, the teacher humouring a child.

"The mystery. The human mystery of how those objects came to be in that particular place at that particular time. How had they been lost? Who lost them, and why?"

I smiled. "Yes."

"So." Christopher continued. "You asked why we're all here. Well, those treasures, those mysteries, the human stories, they come in many forms. Our little team, we seek out the rarest of treasures. Objects which hold the most dramatic of mysteries."

"What would that be?"

He pointed to the ground. "Take two steps to your left."

I looked and saw the grass growing in a rectangular shape. Thinner than the ground surrounding it. The soil had been churned, then left. I stepped across and stood on top.

"You are standing one of our greatest finds."

Jinks whispered under his breath. "Me. I found it."

Christopher placed his hand on the little man's shoulder. "Fine work, Jinks. Fine work."

He turned back to me. "We don't move them, we leave them in their proper place. Twenty five years I've been doing this. Slowly, very slowly, our group has grown.We’ve found only eight of them. Eight precious treasures."

Christopher glanced at the others and something passed between them. Without another word, they began to dig.

I stood back. By that point I knew, but still didn't believe. Part of me thought someone would jump out from behind a tree to declare a practical joke.

Christopher spoke again, but this time it was not directed at anyone in particular, his voice raised to the boughs.

"Last year there were five hundred and seventy four murders in this country and seven hundred and twenty three people officially went missing. In the vast majority of these cases the body is located and, or the missing person found.

He paced around the others as they dug. "By our calculations, and Jinks deserves much of the credit for this, we estimate that across all these cases, you can expect nought point four per cent to produce an illegal grave which has not been located by the relevant authorities.

"Doesn't sound like much, does it? But that equates to five per year. Over the last fifty years alone that means we have two hundred and fifty bodies buried on this small island. You'd take those odds when looking for a horde of Roman treasure, wouldn't you?"

“I don’t look for bodies.”

“Don’t sneer, not yet. Wait and see.” He pointed at the men digging.

The edges of plastic sheeting appeared in the earth and the men became more careful in their excavation. They used smaller spades to clear the soil from around the packaging.

I saw the clear outline of the thing, its size and approximate shape. I couldn't take my eyes off it.

When the sheeting was fully exposed Christopher produced a Stanley knife from his coat pocket and knelt down next to it. The others gathered around and I joined them. There was total silence. He cut open the top of the bag, then sliced at a right angle, length ways. After a short pause, he pulled back the sheet to reveal his treasure.

She'd been young, in her twenties, perhaps. The skin had browned and decayed and there were clumps of black hair still clinging to the scalp. The eyes had gone, revealing deep, black skull sockets. I guessed the body had been there for a year.

The vile, rotting stench was immediate and overpowering. All of the them covered their faces with handkerchiefs or rags.  They'd come prepared.  I wrapped my forearm around my mouth and nose, but it made little difference.

"Who is she?" I asked.

Jinks answered this time. "Sally-Anne Parfitt. Brummy lass. She disappeared eighteen months ago."

I recalled the news reports. She went missing after a night out with friends in the city. The man who left the club with her claimed they'd parted company on the banks of the cBlocked. There had been intense speculation about him, but the police found no body, nor evidence of foul play.

"How did you . . ?" Jinks didn't wait for me to finish.

"He's from round here, the guy they suspected. Two miles in that direction, on top of the hill is his parent’s house. He couldn't just make a body disappear in the middle of the city. So I tracked him."

"You followed him?"

He smiled. "No need for too much elbow grease these days. Gethyn helped me. With a Trojan email we got a geo-tracker onto his smart phone. Then I sat back and watched where the fucker went. For the first few months, nothing. But after it all died down, when he thought it was safe, he came out to these woods. Checking, making sure his treasure was safe.”

"Then all I had to do was get hold of the GPR and the rest is history."


“Ground Penetrating Radar. It used to cost a bomb, only universities and the police had them. Now you can get one on Amazon.”

I took two steps back. "And you've kept this from the police and the family?"

Fenton didn't like my tone. "Do you see a blue light on top of my head? Are we a public service? This is . . . It's . . ."

"Art." Christopher said. "Art, which can only be appreciated by a select few."

I decided not to push any harder. "So now we cover her up and go? Right?"

Christopher was back in control. "Not quite. We've taken a risk here, haven't we? We've put a lot of trust in you. So we need some guarantees."

The group tightened. All four of them stood around me in a semi-circle.

"I won't say a word."

Christopher nodded. "You seem sensible. But we've had one or two fools in the past. It got ugly."

"You have my word."

"Yes, and that's good. But I need something else. I need a picture."

"A picture?"

"A little induction photo for the club records."

"I'll send you one." I said.

"You and her." He pointed at the body. "A moment of weakness, and you might blab. We can't have that. A picture keeps it simple."

Gethyn and Fenton had their hands on my back. They pushed me towards the body. Christopher took a phone out of his pocket. "Now kneel next to her. Put your thumb up and smile."

They shoved me down. "No blocked way." I said.

Before I had the chance to move away, I heard a click and the felt cold metal of a gun barrel on my neck.

Christopher raised his eyebrows. "Kneel, smile, thumbs up."

Review My Work / The Lock-Up - 1942 words
« on: December 26, 2016, 08:28:56 AM »

This is the first part of a suspense short story called 'The Lock-Up'. I'd appreciate any feedback you have on this.

In case anyone would like to read the full story, you can find it at this link:


He gets on the bus in Peckham, a 343 bound for London Bridge. When it arrives, an hour later, Larry will get off, cross the road and catch the same bus all the way back home.

He does this every day. Sitting on South London buses, going nowhere.

Today will be harder than most. Her birthday. A day when images from her childhood overwhelm him.  Holding Cassie up to the cake so she could blow out the candles. A photograph of him kissing her on the cheek, both of them wrinkling their noses in mock disgust.

When she was little, there was a song he sang for her, strumming on his guitar. The original was ‘Hey Juney’ or ‘Hey Janey’ or something. He’d change it to ‘Cassie’ and send her dancing, wildly across the room.

Cassie I swear it’s

so hard to bear it

and I’d never make it through

without you around.’

When he thinks of these things, he doesn't cry anymore. The pain of losing her has receded to a dull thudding in his chest.

Before they took her, he didn't use buses at all. Cars ferried him from one engagement to another, a constant flow of meetings and deals. His sizeable construction company, closed down now, had worked on major developments in this part of London.

From the top deck, he sees some of his buildings. Good homes, homes people could afford.

Larry has tried counselling, pills and books, but nothing works like the bus. The road, the buildings, the people, they keep him moving through life, anaesthetising him.

On the return journey, just as the double decker is leaving Elephant and Castle, a young man dressed in a grey suit takes a seat behind him. After a few seconds loud, tinny music from a smart phone plays in Larry's ear.

He turns around. "Turn it off." The words come slowly. The edge in Larry's voice is unmistakeable.

The man in the suit is broad-shouldered, bigger than Larry. He tilts his head to one side and narrows his eyes. Larry can see him wondering, trying to place the face.  Three years ago he will have seen Larry speaking direct to camera, begging for his daughter's safe return.

After a few seconds, the man nods and turns off the music.

Half an hour later, Larry disembarks. It's Friday evening and Peckham is busy. Young people move through the streets in small groups, smiling, looking at their phones.

He lives on the 8th floor of a high rise block, next to Peckham Rye Common. He purchased the flat from a leaseholder a week after his wife had thrown him out. It was the first place the estate agent took him to see.

He puts the key in the door, lifts and pushes, all in one movement. There’s a knack to it.

He doesn't see it at first, lying on the mat inside the door.

Larry walks through to the kitchen and prepares a sandwich. He switches on the radio and listens to a news report about a train strike. The radio is a new addition to his routine. "Progress", a therapist would call it. In the early months, he sat in silence, just wondering what happened to her. These new things, the diversions, are a source of pride and guilt. Is he moving on? Should he be moving on?

Larry turns off the radio and carries his sandwich into the hall. As he turns into the living room, it catches his eye. A green envelope, the kind you might use for a child's birthday card. He puts down his lunch and retrieves it.

No stamp or address. On the front is just one word: "You".

Inside, he can feel a small, irregular object. Larry opens the envelope and takes out the card. On the front is a cartoon of a young girl, running over pink grass with an oversized daisy in her hand. The girl's eyes are closed and she wears a wide smile across her face.

Down the right side of the cover it says "Happy Birthday to a daughter who's got talent, charm, brains and winning personality!"

He opens the card. In the centre is a simple printed message. "Happy Birthday!"

Below, in stencilled biro, is the writing. "Hello Larry. Use the key. No police."

Somehow, Larry makes it into the living room and slumps onto the sofa. His shaking hands open the envelope again, where he finds a key attached to a paper tag with thin white string. He takes out the key and reads the tag.

"Skelwith’s Lock-Up, Hallerton On Avon, Room 3."


Larry knows he should tell his wife. He should tell the police. But he does neither.

The hire car, booked within an hour of reading the message, thrashes round the bends.

It’s dark and the roads are narrow. A van, travelling in the opposite direction, blares a horn as it passes. Larry pulls himself up in the seat and adjusts the rear-view mirror.

This is the same road he travelled three years ago, when he was to supposed return with Cassie. The kidnappers told him to drive from London to the Midlands, to Birmingham.

The voice on the phone said, "Two million, alright?" Larry had agreed to it all. He’d dropped the money, with the police watching him from a distance, and left. Then they all waited for Cassie to come back.

Another horn from another car and Larry shakes his head.

The road straightens out the closer he gets to Hallerton. He knows the place, in a vague way. His old company had a supplier there, perhaps? A small Cotswold town, less pretty than all the others. A place on the way to other places.

Larry parks the car in the main square, takes his bag from the boot and walks along the high street It’s almost eleven and the town is mostly asleep. A few drinkers making their way home.

He needs a place to stay, so he follows the lights.


When he wakes at 6.00AM, Larry expects to sneak out of the pub without being noticed. But on entering the bar, he’s halted.

"Good morning, traveller."

A large woman wearing a red apron and a shock of permed blonde hair stands behind the bar. Larry, his head still thick with sleep, is slow to respond.

"I guess not then." She says.

"Sorry. Good morning."

"Geoff said we had a guest. Cockney are ye?"

"Not really." Larry says.

"You sound like one. Anyone south of here sounds like a cockney to me. What can I get you for breakfast?"

"Thank you, but I need to get going. I've got some import . . ."

"Nonsense. Bacon, egg, beans and toast. That'll set you up for the day."

Larry considers just walking out the door, then thinks better of it.

"Thanks." He takes a seat behind a table. The room smells of spilled beer. Ten minutes later the woman puts the plate in front of him.

Larry says, "I need to find a place in Hallerton. I've got the name, but not the address."

She smiles and sits down opposite. "Mystery, eh? What you looking for?"

He takes the key out of his pocket and places it on the table. She reads the tag and arches an eyebrow.

"Skelwith's place. The lock-up on Tilemans Lane.

"How do I get there?"

She pauses for a moment, and says “Are you mixed up in something?”

"No. Why?"

She draws back her chair and stands. "Skelwith, The guy who owns the lock-up. He's a character." The woman walks back to the bar.

"What kind of character?"

Over her shoulder, she says. "Creepy. Some funny business with his dad when he was younger. That's all you’ll get from me."


Larry finds Tilemans Lane on his phone and sets off across the town. From the main road, he turns down Watery Lane and walks past a Thatched pub called the Black Horse. Outside, a man taking barrels from a truck eyes him suspiciously.

“Morning,” Larry says. The man doesn’t answer.

Larry crosses the junction and starts up Tilemans. The hill is steep at first, then flattens out. To his right there are three middle-sized industrial units. The first two are closed, grass overgrowing the walkways to their front offices. To his left he can see the playing fields of a school.

He rounds a sharp corner and the road stretches upwards again, up another, longer hill. Near the top, he sees more buildings. He quickens his walk. Rusting chain fences surround the units, made of breezeblocks and corrugated steel sheets. No windows.

He reaches the gate and above is a rotting wooden sign. “Skelwith’s” and “Storage for hire”.

Larry tries the gate, but it’s secured with a flimsy bicycle lock. He checks over his shoulder, and climbs the fence. He’s fifty-two years old. When he lands on the other side there’s a familiar twinge in his back.

The six units are identical. Faded, flaking paint over the bricks and dirty green doors. He wonders why anyone would want to store their possessions here.

Room 3 is directly ahead of him. Checking around to see if he is still alone, Larry approaches the door. He tries the key and it fits. Inside, it is pitch-black. He tries the light switch, but it doesn’t work. Taking his phone from his pocket, Larry activates the torch and walks into the room.

The floor is solid grey concrete and the walls, exposed brick. The smell reminds him of his grandmother's attic.

A few more steps and he can make out a large, wooden wheelchair in the middle of the room. It looks like an antique, but with modifications. On the two thick armrests, manacles made of thick metal have been attached.  He places his hand a headrest which protrudes from the back and wonders.  Was she locked in this thing? Did she beg for her release?

Standing by the chair, Larry can make out something big, rectangular and white in the far corner. A freezer. The big open-top kind his own parents had kept in the garage. A memory intrudes. His mum warning her six-year-old son never, ever, ever to climb inside. “If you do, the top will fall down, and you will die.”

He walks on, knowing he must look inside the freezer, knowing this is what was intended all along.

A green light flickers and it gives off a high pitched buzzing. He takes the handle and lifts. He looks inside, stumbles backwards and falls, cracking his elbow on the concrete. Larry’s low-pitched moan comes, not from the fall, but an understanding of what he’s just seen.

He has a death before, but not such violence and desecration.

Uneasy on his legs, Larry gets up and looks again. Not one body, but two, frozen in ice, wrapped in clear plastic sheeting. Neither of them is Cassie, he is sure of that. Two men, one tall with long, thick hair, the other much shorter and fatter, the skin from his belly poking out from underneath a purple t- shirt. The faces of both men are caked in white frost, the tall man on top, the fat man, lying on his side, peering out from underneath.

Larry needs to be sure this isn't somebody's idea of a sick joke. He reaches out his hand and touches the tall man’s face. The skin is frozen solid and real.

From behind he hears footsteps and a door slams. One, two, three clicks and it’s locked.

Larry stands motionless, illuminated only by light of the freezer.


Review My Work / Title: 'It Hides' 1411 words
« on: November 11, 2016, 07:46:55 AM »

This is the first section of suspense/horror short story.  Would be useful to get some feedback on this.

In case anyone is interested, the full story is here:


It was supposed to remain hidden, beyond the reach of human comprehension. Dormant, beneath the world we see and hear. Its name should never have been spoken, its image never rendered for human eyes.

And yet, it emerged, delivered to this world by the unsuspecting.

Now, there’s no one left to tell, no one left to hear how it happened. Its tale of discovery left to the dust and the soil and the air.


If Dillon McCafferty could tell you his story, he would.

For Dillon, it started with a piece of paper. An innocent note tucked into an envelope by a local GP and sent to him, first class, on Monday 22nd October, 2017. The envelope lay unopened on his doormat for two days.

This tardiness was not the result of over work or ill health or a family emergency, but a more welcome distraction. Dillon had met Gina.

Aged thirty-nine, he’d started to think he had some fatal flaw, something rotten, which precluded the content, long-term relationships which came so easily to his friends. He might even have confronted it on a clinical level, had the prospect of self referral not filled him with a cold dread.

He kept going, until he met Gina.

She arrived late to the party. The stupid, annoying party which he’d done everything to avoid because he knew it would be filled with Tom’s friends from work: over-serious bores working in third sector “developmental aid”. Gina had walked into the room, took him by the arm and led him away from a tedious conversation about fisheries policy in West Africa.

“Tom told me to rescue you from the conscience police," she said, and smiled.

He slept at Gina’s that night and didn’t leave for three days. Cancelling all his appointments, ignoring his phone. Dillon lost himself in her. When he finally left for home on the Wednesday morning, he floated across South London in an adolescent daze, recalling her mischievous smile and the weight of her slender arm resting on his chest.

Arriving home, he took the unopened mail upstairs to his office.

The mechanics of work snapped him back to reality. A bill, a letter from his father, a credit card offer and then, an envelope with his name and address scribbled in blue biro.

Inside were printed details of a patient, nine years old. It included a hastily handwritten note from Dr. Oliver Hinckley.

'Strange one this, Dillon. The boy is obsessed by numbers. Can’t talk about anything else and becomes angry when his parents (or I) try to move onto other matters. Speak to his mother will you? Tell them you’ll see him.'

The friendly, personal tone of the doctor's note felt askew to Dillon. Hinckley was usually such a cold fish.

Via email, he booked an appointment with the parents. He liked to put space between this initial session and seeing the child for the first time.

The parents arrived the following day. Stephen Willow, hair unkempt, wore a jacket over blue jeans and a thick beard. His wife, Alison, gave Dillon a strained smile when they met at the door. She hustled her husband up the stairs when he paused in the hallway.

They sat on the couch, space between them, and waited in silence as Dillon collected his notepad and settled opposite.

"So, how can I help?" he said.

The husband let out a sigh. "Our son needs help, not us."

Alison Willow reached across her husband, tilting her head in silent apology to Dillon.

"Stephen is struggling to process this. It’s put us under a lot of strain."

"Not a problem. In your own time, just give me some background."

"Ben. Our boy." She shifted in her seat. "He's always been such a sprightly thing. Happy and clever and funny. Nothing fazed him. But in the last two weeks he's become so, so morose."

"Morose? Disengaged?"

"Kind of. He goes to school, he plays, a bit. But he seems so unhappy. His teacher says he's stopped contributing to classes. When I speak to him, I get one word answers."

"Has there been anything that might have upset him?"

The husband answered, a little too quickly. "No. Everything is just the same."

Alison Willow spoke softly, soothingly. "I don't think it's anything like that. We moved house a year ago, but not far and he likes the new place."

Dillon shifted into more sensitive territory. "And your relationship? Any major arguments or problems?"

Mr. Willow rocked back in his seat, pursed his lips and looked up at the ceiling. Dillon scribbled in his notepad.

Mrs. Willow answered. "Nothing. Nothing new." She was flustered. "Nothing that would explain this."

He could have pushed further, but Dillon felt sorry for Alison Willow. Interrogating would only confirm his first impression: The relationship was on the edge and they didn't know what to do. They’d probably muddled along for years, without ever really being tested. Now here they were, worried sick about their little boy and turning on each other.

Dillon let the silence linger, curious to see how they would fill it.

The father blurted out. "He won't stop counting. Sometimes aloud, sometimes under his breath. He counts all the time. It’s weird."

Dillon nodded. "Kids often count. Predictable structures can be comforting."

"He's not comforting himself. If you heard it, you'd know what I mean."


"It's difficult to explain. I can play it to you if you like."

Alison Willow screwed up her face and turned to her husband. "What?"

Stephen Willow looked at Dillon, not her. "I recorded it. Last week when I sat outside his room, waiting for him to go to sleep."

"You recorded our son, having a . . . an episode?" She shook her head.

"It wasn't an episode. You know that. I just wanted to capture it. For the doc."

Dillon interjected. "Okay. Play it."

Mr. Willow took his phone out of his pocket, touched the screen, then placed it on the coffee table.

There was a rustling sound, a muffled cough, then the sound of a child's voice. It was lilting, painfully innocent. The sound of an infant relaxing into sleep.

"Four, five, six, seven." He stopped. "Eight, nine. . . Not there. Not tonight." Behind the tired voice, a note of distress had been introduced. He kept on. "Eleven, twelve, thirteen. Hmmmm. I don't think it's there.”

Then Stephen Willow's voice. "Ben, buddy, time for sleep now, mate."

"Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. I'm only checking Dad. Sometimes I need to check."

"Go to sleep now buddy."

"Twenty one, twenty two." Silence.

In Dillon’s office, Mr. Willow raised his finger, indicating more to come.

A full minute passed with nothing but empty background noise. Then the child's voice came back, high pitched, shrieking. "Go away. I don't want it." The boy started to cry. Softly at first, then with an intensity Dillon would not have believed possible from a nine year old.

On the recording, Mr. Willow said, "Hey mate, what happened?" There was more rustling. The recording ended.


Things moved quickly. A week after they'd first met, Gina moved in with Dillon. He carried her boxes from the van and placed them in appropriate rooms at her direction.

Dillon was astounded at himself. Ordinarily, he'd have balked at anyone tampering with his carefully ordered home and workplace. He hardly ever had guests, aside from his patients. Yet here he was, inviting Gina in to tip the whole thing upside down.

He watched her place an ornament above the fireplace, a weighty rendering of a moggy cat, sleeping on a cushion. He should have hated it, the thing itself and the fact someone else was placing it in his living room, but he didn't. These things were hers. They made her happy and now they made him happy.

"It's beautiful," he said, his eyebrow raised, a smile at the corner of his lips.

She grimaced in mock fury. "You'll learn to love it."

Gina moved closer, taking his hips in her hands. She pulled him close and laughed, avoiding his attempt at a kiss.

"Uh, uh. Say you love Boris the Cat, or there'll be none of that for you."

"I luuurve it!"

They kissed until she pushed him down onto the sofa. She walked over the bay windows. It was 2 PM with bright sunshine pouring in. Gina closed the curtains and turned back to Dillon.

"Show me," she said.


Review My Work / Part 2 of short story "Strings" - 1993 words
« on: May 28, 2016, 04:56:42 PM »
Hi. This is the second half of a short story entitled "Strings".

I'd be very grateful for any feedback.


Strings, Part 2

On the twelfth day after the party I still hadn't heard a thing.

As I was preparing to go out, I got a knock on the door. It was Shaheeza, looking stoned, possibly drunk too, but still a treat for the eyes..

"Can I come in?"

"Of course" I opened the door and she entered.

I was suddenly aware of the state of the place. Washing-up piled in the little adjoining kitchen and take away cartons lying everywhere. She didn't seem to notice and slumped down on the sofa, as if she popped round for a chat every day. I shifted some debris from the wooden chair opposite and sat.

I wanted to sound casual. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"

"I was bored." She cast her eyes upwards to dramatic effect.

“I was beginning to think I’d done something to offend you guys. You’d invited me round to dinner?”

She just looked at me, confused and we sat in silence for a full minute.

"Would you like me to play for you?" I asked.

She giggled. "No. Let’s just talk."

My hands tightened. "OK." I said, slowly. "What would you like to talk about?"

"Anything. Me, I suppose. I came up for a second opinion."

"On what?"

"Do you think I'm beautiful, Geoff?"

Now she had my attention. "Yes. Yes I do."

Her hand drifted absent-mindedly onto her left breast. "We had an argument. Garcia and I. He said I've been ‘letting myself go.’" Her voice broke on the last word.

"If I were Garcia, I'd be counting my blessings and keeping my mouth shut." I said.

She shifted onto her side to face me and smiled. "You really think so? I don't want to turn into my mother. Fat and dull."

"I think you're about as far away from fat and dull as it's possible to be.”

"That’s sweet, Geoff. That's what I needed to hear."

“They asked me to ask you something. Tom and Garcia.”

“Oh really?”

“They want to know if you’re free next Saturday night. To play for our friends, at a bar. They want to book a room and invite lots of people.”

If she'd looked very closely, she would have seen me shaking, shaking with joy. “I should be able to make it.” I said.

She raised herself and stepped over to me. I remained totally still, my hands locked to the arms of the chair. Shaheeza leant in and, for an instant, the possibilities seemed endless. The smell of her perfume and smoky breath mixing together was so strong, so alluring, I could almost taste it.

Her mouth hovered over mine for a second, then shifted to one side. She gave me a gentle peck on the cheek and whispered in my ear. "I think you play just fine."

She turned and left the flat, not even bothering to close the door behind her. Mother spoke to me again, I could see her twirling around the room.

"Play them a happy tune Geoffy. The happy ones are the best."


The next day, I arrived back from work to find a hand-written note on my door mat.

In a scrawled hand, it read, “If you’re free, could you come down for a chat tonight? Dilys.”

When she opened the door, her eyes only reluctantly met mine.  I went in. She sat opposite me in the living room, her shoulders hunched.

“Where are the others?” I asked.

“All out at the cinema. I wanted to speak to you alone.”

“OK. What about?”

“About your singing, your songs.”

“I see. You want to learn? You’d like some lessons?”

“No.” She trailed off, then seemed to gather herself. “Look. There’s no easy way to say this. Your music, your singing.  They’re being unkind. They think it’s funny, to put you in front of people.”

I sat back and folded my arms. “Funny?”

“Yes. They’re laughing, Geoff. Tom put some video on YouTube. From the first night you came over and it went viral. Twitter, Facebook. They went crazy.”

“What does that mean? Lots of people liked it?” I said.

“They liked watching it. Not in a good way.”

“Why would people think my songs are funny?”

She threw her hands up “You’ve seen ‘Chocolate Rain’ right? Like that, but with further to fall. Funny because it’s so terrible. Because you can’t write a song, because you can’t play. Because you have no idea how bad you are. When you sing, you have this crazy earnest look on your face like you’re Bob Dylan.”

Chocolate Rain? Bob Dylan? She was deranged.

I thought back to that first night. Dilys, twitching and shifting all over the place whilst the others enjoyed themselves. There was something wrong with her, something disturbed

“You’re lying.”

“I’m trying to help you.”

She pulled out her phone. One of those smart Apple things I’ve never been bothered with. She fiddled with it for a few seconds then held it up to my face. “If I’m making it up, what’s this?”

On the screen was a still picture of me with a big ‘Play’ arrow hovering over my face. I recognised the scene and recalled Tom holding up his phone to film me on that first night. She tapped the arrow and the shrunken version of me started to play 'Possession'. It sounded good, authentic.

I looked up at Dilys and shrugged. She stopped the video and started to scroll down the comments underneath. According to the banner at the top, there were three thousand seven hundred and twenty two of them.

She paused on a few of them, holding the phone up to my face.

“This is tragic, but brilliant.”

“’Did I mention, I’m not your Possession!!!!’ Lolzzzzzz”

“Possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Thank you internet.”

It went on. Streams of nonsense. Words with no meaning.

“Jesus. This has to be some kind of set-up, right?”

“The guy thinks he’s rockin’ the place. Look at his fuckin face!!!”

“Christmas novelty single . . . sorted.”

Dilys spoke. “It’s had one point two million hits Geoff. They’ve sold three hundred tickets for the gig. I told them it’s cruel, but they don’t listen. They think they can make money out of you, for Christ sake.”

Her mouth kept moving, so I assume she was still talking to me. The words became a single, monotonous noise in my head, like the sound of a radio being detuned. She was on her feet now, pressing the phone into my face. More video, more comments, this time at the party.

I had to get her away from me. I stepped forwards and placed both of my hands at the top of her chest and pushed her firmly. I will not deny, it was an act of violence, but it was also self-defence. How could I have known what would happen next?

Dilys toppled backwards, her fall exaggerated by the large coffee table behind her. Her head cracked onto the brass Elvis ashtray. She rolled off the table, knelt on one knee and raised her hand to the wound. Blood seeped between her fingers, and her eyes grew wild with fear and fury.

I stood, rooted to the spot, as she stepped backwards and reached towards the counter of the adjoining kitchen. It was too late when I realised her objective: the block of knives. She pulled out a huge knife and brandished it at me with her free hand.

“You blocked sicko.” She said. “You hurt me.”

That was when I took the decision. I'll never know if she’d have used that knife on me, because I wasn’t prepared to take the risk. There was something wrong with this young woman, something broken. I had to take the initiative.

I rushed her and grabbed her wrist. Dilys, who was half my weight, screamed in pain as I twisted it. What happened next is still not clear to me. Our bodies were locked together, the knife between us, then she went limp. When I pulled back to see it knife was lodged in her chest.

Dilys slid to the floor, her back against the counter, all the life gone from her eyes.

One sentence began to roll around in my head. I said it out loud, over and over.

“Mother wants a happy tune. Mother wants a happy tune. Mother wants a happy tune.”


I'm floating through space, near blinded by a beautiful constellation of stars. Hundreds of bright, white dots dance in the darkness, held aloft by a crowd which sways to my rhythm, recording every note, every word. The guitar rests in my arms and the strings are under my fingers, but I feel nothing but the euphoria of the moment. It is perfect. Almost perfect.

The room is huge. There must be three or four hundred people packed into the place. Outside are posters announcing me. "TONIGHT: Internet sensation Geoff Hinkley. £5 entry".

As my song comes to an end they erupt into applause. Some people stand, their faces beaming with appreciation. I can just see Tom and Garcia standing at the back, leaning into each other, conspiring.

Beneath the clapping hands I can hear another sound, something less welcome. An intrusive tittering, which doesn't fit. I focus on what's important: these people have come here to see me. They have paid to see me.

Under my jeans, strapped to my leg, I have a gun. It’s amazing what can be procured in the seamier corners of a Lewisham public house.

I suppose it's natural to be a little paranoid after you've killed someone. Perhaps purchasing of a deadly weapon was a way of reinvigorating myself, taking back control.

When Dilys died, after I'd calmed myself down, I found a sheet in her bedroom closet and wrapped her in it. There was blood but most of it had run onto her clothes. I did a good job of cleaning up and then dragged her up the stairs to my apartment, where I dumped her on the sofa.

I returned to her flat and finished tidying up. Using the note she'd left me as a template, I wrote out another one for her own housemates. "Family emergency. Have to go home for a few days. No need to worry. See you soon. Dils." It took three goes, but I finally got the handwriting right..

I have one song left to sing and it’s a new one, a song I've written for this special occasion. Propped up on my sofa, Dilys is the only one to have heard it so far.

I launch into the opening words, the constellation returns.

"As the tune begins, Mother glances, So proud of me, she always dances."

I can hear them laughing but I push on. "I'll always sing, I'll always croon, because Mother wants my happy tunes."

Behind the wall of lights the laughing is too loud now. I drop the guitar, bend down and unstrap the gun from my leg.

Amongst the levity, the buzz of conversation begins.

I stand with the gun in my hand and, for the tiniest instant, the room falls silent. It is beautiful, but over so quickly.

Someone screams "He's got a gun." There's more laughter but it has a nervous edge this time. I fire into the air ceiling and plaster falls all around me. The ringing in my ear gives the scene in front of me the appearance of a silent film.

They are all looking at me, wishing in that moment that they were the one on stage, that they had the control. They push and shove and scream. They want to get away, but they still can't take their eyes off me.

I raise the gun one final time, placing the barrel against my own head.

A single note from the barrel of a gun. I close my eyes and wait for the beat.

Review My Work / 'Strings' - Short story - First 1997 words
« on: May 22, 2016, 12:01:42 PM »
Hi, This is the first part of a suspense short story I've written.  Grateful for any feedback on it.


Three hundred, maybe four hundred, people have packed into this sweaty pub to see me. I’ve been gigging all my life, but I’ve never had a crowd like this. Finally, I’ve found an audience that gets me.
I’m sat on a stool singing, ‘Isobel’, strumming my battered Gibson, arched over the guitar, mouth reaching for the mircophone.

I owe it all to them. Tom, Shaheeza and Garcia, none of this would have happened without them. Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs over the past few weeks, but tonight makes it all worthwhile. They’re a breath of fresh air. Everything about them is positive. The joy they take in music, their willingness to learn, their embrace of a new friendship.

The weird thing is, the first time we met, I'd gone down to complain. It was one in the morning and I was working the next day with a gig in the evening. They were having some kind of house-warming party and the music was too loud, even for me. I hated being the guy who complained.

I could smell the weed even before the door even opened.

"Hey." He said. The slick hair and the thick beard said ‘hipster’.

I decided to be magnanimous. "Hey. I'm Geoff, I live upstairs." I offered my hand and he shook it.

"Tom. Too loud, right?" He said.

"Yeah. You know, I gotta work. Sorry."

"We're horrible. Didn't even invite you down. You want to come in? Have a beer?"

Perhaps I wasn't as tired as I'd thought or maybe I was just curious. "Sure, why not?

He stood aside and beckoned me in. The flat was in chaos with bags and boxes of stuff everywhere. Tom led the way to the living room and announced me.
"Guys, our new neighbour, Geoff."

They smiled, and I raised my hand. There was a young guy, with dull ginger hair smoking a spliff in the corner, and two young women: a slight, girlish blonde who played nervously with her hair and a striking beauty with jet black silken hair, lounging on the sofa. On the coffee table in front of them was large brass ash-tray, with an effigy of Elvis rising from the buts which filled it to the brim.

Tom swept his hand towards them like a magician. "Geoff. Meet Garcia, Dilys and Shaheeza."

Youthful radiance was in plentiful supply, but even in this group Shaheeza stood apart. In my forty six years walking this earth, I've never seen anything like her.
She was the first to speak. "Come in, sit down. Garcia, get the man a beer."

The red-head reached into an ice bucket, pulled out a can and tossed it to me.

"Thanks. I was going to complain about the noise, but hey, life’s too short, right?”

Tom cut in. "Geoff lives upstairs."

"How long you been here, Geoff?" Garcia asked.

"Oh, say, eight years. Since my wife left me.”

Dilys shifted a little in her seat, but Garcia was nodding. "I hear that man. I've been through splits. Tough times."

The others laughed, Shaheeza with particular gusto. "What are you talking about? You've only ever had two girlfriends and one of those was in nursery school."

"And I've never forgotten her."

I liked them straight off. It was clear they were two couples. Shaheeza with Garcia and Tom with Dilys. The boys enjoyed playing the fool and the girls indulged them with wry smiles, a playful impersonation of older couples.

We talked for an hour about relationships and break ups, then moved on to music. By three in the morning I'd forgotten all about work the next day, and was holding forth on the superior song-writing of the mid-sixties folk revival. All four of them kept interjecting with questions and comments.

That was when I saw the guitar in the corner. "Hey. Who's the musician?"

"It's mine" said Garcia. "But I'm useless. You play?"

“You could say that. I gig locally, on a solo basis. You mind?" I said, moving to pick it up.

"Be my guest."

I tuned it in a few seconds and looked up. Shaheeza had raised herself in the armchair, her eyes wide. Tom gave me an encouraging nod. I felt nervous, self-conscious.

I considered what to play, and heard, as I sometimes do, mother’s voice sealing to me. “Play them a happy tune, Geoffy. The happy ones are the best.”

I spread my fingers into the G chord, cleared my throat and gently strummed into a slow, gentle version of 'Possession', one of my compositions. My voice sounded clear and melodic, with a slight hint of gravel.
Garcia beamed with a smile and gave a little clap. When I got to the chorus for the second time, they all joined in.

I loved it. Me, an old duffer, joined in song with four young, beautiful people. Music can occasionally transcend the generations. I didn't pause between songs. I went straight from 'Possession' to my signature track 'Silent Echo' and then 'Together'. Garcia, Tom and Shaheeza seemed to love them all, even taking out their phones and recording me.

The only bum note was Dilys. I only noticed her towards the end of the fourth track, but it could have been going on for some time. She was tense, twitching and trying to get Tom's attention whilst I was just getting to the key point of another songs.

Later, when I discovered her 'issues', this would make more sense. At the time, I just dismissed it and enjoyed the moment. I played a few more songs, and decided to call it a night.
The goodbyes were warm and genuine. I’d made some unlikely friends.
There was an element of truth in what I’d said about my wife. I had moved into the block eight years ago, directly after the split. But she hadn't left me, quite the contrary.

I don't dwell on that time with any regrets. It wasn't easy to up and leave, knowing I was unlikely to see my girls again. Tess was three and Janis five when I loaded up the car and told Alison I was going for good. There'd been a number of close calls over the years, but by January 2008, I'd reached breaking point.

She had stopped coming to my gigs and the open mic spots in local bars, pleading on the expense of a baby-sitter. Then she suggested I stop doing them entirely and complained about me practicing in the house in case it "disturbed the children". I did my best to make her understand, to show her how important writing and performing was to me, but nothing worked. It was only when mother died, wasting away in that home, that I finally broke.

I dumped my sales job and came to London seeking a new life. At thirty-four, knowing nobody here, it was a lonely time. I had some cash I'd taken from the joint account and got a job in a bar. I joined a squat I'd read about in the Evening Standard and lived like a hobo for six months. Eventually, I saved enough to put down a deposit on the flat and things really began to take shape.

These days, I work in one of those storage facilities, ‘UStore’, lugging boxes about and handing out key cards. It pays the mortgage and gives me a routine outside of my real passion, music. I gig at venues all over south London, and write as much as I can. Just recently the songs have really started to flow.


It was two nights later that I got the knock on the door. I opened up to find Shaheeza standing there, smiling. So stunning, so alive.

"We want you to come down." She said. "Some friends have come round and we wondered if we could get some live music, just like the other night."

"Try and stop me, I said. "But I'll bring the Gibson this time."

Including the residents, there were nineteen people in the flat, drinking, smoking and listening to seventies soul. As soon as they saw me, the music was turned off and they gathered in a small crowd around one of the couches. Tom told me to sit and gave me the big introduction.

"Friends. Just the other night we had the pleasure of being introduced to the song-writing and musicianship of Geoff Halliday, and I'm delighted that you can now share in this repeat performance."
He seemed a little out of it, but I was grateful for his kind words. With a slightly bigger audience and the intimate setting, I could have faltered. This time I started with 'The Florist' and it went down well. Several of them were holding up their phones to get pictures and video, spurring me on.

They started putting in requests for songs, some I knew, others I’d never heard of. I mixed them in with my originals and it worked a dream. Like the first night, I could feel the communal spirit of the gathering, but more powerfully this time. Each new song bound us closer and closer together. This may sound strange, but by the end, I was almost in tears. To be at the heart of something so spiritual, to be the catalyst, was frightening and exhilarating at the same time.

Afterwards, they came to me, hugging me, slapping me on the back. One guy, a big strapping six-footer called Owen, told me he was “deeply moved” by the performance. Tom and Shaheeza were beaming at me and insisted I come round again at the weekend so they could make me dinner and play another session. I stayed for a couple more beers with those beautiful young people, then ascended the stairs to my flat in a daze.
The dinner, that repeat performance fix, didn't arrive in the way I'd hoped. They’d said to come over “on the weekend”, so I called round a few times on both Saturday and Sunday nights, but nobody was in.

I wanted to play for them again, but something wasn’t right. Days passed and I heard nothing. Even when I knew someone was in, they wouldn't answer the door. Twice I thought I heard someone moving on the other side, peering at me through the peep-hole. At night, I sat for hours, listening for their voices, their music, their laughter, swelling up from beneath. When I left for work in the morning, when I came home at night, I’d pause by the door in the hope of a chance meeting, a friendly chat and another invitation to play.

I hadn't misunderstood the situation, I was sure of that. Something important had occurred at the party and it needed to be acknowledged, built upon, celebrated.

It started to affect me. I played a gig at one of the local homes, a hospice in Catford I've visited many times over the years. That’s where I play most of my gigs, in homes. If I turn up and tell them one of the managers has invited me, they normally let me go in and play for the old people.

This gig was a disaster. I became acutely aware that most of the residents weren't even listening. The filthy old guy at the front was slumped in his chair, chin on his chest, dribbling out of the side of his mouth. The others mostly looked on with blank, vacant expressions, unresponsive to the performance. Only the two carers bothered to clap after each song.

When I finished the fifth song, "The Letter", which is an upbeat, life-affirming tune, I was greeted with total silence. Even the staff had switched off. I stood up, pushed my microphone stand onto my speaker, creating a shriek of feedback, and threw my guitar to the floor. One of the carers looked up and shook her head, then went back to her work.
Still in silence, I packed up my stuff and left.

Review My Work / Sockpuppet 1603 words
« on: March 13, 2016, 04:26:02 PM »
First part of a longer piece I'm writing. Genre is suspense. Grateful for any feedback on general quality or specifics. The 'inspiration' here will be obvious, but I hope A different angle will avoid unnecessary Misery.


Consciousness returns in stages. Before sight and smell, comes an awareness of her orientation. Horizontal, propped up against stiff pillows.  Alice looks down at her lap and finds a patchwork duvet covered in putrid bile.  She retches over and over again, releasing a course wheezing from deep within her chest. The smell of chemicals lingers in her nostrils. Her mouth tastes of alcohol and stomach acid.

Slowly, the room comes into focus. The light is dim, but she can see bookcases running along the back wall, filled with colourful volumes of varied shapes and sizes. Children's books.  Hundreds, maybe even thousands of them, covering not just the back wall, but all the walls. Picture books, story books, pop-up books, then longer fiction for older children. She can make out some of the names on the spines: Enid Blyton, Ronald Dahl, Astrid Lindgren.

"You've made a terrible mess."

The voice, low and harsh, comes from the far corner of the room.  In the semi-darkness, a man sits in a large wicker chair which squeaks as he shifts his weight.

"Where am I?" Her voice is unnaturally high.

"Didn't he tell you?"

"Who? Told me what?"

"Never mind. You know who I am, don't you?"

"Where I am? Please."

"You know me Alice.  You know me very well indeed.  You've been giving me so much of your valuable time recently."

"Time?" She retches again, then manages to lift her head. "Why am I here?”

"Oh come on."  He lets out a heavy, hearty laugh. "He must have told you."

"I just don't . . . "

"And I quote: 'A dog's dinner of combat clichés, inglorious violence and adolescent fantasy.'  Then, and this is verbatim, 'Avoid this rubbish at all costs. Avoid, avoid avoid.'"

Outside she can hear traffic in the distance. The deep, heavy motor of a double decker.  Still London?

"I wrote that?"

She already knows the answer.

"Oh yes, and you wrote so much more, Alice. You are so very talented when it comes to smearing shit."

Alice coughs and finally clears her throat. Her eyes are adjusting to the light. She can see the severe side-parting of his hair and the dim light reflecting off a black jacket. Leather, or some imitation.

"The blog. This is about the blog."

No answer. He just sits there, staring.  Alice looks to her left and sees the door to the room.  Just a normal door, the kind you find in any house.  She tries to spring out of bed, but the sudden movement is stopped by something hard.  Alice cannot move her legs.  She pulls back the covers and sees her ankles shackled to the bed posts with two thick chains.

The man shakes his head.

"It's so easy, isn't it? So easy for you to sit in your kooky independent coffee shop, tapping away on your Mac, sipping your gluten free latte. You sneer, thats what I find so incredible. Someone like you, living a life in the shadows, plastering lies all over the internet, You have the temerity to sneer at me."

"Do I know you?" She can feel the panic rising. It’s his voice.  More than her chained legs or the hatred in his words. His tone betrays a man too close to the edge.  There is something dangerous bubbling underneath.

"You see, Alice, this is a very sensitive time for me. Things are starting to come together, and I can’t have people laughing.  Do you understand?"

He tilts his head to the left when he speaks and she sees it. He'd taken the same pose in his Amazon profile, a picture she'd considered hilarious when she first saw it. He'd been wearing the same leather jacket with such obvious pride.

"Do you want to go to jail?" She says.

"I'm not going anywhere and neither are you." He stands up and walks towards her, bright white teeth grinning wildly. "You'll have to write your way out Alice. Let's see how you like hitting a deadline."

She notices something under his arm. He brings it out and places it at the foot of the bed.  A laptop.  He opens the screen which displays his Amazon page.

"Here is my life's work Ms Hadley, links to all of them, on the left hand side of the page, as I'm sure you know. I want twenty positive reviews a day, just to start off with, but we'll be increasing that as you get into the swing of things. No reviews, no food or water."

"You want me to write reviews?"

"Yes." He smiles again. "Glowing reviews." He places a piece of paper on the laptop. "Those pages are the only ones that work.  Everything else, email, everything.  It’s all shut down.  Write them in Word and save them.”

She shakes her head and the urge to retch overwhelms her again. 

"You know you can do it Alice." He chuckles.  "You’ll be my number one fan."


Elton Bayliss walks down The Strand with his hands in his pockets and a bounce in his step. By his estimation, three women have checked him out since he exited the tube station. One, he thinks, would have asked for his number had she not been travelling in the opposite direction on an escalator.

He wears his favourite black leather jacket with a white shirt. Armani jeans hold snugly to his legs and buttocks. He catches his reflection in a shop window.  He loosens the knot of his pencil tie and moves along.

Elton turns into the entrance of a cocktail bar beneath the offices of his agent, then descends the stairs to enter a bar area already filling with evening drinkers. He immediately feels uncomfortable, knowing instinctively, this is the kind of place his father would have enjoyed. Stuart Winterton is sat at a corner table nursing a brandy.

“Elton! How is my star signing?”

“A little tired." He sits and orders an orange juice.

“Okay,” Winterton begins, "I've got good news and bad news. Which do you want first?”

“The good. Always the good. And you'd better make the bad news sound good too.”

Winterton sits back and crosses his arms across his wide belly. "I have three publishers wanting to convert your digital back-catalogue into print. All small presses you understand, but the money is amazing."

“Not the big boys?”

“C’mon Elton. I told you. Self-published and digital, that's where you come from. They only touch you if you’re an uber-seller.”

Elton purses his lips, exposing , for a moment, a perfect line of white teeth. "Maybe you should explain to them that, pretty soon, that’s what I’ll be?”

"Hey, hey. Take it easy big guy. You're going to make a fat pile of cash. This is the good news remember!”

Winterton's arms flail from right to left. “The big publishing houses don't want you. So what? You made yourself. You came from nowhere, you published your own stuff, you marketed yourself, now people are reading it. That's success. Sweet success."

"Stuart, why do you think I came to you in the first place?"

"You needed an agent."

"No. I didn't need a blocked agent." Elton leans across the table, jabbing his finger. "I needed a route into the big publishing houses. That's the only way I get to the next level. That's how I get respect."

Winterton starts to laugh, then stops himself. As he speaks he gestures downwards with both palms. "Elton, you write novels about terrorism and the SAS. You write thrillers that thrill a certain audience. I don't think you get how this works. Shuster, Random House, the rest, they’re never going to touch that stuff. It's just not how they work."

Winterton takes a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket and rests it on the table. "You don't need respect when people are prepared to pay this." He points to the figure at the bottom of the draft contract. 

Elton raises his eyebrows, nods, then tilts his head to one side. "I want you to try again with Random House. Twist some arms."

"I’ve already . . ." Then a pause and a sigh. "I'll speak to some people. Don't hold your breath. But we can't take too long." He gestures to the contract. "These offers don't stay on the table forever."

"What's the bad news?"

Winterton shifts in his chair. "The website. You know, the website."

"Treacherous Reads."

"I know it's just some blog, but that kind of thing can be damaging."

“Can it?”

"Yeah, my intern tells me that shit’s all over Twitter. People laughing their asses off about it."

"It's not a problem."

"It is a problem Elton. 'Top ten cringe worthy sentences in modern literature.' And the guy takes all of them from you! That's low, but it's clever. It can catch on. If we're going to take your digital readers into print, that kind of thing can be toxic."

"No, you don't understand. It's not a problem anymore." Elton takes his mobile of his pocket and shows the screen to Winterton. It's a Tweet from someone called @AstridGee.

"Ooooh . Elton Bayliss is gonna be pissed with this: http:treacherousreads/post/84735’"

"Exactly,” Winterton says, "That's the problem."

"Click on the link." Winterton reaches out his finger and presses the screen. The tweet disappears and a page starts to load. Then it displays "Error. Page does not exist."


"I called her. It's not a guy. They took the page down."

"But why?"

Elton fingers the knot of his tie. “I persuaded her it wasn't a fair piece of literary journalism."

Review My Work / Silent Echo - First 2024 words
« on: December 10, 2015, 03:57:14 AM »
Grateful for feedback on this.  It's the first 2000 words of a 5000 word short story.  The narration alternating between two characters. Genre is mystery/suspense.


The novel, that hateful object which started it all, had been in the house for almost three months before I noticed it.

As a general rule, my husband and I trusted our daughter to make her own choices about what to read. It was one of the few things we actually agreed on. Let’s face it, eighteen year olds have a hard enough time without hysterical parents censoring their fiction.

Still, I am a mother, with a mother’s curiosity. Tom was out, doing what? I have no idea, and Helen was off with her friends. Her room was spotlessly tidy, the walls covered, not with posters, but touching mementos of her childhood. A collage of family photos from her toddler days, a pennant from a school netball game and, most touchingly of all, her first Brownies uniform, mounted and framed above her bed.

As I crept inside, I was already familiar with most of what I’d find on the bookshelves. She had dipped her toe in the classics (Austen, Lawrence, Hardy) but she seemed to favour suspense, both modern and time honoured (Highsmith, Rendell, Cain and King). My girl liked a story with drive and direction. I approved.

The book was lying on her desk. Modern design, hardcover, but well worn. It had been read multiple times, but in a short period of time. If you work in a library, you get an eye for this sort of thing. The cover depicted the hazy outline of a woman’s body, the face glazed and her back arched as if in the throes of some unspeakable torment or pleasure. “Silent Echo”, “Alison Dureau” was emblazoned beneath.

Novels that look this good are usually produced by a major publishing house, but when I turned it over, I found the logo of ‘Halton Press’, an outfit I’d never heard of. I read the blurb:

“‘Silent Echo is that rarest of things, a page turner which should also be respected as a piece of fine literature.’ Gene Riley, The Guardian.

‘I have emerged from my home for the first time in five days. My confinement is entirely the fault of this wonderful debut novel… From page one Dureau had me in the palm of her hand.’ Sebastian Wolfe, New York Times

‘For once the buzz is justified. By turns creepy, menacing, funny and enthralling. Popular fiction does not get better than this.’ Dean Kominski, The Times”

True, stellar notices by anybody’s reckoning. But how many times do you read this fluff and find stilted hackery inside? I sat down on Alice’s bed and started to read.

For me, that was the beginning of the end.

The familiarity was not immediate. The opening pages of a novel are often the most arresting and Silent Echo, certainly grabbed me. A teenage boy is described following a woman as she walks down The Strand in central London. He tails her into Charing Cross station and watches as she passionately greets an unidentified man. The reader is placed uneasily in league with the youthful pursuer.

It took until page eight before it hit me. A simple line of description as the boy, ‘Brandon’, sits and watches the couple in a Soho bar. “Either she was in love with this guy or he had something over her. Brandon couldn’t decide which would be worse.”

I remembered precisely where I was when I wrote that line. In 1991 I was living in a shared flat in Brent, North London. I was sat on a single bed with a writing pad propped on my lap and a large mug of instant coffee steaming on the table beside me. Music was playing on the radio to drown out the groans of passion from the neighbouring room.

I knew I was writing something good. A character who felt so real and rich. A lonely, degenerate teenager who followed women. A character I could start to rehabilitate, but ultimately would be damned. The plot was barely formed in my head, but I could see him. I could see his face and hear his voice and understand what he yearned for as he lay alone at night. This man-boy was jumping off the page at me.

The eventual disappointment of that period in my life had always haunted me. I wrote three full length novels before I eventually gave up. My limited publishing success amounted to a few short stories in mid-market magazines. The novel manuscripts had prompted a little interest from agents but nothing ever came of it. The sense of failure was still there after all these years.

Now someone was rubbing salt in my wounds.


Where does it come from? This hatred? Don’t be in any doubt, that’s what it‘s become.

We have similar interests, similar ideas about how the world should be organised. People even comment that we look the same, particularly the tiny pinched arch of bridge of our noses. In theory, she should be my soul partner, my best buddy, the one I look to for inspiration and comfort. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When we go out together she has this infuriating habit of constantly touching my arm, as if the physical contact is proof that our relationship, such as it is, is based on more than just a common interest in our home and financial well-being.

She knows, deep down, that I‘m too good for her, that in life’s grand hierarchy, she and I should never have been placed on the same level. If that sounds arrogant, I’m afraid it can’t be helped. The truth is often stark and brutal.

This unspoken inequality is what drives her neediness, her pathetic attempts to reassure herself that everything would be okay if I would only conform to her weak, insipid template.

Here’s a thing: several years ago, I actually tried to kill her. Can you believe that? I spent months thinking it over, planning the detail, trying to see it from the every angle.

We went camping on the South Downs. I’d been out there a few weeks before and identified the rocky hilltop which would do the job. Isolated and quiet, perfect for my needs.

“Just look at this view” I said.

She walked over and stood right next to me. She put her arm around me and hugged, my arms trapped by my sides. I had to wait a full minute before I could extricate myself and slowly move behind her. By the time I’d managed to get into position, another set of walkers had arrived and the chance had passed. She’ll never know how close she came to oblivion.

I‘ve always regretted not finishing the job.


The next time I looked up I was in front of the family PC, downstairs, gripping Silent Echo. I Googled Alison Dureau and found no shortage of sources. A Twitter account which went back two years and chronicled the ups and downs of her writing.

“Some days the words just won’t come #writersblock”

“Wow! Short story published by @litchill . Really proud. Hope you all like it.”

The Twitter account listed her location as “Planet Earth”. Her profile picture showed only a thumbnail version of the Silent Echo cover. The biography was short and to the point.

“Author. Silent Echo is out now.”

Further searches found that she’d had work published, mainly short stories, on a number of Lit websites. The earliest went back twenty months and the most recent was the previous week. Dureau would frequently respond to positive posts in the comments section with gushing thanks. “That is so kind of you thanks”. “Wow. I was really nervous about this one. Huge appreciation for this feedback.”

The stories were ponderous in the main. A woman in the midst of an affair, a man who goes running in a local park. They were well written, but unspectacular. A writer who understands the mechanics of story-telling, without the flair.

The earliest reference to Silent Echo recorded on the internet was a press release:

“Halton Press is excited to announce the forthcoming publication of sensational new suspense novel, Silent Echo in October 2015. The publishing industry has been buzzing with gossip about this incredible debut novel ever since it was circulated last year. Halton Press is delighted that one of the hottest new talents in the writing world has chosen to work with us to share her work….”

On the same day, Alison Dureau Tweeted.

“Sooooo . . . Life ambition complete! My new novel ‘Silent Echo’ is out in June” (Retweets: 372)

I rested my head on the desk, hands shaking uncontrollably. After a while the panic subsided and I was able to think again.

I went up to the attic and looked in the trunk where I kept all the mementos of a former life. In there, still wedged at the bottom, I found what I was looking for. The manuscript for a novel called The Followed, so recently retitled by Alison Dureau.


‘Alison Dureau’ was a name that just popped into my head, but I think it’s rather apt, don’t you? The conventional English ‘Alison’ contrasting with something a little more intriguing. ‘Dureau’ also gives a satisfying nod to my own endurance over the years. A load that very few people would be prepared to carry, I’m sure.

The publishers were hilarious, as I’d expected them to be. It took a little while, but when things finally got moving, they were falling over themselves to get their grubby hands on the book. I made a few phone calls and forwarded a scanned copy of the manuscript to those that seemed most eager. My email was laced with hubris: “Without wishing to sound presumptuous . . . The response I have so far received has been very positive indeed.“

Obviously, I also included some necessary practicalities: “. . . submitting this work on condition of absolute anonymity . . . eventual publication of the novel to be under a nom de plume.”

I hesitated over the Twitter account and all the online fluff. Eventually, when the book becomes a huge hit, people are going to want to know more about the author, flocking to the social media accounts of a person who doesn’t exist. The world is a strange place.

In the end, I did it because I knew it was going to be so much fun. Creating a new identity to replace the real author was a blast. I think I do ‘ aspiring writer’ rather well.


I did my best to respond in a calm and rational way. I went to the local supermarket for the weekly grocery run. When Tom got home from work, I decided to keep things to myself, just whilst I decided on a plan of action. It wasn’t as if we were particularly close anymore. He was probably the last person I would have confided in.

I did not say a word when I saw Helen reading the book later that evening – curled up on the sofa engrossed in a novel that her own mother had written. I waited.

I was working three days a week at the library then. The next day I went to work, chatted with my colleagues and got on with my life. For the first time, I noticed Silent Echo on the fiction shelves: Five hardback copies. Someone knew this was going to be a hit.

On the third day I rang Halton Press and made an appointment to see the editor of Silent Echo, a Mr. Daryl Plessis. I lied and said I was a lawyer who wanted to discuss some delicate legal issues arising from the content of the book. This got precisely the desired reaction and an appointment was booked for the following morning.

When I arrived they were sweetness and light.

“Ms. Harkness. Please come in and sit down.”

I sat and assessed Plessis and the lawyer. He looked smooth, over-groomed and overpaid. Thick brown hair just long enough to flick his collar. Designer glasses and a clunky silver watch. I would never have trusted this man to edit my work...

Modified to correct word count. Please use a true W?C when posting.

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