The Dreyfuss Trilogy

Changeling * Lucifer's Stepdaughter * Moonchild

Contact Morgan

Monday, 29 October 2012

Lucifer's Stepdaughter...a tease.

Well, less a tease, than some hope.  I know you're all getting very fed up with the delays.  I trully do know that, as you are telling me such.  But I also know you are all being very considerate of the reasons, and just simply need the rest of the story.

I do get it.  I'd quite like it out of my head, as it stands.  :-)

But something nice to tell you.  Whilst Lucifer's is just like Changeling - an epic novel - it has several distinct parts.  Each one is titled for the lead vampire in that section.  Today, I finalised out the sections and where the narrative falls in each section, and I thought I'd let you see them.  actually, I thought you'd like to see them.

So here we go, the six main sections and personalities of Helene's journey to find herself and her fate in the vampire world:

The Book Thief

The Etruscan

The Devil's Whore

The Lord of the Rivers

The Clansman

The Vampire Maker

If you ask here, in the comments, for a wee bit more detail, I may let you have some.  But only here, I'm only saying it once.

There, happier now?  

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Sample Sunday October 28th

The final post of October and of taking part in eFestival of Words Hallowe'en Horror event.  Which means the coupon for 25% off Fragments runs out this week.  As the 5000 words sample HERE is of The Fool, I thought I'd go with a good thing and give you the next main sequence of The Fool below.  So unless you've already read the excerpt on the efestival site, start HERE FIRST.  

The Fool introduces Maryam Michael who is one of my favourite characters ever.  She fell into my mind fully formed and came with a long and interesting biography.  Which will unfold slowly over the remaining stories of the Maryam Michael Mysteries, each named after a Major Arcana in the Tarot Deck.  The stories will be sequential in terms of the titles, but the narratives in each will move around Maryam's life.  She starts off here below in her sixties, but there is a lot of back story there, all the way back to her childhood.

I'll be removing all excerpts from the three stories in Fragments off the web for a few months after this week, so you've been warned, if you want more for free, read up on them this week!

I like to give my major characters some time to develop, so son't let the slow and steady start fool you: this is a gripping occult thriller.  Enjoy.


    Barham paid her the compliment of picking up a phone first; delivering orders that she had the name of any Muslim officers on duty on her desk within the next five minutes.  She then dialled again and demanded to know if they had any Muslim crime scene technicians on the books at all.  Given it was now late at night, Maryam had no idea whom she had called, but the question didn’t appear to faze them.
            Barham escorted Maryam to a nearby posh office with an en suite to allow her to freshen up, aware she had come straight from the train station.  Maryam took the opportunity to phone ahead to Peckham and inform Father Scott that she would be unlikely to arrive at the priest house for several hours.  She did not inform him this was because she’d be next door in the Church itself.
            Before Maryam left in the squad car, an eager young detective was added to be her main liaison with the Met.  DC Shahrukh Iqbal appeared to have been going off duty when he was called in to be her escort; he very much looked like he’d not long finished a hard shift.  She wondered if this would be his first murder case, his sudden appearance caused a few raised eyebrows with the uniformed officers who were driving them.  Maryam understood why Barham had been promoted so young: she learned fast.

            As they approached the Church of the Mother of All Sorrows in the dark and the pouring rain, Maryam could see the police tape around the main door and the police officer standing guard.  Iqbal held the car door open for her as they sprinted over the path, up the stairs and into the vestibule as fast as they could.   The uniformed officer on the steps had opened the doors for them as they approached.  The Church was probably over a hundred years old and spoke of Pugin and classic Gothic Revival; vaulting stone arches and stained glass windows.  Highly ornate carving and roof painting above the altar and a huge Christ crucified hung central in domed space.  The bright light of the crime scene lanterns and the police tape over the entire sanctuary were painful to experience, as was the smell.  Blood: dead dried blood.  It mingled with the scents of old wood, dust, and incense.  Maryam hesitated looking down on the death at the end of the aisle, imagining how it had looked with the corpse upon the altar.   A blasphemous mirror image of what hovered above it.  How it had smelled when all that blood was fresh?
            ‘Have you been here before, Detective Iqbal?’
            ‘Actually, I have.’
            Maryam looked at him askance.  ‘I thought...?’
            ‘That I’d just been assigned?  I have.  I’ve not been here, at this murder scene, but I’ve been in this Church, during orientation.’
            ‘Ah.  I see.  You did a course on multi-faith policing in Peckham?’
            ‘In the Metropolitan area, I visited here then.’
            ‘So you know Father Jones?’
            ‘No.  I met with a Father Edwards and a Bishop Atkins.’
            ‘Did Inspector Barham know this?’
            ‘Not ‘till about an hour ago, no.  And please call me Shahrukh.’
            ‘As-Saamu alaykum, Shahrukh.  I am Maryam.’ She did not offer to shake hands.
            ‘Walaiakum salam, Maryam.’  Even in his English accent, one of privilege and wealth, Shahrukh managed to pronounce her name with the correct emphasis.  She looked forward to him speaking it aloud in front of Fred Atkins, especially if Fred continued to refer to her as ‘Marie’ in front of him.  
            Maryam indicated that Shahrukh should follow her as she walked down the long central aisle heading for the sanctuary.
            ‘Then you’ll know of the import of this.  Have you been informed of all of it?’
            ‘Nope.  Inspector Barham just asked me to accompany you and to assist you...’
            ‘And to not let me touch anything...’
            ‘And to not let you touch anything... then to escort you to the other house, then to go home.  She said I’d get a full briefing when I came in for duty in the morning.’
            ‘Wise, very wise.  Although I dare say it will be boring for you what I’m about to do.’
            ‘Why, what are you about to do?’

            And nothing was what she did, although it was a very active nothing.  With Shahrukh by her side, she walked every inch of the church that was not sealed off by tape.  She went into the empty confessional boxes on the gospel side of the church.  She sat in each of them, on both sides of the screen, and did nothing for five minutes.  She knelt on the penitent’s side and sat in the confessor’s.  She avoided the confessional that was sealed off by police tape.  She walked out of the nave back into the vestibule and took the stairs up to the choir area and sat there.  She asked the detective to walk her out of the Church and into the Sacristy at the back via the outside door, set to one side just for the priests to use.  This ensured she didn’t walk through the taped area of the altar.  The outside door was tucked to the side and had a large steel sheet over it.  She spent ten minutes studying the interior of the small room.  When they returned to the nave, she sat at the front pew and looked at the altar for about twenty minutes. 
            She’d spent about two hours in the Church before hunger and tiredness started to intrude.  She asked Shahrukh to walk her through the rain, and the graveyard, to the parish house.  He advised her to only leave the house with an umbrella in her hands in the morning as there were a few stalwart local photographers snapping away from the street during the day.
              Another uniformed officer stood watch at the door there, who nodded to her as she was allowed in by a very anxious Father Scott. 
            Inside the hallway, the smell of an old parish house met them: dust, age, furniture polish, fried onions, and cigarette smoke.  The days of the smell of cabbage were gone.  Maryam doubted that young Father Jones smoked, but the walls gave evidence that Father Edwards, who had been in residence for decades, did so with gusto.  Father Scott took Maryam’s coat and indicated she should go through to the formal parlour.
            ‘I need to freshen up and change my clothing, Father Scott; please show me to my room first.  Could I ask you to make some tea and toast please? I’m quite hungry.’
            Father Scott nodded and they tip-toed past the sleeping Bishop Atkins, pegged out in a chair by an old gas fire in the parlour, and crept up the stairs.  On the landing, one room showed light under the door sill and Maryam thought that would be Father Jones’s.  All others were dark.  The floor boards creaked as they walked to the end of the hallway and through the farthest door.
            It was a visiting priest’s room, as she had expected, clean and bare.  It had old linoleum and a faded rug, both from the 1950s, a dark wood bedside table of indeterminate age and design.  The lamp and radio on the table were old, but the bed and bedding were modern and looked new.  There was a crucifix on the wall above the bed and a couple of portraits of the Sacred Heart and the Virgin Mother & Child on the walls.  A desk sat with a small television sitting on it, unplugged and forlorn.  A jug of water and a single glass.  A wardrobe and a chest of drawers finished the room.  Her cases had been laid carefully to one side.
            ‘There is a guest bathroom next door.  It is not en suite, but no one else will use it.’
            Maryam nodded. 
            ‘Would you like some soup?’
            ‘Oh yes, please, that would be fine.’
            ‘There is real coffee.’
            Her face lit up.  ‘Oh, that would be wonderful, thank you.’
            She longed to have a shower, but had no idea how the plumbing in this old building would react, no need to wake everyone with creaking and groaning.  She washed herself down quickly and dressed in pyjamas and a mandarin collared, floor length house coat.  It was only partially a defence against Atkins: after what she’d seen she needed to feel safe and comfortable.
            Father Scott, who turned out to be called Andrew but preferred Andy, had warmed through a tin of tomato soup and sliced into a crusty loaf of bread.  Tinned soup in the UK was most acceptable and she ate it gratefully.  The coffee was almost good and she enjoyed it thoroughly.  Andy was a most generous and understanding companion who understood the value in silence.  It was something she appreciated about dealing with the clergy: the understanding that silence is often its own defined space and not always an uncomfortable absence.
            It was about three a.m. when Fred blundered into the kitchen, having woken with a crick in his neck.  One look at the tiredness in Maryam’s face and he ushered both himself and Andy out the door, saying they would return in the early afternoon.  Her smile of thanks to him was totally genuine, as he’d restored her memory that he was a kind and caring man who just happened to be good at politics and enjoyed being a power player.  She felt chagrined for her less than charitable thoughts of him and scolded herself for her own weakness.
            Then she hauled herself into bed with a grateful sigh.  She’d been up for almost twenty four hours and her head ached with the weight of the day’s events.  Sleep came swiftly.

            The dawn filled the room with cold light.  The revving of motors and hooting of horns crowded out the bird song.  The rain slashed the panes sideways.  Maryam slept.
            When she rose five hours later, her body was rested and her mind still held a little of the dreaming quality of the spaces in-between.  She sat at the desk and shuffled her Tarot cards and placed them out on the desk.  In her mind she was seeing the layout of the chapel as she’d walked through it.  She placed the cards on the desk in roughly the same positions as the areas that had interested her, finishing with the altar itself.  Only once she completed the pattern she had in her mind, did she look down at the lay. 
            The altar card sprung out at her: The Fool.  Card zero.  The young man off on adventures, too keen and new and full of the love of life to notice the danger he is in.  The Sacristy had the most useful card to her, a reversed King of Swords.  It suggested to her that someone was seeking to make most ill, under the guise of something else.  Her senses had resonated with something in that room and the lay of the cards had reflected that.   The card at the confessional, the reversed Hierophant, rang out a clear warning to her: misinformation, distortion, power achieved from withholding information.  Bad advice.  Not a card you want to see in connection with giving up on sin and the granting of forgiveness.  With no repentance there can be no salvation. 
            There were a lot of positives in the lay, including the World, card twenty-one.  A good ending.  Or perhaps, with the Fool there, central, a new beginning that would end well.  Interestingly, the card by the vestibule, where the police stood, was the Knight of Swords.  Swords were so apt, given the circumstances, and looking at the cards, she looked forward to both meeting Father Jones, and working further with DC Shahrukh Iqbal.
            She cleared the lay away and slipped her cards into her shoulder bag.  Then she spent an hour in prayer and a further hour in meditation.  Around her, people were moving about the house with hushed tones and delicate treads, no doubt trying not to wake her.  The banging from the pipes as she showered both confirmed her suspicions and served to alert them to her being awake, so when she entered the kitchen, she was greeted by the smell of fresh coffee, and frying bacon.
            A startled Father Jones jumped up from the kitchen table and smiled at her, offering her his hand, which she accepted with a smile.  She was dumbstruck for a moment by his size and beauty: his photo had done him no justice.  He was easily six foot two, perhaps six three.  Both his hands enveloped hers with a gentle but firm hold; long, strong fingers with calluses that betrayed much reading, writing, and if she was not wrong, the playing of the guitar.   His eyes were hazel with green flecks, a startling contrast with the dark caramel of his skin.  His Welsh accent, cultured and enchanting in one.  His physique had the sharp and supple tones of the professional athlete.  When he smiled you felt your heart lift.  It was no wonder the graffiti he’d been attacked with had concentrated on his sexuality.  Wyn Jones shone with energy and humanity in a very warm and real body of flesh.  The bruise on his cheek and the slight cut on his lip only served to highlight his perfection.  Poor man, how he must have had to fight to make others believe his vocation was pure. 
            ‘Please, Father Jones, be seated.’ 
            ‘Please call me Wyn, sis...’ His voice trailed off as he drew back in his mistake.  It was one she was used to hearing from the clergy and she smiled back at him.
            ‘Maryam is just fine, Wyn.’ She held her hand outstretched in his grasp, for just a moment, to reassure him of the honesty of her response.  She then approached Father Edwards, who was pouring her a mug of coffee. She extended her hand.
            ‘Maryam Michael, Father, from the Office of the Arcane.  Sorry to meet you in such dreadful circumstances.’
            Father Edwards was over eighty years old and his body was carrying the burden of the murder badly: he looked defeated, wasted in the pain of it all.   Maryam felt his age, his anxiety, his desperate need for the nightmare to be over.  His face was grey and his middle and index fingers stained tobacco yellow.  Priests did not, in general, allow this to happen as they dispensed the host from those fingers to the mouths of the faithful.  It spoke volumes to her of what was going on inside.  He nodded and avoided her outstretched hand by giving her the cup of coffee.  He turned and sat down at the table.  A tobacco tin sat on it and he played with it.  Maryam sat and Wyn jumped up again to make her a sandwich of white sliced British bread and fried bacon.  She thanked him, cut it in half and made herself eat half of that.  The discussion slowly turned their attention from her, to the circumstances, and she was able to dispense with the tiny bites she was taking and concentrate on coffee.  Much more coffee!    
            By the time they had introduced themselves to each other and swapped enough banal pleasantries to get them over not talking about the murder, Inspector Barham had arrived with Shahrukh and a crime scene team in tow.  On their arrival, Wyn went to his room and Father Edwards, who had not offered his forename to anyone, although she knew it was Peter, retired to sit outside in a somewhat dilapidated greenhouse, and smoke.  The rain pouring down on the panes obscured him from view.  Before she and Barham discussed the case, Maryam asked permission to have Father Edwards moved to a different address.  Barham agreed and Maryam phoned Father Scott on the mobile number he’d given her.  He was en route with Atkins.  She requested a respite place be found for Edwards in another parish house, perhaps even at Westminster Cathedral.  After all, they had the apartment they had prepared for her?
            Barham and she discussed the case, with Maryam reporting she had no observations, but requesting that she be allowed to direct the crime team in some additional tests.  Barham was happy with this and they went over to the Church.  Maryam could see Wyn Jones looking down on them from his bedroom window.  She pushed her sympathy to the side and concentrated on being calm and empty, open and flexible.  In her heart she knew what Barham did, that Wyn had no connection with this death at all.  Her head wasn’t so sure they were going to be able to prove that.

            In the Church, Maryam asked if the tabernacle interior had been fully checked, not only for fingerprints, but for fluids.  The crime officers stated it had only been dusted for prints, which she had known, as she’d seen the dusting powder all over the screen and door.  When tested, it proved positive for blood, a tiny amount on the base of the interior. Barham asked what had led her to suspect this and they sat and discussed it with Shahrukh and another detective named Gatto, as the lab technicians catalogued.
            ‘It’s a sacred space.  If the person who committed the murder was also trying to reinforce the sacrilege within Catholic, or Christian, tradition the way they had with Islamic, then it made sense to desecrate the area the sacred host was kept in.’
            ‘Then why not make it obvious?’  Barham and Gatto were taking the lead, with Iqbal listening hard.  Maryam addressed Barham who had asked the question.
            ‘I’m sure the secondary intent is to cause problems between the communities.  Being seen to actively defile the tabernacle at the same time as defiling the Qur’an would put both communities in the same position.  The desecration of the Islamic element is being made more visible than that of the Christian one.’
            ‘Why not desecrate a host?’  This was from Gatto, who shared the same accent as Barham; both natives of this area of London.
            ‘These days there is no sacred host kept in an empty, locked church.  There are usually only unblessed communion wafers.’
            Gatto nodded.  ‘Of course.’  Barham looked at him, and he continued. ‘The priest blesses the host at each service, each mass.  If there is any left over, he swallows them himself so none of the sacred host is wasted.’
            ‘And the host is more sacred in a Christian church, than say the pages of a bible would be?’
            ‘In a Catholic church, yes.  The host is the physical body of Christ.’
            Barham looked confused.  It was Iqbal who spoke up, surprising everyone.
            ‘In the Roman Catholic Church, the bread and wine of the communion are changed by the prayers of the priest into the actual body and blood of their saviour, our prophet, Jesus.  In other Christian communities it represents such, a symbol of it, not the actual thing.  Here, in this Church, it’s treated as if it is actually his body, his blood.’
            Barham looked to Maryam, who nodded.
            ‘Detective Iqbal has said it succinctly.  Ripping up a bible in a Catholic Church would be annoying, but not outrageous or seen as a severe attack.  Polluting the tabernacle with the blood of a murdered man is in line with the offence of ripping and bloodying the Qur’an.’
            ‘So it confirms your thoughts that this is a serious attack on both religions?’
            ‘On this Church, and its beliefs, there has been a serious attack.  I’m still convinced the attacking of Islamic principle is about making more of the offences to this one.’
            ‘The multi-faith leaders have been informed this morning.  Myself and DC Iqbal have an appointment with the Imam of the local mosque this afternoon.’
            ‘I would be interested in attending that, if you would allow it.  But first I must ask what you’ve done to find the weapon used in this murder.’
            ‘The weapon?’
            ‘Yes, the knife, although I suspect, as does your surgeon, that from the writing and the cuts it is a scalpel.  The report says nothing has been found.’
            This time it was Sergeant Gatto who took the lead, taking out a note pad, a very old fashioned and reassuring notepad, and read from it.
            ‘Yesterday, the entire Church and the graveyard were searched thoroughly, including with a metal detector.  Detectors were quite useless in most of the Church, given the nails in all the wood, but it was swept through.  The drains were checked and the main sewer is being examined today, on all the lead points.  The street outside, the bins and post boxes, have been checked and there are ongoing searches in all the local gardens.  The bin collection was the day before the murder, so most of the bins and skips out there are relatively empty, so that’s been quite easy.  So far, we have nothing.’
            ‘Have you searched the parish house?’
            Barham took over again.
            ‘No, we haven’t.  Father Jones was taken to the police station and processed after he’d reported finding the body.  He stayed with the body and phoned on his mobile phone and the CCTV evidence confirms this.  After processing, he was returned to the parish house and asked to stay there.  We haven’t had the manpower to search the premises yet, as the rain has made searching outside areas a priority.  The Bishop has given permission for such a search.’
            ‘The Sacristy was completely searched?’
            Gatto took that in his stride, confirming Maryam’s suspicions that he’d seen the inside of a Catholic Church quite a few times in his childhood; for all that he wasn’t practising now.
            ‘Yes, it was walked through and nothing found, no evidence it had been broken into.  It was locked until we had Father Edwards fetch a key, as Father Jones was still down the station.’
            ‘What’s your point, Miss Michael? What’s so special about this Sacristy room?’  Barham appeared to be intrigued rather than suspicious.
            ‘It’s just that if I were going to desecrate a Church and I knew enough about the Church as this person appears to do, I’d have spent a few moments in there.  Further, if I wanted to desecrate the host without being noticed, and hide a scalpel where it was unlikely to be found immediately, it would be in the sink in there down the plug hole.’
            ‘But we’ve explained that we checked the drains.’
            ‘The sink in there isn’t connected to the drains, Inspector.  It’s a sacrarium.  It’s completely separate from the normal sewage system.  It’s only used to wash anything that a sacred, consecrated host could have come into contact with.  It washes straight down into soil.’

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sample Sunday October 21st

The Judderman
The cold is starting to bite hard here in Scotland.  Frost is on the cars in the morning and the heating dials are being turned up.  It really is the coldest, wettest Hallowe'en season we've seen fort a long time.

I've been very happy to watch the numbers of people hitting the links to Efestival of Words, Hallowe'en Horror event tick by.  When you take part in an event with other writers, many of whom are a lot more read than you are, you get nervous. It's been nice to see my excerpts get a good hit rate too!  So thank you.

Below is another excerpt from Sleet Dreams, the opening of the story is here.  Again, there is a coupon for 25% off Fragments for the month of October, over here, and lots of giveaways from authors taking part in the horror promotion, here.  There is also a 5000 word excerpt from The Fool, and occult thriller novella, on the link.  Enjoy!


     One advantage to snow and ice was that trawling for decent food was a lot easier: nature’s fridge, she sometimes thought of it.  But constant contact with frozen metal wore the soul down and ate into any warmth you might have.  Her rucksack held a good supply of zip lock bags, so she could salvage what she could safely when she could.  Keeping hands warm and dry was crucial and she’d learned to always use a thick pair of rubber household gloves over her woolen ones.  Useful in pelting rain too, as it kept her hands dry no matter how much the rest of her dripped.
            Wet days, or days with thick snow, were spent on her regular route of thrift stores and Goodwill.  She was always searching for a warmer pair of boots or a thicker coat.  She never scrimped on ice grips: she could not afford a fall.  A sprain would be bad enough, a broken bone would end her independence, she was sure.  She’d be in the spiral down to the shelters, and then the gutters, before you could blink.
            Her driving force, her mantra, was if that she got through one more winter and kept on saving, she would one day be able to get on a bus and move back down south.  Then she’d be in clover, then she’d be able to relax, and maybe get another dog once she’d found a decent place to live.  She’d almost done it four years back, then Bertie had got ill on her and the bills on trying to keep him alive had wiped her out.  Every day, as she moved through the alleyways, the sight of another unfortunate accompanied by their dog pierced her heart.  Like the Ice Queen she’d once read about as a child, she felt there was ice in her eyes, moving into her bloodstream and freezing her soul.  Sometimes when she woke up in the night, she still reached for his hairy hide to stroke and would wonder why he wasn’t there.
            One day, one day, she’d be in the south and not have to worry, and she’d find another mutt to love and keep safe.
            A really bad day, a terrible day, was a day when it was too fierce outside to go out at all.  When no matter what she did, or where she might go, she’d be returning colder, hungrier, than when the day started.  Those days would be spent in, aware that every moment the TV ran, the light burned, for every zing of the microwave... she was using up her precious electricity.  She lived in terror of being stuck in the room without any electricity at all.  To be cold, and hungry, unable to heat a cup of water to sip down whilst sucking on cheap candy.  To be sitting in the dark waiting for her next pension draw.  It had never happened yet: she forced herself to add extra to the card all year round to get her through the winter.  And she maintained her routine at all costs, during the snow, when she could.  It was the stick she used to beat herself out into the streets every day, while keeping her sights on the carrot in her head: of one day getting on that bus south.  And on days where the cold had driven out that thought there was always the promise of summer: it would come.  It always came: just as it always left.
            Today was going to be a bad day.  All she had was some peanut butter scrapings and noodles.  It had been too wet, for too many days.  She’d three outside coats in all, as drying out a wet one was painfully slow with little heat.  Each were battered, bruised, and patched but didn’t smell and did a fair amount of work in keeping her from dropping down dead with cold, or being refused entry to the mall or the library.  But all were still damp.  She spent ages sifting through in her mind which one to go with.  Outside, the rain was turning to snow and driving into the windows horizontally.  Sleet.  She hated sleet the worse.  Snow was warmer than half snow, half rain, she was convinced.  Sleet hit you physically, like little bullets, far more raw and draining than hailstones.  Hailstones bounced off you.  Sleet clung to you, drenched you, drained you, shivered into your veins.  Sleet soaked through and down faster than anything.  She looked out at the slushy streets and the people wading through to get to work, to get home from work, to do anything to get off the street at all costs.
            If it had been just after social security day, as opposed to a couple of days before, she’d had stayed in, holding onto the last of the morning’s heat doggedly, spinning out the hours until the evening bounty arrived.  Or maybe gone to the Laundromat and relished the sultry rush of steam laden air, as she worked through her few clothes methodically.  Then rushed back to watch TV and hide, holding the warm clothes in a bag as protection against the cold as she dived back to her room.  But it was not to be.  If she stayed in the spinning disk on the meter might betray her.  ‘Sides, she needed food and had empty pockets.
            She wrapped her feet in three layers of socks and two layers of plastic bags.  She really needed to find new boots, with intact soles, but soles were thin by the time she got her feet into any shoes, and the streets long and hard.  Walking kept up her wiry strength, kept her heart pumping and her bones from growing too fragile.  Walking was life, not just for the scavenging that could be achieved en route.
            She took a deep breath before launching out the door, pulling warm air into her lungs and praying it would hold there for as long as it took to get to somewhere else.

            It was, without doubt, the worst day of her life.  Nothing had worked on any level.  It was dark again, and she was wet, frozen, shivering, and hungry.  She’d been so cold that when she’d walked past the filthy lump of rags that was Dolly, and Dolly had offered the usual swig of something foul and very alcoholic, she’d almost been tempted.  Almost allowed herself to feel the flood of warmth as whatever gut rot it was rolled down her throat and set fire to her belly.  Almost.  Her hand had stayed, and then retreated, and she’d smiled at Dolly and moved on, as she always did.  Dolly swore at her heels for being a stuck up bitch, as she always did.  But next time they’d see each other, they’d smile, and Dolly would offer the bottle.  And if she had it, Maggie would hand Dolly some food.  It was a miracle to her that Dolly somehow kept going.  No doubt she was so foul the rats were scared to nibble on her.  Maggie knew that she wasn’t so foul that some of the equally foul street men didn’t woo her for her favors.  How else was a girl to get ethyl alcohol?  There but for the grace of God...

            It was a long way back to her room.  Even now, crying silently under her breath with the cold and the effort to keep moving, Maggie couldn’t face returning.  If she went too early, the room would be cold.  She’d be locked in there waiting out the moment the radiators sprang to life.  It could sometimes take forever, it seemed, and it unsettled her badly.  Brought her hard up against the walls of her life.  No, she must get another hour, maybe two, out of today.  Somehow.  She had to eke out some comfort, somewhere, before she went back.  She had to walk into the welcoming heat, and take advantage of every scrap of it: she had to stay away just a bit longer.
            The wind picked up and drove sleet into her eyes; she stumbled, and gripped the walls of an alleyway, holding onto the corner to keep her upright.  Across the road, someone fell over, and a couple of bulky figures moved forward to help.  One of the helpers went down.  The wind shrieked in her face, bringing with it the raw fury of the lakes that funneled all that cold into the canyons of the city: she had to get out of this onslaught.
            She picked her way down the alleyway, trying to find the spot where the wind no longer tore at you, the walls calming the demon.  The grabbing hands dropped and she was out of the wind’s assault.  The sleet was hammering down on her now, from above, still lethal, still deadly, but no longer being driven into her sideways.  She slumped back against the walls, no longer bothered about how filthy they might be, and tucked behind the corner of a dumpster.  A moment: she just needed a moment, and then she’d give in, try and sneak on a bus and go home.  Wrap her hands around a mug of hot water with a stock cube in it and dream of summer, watching something on the box.  Wait until she’d dried, and then thawed on the radiators.  Get herself into bed while the heat was still in the air, then settle down to listen to her radio and read a book.
            As she stood to prepare herself for the battle back out into the wind, she noticed something gray and furry, back in the shadows.  Was that a dog?  Alone, abandoned?  She moved forward.  Oh dear god, please don’t let it be a poor dead thing, abandoned here in the cold and muck.  She approached the mound cautiously; like humans, dogs were animals.  Animals required caution until you had the measure of them.  The closer she got, the less it looked like a dog, the more it looked like... a wolf?  Here?  It was hard to see, between the shadows, the falling sleet, and her tiredness.  She called to the animal under her breath, making reassuring noises.  The sleet was starting to settle in slush piles around the fur... surely it would move out of that puddle that would soon form ice, if it could...?
            She’d had to kneel down, trying to ignore the stabbing pain in her knees as they soaked in the cold.  Her hand reached forward to touch the thick pelt, but she couldn’t feel anything through her layers of gloves.  She stripped her right hand free, and touched the pelt again, gently trying to shake whatever it was awake.  Warmth flooded into her fingers, over her palms, as she connected with the fur.  Whatever was here, wasn’t dead, that was for sure.
            Shaking it brought no response.  She took her other glove off, and tried to search around to find the head, the legs, anything, that would make sense of this shape.  Her hands moved under into the slush and little daggers stabbed into her.  Ice was forming well under there.  A touch of panic prompted her to grab what she thought might be the ruff of the animal and pull it back up and out, trying to unfurl it.  It gave too easily and she fell back onto the sludge of the alleyway.  The fur had come with her, and ended up on her: it was a fur coat.  She was holding the thick collar and the lining had been revealed up to the skies; the fur side was touching down on her body.  Her butt was stinging, with both the impact and the puddle of sludge she’d landed in.  She stared at the coat in her hands, then panicked and jumped to her feet as well as she could: the coat lining was getting wet.  Without a thought, she stood and whipped the coat over her back, like a cloak: why was there a thick warm coat, lying in the gutter..?
            The warmth, the unctuous slide of heat that smoothed out over her shoulders distracted her.  The fur repelled the sleet, the cold.   She felt the chill lift and her body relax.  Even her frozen backside was warmed through.  This is why they raised minks... to keep out the thick cold.  This is why they suffocated them by putting their heads in jars... to keep the fur intact...
            She’d never bought fur, ever.  Not only had she never been able to afford it, she’d been repelled by the thought: repulsed.  Now, as the seasonal enemy that relentlessly assaulted her was beaten back and conquered... she shivered her arms into the coat, snuggled it round her.  The collar wrapped up over her head, in a hood.  The coat went past her knees.  The thick sleeves engulfed her hands.  Only her feet stayed cold but with the rest of her warm, that was bearable.  She closed her eyes and wrapped her hands tightly across her chest.
            She no longer felt cold!  She felt warm... she felt dry...she felt safe.
            She stood, her eyes closed, drinking it in.
            Her feet asked her to move.
            She opened her eyes and was a little transfixed to find herself still in the alleyway.  The sleet was still slamming down but it simply didn’t penetrate the coat at all.  Her feet, however, still stood in freezing sludge.  She looked down and shuffled them, urging the blood warming in her core to pump down and get her feet moving.  Her feet responded, and the urgency to move diminished.
            As she brought her gaze back up, she looked on what the coat had covered.  What the coat had been hiding.
            Her feet jumped back as her mouth let out a puff of silent, strangled air.  It was a body: a woman’s body.
            Maggie stared.  It was not the first body she’d seen, and she supposed it would not be her last.  It was, however, the most pathetic body she had ever seen.  The woman was face down, her dark hair matted over her head.  Nothing of her face could be seen.  She was skin and bone.  Like an old chicken stripped for broth making.  The hand that lay dead and cold, so very cold, so very blue, on the rat droppings and rubbish the wind collected in the back of the alleyway, was tiny, shrunken: like a sick child’s.  Ankles showed above canvas sneakers and below the hem of her pants: wasted.  Maggie was sure that if she pulled back the sweater she could see there would be track marks all over her arms.  A crack whore, no doubt.  A body that wasted, a life that ruined, would rarely fall so far, without serious addiction.  The sneakers were worn and split.  Maggie pulled the coat tightly around her, tears dripping out of her eyes.  To die like this, to die alone, face down in dog shit, in this cold... it was her worst nightmare.
            The coat warmed her through. 
            The coat.
            How could this woman have such a coat as this?

            The contrast between the clothing still on the woman – the body – and the coat Maggie now wore could not have been greater.  Everything about the body screamed poverty and neglect.  Perhaps she had stolen it...?
            Thoughts of the body, and how she might, or might not, have lived her life, was scaring the bejeezers out of Maggie.  She needed to go get help, and bring someone to this poor wretch, and get her out of the alleyway.  She turned, and headed back out to the main street. 
            The wind picked at her within a few feet and the sleet once more slammed in horizontally.  Or it tried to.  With her muffler over her mouth and the hood covering her forehead and shielding her eyes, Maggie found she could stand against it.  She was aware it was there, but it didn’t scour into her.  She pushed herself into the wind and back up the street.  She should find a telephone and call the police.  She’d left her gloves back at the body and she pushed her hands into the deep pockets of the coat, wondering what they might hold.  They held warmth: delicious, delirious, warmth.  She moved down the street so quickly she was across the main road and skirting the park in a few moments.  There were phones at the bottom corner, by the bus lines.  As she walked, she felt the niggling weight of her rucksack: the coat felt tight and bulky across it and a cold draught slipped up the back of her legs at each stride – the shape of the bag causing the coat to billow out.  She put up with it, as she couldn’t bear the thought of taking the coat off to unhook her back pack.

            Maggie stared at the phone.  Even though taking her gloveless hands out of the pockets and picking up that plastic handle would hurt... she should do it.  She should call the police and ask for aid.  She should.
            Once she’d done that, however, there would be a whole world of standing around in the cold wet terror of the street. She might miss the heat going on... if she phoned and didn’t say who she was, there would be questions.  The police would ask who’d been about at the time of the call.  She looked up and down.  Plenty of people on the way to and from work, fighting the elements as they plodded on.  People standing at the bus lines beside her.
            People were already looking at her coat.  At the comfort it was affording whoever wore it, under that hood.
            A spasm of agony flamed through her body.  Oh my goodness, she’d stolen a coat off a poor dead woman!  She was standing in the coat and that poor woman was back there, alone, in the sleet and ice...
            She stumbled back up towards the alleyway.  She needed to go back, give the woman her coat back, and then phone the police.
            Give it back.
            Everything in her rebelled: she couldn’t.  She just couldn’t.
            She couldn’t go back to being cold.
            She stood at the mouth of the alleyway, wondering at the feeling of not being cut in two by the wind; feeling her soul cut in two instead.
            She turned away from the alley, faced into the wind and began the slog home.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sample Sunday October 14th

Although it's Fragments that's taking part in Efestival of Words 'Trick or Treat' event, I can't let Hallowe'en month pass without letting you have some vampire tricks, so an excerpt from Changeling, whereby Dreyfuss and Joanne square down at the moment of the reveal... and you have to wonder what you'd do in the same circumstances.

Psychological torture ahead, trigger warning... Joanne has been a prisoner for almost a year and knows only that Dreyfuss is insane.

They very rarely ate breakfast in the dining room.  Either they did not share the meal, or they ate on the breakfast bar in the kitchen.  He had laid out the breakfast ware formally, and placed bacon and eggs on her plate.  She was moving them around her plate, with just enough being consumed to avert comment.  Not that anything was going to avert comment today.

‘I am pleased that you are feeling better this morning.

‘Yes, thank you.  I’m much better.’

‘Good, it was unfortunate, that you became so… indisposed.’

She managed to get another scrap of bacon in her mouth, taking a drink of water to try and drown it down. 

‘Joanne, I have been meaning to have a talk with you.  Perhaps now would be a good time?’  He sat back, settling into the chair, the meal dismissed. 

She adjusted her own pose exactly, sitting in quiet attention, moving her body slightly to angle more to him.

‘First of all, let me say that I do understand your... reticence… in the matter of your time here with me…’

She tuned out everything, but listening.  If he was pontificating, best not to let something important go unheard.  She found if she focussed tightly on his lips, and how they formed his words, the rest of the room would fade from her view.  Slowly blink out to nothingness, and dim in colour and detail.  Something she often worked on when left on her own for any length of time: how long to stare at a fixed point long enough, and watch the room fade from her peripheral vision.

‘…do you agree?’

‘Yes Jonathan, I do agree.’

Best just to repeat his phrase.  If she embellished, or reduced, he could get testy.  Testy?

‘Good, then I am happy for this to be out of our way.  You really do have to accept this.’

She was nonplussed.  He’d not mentioned whatever it was she’d have to accept.  Had he…?  He was looking at her for a response.  She felt her way along the words, slowly.

‘I will, of course, accept anything you say, Jonathan.’ 

‘Excellent!  I should never have doubted you.’ 

He really was acting totally out of sorts.  She clamped down on following that thought, using her energy to keep focussed on his lips.

‘It is important you accept my true nature utterly.  You should, after all, feel privileged.  It is a rare, and exceptional honour, to know a vampire.’

The room exploded back into colour and detail.  So sharp, and so fast was the change, she felt she’d heard a shock wave.  Her breathing was faster, her palms sweating up.  She ordered her body to remain still, whilst she sought to bring her focus back purely to him. 

Her eyes had flared so wonderfully... the pupils expanding so quickly, it was if they were devouring the light.  This was much more like it…

He leaned forward towards her. 

‘I am content that you understand so well.’  He timed the pause to her heartbeat, moving into the silence as her body tipped into panic.  She would taste wonderful!  He reached out his hand.  ‘Give me your hand.’

She instinctively raised her left hand and offered it to him.  She didn’t like that this is how her body had reacted, but equally, she didn’t want to argue with it.  She was still trying to work out some way to hear, and process, his madness.  She had worked very hard, at refusing him the label of mad.  It wasn’t a label she could cope with.  Faced with such evidence of his own delusion, there was little escape: he was mad and she, in turn was utterly doomed. 
He grasped her hand firmly, pulling her into his space more completely.  His left hand holding it from underneath, the fingers of his right hand trailing over her opened palm, in that obscenely suggestive manner he’d first displayed last week in the kitchen.  She felt her mouth flood with saliva, as the bile rose.  She swallowed hard, again aware of how complex and difficult it was, to swallow down fear.

‘I had wondered, if you had not wondered before now?  About how special my gifts were?’  His index finger was tracing a tiny circle over the mark on her palm.  ‘About how well you heal?’

Everything dissolved.  Her blood; her bones; her brain.  She felt the slump as her body began to list.  His hand kept her trapped to him, even as the rest of her sought to slide sideways onto the floor.  She had fought thinking about this so hard, so completely.  Her memories of how much damage he’d inflicted, had never been matched by her awakenings in a body different from the one her mind had fled.  Bruises would look days old, and cuts and welts old and half healed.  She’d known he was playing with her mind somehow, and had guessed that more than once, she’d been ‘asleep’ longer than she thought.  But the inconsistencies had grown, especially since her release into the flat.  Day and night had a meaning once more, and the rhythm of ‘outside’ could be glimpsed.  Many times she was very sure of falling asleep in an agony of fire, and wakening with the duller pains of healing, when only one night’s sleep had gone by.  Just as she’d been equally sure that sometimes many many nights had gone by, and he was giving play that only one had passed.
She had chosen to ignore it utterly, lest she go mad herself.  This had been a conscious decision, made when she began to wonder if he’d actually really hit her that hard, after all.  Had she really bled?  Had it happened?  Was this life real?  Was she in a mental ward somewhere?  She’d locked it all out of her mind: to hold it in even the slightest measure, would be to drive herself insane.  To question how much pain she’d endured, was to question everything: she did not question on this. 


It had been exceptionally hard to keep to this, during the past few days, whilst her shoulder had burned and ached so.  The memory of lying on the floor, not breathing, the fire that had laced across her back.  Yes, it had hurt, but nothing matched the memory of the hit...

‘Do you not wonder about all the little injuries, all healed up?  Your shoulder?’  He raised her hand up, and licked his tongue over her wrist, the tip of his tongue playing over the veins.

She looked away, had no choice.  All was needed to deal with the scream, to stop the scream: the scream could not be released.  She must swallow the scream.
The movement on her hand became more playful, more… sensual.  He was licking and tonguing and teasing her skin.  The licks became slow, playful bites.  His teeth pressed down on her here, there.  His mouth took control of one of her fingers, and he sucked down then moved on.  She kept her face turned away, still working on the absence of scream.
When he finally cut down, into her left wrist, she hardly felt it.  She was so far into adrenaline overload, he could have done much worse, and she’d still not have felt much.  The rush of her fear-soaked blood into his mouth was ecstatic.  He drank down eagerly, licking and pulling the wound open bit by bit. Sucking out every drop he could without actually opening a vein.  He deliberately smeared his game out, along her hands and fingers, and his mouth.  He felt the tingle as her blood settled onto his lips.  He finally drew back, dropping her hand, and twisting back in his seat to sit more normally at the table.  He dabbed his lips with the napkin, making slow and deliberate show of her blood staining up the cloth.
Her hand stayed where it fell, on the table between them.  Her head was bent away from him, her body slack against the chair.  She could have been mistaken for a corpse.  The fire her blood had poured into his stomach was utterly, utterly divine.  She tasted wonderful.

‘Pass the water jug please.’ 

Once more, her body instinctively did as he bid, with no reference to her mind for consent, or refusal.  She was so terribly glad of this, so happy for the instant obedience, she forgave the betrayal.  How could she have fought this so?  Obedience to him was such a wonderful relief... the burden of choice was removed from her.  She took the prompt and poured water into the tumbler at his setting.  Some for herself.  He was using his napkin to dab the blood, her blood, from the corners of his mouth and lips.  Then, he tucked it back onto his lap, and began to butter a soft morning roll.
She re-seated, also fixing her own napkin in place.  The cold and congealed remnants on the plate defeated her, and she pushed it away, reaching instead for a pastry.  That could be moved about and pretended at with ease.
She could not help drying her hand and wrist upon the napkin, removing the last of her blood, and his saliva.  There was a small cut on her wrist: it was not bleeding.  There was no need to wrap it, to compress it.  She pushed her hand onto her lap, under the table, and drank from her water glass with the other.  She could be fine, could obey, as long as she did not think.  She would not think about what he said, and how there could have been pain, and blood, but no injury there now.  She would not think on it.  It was a trick.

‘Do not worry.  There will be no infection, or bleeding.  Vampire blood protects against all that.  It will heal very quickly.’

As she slowly forced the pastry into her mouth, and down into her guts, tears welled up into her eyes, and spilled soundlessly down her face, dampening her blouse and the napkin.

Chapter Thirteen

The next few days passed in torpor, her actions supported by her routine.  Her mind appeared frozen.  Her body moved through the different phases of the day, the meals counter pointing the emptiness.  When he spoke, she obeyed.  When he moved, she followed.  He spoke to her incessantly about his being a vampire, and what that meant for her.  She took everything silently, passively.  Three times he took blood from her left wrist.  Three times she didn’t react.  He beat her twice, both times savagely, as her heat in his veins was causing him immense problems with his temper.  He managed to not feed from her, after the beatings, which could have killed her.   She took the beatings silently, and for once, he cursed that.  That had not been what he was looking for: he required reaction from her, some sense of independence.  He was not going to allow her such a total retreat: he knew this was as much game plan as anything else.  Her heartbeat, breathing and scent betrayed her: she was aware.  She was just choosing not to show it.
After a week, when her appetite was failing badly, and she began to show signs of serious dehydration, he acted.  He was not happy with how fast he was having to act, he felt his hand was being forced, which did not sit comfortably with him.  However, he would not be deceived in this fashion; the word ‘fool’ was not one to be applied to him, under any circumstance.  Besides, she would sink into real atrophy if this kept on: that he had seen before, many times.  Sitting her at the breakfast bar, he poured a large glass of raw goat’s milk in front of her.  Her hand reached forward automatically, to do his bidding.  He staved her off, and she sank back in the chair.  Lifting his wrist over the glass, he slashed it open, and his blood spilled in.  Nothing came from her, not even a flare of her pupils.  He stirred the glass until it became an even pink colour.  Then he pushed it towards her.

‘I am both vampire, and your master.  Drink of me.  Take of my body, my blood.’

She stood up, turned her back, and walked to her room.
Well satisfied with his judgement, that he had called her out, he placed the glass into the fridge.  There was to be no hiding from this.  She would accept his authority.  She would bend her will to his, even as she sought refuge in closing down her mind.  If she wanted to dabble with melancholia and depression, he would supply it for her in abundance.

The fridge and cupboards took a little while to empty, but he wanted that done first.  Second was closing down the steel shutters on all the windows, locking out the light, hence the need to empty the fridge first.  He took the light bulb out of the fridge, and from most of the sockets, leaving just enough light that she could not fall over her own feet every two seconds.  The heating and hot water went next.  Finally, he dimmed the lights in her room and bathroom, and spent a few fiddly moments getting the cameras to switch to infra-red, just in case.   There would be no wrist slashing or rope swinging when he was not present.
His plans set, he moved through the days with exactly the same rhythm as before.  Three meals were laid out, all of them in the dining room, and she had to sit through them.  Not that it took long to eat a slice of bread or a small bowl of boiled rice, or a cup of gruel.  Her forcing herself to eat had been cured by a few days of actual hunger.  Hunger will not be denied, and she had never really understood, or experienced that.  She now ate everything in front of her, and scraped the bowl clean.  When he had not objected, she licked the bowl out.  She drank copious amounts of water, to try and stave off the hunger, but soon found this made her ill and did not fill her as she had presumed.  Water was not food.
She tried not washing, or dressing to his standard.  He laid raw her lower back, without the subsequent benediction of his blood, and left her to heal as best she could on the calories allotted her.  She had resumed grooming. 
He made a point of telling her he had not used his blood to heal her quickly, and that he would continue to leave her to heal without him.  She had been soaking the blouse off her back in a cold water shower for a week, before it healed enough not to leak and stick to her.

Every day he filled a glass with the milk and his blood, and left it in the fridge.  At every meal, it sat by her plate.

The long hours she had spent sitting in the living room, watching the sunlight, had become long cold cramped hours in the hall, looking at the faint line of daylight that he allowed to spill under the closed study door.  He kept the shutter up in there, and left the electric lights to blaze, so that when he opened the door, light spilled everywhere into the darkness that enclosed her. Which was then firmly closed off from her when he closed the door behind him.
By the end of the second week, she was talking and crying out in what little sleep she could manage.   She often burst into crying as he left a room.  Silent sobs and a flood of empty tears, spilling down her cheeks, unchecked.
He took blood from her every two to three days.  He would flick open her wrist with a scalpel, and drink a toke: a token.  Again, he would comment that he would not be gifting his own blood to heal her, and left each little cut to heal on its own.  He explained that he could take blood without pain, but since he was rejecting his truth, he chose to do it this way.  When infection took hold, he administered antibiotics.  Each time she had to swallow a capsule, he reminded her that if she accepted his blood, his nature, she would be healed by now, and out of pain.  She never commented, but the hand was always raised to him on request: he had her body completely.  Her mind, her spirit, was almost his.


Three weeks in, his sleep was disturbed by a slight ping, and he quickly took the back route into the study and the screens.  She was in the kitchen, standing in front of the fridge.  She opened and shut it several times.  Her hand reached in once, but withdrew.  She closed the door and returned to her bed, curling up in a ball under the sheets, crying and rocking.

Almost there.

She lasted another two days, which somewhat impressed him.  It was at lunch, a bowl of plain rice, when she broke into wracking sobs.  He remained calm, letting her take the lead.  Her hand reached for the glass.  She was shaking so much she spilled some as she tried to lift it.  She needed to use her left hand, to steady her right one, as the tumbler was lifted, and brought to her lips.  Again, some slopped out the sides, staining her top.  It took a few moments before she could stop crying well enough to let the glass touch her lips.  She drank, and swallowed.  He let her have two mouthfuls, before taking the glass from her.

‘Not too much.  You will not cope with the richness, right now.’

She nodded to him, tears continuing to spill down her face, her chest rising with the effort of trying to calm.

‘Go through to your room, and lie down.  I shall bring you something else in a few moments.’

She retreated, still holding onto her sobs.  He basked in the glory as he set the flat back to rights.  Shutters up, heating and hot water on.  Light bulbs replaced, although he switched them all off.  Her eyes might take several hours to re-adjust.  The restocking of the fridge and cupboards took a little time, and he heated through some clear broth for her and put it in a flask as he went.  Finally, he moved the light levels up in her room, before going in with a tray containing the flask, a yoghurt and a banana. 
She was under the sheet, silently rocking to and fro.  He placed the tray down, and lay down beside her, gathering her in his arms, she turned to him, and cried some more.  He stroked her hair, and sang lullabies to her as she shook.