Sunday, 9 December 2012

Kingsford: In the Summertime


The morning sun shone down over Kingsford's woods, illuminating the undergrowth. Marion Jeffries and John Turner met at the edge of the little forest, as they always did, with Jasper and Daisy, again as they always did. The latter, a pair of dogs, one a Collie and the other a Golden Retriever, greeted each other exuberantly whilst Marion and John smiled at each other warmly. They had bonded over their dogs and the shared route they walked through the woods every morning for the past few years. Originally they had simply met up along the trail, nodding to each other as they passed. That might have been the whole of it, if Daisy hadn't hurt her paw one day.

The Golden Retriever had found something in the dirt last year, and dug at it insistently, ignoring John's attempts to drag her away. She had been on the lead at the time but something had possessed her that day, and she had stubbornly resisted her master, the man she normally considered to be akin to a god. It had only been Marion's intervention that had allowed them to get get Daisy away and to the vet.

Marion and John had talked properly for the first time in the taxi to the surgery, even if John had been busy trying to keep his suddenly skittish pet under control, her blood soaking through his handkerchief. He had been distracted; if she had asked him what they had talked about afterwards, he probably wouldn't have recalled. His attention was directed towards Daisy the whole time and there was something about that which made Marion admire him. Once Daisy was well enough to resume her early morning walks Marion and Jasper joined them, rushing to catch up with them in the early morning light.

Since then they had made their early morning walk together, meeting at the entrance to the woodland and wandering through it. Daisy, despite the earlier incident, usually bumbled along beside John, solid and stolid, content just to walk. Jasper was a different story, he usually wanted to run and would rush ahead to investigate everything, his feathery Collie tail waving like a flag as he sniffed everything he possibly could. Marion only let him off the lead once they were well into the woods, away from the roads; where the only danger was other dogs.

Kingsford's woods were quiet, of the anaemically English variety. There were no wild boar or deer here. They were quiet, well ordered, and the greatest problem were the teens that occasionally trooped into the trees, found a clearing and got drunk on cheap cider and smoke cigarettes. A few years ago one of them had managed to start a small brush fire, but that was as much trouble as they usually caused. It was not the kind of place where either dog owner felt they had to keep their pet on the leash.

“Morning John,” Marion said as they met. Jasper strained forward, barking excitedly, to greet Daisy. “How are you today? How's Janet?”

“Oh she's fine; she asked after you two this morning.” John replied. His wife suffered from Fibromyalgia and rarely left the house. He had taken it hard, and in some ways Marion suspected that he was so keen on walking Daisy because it let him get out of the house and away; let him immerse himself in his thoughts.

“Really,” Marion blushed slightly. “I am sorry about Jasper, he's can be so boisterous.” The little Collie had spent most of the pair's brief visit busily exploring the Turners' garden and trying to coax Daisy into another game. The older dog had simply lain on the patio, watching as if she was his mother and he a truculent puppy, resisting any cajoling on his part.

They turned and set off into the woods, crunching dry sticks under their feet. They always followed the same route, walking in a wide loop around the forest, heading away from the ford initially, up over the uneven ground, and then down into the dell. Eventually they would cross under the railway line and circle back around to the gate they had entered by. Whilst the woods were not fenced off they had a very clearly defined set of entrances and exits; it was hard not to know what their boundaries lay.

They reached the bottom of the rise, and Marion stopped and unhooked Jasper's lead. “Go on boy, work out some of that energy,” she told him, with a rub behind his ears. It was better to let himself wear himself out now;t hat way he would sleep the rest of the day away.

He sprang forward without further prompting, running off to investigate the various scents and trails that he would inevitably find. He ran at the edges of the path, tail wagging high, whilst his head dipped and sniffed at the ground. As the party approached the top of the rise, to the place where a natural clearing afforded a nice view of the eastern horizon, he stiffened and ran on ahead. A moment later his excited barks drew Daisy into a trot and she quested up the rise, arriving just ahead of John and Marion.

John crossed the tree line, “Daisy, here girl.”

She ignored him, nosing at something on the ground. Jasper was fascinated with it too, he barely even looked up as Marion entered the clearing.

John walked towards the dogs, bending to select a stick from the ground when the smell and the sound hit him. He raised his head, nose wrinkling. He frowned at the persistent buzzing of flies that suddenly filled the air.

In the centre of the clearing, there was a corpse; the body of a fox stretched out in a scene of devastation. Only the head was in any way intact, and even then there was a look of fear etched in the animal's eyes. The rest of the body was a mass of bloody damage, torn fur, ripped flesh; splintered bone. It was as if something huge had picked the fox up and ground it between rippling jaws, grinding it into pulp.

The two dogs were sniffing at the body excitedly, Jasper's muzzle was flecked with blood. Daisy was less so, but she still showed a deep interest in the mangled corpse. Her long tongue lapped out and John saw her lick up some of the blood.

He grabbed her collar and tried to pull her back but she resisted him, struggling against his efforts.

Jasper, faced with a similar situation as Marion advanced on him, suddenly growled and burst into a flurry of barking, not the kind that indicated joy but a sound more aggressive and threatening than either human had heard from him before. As Marion approached he suddenly dodged around her and ran, heading pell-mell into the trees.

“Jasper, come back!” Marion shouted, taking off after him.

“Marion,” John called, struggling to keep his grip on Daisy. Suddenly the Retriever pulled free of him and she too headed towards the trees, moving with more energy than she had displayed for many years. “Daisy, heel!” John shouted after her, but like Jasper, she was running, heedless of the rest of the world. In an instant she was gone, lost amongst the trees.

John and Marion pursued them for as long as they could but the dogs were gone, lost in the woods. Neither of the owners noticed the scraps of cloth, each a tiny white spider-like sigil, that had attached to their pets, just under their throats, and if they had they would not have known what to make of them anyway.

*

The doorbell rang. It took a moment for Aiden to answer it, partly because he was at the back of the house, in the kitchen looking through the family's recipe books. It was only on the third shrill buzzing that he roused himself enough to wander through to the porch. He squinted through the spy hole; two figures in blue stood outside.

Aiden swung the door open, revealing a pair of police officers. He took a deep breath, “What do you want?”

“Good morning, is this the Fletcher residence?” One of the police officers asked. She was a thin, small breasted woman with short blonde hair that poked out from under her hat. Her companion was large and looked to be as bald as a coot.

“Yes,” Aiden allowed, leaning against the door frame, his arms crossed across his chest. “What do you want?”

“I'm WPC Carter and this is PC Adams; we'd like to talk with Mr Brendan Fletcher, is he here?” She stepped closer to the house. “We believe he can help with our enquiries.”

“Right,” Aiden drawled, but turned and called back into the house, “Bren, are you in?”

Upstairs there was a clatter and a moment later his brother peered down from the top of the stairs. He looked half asleep, his hair tousled and his clothes unkempt. “What is it?”

“Just come down,” Aiden told him before turning back to the officer. “I guess you'd better come in.”

“Thank you, Mr Fletcher.” She stepped over the threshold and pressed past him.

The other police officer followed, glancing at Aiden from the corner of his eye. A smile tugged at his lips a little. “How are you, Aiden, keeping out of trouble these days I hope?”

“I thought they'd put you on traffic,” Aiden replied coolly. “So you didn't have to worry about kids who hang around in graveyards any more.”

“Very droll, is your dad around?”

“He's back, I think he went for a walk though.”

They settled in the front room, Brendan curling up in an armchair whilst the two officers sat, a touch uncomfortably, on the sofa.

Aiden perched on the arm of the armchair, “Will you tell us what this is about now?”

The WPC glanced at him, before switching her attention to Brendan. “Mr Fletcher, I'm PC Carter, we want to ask you about the events of a few nights ago, in the beer garden of the Green Man pub.”

Brendan shifted, “What about them?”

“We'd like to have your version of what happened.” PC Carter told him.

“Honestly, there's not much to tell.”

“Could you tell us why you went to the Green Man in the first place?” Carter asked. “I don't imagine it's somewhere you go regularly.”

Brendan glanced up at Aiden, “I know it sounds silly but I was reading a play I've got a part in and got sort of sucked into the role I'm playing. I wasn't myself when I got off at the station, well in some ways anyway.” He yawned and rubbed at his eyes. “Sorry, I haven't been sleeping well.”

Aiden stiffened; he had been plagued by nightmares for the past few nights. All his dreams seemed to lead to a single point, to the tower in the middle of the lake with its ghostly champion. In the dreams the knight stared down at him with cold, judgemental eyes. He found himself forced to cross the lake, walking down into the water until he had no choice but to swim. Once he had woken, cold and shivering, convinced that he was about to drown. Had Brendan had similar dreams?

“So you were in some sort of a daze then?” Adams asked, leaning forward, his eyes fastened on the two brothers.

“Yes, something like that. I didn't realise where I was where until I got to the Man, and I only know the place because Dad drinks there.”

“And you ended up in the beer garden?”

“Yes, I don't know how really, I was just scrambling over the wall all of a sudden,” Brendan told him steadily.

“The landlady says you didn't even enter the pub, is that correct?” Adams pressed.

“I think so,” Brendan looked apologetic. “When I get like that I really don't know if I'm coming or going.”

“Evidently so, perhaps you should see a doctor about it,” The big man said.

“I'm sorry but can I ask a question?” Aiden piped up. Without waiting for a response he ploughed on, “I'm just curious why, if its an investigation they've sent a couple of normal officers instead of someone from CID?”

“Aiden, leave it will you,” Brendan muttered, poking his brother in the leg. “Sorry, he doesn't mean anything by it.”

“That's alright, Mr Fletcher, Aiden's never been what you might call cooperative have you lad?” Adams said with a chuckle. “I think that he likes being contrary at times.”

Carter shot her companion a hard look. “We're not here to make accusations. We're just gathering information. Mr Cooper said that you were with his dog just before he ran off. Is that right?”

“It is, but I didn't do anything to Mungo. He just went strange, when I was trying to be friendly.”

“Was that another part of your acting?” Adams asked.

“Sorry? I'm not sure I follow.”

“It's just that you're old enough to know better than to go around petting dogs like that, so I'm just wondering what prompted you to do such a thing.”

There was a sudden scrape of a key in the lock and the front door opened. “Hello, is anyone home?”

“In here, Dad,” Brendan called, uncurling from the chair.

A grizzled, bearded face poked around the door, “You're up then, son? I thought you were going to spend the whole day in bed.” Professor Fletcher blinked through his glasses, taking in the scene. “What have you done now, Aiden?”

“Dad!” Aiden protested in a scandalised tone of voice.

“Professor, it's good to see you again.” Adams rose from his seat. “I'm pleased to say that Aiden hasn't done anything that we know of, so please don't worry about that.”

A smile split the older man's face. “That's a relief. In that case I can only guess that this is something to do with the business at the Green Man?”

“That's correct sir, we were just trying to find out if there was any truth to Mr Cooper's statement that young Brendan here had anything with his dog apparently going feral.”

“Yes, poor Fred, it must have come as a shock to him, his dog turning on him like that.” The Professor said. “I hear Mungo's running around town somewhere, are you any closer to finding him?”

“Not yet, the animal seems to have gone to ground. Don't worry, we'll find him.”

“I'm sure you will, has my son told you everything you need him to?” Professor Fletcher asked.

“We're not sure to be honest, we're still a little confused as to how Mungo got loose to chase him.”

“Fred's an old man, he probably only though he'd tied the dog up properly. We can be a bit dotty at times you know. And Brendan, well who knows, but it looks to me like it was an accident waiting to happen. It's probably for the best in the long run.” The older man patted Adams on the shoulder, “If we hear anything else we'll let you know.” With that he ushered the police officers out of the house and then returned to join the boys.

“Dad, why did you do that?” Aiden asked as the Professor shut the front room door.

“I've never liked that man, ever since he decided to make it his business to cause problems when you so much as walked down the street. He's not the kind of man I would invite into my house.” Professor Fletcher deposited his jacket and hat on a chair and wandered over to the window that looked into the back garden. “I know you two have been working hard at keeping your noses clean.”

“Dad, I didn't mean to cause any trouble,” Brendan told him.

“I know, neither of you ever does, but you have managed to get into some scrapes. Can you tell me what happened?”

“It's a bit weird to be honest, I'm not sure you'd believe me.”

Over his shoulder their father asked, “As weird as us suddenly having a fox living in the garden? Its a good thing you boys haven't done the gardening, I guess or he'd be upset.”

The boys exchanged a look. “You don't mind do you?” Aiden asked.

“No, it's fine. Your mother would have liked seeing him, she always loved the woods.” Professor Fletcher shook himself, “I think I'll make some tea, do you boys want one?”

*

Out in the woods the dogs ran until they reached the stream. Plunging in they waded along through the water to the railway bridge.

A deep barking drew them close and as they approached a huge hound shifted in the gloom in the arch. Other dogs lay about the area, or lapped at the water as it gurgled through the ford. They were not many in number but all of them looked strong, fit; as if they had been on the best diet possible.

Jasper and Daisy approached cautiously, shying away a little as one of the other dogs, a guard, rose and splashed into the water, intercepting them. The sentry dog, sniffed at the pair of them gingerly, focusing particularly upon their necks. Eventually it stepped away, wagging its tail, barking up to towards the bridge.

Mungo's gruff bark echoed back to them and the pack began to converge upon the clearing about the ford and the railway arch under which the immense hound squatted. Each of them lowered their heads in submission, exposing their throats to the leader.

The hound stared at them, and knew joy. His pack was assembled, he lifted his head and howled in triumph to the watching sky.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

My Next Big Thing


Over the last and next few weeks, lots of people have been taking part in the blog chain, ‘My Next Big Thing’.  Last week was the lovely Linzi Cooke's turn –  Linzi, if you don’t already know her, is the lovely, talented and very friendly author, musician, assassin and minx (one of these is a lie). Her book  ‘The Home Front’, part one of the Automata Wars series, came out this September and is available now from the Last Line.  Her band, Crimson Clocks, are ripping up a storm at Reverbnation with songs about evil geniuses and cats .  It’s always worth popping over to Linzi’s website to check out what she does, and what she’s blogging about -  http://www.lmcooke.com/

So now it’s my turn to become part of the chain…

What is the working title of your book?
It’s called ‘A Fatal Thirst, Book One of the Vampire Dominion’.  

Where did the idea come from for the book?
A lot of my ideas come from roleplaying, and this was one of them. I think I might have seen the Blade films and just started wondering what a world ruled by vampires would be like, initially with the idea that I would run a game with a group of renegades fighting the terrible lords of the undead. From there it sort of slipped underground and grew until finally it needed to be written and I started it for NANOWRIMO last year.

What genre does your book fall under?
I suspect the most obvious one is vampiric horror, there are vampires and they're not very nice, but there's also elements of crime, espionage and post apocalypse fictions in there (I loves me some post-apoc).

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Most of the first draft was written in about three months, but I got sort of stalled because I started worrying about the conflicting timelines in the novel - the physical effect of the events that creates vampires and ends human hegemony on planet Earth and the length of time it would take to build the society the Blooded (as I call the vampires) live in, and sort of got stuck. Most of its done, bar editing though so it'll be finished by the end of the year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Golden by Lucius Shepard is probably the closest, in that it's a vampire versus vampire mystery. I'd love to compare it to le Carre or the other masters of the spy genre but I don't think it's got quite the right vibe to it.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Perversely Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series probably gave me the necessary boost to get started, if only because it left me wondering how to do something new and different with vampires. Beyond that, well I've loved and loathed vampires since the '90s  and been quietly fascinated since my Grandfather gave me the Ladybird version of Dracula to read (even if, sadly, my spine didn't crawl across the floor the way he promised it would). I just wanted to do something cool with them and I hope I've achieved that with A Fatal Thirst.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
It's post apocalypse, there's a massive citadel full of secrets, a twisted, treacherous history and vampires that act, for me at least, like vampires. Oh and there could be a frisson of kinky sex too.

And we're done, time to pass the baton on to the next authors to delight your senses.

May I present for your entertainment and edification:

Meg Kingston (http://megkingston.wordpress.com/), author of the steampunk novel, the Chrystal Heart, three anthologies and a memoir, Meg is one of the key members behind NANOWRIMO Wales, always encouraging new writers to come to the fore, a key player in the Steampunk community and a kind, erudite person.

James Snee, also known as Warden Arkwright, is the driving force behind the Last Line, a small publishing house that at present is best known for the Asylum anthologies. Performer, writer, editor and entrepreneur, he is a powerful force within the Steampunk community and, soon, outside of it I'm sure. He can be found at: 
http://thelastline.yolasite.com/arkwrights-writers-blog.php


Watch for their blog chain posts next Tuesday and enjoy…


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Cat Poem


This is a poem I wrote in the wake of seeing David Morley talk last week. I don't think of myself as much of a poet, and the actual verse feels rough and ready to me so I may come back to edit it and polish later on but  I thought I'd put it up, along with a picture of its inspiration.






She slumbers between my feet
A crucible for a resting goddess
Child of Bast, perfect in her niche
No matter how she shirks it

My hips, spread, do her worship
Suffering, patient, to keep her snug
Until pain forces movement;
Revealing her, grudging, to the world

Once awake her voice will rise
To make her conversation dulcet
Whichever mode she chooses
Her song, roused, will shatter peace

Her questing paw will seal her point
To articulate urgent, pagan demands
For sleep, play, food and other tributes
She lets slip her shadow self, a wild princess

Now she rests in sun’s warm light
Dreams of hunts she’ll never make
Her snore rumbles, engine in a feline breast
I rise, breaking her nest, and greet the day

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Doubt

I have a confession to make: I am a doubter, a nonbeliever.

I don't mean this in the sense of not believing in God or in any other kind of deity. Its true that I doubt they exist but I also doubt that we're alone and much of atheism seems to be based on sophistry or the belief in something else, like science or money.  Ultimately we all seem to place our faith in something illogical as a cure all for the world's pain, label as it as you will. But that's beside the point.

The point is I doubt and I doubt everything, especially myself and my own abilities. I can brave-face it, throw on a mask of confidence but underneath I'm a bubbling disaster area just waiting to melt down into a nervous mass of terror at the thought of having to do anything I'm not confident about; which is most things really. I'm 36 and have no idea what I'm good at, aside from procrastination and thinking too much. At some point I've managed to trap myself and belief is a foreign concept and I find that I'm reliant on other people to tell me if what I produce is good. Gaming sessions are usually punctuated in their aftermath with me turning to Eve and Emma and asking in a worried tone, "Was it any good?"

I have days where I believe I can write, but this can be swept away by a bad review or a rejection from a tiny magazine that only seems to exist on the internet, leaving me floundering and wondering if my dream is just that, has no more substance than a half remembered dream upon waking, and I would be better off just jacking it in and opting to stare at the tee-vee.

Other days (most days) I believe I can write but everything else I do falls short, leaving me to believe that writing is all I can do and everything else is waste of time and energy. But, as mentioned above, this is a brittle confidence and I can be sent scuttling to the half light of uncertainty again.

It's a vicious circle, it feels like whenever I get some confidence I fuck up, which knocks me back down to zero or into minus figures on the confidence scale. I know, somewhere, that I can do things, use computer programmes, run roleplaying games, write well and so on and so forth but my ability to access that knowledge, that faith, is touch and go; and to be honest its mostly 'go'.

The real kicker is that I have no idea how to fix myself, to instill belief in my abilities when I'm so easily shaken from confidence in myself. Somewhere there must a way to nurture my confidence but I can't see one...

Hellblazer: End of the Road



Last week I found out that Hellblazer, one of the first mature comics I read way back in 1994, will end publication early next year with issue 300. The news provokes mixed feelings in me, to be honest. John Constantine parted company several years ago, at the end of Mike Carey's run; not because I hated the character but I felt that I'd travelled as far as I could with him. I was worn out and needed a change, especially with the downbeat ending of Carey's run.

Nonetheless I have fond, strong memories of the book. At the point where I picked up (finding it in a newsagents in Ormskirk of all places), I had abandoned superheroes, in part because my sister had convinced me that nobody at university would be reading comics - how wrong she was - and in part because I was tired of superheroes and their stupid, pointless battles. My first issue was number 84, the chain smoking chimpanzee in drag, automatically drawing my eye because it was so distinctive.

  

It told a dark, delicate story that resonated with my new interest in horror and dark, modern fantasy. I'd played some World of Darkness games and the comic seemed to chime with it beautifully. But it was John's voice, his cool, dark, sarcastic voice that hooked me and made me want to know more. I began to buy the book regularly, picking up back issues where I could and discovering John's destructive history.

Writers brought slightly different facets of Constantine into the light for the reader to enjoy. Jamie Delano's slick conman shares qualities with Garth Ennis' version of the character but Ennis undermined the character's roots slightly more, sending him into more dangerous territory, always threatening to pull the rug from under his feet. Other writers brought their visions to us, with an ever changing cast of the supporting characters; being John's friend was always a dangerous occupation and most writers ended either killing or alienating their own creations to clear the way for the next writer. The title of the book gave it a manifesto, we could see John royally fucking up, we knew that if Hell exists then he was slowly inching his way towards it.

The main draw of the character has always been who he is, unlike most of the spandex crowd, he was never defined by his opponents, in the way that Lex Luthor is necessary to cast Superman into a context, and he was grounded in history and politics. Jamie Delano's issue with demon yuppies caught the character wonderfully as a left wing anarchist who's schemes led him astray. His efforts to keep ahead of the pack often proving to be his undoing (at the same time we know his cons and magic are successful, the fact that he keeps being banned from betting shops is testament to that). Ultimately he successfully defeated his enemies, it's only in the case of the exceptional ones like Papa Midnight and the First of the Fallen that he suffered the indignities of recurring villains and they never felt like they were in the same category as the Joker or Dr Octopus; somehow bigger, more important; never just another encounter.

The other thing that I always felt was innovative was that the character aged in real time, we could see him growing older, and got the idea from the book's tenth anniversary issue that what we learned through the comic was only what the character himself recounted to us, as if we really did meet him down the pub and listen to his stories over a pint of beer. One issue even exploited the idea, with John leading a gullible idiot up the garden path with stories about the royal family being lizards, David Icke style. Is that what we were? Idiots to be told tall tales, I'd like to think not but Constantine was a fox; trusting anything he told you was a dangerous tactic.

I must confess that whilst Ennis' run was enjoyable, I prefer his early issues before Steve Dillon joined him. The stories seem darker, less grand guignol and have a tenseness that pleases. In the same vein, I quite enjoyed much of Paul Jenkins' run, even if it limped to the finish line.  Oddly the Brian Azzarello run, the first to be written by an American (Constantine is a quintessentially British character, his blood is stained with Liverpool and London), was one of the strongest, with a fish out of water meta-plot that served to show Constantine as an everyman, as he explored America's freakish backwaters. In contrast Warren Ellis' run was something of a disappointment, as if his heart wasn't really in writing the character even if he did introduce interesting concepts like Map, a living version of London who collaborated with John on a number of occasions and counts as one of the few survivors of an authors run.

Now the series is ending and the character will be folded fully into DC's "New 52" as a younger version. Some facets, the trench coat, the rumpled corporate look with the askew black tie, the ever present cigarette, remain and the character is already established in the new universe as part of the Justice League Dark. The new series 'Constantine' will follow this younger version's adventures.

It's an understandable move in some regards; the down side to letting John age in real time is that sooner or later he has to die, you can't keep him forever young. Also Hellblazer has shed too many readers even for the notoriously low sales Vertigo imprint to keep going, especially for the character who for a long time has been seen as their flagship character, even more of an identifier than Dream of the Endless.

It doesn't do anything to assuage my fears that something important will be lost. John has always been so English (like the Doctor), so tied to the UK and its culture and history that it worries me that a rebooted version will lose far more than he gains. Sure he's younger but what happens to his history? Was he ever in Mucous Membrane, did the horrific events of his childhood still occur? These things are so tied to the history of the UK that its hard to see how a new version could carry them across without ringing a fraudulent. Like real life though, they can't just be deleted without cheapening something.

A sad day. I think I'll dig out some of my old Hellblazers and enjoy them all again.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The MA

Something very good and very strange started this September; I went back to university as a mature student.  I'd been thinking about studying for a while; in part because it's felt as if my life has been stuck in a place I don't particularly want to be for a while and I've been gnawed at by a sense of dissatisfaction for a long time. I applied to Birmingham City University, Warwick and erm, that ended up being about it to be honest. I had good intentions of applying to others but in the end I never completed the forms. In the end both institutions offered me places, but thanks to a snafu in my understanding of Warwick's procedures, BCU offered me a place first and by the time Warwick's offer came through I had already accepted the place at the more local university.

I'm studying part time and I'll be honest that even with my book worm tendencies working and studying can be a strain, just as writing after work can be, but it's a wonderful feeling to be back in a class room talking to students and tutors. The two academics I've encountered in PME (Performance, Media and English) are both lovely gents and extremely knowledgeable. The course leader is Dr Gregg Leadbetter (http://gregoryleadbetter.blogspot.co.uk/) who's a poet.  

The tutor I'm having the most contact with at present is Ian Marchant (he's here: http://www.ianmarchant.com/) a creative non fiction writer who's enthusiasm for his genre is infectious and make me want to pick up his books, even though it's not my usual kind of thing (I often feel that I'm trying to escape real life, this genre embraces it).

Our coursework for the module is to create a pitch for a creative non fiction book, something tangible that can sent to an agent or publisher; the course is practical, something I'm sure my Mum would approve of. It's aim is to get us, the students, to a point where we can be published and make something of a living from writing (whether it'll be all of our livings is another matter - given the oft repeated maxim that most writers have other sources of income and its only the very lucky ones that get to focus purely on writing).

My project is a book on the Goth scene and, in particular Goths themselves, with the idea that I would travel to the subculture's heartlands and interview Goths about why they became Goths, what... ah sod it here's the blurb I wrote. 

The BlurbAfter thirty years Goth is a definite part of the cultural landscape, shifting in and out of mainstream consciousness in successive waves. Vaunted and vilified in equal measure, enshrined in high culture but also hated, the cause of attacks and even murder, Goth has survived nonetheless, spawning new generations of black clad followers. No longer just a fad for disgruntled teenagers, the idea that there are only young Goths and dead Goths has been and gone. But what draws people to the subculture in the first place; what makes them stay? How far do the roots of the community reach? And are there Goths in Transylvania? Steve Cotterill sets off on a tour of the places where Goth prospers and grows to explore the subculture in a journey from Whitby to Belgrade, via London markets, German nightclubs and Czech ossuaries.

Of course since that was written, another leg has been added to the journey; an American tour that goes from coast to coast, travelling from Poe to Bela Lugosi's grave and taking in cities like New York, New Orleans, Columbia (Missouri) if only to document the demise of the scene in middle America and the tightening of the Bible Belt, and then out westward to the likes of Seattle, birthplace of both Grunge and, arguably, Steampunk, before sliding down the coast to the City of Angels and the faded glamour of the Golden Age of Hollywood. 

On the way I'm hoping to see things I've never seen before, to visit Dracula's Castle and find out why Germany is the new heartland of Goth. I just need to sell the thing first. In the meantime I guess I have to go to lots of club nights and gigs of bands that I like... Such a tragedy, that. 

I'm planning to post some more bits and pieces about the project here, as a way to raise awareness of it ( as I'd really like to do it) and hope to get a map sorted showing my intended route.

In the meantime this is the playlist I'm building on Spotify: Goth Songs . I'd welcome more suggestions of bands and tracks you think I'm missing as I'm always keen to find new music.

Right, better go and do some work!




Sunday, 4 November 2012

Kingsford Five: Long Lost Secrets


Yelena looked up suddenly as an alarm erupted into life a few streets away, screeching panic into the dark sky. The piece of fried chicken between the vixen’s teeth slipped, forgotten, from her mouth, down to the ground and the chip paper she had wrestled it from. Dark shadows rushed down the street she was in, animals fleeing the sound, she supposed; but could not ask. The irritating thing about the form she was in was that, despite the folk tales, she was unable to speak with the other animals she encountered; there was no understanding that reached across species outside of the vagaries of tone and pitch that could suggest intention but not meaning.

A cat, a heavy set tom with scars and puckered ears from dozens of fights, if not more, dashed past her, down to a garden gate and leapt up onto the wall and from there into the tree next door. Once ensconced in safety it stared down at her with gold green eyes so round they could have been marbles.

“What’s going on?” Yelena asked, knowing it was hopeless but feeling that she had to try. Perhaps luck would be on her side. The animal just stared down at her, content with his high perch to keep him safe. She recognised him, one of the big cats, as close to a king as you could find amongst the fractious species. He had fucked and fought his way to the top of the pile locally and protected his territory against all comers; even against dogs like Rottweilers. Most of the kittens in the area bore some of his markings, the distinctive white flash running up his nose or odd humbug like paw pad that decorated his right forepaw.

She cursed, wishing her family had gained the ability to speak with beasts as well as resemble them back in the days when the Holly King had gifted them with their unique ability; a time when Spring ruled Faerie and, if legend was to be believed, the forest covered most of the land. Perhaps if she had been an abler student of sorcery she might have managed but even then, the magic usually required a humanoid shape and, when casting hexes or cantrips, thumbs were surprisingly important.

At the end of the street a blur of motion drew her attention as two figures ran past, and Yelena heard something else, something the siren had hidden, a deep panting of a huge beast. An immense dog paced into view at the end of the road and stopped, looking around. There was nothing light about the dog; it was a hideous, twisted thing, pushed to the limits of biology by something. Brilliant green eyes shone in its face and its head moved in a slow arc, sweeping from side to side taking in the street furniture, the cars that crowded into driveways or clung to the side of the road like limpets. The nose twitched, the head turned again, and the beast’s eyes fixed upon Yelena.

She cringed back, retreated down the street, praying that the creature had not seen her, or that the night would swallow her the way it had swallowed the cats. Perhaps she could escape, break into the back gardens; the monster’s bulk made it unlikely that it could scramble over gates or fences with anything resembling ease.

Something flapped upon its back, raising inky tendrils that seemed attached to the dog’s back. A shudder ran through it and there was a shift in its mass, almost imperceptible but there. It grew larger, more ferocious looking. Its head suddenly seemed thinner but as its mouth lolled open, she saw its teeth as yellowing daggers that grew until the canines were so long that they jutted over the sides of its mouth.

A shudder ran through her, magic then, not just a big savage dog but something fae-touched. She knew it would be a spell from the Crimson School; they were Oberon’s pet magicians, his first port of call for anything that needed magic to put down or raise up, if the crueller court gossip was to be believed. She wondered, somewhere in the back of her brain, how the enchantment had come through into the mortal world; the gate was closed, there was no way for anything to make its way through was there?

Before she could think on it more the dog took a step forward and a low growl rippled in its throat. Its mouth gaped and it barked in a deep, almost feral frenzy. She fell back before it, risking turning and trotting away at a brisk pace, her mind turning towards escape, head weaving back and forth as she spied out for places to run. No point even trying to fight it, she was trapped as she was and there was no chance of her even adapting the form to fight.

“Stand,” the beast said suddenly, a distant voice hidden inside the dog’s bark. “Yelena of the Emerald Manor, outcast and exile of the courts of Faerie, I command you hold.”

She turned, staring back towards the monster. There was something familiar about the voice. In the faerie tongue, carried in the same way as the courtier's voice, she asked. “Darian, is that you?”

*

Beside the smoking pool, the courtier flushed. His hand was clenched around a rag, the twin of the one that the dog bore; he could feel it writhing in his grip. His gaze bored into the water; the three Fae in the tower could see the fox turning to face their catspaw, her eyes full of incredulity. His skin, blanched pale from focussing on the link with the dog, flushed suddenly with embarrassment. The three could understand her, even though she yipped and barked, thanks to an enchantment laid upon the scrying pool

“Who I am is unimportant,” he snapped angrily. “By the power invested in me by King Oberon,” he paused, letting the dog’s vocal chords catch up. It was strange to communicate within the natural sounds the animal made. He continued, “I am bound to command you to return that which you stole!”

“That I stole?” the fox shot back. “Your king had no right to it in the first place, the filthy usurper.” She retreated a little as the dog advanced.

“You treasonous bitch,” Darian snapped. “How dare you question our lord?” As if sensing his ire Mungo gathered itself and sprang forward, barking ferociously.

There was a sound behind the dog; Darian cursed as the beast turned its head, suddenly distracted. Behind, lights were switching on in the houses, which Darian thought looked like anonymous faces, like the stone heads in the Valley of Omens. At one door a face peered out and at the end of the street a crowd had gathered. An old man, vaguely recognisable as the dog's owner, stood next to a woman on a two wheeled machine, who was clad in a bright, reflective vest.

Vaguely the words “The boy came this way and my Mungo was chasing him,” filtered into the dog's ears and from there to the trio by the pool.

There was a lull as more of the mortals congregated, running across to the woman with the strange machine and talking, gesticulating wildly towards the hound.

“What are they doing?” Darian asked, twisting to look at Feydo.

The magician frowned, “Mortal foolishness, their world is so starved of power that they act like this at every act of sorcery.”

Alastair frowned, “Master, we must be careful, the vessel cannot hold much more power. I don't know that it can cope with this much stress. We created the poppet to hunt the fugitive, not fight a mob.”

The old man began to walk closer to the hound, “Mungo, is that you?” The woman in the vest tried to intercede but he shook her off.

“Can't you get rid of him?” Darian asked.

“No, the poppet might be able to do something but from the changes its reaped, most of the power we put into it has been expended. Shaping the tool will have used most of it up.”

“Come here, Mungo,” the old man shouted, slapping his thigh. He bent, slightly, and held out a hand. “Come here.”

“What's the old fool doing? Doesn't he see the changes?” Darian twisted the rag, tearing at it a little with his fingertips.”

“Of course, but you can't expect sense from them. They're fools, down to the last one of them,” Feydo sniffed.

“Master,” Alastair said again. “What about our pawn?”

“Yes, it would be foolish for it to remain.” Feydo agreed. “Tell it to withdraw, courtier”.

“But if we lose Yelena,” Darian protested hotly.

“Better that we do that than we lose our servant.” Alastair told him, “If the poppet is destroyed we lose our only link to the mortal world.”

There was a sudden, low pitched growling and the three, turned in unison to look into the pool. The old man was still approaching but something in the way they saw him suggested that the broad dog had shifted stance. Suddenly the beast lunged forward, knocking the man to the ground. There was a frenzy of biting, clawing and the sound of running feet. Something struck the animal on the side of the face, a stone that shook the animal, its gaze pitched to one side. When the dog looked up again there was a press of mortals running towards it, faces scared and angry. The woman at the back of the crowd was talking urgently into a small black box, whilst some of the crowd had snatched fallen sticks to use a makeshift cudgels. The trio's servant looked down again, showing the bleeding figure of the old man, his arm torn into bloody ribbons by the hound's claws. His shoulder was bleeding profusely; it looked like the beast's jaws may have mashed the bone into a pulp as they closed on it.

“Turn, you fool, get away from there,” Darian hissed, suddenly realising that the old sorcerer was correct, that allowing the mob to vent their fury would spell disaster, most especially for him.

Slowly the beast turned and began to run.

*

Yelena rested. She had taken the opportunity of the distraction to run, run like hell as if the tithe ship were after her and her name was on the Infernal Manifest. She glanced behind her, but there was no sign of her pursuer. She breathed a deep sigh of relief and crept forward. She was on the edge of the town's park, an anaemic green space that served to give children somewhere to play over the summer and seemed to have little purpose beyond that.

Somewhere ahead she could hear panting, paused to check the kind it was, and pressed on, satisfied that she was not going to disturb a tryst. She gently nosed her way through the undergrowth, the encouraged plants that had been placed so deliberately by the town's gardeners and pushed out to stand beside a long pond, its sides festooned with warning notices, to prevent children from trying to swim in the murky waters. In the centre of the pond there was a small island and on it, firmly sealed away by an iron fence and several more notices, there were the ruins of a tower.

On a park bench two figures sat, bent double and breathing hard. “So you've been running away from that thing all night?” One of them, Aiden, asked between gasps. “In all that time it didn't occur to you to dump the bag?” He poked at a fat rucksack that lay on the ground. It wobbled and threatened to roll down to the pond.

“Hey, don't do that.” Brendan protested, making a grab for it, sliding from the bench to the ground. He pulled the bag to him and wrapped his arms about it protectively.

“What's in there that's so important? It's just clothes and you have enough of those at home, remember?”

Brendan glanced up at him, “You mean you didn't notice?”

“Didn't notice what?” Aiden asked. “Please don't make me play twenty questions, Bren, I've spent half the night looking for you and the other half running away from that thing.”

“Barghest,” his brother said, reflexively and frowned. “It's just that thing was so weird and it was just,” he paused. “Nobody else acted as if they could see it you know? It was as if I was the only one to notice it. I think that rattled it, a bit. It's probably why the dog came after me.”

Aiden laughed suddenly, “I have no idea what you're talking about, you know?”

Brendan sighed and started to explain about the rag, and its strange activities, about the way it had settled onto Mungo's back and forced some sort of union between them. Finally he stopped, looked up at Aiden with questioning eyes.

“Are you serious?” His brother asked quietly.

“Yeah, why would I lie about something like that?” Brendan asked in puzzlement.

Aiden pointed over the water to the tower, “Do you remember when we were kids and we saw the knight in the ruins?”

“Not really, sorry.”

“We came to feed the ducks with Mum, it was just before she ran off. She pointed him out to us and we saw him standing on the ramparts.” He stood up and walked to the water's edge, looking up at the pile of bleached white stones. “The next day we went to school and you denied it, said it was my imagination. I was the ghost boy all that term.” He had never really shaken the label off, it was the start of his own peculiar way of surviving school, sticking to the fringes of things, only noticed when it was the wrong time. He crossed his arms about his torso.

“Sorry, but bro, that was years ago, why are you dragging it up now?” Brendan asked, obviously confused by the turn in the conversation.”

“Look,” Aiden pointed up. On the parapet of the old tower in the moonlight there was an armoured figure, standing watch over the town, facing towards the woods. In his hands he clutched a kite shaped shield and a long spear. The wall fell away just enough to reveal a horn hanging at his waist.

Brendan frowned, “But, he's never been there before, I swear it. I was here last month with Jess and there was nothing.”

“I haven't seen him since Mum ...” Aiden's voice trailed away.“Your bag.”

“What?” Brendan asked, peevishly. “Damn it, Aiden, stop it. I'm tired, can't we just go home?”

“No, you said something about not missing something, what did you mean?” Aiden asked. He suddenly seemed to be full of energy, looking about him excitedly. “Give me your bag,” he reached out a hand and took it.

“Hey careful,” Brendan protested. “Don't break it.”

“Then show me, stop mucking about.”

“Okay,” Brendan whined but started to unbuckle the bag's straps. He pulled out an armful of clothes, carefully depositing them on the park bench and then took something else out, something that was wrapped in a bundle of shirts. He began to unwrap it, layer by layer. Finally he pulled the last shirt free, revealing a small mirror, that caught the moonlight.

Yelena felt her eyes go wide and, despite herself, she trotted forward, eyes fixed upon the boy's hands. A little growl of excitement rumbled in her throat and she yipped.

“Jesus, where did you spring from?” Aiden asked in surprise, “You weren't around earlier.”

She favoured him with a grin and deliberately pushed her head against Brendan's leg.

“What is it?” He bent down, showing her the mirror, a half moon of polished glass sat in a carved ivory frame that was definitely not human workmanship. It was too delicate, the scrimshaw carving showing curling ivy through which sun, moon and stars peeped. More importantly from the vixen's point of view the scent of faerie magic rose from the object, tinged with the smell of damp earth and flowers; this was a Spring artefact, the likes of which had been banished from the twilight realm an age ago when the old Spring capital fell during one Faerie's interminable wars. As he held it she saw a halo surround Brendan's head, as if his hair caught the reflected moonlight.

“I always take it to auditions,” he explained. “Dad had buried it in a drawer in the study and I just found it one day and took it. It seemed stupid not to.” He held it out to his brother, “Here look.”

Aiden took it reluctantly, holding it delicately. His skin grew paler as he raised it to see his reflection, he covered his mouth with his free hand. “It smells like Mum,” he said sadly.

Somewhere, out in the town there was the deep barking of dogs and all three of them froze. The Vixen leapt to her feet and stared about with wild eyes.

Carefully Aiden returned his brother's treasure. “Perhaps we should get home.”

“Yes, that sounds like a good plan,” Brendan agreed. He yawned suddenly, “God, I'm so tired. I could kill for a cup of coffee.”

*

Hours later, at the edge of the woods, the hound stopped running. It had left its pursuers far behind, though it knew, somehow, that they would not stop hunting for it. The part of it that was still Mungo did not understand. It did not comprehend what had happened, why it had threatened its pack leader in the first place, or what would happen now that it had. The cool intelligence of the magic that had possessed it so completely knew but it was a dominating force that swallowed the animal's voice and pushed it down, keeping it quiet and at bay. It had guided the beast's paws and path, leading it back in a wide arc.

Now, as the sun rose the hound found itself heading into the tree line, towards the place that its passenger felt safest. It quested onwards, trotting briskly until, finally, it saw somewhere it could rest. It splashed into the old ford and up stream, under the railway bridge. Climbing out onto the bank it curled into the dirt and laid its head upon its paws staring out at the ever brightening world soulfully.

Tomorrow night it would be stronger, tomorrow night it would find its prey again and there would be no stopping it. Somewhere in the cold intelligence of the poppet, a plan began to form.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Kingsford: After Dark


Aiden shifted restlessly around the house, unable to settle. His wake was littered with discarded books, open CD cases and food wrappers. He checked his watch, for the third time in as many minutes and sighed. Still no sign of Brendan, he was running late; very late as a matter of fact. A tiny voice scratched at the back of Aiden's brain muttering that something was wrong. He rose and went to the phone, dialling the number that Brendan had stuck above it, on a yellow post-it note, the last time he had been home.

The phone rang for a long time before someone answered. A bleary female voice spoke, “Hello?”.

Aiden frowned, it took a moment to place the voice, “Jessica?”

“Yeah, who is it?” The voice asked.

“It's Aiden, Brendan's brother,” he told her.

“Oh, he's not here.” She paused, as if her brain was waking up. “Isn't he with you? He was going home this weekend.”

“No, he hasn't arrived.”

“Oh,” she fell quiet again. “He probably met up with some friends, that's all. Have you tried his mobile?”

“No, last time I tried he didn't have it switched on. I haven't heard anything from him since Wednesday, when he told me he was coming home,” Aiden told her. “He's late and I'm getting worried.”

“Let me check his phone,” she said. “It's probably nothing though.” The phone went quiet as she moved away, after a moment there was the sound of movement, of things been shifted, magazines being dropped onto the floor. There was a hoarse swear word as Jessica knocked something over and then a vague sound of triumph as she recovered her phone. An instant later the receiver made a sound as she lifted it. “I'll text him and call you okay?”

“Yeah, okay.” Aiden replied, his heart sinking. Jessica had always been a bit vague, especially when she had been drinking; he supposed that he was lucky to have caught her with only a few beers in her even if it sounded like he had woken her up. “Do you want my mobile number?”

“No, I'll call the house,” she told him. “I've got it programmed into my phone.”

He sighed, knowing that he was going to get no further. “Alright, just let me know if you hear anything. Bye.” He put the receiver down, stared at the wall for a moment and came to a decision. Something was wrong; he was filled with a sense of intense foreboding that went beyond worrying for his brother. He knew he could not rely on Jessica to contact him; she was probably going to fall asleep as soon as she sent the text message. No, he was going to have to go and look for Brendan himself.

He found his boots at the bottom of the stairs and slipped his long leather coat on. After a moment's consideration he went up to his room and, knelt by the bed. He reached underneath and pulled out a metal tool box. He opened it and took a Stanley knife out, sliding the blade out to check it was clean. It had been a long time since he had last touched it, but something prompted him to: tonight, he felt, it would be needed. He slipped it into his pocket and pushed the box back to its home.

He went out into the back garden; he had no idea why but it felt important to see the fox before he went out. He unlocked the back door and stepped out onto the patio, picking his way through the long weeds that rose like grassy walls between the flagstones.

“Fox, are you here?” He hissed into the dark. There was no answer and he called again. “Fox, fox, where are you?”

Again there was no answer. He sighed, realising that she was probably looking for food, wondering if she had slipped into the usual habits of urban foxes, raiding bins and stealing discarded junk food. She did not seem to have done, he had seen her crunching down fresh prey with gusto in the early evenings, snapping her jaws about a rodent of unknown genus. He called a last time and cast about, reluctantly moving back into the house.

Moments later he emerged into the street and set off towards the town centre, his hand wrapped about the knife's handle in his pocket, just in case.

*

In the dark, high vaulted chamber at the top of the Crimson School's highest tower the three men, Feydo master of the school, Alastair his assistant and Darian a courtier of the Summer King's court, stared into the vast scrying pool, watching the events that unfolded in the little town on the other side of the gate in the ford.

The hound, formerly known as Mungo but now entirely under the control of the trio's servant, an enchanted piece of cloth that had forced itself into the beast's back, inveigling its way his mind until there was only the servant, pursued a blonde youth through the streets of the town. It ran in long, easy strides after him, head held low.

“Why is it doing this?” Darien demanded. “Why isn't it hunting down the fox?” He flinched as he felt one of Feydo's eyes slide over to him. “I mean, the King will be displeased if we fail to capture the girl quickly, her crime ...” His voice trailed off as the master of the Crimson School's other eye turned to focus on him.

“What exactly is her crime?” Feydo asked intently.

“She's a thief,” Darian told him, dreading the next question.

“What did she steal?”

“She stole, uh, that is ...” The courtier's voice trailed off, a frown occupied his face.

“You don't even know?” Alastair's voice was incredulous.

“Of course I do,” Darian snapped. “But it's complicated.” In truth, he had no idea what Yelena had stolen, there were a number of stories circulating the court. Some said that she had stolen one of the King's treasures, though the details of what it was were sketchy. Others claimed that she had taken something far more valuable than a mere bauble, that it was a state secret that the fox woman had intended to sell to the King's enemies. One of Darian's lovers, Gwendolyn, claimed that Yelena was working with die hard Spring advocates, plotting to overthrow the glorious sway of Summer in favour of their own season's rule. Whatever the truth, he had been tasked to capture her, dead or alive, and it was only the matter of the gate to the mortal world being open too narrow for him to traverse that stopped him following her there.

Feydo snorted derisively, “He doesn't know any more than we do.” He dismissed the matter from his mind and turned back to the scrying pool.

*

Brendan ran through Kingsford's streets, the pack on his back felt heavy, his breath came in gasps. The dog had chased him for what felt hours, unrelenting; forcing him down into the narrower streets to the spots where the street lights were spaced further apart, in one of the town's idiosyncrasies. The youth was tiring, soon he would not be able to run any more, and he acted accordingly, making towards places where there would be light, and people.

He turned onto the high street and looked back, catching a hand on the lamp post to steady himself.

The dog still lumbered after him, growing bigger as it did so, muscles bunching in obscene clusters under its coat. Its eyes had taken on a terrifying aspect, bright and unnatural against its black fur. Its head, already big before the rag had possessed it, had grown to match its body, and sported a mouth so vast that it terrified Brendan, one bite would surely ravage a limb.

His phone rang in his pocket but he ignored it, there was no time to check the thing, and it was probably only Jessica looking to have phone sex. He kept running, saw a group of people and started towards them. Perhaps they would be able to help him. As he grew near he recognised one of them, Dave, an old school friend, who had a can of beer in one hand and his other about his girlfriend's, Amy, waist.

“Brendan,” Dave called. “How are you mate?” He disengaged from Amy and held out a hand.

Brendan skidded to a stop and bent double, panting as he sought to catch his breath. He unbuckled the pack and let it fall, wriggling his shoulders to work the tension out of them. He glanced back; the hound had not followed him out onto the street, he caught sight of it, lurking off the High Street, hunched down in the dark, watching.

“Are you alright?” Amy asked, looking at his face with concern.

“Yeah, just running late, Aiden's going to be having kittens.” He grinned up at her.

“Probably,” she told him, wryly. It was a pattern to the twins' behaviour, Brendan would rush into things and Aiden would invariably be the one to pull him out again. It had been the way things had worked ever since they were young. “Do you want me to carry that?” She lifted the pack, slinging it on a shoulder, casting a pointed glance to Dave as she did so.

“Thanks, are you sure?” Brendan asked. She nodded and the three of them began to walk up the high street. As they walked Brendan glanced back, there was no sign of the dog but something, he could not say what, told him that the creature was following them.

*

The hound paced the back streets, keeping out of the light. It slunk through the darkness, sniffing as it went. The addled thoughts that flashed through its mind could not identify why the youth was important, it was more a vestige of annoyance that the boy had seen it, known what it was. A low growl rumbled from the servant's throat. Even a street away it could smell the boy's sweat, his fear and it followed.

The boy walked for a while, along the brightly lit road, the light hurt the hound's eyes. It was adapted to the night, to hunting in the dark; its primary quarry, the image of a vixen burnt in its brain, ready to be dealt with once the problem of the youth had been addressed, was out there somewhere and it would need to operate in the same world in order to serve the masters, no matter how far away they were.

It reached a new road and stopped, sitting to look towards the High Street, where the trio had paused on a corner opposite, to talk amongst themselves. They were discussing something, their heads held close. The blonde youth kept looking out, down the street. His eyes were bright and nervous.

The hound crept closer, keeping low, down in the shadows. Still in the dark it came to a halt and it listened.

“Are you sure? I can carry it a while longer,” the girl said.

The quarry shook his head, glancing out again as he did so. “No, I'll be fine and I should be getting back. Jess has texted me to say that Aiden's worried.”

“Ignore him, come back to mine and have a drink mate,” the other youth cried. “You can sleep on the sofa.”

“No, it's okay. Besides there's something I want to check on.”

“What's that?” The girl asked, curiousity staining her voice.

“Oh a fox that's moved into the back garden,” the youth said carelessly.

In its hiding place, the hound rose; the image of the vixen flared inside its skull at the blonde man's words driving it on. It took several steps forward and stopped, just shy of the light, its ears pricked forwards, its tail wagged, despite itself. A growl built in its throat, as the trio began to split up. It risked another step forwards.

The girl and the second youth split off, heading further up the road. The blonde boy began to make his way down the street opposite.

The hound dashed across the High Street, as quickly as it could, closing its eyes to shut out the troublesome light. On the other side it opened its eyes and began to track the boy again.

He was walking ahead, cautiously, he glanced back over his shoulder as the hound entered the street behind him.

“Shit,” he said, and the hound grinned, its tongue lolling over the great white teeth that lined its mouth. It bounded forward, eating up the distance between the two of them.

Suddenly there was the sound of running feet, another young man, this one clad in a long black coat, hurled into view, knocking the blonde boy out of the hound's path and across the street. The two sprawled against a car, and the sound of its strident alarm ripped out, filling the night.

“Where the hell have you been?” The newcomer demanded, helping the youth to his feet.

“Sorry Aiden, I didn't mean to be so late,” the blonde boy said.

“We should get out of here,” his brother replied.

“Yes, that would be a good plan. Can you take my bag?” Brendan asked, suddenly sounding tired.

The hound took in him, tall and thin, pale with black hair that fell in a mane. It sniffed, he smelt the same as the other man and it dawned in the back of the dog's brain that there was something... other about the way they smelled. A scent that marked them out from the other people hereabouts. Recovered from its leap, it turned towards them and readied itself to spring.

Across the street the two young men looked at each other, the pale boy looked back at the hound and then to the blonde haired man.

“Run?” He asked.

“You need to ask?” The other returned. He threw his pack to the pale boy and they took off, down the road.

As the hound took after him it could hear the sounds of the car's owners hurrying to check on the machine. It ran, sprang again, determined to end this. It's mouth closed on the pale youth's arm, biting into the leather.

He cried out in surprise, his other hand appeared, gripping a small knife.

*

Across the ford Darian started to his feet, “That's the youth that Yelena went off with!” His voice rang about the chamber.

Feydo jerked upright at the sound, “What is it?” His voice was thick with sleep; as some point the old sorcerer had slipped into slumber.

“The boy,” Darian pointed into the scrying pool, where the hound's gaze dimly showed the pale man's face. The courtier watched as the stranger raised a strange looking knife and, with some reluctance showing on his face, stabbed downwards, cutting at the dog. The vision shifted as Feydo's servant shifted, instinct taking over as it shied away from the knife, the observers saw the youths flee away, fading into the night, the disgusting, unnatural night. They receded in the hound's vision as it tried to get its bearings, the stupid canine mind working out what to do next.

“Get it to chase them,” Darian demanded, gesturing wildly.

“Yes,” the sorcerer nodded and muttered something in a sour tone, making a slight twist of his hand. His eyes glittered as he spoke and he cast a dark look at the courtier.

The hound shook itself, looked back, showing the other mortals, crowding around the wheeled metal box. They stared at it, concern, fear even, showing on their faces as it saw the hound, hulking and huge in the night as if it were Grendel. The hound winced, obviously chagrined by the mental touch of its master, turned and bounded after the fleeing mortals, running into the night.