“Excuse me, Miss, are you all right?”
Neethan had been intrigued by the woman since she came in earlier that evening. You didn’t see many people wearing real clothes these days, even in Antara Station: the last surviving moon-base. The diners sitting at the faux-wood tables might have looked as if they were wearing the finest black-tie evening wear, but the wealthy didn’t have as much as they appeared to possess at first glance. Their fine clothes were holographs, mostly softlight. Some might be the costlier hardlight, but you had to be bigly in the sheckles to afford that, and only a few were, despite the image they projected to the Crawlers on Earth.
Underneath the holographs, the diners wore standard fibre-suits, or fibes – the same as those shipped down to the Crawl, only cleaner and newer. Women usually wore fibes tinted with lighter pastel colours, whereas the men accepted the standard dirt-brown and shit-grey variety. This woman though, she was wearing Real. How could that be possible?
Neethan had a little Real of his own. It was a small, trimmed square of genuine jean fabric in a hermetically sealed jar. He’d saved the equivalent of a month’s shares to purchase it. The woman’s red silk dress was long enough to sweep the floor. Part of him screamed at the sight of the hem touching the dirty surface. She was letting it get soiled, ruined … desecrated.
How could someone be so careless? How could someone be so rich?
He’d never seen her before, despite everyone who had sheckles coming here to watch the Earthside rise each day. The more he looked her way as he did the rounds – taking orders, serving digitised drinks – the more her presence felt wrong to him, like error in a datafeed, or honesty in FakeNews.
She was beautiful: statuesque rather than slender, with platinum blonde hair that uncoiled, python-like, over her shoulder. Her eyes were cobalt neon chips, and her lips were red as real life. There was a colour and vibrancy about her that made Neethan’s skin pebble with sweat. Too real to be real. Unlike the faces around him, a grey paleness came from living in the station: eyes dull and underscored with insomnia shadows, hair hanging in lank, greasy strips, skin marked by acne scars, premature lines, and malnutrition. None of these symptoms afflicted the woman at the corner table.
She’s not like the rest of us – how?
Neethan felt the urge to ask her who she was, to tear that red dress off her and fuck her on all fours until he felt as alive as she appeared, or to run away right now and get as far away from her presence as possible.
But it was his job to take her order, and he didn’t want to be zeroed and sent down to the Crawl. Running away was not an option. Unconsciously brushing his hair into place, Neethan approached the table and touched the nodule of flesh under his left ear. His soulwire would transmit the woman’s order straight to one of the cook-pods.
He stood at the table for a minute, patiently waiting, before realising that although the woman was holding the menu, she wasn’t reading. She was muttering something unintelligible under her breath.
“Can I take your order, please?”
Her head snapped around, and she looked up at him. No emotion was evident in her features; her face a perfect mask. The fleshy left corner of her bottom lip twitched a little.
“Excuse me, Miss…” He didn’t know what else to say, other than, “Are you all right?”
Her head shook back and forth.
“I’m sorry to hear that. May I get you some refreshment to help … ?”
The flesh around her eyes was coming loose, sagging off the bone like perished rubber, revealing glistening threads of musculature beneath.
The woman’s mouth fell open and he saw raw emptiness inside – a hissing, black, electric void. It spoke to him, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round. The wheels on the bus go round and round, all day long.”
As the void spoke, the woman’s head wagged violently from side to side in time with the rhythm of the words, as if she were a marionette with a broken neck, being jerked around by a cruel master.
“Can I help you?” the words exited his mouth slowly. They tasted mechanical, pointless, and not like him at all. It felt like someone – something – else was speaking through him. He didn’t know the woman, and her words were superficially harmless, but he felt the need to put his hand over her mouth, to stop her from saying more.
“… round and round … round and round …”
Neethan turned his head, slowly, all too slow, to see the other diners trembling and transfixed, staring into space as if they’d been switched off internally.
This must be a nightmare. This must be a dream. I’ll wake up in my module soon. I hope.
His hand was almost where it needed to be – over the woman’s gaping mouth – when the void inside her spoke again. Neethan felt the truth of her words resonate in his bones.
“… the wheels on the bus go round and round, all day long …”
Neethan was no longer moving, or standing, instead he was on the floor, spasming violently. The words cut through him, scraping away his flesh and laying open the marrow of his bones. His eyes burst and ran down his face in liquid streams. Something hot and thick as glue poured from his nose: a flux of blood and liquefied brains. He couldn’t scream, because his vocal cords were burnt cartilage-wires, and – before his ear drums dissolved completely – he heard his mouth moving relentlessly, miming the words of the void.
“… the wheels on the bus go round and round all day long …”
And then … nothing. Everything switched off like a dead television channel.
PUBLICATION DATE: 8 June 2018
Celeste Walker’s home is the Crawl: a dystopian mega-city covering two-thirds of the Earth’s surface. The entire population are interconnected through a cyberspace network called the Flood. Celeste hunts down and defuses rogue memories in the Flood for a living. Her life is well-ordered, calculated, and routine – until the memories she hunts start fighting back.
What is real and what is not begins to blur. Her work colleagues are found dead – is she the murderer?
With her life and sanity at stake, Celeste finds her way to the forbidden Zero Sector, where the shocking truth awaits. Will she be the one to lead a revolution against the hi-sector elite and the mysterious Man in the Moon? Or, will she betray and ultimately destroy the human race?
Due out end of May.
Out on Friday 9th March!
Amidst the evening gloom of the Seaforth Flats, they called out for the lost centaur maiden to no avail. Their cries echoed back on themselves or drifted away, lost in the thickening reek.
“We must take care,” Laene said, “there may be Behemoths abroad. They rarely travel alone.”
Willow moved before the other two, using the light cast by the thule’s blade as a makeshift torch against the encroaching dark. Night creatures croaked and brayed from out of sight, confusing their shouts so that Yirae might not know her friends were looking for her. At least, that was how it seemed to Willow. She wondered how paranoid it was to think the nocturnal fauna might be in league to the Lamia. There was no way to know for sure.
Suddenly, a high voice cut through the night’s chorus. Laene and Viril pushed past Willow in reply. It was Yirae. Willow trudged after them through the water-logged ground. This was heavy-going. Catching up with her companions, she held the thule up on high and illuminated a diorama of light and darkness at play with one another.
There was Yirae – with a bundle of sticks in her arms cantering towards them. Emerging out of the gloom on either side were No-men. Behind, dripping with water and weeds, was a Behemoth. Willow felt sure it was the one that passed herself and Laene by earlier that day.
The centaur cried out piteously. Her eyes were wide and weeping. Willow moved to intervene. The thule burning bright in her hands, drawing spiteful hisses from the gathering No-men, driving them back. The Behemoth kept on coming. A hand reached down and snared Yirae between its fingers, lifting the centaur maiden clear of the ground. She bucked, thrashed and whinnied against its tightening grip. Her bundle of sticks scattering as a dry rain.
She was out of reach. There was nothing Willow could do. Laene and Viril were staring numbly at their sister-kin, paralysed by the sight of her approaching fate.
Willow dashed through the broken ground ahead. She could not cut Yirae free but if she could cut the Behemoth’s legs, then there might be a chance.
Mist and shadow surged into her path. The No-men had not retreated. The first children of the Lamia had pulled back and formed themselves into a Great No. The air smouldered and flared as Willow tried to cut her way through. Her breath was catching in her throat. Sobs were escaping. Her eyes were streaming with tears as she fought against black flux and obsidian tide – but it did not good. The Great No was strong, fed the despair and ruin of the land, and she could not turn it aside. Willow fell into a crouch, using the thule to brace herself against their dismal hunger – so eager to consume her, body and soul. There was no more she could do than this.
Looking up, she watched as the Behemoth’s mouth opened and Yirae, kicking and crying, was raised high above the chasm of its open throat. Its fingers began to come away from the centaur maiden one by one until she was held by forefinger and thumb alone.
Stillness. A breath. No-one moved.
The Behemoth’s forefinger and thumb went slack. Yirae was falling.
Her scream was cut off by teeth clashing shut and a wet smacking sound.
Pain vibrated through Willow as she imagined that she heard Yirae’s muffled cries as the Behemoth swallowed her, and she reached its stomach. The vibration intensified as pure fury is wont to do.
White light exploded out of her, scouring a path ahead, clearing away the Great No as the night retreats before dawn – and thundering into the Behemoth, which tottered and stumbled on its feet but remained upright.
Willow stared up at it as the surge she’d unleashed subsided. It looked back down at her with empty, dumb eyes. Where the No-men were malevolent, insidious and clever, the Behemoths were little more than a monstrous hunger. There was nothing behind those eyes, not even the Lamia’s will, and she found herself fearing these Behemoths more than their dark mistress. Without her, they would keep going; destroying all life. She wondered if that was the point – had the Lamia seen her death coming? Could the Behemoths have been created to send a message to Willow?
Even if you kill me, you will not destroy my legacy in this world.
Was evil forever as much as good?
The Behemoth was reaching for her and the other centaurs. There was no time to think on that now. She swept in, passing through the tunnel she’d carved through the Great No, ducking under the giant’s grasping fingers, and struck at its left ankle with all the force she could muster. The flesh separated and recombined, not bleeding a drop of blood. She could hear the whinnies and cries of her companions.
I must be swift and put an end to this.
Desperate, she drove the thule up to its hilt into the monster’s right ankle.
A tremor went through the thing that made the ground shake. The Great No scattered into No-men that fled into the mist. A groan escaped the Behemoth’s lips and she felt it sway, throwing her off-balance. She tried to draw the thule out again, but it was stuck fast, she could feel it grating against bone. Foul ichor was gushing out of the wounded flesh and she knew that she’d hit her mark – but she could not abandon her sword with it. Willow tugged and pulled. Her hands slithering off the hilt as it became slick with the Behemoth’s disgusting lifeblood.
The Behemoth took a step forward, then one back, and it was toppling towards her. Willow flung herself to one side; half-running, half- tumbling, hauling herself across the marshy ground, out of its way. It fell with a crash that sent a thick rain of water and soil surging into the air. Willow was spattered with it as she lay in the murk, catching her breath.
Coming soon…Friday 2nd March!
Willow Grey returns to Tirlane and finds it a place of darkness and despair. The Lamia has laid waste to the land. Its people are in hiding, waiting for the end of all things true. Hope appears to be lost. But, as she journeys towards the Lamia’s lair, Willow meets two brave new companions; Viril, a Centaur warrior, and Nastonik, a Beorhan wanderer. Will they be able to survive the perils that lay ahead? Can they face the monstrous Behemoths and defeat them in battle? Or, will they fall under the Lamia’s spell and become servants to her evil forever?
All Things True – March 2018
Neuroseed – April 2018
So, I’m finishing 2017 with targets set having been met. I have over twenty books published. Sales haven’t really gone up but this year has been one for finishing things off so that’s okay. I will be starting the new year with two books ready for publication and, after that, something else old yet new (for me, anyway) will be coming out.
There have been ups and some very deep downs this year but the fact that it’s been a year of solid writing has helped get me through the downs.
Out of the reading I’ve done this year, three titles by up-and-coming ladies in the horror genre have stood out for me. C L Raven’s darkly poetic Soul Asylum, Dani Brown’s grotesque headtrip Broccoli, and Kayleigh Marie Edwards’s collection of tales that features a bit of everything you know and love about the genre. Recommended reads, all!
Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year – see you in 2018!