No Good Comes: When You Dig Up the Dead: scene one

“That’s not a sandwich,” I said.

“You’ve shown a preference for freshly-culled squirrel lately.”

squirrel-524019_1920

This is the first scene from the first draft of No Good Comes which will be a series. Each book will focus on different characters, some of whom will be familiar from my other books. Eventually. This is a spin-off from the Not the Same River series, the first book of which will be published in the autumn of 2018.

No Good Comes will throw a spotlight on Cascade, an un/holy organisation set up to save humanity. I’m still building stories, but there will be queerness and romance and teleporting and murder. The series features angels, demons, vampires, vaewolves. There will be undertakers and magnificent hair and pistachios. If you’d like a sneak peek at my inspiration board—still a work in progress—you can find it here. Maybe you’ll have as much fun shipping the characters as I did.

In the meantime …

Stephen King is dead. But not for long.

***

She’d been watching my grave for weeks.

Every time I left my grave to feed, she was there. It didn’t occur to me until the tenth night that she’d make a tasty meal. She didn’t look overly tall, sitting there on the bench, but there was plenty of her to sink my teeth into. If I had any teeth. Bench. Bench. Was that a real word? I couldn’t really remember how big women were, or how they compared to benches. In size, I mean. Size. Size. Was that a real word?

My brain still felt fuzzy, which I suppose could be a normal thing for a dead person. Was I a zombie now? I felt like I should’ve been panicking more. I mean, it wasn’t every day you woke up dead. Except, now it was. Every day, or rather, every night, I woke up dead.
I spent all day in the ground, in a very tight, womb-like coffin. The lid was clear with dirt piled on it. Even in the consumptive darkness, I could see the tiny spaces between each grain and the seeds of other ungrown things. Nothing wriggled or crawled though. I was a sugar-free lolly, loaded with aspartame and avoided by ants, but not stupid humans. Why was she just sitting there? Aspartame. Aspartame.

She was young—early twenties at most—and very pretty, even with her ridiculous, acidic lime hair and matching eyebrows. She was bold and alive. She was exactly what I wasn’t. I hadn’t been bold and alive even before I died. I didn’t try to eat her. Even if I’d figured out how to do it, how to fit something so big into my face, assuming I still had one, I couldn’t bring myself to hurt her.

On the sixteenth night, I moved closer than I ever had before. I stood in front of her, taking in tonight’s outfit. She had one of those fifties dresses on—all floaty and triangular at the bottom, and tight against her breasts up top. It was lilac with cupcakes all over it. She wore cowboy boots and fishnets with embroidered things weaving in and out of them: stars, flowers, feathers, ribbons. Hanging over the arm of the bench was a denim jacket and a dark purple cardigan. Shouldn’t she be cold? She didn’t look it.

She wore a dreamy look on her pale face as she peered down at the phone in her hands. Someone was making her happy. Her thumbs flew over the screen, and I looked down at the back and forth of brief messages. Body Snatcher. That’s who was making her happy. It wasn’t the sort of nickname that should inspire happiness in a young woman who sat alone night after night in a graveyard. Unless that’s why she was here.

I looked around me. I’d never really bothered looking before. The moon seemed full again, the sky a brilliant, inky blue, pierced with stars. A stone church, small and perfect, squatted in the grass like a cottage in a fairy tale. The moon made it blue. The gravestones were uniformly square, unlike any cemetery I’d ever seen in England. England. There was something very off about them.

When I rambled back to the graves, I realised I didn’t know which one was mine. I felt panic rise where my gut should be, thinking I’d lost the ability to read the names on the stones. What if I couldn’t get back in?

Mine wasn’t far from the tree, I thought, but when I looked, there were five trees near the graves. I looked down at the nearest stone, one eye shut so only half my eyes could be disappointed. There was no writing. I checked the other side. No writing. I checked each grave. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. No writing.

I wondered if the woman knew where I was, or why there were no names on the gravestones. I wondered why I was more panicked that I couldn’t find my grave than by the fact that I was dead in the first place.

The urge to feed hit me again as I got closer. I wouldn’t hurt her though; I liked the sound of her laugh. And the way her head tipped to the side when she smiled.

She looked up, green eyebrows raised. “Don’t even think about.”

I looked around, wondering if the frown I felt was really there. Maybe she was talking to her phone.

I felt stupid as fuck saying, “Are you talking to me?”

She smirked. “Yes, I’m talking to you.”

“Am I dead?”

“Yes,” she said, without any of the respect that such a brutal response required.

I felt my lungs crumple, even though I wasn’t sure air did anything for me anymore. “Oh.”

“But it’s not permanent,” she said, her tone dubious.

“Good?”

“Can be,” she said, shrugging her tattooed shoulders. “That’s up to you.”

“Nothing is ever up to me,” I said.

“You wanna watch that attitude.” Then, without irony, she said, “It’ll get you killed.”

“Am I naked?” I said, wondering why I’d suddenly thought of it, and why the hell I thought it was a good idea to say it out loud.

Her gaze swiped up and down my … being. It lingered on my crotch and a smile kicked her face into a laugh that bubbled over. And despite the heat and embarrassment I felt, I wanted to laugh too, and though I felt the echo of a smile—the shape of it, the shadow of lips and teeth and amusement—I couldn’t remember how to do it. The moment fell flat.

“Calm down,” she finally said. “I can’t see anything.”

“I’m dressed?”

“You’re a shadow, a silhouette.” She crossed her legs and said, “I knew you’d be more awake tonight so I brought you a sandwich.”

“I’ve been awake every night,” I said. “I’ve been counting.”

“Have you?” she said, like I’d told her this a thousand times already. Maybe I had.

“This is the sixteenth night.”

She raised her eyebrows. “It is. That’s quite unusual, you know. Most of you are at least three or four days out. At least. Sometimes they’re ten days out. Ten, Stephen.”

“Yes. Stephen. Stephen. I keep thinking words aren’t real words.”

“That’s normal.”

“They just sound so weird. Weird. Weird.”

She laughed. “So, you want your sandwich?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said, feeling my insides pinch. “How do I …?”

She opened a paper bag that was sitting next to her and held it out for me. I felt like an idiot. I couldn’t remember how to eat. But that didn’t seem like such an imminent problem when I looked into the bag.

“That’s not a sandwich,” I said.

“You’ve shown a preference for freshly-culled squirrel lately.”

“That’s what I’ve been eating? Squirrels? God, I’m a monster.”

“Yes.” She sighed. “Okay, this guy here, he was called Gerald. He was a little bastard, mean to all the other squirrels. He hurt them so bad, he deserves this.”

“What did he do?” I said.

Her face crumpled in a way that seemed familiar, but I couldn’t figure out what it meant. She pulled her dark lips between her teeth, her nostrils flared, her forehead crinkled, not just into horizontal lines, but vertical ones too. Like she was about to …

“How did he hurt them?” I said, when it seemed like she’d never answer.

“He pinched their nuts,” she burst out, her laughing voice filling the graveyard. “Nuts aren’t supposed to be blue, Stevie.”

I laughed but said, “Don’t call me Stevie.”

“Yeah, well, you’ll need a new name when we bring you up.”

“You make me sound like vomit.”

“Were you a comedian in real life? That explains why there were so many people at your funeral.”

“God, what?”

“Shit, sorry, I really shouldn’t have said that. It was supposed to be a joke, but I—”

“You think it’s a joke that I had no friends? No parents? That there’s, like, four people who would even miss me at all.”

“No, that’s not what I … Stephen, you did have friends. The crematorium was full.”

“I can’t decide if that’s worse,” I said, feeling a phantom ache in my phantom throat where my voice was getting higher. “Not having friends, or not knowing I had any. I mean, I guess there were some. People from work. How … how did you find me?”

“You were on a watch list.”

“A watch list? Like, FBI levels of watch listiness? That’s the single most interesting thing about my entire life. Who was watching me?”

Erin grinned darkly. “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

“Is that a joke? I mean, I’m already dead. Is that … I can’t really … I don’t feel right. My brain feels fuzzy.”

“You were concussed. Before you died, I mean,” she said. “You were … you hit the back of your head.” My hand flew to the sore spot, but there was nothing there. Nothing to feel. “That feeling won’t improve until after, and even then it might linger for a while. And the bump’s been fixed, by the way.”

I wanted to ask what the hell I was, but I couldn’t. Not yet. Instead, I said, “Who are you?”

“You can call me Erin, but everything else will have to wait until you’re brought up, okay?”

She had this solemn look on her face, like everything she was saying was for my own good, like everything was what she’d wanted to hear when she …

“I’m the same as you,” I said. “You’ve been through this.”

She didn’t answer because we both knew I was right. “You’ll make a good case study. You’re very alert. Do you mind?”

“Mind what?”

“If I bring a notebook tomorrow night,” she said. “If I, uh, make notes about tonight in it too?”

I shook my head, maybe. Then figured she couldn’t see me. “I don’t mind.”

“Do you remember the first night?” she said.

“I remember the dirt hitting the glass. And salt. Rock salt.” I hadn’t remembered that until just that moment. My head came up quickly to look at her.

“You remember the salt?”

“Yeah, I counted each little rock.”

“You remember how many?”

I shook my head pointlessly. “No.”

“What else do you remember?”

“The smell. At first, I thought I was dreaming, but I knew I wasn’t. The smells were all wrong.”

Erin shifted to the edge of the bench, her hands gripping the front of it. “What smells?”

“Everything smelt like dirt, until …”

“Until?”

“At night, everything smells of blood.”

***

Original image from BMaxim37 on Pixabay.

No Good Comes: a scene

ngc banner

This is the first draft of what is currently scene 3.

Context: After he is murdered, Stephen King (no, not that one) is buried for forty nights, after which he will rise a bloodborn vampire with his soul intact. Until then, his soul comes out at night to feed, and he is bombarded with memories of his human life.

POV: first person, Stephen’s perspective.

***

Dreams flew at my face like a life flashing before my eyes. It was the same every night, the moment I escaped my grave. A shadowy, brutal part of me detached itself for feeding. Even as I tore into another squirrel—let’s call him Duncan the sparrow slayer—I felt my human side recoil, taking joy instead in the dreams that might’ve been my life.

I saw my grandad, camera swinging from his neck. I remembered the first time we traipsed into a field to take photos, avoiding divots and piles of horse shit.

Everything for miles was a sunlit beige. Hay bales, rough beneath my palms. An old twitchers’ shed with a crinkle-cut roof and drunken door. Logs with caramel burns and treacle cracks. Abandoned eggshells that had birthed things so tiny they couldn’t possibly have survived in this empty place. Mushrooms, wizened and deformed, like they’d crawled out of eggshells. Fuzzy grasses, soft as feathers, tiny pods popping off when I dragged my hand up past the stem. Little grains of it stuck to my sweaty palm. I remembered sniffing my hand, thinking it would smell like cereal, but it just smelled like dirt.

Grandad said we were on an island made up mostly of marshes, where bird watchers sat for hours. There was a horrible plant smell, the kind that made your cheeks bunch: acidic, sugary. And there was an industrial fog smell, like burnt rubber and dog biscuits, that came from the power station floating on the river.

Grandad photographed all the beige things, from afar, close up. Sometimes he moved the things around to create little collages of beige. Sometimes the collages looked like Dad’s cooking: rice, beans, mushrooms. Beige, beige, beige. Nuggets, chips, coleslaw. Beige, beige, beige.

We went to the island lots of times, sometimes to the woodland part, carpeted in bluebells, mushrooms climbing the trees, sometimes to the cherry orchard, where we’d discuss the ripeness of the cherries, then I’d stuff myself until I looked like I’d been gorging on blood, sticky juice smeared across my cheeks. Grandad said I looked like a little vampire.

I borrowed one of his cameras every time, sure its weight would turn me into Quasimodo before my next birthday. I photographed the beige things. I photographed the sky, which was white, grey, gold, blue, purple.

I remembered the day I found a bird skeleton, lying there on its side, picked clean, picked beige. I felt like I’d found dinosaur bones. I didn’t want to move it; something so delicate would break. Its beak was hollow, its ribs like the husk of a great spider, its legs were fuzzy twigs. I photographed every bit of it, paying attention to Grandad’s instructions. Sometimes, he said things that seemed both obvious and obscure, like he was talking about something else.

“Fill the frame with everything you want to see, so that when you look at it, in weeks and years to come, you remember how you felt at this moment. Listen to the nightingales, the cuckoos. Breathe in, Stephen. The smell will bring you back here too. Smell memories are the strongest of all.”

Sometimes he said things that were more useful.

“Think about the shapes things make, turn your camera around to capture different angles. Think about the shadows cast by other objects. See, here,” he said, drawing lines in the air with his fingers. “See how the tips of the grass glow, and how the bottom of it is almost black, the middle brown. Like a flag. Capture it like a flag, Stephen.”

When I’d captured the three stripes of the flag, I tilted the camera, so the bottom line of the golden tips ran from corner to corner, creating a triangle of light and a triangle of shadow.

Grandad had a dark room that I wasn’t allowed to go in. Chemicals are dangerous, he said. Film was expensive, he said. He couldn’t have me wandering in there when he was mired in the delicate process of exposing film.

He’d bring my photos round the next night, and Dad would cook him tea. Beige food. Then we’d discuss the photos. He said I was learning fast. He said I’d be a great photographer one of these days. Dad was always in a bad mood after he left. I don’t think he’d ever told Dad he was great at anything, and I didn’t think he ever would if Dad kept cooking. I liked his food, but Grandad liked meat with everything, and if there were green vegetables on his plate, they’d better be boiled to death. He smothered everything in salt and white pepper to make up for the dead nutrients.

The beige wasteland wasn’t the only place we went to take photos. There were old forts on the river, there was a dockyard, castles dotted all over Kent. I just remember the beige place most because one day, it was flooded red.

***

Source image from Momentmal on Pixabay.

DeMobbed: a scene

demobbed header

This is a first draft of what is currently scene 22.

Context: the runaways have just spent their first night on the run in a motel room. They wake to find a man where there should be a dog.

Note: a springer is someone who can boost locks just by running their hands over them. The kiss alluded to sounds like Vlad kissed a dog. He didn’t. He was kissed by someone unexpected to distract him from river lust (the overwhelming urge to throw himself into a river – a vampire thing).

POV: third person, Jay’s perspective.

***

As soon as Jay Looper rolled onto his back, the kid scrambled away and jumped out of the bed, flinging the covers at him. A blonde girl he hadn’t seen before was peering over the dark-haired girl’s shoulder, a wary look on her wide-eyed face. The vampire was watching Sunny with amusement.

“Whoa! Who the fuck are you?” Sunny shouted. “What have you done to my dog?”

“Do I look like I’m in any position to do anything to anyone?”

“I dunno, man,” said the blonde girl, her voice husky with sleep. “You looked like you were in a position to bang Sunny good and hard.”

Jay grinned as he raised his arm above his head and stretched his body beneath the covers. “Get attached to the dog did you?”

“Where is he?” Sunny whistled. “Tripod?”

Jay groaned. “How can we be related?”

“Related what? Who are you?”

“Jay Looper,” said the blonde girl. “That’s right, isn’t it? The cherry guy.”

“The cherry guy?” said Jay, pushing himself upright against the headboard.

“I served you at Lucky D’s a couple of days ago,” she said.

“Nah, that was a guy,” said Jay. “Where’s my arm?”

Everyone seemed to notice Jay’s missing arm at once, a collective gasp rising, and all eyes momentarily on his shoulder before flicking to his face.

“That was me,” said the girl, turning into the blonde guy from the bar. His voice deepened. “And your arm is still in the van.”

“Can you get it for me, Sunny,” said Jay, looking up at the mussed-up kid still standing there, hands on hips. “And my clothes. They were behind the passenger seat.”

“How do you know my name?” said Sunny, pulling on his shorts.

“Even if he hadn’t already said your name just now,” said Jay, running his hand lazily down his chest, “I’ve heard it enough times in the last thirty-six hours. Besides, I came back to Vegas to find you. Or Jenna did. Fuck, I’m starving.” He threw the covers back and dropped his feet to the floor. “You got anything to eat in here?”

Jay had never been shy about his body, which was just as well, because everyone was looking at it while he paced around the room looking for food.

“You mind covering up your ass?” said Freya.

“You don’t like it?” he said, flexing his cheeks.

“It’s not as good as Indy’s,” said Freya.

Indy blushed, and Jay smirked. “Hurry up and get my clothes, kid. This lady is offended by my arse.”

“I’ll go,” said Indy, sliding out of the bed so he didn’t let any heat escape. He pulled on a pair of jeans from his suitcase, then looked up at the vampire. “What? I was too hot to keep the shirt on.”

“Vlad, right?” said Jay, a wicked grin on his face. Vlad nodded. “That was one hell of a kiss yesterday.”

Vlad scowled at Jay.

“Key?” said Indy, holding out his hand.

“You won’t need it,” said Jay. “Jenna trusts you by now.”

“Who the fuck is Jenna?”

“The van,” said Jay.

“Speaking of,” said Indy, “Astaroth said we need to change it. Any idea what that means?”

“When you get my stuff, tell her I said she needs a paint job.”

Indy put on a different face, and trotted outside barefoot in just his jeans. Freya snuggled further under the covers when the vampire looked at her. Jay wasn’t sure whether she was hiding from his body or hiding her own.

“I need food,” said Jay. “But not more than I need a piss.”

“Jesus, do you just say everything that comes into your mind?” said Freya.

“Usually,” said Jay, heading for the bathroom.

He slammed the door shut behind him, but he could still hear them talking. He stared at his reflection in the mirror above the toilet. Who the fuck puts a mirror above a toilet? Do normal people like to watch themselves pissing? He still looked like a dog. He needed a hairbrush and a shave. It didn’t look like he had any new scars, though there was a bruise on his ribs where the pain had hit. He had no idea what kind of curse would’ve turned him into a dog.

He flushed, washed his hands then threw water on his face. Someone banged on the door.

“What do you mean we’re related?” Sunny yelled.

Jay opened the cupboard beneath the sink, where there was a bundle of new toothbrushes. He chose a red one.

“Are you a fucking dog? Damn, that’s a bad trick to play on a guy. Were you my dog?”

“Of course he was your fucking dog, you moron,” Vlad mumbled.

Jay snorted a laugh, then brushed his teeth.

“Hey, are you listening to me?” Sunny banged on the door again. “I liked that dog. You suck.”

“What are you, four?” said Vlad.

“Shut up, Dracula. And how did you know I was in Vegas?”

Jay opened the door, and Sunny fell into him, straightening quickly.

“Don’t make any one-armed bandit jokes,” said Jay, narrowing his eyes as he looked down at Sunny. “I see how your mind works.”

Sunny scowled. “I wasn’t going to.”

“Good. Because even with one arm, I could knock the living shit out of you. I’d use my prosthesis as a club. How about that?”

“I’m sorry I called you Tripod,” said Sunny, looking contrite.

Jay thought he was adorable. “I’m just kidding.” He slapped Sunny’s shoulder. “Hey, lighten up. I was kidding.”

“He doesn’t like being touched,” said Vlad.

Sunny spun around to look at Vlad, then back at Jay.

“You’ve been snuggling up to me for thirty-six hours straight, dude,” said Jay.

“British guys shouldn’t say dude,” said Sunny, a sulky pout overtaking his mouth. “Y’all sound stupid saying dude.”

“One’s criticism is duly noted,” said Jay, in his best imitation of the Queen. In his normal voice, he said, “No comment on the snuggling?”

Sunny shrugged. “You were a cute dog. So … we’re related?”

Jay nodded. “Brothers,” he said, as Indy came back in with his arm and caught an eyeful of genitalia.

“Still naked?” said Indy, throwing the clothes on the bed, and handing Jay his arm. “You couldn’t wrap it in a towel or something?”

Jay sat on the bed. “What took you so long?”

“You didn’t tell me I’d have to coax the door open. I damn near had to seduce your van to get it to let me in.”

“Did you call her an it?” said Jay, turning away from everyone as he set about attaching his arm. “She doesn’t like being misgendered.”

“Man, that ain’t funny,” said Indy.

“And I ain’t laughing. She doesn’t like being called it. Vans can have feelings too, you know.”

“Shut up! Shut up!” Sunny’s hands were up in the air, and his head was down. He looked like a preach meme. “How can I be your brother?”

“Willow Wyatt is my mother,” said Jay.

“But you’re British.”

“English, yeah. So?”

“So how can we be brothers?”

“You’ve heard of travel, yes?” said Jay, raising an eyebrow. “I guess our mother got around. I don’t know. I never knew her.”

“You don’t look like her,” said Sunny.

“I look like my dad,” said Jay, a thunderous feeling starting to build in his head. He pulled on his jeans, then his t-shirt.

“I look like my mom.”

“I know. I’ve seen pictures of her. She’s very beautiful.”

“Are you saying I’m beautiful?” said Sunny.

“Dude, you’re my brother.”

“Dude, no dude.”

“I can’t help it. I had an Americanised childhood. It was traumatic and left me with linguistic throwbacks and cultural scars.”

For a moment, Jay thought Indy and Freya were shagging in the other bed, then he realised that Indy was sitting on the floor by Vlad, who was still huddled beneath the blankets on the tiny sofa.

“What are you doing?” said Jay. “You look like Houdini trying to get out of a sack.”

“I’m getting dressed,” Freya hissed.

Jay laughed. It earned him twin glares from her lover boys.

“So Indy? You can flip between the D and the V?”

“You’re a gross little man, you know that?” said Indy. “I liked you better when you were a dog. Speaking of, it’s a bit rich dragging me for flipping when you can turn into a dog.”

Vlad sat up, which tugged at the covers behind Indy. He leant forward and turned as the covers slipped off Vlad’s chest. He might’ve had more scars than Jay. He watched the two men look at each other, and a wave of shame washed over him.

“First,” said Jay, “I wasn’t dragging you because you can flip. I was, as you say, being a gross little man. I forget sometimes that other people are … people. I’m not fabulous at being around others, so sorry for being offensive. And second, I can’t turn into a dog. I don’t know how that happened. I was cursed or something, and it somehow wore off.”

“It didn’t somehow wear off,” said Indy. “Whoever cursed you is dead. That’s how this shit works.”

“He was fine when I left him,” said Jay. “Well, not fine exactly. Maybe he was eaten by wolves.”

“Some guys came into the casino looking for you,” said Indy. “The day after I served you at the bar.”

Jay had heard them discussing it in the van, but he really wasn’t ready to talk about any of that. “What guys?”

“Angels,” said Freya, emerging from her cocoon fully-dressed. “There’s a photo of one of them in your van.”

“I doubt it,” he said. “I don’t know any angels.”

“They know you,” said Freya. “The one in the photo has blue hair now though.”

Jay’s grin was so instant that he knew he’d given himself away. “I told you—”

Freya rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, you don’t know any angels.”

“She says I’m an angel,” said Sunny. “That my real father is an angel.”

“I know one angel,” Jay amended.

“So, it’s true?”

“Yeah. You’re a springer, so it’ll be Sandalphon. His whole line would make a fine organisation of burglars if they weren’t so angelic.” Jay snorted as he remembered the not-so-angelic branch of Sandalphon’s tree.

“The angels were from Cascade,” said Freya. “That makes you as wanted as we are. Isn’t that fun?”

***

The source image above is from Activedia on Pixabay.