Cascadence of Truth: Ships and Scars

“Go back there. Retrace your pain. Own every footstep as you face down your scars. Do it, Violet. Your orders will be waiting when you are done.”

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From Cascadence of Truth, book 6 of the Not the Same River series. Jet will have his own story in the No Good Comes series (Pinterest board here) and will feature in DeMobbed  (Pinterest board here).

Context: Violet is pissed off at her boss for sending her on a mission to a place she was tortured, without giving her prior warning. Jet takes her to Greenwich for more therapy.

***

We were on a dirty-grey, domed roof, ribbed stone beneath us, white pillars behind us. We were in Greenwich. I could see the rigging of the ship from our perch.

“Nobody’s going to ring that while we sit here, are they?” I said, leaning to the side when Jet turned to look at the bell caged behind us.

“No,” was all he said.

“Because I have really sensitive hearing.”

“So I heard,” he whispered.

“Are you alright out here?” I said.

“What?”

“In the sun, I mean.”

“Oh.” He laughed. “I won’t shrivel up and die, don’t worry.”

I was more worried that he’d go pink. He’d look like a skinned rabbit if he went pink. “So, is your name really Everett?”

“Does it matter?”

“No. Are you a nephilim or …?”

“Or?”

I shrugged. “Or something else?”

“I’m nephilim.”

“Whose son are you?”

“Raphael’s.” I choked, and he gave me a quizzical look. “What?”

“I dunno, that just seems so unlikely. You’re so beautiful. Really, really, ethereally beautiful. I mean you look like an actual angel. Not that he’s not good-looking. I mean, he is … but …” I burst out laughing, because Jet was laughing beside me. “Have you seen the size of his head?”

“It is quite big, isn’t it?” he said, grinning into the wind.

“It’s a boulder. And you’re so delicate.”

“I suppose my mother must’ve been an imp.”

“You don’t remember her?”

He shook his head. “I hear her sometimes. A voice in my head.”

“You know, that might not be your mother,” I said with a grin. He nudged me with his shoulder, and I toppled sideways, gripping the edge of the roof tightly. “Hey! No throwing me off the roof.”

“You can fly, can’t you?”

“I don’t fancy getting hauled in to face Raguel, thank you very much. I heard the angels aren’t very good at cover stories.”

“Raguel’s a pussy cat,” he said. “Just ask Jaz.”

“She’s one of his?”

“Yeah, that’s why she can draw blood.”

“Oh, you mean literally draw blood?” I said, remembering what she’d done to Kite in training. “I’ve seen her do that. It’s gruesome.”

“You wouldn’t think so if you’d seen Raguel do it.”

“I saw someone sentenced once. He passed out on the tube.”

“Ah, but sentencing is … legal. You should see him in battle.”

“Yeah, I think I’ll give that one a miss.”

He snorted, then his face settled. “You’re different now.”

“How do you mean?”

“Hmm, more content.”

“Content? I’m furious.”

“You might want to work on your facial expressions,” he said, “because you don’t look at all furious.”

“I’m not furious with you. Silver shouldn’t have sent me here. It was cruel.”

“What happened at Augarten?”

“I freaked out. Lost myself. It was like being back there with Fane messing with my mind. I felt like one day, I’d just disappear inside my own head. Unreachable.”

“Silver didn’t do this to be cruel.”

“It feels like she did.”

His lips thinned, but he didn’t push. He nodded into the distance. “Can you see it?”

“The ship? Yeah.” I didn’t even want to think about that ship. “So … did Raphael raise you? Uriel said he’s forgotten how to walk on land.”

He snorted. “It’s true, he’s rarely off his boat now, but … when I was young … he didn’t know about me … didn’t find me until I was seven. He put me in a house with a ridiculous number of staff. I had a governess, and saw Raphael every weekend, even after I was fully grown.”

“How old are you?”

“A hundred and ninety-one.”

“You’re looking good on it.”

He laughed. “Thank you. And you’re right, I do need to stay out of the sun to keep my complexion so glowy.”

“I really need to paint you.”

“Okay.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“God, normally I have to make barbaric threats to get people to sit for me.”

He stood, and I squinted to looked up at him. His hair whipped out to the front on the other side of his face, feathering across his sharp features. Yeah, I really did need to paint him. Outside.

“Let’s get this over with then,” he said.

“I’m in uniform,” I said, looking down at myself.

“I’ll fix it,” he said, grabbing my hand.

When we landed between two buildings, I caught sight of myself in a car window at the end of the alley. I was wearing black jeans and waistcoat and a saggy-necked, oatmeal shirt.

“God,” I said. “I didn’t even feel that.”

“Better?”

“Marginally.”

He laughed, then squeezed my hand tighter. He whispered, “My real name is Jet. Raphael said I should choose my own name. Before that, I was nobody.”

I squeezed his hand back as we made our way to the ship, momentarily distracted by the sight of a Nando’s. I slowed to an almost stop. I was starved after missing whatever wonder-sandwiches Milo made for us, but Jet pulled me towards the clipper.

“Oh, I should probably tell you that I’m quite famous,” he said.

“What?”

“Yeah, I’m a model.”

“Really?” I didn’t mean to sound so surprised, but I was.

“What, you were lying when you said I was beautiful?” He mock gasped, fanning himself dramatically.

“What kind of modelling?”

“The kind that puts me on massive billboards, and above escalators in tube stations, and over there.” He pointed at a bus, where he was sprawled across an ad banner wearing not very much at all.

“Nice pants,” I said.

He raised his eyebrows. “I have my own line of underwear now.”

“That’s … nice?”

He laughed. “I’ll have to age out and retire in a few years. Get old, all that stuff. That’s the problem with living life in the public eye.”

“How young can you go?” I said, joining the queue to get into the Cutty Sark.

“Seven,” he said.

“Oh my god,” shouted an excitable man with fearlessly quiffy blonde hair and a string bag full of pineapples. “You’re Jet Lux. I wear your underwear.” His cute face went pink. “Well, not your underwear. God, obviously not your underwear. I’m not a stalker. I don’t know where you live or anything.”

I laughed.

“Good?” said Jet.

“So yeah, not your actual underwear. But you know, the … the … underwear. Sorry.”

Jet grinned. “No apologies required. What’s your name?”

“Aidan,” he said shyly, like he hadn’t just told everyone in a fifty metre radius that he wore Jet’s underwear.

“Do you have your phone on you, Aidan?”

Aidan’s eyes went wide as he held his phone out. Jet tugged him to his side and they took a selfie.

Aidan stared at it like it was gold. “My boyfriend is going to die. Actually pass out and die. Think I’ll tell him after he’s made the dinner.”

“Good idea,” said Jet. “Nice meeting you, Aidan.”

“You too,” he said, turning away and waving over his shoulder.

“Wow, now everyone is staring,” I said.

“Most of them won’t have a clue who I am, but I bet they’re wondering now,” said Jet.

I saw phones casually twisted our way, but what could I say? We were at a tourist attraction. In public. He was an underwear model. I was dressed as Han Solo. Attention was bound to happen. Aidan kept turning around and walking backwards a few steps to gaze adoringly at Jet and make heart pump gestures at us. He was adorable and ridiculous.

I followed Jet, silently contemplating what it must be like to be famous. As much as my life belonged on telly, I was sure I’d hate it. I paid more attention to the way people looked at him than I did our surroundings, until finally I gasped.

I was beneath the ship, staring along the length of it. I remembered being tied to the beams that strapped the ship to the wall, thinking the floor didn’t look that far away, but the place was vast. Vast and beautiful. It wasn’t the place to exorcise any demons. I just didn’t feel them with me while I was there.

I told Jet that what would really exorcise my demons was a Nando’s. Nobody mentioned our chilli garlic breath when we got back.

The next day, one of the red tops made its way across the channel, asking the oh so serious question, Is this mystery girl Jet’s new love? Somehow, this was news. Somehow, only I was horrified.

***

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.”

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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.

Meet Lucifer & Michael (part two)

“We manifest as men,” said Michael, “because there has never been a time when it was favourable to manifest as women.”

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A scene from Moonstruck Consent, book 4 of the not*the*same*river series.

***

I was curled up in my favourite armchair by the empty fireplace in the drawing room, my back to the voices stirring me from sleep. I’d only meant to sit down for five minutes, to wait for Magnus so I could tell him Archer was awake. I hadn’t meant to fall asleep for—I checked my watch—nearly half an hour.

“Have you seen Uriel or Jem lately?” said Michael.

“Not since I came back up,” said Lucifer. “Why?”

“They’re not answering my echoes.”

“You could try going to a Cas—”

“Don’t say it.”

Lucifer sighed. “Jem’s probably just on the road … in deep cover somewhere. You know he never stops. And Uriel …” Apparently, Lucifer didn’t know what to say about Uriel because he was silent for a long time. I peeked around the side of the chair. Eventually, he laughed then said, “He enjoys his gallivanting lifestyle, making friends and influencing people. Gabriel’s probably got him hunting down some lost species of fur or something. Like he did with Raph. He’d just brought up a huge haul of weapons the last time I spoke to him.”

“Up?” said Michael, voice laced with panic.

“Jesus, Michael. The Pacific, not Hell.”

“The last time I saw Uriel, he was dining with Astaroth.” Michael screwed up his nose. “By candlelight.”

Lucifer’s eyes widened, and he sputtered out a laugh. “You don’t think …” Michael shrugged, and Lucifer continued. “That’s ridiculous. You know how Astaroth can’t keep physical state. They’d probably fall asleep before …” Lucifer shuddered.

Michael had a faraway look in his eyes. “But Astaroth is so … persuasive.”

Lucifer smirked. “Something to share?”

“What? No. Well … no. Just worried about Uriel.”

“He can take care of himself. So can Jem.”

Michael hummed then said, “If they haven’t responded by next week, I’ll check Hell. To be on the safe side.”

“We could just summon Astaroth. Find out what’s going on.”

Michael shook his head. “It’s not time.”

“Ah, yes. A time for everything. I wish we’d never laid eyes on that book.”

“Truth is truth,” said Michael.

***

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Meet Lucifer & Michael (part one)

On religious paintings …

Lucifer: At least I’m wearing some clothes in this one.

Michael: Alas, I’m still dressed as a ballerina.

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A scene from Roots and Wings, book 2 of the not*the*same*river series.

***

“I thought you had horns,” said Ezra.

Lucifer looked at him, presumably assessing whether it was a serious observation. “I’m not a goat.”

“There have been sightings of you, though,” said Ben. “The New Jersey Devil, for instance.”

“Probably just a goat,” said Lucifer.

“Aren’t you eating?” I said. “Don’t you get hungry?”

His eyes widened in surprise, then crinkled at the edges when he smiled cautiously, like he wasn’t sure if he was operating his facial muscles correctly. His eyes were gold-flecked, but mostly a mossy green. If he’d been anyone else, I wouldn’t have seen the other things that lurked behind them. Lucifer wore the world’s pain in his eyes, and he let me see it.

“Actually, I’m famished, but … er,” he leaned towards me and said in a stage whisper, “have you got any Weetabix?”

“Our goats like Weetabix,” said Ezra.

I kicked him under the table, then went to get Lucifer’s cereal. It was a bit awkward with one hand. I realised how useless my left hand was. My right hand made art, my left hand made crumbs. I frowned at the state of the sideboard. I plonked the bowl of Weetabix in front of Lucifer and sat back down. I knew he wasn’t actually the devil, but it was funny how Lucifer could get in our house, when other less dangerous beings couldn’t.

“Do you ever get any visitors, Luce?” said Michael.

“I’ve been told my demeanour doesn’t inspire visitors,” he said.

“You must get bored,” said Ezra.

“Not really. People annoy me,” he said pointedly. “Actually, I did have a visitor once. The one with the funny name.”

“That really doesn’t narrow it down,” said Michael, looking at Lucifer from beneath arched eyebrows.

“He played the trumpet.”

“Malachi? Haniel? Cassiel? Fenix? Pheron? Saraph?” said Michael, shoving bacon into his face with his fingers.

Lucifer snorted. “Are they even real people? Anyway, didn’t Saraph play the lute?”

“Oh yes, he did. God, he was annoying.”

“Still, that lute kept the fire going for an extra five minutes,” said Lucifer.

“It did, indeed.” Michael laughed. “To tell the truth, I don’t remember anyone who played the trumpet.”

“Perhaps played is a bit strong,” said Lucifer, scooping his cereal onto the spoon. “He made a dreadful noise with it. Well, whoever it was, he came to see me once. Reminded me why I don’t like visitors.”

“I see what you mean about Michael,” I whispered to Eden.

“I knew that you would,” she said.

“I need to paint him.”

She laughed. “Good luck getting him to agree to that.”

Michael’s tongue came out to lick his fingers, his face smothered in meat grease.

I laughed. “I mean, he has the table manners of Henry the eighth but …”

“What about him?” said Amethyst.

“That he’s magnificent,” I whispered, faking a swoon.

Amethyst rose her eyebrows, looked at Michael, then said “Hmm.”

“Did you ditch those shares, Grandad?” said Archer.

Michael scowled. “I wish you wouldn’t call me that.”

Archer shrugged. “Did you?”

“Of course. Back in May, when you told me to. Right on time too.”

“But didn’t you tell Magnus you were at the AGM?” said Eden.

“So, I lied.”

“What were you doing?” said Eden.

Michael ignored this. “I hated those meetings,” he said instead, a disdainful look crossing his greasy face. “Why do they need to get their ducks in a row? They don’t even sell ducks. They should get their quinoa salads in a row, or their admittedly very comfortable underwear. The only thing worse than the AGM is school staff meetings. Yawn.”

“The only thing?” said Lucifer, mouth twisted into a smirk.

Michael pointed his barely used fork at Lucifer. “You’re right. Cascade meetings are the worst. But at least when Raguel says we’re singing from the same hymn sheet, we actually are.”

“Oh god, really?” said Lucifer. “He still does the hymns?”

“He thinks Azrael can hear him,” said Michael. “And God.”

“He sings to God?” said Eden.

“Oh no,” said Michael. “He sings at God.”

“What’s Cascade?” I said.

Michael looked at Eden, who said nothing. “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

***

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Paper Starlings: a scene about missing things

Boxer was the scariest man I’d ever met in my life. I’d bet an arm that he had twice as many teeth as a normal person.

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Paper Starlings is the first of six books in the not*the*same*river series. They follow the life of Violet who, after a childhood in care, figures out that her birth family’s heritage is more complicated than she believed possible.

The series features vampires, angels, demons, werewolves, vaewolves and other vae breeds. It’s set mainly in Oxfordshire, England.

***

I spent an awkward couple of hours on a hilltop with Daniel, Sean, Amethyst and an axe-wielding giant. We met on the clumps in a little clearing. I’d been sitting on the mossy ground, my arms wrapped around my knees, for ten minutes before I spotted the man sitting in the tree. It was the scruffy guy, Old Bones, looking less scruffy than usual. He was still a mess. A tropical mess in a Hawaiian shirt with muscle-split sleeves, cargo shorts and muddy, brown builder’s boots. He watched me like I was an equation, giving no thought to how I might feel about being stared at.

Boxer was the scariest man I’d ever met in my life. I’d bet an arm that he had twice as many teeth as a normal person, and he was easily as wide as Magnus, though not as tall. His blue tinted goggles were pushed up into his hair, and every time the sun shone through the trees even a little, Boxer’s pupils practically disappeared. He glared at Daniel like he was his mortal enemy, but he barely spared me a glance, for which I thanked a god I didn’t really believe in and the sweet baby Jesus for good measure. Amethyst spoke to him like he was her favourite pet. They sat as far away from Daniel as Amethyst could manage without being rude enough that Sean would notice.

Daniel and Sean talked about werewolves and gargoyles and demons, but it was easier to hear all the things they weren’t saying to each other. Amy wasn’t even a whisper. Sean said that Albert sent his apologies for not being with us, but I knew he hadn’t. Albert was somewhere in the trees; I felt his eyes on me. OB knew he was there too. He kept staring into the trees behind Sean. I refused to look.

I wasn’t even sure why I’d come. Daniel had arranged to meet Sean, and Amethyst said I might not get another chance to talk to him once Mara returned, so there I was, being ignored. I thought about heading into the trees to confront Albert, and snorted at myself. Why would I even want to do that? I did not need the approval of that grumpy-faced, misery-inducing, socially incompetent geriatric. He was almost enough to put me off oranges.

I shrieked and jumped when OB leapt out of the tree like a predator, landing in a crouch. He sat by me, smelling of moss and pine trees and rain.

“You have seen me in your dreams, yes?”

I nodded. “Aren’t I lucky?”

His laugh roared out of him. “Amethyst didn’t say you were funny girl. I think you are good for her. She needs female influence that is … healthy.”

“Sean said you’re not Mara’s greatest fan.”

“He talks too much. He has Irish mouth.” He made sockless sock-puppet hands. “Always flapping.”

“Heard that,” said Sean.

“Ears like elephant.” OB side-eyed Sean, to see if he’d interrupt again. “Ah, and now he pretends not to listen.”

“What do we need the mirror for?” I said.

OB choked. Sean laughed. Somewhere behind us, a twig snapped itself in half.

“Didn’t I say she’d ask you about that?” said Sean.

I shrugged. “Well?”

“Mirrors show us more than ourselves, and sometimes less,” said OB. “Not everyone knows what they’re looking for, but you will figure out what you’re supposed to see in mirror.” He ran his hand over his face. “Don’t worry about mirror. You will need it. You will use it. End of story.”

“That’s not much of a story.”

You will provide story,” he said. “I provide beginning and end.”

“Thanks for paying your respects at the cemetery.”

OB nodded. “You’re welcome.”

“What did you and Albert argue about the day of the Blackmore picnic?”

Sean made a garbled hissing sound, that turned into a full belly laugh when Daniel joined in.

“Brazen trumpet,” said OB.

“Brazen as a trumpet,” Sean corrected. “It makes no sense if you miss out half the words.”

“A?” said OB, making a short A sound. “That is just noise old people make when they try to move, and their bodies try to stay still. As sounds like insect.”

“We all know you don’t use articles out of spite for the English language.”

OB huffed. “It has more stupid rules than all world’s governments combined.”

“This is the worst distraction tactic ever,” I said. “Will you tell me what the argument was about?” A flurry of nuts hit the ground behind us, but I saw nothing when I turned. I smirked anyway. If Albert was there, I wanted him to know that I knew it.

“I’m not going to tell you what argument was about. It was private.”

“I knew you’d say that.”

“But you asked anyway.”

“You expected me to, didn’t you?”

“Yes. You are nosey, like your sister.” Before Amethyst could open her mouth, OB said, “Yes, I know you heard that. You are master eavesdropper. You forget I taught you how to be spy. You forget this when you creep around house saying I look like gnome.”

Boxer laughed, all guttural noise and teeth. Amethyst grinned sheepishly.

“Worst dressed gnome in history,” said Sean.

As the conversation got lighter, Albert’s presence felt heavier. We all felt it, and we all ignored it. It was like I’d had a Sean dream, like something was creeping beneath my skin. It disappeared so suddenly, leaving me cold and hot at the same time. It was loss, which was kind of sickening, and relief.

***

The source image above is from jplenio on Pixabay

Meet Si Moore

“Do you ever feel like … life is just waiting there, behind a curtain or something, waiting for you to earn it? Sometimes I feel like there’s this whole tribe waiting. My people. But I don’t know what I need to be to make the curtain fall, you know? I’m stuck.”

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Context: Violet’s crush becomes a hero when he stands up to the biology teacher. Violet’s best friend is moving to Cornwall. From Paper Starlings (book 1).

***

Si did return to school a week after his escapade, and Nicholls upgraded his disdain-o-meter to a hate-o-meter purely for his benefit. But Si smiled through every loathe-encrusted look and hateful comment because he was untouchable. He cared about Nicholls’ opinion like he cared about algae.

Leia’s last day was messy and wet. She had rarely seen me cry before, and though it didn’t happen until we got to her house, it brought out her maternal side so that she became all warm and gushy like Eden. We promised each other we’d talk or text every day. She’d made me a photo album, and I’d painted a picture of the two of us in our Stitch onesies as a going-away present. On Friday morning, my brain checked out while my class watched Life of Pi. I might as well have been in double maths.

By the end of the day, I’d solidified my plan to speak to Si. My plan was this: get changed into my art overalls so that when he invited me to the scrubs, I could say yes. It was a good plan, if I didn’t factor in the probability that he wouldn’t invite me anywhere ever again, considering I’d said no last time. Leia sent me mileage updates, accompanied by crossed boxes because my crappy phone couldn’t deal with emojis. It didn’t matter; I knew they were turds. Turds were her favourite. Leia had travelled three hundred miles away from me in the five hours it took for me to formulate a half-plan. Maths felt like my enemy.

As much as Leia would’ve hated to miss it, I geared myself up for some loitering with intent. I looked ridiculous. At art club, I forced myself to wear a chronically beige boilersuit which did an admirable job of protecting everything but my hair, and made me look like a ghostbuster that had been mugged by Jackson Pollock. I stood beneath the bald tree that had offered Si anonymity before it lost its leaves, but offered me nothing. I looked ridiculous for twenty minutes while the crowd thinned. It was much harder trying to spot Si on a non-uniform day. When everyone wore navy, his hair was a beacon. When they didn’t, his hair was just another slash of orange, because apparently people who weren’t me wore orange.

By the time Si wandered out of the foyer, I’d counted to twenty another dozen or so times, twenty being the number at which I’d give up and go home. My heartbeat slowly climbed up my oesophagus, pulsing like a beast. I watched Si’s eyebrows climb, then a slight hitch catch the corners of his mouth, but no smile. He looked around like he thought I might be waiting for someone else, so I raised my hand in a half-wave. Then he smiled.

A million useless bits of sentence fell over each other in my brain while I waited for him to get to me. Then he was standing where I had stood the day he reminded me where his face was. He was looking at my overalls, and it was on the tip of my tongue to say, I’m up here, when he spoke.

“You’re in the mood to paint a masterpiece?” He sucked on his bottom lip.

I tried to avoid a full-body spasm. “No. I just didn’t want to get dirty.”

He moved closer. There was no canopy now, just spiky fingers. But it wasn’t the leaves that had made the air beneath the tree dangerous.

“Where are you going that’ll get you dirty?”

“The scrubs.”

He grinned. “Me too.”

His feet were two pairs of shoes away from mine. With each breath, I released less air, until I got to the point where breathing in became impossible. I lowered my head, then let it all go in an embarrassed gush. I didn’t know whether he heard or saw or not, but I vowed to use whatever time we spent together proving that I did actually know how to breathe.

He half-turned to the gate, waiting for me to step in beside him. The dull winter light did nothing for his complexion, but I didn’t mind his bleached face. He wasn’t cold enough yet for his cheeks and nose to turn rosy. His knuckles were pink though, and shredded.

“What happened to your hands?” I said, while we walked side by side towards the gate.

“I don’t get on with my mum’s arsehole boyfriend.”

“Shit, sorry.”

“What are you apologising for?”

“I shouldn’t have asked. It’s none of my business.”

He shrugged. “It’s nice to be worried about.”

We ate up the pavement at twice the speed I walked with Leia, who could dawdle for Britain. We were quiet for a few minutes, the only sounds our shuffling breaths and synchronised footsteps.

“Leia moved today, right?” he said, side-eyeing me cautiously.

“Yeah. How’s Lewis?”

Luckily, Si knew how to take a hint. “He’s okay. He’s been making the most of his five minutes of fame.”

“How about you? Il a un point, Jeff has become a meme. You’re a legend.”

“Today, a meme. Tomorrow, a movie.”

“Exactly. You can’t buy that sort of notoriety.”

We were laughing when an obnoxiously toxic car pulled up alongside us, something dangerously black seeping from its rear-end. The window hummed down, and the driver leant across a huge plant taking up most of the passenger seat. Si groaned.

“Hey, boy. This your wifey? She’s fi-iii-ine.” I wasn’t sure where this London boy thought he was from, or why he thought fine had eighteen syllables.

“She also has ears, and class, and she isn’t my wifey.”

“Bet she knows her way around a car.”

That was an inexplicable sentence. Was it a euphemism? What the hell was he talking about? And also, Si thought I had class.

“What the hell are you talking about?” said Si.

“She’s a mechanic, right?” I laughed at his earnest expression, until it gave way to sleaze. “You can fondle my gearstick whenever you like, baby.”

“No, she’s not a fucking mechanic.” Si was no longer winter-white.

“I’m a ghostbuster,” I shouted.

Si laughed, then dropped all humour. “What do you want, Ryan?”

“Just checking in, bruv. You want a ride someplace?”

“No. And stay away from the flat. The new one’s huge.”

Ryan tipped his head dismissively, then roared away leaving a black fog behind.

“The new one’s huge?” I said, flapping my arm across my face to avoid choking.

“My mum’s boyfriend.”

My eyes were in danger of drying out, they’d gone so wide. “He’ll hurt you.”

He smiled gently. “He’s not that big. I just said that so Ryan wouldn’t turn up at the flat.”

“Right.” I laughed. “Did he really have a seatbelt on a marijuana plant?”

Si didn’t laugh. “There’s probably worse in his glove box.”

“So, how do you know him?”

“I don’t. Not really. He’s just a twat my mum knows. I’m sorry he said those things about you.”

“It’s not your fault. I’ve heard worse, and I definitely do not know my way around a car.”

By the time we got to the scrubs, I remembered the other reason I didn’t go there. An eight-foot chicken wire fence.

“Shit,” I said.

“I can give you a leg-up.”

“Your hands are already broken.”

“I can take your weight.” He leant close to my ear, and said, “I already did, remember?”

I shuddered. “You mean I didn’t dream that particular humiliation?”

He shook his head. “Totally real.”

“So you give me a leg-up, then what? I face-plant into the chicken wire, and go home looking like I’ve been griddled?”

He laughed. “Fine. There’s a weaker spot in the fence we can crawl through, but it’s around the other side.”

“You just wanted to see me get scuffed up. That’s evil.”

***

Meet Kite

“In my dream, this was the beginning. Errol said the domino is a figurative thing. He said the events of this dream signal Newton’s third law. The domino that topples the rest. The start of a new war.”

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Kite first appears in Of Blood and Oil, the third book in the series. A trans nephilim with a gross and scaly green coat, a fondness for fire and Doritos, the inability to eat while sitting, and an apocalypse cupboard in their room.

Violet’s twin sister has gone missing while looking for someone who was believed to be dead. The only clue is a shrine of surveillance images of the London Underground, where Violet encounters vicious, hairy panic.

***

From Of Blood and Oil …

A station platform passed by in slow motion, its curved, tiled walls reflecting the yellow lights above. Standing on a metal bench, fists bared, was a tall, skinny somebody in a black hoodie, a curtain of moss green hair covering half their face. They roared at a vaewolf, one fist finding its throat, the other its nose. It yelped when its attacker leant to the side, aiming a kick square into the beast’s chest. It staggered backwards across the platform where two more vaewolves lay unconscious. The somebody jumped down from the bench, but more vaewolves were pouring through the archways behind them.

“Violet,” Daniel whispered, turning his head sideways to get one last look before the platform disappeared from view. “They’re like us.”

“Go get them then.”

***

A tangle of flailing limbs and scratching hands landed with a thump on the carriage floor.

“Hey!” I bellowed at the stranger, whose nails were sinking into Daniel’s neck. “A thank you will suffice.”

She scrambled to her feet. She was taller than me and built like a pencil. The corner of her mouth quirked into a half smile, and she snorted at me. She had curious hazel eyes, mostly a mossy green flecked with honey. She pulled her hood back revealing short, jet black hair. Dyed black hair if the greenish tinge was anything to go by. A thick green fringe, the exact colour of mushy peas, fell forward, covering half her face. She was striking, her long face giving the impression of being reflected in the back of a spoon.

“What would I be thanking him for?” she said, her raspy voice low and incredulous.

“Rescuing you,” I said, scowling up at her. She was like an exceptionally tall pixie.

“Did I look like I needed rescuing?” she said, leaning forward as her hands went to her hips. She winced.

“Yeah, you did. You’re hurt,” I said, reaching for her waist. She swatted my hand away and glared at me. “Let me see,” I said, reaching out again.

“I’m not hurt,” she said, taking a step back.

“If one of those things bit you …”

“Fine,” she said, pulling up the back of her jacket and turning her back towards me. “See, no bites. I had a tattoo coloured this morning and it hurts when I touch it, that’s all.”

The lower portion of her back on her right side was covered in gauze, which disappeared into the waistband of her jeans.

“Wow, how far up do they go?” I said, tracking the column of tattoos until they disappeared beneath her jacket. I caught sight of a bandage wrapped around the middle of her back, before she hastily tugged her jacket down.

“All the way up and over the opposite shoulder to here,” she said, chopping at her left arm at a point midway between her elbow and shoulder.

***

“You can sit, you know,” said Caleb, nodding at an armchair.

“Nah, it’s alright,” said Kite. “Have you got any food? I’m starving.”

Caleb sauntered off to the kitchen, coming back with an armful of snacks and dumping them on the coffee table. Kite opened a bag of tortilla chips. Perching on the very edge of a chair, so she could escape at any moment, she stuffed the snacks into her mouth, packing her cheeks and rolling her eyes.

I laughed. “When was the last time you ate?”

She choked on her tortillas. Caleb handed her his beer bottle, and she grabbed it, taking a large swig to clear her throat. “It’s been a while,” she said. “I got fired.”

“Where did you work?”

“Scuzzy little café at Elephant and Castle.”

“Why did they fire you?”

“Punched one of the customers and smashed a plate on his head.”

“That’ll do it,” said Caleb.

***

From Cascadence of Truth …

“This is like that crazy old shop in Gremlins,” said Kite.

I laughed. “Gremlins?”

“What? I’ve seen movies. Darryl had a really bad addiction to shitty eighties films. Don’t go near anything that moves. Or sings. See, look, a gremlin.”

Kite pointed across the room at a creature perched on top of a teetering stack of suitcases.

“It’s a cat,” I said. “A very bald and reptilian looking cat.”

“Fuck, if that’s a cat,” Kite said sceptically.

***

When Kite arrived to a full drawing room, a statement was made. Without a word, or any thought for the assorted ornaments on Uriel’s fireplace, Kite unfolded his wings. They were the colour of charcoal, with silver tips, and huge, knocking stuff over left and right. Kite stood, hands on hips, chewing his lip ring, and glaring around the room. In the usual black skinny jeans and vest, and with a newly-shaved undercut, freshly dyed a dark silver, he looked exactly like he was meant to. Like an angel with the devil’s attitude.

A few minutes later, everyone started to filter outside, where it was warm and breezy. Kite nodded sideways at the French windows and set off.

I followed. “Uriel said you had balance issues.”

Kite’s voice was deeper than I was used to. “I did. I do. Everything’s the wrong size since the wings came in. And I feel … heavier. In really weird places.” Kite shrugged. “I’ll get used to it.”

***