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.

No Good Comes: Theo meets the body snatcher

He ignored the face one, picking up the nude. “Oh my god, is that what my knob looks like when I’m dead?”

litdiedcoll

This is a first draft partial scene (currently scene 18)  from No Good Comes. Stephen King is now Theodore Eidolon. Erin’s POV.

***

“It’s Saturday, for god’s sake. Don’t you people have homes to go to?” I said, glaring at a kid called Sam, the closest thing Cascade had to an intern.

He looked at his shoes and I felt like a wanker.

“Ignore her,” said Theo. “I’ll make her bring you an Easter egg next week.”

“I’m allergic to chocolate,” said Sam, shoving his fists into the pockets of his too-big trousers.

Theo stopped following, which meant I either had to stop and loiter, which would make me look weak as fuck, or stalk off like a diva, which was much more my style. Even the office-blue carpet tiles didn’t do much to dull the thud of my heels.

“What sort of life do you have when you’re allergic to chocolate?” said Theo. “You must feel so empty.”

Sam shrugged. “Not really. I make up for it by eating all the pistachios.”

“Leaving aside the obvious disparity between the tastiness of chocolate and the tastiness or lack thereof of pistachios, I acknowledge your preference. I’ll make sure she brings you a bucketful.”

I leant against the wall next to the lift, arms folded.

Sam grinned. “Roasted and unsalted.”

“Noted,” said Theo, his tone the most imperious I’d heard yet. He strode towards the lift, standing quietly next to me while we waited the few seconds it took for the doors to open. When we got inside and turned round, everyone was still watching us. Theo shouted, “Good work, people. Carry on.”

Once the doors were closed, we burst out laughing.

“Oh, my god, who are you, Teddy?”

“I’ve always wanted to be that guy,” he said. “I mean, not forever. Just every now and again, I want to channel my inner insufferable wanker in a room full of strangers.”

“In that case,” I said, “mission accomplished.”

Theo looked at the illuminated circle on the panel and said, “What’s in the basement?”

I grinned and said, “The sewing room.”

“Which is what?”

I leant against the wall. “It’s where the bodies are made.”

“You’re being deliberately obstructive.”

The lift stopped, and we stepped into a grey, wipe-clean corridor.

“You’re about to meet the infamous body snatcher.”

Theo made a very girly noise, then followed my lead, squeezing a dollop of hand gel into his hands and rubbing them clean. We backed through the swing door, then turned to face the room.

Jesus, the undertakers were in.

“Entertaining?” I said, when Ophelia looked up.

She glanced at the three men sitting around the table, in their sombre braces with their shirt sleeves rolled up, like she’d forgotten they were there. Sharpy was doing a crossword on a tablet. He grinned a creepy undertaker grin because that’s what he did. He took pride in looking like Lurch. Baz and Eddie looked like normal people who didn’t hang around dead bodies all day, even though they did. They were playing rummy and drinking tea.

Ophelia said, “This him then?”

Theo waved, and Ophelia grinned.

“We were just off, Nixon,” said Eddie, winking at me on his way to the door.

The other two followed. Baz winked at Theo who smiled adorably. Sharpy lurched out of the room.

“What’s behind the curtain?” whispered Theo, nodding at the curtained off area to the left of Ophelia’s desk.

“Dead things,” I whispered back, wriggling my fingers at him.

“So this is the body snatcher?” said Theo.

I prayed that he wouldn’t mention her height. Ophelia hated being smaller than her dad, who, believing with his whole heart that there was nothing worse than a person who was both big and loud, overcompensated for his noise by making himself short. Deliberately. This was a travesty as far as Phee was concerned. She also looked more like her dad than any of her other siblings and felt some degree of luck at having escaped the big, bushy beard.

Ophelia’s hands went to her hips, and her eyebrows shot up while she waited for my excuse.

“He saw your name come up on words with friends,” I said.

I saw the moment the light came on in her eyes. “Tell me, Erin, what does piragua mean?”

What was she talking about? I didn’t even remember that one.

Theo said, “It’s a type of boat.”

Ophelia had this gleeful look in her eyes. She clapped her hands and something gross flew off. Theo and I jumped back.

She rolled her eyes and said, “It’s synthetic. I knew it though. I knew you were cheating somehow.”

“She wasn’t cheating,” said Theo. “I just butted in and—”

“It wasn’t him,” I said. “He was only brought up yesterday.”

“He said he butted in,” said Ophelia.

Theo looked at me in a please-dig-me-out-of-this-hole way.

“You don’t have to know what a word means to play scrabble,” I said. “I have no idea what io is, or zax, or qi. Seriously, nobody knows what those words mean.”

Ophelia squinted at me, then sighed. “I suppose I can let you win once.”

“Twice,” I said.

“Twice,” she allowed. “So, what are you guys doing down here?”

“He wanted to meet you,” I said.

“Did you make dead me?” said Theo.

Ophelia bounced on her toes. “Yep.”

“Do you have a photo of the me you made?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact.” She made a grimacy-frown face. “Did you want to see it?”

Theo narrowed his eyes. “Do I want to see it?”

She shrugged. “It’s not particularly gory. We use make-up on the bruises anyway, so we don’t bother with those. Makes no sense painting on bruises just to cover them up again.”

“Okay, then,” said Theo.

We followed Ophelia to her desk, and Theo jumped when he looked at the area behind the curtain where a dead-not-dead body was laid out on one table, and a real dead body, covered on three sides with a portable freezer cabinet that billowed puffs of cold air, was laid out on another.

Ophelia rummaged in a filing cabinet, then slapped two huge photos on the desk. One was of Theo’s face, eyes closed. The other was of his naked body.

He ignored the face one, picking up the nude. “Oh my god, is that what my knob looks like when I’m dead?”

Ophelia managed, “I can’t—” before she snorted out a laugh, reaching for a tissue to catch whatever flob she was dribbling while she died laughing.

“It looks like a pig in a blanket,” he said.

Ophelia continued to snort-laugh, while Theo continued to examine his dead penis.

“She did a great job with your hair,” I said, picking up the other photo. “And the break in your nose, look.”

He nodded. “So, did someone else do … I mean did you make the whole thing?”

“No,” said Ophelia, biting her lip until it bled. “I got a man to come in to do your cock and balls.”

“Really?” said Theo.

“No, you dipshit.” Then she was off again.

“She doesn’t get out much,” I said.

“So, are you going tomorrow?” she said, when she’d finally stopped behaving like a five-year-old who’d just heard bum on the telly.

“Why does everyone keep asking me that? I always go.”

“Because Joey’s going to be there,” said Ophelia.

“Oooh, who’s Joey?” said Theo.

“My—” How did I even explain who Joey was? He was everything to me when we were kids. He was the gay one. I was the fat one. We loved the same films and music and art. Then he hit twenty-one, and twenty-two, and thirty, and forty. He’d be fifty in a month’s time. I was still twenty. I wasn’t sure which of us was more resentful.

“Her best friend,” said Ophelia.

“We had an argument,” I said, which was the understatement of the century. I’d barely seen him in the flesh in six years.

We used to be the kind of friends who laughed hard and often, so in tune with each other, with identical senses of humour. People would watch us, see our dynamic, be envious of it. He’d lived so much life without me now that our dynamic had shifted. We both felt it, and others looked at us like they could see the pathetic sparks failing to catch alight. Nobody could see what we had in common anymore, they wondered why we hung out together. Maybe it was paranoia, I don’t know. But we argued about it a lot.

Sometimes, I felt like I should let him go and he clung to me. Sometimes, he wanted to let me go and I sunk my claws in deeper. The tug-of-war had been going on for something close to twenty years now and it was getting harder to hang on.

“Tell me you’re not dressing up,” said Ophelia.

“Yeah, I’m not.”

“Good, because we don’t need any terrified kids. Halloween was bad enough.”

“Yeah, but it was Halloween,” I said. “You’re supposed to look creepy at Halloween. None of this American shit with dressing up like a cupcake or fairy.”

“Unless it’s the cupcake of doom,” said Theo. “Or the fairy of unfiltered gore.”

Ophelia said, “You had live snakes in your hair.”

“I didn’t have live snakes in my hair, they just looked alive. And I was Medusa.”

***

No Good Comes: scene nine

 

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No Good Comes is a spin-off of the not*the*same*river series, set five years after the events of the last book. It centres around Cascade, an organisation that, among other things, helps new vampires settle into their new lives.

What follows is the first draft of what is currently scene nine.

Context: The new vampire has chosen a new name. Stephen King is no more. But he is hungry; he just doesn’t recognise the signs yet.

POV: first person, Theo’s POV.

***

“You hungry?” said Erin.

Was I? My stomach didn’t feel empty at all. I should’ve been hungry after lying in a grave for forty nights, but all I really felt like was some Tixylix. I felt like I’d swallowed a candy floss cloud of fibreglass.

“Not really. My throat hurts. Can I have ice cream?”

“Not yet,” said Erin. “No cold food or drink for at least seventy-two hours.”

I made a growly ugh noise, then flopped onto the bed. “My throat is literally closing up.”

“Yeah, I can tell by the way you’re completely incapable of speech,” she said. “I can get you some warm milk.”

“Milk is gross, warm or otherwise,” I said.

She checked her watch, seemingly surprised at the time. She rooted around in the wardrobe, pulled out a pair of snow boots, then threw them at me. They bounced off me like they were ping pong balls.

“Put them on,” she said.

“Is it snowing outside,” I said, pulling them onto my feet.

“We’re not going outside.” She sighed. “And haven’t I just finished telling you that we need to keep you in the warm? Why would I be taking you into the snow?”

She had a point.

I’d tried some things in the bathroom. I unravelled a whole loo roll with one spin, but that was probably just momentum rather than super-strength. I wish I’d tried it in real life to give myself something to compare to. I tried to fly. I don’t know why I believed her when she told me I’d be able to fly. That had always sounded like bullshit, but I was still disappointed. I did manage to crank the heat up in the shower, bit by bit, until it was eight degrees higher than I could usually stand it. And I did almost break the door handle on my way out, but that was just because it was already a bit broken. It must’ve been.

“So where are we going?” I said.

“Just waiting on a text from Callie,” she said. “War’s niece.”

“Is this a family business or something?”

“You could say that.”

“It’s just that … I mean, can you do that? Are you allowed to … make your family vampires so you never have to leave each other?”

“No, we’re not allowed to do that,” she said, her voice cracking a little, making me wonder who she missed, who she wasn’t allowed to make a vampire.

“But what about War?”

“War’s not a vampire,” she said. “He’s an angel.” Her phone pinged. “Come on, Callie’s waiting.”

“An angel? What, so why are we going to see Callie?”

“To deal with your throat.”

“Can’t someone just bring me some cough syrup or something.”

She laughed, pulling me to my feet. “For god’s sake, Teddy. You don’t need cough syrup, you need blood. And a surname.”

It disturbed me that choosing a surname was a bigger problem than the prospect of drinking blood. I followed her to the door, and she pushed me into the hallway, closing the door behind us. It all looked different after a shower and a bit of perspective. The walls had just looked blue earlier, now I saw the subtle stripes and textural details of the Tardis blue wallpaper. The carpet had looked like a squiggly mess, now I saw the pattern was full of lines and junctions, like the tube map, in Bauhaus colours. I felt like Arthur Dent, wandering around in my pyjamas.

“You’re my Ford Prefect,” I said, following her into a lift.

She hit B1, and the doors closed. “You might want to get all the stupid things out of your mouth right now,” she said, leaning against the lift wall with her arms folded. “These people will take literally anything from your mouth and turn it into a nickname to plague you with for the rest of your life.”

“Maybe you should’ve let me get dressed properly then,” I said, staring at my lush beard in the mirrored doors.

“All the guests wear peejays, don’t worry about it.”

“Choudhury,” I said. “I like the way it’s spelt.”

“I’m not sure you can pull that off,” she said, giving me the what’s-the-matter-with-you side-eye.

“I could have a Bangladeshi dad or something. I mean, nobody would know, would they? But yeah, that’s a bit too appropriationy. What about Theo Doppleganger? Because I look like someone else. Someone who I used to be. Yeah, that’s a bit … no. How did you choose yours? What even is it?”

“Nixon,” she said.

“And what was it before?”

B1 was black and glossy with strips of stained glass light. It was like the Catholic wing of the Death Star.

“Johnson,” she said.

I laughed and the shards in my throat revolted. “Really?”

“Yeah, I was really into international politics when I was at uni. Nixon was president the year I was born and he did come after Johnson, so ….”

“As good a reason as any,” I said. “But what comes after a King?”

“A spy? An assassin. The ghost of a king. A better king.” She laughed, wiggled her eyebrows, then said, “A queen?”

“Eidolon,” I said, turning back to Erin. I was about to explain, when she beat me to it.

“A phantom you. A re-realised, idealised you. I like it.”

Erin opened a door by sticking her arm in a hole again. There was a lab on the other side with two people eating Pot Noodles at a table covered in cereal bars and rice cakes.
The woman didn’t look like she could be related to War. I looked more like I could be related to War than she did. I even had his bushy hair. Callie had sleek, black hair and light brown skin. The man had blonde hipster hair and a pink face.

Callie waved us over with a smile. “Sorry, the munchies grabbed me.”

“No worries,” said Erin. “This is Callie Hazard and Tintin Blaine. Guys, this is Theodore Eidolon.”

Tintin stood and reached across the table, “Jim Blaine.”

I shook his hand. “Why do they call you Tintin?”

“Because I had a quiff for ten minutes in 1987.”

“See?” said Erin.

I nodded, then looked back at Jim, then Callie. “You can call me Theo.”

Callie stood and shook my hand. “So, how are you feeling, Theo?”

“Sore throat,” I said. “Still a bit cold, kind of achy all over, but mostly I feel like I slept for six weeks.”

I stared at the snacks on the table, trying to remember if I would like any of them now that I was a vampire. Would my taste buds change? I still wasn’t really hungry. I focused on my stomach, wondering why I wasn’t rampaging for food like a yeti coming out of hibernation.

“You have something against rice cakes?” said Callie.

“They’re not food,” I said automatically. “They’re polystyrene coasters.”

Callie’s mouth fell open.

Erin laughed. “I’m always telling her that.” She held up a cereal bar and looked at me. “What about these?”

“Polystyrene and gravel glued together with sugar,” I said. “Grim.”

“Callie’s a nutritionist,” said Erin, barely stopping herself from laughing, and unable to keep the smirk off her face.

Callie rolled her eyes then got up to rinse out and recycle her pot. “Has Erin told you why you’re down here?”

“Yeah, for blood.”

“Come on then,” she said, leading me to an examination chair and patting the dark vinyl. “We’re not sure what the effects of your bite will be so we need to be cautious at first. No live donors.”

I grimaced. “God, will I need to suck blood out of actual people?”

“Not if you don’t want to, but you’ll need to find somewhere that can accommodate you. Most of the blood clubs are only set up for medical emergencies, not for medical feeding.”

“Is a blood club what it sounds like?”

“It’s exactly what it sounds like,” said Callie.

“Can’t I just come back here when I need blood?”

“Only for the first couple of months,” said Callie. “Jumper off.”

I pulled my jumper over my head, inciting a static riot, and handed it to Erin.

“You want to start with two?” said Jim, holding up a scrubs-blue pouch.

Callie’s fingers were cold on my chest as she undid the buttons of my pyjama top, exposing the least manly chest ever. It was actually concave. Thankfully, the bottoms were a little bit big, so I’d tied them up over my belly, which made me look a bit Simon Cowell but covered my soft belly which was the only part of me with any fat on it.

“Yeah, if we need a third, get a forty-two,” she said, taking the first pouch. “This is a forty?”

“Yeah, I won’t put a third in until we see how the second goes down,” said Jim. “Don’t want to waste any.”

Behind me, something whined.

“Get him some chocolate, Erin,” said Callie.

She and Jim snorted when Erin snapped off a chunk of chocolate and fed me. I laughed and tried not to dribble when it melted twice as quickly on my tongue as it should. Erin blushed when she realised what she’d done.

“Fuck, have you ever seen her blush?” said Jim.

“Fuck off, Tintin.”

“Right, I’m just putting a collar on you. It’ll give you a teeny tiny shock, but it’ll make you feel good. Keep your mouth closed, and try not to grind your teeth or bite your tongue.”

The collar was warm and leathery, with a little patch of thistle-like needles at the back. I gripped the arm rests when the jolt hit me in the neck. I moaned through closed lips, as electricity swept along my skin, raising every hair, and fired through my veins.

Callie slapped something onto my chest and when I looked down at it, I saw a pouch of blood. It deflated as my body sucked on it. I didn’t have time to be grossed out because I was too busy swallowing a vat of my own saliva. I panted and groaned, trying to catch my breath, but none of it was bad. It was exhilarating, like rollercoasters were exhilarating, but only when I went with Margo because she always screamed like she was gonna die. It was like the explosion of feelings you get when you meet the people who really get you. It was, fuck, it was like an orgasm.

“Oh god,” I blurted, gripping the arm rests harder, fighting the rising feeling in my pyjama bottoms. The last thing I needed was an erection.

Erin handed me a cup of warm water with a straw in. “You need to drink it all slowly while you’re absorbing the next pouch.”

The sight of a second pouch replacing the first flooded my brain with images of bloodied grass, of a bloody halo reflecting the clouds, of blank eyes looking straight through the back of my head, my grandad’s hands gripping my shoulders, pulling me away. Come on, Stephen. We need to get to a phone. There’s no signal out here.

The hands on my shoulders shook me. “Teddy? Teddy?”

My eyes found Erin’s. “Huh?”

“Where did you go?”

“2005,” I said. “Amelia Genevieve Martin. She was murdered, dumped on a wildlife reserve. I found her body.”

***

The source image above is from qimono on Pixabay.

No Good Comes: scene four

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What follows is the first draft of what is currently scene four of No Good Comes. Stephen King (totally different guy) is in the painful throes of becoming a bloodborn vampire, a process which takes forty nights. His mentor has been through it herself and is talking him through the pain.

POV: first person, Erin’s POV.

***

“It hurts,” he whispered.

“I know.”

This was the worst part. The days were nothing. Counting and more counting. Beneath the ground, eyes open wide, unseeing but not, galaxies of stars popping and fading, popping and fading. Lying beneath them, there was no pain, there was no before, there was no life. There was calm, there was peace, there was counting.

Coming up at night was like being torn from your own flesh. It was like someone reaching inside you with acid-soaked fingers and pulling out your bones. It was a mirror that reflected the pain of your life back at you in the form of shards of glass. It was claws and flames and razor blades.

It was only the twenty-fourth night.

“I can’t do this,” he said.

“You can. I did it. You can do it.”

I could end it, if he really wanted me to, but I didn’t want him to want me to. I wanted to see him rise. He told me two night ago that his life wasn’t meaningful. That he hadn’t done anything worthwhile. I told him he could be more. I wanted to watch him be more.

“Tell me about the flashes tonight,” I said.

For days he’d been telling me about the flashes of memory that speared through him like knives.

“Why don’t the good memories feel good?” he said. “Why does all of it hurt?”

“Because even the good things you experienced are tinged with loss now, whether it’s because those people are dead, or because you are.”

“I can see the concussion. It’s like a fuzzy black spot, but there is yellow and blue, like it’s fungal, and sometimes red, like blood.”

“Where do you see it?”

I’d grown used to his voice, his unobservable mannerisms, the hitching of metaphoric breath.

I felt his frown when he said, “Behind my eyes, in my brain. Where else would it be?”

“Trauma can manifest anywhere,” I said. “But it’s not unusual for it to be where it should. Have you remembered anything else?”

“About the night … no.”

“You’ll be interviewed when you’re brought up. May as well get used to hearing it, and saying it.”

“The night I died? The night I was murdered? The night I was … I saw something, but I lost it.”

“Just now?”

“Yeah, blue writing.”

I’d seen the blue writing, all down the wall at the crime scene, but I couldn’t tell him that. I couldn’t tell him anything. I couldn’t tell him that a new scene had been staged for the discovery of his body.

“Do you remember where the writing was?”

“No. Can we … can we talk about something else? What about … what about Ophelia, are you still playing scrabble? Maybe I could help.”

“She’s given up on me,” I said. “She thinks I cheat.”

“Well, you do, so she wouldn’t be wrong, would she?”

“How about we decide on your name?” I said.

“How about I-Spy?”

“We exhausted that, remember?”

“Why is the moon almost full every night?”

“When did you first notice?”

“The night I first spoke to you.”

“It’s there for you to notice.”

“It’s a test?”

“Everything’s a test.”

“You, Erin? Are you a test?”

“Maybe.”

“Do you sit here for all the others … there are no others. What is this place? Why are there so many graves?”

“Sometimes there are more of you. But you’re right, there’s nobody else right now. You’d have seen them if there were. You’d have felt them.”

“Are there other places like this? Other graveyards.”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“And others like us?”

“Yes.”

“Can I change my mind about doing this?” he said. “Can I stop whatever this is from happening?”

“What are you asking me?”

“Can I die instead?” he said. “If I want the pain to just stop, can I choose to die?”

I could lie, but … “Yes.”

We didn’t speak for a while. I watched him pace, and fall to his knees, and writhe, and crawl. I watched him roll onto his back and wondered if he felt the pain in the back of his head still, or whether it was overwhelmed with bigger, brighter, sharper pain.

“Cassiopeia is backwards,” he said.

“She speaks so highly of you.”

He laughed, then cried. “I miss them. And it’s not even like I really believed in heaven, you know. It’s not like I thought we’d all be reunited one day or anything, but this … why does this hurt so much?”

“I’m sorry it hurts. I’m sorry there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“You can kill me. You can do that, right?”

“It won’t be me,” I said. “You can be killed, but it won’t be me. Do you want that?”

“I don’t know. Yes. No.”

“Is that why you haven’t chosen a name? Because you don’t want to think of yourself as a new person? You don’t want to think about your new life, if you’re not strong enough to reach for it?”

“Erin … Erin … why did you choose it?”

“Because I started a war but the pretty girl got all the credit,” I said. “Never mind.”

“You’re a pretty girl.”

“Never mind. I mean, thank you. I think you should be called Teddy.”

He laughed. “Teddy? Why?”

“Because it suits you.”

“Is it my fuzzy brown fur? My soft, squidgy body? My glassy eyes?”

“Yeah, all those things.”

What was I supposed to say? Soft, sweet, lovable? Was I supposed to tell him that every night, I’ve felt like a child talking to an imaginary friend, somebody that was only mine? That every night his presence has been comforting, and I’ve wanted to hug him, to comfort him back? I couldn’t tell Stephen the real reasons Teddy suited him so much. He’d think I was soft. He’d think I fancied him, and I didn’t want to touch that pile of awkwardness. And to be clear, I was talking about my aversion to romance and relationships. I wasn’t calling him a pile of awkwardness. That would just be rude.
Every night I’ve been here has been a night I didn’t have to spend alone in my dead parents’ caravan or one of Cascade’s guest rooms. Yeah, that wasn’t an ordinary church over there. I wasn’t going to tell him that either.

Instead, the next time I had to talk him through the pain, I told him something I shouldn’t have. “You’ll be stronger than anyone you’ve ever met.”

***

The source image above is from Mysticsartdesign on Pixabay.

No Good Comes: a scene

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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.