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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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?”

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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.”

***

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

So, I upgraded my Pinterest to a business account by accident

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The last time I signed up to something by mistake, it was Camp NaNoWriMo, and I repeated that mistake until I’d written six books.

Anyway … I’d been planning to upgrade my soggy Pinterest account to a business account for a while, but I was put off by the complaints about how difficult it was. Everybody made it sound like I’d need a degree in computer science to do it, but it took twenty seconds to upgrade. Twenty seconds. And that’s why it was an accident. I hit upgrade, expecting there to be another hoop to jump through. I expected hours of waiting and technology-induced crying before my account was actually upgraded. Or rather, I expected to look at all the hoops and back out of the process entirely to save myself the tears. But there were no hoops, just a pretty, new, upgraded page.

For anyone else put off by testimonials comparing it to brain surgery, please be assured that I—a tech potato—only needed an extra few minutes to figure out where to put the Pinterest generated HTML that allows me to access the analytics. I figured I’d help you out with my potato proof instructions below.

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All you need to upgrade your Pinterest account is your website URL and a business name. I used my pen name for this. The upgrade button is in the top right-hand corner of the browser. I filled in my details, and as soon as I hit the upgrade button, the profile view changed. Ta-da!

So, if you’re a WordPress user (and I hope you are because I only speak WordPress Potato), and you want to enable the analytics for activity from your website, here’s what you do. Once your profile is upgraded, you’ll find the analytics button on the top left of the screen. There will be 3 boxes: your pinterest profile, people you reach and activity from your website. The last will ask you to verify your site, then generate a line of HTML for you.

Here’s where you put the HTML in WordPress. First click on My Site, then Settings on the left hand menu. At the top of the screen are four options— click on Traffic. Scroll down to Site Verification Services, then paste the HTML into the Pinterest box and save. This enables you to see what’s been pinned from your WordPress site and how far it’s travelling. That’s all there is to it.

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Those of you interested in following me on Pinterest can find me here.

Feel free to post a link to your Pinterest account in the comments. Happy pinning!

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