Burning gets a sexy new cover

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Since going full Indie last year I’ve learnt a LOT. It’s actually been a steep learning curve and being Indie is a lot more complicated than most people realise. It’s also shitloads more work than you’d think. Strangely enough, I love that! I love the fact that I’m always learning something. There isn’t a single day that goes by where I don’t learn something new about the process. I also love being completely responsible and in control of my career. For the first time in years I’m able to say that I’m truly excited about my future as an author.

But like with any learning curve I’ve made a couple mistakes along the way and I’m sure to make a few more as I go. I’ve found I learn a lot more from my mistakes. And one of those mistakes was the cover I did for Burning last year. At the time I was just starting to figure out the whole designing my own cover thing and figuring out how to use Canva and Gimp. I still am. I think it’s going to take a while for me to figure it out properly, but I’m getting there and having loads of fun with those programmes. Although there are times I scream at my screen because they won’t do what I want them to. But ja … We’re getting there. I’m screaming a little less lately.

But anyway … Enough jibber jabber.

Here are the two covers for you to see the difference.

Burning new cover 3

The old one

Burning Cover 2

The new one!

So … what do you think?

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#ShortStory: Firelight

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

It’s Friday!

So … Here’s a short story for you.

Firelight

The dead leaves danced in the icy wind. The old Nun stumbled. Her left arm tingled. The shock of what she’d seen quickened her heartbeat and shattered everything she’d believed in. The crumpled and tarnished silver cross fell from her hand and landed in a pile of brown leaves. The light from the windows of the pub beckoned her. There she would be warm and safe. It wouldn’t be able to follow her inside. The Firelight would keep it at bay. She hoped.

The Nun and Dragon, the village pub, was just a few steps away. Sister Mary Margaret had never set foot inside it or any other pub. Pubs were not the sort of places that good Christian women frequented, especially not Nuns or women in their eighties. The irony that the pub was called The Nun and Dragon did not escape her. She knew the village Vicar, Father Peter, often crossed its threshold and threw back a few pints with some of the parishioners. She hoped that tonight was one of the nights he could be found building bridges between the church and the villagers. Sister Mary Margaret needed him to tell her that she wasn’t cursed, that everything they’d been taught to believe hadn’t all been a lie, that her faith wasn’t just a foolish superstition.

She was panting from exhaustion when she reached the door. It took all her strength to push it open. Warm air enveloped her as she fell to her arthritic knees. She heard a collective gasp coming from the shocked patrons. She must have looked quite the fright on her knees, with her habit half falling off. She didn’t even want to think about what her face looked like. Getting up off her knees without the aid of a bench or a pew was difficult, to say the least. She shouldn’t have left her walking stick at the convent. Father Peter and Gregory, the bartender, were the first to reach her and help her to her feet.

Gregory set one of his more comfortable chairs in front of the fire and brought her a pint of his homebrew. It seemed to be the only beverage they served in the establishment. She’d never been a beer drinker; she was more of a red wine person. She’d always felt that if wine was good enough for Jesus, then it was good enough for her, but she had to admit the Nun and Dragon’s homebrew was soothing on her palate and went down easily enough. It tasted of honey and cinnamon and something else, something she couldn’t quite identify. She smacked her lips together in satisfaction and sighed. Her heart rate slowed down as the beer and the fire did their work. Life returned to her limbs and the tingling sensation in her left arm ebbed away.

“What happened to you?” Father Peter asked as he pulled a chair closer to her.

“Oh Father,” she said. “It was just so frightening.”

The memory of her encounter caused her heart rate to jump once more. Her hands shook and tears threatened at the corners of her eyes and her breath caught in her lungs. Taking another glug of beer with shaky hands, she tried to compose herself.

“Are you alright,” Father Peter asked.

She could only manage a shake of her head and then the dam wall of her emotions burst. Tears flooded down her cheeks. Father Peter handed her his blue and white checked hanky. He always had one in his pocket. During confessions the hanky was often used to stem the tide of tears.

“When you’re ready,” Father Peter said. “Take your time. There’s no hurry.”

The fire cast a warm, protective glow around them. She felt safe. The fear she’d felt for the last few hours started to fall away. Her clenched jaw relaxed. She knew she could tell Father Peter the story without worry. He wouldn’t judge her. Taking a deep breath, she prepared herself for the tale. Once she started talking she couldn’t stop. It burst out of her.

“I was walking home from Ashley Morgan’s home. She’s been very ill. I took her some soup and a few groceries. I think her husband’s been having a rough time keeping up with things. So I thought if I took them some food, it would be at least one night where the poor man wouldn’t have to try and cook. The little ones were very grateful that they didn’t have to have a microwave meal again.”

“That was very kind of you,” Father Peter said. “Very Christian”.

“Thank you! Anyway … I left just after five. It was already getting dark. I’ve never been afraid of walking in the dark, but tonight … I don’t know why, but the moment I left the Morgan’s I felt like I was being watched. I’ve never felt my hair prickle at the back of my neck. I’ve heard other people talk about it, but I’ve never actually felt it, until tonight.” She took a deep breath and breathed out slowly. The beer made her head feel a little fuzzy and also a little nauseous. The room started to spin slowly. Father Peter covered her hand with his big flat hand which would have suited a labourer better than a priest. The room stopped spinning. She drank some more beer and her stomach stopped churning.

“Where was I?” She asked Father Peter, a look of confusion haunted her eyes.

“You felt that you were being watched …” Father Peter’s voice was anxious.

“Oh yes … The Morgan’s live on the outskirts of the Village, as you know, and there’s a short cut through the forest to get to the convent. I’ve walked that footpath on many an occasion over the years. When I was a young girl I’d imagine I was Red Riding Hood walking along that path. Silly, I know. I never imagined that, like her, I’d meet an evil creature along the way.” She shivered. Father Peter patted her hand.

“It’s alright. You’re safe now,” he said.

A gust of wind smacked against the windows, making them shudder in their antique wooden frames. Another sip of beer and she was ready to continue with her story.

“I didn’t hear him approach. He was so quiet. I walked right past him. It was only when he called to me that I noticed him leaning against a tree. It was one of the old oak trees. The protected ones … Anyway … He just stood there leering at me with his jaundiced, yellow eyes. And then he smiled. Oh God preserve me. That smile. I’ll never forget it.” Her hands shook as she took another sip. “His teeth were pointy. They looked like they’d all been filed into razor sharp points. His smile, well, it was more of an evil grin, made me believe that he would tear me limb from limb and he would just keep on smiling.” Another sip. “But the strange thing was the way he was dressed. His clothes were immaculate, but his suit looked to date back to the seventeen hundreds. He even wore those ridiculous white stockings that men wore in those days. My heart raced at the sight of him, much like it is now. I’ve never been the sort of woman who was easily frightened, but I was afraid, more afraid than I’ve ever been in my life. And then he spoke. His voice sent shivers down my spine.” Mary Margaret paused to take another sip but her glass was empty. She gestured to Gregory that she needed a refill.

“What did he say?” Father Peter leaned forward in his seat.

“I can’t repeat it. It’s too vulgar,” She said looking around to see where Gregory was with her beer.

“Please tell me,” Father Peter said. “What did he say?”

“He said that he’d always wanted to … I can’t say the word he used … that he’d always wanted to fornicate with a Nun.” Her cheeks turned scarlet. “That he wanted a holy … a holy … fu … fu … fuck,” she choked the word out and instantly clamped a hand over her mouth, shocked that she’d uttered it. The word felt dirty on her tongue. Thankfully Gregory brought her another glass of beer and she could wash the word away. The beer travelled down to her toes and made them feel warm and fuzzy. Stretching out in her seat, she placed her feet closer to the fire and wiggled her toes inside her shoes. The fire warmed the tip of her cold nose, turning it pink. A contented sigh escaped her mouth.

“Sister Mary Margaret.” Father Peter’s indignant voice reminded her that she’d just said that word. “I’m shocked and appalled.”

“I’m so sorry Father, but you did ask me what he said and that was the word he used,” she said, taking another sip of the delicious brew.

“I did, didn’t I? My apologies. What happened next?” Father Peter asked.

“I froze. I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. I was shocked. No one has ever said something so disgusting to me before and coupled with his horrendous appearance I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to run, but my legs haven’t been equipped for speed for quite some time now. And then he was right in front of me. I didn’t even see him move. His breath reeked of blood and sulphur. The most abhorrent stench that’s ever wafted up my nostrils. He smelt worse than mother superiors rude noises after bean soup. I brandished my crucifix as though it were King George’s sword. He simply laughed in my face. His spittle smacked my left eye. It stung like the devil, which is probably what he was. Can you see if my eye is still red?” She blinked her left eye a couple times.

“It looks a little red, but I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“I hope you’re right. It really is rather scratchy.” She sniffed, and rubbed her eye.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. What happened next?”

“He yanked the crucifix from around my neck and dangled it in front of my nose. And then he had the audacity to tell me that my God has no power here. Dropping the cross in the palm of his large claw like hand, he crumpled my crucifix as though it were made of tinfoil. My mother gave me that crucifix the day I took my vows.” A tear trickled down her cheek as she remembered her mother fastening the chain around her neck on that special day. Using the hanky she dabbed her eyes and then had another sip of beer. “Then as though that wasn’t bad enough, he breathes on it and set’s it on fire! I couldn’t believe it. After he blew the fire out he handed it back to me as though it were the most normal thing in the world. I tell you, if I’d had my umbrella or my walking stick with me, I’d have bludgeoned him over the head with it. I was so angry. Humph.” She stomped her foot.

“I’m so sorry,” Father Peter said and patted her hand. “It must have been a terrible ordeal.”

“That wasn’t the end of it,” Sister Mary Margaret said. “He slowly walked around me, circling me with his stench. He trailed his hot fingers along my back. His hands were so hot; I thought he would scorch me dress and that my skin would blister. Grabbing my hair, he yanked my head back and thrust his forked tongue into my mouth. His tongue slithered down my throat. I gagged on it and his foul breath almost made me faint. And then he just disappeared. His laughter and his stench hung in the air after he’d left. His laughter followed me all the way here. I’m sure he’s still out there waiting, lulling me into a false sense of security. I know he’s out there waiting for me. He wants to do bad things to me.”

The old wooden doors to the pub flew open and Sister Mary Margaret’s devil waltzed in.

“Hello Greg,” he greeted the barman. “How about a pint of that magic ale of yours for a weary traveller?”

Gregory stared; slack jawed, at the new comer. The beer glass tap tapped against the metal arm of the beer tap as he poured the drink. A hush fell over the busy pub, and twenty pairs of eyes watched as Sister Mary Margaret’s devil picked up his glass and sauntered over to the fire, where Sister Mary Margaret sat in shocked silence.

“Oh that does feel good,” He said as he stood with his back to the fire and warmed his backside.  “’Ello Ducks. Fancy another kiss?” The devil winked and Sister Mary Margaret fainted.

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This story was originally published in Tales of The Nun and Dragon

thanks-for-reading-puppy

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#ShortStory: The Trial

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Since it’s Friday I thought I’d share another short story with you. I hope you enjoy it.

The Trial

The Judge presiding over my case sat on his oversized and overstuffed throne. He was one of the three men who decided over life and death in our city. Judge Farris had a reputation for being a hard case. He’d put more people to death during the culling than all of the other judges put together. He would be the one who would decide if I was a useful member of society or not. If he decided I wasn’t, that would be it. I’d lose my head. The thought of the executioners axe coming down on my scrawny little neck made me want to run to the bathroom again. I hadn’t stopped needing to pee since my number had been drawn.

In every town, in every part of the world, identity numbers had been thrown into wooden boxes and one by one our numbers were drawn to decide if we would live or die, depending on how useful we were. Prisoners were executed first, and prisons stood as empty, reminders of the past. Then the over sixty-fives were crossed off the list, their assets seized by the state and their organs recycled. Those with IQ’s under 110 were also immediately crossed off the list and deemed as unfit breeding stock. The culling had begun two years ago, and the executioner was very busy.

I’d been one of the lucky ones who’d had those extra two years of life. It had taken the courts longer than anticipated to get through all the numbers. They’d only managed to execute about two thousand people in our city over the last two years through the court system, not including the prisoners and over sixty-fives. Two years of daily executions can be deadening on the spirit, but I’d had the time to meet my nephew, see a few more sunsets, and enjoy the feel of the sun on my skin, which so many others could no longer do. It’s amazing how the small things that count when your number could be up at any moment.

The world population had reached the nine billion mark. Famine and water shortages raged.  Governments all over the world came to the conclusion that there was only one solution. The courts were tasked with deciding on which members of society were the most productive, whose life had the most value. My mother had been one of the first to go. She had been over sixty-five. My sister was a teacher, with an IQ of 130 and therefore useful. My brother, a farmer, was also found useful in a world where there wasn’t enough food and too many lawyers and accountants. The old university degrees, once so sought after, were no longer as important as they once were — now it was genetics and intelligence that mattered. If university graduates didn’t have an added skill, or were not the best at what they did, or were not classified as good breeding stock, they were crossed off the list; even being prematurely bald was a reason for being culled. No ordinary citizen was safe.

My heart felt as though it was trying to escape from my chest. I understood its desire for escape. The thought of running away had crossed my mind more than once, but there was nowhere to run. At this rate, I’d die of a heart attack long before the trial was over, saving the judge the trouble of deciding my fate. My trial wouldn’t take long. I’d have a day at the most to convince them that I was worthy to continue breathing. I was allowed to plead my case because I had good genes and a relatively high IQ, but the question was: was I useful? Was a writer needed in this new society? Was a freethinking author someone they wanted to keep in the new world order? I didn’t hold out much hope. I wasn’t a bestselling author or famous; the rich and famous were pretty much exempt for their ‘social’ contributions.

The courthouse had been built in 1802, two hundred and fifty years ago, and had survived two world wars and an attempted bombing two years ago by terrorists protesting the culling — they’d only succeeded in blowing themselves up, four more people the courts didn’t have to worry about. The wooden panelling on the walls of the courtroom was a dark mahogany and made the room feel solemn and yet strangely warm.  It felt right that my fate would be decided in a room as old and as grand as this one.

“Marin Brown,” the Bailiff called. I heard my name through a wall of nervous fuzz in my ears.

I walked down the stairs and stood in the wooden box, where the Bailiff told me to stand, my legs wobbling under me. I wasn’t sure how I’d manage to stand throughout the ordeal. Judge Farris sat on my right, looking down his nose at me. His white wig looked like it dated back to when the court had first been built; it probably itched like hell. His eyes were dark and cold. He probably only had another five years to go before he too was culled. The thought gave me some comfort, but not much. My bladder wanted to go, but I would have to hold it till the end, there would be no recess.

The Judge banged his gavel a few times, calling the court to order. The wood hitting wood reverberated through my brain and made the hair on my arms stand up. I spotted my brother and   sister sitting in the front row. They would speak on my behalf during the proceedings. It was up to them and the few people who had read my work to convince the judge that my life should be spared. There would be no lawyer to defend me; the few left were too expensive for a poor writer. I would have to argue my own case, fight for my own survival.

The judge looked over the rim of his glasses and stared down at me from his judgemental height. His beaked nose reminded me of a Dickensian character. I couldn’t decide if he looked more like Martin Chuzzlewit or Fagin.

“Stand up properly young lady,” Judge Farris said. His voice was hard. “This court has been called to order, and you will stand to attention throughout the proceedings. If you sit at any time I will make my ruling immediately, and it will not be favourable. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir,” I choked. My tongue was too thick for my mouth. My brother’s neighbours, who were often spectators at trials and had seen Judge Farris in action, had told me that the Judge felt that standing to attention was a point of respect, and failure to do so was to demonstrate contempt. He’d once made a pregnant woman stand for several hours before declaring that she had to have an abortion. It had been her third child, and unless she was prepared to have one of her other children culled, she would have to get rid of her latest addition. He had also declared that if she didn’t start practising safe sex, she, too, would be culled.

“Would those who are here to speak for this woman stand?” Judge Farris instructed. My sister, brother, a few fellow writers, and a couple people I didn’t know, stood. Together, they didn’t even fill up half of the front row. There had been a public announcement letting people know about my trial, the usual notification that went out for all trials, asking anybody who knew me to show up and speak on my behalf. Notifications, however, were only sent out the day before the trials.

“Your testimony must be completely accurate. If you are found to commit perjury, your status will be called into question and you will find yourself in the dock. Is that clear?” The judge instructed.

The witnesses for my defence nodded in unison. My stomach fell a few notches. Nobody would lie for me or exaggerate my usefulness — I wasn’t worth dying for.

“You,” the judge pointed at my brother, his short, cropped blond hair, calloused hands, and deep tan screamed that he spent many hours working the land, “step forward.” Jason took a few tentative steps closer. “Come closer,” the judge commanded. “Stand where I can see you properly.” Judge Farris leaned forward in his seat. “Who is this woman to you?” The judge asked.

“She’s my sister, Your Honour,” Jason replied.

“Besides being your sister, is there a reason she should be allowed to continue to exist in our midst?”

“Y… Yes your honour,” Jason stammered. “She’s a very talented writer, she helps my wife with our child, and she cooks really well, and she pays us rent when she can.”

“Did you get permission to have this child?” The judge asked with a furrowed brow.

“Y… Yes your honour.” Jason’s face turned white. The implication in the judge’s question was obvious. If he didn’t have permission, his son’s life would be forfeit.

“And your sister stays with you?” Judge Farris raised his eyebrow.

“Yes your honour. She used to stay with our mother and looked after her, but when Mom was culled, my sister moved in with me and my wife. We needed help with our baby because our nanny was culled.”

“Why was your nanny culled?”

“She was classified as being poor breeding stock, but as you can see my sister is from very good breeding stock.”

“Is she?” The judge looked over at me. I felt his eyes roving over every inch of me, judging me, looking for imperfections — they wouldn’t be hard to find. My slightly crooked teeth and pale blue eyes, indicative of eventual bad eyesight, were painfully obvious. Even though I didn’t need glasses, my eyesight was not perfect and the judge would most certainly use it against me. Then there was my broken nose too, which I’d broken when I was six while trying to prove that I could climb a tree just as well as Jason.

“You may be seated.” My brother was dismissed. His testimony hadn’t lasted as long as I thought it would. At this rate, my trial wouldn’t even last an hour. I had a feeling the judge had already made up his mind.

He then called up my sister, Iris, to testify. She looked every bit the teacher, but unlike me, her eyesight was perfect. She and Jason both had brown eyes, the same as our mother. I’d inherited our fathers blue eyes and poor eyesight. Her testimony was even shorter than my brother’s. He asked her only one question. “Does your sister make enough money from her writing to support herself or is she a burden on your brother and you?”

My sister looked like a doe caught in the headlights.

“She’s not a burden, Your Honour,” Iris finally managed to say. “She pays her own way.”

“Does she?” Judge Farris leaned further forward and eyed my sister over his glasses. Iris took a step backwards. Her lower lip shivered, usually a sign that she was about to cry.

“Dismissed,” the Judge said, and sounded bored. He leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Next,” he said without looking to see who would be speaking for me. I didn’t recognise the man who stepped forward. He wore an old tweed jacket and looked like a university professor.

“Have you read this woman’s work?” The Judge asked.

“Yes,” the stranger said.

“Did you enjoy it?”

“Yes.”

“Would you buy anything else she wrote?”

“I think so, yes,” the stranger said looking at me and smiling. I tried to smile in return, but my face didn’t co-operate.

“Dismissed.” The Judge then looked at the handful of people still standing. “Are the rest of you all here to give similar testimony?”

They all nodded in reply.

“So noted. I’ll stipulate for the record that the remaining witnesses all stated the exact same thing as the previous witness.” The Judge banged his gavel when audience members started to chatter amongst themselves at his decision. The stenographer typed out his stipulation. His decision recorded for posterity. “Looks like I’ll make my tee time after all.” The judge sounded pleased with himself.

“May I object to that ruling, Your Honour?” I asked, my voice just above a whisper.

“No you may not.” Judge Farris banged his gavel again. “I’m ready to deliver my verdict.”

“But I haven’t had a chance to defend myself,” I said, my voice rising above the sound of the gavel.

“I have made my decision and there’s nothing you can say that will change your fate. You are a burden on your family. You are not prolific enough or good enough to compete with other high calibre writers. There is not room in our society for yet another mediocre author. I therefore sentence you to death. You will be sent from here to your place of execution. There will be no reprieve.” The Judge banged his gavel.

My sister collapsed in a hysterical heap. My brother stared at me, his mouth open in shock.

“Bailiff, take her away.” I heard the Judge’s words as though from a distance. My skin tingled on my face and I desperately needed to go to the toilet, but I refused to embarrass myself. I promised myself that I would be culled with some dignity.

We’d all heard the stories of how some people carried on when they were led away, the hysteria. I would leave that to my sister. I squared my shoulders and allowed the bailiff to lead me out. There was a part of me that still clung to some small hope that the judge would change his mind, that he’d realised he’d made a mistake, but I knew those hopes were futile. The judge never changed his mind.

I would be dead before sunset.

There was a short queue waiting for the executioner in the holding cell. There were three trials everyday, of which two, at least, ended with a death sentence. It didn’t happen often that one of the judges allowed someone to carry on existing, especially Judge Farris.

Another woman waiting to be culled sat in a corner, sobbing. She had paint splatters on her clothes. From the way she was dressed, she looked to be an artist. I sat down next to a man who stared at a spot on the wall opposite us. There was nothing remarkable about him. He was dressed in a simple, cheap suit. His shoes were cracked and looked more plastic than leather. He rocked himself slowly. The shock of where he was and what was about to happen to him stamped on his face. I probably wore the same shocked look.

Two men in uniform came into the holding cell. They headed straight for the woman in the corner and dragged her out. I heard her scream as they took her down the passage towards the chopping block. Next would be the man sitting next to me. I would be the last of the day. The executioner would take a break between each of us; apparently chopping people’s heads off is hard work. Two hours later, they came for him. He went quietly. He hadn’t said a word while we waited and he was silent when they culled him.

They’ve come for me. I try to stand, but my legs betray me. One of them helps me to stand and I thank him. My mother taught me to be courteous. I thank them again for helping me to walk, with some dignity, to the execution chamber.

The chopping block is a huge piece of black granite with a hollowed out bit where I place my head. They tried to wash away some of the blood from the previous two victims, but they missed a few spots. The site of the blood makes the little bit of food I managed to get into my stomach before my trial travel back up my throat, I swallow it back down. I hate that I will die with the taste of bile on my tongue. It’s rather rude that they didn’t even give us a last meal.

The executioner stands with his axe resting on his shoulder. The blade looks sharp enough. I hope he’ll be able to do it with one blow. He looks strong enough. I kneel and place my head in the hollow. I’m grateful that they didn’t allow any family members to attend. It’s a private matter. It’s just between me, the executioner, and whatever god I believe in. Only problem is I’m not sure any god exists.

Well… I’m about to find out.

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This story originally appeared in AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers  in 2013.

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#ShortStory: The Reunion

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Since it’s Friday, I thought I’d share a short story with you. Hope you enjoy it.

The Reunion

The wind howled over the small lake causing white horses to form on the surface. Frank had inherited the old house from his grandmother and turned it into a boutique hotel. The old lady was probably spinning in her grave at the idea of the local riff-raff sleeping in her bed, but the house was the perfect setting for honeymooners or couples on romantic getaways. The only problem was that when the cold weather rolled in, his love-struck guests rolled out.

He’d sunk all of his inheritance from his grandmother and his parents into fixing the house up so that he could turn it into his dream – a five star boutique hotel. Unfortunately, the monthly expenses to keep it running exceeded the income from the hotel guests. His cooking wasn’t good enough to make the restaurant a draw card for the Johannesburg culinary types or for the less picky Pretoria bunch.

The Magaliesburg was known for its B & B’s and little hide-away restaurants. Most of them were close to the main access roads, but Frank’s place was hidden and only accessible by dirt roads. Someone kept stealing the signs he put up on the main road, so his guests kept getting lost on their way to him and then decided to stay at one of the places they could find more easily. In short, the competition was stiff and Frank was broke. But he kept hoping that with just the right marketing strategy those honeymooners would start streaming in, even if the weather was cold and the roads were crap.

As it was, his wife had just left him. Tracy hated the hospitality business and her feelings towards Frank were decidedly cold. He was now running the place on his own. The only help he had was Bettie, the maid he’d inherited with the house. She was eighty, and managed to make him feel like he was a naughty school boy who needed a smack every time he asked her to do something. He’d known Bettie his whole life. She’d practically raised him. It was Bettie who’d taught him to tie his shoelaces, not his mother. He’d learnt to speak Zulu before he’d learnt English. Bettie’s grandson, Mpho, had been like his brother. Mpho had died of AIDS several years ago, and Frank still missed him. They should have been running the hotel together. Bettie would have liked that, his grandmother and parents on the other hand may not have felt the same way.

As he went through the house, closing the windows to guard against the unseasonal storm that was heading his way, a small, bashed up old Mini Cooper bounced along the drive towards the hotel. A young couple, who made no effort to keep their hands off each other, fell out of it in a giggling heap. They’d obviously had a few drinks. How they made it down the dirt road without crashing or how they’d managed not to get pulled over by the Johannesburg Metro cops was a mystery to him. He made his way to the front entrance to greet them, like any good hotelier should. After all, hospitality was the name of the game.

He stepped outside the front door and noticed that the sky had turned that grey yellow colour that always seemed to precede a hailstorm. Winters in South Africa were supposed to be dry. Storms happened in summer, but lately the weather had been unpredictable and the storms were the worst he’d seen in twenty years. It looked like the latest one was going to be one for the record books. One of the wooden deck chairs that he’d forgotten to fold up and put in the storeroom rolled across the front lawn. The chair impersonated tumbleweed with remarkable aplomb. Its journey to the water was stopped by the canoe he’d pulled out of the water and turned over to resemble an elongated turtle. The house wasn’t really equipped to withstand a bad storm, but that wasn’t something he would put in the brochure. In anticipation, he’d stocked up on candles for the inevitable power failure. He needed a generator, but couldn’t afford one, so paraffin lamps and candles were the best he could do, and that combination probably wasn’t a good idea. He reminded himself that the house had been standing for a hundred years and would probably, with a little maintenance and some cash, be standing for a hundred more.

The couple clung to each other as they stumbled up the long gravel pathway towards the front door. A blast of wind tried to separate them, but only managed to make them crumble to the ground in a hysterical mass of laughter. A flash of lightning cracked the sky. The thunder clap was only a few seconds behind. The lightning strike was close by, only a few kilometres away and getting closer judging by the rumble. The man got back up on unsteady legs. He looked to be in his late teens, early twenties. He’d probably only been shaving for a year or two. The girl was even younger – fresh out of high school and still wet behind the ears. He didn’t envy either of them the hangover they were going to have in the morning, but he couldn’t help but envy their youth and the happiness they shared in their drunken stupor. Had he ever been that young and that in love? He couldn’t remember.

Something shimmered at the periphery of his vision. The hair at the back of his neck and on his arms bristled. He put it down to the electricity in the air created by the incoming storm, but a feeling in his gut made him look over his shoulder. In that instant he wished he could rewind those seconds and ignore his gut. Four men stood behind him. Their pale skin and blood shot eyes turned his stomach. Not to mention the assortment of knives, axe’s, and bloody machete’s they carried. Fear and confusion tore at his brain. He blinked hoping that they were simply a horrific mirage. When he opened his eyes the men were gone and he was still alive. He let go of the breath he’d been holding and thanked a god he’d never been sure he believed in, but saying a little prayer seemed appropriate. He chalked the ghostly vision up to his overactive imagination. There’d been a few grisly murders in the area over the last couple of years and no matter how much security he put up, sooner or later someone was bound to show up and try and take what was his.

The young man, who on closer inspection was little more than a boy, stood behind him holding up the girl. He had one of those ridiculous patches of beard on his chin and the girl had bleached her hair that silvery white blond that seemed to be the fashion with young girls. They both wore happy grins, which made him feel old. Frank wondered how they’d gotten up the pathway so quickly. Just a couple seconds prior, they’d been falling about laughing at their car. It should have taken them longer to make their way up the pathway. He’d only turned away for a split second, he was sure of it. He shrugged his confusion off and chalked that one up to being over tired.

Men’s laughter came from inside the parlour. Those men were inside his house. They hadn’t been a figment of his imagination. He tried to calm himself down. Panic would only get him killed. He’d last seen Bettie upstairs pretending to dust some of the bedroom furniture but he knew, from previous experience, that she’d probably dosed off on one of the beds. Bettie was a tough old bird who wouldn’t have let anybody, who wasn’t a paying guest, inside without a fight. He hoped that she was still asleep and blissfully unaware that they had unwanted guests. His other, newly arrived, guests looked at him expectantly.

“Hey bro,” the boy-man slurred. “Can we have a room? We just got married.”

“Look, now’s not a good time,” Frank said. He couldn’t let the kids inside. He needed them to get help. Although he wasn’t sure they were capable of doing much of anything in their condition.

“Sounds like there’s a party going on,” the boy ignored him and pushed past Frank, stumbling inside with his young bride hanging on his arm.

“Shit,” Frank swore under his breath. He didn’t want to die. He hadn’t changed his will yet. Tracy would inherit the house and that would really piss him off. She’d probably sell the place off for a fortune and spend it on her new toy-boy. He took a deep breath, pulled his shoulders back and tried to control his bowls as he stepped inside the house to face his deadly guests. Perhaps he was wrong about his visitors. Perhaps they were simply there to have a good time. Perhaps their idea of a good time didn’t include killing anybody. A man could hope.

The four men stood at the bar his great grandfather had built in the 1920’s. Their weapons had been carelessly discarded on the polished mahogany surface and they’d each poured themselves a generous glass of Johnny Walker Red.

“I can still remember how that little boy squealed just before I stabbed him again and again. He only stopped squealing after the fifth time I stuck him like a pig,” one of the men said, fingering a knife lying on the counter next to him. His hair looked like he’d put one of his fingers in an electrical socket and the bulge in his pants caused by his recollection was disturbing to say the least. Frank wanted to run away screaming, but he and his two young guests were transfixed.

“The boy probably sounded like you did when they fried your brain, Sparky. I always did enjoy a good electrocution, especially when a paedophile like you gets fried. They should never have gotten rid of the death penalty,” the man with a face like an exploded melon said. “If I’d been on death row I would have lived longer and had a better last meal.”

“I might have been fried, Pretty Boy, but at least I didn’t get a beat down like a bitch in the prison yard.”

“Fuck you! Those guys were a bunch of cowards and I took a few of them with me.”

“Who are you calling a coward? I gave you that face,” said the man with a missing eye.

“And I took your eye for your trouble. So I guess we’re even, One-Eyed Jack.”

“Not by a long shot. It took me a week to die from an infection thanks to your dirty finger nails. Do you know how crap it is to die in a prison hospital? My nurse was a horny inmate with a cock like a bull who thought it would be funny to rape me while I was in a coma. My arse still hurts. You and I will never be even.”

“Do we have to go through this every year? For twenty years I’ve been listening to you idiots moan about the same shit. Can’t we just kill a few people and enjoy our weekend without all the other crap?” Asked a man with rope burn marks around his neck and blood shot eyes. There was something familiar about him. Frank was sure he’d seen his face before. A memory scratched at the edge of his brain.

“Speaking of victims,” One-Eyed Jack said. “Slim pickings this year. You really picked a crap spot. I told you we should have gone to Knysna. There are tourists there all year round.”

“You can choose any spot you like when it’s your turn, but I had the pleasure of raping the slut who used to own this place upstairs in her bed. She was my first. I made her boyfriend watch before I slit his throat. She came to say goodbye at my execution with my kid on her hip. She smiled and made my son wave goodbye when they made me do the hangman’s jig. This house has a special place in my heart,” the man with the rope burn said as he looked around the room and nodded. “Good memories here.”

Frank’s grandmother had never spoken of what had happened to her when she was a girl, but he’d seen old newspaper clippings in the attic. That was why the man’s face was familiar. He’d seen his face in those old clippings and it was his father’s face. What had happened all those years ago was something nobody in the family ever talked about. No-one spoke about the fact that his grandmother never married or that his father had been born nine months after the rape. She’d kept her son when most women would have given him up for adoption. Sometimes he wondered if it wouldn’t have been better for his father if she’d done that, though. Knowing that he’d been the product of rape and the offspring of a notorious serial killer had haunted his father all his life.

“And here’s the fruit of my loins. He’s a disappointing sight, isn’t he?” The ghost of his serial killer grandfather said. “Must take after his mother’s side of the family. Doesn’t look a thing like me.”

“Lucky for him,” said One-Eyed Jack. “I thought this was supposed to be our reunion not a family one.”

“It’s not a family reunion, just some unfinished business.”

“What unfinished business?” Sparky asked.

“That’s between the kid and me,” his grandfather said as he put his empty whisky glass down and walked towards Frank with a panga in his hand. A bolt of lightning struck one of the trees outside the parlour window. The windows rattled from the blast. An orange glow emanated from the flames as they licked the dry tree branches. Frank hoped the rain would put out the blaze, he didn’t foresee any fire fighting in his immediate future. As his grandfather walked towards him his future looked short and bloody. The girl screamed as One-eyed Jack pulled her towards him. The boy tried to punch Sparky’s leering face, but his fist passed right through what should have been solid matter.

“Hey,” Pretty Boy said. “Where’s mine?”

“Up-stairs, asleep on the old slut’s bed,” Frank’s grandfather said. “She’s waiting just for you and she probably hasn’t seen any action in the last twenty years.”

Pretty Boy’s laughter as he ran up the stairs to find Bettie stirred Frank’s watery bowls.

“Just don’t piss yourself,” his grandfather said over the sound of Bettie’s and the girls screams. “Me and the boys get together every year and remember the good old days when we were alive and killing our way across this country. We have fun together, just like we used to,” he said as he put his arm around Frank’s shoulder. Frank got a whiff of old blood as his grandfather waved the panga around under his nose. “Your grandmother was a slut and I should have killed her the night I put my seed in her belly. I should have come back when I found out she was having my bastard, but the cops stopped me before I could. I let your father live because he, at least, was a man. That little wife of his knew what would happen if she didn’t respect him. He knew how to give her a good slap if she stepped out of line. But you, my boy, are a disappointment. Look at yourself. You’re a disgrace.”

Blood sprayed the curtains as One-Eyed Jack and Sparky sliced and diced the young couple. Bettie’s screams came to an abrupt end followed by the sound of Pretty Boy’s gurgled laughter. Frank watched as his grandfather brought the panga down on his neck. His own, short lived, screams were accompanied by the sound of the rain and thunder.

“Don’t worry, Son. That wife of yours won’t live here for long. The boys and I’ll pay here a visit next year on our way down to Knysna.” His grandfather stared down at him as his blood pumped out of his severed artery. He drifted off to the sound of laughter, glasses clinking, and rolling thunder.

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This story was originally published in Tales from The Lake Vol 1.

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Lets do this!

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

2016 is done and dusted (thank fuck) and 2017 (just need to remember to get the date right from now on) has begun.

We survived a really rough year and now we need to survive and thrive in the new one.

I think it’s going to be an interesting year and, like last year, it will also have its ups and downs. It’s just going to be a case of putting one step in front of the other or, in my case, one word after the next.

In order to get me focused on getting through this year and to help me write the sequel to The Race as well as working on the first book in The Cursed Witch series I’ve decided I need a theme song.

 

I think given the nature of the story for The Race and its subsequent books and the year I’ve got ahead of me and what we’ve already survived, I think it’s a pretty apt choice. Don’t you?

So … if you had a theme song for this year or last year what would it be?

And don’t forget Shadows is still free until the end of January! Just click on the universal buy link and then on whichever store you’d like to download it from. Amazon, unfortunately, still hasn’t come to the party on this one. But you can get it free from Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and Kobo, and pretty much everywhere else.

I hope 2017 brings you all that you wish for yourself!

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Goodbye 2016

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

In just a couple days 2016 will be over. It’s been an interesting year on a global scale. Brexit, Trump, The Grimm Reaper taking the rich and famous, friends and family. It’s been a stressful year to say the least. And I have to say, I’m glad it’s over. Lets just hope that 2017 is less of a killer.

There have also been some good things in 2016 and they’re what I’m going to try and focus on and take with me and grow in 2017.

I managed to publish two new books! I’m fucking proud of myself for that. I also got all the rights back for my other books and managed to republish them and go completely indie in a matter of days. Another accomplishment that I’m fucking proud of.

I may not be a bestselling author – yet, but I’m working on it. That’s where my focus is going to be in the new year. I’m focusing on building my audience and writing new stories. The rest will take care of itself.

I’m not going to make any hard and fast New Years resolutions. None of that new year, new me crap. I’m still going to be the dark, twisted, and sarcastic bitch I’ve always been. The coffee and wine are still going to flow in 2017.

With the close of 2016 I’d like to ask you to take a moment to think of the books you’ve read and enjoyed this year. Think of the writers who’ve worked to craft those words that have taken you on unexpected journeys. The words that have made you cry, or laugh, or scared you shitless.

If you appreciate those words that were so cleverly strung together leave a little review, doesn’t have to be a long one, on Goodreads or Amazon or wherever you got it. Tell your friends about the book. Tell them about the author. Spread the words.
And in 2017 try expanding your reading horizons. Try an author you’ve never read before. Give the little guy a shot. Don’t just stick within your usual safe zone. You never know, you might stumble onto your new favourite author and then tell your friends about them.

And just to make sure the new year starts off with a bang, I’ll be making Shadows FREE until the end of January. Most ebook stores have already caught up with the change in price but it may take Amazon a few days to catch up. Just click on the Universal buy link and choose your favourite store. Go download it and tell your friends about it.

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I hope 2017 brings you all joy, prosperity, and good books. See you all in the new year.

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Guest Post: Alistair Cross

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Today, Alistair Cross has hi-jacked my blog.

Here’s a little info on the fiend who dared trespass here.

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Alistair Cross’ debut novel, The Crimson Corset, a vampiric tale of terror and seduction, was an immediate bestseller earning praise from veteran vampire-lit author, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and New York Times bestseller, Jay Bonansinga, author of The Walking Dead series. In 2012, Alistair joined forces with international bestseller, Tamara Thorne, and as Thorne & Cross, they write – among other things – the successful Gothic series, The Ravencrest Saga. Their debut collaboration, The Cliffhouse Haunting, reached the bestseller’s list in its first week of release. They are currently at work on their next solo novels and a new collaborative project.

In 2014, Alistair and Tamara began the radio show, Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE!, which has featured such guests as Charlaine Harris of the Southern Vampire Mysteries and basis of the HBO series True Blood, Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter novels, Jay Bonansinga of The Walking Dead series, Laurell K. Hamilton of the Anita Blake novels, Peter Atkins, screenwriter of HELLRAISER 2, 3, and 4, worldwide bestseller V.C. Andrews, and New York Times best sellers Preston & Child, Christopher Rice, and Christopher Moore.

Top Ten Writing Lessons I’ve Learned in Ten Years

Though I’ve been writing all my life, it wasn’t until ten years ago that I got serious about it. And I didn’t want to be a hobby-writer, either. I wanted to be a real-life, full-time professional who spends his time writing, editing, marketing, and well … doing it all – because that’s what writers do these days.

The road was long and winding, but in 2012, I finally got published. Since then, I’ve written several novels with bestselling author, Tamara Thorne, and am now completing my second solo novel, The Angel Alejandro, which will be out early in 2017, as well as several other collaborations and solo projects.

And Tamara and I didn’t stop there. We also began the radio show, Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE!, where we interview authors, paranormal investigators, forensics experts, and anyone else who likes frolicking in the darkness with us. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some amazing people, and in the decade since I plunged myself into the strange world of creative enterprise, I’ve learned some things about writers, readers, the craft, and the business.

Some of these lessons were learned first hand and some of them through the wisdom of others, but all of them have proved profoundly valuable to me. The list that follows comes from my experience in the writing world, and I hope some of it may be useful to other writers … and interesting for readers.

1. Reading is the single most important thing to do if you want to improve your craft. Read everything … and read it with an active eye, taking in plot devices, pacing, theme, voice, dialogue, and character development. Reading trains the unconscious mind to find its own writing rhythm and gives you an “ear” for storytelling. So read. Not a little, but a lot. As Stephen King famously says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

2. There’s no such thing as ‘just a writer’ anymore. Gone are the days (if they ever existed) when publishers spent copious amounts of time and money getting the word out about your new book. You’re not just an author anymore. You’re also a marketer, a public relations specialist, a social media virtuoso, and a business manager, among other things. Make peace with that, keeping in mind that no one will work as hard for you as you will. They never have and they never will. So be accountable for your career.

3. The cream rises to the top. In an age of do-it-yourself digital delirium, everyone’s an author. It’s easy to look at the bottomless pit of other writers and wonder how the hell anyone is going to find your work. But look closer and you’ll see how many of those authors fall off the map, disenchanted when their dreams of instant fame and fortune are promptly torn to pieces. Not to mention the profusion of books out there that simply aren’t any good. Readers are smart people and they know the difference between a good story and a poor one. They don’t come back to authors who write bad books. Keep writing damned good books and, like the proverbial cream, you’ll rise to the top.

4. Have heroes. Learn from the best. Once you’ve established what kind of writer you want to be, keep a close eye on those authors who inspire you. Study their work, learn from them. Stalk them on Twitter. But don’t get too stalkery. No one likes a creepster.

5. Set goals. Whether it’s a page amount, a word amount, or a paragraph amount, set daily goals. Don’t settle for the “when I get around to it” approach to writing. No one ever “gets around to it.”

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6. Know the difference between a hobby and a job. If you want writing to be your job, you have to treat it like a job or no one else will. That means you set hours. The phone is off. The door is shut. You’re not readily accessible. If you don’t spend your time wisely, other people will happily spend it for you, so unless writing is a mere pastime for you, don’t let other people spend your time.

7.   Go big or go home. Don’t think you can only write for small markets, or that a high-powered literary agent won’t be interested, or that a big-name author is going to look down his or her nose at you. Know your worth and aim for the stars.

8. Walk through every door that opens. And if you keep at it, people will open doors for you. But getting through the door is the easy part. It’s up to you to earn your place in the room.

9. Never read your reviews. For better or worse, reviews are necessary, but they’re designed with other readers in mind – not the author. If you’re looking for a critique, get it from your agent, your editor, your publisher, another author, or an objective friend … anywhere but from the reviews section of the book retailer. Reading reviews – whether they be glowing or insulting – isn’t really doing you any favors.

10. Trust your characters. Some writers will say that you must keep your characters on a short leash and remain in full command of them at all times lest they sully your painstakingly-plotted story with their whimsical meanderings. But here’s the thing: Those seemingly frivolous departures from your plans are where the characters come to life. And when the characters come to life, that’s when the magic happens. I say let your characters go where they want, let them say what they want … let them tell you their story. Let yourself be as delighted and surprised by them as your readers will be.

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You can stalk Alistair at the following places:

★ Author’s website: http://www.alistaircross.com/

★ Author’s social media links:

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Alistair-Cross/e/B00N446AZS/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6517308.Alistair_Cross

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/crossalistair

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CrossAlistair

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/alistaircross/

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