It’s almost here; Myth Bane the first book in my new ‘Waking Legends’ series! I’m really excited, and hope you will have as much fun with the adventure as I did conjuring up this new dark fantasy world.
Read on below for the first four chapters, and I’ll be posting more to my blog and social media the moment the book is published!
William Rose hadn’t died. That dark, momentous event was due in two days, but he felt dead. Like he’d passed from the earth and was little more than a cluster of particles hanging in the air.
A part of him was aware he was asleep in an apartment building in London. But as the scenery shifted from an overturned pub, with the bar, beers and his friends suspended from the ceiling, to a midnight blue cloud of swirling vapors, he knew he was on his way to somewhere else. A place far from a dream.
Terror punched through his gut as his surroundings darkened and his body solidified around him, like it had leaped from his bed and followed him into this impossible place. “No!” he shouted, “stop!”
Slowly, the velvet darkness bloomed with dusky reds and emerald greens and Will found himself standing in a forest. A real life, knock on wood forest with giant, towering trees.
The lush canopy of the leafy branches held the rich twilit splendor aloft while they cast their shadows upon the mossy dappled earth. Their trunks were high and round, the bark gnarled and ancient. Wreaths of mist hung in the cool, fresh air like ghostly shrouds and the earthy aroma was vivid, pungent and real.
It wasn’t real of course, and yet it was there, right before him. And not for the first time. He shivered, and fought to quell his rising panic. There would be a way out. There had to be a way out.
Will stumbled on, the drifts of russet leaves crackling beneath his feet as he wandered along a trail dogged by grasping brambles that snagged his hands, bringing a distinctly un-dreamlike throb of pain. “It’s not real,” he said as he glanced back, half hoping to find a door to return him to his dreams, but if there’d ever been one, it was gone.
He rubbed the side of his pounding temples as the hangover that had thundered in the background like a silent storm as he’d slept, held him in its grip. His throat was as dry as bone and his twenty-five-year-old body suddenly felt older than time. Each joint was as stiff as the fallen tree before him with its unearthed roots hanging down like tendrils.
“Hello?” he called. No one answered. As he glanced through the forest he realized he’d been there before, but the memory flickered like quicksilver and vanished from his mind.
As Will spotted the large stone building nestled amongst the brambles he slowed. Its sloped roof was green and brown with moss, its leaded glass windows obscured by dust. Its heavy wooden door was ajar, and vivid silver beams of light blazed within. The place was a mystery his curiosity yearned to explore, but his instincts warned him to avoid.
I need to go back, he thought, and closed his eyes. He willed himself to wake in London, back to the bed where Charlotte lay beside him, her soft arms entwined through his, her breasts…
“You’re here. Finally.”
Will opened his eyes to find a figure flitting out from the house. She was a sinewy woman with a long, angular face and with each indignant step, the frayed blue and mauve patchwork squares of her skirt seemed to shift and jumble. Then her piercing eyes glowed lilac as they fixed on his.
“I need to get out here,” Will said. He nodded back the way he’d came. He’d had more than enough of the eerie looming trees, the overpowering scent of damp earth, and the strange metallic jingling tone that made him think of pockets full of old coins. It was impossible, all of it, yet it tainted the very breeze ruffling his dark unruly hair, making it even more vivid. Had someone spiked his drink? It was possible. Except…
“Wait,” the woman called as she hurried to catch up to him.
“I’m sorry,” Will called, “but I have to get back. This place is impossible. I can’t be here.”
“How can you go back if you’re not here?”
Will shrugged and was about to stumble away, to where he had no idea, when a thin, silver light that fizzled like a beam of electricity shot from the house. It pierced the woman’s chest like a javelin, and struck Will, bringing a flash of warmth to his heart and whispers in his ears, the words nonsensical. “What the hell’s going on?” He turned to follow the zig zagging line blazing through the trees but it vanished into the distant impenetrable gloom.
“Faete!” the woman called, “and you’re as likely to take wing as you are to escape yours. Just as I can’t escape mine. But,” she held up a long, crooked finger, “we might change it still.”
“Faete? I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.” Will closed his eyes, his mind set. When I open my eyes, I’ll be where I belong, and I’ll forget this ever happened.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. He hid you from us well, hid you from everyone, but the veil has been lifted. We’re in the gravest danger. You, me, everything.”
“This is insane. It’s not real. It can’t be.” Will opened his eyes, hoping to find himself back in bed, but he was still in the forest.
“Is that so?” the woman asked. “Then tell me, why can you feel the soft springy moss beneath your feet and smell the damp leaves and blackberries like you’ve never smelled them before. You know you’re here. You know you’re a part of this place and always have been, even if you continue to deny it.”
“I don’t know anything. And like I said, I have to go. Take care.” Will closed his eyes again and this time he doubled his focus as he imagined Charlotte, warm beside him and her…
…and then he was gone.
“Idiot. Sodden, willfully stupid fool! He’s as slow as dead eels and as stubborn as a bloody thorn.” She waved her hand and the silver beam that had connected her to Will and the heart of the forest began to fade.
“You can hide it all you like, but they’ll know you meddled with the faetes, Morwen,” a slow, cautious voice said, as a stoat stepped from the gloom between the trees and joined her. It regarded her with its deep black eyes, shook its furry coat out and sniffed the air, its black tipped tail swishing the leaves.
“So be it, Asral,” Morwen said. “Because either way the forest’s waking and things are about to change, and not for the better. That boy’s got serious trouble coming to him, and it’s going to shake his little boat from its stream and set it upon a stormy sea. Whether he wants it or not.”
“He’s not exactly a boy.”
“Five and twenty years should certainly make him a man, but he’s been cosseted and hidden away like a child. No, he should have listened to me. Does he want to die? Where will he be then?”
“True,” Morwen conceded. “And then where will we be?”
“Indeed.” She frowned as she gazed into the trees. The forest was stirring, albeit slowly, but it was waking. She watched the bats flitting over the House of Faete, a bad omen as if they needed one.
“Maybe it’s time to wake the Court,” Asral suggested.
“No.” Morwen shook her head. “That would break the accord. If we wake the Court, the other side will wake as well. And then we’ll have them as well as the humans to deal with. It’ll be a massacre. Far worse than the last.”
“So what can we do?”
“Hope the imbecile wakes up,” Morwen glanced back to where Will had stood mere moments ago. “He has the strength we need. If he can find it.”
“You said he’s going to die the day after tomorrow. I’d say the matter’s already decided.”
“It is. But I may have attempted to intervene.” The side of Morwen’s face colored.
“When?” Asral gave her a doubtful look.
“About a hundred years ago, give or take.” She was about to add more when a howl echoed from the darkness and as she gazed toward it she caught sight of a scrawny figure slipping behind the trunk of an old crooked tree. “Not good,” she said, keeping her voice low, “not good at all.”
Together they hurried along the narrow, twisted path leading back to the House of Faete. “Wake up, Will,” Morwen whispered, her heart racing. “Wake the bloody hell up!”
Gingerly, Will forced his eyes open, expecting to find himself in the forest, but he wasn’t; he was crammed in a broom cupboard, clutching a tin bucket that reeked of vomit. His head pounded as he sat up, and his stomach churned like it was full of curdled milk.
Charlotte stood over him, her pretty face twisted with disgust as strands of her long black hair dangled over him like strips of seaweed.
“What happened?” His ragged voice muttered through his cracked, dry throat.
Thunk! A backpack landed between his splayed legs. “What’s this?” Will asked, as he gazed down at it.
“Because I already have a child, and I don’t have room for another. I don’t know how or why you did it, Will, but-”
She glanced down the narrow hall toward the other apartments and dropped her voice to an exasperated whisper. “Snuck out of bed last night so you could sleep in this cupboard. Somehow that must have been really important to you.” She shook her head. “What’s the joke, Will?”
“You did. And you’ve done it before, remember? And not only were all the windows locked when I got up but so was the front door. And it was bolted too. I don’t know how you managed it, and frankly I don’t want to either. It’s too much.”
Will was lost for words. She was right, it had happened before. And on more than a few occasions, except he’d never told her that, and wasn’t about to. Not for the first time, he wondered if he was going insane, that some dark part of his mind was playing tricks on him and sabotaging his life.
“I can’t have it,” Charlotte continued, “I’ve already got one crazy ex, and now you’re the second. What the hell was I thinking?”
“No. We’re good together,” Will sat up, his head spinning. “Last night was a laugh. It was fun.”
“It was fun, until you started on the absinthe. Do you remember that?”
“No.” If he’d had absinthe, Danny must have foisted it on him like he usually did, and that never amounted to anything good.
“Do you remember the cab ride home?” Charlotte asked, her voice laced with fury.
“Did I do something stupid?” Will tried to remember what had happened, but everything came up blank. He didn’t drink much, and never that often, but when he did things often got pretty strange…
…. a vision of trees filled his mind. Had they gone to a park?
“Try, beyond stupid. Do you actually want to know?” Charlotte’s eyes flashed dangerously.
“Not really.” As Will shook his head he winced as tiny explosions roared inside his skull.
Charlotte glanced down at her buzzing phone. When she looked back at him, her face softened. A little. “Look, Will, I like you. You’re a good man, you’ve got a good heart…”
“But it’s too weird, all of it. I can’t have you doing disappearing acts in the house, especially not when Riley’s around. He needs someone responsible in his life, and that’s about the last thing you are.”
“I’m responsible,” Will said as he stumbled to his feet and the bucket clattered across the floor. “Let me-”
“It’s too late.” She folded her arms. “You should go to your father’s house. I know it’s hard but you need to face up to it. And you need to get a job.”
“I’ve been trying to get a job in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“I know. And you’ll find one, you’re smart, resourceful. But you need to deal with your grief. Stop running away from everything, Will.”
“I’ll deal with it, I’m going to-”
“No.” Charlotte placed her fingers on his lips. “It’s over. You need to go.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Take care, Will.”
As she turned and walked back to her apartment, Will caught sight of Riley. His hair was wild and his hands and mouth were smeared with jam. He smiled at Will but before Will could return the gesture, Charlotte pulled him back inside and the door slammed shut.
The late summer sun blazed down on London from a bright blue sky reminding Will of one of Riley’s drawings as he headed down the road, his earthly possessions slung over his shoulder. He glanced back at the apartment block and caught a glimpse of Charlotte looking down at him, which seemed apt. Then she vanished.
Everything felt weird and unreal. Unlikely even; as if he was about to wake and find it had all been some terrible dream. They’d only been together for seven months, and he’d only been living with her for a few weeks, but it seemed longer. Much longer. In a good way.
At first the idea of moving in had scared the hell out of him. It had felt like a commitment too far, especially when it included her noisy, wild, yet lovable son. But he’d grown to like it, to love it even.
“Not a problem now though,” he muttered as he crossed the street. Of course he could try to mount an appeal, plea for a second chance, but there had been a terrible finality in her eyes, and he’d seen that look before.
Discordant thoughts zipped through his mind; Charlotte, the black hole that was the night before, and something else… a nebulous concern that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Something else had happened. He’d gone somewhere… again. But where?
Will jumped as a car horn blared.
“Wake up, moron!” a driver yelled from his van.
Will lifted his finger in response but the van had already screeched away. “Whatever,” Will said as he concentrated on putting one scuffed shoe ahead of the other, unaware of the figure following on the shadowed side of the street.
Will stretched back on the park bench in Golden Square as a squealing toddler ran past, chasing a limping crow across the grass. As entertainment went, it was pretty low grade.
What he should have been doing, instead of lounging in Soho, was sitting in a coffee shop with his friend Natalie, who had a lead on a job for him. But she’d cancelled at the last minute, leaving him adrift in London with nothing else to do.
Another roadblock, Will thought as he finished off his exorbitantly priced roast beef sandwich and wondered how many more he’d be able to buy before his bank balance hit zero. Maybe a few hundred, he calculated, if he was lucky. And what then? He glanced over at the painfully young couple laying in each other’s arms on the bench beside him. They were gaunt and wasted, and the piles of bags below them were stuffed with clothes and even more bags. A glimpse of the future?
And then, as the kid chased the crow by again the bird flew up and made a low pass over Will, shitting on the shoulder of his shirt as it swooped by.
“Really?” Will growled, as he sloshed his pricy mineral water over a napkin and tried to scrub it off. Could things get any worse? Yes. He put the thought from his mind in case it tempted fate…
… a memory flashed by; a snapshot of a woman emerging from an ancient house with a mossy roof and an interior bright with vivid silver lights. He shook his head. It was nonsense; the byproduct of drunken dreams.
Will stared down at his scuffed shoes and wondered what to do next. He had friends, they had sofas…
No. It was too much, especially given he had another option. One he could be at within the hour. He could wash his clothes, run a bath, get a takeaway and some sleep and do his best to mend his frayed nerves.
Except it meant venturing to the one place he’d been avoiding for longer than he cared to admit. A cloud passed over the sun. It seemed fitting. Will leaned back against the bench and closed his eyes for a few moments more.
He woke to a blare of trumpets and assorted brass and opened his eyes to find a Salvation Army band performing in the twilit square. The young girl collecting money pulled her cap back as she passed him, and Will wasn’t sure if the gesture was through pity or fear.
He glanced at his phone. It was later than he’d intended and the nap had done little to help his still raging hangover. “Wow!” he muttered as he checked his pockets to find his wallet and phone were still where they were supposed to be, as was his bag. Then he noticed someone had kindly left a small pile of change on the bench beside him. He left it, hoisted the bag onto his shoulder, and headed to the tube station.
The train juddered and squealed as it rounded a bend and bright blue sparks flashed in the sooty gloom outside the window as Will sat, hunched over. As it pulled into the next stop, the remaining passengers drifted from the carriage, except for the strange, ancient looking lady sitting across the way. The one who had seemed to have been staring at him since he’d first gotten into the carriage.
She was a haggard thing. Bony, crooked, and almost swallowed up by the long winter coat she wore, despite the late summer’s heat. Her hair was silver and white, her brows painted lines, and her eyes almost shone in the flickering lights. She stared at Will before nodding to the paper bag cradled in her lap. It had a hole on one side that had been mended with tape. Will almost shuddered as he studied the bag and realized it was filled with tiny white teeth.
“Penny for your thoughts?” the old lady said.
“I’m… you know.” He smiled and looked away.
“A bit shaken since you met my sister? Ran away you did, or so she said.“
“Are you waking up?”
Will gave a short, tight smile, pulled his phone from his pocket and wielded it as a barrier against her lunatic conversation while he thumbed through his messages and pretended to read them. Then, with a flick of his finger, he was face to face with the selfie Charlotte had taken with him in the pub the night before and his heart sunk.
“Out with the old, in with the new,” the lady muttered.
A trickle of anxiety slithered through him and as the train pulled into a station, he hurried through the door and leaped onto the next carriage.
He glanced through the window in the connecting door to make sure the old lady was still there. She was. She sat staring ahead, chatting as if he was still in front of her.
Another lost soul, Will thought, as if the city needed any more. He counted the stops on the tube map, glad to find there were only three to go before his destination.
His panic continued to bubble like a hidden spring but he forced himself to ignore it. Instead he thought about his father’s house and wondered, yet again, if the solicitor handling his father’s estate would return his calls any time soon. It was hard to imagine the legal log jam ever getting settled, and even if it did he had no idea what he’d do with the place. Selling seemed like the best idea, but as he thought about the odd things that had happened there over the years and the unnerving vibe the place seemed to harbor within its walls, he doubted it would be possible to find anyone insane enough to actually pay money for it.
And then there was Sally. Was she still living there? Will hoped so. He’d liked her, and was glad his father had met her, and it pained him that their loving relationship had been severed with such horribly efficient finality. He’d tried to call Sally several times to work out an arrangement with the house as well as all the other things that needed to get done, but she’d been just as evasive as the solicitor.
A blur of movement broke Will’s thoughts. The old lady stood at the glass door of the adjoining carriage, mouthing something. Whatever it was, it seemed by her urgent expression that it was incredibly important.
Sparks lit the tunnel and the overhead light flickered, and for a moment it looked as if the eyes in her drawn, withered face had shimmered with a lilac glow.
Will walked to the far end of the car, pulled his book from his backpack and tried to read but the words seemed to dance across the page. When he glanced up, he found the middle-aged couple across the way watching in what looked like concerned sympathy.
“It’s fine.” Will forced a smile and continued to stare at the book, doing his best to ignore the distant silhouette of the old lady pressed against the window.
Finally, the train ground to a halt and he left the underground, eager to be back below the open sky.
The long street where he’d spent most of his childhood felt older and narrower, as if it had shrunk since he’d last been there. Somehow it seemed much later than it was, as if the hours on this tiny block had skipped ahead so the whole neighborhood could linger at midnight.
Will started as a cat yowled and followed him, matching his step as it ran along a rickety wooden fence. He turned to stroke it but the cat drew away. It looked diseased with its weepy eyes, and limp, withered tail. He sighed. The poor thing was probably… “Hey!” he snatched his hand back as it hissed and spat at him.
He hurried on, mindful of the thick, cloying shadows writhing across the pavement. Most of the curtains in the houses were drawn, but now and then he passed a brightly lit window with people nestled cozily inside, a sharp contrast to the disquieting darkness.
Will glanced his father’s place over before shoving the wooden gate onto the scraped worn path. The shrubs lining the walkway hadn’t been cut back, resulting in a narrow corridor riddled with spider webs. Their silvery strands glinted in the moonlight, bringing half elusive memories that he quickly forced from his mind…
He looked up at the house once more. It was bathed in darkness and seemed to loom, reminding him of coming home from school as a child on short winter days. Of how he’d throw the door open and switched on as many lights as possible, anything to keep the nagging gloom at bay.
The key was barely in the lock when a strange, shifting sensation rose from the doormat, as if it were about to sail up into the sky and carry him away. And then its edges glowed with faint golden light before fading back to its old worn ragged self.
“I need sleep,” Will muttered as he shook his head, opened the door and stepped into the waiting darkness.
His fingers brushed along the cold, embossed wallpaper in the hallway as he searched for the light switch. The tunnel of darkness ahead seemed to undulate toward him.
Will grabbed his phone, thumbed the screen and found the switch in its faint glow. It was there, just where it had always been. He flipped it on and stepped inside.
The old painting was still beside the door, even after all these years. It was filled with odd, colorful, geometric designs and tiny, jagged symbols. As a child he’d been convinced the shapes were spells written in a long forgotten, magical language. That they could protect him and the house against monsters who might come calling.
Will placed a hand on its dusty frame and glanced up the stairs to the darkness of the second floor. He took a long deep breath. The house smelled of damp. It smelled empty.
Eric was still where he’d always been, perched up high along the wall. He was a strange, sinister thing and Will had always found taxidermy disturbing, as well as owls, which made Eric a double whammy. His red-orange eyes were shiny and judgmental, and the ratty grey and brown feathers on his wings were ruffled in a far too lifelike way.
“Evening, Eric,” Will said, nodding to the dust-addled bird as he slipped past the darkened living room and cellar door.
He flipped the kitchen light on and gazed at the stout wooden table in the middle of the room. It looked so small now, everything looked so small. His heart beat a little harder as he spotted the folded note. Was it from his father? A final message? He snatched it open, relieved to find Sally’s cursive writing tucked inside.
I hope things are well when you receive this. I tried calling but couldn’t get through and I have no idea where to find you. I’ve tried several places but you move about so often!
Anyway, this is just a brief note to let you know I’ve decided to move out and move on. This house holds too many memories. I miss your father as I’m certain you do.
Please feel free to reach me at the number and address below. It would be great to meet up when you have time!
Will added her number into his phone and glanced at her address. It wasn’t far. He’d ring her tomorrow and looked forward to catching up with her. She was pretty much the last link he had to his father now.
He opened the fridge in the vague hope of finding something to eat, but it was empty and had been thoroughly cleaned. The cupboard held a few tins of peas, faded packets of pasta and an old can of processed meat that looked like it had been sitting there for a century.
Will’s gaze drifted to the bottle of wine almost cheerfully sitting near the windowsill. “A hair of the dog it is then.” He opened the bottle, poured a glass and wandered back down the hall to the living room, passing the cellar door once more, another throwback to his old childhood fears. He shoved it hard, making sure it was closed.
As he entered the living room, he paused as he caught sight of a figure striding toward him. “What the-”
Will switched the light on and stepped back in a defensive stance, the bottle of wine tucked beneath his arm.
A tall mirror stood before him, one he’d never seen before, and standing sheepishly within the frame was himself. “Twat!” he muttered, before taking a liberal sip of wine.
He looked tired. There were lines on his forehead and shadows around his eyes. His leather jacket was battered and his filthy shirt was beyond wrinkled. “You’re still a handsome devil though,” he said, and winked at himself to lighten the atmosphere.
Will plopped down in his father’s armchair, decided it was too weird, and moved to the sofa. He flicked the television on to battle the silence and soon the place was filled with inane, chuckling laughter. Next, he ordered cod and chips from the shop down the road, set his phone down, then picked it back up. His finger hovered habitually over Charlotte’s number.
Was it too soon? He tossed the phone down. Not only was it too soon, it was too late. He wasn’t going to delude himself, and the last thing he wanted was to turn into some needy pain in the arse. She knew how to find him if she changed her mind, not that he expected that to happen.
Will sighed, exhaling the day as he leaned back on the cushions and closed his tired, aching eyes.
He awoke to the jarring ring of the phone and reached out. But it wasn’t his cell phone, it was an analogue phone. An old, analogue phone.
Will gripped the edge of the sofa as he realized exactly where it was coming from but before he could move, the phone stopped and the door bell rang.
Will paid the delivery guy and made his way to the kitchen but paused.
The cellar door was ajar.
“Must have been open already.” Will closed it with his foot. The effects of the wine and his growling stomach helped him overlook the fact that he’d checked before and it hadn’t yielded an inch.
As he ate his food a series of troubling thoughts surfaced in his mind. And before he could stop them, they flitted back to a long buried memory.
There’d been nothing particularly extraordinary about that distant cloudy autumn morning, not initially, except for his father’s mood.
Usually, his dad was affable and easy going, funny even, when he chose to be. But not that day. No, that day his father’s dark eyes had barely met Will’s, his forehead had been creased with lines, and his face peppered with stubble.
Something had gone wrong. Something had happened. Something serious that had made his dad serious too.
Will had asked him about it with a ten-year-old’s casual directness.
“Follow me,” Dylan Rose had said with gruff haste. He’d led Will to the cellar door, produced a ring of keys from his dressing gown, unlocked it and led Will down the creaky steps. Will had been down there once before, long ago, and he’d promptly decided it wasn’t a place he liked very much. It was full of strange things; tiny statues, odd bundles of twigs, their wood shorn of bark, old wooden crates partially draped in black cloth that had made him think of a vampire’s cloak.
In the furthest corner, past the dusty furnace, was a carved, wooden stand and resting upon it an old-fashioned telephone. Will had never seen it before and he’d never once heard it ring. Carefully, Dylan Rose turned the phone over to reveal a strip of paper taped to its base. On the paper was a long string of numbers, the beginning few in brackets. “What’s that?” Will had asked.
His father had leaned down, looked him in the eyes, and placed a gentle, yet firm hand on Will’s shoulder. “If you ever have a problem, Will, I want you to dial this number, and use this phone. Got it?”
“Sure,” Will had replied. “Is that how I ring the police station?”
“No. I’m not talking about those sorts of problems.” His father’s brow had furrowed as it always did when he struggled to explain something complex. “I mean if something very strange happens, and I’m not around.”
“Strange like what?”
“You’ll know, Will. But listen, I’m not going to let anything bad happen. Me and you are off the map, and as long as I’m drawing breath, we’ll stay that way.”
Will had been troubled at the thought of being off a map, because what lay beyond maps? Oceans filled with sea monsters? Dragons? But more troubling than that was the idea of a day when his father wouldn’t be there, so he pushed the thought to the bottom of the pile, just like he did with his least favorite books, before it could become a worry.
It was two years later when Will had woken to the sound of the phone ringing. His dad had gone to the store, so Will fished the key to the cellar out of the drawer where his father kept it, and clambered down the stairs, one hand guiding him on the pitted, mottled wall. The phone had sat there silent, as if it had only rung in his dream.
His curiosity had whispered to him, and within moments he’d given in. He’d flipped the phone over, written the number down on a scrap of paper, then called it. The line had been scratchy and echoey, like a precipice within a great dark, cavern.
Then someone answered. A woman. She’d sounded worried. Angry even. “Is that you Dylan?” she’d demanded. “Hello?” The line had fizzled and popped with static as she’d paused. “Who’s there?”
Will had slammed the phone down and flown up the cellar stairs, and he’d never gone back, not even once.
The memory was still unsettling enough to prompt Will to refill his wine glass and take a deep swig. “It was nothing.”
But it hadn’t been nothing. He glanced toward the cellar door. Was the old phone still there?
“Screw it.” Will strode to the door. He didn’t like feeling afraid. Didn’t want to feel like a child again. He reached out, yanked the door open, and stepped back. It creaked and swung out into the hallway. As he turned on the light, something thin, brown and long legged scuttled into a hole in the wall, making him jump. “Prick!” He chided himself.
He took the stairs fast, stomping down them with a confidence he didn’t feel as his shadow lurched down the wall beside him.
The cellar was as he remembered, nothing had changed, and the dusty old phone was still resting on the carved wooden stand. Before he could think twice, he snatched it up, turned it upside down, and read the number still taped to the bottom. He had no idea what area code it was, but he tapped it into his phone, anyway.
He set the phone back down with an almost superstitious reverence and made sure the handset remained in place. The bell inside the phone dinged as if in response and as he glanced at it, he spotted the stone resting by its side.
It was the green-grey pebble his father had given him as a child, an old stone ringed with rippled black lines and a worn hole in its center. The magic stone. How had he forgotten it? He picked it up. It felt lighter than he remembered, smaller, slighter. He slipped it into his pocket and left the cellar, eager to be back upstairs where he could examine it further in the warmth and light.
As Will flopped onto the couch he glanced at his cell phone and read the number from the cellar once more. He was about to dial it when he decided it was probably too late at night to disturb anyone. At least that’s what he told himself.
He set the phone down, took a sip from the glass of water he should have drunk hours ago, and clutched the old familiar stone as he closed his eyes.
It didn’t take long for the ghosts of the past to shift in the room and whisper to him in his sleep.
Robert Clayton raced along the dark London streets, pushing well past the speed limit as he wove in and out of the traffic. He shot by a police car and even though the almost obscenely young cop glanced his way, she made no move to pursue him.
Clayton grinned. He had no idea how his boss Mr. Green managed half the things he did, but his ability to blind the police to Clayton’s actions, temporarily at least, was easily his favorite trick. If only he’d met Green a few decades back…
His thoughts shifted as he pulled up to the traffic lights and realized where he was. He hadn’t been in this neck of the woods for at least twenty years. Sometime in the late eighties, back when he’d been king of the world.
The place had gone downhill; it was seedy and grubby, in need of a good scrub. It was different now. Everything was different. It had all changed since he’d been inside and sometimes it felt like he’d been released into a completely different world to the one he’d left behind. A different universe even. One thing was for sure, he hated it, but with the money Mr. Green was paying, he’d be out and away from the big shitty soon enough. Get a place by the seaside, do his best to drop off the radar. He had plans.
A throbbing boom of heavy bass rumbled the air, tearing him from his thoughts. Clayton glanced to the souped-up car drawing up beside him. Four teenage wannabe thugs looked his way, each of them trying to outdo the other for moody, threatening stares. They were at least forty years his junior; young, feral things, their drug-addled bodies twitching with whatever dodgy substances they’d taken. He had no idea what kids were into nowadays, but it definitely wasn’t the same stuff he’d used to hawk at their age, that was for sure. The drugs seemed mental now, pure damage.
Clayton turned away. He didn’t need the distraction, tempting though it was. Then the driver’s window slid down and he spat, his gob landing on Clayton’s windscreen. A whinny of nasal laugher punctuated the beats and booms.
“Fuck it,” Clayton mumbled as a shot of rage coursed through him and his older, baser instincts kicked in.
Their engine revved hard, obscuring the slick red chassis in angry blue smoke. Then a can of beer flew from the rear window and hit Clayton’s car with a solid thunk.
He lowered his window. “Gangsters, eh?” he asked, raising a thick, heavy eyebrow. He ran a hand through his thinning, slicked-back hair and checked himself in the mirror. Then he climbed out and strode to the car, his smile growing as he bore down on the driver, one hand bunched into a fist, the other buried in his long coat.
The driver’s face broke from granite to water and his friends melted from wannabe tough guys to the silly little boys they were. The driver locked the doors and began to accelerate.
“No, no, no! We’re not done yet, gents,” Clayton called out amid the screech of squealing tires. He stood in the wake of the car’s bitter fumes and shot his fingers at them, just as he could have shot the gun weighing down his pocket. “Wankers!” he shouted as he returned to his car, climbed in, and drove on.
If he’d had time to spare, he’d have chased them down, given them a brief, gory lesson in manners, but he didn’t. Not tonight. No, tonight he was all business, not pleasure, although there might be some fun by the end of it.
He sped on, the jazz playing through the speakers doing little to revive his good mood. He was way more tired than he wished he was. Older than he wished he was. Prior to the call, he’d had his night all planned out; a bottle of malt whiskey, old boxing matches on DVD, and then an early one. “Rock n’ roll!” he muttered. “Sad bastard.”
Clayton’s phone rang, cutting through his thoughts. He turned the music off and punched the button on the dashboard. “Yes, sir,” he said. Only one man had his number. It kept things simple.
“Are you close?” Mr. Green asked, his suave, well-spoken voice the opposite of Clayton’s deep, rough London drawl.
“About ten minutes away. Is he still there?”
“Yes, he’s still there. Make it fast, Clayton. No games. Call me when it’s done.”
Clayton nodded. “Sure thing, boss.”
The line clicked and he let out a long breath to steady his nerves. He’d worked for Mr. Green for at least a year, yet the man still put the fear of God in him. Or, fear of the devil, to be more accurate. Sometimes, he’d even considered Mr. Green was the actual, real life devil, but even if he was, he’d done more for Robert Clayton than anyone else in this miserable world. Saved his life, truth be told, because there was no way he’d have gotten through that extended sentence, not with the enemies he’d made while serving the last stretch in the joint.
No, they made a good team, even if they were strange bedfellows. And while Mr. Green was as scary as fuck, the man knew how to get things done, knew how to make problems disappear. Clayton did too, only his methods were less refined, very direct, and a lot more bloody.
The lights at the next intersection turned red. How many fucking lights did the city need?
Clayton gazed up at the apartment over the old antique store across the way. He was surprised to see the old shop and the flat above it were still around. He’d dated a woman who’d lived there once. What was her name? Marie… she’d been slight and pixie-like, with an insatiable craving for the wild side.
He doubted she was still going. She’d vacuumed most of his earnings up her nose and even back then, time had cast a shadow over her beautiful face, and shadows under her sad, sexy eyes.
It had been one hell of a lifestyle. They’d been like two ticking time bombs, waiting to go off and the only thing that had spared him the fate of a premature heart attack or stroke had been prison. Not that the thirty years he’d jilted the reaper out of could be considered salvation.
He daydreamed about pulling over, knocking on the old apartment door, and seeing if she’d made it through the years. He pictured her the way he’d almost always seen her; standing around in the kitchen in her underwear, a joint glued to her fingers.
Suddenly a wave of nostalgic melancholy wrapped the night in a shroud. Clayton slammed his fist against his leg, snapping himself from his reverie. “Comes to us all,” he said, as he checked once more that the gun was loaded. The dark steel barrel was cold, but it would be warm soon enough.
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