Having already read and reviewed Darkly Wood by Max Power (my favourite book back of 2014), along with several other of this author’s books, I was delighted to see that he had written a sequel, Darkly Wood II.
As well as being an author, Max Power is a prolific book reviewer/blogger, and a valued contributor to the Indie Author Support and Discussion Fb group. Further information on Max Power and his writing can be found at the following social media below and via other links at the end of this blog post … and speaking of blog sites, when you’ve finished all the author’s novels, and are eagerly awaiting the next (I’ve still one more book to go), his blog site provides an equally entertaining collection of his other writings to fill the gap.
On YouTube – Max Power
On Fb – @maxpowerbooks
On Twitter – @maxpowerbooks1
Darkly Wood II – Available in both eBook & print editions …
This chilling sequel to Darkly Wood brings us back to the mysterious wood perched above the sleepy village of Cranby. The mystery returns with love and terror walking hand and hand through the seemingly innocent paths of the place that has generated many fearful tales. This time however, there is an even more sinister presence. Much time has passed since Daisy escaped the terror of the wood and on the surface little has changed. But behind the tree line, a new danger lurks. Fans of the original will be taken to darker depths and first-time readers will discover the true art of storytelling from the mind of the award-winning author Max Power. Heart-stopping, fast paced, unrelenting danger lies waiting for you between the pages. Sometimes love is all you have. Sometimes, love is not enough. Darkness is coming …
The woman who never wore shoes
By Max Power
Having read and enjoyed the author’s first book in this series I was looking forward to reading the sequel. I must confess I had some doubts that it simply wouldn’t have the same impact second time around given that some of the mystery of Darkly Wood would already have been revealed to readers of the first book.
I’m happy to say that Darkly Wood II is every bit as creepy and mysterious, and even better than Book One; Max Power doesn’t just write stories, he literally sculptures every word and sentence with the consummate skill of a Michael Angelo, bringing to life the image in the reader’s mind like the subtle brush strokes of the classical artist adding that indefinable something extra that creates a masterpiece.
Like its prequel, Darkly Wood II embodies many different themes i.e. bloody and horrific murder, tragic romance, unrequited love, mysterious disappearances, the paranormal, and a host of others. Likewise, the format is similar to the first book in that it reads much like a book of short stories, all tied together by the central theme of the mysterious Darkly Wood. This time, however, there is more of a central character and story in the form of the ‘evil personified’ Wormhole, a man (or monster?) every bit as mysterious as Darkly Wood itself, anchoring everything together in a more coherent manner.
Readers of the first book will immediately see that that events have in their way come full circle, with two new generations of characters following on from Book One. Holly Coppertop, the granddaughter of Daisy May from the first book, having read the mysterious Tales of Darkly Wood finds herself similarly trapped and imperilled by it. Can Daisy May draw on her own experience and nightmares of that place to save her granddaughter and her daughter, Rose? And will she have to sacrifice herself to do so? But apart from this one nod to a chronological timeline, Darkly Wood, its characters and their stories, all appear to exist in their own particular corner of time and space, detached from the real world.
The many twists and turns here are only matched by the equally rich array of fascinating characters. Who could not be intrigued to know the background and stories of the other equally enigmatically named cast? Charlie Callous Colson, Blenerhorn Mastiff Wormhole, Matthew Squelby, and Cathecus Flincher are but a few of the new characters to wet the appetite. And lastly, there’s Darkly Wood’s strange metamorphosis of two of them into the ‘beast boy’ Woody twins?
Whilst this book is hardly lacking in blood and gore, its strength, readability, and sheer enjoyment stem from the author’s unrivalled ability to weave a complex array of gruesome and creepy tales and folklore into something far greater than the sum of its parts – it’s like the stories of Hansel and Gretel have been given an Edgar Allan Poe make-over to form one super sublime myriad of horror.
A must-read for any fan of the classical and psychological horror genres. Can’t wait to for book three in this captivating series!
See also my review below for the first book in the Darkly Wood series …
By Max Power
This is a book that embodies horror, romance, and the paranormal in a way I’ve rarely seen. With a good opening narrative, right from the start the author conjures up an atmospheric sense of creepiness and the macabre reminiscent of a latter-day Edgar Allan Poe or Dennis Wheatley, so much so that one can almost imagine Christopher Lee or Vincent Price playing the part of one of the characters, particularly that of Lord Terrence Darkly.
Initially we learn of the mystery and horror of Darkly Wood by way of the central character, Daisy May Coppertop, reading through a copy of a book of tales about Darkly Wood – a book within a book so to speak but at that point that’s all they are, just stories, but certainly nothing to be alarmed about, at least not yet.
What starts off as Daisy and Benjamin, intrigued by the apparent sight of a strange looking boy in the distance, taking a seemingly innocent and pleasant walk along the edge of a nearby woodland soon turns into a dark and fear filled battle not just to escape its clutches but simply to survive. Faced with ever-increasing danger and a sense of time running out for them, the bond between Daisy, and Benjamin, her new found friend from the local village, grows into something much more than simple friendship or first love.
The writing technique is both clever and imaginative, using descriptive narrative to set the tone and atmosphere early on, using the opportunity to inform the reader of many nuggets of information that come into play later in the book, gradually introducing just the right balance of dialogue and action. The numerous but short chapters make for a very readable style of writing, and by way of the different tales of the book within the book, the author keeps the story alive and fresh throughout. In books such as this the author often requires the reader’s implicit consent to suspend their disbelief, but here the reader is left in no doubt whatsoever as to the mystery and horror of the wood; in one of the chapters the author cleverly demonstrates the ‘other worldliness’ of the wood when in one particular tale, someone trying to find their way out of the wood tries using their field craft skills to escape only to find all the laws of nature and physics don’t seem to apply in the heart of Darkly Wood. As the story progresses the seemingly unrelated tales of the wood draw closer to form an intricate pattern; surprises and shocks keep the reader entranced, drawing you in just as Daisy and Benjamin are drawn further and further into Darkly Wood. Filled with twists and turns and new revelations at every juncture, an amazing and diverse array of characters, and a conclusion as eerie and unexpected as anyone could imagine, this is definitely one of my favourite reads of 2014.
Please visit Max Power’s Amazon Author page for more info about all the author’s work …
Max Power on the IASD … click pic below for link …
Mark Heathcote is an American veteran of the North Korean war, having served just short of 400 patrols of the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea, a sort of no-mans land much like the bandit country of Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles.’
I discovered these two books quite by chance from a comment on one of my previous review blogs. From what I understand, the author is working on a third book, a spin-off From Defcon 4, and there is a possible documentary being discussed based on Call Sign: Purple Three, both of which I’m looking forward to …
Although these two books were written several years ago, the current situation with North Korea and its leadership ensures the subject matter of both books remains topical; whilst there have been steps of late to bring a lasting peace to the area, given the bravado and king-sized egos of the two ‘leaders’ in question, as well as the possible consequences should hostilities escalate there, this still remains a dangerous and volatile part of the world.
See also: Twitter: Mark Heathco @dmzpatrolleader
Defcon 4 Korea:
Land of the Morning Calm
More a novella than a novel, this is a short but enjoyable read that packs in a lot of content. Set during the mid 80’s this was very much the cold war of North-East Asia during the very real tensions that existed between the American backed South Korea and the Chinese backed forces of the North, and given the current state of affairs between the USA and that part of the world, a story that indeed echoes the continuation of that conflict.
The heart of the story centres around the activities of an American front-line infantry unit along the North-South Korean border and their frequent encounters with their North Korean counterparts. Inter-spaced with these firefights we witness the saving of some North Korean refugees fleeing to safety, and through their rescue learn more of the seedier side of such conflicts, the human trafficking, the spying and ruthless exploitation of the most vulnerable; related to this we also hear a little about secretly dug tunnels along the border in aid of such activities, drawing parallels with the more widely known Vietnam conflict.
The author has clearly blended fact and fiction based on his own experience and service during the time; not having served in the American military or in that part of the world myself I can’t really vouch for the authenticity of the events or the ground fighting descriptions but from a purely reader’s perspective they were fast paced, well written and entertaining, and the author’s decision to write in the first person gave the writing an added pace and intimacy. There’s a lot of American military terminology and abbreviations just as there is with any military force whatever the country but the author does, for the most part, make clear their meaning, and in those instances where he doesn’t the context in which it/they are used makes it easy enough to guess without having to resort to the glossary at the end.
As a British veteran, I can appreciate the author’s view of this being a ‘forgotten war’ in much the same way many British veterans who served tours in Northern Ireland resent their service being largely forgotten, overshadowed as it were by more recent conflicts.
If I had but one gripe I would suggest the author should either make the eBook version freely available via Amazon KU or reduce the price somewhat given that it’s currently almost the same price as that of the paperback version (which is also only available via third-party sellers on Amazon which might be a bit off-putting for some people).
Overall, an enjoyable little read that should appeal to fans of military-themed action/conflict stories, and I’m looking forward to reading the author’s other, book Call Sign: Purple Three.
Call Sign: Purple Three
Patrolling the US Sector of the Korean DMZ
As I said in my review of the author’s previous book, Defcon 4, the Korean war and the Cold War type conflict along the Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ, between the North and South is a largely forgotten one, and little known or understood by most of the world. In this respect, it is much like the conflict between the British Army and the IRA terrorists during ‘The Troubles’ at the same time.
Just as Russian tanks and personnel vastly out-numbered their NATO counterparts in Germany and the rest of Western Europe during the Cold War, North Korean forces also out-numbered the American and South Korean forces in the ration of 12 to 1, making for a frightening prospect should they decide to invade, a very real possibility at the time. As well as the military situation on the ground, the author also highlights the psychological and propaganda aspect of the war, mentioning the regular blasting of North Korean music along the border for the American patrols to hear. Not only did they face the threat of full-scale invasion on a day to day basis, but had to be constantly alert to infiltration and tunnelling from the North to the South. Despite the cessation of open hostility, lives were lost on a regular basis, and those on patrol were most at risk, both from the North Koreans and hidden mines.
This is a book written very much with the military or veteran reader in mind. The author has spared no effort in his attention to technical and operational detail. I’m also pleased to say, included are dozens of photographs that supplement the vivid picture the author has created, detailing what it was like for the infantry patrols of the time, in this case, the mid-80s. Although heavy on description and minute detail, it is written in the first-person and is interspaced with lots of excellent dialogue between Sgt. Heathco (the author) and other military personnel he served with. This gives much of the book an easy to read conversational style, providing context to much of the military description. As you would expect, some of this dialogue might appear raw to the point of crudity for anyone who hasn’t served, like when Sgt. Heathco is explaining the toilet arrangments for some men on their first patrol. Through this and some of the regular conversation, the author brings emphasis to the human and personal side of the conflict rather than just an ‘account’ of it.
Although a well deserved 5 stars, for the benefit of the civilian reader, or indeed non-American military, I would have preferred a glossary of American military acronyms and terminology at the beginning rather than the end of the book. I would also have prefered the excellent photographs to have been evenly spread throughout rather than all being placed roughly in the middle. But these really are minor considerations. Overall this is an exceptionally well-written book with an authenticity that could only come from someone who has lived every moment of what they’re writing – a poignant and fascinating insight into just what it meant to be on a real patrol along and in the DMZ.
*Further to when I read the first of Mark Heathco’s books, both the eBook and paperback versions are now available directly via Amazon.
Glenn McGoldrick is another author I discovered via twitter when he posted a link to one of his free short stories, Breaking Spirits. Never one to pass up an opportunity to discover another short story writer, and for free, I downloaded said story. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed it, I saw he had two more free shorts on offer. They too proved equally enjoyable – I shall definitely be purchasing and reviewing his other stories in the near future …
Glenn McGoldrick is from the North East of England, and where he still calls home. English was his favourite lesson during his school days and always enjoyed writing stories.
Then he grew up (kind of) and worked in Casinos for twenty years, spending fifteen of those years travelling on cruise ships and got to see plenty of great places!
He has been writing dark short stories for five years and has a number of books on Amazon.
He is an avid reader, particularly enjoying James Lee Burke, Robert B Parker and Lawrence Block. When not busy writing, he enjoys music, movies, beach walks and beer.
The following three stories are all FREE to download on Amazon!!!
A Dark Teeside short story
Despite its short length, a hell of a lot happens in this story. The author doesn’t waste time with flowery description or unnecessary scene setting, every sentence and indeed every word is used to maximum effect to drive the story forward to its perfect ending. It’s a simple story and it’s easy to see the general direction it’s going quite early on but that doesn’t diminish its impact one iota as you get the feeling the author wants you to see the whole picture right from the start.
An absolutely super little story. With such a short story it’s difficult to say much without spoiling it but suffice to say, within the space of just 13 pages there’s murder, revenge, karma and even an add sort of feel-good factor to it. Will definitely be checking out more of this author’s work!
A Dark Teeside short story
As in the last story I read by this author, the scene-setting and characterisation are among the best I’ve read; Glenn McGoldrick uses every word to perfection, placing the reader firmly at the centre of events. Once again, its impossible to say too much here without giving too much away, other than how thoroughly enjoyable it was. Despite reading a lot of short ‘twist in the tale’ type stories, I must admit I couldn’t really guess where this one was going, and even at its conclusion, the ending is incredibly subtle.
In the story, we see a snapshot of the life of a somewhat unlikeable, rather pathetic young man – a man making no effort to get a job, a failed relationship behind him with hints of something more sinister than the usual reasons for break-ups, and a thief to boot. As I’ve said, the ending is very subtle, not the usual ‘wow, I didn’t see that coming’ sort I’ve come to expect, and yet, it made me think about the different directions this story could take were it to continue … another fine and intriguing effort.
A Dark Teeside short story
Another super short but captivating little tale. The author’s clever use of imagery i.e. the ‘three dead flies’ for the missing years, was a touch of genius, bringing home the cold reality of the unfolding story. The thoughts and reflections of the past, memories captured in old photos, and a host of other nice little touches make you believe in the characters. Unlike the author’s other stories I’ve read to date, there’s no what I would call a ‘twist in the tale’ here. If anything, the ending what could be read as the start of a new chapter or a glimmer of hope at the end of a sad tale? Almost like leaving a longer story hanging in mid-air, again leaving it to the reader’s imagination as to how it might progress … So pleased I’ve discovered this series of super stories!
See here for Glenn McGoldrick’s Amazon Author page for all his other collected works
Sharon Brownlie was born in Malta in 1962. Her parents were in the Armed Forces and she spent her childhood travelling all around the world. As a mature student, she graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master of Arts Hons degree in History and a PGCE. Sharon spent some years working in Adult Education. Sharon Brownlie is also another valued member and prolific contributor to the wider Indie Author community, and I’m proud to say, an equally valued member of my own IASD writing group.
In addition to her writing, Sharon Brownlie is a talented and successful print and eBook cover designer, as well as offering a number of other related highly competitive author services, including formatting, proof-reading, and copy editing.
Amazon description – Betrayal (Book1)
What makes a woman kill? An upbringing marred by rejection and hurt when you are let down by the ones you love and a society that is supposed to protect you? As a teenager, that rejection lures Helen King into the world of drugs and prostitution.
Now, as an adult, Helen is spiralling out of control. Old wounds are surfacing; can she face her demons without the drugs? Will revenge help release her from her past? Beating her addiction is her only chance at a new life. But, an encounter with a former school teacher opens up old wounds that had been festering deep within her. While quitting drugs, another craving takes its place. A desire for revenge: payback for those who’d betrayed her.
Plagued with bitterness, Helen heads to Edinburgh to begin her killing spree.
Police are mystified when her first victim is found. A second death convinces them it’s the same killer. Can they connect Helen to the crimes? How many more will die before she is stopped?
What an awesome book! As a fan of police procedural and murder stories, I can honestly say this is one of the best I’ve read in the genre in a very long time. While some books try to intrigue and tease the reader into reading beyond that all-important first chapter, Sharon Brownlie grabs you by the throat from the very first line, commanding your attention to the last.
The writing was crisp and sharp, always propelling the story forward or helping set the scene in the reader’s mind. I liked too that there were strong female characters on both sides of the law, which gave the story an additionally interesting slant. The portrayal of the seedy underbelly of Edinburgh, namely the drugs and prostitution, and the equally seedy characters that inhabit such a world was utterly convincing.
This is a story of bloody revenge taken to the nth degree. The main character, Helen King, is as loathsome, ruthless, and manipulative an individual as you would never want to meet outside the pages of a book, and yet her background and motivation allow the reader to, if not condone, at least understand and sympathise with her, even more so when she finally shows a few glimmers of humanity. Likewise, with the other characters – the author doesn’t strive to make the reader actually like or empathise with them, concentrating instead on portraying them as realistically as possible within a totally engaging story. A couple of traumatic incidents and a chance meeting of sorts are the catalyst for Helen’s transformation from an abused and cruelly exploited young girl and woman into a ruthless killer. Driven by her vivid dreams of revenge on those people she perceives as having let her down when she was a child, she’s consumed by a need to make them pay for their ‘betrayal’ of her. The author doesn’t exaggerate the violence in the book i.e. it’s not as graphic or detailed as you might expect given the theme of the book, but yet the author still manages to conjure a clear image of it in the reader’s imagination. The investigations into her activities are authentic and well constructed but without bogging the reader down with every precise detail or overuse of police terminology. As you would expect, there are several police officers involved in the investigation, though of course, the story focuses on those leading it, and the author brings them to life with little snippets of background information and all the varied character traits you would encounter in the real world. In addition to the story being told, these characters could easily warrant further crime thrillers in their own right.
It’s impossible for me to overpraise this book; anyone who’s ever read and enjoyed Lynda La Plante’s ‘Prime Suspect’ series (or seen the tv adaptation) will be in for a real treat with this one. My favourite crime book this year.
Amazon description – The Consequences (Book2)
A year has passed since the arrest of serial killer, Helen King. She has languished in jail awaiting her fate. Her wait is over and her day of reckoning has arrived. It is time for her to face the consequences of her crimes.
Will Helen go quietly? Has she laid her ghosts to rest?
The Consequences (Book2)
The second of this two-part series is really more a short novella than a full-length novel, but every word of it helps bring closure to the first part. In this second part, The Consequences, we learn more of the detail of Helen’s tragic young life in her own heartfelt words, and through that, the reader is finally able to empathise more with Helen, and this time truly understand her compulsion to exact revenge on all those who had failed in their duty of care towards her at an age when she needed it most. We also see a softer, more human side emerging in DS Brennan and DI Ellington, two of the female detectives responsible for bringing her to justice. Although a relatively short read, it was for me, the perfect length epilogue – any longer and it would have come across as needless ‘padding.’ I sincerely hope for more of the same from this splendidly talented author.
Click Here for Sharon Brownlie’s Amazon author page:
Damascus Redemption is Welsh author Richard Pendry’s debut novel, though he has previously written and published an excellent short story, The Last Patrol, in aid of the Semper Fi Fund U.S. military charity. I discovered this author quite by chance via Twitter.
Richard is an ex-member of the Parachute Regiment who became involved in the secretive world of the private security industry in post-Gulf War II, Iraq. Since then, he has worked in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and many other hostile environments, continually at the tip of the spear as the intelligence services fight the Global War on Terror. In addition to his past and post-military careers, Richard C. Pendry is forging a new additional career in writing.
(462 print pages) – Mason has lost his family, his friends and his reputation, but can he find his redemption? Unable to cope with the loss of his family, Mason turns his back on his life in the SAS. Years later, he is enticed into the cut-throat security industry in Iraq by an old comrade. He soon finds himself under fire. His team is attacked – most are killed and two are taken hostage. Mason takes the fall.
In this Middle East based military action thriller, Richard Pendry has created an array of characters that really does include the good, the bad, and the ugly, along with a rich and colourful mix in between. Behind the macho image of ex SAS and another assorted military, the author portrays each with all the faults and traits of people who have lived real lives, haunted by their various pasts.
Likewise with the non-military characters, each tells his own tale, contributing to the overall story rather than simply filling a role essential to some plot. Central to them all though is Mason, an ex SAS man who resigned from the job and life he loved following the tragic death of his wife and daughter. But life goes on, bills need to be paid, and so he’s eventually tempted by a lucrative security training job in the Middle East. Needless to say, events don’t follow the neat path they’re meant to, and in an effort to prevent the deaths of the men he was meant to train, instead, he leads them in what is practically a hastily and an ill-conceived suicide mission.
Amid the drama and military and political tensions following the Gulf Wars and the efforts of the oil companies and the security companies they employ to restore Iraqi oil production, intertwined is a completely different story being told; an eminent historian’s quest to solve a centuries-old historical and religious secret reaching back to the time of the Crusades and even far beyond helps bring to life the ancient and bloody history of the cradle of civilisation and Christianity, along with treating the reader to a tale worthy and reminiscent of a Dan Brown novel.
Just as it did in his previous story, Richard Pendry’s own military background and first-hand experience of the Middle East shines through in his writing; experiences aside though, once again the author also demonstrates a real talent for crafting an imaginative and well-told multi-stranded story, along with meticulous research and attention to detail.
For those who are already fans of the military genre or may have served in the armed forces, this is a highly enjoyable and captivating read, and I would say an intelligently written one too. For others who may be reading a military adventure thriller for the first time, I would be hard-pressed to think of a better introduction to the genre.
Not only is the military action authentic and exciting, the author creates a genuine sense of place and atmosphere from beginning to end. Unlike many other writers in this genre, the author here writes equally well and authentically when portraying Arabic and non-military characters, real people the reader can easily identify with. In any such book as this, there will always be some degree of military terminology, but the author skillfully allows the context and wider story to make their meanings obvious. There are a few occasions when some of the ‘army speak’ isn’t immediately apparent to the non-military reader, but this in no way detracts from the overall enjoyment of the story any more than perhaps any of us might not recall the exact meaning of a particular word when reading – a more than acceptable trade-off against lots of contrived and unnatural explanatory prose in my opinion.
If you’ve ever read and enjoyed, say, a Chris Ryan, Andy McNab novel, or even the likes of Dan Brown, I can highly recommend Richard Pendry as a welcome addition to those lofty ranks. Overall, a fantastic story from beginning to end, with an absolute cracker of a conclusion. An easy and well-deserved five stars!
Click Here for Amazon Link to Damascus Redemption
See Here for Richard C. Pendry’s Amazon Author page:
Another addition to my little ‘Mischief’ of tales, but one that draws on some of the more traditional elements of the horror genre, even if I have used a slight degree of poetic license with them … Hopefully the purists will appreciate a few of the liberties I’ve taken with such an iconic theme.
If you enjoy this story, please keep an eye out for my collection of Rat Tales later in the year …
It was fascinating to watch so many of you gripped by your own fear and panic, not knowing if or when you or any of your litter might be next. That was nearly 700 years ago, back when even I was young, barely a century past my time as a Ritten. Since then I’ve killed and turned more of your kind than you will ever know, but then, of course, I’ve had time on my side.
You see, I am immortal – an immortal rat to be precise. My mortal kin rarely live more than two or three of your years so imagine if you will how truly old that makes me.
Most humans find it difficult to believe me, most of you so unimaginative to have honestly believed the beasts and demons you fear were exclusively two-legged. Let me tell you, dear humans, we immortal monsters exist in every size, shape, and form.
I sometimes wonder if the ‘Old One’ of your kind that made me the way I am ever considered what being immortal would mean to a rat? I say ‘your’ kind, but that’s not strictly true, for indeed, he’s more akin to mine now – you may share the same number of legs, but we share the thirst, a thirst for the blood of all your kind.
The Master, the one the turned me, he lived across the great river and then way south across the land to Transylvania. I was little more than a Ritten the first time I saw him, with but the finest covering of wispy black hair and only the tiniest sight of teeth or claw to me. But having few of the weapons I would need to hunt and scavenge for food didn’t mean I didn’t have the hunger for it.
The Master’s manservant was skilled in the training of creatures in the art of hunting and killing my kind. He had more than a dozen ferrets for invading our tunnels and secret spaces or for digging and burrowing into the soft ground where we birthed our Rittens in the lowest reaches of the castle. They would pursue us into whatever recesses in the earth we could find before forcing us out for the dogs to rend us limb from limb.
And both had been doing their job well of late then. It had been by chance alone I had escaped their latest campaign to rid the castle of us, as if they ever could, but it had left me the only survivor of my litter and without food.
The whereabouts of the manservant’s or the Master’s food stores were unknown to me; I wasn’t to know the Master of the castle didn’t eat in the way mortal creatures do. I was still unskilled in the ways of scavenging with only my primordial hunting instinct to rely on. Over the coming weeks, I did as good a job as any of the ferrets at ridding the castle of its remaining population of mice and was soon as skilled a hunter as any of my older kin had been before the dogs got them. And that was to determine my fate – having hunted my little mammalian food source cousins to extinction I was facing starvation again. I still had to stay away from the manservant for fear of his dogs and ferrets nearby, just leaving the living quarters of the Master himself.
It was as well we were both nocturnal creatures for I never saw him during daylight hours when he would disappear for over twelve hours at a time, though he was almost as rare a sight even after the setting of the light from the sky.
I never saw his manservant bring him food nor the Master visit the kitchens so I assumed he must have food in his room. I looked about it as best I could, not having the means or intellect to open locked cabinets or pull open drawers. When I found nothing I gnawed holes in them, such was my hunger, but still I found nothing. I knew he must eat sometime so I decided I would follow him where he went that night before the light of the sky came back.
I was surprised when I found myself following him deep into the cold, damp bowels of the castle, deeper even than I had ventured for I had never thought there might be food there. Again I followed, more out of curiosity than hunger now as I could still not see or smell any food. The Master came to a door at the bottom of some stone steps, each one ground down into a hollow from what I now know to be the weight of his nightly pacing down them over the past thousand years, from long before the castle above had ever been built.
He had closed the door before I could follow him into that room. I searched for and found another entrance, a small narrow tunnel some way along the wall, no doubt dug by others of my kind. I entered it, wondering what I would find on the other side. There was no sign of the Master, just a large box. It was a grand box, thick solid oak, ornately decorated but still just a box, the sort you humans like to use to bury your dead.
Still being an ordinary mortal rat, I had no concept that that must be where the Master was. Perhaps there was food in the box though? There didn’t appear to be any opening or way of looking inside. It was good the box lay directly on the ground, meaning I could gnaw a hole in it. There was no food in the box, just the Master lying in it – The Master’s body was as cold as the stone floor on which his box lay.
Young though I was I knew the difference between a live and a dead body. My instincts told me this one had not had the warmth of life in it in a long time even though it was but an hour before I had seen the Master walk into the room.
All this was too much for my instinct-driven rat mind to understand fully and once again my hunger for food became my main focus. The other two-legs had held the Master in awe, and even the dogs and ferrets seemed to recoil in terror in his presence as did I for reasons I didn’t yet understand. Now though he was just a lifeless body, but one that hadn’t rotted and returned to the earth yet, one that could still sustain me for many days and nights. With no other food in sight, I resolved to eat of the Master’s dead body.
I opened my jaws the widest I could and plunged my teeth through the material of his clothing, my teeth sinking deep into his flesh beneath. The softness of the flesh surprised me given it was dead. And even though it was icy cold, blood flowed from it like it would from a live body.
Still being an ordinary mortal rat, I had neither intellect nor understanding, but my primitive instincts were screaming at me just how wrong this was, how wrong it all was. I suddenly became very afraid, again for reasons I still had no understanding. It was only my burning hunger that stopped me from scurrying away faster than if I were being chased by every last one of the manservant’s dogs and ferrets. Without warning the strangest feeling ran through my body as I swallowed that first morsel of cold dead flesh, the icy cold but still flowing blood wetting the sides of my throat. My stomach seemed to explode from the insides, making me completely forget my hunger.
The dead body I had just started to feast on leapt to its feet, sending the lid of the box hurtling upwards and across the stone dungeon-like room. I would have run, but an indescribable pain was coursing through every part of my body, totally paralysing me.
The Master reached down and grabbed me, his fingers and thumb firmly gripped about the entire girth of my body, his grip breaking my ribs, crushing my insides. It was not just his strength squeezing the breath from me, but his shortly trimmed nails had grown into claws, easily piercing deep beneath my fur and skin. He held me up at almost at arm’s length. It was impossible to believe, but the Master’s teeth were as long and sharp as any of my own kind, or any of the creatures of the woods. How this was made no sense to me; I knew the humans had neither teeth nor claws of the kind to defend or attack, or so I had been taught – but I was wrong – all my kind were wrong.
The Master fully bared his teeth to me.I could see the angry fire in his eyes blazing brighter than the burning logs in the log filled grates that warmed many of the castle rooms.
I knew at that moment my time had come, that I would surely die as the Master brought me towards his face before biting into my body. I was still in pain from the dead flesh and blood I had already swallowed from the Master’s body but the pain that followed, even after near on 700 years, the memory haunts me, my fur and whiskers bristling whenever I think of it.
The wailing squeal my crushed lungs produced grew in intensity till it turned into a roaring scream; were I human, its equivalent would have been that of an exploding volcano.
The Master tossed my limp and almost lifeless body to the stone ground. I felt the dark and nothingness of sleep overwhelming me, probably for the last time, I believed.
“Hello, little rat.” I heard a voice saying to me. It was the Master voice I heard. I was still alive, how could that be?
“You’ll be hungry I imagine. There’s food in the bowl for you.” I heard him add. I didn’t understand, or rather, I did understand.
We had heard the humans speak, of course, understood the tones and loudness of the sounds they made, even recognised a sort of meaning in a few of them. This was different – I truly understood the meaning of the Master’s words; he knew I was hungry and was telling me there was food immediately to hand in the wooden bowl that lay a few feet away to my side. I didn’t know how I knew that, but I knew.
And he was right. I was hungry, hungrier than I had ever been in my life. It was a different sort of hunger though – not the empty stomach kind but more like a cross between an insatiable thirst and a desperate need to breathe.
I turned towards the bowl, descending on it with a speed that surprised me. The smell of the food was overpowering, the unmistakable scent of fresh blood. I plunged my face into it, lapping it up as like it was last to be my last. I continued drinking the red nectar till it was gone, and even when there was no more to be had I licked at the rough wooden bowl, determined to devour every minuscule drop clinging in the grain of the wood.
“Feel better now?” The Master asked. Again I understood. But how to answer?
“You can’t speak, not as I do, little rat,” the Master answered, knowingly:
“But you don’t need words, not with me, not with anyone. Without human vocal chords to make proper sounds, the turning and the thirst has given you the gift of speaking with your mind, what the humans call telepathy, a gift they lost long before even I was first born.”
A whole new world of understanding had opened up to me. 700 hundred years later and I still have no words to describe what it was like awakening that night – not just being blind and waking up sighted but as one never having ever known that others could see.
I understood words, language, meaning. I could look about me and know what things were – a table, a door, a bookcase – things that had been obstacles or just something to scurry and hide behind till now. But I still had questions, many questions …
“What’s happened to me? How did this happen, what does it all mean?”
As the Master had said, I couldn’t make the sounds of language like he and the humans could, but I could articulate words in my mind, and I knew he understood. I had already deduced that the Master was not a normal human:
“I don’t know, not exactly. It was when you bit into me and swallowed some of my blood. It did something to you. Not enough to turn you, not completely, but something half-way between.”
“I still don’t understand? Turned? The thirst? Half-way?”
“By drinking of my blood you acquired my immortality and the thirst for fresh living blood to live but without the strength and speed or the telepathy that allows you to communicate. I sensed it in you when I picked you up. I was so angry with you; I was tempted to leave you as were. It would have been a miserable life, possessing the desperate thirst for blood but not the intelligence to understand it, not having the strength to overcome your natural enemies, having to feed off the smallest and vilest of creatures without knowing why.”
“But you did something to me? I do understand. And I feel strong, and … so much more,”
“Yes, I did. I would have been wrong to leave as you were. You weren’t to know what I was; you were just a hungry animal acting on instinct. Instead of biting you it would have been a mercy to have devoured you whole when I grabbed you up from the ground.”
“But you didn’t. Something when you bit me, it made me stronger, made me more – like you?”
“Yes. When I bit you, I only took a small amount of blood while allowing my saliva to enter your bloodstream. That’s what completed the turning, making you what you are now.”
We spoke for many hours after that, through the night almost to the rising of the sun, an event he explained I would never see again. But what did I care about sunlight? We rats possess poor eyesight, but since the ‘turning’ my eyesight was now as sharp as my teeth, ideal for a life lived only at night.
In the several years that followed, I would accompany the Master on his nightly jaunts to the surrounding towns and villages to feed. Many times I dined on the same human he had chosen, both of us taking only enough to satisfy our thirst. But I was a rat – a predator used to doing my own hunting and feeding, not some tame pet leeching off its owner. The Master understood, this and when he felt I was ready, left me to hunt my own food.
I had no wish to feed off other rats, though I would if I had to, but feeding with the Master had now given me a taste and thirst for human blood.
It was not to be as easy as I imagined; I had thought with my new awareness, and speed and strength far exceeding that of my mortal brethren, hunting would be easy.
My minuscule size made it impossible to approach and strike directly at the neck of a human the way the Master did. The human preference for wearing shoes or boots and thick clothing on their legs made it equally difficult to strike at ground level most of the time
The females of your kind were easier to feed on, leaving their lower legs and calves more exposed beneath their skirts. It was a pity not more of them were to be found or choose from in the late hunting hours. Fortunately, there was rarely any shortage of males after dark, many falling to the ground after a night in the taverns and alehouses. It was easy for me to sidle up beside one to take my fill from an exposed hand or about the neck. My smaller size made it easy for me to fully satisfy my thirst with a relatively small amount of blood. I had to be careful though – sink my teeth too deep and I would pass on the thirst, a mistake I made several times in those early years. It was not until over a century later I was to discover one of the abominations I had created during one of those early feeding hunts.
With the passing years, I became aware of another thirst, one every bit as strong as the one for blood. I yearned to see more of the world than the tiny one that existed within the walls of the castle and the surrounding countryside. The time was coming for us to go our separate ways …
I remember that first day in England when we docked into Plymouth Harbour. I had never dreamed such a place could exist.
It had also been my first time aboard a ship; my Master had brought me aboard to accompany him in his cabin. It was a strange and luxurious way for a rat to travel you might think while most of my kin were scurrying about in the bowls and darkest hidden recesses of the tall sail ship. He claimed it was partly from his guilt for having condemned me to an eternity of bloodthirst as the price of my immortality.
I didn’t understand his guilt and regret at the time. The greater intelligence that came with my transformation hadn’t yet fully manifested itself. I still had no real comprehension what it would mean to live much beyond my natural lifespan let alone the hundreds or possibly thousands of years to follow.
The journey to England was most exciting, exploring the ship and mixing with other albeit mortal rats. I was immediately aware of their deference. They sensed that I was something more and quite different …
We finally alighted from the ship later that night after his current manservant released us from the travelling casket aboard the ship.
I had protested the unnecessary cruelty of the previous one in his hunting of my kind. The Master agreed. We both enjoyed several days of fresh warm blood.
The Master bade me farewell, though not before saying we would meet again someday, and how he looked forward to hearing of my travels. He also warned me never to underestimate the humans’ capacity for cruelty and cunning. It was not a warning I needed. I still remembered all too well the dismembering and bloody deaths of my fellow Rittens
The Master was right; we were to meet again, each time exchanging tales no human could imagine of our lives down through the centuries, even though I was still yet to experience my first real adventure.
The master gently placed me upon the stone cobbled streets of Plymouth to begin that first adventure.
The presence of so many humans was already making me thirsty. But I had another thirst that needed satisfying too.
My sibling Rittens had all been bloodily rent by the claws and fangs of the human trained dogs and ferrets. The gift of self-awareness that came with the thirst had made me aware of another concept – revenge …
It was the year 1347, the year and time your kind refers to as the Plague and the Black Death
This will be no:34 (of 100) in the eventual Flash Fiction collection, a humorous little Sci-Fi tale coming in at just over 500 words (521).
Further study needed
It was an odd-looking creature. Not in a bad or ugly looking way you understand, but just on account of being so alien. With its green fur, the one cyclops eye, and those insect-like six legs it defied description; despite the six legs, it wasn’t an insect, or at least no one thought so, not with it being two foot long.
The scientists had yet to decide on an official name or designation for it; in the meantime, they stuck with the name decided on by the two kids who found the little creature on the banks of the Pescos river in New Mexico, they had called it Fuzzy.
“I really don’t what to make of it, really I don’t,” Dr Markham was telling Colonel Bingley from the nearby Roswell air base, “definitely not native to earth though,” she added.
“I agree. It’s like nothing we’ve ever found before, either,” the Colonel replied, poking Fuzzy with a pencil, fascinated by the animated reaction as all its six little legs started to wave about randomly.
Fuzzy was taken to the Roswell Alien Studies facilities, deep underground below the innocuous looking air base. What followed was a seemingly endless series of tests, blood and tissue extractions, X-rays, and in between, Fuzzy would be exposed to extremes of temperature, noise, and other distressing stimuli to assess the creature’s reactions in each case. A couple of the junior lab assistants felt sorry for the little creature, sad that more efforts weren’t being made to understand or communicate with it. Unfortunately, compassion and understanding weren’t on the ‘what to do’ checklist of the military and senior science staff.
“I concur. We should keep the creature alive. We can determine the possible applications of its unique DNA, both medicinal and for weaponising. We can then move onto live dissection, pain threshold analysis, and so on,” Dr Markham agreed.
“I’ll put that in my report then – further study needed.”
The Roswell staff never did get to complete their studies. The following day, despite being kept under 24/7 surveillance, Fuzzy simply vanished. The whole episode was, of course, hushed up like an unclosed case from the X-files.
Species report of interstellar agent, Xenzorion1379 (aka Fuzzy)
A cruel and hostile race for the most part. A few specimens show kindness and compassion in the early years of their development but soon adopt the aggressive and self-destructive tendencies of the wider collective. During my time with the humans, I was prodded, poked, and tormented in all manner of painful ways with no thought to the pain and suffering they were inflicting on me. I witnessed several of them indiscriminately kill many smaller life-forms for no other reason than they were an annoyance.
A few might be worth saving for our species archives, but overall, they must on no account be allowed to spread beyond this planet. Furthermore, should they continue the extermination of their fellow indigenous species, and each other, at their current rate, consideration should be given to recycling and replacing them with a kinder and less destructive life-form, one that would appreciate such a beautiful world.
Further study needed …
Story number 11 of 100, and a mere 830 words. Given my last post was a tad on the dark side, this one’s s humorous contrast to that.
I must say I’m really enjoying writing this series, and it’s a great way of taking a break in between my longer WIPs – I’d definitely recommend having a go at these ‘short’ short stories if/when you’re feeling a bit stuck with longer projects.
The worst ever driving test!
If everything went well, Reggie’d be a qualified driver by lunchtime. He was as excited as hell, but nervous too; Reggie had good reason to be nervous, it would be his fourth attempt. It wasn’t that Reggie wasn’t a good driver, he was – no one got to level 8 on Xbox Motorsport without top-notch driving skills so yes, Reggie knew he wasn’t just a good driver, but a great one. It was just a shame he always got so nervous come the day of the test. Today was going to be different, Reggie just knew it.
“Hello Reggie, all set are we? Feeling confident?” The driving assessor asked.
“Yes thanks, Mr Dokes,” Reggie answered. He was pleased to see it was the same bloke who had assessed him last time. He was a friendly sort. Reggie already felt more relaxed.
“Good. Let’s get started then.”
Reggie was doing everything right: Seatbelt. Pre-driver checks. Mirror, signal manoeuvre. And off they went.
The test was going fine. Despite a racing pulse and sweat dripping from his brow, Reggie was remaining calm. They had parked up to do the obligatory reversing round a corner manoeuvre bit of the test. Reggie tried to ignore the alarm coming from the shops across the road. Immediately after completing the manoeuvre, Mr Dokes had gotten out to check their distance from the kerb. It looked fine. Both Reggie and Mr Dokes’ attention was again drawn elsewhere though. Two men were running out from a sub-post-office into a waiting car parked outside, seemingly from the same direction of the sound of the blaring alarm. Just then, a man ran up to Reggie and the assessor, bundling Mr Dokes into the back seat while he jumped in the front passenger seat.
“I’m Detective Sergeant Huxton. Follow that car. Now!” The DS screamed at Reggie.
He didn’t need telling twice. The car they were following, or rather chasing now, was the same one the two men running out of the little post-office had jumped into before speeding off.
Reggie was in his element. This was real driving, even better than level 8 on Xbox Motorsport! Reggie needed no further urging from the DS, weaving in and out of the traffic like a character out of the Fast and Furious films, beeping his horn every few seconds to warn pedestrians and other drivers.
Reggie swerved to an emergency stop to avoid a woman with a pram, but immediately resumed his direction of pursuit once she had moved out of the way. DS Huxton wondered just what sort of madman he had ordered to drive, silently regretting not jumping in the driving seat himself.
The robbers headed down a one-way street. Reggie went whizzing past it.
“What the … what you do that for, we’re gonna lose them now,” the DS screamed at Reggie.
“No we won’t,” Reggie snapped back, annoyed at his concentration on the road being interrupted, “that’s a one-way system with no way of turning round, and no houses or building to hide in. We’ll get to the other end of the system a good five minutes before the robbers,” Reggie explained. After four previous driving tests and over a hundred driving lessons in the area, Reggie knew these roads like the back of his hand.
They reached the exit of the one way road the robbers had taken and waited. Half a dozen cars exited it before the robbers’ car came into view. Reggie moved forward to block them. The robbers had no choice but to stop and try and make a run for it on foot. Two more police cars with back up arrived a second later, and the two fleeing men were arrested.
Reggie was on a high. No Xbox game had ever come close to this, it had been exhilarating. It was even worth failing his fifth driving test.
“Great work there, mate,” DS Huxton told him. Reggie felt ten feet tall.
“Pity they didn’t have you as their getaway driver,” the DS joked. Reggie laughed at the irony of the remark.
“You commandeered our car in the middle of my driving test,” Reggie told him, chuckling away.
“Your test?” The DS exclaimed, questioningly, “I just assumed you were the instructor!”
Again Reggie laughed and turned to Mr Dokes:
“Oh well. I guess we’ll have to reschedule again – maybe it’ll be fifth time lucky now, eh, Mr Dokes?”
“Well, let’s see, Mr Dokes began: “No faults prior to the reversing manoeuvre. Good use of mirrors throughout. I haven’t faulted you for speeding given you were under police instruction,” he added while turning to glare angrily in the Detective Sergeant’s direction. DS Huxton looked to the floor, somewhat embarrassed. Mr Dokes turned his attention back to Reggie and continued:
“The independent driving was definitely some of the best I’ve seen. And the emergency stop to avoid the woman with the pram, that was perfect.”
“Uh?” Reggie replied, somewhat confused.
“That’s a pass!”
Flash Fiction story no:7 in the series. I got a bit stuck on this one, going right up to the 1000 word limit with it almost, hence it’s late appearance.
Not much humour here I’m afraid, more a little macabre tale of regret and being careful what you wish for. A tad dark, but hey, it makes a nice – or not so nice – change. Enjoy …
A Change of Mind …
I used to be one of those ‘the courts are too soft. They should slice his balls off with rusty wire cutters. Lock the bastards up and throw away the key,’ convinced I had a better understanding of justice than the courts.
Like a lot of people, I was sick of seeing murders and rapists walking free after less than a year or two in jail while their victims suffered the rest of their lives. I was actually pleased at the shock election of a far-right government when it freed us from the judicial restraints of a civil and human rights obsessed Europe.
And then it happened; a little the worse for wear after too much booze, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If only I’d called a taxi that night, everything that followed might have been avoided. But I didn’t. I’d decided to stumble along the dark back streets to where I lived. I’d hoped against hope the night air might clear my head, maybe just enough to minimise the disapproving reception of a wife who would no doubt not be impressed at my turning up in the early hours of the morning. I can’t help but sigh at the irony of such a trivial concern now.
I was passing a derelict factory when I noticed some bloke walking towards me.
“Got a light, mate?” he asked. I should have just muttered I hadn’t and continued walking, but thinking about it, I doubt it would have made a difference.
I fumbled for a lighter among my pockets. In the process, I dropped my wallet to the ground. Fuck it, I silently cursed, cursing the stranger too for interrupting my efforts to walk home. The man immediately reached down for it. I assumed he was picking it up for me, undoubtedly aware I was too drunk to do so myself. I extended my hand for him to pass it back to me. He didn’t. Instead, he opened it, taking out the one remaining twenty-pound note before tossing the wallet among some discarded black trash bags. I could well afford the loss of twenty quid, and it would have been easy enough to cancel the credit cards the next day. I should have just shrugged and continued my walk home and let it go.
I didn’t …
“Oi, what you up to? You’ve taken my fucking money,” I shouted at him. He turned to walk away, so I grabbed his arm to try and stop him. He easily shoved me to the ground among the trash bags where my cashless wallet lay. If I’d any sense, I wouldn’t have got up, allowing the stranger to go on his way in search of another victim.
I rose to one knee and reached out to an empty bottle lying among the adjacent rubbish and threw it in his direction, hitting the back of his head, hard. He turned back towards me, angry and now with a knife in hand.
Having slumped back on my rear end, it was hard for him to lunge at me the same way he might if I were standing. Nonetheless, he tried to strike in a downwards motion. He stumbled in the dark though. After that, it’s mostly an alcohol misted blur. All I know is, when he fell, the knife he was holding ended up piercing one of his lungs. Despite my drunken stupor, I still remember those last frantic gasps for breath while he literally drowned in his own blood.
If only I’d been sober. I would have either made sure I left no clues I was ever there or would have immediately called the police. Instead, I continued on my way home. The police found my wallet, and I was arrested the next day. A month later I was convicted – of murder.
Sentencing was very different now from what it was before the changes promised in The National Sovereignty Patriots’ election manifesto before their unexpected victory. All the medieval penalties I and so many others would often wish for when we saw the social media conveyor belt of monstrous crime reports quickly became a part of the here and now.
The first change had been the reintroduction of the death penalty. But you had to suffer beforehand, the public demanded that. First, they might amputate a foot. A month later it might be a leg, then perhaps an eye or sometimes just a couple of fingers, there was no order or timetable to the surgeries. The Government kept the public onside with lots of happy-ending heart-string pulling social media posts of children being saved by the many more transplant organs available, courtesy of all those scummy criminals who wouldn’t be needing them.
In between the amputations and the organ extractions and healing, the authorities would wheel you out around the schools and young offender institutions as a stark warning that the days of being soft on crime were over. As my anatomy continued to shrink, the looks of those I was paraded before gradually turned from pity to ones of horror and disgust.
We’re forced to write a blog, detailing our experiences as a warning to others. That’s how you come to be reading this. I won’t be writing for a while, I’m due for another surgery tomorrow – another limb removal or perhaps a lung, I don’t really know.
Prisoner X252 never did get to write the end of his story. They amputated his hands yesterday. There’s not much of him left now, certainly not enough to parade before all the young offenders. Not surprisingly, he’s changed his mind somewhat about judicial punishments. He misses all those civil liberties and human rights he’d once been so dismissive of … along with most of his body now.