Turn back

The village was quiet and cold. The old stonework, grey in the dim evening light, soaking in the silence and revelling in it. The scar of my car engine rumbling through the streets seemed to draw the shadows in, coalescing at the corners of my headlamps and pooling in the dark nook of the doorway. I parked my car and shut of the engine swiftly, eager to withdraw my mark, plunging the street into an eerie darkness.

I collected my things and stepped up to the door, my breath appearing in wisps, my trainers tapping like heals on the frozen ground. I rapped gently and the door creaked open at my touch revealing an empty lobby and I hesitantly stepped inside.

“Hello?” I called into the void my voice echoing off the bare walls. I leaned through the doorway to my right, a sparse living area with sofas, a coffee table, and a dining area at the back, all untouched. I squinted, something catching my eye at the back of the room and I made for it. On the floor under on of the dining chairs lay a book, open as if dropped mid flow…

The quietest giggle, a childlike chuckle darting across the landing. I ran back to the hall, dropping my bag, the clatter ringing out as fingers of cold grasped at my heart, and yet I felt drawn, compelled. The boards creaked underfoot as I cautiously scaled the stairs.

The thick silence returned and I waded through it, heart pounding in my ears. The landing was as empty as I expected, the walls lined with doors. I should turn back. Now is the time you’re supposed to turn back.

A long piercing creak and a door to my left slid open. Leave. Go down the stairs, out the door, jump in the car and go.

Do it!

But my fingers tingled, like the wood of the door was an old friend, and my feet carried me forward like they longed to know. I took a breath, grasped the brass handle and pushed the door open.

“SURPRISE!” Lights, streamers, friendly faces, joy, excitement, and relief. Funny how your mind runs away with you.



Jack sat in the cockpit of the Animo, feet resting on the left hand side of the console. Long practice ensured his battered leather boots rested in a space where they didn’t actually touch any of the buttons and switches, and anyway, the left bank of the console held all the docking controls which were inactive until the Animo was in range of a station, or planetside. Docking at a station was a rare enough occurrence, but Jack had never taken the little ship down into atmosphere. Couldn’t remember the last time he himself had stood on rock, in fact. Not in a long, long time, not since…

The sharp beep of the proximity alarm pulled him out of his thoughts, and he shifted himself in the seat, dropping his feet to the floor as he reached out to tap a flashing button on the right console.
“What’ve we got, buddy?”
Jack regularly spoke to his battered little ship, even though he’d never receive a reply; he’d never forked out for the expensive ship AI voicepack extension. The habit was born out of solitude, not a desire for conversation. A green overlay blinked on, filling the edges of the viewscreen with details of ship status, current flightpath details, and the reason for the alarm; an incoming ship.

A rendering of the ship was displayed, and Jack sighed; he recognised it.
“Fucking pirates,” he muttered, and typed in the activation code for the jumpdrive. It would have to warm up, however. “Let’s hope they’re feeling talkative today, eh?”
He called up a chart of the surrounding area, his eyes settling on a nebula not too far off. “That should work…”

The blip of the approaching ship moved closer, and as soon as it was within comms range the call light started flashing. Jack glanced at the jumpdrive counter; 18%. He’d have to keep them talking as long as he could. He let the call light flash til he saw the ship itself come into visual range. The real thing looked more threatening than the rendering, the nose of the ship painted with a snarling face, and three sets of vicious looking laser cannons. The pirate ship was at least twice the size of the Animo, and where Jack’s ship was a basic wedge shape with some aerodynamic curve to the edges, the pirate seemed made only of angles.

As the familiar ship came to a halt five hundred metres away, Jack took a deep breath and thumbed the flashing call button. The comms screen on the console blinked to life, and Jack saw two familiar figures sat in a dual cockpit. One figure was humanoid but reptilian, its mouth a curve of jagged fangs set in a grey-blue lizard face, eyes cold and calculating. The other was human, or close enough; there was something rat-like in the man’s features.
“Fungus and Xith,” said Jack, and the man, Fungus, smiled wider.
“Jacko! I thought it was you!”
“What do you want?”
Jack had encountered this pair once before, when they’d stolen his whole shipment of axis crystals and left him crippled and drifting in space.
“How you doing, kid?”
“I was doing great. What do you want?”
“Whatever you’ve got,” hissed Xith.
“What you carrying, Jack?” Fungus’ smile was turning malevolent.
“Nothing you can make much profit on, Fungus, so don’t bother.”
Jack glanced at the jumpdrive counter. 49%. Back on the screen, Fungus was looking offended, Xith murderous. They began flicking switches on their consoles, and Jack’s sensors began to give more warnings as he saw the cannons begin to shift their aim.
“Is he telling us what to do, Xith?”
“I think he is, Fungus. I don’t like that.”
Unobtrusively as he could, Jack eased his feet into the booster grips and settled himself, powering up the engines and his own two tiny cannons. He placed his hands on the sticks and rolled his shoulders.

“Look, guys, it’s lovely to see you again, but I really can’t talk. I’ve got farming supplies to deliver to the Atreyan Outpost. Just tools and seeds, that’s all.”
“Maybe you have, and maybe you’ve got more axis crystals. Either way, it’s ours now.” Xith’s sibilant voice sent a shiver down Jack’s spine, and he forced himself to smile at her.
“Go fuck yourself,” he said, and threw the engines to 100%. The Animo shot forward and upward, skimming the hull of the pirate ship as it soared over the top. Jack saw Fungus and Xith actually duck in their seats before he closed the call and pressed his feet down hard, firing the boosters and making his little ship leap forward.

The jumpdrive counter was at 56% as the proximity alert flashed again; Fungus and Xith were following. Suddenly the black above the Animo was peppered with blue laser fire as they let rip with their cannons. Lifting one foot off the booster Jack sent the Animo into a spin and then flipped the ship around, driving straight at the oncoming pirates. He let them have both cannons on constant fire as he spiralled towards them, though he knew they’d barely scratch them; it was a bluff and a surprise more than a real attack. The Animo shuddered as some laser fire hit, but the shock tactic worked and they steered out of the way of his apparent suicide run.

The jumpdrive counter was now at 73%, and Jack brought the ship around, centring the snub nose on the distant nebula and opening the throttle. The call alert was flashing wildly but he ignored it, hands and feet shifting wildly as he tried to make himself hard to hit. 82%. The pirates were gaining, so he spiralled again. 93%. They dropped back, letting him gain ground, and Jack’s chest tightened with a sickening feeling. 95%. A new alarm blared; the missile sensor. On the radar he saw two small dots rocketing out from the larger ship and streaking towards him.

“Come on, buddy,” he muttered, as the counter flashed to 99%. He stabbed a button on the console and a spray of flares was released behind the Animo. The two missiles, confused by the heat signatures, exploded just as the jumpdrive counter flashed to 100%. Jack slammed his hand on the button to engage the drive, and the stars in the viewscreen elongated as the Animo shot forward, vanishing from the chasing pirate ship’s sensors. Jack breathed a sigh of relief, and after ten minutes disengaged the drive. The nebula he’d passed through would block all traces of his path, and when they realised that, he felt sure Fungus and Xith would give up any chase.

He switched over to autopilot, setting the Animo back on course for the Ateryan system and adding instructions to alert him if anything else came within range. Then Jack stood, stretching himself, then headed down the short corridor to his cabin. He lowered himself onto his bunk, placing his hands behind his head and closing his eyes. He’d had more than enough excitement for one day…

* * *

Cathy watched Jack for a few moments longer as he lay on his bunk, and then she turned away from the small screen and looked at the figure in the bed. The man’s body was frail, his limbs atrophied from lack of use, and the rough stubble which stood out starkly on his pale face was developing into a beard. Cathy made a mental note to arrange for him to have a shave again soon. The top of his head was covered with a criss-cross arrangement of metal and wires and tiny lights, feeding into pads attached to various key points on his cranium. She bent closer to examine the connections, and nodded to herself, satisfied.

She moved to the door, turning back once to look at the man in the bed. A black and silver cable stretched from the cranial cap to a small black box on the bedside cabinet, and two lights on the black box blinked constantly, as the microcomputer within processed the received signals and fed them back. The screen on the wall displayed the results of the process, allowing any visitors to watch.

It was a new technology, and had its objectors, of course. But as far as Cathy was concerned, it was the right thing to do. It gave the patients a life to live that would otherwise be impossible. She made some notes on her clipboard and stepped out of the room, heading down the corridor to the next patient’s room.

In the hospital room, the man’s broken body slept a deep, regulated slumber.

In the comfortable hospital bed, Jack dreamed.

And in the small black box on the bedside table, he lived.

Conversations in the Dark

The thick curtains were drawn leaving Brian sitting in the dark. He didn’t mind though, he liked the dark. Every day after school he ran home, leapt up the stairs and wrapped himself in the darkness like it was a warm blanket. In Brian’s experience, there were no monsters in the dark. The monsters were out there in the light. Out there with their fake smiles, sharp words and cruel fists. In here he could be alone. Well, usually.

Today something was a little different. Today the darkness felt heavier than usual. Pregnant with something out of the ordinary. With a shiver, Brian hugged his duvet tighter and scanned the darkened corners one by one searching for movement. His eyes ached as he looked from one corner to another trying to pierce the gloom. Nothing presented itself but the feeling persisted. Brian felt long, bony fingers caressing the back of his neck. He flinched and spun but there was nothing there, just him and the darkness.

Concerned by this strange change in his usually homely room Brian stood, careful to keep his duvet wrapped around him, and moved to open the curtain. He reached out a hand but before his fingers closed on the thick black cloth he heard a buzzing behind him. He spun his heart pounding in his chest then let out a sigh when he saw the cause. On his desk, his phone was lighting up. He had a message. He waddled over to his desk and picked up the phone, swiping the screen open with his thumb. He read the message and tossed the phone onto the desk with a scowl.


He turned back to the window but as he did he caught something out of the corner of his eye and felt something brush his cheek, soft as a spiderweb. He looked quickly from left to right but still, all he saw was darkness. He hurried forward to the curtain but as his hand brushed the cloth a voice hissed out from the corner.


Brian froze, his heart lurching in his chest. He smelt the acrid stench of sulphur and felt two eyes burning into his back. He wanted to turn, to look and see nothing and confirm that it was his imagination, but he daren’t. What if there was something? It was better not to look. Not to know. So instead, he let his hand fall from the curtain.

“Who… who… who’s there?” he whispered his mouth suddenly dry.

Why don’t you turn around and look?

Brian felt himself turn, though his mind screamed at him not too. He wasn’t in control any more. It was.

When he turned all he saw was the darkness but he felt it there, just beyond his vision. Watching. Waiting. A sly smile on the face, a flash of razor-sharp teeth and just a flicker of a burning red eye. Brian screwed his eyes shut so hard white lights danced in his vision.

Do you know why I’m here Brian? The voice was right by his ear now. He thought he could feel the things fetid breath on his cheek and he flinched, folding in on himself like a hedgehog curling into a ball. Only he didn’t have sharp spines to protect him. He had nothing. No one.

I asked you a question boy.

“N… N… No…” whimpered Brian clenching his fists at his sides to stop them shaking.

The thing chuckled. A low, rumbling cackle with nothing of humour in it.

I’m here because you are a fat, pathetic waste of skin and I don’t like a waste. Here you are snivelling in your room on your own, again. Hiding from the world. Well, I have a use for you boy. You can entertain me. Would you like that?

The silence stretched as Brian stood frozen in place.

I said, would you like that boy?

“N..n…n…n…No,” stammered Brian.


He felt something warm, wet and rough run up his cheek as the thing licked the tears from his face.

Oh, we’re going to have so much fun, Well I am anyway. You… Not so much.

Brian let out a whimper as the things saliva burned a line up his cheek.

Now open your eyes boy, it’s no fun if you can’t see.

Brian felt his eyes opening of their own accord and as they did they locked on something shining mere inches in front of his face. A long thin blade catching a sliver of sunshine coming in from the window. He let out a low moan. Fresh tears sprang into his eyes and his heart pounded in his chest but he couldn’t move. He was locked in place, mesmerised by the shining thing.

Don’t worry I won’t feel a thing said the voice but Brian barely heard it. All his focus was on the blade as it slowly dipped down, lower, lower until it was just below the leg of his boxer shorts. Then it darted forward, fast as a viper and opened a ribbon of scarlet on his leg. For a second he felt nothing, then the cut started to warm. It got hotter and hotter until it burned him like a thousand suns. The thing started to laugh.

The blade darted forward again and again. Each time Brian flinched but did not cry out. Tears streamed down his face in a torrent and his breath came in short sharp gasps but he did not cry out. By the tenth stroke, all his whole body burned and shook. He couldn’t see his whole mind was consumed with the pain and the hideous laughter of thing. Blood ran down his legs, in a warm wave pooling on the filthy rug at his feet but he had no room in his mind for it. All there was pain and laughter.

The moment stretched for an eternity, the blade snapping forward, the searing pain and the laughter. Brian knew that if this kept up he would bleed to death, but it was a distant thing. A worry for another day. Another life. He should stop, but he couldn’t. Wouldn’t. He wasn’t in control. It was in control.

“Brian, your tea’s ready.” The sound of his mother’s voice hit him like a bucket of cold water. The rushing in his ears subsided, the laughter faded and all that remained was the darkness.

“Brian, don’t let it get cold,” his mother called again. “It’s spaghetti bolognese, your favourite.”

“I’ll be right there Mum I’m just tidying up,” he said looking down at the razor in his blood-slicked hand. He wrapped it in tissue paper and dropped it into the bin the slid open his desk drawer and pulled out a length of bandage to cover the cuts on his legs. His mum could never find out. She wouldn’t understand.

“I love you, darling,” called his mother he voice receeding as she walked off down the stairs.

“I Love you too Mum.”

I Love you too mum, mocked the voice in his head.

Plot Twist

“You want to call the story ‘Plot Twist’?” I questioned, looking up from the television and tilting my head at her.
She looked over her laptop at me, suddenly smirking at the sight of my face, “Oh no. Absolutely fuck off, I can feel the judgement from here!”.
“Well… it ruins it a bit, doesn’t it? The reader will know it’s coming! Like, surely, if you read a collection of stories… let’s say… for a competition, and the theme was ‘plot twists’, you wouldn’t be impressed. You’d just be waiting for the twist to come.”
“Fuck off… you are absolutely right”
I laughed out loud as she hid her face behind her hands, grinning, embarrassed. It’s a smile that had never failed to make me melt, that made every romantic cliche reasonable, one that made Valentines Day like Christmas. Her two front teeth had this small gap between them and she hated it, but she was something stunning to me. And her writing was excellent, even when she fell short with the title. She wrote about adventure and danger and amazing, intricate worlds. She created these incredible characters full of heartache and passion and I know I love them because each of them, in some way, are crafted from parts of her. She took her own pain and made poem out of story. And even though she wasn’t a princess fighting a dragon to save her kingdom, or a demigod taking on every deity in the Heavens, like the heroines of her stories, she’s was as strong as every one of them too. Even sat there in her pajamas and fluffy socks on my sofa, where she’d been all day.
I don’t know why it’s that memory that always returns to me, fragmented and rose tinted and wonderful, but it is.

Sometimes, I sit there with her most recent book on my lap. Open to the third page.


Dedicated to Nadia, my best friend and loyal sidekick. You inspire me.


The book was a bestseller for weeks. Thousand of copies across the globe bought, thousands of eyes scanning over that little dedication. To me. For me.


The princess dies in this one. Plot twist!

Oh God, I should have seen it coming.
It was so obvious. Maybe I could have done something. Maybe I could have been there.

I should have seen it coming.


April Feels, Bro

So we’re at the Spring Time, Midway, crazy part of Novel Dreamers!

If you’ve been paying attention, or if you’d like to find them all in one place, you’ll know that all the March pieces are in and ready to vote on at the Voting Page.

As for my writers, they’re about to go and do some fun writing on the following theme:


Yes, dear writers, I want you to plot twist like M. Knight Shyamalan! Because April 1st, y’all!

As an added bit of fun, not only will I be voting for my top three at the hand in next month, but the best three plot twists (in my opinion) will be receiving 3, 2, and 1 votes accordingly.

Anywho. I got 6 plays, 2 novels, and 3 Dungeons and Dragons Campaigns to write.



The Highwayman’s Trick

Let me ask you this.

If I held a gun to your head, would you even care what the options I were giving you are? I mean, if I placed the barrel of a pistol on your temple and started along the lines of “No pressure, but given the option, would you say you’re a leg or a breast man?”, how far into the sentence would your attention drift from my velvet voice and down to the terrible trickling that is currently running down your leg?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to be holding a gun to your head. I am unfortunately in no such position to do so. I don’t think I’d do that anyway, it’s not in my horoscope or personality type; whatever those are. It would probably be the nature of my companion that I share this cell with…

Sorry, that wasn’t vey helpful. Picture the scene; an Elizabethan prison cell with torches on the walls and hay on the floor. Two men sit in opposite corners of the room, scowling at one another. One is dressed in a heavy duster coat, tricorn hat, tough trousers, riding boots, and a lot of scarfs and fabrics with pockets; he is not me. I am the second man in the room, wearing a simple shirt, waistcoat, trousers, and shoes. Oh, and a potato sack over my head. I know this for three reasons:

1-      The inside of the bag smells heavily of potatoes.

2-      The outside of the bag is printed with a very Irish sounding family name, along with the statement “and sons, Quality Potatoes.”

3-      I have a very strong feeling of de ja vu and I’m sure it was a potato sack the last time too.

The reason we are sat on either side of the cell is because of the conversation we just had, that lead to a fight, that lead to me miraculously landing a punch on him – in the mouth – and him going off in a strop. I didn’t push the fight any further because I didn’t actually expect to land the punch. Right, sorry. Why did we fight? Well this is how the conversation went:

Setting: the cell I’ve been talking about. Characters: The Highwayman – Stan, and The Narrator or me – James. Context: James has just been thrown into the cell by a rather gropey guard and isn’t too happy as he’s just been found guilty for a crime he did not commit. The rest will be explained post-haste.

Stan:                      Any last words, scum?

James’ breathing speeds up, and he starts to fidget.

Stan:                      Well?

James:                  I, erm, I never done it, sir!

Stan:                      (Laughing) Never done it, boy? I haven’t heard that one before!

James:                  Honest, sir. I was set up, it were that damn highwayman. He stopped I on the Thunder Road. I knew there was something strange about him the moment he hesitated. Talked a while, he did, then left. Didn’t even rob me, sir. Must have planted it as we were in dialogue.

Stan:                      Don’t try to fool me, boy! I knows your type. You try speaking up and suddenly you think the airs and graces will save you. Well it ain’t happening!

Stan comes over and kicks James in the back of the knee, causing him to drop to his knees. Stan places a noose around James’ neck and steps back. Stan pretends to talk to another person over his shoulder

Stan:                      Here, Steven. Reckon this one will piss himself?

He stands grinning at James for a moment, then realises there is no reply and starts looking over his shoulder. He walks over to the door as he calls.

Stan:                      Steven? Steven? Steven!

He rushes back to James’ shoulder

Stan:                      Must be getting the scythe ready

James:                  (Panicking) What the hell does he need a scythe for if you’re gonna hang me?!

Stan:                      (Laughing) Oh boy! My sweet sweet (hesitates) what’s your name?

James:                  What does that matter? Surely it’ll make your job harder knowing my name?

Stan pauses on this a second

Stan:                      How so?

James:                  Well you know what they say. If you have to put down a calf, it’s easier if your little girl hasn’t started referring to it as Daisy

Stan:                      Never heard that one, you trying to save your skin again?

He grabs the noose and yanks it about. James screams and then whimpers

James:                  No! NO! I promise, sir! I just mean that it’s harder to kill something you have an emotional attachment to?!

Stan:                      Alright, alright, quit your mewling. Now, your name?

James:                  James Cobbs, sir

Stan:                      Stop with the bloody sir, Cobbs! Now, the reason our Steven is off getting the scythe is a very simple one. After we’ve hung you, we gotta put you into these barrels to send you off to the physicians at the local university. Problem is that the campus is made of four different schools, you see. Well you don’t, what with that (refers to the bag), but you get my point. Anyway, the four doctors are interested in different parts of you and they likes the parts fresh. So as soon as you start dancing the invisible waltz, we’ll be cutting you ZIIP (gestures over James’ neck and his shoulders and thighs) into the segments. Head. Body. Limbs.


James:                  But that’s only three. What’s the fourth?

Stan starts to laugh, he comes round the back of James and places his hands on his shoulders, massaging him slowly.

Stan:                      Oh, my boy, my sweet innocent Cobbs. There’s a specialist subject that all men are slightly too concerned with to think of about it until it’s endangered.

James:                  And what is that?

Stan:                      Your cock, Cobbs. Your John Thomas. Your prick, man!

Stan grabs down and James let’s out a sob, Stan falls back laughing

James:                  God, man! Have you no sympathy for a man before the gates of heaven?

Stan:                      Ah, Cobbs. You’re neither at the gates of heaven or the tavern backdoor to hell. Why not sit and drink with me a while?

Stan goes over to him and undoes his binding, James gives no fight as Stan helps him to his feet.

Stan:                      Now, let’s get a look at you!

Stan removes the bag from James’ head. James takes a moment to regain sight and then their faces drop as they recognise one another.

Both:                     YOU!


Yes, dear friend. The very highwayman that had got me into this cell is here with me. And we have been here for many years. Over the hour we shall squabble, fight, laugh, and cry. By the end of the hour, the sounds of the gallows crowd will build up overhead and we will become scared and somewhat anxious. Stan will explain that he’s never been good at robbing people but really liked the highwayman outfit, and I shall find that I am one of his few victims. We will both come to learn that the worst thing you can give a highwayman is your time, as he then seems to step out of the cell and leaves me to die. And the lights drop, as if through some arcane means, and I fear my end is near.

I think back to the brief moments that Stan accosted me on the roadside, before leaving my cart untouched. I remember the stone in pit of my stomach as I reached London’s outskirts and the guards come to check the contents of my wagon. I remember the brief elation when the guards finally step away, happy but not pushing any further.

And then the sound of metal against stone.

I turn to see the box scatter across the floor as the door of the wagon shuts, and an ‘obviously not my necklace’ falls out of the little jewellery box.

And as the pounding of the boots down the corridor come to meet me, I start to grin.

The audience that have gathered for my execution are confused; as is the hangman.

As the noose passes over my head I whisper, “check the cart again.”

They have no idea I’m ahead of the whole thing.

The guard who checks my carriage whilst I dance on the air finds the quartered body of James Cobbs.

And I flit back to my home. Leaving the body to disintegrate in front of a crowd of god-fearing humans…

I do love theatrics.