Saturday, 31 December 2011

Year's End

Hello there.

There’s no fiction today. I’m still working on the next prologue, which should be up in the next couple of days all being well. I’m having some issues with the tone of it but we’ll see how it goes. You can tell me what you think.

So, no fiction. I just thought it’d be good to do a post as it’s the last day of 2011. Sort of a round-up and a thank you sort of thing. It’s been an interesting year in which quite a lot didn’t really work out how I hoped it would, but given what I was aiming for, it’s not a massive surprise that they didn’t on the first attempt. There have been good things too, I wouldn't want to give the impression that there hadn't been. Plus I saw two PJ Harvey gigs in two days. And Michael Sheen thanked me for moving out of his way at the first gig. I think I said "No problem" but it may have been "Nyaadyrha" or something similar.

2012, though. I am constructing plans for 2012. Plans and strategies. There’s the novel that will hopefully continue to cooperate as it has been doing. I’m very pleased that you seem to have been enjoying the prologues that I’ve been putting up. At least, if you haven’t been enjoying them, you haven’t told me. So there’s that, which I will keep working on. What I’m really hoping for is that it will have an actual plot which, as I think I’ve discussed on this blog before, is not typical for the things that I’ve written. So far I’ve really enjoyed writing the characters. Wendy and Solveig were both completely new characters for me, as is the upcoming vampire, and I’m having a lot of fun with them. Mathieu, Émilie Étienne, and the monster are characters I’ve written before, but they will grow and change quite a lot. Big fun, basically.

Novel aside (if and when I think of a title, I will tell you), there are other plans afoot. There’s Anna Land Comes Home, which was ever-so-slightly put on hold for a bit. That would be, as you may remember, the script I am writing for Benjamin Sheppard (read his blog Treppenwitz here). A first draft was finished, and when I say first draft, I mean that about three words will not be changed. The rest will be ripped out and gutted and we will never mention them again. I’m looking forward to getting the Parisian Martin Parsons involved as he helped to come up with the idea in the first place, and there’s the fantastic music from Dr. Iain McGibbon that we’ll get to use. Early stages. Early, early stages. But still, something good may come of it.

Other plans are in even earlier stages, involving collaborations and generally aiming for better promotion, and getting things finished. It’s much too early to even consider talking about these, but I’m excited by the idea of them.

There are also non-fiction plans in the offing. I would like to remind you to keep checking out the blog that Mr. Martin Parsons and I write film reviews for: Fohnhouse. Plus there are more academic plans afoot but we'll see how that goes. And if I bump into Michael Sheen again I will calmly tell him how much I admire his work.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank friends of this blog. It’s not widely read, but some very kind people have been helping to get it read a bit more...widely. My good friends Mr. Benjamin Sheppard, Dr. Iain McGibbon, Mr. Nate Barker, Mr. David Hayes (his livejournal thing here) and Ms. Avgi Daferera have been wonderful at spreading the word and telling me what they think, new friends Mr. John Josiah and Mrs. Stacey Siddons (her blog here) have been brilliant at re-tweeting my shambolic self-promotion, as have lovely Twitter friends Mr. Dan Cole (gizmo151183, find him on the Twitter) and SongWarmonger (her blog here). (I don’t know how kosher it is putting @ before twitter names on blogs. Is it kosher? Apologies). I would also like to mention a blog called Sarahcastically as Sarah has kindly put me in her links sidebar, which sounds like I’m saying that sarcastically though I’m not. And how could I forget my friends and fellow writers of horror at Tales from the Red Barn: Mr. Adam Z. Robinson and Mr. Max Dorey.

And thank you for reading this. I hope you’ve been enjoying it, and I'm very glad if so. Hopefully we can keep that going.

I’ll see you in the New Year.


Oh, here's a song!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

We Do This Every Year: A Christmas Story

I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel and flicked the ash from my cigarette out of the open window. Sarah shivered audibly to let me know that she was cold. I took another drag and she cleared her throat.

“Couldn’t you close the window? It’s freezing?”

“Sorry, do you want me to smoke with the window up? With a child in the car?”

She sniffed loudly and looked out of the window. I was being difficult on purpose. It was her friend that was late. This friend from the hospital she’d suddenly found three weeks ago who had a house in the woods that was exactly what we had been looking for. This friend who we were supposed to be very nice to. I knew Sarah had a lot of friends but she’d never actually introduced us to any of them before. I looked at Joe in the rear-view mirror. He had that “the grown-ups are fighting” look on his face so I turned round.

“He’ll be here in a minute, Joe. We’ll get there in plenty of time, don’t worry about it.”

Joe managed a small grin. Joe’s my brother’s boy. I look after him every Christmas; give him a break from the orphanage. Take him out Christmas Eve; drop him back on Boxing Day. He’s doing alright. Well, as alright as he could be, living there. I would take him all year round, I really would, but I’m away all the time in different places and I couldn’t be taking a kid where I’m going. I tell myself that’s why I don’t take him, anyway.

And Sarah, well, I’ve been seeing Sarah off and on for years. We met and discovered we came from similar backgrounds, that we had similar needs. It could be good and it could be awful. We weren't doing well. Pressures of this time of year, it’s always tough. She'd dyed her hair black again which she only seemed to do to let me know she was unhappy. I took another drag off the cigarette and tried to blow the smoke out of the window.

“Here he is, look,” said Sarah and I tapped the steering wheel again.

The old man looked like he could barely walk, shuffling along the pavement to the car. I wondered if I should get out and help him in but decided against it pretty quickly. If he was with us then he could make his own way. He opened the door and sat down heavily in the back. A lock of his hair fell in front of glasses which he smoothed back over his scalp. Sarah gave him a smile that I just knew was designed to make me jealous, which I ignored. I gave him a polite nod, and Joe looked at me to see what he should do before giving him a nod too.

“So...” I started, but the old man waved his hand.

“Just start driving,” he croaked. “I’ll tell you how to get there.”

I did what I was told. No time to lose.

It was a couple of hours on the motorway before we turned off and got onto the narrow country lanes. It got dark early and I knew that we were all anxious to get there. I went as fast as I could but didn’t break any speed limits or do anything that could have been seen as dangerous driving. Thank Christ the snow had been cleared off the roads. The old man looked like he was asleep in the back but occasionally he’d growl an instruction.

Finally we reached it. A dirt road sheltered from snow by massive overhanging trees led to a small cottage by a lake. Sounds idyllic, and the setting was, but it was barely two stories, hardly the glamorous retreat Sarah had made it out to be. I resisted the urge to voice my opinion that it looked like a fucking shithole, and gestured to Joe to keep his mouth shut. He wouldn’t have said anything anyway, he’s a good lad. Sarah helped the old man out of the car and pretended not to notice his hand grazing her arse as she helped him towards the front door.

I got the bags out of the boot and followed them up the front steps. It was nicer inside. The front door opened onto a spacious living room/kitchen sort of combination, and a narrow staircase went up the far wall. It looked cosy.

“I’m upstairs, Sarah too,” the old man said. He saw the look on my face and grinned. “Two bedrooms. Don’t get jealous for no reason. There’s a room for the boy, too. Sarah said you’d be fine on the sofa.”

I nodded. I’m sure he was looking for a reaction but the truth was I didn’t expect to sleep at all. Sarah and the old man went upstairs. When Joe looked for permission to follow I nodded. He took the bags from me and went up after them. When they’d gone I stepped outside again and felt the cold wind coming in off the lake. Its whistling was the only sound I could hear. We really were all alone out here. So much the better.

We ate early. Sandwiches from the supermarket. No one really said anything. No one wanted to be the one to address the issue at hand so we all just sat there, eating in virtual silence. The clock struck nine and we started yawning. Before long, Sarah and the old man had gone upstairs. Joe looked at me sleepily.

“I don’t want to this year. I can’t Do we have to?”

“I know you don’t to, son. But we don’t have a choice, do we? Come on, it’ll all be over in the morning.”

He shook his head and went upstairs. I felt bad. I did. I wish I could have said more to comfort him but there wasn’t really anything to say. I heard some muffled talking from upstairs and the sound of doors closing. I sat down on the sofa and stared out of the window. There was no denying the beauty of this place. The snow on the trees, the ice on the lake. It was like a Christmas card.

I must have fallen asleep because I came to with a start.

She was standing in the middle of the room about two feet away from me. Mum. Looking like she did when she used to drop me off at school, when she used to tell me that if I worked hard I could be anything I wanted to be, not like she did at the end. Smiling at me like nothing was wrong. I took a deep breath.

“It’s starting, isn’t it?” I asked.

She nodded.

“Do we have to? This year, this one year, can’t you leave me alone?”

She shook her head.

“You know that I didn’t mean to, don’t you? And she fucking knows that, doesn’t she?”

Mum didn’t lose that smile.

“She knows. It doesn’t make a difference. She’s coming, Henry, she’ll be here in a minute.”

I couldn’t take it. I never could.

I heard Joe cry out from upstairs. I could smell that smoke that I knew couldn’t possibly be there. I knew what I’d see if I went upstairs. I’d see my brother and his wife wreathed in flames, their skin cooking, holding their hands out and demanding to know how the fire had started. I’d see Joe weeping on the bed, howling how sorry he was, that he hadn’t known what he was doing.

Sarah started to scream. I knew she was seeing a teenage girl in school uniform, clothes sopping wet, mouth wide open trying desperately to get that breath she needed, wanting know why the game hadn’t finished, why Sarah hadn’t stopped holding her down when the other kids had let her go. I’d see Sarah on the floor, screaming that it hadn’t just been her, demanding to know why she wouldn’t leave her alone.

I got up and went to the foot of the stairs. The old man was shuffling backwards out of his bedroom, wearing light blue pyjama bottoms and no shirt, and just before I turned away I swear I saw some long, broken fingers inching their way towards him. He was trying to scream but couldn’t get the sound out. I knew from the look on his face that I never wanted to know what he was looking at.

I ran. Straight out of the front door, down the front steps, and into the woods. I ran as fast as I could for as far as I could before my legs gave out from under me and I went down on my knees. I knew she was there before I looked up.

She was standing in her white nightgown, bare feet. Long brown hair, barely out of her teens. She was rubbing the sleep from her eyes and looked at me, trying to think if she knew me. I had to watch the realisation dawn on her that I was a stranger, that she needed to be frightened. I had to watch her mouth open and see her lower lip start to quiver. That hesitation, her trying to think if she should turn to run or try and reason with me. And I did the same thing I do every year. I tried to tell her that she should be quiet, I didn’t want to hurt her, I was already going. But there was that banging sound from the next room and I was so startled that the finger I had curled around the trigger instinctively flinched. And the red patch blossomed on the front of her nightdress like it always did.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t want to.”

But that didn’t make a difference. And her expression changed, as it did every year, from terrible sorrow and confusion to the darkest rage. Her eyes went black. Her teeth lengthened and sharpened. Her hands became claws, and she screamed. Or maybe that was me screaming. And she ran at me.

It was morning by the time I managed to drag myself back to the house. Joe was putting the chairs and table back in their right place. The banister on the stairs was completely smashed, and the old man lay on his back in the middle of the living room floor. Sarah was laying a sheet over him as I walked in. I could smell the turkey in the oven. There were three places set on the table. I went over to the corner and found my bag. Joe and Sarah’s presents were in there. I smiled at Sarah as she walked over the kitchen, ruffling Joe's hair as she went.

If you wondering, she did show me my future. I know it’s the same for all of us. The same thing every year. It doesn’t matter where we are. We do this every year.

“Smells good,” I said.


Hello there. I hope you enjoyed my Christmas ghost story.

Yes, so, that wasn't particularly full of Christmas cheer. So I apologise for that. I hope you enjoyed it anyway. This went through a few changes. I wanted to write a dark Christmas story. Initially I thought about doing something a bit more traditionally Christmassy, or Christmas-quirky anyway. Then I had the idea for this and it just stuck. I thought about making it a period costume thing, then I thought about setting it in America, but finally I just thought I'd keep it simple. It's not the setting that's important; it's what happens in it. It was also a lot of fun to write something in first person again, unpleasant as Henry may be.

If you want a good Christmas story, there'll be a great one on Adam Z. Robinson and Max Dorey's Tales from the Red Barn blog on Wednesday. Great stories and great illustrations. That's how those boys do it. Tell your friends.

Things are continuing in much the same way elsewhere, I'm on the verge of a plan. I think. Who knows. Christmas is a good time for me, despite what you might think reading this! I would recommend that you go and see Carol Morley's documentary on Joyce Carol Vincent, Dreams of a Life. Not only is it incredibly moving and sad story, it's such a fascinating reminder of how there's so much we don't know about each other.

Anyway, I hope you all have a lovely Christmas. I'm very grateful to everyone who's read the blog this year and to those of you who've let me know what you've thought. I hope you’ve been enjoying this blog over the past few months. There may be another post between Christmas and New Year, but for now, let me leave you with this:

and the even stranger real-life counterpart

Monday, 12 December 2011

Fifth Prologue - The Wolf

Hello again. Or, you know, welcome if you've not been here before. The collection of prologues rambles on. As you probably remember, each one is presenting a character from the great lump of fiction I'm currently working on at the start of their journey. We've had The Monster, Wendy parts One and Two, and The Killer and The Witch. I've tried to build the plot a bit with each one, so I would recommend reading them chronologically. But if you're up to speed, here's Solveig. Hope you enjoy it


It was getting close to 2am when Solveig steered the car off the autobahn and into a spot far enough from the petrol station. Dorothy undid her seatbelt and arched her back. “Do you want anything?” she asked, turning to Solveig with a smile, tilting her head forward so her black hair framed her wicked grin. Solveig had seen her do it before and was no longer impressed.

“I’m not hungry,” said Solveig, and Dorothy grinned.

“Liar. Be back in a minute.”

She slipped out of the car and closed the door softly behind her. When Dorothy was out of sight Solveig sighed and pulled her phone out of her pocket. She could never get used to these disposable ones. She'd been told not to attach names to any of the numbers. To be fair, she wasn’t getting a lot of messages. It would either be Otto or the head office. None of her friends had this number. But it was boring work, driving around on these night shifts. She would have had trouble staying awake if she hadn’t been so nervous around Dorothy. No, not nervous. Cautious. And caution was sensible, she knew that.

It wasn’t as if she had a choice, not really. This collaboration, this partnership was her obligation. There were to be fifty teams across Europe, one wolf partnered with one vampire, and she had been asked. It had happened about six months ago. She’d been called, along with her husband and a lot of men and women she didn’t know, to the local head office. They had been told what the situation was. If you wanted to keep living in the community, if you wanted your kids to keep getting taken care of, there were new conditions. Solveig hadn’t resented it, not really. She'd been told that, because of her standing in the community and her age (nearly forty, a couple of months to go), she could be relied upon to be sensible and a good ambassador. She took the car keys and she took the gun and she shook hands with the dark-haired, pale-skinned woman with the big grin and off she went.

Dorothy wasn’t too bad. She was vindictive and she was vicious, but that was par for the course. Solveig knew that. As long as she kept what she did out of Solveig’s face then there wouldn’t be a problem. She knew that the creature couldn’t change how she was any more than she herself could. She didn’t have to like the fact that she would sneak off for a snack every now and again, but she could ignore it. She could even ignore the fact that Dorothy called her Wolfmother. What she couldn't ignore, and what she'd made very clear to Dorothy, was that any further reference to her children would result in serious reprisals. So Dorothy pretended that she was teasing Solveig about her music choices and didn't drop the nickname.

She muttered as she pulled her thick woollen jumper free from her underarms. Freezing weather or not, she hated driving in warm clothes. But it was force of habit, partly for the time of year and partly for her passenger. She liked the idea of several layers between her skin and Dorothy. Her phone buzzed. A text from Otto. He was doing the exact same thing with his partner. “Yawn,” it said. Solveig smiled. Neither of them had had much to do since they had started. They’d never been expressly forbidden from talking about what they were up to while on duty, so of course they talked about freely when they saw each other. They both agreed that the training had been easy enough. Solveig had needed to shift a bit of the baby weight but it had mostly come off, and stayed off. She wasn't going to be running any marathons any time soon but it wasn't as if she could outrun Dorothy anyway. They had been told to introduce themselves as detectives if they ever needed to, because that was what they were. Unofficially, of course. It wasn’t like they had any authority over people. But over the vampires, werewolves, and all the other monsters that were dotted around this area, they had the authority to do whatever they wanted.

She occasionally wondered what would have happened if she’d said no. She knew she would have to, of course, but she had thought about what would have happened if she’d said no. Solveig and Otto had given the offer some cursory discussion. But it had only been cursory. They’d both lived in the community all their lives. They had two small children. There really was nothing to do but take the job. The community had asked for them and it would have been wrong to turn them down. They had not thought that it would last for so long.

Wolves and vampires didn’t get on. They were different. If they left each other alone, that was one thing. But this forced collaboration felt like a measure that was doomed before it began. But it was an apology measure.

Solveig had thought that it hadn’t been apology enough. She had known the Schmidt family. She wouldn’t have called them as friends, exactly, but she had known them. And she had seen the photographs of their bodies. All of the bodies, from the grandparents in their bed to the baby that had been found in the cooking pot. The vampire responsible had had his arms and legs removed before being left outside for the sun in front of a select group of friends and relations. Solveig thought he got off easy. There were worse things than burning.

So now the vampires and wolves patrolled together. “Deal with any offences that you find,” they had been told. What Solveig found hard to understand was what sort of offence they were looking for. As repulsive as she found the vampire’s need to drink blood, it was what they did. It wasn’t as if she could grab a vampire by the hair, pull it away from the lonely teenager with a gaping neck wound, and tell it she was taking it down to the station. So far the entire extent of her police work had been having a word with any monster that had been seen hanging around, making sure that they weren’t wanted for anything, and then sending them on their way. Every now and then she wondered what Dorothy had been told. But that kind of thinking wasn’t helpful.

Solveig’s phone buzzed again. She fished it back out of her pocket and checked it. One message, number withheld, though she recognised it instantly.

“Put her to bed.”

Solveig had been prepared for this but found herself breathing a little quicker. There was no time to wonder why this message had been sent. She looked out of the passenger window and saw Dorothy returning to the car. She felt around her inside jacket pocket until she found what she was looking for. The door opened and Dorothy slid inside. She wiped her lower lip with her glove and Solveig saw it glisten slightly. She thought about what Dorothy must have left behind and felt a little better about what she was about to do.

“All better,” said Dorothy. “Ready to go?”

When Solveig didn’t reply, Dorothy turned to look at her. Her eyes widened and Solveig knew that she’d realised what was happening. No time.


Solveig’s arm whipped out of her jacket. Her hand flew across the space between them and onto Dorothy’s chest, planting the silver stake right through her black woollen jumper, past her ribs, and into her heart. Dorothy screamed and writhed. Solveig held tight. She had practiced this manoeuvre many times but never with a real vampire. She also knew that Dorothy had fed. This was not ideal.

All the blood that Dorothy had just consumed was pumping quickly out again over the stake, making it hard for Solveig to keep her grip. Her hand could not slip. It was vital to keep it in place, to not loosen her grip, until Dorothy was truly dead. She tried to ignore the increasingly desperate scratching of Dorothy’s hands and her mewing and her hissing. Dorothy grunted as the blood coursed over her and onto the seat, down onto the floor. She looked up at Solveig.

“Solveig...” she hissed, and opened her mouth. “Kiss me goodbye...” Her fangs were stained red. “Solveig,” she repeated, and Solveig caught her voice changing, growing hoarser. “I don’t want to go.”

The attempts at manipulation were weak, embarrassing. Her grip on the stake was getting weaker too. Dorothy's skin wrinkled and sagged. The flow of blood grew weaker as it become thicker, changed from bright red to dark brown, like the mud from the bottom of the river. A stench of sour, rotten meat filled the car. Solveig did not let go.

“It doesn’t seem fair to die twice,” Dorothy whispered as her clear blue eyes turned brown. The flow finally stopped, and her head fell down onto her chest.

Solveig reached over and lifted her upper lip. She realised that she had never asked how old Dorothy was. She didn't care. She pressed one gloved finger, carefully, to her left fang. It fell away as she touched it and crumpled like a tiny piece of crêpe paper. She flinched needlessly, then took out her phone and called the number.

“Is it dead?” he asked.

“It’s finished,” she answered.

“Good. Burn the car. Come home.”

“Can I ask why?” she asked. She wasn’t sure if she really wanted to hear the answer but there was barely any hesitation at all on the other end.

“They’ve made a move. Children are missing. We can’t tell whose, but it's bad. Something has happened. We need everyone back here. Burn the car, and run home. Now.”

The children. Solveig felt her stomach fold up against itself and hung up the phone. She frantically dialled Otto's number. He wasn’t answering. There was no time to think twice about her husband, not yet. She got the can of petrol out of the boot and emptied its contents all over the inside of the car. Once it was burning she threw her phone in with it. This was why they used disposables.

Now was the time. She thought of the children and she thought her husband. The rest was easy. Her bones cracked, her organs pulled and stretched, and her whole body was on fire. She howled.


So, hello. That was Solveig. Hope you enjoyed it. Not too much to say about her really. The influences for her are pretty obvious. That'll need some tweaking as she's definitely too much of a straight lift at the moment. But I'm enjoying writing her and hopefully I can do something interesting with her.

Life marches on at a frightening pace. Not enough time for everything, but things are progressing slowly but surely. I'm currently burying myself in books and essays and interpretations of Gothic monsters, which is great fun. But there's always the deadlines. Trying to find time to write horror fiction is a bit tough at the moment, but I'm managing, just about.

Anyway, next week is The Vampire, then after that there's The Fool, and then we conclude these prologues. I hope you like reading them, and thank you for doing so. Thank you, too, for those of you who leave comments or get in touch with me elsewhere (it's mostly Twitter. I'm on it.)

Sorry, not a lot to say this week. I'm tired and stressed but aren't we all?. The writing is going OK and I'm looking forward to getting the Christmas story written. Oh, and first one to guess where the names Solveig and Otto come from without using Google gets some sort of prize. I'll know if you use Google. Now, here's a song that I've had stuck in my head this week:

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Fourth Prologue - The Killer and The Witch

Hello there. So, another prologue for you to enjoy. So far we've had The Monster, and Wendy parts One and Two. I'd recommend that you read them before this instalment. But if you're ready, here's The Killer and The Witch.


Mathieu stood in the centre of the room, back straight, eyes front. He kept his mind on the situation at hand. He was trying not to think about the blood that had caked the hair under his armpits into clumps or the drops of stale sweat that were drying in the small of his back. He was trying not to think about the fact that his brother’s corpse was still somewhere in this house. Having escaped with his life less than twelve hours ago, he was trying very hard to not think about the fact that he was now back in the very same house, the very same room. He had done his job and got his employers to safety. He had returned to the city because he had an obligation to his brother. He had washed the blood from his face and hands and he had not been surprised to receive the summons. He would mourn his brother later. For now, he would maintain respectful eye contact with Émilie Étienne, the head of the Paris coven of witches, and do his very best not to say anything that would lead to his joining the piles of body parts that were stacked outside the door.

Émilie Étienne sat in her chair. It wasn’t a throne. Just an armchair, really. The last time Mathieu had seen it it had been on its side and thrown some way across the room. Now it was back in its rightful place at the far end of the room from the doorway, sat in front of the gigantic windows looking out over the city. She was the first thing a visitor would see. She had made no effort to fix her appearance. The black hair that normally fell down past her shoulders had spiralled into unruly curls and there were strands that were visibly singed. The smoke had smudged dark patches on her cheeks and streaks of tears had run her mascara down her cheeks. Her hands were stained a deep, dark red. Mathieu suspected that this had been done for effect. It was working.

While men and women bustled about around her with sponges and buckets of water, she sat perfectly still, watching him. She didn’t even break eye contact when one of her servants exerted audible effort tugging a fingernail out of the windowsill. He’d stood in front of Étienne before and he knew that this stare was part of the routine, that it was supposed to intimidate him. It didn’t make it any less intimidating. She shifted her weight a little and cleared her throat.

“So, Mathieu,” she said, “tell me what you saw.”

No pleasantries, then. Given the circumstances, he could understand.

“Madame,” he replied, “You were there. What can I tell you that you don’t already know?”

“Humour me. Weren’t you always the talkative one? You came here with Isobel Fisher and her two tourist friends. You and your brother were acting as her bodyguards. Now I know that her intentions beyond Paris are unimportant to you, whatever she’s doing now, otherwise you would not have returned. But you were here last night. You helped get them out. I was busy trying to help my friends; you were busy trying to help yours. Tell me what you saw.”

This would be difficult. There had to be a way to relate the events without implying anything unfavourable either about himself or Madame Étienne. After all, they were both still here while others were not. He hoped his tongue would work quickly enough to find it.

“The patchwork. I didn’t hear her come in. Perhaps Vincent did. It was the patchwork that Isobel Fisher had told us about, named Charlotte, the one that had been following her. Charlotte told you that she was acting under orders, and then...”

He paused. It had not been the first time he had seen death like this and had no problem with continuing his story but it was appropriate to pause. She gave him a small nod, which showed both appreciation and an indication that he should continue.

“And then she attacked your coven, Madame. She seemed unconcerned with Miss Fisher. She went after the witches. It was...efficient.”

Étienne gave a hollow laugh and Mathieu thought he felt the floor underneath him weaken.

“Efficient? Yes, I suppose it was. Then what?”

“I saw you escape. You fire walked out through the fireplace. Then my brother and I helped Miss Fisher and her companions to escape.”

Émilie stood up. Mathieu straightened his back again and assumed his most respectful expression. It was her turn to talk now.

“I appreciate that you must have wondered about my reasons for the invitation, Mathieu. You must have wondered about the wisdom of accepting it. After all you were here, working for a guest who brought a patchwork into my house.”

She spat the word patchwork with all the hate that she could muster. Mathieu felt his courage waver and felt it necessary to establish the facts.

“Madame Étienne, there was no way she could have known.”

“Oh, of course she knew. She knew that she was being followed, and she knew that there was a possibility that the patchwork would come here. But what she couldn’t have known was that the patchwork would attack my coven. There has never been anything like this. Of course, there have been isolated incidents of patchworks attacking witches out by themselves, but never a group, and never anything this overtly political. This is a statement, do you understand?”

She paused. Mathieu knew better than to interrupt, that had not been a question. She was building towards something, he would just have to wait and see what that was.

“And now I have...pieces of my sisters all over the room. I know you saw me leave, but I was the first one back in here. I still stink of smoke and blood but I will not leave this place until my coven are buried. But this affront needs to be answered. Now, you and your brother haven’t worked for us for some time, is that correct?”

Mathieu nodded. Before Isobel Fisher had asked them for help, he’d enjoyed many quiet years with his brother. They had perhaps grown a little content, a little slow. But there hadn’t seemed to be any reason not to. The coven had been strong; they had no need for two Parisians approaching middle age whose muscles were slowly turning to fat. Without thinking he adjusted his stance and tucked in his gut. Étienne cocked an eyebrow and gestured towards his waist-line.

“I never held the work you did in particularly high regard and clearly we haven’t needed you for a while. I never understood what it was that you did that a witch could not do by herself. You are killers, of course. But so are we.”

When they were very small, Mathieu’s parents had taught him why he and his brother had their life chosen for them. It had all seemed very romantic. Looking around at the assembled men and women wiping the last traces of the Paris coven off the marble floor, he thought that Étienne was probably right to hold him in so little regard. But she was not finished.

“And yet, while I have not changed my mind, exactly, I have thought of a way that you could be useful to me. And a way to redeem yourself for the insult you gave me by stepping into this house in the employ of another.”

Mathieu nodded. There was nothing else to do.

“The patchwork was one of Chalk’s. We know that. What do you know about him?”

He cleared his throat. His reputation as the talker of the partnership was more than justified, but he had always been careful to know what he was talking about. In his line of work knowledge was invaluable.

“Chalk is based in Scotland. He’s the oldest that we know of, but he’s been around for going on a hundred now. We don’t know who he took over from, only that no one seems to threaten him. He doesn’t stray from the United Kingdom, or at least he hasn’t before. The only members of his flock that we’ve seen have been women, which is not uncommon.”

Émilie smiled. She would never tell him that she was impressed, but she could grace him with a smile.

“So you would agree that this is out of character for him?”

“I wouldn’t go that far, but he’s never done anything this...big before. No one has.”

“He’s made us look weak. Of course we can rebuild but our position is...unsteady at the moment. Not only do we need to reform the coven, we need to assure our sisters around the world that we are as strong as we ever were and find out whether this is an isolated incident. Not to mention the fact that there are bound to be some who will see this as an opportunity to take Paris. The fucking vampires will almost certainly be up to something. Did you hear they’ve come to an agreement with the wolves now? Some kind of partnership to keep the peace?”

He had. While he had been living in peace and quiet it was impossible not to stick your head out of the door every now and again just to see what was going on. They were working in partnerships, one wolf and one vampire. A way of monitoring each other, he’d heard, a way for the vampires to assure the wolves that they would stop trying to eat them and start trying to get along. It wouldn’t last. He told her he was aware of it and Émilie sat back down and folded her arms.

“It will end in tears, you’ll see. But that’s beside the point. What do you know about patchworks, Mathieu? Since you’re clearly up to date with current events.”

He ignored the taunt and told her what he knew.

“The history? Not much, but no one does. They first appeared around two hundred years ago, picking off tourists, occasionally something more challenging. But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been around for longer. It’s rare to run into one and live to talk about it. They’re nasty but they’re territorial. Like I said, this is unusual.”

“And how does one kill a patchwork?”

He snorted. He didn’t mean to. Étienne nodded at him to continue.

“With difficulty, Madame. It’s extremely hard to put a patchwork down. Cut it, shoot it, burn it. It heals. No matter how many holes you put in it, it gets back up.”

He and Vincent had come across a patchwork only once before, on the side of a forest road near the Alps. Vincent had pushed Mathieu to the side of the road and brought an axe down on the creature’s arm. She had laughed and taken the weapon from him. By the time Mathieu had managed to get his brother in the car Vincent had barely been conscious. He had heard the patchwork laughing as they had sped away. He had no illusions of his chances facing one by himself.

“You’ll be working for me from now on. You’ll be accompanying a small team, I will tell you where and when. I don’t expect you to be too much of a help but you will go and you will do your best to keep them out of trouble.”

Mathieu had no choice but to accept. It was time to ask his favour.

“My brother. May I take his body?”

“Of course. Ask for it on the way out. Go and bury your brother, I’ll call you when it’s time. I’d much rather be talking to your brother now, he was always more reliable, stronger, a superior fighter. But cheer up. We’ll find Chalk. You can tell yourself that we’re doing it for Vincent, if you like.”

Mathieu nodded and turned to leave, trying not to slip on the wet floor.


Hi there. Hope you liked that.

I was worried about this, and still am. I'm much more comfortable writing characters like Wendy who are awkward with their supernatural nature. Here we've got a witch queen, and we've got a werewolf and a vampire coming up. I get very self-conscious when I start to feel things getting over the top, but sometimes you just need to write a witch queen. I make no apologies for Émilie Étienne being a bit grandiose or campy. The person who would be the head of a coven of Parisian witches looks and sounds, to me, like she does. There's work to do on Mathieu, however. Originally he was going to be the tougher of the two brothers, with all the middle-aged gut and revenge issues of a hard-boiled hero, but I liked the idea of making him the weaker one. Not massively original either, if we're being honest, but it's more to play with and it will make him more fun to write once he's in his element. The thing for me is trying to find ways to make the characters a bit more interesting. There is too much INTONING OF EXPOSITION here but it had to come out at some point.

Time continues to be a horrific constraint, as I've added yet another "thing to do by a certain time" that will probably come to nothing. Because of this, all I will say is that it's not creative but it's something I'm very passionate about. So there's a lot of work to do for that. I've left the script for a little bit in the hopes that I will return to it feeling fresh and be able to edit the hell out of it. Let's see how that goes. There will also be a Christmas horror story because if you can't find time to write a Christmas horror story then you've lost the fight, really, haven't you?

But all this constant stress and time pressure is good because it means things will get done, which is the important thing. But enough of my whining. Please let me know what you think of Mathieu.

I would also like to take the opportunity to

Hope you enjoyed the story. Here's a song that never fails to cheer me up: