Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Sample Chapter from The Return

I have made a sample chapter from my horror/crime noire novel The Return available, hopefully to increase interest in it. So far it's had well over a hundred hits since the link was made available on Facebook.

Below please find the sample chapter, which is also available here.

Don was already at the station, looking careworn and tired, when Eddie arrived.
“Have trouble sleeping?” Eddie asked.
Don nodded. “I couldn’t get some of that stuff out of my head. I thought I’d managed all right. Felt fine when we went to see Malleson. I felt okay on my way home.” He rubbed his forehead. “I think it was when I saw my wife and kids. Somehow seeing them brought it back to me, those bodies, the blood, the mess. It was as if I’d been coasting along, not really seeing any of it properly, even though I thought I did.”
Eddie patted him on the shoulder. “Getting stuck into some work will get rid of that,” he said, though he knew more than one copper in Edgebottom had seen far too much of that kind of thing over the years and felt compelled to resign when they could no longer take it. The devastation to the force after the Maguire Family Murder in the late sixties was still talked about in subdued tones. How many good coppers had retired or resigned or been fired for misconduct or mental breakdowns after that?
“I was in the canteen having some coffee a short while ago and there was talk that something big’s about to happen.”
“I thought what happened yesterday was big,” Eddie said. “What do you mean?”
“It was a couple of the older coppers. They’ve been here for years. Brought up locally.” Don scratched his head, uncertain. “I don’t know what to make of it. When they saw me listening they seemed to shut up or go off the subject. Before that, though, one of them said something about there being a feeling in the air, whatever that’s supposed to mean.”
“Sounds to me like some of them are going soft in the head. Getting spooked.”
“You couldn’t blame them, Sarge. Not after what’s happened.”
“What else did they have to say? Or is that it?”
“There was more. Like I said, they clammed up when they saw me. I suppose I’m new to the area.”
“You’re probably right. It’ll take twenty years before you’re accepted as a local – probationary, of course.” But Eddie could see Don was genuinely concerned. “Anything else?” he asked.
“Some of them said they were going to take sick leave. Get out of here till it’s over. What the hell it is they’re worried about I’ve no idea, except the way they were talking it made me feel uneasy, as if they knew a lot more than they put into words.”
“A load of old women,” Eddie said, though Don’s words made him begin to worry. There was something in the air. He had begun to sense this himself as he drove into Edgebottom. The streets looked quieter than normal. What people there were about its rain swept streets looked furtive and nervous, as if they really shouldn’t be there at all or would have preferred to have been somewhere else. Even the traffic seemed sparse, subdued somehow. Of course the weather could have something to do with that. The streets were inches deep in water the sewers hadn’t been able to handle as efficiently as they should. Much of this drained into town from the surrounding moors, and some of the steeper streets were churning like rivers.
DI Parks strode over to the two officers.
“A bit of a breakthrough,” he said. He was smiling with self satisfaction. “Several bullets were fired into the side of the Punto. Though most of them were melted in the heat when it caught fire, one was retrieved further up the road. Even though it was bent out of shape, it was identifiable as a point two two.”
“So Morgan was there?” Eddie said.
“Could be. He had a score to settle with Broadman.”
“I thought it was Broadman who had a score to settle with him after his right hand man was reputedly gunned down by him.”
“None of the men we found on the moors was shot,” Don said. “They were hacked to death. It’s difficult to believe Morgan could have done that, especially when all three were armed.”
“And with guns a damn sight better than a point two two,” Eddie said.
“You may be right.” Parks was unperturbed. “But the bullet holes in the side of the Punto show that Morgan was probably present when the car caught fire. Whether he was there when Broadman was murdered is something else. We’ll have to see what our search team finds, if anything.” He handed Eddie several sheets of paper. “We’ve managed to get a search warrant on Shackleton’s house on Queens Road. I’d like you and Don to go through the place. Take a few uniforms with you. Check everything. It would be interesting to see who Shackleton is involved with. Somehow, in some way these crimes are linked, I’m sure.”
It took less than half an hour for the two officers to assemble a team and set out. Queens Road was in one of the better class areas of old Edgebottom, though it had declined in recent years, most of its larger houses having been converted into flats or bed-sits. They pulled up at the higher end of the road. Shackleton’s house was a large end terrace, with two bay windows, a large, untended garden at the front and side, and an attic between two gables on its roof.
“Good family house,” Don said, looking up at it through the windscreen of their car as the police van with six constables inside it drew up behind them.
“Once,” Eddie said. “Till everyone wanted to move to new houses in the suburbs. Like me,” he added ruefully. “If it’s ever sold it’ll be divided into flats like all the rest. Bloody shame, but that’s progress for you.”
They got out and climbed the half dozen steps that divided the front garden in two and rapped on the door, though neither of them expected it to be answered. A watch had been maintained on the house since Gary Morgan was abducted and no one had been seen at the place since or had answered the numerous attempts to get in. Eddie turned to the uniformed office behind him. He held a large sledge hammer in both hands. The constable stepped forward, positioned himself squarely to the door and swung the hammer just below its handle. The door burst inwards with a crash against the wall inside.
“Let’s get started,” Eddie called as he led the way in.
The house looked neglected. Dust and cobwebs in every corner and an overriding smell of what struck Eddie like meat that had gone off, though there was enough furniture on the ground floor to show it had been lived in recently. The front living room contained a sofa and a couple of chairs, all turned to face a small TV and VCR. There was little else, other than a pile of magazines and books. The wallpaper looked unchanged since the 1950s, as did the tiled fireplace, which was brown and cream. Eddie glanced through the magazines but there was nothing of interest for the investigation: a few copies of National Geographic, a Radio Times, some Sunday supplements. The books were novels: Evelyn Waugh, Angus Wilson, Aldous Huxley, Georges Simenon, all of them well-read paperbacks. Not unusual titles, Eddie thought, to find in the house of an ex-schoolteacher. There was a half empty bottle of Jameson whiskey and several tumblers.
The dining room was even more sparsely furnished, a gate-leg table and a set of chairs, with a couple of uninspired pictures on the walls.
“Not exciting,” Don muttered. To which Eddie had to agree. A more boring house he had yet to see. Even the kitchen was nondescript, with a few of the usual items, all of them old, well used but workable, stocked with an equally unremarkable assortment of tinned or packaged foods.
Upstairs the front bedroom contained a double bed, covered in an untidy pile of sheets that looked like they had not been washed in months, a bulky Edwardian wardrobe and a computer, neatly laid out on a laminate and chipboard desk with a cheap plastic swivel chair in front. The desk was in the bay window, facing outwards. The computer was the first up-to-date item Eddie had seen so far. It was a Dell, looked reasonably new, and had a scanner and a bubble jet printer connected to it.
“We’ll get someone to take a look at this later. Take it back to the station. Who knows what this little beauty might reveal,” Eddie said to one of the uniforms, who began to unplug it ready for manhandling downstairs to the van.
“Sarge!” It was Don. “Take a look at this.”
He was in the back bedroom. The light had been switched on. A quick glance showed the window had been boarded up.
“What the hell have we here?” Eddie stared around the room, reflecting that his face probably showed the same amazed look as Don, who stood in the center of the room. Its walls had been painted white, but little of this showed, they were so densely covered in hand drawn symbols, diagrams and words and sometimes by crude, stylized drawings. “Get some photos of these,” Eddie said. “God knows what they mean – but someone might know something about them.”
“Looks like some sort of occult crap to me,” Don said, his voice betraying the disgust he felt.
Across the floorboards someone had painted an enormous five-pointed star in red that reached to within a couple of feet of the walls, its points touching the rim of a circle. More symbols had been painted inside it. To Eddie they could have been Greek or Hebrew, though they might have been something else altogether for all he could tell. All he was certain about was that he felt disturbed when he looked at them, as if they awoke fears long forgotten in the depths of his mind.
 The burned out stubs of dark candles, some of them black, stood at each point of the pentacle, their waxy folds melted in pools around them. Worse, though, were the dried out, mummified remains of what looked like small animals nailed to the floorboards. He knelt to examine one of the larger. It was a cat, its paws secured so tight by the nails punched through them they had almost split in two. From the state of its face, he had a nasty suspicion the creature had been alive when this happened and had been left here to die. Blood and foam had dried on the fur around its mouth. Its lips were pulled back in a frozen grimace of pain. Other animals were rats and a small dog, similarly killed.
“No wonder the place stinks,” Don said in disgust.
Curiously, Eddie barely noticed the extent of the smell till Don mentioned it. Perhaps his mind had been engrossed with other things, he thought. Now that he had become aware of it he felt sickened, especially when he saw something move on the cat’s gas-filled stomach and a handful of maggots wriggled through its matted fur.
He clenched his teeth tight in disgust, then stood up and strode away.
A small bookcase stood by one wall. Only a dozen or so books filled its shelves, one of which was laid open on top as if left there to be read. Eddie strode over for a closer look. The books were old, heavily bound volumes in what looked like stained leather that felt unusually soft to the touch, with odd, distinctive pores. The open book was one of the largest. In size and shape it reminded Eddie of a Family Bible. This, though, was as far as the similarity went. The opened pages were filled with crabbed writing in what looked like Latin, but it was the illustrations that surprised him. Skillfully drawn in pen and ink, the things depicted were so outlandish they were more like something from a frenzied nightmare. They were things of horror, huge, octopoid, outlandish creatures, the like of which Eddie was certain belonged to no familiar religion.
“What the fuck are those?” Don asked, joining him by the bookcase. “They’re sick looking bastards.” He shook his head. “What kind of religion is that?”
“Fucked if I know,” Eddie said with a smile, though it felt fragile and false. “Perhaps they’re a drug addict’s equivalent of gin goblins.”
Don shook his head. “Looks old.”
Eddie reached down and picked through several parchment-like pages. It felt old too, he thought, recoiling a little at the rancid smell that rose from it. “Looks as if Shackleton was into some weird shit,” he said.
“Homicidally weird?”
Eddie looked at more of the grotesque drawings. “Who can say? What we need is someone who can read this stuff.” He looked further along the bookcase. There was a small transparent plastic bag, which had previously been hidden beneath the open book. Inside were several ounces of white powder.
“We always suspected Shackleton was into drugs,” Don said.
Eddie reached for it. “Let’s see what it is before we jump to conclusions. For all we know it could be flour.” Though he knew neither of them thought there was a chance in a million of this. He opened it and took a cautious sniff. And felt his brain explode in a kaleidoscopic frenzy of blinding colors. It was as if he had leapt off the edge of an immense cliff and was plunging headlong toward a sea of blazing, iridescent lights. He felt scared and nauseated, his past life forgotten in the immensity of the moment. He saw his arms outstretched in front of him, sinewy and long and covered in wiry hairs like an animal’s. He saw his hands, like talons, his fingers flexing with scaly knuckles, his fingernails long, horny and ridiculously sharp. He opened his mouth and screamed and his jaws seemed to stretch larger and wider till it seemed as if the whole of his head would turn inside out.
Then the blows, sharp and painful blows to his cheeks. Again. And again. There were thunderclaps of agony that brought tears to his eyes.
“No more!” he heard himself shriek. “No more!
His stomach heaved. He felt himself kneeling on the floor, felt the splintery surface of the wood beneath his knees and the hard but gentle hands on his shoulders, grasping him tight.
“Are you all right, Sarge?”
The voice sounded as if it simultaneously came from a million miles away and only inches from his face. He looked up, saw Don’s face staring at his, concerned and worried.
“Are you all right?”
Dry retching, Eddie managed to nod his head, though the accompanying waves of nausea almost made him faint.
“Jesus Christ, I was worried for a moment,” Don said. “I thought you’d been poisoned.”
Reality, like a shifting veil, returned to him as he straightened his back, saw the bare back bedroom once more, with its painted pentacle and tortured animals nailed to the floor. Reality! As if this was some kind of reality, he thought, his throat raw as if it had been scraped with a file.
“What the hell happened?” Eddie asked, his voice rasping.
“It was as soon as you smelled that powder,” Don said, still sounding concerned. “Your eyes rolled under their lids like you’d been poleaxed. Your face went white. Then you collapsed onto your knees.”
Eddie could see some of the uniforms had gathered at the door.
Despite his embarrassment at what had happened, Eddie said: “Anything else?”
“You started shouting something, Sarge. It was hard to make out. It wasn’t English. In fact, to be honest, it was gibberish to me. ‘Aon scriosadh, aon dioc’ – or something like that. Gibberish.”
Eddie let Don help him to his feet. “Teach me to be daft enough to test something like that by sniffing it,” he said in an attempt to make a joke of what had happened. He heard some of the uniforms laugh, relieved, perhaps, no harm had come to him. He grinned back at them, though it took an effort of will. Dazzling images still flashed before his eyes like aftershocks and he knew it was far from over yet. He could smell something goatish and fishy deep inside his nostrils, elusively.
“Perhaps we should get you checked out at hospital,” Don said. “You never know what effects it might have.”
Had he seen something in his face, Eddie wondered, a glimpse of the hallucinations that were still flickering even now, like something buried at the back of his mind?
Eddie shook his head. “I’m fine. Let’s get on with the search. The sooner we finish the sooner we can get out of this bloody place.” He scowled at the carcasses nailed about the floor. “What the fucking hell was Shackleton into?” he said.
“Do you want me to package these books and take them back to the station?” Don asked.
“They might give some clues as to what’s been going on. You never know. We should get someone who can read that stuff to take a look, perhaps from one of the local schools, maybe, or Manchester University.”
He looked again at the opened book. There was a black and white etching of a grotesque satyr – or satyr-like creature. It seemed to be a mixture of male and female, with a face straight out of a nightmare. It struck him as incredible how the artist had been able to blend a mixture of evil and lust on its goatish features. He looked at its arms, and realized with a jolt that these were what his own looked like in the hallucinations. He looked away from the drawing, realizing how stupid he had been to taste anything here. He should have known better. For all he knew Shackleton might have left that bag of white powder as a trap, hoping to tempt someone to do exactly what he had done with it.
He headed for the landing. There was another flight of stairs to the attic. Slowly, one hand on the banister rail for support, he started up to the next floor. There was little light up there, and he knew even before he looked into the room that the attic window had been boarded up as well. He reached for the light switch but nothing happened.
Looking back down the stairs he called for someone to fetch a torch.
One of the uniforms said he would get one from the van and Eddie waited, reluctant to go any further in the dark. Even blinking his eyes brought flashes of the hallucination back before them, vividly bright, as if someone was shining a film projector straight into them. Damn it, he hoped the effects would wear off soon – otherwise he would have to follow Don’s advice, which would almost certainly result in him being signed off sick.
A couple of minutes later the uniformed PC came clattering up the steps, a heavy duty flashlight in his hands. Taking it, Eddie switched it on, then followed by the PC took the few remaining steps to the top of the stairs. He pushed the door into the attic open and shone the torch ahead of him. Its beam filled the room.
If he had thought the boarded up bedroom below was nightmarish, there was worse ahead. This time it wasn’t tortured animals that were nailed to the floor but a human body – though whether the victim was male or female Eddie was unable to tell. What flesh there was had withered to such an advanced degree it was impossible to make out more than that whoever it was seemed to have died in extreme pain. Even though the victim had not been able to move because of the heavy nails hammered through their hands and feet, the body was grotesquely contorted. The head had been thrown back and, though it was now little more than a skull, its parchment-like skin stuck to it in dark brown, papery folds, its eyes nothing more than shriveled plums, sunk back into their sockets, the mouth stilled straining against the lengths of tape that were bandaged across it to the back of the head, again and again, so there had never been the slightest chance of the victim being able to scream, there was no mistaking the horror the victim had felt in their final moments.
How long had this creature lain here in this state? A year? Two years? More?
Eddie called for more help in the attic.
“We have a murder,” he told Don. “We need a full forensic team right now.” He staggered back to the landing. He had seen enough. He had seen more than enough.
“Let’s get a breath of fresh air,” he told Don, after he had returned from the attic himself, white-faced and trembling, a moment later.
“What’s happening?” Don said. “Is the whole fucking town falling apart? I don’t understand.”
“Perhaps some of the older coppers do,” Eddie suggested. “You heard them this morning.”
“That’s bullshit, Sarge. Isn’t it?”
Eddie shrugged, wishing suddenly, as they stepped out of the house and headed down the street, that he smoked. He needed something, he knew, though if he went to a pub right now he would be drunk inside an hour.

If you are interested in reading more it's available both as a paperback and an ebook on Amazon:


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