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The Fragile Things Part I & II are free from the 17th - 20th January!

Amazon US: www.amazon.com/Fragile-Things-…

Amazon UK: www.amazon.co.uk/Fragile-Thing…

Have you ever had a friend you'd die for? One you'd kill for?


Seventeen-year-old Jennifer Willis should have the world at her feet. Instead, she's an ex-heroin addict living in a council estate with Tony, her boyfriend and former dealer. Shunned by her family and friends, she dreams of something greater than she's been given.

Beautiful and strange, Ebony has moved in across the street. She's just lost the one person in her lonely existence to cancer. She's also a centuries-old vampire, struggling to cope with murderous outbursts and the desire to be something more.

When these two lost souls meet, an unusual friendship begins.

But with the news of Morris, Tony's sadistic best friend and drug-dealing partner being released from prison, Jennifer knows it's only a matter of time before his path of vengeance leads to her and Ebony, too.

With a cast of memorable characters, a village full of secrets, and a gripping story, The Fragile Things is a layered tale of friendship, hope, survival and what it truly means
to be human.

    Ebony had been singing for the past hour. She’d started with Hush, Little Baby and had just finished with Frère Jacques. She didn’t know what possessed her to sing lullabies. Her voice sounded different too; deep and rasping and broken, like it belonged to something else. When the last words left her lips, a heavy silence took their place. The silence was horrible; it spoke of many things, things which Ebony didn’t want to acknowledge.

    But she had no choice.

    Ebony opened her eyes.

    They were lying on the floorboards, cradled into each other like lovers caught in a hail of gunfire. After attacking the young man with the power drill, she’d buried her teeth into his neck. She could still taste him, could feel that trickle of fire down her throat, burning pleasantly in her belly, extinguishing the swell of serpents. Ebony had done something wicked, and although her mind screamed out against it, her body nuzzled closer. Was it a whimper which just escaped her lips or rather, a sigh of relief?

    She hated herself.

    No, hate wasn’t strong enough.

    There wasn’t a word in any language which captured how much self-loathing she had for herself right now. She forced herself to look at his face, to recognise the horror of what she’d done.

    Rick’s eyes were like a pair of cloudy marbles, holding not a glimmer of the young man who’d been so kind and sweet to her only moments before. His glasses hung from one ear, speckled with blood and cracked in the middle.

    Where does your light go? It has to go somewhere . . .

    Ebony hadn’t wanted to kill him. But when Rick had started talking about things, Ebony had started to think and before she could put a stop to it, she had started to feel. Ebony had tried to control it, that weak and disgusting part of herself, and thought she was being strong by simply walking away from him. But if she’d really been thinking, she would have used the door chain. It wouldn’t have stopped her, but it would have stopped him from walking into what was essentially a death trap.

    But, if I’d really been thinking sensibly, I wouldn’t have offered him coffee. I wouldn’t have spoken to him and I wouldn’t have . . . Where does the light go? It can’t be gone, can it? That doesn’t make any sense. It has to go somewhere. Where?

    There was a sharp pain in her chest and Ebony let out a moan as she bit Rick’s hand. And then she moved up his arm, acting like some kind of rapid dog, trying to seek comfort and peace in whatever it could find.

    Again she released him.

    Again she wanted more. 

    She ran her hand across the hairy wedge of belly peeking over Rick’s jeans. Behind the iron-rich smell of blood, she could detect the lightly-spiced scent of his aftershave, the fabric softener he’d used. Rick Armstrong had a whole life she knew nothing about and she’d stolen it from him.

    Ebony rolled off him and lay on her back, staring up at the phlegm-coloured ceiling. It was clammy in here. She laced her fingers through his. Rick’s hand was stiff and cold, but hers was colder still. She circled her thumb around his palm. Amongst the blood and gore there were bits of broken glass and eighty-three pounds and twenty-four pence worth of change scattered around them.

    There was a loud crash from across the road.

    “And as if things couldn’t get any worse,” Ebony said, clenching the meat of Rick’s forearm, bracing herself for what was about to unfold. The couple who lived across from her were always causing some kind of disruption. If it wasn’t parties which lasted all night, there’d be fights, people hanging about drunk or high on goodness knows what. Most fights were invariably dragged outside and Ebony could hear most of what was going on. Tonight was no different.

    “I’m not staying in this house any longer.”

    “Don’t be daft.”

    “I’m serious!”

    “Where are you going to go then, eh?”

    “I’ll know when I get there.”

    It was completely and utterly ridiculous. Ebony had never caught a glimpse of her neighbours before, (had never been interested, quite frankly) but had an image in her head of a bedraggled couple in their thirties who’d smoked and drank their way throughout their lives. Ebony knew the man was involved in some dubious things, but wasn’t sure what exactly. And the woman—well, she was always stomping around, shouting and playing her music loud enough to make your ears bleed.

    There was a bang, a clink as something smashed. Ebony sighed. It was early in the morning now and the sun was peeking through the moth-eaten curtains, casting pinches of light across the wall. Like stars, Ebony thought. Look up at the stars and you could be anywhere. And then she cuddled into her corpse and tried to fall asleep.

     

    Ebony had never been down to the basement before. She had a tendency to avoid cramped and dark spaces whenever possible.

    She switched the light on.

    It was like a flash bomb had gone off. Everything was washed out of existence in a glare of white light and there was a high-pitched noise in her head. Ebony screwed her face up and clenched her teeth until the moment passed. She felt nauseous and shaky—which certainly wasn’t normal for her by any means, but her attention was soon diverted to other things as she gazed around the musty room.

    Photographs of naked women covered the walls. Most of them were explicit in nature and showcased some kind of obscure kink. She examined them closely. None of the women looked like they were in any stage of enjoyment. Only pain. A great amount of focus had been given in capturing these expressions on their faces.

    Sadomasochism.

    She’d heard the term before, but this was the first time she’d been supplied the visual. It neither aroused nor disgusted her. She continued her exploration of the basement dejectedly.

    There were several cardboard boxes, a lamp and a mattress in the corner. She opened two of the boxes, discovering video cassettes with female names printed on them. In another there was a camcorder, a harness, a bit of plastic shaped like a penis, clamps and a bottle of something called Wet ‘n’ Wild. Ebony didn’t feel inclined to search any further, so she pushed all the boxes to one side, leaving a space from the staircase directly down to the mattress.

    She went upstairs to the first floor and took a bunch of old bed sheets from the closet and returned to the sitting room. She stood over Rick’s body.

    There were no serpents or red mist this time. Just emptiness. But the emptiness was okay; it was certainly more favourable than the other things. Her and Rick, they were one and the same now; both empty vessels, their glory days behind them. She wished the emptiness would continue, but the periods of high and low were a continuous cycle and one which she had yet to discover how to break.

    She removed the wallet from the back pocket of Rick’s jeans and looked through his cards. Rick Armstrong was twenty-six-years-old, lived on a local farm and had a motorbike license as well as a car license. He did work for numerous charities as well as the homeless one and was also, ironically enough, a blood donor.

    He had pictures too. There was one taken at some kind of party, a family reunion perhaps. Another on a dirt bike, a graduation and one with a red-headed girl.

     They looked happy. They looked in love.

    (“Do you even know what love is?”)

    Ebony’s hands started to shake.

    She quickly placed the wallet and cards in a drawer and started to wrap the body up with the bed sheets, binding him together. When she was finished, Ebony dragged him down into the basement, listening to the dull thuds as the back of his head smacked against the steps, and then placed Rick upon the old mattress.

    She stared at him for a bit, not quite sure what to do now. And then she bent down and kissed his concealed forehead. “I’m sorry. I know that doesn’t mean much now, but I am. When I can think more clearly, I’ll see that you are returned to your family. I will do right by you even if it means the end of my days.”

    She returned upstairs.

    Keep busy, that’s the key.  

    Ebony binned the bits of broken glass scattered across the sitting room and filled up a basin of hot soapy water. She proceeded to collect and wash and dry all of her coins. She counted out eighty-two pounds and eighty-five pence, which meant that she was still missing thirty-nine pence. Just to be certain, she counted out the money for a second and third time, but still reached the same figure.

    She searched behind the couch and television and found a further nineteen pence. It was an agitating process, but she couldn’t stop until she’d retrieved all the missing coins. After spending a further hour and a half looking, she found a ten pence piece wedged at the bottom of the skirting board. She decided to cut her losses for now and placed all the money in a shoe box, pushing it underneath the couch.

    Her hand brushed against another box located there. Ebony dared not open it. Doing so would be like opening a floodgate. Once again she was glad of the emptiness.   

    Only after she’d sorted out the coins, did Ebony turn her attention to the blood. She scrubbed it from the walls and floorboards as best she could and covered the most offending spot with a stretch of old carpet. Most of her belongings were upstairs, boxed away. Only now did she take them out, arranging and rearranging them several times. When she was finished, she decided to have a shower.

    Ebony couldn’t remember the last time she’d washed or changed her clothes. Ever since she’d left the countryside, the days had become a meaningless blur. Hygiene had been the last thing on her mind. She stripped off. Her T-shirt was covered with blood and smelled like a decomposing animal. It was a wonder that Rick had ever come into her space to begin with. The hot water felt good as it ran down her back, and she found herself wishing that it could wash away more than the blood and dirt. As she turned to face the wall, there was a needle-like pain deep in her chest and another flash.

    She closed her eyes.

    What’s happening now?

    A growl erupted from her throat. She thought back to last night and slammed her fist against the tiles. A memory replayed in her head. Somebody who was Ebony, but at the same time was not, leapt towards Rick. A hand clamped around the back of his head, hoisting him into the air. He squealed and wriggled about like a pig on a meat hook. The other hand came forwards, forcing the drill deep into his forehead.

    And there it was.

    She’d killed him and then fed. 

    Ebony berated herself. Drinking dead blood or bad blood was akin to drinking poison. Rather than make her feel ill, it could have very well destroyed her. But most of Rick’s life force had been wasted on the house. It was a small mercy given the circumstances. The effects would disperse in time.  

    By the time Ebony got out of the shower, there was a party in full swing across the road. She could practically feel the dance music vibrating throughout her house, rumbling underneath her feet. There was a group of men standing out in the front garden with cans of beer, their cigarettes winking in the dark. One of them was chubby with a bald head and a chequered shirt, opened at the collar to reveal a chest which looked more like a rug. He caught sight of Ebony and wolf-whistled. She hadn’t even realised she was standing at the window naked.

    “Come out and join the party, hen!”

    “We don’t bite!”

    Nice tits!”

    Ebony closed the curtains and sighed. Her headache was getting worse. She had to get out of this house.

    Jennifer limped across the platform, her clothes dishevelled and her eyes itchy and bloodshot. There was a screaming pain at the back of her throat and in a variety of other places which she didn’t want to think about.

    Shit.

    She’d had to wait half an hour for another train, but didn’t dare leave the toilets once the junkies had left. She couldn’t bare the thought of anybody else looking at her. All she wanted was to be left alone.

    Jennifer dragged her rucksack across the floor, her other hand pressed against her ribs. Her hood was up, but even so, she could practically feel everybody else watching her, could hear them muttering to themselves. A man tried to stop her. “Miss,” he said. “Are you okay? Miss?”

    She ignored him, fighting the urge to scream.

    “Come on, Jenny,” she said under her breath. “Keep it together.” She glanced at her watch. It was almost quarter to seven. If Tony got home before her, she would have a lot of explaining to do.

    She got on the train and sat at a couple of empty seats, placing her rucksack on the outer one so nobody else could join her. She touched her face, feeling for swelling. The girl had slapped her at one point, but that was only after Jennifer had bitten her . . .

    Hold still.”

    They’d said they weren’t going to hurt her; they were only going to take the drugs and money they found. But as soon as the man started to touch her ‘down there’, Jennifer exploded with rage. 

    “Get off me, you bastards!”

    “Easy, love.”

    “I am not your love.”

    The girl was having difficulty in restraining her at this point and tried a different tactic. “It’s going to be all right, sweetie,” she said softly, trying to reassure her. “Carl’s just seeing if you’re plugging, that’s all. Hey, Carl, do you think I’d suit her hair colour?”

    “Only thing you’d suit is a paper bag,” he growled.

    “Well, thanks very bleedin’ much!”

    They continued on and on like this, but Jennifer ignored their bickering, trying desperately to think of a way out as Carl yanked down her underwear, but her brain didn’t seem to want to work. She knew it wasn’t uncommon for people to ‘plug’ drugs in prison, but if that’s what they thought she was doing here, they were both completely off their heads. Still, she knew how desperate junkies got, how their minds became warped by their addiction, and if there was even a slight chance they could get their hands on something, they’d take it. It didn’t matter who it was—friends, family or perfect strangers.

    The girl let go of Jennifer’s arm to point angrily at Carl, rhyming off the many ways he was the World’s Biggest Arsehole.

    Jennifer saw her chance and broke free, kneeing Carl in the balls. A scuffle broke out between her and the girl, and although Jennifer was trembling with rage, she was easily over-powered. The girl punched her in the stomach and clamped a hand across Jennifer’s mouth to muffle her screams (this was when Jennifer bit her, drawing blood). By this time Carl had recovered somewhat and they resumed their search, pinning her to the cold, piss-stained floor.

    When they discovered that she actually had nothing worth taking, they kicked her in the gut and ran. Jennifer lay there, crying hot tears of anger, her jeans bunched at her ankles. Slowly, she climbed to her feet and washed her mouth out with water, getting rid of the coppery taste of blood, hoping that the junkie wasn’t carrying any kind of blood-related disease.

    And then she had looked in the mirror, staring miserably at her ugly, mascara-streaked face, hating the junkies—hating herself even more because, in her mind, she had let it happen.

    A whistle was blown and the train left the station. Jennifer sighed, leaning her head against the window. It didn’t feel like she was going to develop any bruises across her face. She could hide the rest of her injuries, could explain them away with a few well-placed lies if she needed to.

    At this point, she just wanted to get home.

    Jennifer looked out at the dark and frosty landscape. It was an hour long journey back to Chapel and then she would have to wait for a bus—well, either that or she could walk the eight miles, which would just be a fantastic end to a fantastic day. 

    Fortunately, she was in time for a bus. She sat at the very back, knees tucked under her chin, once again trying to make herself as small as possible, ignoring the sharp pain in her crotch. She paid little attention to the people coming on and off and did what she usually did when she was travelling and gazed out the window, studying her surroundings. But there was very little light along the network of roads connecting the small villages and instead, Jennifer looked to the horizon, tracing the dark ridges where the hills met the sky.

    The bus driver was listening to the radio. It crackled and squealed. “Never get any reception in this bloody place,” he complained, switching it off.

    The road started to get narrower and the bus rattled as it went up sharply and back down, going over a series of potholes. And then Jennifer saw the familiar sign in the distance, appearing like a ghostly figure from some urban legend, standing alone on the moor.

     

    WELCOME TO BLACKCROSS

     

    It had only been recently that the sign had been replaced. Two months ago, Darren and Monkey Boy had come up here on a dare when they were drunk, crossing out the name of the village and spray painting HELL in its place. They had thought it was hilarious at the time, but the Neighbourhood Watch had been up in arms. The church hadn’t found it very funny, either.  

    The bus came to rest.

    “Last stop,” the driver called.

    Jennifer hopped off, burrowing deeper into her jacket as the bus turned around and disappeared back down the road. Everything was still apart from the wind. She wouldn’t be surprised if it snowed soon. Blackcross was higher up than all the other villages and was prone to bad weather more so than anywhere else.

    She kept her head down as she walked through Main Street, catching snippets of conversation as she went past Flanagan’s Café, past the laundrette and the Miner’s Lantern pub. The air was rich and greasy with the smell of beer and chips and once again Jennifer felt a pang of hunger. Not long now.

    She could imagine Tony pacing around the house, wondering where she’d gotten to, getting worked up over nothing. He wasn’t usually the worrying type of man, but whenever she was remotely involved, it was a different story. She supposed it was good in a way; it showed that he cared. 

    The council house she shared with him was at the bottom of Fairfeather Street, which was located along the fringes of Blackcross, near the woods and the loch. It was a twenty minute walk away, and she could have taken a shortcut, but the path was isolated and probably wasn’t the safest option in the dark. For some reason, it was a hot spot for underage drinking and sex.

    The number of empty and boarded-up houses increased as Jennifer made her way along the road. There had been a rumour going around that the council planned on knocking the entire row of semi-detached buildings a few years ago to make way for a new housing scheme, but the idea had never materialised. Of course, most people had moved away at this point, and the council had never bothered renting out a single one of the properties again.

    Until a month ago.

    Jennifer had only caught a glimpse of the girl who’d moved into the house across from her. She’d smiled and waved, but was ignored. Nothing moves faster than gossip, after all. Next time I’ll give her the middle finger, see how well that goes down. Stuck-up bitch.

    Jennifer pushed such thoughts aside as she walked up her garden path, feeling nervous as she approached the front door. What was she going to find inside? And, more importantly, what the hell was she going to say?

    The television was playing and all the lights were on, but nobody seemed to be home. Jennifer quickly took her rucksack and threw it into the cupboard under the staircase, hiding it behind the ironing board where Tony wouldn’t spot it.

    She went through the sitting room, and into the kitchen. She’d tidied up before leaving this morning, but now the worktop was littered with beer cans and the large ashtrays she owned were loaded with cigarette butts. There was a scent in the air too, something which smelled like burned popcorn.

    That son of a bitch.   

    She grabbed the cans and put them in the bin, scrubbed the worktops and kitchen table. The sink was full of dirty plates and bits of Chinese food, so she set about cleaning them too, plunging her cold hands into the warm, soapy water. Her mind was still reeling from the events of the day—the lack of work, the boss man’s comments, the ‘incident’ at the train station. Sexual assault, she corrected herself. Because that’s what it was.

    The warm water felt good. Soothing. She was tired, always did when she was winding down. How long had it been since she’d had a decent sleep? Too long. Maybe after this, she could go and take a bath, maybe drift away . . .

    She stiffened. The television in the sitting room had been on, but now there was only silence. Jennifer suddenly felt like an animal in one of those wildlife documentaries; a deer rendered frozen in a field, overcome by a feeling of being watched. A deer neither able to run or fight.

    “There she is.”

    Tony’s voice was the low, sexy rumble of a motorbike going over a gravel path. Jennifer tried not to wince as his arms appeared python-like around her bruised torso. He kissed the top of her head and then rested his bristly cheek against hers.

     She could see their reflection in the window; his tall, broad-shouldered frame engulfing hers. His face was unreadable.

    “Where else would I be?” she asked tersely.    

    “Bit touchy tonight, aren’t you, pet?”

    “Sorry.”

    “So, where were you?”

    “Out for a walk.”

    “You’re always walking.”

    She untangled herself from him and went over to the washing machine, unable to look him in the eye. “It keeps me sane,” she muttered, searching inside the empty drum.

    “What?”

    “It keeps me fit.” Jennifer looked at the radiators. They were also empty. She’d put a load of washing on this morning. “Tony, I thought you were going to put the clothes out?”

    “I did.”

    “Where?”

    He gestured to the window.

    She rolled her eyes and went to the back door. Why the hell would anybody put washing out in the middle of winter and expect it to dry? He followed, stopping at the door. “I thought you’d put them on the clothes horse,” she said.

    “A what?”

    “Never mind,” Jennifer said, yanking down the clothes. “This is exactly as I like them; stiff as a board and covered in bird shit.”

    Tony laughed.

    “I’m glad you find it so funny.”

    It was true. Every time she put her washing out, Tobias Grey, a middle-aged man who lived around the back, would purposely let his racing pigeons loose. Everything would get splattered in sight. She’d taken the matter up with him and his wife, Elma, but that had only made things worse. It didn’t matter how amicable Jennifer was. They were determined to make everything as difficult as possible.

    “You won’t be laughing tomorrow,” she said. “You’re the one who’s going to have to go to work without any trousers.”

    “I have loads of trousers upstairs.”

    She pushed past him and hurled the clothes back inside the washing machine.

    “Oh, pet,” he breathed. “Oh, pet. You’re just like Chicken Little.”

    “What?”

    “Chicken Little,” Tony repeated. “It’s a story. Chicken Little always thinks the sky is falling—even though it isn’t. That’s you.”

    “Tony, I—”

    “It’s nice to see you too, little darling.” There was a clink as he grabbed a beer bottle from somewhere and took a swig. “Look, forget about the washing, Jen. Just come through and sit with me.”

    “I’ve got dinner to make.”

    “So take a night off.”

    But Jennifer hadn’t heard him. She was now eyeing up the mess on the floor; noodles, bits of tobacco and muddy footprints covered the linoleum. It was all thanks to Tony and his useless mates. “Seriously, Tony, sometimes I wonder how you managed without me.”

    “Well, I didn’t. Not really.”

    “You’re full of crap.”

    He grinned. “And you’re full of love and sweetness. Come on. Sit with me.”

    She followed him into the sitting room and sat down beside him on the couch. He rearranged himself so that he was sprawled on his back and pulled her against his chest, grabbing the remotes for the VCR and television.  

    “See?” he said. “This is better.”

    “What are you watching?”

    Universal Soldier.”

    Jennifer stared at the television dejectedly as somebody got their head blown off. She hated violence in films—had never watched anything really apart from romance and comedy. Usually she would have cringed and turned away, but she was still feeling—what? She wasn’t particularly sure how she was feeling.

    “You look different,” Tony said.

    “I’m fine.”

    “Nah, I mean . . . are those new shoes?”

    She looked down and saw that she was wearing her interview heels. They looked formal and plain, belonging to somebody who was capable of getting a job. “I’m trying out a new me.”

    “I prefer the old you.”

    He rarely commented on her clothes. As far as he was concerned, clothes were for the bedroom floor—or to be covered in pigeon shit, apparently. His words had been said longingly. She turned around and looked at him—really looked at him—for the first time today.

    Everything about Tony was chocolate and honey. His hair and eyebrows were both dark and thick, lending an intense, often hard look to his brown eyes. His skin was naturally tanned and his personality could go from sweet and sickly to dark and bitter within a matter of seconds. He had a small scar below his lip, which would have added a hint of danger if it wasn’t for his baby-face. Most people certainly never thought he was in his mid-twenties, almost eight years older than Jennifer. That was why people nicknamed him Saint. Well, actually there was another reason.

    Tony was a drug dealer. 

    Day or night, people would show up at their home. But knowing how much Jennifer hated his profession, Tony was more likely to go to them, out to the pubs and clubs seeking out and creating new junkies. 

    He sold most substances, but didn’t touch heroin with a barge pole. LSD was popular with those looking for a trip without the fear of addiction. Hash was mostly sold to everyone, but was also recommended as a ‘beginner’s drug’ and was more popular amongst the sporadic drug-user. Cocaine was a high seller, too. Tony did a bit of everything, but Jennifer neglected to enquire.

    He was always roaming around, doing business with the lads in tow. The lads were like Tony’s family. They were a motley crew of thugs, drunks and fools. For whatever reason, they had a soft spot for Jennifer—if she ever went to them for a favour they would do it for her in a heartbeat. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that she was always cooking for them, cleaning too. Sometimes she felt like Wendy from Peter Pan, tending to the lost boys. And Blackcross was the place where they never grew up.

    She knew what people thought about drugs and dealers, knew because she’d had those opinions herself at one point. But Tony was different; he had rules and guidelines he’d stick by. Never give drugs to minors. Never give a man so much gear that he’s got nothing else. He played by these rules, and he fully expected the lads to do the same. Above all, what Tony wanted and asked for was respect. Respect your goddamn dealer.

    “Jen, are you all right, pet?”

    “Yeah.”

    She wriggled a bit, moving Tony’s arm so that it wasn’t pressing against her ribs.

    “Did you really just go for a walk?”

    She nodded feebly. This was the part she hated the most, the questions.

    “You just, I don’t know, seem down in the dumps. Did somebody pick a fight with you?”

     “I’m just tired that’s all.” The lie slipped out easily—she hated that part, too. But Jennifer had always been good at telling stories, and over the last few months she’d really had the opportunity to hone her skills and become a fantastic liar. Sometimes she even succeeded in fooling herself.

    She pressed her head against Tony’s chest, listening to his heartbeat. There were many reasons why she hadn’t told him she was looking for a job. The largest factor was that he simply liked to provide for her. She tended to the house and cooked, and he made the money. She was cared for, and only had to ask Tony for something and he’d buy it for her. But Jennifer wanted to work. She wanted to have her own money. She wasn’t sure why exactly. It just felt important. She’d tried looking in Blackcross for a job, but nobody here would ever employ her. The only work she’d ever had was at Flanagan’s as a waitress. But that seemed a lifetime ago.

    “Is it because of old man Tobias? Do you want me to get him sorted out?”

    “What? No!

    “Because I could, you know.”

    “It’s okay. Really.”

    “Not that I’m in the habit of sorting out pensioners.”

    “Tony, I’m just tired.”

    He looked at her carefully. “All right.”

    She tried to lighten the mood. “Since when did you take an interest in Tobias and his scrawny birds anyway? You didn’t care when it was my dress that got hit.”

    “I like you better without your dress.”

    “Ha-ha. You’re so smooth,” she said dryly.

    But Tony was undeterred. The suspicion had gone from his eyes, giving way to something else. He kissed her deeply, shifting his body so that he was above her. “Come on, Jen,” he whispered.

    “Not tonight, Tony.”

    “No?”

    She shook her head, knowing that her torso was black and blue. “Really tired.”

    “All right then.” He lay back down on the couch, stroking her hair. After a moment, he piped up again, “So, what are we having for dinner then?”

    “Leftover roast.”

    “Lady, you know how to spoil your man.”

     

    After she’d had a shower and gotten changed into some clean clothes, Jennifer ended up cooking a late dinner for herself and Tony. They sat in the kitchen. Tony had three more beers and Jennifer stuck to full-fat Irn Bru. She watched as he wolfed down his food. It always amazed her how much Tony could eat. Then again, he was a fit guy and had been for as long as she’d known him. It had only been recently that he’d packed on most of the muscle, converting the garage into a gym. He also rarely drank anymore, trading the Budweiser for protein shakes and creatine supplements.

    Which was why she was surprised to see him drinking now. Sure, he had the odd pint with the lads here and there, but she couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a drink when it had been just the two of them. Tony was also typically a man of few words, but for some reason he was making up for it this evening in abundance. But Jennifer was only half listening. After she’d eaten, she’d taken to filing her nails, thinking about the events of the day again while Tony went on and on.

    Then he mentioned Charlene.

    Jennifer put down the nail file.

    “So, after Darren discovered that Charlene had been cheating on him with that young lad that works at the corner shop—you know, that arrogant Polish git with spiky hair—he filled all the locks in her house with glue. I told him he shouldn’t have done it, but then again, I suppose Charlene deserves it. When Darren cheated on her the second time, she stole that mutt of his and tried to sell it to the Chinese takeaway.”

    “Tony—”

    “All right, pet. I get the hint. I won’t mention Charlene.” 

    She rubbed her eyes. She had wanted a stiff drink since coming home, but had so far managed to avoid the booze cabinet. And now her head was pounding harder than a sailor on shore leave. She definitely needed a nip of something . . .  

    Tony rubbed his chin and pulled out a packet of cigarettes from his back pocket. He lit one on the cooker and didn’t return to his chair. “I’ve got something to tell you,” he said.

    “Something bad?”

    “I think it’s good.”

    “What?”

    He swore. “I don’t know how to tell you, Jen. I’ve spent the entire afternoon with the lads, drinking, shooting the shit, you know? Asking them for advice . . .”

    Jennifer snorted. “Yeah, and trying to find good advice in their heads is like trying to find a virgin in Blackcross.”

    “When it seemed like you’d had a bad day, I didn’t think it was a good time to tell you.”

    “Just say it.”

    “I’ll tell you on one condition; don’t get pissed off, all right?”

    “Fine.”

    “Do you promise?”

    She was quickly growing impatient. “Promise what?”

    “That you won’t get pissed off?”

    “Maybe.”

    Tony stubbed out his cigarette viciously, obviously irritated by her unwillingness to make this easier for him. He ran a hand through his hair, and then over his chin, sucking in a deep breath. “Morris is getting out.”

    And—just like that—Jennifer felt her entire world shatter. She didn’t know what to think or what to say. Eventually she managed to utter one word: “When?”

    “This weekend.” Now that he’d said it, Tony was unable to contain his excitement. She could hear it in his voice, could see it in his eyes. “He phoned earlier when we were having a poker tournament. I couldn’t believe it. We haven’t heard from him in almost a year, and then he phones out of the blue, saying how he’s done his time and now he’s coming home this weekend. It’ll be great, Jen. The whole family back together again. We’re going to have to throw a party, the best one yet.”

    Jennifer stood up.  “That man is not coming in this house, Tony.”

    “Come on—”

    “It’s him or me.”

    “It’s been over a year. You’re better now. Things have changed.”

    “I mean it.”

    The expression on Tony’s face distorted. His lips pulled back into a snarl and his hands bunched up into great, trembling fists. Nothing could ever get him as fired up as Morris, especially when it was somehow related to Jennifer. He threw a bottle against the wall, shattering it. “You know, he said you’d be like this. He knew. Why can’t you just let things stay in the past? You can’t hold one thing against him forever.”

    It’s not one thing.”

    “He’s just coming out of prison—”

    “Tony, please.”

    “You’re nothing but a selfish bitch sometimes, Jen. Do you know that?”

    His words stung, and she was afraid of him when he was like this. She reached out to touch his shoulder, hoping he’d see sense. Hoping he’d see how much she needed him and that he’d realise how Morris could destroy everything they had in an instant.

    Tony pushed her away.

    “Please.” She tried to hold him.

    He pushed her again, more forcibly. Jennifer tripped over her own feet and fell backwards, landing against the cooker. A firework exploded inside her head and she could taste blood. So, she thought, this is how it starts.

    The subway travelled through the underground like a runaway shopping trolley, making Jennifer’s teeth rattle about in her head. There was a strange smell in the carriage, too—a garbage-sweet stench of unwashed bodies huddled together, breathing the same clammy air.

    Eau de working class failure, Jennifer thought absently, picking at the stuffing in her seat. Well, it was bloody true; all the people coming back this way had either been to the Job Centre or the Salvation Army or some other place that made you feel like slitting your wrists. She shifted about, trying to make herself as small as possible. The man sitting across from her, a homeless person judging by his wind-savaged beard and soup-stained clothing, hadn’t stopped staring at her since she’d gotten on at St George’s Cross. He started mumbling something which sounded an awful lot like the Lord’s Prayer.  

    Jennifer rested her head against the window. The person next to her was listening to a Walkman. She couldn’t make out the song, but the sound was like having a horsefly nestled in her ear.

    Screw this and all my other bright ideas.

    The subway was never the favourite part of her journey through Glasgow. Either way it took her to a place which promised scrutiny and rejection, but right now she didn’t really give a shit. Jennifer was numb and tired and had far too many miles to go before she was home. Her feet were sore in these shoes. Her tights were itchy and her shirt collar felt like a noose around her neck. And although her mind was foggy, one question managed to float to the surface: What the hell am I going to do now?

    She closed her eyes, wishing she could be somewhere else and under an entirely different set of circumstances. She’d scraped the very bottom of the barrel and had succeeded in gaining nothing. And no doubt Tony would start to suspect that she was up to something. Which she was, but the silly git always jumped to the most extreme conclusion possible.

     There was a sharp prod at her knee. Jennifer opened her eyes to find the homeless man’s face mere inches from hers. She could smell booze on his breath, could see the cataracts in his eyes.

    “Do you believe in our Lord?”

    “Of course I do, mate.”

    He rummaged through his pockets, pulling out a small crucifix on a chain, dangling it in front of her. Shit a brick, she thought. The expression on Jesus’s face looked even more fed up than she felt.

    “He died for your sins,” the man slurred.

    “Then I better make it worth his while,” Jennifer said, turning the other way.

    “He did. He died.”

    She closed her eyes again, blocking out the man, blocking out everything apart from the chattering going on inside her head.

    The interview room had been almost clinical, a place so clean and hygienic that it made Jennifer feel like she was crawling with germs—or, rather, she was the germ. It should have been the first clue that she was completely out of her depth. But of course she ignored it and the rest which followed.

    The boss man cleared his throat. “You don’t have any qualifications.”

    “No.”

    “And you don’t have much in the way of experience.”

    “No.”

    They weren’t questions but statements and even so, Jennifer felt like she had to answer. He probably thought she was stupid coming all this way to try out for a job she didn’t deserve, but she had to try. She had to try for something, didn’t she?

    “And you don’t have any references?”

    It was a question. Definitely a question this time.

    “I’m fully aware of what I don’t have, sir. But I also know what I’ve got. All I’m asking for is a chance. Give me a chance, sir, and I swear on my life I won’t let you down. I’m a fast learner, I’m capable and I’m willing to—”

    “Miss Willis, how old are you?”

    “Seventeen.”

    “I don’t understand how a seventeen-year-old, a year out of high school, can’t have basic qualifications or work experience. You have to admit, this doesn’t look good for employers.”

    She didn’t say anything.

    The boss man’s eyes narrowed and then a curious expression crossed his face. Pity? Disgust? It was getting difficult to tell these days. Eventually, he settled with a sigh, a long one which reminded her of a balloon deflating. “Look, my advice to you is simple; go back to studying. Move back in with your parents, go to your local college and sign up for a course. These days it doesn’t matter if you’re stacking shelves in Tesco or doing work experience in bloody Timbuktu—you need something.”

    “But—”

    “You’re not what we’re looking for.”

    The subway doors opened and people shuffled out before others took their place. It was the same routine day in and day out. Jennifer had been trying to get a job for the past three months now and had applied for everything she had come across, most recently trying her luck in Glasgow and Edinburgh. But there it was, spelled out for her plain and simple: we do not want you. Bullshit not included.

    It would take her three hours to get home, and that was three hours she’d spend picking away at the boss man’s statement, wondering what she could have done differently, examining everything from her opening handshake to her shoes. Go back to studying, he’d said. But college wasn’t an option now, either. She didn’t have the money, didn’t have the time and Tony would hit the roof if she even suggested it.

    What are you really looking for, Jen? he’d say.

    And the truth was, she didn’t actually know.

    She got off the subway and walked up the steps which took her outside Queen Street Station. The air was biting cold and she could hear somebody singing Christmas carols. Kids darted past her, giggling, heading in the direction of the ice rink and the market at George Square. Posters and flyers were splayed across the ground, advertising local New Year parties: Open 1995 in Style!

    She sighed. Was it really that time already? How was it possible for time to fly by so quickly when everything had come crashing to a standstill? She could barely remember nineteen-ninety-three. Ninety-four hadn’t been much better, either. The days were murky; she felt like she’d been asleep for a long, long time and had woken up only to find herself in a nightmare.

    Jennifer’s stomach rumbled as she walked past a stall selling mulled wine and hot roast beef sandwiches. The food smelled wonderful, but she didn’t feel like eating. All she wanted was to get out of here.

    The toilets and lockers were located at the bottom of the station. A young woman was hovering about outside the entrance. Her skin was sallow and she had stringy, yellow hair. There was a shifty, nervous look about her and when she saw Jennifer approach, a look of recognition washed over her.

    The woman started to say something.

    “No thanks,” Jennifer said quickly, pushing past her to go through the barrier.

    Her heart was thumping in her chest as she threw open her locker, took out a rucksack and went into the ladies’. Picking the disabled toilet at the very end, she bolted the door and stripped off her interview clothes, cramming them into the very bottom of the bag.

    From the corner of her eye, Jennifer caught her reflection in the mirror. She could see her tattoos and her ribs jutting out. “Shit,” she whispered. She’d always been a thin girl, but nothing like this.

    It’s all the travelling you’re doing, Jenny. You’re stressed out of your tiny mind because you can’t find a job. You’re forgetting to eat.

     She turned the tap on, cupped her hands underneath the facet and drank. She could feel a headache coming on and water from a smelly toilet was better than nothing.

    She pulled on her jeans and brought out a small pouch. The contents were crucial to her ritual. Prior to any interview, Jennifer would remove her piercings, cover her tattoos and even pull her peroxide-blonde hair into a bun. They were the anchors to the other world and the other Jennifer. She’d even liked the piercings once upon a time, but kept them in now more out of habit than anything else. Also, it was expected of her. To do anything differently now— to break this mould—would just draw attention to herself and what she was trying to achieve. She put all ten of the studs and hoops back through her ears and threw on a red jacket before reapplying her makeup and false eyelashes.

    When she was finished, she stood back. Something wasn’t right. She rearranged her face—tried on a smirk, pushed a bit of life back into those tired eyes, and then she undid an extra button on her shirt, revealing a peak of cleavage. That was better.

    When Jennifer got out of the cubicle, there was somebody standing by the sinks.

    Bugger.

    It was the woman who’d tried to approach her outside. She looked at Jennifer in the mirror, a smile spreading across her face, which failed to cut through the haziness in her eyes.

    “Hey there, sweetie,” the woman said.

    “Hi.”

    “I was waiting on you.”

    “Fan-bloody-tastic.” Jennifer rummaged through her jacket pockets, pretending she was looking for her train ticket and made for the door. But the woman was surprisingly fast and leapt forward, blocking the exit. She was tall and almost certainly a great deal stronger than Jennifer, who wasn’t traditionally known for her brute strength. Although it was the middle of winter, the woman’s arms were bare. Jennifer’s breath hitched in her throat; there were red marks dotted around the crook of her elbow. They looked so tiny and insignificant, like insect bites. “I have a train to get,” Jennifer said.

    “Just wait a second, sweetie. I only want a word with you.”

    “What?”

    “You have lovely hair. I wish I had hair like yours,” the woman said wistfully, reaching forward and rubbing a strand of Jennifer’s blonde locks between her greasy fingers. “You’re dead pretty, know that?”

    Jennifer stepped back. “I’m sorry, but I really have to go.”

    “You’re being rude.”

    “I know, I—”

    “If there’s one thing I don’t like,” the woman spat, “it’s a rude bitch.”

    “Look, I have to get this train.”

    “Pretty and rude and thinks she can treat everybody however she likes. That’s you, isn’t it, sweetie? Well, I only wanted to be your mate, but if this is how you treat ‘em, you can go and shove it up your hairy—”

    “All right,” Jennifer said abruptly. “I’ll be your mate.”

    “You will?”

    “The best.”

    The woman’s lips peeled away, revealing a mouth full of brown teeth. A feeling of dread expanded in Jennifer’s chest and she suddenly felt as if she couldn’t breathe. There was a squeal as a train approached the platform outside, and then a tannoy announcement: “THE NEXT TRAIN TO ARRIVE IS ON PLATFORM FOUR. BOUND FOR CHAPEL AND FORTFORD . . .”

    “I really have to go.” Jennifer made for the door again, but was shoved against the sinks. Pain exploded across her lower back, scorching up her spine.

    “Pretty, but thick as mince.” The woman took another step forward, her mouth opening and closing like a fish before she found her words again, or what Jennifer supposed were her real words as she dropped the I-want-to-be-your-mate act. “Nah, see I don’t want any of this. I don’t want it! Quit acting like a little sheep—”

    “Look, whatever you’re selling, I’m not interested, okay?” Jennifer snapped, her temper erupting as she stared into the woman’s stupid, spaced-out face. “I’m not like you. Get it? I am not like you. Now get out of my fucking way.”

    The woman giggled, placing her hands over her mouth, a gesture which seemed more fitting for a school girl than a—

    No.

    Jennifer felt sick, numb to her core. The train was forgotten about, her anger swallowed up by something else as she stepped forward, grabbing the girl by the arm. “You’re just a kid. Where are your parents? Don’t you have somebody? Anybody?” Her mouth was suddenly bone-dry and she licked her lips. “I—I could help you.”

    But the girl merely shook her off, acting like the whole thing was nothing more than a joke as she let out a roar of laughter. And then she cocked her head to the side.  “Hey, Carl. You’ve got to hear this one, like. She thinks I’m selling!” She lowered her voice, “Nah, I’m not trying to sell you anything, sweetie. See, I think you’re carrying. You’ve got that way with you.”

    A man appeared at the doorway. He had a scruffy, unwashed look about him. His eyes held the same glazed expression as the girl, but with a more ragged note of desperation.

    “No,” Jennifer whispered.

    “Into that toilet, lass,” the man said. “And we’ll make this quick.”

     

Shit. I was supposed to mention this before, but then Halloween happened, and I got dragged off to a bar and well . . . adventures happened.

Anyway. The Lady of Chains and Other Stories is out now in ebook format on Amazon.
US: www.amazon.com/Lady-Chains-Oth…
UK: www.amazon.co.uk/Lady-Chains-O…

The stories in it are rigorously polished-up/edited versions of the ones currently on my DA account plus an excerpt of The Fragile Things, a horror novel I'm currently working on. If you've read 'em, loved them, hated them, thought they were so-so, please feel free to write an honest review. Seriously, I would give you a kidney if you wrote a review. I would. I'm not bloody kidding. Okay, maybe not mine.

From the Amazon website:

"Remember; you have seventy-two hours to do the deed and not a moment longer. Cut her throat and remove her heart. That, my girl, is the only way to destroy the wretched creature."

Greylock. A city supported by a network of scaffolding, bleeding rust and wheezing steam. Patrolled by an army of 'metal men'—creatures who're designed for nothing more than to kill and destroy. Nothing grows. Nothing truly lives.

The tower stands like an ice-pick, pushing through a snarl of thorns, resting upon the outskirts of Greylock. Its shadow is cast across the city like an elongated clock-hand, chipping away the hours, the days. The years. It is home to the Lady of Chains, a woman incarcerated without a sentence. A woman who almost single-handedly destroyed the world . . .

Viola, a young orphan girl, has been thrust into this nightmarish world by the devious Mrs Casket, caretaker of the tower and maid to the mysterious lady. She's been given a task which could either see her demise or be her salvation.

But who is the Lady of Chains? And why does she insist that she is connected to Viola? With the clock ticking and the metal men drawing near, Viola is about to learn that not everything is what it seems . . .

A spellbinding fantasy with elements of steampunk.

*****

INCLUDES THE SHORT STORIES;
Hansel and Gretel
Rogan and the Gargoyle
The Silent World

BONUS MATERIAL:
Also contains an preview of the up-coming horror novel, The Fragile Things.

NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNGER READERS

****

Also, I want to mention that fellow Deviant, D. E. M. Emrys has a new ebook available too. From Man to Man. I've read it, and it is fantastic. Really worth a read. I cannot wait for the next one. I'm defo a fan of Draven and his exploits. www.amazon.co.uk/Man-Wroge-Ele…

And big thanks to Arthur Wang for doing an excellent piece of cover art for me. You can find more of his work here: eeriebus.deviantart.com/


It's been a little while since I've been around here. Got quite a stack of messages to get through, and stories to read!



V.
  • Mood: Horror
  • Listening to: Dredd Sountrack
  • Reading: From Man to Man
  • Watching: Ghost Adventures
  • Playing: Poker
  • Eating: Pizza
  • Drinking: Wine

Journal History

deviantID

VShaw's Profile Picture
VShaw
V.
United Kingdom
Hello!

That's not me in the picture above, but I wish it was.

I'm a writer - or rather, I'm trying to be. I've previously reviewed films and books for a few websites and publications here and there, but decided very early on that I didn't just want to offer a critique. I wanted to create, too. I love all kinds of stories. Really. My taste in books mirrors my taste in films - I enjoy everything from The Sound of Music to Zombie Flesh-Eaters.

Anyway, I don't bite , but it would be nice to get in touch with other writers or artists, so feel free to send me a message :P

To date, I have one book published:
www.amazon.com/Lady-Chains-Oth…

I'm a massive horror movie junkie. I love the outdoors more than anything, but I still <3 my home comforts. When I'm not writing or doing my day job, I like to keep active - climbing, running, hiking, doing as many ridiculous things as possible.



“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Albert Einstein
Interests

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Comments


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:iconmyheadwonders:
MyHeadWonders Featured By Owner Sep 23, 2014  Hobbyist Interface Designer
Hey thanx for the FAVE, really means alot!!
Minion-Blah=P (Razz)  GiveGetCenter-party  
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My-Sword-is-Bigger Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:iconimhappylaplz:

Hello! As you're a writer, I thought you might be interested. I just made this new group Try-Your-Page and it's where you post the first page (or any excerpt) of a story/novel and see if others would turn the page. Please join if you're looking for critique or just something to read. :)

Here, have a cookie for my bothering you:
:iconcookie1plz::iconcookie2plz::iconcookie3plz:
:iconcookie4plz::iconcookie5plz::iconcookie6plz:
:iconcookie7plz::iconcookie8plz::iconcookie9plz:
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:iconeam6:
EAM6 Featured By Owner Sep 9, 2013  Student General Artist
Can you post a link for the completed version of The Fragile Things? Is it on amazon?
Reply
:iconvshaw:
VShaw Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2013
Hey there!

Thanks for your comment - I should really start posting this information on my profile...

The Fragile Things is a four-part serial. Part one is currently available and can be found on Amazon: www.amazon.com/Fragile-Things-…

Part two will be available in three weeks.
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:iconeam6:
EAM6 Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2013  Student General Artist
thank you very much
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:iconvshaw:
VShaw Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2013
You're very welcome. Thank you for enquiring :)
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:icontyrison:
Tyrison Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2013  Student Writer
Thanks for the watch! :hug:
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:icongeorgiesummers:
GeorgieSummers Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
YOU'VE BEEN HUGGED!!

Spread the DA love around! (you can copy and paste this message on their userpage!)

RULES:
1- You can hug the person who hugged you!
2- You -MUST- hug 6 other people, at least!
3- You should hug them in public! Paste it on their page!
4- Random hugs are perfectly okay! (and sweet)
5- You should most definitely get started hugging right away!

Send This To All Your Friends, And Me If I Am 1.
If You Get 7 Back You Are Loved!

1-3 you're bad friend
4-6 you're an ok friend
7-9 you're a good friend
10-& Up you're a great friend
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:iconladymerrethsauthor:
LadyMerrethsAuthor Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2013
Thank you so much for the watch!
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:iconworldwar-tori:
WorldWar-Tori Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013   General Artist
Hello; welcome to #devLIT, as you may have seen our journal we are currently undergoing reconstruction and will be reopening February 1st. We look forward to seeing your work!
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