The Shotgun Waltz

So it’s all come down to this… Pacing the stained carpet in a cheap motel room, clutching my trusty shotgun in a death grip. I swore to myself that I would never let it end this way: overflowing ashtray on the bedside table, neon light bleeding through the thin curtains. Any minute now, any goddamn minute.
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Sirens - Part One: Jake

It was snowing outside.
                Jake was sitting on a worn leather chair in the living room, lacing up his boots. Nicky was still asleep in their bed, he had tried to rouse her (or should that be arouse her? He had hinted at having a little early morning fun, but that had gone down like a lead balloon) and had failed miserably. Nicky only got to sleep in once a week, and that was Saturday morning. During the week she had to get up early to drive to work in the next town, and on Sundays she went to church.
                So he had begrudgingly gotten up, feeling slightly disappointed that they hadn’t had sex, and trudged downstairs to make some coffee.
                After a couple of cups, the urge for a cigarette had come creeping, like an old but annoying friend who has a habit of turning up uninvited. Nicky didn’t know that he smoked. Not that he was a particularly heavy smoker – quite the opposite really, but that wouldn’t make slightest bit of difference. She frowned upon the habit, and he couldn’t be bothered with the hassle that would come with admitting that he was one of the filthy.
                He would nip down to the store, buy a pack of Lucky Strikes and smoke one or two on the walk back to the house. He would stash his packs in the beat-up blue toolbox that had once been his grandfathers, at the back of the garage. He used the toolbox for anything that was needed to lie quiet and undisturbed. The safest hiding place in the world. Noway that Nicky would ever lay her hands on that old hunk of metal.
                Jake headed out the front door, an anxious feeling churning around in the pit of his stomach. It was a feeling of anticipation, something that he would feel without fail before having the first cigarette of the day. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling.
                He stuck his hands deep in the pockets of his jacket, and whistled to himself as he walked. He wasn’t sure what the tune was – probably something that he had heard on the radio sometime. He had lost his job at the mechanics about a month back (fired was a truer way to put it, he had stumbled in still half-drunk one morning after a particularly heavy night, and had stumbled out shortly after with his final paycheck), and had spent the time since then and now watching daytime television or listening to the radio while he drank cups of coffee and smoked cigarettes on the back porch. He had told Nicky that they didn’t need the extra hand anymore, and that he would find another job in no time at all. What was four weeks anyway? Still plenty of time in the world.
                Bill – the store owner, greeted him as he ambled in. He handed over the cash for the cigarettes, thanked Bill, and headed back out onto the street.
                Halfway back to the house his cell phone rang. When he reached into his jeans pocket to answer it, he fumbled, and the phone dropped to the snow-covered sidewalk.
                He cursed, and stooped over to pick it up. Flipping it open, he saw that it was Nicky but she disconnected the call before he could press the right button.
                ‘Goddamn cell phones,’ he muttered to himself, the words coming out in spouts of mist. He hated the things, and in his opinion they were totally unnecessary. This was a prime example. It was painfully obvious that he had just popped out for a minute, Nicky should have realized that.
                He didn’t bother to call her back. He would be home in a couple minutes. She probably just wanted to know where he was.
                He lit his second cigarette of the morning, and walked slowly, giving himself enough time to finish his smoke before he got in.

Nicky was on the living room floor when he walked through the front door.
                ‘Hey darlin’, I just popped out to the store.’
                She looked up at him with watery eyes and tear-stained cheeks.
                He couldn’t help but think she looked like a wounded deer, one that had been struck by a truck and now lay in agony on the roadside.
                ‘What’s wrong Nicky?’ he asked, crouching beside her on the beige colored carpet, and placing a hand on her shoulder.
                She pulled away from his touch.
                ‘How could you?’
                And with that question, she started sobbing.

Jake moved out that night.
                He packed a worn brown duffel bag with a change of clothes, and a couple of cheap paperback books, and headed into town to meet the Greyhound.
                He didn’t say goodbye. He wasn’t worthy to indulge in such pleasantries. God he needed a drink, would have to stop by the liquor store before the Greyhound got in.
                It was bound to happen someday; if you ride a speeding train for so long, it’s eventually gonna derail. No doubt about that. He felt bad. Nicky was a nice girl, she didn’t deserve this. And believe it or not, he did love her. Maybe he wasn’t in love with her anymore, but then who was after the initial novelty of a new romance wore off? No point stewing on it. Just get some booze, get on the bus, and drink into the winter night.
                As he was nearing the end of Franklin, he could hear sirens wailing in the distance. It felt like an omen, a portentous cry ringing home just how black shit had suddenly gotten.
The ambulance passed him a minute or so later, its flashing lights painting the nighttime world in red and blue.
Jake stopped, shook a cigarette from the pack, lit it, then continued to walk towards the Greyhound station.
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The Devil's Children (Novel Excerpt)

It was not a matter of weeks, but months, until Harry Edwards got any kind of reply from his childhood chum Adam Jones. And when it did finally come, it was in the form of a drunken phone call.
                It was around one AM, on a Thursday night (or technically speaking Friday morning), Harry was sprawled across his thread-bare couch in the midst of an X-Files marathon, a half-eaten bag of Act II resting on his stomach. He had actually jumped when the phone on his desk rang, spilling the remaining half of the bag of popcorn all over the floor.
                ‘Fuck!’ he cursed, brushing the kernels from the front of his black tee-shirt and argyle cotton boxer-shorts before trotting over to the phone. He had no fucking clue who would be calling him at this hour, unless it was his mom calling from the UK - it would be around nine in the morning there.
                ‘Hey man, have you p-played the new Silent Hill?’
                ‘Yeah man, I just got it, it’s actually really fucking good.’
                ‘Oh hey Adam. How are you buddy? And, no I haven’t played it yet, I haven’t even got a console anymore man. As much as I’d like one.’       
                ‘Well it’s good, you should play it.’
                ‘I haven’t got a console, I just told you.’
                ‘Get one then. Fuck man, I’m fucking drunk, like, I got your letter, and I t-think we should go – back to Eltham I mean, like, my dad’s giving me shit again about finding a job, like, he wants me to do landscaping or something, and there’s no fucking way I’m doing that, I’d rather drink my own piss twice a day for five days a week than do that man. I fucking hate it outside in the heat, and like, landscaping? Seriously? Fuck that man, fuck that in the fucking ass.’
                Harry laughed and picked a stray piece of popcorn from his shirt before popping it in his mouth. ‘Yeah, amen brother. But yeah, I’m super happy that you’re down to go back to the old town, it’ll be a hell of a lotta fun. Plus it means no landscaping or you and not being shackled to the Radio Shack for me.’
                ‘We should go soon. Like before Halloween, that would be cool, like we could dress up and get drunk. Hold on a sec.’
                Harry heard Adam put the phone down and yell something to somebody – most likely one of his parents. It sounded like ‘Iambeinquiet! Jessusfuck.
                Harry leaned against the desk and laughed.
                ‘Okay I’m back. So yeah, let’s fucking do this man!’
                Adam buddy, no need to shout I’m right here.’ Adam had always been so funny when he had been drinking, it was like all the anxiety and pressure he felt when sober came out in a big cursing catharsis. One time he ran onto the street and attacked a garbage can because he thought it was an evil robot from outer space, hell bent kidnapping him and probing him where he definitely didn’t want to be probed. In short, Adam was an absolute when liquored up. An extremely entertaining loon, but a loon nonetheless.
                ‘Dude, I got some cash saved up, we can do this pretty much whenever.’
                ‘My mom said she would give me money too. She says it will be good for me.’
                ‘It probably will be.’
                ‘What do you mean by that?’
                ‘Nothing. Just messing with  you man.’
                ‘Hey, I’m going to play Downpour some more. And I gotta piss. Bye.’
                ‘Bye Adam.’
                Harry smiled as he replaced the phone back in its cradle. It had begun, the cogs had started moving and things were going into action. Goodbye city of angels, hello small town of demons.
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The Tale of Timmy O'Cotton - Chapter Nine: Which goes by in a Blaze of Gunfire & Ends in a Dreadful Defeat for our Hero

Timmy lay upon his bed, staring up at the flickering shadows cast from the moonlight. They danced across his ceiling in ever-changing patterns, jerking like the silhouettes of puppets in an invisible show.
                When he was certain that his parents had retired to bed, he slipped from beneath his blankets and sheets and got redressed in his crumpled clothes. It was rather cold so he took his favourite jacket from the wardrobe and buttoned himself up before lacing up his brown leather shoes and lastly; taking the gold key from the mousehole.
                He had the heart-stopping mission from his room to the attic down to near an art form now. He was quiet as a shrew and blended into the dark like a creature of the night.

Timmy found Edward knelt atop of a chest, gazing out the circular window into the back garden, the moonlight illuminating his pallid face.
                ‘Timothy,’ he whispered, voice holding more than just a hint of excitement.  ‘Come look, but be careful, try not to make much noise.’ Timmy tip-toed over to the window, where he joined his friend atop of the chest. He looked out at the shrubbery and rosebushes in the snow-blanketed back garden.
                ‘Look Timothy!’
                Timmy craned his neck ever-so-slightly to try and catch whatever is was that Edward was looking at.
                ‘Right there, a little left of that big rosebush,’
                ‘A fox!’
                ‘That’s right my friend.’
The fox took a few steps towards the house, then paused and looked up at the two small boys in the attic. Timmy swore that it had stared straight into his eyes. The animal licked its lips and padded off into the night.
                ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a fox in the back garden before!’
                ‘Foxes are wonderful creatures Timmy, they have such an acute sense of awareness, they can tell if danger lurks behind the next fork in the woodland path, they can take one look at a person and know if they are harbouring malevolent thoughts.’
                ‘I’ve always loved foxes. I used to watch Basil Brush on the tele when it was still on.’
                ‘I think foxes are the most genuine animals, I actually had one as a pet, my father had found it when it was still a cub, shivering and whimpering in the snow by the side of a canal. It must have lost its mother. Anyway, he brought it home, and gave it to me as an early Christmas present.’
                ‘What happened to him?’
                ‘Unfortunately he was eaten by the dogs next door.’
                ‘I’m sorry Edward.’
                ‘Oh it’s okay, I was very sad though. I loved that little fellow more than anything in the world,’ Edward shook his head solemnly before hopping off the chest off the lid of the chest. ‘The Great Timothy, I have an idea of what to play tonight,’
                ‘What? What?’
                ‘Cops and Robbers!’ Edward sang. He ran over to the toy chest and eagerly lifted the lid. He pulled out two huge six-shooters adorned with bone-white handles and decorative filigree, a silver Sheriff’s badge and a black and white striped shirt, along with a strip of dark fabric with eyeholes cut out.
                ‘So what shall it be Timmy? A bobby or a two-bit crook?’
                ‘Okay so Robber it is then,’ Edward tossed the jailbird get-up at Timmy.
 After he had pulled the striped shirt on Edward helped him tie the fabric around his head and then Timmy pinned the silver Sheriff’s badge to Edward’s chest, careful not to poke through his clothing and stab him.
                ‘Don’t forget this,’ Edward tossed Timmy a pistol.
                ‘You can keep it.’
                ‘Really?’ Timmy’s mouth fell open in amazement.
                ‘Really,’ Edward smiled.
                ‘Oh thank you so much!’
                ‘It’s an honour. Now, we both turn around back to back then walk in the opposite direction to the other, then we turn back around and do battle. It’s called a duel.’
The boys turned back to back, then started pacing, counting out loud to ten as they went.

Bang! The Magnificent Sheriff shot at The Great Bank Robber who was hiding behind a rough wooden crate full of used one hundred pound notes.
                ‘Hah! Missed again Sheriff!’ The Bank Robber sniggered. ‘Better luck next time!’
He returned fire at the Sheriff, the bullet grazing his shoulder.
                ‘Argh! That was close,’ The Sheriff cursed under his breath. ‘You’ll be hanging in the gallows for that one you worthless crook!’
Bang! The Sheriff pulled the trigger once again and the Bank Robber tried to dodge the speeding bullet but to no avail.
                ‘Argh!!! I’ve been hit!’ He cried out in pain and gritted his tobacco-stained teeth.
The Sheriff fired again.
The Great Bank Robber clutched at his stomach in an attempt to keep his insides from becoming outsides. His hands were messy with blood and thick droplets of sweat rolled down his dirty face.
A ghastly moan broke from the crook’s chapped lips.
                ‘My ghost will have its bloodied vengeance on your soul Sheriff, my dying wish is for you to wish that you had never been born.’
His legs buckled beneath him and he fell to his knees.
                ‘I will have my…’
The Great Bank Robber shot from the hip before collapsing backwards in a crimson heap.

Unfortunately, during the final showdown Timmy had knocked over an antique standard lamp, the bulb breaking on the wooden floorboards.
                ‘Oh no!’ He said, his face quickly growing pale.
He scrambled to his feet but already could hear heavy footsteps thundering down the hall. He cursed out loud.
                ‘Timothy!’ His mother roared as she flung open the peeling green door.

Sapphire O’Cotton found her son sprawled across the attic floor, dressed in a ridiculous striped black and white shirt and had what appeared to be an old rag tied around his guilt-stricken face. He was also clutching a silver toy pistol tightly in his hand.
                ‘Oh Timmy, I thought we were over this nonsense,’ she sighed, exasperated.
                ‘Sorry Mother, I was playing with Edward again.’
                ‘Edward!’ She screamed, her temper instantly flaring back up. ‘There is nobody else up here Timothy! Just you, and the dust, and all the old junk that we should have thrown out when we first moved in!’ Her voice had the strained, wavered effect of one who is perilously close to losing the plot.
                ‘But he was…’
 ‘There. Is. Nobody. Else. In. Here.’ Sapphire cut him off. ‘See I’ll show you,’ She raised both arms in mock theatrics. ‘Edward! Come out darling!’ She smiled like somebody who had just won a hundred pound bet.
‘See, nobody,’
‘And how did you even get up here again?’ She stared at him with eyes that were full of fury - but also a dash of fear.
‘It was unlocked’
‘Lies Timothy!’ She screeched.
He burst into tears upon the dirty floor.
‘Get to bed Timothy. Now.’
Timmy hurried out of the room and down the stairs before his mother could make him take off the robber costume. He stashed the gold key in the mousehole as swiftly as he could, then wrapped the silver pistol in the striped shirt and hid it under his bed. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he untied his bank robbing disguise and changed back into his pyjamas before climbing defeated under his blankets.
                Between sobs he could hear his mother talking to somebody on the telephone. She too, sounded upset. Good, he thought, she deserves to be.
                ‘I just don’t know what to do,’ he heard her wail.
                ‘It isn’t healthy!’
                ‘Yes, I’m terrified.’
                ‘Oh I’m at the end of my tether, I really am, I wouldn’t dream of phoning otherwise,’
                ‘Please help Father...’
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I Woke, All Alone (Aftermath of an Alcoholic Evening) (novel excerpt)

It was definitely sometime in the early morning. Of what hour, Harry wasn’t certain. He tentatively climbed to his feet and searched his pockets for a pack of cigarettes. He found one, though there were only a couple left, both of them crooked but not quite broken.
                He had woken upon the dew-covered grass in Buckinghamshire Park without any recollection of how he had actually gotten there. The last coherent memory he possessed was of pouring around half the bottle of Coke out in the gutter to make room for the whiskey. Everything after that was somewhat of a blur. He raked the depths of his brain for any clues of what happened after that, and found only a series of stuttering images. Blurred streetlights, a bloody tee-shirt, cigarette burns, and an elderly man’s voice, shouting threats of calling the police. It must have been one hell of a night, that much he could gather.
                There was no sign of Adam. Harry figured that he must have actually made it back to the house. Either that, or he had gotten himself arrested or abducted by the mothership.
                Harry walked towards the fountain that had just about caused him to get his ass kicked twelve years before. Though he couldn’t hold too much of a grudge against the nubile water nymph, if it wasn’t for her he would never had met T-Bone. Harry had a flashback to the liquor store, where they had run into him, and he was pretty sure that he had given them the whiskey free of charge. That guy had a heart of pure gold.
                He stopped over the fountain, cupping his hands and dipping them into the murky green water that lay stagnant and pungent. He splashed his face and sucked a deep gasp of air into his lungs. It stank like shit, but it helped his aching head.
                Shit’s been kind of weird around here lately
                        The sentence just seemed to pop into his head, which surprisingly, wasn’t such a strange occurrence for Harry. He found, at times like the twilight zone between waking and sleeping (or times like the present: a hangover) he would often be visited by these phantom voices. He wasn’t sure if it was a common phenomenon, it wasn’t exactly the type of thing you ask somebody. But this time seemed a little different.
                It took him a few seconds to click, but he did. It wasn’t a totally random sentence that just happened to pop into his jaded mind; it had been spoken by T-Bone the previous night.
                What did he mean, “shit’s been kind of weird around here lately?” Like how? As in a plague of zombies? Or maybe the mothership really had decided to pay a visit to the small town of Eltham, Massachusetts. Though, deep down Harry knew that he was just conjuring up ridiculous scenarios to avoid tackling the subject head on. Both himself and Adam had had strange dreams, and the goat that ran out in front of the car, they could definitely fall quite comfortably into the category of weird shit.
                All would be revealed in time, whether Harry wanted it to or not.

Harry found Adam passed out on the sofa in front of the television wearing nothing but a pair of cotton boxer shorts. In other circumstances, he would have seemed quite pitiful, but considering that he had not only made it back to the house, but actually managed to undress even partway, Harry thought he had done quite well for himself. He prodded his friend in the side with a finger. Adam moaned and swiped out blindly.
                Harry repeated this action several times until Adam eventually regained consciousness. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. ‘What the hell happened last night?’
                ‘That’s what I was intending on asking you buddy,’ Harry laughed. ‘I woke up in the fucking park with absolutely no recollection of how I got there. I remember the liquor store and then going to the gas station for Coke and snacks, but after that everything is pretty much one big blur.’
                ‘You woke up in the park? Wow.’
                ‘Yeah I know right. So what do you remember?’
                ‘Not much, but my I feel like somebody hit me in the head with a bag of bricks.’
                ‘We’ll go find some breakfast and some coffee soon man.’
                ‘Oh shit. T-Bone. Man, I was so fucked up.’
                ‘It’s okay, so was I. I’m sure T-Bone didn’t care, he did give us a bottle of Jameson’s, or at least, I think he did.’
                Adam laughed and slid his legs off of the couch. ‘You must have been so confused waking up in the park.’
                ‘Tell me about it buddy. Anyway, I’m gonna go hit the shower and get changed. See you in a bit.’
                ‘Yeah man, that sounds like a good idea, I think I’ll do the same after you.’
                Harry grabbed a change of clothes from his suitcase, and then headed to the bathroom.

There’s nothing like the blast of hot water against the skin of a person who has been visited by their old friend ‘The Hangover’. It washes away and cleanses the sins of the nighttime, leaving one baptized in the morning light that cuts through the bathroom window. Or, that’s how Harry looked at it anyway. At the very least it left you feeling a hell of a lot better than when you first turned on the faucet.
                He toweled off, sprayed some deodorant over his naked body, and got dressed. He found himself wondering why is it that people have housewarmings. The concept seemed a little messed up, yeah he understood the appeal of alcohol in an exciting new environment, but more often than not, you would drink more than you should have and thus, ended up in a state like he had woken to the next morning. So, the first day in your new home would be spent feeling ill and on your death bed. You may as well have moved into an infirmary instead of a house.
                He opened the bathroom door and headed back into the living room. Adam had fallen back asleep. He couldn’t say that he blamed him. ‘Hey Adam, shower’s free.’
                Adam stirred and sat up. ‘Okay.’ He looked like the living dead.
                ‘We’ll head down to the diner when you’re ready.’
                ‘Okay man.’
                Adam shuffled off to the bathroom, leaving Harry on the couch to smoke a cigarette and try to find the missing puzzle pieces of the previous night.

Annie’s Diner hadn’t changed the tiniest bit since both Harry and Adam had set foot in it years before. The scratched up tables still stood in the upholstered booths, the off-white walls were still fly-specked and stained, and old Annie was still serving up the best coffee in town.
                They ordered (two plates of bacon and eggs, and coffee) and the elderly woman recognized them.
                ‘Great Caesar’s ghost! If it ain’t Harry Goddamn Edwards and Adam Goddamn Jones! Ain’t seen you boys for goddamn years, what you doin’ back in this old shit hole?’  
                ‘Still swearing like a sailor Annie.’
                ‘Damn right, but you didn’t answer my question did you, you little snot-rag.’
                ‘You know, just decided to spend a little time back in the old town.’
                ‘Idiots. How’s your parent’s?’
                ‘They’re good, mine are over in England at the moment and Adam’s are still down in Florida soaking up the sun.’
                ‘Lucky for some. You shouldn’t came back boys, nothin’ but trouble ‘round here lately, somethin’s a-brewin’ I tell ya.’
                ‘Hopefully some coffee.’
                ‘Smart ass. You’ll get your goddamn coffee soon, right now we’re tryna have a little pow-wow ain’t we?’
                ‘We sure are Annie. So what do you mean, something’s brewing?’
                ‘I mean things have gotten a little strange around here, stranger than normal that is. Folks have seen dead folks walkin’ the streets at night, crap like that, and there’s just a feelin’ in the air – like the calm before a big storm hits, y a know what  mean.’
                ‘I think I do Annie.’
                ‘I had weird dreams before I came here,’ Adam stated, rubbing his beard.
                ‘See, see I told’ya. Strange happenings son. All started since Frank Holstein - that historian fellow, found that tunnel thing in the library grounds. Said he was lookin’ for artifacts that pre-dated the new library buildin’, he found an underground room or somethin’, though folks think he’s holdin’ somethin’ back. As I said, strange fuckin’ happenings. Bad news, I tell ya boys. You’d do well to just pack up and go back south.’
                ‘Tunnel? We hadn’t heard anything about that yet.’
                ‘Yeah, was in the paper and all. Always said that Holstein was a kooky Sonofabitch.’
                ‘I think I remember him. Tall skinny guy, little chin-beard, horn-rimmed glasses? He came and gave a talk to our class once on “The Mysterious Origins of Eltham”, I think the teacher expected something a little more accurate.’
                ‘Yeah everyone knows this town’s history is as loose as a two-penny fuck.’
                Both men had to stifle giggles.
                ‘Ain’t no laughin’ matter boys, no not at all.’
                ‘Sorry Annie. Guess we haven’t really grown up.’
                ‘I could’a told ya that, but you’re right. Now go park your pimply asses in a booth and let me cook you some breakfast.’

Annie’s coffee was still the best coffee that Harry had ever tasted. And her bacon and eggs weren’t anything short of amazing. The remnants of his hangover had dissipated completely with the last bacon rind and bitter mouthful of strong coffee.
                Harry drained the raining dregs from the bottom of the chipped white mug and sighed. ‘Man, that did that hit the stop or what?’
                ‘Mmph, it sure did.’ Adam agreed, swallowing a mouthful of buttered toast.
                ‘But on a slightly more serious note, what do you make of what Annie said about things being weird. It’s not the first time we’ve heard that since we’ve arrived back here.’
                ‘At least she didn’t think we were gay.’
                ‘Good point. But still, I can’t shake the feeling that things are gonna get a lot weirder in the coming weeks.’
                ‘Yeah, me too man. Like, I just don’t know what to make of it all yet, ya know.’
                ‘Yeah, I know buddy. Trust me. I’m actually a little freaked out. Hopefully T-Bone gets in touch soon, we can sink some beers and try to piece things together.’
                ‘What did she say about that historian guy?’
                ‘That he found a tunnel or something in the grounds of the library, and shit got strange from then on. Or something like that anyway.’
                ‘We could always pay him a visit.’
                ‘Man, we’re beginning to sound like the fucking Hardy Boys. But seriously, I think whatever’s happening is – or already has, affected us.’
                ‘Yeah, and if shit gets too whacked out we can always call Scully and Mulder.’
                Both men laughed and waited for Annie to refill their coffee cups.

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The Devil's Children

While still in high school, I was exploring the old town hall in the small village in which I grew up in. In the manager's office (the building was originally a picture theatre) I discovered a chest. Upon opening I found it was filled with loose film reel. I pocketed a couple and later, developed them in the darkroom at school. This is one of the results.
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