The Key To Death’s Door by Mark Tilbury – Review.

The Book:

 

If you could discover the murderous truth of a past life and seek justice in this one, would you?

Teenager Lee Hunter doesn’t have a choice when he nearly drowns after spending the night at a derelict boathouse with his best friend, Charlie Finch. After leaving his body and meeting a mysterious light that lets him to go back to the past, Lee finds himself reliving the final days of another life. A life that ended tragically.

After recovering from his near death experience, Lee begins to realise that he is part of two lives linked by the despicable actions of one man.

Struggling against impossible odds, Lee and Charlie set out to bring this man to justice.

Will Lee be able to unlock the past and bring justice to the future?

The Key to Death’s Door is a story of sacrifice, friendship, loyalty and murder.

 

My Review:

No messing about… I fucking love this novel. I read a lot of books, this one is, by quite some distance, my favourite read of 2018 to date.

Tilbury’s use of POV and narrative style is completely perfect throughout and Lee/Paul’s voice carries the reader very nicely through the changing time periods and settings. Very nicely done.

Tilbury’s believable and charming dialogue aids the effect of this this tremendously. The technical skill displayed here shows how considerably Tilbury has developed as a writer with this work.

The novel felt very current, but also prodded a lot of nostalgia that’d connect not just with 80s kids but with kids of any era because of the themes of friendship and family and fidelity used.

It read as very visceral, very real, but also played out on my mind like a Quantum Leap episode. Pure entertainment at its best.

 

With the recurring themes of friendships and newly-minted courage, and loyalty, it felt like Stand by Me, and a little element of Stranger Things, but only in the feel of the people and settings. This wonderful work is not derivative in any way of those films and shows but does evoke the warm glows of childhood, despite the darkness throughout. It felt familiar and dangerous and modern and strangely comforting. Wonderful stuff.

Tilbury has revealed a golden moment in this book. Not just in comparing the lives of present day kids to those of the past, but the social commentary on domestic violence, the apparent exterior normality of the central monster, friendships that transcend circumstances and the deep loyalty of the boys. The author has portrayed the boys in a very genuine way and not fallen into trying to use youth-isms or patronised their POV in any way. I loved these teen characters and the simple courage they discovered within themselves as the novel progressed.

Some scenes are horrific but they make the sun shine all the brighter when it comes out. Despite the darkness it’s a very hopeful novel, which is quite some trick.

I loved the little quirks that Mark has used to flesh out his characters, giving them a too-real presence for the reader. Charlie always refereeing to Lee as Gus is one of those special little character kinks that bring great characters and stories to life. I was delighted that Tilbury didn’t force any explanation of why Charlie does this. It just is, and it’s fucking perfect.

The Key to Death’s Door is an absolute beast of a novel and one that elevates its author to a new level of skill and technical accomplishment.

 

The key To Death’s Door is available now from Amazon and Bloodhound Books

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Mortal Outcomes by Dave Stanton – Review

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Book Description:

 

Bounty hunter Dan Reno never thought he’d be the prey. 

When a pair of accused rapists from a New Jersey-based gang surface in South Lake Tahoe, bounty hunter Dan Reno is called in. The first is easy to catch, but the second, a Satanist suspected of a string of murders, is an adversary unlike any Reno has faced before. After escaping Reno’s clutches, in the desert outside of Carson City, the target vanishes. That is, until he makes it clear he intends to settle the score.

To make matters worse, the criminal takes an interest in a teenage boy and his talented sister, both friends of Reno’s.  

Wading through a drug-dealing turf war and a deadly feud between mobsters running a local casino, Reno has to hunt a ghost-like adversary who is calling all the shots.  

The more Reno learns more about his target, the more he’s convinced that mayhem is inevitable unless he can capture him quickly. He’d prefer it to be clean, without further bloodshed. But sometimes that isn’t possible, especially when Reno’s partner Cody Gibbons decides it’s time for payback.

 

My Review:

Another solid offering into the series that continues to offer a pleasing journey for its readers.

Stanton continues to utilise fast-paced prose, invigorating locations and a style of story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but remains unflinching when dealing with dark intent and deeds.

Mortal Outcomes builds on the momentum of the first two books in the series and places the leads in yet more jeopardy and depravity.

Fine stuff.

 

Mortal Outcomes is available from Bloodhound Books and from Amazon.

Killing Mr Black – Preview (Shaping Dougie).

The following (unedited) excerpt is taken from Killing Mr Black and is copyright if Mark Wilson 2018:

Mary’s hands moved quickly and surely, feeding the material though her industrial sewing machine. Decades of experience guided them despite the ordinarily ubiquitous tremors, which all but vanished whilst she sewed. Dougie watched his wife as she worked, enjoying the peace and the certainty of purpose she clearly experienced during these moments.

From his vantage, Mary looked as though she was her whole self, her ‘real’ self as she worked. Her head tilted and bobbed and darted as she adjusted her loose grip and made quick alterations to the path of the material through the needle’s path. Dougie watched her snip part of the material free from the machine and smooth it out onto her work table that she may examine her progress. Dougie imagined her sharp eyes moving over the completed sections and her mind effortlessly calculating the next phase. Although he couldn’t see his wife’s face, experience told him that she would almost certainly be smiling broadly as she worked.

Regretful at having to break the moment, but aware that he must, Dougie stood up from the desk he’d been lean-sitting against.

“Mary-love?” He spoke gently as to not startle her in case she had forgotten he was in the room, such had been the peace of the moment.

Laying her dress-in-progress down, Mary Black turned sharply to lock eyes with her husband. Dougie’s heart wrenched at her expression. He had broken her concentration and the magical effect that sewing had on her. Smiling warmly at the woman he had loved for almost forty years, but now barely recognised, Dougie held his breath and voice, giving her time to process.

Mary’s eyes, wide with confusion, narrowed and then relaxed again as recognition dawned. “Oh,” she said smiling back at him finally. “I’d forgotten that you were here.”

Dougie bobbed a nod. “Yeah, I was trying to be quiet, let you work. Sorry if I scared you.”

Mary shook her head. “S’fine,” she said. Noting that Dougie’s jacket lay on the desk behind him, she asked, “You off out?”

“Yeah.”

“Work?”

“No, love. Just for a walk.”

Mary nodded.

Losing interest, she was already turning back to her task.

Dougie pulled his jacket on and walked over to place a hand on his wife’s shoulder. Leaning over, he planted a soft kiss on her cheek. Her hands already occupied at their task, her mind locked on the dress, Mary barely seemed to notice.

Dougie swallowed regret and headed to the door.

“I’ve left a sandwich n the fridge and there’s plenty tea in the pot,” he told the back of her head. An abrupt surge of guilt almost changed Dougie’s mind about leaving the house. He considered just staying in, perhaps watching the telly whilst she worked. His conscious prodded at him to tell Mary the truth about here he was going. His better judgment whispered that he should keep his secrets.

Making his way from Mary’s work room, out into the hall, Dougie pulled the front door open. Slipping out into the early evening, he whispered a half-hearted goodbye to Mary.

In the back-room, Mary Black’s hands busied themselves, expertly stitching, rotating and adjusting. Skills earned from thousands of hours of crafting garments allowed her to perform on auto-pilot, for the most part.

Hearing the front door close, Mary spoke over her shoulder to no-one, “Bye, Tom. Have fun.”

∞∞∞

An icy wind cut across the Meadows and Dougie pulled his hat down over his forehead as he continued his short walk from his and Mary’s apartment on Gillespie way to the building on Nightingale way where Karen lived.

Karen.

As always, the instant Karen’s name floated up to the surface of his thoughts, his heart lurched with the pain of lying to Mary about her.

Not lying, exactly, just not telling the truth.

Dougie pushed the false justification away. Not telling Mary was lying to her. He knew this and refused to hide from the wrongness of it. Dougie felt like punching himself. Instead he trudged across the meadows towards Karen’s apartment.

Despite the guilt and the pain he felt every time he sees her, Dougie’s time with Karen- never often enough despite how close their respective homes were- brought intense feelings of comfort and a rightness to his empty world.

Karen’s face floated up before his mind’s-eye.

Twenty-four years old. Still so very young.

The thought brought a sad smile to his lips. About the same age as Frankie at work, but so very different.

Dougie warmed himself with the thought of her as he sliced through the Edinburgh evening, shoulders hunched against the growing wind.

By the time he reached the tall, red double-doors of her building, Dougie’s thoughts were fixed completely on Karen and the short time they would have together before he had to return home.

Entering the building, Dougie smiled at the receptionist, who returned his greeting. As he didn’t recognise her, Dougie assumed she was knew.

“Who are you here for?” she asked pleasantly, regarding- almost assessing- him as she spoke.

“Karen,” he replied pleasantly.

“Ah, ok. I’ll buzz you up.”

Dougie Black thanked her and headed upstairs, heart pounding in anticipation.

Knocking, softly, Dougie pushed the door open a moment later to find the large living room warm and welcoming. Karen was seated in a high back chair, her back to the door. She didn’t turn to acknowledge his entrance. Dougie Black slipped inside, closing the door behind.

Approaching her from behind, he stands a foot away from the chair. “Hi, Karen,” he said softly.

Karen rose from her chair, turning to smile at her visitor. Dressed for indoors in black, she tilted her head as she smiled taking the few seconds she needed to recall his face and their history together. When she did smile, it lit up the room and Dougie’s heart both.

Stateline by Dave Stanton – Review

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Book Description:

Cancel the wedding. The groom is dead. When a tycoon’s son is murdered the night before his wedding, the grief-stricken father offers private detective Dan Reno a life-changing bounty to find the killer.

Reno, who is nearly broke, decides he’s finally found himself in the right place at the right time. But when a band of crooked cops get involved, Reno finds himself fighting for his life. Who committed the murder, and why? Which cops can he trust, if any?

Haunted by his murdered father and a violent past, Reno wants no more blood on his hands. But a man’s got to make a living, and backing off is not in his DNA.

Traversing the snowy alpine winter in the Sierras and the lonely deserts of Nevada, Reno must revert to his old ways to survive. Because the bounty won’t do him much good if he’s dead.

 

My review:

A solid entry into the genre from Stanton.

Stateline revels in its very overt Americana throughout. It seems intended to be a fun read, and it is for the most part and makes great use of a variety of locations, which I really enjoyed seeing.

The main character, Dan Reno, drinker, damaged, unlikable PI. Yeah we’ve been here before, but the stereotype is pitch-perfect for the novel Stanton has written.

Written in first-person, past-tense throughout, the style and POV is a staple of the genre, and one I unfortunately rarely enjoy. For me the writing style enfolds the reader in a security that the main character, despite whatever jeopardy they’re placed in, has survived the tale being told. Too often this choice can kill the feeling of any real peril. As a personal preference, I think the story would’ve benefitted from switching to a third-person perspective, or keeping first person and switching to present tense.

I’m sure I’m in the minority on this point, and Stanton’s story is certainly very well-written and flows well.

What Stanton does do very well indeed is present his readers an incredibly pacey, whirlwind of a story that ends far too soon for this reader, such was the extent with which it drew me in.

The dialogue is excellent throughout and, despite a few inconsistencies, Reno begins to be established as a character who might have something more to him than the stereotypes we are presented with as his main qualities during this first instalment of the series. I don’t need well-rounded lead characters, I’m happy if they’re a work in progress, and Reno is certainly a character I feel has much to be disclosed about his past, motives and frailties.

If being honest, Stateline was more of a 3.5 stars for me, simply because of the handling of the female characters in this book. At times, poorly-represented, often simply used to push plot or character development forward, the women who occupy Stanton’s novel weren’t allowed any real motivation or any tangible purpose of their own. Several could have added so much more to the story if allowed to do so.

Tightly-plotted and oozing character, Stanton’s Stateline was an enjoyable standalone read, and a competent first entry in a series that has the potential for some great character development.

Like its protagonist, flawed, but all the better for those flaws.

 

Stateline is available now form Bloodhound Books and Amazon

In The Blood by Lesley Welsh – Review

Book Description:

Grace Dobbs, a champion at her local gun club, lives a quiet life in Western Australia with her mother.
But when a violent spree killing in the neighbourhood sees Grace come to the rescue, she is catapulted into the limelight as a local heroine.
However, her fame spreads much further than the local town, bringing her to the attention of someone in Britain who is very keen to meet her.
But what does this person want? And can they be trusted?
As Grace travels to England to discover her true heritage, she is about to learn the real meaning of danger.
Lesley Welsh - In the Blood_cover_high res_preview
My Review:

With crackling dialogue, spot-on scene-building and an utterly engaging writing style, Ms Welsh has produced a very impressive novel in In The Blood. I tore through this novel in a single day.

Written in third-person, past tense throughout, In The Blood is a lovely work from Lesley Welsh and one that displays her impressive technical range. The narrative flits between several characters, time periods, and cities early on, at once sweeping the reader directly into the characters’’ psyche, situations and their lives with some urgency. In The Blood possesses one of the most invigorating openings of any novel I’ve read in recent times.

For me, Welsh’s skill lies in her enormous talent for making each of her characters sound so different on the page despite being written in the same tense and POV. Many very successful writers struggle to develop this skill, Ms Welsh is simply gifted with a tremendous dexterity in characterisation.

In The Blood is an enormously enjoyable read. Entertaining, unflinching and seeped in dark intent, the novel leaves this reader lamenting that the late Ms Welsh won’t gift her readers another work.

The Author:

Lesley Welsh was a freelance writer whose work appeared in numerous UK magazines over several years, including Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. She later teamed up with her editor partner to run their own London-based magazine publishing company Moondance Media until 2008.

She moved to Spain, where she began writing novels, and working as a publicist for a charitable organisation which helps fund shelters for victims of domestic violence. 

Her first novel, (published under her own name, Lesley Ann Sharrock) The Seventh Magpie, was published in the USA in 2012.

She then changed genre and, as Lesley Welsh, her debut crime novel, Truth Lies Buried, was published to great acclaim by Thomas & Mercer in June 2016. 

Lesley went on to write The Serial Killer’s Daughter, which was published by Bookouture in June 2017. At her untimely death, Lesley had just completed a further novel, In the Blood, which is now available with Bloodhound Books.

In The Blood is available now at Amazon.

Snow Light by Danielle Zinn – Review

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Book Description:

When Detective Inspector Nathaniel Thomas encounters a man attacking a young woman in a local park, the DI is unable to save her. Out of guilt, Thomas quits his job at Homicide Headquarters and relocates to the tiny village of Turtleville, where he regains control of himself and begins to enjoy life again. However, a year later, all the guilt and shame of the park murder re-emerges when a local hermit, Ethan Wright, is murdered with an unusual weapon and left on display in the centre of the village. For Thomas the situation gets worse when DS Ann Collins, a colleague from his past, appears to help with the case. But things become complicated when the victim’s identity is put into question.

Who is the victim? And why was he murdered? Thomas and Collins will find themselves trying to solve a highly unusual case and both may have more in common than they could have ever imagined.

 

My Review:

Bloodhound adds yet another fledging talent to its stable, and a hugely entertaining novel to their catalogue with Danielle Zinn’s Snow Light.

Opening with a flashback/nightmare scene relaying the lead character’s historic failure, Zinn wastes no time in placing her readers straight into the action in Snow light. It’s an often-used, but well utilised technique, in the crime genre and works well in this instance.

Employing Third-person, past-tense throughout, Zinn’s writing style is solid and unflashy, which for this type of story is most definitely a positive. This simple narrative style is perfect for the plot and for the characters, both of which could, for me, have lost a great deal of their vitality had another, or a variety of, POVs and tenses been employed.

Descriptive without getting bogged down in minutiae, Zinn’s writing style feels fresh and immersive, particularly when she allows her characters to do the talking.

For me, Zinn’s strength as a writer lies in her skilled use of dialogue, which is witty and, more importantly, feels natural in that it reflects and coveys the characters’ mind-set and intent and succeeds well in moving the narrative forward at pace. In those sections where the characters are allowed to exchange dialogue, Zinn’s writing shines and suggests a more seasoned writer than the debut novelist she is.

At times the narrative is, as is common with a first-time author, a little exposition-heavy at times. There’s rather a little too much telling, and just a tad not enough showing, but like any writer, Zinn will have developed a greater array of tools and skills with which to tell her future stories during the course of writing her debut.

Certainly, from a starting point, Zinn is a skilled novelist who will only continue to improve her considerable ability and whom already possesses a great deal more insight, skill in characterisation and realistic dialogue than many writers with several books under their belts.

A solid debut from a writer to watch.

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Snow Light is available now for Bloodhound Books and at Amazon 

 

Author Bio:

Danielle holds a BA (Hons) degree in Business and Management from New College Durham and after gaining some work experience in Wales and the USA, she settled down in Frankfurt am Main where she works as a Financial Controller at an IT Consultancy.

Born and raised in a small village in the Ore Mountains/Germany, Danielle was introduced to the world of English literature and writing from an early age on through her mother – an English teacher.

Her passion for sports, especially skiing and fencing, stems from her father’s side. Danielle draws her inspiration for writing from long walks in the country as well as circumnavigating the globe and visiting her friends scattered all over the world.

Mix everything together and you get “Snow Light”, her debut detective thriller combining a stunning wintry setting in the Ore Mountains with unique traditions, some sporty action and lots of suspense.

Links:

Amazon 
@DanielleZinn4

Killing Mr Black – Preview

After a long break from writing, the longest I’ve taken in four years, I began writing this a couple of days ago without much clue as to what it was about beyond the first chapter. A few days (and three hours writing time later), I’m 7,300 words into my next novel, provisionally titled ‘Killing Mr Black’, a psychological thriller. It’s good to be writing again. Hope you enjoy this short preview.

The following excerpt is from Mark Wilson’s ‘Killing Mr Black’. Copyright mark Wilson 2017. It is unedited.Chapter One

Her red pen moving, right toe tapping along to an Indie track playing through her ear-phones, Frankie’s eyes flick up to the standard school-issue clock on her classroom wall. Ten minutes ‘til break.

On any other day the realisation would be welcome, today the looming interval is less a chance for coffee and a quick moan with her peers, and more a reminder that yet another hour in yet another day with too few has slipped past her and her to do list has barely been dented.

Reminding herself that she loves her job, Frankie shakes off the threatening despair at always having more work to do, of never quite succeeding to finish one task before another materialises and stands from her desk.

Frequent micro-breaks. That’s her thing just now. That and the comfort blanket of music whilst she works.  A few seconds of walking around the room and stretching, then back to work. Just enough of a pause to break the fugue. Just enough activity to reenergise before returning to her task. The music provides motivation and positivity, both badly needed for a twenty-first century teacher drowning in admin. Music and pacing, a poor substitute for a good glass of wine.

Avoiding disturbing her noise-cancelling earphones, Frankie slips her right hand behind her neck and push leans until vertebrae slide and crack back into position with satisfyingly sharp pain. Frankie checks the clock again, assesses how much she’s accomplished during her free period and resigns herself good-naturedly to taking almost half of her work home tonight to complete it in front of her latest Netflix binge.

Netflix and chill, she mocks her own life.

Netflix and mark jotter, drink wine and eat chocolate’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Returning to her seat, Frankie runs both hands back over her head, smoothing her hair- a subconscious habit her close friends find endearing- that seems to ready her, steel her between tasks or sometimes before speaking. Inadvertently, she knocks her earphones back from her left ear. Immediately she hears raised voices; kids from the classroom next door. 

Dougie’s classroom.

Surprise flickers across her face. Dougie’s kids are generally a quiet bunch. He runs a good classroom. Strict, but not unfair. Approachable, but a firm expectation of the standards he expects in his classroom. Moving to stand closer to their shared wall, Frankie expects that she’ll hear the sounds of a busy class, enjoying some active learning that Dougie’s dreamt up. Something prickles her subconscious. Something about the tone of the voices next door.

Muffled through the wall, she hears desks being screeched across the room, not unusual in an active classroom, and a few squeals from girls. Again, nothing unusual in a fourth year class where screams, groans, grunts, shouts and hollers form a large part of the teenage response vocab. The next voice, Dougie’s voice, sends Frankie racing to her classroom door.

Mid-stride Frankie’s fear is heightened by more racket coming through the wall and spilling out into the corridor.

“Harry…No!” – Dougie’s voice sounds shrill, desperate.

Frankie hears the door to Dougie’s classroom slam hard. A blur of movement passes the slim window of her own door at the moment she reaches for the handle.

Through six inch-wide glass, Frankie watches Dougie Black manhandle a boy whose face she can’t see from his room out into the hall. Pulling at her door handle, Frankie starts to open the door outwards. Almost immediately the teenage boy’s back smashes against her door, shattering the glass and sending the door crashing into her face. Frankie finds herself propelled backwards. Landing roughly on her rear, her hands find her face. Fingers working tentatively to her nose she feels wetness and tastes blood in the back of her throat. Through tears she watches Dougie use a strong forearm across the neck to press the boy hard into her door. Dougie’s face is twisted into an expression that Frankie wouldn’t have thought it capable of. Pain, confusion, anger and fear war in his features.

“No, Harry. No,” he shouts into the kid’s face. Frankie can’t see Harry’s Jardine’s face, only the back of his head, but she knows the kid well enough to recognise his build and his wild, red hair.

The boy’s shoulders are hunched over. The muscles in his back bunch and clench visibly under his school shirt. Several cuts on his back from where he crashed into her door are now bleeding.

The kid is fighting back against Dougie, and fighting hard. His left hand fires into Dougie’s face landing a solid blow, staggering the elder man a few steps back. Harry steps away from the door, the pressure from Dougie’s arm no longer pinning him. With shocking speed and efficiency he shoves Dougie with both hands, forcing him to the ground. A flash of metal in Harry’s hand stimulates something primal in Frankie’s brain. Landing astride his chest, Harry’s elbow dances like a fiddler’s mid-jig and his right hand darts in and out from Dougie’s torso.

Rising to her feet, Frankie struggles to shove the door open as Harry’s arm and hand continue to work at speed and with force. Dougie’s feet against her door prevent Frankie from opening it more than a few centimetres. A coppery, salty smell carries on the air that rushes in through the gap.

Only when fully standing, with her face pressed part-way through the gap where the glass had been, does Frankie get a proper view of how tilted her world has somehow become.

Sat on Dougie’s chest- one leg bent and kneeling the other straight and out for purchase- Harry torpedoes blows into Dougie’s torso, the fiddler’s elbow increasing the tempo of its action. The knife flashes before Frankie’s eye and splashes red across the carpet and wall with each strike. Abruptly Harry’s hand ceases its work. Dougie lies still, his legs straight and lifeless, beneath the boy.

With shocking, vicious speed Harry changes his grip, rotating the knife in his hand. Frankie’s screams echo along the corridor. Harry pushes several inches of steel into Dougie Black’s, lower chest in a determined stabbing motion.

Almost immediately, the instant the blade enters the prone teacher’s chest, Harry’s body gives a violent spasm then sags forward. Harry leans onto the floor with his right hand. Frankie watches him jerk once more then fall to the floor, a marionette with its strings severed. Landing on his side, parallel to his bleeding teacher, Harry’s head twitches to his left. From Frankie’s perspective it looks like an involuntary act, the action of a person waking to a nightmare. Both hands pressed to the doorframe, Frankie can feel the change happen. Harry comes to his knees slackly. His muscles relax, his head movement suggests his eyes moving between his hands and the knife in the teacher’s chest. All purpose, all violence has departed him. He looks smaller, deflated and weak and lost.

Frankie steels herself and pushes at the door. Discovering that it is still blocked by the dead weight of Dougie’s feet and legs, Frankie’s fear departs leaving her with a grim determination.

“Harry Jardine,” she yells shrilly.

 The boy’s head snaps around, startling her. His eyes are wide, uncomprehending. He can see what he’s done, but the kid is having trouble processing the facts.

Years of teaching teenagers, managing their behaviour puts Frankie into auto-pilot and the horror of the day ebbs a minute amount. Enough for her to function. When she speaks again, her voice is soft and calm.

“Harry, Move Mr Black’s legs,” she says. Her voice is steady and authoritative. Her heart hammers the inside of her ribcage.

The teenager blinks dumbly several times. Classroom doors open all along the corridor. Teachers’ faces emerge from their classrooms. Several step instantly back into their room, instructing their kids to return to their seats.

A few, the department head included, walk slowly along the corridor towards Frankie’s room. Their mouths slack, their eyes darting from Harry to Dougie and then Frankie. Masks of incomprehension morphing into controlled fear and shock.

Frankie flicks eyes flick from one face to another, before returning to meet Harry’s pale face and sunken eyes.

“Move his legs a little, son. I need to get out of my room and help Mr Black.”

An almost imperceptible nod does nothing to alter the panic that’s beginning to take hold in Harry’s eyes.

Frankie subconsciously braces herself for the boy to lurch at or attack her. She swallows the fear rising in her throat and paints a neutral expression on her face. It costs her a fragment of her soul something to do this.

“A nod at Dougie’s legs. “Harry.”

The boy has started to shake, but he reaches forward with both hands to shove at Dougie’s legs.

The Weight from the door immediately moves and Frankie slips smoothly through the doorway into the corridor.

Fighting every urge to be anywhere but near Harry Jardine, Frankie approaches the kneeling boy who has resumed his panicked scanning of Dougie’s prone form. A hand on each of his shoulders, she helps him to his feet as one might a child in need of consolation. Her eyes widen and fill with tears as she takes in Dougie’s wounds. Each of them deep and oozing or spraying dark blood.

Frankie straightens her back and moves Harry a few steps to her right. Lisa Ferguson, the department head, is stood nearby, having made her way silently along the corridor. Frankie looks behind Lisa. The other teachers in the department, six of them, are stood at their classroom doors, guarding the rooms, blocking the view through the glass sections. Kay McEwan is on her phone.

Lisa’s eyes meet Frankie’s. An unspoken exchange takes place.

Lisa wordlessly places an arm around Harry, leading him to the staircase beside Dougie’s room.

Frankie falls to her knees at Dougie’s side, hard enough to scuff both knees.

Reaching out to feel his forehead, Frankie’s hands tremble almost uncontrollably. She swears, demanding better of herself and reaches for a second time to make what in hindsight will seem like a pointless gesture. Holding her hand against Dougie’s forehead and then face, like she’s taking his temperature, Frankie shudders at the coolness of his skin.

Warmth spreads around her knees as blood pools. Frankie ignores it and searches his wounds. After counting six wounds, all deep, all bleeding, Frankie preserves her sanity by ceasing her examination. She knows that her friend is bleeding out. He’ll die before anyone arrives to help. Pressure, pressure on the wounds.

First aid raining nags at her.

Out loud she swears again, how the hell can I put pressure on all these wounds at once?

Frankie scans the wounds again, this time forcing herself to examine teach of them. She counts eighteen stab wounds and nine relatively deep slashes. Most of the wound are pooling blood. Two of them are spurting blood in long streams in time with Dougie’s heart beat. Each pulse delivers less blood.

Think…bloody think.

 Jan from the office, the school’s official first aider reaches her side. Shouldering Frankie aside, she immediately begins pressing her hands onto the two deepest wounds in Dougie’s abdomen, impeding the flow of vital blood. Jan is visibly rattled, her hands slip several times before she applies the right amount of pressure to slow Dougie’s bleeding, but not enough to slide off of his blood soaked body.

“Go find something to press on these wounds with,” she hisses at Frankie.

Frankie runs back into her classroom, Jan shouts down the corridor. “Has someone called an ambulance?” Despite her calm exterior, her tone betrays the panic she is feeling.

Searching frantically around her classroom, Frankie comes up short on anything suitable to act as a bandage or even a gauze to press on. Fuck, fuck, fuck…

 Her handbag, at the edge of her peripheral vison catches her eye. Two strides take her two it, ten more carry her back into the corridor to re-join Jan.

Unwrapping two of the four sanitary towels she’s brought, Frankie hands them to Jan who smoothly lifts one of her hands from Dougie’s wound, grabs the stacked towels and pushes them down onto the wound. Almost immediately the blood loss changes from steady leak to mere dribble. Together, the women repeat the process hindering the flow at the second site.

Jan swears several times, instructing herself roughly as she works. Her eyes dart busily form one wound to the next. Slashes, gouges and less deep stab wounds cry for her attention, but her efforts are best spent at the two deepest wounds she currently tends. Jan feels bile rise in her throat at her inability to do more for Dougie.

Press fuckng harder.

More pressure, you bastard.

Both hands firmly covering the pads, she throws a look Frankie’s way.

Thanks….What now?

Frankie stops short of shrugging. A moment later it occurs to her that she should check Dougie’s breathing and heart.

Jan lets out a long breath, grateful that someone other than just herself is doing something, is responsible for Dougie. She watches as Frankie leans an ear close to Dougie’s mouth, then takes his wrist.

“He’s cold,” Frankie cries. “His heart rate is really fast…So is his breathing.”

Jan’s brain delivers part of a lesson she attended two years previously.

“His blood pressure will be low, his body is diverting blood to his core. That’s why his hands and arms are cold,” Janice blurts, sounding like an instructional video.

“Okay, okay…” Jan repeats to no-one.

Each of them soaked in their colleague’s blood, each almost as pale as Dougie himself, Frankie and Jan look at each other for several long moments. Unbidden, hot tears streak down Jan’s face. As though given permission to accept or process the horror her world has become in under three minutes, Frankie’s own dams break. Acid tears wash a path through Dougie’s blood along her cheeks.

They nod at each other once, a wordless reassurance. Jan’s hands do not move a millimetre form their task of keeping Dougie’s wounds under pressure.

“You’re doing great,” Jan says quietly.

Frankie almost laughs. Instead she merely bobs a nod.

Her eyes leave Jan’s, searching Dougie’s body she ransacks her memories for something else she could be dong to stop the man belling out. No staggering act of surgical genius presents itself, so Frankie starts talking instead.

“It’ll be fine, you’ll be fine, Dougie. Just hold on. Stay with us.