The Tanzanite Ring – A Valentine’s Horror Short.

The following story comes from Mark Wilson and Ryan Bracha’s Exquisite Corpse and is unedited. (Previously published as an advance peek on Mark Tilbury’s blog). Happy valentine

The Tanzanite Ring by Mark Wilson.

Paris, 2020

The high and muddy Seine slid beneath the bridge, hurriedly winding through the city; no care for its residents, its beautiful buildings nor an appreciation of a stunningly crisp winter evening. Sebastian checked the deep pocket in his overcoat for perhaps the seventh time in the last fifteen minutes.

The shape of the box within settled his nerves and caused his eager heart to skip a beat. Eleanor would be here any moment. Memories of their last visit to this spot together simmered to the surface warming Sebastian more thoroughly than the steam venting through the nearby grates.

He and Eleanor, in Paris. Walking the streets, loving the city. Right here on this very bridge they’d locked their love alongside hundreds of other metal declarations, giggling at the cheesiness of the act but brought closer somehow by it. As though a little padlock bought for two Euros from an opportunistic vendor, could deepen their love. But, somehow, it had.

Have three years really passed since last we had been in the city together?

So many other cities and countries explored together since.

Sebastian clutched at the box in his pocket once more as he scanned the padlocks and their messages to pass the time. A rough vibration from his phone shook Sebastian from his reverie. Checking the face, he confirmed the alarm he’d set.

Time to meet Eleanor by Notre Dame.

∞∞∞

I see her long before she notes my presence. Content to watch her for a few moments, I step back, cloaking myself in the deep shadows of a nearby statue. She’s right on time.

Eleanor.

Ten years we’ve had each other. A decade of travel, city to city, country to country. Each place we visit holds a significance known only to us. A special site where we’ve shared a moment together.

Where she’s given me her heart.

A few feet from the Trevi Fountain in Rome, huddled in a doorway where no prying eyes could penetrate.

Fleshmarket Close in Edinburgh. In my arms she descended the stairs with me, ducking into a secluded garden for a secret clinch.

Beneath the bridge at Camden Lock we indulged in perhaps the most intimate moment of my life.

The list goes on. Each moment a gift. Her time, her heart and her soul; given to me in a moment of purest connection etched for eternity into my memories.

Pride swells in me as I watch the familiar cadence and gait of her steps. She radiates goodness, this woman of mine. My heart beats so violently inside my chest I almost expect her to whip her head around to seek out and fix on the sound. Once again, my hand closes around the ring box in my pocket.

Inspiration flashes. I consider stepping out into the square to present her with the ring. Right here, right now. Removing the symbol of my unending love from my pocket, I rotate it a few turns, idly making a decision.

Recognising the rush of excitement for cheap impetuousness, I take a few deep breaths to compose myself.

Stick to the plan. Somewhere private, just for us.

Never one for making an exhibition of myself, I shove the box back into my pocket and step into the light to greet my love.

∞∞∞

One arm around Eleanor’s waist, the other pressed protectively…affectionately around her abdomen and curling round her hip, Sebastian led his love from the main square along the banks of the Seine. Eleanor shivered making the man who loves her pull her closer into his side. He kissed her on the cheek feeling the chill in her skin. He hoped his own body heat lessened her chill. Sebastian halted their brisk pace. Smiling at Eleanor, he removed his scarf with his left hand, keeping his right arm protectively around her waist to better share body heat. Looping his cashmere scarf around her slender neck, he asked, “Better?”

Eyes misting, she nodded her gratitude. They set off once again at a clip, crossing Pont Saint-Michel. Huddled in tight together against the nip of the wind, they walked along the Seine to Pont des Arts. Eleanor looked along the bridge to where the love-locks dangled, covering metres of the bridge’s railings.

Noting an older man at the half-way point of the bridge, she cut a sidelong look at Sebastian’s contented face, before jabbing a sharp elbow hard into her captor’s ribs. Sebastian was unhurt nor even moved by the blow. His response was to loop his left arm from around her back, up behind her head. His iron grip clenched her mouth and nose. Sebastian allowed a moment’s disappointment to show on his face. His sorrow was genuine but did little to alter his plans.

Sliding the short blade he held to her hip in deep enough to grate against the bone millimetres below- catching Eleanor’s scream in his leather-gloved hand, he moved his lips near to her ear.

“Oh Eleanor,” Sebastian whispered. “Why does it always have to end in an argument?”

Sebastian scanned along the length of the bridge, noting that the elderly man had not turned to look at the couple, and had continued along on his way, heedless of them.

Sebastian rotated the knife several millimetres, placing pressure on a nearby nerve cluster. Eleanor went limp as he withdrew the blade. With practiced swiftness he caught her before her knees bent.

“You will not ruin my plans for this evening, my dear.”

Scooping an arm under her armpit, Sebastian carried her off of the bridge as one might a drunken friend. Taking the stairs down the walkway to the river banks, Sebastian propped her against the wall, deep in the shadows.

Digging deep into his overcoat pocket, Sebastian retrieved a set of small keys and unlatched the padlock on a nearby shed. Tucked away under the bridge, the shed was used as a storehouse for seats and deckchairs, placed along the Seine banks during the summer months so that city workers mat enjoy the sunshine during their lunchbreak.

Nodding his approval at the preparations he’d made to the shed’s interior late that very afternoon, Sebastian retrieved his love, lifting her up onto this left shoulder, he entered the shed, pulling the door tightly closed behind them.

∞∞∞

“How many times do I have to say it?” She screams into my face. “I am not her!”

I shove the oily rag back into her mouth, securing it with heavy tape and storm away from her, barely stopping myself from punching the shed wall in my anger.

This won’t do at all.

Leaving the little shed, I stride the few steps to sit on the banks of the Seine, dangling my legs high over the dark waters. The frozen stone beneath is a sharp prompt to cool the heat in my veins.

Why must she always do this? Each and every time.

I breathe deliberately, allowing my stomach to expand as my diaphragm pulls and pushes, inhaling and expelling the chilled air. I feel my characteristic calm return and the stinging disappointment leave me as fog breath on the night air. Once more in control, I return to the shed, taking a kneeling position at her side.

Bound at wrists and ankles, propped against the shed wall, she glares up at me, unjust anger and fear taint her beautiful eyes.

She can see that I am calm once again and relaxes her shoulders a minute sag. She is very far from happy, but this little display of trust regained warms me. Slipping the box from my pocket, I creak open the hinged lid and slide the ring over her wedding finger. The light inside the shed, weak as it is, dances across the gemstone. Blues and purples and violets frolic and play across its surface and reflect onto her pupils.

“Will you do me this great honour?” I ask.

Her eyes are wide in shock. Tears flow freely along her cheeks and across her gag. She’s shaking with excitement.

Finally, the joyful reaction I was hoping for.

Fighting emotion, Eleanor nods her head, forcing a softness into her eyes absent until this moment.

I love you Eleanor. Thank you for coming back to me. To this place, once again to share yourself with me.”

The tears increase in pace as she accepts my love.

Gratefully I hold her to me for many long minutes until her sobbing ebbs.

She’s calming. Her body softens against mine, melting into my embrace.

It’s time.

Pushing gently away I hold Eleanor at arms-length, committing her loving expression to memory that I may revisit this moment at some point in future. Perhaps in the midst of rough times, or during one of her many absences. Eleanor notes the pure love I’m emitting for her and her eyes fill with hope.

I smile warmly, nodding an affirmation that she is correct in what she sees in my eyes.

Sending every particle of endless love through my eyes to hers, I close my gloved hands and tighten the vice they’ve become.

Eleanor’s eyes widen and then haemorrhage and then glaze over as I throttle every scrap of air from her airways. She accepts the coming death very quickly. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes she fights against it. It’s her choice, I am but a witness to her death throes. Watching the life dim and vanish from her eyes I force a final few ounces of pressure into my grip, compelling the cartilage in her windpipe to buckle and then splinter. Finally, releasing her, I cradle her gently to the plastic-covered floor and proceed to untie her bonds and remove the gag.

As Eleanor lies peacefully, I retrieve my work bag, stowed away earlier in the day at the rear of the shed.

I pour myself a cup of coffee from the little flask within and fish out the almond Croissant I bought from a charming little patisserie in Saint Germaine earlier that day.

Seated with my back up against the interior wall, legs straight out in front to act as a tray for my snack, I fill my stomach and warm my bones whilst I wait for gravity to have its way with her blood.

∞∞∞

Groggy awareness crept on him. Starting as he realised he’d fallen asleep, Sebastian checked his watch. Two hours had passed since he’d strangled Eleanor to death. Thanking no-one in particular that he hadn’t slept so very long, Sebastian rose to his feet before moving towards Eleanor’s prone body.

Crouching low, Sebastian lifted the side of Eleanor’s top, exposing her side which had become striped with a purplish hue towards her back where the blood had pooled and clotted. He pinched her fingertips, watching for any flow to blanch the area.

Certain that lividity had taken place, Sebastian removed her top completely, followed by her bra.

Smiling sadly, he placed a hand gently on Eleanor’s abdomen for a moment, feeling the coolness of her skin before retrieving his work bag once again. Producing a rolled piece of canvas, Sebastian unrolled the bundle parallel to the left of Eleanor’s body, exposing rows of very sharp blades and saws within. The final item pulled from the bag, Sebastian placed alongside Eleanor’s right side.

Seating himself in a straddle across her hips, Sebastian selected a small-bladed electric saw the size of a hand drill. Positioning its blade where her ribs and breastbone met, Sebastian activated the mechanism sawing smoothly from lower ribcage to clavicles.

Sebastian nodded at the neatness of his cut before placing the little saw onto the plastic around them. Reaching into the canvas bag, he selected a mechanism designed to open the chest cavity, placed it into the opening he’d made and began the process of rotating the wheel, watching with interest as her chest began to open, resembling a large toothy mouth.

Sebastian smiled at his practiced, smooth movement. Leaving the retractor in place, he selected a scalpel with which he cut through the pericardium sac, exposing Eleanor’s heart.

Over the next few minutes, Sebastian’s sure hands and clever fingers worked with accuracy and haste, disconnecting veins and arteries and removing connective tissue until Eleanor’s heart finally lifted free of its natural place. Checking his watch, Sebastian noted that he’d performed the removal one full minute more quickly than previously.

Pride widened his face into a smile.

Transferring the heart to the little clip-lock Tupperware box at Eleanor’s side, Sebastian, stripped himself naked, carefully folding his clothes onto a little box nearby. Working from neck to toes, and with the aid of two mirrors, he checked for and obvious scratches or tears in his skin. He’d been unaware of any opportunity for Eleanor to have taken a swipe at him, but experience had taught him to be prudent.

Discovering a very shallow scratch on his right forearm that hadn’t even broken the skin, Sebastian sighed at the additional tasks now required.  Selecting a Japanese chef’s knife, Sebastian began with the right thumb. Fearful of any trace DNA scratched from his skin being found underneath her fingernails, Sebastian removed each finger from the second joint, placing them in a thick hospital bio-waste bag which he would later incinerate. The Tanzanite ring he simply removed from the ragged end of her finger, placing it back into its case.

Sebastian folded his latex gloves from the wrist, turning them inside out and over the end of his fingers. Absent-mindedly, he dropped them into the open chest cavity then clipped the lid onto the boxy Tupperware.

Moving around the room, the killer carefully cleaned and packed away all of his tools, placed the Tupper-ware into a waiting ice-box, then set about the task of preparing Eleanor’s body for disposal.

His face took on a hint of disdain. He’d got what he came for and was done with her, but tasks remained to be done, regardless of any distaste he felt for them.

Blank-face and in auto-pilot, Sebastian placed some lead weights inside Eleanor’s chest before reversing the Retractor, closing and sewing her chest tight, and then wrapping her tightly in the plastic, secured by more tape.

Eventually, he slipped her cocooned body into the Seine, relief plain on his face.

One month later…

I chew on the last of the dried meat as intently as I chew on the decision in front of me. With my back resting against the newly-clean sandstone of the Opera national de Bordeaux, I feel the warmth trapped from the afternoon’s sunshine inside the stone, seep into my back, relieving a few knots that have developed there these last few days.

My eyes dart busily along and across Place de la Comedie, searching for her. As the notion that I may have missed her floats to the top of my thoughts, I abruptly catch her from the corner of my eye.

Dressed for the pleasant weather, Eleanor looks a vision. Her hair, brunette with a hint of auburn, as ever, is loose and swaying with the familiar rhythm of her walk. She looks relaxed, happy. My heart spills over with love for her. My hand strays to rest atop my little satchel. I can feel the shape of the box inside. Reassurance floods me as surely as courage does.

The power love holds surely is a wonder.

Bordeaux, so unfamiliar to us. We’ve never had a moment together in this city. Never explored our love or its streets here. Idly I fetch another strip of heart-jerky from my lunchbox, laid on the ground aside me. Tearing a piece off with my teeth, I watch Eleanor as she leaves the open area where people congregate on a summer’s day such as today.

It’s a fine place, to people watch, but inadequate for a marriage proposal. That will come later today in a more private part of this fine, beautiful city. Eleanor’s heart will once again be mine.

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Jack Thatcher – dEaDINBURGH: Alliances Preview 


The following excerpt comes from dEaDINBURGH: Alliances (Din Eidyn Corpus 2) by Mark Wilson. 

Available now as a paperback and kindle at Amazon UK and US 

Jack

Noticing light breaking through the gap in his curtains, Jack squinted at his Holo-
Screen, blinking the fog from his eyes. Seven a.m.

He’d been playing the dEaDINBURGH: Lair of The Ringed video game since
midnight, when the feed had been cut from the live show. He flicked his finger across
the air in front of him, causing the UKBC screen to pop up. The countdown until the feed
re-connected sat at 00:15. Just fifteen more minutes until they had the show back in full
High-Def Holo-Image. Jack saved his progress and kicked at the desk in front of him,
sending his ergonomic chair scooting backwards through the pile of empty energy drink
cans and takeaway boxes littered across the carpet of his living room.

Scratching at his crotch with his right hand, he lifted his left arm and sniffed at
his arm-pit, screwing his face up at the sourness.
Should have time for a shower if I get a
move on.

Jack stood with a groan in protest at the crack of his knees. It’d been a while since
he’d had quite so long a session on the game. S
cooping a handful of Cheesy-Puffs off the
desk and into his mouth,
he headed to the apartment’s little shower cube.

As he sang from the shower, the dEaDINBURGH theme began blasting from the
surround-sound speakers, eliciting a whoop of delight from him as he barrelled from the
bathroom, not bothering to dry himself, body wobbling back into his still-warm chair.

Leaning forward he made a little gesture to enlarge the screen and scanned the
info-bar along the bottom of the page to catch any updates. There were too many to
read so Jack flicked a finger at the Holo-Screen, bringing up a highlights reel on a smaller
screen within the main one. Whilst the main screen flickered into life, he jerked his eyes
to the highlights feed, gleaning everything he could about what had happened to his
favourite
Survivors during the feed-loss.

Suzy Wheels, Danny McGhee and Jennifer Shephard, his main characters, were all
more or less where th
ey’d been when the feed had cut twelve hours earlier. Jack flicked
at the screen a few more times, bringing up images of one of the less popular and least-
covered
Survivors he’d been following.

Joey MacLeod’s face filled the frame. Jack liked this kid. He’d begun to get a little
more airtime recently, mostly because he’d been in a few scraps
with Zoms of late. Jack
remembered him fondly
from the episodes where he’d left The Brotherhood a few years
back, with the old Padre. Those were amongst some of the most unexpected and
emotional scenes he’d ever watched and he’d replayed them many times in his mind’s
eye, lying in bed.

Padre Jock had been a favourite of Jack’s as a kid. As a Zom-Hunter and one of the
most colourful characters on the show. H
e’d had a huge chunk of airtime over the years
and had consistently been in the
Survivorstop ten chart for over twenty years. When
he’d been killed by Bracha, Jack had shed a few tears for the old man. For Jack’s  generation, who’d grown up watching him, Padre Jock was as intricately tied to the
show as its theme tune.

Three years later, Jack still felt grief whenever he looked at one of the many
images of Jock on mugs, posters, T-shirts and other merchandise around his home. Jack
had a massive poster of Jock over his bed. It depicted a scene from the show with a
young Jock, blades flashing, silencing five Zombies. It bore the legend:
Running rings
around The Ringed.

One of Jack’s online friends had a tattoo on his cheek in the shape of the
characteristic Ring o’ Roses rash of The Ringed. Despite being into its third decade of
transmission, dEaDINBURGH showed no signs of losing popularity, and if anything it
had gained more viewers than ever. In part this was
because of Jock’s protégé Joey and
his best friend, Alys Shephard. Quite simply she was the most skilled combatant the
dead city had.

Many of Jock’s fans had now latched onto the eighteen year old he’d trained out
of the need for a connection to the familiarity of the Padre. Aside from that, they’d
grown to know and love Joey during his time with Padre Jock. Many more had chosen
Alys as their new prime
Survivor because of her attachment to Joey and her own
considerable talents. The pair were fast becoming the definitive
Survivors of their
generation.

The screen Jack scanned showed Joey and Alys, from behind, in a large open field.
Joey had his bow over his back and was following along behind Jennifer’s daughter.
Their body language suggested they were tired and were both covered in grey dust. Jack
watched as the cameras zoomed out, revealing a mass of Zoms spilling out into the field
from a cycle path and a little clearing in a woodland. From the trail in the long grass, it
was obvious that the teens had come from the Zom-infested area.

It was a beautiful shot, so much so that it moved Jack to click the little thumbs-up
icon at the corner of the screen. He was only the hundredth to do so. It made him feel a
part of something special that he was amongst the first to see the beauty in the
photography.

Wondering how the teens had survived the massive congregation of Zoms and
why the infected weren’t pursuing them, he whirled the highlights footage over to the
main screen and began searching through it, hoping that he hadn’t missed something
special. He looked at the view counter at the edge of the highlights screen.

One view.
A single viewer besides him.
Jack felt a thrill surge through him and clicked the thumbs-up icon, making

himself the second person to have done so. He watched amazed as Joey and Alys moved
like crowd-surfers along a mass of the dead. They seemed completely calm, so at ease as
they slipped through and over a swarm of the Ringed. Jack had never seen anything like
it.

Nobody had.

 As the scene progressed, it was suddenly cut with footage from earlier in the day.
The pair had battled hundreds of the dead in that same clearing, Joey with an injured
foot in a tree firing arrows, and Alys a whirling, kicking and stabbing demon with her
twin Sai. The images were astounding and contrasted so sharply with the serenity of the
previous footage that Jack felt a prickle all over his skin. 

He watched Joey and Alys’ Survivor ratings rocket from around ten thousand
straight to positions two and one, respectively. Realisation suddenly made him jerk in
his seat. He motioned at the screen and watched as his viewer rating appeared. Last
night he’d been somewhere close to the ten-million region. A respectable position for
someone in Kent. The total viewing figures worldwide for dEaDINBURGH were at
around four billion.

Due to his early support for Joey, and lifelong support of Jock, whom he’d voted
for and thumbed-up hundreds of times, maybe thousands, in his lifetime, Jack’s viewer
rating would receive a boost. Factor in his support of Alys by proxy of being a Jennifer
Shephard supporter, and combined with this
morning’s early acknowledgement of both
the live-feed and the highlights package, and
Jack’s viewer rating should be at an all-
time high, perhaps in the top one million.

Jack blinked in disbelief as he looked at the numbers.
His rating had been propelled into the Top 500, worldwide. Number 1 in Europe.
His Holo-Screen suddenly lit up with emails, messages and invitations regarding

interviews, expert analysis and insights he might be happy to offer. He was being lined
up for a series of appearances across some of the biggest shows on the network and a
clutch of major blogs and newsfeeds. Hell, a news-crew were on their way to his
apartment at that very moment.

Messages of congratulations from his network-family scrolled across his screen.
In an instant
he’d gone from being another nobody – an above-average fan who spent a
little too much time watching the most-watched Holo-Programme on the planet and one
of those guys who haunted the thousands of fan sites and pages looking for insights and
extra-footage
to the hottest viewer-consultant in Europe.

Jack’s eyes glazed as he considered the possibilities. He’d always known that he
was someone special. Always felt that he was destined for something better than his
current station in life. Something more important. His great-grandmother had been an
exceptional woman, the first woman to become a true world leader. His own father,
Mark, was a world-famous author. Sure, Dad had ridden the coat-tails of his
grandmother too, but
his books continued to sell well years since the old lady’s death.

Jack conjured up an image of his father, Mark, with his arm around him,
congratulating his son, expressing his pride. He watched his fiction-writing father and
himself plan interviews and write opinion pieces together. He teared-up as an image of
himself spoke to an audience of billions whilst his father stood at his side, beaming with
admiration.

This was it. Finally.

Jack glanced down quickly at his mostly-naked wet body, edges of the towel
barely meeting around and under his belly. He gave a curt, decisive nod, to himself.
Time
to get sorted. The first thing I’ll do is get that liposuction and skin removal. And my teeth.
Get my teeth fixed. Pectoral implants. The UKBC will pay for everything, they always do for
their correspondents.

With the kudos and the money that’d be coming his way, it was time to get
himself together.

Rising from his seat, he stopped for a second, lifted his right thigh a little and
expelled a cloud of gas before heading to his wardrobe. Drying off, he pulled on a pair of
clean sweatpants, figuring that he’d aim the Holo-Camera from the waist up. Best to be
comfortable.

Jack then pulled on an old dEaDINBURGH T-shirt his dad had given him on his
thirtieth birthday, with an image of Jock in full Plague-doctor outfit on the front. It felt a
little tight, but also felt familiar.

Striding back through to take his seat, he flicked open the Comm for his first
interview with an American news network, allowing himself to enjoy a moment of
satisfaction at finding his rightful place.

Jack Thatcher smiled warmly and connected his call.


End of excerpt  

This excerpt comes from dEaDINBURGH: Alliances (Din Eidyn Corpus 2) by Mark Wilson. 

Available now as a paperback and kindle at Amazon UK and US 


Preview of dEaDINBURGH (Din Eidyn Corpus Book 2)

 

The following excerpt is taken from the upcoming second volume of the Din Eidyn Corpus.

*****MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD******

IFYOU HAVE NOT READ dEaDINBURGH: BOOK 1 DO NOT READ ON.

 

 

Din Eidyn Corpus Book 2 Will follow Alys and Joey directly after the events of book one, but will also show awider look at the outside world, beyond the dead city’s fences. As well as continuing Fraser Donnelly’s story, we’ll also see Michelle MacLeod (Joey’s mother) before she entered the dead city and discover how she came to be in amongst the dead.

Most of the information about the outside world will be relayed through a new character’s story arc. This is what follows:

 

dEaDINBURGH: Book 2 excerpt:

 

Edinburgh, Scotland

 2051


 

Voiding the light breaking through the gap in his curtains, Jack squinted at his Holo-Screen, blinking the fog from his eyes. Seven a.m.

He’d been playing the dEaDINBURGH: Lair of The Ringed video game since midnight. Since the feed had been cut from the live show. He flicked his finger across the air in front of him, causing the UKBC screen to pop up. The countdown until the feed re-connected sat at 00:15. Just fifteen more minutes until they had the show back onscreen in full High-Def Holo-Image. Jack saved his progress and kicked at the desk in front of him, sending his ergonomic chair scooting backwards through the pile of empty energy drink cans and takeaway boxes littered across the carpet of his living room.

Scratching at his crotch with his right hand, he lifted his left arm and sniffed at his arm-pit, screwing his face up at the sourness. Should have time for a shower if I get a move on. Jack stood with a groan in protest at the crack of his knees. It’d been a while since he’d had quite so long a session on the game. Scooping a handful of Cheesey-Puffs off of the desk and into his mouth he headed to the apartment’s little shower cube.

 

As he sang from the shower, the dEaDINBURGH theme began blasting from the surround sound speakers, eliciting a whoop of delight from him as he barrelled from the bathroom, not bothering to dry himself, body wobbling back into his still-warm chair.

Leaning forward he made a little gesture, enlarging the screen and scanned the info-bar along the bottom of the page to catch any updates. There were too many to read so Jack flicked at finger at the Holo-Screen, bringing up a highlights reel on a smaller screen within the main one. Whilst the main screen flickered into life, he flicked his eyes from the main image to the highlights feed, gleaning everything he could about what had happened to his favourite Survivors during the feed-loss.

Suzy-Wheels, Danny McGhee and Jennifer Shephard, his main characters, all were more or less where they’d been when the feed had cut twelve hours earlier. Jack flicked at the screen a few more times, bringing up images of one of the less popular and least-covered Survivors he’d been following.

Joey MacLeod’s face filled the frame. Jack liked this kid. He’d begun to get a little more airtime recently, mostly because he’d been in a few scraps with The Ringed of late. Jack remembered him from the episodes where he’d left The Brotherhood a few years back, with the old Padre.

Padre Jock had been a favourite of Jack’s as a kid. As a Zom-Hunter and one of the most colourful characters on the show, he’d had a huge chunk of airtime over the years and had consistently been in the top-ten Survivors chart for over twenty years. When he’d been killed by Bracha, Jack had shed a few tears for the old man who seemed as intricately tied to the show as its theme tune to a generation who’d grown up watching him. Three years later, Jack still felt grief whenever he looked at one of the many images of Jock on mugs, posters, T-shirts and other merchandise around his home. Jack had a massive poster of Jock over his bed, a scene from the show, showing a young Jock, blades flashing, Silencing five Zombies. It bore the legend: Running rings around The Ringed. One of Jack’s online friends had a tattoo in the shape of the characteristic Ring o’ Roses rash of The Ringed.

Many of Jock’s fans had now latched onto the eighteen year old the old preacher had trained out of the need for a connection to the familiarity of the Padre. Aside from that, they’d grown to know and love Joey during his time with Padre Jock.

The screen showed Joey and Alys, both shot from behind, in a large open field. Joey had his bow over his back and was following along behind Jennifer’s daughter. They looked tired and were both covered in a grey dust. Jack watched as the cameras zoomed out, revealing a mass of Zoms spilling out into the field from a cycle path and a little clearing in a woodland. From the trail in the long grass, it was obvious that the teens had come from the Zom-infested area.

It was a beautiful shot, so much so that it moved Jack to click the little thumbs-up icon at the corner of the screen. He was only the hundredth to do so. It made him feel a part of something special, that he was amongst the first to see the beauty in the photography.

Wondering how the teens had survived the massive congregation of Zoms and why the infected weren’t pursuing them, he whirled the highlights footage over to the main screen and began searching through it, hoping that he hadn’t missed something special. He looked at the view counter at the edge of the highlights screen.

One View. A single viewer besides him.

Jack felt a thrill surge through him and clicked the thumbs-up icon, making himself the second person to have done so. As the images moved he watched amazed as Joey and Alys moved like crowd-surfers along a mass of the dead. They seemed completely calm, so at ease. Jack he’d never seen anything like it. Nobody had.

As the scene progressed, it was suddenly cut with footage from earlier in the day. They had battled hundreds of the dead in that same clearing, Joey in a tree firing arrows and Alys a demon with her twin Sai. It was astounding and contrasted so sharply with the serenity of the previous footage that Jack felt a prickle all over his skin.

He watched Joey and Alys’ Survivor ratings rocket from the around 10,000 straight to position two and one, respectively. Realisation suddenly made him jerk in his seat. He motioned at the screen and watched as his viewer rating appeared. Last night he’d been in the upper ten-million region. A respectable position for someone in Kent. The total viewing figures worldwide for dEaDINBURGH were at around four billion.

Due to his early support for Joey, and lifelong support of Jock, he’d voted and thumbed-up Jock hundreds of times, maybe thousands in his lifetime, Jack’s Viewer Rating would receive a boost. Factor in his support of Alys by proxy of being a Jennifer Shephard supporter and combined with this morning’s early acknowledgement of both the live-feed and the highlights package, and Jack’s viewer rating should be at an all-time high, perhaps top one million.

Jack blinked in disbelief as he looked at the numbers. His rating had been propelled to top 500, worldwide. Number 1 in Europe.

His Holo-Screen suddenly lit up with emails, messages and invitations regarding  interviews, expert analysis, insights. He was being lined up for a series of appearances across some of the biggest shows on the network and a clutch of major blogs and newsfeeds.

Messages of congratulations from his network-family scrolled across his screen. In one minute he’d gone from being another nobody, an above-average fan who spent a little too much time watching the most-watched Holo-programme on the planet, one of those guys who haunted the thousands of fan-sites and pages looking for insights and extra-footage, to the hottest viewer-consultant in Europe.

He’d always known that he was someone special. Always felt that he was destined for something better than his current station in life. Something that made him worthy of the name he carried. This was it. Finally.

Jack Thatcher glanced down quickly at his mostly-naked, wet body, edges of the towel barely meeting around and under his belly. He gave a curt, decisive nod, to himself. Time to get sorted. The first thing I’ll do is get that liposuction and a skin removal. And my teeth. Get my teeth fixed.

With the kudos and the money that’d be coming his way, it was time to get himself together.

Rising from his seat, he stopped for a second, lifted his right thigh a little and expelled a cloud of gas before heading to his wardrobe. Drying off, he sniffed at then  pulled on a pair of reasonably clean sweatpants, figuring that he’d aim the Holo-Camera from the waist up. Best to be comfortable.

Jack then pulled on an old dEaDINBURGH T-shirt his dad had given him on his thirtieth birthday, with an image of Jock in full Plague-Doctor outfit on the front. It felt a little tight, but familiar.

Striding back through to take his seat, he flicked open the Comm for his first interview with an American news network, allowing himself to enjoy a moment of satisfaction at finding his rightful place.

He smiled warmly and connected his call.

 

END OF EXCERPT

SILHOUETTE-cover

dEaDINBURGH (Din Eidyn Corpus) Book: 1 (and Mark’s Lanarkshire Strays collection) are available now as a paperback and on kindle at Amazon, US and Amazon, UK.

dEaDINBURGH Preview – Chapter 11

With dEaDINBURGH, book 1 now complete, feedback from the Beta-readers returned and re-writes finished, the book is with the editor. I’m unsure at this time as to whether dEaDINBURGH will be published through Paddy’s Daddy Publishing or another publisher as I’m currently speaking to some interested agents. Hopefully I can get the book out soon. This is the final excerpt I can preview before the books release. I’m hard at work on dEaDINBURGH Book 2 and a screenplay for Head Boy.

Hope you enjoy.

Mark Wilson

All text copyright Mark Wilson 2014

Chapter 11

Alys’ mother threw a flurry of sharp punches, alternating between head and gut, gut and chest. Blocking each of them, he used her slight forward momentum against her, rolling her punch, extending the reach of it further than she’d intended. It caused her front foot to slide forward an inch bringing her in to elbow strike range. It was a good move, she’d taught it to him and she grunted her approval as she slid the foot forward as he’d predicted, but continued further than he had expected to sweep him off his feet and onto his rear-end with a crash as he lunged to make the elbow connect.

“Up, Boy.” She’d already assumed her ready stance.

Joey gave her a lop-sided grin, mostly to annoy her.

“Nice move, Mrs Shep….” He almost saw the kick that connected with his chest that time. There was no doubt about it, he was getting faster. The training, her training, was paying off. He really had to stop antagonising her by referring to her as Mrs though.

“Up…Boy.” She said once again.

She’d never once called him by his name in the three months he’d been allowed to stay in The Gardens. She spat out the word Boy like an insult. It was an insult in this place.

Rising to his full height, which was still a few inches short of Jennifer’s, he gave her the smile again. To hell with it, he thought.

“Ready, Mrs Shephard.” This time he managed to block and deflect twelve of her blows before he was knocked on his ass once again. He could swear that Jennifer broke a smile that time.

“We’re done today, Boy. Go back to your quarters.” She swished around and took off towards another training session with one of the younger children. Good luck to them. He thought.

“Thank you.” He called after her. Normally she ignored his ritual thank you at the end of their sessions. This time, she paused, turned slightly and gave him the sharpest of nods before resuming her walk.

High praise indeed.

Joey plonked himself onto the frost-covered grass, sitting with his wrists resting on bent knees and scanned The Gardens as his breath fogged the evening air. The greenhouses on the flat sections were busy with girls, collecting tomatoes, peppers and other produce. He could see women working metal in the Smith’s tent, prepping meals in the kitchen tent, doing drills in the training rings and scribbling away in the school enclosure. The few boys who lived there, seven of them, each younger than he and sons of women who’d been pregnant or new mothers when the men left, the boys were dragging hand-ploughs through a large section of field. None of them had spoken to him. They’d leave if he approached them. When he’d arrived, Joey had expected the boys to be pleased to see another male; if anything they seemed frightened of him in a way that not even the youngest of the girls were. They simply went about their duties and acted as though he didn’t exist.

Everyone in The Gardens had a role, a place in the structure. Everyone was important and equal; more or less. The women of The Gardens were a truly self-sufficient society, dependant on no-one and nothing but their own hard work.

Joey climbed the slope up to the fence-line that divided The Gardens from Princes Street and scanned along the long, once-busy centre of the city. Jock had described to him the city before the plague hit many times using words like, beautiful, striking and cosmopolitan. When asked about the people, he’d often used the phrase, streets full of busy fools. The streets were still full, but instead of teeming with workers, residents, tourists and shoppers rushing around, they were filled with an endless myriad of walking corpses in various states of decomposition.

It was a quiet evening, relatively speaking. The ever-present groan that vibrated dryly with the bottomless hunger that these creatures suffered with, was a little more muted today. None of them bothered to take a swipe at him through the fence as he walked the perimeter, checking the fence’s integrity. Those who noticed him at all merely followed him along with their dusty, frost-covered eyes as he moved. It wasn’t apathy, they always got a little slower in the cold weather. As he made his way along the fence shaking rails, pulling on posts, Joey reflected on his time in The Gardens.

 

After Jennifer’s initial refusal to allow him entry, not when he was conscious at any rate, Alys had been able to convince her mother to grant him access because of his help in treating and saving Stephanie. They’d had to agree that they would not spend any of their time together and that Joey must participate in their way of life fully. He’d spoken to Alys only a handful of times since, the pair of them sneaking out into the surrounding streets to swap stories and share survival skills. Whilst Joey had the advantage in survival strategies due to his years in the north, Alys was by far the more superior combatant. In the short spells they’d spent together they’d made good use of every moment, each absorbing knowledge and skills from the other.

He thought that she was currently out of The Gardens on a supply run in Stockbridge. Combat training, farming and security now filled his days. In addition to this, Alys had sold her mother on the benefits of having access to Joey’s Intel on the world outside The Gardens and the immediate area that the Rangers patrolled inside the inner-fence.

Jennifer had sat with him for hours at a time, fascinated at what had happened to and was happening in areas of the city she’d known as a child or in the days before The Gardens was founded. Forefront in her questions was security. She wanted to know as much as he would relay about the people beyond The Garden’s inner-fence. That was easy; most of them, whilst damaged, were good people, trying to survive another day. There were exceptions of course, the most notable being Bracha.

Jennifer had found it hard to believe that he and Jock hadn’t had any prior encounters with the man. His actions in tracking them and killing Jock seemed entirely too motivated by personal reasons. Joey had just about convinced her that he was just another wandering madman, albeit a hugely dangerous one.

Whenever they’d spoken about Bracha, an odd look had crossed her face. She’d asked many questions about the way he fought, how he’d conducted himself. The language he used. Jennifer never really explained what she had on her mind where Bracha was concerned, but had told Joey that from his descriptions, she could tell that Bracha had been a soldier. I was married to a soldier. It had slipped in conversation but she’d noticed Joey’s eyes light up at the prospect of information on Alys father and immediately shut down, resuming questioning him on the city.

Jennifer didn’t seem worried about Bracha turning up at the Gates to The Gardens. He had to admit, why should she be? No one person, no matter how clever, skilled or deranged was a serious threat to the women of The Gardens. As for his assertion that a cure existed in the Royal Infirmary grounds, Jennifer treated the notion with the same ridicule that Jock had. Joey omitted Jock’s warning of Somna and The Exalted. He didn’t doubt Jock’s account for a second, but how did you sell that tale to a stranger?

Joey, of course, had shown her the flash-drive that Jock had kept for him. She’d described to him exactly what it did and explained that without a working computer there was simply no way to determine what its contents were. As she’s handed it back, an uncharacteristic softness entered her features and tone, clearly sensing how disappointed he was in his inability to access the link to his mother.

“I’m sure you’ll see what’s on it one day, Boy.” Her face hardened again as she handed him the device.

“On your travels.”

It had been a clear and none too subtle hint that it was time for him to move on. He couldn’t help but agree. Having roamed the city for three years, he’d enjoyed his time in The Gardens, had picked up and passed on many useful skills and rested well. It was, however, time to go.

After completing his duties and chores under the ever-watchful eye of Jennifer’s people, he slipped into the small tent they’d allowed him to claim during his stay. Only once in the three months he’d been here had he left the tent between lights-out and sun-up. As he’d become predictable, the night time guards had been removed weeks before. Tonight would be the second time.

Slipping silently over the rails onto Princes Street, he looked over his shoulder, down at The Gardens to check that no-one had seen him go. All clear.

Moving between the sluggish corpses on the main city thoroughfare proved simple enough with only a few of the more warmly-dressed ones reaching out to him or half-heartedly snapping their jaws shut when he passed. Taking Hanover Street, he headed downhill, along Dundas Street and down on to Brandon Terrace where he spotted the clock at the intersection Alys had told him to use as a marker. Turning onto Inverlieth Row, Joey spotted a faded maroon-coloured number 27 Bus parked, two wheels up on the pavement. Inside a warm glow flickered.

The area leading to the bus had been relatively free of Ringed but a few shambled towards the bus, driven by the slope downwards as much as they were by the glow of the firelight. Joey sighed, drew his knives, Jock’s knives, and silenced the pair before tapping gently on the bus’ door.

Alice smiled through the fogged glass and pulled a lever to open the doors for him. The heat hit his face as he stepped onto the stairs to board.

“Any problems getting out?” Alys asked, shoving the lever in the opposite direction as soon as he stepped through the doors.

“None.” He said.

Looking around the bus, Joey noted the fire in the space where disabled passengers once parked their wheelchairs. Jock had taught him what the little blue and white sign had meant in the old world. The disabled of course had been amongst the first to fall to the plague, for obvious reasons. In his entire life, Joey had met only one person in a wheelchair; a lady by the name of Suzanne Dalgliesh. At least that had been her name in the Old Edinburgh. Here in the dead city, she went by the name, Suzy Wheels.

Suzy Wheels occupied a bungalow on Groathill Avenue; she had since before the plague. With its modified ramps, access points and lack of stairs for shuffling feet at the ends of dead legs to climb, Suzy’s home should have been one of the first invaded. Anyone who’d ever met Suzy Wheels did not need to ask why that didn’t happen. A former Tai Kwando Olympian, Suzanne had been in a traumatic accident two years prior to the plague hitting and wrecked her spine as well as her car.

She’d fought her way through eighteen painful months of physiotherapy and another six months in the gym, sculpting her upper body, building the functional muscle she needed and perfecting the technique required to fight from her chair. That had been her goal, re-enter the next Olympics, Rio 2016; the Olympics, mind, not the Paralympics, she’d say, and kick asses from a seated position. Joey could fight, but he had no doubt at all that the sixty-year old invalid could kick his ass all day long from the comfort of her modified wheelchair.

Taking a seat across from Alys who had resumed her place at the other side of the little fire, Joey picked out a potato that had been baking in the fire and began picking at it.

END OF EXCERPT

You can find me and my books at Amazon, UK. Amazon, US and at Paddy’s Daddy Publishing.

dEaDINBURGH – On Location and Chapter 12 Preview

Having spent a day shooting locations from the book with Paul McGuigan of PMCG Photography, it felt like a good time for another update.

At this point in the book, Alys and Joey have reunited after a three year absence. Alys has convinced Joey to enter a no man’s land in the South of the dead city, beyond the inner fences in search of a cure and a madman.

Lyrics from Unified Zombie Republic used with  permission of Gavin Bain
of Hopeless Heroic and Silibil-N-Brains

The following excerpt is from dEaDINBURGH by Mark Wilson and is copyright of Mark Wilson and Paddy’s Daddy Publishing:

Chapter 12

 

A sudden push against the bus sent it wobbling to one side. Alys and Joey both snatched their weapons up and stood to look through the misted windows.

“Didn’t you have a check around before you arrived?” she snapped at Joey more out of shock than genuine anger.

“Of course I did.” He said calmly.

Both turned their eyes back to the winnow, Alys stepping forward to rub some of the condensation away with the sleeve of her coat. She gasped as she looked out onto Canonmills. Joey pressed his cheek against hers to get a better look through the gap she’d made and let out a little sound of his own.

The bus was surrounded by Zoms. Every panel, front, sides and rear was being pushed upon by a herd of them, three deep in parts. Each of them was completely fixed on the bus, lips drawn back from snapping teeth.

“Where the hell did they come from?” Joey asked. “You ever see that many in one place?”

Alys shook her head.

“You?”

Not like that.” He replied. “They’re all pretty fresh.

By fresh he meant fast, vicious, dangerous, and of course, hungry.

There was little chance of them pushing the bus over; they simply didn’t have the strength or coordination for that, unless they got lucky. The greatest risk to them was that the hands that had begun to slap against the windows would eventually break the glass. Neither of them was particularly worried about a zom climbing through a broken window, the panels were too high for that, but the broken window would definitely mean exposure to the bitter winter wind howling louder than the Zoms groans outside.

“Upstairs.” Alys told him, leading the way to the top deck.

From the top they gained a better view of what they faced. Alys guessed maybe sixty Zoms, all fresh, had surrounded the bus. She rubbed her temples, thinking, what the hell brought so many of them here?

Canonmills was outside the inner fence, but only just; and generally was fairly clear of the dead. Those she had encountered recently in the area had been older ones, slow and part-frozen with the winter frost.

Glancing along the aisle of the bus towards Joey who had his face pressed against the rear window, she gave him a sharp whistle. When he turned, she pointed up at the ceiling, eliciting a conspirational grin from him, followed by a quick nod of approval.

Stepping on Joey’s interlocked hands, she boosted herself up towards the skylight, pushed it open and climbed through, out onto the snow-covered roof, before dangling her arm through to help Joey up.

“I’m cool.” He told her. As Alys withdrew her arm, Joey’s hands grabbed the skylight and his feet suddenly shot through followed by the rest of him, head last. He landed lightly on his feet in a crouch.

“Show off.” She shook her head at him. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”

She said, heading towards the edge to lean over. Her sudden presence above brought a surge of hungry groans from below.

“You think you can shoot them off? Maybe just clear a section for us to break through?”

Joey had a quick peek over.

“Na. Too few arrows; too many Zoms. How about we go back to the lower deck and just start braining them through the windows after they’ve broken through?”

Alys scowled.

“Too risky; too easy to get grabbed or bitten whilst reaching out.”

Joey’s face suddenly broke into a wide grin. Hooking his bow over his back, he went through his ritual of checking his weapons, tightening his laces and pulling his hood up, before cocking an eyebrow at her and flashing an even wider grin.

“Back in a minute, Alys.” He laughed and leaped from the bus’ roof onto the nearby bus shelter, from where he did a tight sideways somersault, landing on the roof of a phone box several feet away. With a final cartwheel-tuck, he span off the phone box, landing catlike two feet behind the row of Zoms who still faced the bus.

Launching into a song, he took off up the hill towards a burnt put Esso petrol station, Sixty-odd dead shuffling behind him like a grotesque parade.

“Searching for answers and finding more reasons, not to believe in the bullshit they feed us….” Joey sand loudly and out of tune, laughing as he ran, tumbled and span his way up the hill, away from the bus.

He’s entirely too full of himself, that boy, Alys thought, supressing a smile.

Returning a few minutes later, Joey had doubled back around the Zoms who were still headed up towards Rodney Street. Joey was walking towards her, arms wide in a what you think gesture. Alys shook her head, “Nice singing, Joey.”

He laughed loudly. “You like that? Jock taught me it.”

Joey launched into another verse, ducking as she threw a right-hander at him.

“Shut up, idiot. You’ll have them back down here.” She nodded up at the herd of Zoms. Some of the rear ones had lurched around and were looking in their direction, teeth bared.

“Okay. Let’s go tell your mother that we’re running away to find a cure at The Royal Infirmary, which is by the way, surrounded by murdering madmen who worship a Zommed-out footballer. That’ll be fun.”

Alys cocked an eyebrow at him. Deadpan she said. “Okay.”

End of Excerpt

On location in dEaDINBURGH

You can find Mark and his books at Amazon, US; Amazon, UK and at Paddy’s Daddy Publishing.

You can follow Mark’s progress on dEaDINBURGH on twitter at dEaDINBURGHbook

dEaDINBURGH: Padre Jock’s Journal

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Rather than slow down the pace of the novel with backstory I chose to launch straight in to my main characters’ (Joey MacLeod and Alys Shephard) lives and insert little passages from Joey’s mentor’s Journal throughout the narrative. This is a sample giving details on how the city became quarantined. Hope you enjoy.

 

All text copyright of Mark Wilson and Paddy’s Daddy Publishing 2013

<strong>Padre Jock’s Journal</strong>

In 1645 the bubonic plague (or the Black Death) raged through the populace. Millions had died worldwide and the city’s residents were beginning to feel the effects of the disease. In a desperate attempt to isolate the infected and to save the remaining residents, the council leaders forced the sick into the underground streets of Mary King’s Close and sealed them in. Beneath the cobbles of old Edinburgh the infected, begged to be released, suffered and were eventually forgotten, dying inside the crypts below.

The plague mutated underground for hundreds of years and some survivors became something other than human. Undead, shuffling through the dark crypts racked by a 400 year hunger.

On New Year’s Day 2015, the city leaders opened the Close, with the intention of erecting a memorial to the ancient plague victims and using the Close for tourism. The Close’ residents poured out from their tomb and spread the new plague through the city. Edinburgh was full of partygoers and New Year celebrants. The plague spread quickly.

Within a day, many of Edinburgh’s residents were infected. Within a week, the UK government, recruiting the armed forces had erected a huge and extensive fence around the circumference of the city bypass, quarantining the city. Edinburgh was declared an official no-man’s land; a dead zone, its residents left for dead and to the dead.

 

I had a chance to leave, before they sealed us in, but stayed to help the survivors. I never thought for a second that they, the world outside, would leave us here and forget about us. For that first decade of isolation, I always believed that sometime, they’d find a cure, that they would release us. I should have remembered my history.

 

<strong>End of Excerpt. </strong>

 

You can find Mark and his books at <a href=”http://www.paddysdaddypublishing.com/mark-wilson.html”>Paddy’s Daddy Publishing</a> or follow Mark’s progress on the dEaDINBURGH series on twitter @dEaDINBURGHbook <br /><br /><a href=”https://markwilsonbooks.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/20131214-115700.jpg”><img src=”https://markwilsonbooks.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/20131214-115700.jpg&#8221; alt=”20131214-115700.jpg” /></a>

dEaDINBURGH Preview – Meet Alys Shephard

The following excerpt is from Chapter 2 of the upcoming novel, dEaDINBURGH and is copyright of Mark Wilson and Paddy’s Daddy Publishing 2013

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Chapter 2

 

Alys

 

Standing from a crouch Alys leaned back, stretching her vertebrae to their maximum extension. She gave a few sharp turns to her left and her right, loosening off her hips. Finally Alys leaned forward and down, wrapping her arms around the backs of her legs, bringing her forehead to her shins.

Jennifer sighed. “Every time, Alys? You won’t always have time for that nonsense you know.”

Alys was sick of her mother’s sharpness and performed the routine simply to provoke her. She was most accomplished fighter in her age group, and several classes above her also, but nothing ever seemed good enough.

“Just limbering up.” She said flatly.

Her mother pursed her lips. “Does an animal limber up? Do the dead limber up?”

Alys ignored her and took her ready-stance. Jennifer sighed and assumed her own ready-position. Alys stepped forward and delivered a series of sharp blows with her hands, alternating between her mother’s face and chest. Jennifer easily blocked each one, but she was supposed to, Alys had used the flurry as a cover for the kick she shot out at Jennifer’s knee. This too failed to connect as the older woman slipped her front foot back ten centimetres, causing Alys’ kick to jab into the ground. Jennifer steeped onto her daughter’s front foot, trapping it and preventing her daughter from stepping back from the vicious hammer punch she flashed out with lightning speed.

Standing over her prone daughter, Jennifer checked her watch. Five seconds, this time Alys. You’re getting better. Alys glared up her for a second before picking herself up out of the mud. She spat a mouthful of blood onto the ground a few centimetres from her mother’s feet. “Again.” She demanded.

Jennifer smiled her approval and moved in to deliver another lightning blow to her daughter’s face.

 

An hour later, Alys stood in the centre of the practice plot. Dripping with sweat and with the smell of her own blood in her nostrils, she glared at Jennifer, who stood calm and impassive as she’d been when their practice had begun.

“Again” Alys growled.

Jennifer approved, but showed nothing of that approval on her face.

“No.” she said, simply and walked away. As she left, she turned back to face her daughter. “Remember to take the offering up to The Brotherhood’s gates.

Alys didn’t reply, choosing instead to stand in the rain and let it cool her anger as it washed away the sweat and blood she’d shed. The rain and cold of an Edinburgh autumn was as familiar to her as the sunshine and relative warmth of its springtime. Her life had been lived, exposed; farming, fighting and living under canvas, here in the beauty of Princes Street Gardens.  Most of her community felt free. Free to farm and eat and train and live under the Edinburgh sky in the shade of the craggy castle. Alys just felt trapped.

The only way she could leave The Gardens permanently was to convince her mother that she was ready. That she could fight. Still standing in a ready-stance, fists quivering and face up towards the falling rain, Alys finally relaxed her bunched up muscles. Standing simply with her weary arms at her sides, something glinted and caught her eye. She looked up towards the Castle’s Esplanade, noting that he was there again. She’d never once been allowed to venture outside her community’s fences, the farthest she’d walked was to deliver the Communities’ offerings up to The Brotherhood’s Gates on the royal mile.

Alys couldn’t understand why her people continued to feed the reclusive, pathetic Brotherhood and had grown to resent the men who lived up on the royal mile. She’d been taught to fight, to earn her place in the community and to fight to keep it. Her community didn’t allow men in its gates, believing that their weakness was a risk, so why were they helping feed a group of men who were too deluded to grow or scavenge their own food? Yes she resented them but most of all she resented the boy with the bow.

 

The first time she’d seen the boy had been on a food-run up to The Brotherhood’s gates on Bank Street around five years ago. She’d been ten years old and had dutifully carried the container of fresh foods to the gates, traipsing sullenly alongside her mother. After Jennifer had placed the food at the fence-line, she’d turned and began making the short journey back to Princes Street Gardens. Out of curiosity, Alys stayed.

She’d never seen a member of The Brotherhood. She’d heard plenty of stories, of how they lived in their crypts, how they worshipped zoms, wandered among the dead creatures and even fed them their own blood; but hadn’t seen one. It wasn’t just their strange lifestyle that drew her, she hadn’t seen a male since her father had gone. She’d asked her mother many times in the early weeks following his departure, and several times in the intervening ten years or so, but always received the same reply from Jennifer.

“He’s just gone, Alys.”

So she waited, around the corner, peeking at the fences from behind the edge of a building. After a few hours, a boy had appeared. He was dressed in simple, slim-legged black denims, a long sleeve black T with his thumbs poking through holes at the ends of the sleeves, and a trash bag with holes cut for his arms to slip through. Over his head a hood concealed most of his face, but a few locks of very blonde hair strayed out from underneath. Warily he’d come close to the fence, opened the gate, and retrieved the offering. As quickly as he’d come, he left.

Alys couldn’t say why at the time, but she waited in that same spot a little longer until eventually the same boy appeared once more. He stood at the fence, staring at her. This time, he didn’t look nervous.

“Hello? Are you still there?”

Alys’ eyes opened wide at his greeting. She’d been taught that The Brotherhood wouldn’t or couldn’t speak. Guardedly she came out from her spot and approached the fence.

“Alright?” the boy had asked, with an awkward smile.

Alys simply nodded, narrowing her eyes as she noted the quiver on his back and the bow in his left hand. Realising that she felt threatened, the bow placed his bow on the ground, stood straight again and pulled down his hood to reveal a head full of shaggy blonde hair, and beautifully vibrant green eyes. He was around the same age as she was, that in itself was strange, she’d thought that The Brotherhood were all grown men. That he stood smiling at her with excitement in his eyes and a grin on his face, took her completely by surprise. She’d heard that as well as being silent, The Brothers were perpetually numbed by a substance they inhaled to commune with the dead. This boy was anything but numb. He had cocked his head to the side and was assessing her as she assessed him.

Approaching him, Alys asked

“What do you want?”

“To say thank you.” He nodded back towards where his people lived. “For the kindness.”

“If I had any choice I wouldn’t bring it.” She blurted out. “Your people don’t deserve it.”

The boy’s eyes lost a little of their sparkle and his smile flattened. Clearly hurt, he picked up his bow, raised his hood once more, and turned to head towards the Castle. After walking a few feet he turned to face her again.

“Well, Thanks anyway.”

With that he took off at a run, executing a few little leaps and somersaults using the masonry and steps of the local buildings as launch pads. Alys heard him laugh as he whirled and ran his way up to the Castle Esplanade.

She’d seen him many times since then; practicing with his bow, leaping and somersaulting through the Royal Mile and along the Castle buildings. She hated him for how care-free, how happy he seemed. He trained hard, that she was impressed by, he practiced with his bow every day, but why should he be so free, so happy, when her people, when she, had to work so hard to provide for him and his people?

She imagined him laughing with his Brothers at how gullible her community was for providing them with supplies. As time went on, she began to realise that the rest of The Brotherhood were as silent, as disconnected from the world as he people had described to her. This boy, the boy with the bow, was the exception. She hated him even more for his ability to free himself of the constraints of his community and trained all the harder, fuelled by contempt for him, by jealousy and in the hopes that she may one day discover a way to be as free as he was.

 

Alys lowered her head and looked at her trembling hands. She’d made contact with her mother twice during their session. It was twice more than she’d managed before, and whilst her blows hadn’t really had any impact, the mere fact that she’d landed them lifted her spirits. She was definitely getting better. Placing her arms around herself in a hug, Alys took a last look up at the Castle to see the bow with the bow, pulling another arrow from his quiver, lining up his shot and releasing yet another perfect arrow. The satisfaction she’d felt at her progress disappeared and she took off on a run up the Playfair Steps. The Brotherhood can wait for their free meal. I’ve got stamina to build.

Alys punished her legs running up and walking down the long staircase for the next sixty minutes. Hunched over on all fours at the top she looked along the mound and up to the castle. Another convulsion racked her and she threw up what bile she had left to throw up, and glared upwards, daring the bow with the bow to show his face.

Satisfied that she had nothing left, no reserve of energy with which to pull herself up the stairs once more, she made her way down the gentle swooping slope of The Mound, returning to Princes Street Gardens and the task of preparing The Brotherhood’s offering.

 

End of Excerpt

The dEaDINBURGH Trilogy by Mark Wilson will be published by Paddy’s Daddy Publishing in May/June 2014

You can find Mark Wilson and his books at Paddy’s Daddy Publishing, at Amazon, US or at Amazon, UK