So it’s July 2020 and guess what? The world is still caught up in the middle of a global pandemic that’s knocked the wheels off of so-called normality. That means it’s time to release a gritty and kickass post-apocalyptic novel where the shit hits the fan, right?
Probably not. But I’ve always been a drive on the wrong side of the road kind of guy. Covid-19 isn’t going to get in my way – at least not as far as writing is concerned.
So here we are again. Today sees the release of Deathflix, the third and final book in the Butch Nolan series. This is my Mad Max, John Wick and Clint Eastwood spaghetti western homage (rest in peace Ennio Morricone). If you’ve read the first two Nolan books – Nolan’s Ark and ManHunter, I hope you’ve been looking forward to the conclusion. If you have, here it is.
Deathflix is available now on Amazon. (Click the cover to buy).
Dystopiaville makes Black Mirror look like a utopian picnic.
Three books. Three shocking visions of tomorrow’s
stands out from the pack.’ – James Haydon
For the first time, all three Dystopiaville books can be bought together in one mega-value box set. Shut Up and Die!, WaxWorld, Killing Floor – three thrilling and terrifying tales of dystopian horror and science fiction guaranteed to keep you turning the pages.
What readers are saying about
‘Think Twilight Zone or Black Mirror, but
with books instead of TV.’ – CJ Sinnott
‘Another fabulously mind altering book by
Mark Gillespie. He is officially in my top five author list.’ – Kirsten
McKenzie, author of Painted.
‘Captured my attention and never let go…I loved everything about it.’ – The Haunted Reading Room Reviews
The third and final book in the Dystopiaville series, Killing Floor, is out now. I say it’s the final book – I’d love to write more of these dark scary babies but to tell you the truth, they’ve kind of struggled to find an audience. We shall see.
A nationwide cull of the British population will begin immediately after this special broadcast…’
Killing Floor, an up and coming rock and roll band, are on the brink of superstardom.
But things take a turn for the worse when a joyous weekend in the country turns into a nightmare of survival.
Just wanted to post something on this poor neglected blog of mine. Poor, poor thing. Honestly, I came into this website with good intentions. I would blog regularly! Become a blog wizard, buy a big pointy hat, take over the world and…
It didn’t happen. To be honest I’m too busy writing books to keep a proper blog running. That shit takes work. But I do want to use this space to keep people updated on what I’m working on as I’ve had a few emails recently asking about particular projects and where I’m at etc…
So here we go. I’m working on a few things at the moment. My main project is Nolan’s Ark, which is the first book in a new post-apocalyptic series of mine. This will be out in early December. (Sketch of cover above).
In January I’m going to release a box set called Apocalypse Number One – this is a collection of first books in various series of mine, apocalyptic and dystopian. I think this’ll provide a great entry point to people who’ve never read any of my work before. Always good to provide the readers with options.
In February I’m putting out the third and final Dystopiaville book, Killing Floor.
March sees the release of the sequel to Nolan’s Ark (working title of Demon Sheriff).
And in April I’m planning to release a Dystopiaville box set with all three books from the first season included.
That’s as far as I’ve got with planning.
I receive a fair amount of emails asking me about the Future of London. Where the hell is book 6 and it’s a fair point, considering the last one came out almost two years ago. Regarding the future of the Future of London, I absolutely will be releasing book 6. I’m working on it but…slowly. As far as the London series is concerned, think of it trickling out in a traditional publishing timeframe, at least for now. No rapid fire release here. But yes, book 6 is on its way and with a bit of luck it’ll break the surface in 2020. Working on a second draft now, but remember – I’m taking it slow.
That’s all I have for now my friends. Thank you for being here and supporting this journey of mine. I’m eternally grateful.
It’s the piece of writing advice that annoys me the most.
Write a killer first line.
You might see it on how-to-write-a-novel lists and on these random top ten snippets of writing advice, and on blogs and blah-blah-blah. These are the things you must do or your writing will go to shit and nobody will ever read it.
Write a killer first line, so they say. Grab them from the get-go.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad piece of advice and if you can come up with a ‘killer’ first line then go for it. By all means. It’s better than a crappy first line, no doubt about that. But if anyone ever suggests this is a ‘must-do’ then feel free to discard their advice. Immediately. Get up and leave the room. Click away from the website.
It’s garbage. Total garbage.
Who gives up on a book if the first line doesn’t blow them away or give them multiple orgasms? Anyone who does that is not equipped to read books. What’s more important than a killer first line is an intriguing first ten pages, first chapter or first hundred pages. That doesn’t sound quite as sexy though does it? Personally, if a book doesn’t grab me after a hundred pages I put it down. Life’s too short to waste on bad books.
But after a tepid first line?
No. I’m willing to give the author a little more than that.
What’s the point of this post? Good question. I guess it’s just to say be wary of these top ten lists of things you must do if you want to write a good novel. Feel free to pick and choose what works for you. There is no hard rule to writing a great book or we’d all be doing it.
You’re in charge of your own story. Jam. Have fun with it.
Over the past year or so I’ve received a growing number of emails about The Future of London series. The question is always the same: will there be a sixth book?
Yes it’s been a while since the last one. If memory serves me right, book 5 came out in December 2017, and that was after me releasing about three London books that same year. It was a blitz and I guess readers had every right to expect it would continue at the same pace.
So what’s happened?
Several things. I’ve been drawn to writing other things. Since the last London book, amongst other bits and pieces, I’ve written the Exterminators trilogy and the After the End trilogy. Also, despite the fact that it’s probably my favourite series, the London books aren’t massive sellers. Too weird? I don’t know but for some reason they haven’t clicked. It’s a shame but right now it means that I have to prioritise and that means working on some other things.
The good news is that the sixth London book is in the works. It most certainly is. I’m working on it right now but I’m not working on it at the pace of my ‘A’ project, which is a new dystopian series premiering in August. About five days a week I’ll spend a little time on book six of FOL (Future of London) and although I’m not sure when it’s going to be finished it WILL be done.
Fear not. If Mack Walker ever catches up with Hatchet you my dear reader will be the first to know. Well…second, after me.
“Shut up,” Eda whispered. “Just shut up,
David’s voice came back at her – a faint
vapor of familiarity drifting across the darkness. Somewhere in the close
confinement of the tunnel, his whisper turned into a shout.
“What did you say?” he said. “Eda?”
Eda shook her head. She knew he couldn’t
see her but she did it anyway.
“Nothing,” she said, staring into the
“Were you talking to me?” David said.
Eda shook her head again. “No.”
“Forget it David,” she snapped. “I
thought I heard something that’s all. Let’s get moving, alright? This place
is…never mind, let’s go.”
Eda kept walking. It wasn’t the first
time she’d imagined footsteps or voices on her tail and it wouldn’t be the last
either. Ever since they’d set foot in the Lincoln Tunnel things hadn’t felt
right. A permanent unease had lingered amongst them like an uninvited
companion. Where was the relief Eda had been hoping for? She was out for God’s
sake. Where was the happiness, the joy at breaking free from New York? Damn it.
Wherever the elation was, it wasn’t in the tunnel alongside the travelers. But there
was something else in there, Eda was
sure of it on a purely instinctive level. In the absolute silence, she could
hear it breathing, just a few paces behind her. Walking when she walked.
Stopping when she stopped. Sometimes she felt a gust of breath blowing on the
back of her neck.
But whenever she investigated, there was
nothing there. Nothing at all.
It was the darkness playing tricks with
her mind. She had to keep telling herself that over and over again, repeating
it like a mantra.
The alternative was to go crazy.
Thank God they were more than halfway
through the one and a half mile long tunnel, which was located under the Hudson
River. This creepy underwater bridge, shrouded in darkness, would transport
them from Manhattan, New York, to a place that David apparently knew well,
somewhere called Weehawken, in the old state of New Jersey.
“Frankie Boy?” Eda said. “Are you still
“Frankie?” she said, a hint of panic
creeping into her voice. “Don’t wander off for God’s sake. Not in here of all
Then she heard it. The sound of the dog’s
paws skipping over the roadway towards her. A light tap-tapping, accompanied by
the repetitive sniffing noise Frankie made as he took in some new, unfamiliar
scent in the air.
“Good boy,” she said. She reached down
and found his back. It was a tiny oasis of warmth inside the icy tunnel.
“How long David?” she asked.
“We’re nearly there,” David said. His
voice sounded further away, like he’d kept on walking while Eda had waited for
Frankie Boy to catch up.
“I think this place is getting to me,”
Eda said. “It’s like some giant haunted cave, don’t you think?”
“Try to relax,” David said. “Take slow, deep
breaths. It’s just the tunnel playing tricks with your mind. I was the same the
first time I came through here and I did it alone. Not being able to see two
inches in front of me – it nearly drove me bonkers.”
“Bonkers?” Eda said.
“Yeah, you know. Mad. Crazy. Off my head.”
“Never heard that one before,” Eda said.
David laughed and it felt like the tunnel
was shaking underneath them. “I grew up with an Englishman remember,” he said.
“Yeah,” Eda said. She wasn’t in the mood
to talk about David’s hybrid accent or his upbringing. “Well I’m right on the
edge of goddamn bonkers. How long?”
“You just asked me that,” David said.
“Not long to go,” David said. “Hopefully
no more than fifteen minutes if we keep a steady pace. Trust me, it’s worth it
if we keep pushing on and don’t think too much. We’re nearly out. And once we
are, New York and the Complex will feel like a bad dream.”
Eda groaned. Fifteen minutes. It might as
well have been fifteen days.
They kept walking.
About a minute later, Eda heard David
curse up ahead as he walked into the back of yet another abandoned car. It
wasn’t the first time either one of them had had a collision. There were a lot
of cars sitting in the tunnel in silence, like a fleet of ghost ships from a
distant era. Eda imagined that people back then, not knowing what else to do,
had driven into the tunnel to hide from the madness of the city. Now their
vehicles were still here, cloaked in darkness. Sometimes Eda caught a glimpse
of an impending trunk at the last minute and barely avoided a collision. Mostly
she knew nothing about it until she’d walked into the metal and taken the hit.
Pain took a backseat to frustration. It was something else to slow her down.
Afterwards, Eda would use her hands, feeling her way around the car, trying not
to think about what might still be inside.
That was easier said than done.
Judging by the stale rot that permeated
throughout the tunnel, they were walking through a giant, underground
There were patches of occasional debris
under their feet. As Eda and David stepped over these, a sickening crunching
sound filled the air. It was a blasphemous noise. Eda had by now climbed over a
small mountain of bones and if the ghosts of all those car owners were still in
the tunnel then surely she’d pissed them off big time.
It was enough to make her walk faster.
When the light of the exit finally
appeared up ahead, Eda groaned with relief. Throwing caution aside, she hurried
outside and reveled in the gray, overcast sky that greeted them. They both
stood there for a while, basking in the dull light of either late morning or
It had been a long day so far.
“Thank God,” Eda said. She ran a hand
through her long dark hair. Despite the cold she’d felt inside the tunnel, her
forehead was hot and damp with sweat.
There was also a dull pain throbbing
around Eda’s temple. That was the spot where Lex had punched her. Her jaw ached
too. That brutal struggle in Manhattan was still fresh in body and mind and
despite what David had said earlier, it would be a long time before Eda could
simply pass it off as a bad dream.
At the very least they were out of New
York. That was official.
“Alright,” Eda said, adjusting her eyes
back to daylight. She looked over at David, who was no longer just a voice in
the tunnel alongside her. His wounds from New York added up to no more than a
few minor facial cuts. He was smiling, clearly in good spirits.
Frankie Boy strolled ahead, his black
tail wagging gently back and forth.
“I think you’re in the best shape out of
all of us,” Eda said, looking at the dog. “Talk about not giving a shit.”
She turned back to the gaping jaws of the
Lincoln Tunnel – three black holes, toothless and bleak, that dared to invite
them back to New York. Above each tunnel, a huge advertising billboard looked
down at the travelers. The images on each billboard had long since faded into
“Let’s go,” Eda said.
The road led
uphill into Weehawken. There were more cars sitting on the road as it curved
steeply away from the Lincoln Tunnel entrance. At first glance, it looked as if
this pack of vehicles had just emerged from the New York side and had paused
for a moment before continuing on into New Jersey. But in reality, these
rust-covered carcasses had been lying there for years. Going nowhere.
Eda didn’t get
“So this is home for you?” she asked
David as they walked up the hill.
“Yeah it is,” David said. “Not Weehawken
specifically but New Jersey. I’ve moved about over the years but somehow I
always end up coming back home. It’s like a magnet. It pulls me in and I
“Frankie!” Eda said, cutting David off.
The big German Shepherd had strayed too
close to the abandoned cars. Although it was unlikely there was anything to
fear – at least anything that was alive – Eda didn’t want to take the chance
that someone else, someone who wasn’t just a pile of dust and bones, was
waiting inside one of the vehicles to ambush the newcomers. Dead bodies were
harmless in comparison to the living.
Even though they’d left the Lincoln
Tunnel behind, Eda still had the strange feeling that she was being watched. As
she climbed the hill into Weehawken, her claustrophobia had morphed into a
sudden attack of agoraphobia.
She walked faster.
“Are you alright?” David asked, catching
up with her. “You look a little bit pale if you don’t mind me saying.”
“I’m just getting used to things,” Eda
said. “I thought a change of scenery would be easier than this.”
“You’ll be alright,” David said.
looked at him as she walked at speed. “So where do we go from here?”
“I know a place where we can lay low for
a few days,” he said. “Once we get there we can put our heads together and come
up with a long-term plan.”
“What is it?” Eda asked.
David smiled. “It’s my quiet place,” he
said. “Somewhere green, without a ruined car or a smashed window in sight.”
“Sounds good to me,” Eda said. “Is it
“There’s a bit of walking involved. But
it’ll be worth it, I promise.”
“Alright then,” Eda said. The thought of
a long walk didn’t bother her, not as long as it was taking them further away
from New York. A quiet place sounded just
The rotten scent that Eda had encountered
in the tunnel lingered in the air. It was like the breeze was coated in decay;
now it followed them like a shadow.
They made their way onto a large road,
which the signs called the 495. After that they walked west for about an hour. Eda’s
legs became tired quickly but the thought of David’s quiet place encouraged her
to push past the fatigue, to say nothing of exhaustion. The quiet place had
turned into a fabled paradise in Eda’s imagination. It was glorious. Nothing
she saw along the way of a shattered world could discourage her from the ideal
of perfection that awaited them.
They walked slowly, veering off the 495
and traveling through a town called Secaucus. It felt small compared to the
enormous skyscrapers of Manhattan but despite superficial appearances, the
emptiness inside was identical. Broken-down vehicles lined either side of the
street, some of which had the driver and passenger side doors lying open, as if
inviting further investigation. Eda declined the invitation.
Shattered glass peppered the sidewalk. Eda
stepped over the gleaming, crystal-like shards and was immediately reminded of
the crunching noises she’d heard inside the Lincoln Tunnel when she’d walked
over the bones of the dead.
Eda noticed that David’s initially brisk
pace was slowing down too. His feet looked like they were sinking into the road
with each step.
“You getting tired?” Eda said. She hoped
he’d say yes.
David nodded but he kept his eyes on the
road ahead. “I forgot how far it was to the quiet place from the tunnel.”
“The adrenaline is wearing off,” Eda
said. “I know the feeling. Hey, how about this? Maybe we should rest somewhere
in between here and your quiet place. There’s no rush to get there, right? It
doesn’t have to be this afternoon. It doesn’t even have to be today when you
think about it. Not unless this quiet place of yours is moving.”
“Yeah okay,” David said. “We’ll keep
moving for now and stop in a little while. Okay with you?”
“Sure,” Eda said.
They walked through Secaucus and at the
edge of town, came to a long bridge that crossed over a broad, dark blue river.
Once they were standing on the bridge, Eda knew that they’d found a good place
to stop. She felt safe up there. It was the elevation – standing atop the
bridge, Eda and David were high above all the houses and cars and everything
else of the old civilization that stretched out for miles on either side of the
river. Nothing could touch them on the bridge. It was like standing on the roof
of a skyscraper in New York, safely out of reach of danger.
Looking down, the water was calm and
tempting. But Eda would never go in to cool off, not even on the hottest of
days. She knew that large rivers such as this one had been used as mass graves
during the war years. Below the surface, the riverbed was fat with human
remains. The surface, so blue and appealing from afar, would smell old and
The water level was high at the moment
and Eda wondered how many times this particular river had spilled over its
banks and rampaged through the empty town with no spectators to witness it
wreak havoc upon the neighborhood. Even if it flooded today, Eda, David and
Frankie Boy would be safe up on the bridge.
“What about here?” Eda said, calling out
to David. “This is the best hotel I’ve seen so far in all of New Jersey.”
“Here?” David said. He looked around,
seemingly unconvinced. “You don’t want to cover a little more ground before we
Eda shook her head. “We’ve got food,
water and blankets,” she said. “It’s safe up here. I say we sleep and recover a
little and then start up again early in the morning. Your quiet place – it isn’t
going anywhere is it?”
“You really want to stop here?” David
“Yeah,” Eda said. Her eyes roamed over
the bridge and nearby surroundings, and she was yet again assured of its
strategic advantages. They wouldn’t find anything better than this. Anything
safer. “If we stop in the middle it offers us a great vantage point. We can see
for miles on all sides and if anyone or anything shows up to say hi, we’ll see
them before they can get close.”
“Still think we’re being watched?” David
Eda shrugged. “I need to sit down,” she
said. “Fully digest everything that’s happened today. You know?”
David nodded. He slid Eda’s backpack off
his shoulder and held onto it by a single strap. They’d taken it in turns to
carry the bag so far; it contained all their supplies, a modest bundle of food
and water and amongst other things, two rolled up blankets, which had been fastened
to the front.
They walked to the middle of the bridge
and sat down on the road. Eda put her back up against the sturdy, stone barrier
and sighed with relief.
David ran a hand back and forth over his tired
calf muscles. “I’ll never get up now,” he said.
“No need to get up,” Eda said. “We rest. Start
again in the morning.”
They ate the leftovers that Eda had taken
from the Waldorf Astoria. Before the hastily assembled farewell ceremony, Eda
had helped herself to as much food as she could carry – enough for a few days
split between the two humans and Frankie Boy.
She offered some cold vegetable stew to
Frankie Boy who devoured it in seconds. Then she poured out a small bowl of
water, which she set it down on the road.
Conversation was sparse. Exhaustion
settled into their bodies and minds and when the small talk began to dry up, no
one went out of their way to prolong it. Both David and Eda lay down on their
blankets. It wasn’t much of a bed but as far as Eda was concerned it was a slice
of heaven on Earth. She would sleep well here.
“Wait till you see it,” David said. His
voice was sluggish as he drifted off. He was looking up at the gray sky that
shielded the stars from view. “I should never have left the quiet place.
Everything’s so much better there. You’ll see…”
“Then why did you leave?” Eda said. Her
eyelids were closing over fast.
“Itchy feet,” he said. “Curiosity.
Adventure. The usual. Same things that always get me into trouble.”
A minute later, David was snoring
lightly. Eda rolled over onto her left side and saw Frankie Boy curled up
beside her on the blanket. The last thing she did before falling asleep was slide
her dagger out of the crumpled backpack. After that, she closed her eyes, wrapping
her fingers around the handle and laying the weapon flat against her chest.
In the morning they had a quick
breakfast, gathered their belongings and set off towards the quiet place.
Eda felt refreshed after the long rest. As
they traveled in a westerly direction, she set a swift pace that David matched
stride for stride. There was a renewed sense of purpose in the traveling party
now that the horrors of New York had faded ever so slightly further into the
Frankie Boy walked a short distance ahead,
probing the surroundings like a well-trained scout.
After about six hours on the road they
reached the city of Paterson. Paterson looked like it had been hit by a bomb
and of course it had many times over. But walking through the city, Eda thought
the destruction looked fresh – like it could have happened yesterday. Nobody
had tried to rebuild over this since it happened. Debris of all kinds – bricks,
stone and glass – were scattered all over the streets and sidewalks. The burned
out shells of cars were everywhere, some of them skeletal and barely upright.
David stopped in the middle of the
street. There was a strained expression on his face as he spun around, taking
it all in.
“I remember this,” he said. “When it
happened. All the noise and confusion – the shouting and screams. The worst
screams you could ever imagine Eda. It all happened right here.”
“You lived in this city?” Eda asked.
He looked at her with an embarrassed
“Think so,” he said. “I can’t remember to
tell you the truth. All I remember is running with a gang of street kids in a
place that looked just like this. A big city in New Jersey – how could I forget
“I grew up in a city,” Eda said. “I don’t
remember what it was called either.”
David sighed. “They were right when they
called it the wild years,” he said. “The things I saw Eda. I’ve never been so
scared in all my life and yet I had to act tough if I didn’t want to be one of
the victims. There was no way I could have kept that up for long. It would have
worn me down sooner or later.”
“You got out?” Eda said.
“Yeah,” David said. “Thank God, one day
someone found me. He took me and some of the other kids and got us the hell out
of here. He saved our lives. Took us somewhere better.”
He looked at Eda.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” Eda said.
“Are you really going to do what Shay
asked you to do?” he said. “Are you going to become an ambassador for the
Complex, find men and lure them to their death in New York? I mean, it’s none
of my business but why should you? You’re free of those women now – you can do
whatever you want without having to satisfy Shay’s bloodlust.”
Eda shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she said. That was the
truth. She hadn’t really stopped to give it much thought since leaving
Manhattan. “I’m not going to go out of my way to look for anyone. But at the
same time, if I ever meet some gaping asshole who deserves it then why not?
It’s an ugly way to die, that’s for sure.”
David nodded. He pointed to the backpack
on Eda’s shoulder.
“Want me to carry that for a while?”
“Nah,” Eda said. “I’m good.”
“How are our supplies?”
“We’re not going to starve or die of
thirst just yet,” Eda said. “But we’d better think about topping up soon or we
David’s eyes fell on the road that led
west. “We’re close to our destination.”
“So tell me,” Eda said. “What exactly is
this quiet place of yours? You’re not giving much away you know.”
David laughed, jerking a thumb over his
“There’s a massive stretch of wetland
that way,” he said. “It’s like a big wooded swamp, that kind of thing.”
Eda shrugged, which made David laugh
“It’s about as far from New York City as
you can imagine,” he said. “There’s a beautiful river that runs through it, trees,
flowers, and things growing like that. Great Piece Meadows – that’s what it was
called before the war. I call it my quiet place. It’s not like anything we’re walking
through right now. Not like Paterson or New York. In the quiet place, everything
looks just like it did before everything happened. You’d never even know
there’d been a war. Nature takes care of you in there. There’s deer. Rainwater.
It’s got everything you’d ever need to survive.”
They traveled west out of Paterson and
onto a long stretch of blacktop highway with surprisingly few vehicles on it. It
wasn’t long before Eda saw a vast ocean of trees looming in the distance. This
blurry, mirage-like vision was every bit as inviting as the bright blue river
of Secaucus. This time however, Eda was going to take up the invitation.
After walking for another twenty minutes
straight, they came to a small, winding road that ran parallel to the highway. David
led them along this road until gradually they began to enter the wetlands of
Great Piece Meadows.
But before the swamp took over
completely, the travelers passed by the remains of a few shack-like houses.
These tiny abodes were lined up neatly on both sides of the road, the last hint
of old civilization to be found in the region. From there, the path into the
swamp narrowed further and the trees got larger and closer. For Eda, it was
like walking into a different world and so far at least, it felt welcoming in a
way she’d never encountered before. New York, Paterson and all the concrete
skylines in her mind began to recede slowly, figments of a dream fizzling out
in the morning sunshine.
Muddy puddles leaked out of the lush
greenery and spilled onto the road. It was as if the swamp was trying to escape
from itself, one tiny piece at a time.
“Great Piece Meadows,” Eda said, stepping
over one large trail of mud. “So this is it? This is your quiet place?”
There was a smile on David’s face. His eyes
drank in the environment, filling him up.
“You can see the appeal right?” he said.
He stopped and held up a hand. “Listen. What do you hear?”
“Nothing,” Eda said.
“Exactly. Best sound you’ll ever hear.”
“Uhh, sure,” Eda said. “It’s different,
I’ll give you that much. And right now, anything different is good.”
David kept walking. “Don’t worry,” he said.
“You’ll like it here.”
It was a while before either one of them
Eda peered into the swamp from the road.
She couldn’t see anything in between all the trees and the long, overgrown
grass. It looked like the Meadows didn’t want to be found.
“You really lived in there?” she asked.
“I sure did,” David said. “It’s not quite
as empty as it looks from out here on the road. There are a lot of animals
living in the Meadows. There’s life everywhere you look, even if you can’t see
it at first. I have weapons stored away – bows, knives. I’ve got plenty of traps
too. We can…”
Eda jumped when Frankie Boy started barking.
She knew that bark, fierce and frightened all mixed into one head-splitting
noise. It was a warning. The dog’s body was as stiff as a board, the tail
erect. He was facing the swamp head-on, barking at a blanket of trees and
Eda crouched down beside him. Her heart
sped up as she stared into the swamp.
“What is it Frankie Boy?” she said.
“There’s nothing there.”
David stepped over beside them and Eda
straightened back up. They stood side by side, frozen on the narrow path,
staring into the swamp because they knew that Frankie Boy wasn’t barking at
nothing. But they couldn’t see anything, just a dense blanket of foliage swaying
back and forth to a gentle breeze.
“C’mon boy,” Eda said. She patted Frankie
on the back several times, hoping he’d snap out of it. “Let’s keep walking.
Eda was interrupted by a rustling noise
in the distance. Like something big pushing through the trees.
They heard the distinct sound of twigs
snapping under feet.
“David?” Eda said. “Is that a deer?”
David shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
Eda looked harder, not allowing herself
There was something there, directly up
ahead. A man’s face had appeared in a small gap in between a couple of bloated
tree trunks. He was looking at them through the gap, staring at the travelers with
a calm, unblinking expression. The man was so perfectly still that Eda thought
she might have been looking at a statue. And then he moved. It was like
watching something step out of a dream and set foot in the material world – a
two-dimensional image slowly coming to life in the three-dimensional realm.
More twigs snapped.
The man came through the Meadows, gliding
towards them like a phantom.
It feels like a long time since I released The Curse.
Hasn’t been that long, think it was around December 19th off the top of my head. Since then I’ve been working on the sequel and I’m delighted to say that The Sinners (After the End #2) will be available on February 27th.
Here’s the blurb (roughish draft – I’m still working on it!)
Two people and a dog wandering through post-apocalyptic America.
they go next?
After the events of The
Curse, Eda and David have left New York behind in search of new horizons.
But a new threat lies in wait for the travelers and it’s
lurking in a swamp in the former state of New Jersey.
demon called Uncle Sam.
bombsite turned mega-crater.
strange, terrifying man at the heart of it all…
After the horrors of New York, things couldn’t possibly get any worse for Eda and David. Could they?
I’ve done so little recently (work-wise), having just returned from a ten-day trip to Tasmania (which was incredible!) and today I found myself staring at the laptop screen, trying to remember how to do the things I’ve been doing so intensely for the past three years. Brainstorming, writing, planning, mapping, marketing, design stuff and so on…It feels like I have nothing to write – my current WIP is with the editor and I won’t get it back until Friday. By now I should have a decent map of the next and final book in that particular series.
I have nothing.
So I tried looking at some Amazon ads that I left running during my trip. A bit of low-demand marketing might make me feel like I’m doing something. Meh! My brain doesn’t want to know. This is life after a holiday. This is me after a holiday. I don’t want to work. I’ve been working like a madman over the past three years and today I’m desperate to be as lazy as I can possibly be. Really lazy – it sounds so tempting. The work, rest and play balance – that can get stuffed. I just wanna rest and hide and go back to Tasmania.
It’ll pass. I did manage to write this pathetic excuse of a blog, which I can’t be bothered to edit. And I wrote a pretty decent review of the pet-sitter, even if I do say so myself.
The endless barrage of rain crashed down to Earth. It poured out of a dark sky smothered in thick, bloated clouds that hung low over the once-thriving metropolis.
The man who rode on horseback down 42nd Street didn’t seem to mind the rain. Not judging by the contented, almost serene glow in his eyes. There was a smile on his face too. The soft clip-clop of the horse’s hooves on the wet road was the sound of a leisurely stroll in progress; it was a gentle, even soothing noise, and in stark contrast to the angry weather.
There were over a hundred women lined up on either side of the street, waiting for the man to pass by. They watched him – all of them, a silent and tentative welcoming committee with their heads buried under a sea of brightly colored umbrellas.
Every now and then, an anxious face would peer out from the rim of an umbrella, eager for a glimpse of the latest visitor to their community.
There was a man in town.
Eda Becker stood in line too, but unlike the majority of the other women, she didn’t bother to shield herself from the deluge with an umbrella. Eda had always liked the feel of the rain – even the icy cold variety – on her head. The books had a word for that – they said she was a pluviophile – a lover of rain and it was a good thing too, considering the nature of the weather these days. The older women in the Complex liked to say that Mother Nature was overworked, that she was still trying to clean the last traces of blood off the streets from the war. Eda couldn’t see any blood on the streets, no matter how hard she looked. The others would be quick to remind her that just because she couldn’t see the blood, that didn’t mean it wasn’t still there.
Eda wasn’t sure what they meant by that.
The rainfall grew more intense. By now it sounded like there were a hundred horses on the road, their heavy hooves stamping off the hard surface, all of them galloping at full speed.
At last, Eda was forced to pop up the hood on her maroon rain cloak.
She watched the man on horseback pass her by and decided to follow him as discreetly as she could. Quietly, the sound of her footsteps lost in the downpour, Eda took a step backwards, removing herself from the long and rigid line of women that had gathered outside to greet the grinning man.
She walked behind the line, keeping her head down. Her eyes stayed alert however, tracking the man’s path as he made his way towards the entrance to Grand Central.
Eda wasn’t doing anything wrong or expressly forbidden. But nobody else had stepped out of line to get a better view. Their loss – it wasn’t every day a man showed up in New York. As she walked parallel to the visitor, she could hear the horse’s hooves still clicking on the ground. It was a strangely satisfying sound, completely new to her. Eda glanced over and saw the permanent grin on the man’s leathery and red grizzled face – it was a gargoyle smile that stretched far and wide. His gray trenchcoat dripped endless streams of water. So did the cowboy hat, tilted back on his skull at a slight angle to allow a better view of the surroundings.
The women broke into a sudden round of applause. It was a muted but joyful gesture of appreciation. They clapped one hand against the knuckles of the other – the one that still gripped the handle of their umbrellas. Although the end result was somewhat muffled, it was at least enthusiastic.
The grinning man waved to the women standing on both sides of the street. There was something regal about the gesture. At that moment, he was like a beloved hero coming home after a long, painful absence. As he smiled, the deep lines and grooves on his old face got deeper.
At last, the horse was brought to a stop close to the entrance of Grand Central. The man dropped the reins, dismounted and as he stretched his stiff limbs, he took a long look around at his surroundings.
The women’s applause began to fade and soon there was only the sound of the rain again.
Eda crept forward, still intent on getting as close to the action as possible. Fortunately nobody was paying much attention to what she was doing. As she approached the end of the line, not far from the station entrance, she watched the grinning man as his eyes scoured the bruised and battered surroundings of Manhattan.
His grin slowly faded and Eda wondered if he was remembering the past.
The area he was looking at had been a major crosstown street in the borough of Manhattan and housed some of the city’s most recognizable buildings. Some of them were still intact but many were gone now. The New York Public Library was a pile of rubble, as was the former Headquarters of the United Nations. Times Square looked more or less like a crater, but Grand Central Terminal had remained untouched – a minor miracle considering its importance during the war when it had performed a crucial role in supply transportation.
A tall woman with an umbrella stepped out of the station entrance. She walked onto the street and approached the man at a steady pace. Like Eda, this woman appeared to be undisturbed by the intense rainfall that had besieged the city. She wore a bright red rain cloak – the sort of garment that was worn by all the women in the Complex. These were essentially old raincoats with large hoods and long cloak-like tails that trailed down the back, stretching almost to the heels. These had been stitched together from a variety of different items scavenged across the city. The rain cloaks weren’t pretty by any means, but they were warm and bulky, so much so that it looked like the wearer had a tent wrapped around them.
Long strands of greyish-brown hair poked out of the edges of the woman’s hood.
Upon seeing the woman in the red cloak, Eda stepped back into the end of the line. Mission accomplished – she was now only a short distance away from the grinning man and his horse. She lowered her hood and tried to act like she’d been standing there all along. Despite this, Eda could feel some of the women in the opposite line staring at her, or maybe she was just imagining it. It didn’t matter. With any luck she’d be able to listen in on the upcoming conversation with ease.
“Welcome to New York,” the woman said.
She raised her umbrella, positioning it over the grinning man’s soaking head.
“Welcome to the Complex,” she said, offering an outstretched hand. “My name is Shay and I’m very pleased to meet you.”
The man didn’t say anything at first.
He patted his horse on the side and a long time seemed to pass before he accepted the offer of a handshake.
Shay turned around and gestured to someone standing behind her. Almost immediately, a middle-aged woman in a brown rain cloak came up behind them. The woman pointed to the horse, then said something to the man that Eda couldn’t hear. The man nodded and a moment later, the woman took the lead rope in hand and led the horse away from the station.
“This is the Complex?” the grinning man said.
“Yes it is,” Shay said with a nod. “Have you traveled far?”
The man nodded. For a second, he looked old and exhausted in the face. His body sagged a little too. Eda guessed he was probably in his early sixties but it was hard to tell with people of that generation – the war had put so many years on them that most were older than their appearance would suggest. No matter how much they smiled, the past would show up sooner or later in their eyes, that little trace of leftover heartache that always wore them down gradually.
He was a big man. He literally towered over Shay, which was quite a feat considering that Shay herself was at least six feet tall without her boots on. As she stood beside him, she had to work to keep the umbrella over his head.
“Well I met your ambassador,” the grinning man said, wiping the damp hair off his face. “She was quite a gal.”
“Which ambassador?” Shay asked. There was a curious glint in her eyes.
The man shrugged like he didn’t really care. Eda saw him glance towards the tip of the Chrysler Building, its distinctive presence still towering above the city skyline. The grinning man’s eyes lingered there for a few seconds before he turned his attention back to Shay.
“Oh I’m not sure,” he said. “Deborah? Deirdre? Any of those ring a bell? It was definitely a ‘D’ name – of that much I’m sure. She was about fifty years old, maybe a little older. Real skinny bag of bones type. She looked hungry as hell but a real determined gal you know? It looked like she’d crawled through Hell and swum across the Lake of Fire before she found me.”
“Denise,” Shay said. “So you came up from the south?”
“Yeah,” the grinning man said. “Been in Pennsylvania for a while but I wandered up from Virginia originally.”
“Virginia?” Shay said. “What’s it like down there?”
“Dead,” the man said, shaking his head.
“You saw no one?” Shay asked.
“Virginia’s a ghost state,” the man said. “There’s no one there anymore. I bumped into a couple of old-timers living out of a bus in Pennsylvania but that was it. I’m telling you, America’s gone – it’s really gone. You gotta see it to really appreciate that fact. This here’s the biggest crowd I’ve seen in a very long time. What have you got here anyway? One hundred, two hundred people? And all ladies too – guess that makes me kind of special, right?”
Shay’s lips curled into a half-smile.
“And what did Denise tell you?” she asked.
“She told me what I needed to know,” the grinning man said. “Told me you little ladies got a special project going on right here in New York. What a story that was – fascinating.”
He raised his eyebrows. The grin on his face was devilish.
“Project with a capital ‘P’,” he said. “Isn’t that right?”
“Yes,” Shay said.
The man looked over his shoulder at the women who’d welcomed him to the city. They were still standing in two neat lines on either side of the street.
“I know what you need,” he said, turning back to Shay. “So where is she? Is she standing over there with the rest of them? Where’s the girl with the face that launched a thousand ships?”
“You don’t waste any time do you?” Shay said, with a soft laugh. “I thought you’d be exhausted after such a long…”
“Helen of Troy,” the man said, butting in abruptly. “I’ve had a long journey and it was all to meet her. To do what we have to do. So where is she?”
“She’s not here,” Shay said.
The grinning man frowned.
“I hope she’s somewhere close,” he said.
Shay nodded. “Of course she is,” she said. “Didn’t Denise tell you? Helen is kept separate from the rest of the women in the Complex for many reasons. She resides in the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue and right now she’s getting ready to greet you.”
The man laughed loudly, a spluttering noise that sounded like something was clogged up in his throat.
At the same time, Eda caught Shay looking over at her. There was a strange look on the older woman’s face – something that Eda couldn’t quite pin down.
“Eda,” Shay said. “You weren’t standing there earlier.”
Eda felt like all the eyes in New York had turned towards her. Her skin was burning. She opened her mouth to say something to Shay but the words were stuck on the tip of her tongue.
“If you’re going to take such an interest in our conversation,” she said, “why don’t you come over and offer to carry this gentleman’s bag while I show him around? Make yourself useful, yes?”
Now it was the grinning man’s turn to have a look at Eda. As he glanced over his shoulder, his eyes narrowed. It was as if he was looking at a rare and peculiar species of animal – some form of life that he didn’t quite understand.
He licked the rainwater off his lips.
“Cute,” he said.
Eda’s body stiffened.
“Eda?” Shay said, beckoning the young woman over with a curled finger. “Get the gentleman’s bag please.”
Eda nodded and crept forward. Despite the discomfort she felt at being singled out, she would at least get to follow Shay and the stranger around for a while longer and listen in further on their conversation.
“You don’t need to show me around,” the grinning man said, looking at Shay. “Truly ma’am. I’d prefer to get right down to work if you don’t mind. Or isn’t she fertile right now?”
“As a matter of fact she is,” Shay said. “Usually men show up at the wrong time and so we’ll put them in a hotel until Helen’s body is ready to receive. As far as I can recall, you’re the only one who’s ever arrived at the perfect time. It’s almost like it’s a sign, wouldn’t you say?”
The man nodded. “Lucky me.”
“Yes indeed,” Shay said. “Nonetheless, Helen isn’t quite ready for you yet. She won’t be long and in the meantime, why don’t you let me show you around? I can tell you a little about what’s happening here in the Complex. After that, you can go straight to work. I promise.”
The man looked too tired to argue with Shay.
“Sure thing,” he said.
“Eda!” Shay said. “Come on. Get the gentleman’s bag please.”
Eda nodded and hurried over to where Shay and the grinning man were waiting. She heard some of the women sniggering at her back but she didn’t care. Let them stand there in the rain and get soaked.
“Can I take your bag?” Eda asked the man. She kept her distance from the newcomer but couldn’t fail to miss the peculiar smell of aged leather that drifted off either his clothes or skin.
There was a withered backpack at the man’s boots.
“I can carry my own bag,” he said. “There’s not much in there.”
“Nevertheless,” Shay said, stepping forward. “You’re our very special guest and if we treat our beloved Helen like a queen then you must let us treat you like a king. It’s only fair.”
The man smirked and scratched at the jagged stubble sprouting up off his chin. With a nod, he picked up the small bag and thrust it into Eda’s hands.
“Whatever makes you ladies happy,” he said. “There you go sweetheart. You’ll take good care of that for me, won’t you?”
“Thank you,” Eda said. “I mean, yes I will.”
Eda slung the bag over her shoulder and it weighed next to nothing, almost like it was empty. She imagined that the long hunting knife strapped to the grinning man’s waist was the most important possession he carried around with him. He must have been quite the skilled hunter to survive out there with just his wits and a sharp blade.
The three of them walked towards the entrance of the station. Eda kept a few paces behind the others, hoping that they’d forget she was there.
“Why this place?” the grinning man asked. “Why Grand Central?”
“It’s intact for a start,” Shay said. “But we don’t live or sleep here – it’s more of a gathering point for the women. It’s the heart of our community.”
“So where do you sleep?” the man asked.
“Nearby,” Shay said. “The women help themselves to whatever accommodation they can find. Hotels, abandoned apartments or stores – it’s entirely their choice when it comes to where they spend the night.”
“And where do you live Shay?” he asked.
“In the Waldorf Astoria, close to Helen.”
“The Waldorf Astoria,” the man said, chuckling quietly. “How lavish you are. It’s still in good condition then?”
“It’s in perfect condition,” Shay said. “The looters never got anywhere near it, thank God. It’s a piece of history as far as I’m concerned.”
The man pointed to the station as they approached the door.
“This one’s a piece of history too,” he said. “Grand Central, I’ll be damned. I remember this place from back in the day – it’s classic New York.”
“For me it’s a symbol,” Shay said, looking up towards the roof with a proud eye. “This place, it changes with the times – this was actually the third station to occupy the site here. Back in the early twentieth century this building embodied the ascent of New York. It expanded in harmony with the city’s growth, a constant symbol of change, going back to when they razed the old building to construct a new station, replacing the steam locomotives with electric trains.”
“You know your history,” the man said. “Well done.”
“I’m a proud New Yorker,” Shay said. “Born and bred. And I’m sure this building survived for a reason. It represented regrowth in the past and that’s what we’re all about now. What this is about. The Complex. The Project. That’s why we sent out the ambassadors and it’s why you’re here today. This building will oversee the preservation of the human race. And not a moment too soon – we’re running out of time.”
“Yeah,” the grinning man said.
“Let me show you inside,” Shay said.
As they walked towards the door, Shay pointed at a row of long, rectangular flowerbeds outside the building’s exterior. Short stretches of awning leaned over the flowerbeds, offering at least some shelter from the strong winds that often accompanied the rain.
“We call them the gardens,” she said, lowering the umbrella and closing it before walking inside. “But really it’s just a small collection of plant foods that we grow – they’re our lifeline. We keep mostly, low-maintenance crops – potatoes, beetroot, carrots, kale, onions – and some others. A quick weed, water and little fuss.”
She pointed a finger towards the sky.
“The water comes easy – that’s one good thing about all the rain. It’s low-input, high-output in terms of the food we grow here, and that’s good because we have over a hundred and fifty mouths to feed. We have some wonderful gardeners and chefs here at the Complex. And you help out too sometimes, don’t you Eda?”
Eda was still lagging a few paces behind.
“A little gardening sometimes,” she said with a shrug. “Nothing much.”
“How do you store the water?” the grinning man asked.
“We have large barrels to collect the rainwater,” Shay said. “There’s plenty of water kept in storage. It’s a crude system overall but it works extremely well. It’s amazing how much water we can accumulate from just one large rainfall. There’s no excuse for dying of thirst anymore.”
The man glanced over his shoulder at Eda.
“That your kid?” he asked Shay.
“Eda?” Shay said. “No. Eda never knew her mother, not really. She was orphaned at a very young age during the war.”
“What is she?” the man said. “Thirty? Thirty-five? I haven’t seen anyone that young in a long time.”
Shay nodded. “Considering how things are, I’d wager she’s one of the youngest people left in the country. Most of us in the Complex are in our fifties, sixties or older.”
“Yeah I noticed,” the man said. “And what about Helen?”
“She’s roughly around Eda’s age,” Shay said.
“Thank Christ for that,” the grinning man said.
As they walked further into Grand Central, he whistled his appreciation.
“This place is gorgeous,” he said.
“Yes it is,” Shay said.
The main concourse in Grand Central was almost three hundred feet in length. A massive celestial ceiling, twelve stories high, adorned the concourse, painted with two and a half thousand stars and zodiac constellations. The information booth and the ticket vending machines gave the impression that the station was still operational. Eda’s favorite feature however, was the four clock faces located on top of the information booth, all made from opal.
“So this is where you girls hang out?” the grinning man said.
“This is where we gather,” Shay said. “This is where we grow, think and plan for the future of our species. The Project – the dream of reconstruction was first born here.”
The man made a loud snorting noise.
“You’re sure as hell clinging on to the past,” he said, shaking his head. “Who says we even deserve a second chance? After everything that happened.”
“We’re clinging onto life,” Shay said. “And it’s not the past we’re interested in, it’s the future.” She pointed to a variety of large and small pot plants on the outskirts of the concourse. “Life goes on, inside and outside this building. It will continue to do so with the right amount of love and care. Life surrounds us. It’s stubborn and has an inherent will to survive, and yet the one form of life that we seek to prolong most of all eludes us.”
“Guess that’s why I’m here,” the man said. “Right? You need somebody to water that special plant you’re keeping in the Waldorf.”
There was a grim look on Shay’s face. Her skin looked pallid and thin.
“If only it were so simple,” she said in a quiet voice.
The grinning man frowned. Eda imagined that he’d been quite a physical specimen many years ago. He was still a force now but age, along with life’s wear and tear, had manifested on his giant body in the form of gray hair, wrinkles and a slightly protruding gut.
“It’s simple enough,” he said to Shay. “I move into the Waldorf and put a baby inside your queen. Look, I might be sixty-something years old but I’m probably the most fertile man you ever saw in your life. I had four young boys before the war and…”
He stopped all of sudden. It was as if he was unable or unwilling to continue down that line of thought.
“Never mind,” he said.
“You’re very confident,” Shay said. “I can see that. But so were all the other men who came through here before you. Just like you, they said all the right things before they went to see Helen. Tell me something if you please. Why don’t you fear the curse?”
The Curse (After the End Trilogy #1) is now available on Amazon. Click here for more info.