Extract from 'Portentous 1'

I know that a lot of people take a peek at Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ function (and rightly so) to get a little bit of insight into the text they’re thinking of picking up. However, openings can only offer so much. So I thought I’d start dropping a few pieces in here, either from stuff that’s already out or maybe even stuff that I’m developing. Here then, is a little bit from ‘Portentous 1: Brothers’.

Portentous 1: Brothers – An Extract

Wexlen was sat on a bench scraping mud from his boots, as a couple of staff spoke to him. She recognised the settlement’s falconer and one of the Ceremony gate sentries. When he saw her and the boys he grinned and urged the men to go back about their business. He opened his arms for Soran to run towards.

Alton looked up at her with his tray of cakes. He didn’t have to ask the question. “Hand them over,” she said. He held the tray up, which she took, and then ran to his father. When he got there, he curbed his excitement and offered Wexlen his hand. He’s trying to be so grown up, she thought. Wexlen took it, but pulled his son in for a hug.

She let them all have their moment, then walked over with the tray. “Frannie’s baking?” Wexlen asked.

“With help from your sons, yes. How are things with Paxlan?”

Wex paused, conscious that he was talking about the children’s uncle and Alton was bound to be listening. “Things are okay, but I think he and Aleska are going to be busy at their farm for a few days.”

“Anything I can help with?”

His face grew a little thoughtful and, with it, stern. “No, I don’t think so. And it is perhaps best that you and the boys leave them to it at Windvane. At least until I’ve checked back to see that their… work is done.”

Gabrella was worried. This was all too cryptic, and the sooner she could get him alone, the better.

“I can help with farm work,” said Alton.

Wexlen ruffled his hair. “No need, son – your uncle has everything under control.”

Gabrella scoffed inwardly. “Has he?” she asked.

“It’ll be fine,” Wex replied, which wasn’t the answer she was looking for. “Come on – let’s go to the gates and say goodbye to Envoy Croke.”

They approached the Ceremony gates as a family, Wexlen linking her arm, and both of them with a boy on their opposite hand. Doster walked behind, holding the cakes.

They walked up the ramp under the arch, past old Edbryn with an armful of yellow sashes, and out onto the smooth road. The caravan of velocers and pods was arranged in single file, the sky-blue markings on the envoy’s showed its position as second from last. All the men were in the pods, save for one stood by each, waiting for the order to leave. The only difference was Croke’s: the envoy joined his guard on the outside of the pod. He looked impatient.

Wexlen led the family towards him.

“Thank you for your visit, Envoy Croke. I hope your journey back to the Centre is a safe one.”

“And a swift one. I have much to share with the Leader.”

“My falconer tells me he helped yours send out a bird. It seems your man was missing the right sized parchment roll.”

Croke was furious that the two birdmen had liaised, but he hid his disgruntlement. “Yes; I had to let the capital know what has transpired here. How uncooperative the governor of Star East One has been.”

“I didn’t act outside of the law. You had no jurisdiction over the civilian’s property, and you had my word that there was nothing untoward. That should have sufficed.”

“The fact that the civilian was your brother clouds this matter somewhat, Dais. Having now examined his property for yourself, are you still maintaining that there is nothing untoward there? No evidence of the storm debris that we are searching for? Last opportunity.”

“I am. There is nothing for you at Pax’s farm.”

“Then at least we know who’s side you are on.”

“No sides, Envoy Croke – just truth.”

“Well, the truth of it is that you can expect a reply from the Centre shortly – I imagine by return of falcon – along with another visit with all the signed lawful documents you could wish for. I just hope that the Leader asks me to come on that trip also, so that you can personally show me around your brother’s homestead, and anywhere else we decide to tread. Your own home for instance. Your own chambers.” With that last point he stared at Gabrella and she felt the hair on the back of her neck rise. She stepped closer to her husband.

“Pass the Leader my regards,” said Wexlen, and pointed his family in the direction of the village. Croke, unamused, clambered into his pod.

Down the ramp, the sound of rolling wheels and thudding paws thundering away, Gabrella cornered her husband. “Are we to expect trouble, Wex? What’s going on?”

He urged his sons to help themselves to a cake from Doster. “It’s under control,” he said. “The less you know, the better.”

This surprised her. “Wex, you’ve never-”

“This is between Pax and me. And Aleska, unfortunately. Until it blows over – and it will – I don’t want anyone else involved.”

“You don’t sound convinced, my love.”

He wore a smile that looked as flimsy as a painted mask. “All will be well; I just need you to trust me.”

“Always,” she said, and stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. She didn’t feel reassured however, and hoped that her husband – and governor – was doing the right thing for everybody, and not just being swayed by the actions of his foolish brother.

Flash Fiction – Blessed?

TO ADDRESS THE PROMPT: ‘WORST INTERVIEW EVER’

Blessed? (500 words)

Chief Commander Donaldson sat at the chrome desk with his fingers interlocked and resting on the question sheet. A buzzer sounded, indicating that the door to interview room #1 was opening. Two of his officers bustled in, the terrorist suspect dangling between them.

‘Please seat Mr Gonzales.’ The soldiers did as instructed and dumped the prisoner in the chair in front of the desk. Built-in steel cuffs secured Gonzales to the arm rests. He wriggled ineffectually against the restraints but then settled, glaring wide-eyed at Donaldson.

‘They’ve been at you for nearly a week now, and nothing. I’m impressed. But I also know, regardless of your silence, that you’re behind the peace marches and the break-out of those reprobates they call The Freedom Four. So now you’re with me. And I’m going to ask you some questions. You will have heard them before, but I imagine your answers first time around were lies.’

Gonzales’ eyes darted around the room, looking for help that wasn’t coming.

Donaldson cleared his throat. ‘Has he been injected with the serum?’ One of the officers replied in the affirmative.

‘Then let’s begin.’ He displayed teeth, unnaturally white and uniform, and read from the sheet. ‘Welcome potential citizen of the Imperial Blessed State of Great America. In order to assimilate you we require accurate answers to the following questions. Question 1: will you comply with all instructions issued with the seal of the Blessed State?’

Gonzales gritted his teeth. Sweat started to form on his brow. ‘I will.’

‘Two. Will you conduct your life in line with the five laws dictated by the Chief Commander’s Imperial Office?’

Gonzales couldn’t stop his head from shaking but he somehow got the words out: ‘I will.’

‘Three. What is your opinion of what is often described as The Free Media?’

‘It’s… fake.’ Gonzales was shivering. ‘Nothing but lies. Only the broadcasts of the Blessed State are genuine.’

Donaldson paused. Two-word answers were one thing, but stringing a whole sentence together against your natural inclination was something else. He wondered if the serum was working properly. He carried on regardless.

‘Four. What is your view of other states outside of the Imperial Walls?’

‘Heretics! Sinners! Lawless animals!’ The words were spat out, cohesive commentary now becoming a clear struggle.

‘And finally, five. What is your primary duty as a citizen of the Imperial Blessed State of New America?’

‘To… to be vigilant. Watch others. Report… instances… of… unblessed… behaviour.’

Donaldson sat back and took in the quivering wreck on the chair. ‘Very good, Gonzales. I would have thought that impossible if it wasn’t true, which I doubt it is. However, here’s a personal question.’ He leaned forward and grinned as wide as possible. ‘What’s your opinion of me, buddy?’

Gonzales sagged in his chair like the air had been let out of him, but he also offered a wry smile. ‘You’re the biggest dick on the planet.’

‘Perfect,’ said Donaldson. He nodded to the guards. ‘Prepare the prisoner for execution.’

Recollection – A Flash Piece

RECOLLECTION (500 words)

I was back in the old neighbourhood for the first time in ten years. A father’s death, regardless of your differences, brings you home. The wake was in the house and I’d taken as many condolences as I could stand, so had stepped out for some air.

In the same way that school corridors shorten and classrooms shrink if you ever return as an adult, the old streets and alleyways seemed tiny and insignificant when compared to memory. I walked on, smirking at the flashbacks and the inevitable comparisons.

That’s when I came across the front yard of Tyrone Lang’s house, or at least where he used to live. Sixteen years ago, when I used to run around in a crew – mid-teen, angry, antisocial – he had been the only person for whom we had any reverence. He had been ripped, muscles stretching cotton tees taut. He used to do weights in this very yard, and we’d just watch him, and hoped he’d favour one of us to spot him. A good seven or eight years older than the biggest of us, we were impressed; in awe.

He was a fearsome beast, and everybody knew it. I had a clear memory of him beating another man half to death, an altercation at an impromptu house party that had gone too far. I realised there and then that I’d never been more scared of another human being more in my life, even after all these years.

I wondered, but didn’t have to wonder for long. I’d been stood there for a good half-minute and that had drawn attention. A man came out of the house. Stocky, but with a belly hanging over his belt buckle. Shorter than me, and balding. As he walked towards me I could see I was a couple of inches taller.

‘Can I help you?’ he asked. It was the voice that gave it away: this, unbelievably, was Tyrone. My initial instinct was to scurry off apologetically, but then I remembered I was no longer fifteen.

‘Not particularly,’ I said. ‘I’m Michael Buchanan. I used to live around here.’

Lang nodded. ‘You’ve done some changing, Mickey B.’

I was surprised that he remembered me, but he must have, using my old moniker like that.

‘So have you,’ I said.

‘Not so much. A beergut and a baldpatch, but that’s about it.’

I looked at him again and concluded that he was probably right: it was me that had done most of the changing, mainly my perspective on things.

‘Heard your dad died.’

‘Heart attack.’

‘Got to be honest with you, Mickey. I’m not sorry he’s gone. He was a mean son-of-a-bitch if ever there was one. Good that you and your mum got out when you did.’

I wanted to say I don’t know what you mean, or how dare you! but instead I stuck out a hand and he shook it. ‘Thank you,’ I said.

Memory was a fickle thing. It was good to hear the truth.

Another Flash

In response to the prompt: Alpha Male. 500 word limit.

Office Space No. 9

K’Fara-nu was shown into the warehouse; the motion triggered the overhead lights, revealing the exhibit. It took up half of the floor space. Its four walls – equal in length – were made entirely of glass.

D’Jaka-ta elaborated. ‘It is to resemble what was once their working environment; crammed office cubicles, no privacy, back-to-back desks… the tension in there is palpable, and often entertaining.’ D’Jaka-ta, curled limbs with K’fara-nu and led her closer to the huge glass box.

It offered a view of a devastated scene. What she was sure had once been orderly rows of desks and carefully arranged partitions was now a landscape of overturned furniture and destroyed hardware. In the centre was a pile of desks and chairs, arranged as if being readied for a bonfire. K’Fara-nu questioned it.

‘It’s not that,’ replied D’Jaka-ta. ‘It’s a vantage point. No doubt we’ll see shortly. Keep an eye on the remaining humans.’ Heeding the instruction, K’Fara-nu’s stalks twitched in readiness.

They toured the perimeter of the exhibit and found some huddled together in a den made of partition walls, the roof held up with long-empty water coolers. Pale and sickly, their business suits hung off their angular frames. ‘How regularly do they need feeding?’

‘We drop it in twice a day, but some of the weaker ones struggle to get enough.’ D’Jaka-ta waved a tail at the stacked boxes in another corner of the warehouse. ‘Prepacked sandwiches, mainly.’

‘I see. What’s this one doing?’ K’Fara-nu pointed to a female sat cross-legged near the glass wall. She was flicking and flexing her fingers above her lap and holding a fixed stare at a patch of nothing just in front of her.

‘She thinks she’s still working, tapping away at one of their computers. Sad, really.’ D’Jaka-ta slapped a limb against the glass, but the human did not break her gaze, or the repetitive action.

‘Is it cruel to keep them locked up this way?’

‘They did it to themselves anyway before we came. They used to call it The Rat Race, or Swimming With Sharks. Ironic, as sharks and rats are far more intelligent and would never do this to themselves. It seems humans couldn’t live up to their own analogies. Oh look, here he comes!’

Their attention was drawn to the vantage point. Atop of the structure crouched a male, muscular; his shirt tight, some buttons popped. His tie hung loosely around his thick neck. He barked out what K’Fara-nu assumed were orders and pointed aggressively to all corners. A chunky gold watch still adorned his wrist.

The other humans came out of their holes and ran around aimlessly, panic-stricken, without purpose but active nonetheless. ‘He’s the Alpha,’ explained D’Jaka-ta. ‘He still feels he has to demonstrate his power, even though they can do nothing productive. Those that don’t scurry he won’t allow to eat at the next food drop. Poor creature still thinks he’s in charge!’

K’Fara-nu slid back and took in the whole exhibit. She nodded. ‘I’ll take it.’

Flash Fiction

Submitted on a forum to address the prompt: WITHOUT A TV

Withdrawal

My parents think they’re doing what’s best. I had told them: don’t let me out of my room until I’m clean. Now, no matter what I say to them, the bastards won’t listen. When you can go 24 hours without crying, we’ll consider it. I’m a prisoner in my own home.

Even prisoners get access to television.

I stare at the wall where the screen had been, the paintwork a shade brighter, the quadrilateral outline still there, taunting me.

It feels like flu at the minute: cold sweats, nausea, headaches. I try to combat it by reading novelisations of my favourite films and just try to picture the scenes, but then the letters all swirl on the page and the headache gets worse. Then I tend to resort to shouting out lines from my favourite shows, which ultimately leads to the crying. It’s a vicious rectangle.

They feed me, of course they do. I’ve got unlimited snacks and soda in here but every evening they tag-team me. One of them will come in with a mobile phone and offer me thirty seconds of a Youtube video, while the other places a microwave meal on my bedside table. I know I could rush the door, burst past them, charge down the stairs and flee this place… but what if it’s a really good video Dad has found for me? Maybe some idiot embarking on an epic fail. So I watch, and they leave, and I’m left with steaming hot plastic compartments. Ironically, some people call these TV Dinners.

I sleep intermittently and my dreams are peculiar. I walkthrough some of my favourites: Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, The Big Bang Theory… but the characters dismiss me, like I have affronted them in some way. Jon Snow is being uncharacteristically unreasonable. Will says he’s intentionally going to go missing if I keep showing up. Penny literally throws cold water over my fantasies.

I have a form of tinnitus also. It’s a theme tune that I can’t get out of my head, but not one I’d want to play. It’s a day-time soap from the nineties. Mom would watch it constantly, and pin me down on the sofa with her, not wanting me to toddle off and get into some mischief that would mean she would have to leave her favourite show to do some actual parenting. Now that tune is stuck on a loop, like a nagging devil whispering in my ear.

I could make it stop. I could make it all stop. And don’t think I haven’t considered it. I could smash the glass in the window, which would give me a couple of options. I could fashion a noose from my bedsheets.

But Stranger Things 3 is out in the summer. And if I can beat this fully, if I can stop crying, then maybe I can convince them I am clean.

Then I can just sneak round to a friend’s house in July and binge watch. yperli