WIP Wednesday – Rogue: Chapter Six

Hello everyone. I thought I’d share a new chapter with you, as U have very nearly completed the first draft of Rogue, and am hoping to have it with you in early Spring 2023. In this preview, we meet a young soldier about to take part in his first “wookie patrol”.

CHAPTER SIX

There was a southerly breeze that brought hints of the warmth back home to Second-Lieutenant Wade Garric as he looked out at the darkening Washington sky. Over 2,000 miles away in New Orleans, the sky would be painted molten shades of pink, gold and scarlet red. Here though, less than 150 miles from the Canadian border, the sunset was cloaked in mauves, indigo and swirling black, all too ready to descend. He waited at the gate, knowing he was a few minutes early. A foot patrol crossed the yard, the two soldiers moving quickly, purposefully, and silently. 

A side door in the gate tower he was standing next to opened, and a figure emerged, the silhouette made visible by the ghostly glow of the halogen wall lamp in the stairwell behind. The man was stocky and well built, and was wearing an army cap. As he stepped towards Wade, he recognised the man as Major Clarke. Clarke was a professional soldier with significant notches from America’s recent military history on his belt, and years of experience under it. He was known for being tough but fair, and Wade felt a slight swell of relief as the Major stopped beside him. 

“All ready for tonight?” Clarke asked. 

“Yes sir,” Wade snapped in reply, knowing it wasn’t really a question. 

“Hope you enjoyed your dinner, as you’re gonna be seeing it again real soon when that smell hits you,” came a cackle from behind. 

Wade didn’t need to turn around to know Master-Sergeant Amos Dugas had joined them. The two had been friends since they’d first arrived at Fort Skookum, both being New Orleans born and raised. Despite his loud and unsubtle demeanour, he was glad the skinny blonde Cajun would be on the patrol with him. He was still bothered by Clarke’s presence though. No regular patrol he’d ever been on required a senior officer to tag along. He wondered how true the rumours were, what he might see out there. He tried not to think about it. 

Garric turned as he heard the rumbling engine of the approaching vehicle. The Humvee drew up alongside them and stopped. Clarke climbed into the front passenger seat, nodding to the driver as he did so. 

“The Second-Lieutenant will take it from here, son,” the Major commanded. 

The Private behind the wheel nodded, even seemed relieved as he climbed out and left the door open. As Wade got behind the wheel, he stowed the M4 rifle to his side. This also aroused his suspicions further. As the driver, he would be the last to get to his gun. So, if an initiation or prank of some kind was being planned, the guy with perhaps the only gun clipped with live ammunition wouldn’t accidentally maim or kill anyone else. 

“Keep that handy,” Amos chided him. “I guarantee you’ll need it.”

“Up top, Dugas,” Clarke ordered, his impatience showing. 

Wade smiled as Amos snapped to and threw open the hatch, giving him access to the Humvee’s Browning M2 50-caliber machine gun. He swivelled it left and right on its mount to check its movement wasn’t restricted in any way. He thumped the roof to signal all was good. 

“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly are we going to be encountering that requires a 50-cal machine gun?” Wade asked. 

“Maybe nothing,” Clarke replied. But I have an OP coming up that might require a few good men, and I’ve had my eye on you two for a while. Let’s just say this is an opportunity for me to see how you cope when things get hairy. As you may have gauged, this isn’t Dugas’s first Wookie patrol. But when I said I was looking for someone else, he mentioned you. Don’t let me, or your friend down son.” 

“No, sir,” Wade replied. 

He’d heard the others talk about the so-called Wookie patrols. The word Skookum, after which the fort was named, was a Chinook word that meant ‘evil god of the forest’. He knew what to expect. They’d go out, complete their rounds, then at some point, they’d be attacked by a group of Marines in gillie suits, a type of camouflage material that had the appearance of long strands of matted hair. It made anyone wearing it very difficult to see in the undergrowth, and at night, there was almost no chance of detecting them. Wade would go through the motions of being surprised when it happened, at least at first. He knew the drill. 

As he pressed down on the gas and passed under the large gate between the two guard towers at the front of the fort, he looked left and right. For some reason, he looked over at the fence that hugged the boundary. 10,000 volts of electricity ran through it, constantly. One click out, another fence, intersected by just the front and rear gates, encompassed the entire fort and surrounding forest. It too was electrified and patrolled under guard. He’d never thought about it before, but tonight, the setup bothered him. He’d never come across anything like it on any base he’d been stationed on previously. As a special forces training facility, it wasn’t unusual for there to be a slightly less orthodox layout. But he still couldn’t help wondering. What are they trying to keep out? He thought.

Clarke indicated for him to turn left, and he found himself driving through a gully bordered by the fort on one side, and the forest on the other. The bushes and underbrush began to intensify, and Wade eased off the gas a little. Clarke’s eyes were fixed on the treeline, and he seemed to be acutely listening to the night’s sounds. A little further on, the gulley swept right, away from the fort. The lights of the buildings and the hum of the fence faded quickly, disappearing altogether within a few seconds. 

“I think we’ve got company sir,” Dugas yelled down into the Humvee’s interior. 

Wade stifled the grin that wanted to spread across his face. They still weren’t too far from the fort, but were out of sight. This was the perfect place to launch the ambush. He was resolved to play along, even if he did feel slightly disappointed they weren’t going to wait until they were further round to stage the performance. 

Clarke banged the dashboard, and Wade instantly brought the vehicle to a stop.

“Whatever you do son, don’t turn the engine off. You just sit here idling, understood?”

Wade nodded. 

“Three bogies, approximately eighty yards to the east,” Dugas whispered. 

It was then that Wade heard Dugas pull back the slide of the 50.cal, and he caught the gleam of the brass, chain-linked cartridges in the magazine. The bullets were real. This time, he couldn’t quite repress the shudder that rippled down his spine. If this was a set-up, they were trying real hard to convince him otherwise. Nobody was inclined to take chances with that kind of fire-power. His eyes snapped to the treeline. 

For nearly a minute, there was nothing but the sound of boughs and branches creaking gently in the wind. Then, from within the darkness, the booming hoot of a great horned owl pierced the night. Wade was just beginning to feel the edge of the adrenalin wearing off, when a deliberate, decisive crack emanated from nearby. As he peered into the black, he thought he saw movement, a blurred shadow moving between the trees. A second later, a good-sized branch smacked into the side of the Humvee, and dropped to the floor. Wade heard Amos swing the Browning in the same direction. 

Wade didn’t know why, but he felt a certain urge to check the rear-view mirror. He glanced up, and froze. Glimpsing past Amos’s legs, out in the gloom, he saw two amber dots low to the ground, and appearing to edge closer. He recognised them instantly as eye-shine. 

“Sir, directly behind us, about thirty yards out. Potential tango,” Wade reported, not taking his eyes off the mirror. 

“Sneaky sons o’bitches ain’t they,” declared Amos, swivelling the gun around. 

With the windows cracked open, there was no escaping the sudden, seeping stink that crept into the cabin. It was like a skunk, rolled in dog shit, had died in the back seat and been left to rot there for a few days. It took all his self-control to force down the vomit that wanted to fly out of his throat as it filled his nostrils. 

“Jesus H. Christ, that’s one unhappy monkey,” Amos declared under his breath, wiping at his streaming eyes. 

“Throw a flashbang Corporal, let him know we’ve seen him,” Clarke ordered. 

Amos picked a canister up from the seat below and pulled the pin, tossing it gently behind the Humvee. Wade instinctively covered his eyes as he saw the others do the same. Above the sound of his thumping heartbeat, he distinctly heard the thuds of heavy steps coming towards the vehicle. Then he heard the fizz, pop, and crack of the flashbang, and the dazzling blaze of light projected onto his closed eyelids. Something behind the truck was screaming in rage and pain, moving away at high speed. Something else on Clarke’s side was roaring, but also moving away. The noise seemed to penetrate every fibre of his being, resonating in his chest. At one point, it was so loud he almost couldn’t hear anything at all. As the glare from the flashbang faded, he opened his eyes wide in terror, unsure of what he would see. In the rear-view mirror, all he could see was Amos’s grin. And to the front, the reach of the headlights showed only the trees. 

“They don’t like bright light,” Clarke explained. “You may want to remember that.” 

“They sir?” Wade asked. 

“I’m not rightly qualified to tell you exactly what they are,” Clarke replied. “But tonight, and on the op, they are your enemy. Let’s move on.”

As Wade shifted the Humvee into gear and pressed down on the gas, he heard something large thrashing its way through the scrub on his right. Through the open window to his left, something there too was mirroring their movement. It agitated him. There was little cover there, he would expect to be able to see it. He kept glancing out into the shadows as he drove, trying to get a fix on what he was listening to. 

“Maybe time to roll up the windows, bud,” Amos suggested. 

“Not a chance, I want to hear them coming,” Wade replied. “Plus, I’m not sure how much good a pane of glass will do against the thing that threw that tree branch. That pitch must have been from over a hundred feet, and if it hadn’t hit the truck, it would’ve been out of the ball park.”

“Maybe when we catch up, you can try signing them up to the Mariners,” Amos laughed. 

“They certainly need all the help they can get this season,” Clarke replied. 

Wade wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but the Seattle Mariners were pretty much the only Major League team in Washington state, and they got game tickets every now and again. It was more about hot dogs, beer, and buddies for him though. 

Wade felt rather than heard the impact of something hitting the ground, again somewhere to his left. He came off the gas, letting the Humvee roll along as he reached for the M4. Clarke was watching him out of the corner of his eye, but said nothing. The thing, whatever it was, was too close. He didn’t have time to say anything or warn the others. He slammed on the brakes, whipped up the rifle and thrust it out of the open window. He closed his eyes, registering the slight crumple of grass underfoot a few feet away, almost parallel to him. He eased the barrel an inch to the right, slipped the safety, and fired. 

There was a sucking sound, like an inhalation of breath taken in surprise. Then a low, guttural, curdle of a growl started somewhere in the darkness. It built in resonance and pitch. The sound exploded into a series of shrieks, whoops and utterances that when heard together, almost had the same rhythm and pace of language. For a moment, he felt like he was being scolded. As he heard Amos swing the big Browning round, Wade caught the flash of something white, loping off into the darkness. He realised it was a set of long, yellowish fangs, being bared in his direction. It barely registered with him that they were eight feet off the ground. 

“Well, look at you, shooting down range on your first Wookie-patrol,” Amos declared, grinning. 

“Tell me straight sir, I didn’t just shoot a Marine in a gillie suit, did I?” Wade asked, disturbed and confused by what had just happened. 

“No son, you didn’t.”

“So, what did I shoot then, and shouldn’t we be going after it?” 

“As to what it was, you’ll find out soon enough,” Clarke replied, meeting his gaze. “And in terms of going after it, no point. Even at that range, that rifle’s basically as effective as a pea shooter.”

Clarke shrugged, ending the conversation, but he looked Wade up and down for a moment, as if sizing him up.

 “Welcome to the Skookum squad,” he finally said. “Report to the briefing at 07 hundred. But in the meantime, get us the hell out of Dodge.”

Wade felt a chill as they drove back to the safety of the main fort. He looked once again at the perimeter wall and electric fencing, fighting the shudder that came with the realisation that they were designed to keep something in, not out. 

Gobble Gobble

A little bit of fun for Christmas.

A short story by Luke Phillips.

I sat at the head of the feast and looked around at my gathered brethren. So many of us together, in one place. It was enough to be truly thankful for. Long ago, before the peace, before the feast became a symbol of what we had achieved, gathering in large numbers like this would have risked attack. Our enemies would have surrounded us, called in by our merriment, and found us here ready for the slaughter. Now, they were a part of our story. It was the reason we celebrated.

It was a far cry from the times of old. The elders still occasionally told stories about that part of our legacy. Camps where the sun was never seen. Where the dead were left where they fell on the floor, and those captured milled around them, knowing in their hearts the same fate awaited. The air was punctuated by the stench of death, always. But now, we were free of such imprisonment. Perhaps in some, such freedom and the knowledge of our past brought out a certain wildness still. But that too was part of our history, and to be embraced.

The corn was shared around ceremoniously. Even as mature adults, we knew and respected the unofficial ritual of saving the best to last. Some of us considered this to be pumpkin pie, but the more educated of us simply saw that as the spoils of war. It was the meat that satiated our hunger in ways we could never have imagined. Our respect for the hunter-gatherers had grown tenfold when we discovered the thrill of the chase, and kill, for ourselves. We knew it was their land – their territory. But it was ours too. We had to live, survive, and die together. It was the only way.

When something is important, or we want to cut though the stuff that isn’t, we talk about ‘the meat of the matter’. Not the corn, the greens, or even the pie, nice though as all that is. The meat. That’s where the sustenance is. There is talk in the North of a creature called the Wendigo. The hunter-gatherers fear it. They say it was once one of their own, but ate of their own flesh. But now, as we had become meat eaters, we perhaps understood the power that came with the consumption of any flesh. It had helped us grow stronger. It was said that the pursuit of meat is what had enabled us to walk taller. It wasn’t just an important symbol for us, on this day of the feast. It was important for all our kind.

Of course, not all felt that way. Some still preferred a simpler life. They lived on what could be grown and foraged, as they always had done. There was a gentleness to that life that we all respected. But in our hearts, those of us gathered here and now, knew there was no turning back. We hunted to live, but we also lived to hunt in many ways. Our new lives, perhaps even our futures depended on it. 

There was still an element of danger in any hunt. We had to find the right group of animals, few in number, isolated from others, preferably with their kin, and not disturbed by our presence . A scout would be sent out to find and survey them. Even now, occasionally, the scout would not return. But more often than not, they did. And the more times they came back, the better we got at what came next. The hunt. The kill. It was waiting for the right moment to strike. We would stay poised until they had settled, ready to eat and drink. They spread themselves out on the ground, facing inward towards each other, protected from the ground by thick, warm skins. It was then that they were most at ease, complete disarmed and relaxed.

We had learnt to strike fast. Our unsheathed spurs sought out the points where blood would flow freely. Our sharpest points found their softest parts. We knew our size and power startled them and was enough to hold them in our gaze long enough to strike. And strike we did, with heavy beats of our outstretched limbs. With enough of us, it didn’t take long if we had the element of surprise. And we always had the element of surprise. Not long after the deed was done, we would gather around our fallen prey. We would give thanks, and then we would eat. Both them, and what they had brought with them. For some reason, their corn, their greens – they always tasted better than what we could procure ourselves. And pie had always been beyond us. We picnicked in the wild, just as we always had – and as our prey had intended to.

There was of course one thing they brought with them that we didn’t consume. The sacrifice we called it. Perhaps the fear of the hunter-gatherers’ Wendigo lived in us too. Whatever it was, and despite the strength and power we had found through the consuming of flesh, we couldn’t eat our own – just as it was abhorrent to the hunter-gatherers, the people to eat their own kind. They ate us, and we eat them, but not each other. Just so you understand though, it’s about respect, not fear. After all, we’re turkeys, not chicken. 

WIP Wednesday: If God will send his angels – Chapter One.

The title itself may end up being a work in progress, but for today’s WIP Wednesday, I’m introducing you to a story currently called “If God will send his Angels”. It follows a corrupt evangelical media mogul who is suddenly challenged to do good when an angel intervenes in his life. I’ve always pictured it as something like Highway to Heaven meets the Avengers – but this is one that has firmly been on the back burner for a while now.

As always, I’d be interested to hear what you think!

CHAPTER ONE

Aidan Anderson sat behind the custom-made oak desk in his glass walled office. He picked up and lit the hand-rolled Cuban cigar with a gas lighter. His actions were leisurely, the confident movement of a man who was sure of both himself and his place in the world. He let his gaze wander to his left down the hall to the private upper lounge of his club. The twenty-something starlet stood surrounded by photographers and members of the press, as well as a few select adoring fans from his circle of friends. Her latest television role, depicting the life of a high-end London call girl, along with the public knowledge that she called herself a Christian had caused public interest that Aidan had been quick to manipulate and use to the Church’s advantage. It was a perfect opportunity to speak on the issues of prostitution and further the Church’s impact in both the public spotlight and the immediate community.

Aidan had long been a welcome bringer of fame and fortune to his church, and its associated organisation. The Freedom Frontier Churches were a modern evangelical movement. Concentrated in London, but spread across the globe, it was a well-equipped and powerful organisation. He had learned early on that it, as well as he, was as susceptible to the normal corruptions of the world. He resisted most as it happened. He rarely lied, had never stolen. There were no rapes or murders to burden his conscience. But still, temptation happened. He used to fight it, but he had come to the conclusion that you could only fight for so long. He gazed again at the starlet, her eyes catching his for a moment. He already knew she would be spending the night with him. His provision of publicity wouldn’t harm her career either.

He decided he was bored, and he pushed his chair back and stood up. He took the cigar with him, pocketing the lighter. He turned to the right, walking away from the photographers and the young girl. He made his way down the stairs, nodding goodnight to the doormen on the ground floor. He took a swift glance towards the steel cased double glass doors at the front entrance, and gave another knowing nod to the girl’s driver, the only reassurance he needed that he knew where to drop her. He then headed to the garage underneath.

He opened the heavy fire door, and swung it open, taking one large final savouring mouthful of cigar smoke before letting it fall to the floor and extinguishing it under his heel. He walked towards the gunmetal grey Bentley Supersports coupe, taking the keys from his coat pocket and blipping the remote. He stopped suddenly. He blinked slowly as he tried to focus, but his vision was becoming blurred. He swayed slightly, feeling off balance. He looked down at his feet and saw that a thick, dark red liquid had just crept over his shoe and was now forming a pool on the floor. He had heard nothing, but as he fell to his knees he realised that he had been shot. He blinked again, and then felt himself topple over, unable to stop himself. He was still surprised that he couldn’t feel any pain. He knew that was bad. As he closed his eyes, he was dimly aware of a silhouetted figure standing behind him.

“Dad says hi”, it said, and then there was nothing.

WIP Wednesday – Dark Tides: Chapter Two

gerald-schombs-8DO2XXCoB0Q-unsplashPhoto by Gerald Schömbs on Unsplash

As the ever popular Shark Week returns to Discovery in the US this week, I thought this week’s WIP (Work in Progress) Wednesday should be a follow on from last week’s – in the form of the second chapter of Dark Tides.

If you follow my writing, you’ll know that conservation is integral to my story telling. Real-life issues are focused upon and exposed in both of my books to date, from poaching to the impact of terrorism and the bushmeat trade on animal behaviour. It is therefore important for me to state that I do not see sharks as villains. On average there are 74 shark attacks each year worldwide, with the average number of fatalities being just 4. In contrast, we kill between 75 and 90 million of them for their fins.

In Dark Tides, the strange behaviour of the animals is unnatural and the result of influences unknown…for now! In any case, I hope you enjoy the second chapter

CHAPTER TWO

From his booth at the beachhead’s car park, Tory had an almost perfect view of the girls as they stretched out on their beach towels. The small town of Binalong Bay was one of Tasmania’s most beautiful stretches of coastline, with crystal blue waters and diamond white sand, but even he got bored of that view after a while. That was not the case today. He had let them park for free, their flirtatious smiles and pleadings not lost on him for long. A blonde, brunette and a redhead all in one jeep, it was as if his fantasies were all coming true. And now he was getting his reward. The sand was hot and it hadn’t taken them long to get uncomfortable. The good thing about the hard, quartz crystals was that they really did get everywhere. The coarse granules quickly became unwelcome distractions to the warm sunshine and the sound of breakers. The bikini tops had soon be loosened and then finally discarded one by one. He was fairly sure the redhead was giving him a show as she leaned her head back, her frizzy hair falling over her shoulders. Now whenever she laughed or moved, the white flesh of her chest flashed pleasingly in his direction. The salty air had made her nipples hard and erect. This was definitely more his idea of a view.

If only the damn seal would shut up, he thought. At its eastern-most peninsula, the beach ended in a rocky outcrop. It went some way out to sea, but it met both the beach and the car park along its perimeter. The day before, a lone bull southern elephant seal had hauled itself out onto the shore and was now bellowing regularly and very loudly, much to his annoyance. There was a breeding colony on Macquarie Island, but they were rare visitors here. And the bull was an unwelcome one as far as Tory was concerned. He returned to watching the girls.

~

The elephant seal stopped his bellows, rising up onto his rear. As he flopped down, he swivelled back towards the water, his gaze fixed on its surface with a quiet focus. The bull shuffled forward, dragging its bulk over the rocks with a blubbery wriggle. It dipped its head again towards the water, as if listening. The seal let his weight pull him forward and plunged head first into the cool water. The transformation from unbalanced, lumbering land animal to lithe and graceful sea creature was instantaneous with the mere touch of the waves. The bull eased forward with a few flicks of his hind flipper-like feet, propelling his 7,300lb bulk through the water with lazy ease. He drifted motionless with the current as he focused on the dark silhouette approaching out of the deeper water.

The great white shark was a female, just less than twenty feet in length. She was cruising sedately and made her way past the motionless elephant seal in a slow sweep. Her great mouth was open as she swam, her gleaming and deadly dentition on show. Each triangular tooth was just over two inches long and had several replacements growing within the jaw behind them. She sank deeper, hugging the reef line and seeking the darkness where her svelte shape wouldn’t be seen.

~

Tory smiled as the girls threw back their towels and playfully kicked sand at each other as they made their way into the breakers. They touched the water with joyful, gentle caresses of their fingertips, rubbing it over their skin to free them of the gritty residue of the sand and the scorching kisses of the sun. Soon they stood in water up to their midriffs, laughing together and enjoying the coolness.

The redhead was the first to break away, pushing herself off into deeper water. Tory’s disappointment at the girl’s bare chest slipping beneath the surface was made up for as he caught a momentary glimpse of her curved behind, porpoising above the waves as she kicked and thrashed her way through the water. The others were soon chasing after her. Tory leaned back in his chair, putting his feet up onto the narrow counter of the booth as he waited for their glorious return from the water, and the slow, inevitable walk back up the beach to their towels. It would be worth the wait. He didn’t notice the absent bellows of the elephant seal now.

~

The great white turned in the water in an arc that seemed benign but was cloaked in speed and purpose. Her powerful tail moved her out from the sheltered corridors of the reef with a few quick beats that thrust her forward into open water. She dipped her snout and curved her spine as her powerful senses became flooded by the electrical impulses resonating towards her through the water. Minuscule elements of blood and urine teased at her olfactory tract and the static discharge of three pumping hearts sounded out both the path and distance to her prey. She accelerated, her dorsal fin just cutting a fine spray above the water as she swam towards the source.

~

Tory noticed the streak of greenish black as the triangular fin momentarily rose above the surface from the corner of his eye. He sat bolt upright, watching the water for a further sign of movement or for a shape to take form. He lifted his binoculars to his eyes and scanned back and forth over the water. He stopped when he came to the girls, who were looking curiously towards where he thought he’d seen the movement too. They were obviously bothered by it, as they seemed to be making their way back out of the water. He focused his gaze on the surf, holding his breath as he did. Something in his gut told him something just wasn’t right. Suddenly, the redhead jerked sideways and disappeared beneath the water. As Tory watched in horror, a red slick began to colour the churning waves to a pinkish hue. He grabbed the first aid pack from the shelf and sprang out of the door in a sprint towards the beach.

~

The great fish rolled onto her side as she swallowed the leg, cut through just below the knee and circled round again towards the girl it had just attacked. The redhead resurfaced, screaming in terror at her friends as they swam away in panic. As adrenalin flooded into her system, she became silent as her body went into shock. She felt no pain as her trembling fingers searched for the wound beneath the red veil of her own blood clouding the water. She screamed again as she tried to kick out with her left leg, only to find her hand brushing against the soft stump and trailing, tattered flesh the shark had left behind. She closed her eyes as the three foot high conical fin surfaced beside her and cruised past. When she opened them again, she watched it streak away as it headed for the other two girls.

~

Tory stopped in his tracks as he watched the blonde rise up out of the ocean, the shark hitting her from beneath, so her legs straddled either side of its open mouth. She writhed, opening her mouth to release a horrible and unnatural high-pitched scream. The sound stopped abruptly as the fish closed its terrible jaws, severing the girl’s legs and midriff from her torso, as its shot-glass sized teeth came together like scissor blades. A thrash of its tail propelled it beneath the waves again as it took the blonde’s upper half into its maw, gulping in quick muscular spasms to coax the remains down its throat. As its eyes rolled back from their protective sheaths, it accelerated forward again, closing on the brunette with vicious and devastating speed.

~

Tory was knee deep in the surf as his arms stretched out for the brunette as he began to wade towards her. His fingertips just touched hers for a brief moment, before she was jerked backwards with such force that she fell across the green-tipped snout of the shark, its jaws closed on her flailing right leg just above the ankle. As the fish caught the scent of the blood in the water, it was spurred instinctively into action, its throat muscles working hard to compress and suck the prey into its mouth. The girl had already stopped screaming before she disappeared below the surf.

Tory stumbled backwards, falling out of the water onto the moist sand. He glanced to his left further down the beach where he saw something in the water. As he realised what it was, he pulled himself up again, fighting off the wave of panic that threatened to consume him. He half-stumbled, half ran, as he splashed through the breakers to drag the unconscious redhead from the water. He trembled as he stepped back onto the beach, watching the greenish grey fin cut back and forth through the waves only ten feet or so from the sand. He quickly pulled the pale girl further up the beach, with the help of her blonde friend, who sobbed uncontrollably. Without hesitating he flung open the first aid pack and grabbed a cravat bandage, folding it into a bandana-like strip. He quickly tied it in an overhand knot above the severed leg and fished out a marker pen, securing it with another loop. He began to twist it in ever tightening turns to make a tourniquet. As the bleeding began to slow and finally stop, he grabbed more bandages and wrapped them round the makeshift dressing to hold it in place. It was then that he saw movement out of the corner of his eye.

Tory spun round to see the lumbering, flopping form of the bull elephant seal coming out of the sea straight towards him and the unconscious girl. It bellowed furiously and rose up on its hindquarters in a defensive posture. Tory scooped up the girl in his arms and stumbled his way towards the sloping path that led to the car park and his booth. He could hear the shuffling and surprisingly fast progress of the seal as it followed them. He made it to the top of the path panting and out of breath, and he almost fell through the open doorway of the booth as he reached it. His strength stayed with him long enough to put the girl down in the seat and lift what was left of her left leg onto the narrow counter. He picked up the phone on the wall and punched in 000 for the emergency services. Then he heard it.

The blubbery slap of the elephant seal’s stomach against the hard concrete was almost comical, as was the gargled, flatulent sounding grunts it made as it covered the ground. Tory instinctively slammed the door to the booth shut and bolted it, just as the whole structure quivered as it received a glancing blow from the animal. Tory peered out of the window, only to find himself meeting the maddened gaze of the bull through the glass. Its bloodshot eyes shone like large black marbles, and in them he saw its rage and fury. It slammed its chest and muzzle against the glass, shattering it and showering Tory with the shards. But although the seal could just about lift its head up and over the window frame lip, Tory had retreated far enough inside to be out of reach.

The bull made a huffing sound as it turned away and fell back onto its stomach. It shuffled away, only to stop beside the open top jeep the girls had arrived in. A low growl rumbled in its throat as it rose up and slammed itself down onto the bonnet of the car. It slithered off, revealing the dents and welts its 7,300lb bulk had left. Another slam smashed the headlight, followed by another that buckled the radiator. Tory watched mystified as the bull used its bulk like a sledgehammer against the car, not even pausing when blood began to pour from open wounds on its bulbous trunk. As the front suspension gave way, the seal at last seemed satisfied and shuffled off back down the path. As Tory heard the sirens of the nearing ambulance, he watched the bull slip back into the surf and disappear into the waves. He had no knowledge of the whale that had breached the banks of the Thames the day before, and he had no idea of what was yet to come.

 

WIP Wednesday – Dark Tides: Chapter One

For this Work In Progress Wednesday, I’m introducing you to a science fiction story I’ve had on the back burner for some time. Set in the oceans, it explores the backlash of nature against humans, driven by an unseen, unknown force.

CHAPTER ONE

A shuddering, violent exhale of breath burst from the blow hole of the bull, as his great back breached the surface and rolled under again. Close to exhaustion, he drifted a few yards and stilled his tired body. The water around him was colder, darker, and much shallower than his usual paths and harbours. The pain in his head had driven him far beyond his familiar haunts, into dark lonely seas.

The sound of the small boats above and behind him stirred him into laboured movement again. He slowly arched his back and raised his tail into the air, smashing it down onto the water’s surface to vent his frustration at their presence and efforts. Although the pulse in his head was much more subdued in these colder, eastern waters, he still had to fight the aggressive urges that swept over him. In the sixty-five years he had lived, he had been lucky to have never been hunted, although he had witnessed the pursuit once as a calf. His memories of the water turning red, his father’s screams as his side had exploded, and the thrashing slaps of his flippers as he writhed in agony had long been buried. But recently, they had surfaced again, tearing through his consciousness with renewed intensity and purpose.

Since the death of his father, whenever he had heard the mournful, grieving song his mother and aunts had sung that day, he had known to turn away and seek new seas. His new memories of humans had been good ones. They were of small boats like the ones surrounding him now, filled with people that coaxed him closer with gentle sounds, or divers drifting with him in warm blue water. He bore them no grudge.

The bull rolled onto his side, letting his flipper tower out of the water. Residual streams ran down its surface before it splashed back down. He righted himself and moved off again with deliberate flicks of his flukes. He ignored the purr from the boat motors, his echolocation telling him he was unable to go much further now. Although invisible to him in the dark murky water, he could sense the banks of the river rising out of the bed of the estuary and closing in on him. He could taste the mixture of salt and fresh water, the salinity dwindling with every move forward. The physical toll of his journey, and the extra effort needed to keep his mass buoyant in the waters of the river was draining the last of his strength. He knew he wouldn’t live much longer. He hadn’t fed during his lonely swim to the east and south.

~

Sergeant John Mitchell of the Metropolitan River Policing Unit circled the immense whale again, frustrated by its stubborn passage along the Thames. The small boats he had commandeered to try and force the animal back were not having the desired effect, and as he looked up, he saw that several recognisable silhouettes of the London skyline were coming into view. Largest and closest was the London Eye, the giant Catherine-wheeled tourist attraction whose elevated pods gave views stretching across the capital. But today, all eyes were looking down.

The tide was at its highest right now, but in five hours’ time, the mighty Thames would be at its lowest point. The whale would be in serious danger of becoming stranded in the shallows or even on the banks.

He glanced at the helicopters beginning to gather in the sky. The stubborn cetacean was the only news story for Londoners today. Humpback whales followed strict migration routes between the polar seas and the Caribbean. Although they were known to spend several months off the coast of southern Ireland and even western Scotland, it was a very rare and strange occurrence to see them in the North Sea or English Channel. One had never been reported in the Thames before.

The whole spectacle sickened Mitchell. If the whale was to die, which he now suspected was its reason for wandering into the estuary in the first place, the city would be able to watch it on the breakfast news, just another momentary spectacle in an otherwise boring and stagnant world. He grabbed the radio.

“Is the net ready? Over.” He spoke so quietly it was as if he was asking only himself.

There was only a second’s pause before the crackled reply came.

“Yes sir, it won’t get beyond Waterloo Bridge. We’re all set here. Over”

He replaced the radio back on the wheel column of the Targa 31 Fast Patrol Vessel he was piloting. He wondered what the whale would do when it reached the dead end. He knew his commanders were talking to authorities around the world as to why this creature was even here, in his river. Some were saying climate change. Others were saying illegal whalers had chased him there. The only thing that seemed clear was that nobody really knew.

~

The bull now knew his purpose. At first, it had been to simply keep moving, hoping the pain in his head would dull. His enormous brain, the size of a small car, had recognised the link between his aggressive desires and the pulsing agony. It was as he had prepared to attack and sink a small vessel in sheltered waters that he had noticed the sudden subduing of the pain. He had turned away from the boat in angry confusion, driving himself away. He was used to parasites – the crustaceans that clung to his flippers and flukes, or the remoras that sucked onto his belly. He now recognised the violent urges that swelled up in him as the alien intrusions of such organisms. He fought the unnatural desires with his wavering will-power, seeking out and trying to communicate to the animals he felt compelled to destroy. Now stripped of his strength, there was little more he could do. It was then that he began to sense the net.

~

Sergeant Mitchell felt the swell underneath as the whale’s giant tail rose out of the water in front of the boat. The animal was putting on a sudden burst of speed, heading straight down the middle of the river. Waterloo Bridge was in full view to the small boats following in its wake, and as Mitchell looked to his left, he could see large crowds gathering on the embankment.

The enormous rippled spine broke the surface of the water. There were cheers and shouts from both sides of the river. The great black head surged through the froth, creating a bow wave as the whale put on more speed. Whistles and camera flashes began to ripple along the banks of the river on both sides. Fathers held their children on their shoulders, pointing and smiling. The cheer rose as one, as an enormous snort thundered out of the blowhole, followed by a jet of mist that rose seven feet into the air. Then it disappeared below the water’s surface.

~

The bull spread out its flippers wide as it tilted its body and glided into a graceful turn. He sang a last and pitiful song knowing there would be no answer. The very edge of one fin gently stroked against the muddy bottom of the river as he propelled himself upwards with powerful thrusts of his tail. With a final and well-timed flick of his flukes, he shot into the air. His head burst from the water, his body rigid and working hard to gain height and momentum. Then gravity turned against him and his mass, slowing his ascent to the point he seemed to hang in mid-air. He began to twist and fall backwards.

~

The crowd had little time to react to the enormous creature as its shadow fell across them. They hadn’t expected it to breach so close to the embankment. They watched, unable to move as its great eye moved over the crowd. Those closest felt a wave of sadness sweep over them as they understood its action. The whale crashed down over the concrete rail, rolling forward through the snack and souvenir stand at the entrance to the London Eye. Water streamed down the sides of its body. Its own weight was already killing it, crushing the heart and lungs that would usually be protected from its bulk suspended in water.

~

As Sergeant Mitchell circled close to the bank, children on the shoulders of their fathers cried. The crowd surged backwards as wonder turned to horror. They turned away from the spectacle they had turned out to see, hurt and embittered by an event they could have never imagined. As families comforted each other, little did they know it would be a poignant yet unheeded warning.

WIP Wednesday – Blues Hound

37fa9613d1a6cc9e0064ae7b5c716736

I got to keep moving….and the day keeps on remindin’ me, there’s a hellhound on my trail…

 Robert Johnson, 1937

The above lyrics were written by Robert Johnson, an American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. He was known for being somewhat ordinary in most regards, except for his musical talent. His undeterred commitment to the road – travelling in all seasons and weathers saw him travel all over the Mississippi delta, playing in Memphis, Helena and smaller towns across the region. He died at the age of 27, of unknown causes. But legend tells of a deal done with the devil at the crossroads, perhaps explaining both his seemingly supernatural skill, and need to keep moving on.

This popular, enduring legend has sat with me for some time, and today’s ‘Work in Progress Wednesday’ is Blues Hound – a story that I hope you find devilishly good!

CHAPTER ONE

Isaac sighed as he placed the trumpet back inside its battered case. The red velvet lining was beginning to look worn and had torn in a few places. He once imagined it covered in stickers of exotic locations and visa tags, but now, the only thing it was coated in was the beer some drunk had knocked over as he passed by. He cleaned and buffed away until the liquid and the smell had gone. He sighed again as he shut the case and locked it.

Three of the bulbs around his dressing room mirror had blown and never been replaced. It made his strong, dark face look drawn – grey almost. Strange shadows fell down from his brow. His salt and pepper stubble and matching buzz crop hair made him look younger than he was, but the crows-feet and eyes themselves never lied. He was old and tired.

He took his old trilby hat from the stand and placed it on his head. He looked in the mirror and let out a third and final deep sigh. At least black never went out of fashion. The hat, shirt and suit were the only clothes he owned, but he had never needed more. He opened the door of the dressing room and turned out the lights as he left.

He crossed the dark bar in silence, giving a simple nod of the head to Bubba – the big, mean looking, but actually kindly owner who was stacking the tables and chairs. In a few short steps he was out into the early morning air.

Honestly, what do I expect? he thought. He looked around. He was playing in a swamp, on the outskirts of a town even Louisiana considered distinctly back-water. This is how he would end his days, playing in an out-of-town bar surrounded by nothing but swamp, gators and cottonmouths. He shuffled along the dirt track to the crossroads where he would wait for his grandson. He set down the trumpet case, disturbing the dust a little so that it was picked up and carried a little in the wind.

It wasn’t cold out, but he felt a sudden chill in the air. As he looked up, he watched as the stars seemed to go out one by one. He checked his watch to see if he was early, only to notice the second hand slowly shudder and then stop. He heard the wind pick up, then suddenly, it was rushing along the road, howling like an express train, and, as he looked, he caught the thick tendrils of a twister as it touched down a little way from the crossroads. As his breath caught in his chest, it seemed to suddenly change size and velocity, passing him by in a cyclone of brown tainted air and tumbleweed. He realised it was just a dust devil, but he felt unnerved and on edge.

He looked back up the road and saw a pair of headlights steadily approaching him. He smiled with relief, grateful for his grandson’s timely appearance. But as the car drew near, he realised it wasn’t his grandson in his dishevelled Volkswagen bus. It was a sleek, black, 1955 Cadillac Coupe de Ville in immaculate condition. It looked like it had just driven off the production line. It slowly trundled to a halt beside him, the big V8 four-stroke engine burbling and rumbling its displeasure of the low spluttered revs as it idled. The blacked-out window now opposite him slithered downwards with an electric hum. A silver-haired, handsome – but older white man, met his gaze with steely blue eyes and a smile that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a crocodile.

“You must be the Isaac I’ve heard so much about,” grinned the man.

At that, the driver’s door opened and a very large black man, wearing an expensive and tight fitting pinstripe suit stepped out. He had a huge barrel chest and he seemed to ripple as he walked. Isaac had seen Cassius Clay and Doug Jones fight at Madison Square Gardens in 1963, and he felt sure this man would have been able to hold his own against either of them, or perhaps even both at the same time. As it was, he appeared to be the man in the car’s valet, as he opened the door for him.

The man wore a perfectly tailored, dark grey pinstripe suit, with a claret red tie and a white silk shirt underneath. As he stepped from the car, he put on a matching grey pinstripe fedora with a claret silk band. Isaac had always liked the look and feel of a hat and found himself warming to the man unintentionally.

“Who have you heard about me from?” Isaac asked, wondering if he could be a talent scout maybe.

“Oh word gets around,” smiled the man. “Smokey Bo Benson mentioned you, wanted me to check you out.”

“Really? Thought that boy died a long time ago,” Isaac smiled.

“Bluesmen don’t die, they just improvise,” grinned the man.

“You play?” Isaac asked.

“I’ve been known to play a mean fiddle from time to time,” the man quipped with a grin. “Why don’t we talk about getting you out of this dump and into the limelight Isaac? Come sit with me whilst you wait for your grandson.”

Isaac took a step towards the car. After all, what do I have to lose he thought.

WIP Wednesday – Rogue: Chapter Four

a1764a41cb10a0b886634154a2931135

Artwork: Stephen Meyer, Yeti concept. Featured in line with fair use.

In last week’s Work-In-Progress Wednesday, you were introduced to a new character who will be appearing in my upcoming book, Phantom Beast. That character was Nina Lee, a Forest Ranger, who will be getting her own spin-off series, the first of which is titled ‘Rogue’.

Rogue is another America-set story with a cryptid at its heart. This time however, it is the legendary sasquatch, aka bigfoot, that will be stalking the forests. I won’t give much else away, but I hope you enjoy this first introduction to both Nina Lee and Rogue

CHAPTER FOUR

Nina Lee took a deep breath, glancing at her cup of coffee that had gone stone cold. She waited for the sobs to reside at the other end of the line. She stared back over the missing persons form. Jake Sutton, nineteen years of age, last heard from three days ago as he hiked south, away from the Pacific Crest Trail and along the eastern border of Mount Rainier National Park. He had abandoned a group of elderly hikers he’d been with, and hadn’t picked up the supply pack waiting for him at the forestry post he’d been scheduled to stop at yesterday. It had now been 24 hours, so he could officially be listed as a missing person. His hysterical mother sounded like she had been counting down the seconds before picking up the phone.

People went missing all the time up here. Some even wanted to. That’s what the families sometimes failed to grasp. After finishing the phone call and completing the report, she filed it and printed out the missing person poster for the board. Whilst there, she took down the outdated ones, the oldest, to make space.

Nina had been with the forestry service for just over five years, joining straight from the University of Washington at Tacoma. Despite majoring in Wildlife Ecology and Management with a minor in Forestry to boot, her aspirations of working with wildlife had quickly been grounded. It was mainly campers, timber firms and water treatment that took up her days. She walked through to the morning briefing. The call had held her up, and she was the last to enter.

“Now that we’re all here,” barked the agent at the front of the room.

The unidentified agent wore darkened glasses and looked like Chuck Norris’s fatter, meaner brother. Nina ignored his stare and took a seat. The guy had already waltzed in like he was the President, not even bothering to tell the lowly rangers which agency he and his suit-clad partner were from. Whoever they were, they seemed to make the chief and the other supervisors nervous. They didn’t seem like the usual Law Enforcement and Investigations Unit types. Although his partner could easily pass for FBI, fat Chuck most certainly couldn’t. With long red hair, a denim sleeveless jacket and a dirty camouflage tee underneath, he looked more like one of the truckers that might occupy any of the local sheriff drunk tanks. He dressed like a hillbilly and spoke like an asshole, that’s all Nina knew.

“Anyway,” stammered Marty Johnson, her boss, standing up as he did so. “North of the Resolute Campsite is currently out of bounds, and will remain so while these men are in the area.”

“I’m still not clear on that,” another ranger spoke up. “Who are these guys and how come they have that kind of authority?”

Travers was young, but spoke his mind. Nina knew everyone else was thinking the same.

“Fuck you, that’s who I am, son,” growled the Chuck Norris wannabe.

Nina glowered in her seat silently. She really didn’t like this guy.

“This grizzly is nothing like you’ve dealt with,” said the agent in the suit, changing tact. “We’re here to help and sort it out. We’re operating a curfew and closing most of the trails for the time being. You’ll also be paired up for the remainder of your patrols until we clear the area, just to be on the safe side.”

“Excuse me,” Nina interjected. “But most of us are hunters, from native backgrounds. We also deal with aggressive bears and other wildlife all the time. Why the extra precautions?”

“He’s a killer,” snapped the Chuck wannabe. “And the reason he’s a killer is because some little sweetheart like you in the Forestry Service took a pot-shot at him. We’re clearing up your mess.”

“And the fact that none of us here have seen neither hair nor hide of this supposed grizzly?” Nina challenged.

“Trust me darlin’, that speaks volumes,” chimed Chuck smugly.

Nina sat back, bristling at the man’s rudeness. She was Skokomish on her mother’s side and Navajo on her father’s. She’d probably known more about tracking and handling wildlife by the time she’d turned five than this guy would ever know. She was certain his attitude stank as much as he did, and looked at Marty for back up. She couldn’t believe he was standing for this. Marty failed to notice, as he was too busy staring at his feet. The meeting appeared to be over.

As the rest of the Forest Service officers got up and began to make their way back to their desks, Nina hung back. She noticed she wasn’t the only one. Scott Travers was too. Concerned his youth and brashness would get the best of him, she was determined to get to Marty and the two agents before him. She walked over, hurriedly.

“The others may be prepared to put up with this anonymous juris-my-dick-tion crap, but I won’t. I want to know who you guys are, I want to see your shields, and I want to see written authority. Until then, you, especially you,” she declared, pointing at fat Chuck, “can check your egos in the parking lot, whilst I run your plates.”

The look of panic Marty fixed her with did little to dissuade her. She couldn’t believe that a few seconds ago she had been worried about Travers being too blunt.

The agent in the suit stood up, a half smile on his face.

“Okay, settle down, I get it. My partner here can be a little forthright. My name is Special Agent Gregory Smith. This is Agent Cordell Jones,” he explained, nodding towards Chuck.

“Agents Smith and Jones…I’m seriously meant to believe that?” Nina exclaimed.

“Believe what you like, it’s the truth. And it’s all you’re getting,” Jones growled in her direction, stepping forward.

“What department are you with?” Nina asked, ignoring him. “You guys aren’t LEI, that’s for sure.”

“We’re…from a branch within the Bureau for Land Management,” Smith replied.

“That’s even harder to believe,” said Travers, who had walked up behind Nina as they were talking. She realised he was making it clear she had back up, but was keeping a respectful distance. He wasn’t stepping in, but he was prepared to. She appreciated the gesture.

“The Bureau for Land Management are investigating a grizzly bear attack?” Nina continued.

“Imagine if you can, there may be shit you don’t know,” Jones grinned.

“What I can imagine,” shrugged Nina, “is that’s a two-way street.”

Marty met her gaze. He seemed more in control now, but his glance still warned her to back off.

“Maybe they can be of help,” Marty suggested to the agents. “You’ve got a lot of ground to cover, a lot of people to talk to. Maybe it’s a case of many hands make light work.”

Smith gave a nod signifying his approval to Jones, who didn’t seem quite as taken with the idea. Then, smiling smugly, he reached behind him and grabbed a large pile of manila files from the table.

“Well, seeing how good you are at running your mouth n’all, maybe you can carry out some interviews,” he sneered. “It’ll keep you out of our hair, and we won’t have to waste our time with a bunch of drunk natives.”

Nina glowered at the man. She was on the brink of losing control of her temper. She imagined darting forwards and slamming her elbow into his face, breaking his nose. It would be easy, and satisfying. But she guessed Marty was nervous for a reason. She clenched her fists, only a little shake in her arms hinting at her pent-up fury. She snatched the files from him.

“Happy to be of help,” she replied, turning her back.

“One more thing,” Marty said, calling her back. “The patrolling in pairs thing is mandatory. Take Travers with you.”

“What?” Nina exclaimed. “Marty, there isn’t a thing in these woods I haven’t come across on my own before. I can handle it. Plus, up on the res, I can’t vouch for his safety, especially among them drunk natives,” she scowled, staring at Jones.

“My partner was out of line before,” Smith offered, “but you’re close to being the same way. It’s our way, or no way. If you want to be involved, this is it.”

Nina looked at Travers. He shrugged. He was trying to look nonchalant, but he clearly wanted in. She sighed. It seemed like a hopeless fight anyway. And Travers wasn’t a terrible choice of partner. Despite his youth, he was tall, well built, and could handle himself. He was a little impetuous and thoughtless, but nothing she couldn’t keep in check. And he knew not to push his luck with her, which was a major plus. As soon as her demeanour softened, his bright blue eyes sparkled mischievously. She often teased him that he had only been recruited because his brown hair matched the uniform, but compared to everyone else, she knew they could at least work together.

“Come on you big lug,” she sighed.

Travers followed her out of the room back to her desk. As she flipped through the files, she saw some familiar names. Some she dismissed, shuffling them to the bottom of the pile. Others she took an interest in and brought them to the top.

“Well, it might not be a dull day after all,” Nina quipped, looking up at Travers. “We’ll head up to the reservation like they want us to, but we’ll do some sightseeing on the way.”

“Where to?” Travers asked.

“First, there’s Lucas Christian,” Nina replied, raising an eyebrow.

“The writer?”

“The very one. Bought a huge piece of land out in the forest and built a luxury house out there. Rumour is that it’s less writing retreat, more fortress. I don’t know about you, but I’d like a look around that place.”

Travers nodded, impressed.

“Then there’s Patwyn Dalton, owner of Dalton logging. He’s been complaining about guys from the res moving stuff around his camp, damaging equipment and such like. And he just happens to have been the guy who sold the land to Lucas Christian.”

“Think that’s just a coincidence?” Travers asked.

“I think it’d be interesting to see how they’re linked to each other, that’s for sure.”

“Isn’t it like you said, guys from the res causing trouble with chunks of the forest being sold off?”

Nina smiled. “No, I don’t think so. But I think you’re right about one thing. I think it’s about territory. Let’s go find out.”

 

WIP Wednesday – Phantom Beast, Chapter Ten!

I’m going to be introducing some new regular posts across my channels, one being WIP (Work In Progress) Wednesday, where I’ll introduce you to some of the stories I am working on. To get things started, here is another new preview chapter from Phantom Beast. I know many of my readers have been waiting patiently for this release, and I am pleased to say that the end is very much in sight. But for now, let’s head to the wilds of Wyoming and a brewing storm!

janko-ferlic-ypS9j3UzqLk-unsplash

CHAPTER TEN

In the time it took Jericho to arrive, Thomas had changed out of his fishing gear into working boots, jeans, and a thick green-check chamois shirt. He hadn’t felt it whilst he’d been walking, but as he paced impatiently up and down along the trail outside of Lodge View, the cold wasn’t improving his mood. Despite being a relatively bright day, a storm was brewing inside him. Jericho had been flippant and dismissive on the phone. And now, he found himself questioning why Jericho would even be in the United States at the same time he was. With everything that happened, it surely couldn’t be a coincidence. A notorious tracker and trapper, with a flexible approach to the law, Jericho’s services were in high demand from a broad range of organisations. From government departments to private collectors, Jericho O’Connell worked with anyone willing to pick up the cheque. In return, problem animals would disappear, or the rarest specimen could be found. But the secrecy was something new. Jericho usually boasted unrelentingly about his exploits.

At the sound of a large vehicle making its way up the trail, Thomas turned to look. A brand new, jet black SUV of enormous size was making its way towards him. Just then, Jesse emerged from the treeline on the other side of the trail. He was clearly as interested in what Jericho had to say as Thomas was. As the car got closer, Thomas could see it was a top-of-the-range GMC Yukon. He was surprised on two accounts. First, a $100,000 vehicle was an unlikely find in a rental lot. Secondly, like himself, Jericho favoured slightly more rugged trucks, at least looks wise. The tinted glass made it hard for Thomas to see inside, but he could make out the white glow of the rancher-style hat Jericho preferred. The truck pulled up on the side of the trail, a little way off. The broad driver’s door opened, and out stepped the Irishman. He was wearing a leather drovers coat on top of his bright orange denim shirt and pale jeans. His sharp blue eyes shone in the shade the rim of his hat provided, and wisps of sun-bleached blonde hair poked out from under it and trailed down towards his shoulders.

“Quite the place you’ve got here,” Jericho nodded to Jesse.

“Want to explain what you’re doing in it?” Thomas accused.

“Now, let’s not forget the pleasantries,” Jericho replied, his eyes narrowing.

“You say you know something we don’t. Figure we skip the time-wasting,” Jesse remarked.

Jericho looked from one to the other and read the looks on both their faces. He quickly realised that tensions were already high.

“Okay,” he sighed. “Remember your cat back in Cannich?”

Thomas nodded silently, his eyes growing wide in alarm.

“Well, he’s a dad, and it’s a beautiful, bouncing baby girl,” Jericho chuckled.

The punch Thomas threw was so quick, Jericho never saw it coming. It connected with the right side of his chin and made him stagger a few steps to his left. For a moment, he was stunned, and he saw the anger burning in Thomas’ eyes.

“How could you?” Thomas roared “you know what we went through. You know it killed people.”

“including my pa,” Jesse growled, stepping forward.

“Now gents, let’s be civilised about this,” Jericho warned. “Besides, I can’t take two of you on. Well actually, what I mean to say is, I don’t want to.”

Jericho shrugged off the leather coat and let it fall to the ground. He raised his arms slightly, tensing the muscles in his forearms as he did and letting his fingers curl halfway into fists.

“You’re an asshole,” Jesse declared, stepping back and shaking his head.

“I’m inclined to agree,” Thomas spat. He walked straight up to Jericho and rammed a finger into his chest. “How could you not tell me?”

Something ignited in Jericho. Maybe it was the long drive. Maybe it was the cold weather. But he’d had enough. He shot his left palm into the centre of Thomas’s chest, pushing him back and out of his face. Almost out of habit, his right fist swung in a roundhouse punch to Thomas’s jaw.

“I owed you that,” Jericho nodded, slightly surprised at his own reaction.

Before he could say anything else, Thomas sprang, connecting in a full charge with the Irishman’s shoulder and knocking him backwards. Thomas kept the momentum going and they collapsed onto the ground. Thomas bent his arm and crossed it against Jericho’s chest, who was lying on his back and trying to get up. Jericho flinched as he saw the pain and rage wash over Thomas’s face. He decided to take what was coming. But he didn’t have to. Thomas staggered back to his feet, distracted by the noise of another truck coming along the track. His eyes were fixed on it.

“Have you quite finished?” Catherine demanded.

Thomas helped Jericho to his feet. They both looked sheepish and avoided her steely gaze. She stood in the doorway, but her attention too was drawn to the oncoming truck.

Thomas could see it was an older truck, black in colour and relatively compact.

“Shit,” sighed Jesse.

That’s when Thomas recognised the car too. It was a 1991 GMC Syclone pick-up truck. In its heyday it had been capable of out accelerating a Ferrari 348. It was fairly pointless as a working vehicle though. It was too light for heavy work and too heavy for light work. All it and its supercharged V6 engine had meant to do, was get from one set of lights to the next quicker than anything else. But Thomas already knew this one had been modified. It sat higher, on stiff, strong suspension and bulky all-terrain tyres. And he could already hear from the exhaust and the whine of the supercharger that they were not factory-issued. But he also knew all this because he knew who was behind the wheel of the truck. It belonged to Nina Lee, Jesse’s former girlfriend. She pulled into the side.

Nina was Native American. Her father was Skokomish and lived in Washington State. But Nina lived with her mother, who was of the Crow nation, and Wyoming born-and-bred. Thomas knew she was a Forest Ranger and an excellent tracker. As she got out of the truck, he could see why Jesse would have taken the breakup hard. She was stunning. Dark brown hair that rolled off her shoulders, hazel coloured eyes that shone with defiance. She was a very attractive woman.

“Look’s like it’s quite the party,” Nina jeered. “Trouble has a habit of following you around Mr. Walker,” she said with a smile.

“Joined at the hip,” Thomas shrugged.

“I’m guessing we’re all here and getting worked up about the same thing. Why don’t we all go inside and talk about this bear and whatever else might be on a killing spree,” Nina suggested.

“Finally, someone talking sense,” Catherine concluded, rolling her eyes but pushing the door wide open to welcome them all in.

Thomas nodded towards the door at Jericho.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Don’t be,” the Irishman replied. “I deserved it; I just didn’t like it.”

They all went inside Lodge View and headed up to the kitchen. They each took a seat around the breakfast bar. Thomas headed over to the coffee pot and began pulling mugs out of a cupboard. After filling each, he passed them over two at a time, then fetched a quart of milk from the fridge and some sugar cubes. He took a handful of spoons from a drawer and left people to adjust their drinks to their own preferences.

“Okay, Jericho, time to fill us in on what we don’t know, but you seem to,” Thomas suggested, softly but firmly.

The Irishman sighed deeply and took a big swig of his coffee, which he’d left black but added plenty of sugar to.

“The Cannich cat,” he said. “One of the highlights of its Highland fling was a visit to a wildlife park, where it killed a number of animals and a keeper. It did so to get access to a female mountain lion they had there. She had come into heat and proved too much of a temptation for the strapping lad. I’m sure you also remember the reported tragedy of how that same mountain lion then mauled the park’s owner to death? Well, that part wasn’t strictly true. It was her cubs.”

“Her cubs?” Catherine asked. She glanced at Thomas, who had gone pale.

“Four in total,” Jericho nodded. “They escaped, but two were killed pretty quickly – not my doing I might add. But as for the other two…”

“One’s made it over here?” Thomas asked, barely getting the words out as his throat clammed up at the mere thought.

“The British government thought it best not to tell you. The one over here is called Tama, and she was sold to a private collector. I arranged her capture and sale a few years ago.”

“So, what is Tama doing out in the wild then?” Catherine demanded.

“Beats me, obviously that was never part of the agreement,” Jericho shrugged.

“Is this why Keelson hasn’t been answering my calls?” Thomas asked. “Because she knows you’re wrapped up in this?”

“When did you speak to Kelly?” Jericho queried, a concerned look on his face.

Kelly Keelson was the TV news reporter who had shot to fame when the Cannich cat’s rampage had caught the headlines. Since then, having started her own production company, she had worked closely with Thomas, documenting how he and Catherine had hunted down the unusual pride of lionesses that had killed his first wife. Set in the same African wilderness that had been plagued by the man-eaters of Tsavo over a century before, it had been picked up worldwide. Since then, Thomas, Catherine and Kelly had become good friends. And Jericho and Kelly had become much more, at least it was rumoured.

“I haven’t, and that’s unusual,” Thomas replied.

Jericho didn’t seem relieved.

“Where’s the other cub?” Jesse asked.

“That we don’t know for sure, although I have a feeling she’s also in the hands of a collector. Not on these shores though, that’s for sure.”

“So, you’re on clean-up duty?” Thomas asked.

Jericho shrugged. “Kind of.”

“The problem is worse than you think,” Nina interjected. “It hasn’t made the news yet, but it’s all over the law enforcement channels. Last night, a dog fighting ring run by a star football player was destroyed. A fire pretty much cleaned up most of the evidence, but one body was found with both burns and bite marks. Big bite marks.”

“It started a fire?” Catherine exclaimed.

“Right now, they think it must have started accidentally,” Nina explained. “But I went and had a looksee. Whoever it was covered their tracks well, but not of their truck. And it was pretty heavily loaded at the rear. Somebody made it out of there. And I think they have this cat.”

“That’s a whole new problem if so,” Jericho added.

“You didn’t sell anyone a big grizzly too?” Nina accused, mockingly.

Unusually, Jericho went quiet, his eyes focusing on the mug of coffee.

“So, Tama,” Thomas said, changing the subject. “How much does she resemble her old man?”

“When I last saw her, she was nearly fully grown,” Jericho replied. “I’ve only seen your cat in the Natural History Museum in London, but I’d guess she’s only a shade smaller by now. She has mountain lion colouring, sort of sandy brown. But she has the bulk, and all the equipment of dear old dad.”

“A sabre-tooth?” Jesse exclaimed incredulously. “There’s a God-damn sabre-tooth loose up here, that’s what you’re telling me?”

Jericho went quiet again. Thomas thought he could see sweat on the Irishman’s brow.

“Tell me more about this buyer,” Thomas demanded.

“He’s not the problem, he’s who I’m working for right now,” Jericho replied. “If somebody is setting this cat loose here and there, it’s not him.”

“I’m guessing that $100,000 status symbol out there is a company car then?” Thomas added, finally making the connection that Jericho was still on the payroll.

Jericho nodded.

“So, are you here to help out, or are you going to get in the way?” Jesse growled.

“Neither,” Jericho shrugged. “My first port of call is to meet the buyer in Denver. I won’t know much more until then. But believe it or not, I’m feeling just as pissy about the whole thing as you are.”

“I doubt that,” Jesse muttered with menace. “But it clears a few things up, least ways.”

“Such as?” Nina enquired, pointedly.

“It’s a hybrid animal,” Jesse said flippantly. “Imported illegally into the United States. I can hunt it and kill it without issue. And that’s all I needed to know.”

“With those things?” Nina accused.

“I don’t remember inviting you to this party anyways,” Jesse retorted back.

“I came here to warn you, not give you a reason to risk your life and let those damn things loose,” Nina scolded. “We already have two potentially killer animals out there. We don’t need a pack more.”

“I can control them,” Jesse said, dismissing her concern.

“Really?” Nina shot back, whipping up the sleeve of her arm and revealing a healed-over scar that ran along her forearm.

The room went quiet.

“I told you, I think it smelt that wolf of yours on you,” Jesse said, quietly.

“But that’s just it, and something you need to consider,” Nina continued. “I can control a 150lb wolf better than you can those animals. He’d never bite me, or anyone. Unless I told him to, that is,” she added, smiling at Thomas.

“I don’t know about the killing part, but it does need hunting down Nina,” Thomas added. “Guess that’s what I’ll be doing too.”

They sat together in silence for a few moments before Nina got up. The rest of them followed suit, following her and Jericho downstairs and out the door.

“Keep in touch from now on, okay?” Thomas said to Jericho as he climbed into the GMC.

The Irishman nodded. He turned the key in the ignition and the big V8 rumbled into life. Thomas stepped back as Jericho turned the truck around. As he was passing Nina, who was making her way towards her own truck, he slowed.

“Ms Lee,” Jericho said, almost under his breath. “I don’t know much about this bear, but the circles I frequent are suggesting something isn’t right about it. Talk about it being dropped here by the government, that it killed people up North or something. All the normal conspiracy stuff, you know. But still, be careful.”

“Not my first rodeo,” Nina smirked. “But thanks for the warning.”

Thomas, Catherine and Jesse watched the two trucks headed back down the trail.

“Did things just get better or worse?” Jesse asked.

“Much, much worse,” Thomas replied.

Here be Dragons

In celebration of St. George’s Day, I thought I’d share a story I started some time ago, that like many others, is now on the perpetual back burner as other projects take priority. It’s titled “Here be Dragons”. It is set in the Mediterranean, just after the time of the Buccaneers, and as its name suggests, it hints of when sea maps were marked with ominous warnings of maritime monsters.

When I write my creatures, I always try to fit biology and behaviour to the mythology. For instance, we all know dragons love their gold. But why? It’s not like they spend it. However, we also know that dragons breathe fire, and presuming they are reptiles, are likely to be egg layers. Gold is one of the greatest heat-retaining metals there is – so what better to line the nest of an iron-hided reptile?!

There is a small chance that the clash between St. George and the dragon took place – but actually may have been an out-of-place crocodilian of some kind. However, if it did happen, the legend leads to what is modern Libya, or Central Eastern Turkey rather than dear old England.

There will be two dragons in the story, Firefang and Swordtail. The prologue introduces you to the former.

emanuela-meli-JvKMMV6fLTA-unsplash

Here be Dragons

The cave was dark. The rocks were hot to the touch and the air was dry, creating a strange and eerie atmosphere given they could still hear the crash of waves at the entrance. But there was no moisture here. The cave was arid and scorched. Its inner sanctum was hotter than the baking Mediterranean sun on a still day at sea, or at least it seemed so.

As they crept closer, the rasping sound of venting steam echoed in the darkness. The rocky path was narrow and steep, and they chose their footing carefully. Only a few of them carried torches, in an effort to keep their insurgence secret from what they feared and hoped lurked within the cave’s depths.

A foul stench reached them, stinging their nostrils in warning before their eyes found the graveyard of carcasses in the dim light. A fresh, fleshy island pony was strewn upon the heap close to them. Blazing embers still glowed in the few patches that remained of its hide. They passed in silence, most holding their breath. None uttered their contempt or distress of the stink.

The sound of thunder echoed around them. The youngest amongst them thought it the noise of the sea. Only the oldest knew better, and the sound shook them to their very bones. Perhaps it was the venting steam they had seen above the hill, a few questioned in silence.

Steam vented indeed, from two nostrils billowing carbon from lungs larger than the holds of their ship. Wrapped in wings greater than their grandest sails, she watched them approach. She cared not if it was the gold, her eggs, or she herself they came for, they would not leave. She began to uncoil, slithering towards them and emitting only a barely audible hiss. As her clawed feet found purchase and her entirety was unveiled, she sent loose stones clacking down the slope. She let a guttural snarl echo and reverb around the cave. It had the desired effect, stopping the men in their tracks.

The least conditioned of them turned tail and ran, but with one almighty clap of her wings, she knocked them to the ground with the hurricane that followed. She laughed at their foolishness, or so it seemed from the thunderous, mocking snarls she sent in their direction. The men let a volley of arrows loose towards her. She snapped her tail across her body, letting the steel-headed projectiles clatter harmlessly from her iron-like hide. She hissed as she straightened out, letting out one final damning roar of threat. The message was clear: leave or die. The sailors knew it wasn’t a warning, but a choice they were being left with.

The men who had already tried to leave picked themselves up off the floor and ran for their lives. One of the older members of the crew heard the hiss of an intake of breath and the clack of jaws. He turned and slipped away, knowing what came next.

The men that remained crept forward and a torch caught the hint of gold. The rumours had been true, and they found new courage in their greed. It was short-lived, as were they themselves. The darkness of the cavern was illuminated in a dazzling lick of fire. It seemed to hunt them out as if it were a living thing. The strike came from above, the dragon landing behind them on silent wings of black and crimson. They were now cut off from the only way out of the cave. Her talons reached for them, crushing a number of them into mangled clumps of flesh and bone. Another lick of fire roasted several more in their boots. Her eyes found the last, cowering against the stock of gold that gave and held heat for her eggs. She lowered her head, her forked tongue tasting his fear. Blue flame filled her jaws and flickered over her protruding front teeth. Her meal screamed, then was silenced forever with a single bite. She roared with triumph.

As the roar echoed out of the cave and rippled across the water to the small rowboat, the old man looked back towards the small island.

“What was that?” one of the young crew asked.

“Firefang. A she dragon. Count your lucky stars you saw fit to turn back lads.”

As another roar echoed out, none in the boat doubted the fate of those who had stayed back in the cave.

 

Ena Mel & the Lily of the Forest

As it’s Tell a Fairy Story day on Wednesday 26th February, I’d like to introduce you to a character I’ve only ever told stories about to close family and friends. But, I think it might be time she had her debut. I’d be interested to hear what you think!

~

You may have heard a story about a tooth fairy, whose name was Ena Mel. She became very famous in the fairy realm when the Goblin Lord Thard tried to blackmail her into giving him treasure for all the Goblin teeth that had ever fallen out. But that is a completely different story, and it would take far too long to re-tell it here. This is the second adventure that happened to Ena Mel, and it happened not too long after the first.

Ena has a friend called Butterwick, who is also a fairy. Butterwick is not a tooth fairy, in fact his job is totally different. Butterwick is a type of house fairy, and like all fairies, his name and his purpose are the same. Has there ever been a blackout in your house? Without electricity, you can’t even turn on a light, and it is often at this time that a grown up will go and look for a candle. Have you ever noticed how surprised grown ups can be when they find a ready supply of candles under the sink or in the cupboard? Well, it was probably a fairy like Butterwick who put them there. Hence the ‘wick’ in Butterwick – just like a candle.

Bizarrely, he is also responsible for making sure that you never run out of dairy products, which is where the butter bit comes from. Whereas some fairies make sure you have eggs, polish your shoes, repair your socks and feed the dog all in the name of being a good house fairy, Butterwick pretty much keeps it to a minimum. That said, there is a little village in Devon that hasn’t run out of milk, candles or light bulbs since 1907. Ena asked him about it once; Butterwick just said he likes it there.

The fairy realm is hidden from the human world, deep inside an enormous forest in the south west of England. People do sometimes walk in or near the realm, but they never see the fairies. Sometimes they think they’ve seen a firefly, or a glow worm, or maybe an unusual butterfly. Even rarer still, a person may pass a beautiful woman or handsome man, not knowing that they were actually fairies. You see, fairies come in many different sizes. Some look like you and me, whilst others are small enough to ride on the back of a small bird, or maybe even a bumblebee. Not all fairies have wings either, although most do – including Ena Mel. There are even fairies that look just like horses, who are called Kelpies. Next time you see a horse frolicking in a field whilst all the others are just staring at him, you might just have seen a kelpie.

As you may have guessed, all the different fairies have different jobs as well, just like Ena Mel and Butterwick. Having said that though, no one has really worked out what the kelpies do yet other than jump in the air a lot. However, most of the fairies do something helpful one way or another. The tooth fairy leaves money under your pillow when you lose a tooth. House fairies do housework and other odd jobs round the house. Some leave you presents when you’re lonely, or if you’re upset. And some have very special jobs indeed.

Ena Mel loved living in the fairy realm. She lived in a little thatched cottage made of twigs and dried grasses, with beautifully set walls of cut stones. The cottage was set in the very top roots of a splendid oak tree. You would only ever know it was there if you happened to pass it at night and could see the faint glow from the tiny wooden windows. A little chimney made from an old whistle stuck out of the top of the roof, gently puffing little wisps of smoke into the air. But you’d have to look very carefully even to see all that.

One morning, Ena Mel opened the round door to her little cottage and looked out. She could see other fairy folk pottering in and out of their little houses in bushes, trees and even the rocks themselves. Some were retuning from a night’s work, whilst others were doing just as she was, and only just starting their day. The little part of the realm where she lived was simply known as the Oak Road, as it was a part of the forest where hundreds of oak trees all grew in a line.

veeterzy-sMQiL_2v4vs-unsplash

Now you may be wondering what a tooth fairy would be doing up during the day, and if you are then you’re very clever to do so. But there are places in the world where it is nighttime at the same time that it’s the morning in our part of the world. For instance, when its 9’o’clock in the morning in England, its 9’o’clock in the evening in Alaska. So, no matter what time it is, there is always somewhere in the world for a tooth fairly to go.

Ena fluttered up into the air and skimmed over the ground, waving at a few of her neighbours as she went. She sped up as she got closer to the ground. The location of the tooth tulip was deep inside the forest, and only the tooth fairies knew exactly where. She was determined to keep it that way and didn’t like other fairy folk being able to see where she was going. After all, even Butterwick didn’t know where it was and he was her best friend.

Have you ever wondered how the tooth fairy manages to get from place to place so fast? Are you now wondering what a tooth tulip is? The tooth tulip is a special flower that is shaped exactly like one of your teeth and instead of being red, like a normal tulip, it is brilliant white in colour. The petals fold over so that it forms a little chamber at the top of the stem, just large enough to fit a tooth fairy.

Ena Mel dived and squeezed between the folded petals of the tooth tulip as quick as a flash, with only a few specks of fairy dust leaving an evaporating trail to show where she had gone. Once inside, she looked down to a small pouch on her belt and took a handful of the dust. She blew gently on her hand, letting the dust hover gently over the surface of the walls of the petal chamber. Quickly, the dust formed a floating map of the world in front of her. She took out her wand and pointed it to a very far corner. Fairy dust showered around her as the tooth tulip seemed to shake as if in an earthquake for a moment. Then it stopped.

The walls of the chamber had changed colour from their brilliant white to a very deep green. The leaves looked prickly and hard, and much smaller than tulip petals. She also noticed how cold she was all of a sudden. She was definitely in the right place. She could see starlights through a gap in the leaves, and she shot out of the tooth tulip into the night air. When she looked back, she could see that the tooth tulip was no longer a tulip, but in fact a huge green fir tree, still in the shape of an enormous tooth. She smiled as she whizzed over the snow-laden ground. She had never seen a tooth tree before! The last time she had come to Alaska – for that was where she was, she had found herself inside a snowbell. But they only came out at certain times of year, and it was too early in the polar spring for flowers.

Ena saw the distant lights of a small town. As she drew nearer, the wand in her pocket began to glow. There were definitely teeth waiting to be collected. She took out the wand, and she slowly began to pass over the rooftops below. As she hovered over the first chimney pot, the very tip of her wand glowed red. So did the next one, and the next. Then, at the fourth house, the tip glowed green.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a house with a chimney, so she zipped into the guttering along the roof. She did her very best to keep her wings and legs off of the sides of the drainpipe. In Scotland and Ireland, the tooth fairy was a large white rat. Ena had met him a few times, and he was more than happy to scurry up drainpipes. Ena was much happier with open windows or chimneys, but she soon saw a ray of light at the end of the drainpipe.

Ena found herself looking out through a plughole, set in a small blue bathtub. She could see a little girl with black hair brushing her teeth at a sink on the other side of the room. Ena watched as the girl’s mother came in and hurried her out of the bathroom and into the next room. Ena flew up to the overflow and squeezed through, following the girl and her mother. Quick as a flash, she zipped through the open doorway of the little girl’s bedroom and hid herself in-between some books on a small shelf above the bed.

The girl’s mother kissed the little girl gently on the forehead, and pulled out a small purse. Ena watched as the mother put the small tooth the little girl had handed her into the purse, and then placed it under the pillow. The mother ruffled the little girl’s hair, then reached across and turned out the lamp before leaving the room. A small amount of light still filtered through from the bathroom. It seemed to take ages for the little girl to fall asleep. Soon enough though, Ena heard snuffly snores coming from below. Ena floated silently down towards the bed and landed softly behind the pillow. Carefully, she pushed her hand as far as she could underneath until she could just feel the strings of the purse between her fingertips.

Ena pulled as hard as she could, until the purse was clear of the pillow. She pushed the clasps open and took the tooth out with both hands. Remember, that even though a tooth is tiny to you and me – it’s the size of a football to most tooth fairies. Ena took out her wand and tapped the tooth once. At once, fairy dust fell from the wand tip and began to circle the tooth, which began to glow brightly. When the tooth was glowing so brightly that Ena had to shield her eyes, an amazing thing happened. The tooth began to shrink. It grew so small that it soon became just a twinkling spec of dust. Ena Mel uncorked a tiny bottle on her belt, and the spec floated gently into it.

She checked the little girl was still soundly sleeping, and then zipped out of the room and a long the corridor. She eventually left the house through a vent in the kitchen, sneaking past the grown ups in the front room, even though she knew they were less likely to see her. Children were the only ones who really saw fairies. All children have a little bit of magic in them, which means that magical creatures can see them, and more importantly, they can see magical creatures. That’s why, whenever you try to show a grown up an elf, or the monster under your bed, they never find anything. No one really knows what age children lose the ability to see the magical world around them. My advice to you is to keep hold of it as long as possible.

Ena flew high above the town. She had flown over every single house, and although she was sure that no other children lay sleeping with uncollected teeth underneath their pillow, her wand still quivered and shimmered. Somewhere, there was a tooth nearby that needed collecting. It was then that she heard it, high above the chilling call of the wind. A loud, deep, growly moan. Her sensitive ears picked out the sound more clearly now, and she glided with the wind towards the sound. She flew away from the town, its dim lights now behind her. The wind was laden with snow, and she felt the cold for the first time. She hoped she would find the owner of the rumbling growly voice soon. It was definitely getting louder now.

Out of the gloomy, snow-chilled night, came an enormous, lumbering figure. The polar bear stood up on its hind legs and let out a deep and pitiful growl. Ena suddenly realised – the bear had toothache! This was the tooth that she was looking for. Ena Mel flew close to the bear, hovering just on top of its nose so that she could look him in the eye. All fairies are able to talk to wild animals, and Ena Mel was no exception. She spoke to the bear in a quiet voice, which it understood perfectly. He opened his mouth wide, and Ena fluttered inside. The smell was awful – the polar bear had very fishy breath.

Ena could see the tooth easily enough by the light of her wand. It was hanging from the gum, only just still held in place by the stringy roots. Ena took two well-aimed shots with her wand, cutting the tooth free and catching it in her hands. She zipped back out of the bear’s mouth, clasping the tooth. She couldn’t help smiling as the bear yowled with pleasure and tried to rub noses with her despite being awfully big. She could see the roots of the tooth were almost green with rot. It must have been very painful for the bear! Ena Mel waited for the tooth to shrink to a spec, and then placed it in the bottle with all the other specs she had collected. As she flew away, she looked behind her to see the bear standing on its rear legs and lifting its nose in the air at her.

bao-menglong-6L7-GuSewHo-unsplash

She smiled as the bear disappeared from view through the now thickly falling snowflakes. Before she knew it, she was standing inside the chamber of the tooth tree, ready to head back home. This time, she pointed her wand up towards the ceiling of the chamber and whispered “reverso”. The tooth tree shook for a moment, and then suddenly she was back in her familiar forest, with bright sunlight peaking through the petals.

Ena Mel gently lifted off from the tooth tulip, and glided over the clearing, but instead of heading towards her cottage, she went the opposite way, deeper into the forest. She looked up into the branches of the trees as she passed, catching glimpses of the sun. The light was beginning to fade and it would soon be evening. She zigzagged back and forth through different lines of trees, all the time going deeper and deeper into the forest. Finally, when she was as certain as she could be that nobody had followed her, she stopped zigzagging and flew as fast as she could to the small forest pool that only the tooth fairies knew about.

Ena knew that she had to get her timing just right. The trees around the pool had grown in such a way that they gradually filtered out the suns rays until there was only one left as the sun was setting. It touched the water at the very edge of the pool, where Ena Mel now knelt, clasping the small bottle containing all the specs of dust that had once been teeth. She watched the reflection of the setting sun on the water until it resembled a small, golden disc hidden underneath the surface. She gently poured the contents of the bottle onto the water.

At first, nothing happened. Then, the water began to bubble. Soon, the water was frothing wildly, and the bubbles began to shoot into the air, erupting out of a fountain of water that shot up from the centre of the pool. Inside each bubble was a tiny spec of glittering light that had once been a tooth. Believe it or not, there is almost nothing so pure in this world as one of your baby teeth. Tooth fairies have a special magic that can take all the good and pure things that make up a baby tooth and transform it into raw magical energy – which is very powerful indeed.

Ena watched as the bubbles disappeared up into the air. Some didn’t go very far at all and landed on the ground around the pool. Immediately, new and vibrant flowers like bluebells and foxgloves sprung up from the ground. As the bubbles landed on the trees, they spread their branches out and their buds and leaves opened up fully. Blossoms and pollen erupted from flowers everywhere as far as she could see. It was then that she noticed a shadow. It was Butterwick! She realised that he must have somehow followed her. She was very cross indeed, but couldn’t help smiling when she saw the big grin on his face.

As a house elf, Butterwick stood a little taller than Ena, but only about an inch or so. However, in the fairy realm that was like being a few feet taller than someone else! Something else you probably didn’t realise is that fairy clothes are always green in colour. They can be many different shades of green, and Butterwick was wearing a dark green tunic and waistcoat, and bottle green trousers. They were made of the softest cloth you can imagine.

“I always wondered where you went,” said Butterwick, still smirking “I don’t think I’ve ever been this deep into the forest before”. Ena smiled, and then with a flick of her wand she whispered “boogerburp”. Before he could deflect it, Butterwick let out a huge burp, and a tiny bogey flew out of his mouth. Butterwick spluttered as he tried to get the taste out of his mouth. “Guess I deserved that” he said finally “You know you shouldn’t be here,” scolded Ena, still smiling at her spell. She had thought of it herself, and as far as she knew, nobody else knew how to cast it. Suddenly, Butterwick looked up towards the pool. “Does he know he shouldn’t be here?” he asked. Ena looked up too.

Creeping carefully through the reeds on the far side of the pool was a frog. But unlike a normal frog, he was waking on his hind legs just like a person. He was carrying a satchel over one shoulder, and as he crept through the reeds he was collecting the bubbles before they hit the ground. He put each one in the satchel, carefully making sure they didn’t burst. When he had found five bubbles in total, he closed the flap on the satchel and began to hop away.

robert-zunikoff-r2Btf_xF1wM-unsplash

“Let’s follow him,” said Ena, “I want to know where he’s taking my bubbles” She looked at Butterwick for a moment “will you be able to keep up with me?” Butterwick smiled knowingly and took out a small flute from his jacket pocket. He played three shrill notes, and a handsome brown hare bounded out from underneath the trees. Ena raised her eyes and shook her head “You cheat!” she scolded again, “no wonder you were able to follow me!” Secretly though, she was quite impressed at how clever Butterwick had been. “Come on,” said Butterwick “the hoppity fellow is getting away”.

Ena flew high, keeping an eye on the frog as he hopped ahead of them whilst she also kept an eye on Butterwick, who was now riding on the back of the hare and following behind. It wasn’t long before the frog has led them even deeper into the forest. It didn’t stop until it reached the mouth of an enormous cave. It looked around for a moment, then made its way into the darkness. Ena folded her wings back and dived towards the cave, only spreading her wings again just before she hit the ground, bringing her to a perfect stop. Butterwick wasn’t far behind, and he and the hare soon leapt up to the cave entrance. Butterwick thanked the hare, and then let it skip back towards the forest trees. Ena took her wand out again, and gently blew on the tip until it glowed brightly enough to light their way. Butterwick and Ena took a deep breath and then they stepped into the cave together.

It was very dark inside the cave. Ena hovered a little way off the ground, but Butterwick had to pick his way through carefully by the light of her wand. They could hear the frog as he hopped over the cave floor, occasionally splashing into a puddle. Soon, they became aware of another noise – the sound of water crashing against rocks. Just as they were wondering what the noise might be, they began to see a glittering light. It was then that they realised that the cave was in fact a tunnel, leading to what must be a waterfall. As they approached the end of the tunnel, they could see that there was indeed a beautiful and enormous waterfall that cascaded down a sheer rock face into a huge pool at the bottom, close to where the tunnel came out.

Butterwick and Ena crouched in the long grass at the entrance to the tunnel. Ena let out a tiny gasp of shock. In front of them were hundreds of frogs! Some were standing on their hind legs like the frog that had collected the bubbles, whilst others wore strange looking helmets and carried vicious looking swords and shields that looked like lily pads. Ena decided to herself that they must be guard frogs. Then she began to wonder what it could be that they were guarding. She glanced at Butterwick, who seemed just as interested in the proceedings as she was.

The frogs seemed to be crowding round the frog with the satchel, who was making his way to the water. When he reached the edge of the pool, he bent his knees a little and jumped high in the air. Ena and Butterwick expected him to splash down into the water, but what happened instead was a little lily pad popped up out of the water as if by magic for him to land on. Then another, then another, and another, until they could see that they were acting like stepping-stones that led to an enormous lily pad at the centre of the pool. In the very centre of this pad was a large, unopened bud that the frog now stood in front of.

The frog slowly opened his satchel and took out the first of the bubbles with the magical dust inside. He gently let it drop from his hand onto the bud, where it landed with a loud ‘pop’. Immediately, little white flowers erupted all over it, but it still remained closed. He reached into the satchel again and brought out the second bubble. Again, he let it drop from his hand onto the bud. This time, a large thick green vine wove its way round the bud, clasping at both of its sides like long green fingers. Yet, it still remained closed. The frog brought out a third bubble and again let it drop. Beautiful blue and pink flowers opened on the vine and out of each one flew a tiny hummingbird. Each hummingbird had a bright blue body and pink wings to match the flowers and they sang a beautiful song as the sun began setting. But the bud itself still remained closed.

cristiane-teston-bcnfJvEYm1Y-unsplash

The fourth bubble was already in the frog’s hand and Ena and Butterwick watched in wonder as it burst upon the bud. Something stirred inside the bud and a white glow appeared from somewhere inside it. The frog stood back a little, just enough for Ena and Butterwick to see that the glow was coming from an enormous pearl that was now growing larger and larger between the leaves of the bud. The bigger the pearl grew, the easier it was to see inside. They could just make out the silhouette of a figure, curled up inside. Suddenly, the hummingbirds flew closer and closer to the leaves of the bud, taking pieces of vine in their beaks. They flew in a circle, wider and higher as they went, slowly pulling the leaves apart. Finally, the pearl was free. The frog took the last bubble in his hand, but this time instead of letting it drop, he blew gently so it lifted off his webbed fingers and it touched the side of the pearl.

There was a sound like thunder as the sides of the pearl broke, turning to water, which streamed downwards over the lily pad and into the pool. Ena beat her wings a few times, taking her a little way off the ground so she could see better. She let out a tiny gasp of astonishment. Lying curled up inside a silvery bowl – which was all that was left of the pearl, was a beautiful fairy. She was sound asleep. Her hair was the colour of autumn leaves just as they turn golden. Her wings, although tucked up behind her shone gold and silver with the setting sun. Ena, Butterwick and all the frogs waited in silence. Then, the fairy opened her eyes. They were the colour of the greenest waters of the deepest oceans. With a single beat of her wings, she gracefully lifted onto her feet.

Immediately, all the frogs bowed and lowered their heads. The fairy bowed her head in return, and then she looked straight at Ena Mel and smiled. Ena had been so excited by what she was seen, she had forgotten all about staying hidden and had floated high above the grass where she and Butterwick had been hiding. Everyone could see her. The frogs half ran, half hopped towards her. The guard frogs raced towards them brandishing their swords. Ena flew back down to join Butterwick. He seemed to be enjoying it, as he was grinning as usual.

Suddenly, the frogs stopped in their tracks. In the blink of an eye, the fairy had flown ahead of them, and had landed next to Ena. Ena had never seen any fairy fly so fast. Once again, all the frogs stopped and bowed low before her. The fairy was smiling warmly at the frogs. She turned and spoke to Ena “forgive my guardians. They are very protective of me. They have waited a long time for me to come” “How long?” asked Ena, still a little amazed at what she had seen “Five years,” replied the fairy, in a voice that seemed full of wisdom and understanding. Ena didn’t know what else to do “My name is Ena” she said, “and this is my friend Butterwick”. The fairy smiled warmly at them both “and I am Lily, one of the water fairies”.

Ena gasped. She had heard of the water fairies. No one she knew had ever seen one. She knew they were very special, even for fairies! As if sensing what Ena was thinking, Lily began to explain “my kind have always been few and far between. We are charged with bringing new life from the waters which we came. This very night, I will leave the fairy realm to plant new forests and to stir the oceans. I have only to daybreak before I must leave. Please stay with me and tell me stories of the realm”. Ena could see that Lily would be sad to leave the fairy realm, for it was a very special place. But she also knew that her job was even more special. So, she sat with Lily and began to tell her all the stories that she had ever heard.

As they laughed and told each other jokes and stories, the three fairies listened to frog singers and frog musicians as they sang and played throughout the night. One by one, the stars began to go out, and the glow of daybreak began to creep across the sky from the east. Lily smiled, even more warmly than she had before. She thanked Ena for the stories and for keeping her company throughout the night. She said goodbye to a very sleepy Butterwick who yawned as he shook her hand. As the sunlight hit her wings, she began to glow brilliantly gold, so brightly that Ena had to shield her eyes. The wind swept over the pool and the light began to fade. It wisped around Lily, beckoning her upwards and away. She smiled, and Ena caught a last glimpse of her dazzling green eyes. Then, she was gone, high above them, weaving in and out of the clouds as the wind took her up and away until she was just a spec in the sky. Soon, she had disappeared altogether.

Ena sighed. She turned to say goodbye to the frogs who had kept them company all night, but already they were hopping back down to the pool and jumping into the water. As the sun rose, a mist began to rise off the pool and soon it was covered in swirling grey vapour. Ena Mel and Butterwick smiled at each other. They made their way back to the edge of the forest, and decided there and then that they would tell no one else about the secret cave. It had been a wonderful adventure to find the pool, and they would always remember their meeting with Lily, the lily pad fairy. They hoped they would meet her again.

THE END

johannes-plenio-1vzLW-ihJaM-unsplash