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.

Meet the Family – Exclusive Chapter Preview

Book 3 in the Beast Series, Phantom Beast, is a little behind. However, if all goes according to plan, there should be not one, but two books to launch in fairly quick succession. Not only will you get Phantom Beast, but hot on its heels will be Rogue, which is a spin-off featuring a character you’ll meet in Book 3.

However, here is Chapter Two of Phantom Beast to whet your appetite, where we meet the latest addition to the Walker family, three-year old Cassie. Check out the previous post to catch up with Chapter One.

CHAPTER TWO

Thomas Walker eyed the cat with an unblinking stare. Its own gold-green iris met his gaze with equal confidence. The long black tufts at the end of each of its ears flicked once as it raised a paw to step forward. Thomas matched the movement, pushing his chest out as a sign of dominance. The cat was silent but dropped its chin and bobbed its head from side to side as it sized him up. He wondered if this was perhaps why its smaller cousin was called the bobcat. This cat, a northern lynx, was a fine specimen. Male, fully grown at nearly three years old, weighing close to 110lbs, and nearly four feet in length. Thomas had given the cat the name Loki, befitting both its temperament and its Norwegian ancestry.

As the cat pounced, so did Thomas, whisking the little three-year-old girl up into his arms, feeling the thud of her heavy outdoor clothes against his chest as he clutched her tightly. Loki rose onto his hind legs, reaching out with his front paws towards Thomas and the girl. The pads of the cat’s paws met the wire-mesh fence harmlessly, which flexed a little under his weight. Thomas met the stare of the cat with a smug look of his own as he dropped the girl back to her feet.

“Cassie Walker, what have we said about going near the enclosure?” Thomas demanded, gently.

“Loki wants me to be friends with him, daddy,” the girl answered adamantly.

Thomas smiled, brushing away her red curls and meeting her vivid green eyes, which burned with resolve.

“Loki wants you for lunch, munchkin,” Thomas sighed.

“No claws daddy, no claws!” Cassie replied, thumping him on his calf with a scowl.

Thomas looked at the cat. He could see his daughter was right. Loki had not extended his claws. But it was no reassurance its predatory instinct hadn’t kicked in.

“I was going to accuse you of having your mother’s good looks and my brains, but it seems you’re using your head. It’s still my job to make sure it stays attached to you though, okay.”

“Silly daddy,” Cassie sighed.

Thomas took his daughter’s hand and led her back to the house. Named Sàsadh, an old Gaelic word meaning a place of comfort, it was now homelier than ever. The grand old farmhouse had changed rather dramatically over the last few years. First had come an impressive extension, incorporating a bedroom, bathroom and play room for Cassie on the ground floor. Then had come the further addition to the grounds, with enclosures for the lynx. Part of a reintroduction programme, the Mullardoch forest on their doorstep was one of three test sites where the cats were being released as part of the pilot scheme. Thomas’s wife Catherine, and the Highland Wildlife Research Centre that they ran together, were overseeing the reintroduction.

He walked in with Cassie through the back, into the boot room, where both he and Cassie removed their shoes and left them by the door. He again whisked Cassie up into his arms, lifting her up from behind and making her giggle. A good-natured bark sounded from the hallway as two dogs trotted down the corridor to greet them. Meg, Thomas’s three-legged chocolate merle Border collie, and Arturo, a slate grey cane corso mastiff he and Catherine had adopted. Cassie began to squirm, signifying her want to get down to greet the dogs. Meg eyed Thomas sheepishly as Cassie’s feet hit the floor and she rushed forward, licking and yipping at the little girl with loving affection.

“Traitor,” Thomas sighed.

Meg instantly came to his side and leaned into him. He lent down and patted her side tenderly.

“Daddy, I want a doggy,” Cassie declared.

“Looks like you’ve got two already greedy-guts,” Thomas replied.

“No,” Cassie shrugged, as if tired at having to explain. “Meg your dog, Atty mummy’s.”

“Well, they’re ourdogs really Cassie,” Thomas explained. “They’re as much yours as mine and mum’s.”

Cassie seemed to think about it for a moment, then stomped off down the corridor.

“Mummy, want a doggy,” he heard Cassie whine to Catherine, who was in the kitchen.

“That’s a kind offer darling, but I’ve got two already,” he heard his wife reply snappily.

Thomas couldn’t help but smile as he saw Cassie storm out of the kitchen towards her room, scowling, and with both dogs in tow.

“Don’t think she liked either of our answers,” Thomas said, raising an eyebrow as he lent up against the kitchen doorframe.

“That’s the price she pays for having parents with over-developed sarcasm glands,” Catherine laughed.

Thomas admired his wife from the doorway. There was no doubt where Cassie got her red hair and striking turquoise eyes from. Whereas Catherine’s hair was short and gave her something of an elfin look, Cassie’s was longer with a curl. Catherine often remarked Thomas’s black hair and pale blue eyes had been traded for his stubbornness. Her temper was all redhead though, something he could again blame Catherine for.

“By the way,” Catherine remarked, closing the fridge door slowly. “With everything that’s been going on at work, and with Loki’s arrival, we plain forgot to do any shopping. There isn’t any food in the house.”

“That’s alright, I’ll take Cassie out for a ride and we can go to the farm shop. I spoke to Annie during the week about keeping the cat’s diets varied, and she thinks she can help out.”

Annie Patterson ran a farm shop in the nearby village of Cannich. It specialised in the high-end produce of the local area and its farms. Thomas had always preferred to get his groceries there as it was, but now, Annie also served as a conduit of communication between the farmers and Thomas and Catherine. Not everyone was thrilled by the idea of having large cats reintroduced into the area. For many, it was a very sensitive subject. The potential killing of livestock by the lynx was one aspect of the residual resistance. But as Thomas well knew, the events of his past had also dramatically impacted the Highland hamlet. A big cat had been here before. Its existence was denied by the government, and it had killed over a dozen people before he had stopped its rampage. Although the lynx was considerably smaller, he empathised with the local community’s hesitance in welcoming the species

“Settled then,” Catherine smirked. “But hurry up, I’m hungry,” she thumped him playfully on the arm.

“What is it with you two hitting me?” Thomas grumbled playfully.

Thomas walked to Cassie’s room and pushed open the door. Arturo was laid out on the white rug that covered the floor, with Meg by his side. Cassie was slumped on top of the big grey dog, her arms trailing either side of his rib cage, her eyes firmly fixed on the expansive picture window opposite. Thomas went and sat on her bed, shaking his head but smiling.

“Come on kiddo, we’re going into town to do some shopping. We need to feed mummy, and then we need to feed Loki. Wanna help?”

“Wanna dog,” Cassie said quietly and sulkily.

“There’s one underneath you, hon,” Thomas pointed out helpfully.

Cassie tried to stop herself smiling but couldn’t quite help the corners of her mouth turning up. With a sigh, she picked herself up and walked over to Thomas, leaning into him. He put an arm around her shoulders and scooped her up again, brushing away some of her curls. He carried her back through to the hallway, where they grabbed fresh coats and shoes. Cassie took his hand as she impatiently dragged him out through the front door.

Thomas walked across the gravel drive to the converted stables that were now a garage and workshop. He clicked the remote from inside his Barbour jacket, and the double-fronted, fire-station style doors began to open. Inside was another reminder that Sàsadh was now a family home. The Land Rovers he favoured had proven a little impractical, and Catherine had put her foot down about a replacement. Inside sat a more modern and conventional Jaguar F-Pace SVR SUV. But, with a penchant for more unique vehicles, he hadn’t been able to quite leave it at that. A German tuning company had upgraded its performance and looks to his approval. It now boasted nearly 650hp, as well as a racing tuned exhaust and brakes. Its 22-inch wheels were clad in heavy-duty tyres capable of high speed off-road and on road performance. And a wide body kit matched to the electric blue paintwork made it look more aggressive and muscular. There were days though when he still missed the ruggedness and rawness of the Land Rovers, even if they had been luxuriously appointed like the Jaguar. Catherine had joked it was still a big cat at least – a nickname given to his modified Defender pick-up with a supercharged Jaguar engine. He opened one of the rear doors and lifted Cassie into her seat.

As they drove towards the village, Thomas pointed at birds in the sky and asked Cassie to name them. It was one of her favourite games, and she participated eagerly. As they wove through the wooded lanes that surrounded Sàsadh, she picked out the flocks of siskin and chaffinches. As they got nearer to the village and the forest gave way to arable fields, she called out the lapwings and hooded crows with pride. As they passed the sign that indicated the village boundary, she shrugged and sat back in her chair, declaring all they would see now were sparrows. Thomas smiled at both her intelligence and stubbornness.

Patterson’s Farm Shop was close to the village border, making it logistically convenient for the local producers. Most of the groceries had food-miles less than what he’d just driven to get there. He pulled in to the gravel parking area to the side of the wooden barn-like building and stopped the car. Cassie was pushing against the restraints of her car seat by the time Thomas opened the rear door. He unbuckled her and tried to control her hasty descent to the ground.

Thomas often thought the inside of the store was probably what markets used to look like. Annie was strict about only stocking seasonal produce that met her high standards for quality. Today, the steeply angled displays were filled with cauliflower, purple-sprouting broccoli, leeks, rhubarb, and cabbages. Thomas knew he would also find cockles, clams, mussels, and oysters on the fish counter, taken from the Beauly and Moray Firths, and the cold, clear waters of the Scottish east coast. But today, it was the meat counter, or even the cold-store that he was interested in. Cassie dragged him impatiently towards a room to their left, which was home to popular pets like rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, as well as kittens and puppies from the local area looking for homes. But he pulled her back as he caught the eye of Annie, who was watching him make his way over. She smiled when she saw him coming.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve showing your face around these parts,” Annie joked.

A few of the customers looked around to see the object of her mirth. Some smiled as they recognised him. But at least one studied him with a cold, stern gaze.

“Hello Cassie, how are you today?” Annie asked.

Cassie swayed to and fro in silence but beamed a brilliant smile back.

“Why don’t I ask my friend Alex here to take you to the pet section?” Annie asked, nodding at one of the store assistants, who was unpacking some boxes behind her. “I think the rabbits need feeding.”

Cassie nodded her head enthusiastically and looked up at Thomas for permission. He laughed and let go of her hand. She immediately dashed over to the surprised Alex and took his, dragging him off in the direction of the animal room.

“Speaking of feeding, I’ve come to take you up on your kind offer of helping out with supplying my charges with their meals,” Thomas said.

“Aye, I guessed as much,” Annie smiled. “Better follow me.”

Thomas followed her through to a room filled with cold cabinets and steel counter tops. She opened one of the largest fridges, a big industrial metal one.

“I’ll need a hand,” she indicated.

Thomas stepped over and helped her haul out a large sackcloth bag. It was long and thin, reminding him a little of a body bag. He realised that was pretty much what it was as Annie opened it. Inside, was a pristine rib cage from a red deer, and some meaty lower leg bones. It was much more than he had expected.

“Loki will love them,” Thomas exclaimed.

“It makes me happy to see them not go to waste,” Annie replied. “We could also look at the heads, offal, and other bits that don’t get used. And of course, there’s also pork, mutton, lamb, and beef carcasses to make the most of.”

“That’d be great,” Thomas said. “Although I’d prefer if we stuck to their more natural prey items as much as possible. I don’t want him getting a taste for livestock.” He appreciated the support and was determined to make it go as far as he could. “And I want to make sure we pay a more than fair market price. I want the suppliers to know my animals, and theirs, are going to contribute positively to the local economy.”

“You’ll need to do more than that,” Annie shrugged, “but it’s a start.”

“How bad is it, is it even worth trying?” Thomas asked. His concern was all too evident in his voice.

“Of course it’s worth trying,” Annie replied. “I’d say you have as much support as you do resistance. Most people know you understand the community. To a certain extent it’s not even you they don’t trust.”

“It’s the government,” Thomas added.

Annie nodded. “If the last few years has shown us anything, governments and leaders come and go at a fair rate of knots these days. This scheme could lose official support as quickly as it got it. And it has only been five years since…”

“Since a big cat killed a dozen people here,” Thomas nodded, finishing her sentence.

“I don’t think you’ve even seen the start of that part of the uproar,” Annie sighed. “We’re a small village Thomas, but we’ve got a big grudge there. And long memories.”

“I know,” Thomas said. “I once hunted every big cat I could. I was motivated by vengeance and hurt. I was a force of destruction.” Thomas paused as he remembered his time in the Mato Grosso of Brazil, hunting jaguars and pumas in the wake of his first wife’s death. She had been killed by an unusual pride of lions, descendants of the infamous man-eaters of Tsavo. It had taken him seven years to settle the score and steer himself right with Catherine’s help. He now knew more than ever that big cats needed human protection. It was something he had learnt in Wyoming, under the mentorship of a skilled hunter and trapper named Lee Logan, who had also been one of those killed by the Cannich cat.

Annie seemed to be able to read his thoughts through his distracted look.

“People know you lost someone too,” she offered. “We know you’re not an outsider on this, and that makes a big difference.”

“Hopefully, so will this,” Thomas nodded, pulling out his wallet.

After grabbing some venison, mushrooms, kale, and potatoes for their own dinner, he went to find Cassie. She was still with Alex. He reported that Cassie had helped him feed the fish, and the rabbits, but had become immovable from a pen that held a new batch of puppies. There were four of them, leftovers from the unplanned mating of a farm collie and terrier. The black and white, wire-haired bundles were lapping up the attention Cassie was lavishing them with. Thomas guessed they were about fourteen weeks old.

“I’ve already told her they’re all reserved,” Alex explained, reading Thomas’s worried expression. “We only take the ones the owners can’t find homes for, and word gets out pretty fast.”

“Come on munchkin, you can help me feed Loki if you’re good,” Thomas suggested, hoping it would be a strong enough pull to draw her away from the overload of cuteness.

“Bye boys,” Cassie chirped, getting up from the straw-covered floor of the pen.

Despite having been born in the local village of Drumnadrochit, Thomas had lost his natural accent after moving to England whilst still young. It had been the same for Catherine. So, it gave him great delight to hear Cassie’s soft Highland lilt well and truly established. He lifted her up and over the wooden rail of the pen, rubbing noses with her as he drew her close to his face. She laughed as he dropped her down to the floor in a fast swing. By the time they got back to the car, Annie was waiting for them with the big sackcloth bag on a trolley.

Annie crouched down and began to frisk Cassie. “Just need to make sure you’re not smuggling any puppies out,” she joked, gently tickling Cassie under her arms. The little girl laughed shrilly and uncontrollably.

Thomas loaded the deer meat into the back of the car, thanking Annie for her help again. As they drove back, Cassie explained to Thomas that they hadn’t been the right puppies for her anyway, but she was going to keep looking. Thomas was in no doubt she would.

When they arrived back at Sàsadh, Thomas dragged the sackcloth bag over to Loki’s pen with Cassie’s help. The lynx bounded over to the fence with eager interest. It didn’t escape Thomas’s attention that the cat rubbed the side of its head and chin against the mesh close to where Cassie stood. In fact, Loki seemed to follow Cassie rather than Thomas as they headed to the gated door of the enclosure. Thomas went in first. Loki retreated to the rear of the pen, watching intently as Thomas pulled out the rib cage from the bag. He kept an eye on Loki as he hid it in a log pile and covered it with some brush. He then closed the sackcloth bag and headed back to the gated door. He picked Cassie up and took her into the enclosure with him. From a distance, they watched Loki dig through the rocks and scrub of his pen until he found the meat.

Having seemingly not noticed them whilst he ate, Loki lifted his head as Thomas and Cassie went to leave. He made a short, fox-like yowl as they headed to the door. The cat took two swift bounds towards them, putting Thomas on alert. When it was just him in the enclosure, Thomas let Loki be quite playful, but he was wary, having Cassie with him. Loki was watching him now, still as a statue.

“Don’t get any ideas,” Thomas warned the cat. He moved to Cassie’s right, getting between her and the lynx. He could see Loki wasn’t hunting from his upright stance. But being Labrador-sized, he wasn’t an insignificant animal, and was not to be underestimated. Loki bounded forward again, flanking Thomas as if trying to approach from the front. Thomas was a little amused as he watched Cassie instinctively pick up a good-sized rock.

“No need for that, look at his behaviour. What’s he trying to tell us?” Thomas asked Cassie.

“He wants to play,” Cassie remarked.

“Exactly. He’s approaching from the front. He’s had a good meal. But, he’s lonely.”

Thomas knew it was a slight risk, but he decided to crouch down and see how Loki reacted. The lynx seemed to relax and walked casually over to him. Thomas kept Cassie to his side, still separating her from the cat. But Loki was in a good mood. He greeted Thomas as he had a few times before, butting his chest with his head and pushing it under his arms. The cat slumped down onto the ground, and Thomas carefully began to stroke the cat, bringing Cassie in closer.

“We’re trying to get Loki used to us, so that when the time comes, it will be a little easier to put a radio collar on him. That way, we’ll know where he is when we let him out,” Thomas explained.

Cassie nodded, her eyes wide in wonder as Thomas took her hand and ran her fingers through Loki’s belly fur.

“Better than a doggy, huh?” Thomas asked,

Cassie nodded slowly, then caught herself, suddenly vigorously shaking her head, thrashing her curls from side to side. Thomas laughed. Having had enough attention, Loki jumped up and retreated to a favourite rock, which he sprang to the top of to watch them leave.

Thomas went to a small shed on the other side of the enclosure and put the rest of the deer meat into a chest freezer inside. As he came back out, he heard Catherine calling him. She had a concerned expression on her face as he walked up.

“You have a phone call,” she explained. “He says his name is Jesse Logan.”

Meet the characters: Thomas Walker

This is the first in a new series of blogs, where I’ll be introducing you to some of the characters you’ll (hopefully) meet in my books. I’ll be giving you some insights into their background, my inspirations, and even my thoughts on their personalities. Perhaps I’ll even do some imaginary casting for when that film deal breaks! As always, it’d be great to hear readers thoughts too!

It makes sense to start with the main man himself, so without further ado, lets find out a little more about Thomas Walker.

So, first off, how do I picture Thomas? Thomas is in his early forties. He’s six foot two, and he’s well-built, and of course, handsome, with dark hair (some signs of grey now too), and very deep blue eyes. His skin is a little weathered, but not damaged, and he never lets his facial hair get beyond a rugged yet short crop of stubble.

Thomas hates suits, and his clothes are usually a blend of luxury, comfort, and practicality.

Perhaps readers might be surprised to learn that I never depicted Thomas with a Scottish accent. Although he was born in the Highlands, he has travelled all over the world, and was educated in England. He spent years in both America (Wyoming) and Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), so is certainly a well-travelled man. But as with any true Highlander, a trace of an accent will always make itself known.

Although we’ve never really met them in the books (yet), Thomas has a sister, and his parents own a small vineyard in France, which is famous for a rare, boutique wine matured in whisky barrels (of course!). As we learn in the first book, Shadow Beast, Thomas’s father is a skilled carpenter, who has passed on some of his knowledge to his son. He put it to good use in the renovations of an old deer farm, which he named Sasadh – Gaelic for a place of comfort.

In both of the books he appears in to date, his tragic past, in particular the death of his first wife, Amanda, affects him deeply. He keeps people at a distance, and suffers from night terrors. He doesn’t really have any close friends, except for his dog, Meg. He tends to bury himself in his work, whether building the house, or working as a wildlife biologist.

But, as anyone who’s read the books will know, he doesn’t work alone. Thomas works with Catherine Tyler, and his attraction to her (and strong, intelligent, independent women in general), is apparent pretty much from the off. I’ll let you find out how things develop there for yourself if you don’t already know!

Thomas is a Cambridge zoology graduate, conservationist, and wildlife researcher. But he has also been a hunter, a safari guide, and a professional tracker. He has always been involved in the control, management, or protection of wildlife one way or another. He is strongly against trophy hunting though, as we again find out in Shadow Beast.

Thomas lived in Africa for a long time with Amanda. Amanda was a zoologist and Thomas was a game guide and hunter. On a safari where Thomas had to help hunt down a man-eating leopard, one of the guests, who was an American TV producer, saw the potential in a show and they soon shot to fame hunting man-eating animals all over the world. In the fourth season of the show, tragedy struck whilst returning to Africa, and Amanda was attacked and killed by a lion.

Following the death of his wife, Thomas drank heavily and lived in the United States where he hunted mountain lions and other problem animals with tenacity. This is where he met Lee Logan, who helped turn his life around. Lee Logan and his team of expert trappers are important characters in Shadow Beast, and Lee’s son will make an appearance in the upcoming third instalment, Phantom Beast.

His charm usually hides his accidental arrogance, but not always. He is gently spoken, but quite forceful in getting his own way and he is approachable and understanding to a point, but when that point is reached, he has little tolerance beyond it. He has a cutting sense of humour best employed on those he knows well, but suffers guilt and upset if he thinks he crosses the line. His temper is rarely seen, but is usually provoked by injustice to others. When he is personally attacked, he is much more likely to retreat and retaliate when he is in a better position to do so. In many ways, he reacts like a predator by responding when he has carefully considered all of the options, but does so instinctively and by producing the most damage with the smallest of input. He is very considerate to those he is close to, but possibly accidentally dismissive to those he isn’t.

Thomas is clearly respected and liked in his local community. Outsiders might feel slightly threatened by him. He is confident and content with himself, but also very aware of his short-comings and is his own worst critic.

Some friends have commented how they thought Thomas was somebody I’d like to be. But, whereas I certainly share his petrolhead tendencies – and I’d certainly like his money, I actually probably wouldn’t get on brilliantly with him. He’s a little too arrogant and cocky for me I’d say. Maybe we’d meet for the occasional drink and catchup though.

When it came to my inspiration for the character, there’s no definitive singular source. For sure, there’s a little of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt about him (although they admittedly wouldn’t look much alike). Perhaps more than a trace of Bond’s wit and appreciation of the finer things is in there too. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a little bit of the Preacher’s charm, empathy, and sense of justice from Pale Rider. You’ll have to wait until Phantom Beast until this particular cowboy gets a horse though.

And…who should play him in that yet to come movie deal? Perhaps a rugged-looking Henry Cavill? One of the two Toms (Hiddleston or Hardy)? Ben Barnes or Richard Madden might be interesting choices too. Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

The Daughters of the Darkness – Pre-order Now!

So, after over two years of waiting (and working hard at the writing desk in my case), I am very pleased to announce that The Daughters of the Darkness is now available to pre-order on Amazon. You can find the details here.

For the moment, only the eBook is available to pre-order, but I am hoping to be able too add the paperback by the weekend, after some formatting issues have been resolved.

It’s also a great time to catch up with the first book in the series – Shadow Beast. As a celebration of the release of Daughters, I’m currently offering it as a free download until Monday. You can get your free copy here, if you haven’t yet had the chance to meet Thomas,  Catherine, and of course, the beast.

There’ll be lots more exciting news and updates in the next few days and weeks, but for now, head to Amazon and pre-order your copy of The Daughters of the Darkness today. Content will be delivered automatically to you on Monday.

And one last thing. Thank you. Thank you for reading my books, keeping me going, and for supporting an independent author.

Oh, and one more last thing. Reviews are really important, so please, if you have the time, remember to leave an honest review of what you think. It’s greatly appreciated, and helps get the books even greater levels of exposure. After all, the more books that go out – the quicker I have to write the sequel!

The Converse Carnivore

When we begin to look into the possibility of cryptids, the focus is usually on the available evidence and facts that might substantiate the existence of such creatures. Since I was small, it was always the first hand encounters that gripped me with fear or had me reaching for the light switch.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to take some of my favourite encounters, some historic, some more recent, and fictionalise them. I hope you enjoy them. Our first story is about something hairy and homicidal in the woods of Converse, near San Antonio in Texas. Purported to have happened some time in the 1960’s, the exact date is lost to history, and some accounts suggest an origin in the late 1800’s. But the core always remains the same. A retired military man forces his studious son on a hunt that takes place at Skull Crossing. The boy is frightened by something, but still his father makes him go back…

Rites of passage are about tradition and transition. They usually mark the turning from one phase of life to another for instance. For one young man on his first hunt, the transition would be one of being alive to dead.

~

Major Abraham ‘Bram’ Miller let out a deep and audible sigh. He had waited weeks for this moment, but now it had arrived, the look of confusion and disappointment on Ethan’s face was more than he could bear. The boy was shaking, and the old soldier knew that at any moment the tears would start to flow. Damn it, your first rifle and you act like it’s a turd he thought. As if on cue, Ethan turned to face him, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“I don’t want it,” Ethan sniffed, looking at his feet.

“Son, we talked about this,” Bram said. “We’re going hunting this weekend. You need a gun and I bought this for you.”

“I don’t want a gun, I don’t want to go hunting, and I don’t want to fight,” Ethan replied defiantly and coldly. His gaze returned to his feet. He knew what was coming next.

Bram looked at the Ruger 10/22 rifle sitting on the counter. The stock and barrel had been shortened and the wood grain had been brought out and refinished to his specifications. Frank Merryweather smiled knowingly at the boy and Bram from behind the register.

“It’s a beautiful rifle Ethan,” the shop owner said to the boy kindly. “I’m sure I could find another buyer for it.” He caught Miller’s icy cold stare,  but he knew what he was doing. “Of course though, that would mean another boy strutting through town with what was meant to be your rifle. I’m sure you don’t want that. Why not just try it for size for now?”

Ethan looked up and stopped crying. The calm tone had calmed him. He offered up his hands as Merryweather lifted the gun off the counter and handed it to him gently. He was surprised by how light it was. As he ran his finger along the grain and the barrel, he enjoyed the change in texture from warm wood to cold metal. As he slung it over his shoulder, he noticed its length perfectly matched the inside span of his arm. It was then he realised how personal the gift was. He couldn’t help the warm glow inside that formed into a smile.

“What d’ya say Bram?” Merryweather asked. “Ready for the parade ground I’d say.”

“Well a weekend in the woods at least,” Bram replied, but Ethan still picked up the hint of admiration in his father’s voice. “Look’s like we’re all done here, thanks Frank.”

When they were outside, Bram placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. “I’m real impressed Ethan, and I know this ain’t easy for you. Maybe you don’t have to hunt today, but if we’re in the woods, you need to be armed. After all, I might need you to protect me from your mother if we get back too late.”

Ethan smiled, comforted and reassured as they turned and walked back to the aqua-green Chevy pick-up Bram called the General, gleaming as if it had just come from the showroom, despite being two years old now. More of Bran’s military leanings in evidence. The tires churned the dust on the road as they headed out of the town of Converse.

Bran couldn’t help the sigh of relief once they cleared the town. The trail to the hunting ground was just north of Skull’s Crossing, and there was no turning back as they passed it. Ethan appeared to have accepted his lot for the weekend, occasionally making furtive glances at the rifle case in the back.

“So you’re going to be my spotter today, letting me and the other fellas know when there is game coming our way. If you want to bag something yourself you can, but there’s no pressure,” Bran stated.

“I only want to spot. We should eat what we kill and yours will be enough,” Ethan replied.

Bram was somewhat taken aback. This was the first time Ethan had explained his reluctance to hunt so poignantly, and Bram had to admit he was a little impressed.

“So is it trophy hunting your against?” Bram enquired.

“Yes!” Ethan exclaimed. “I’m not a vegetarian Dad, I just don’t like shooting things for fun. That’s how you identify serial killers you know?”

“Your books tell you that?” Bram exclaimed with a smile.

“No, just watching you and your friends,” Ethan laughed.

“Well I have to admit I’m a little impressed and relieved,” Bram replied. “I think that’s a pretty admirable attitude.”

He sat back and they both enjoyed the mutual silence until they rolled up to the hunting ground. Bram’s usual hunting buddies and their dogs were already there and waiting for them. The hounds barked eagerly as they got out of the truck and walked over. They all walked together a little way into the woods, stopping every now and then to note the deer tracks. The others made admiring glances to Ethan’s new rifle and he showed it off with pride whenever asked. Soon they came to a deer stand at the edge of a clearing that bordered the woods. Bram checked the radio worked whilst Ethan climbed the ladder and got into position, then he followed him up.

“All set Ethan?” Bram asked.

“Yeah Dad. I can’t see the next stand where you guys’ll be though.”

“That’s what the radio’s for. Let us know if anything is heading our way.”

Ethan watched his Dad wave back at him before he and the others disappeared along the trail. He waited for some time before pulling out the book he had smuggled in his bag. ‘Anti-intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter. It was brand new. He settled into the seat and began to read.

After about an hour, he looked up. He felt cold and tense. He put the book down and pulled out a pair of binoculars from the bag instead. It was then he realised what was making him so uncomfortable. The woods were completely silent. He lifted the binoculars to his eyes and began to scan the tree line. The snap of a twig to his far right made him spin round to find its source. As he adjusted the focus, he found something crouched there. A dark form, with fierce amber eyes. He couldn’t help the shudder he felt as the thing stood up on two legs that curved backwards at the knee like a dog’s. As it took three fast steps towards him and the deer stand, it’s long snout quivered and its lips curled back to reveal gleaming white fangs. Ethan was in no doubt it was looking right at him. He fumbled for the radio in a panic.

“Dad, Dad, come in! It’s Ethan. There’s something here, something horrible. It looks like a wolf, but…”

“Ethan calm down!” came Bram’s booming reply. Ethan could tell immediately his father was embarrassed by his panicked voice. “It’s probably just a coyote. Might explain why it’s been so quiet this morning.”

“No Dad, this isn’t a coyote. I don’t know what it is. Oh God, it’s moving closer. Dad, it’s coming, it’s…”

Bram stared at the radio in his hand, his son’s voice replaced by high pitched static. He was startled by the sound of a gunshot that came from the direction of Ethan’s deer stand. There was another, then another. Then silence. Nothing stirred.

Bram bolted, grabbing his rifle and running down the trail. He only looked back when his companions found their dogs unwilling to follow, digging their heels into the ground and baying mournfully as the angry hunters pulled with all their might on their leashes. He didn’t wait for them.

He came to a sudden halt as he turned the corner. He could see the stand was empty. Ethan’s rifle lay abandoned on the ground close by. The empty brass shell casings were scattered in the leafy brush. He dashed past the stand into the clearing and stopped. Only the heavy thud of his heart sounded in his chest as he met the gaze of the creature in the tree line. It’s wolf-like ears were held high, pricked and pointed in his direction. Fiery eyes watched him with unblinking tenacity. But it was the snout that made him recoil in horror. A wicked, twisted thing that seemed to form a sneer. The creature was semi-crouched, shrouded by the shadow of the trees, but he could still make out what it held in its arms. Ethan, pale and bloodied, eyes closed. The creature took a single step backwards and disappeared into the maze of brush.

The dogs could not be forced back down the trail, and it was only the press of night and the threat of darkness that eventually encouraged them to break for the cars. The men returned with flashlights and searched the forest, but to no avail. Police and forest rangers arrived, but their dogs and horses also refused to enter the trees. Throughout the night, the woods remained silent under the gaze of a full moon.

It was the following day that Bram stumbled upon the creek. The mist of the early morning had not yet lifted, but he still noticed the colour. Blood red. As he knelt down beside the water, he wept, knowing Ethan was lost to him. He jumped to his feet as he heard a whispered message, the voice of his dead son, coming from the creek.

“Eat what you kill,” it said.

~

I hope you liked this little fictionalised adventure into a famous cryptid encounter. If you like unknown creatures and scary stories, and fancy something a little longer, I write novels too. You can find a link to my book Shadow Beast below.

https://t.co/mwC6dyn0Kj

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A Death At Dusk

Death Comes at Dusk

The sepia hued haze of dusk was setting in as Joanna made herself comfortable in the hide. The golden glowing disc that had brought little warmth to the winter’s day had slipped below the bank on the horizon, but its reach still reflected off the cloud bank above. It gave the water the look of pale honey. The surface of the lake was perfectly still and the mirror images of the greenish grey trunks of the ash trees that lined the bank, slowly stretched out across the water to her. She sighed as she looked out through the long, thin viewing window. The light was soothing and silken at this time of day. It was as if God had etched the world around her onto copper sheeting.

She watched the slow swirl of water around the submerged branches of a long dead tree in the centre of the lake. This was a favoured perch for the halcyon bird. She waited for the flash of brilliant turquoise and flame that would signal the kingfisher’s arrival. She so badly wanted to see it one last time. But it was close to six and it still had not come. She wanted to die in the light.

She poured the coffee from the silver and black tartan Thermos flask into its cup shaped lid and took a sip. It wouldn’t be long now. She went back to her silent vigil. She was confident she wouldn’t be disturbed on a cold winter’s night.

The little grey cygnet had grown into the awkward shape of adolescence over the last few months. Not a perfect white yet, his grey feathers and black beak made him look as if he had been dusted all over with powdered charcoal. His bent head was held in the classic pose of his kind as he drifted in reverent like grace across the water, emerging from the shadow of the bank and into the glorious light. She wondered if that was what Heaven was like.

The young swan slowed as he neared the centre of the lake. With his wings folded against his back, his motionless upper body appeared as a boat under sail. She took another sip of the coffee.

Something about the slow movement of the water around the branches of the tree changed. The water swirled gently in the direction of the swan. There was a slight ripple, which dissipated almost as soon as it had swelled, then nothing. The mirror-like calm returned to the water.

The swan headed out towards the eastern edge of the lake, seeking shadow once more and the succulent, ozone tasting plants that swayed beneath the surface in the current that paced the shallows. It seemed to tilt its head slightly towards her but for a moment, and she could just make out the beady black eye.

Suddenly the majestic bird called out in violent alarm. It was more like an animal than a bird, similar to the shrill and rasping cry of a fox cub. And it was a cry. All majesty and grace was lost in violent panic as the hulking bird tried to heave itself from the water. Its wings crashed against the surface as it upended and tried to break away. There was a spasm of movement and then the swan began to be dragged backwards through the water, back towards the tree. The swan cried again, its water logged wings now spread uselessly across the surface. It writhed and jerked, this time its torso disappearing. Now only its back and neck remained above water. She had never heard the wail of a dying swan before, but now it lifted its head into the air and sang of its death in a haunting single plea to the sky, as it sank down into the darkening water.

Joanna felt her breath catching. She felt light headed and dizzy. A haze of wonder filled her head and for the first time in weeks her skin felt warm to the touch. She swayed back and forth on the bench in the hide. Death was coming.

There was a shadow in the water close to the tree. It sat fatly in the water, but it thinned and tapered towards one end. It began to move, edging towards the hide. Joanna watched it take form as it rolled into the shallows like an inevitable tide.

It was a great fish. Its broad and dappled grey head sat just below the surface of the water. Two flat eyes the shade of river clay stared up at her. Great, sweeping, moustache like barbells spread out from its top and bottom lip. A vast chasm of a mouth opened to reveal a fleshy pink throat. Beyond the massive and disproportioned head, a long and muscular tail stretched away into the depths, a dark and marbled bluish grey in colour.

The slime covered brow of the fish breached the water in a slow, deliberate ascent. Joanna’s eyes fixed on the round, soulless depressions that seemed to emit a gaze equally fixed on her.

I am death Joanna heard. She stopped swaying. There was a chill to the voice that beckoned her. It was distant. She looked towards the dying light of the day against the far bank and thought she understood. As the light faded, so did the voice. It was time to leave.

The old park keeper found the hide door open as he did his rounds in the first light of the dawn. It was there that he found Joanna’s body. In the amber glow of morning, within the cedar boarded hut, the woman’s scarlet shaded cheeks seemed at odds to her porcelain skin and bald scalp. She sat huddled on the bench, a dark brown quilted jacket wrapped around her, her thin legs tucked up beneath and her dead eyes set on the surface of the water. Her mouth was set in a soft smile and her gaze was fixed and far away. The cold and biting air did nothing to erode the look of cosy warmth she radiated.

The old park keeper reached over for the cup of coffee and the flask sitting on the ledge of the open window. The liquid inside was quite cold by now, but there was a warmth to the thick scent that wafted up to him. There was a vanilla like note of sweetness and for a moment he tried to place its familiarity. He sighed as he poured the contents out onto the ground, careful to avoid the water. It was the unmistakable and bitter, coffee tainted smell of burnt almonds.

Dusk on Water

The Legend of One-Eye

When Peter Benchley wrote Jaws, he had no idea that he had literally created a monster. Not only did it become one of the biggest selling novels of all time, but it was made into a movie that became the first ever summer blockbuster, setting the trend ever since. What is interesting is that later on, Benchley became a committed advocate for shark conservancy, and stated that he would not be able to write Jaws based on what he had discovered about them since he first put pen to paper.

It’s important to realise that fiction is exactly that, fiction! Benchley also stated that he was no more responsible for people’s attitudes to sharks than Mario Puzo was for the mafia. Sharks do after all eat people, as do other things, whether we like it or not! In the real world man is the real monster, responsible for far more bloodshed and cruelty. But in our imaginations at least, nature has always been queen when it comes to our most primal of nightmares.

In Shadow Beast, another monstrous animal is at the heart of the story, as is my love of the Highlands and its amazing wildlife, including the endemic and endangered Scottish wildcat.

In the book you’ll find themes of conservation and re-wilding, but I wanted to do more than simply put these topics out there. I wanted to get behind them too. So with that in mind, I’ll be donating 15% of my February book sale profits to Wildcat Haven and the Save the Scottish Wildcat campaign. More details about their work can be found at http://www.scottishwildcats.co.uk

At the same time, I wanted to celebrate their work with some of my own, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to explore the origins of a character who makes a legendary entrance in the book. One-Eyed Tom, the wildcat.

Wild Cat, BWC0005

The Legend of One-Eye

The world around him was bathed in the sepia glow of a night-long twilight only his eyes could see. Two silent bounds took him to the edge of the stream, where a flick of his paw fished the unsuspecting frog from the water. There was no pause to play or pounce tonight, and he crunched and gobbled down the still wriggling amphibian in quick, successive bites. Every sense was on heightened alert. Even as he ate, he glanced with furious purpose in the direction of every sound his pricked ears caught.

He moved off, checking his path and surroundings every few steps. He stopped at a favoured mound of brown, dead heather to scent mark the border of his territory that ran along the stream. His face crumpled into a silent snarl. An intruder had crossed the path and left their own musk lacing the crumbly soil. The big tom sprayed the area liberally with urine, then meticulously rubbed the heather and ground with the scent glands in his cheeks. He scraped the damp ground into a mush with his back feet and continued on his path.

The piercing, single scream made him stop in his tracks. His head snapped to a path to the left, heading deeper into his territory. He knew the rabbit warren that the path led to, and he now realised the purpose behind the intruder’s insurrection. Such blatant disregard to his presence and home could not be tolerated. He turned onto the path, hunkering down as he made his way along it with silent, shadowy focus.

The sandy soil veiled his approach by absorbing his footfalls in noiseless padding. He approached the ridgeline and paused at its top. This was where he normally watched and waited for the rabbits to emerge into the dust-bowl clearing in front of him. The slight elevation and cover of the heather-lined ridgeline was the perfect ambush site. He could see where the intruder had launched from the same spot, and his eyes searched him out, knowing he was close.

His hardened stare came to rest on a crouched silhouette on the far side of the clearing. As the hairs in his ears fluffed and expanded to elevate his hearing even further, he picked up the sound of crunching, crushing teeth. Then the wind changed direction, and a cool breeze brought the scent of death and the younger cat to him.

He yowled his intent, unable to contain his rage any longer. He barrelled forward, growling and hissing as he covered the ground in rapid, rippling steps. His snarl was answered by a quivering, spitting growl of savagery. His adversary stepped out into the moonlight, boldly meeting his gaze. But the big tom could sense the hesitancy, reflected in the curve of the newcomer’s back and by the way he half-sat on his rear haunches.

The big tom growled, flicking his tail back and forth in a maddened fury against the ground. The yowl in his throat built to a scream. The younger, smaller male answered with his own caterwaul of threat. The two wildcats stood almost nose to nose, their fur bristling on end and their muscles taught and ready for combat. Each stared into the mirrored savagery before them. The time had come.

In a sudden moment of doubt, the young cat tried to dash past his adversary, but the big tom was too quick. He rammed the off-balance intruder with his shoulder and a butt of his head, his rear paws lifting off the ground as he rippled into a pounce that sent four sets of extended claws and his flashing fangs through the fur and flesh of his screaming opponent.

The younger cat didn’t hesitate to answer the assault, clasping the tom’s head in the vice-like embrace of its front claws. As the big tom punched and pawed repeatedly at the intruder’s back and stomach, his adversary twisted round and clamped his jaws over his muzzle, now in a position to also slash away at the exposed flank of the big tom with his hind paws.

They clung to each other, growling, hissing and snarling through a pain that only fuelled their fury. But a lucky scrape of the young cat’s hind leg sent the big tom spinning backwards, releasing the intruder from his fangs. The young male raced to the ridge and sank into its shadow, pausing at the top to glance and glower at the one whose territory it had invaded. The older cat had already turned his back, knowing he had won the fight. He now nosed at the dead rabbit, ready to claim his prize as victor. The intruder was overcome with renewed fury, and launched into the air, his front claws reaching out for a deadly embrace. The big tom whipped round in a fearsome frenzy, saw his opportunity, and leapt too. His fangs found the throat of the young cat and he used his bulk and might to bring him to the ground. The intruder writhed in silent revolt as the pressure on his larynx strangled the life from him. His forepaws and claws rained flailing blows on his killer’s head, but it was to no avail. A last, limp cuff slashed across the big tom’s left eye as the young cat’s world went black.

The wildcat grimaced and spat, rolling in the dirt with the pain. He screamed in fury, searching out the path by feel as he howled his way back to the stream, blinded by his blood and rage. The big tom slapped and sucked at the water, ducking his head under as he occasionally did to fish. After some time, the pain began to ebb, and he wandered away towards a favoured hollow to rest.

The creature slunk into the clearing and nosed the dead rabbit, before slumping down onto the sandy soil beside it. It casually skinned its meal with a few gentle tugs of its jaws, and it swallowed the meagre mouthfuls of meat it provided. It rose again and padded over to the dead wild cat, a distrustful growl rumbling in its throat. It had come across the smaller cats before as a youngling and knew their savagery and flickering charge all too well. It knew better than to tolerate their presence. It picked up the dead wildcat in its jaws and disappeared back into the shadow of the waiting forest.

~

If you haven’t bought a copy of Shadow Beast on Kindle or in paperback, now you can get a great book and help what is very likely the most endangered cat in the world at the same time! Click on the link below to get your copy today!

http://hyperurl.co/fuuugp

Making The Write Connection with a Character

Like most new authors I imagine, I go a little bit crazy towards the end of the day. I diligently start checking each of my channels, not just for sales reports but also for reviews! It’s almost becoming a little routine. That little check before bed to see if someone has said something nice about the years, months and hours of work you’ve offered up to the world. If they have, my reaction tends to be a strange dance that suggests I’ve been shot in the leg, followed by several screeches of excitement and a scurry across the room to fetch my phone to share said review on social media. I haven’t had a bad one yet, but odds are it might get exactly the same reaction.

I happened across my latest review on GoodReads yesterday and got excited for two very different reasons. Firstly, it was from somebody on a different continent to me, and secondly, they had nicknamed the heroine in my story Catherine, Kat. I was genuinely touched that a reader had felt so close to the character they had adopted a nickname for her that wasn’t used in the book!

I spent a lot of time developing three main characters in Shadow Beast, namely Thomas, Catherine and Fairbanks. These three came under the microscope the most, well other than the elusive creature itself, who didn’t get a profile but lots of notes on behavior and temperament! I used very detailed questionnaires and profiles to build a picture of them in my head. I also cast them as actors, as if I were making a film. That helped give me an idea of what they looked like, as well as who they were.

I’m not going to tell you who I had in mind when I created Catherine for the same reason I haven’t included a picture of some random redhead here as a reference – I want you to meet her for yourself so you can form your own idea. But I will tell you a little bit about her.

Firstly, it was important to me that she wasn’t just a scream-queen. She needed to be an equal to Thomas, certainly as strong-willed and as strong-minded if she was going to stand up to swap insults and arguments with him. She had to be sharp and intelligent. She is a self-made woman who has fought through a lot in life, from bad treatment at the hands of her employers to being used by a callous colleague in an ill-fated affair. She’s tough, firm, kind and downright lovely.

Shaping her helped shape the story too. At first, I had her driving a beaten up Alfa Romeo estate car, simply because I like Alfas. But it soon became clear that the practical nature of her work and who she was suited something a bit more robust, so she was upgraded to a truck with four-wheel drive. At the same time, realising she was young and single in a small village made it obvious that she would be friends with another character in similar circumstances. Making them friends helped change the emotive feel of a key chapter in the book to something far more dramatic and gripping.

And yeah, she’s just a little bit gorgeous too. Red hair and green eyes. Sigh. Even in real life its pretty much my kryptonite. But that was important too. I had to really feel something for Catherine if I was going to get the emotion, passion and intrigue I wanted into the story. And going on my latest review at least, it seems to have worked.

And remember, if you do take a chance on an independently published book and enjoy it, the best way you can say thank you to the author is to leave a review on Amazon, GoodReads and so forth to help share and spread the joy. It really does tickle us to know our stories are being read and liked!

http://hyperurl.co/fuuugp

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Pressing Matters – Official Press Release for Shadow Beast

Last week, I distributed my press release for Shadow Beast, my debut novel. The book has been an off and on project for me over the course of a number of years, with the final draft mainly being completed in the last twelve months. I was thrilled to have it picked up by the local paper and to have gotten some publicity for it. However, there were a few misquotes and the odd mistake with some of the information. I am the first to defend ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’, but I thought it best to have an official record somewhere! So here it is!

Something lurks in the shadows and within the pages!

Kent author explores the mystery of big cats in Britain with new horror novel debut

From time to time the headlines are grabbed by something a little wilder, maybe even more monstrous than we’re used to. Not too long ago, it was the turn of Knole Park in Sevenoaks, where a panther was said to be devouring the resident deer with bloody glee and gladness. And most of us have heard of the infamous beast of Bodmin or Surrey Puma. Truth be told, there isn’t a county in England, Scotland or Wales that doesn’t boast a beast of some kind. As all those newspaper headlines show, there’s definitely a story there.

Luke Phillips, a Sevenoaks based writer and author certainly thinks so. In his debut novel Shadow Beast, he explores these enduring myths as a man-eating monster goes on the rampage in the Highlands of Scotland. But there is more than just a terrifying tale held within its pages. Many real-life locations, incidents and reports have made their way into the story.

“I think that’s the allure of these mysterious sightings,” explains Luke. “It’s the ‘what if’ possibility that sends a shiver down our spines and gives us goose-bumps as we make our way home on a dark night.”

Kent had an alleged 120 such reported sightings in 2014. The majority of these were of large black cats, just as featured in Shadow Beast. But other species such as pumas, lynx and smaller species were also prominent. Maybe truth isn’t just stranger than fiction, but a little scarier too!

Luke will be speaking about his research and writing at the Grapevine networking event to be held on February 3rd at the Bridgman Furniture Store in Sevenoaks. Free tickets are available on the Eventbrite website. http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/15251646084

Shadow Beast is available on Kindle and out in paperback now.

The latest 5* review describes it as “on par with Jurassic Park” and “the build up was intense, and kept me on the edge of my seat.”

About the Author

Luke Phillips is a life-long naturalist who has also studied zoology at Liverpool John Moores University. His knowledge of animal life and behaviour lends a unique aspect to the narrative of his stories.

Having spent time on the shores of Loch Ness as a boy, and with a keen imagination fuelled by horror films glimpsed through his childhood fingers, his interest in myths and monsters was evident from an early age.

Luke lives in the West Kent town of Sevenoaks and Shadow Beast is his first novel, despite having always been encouraged to write by teachers and readers alike. He now plans to continue doing so.

Notes to Editors

Luke would be happy to assist and contribute to any stories concerning the myths and legends, cryptids and creatures of Kent and the wider UK. He has spoken to eye-witnesses across the country and carried out research across the world.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0956298729