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!

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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

Hunter vs. Hunted

Although I have shot for the pot and may have tickled the odd trout or two, I have never understood the barbaric practice of hunting for sport. With the tenth anniversary of the hunting ban currently in the news and even repeals and amendments being discussed, I thought I’d share the story of Archie Campbell from Shadow Beast. Just as Thomas Walker believes, I see no discernible difference between sport and trophy hunting and the identifying tells of serial killers. It really is the arrogance of man to believe that we are in control of nature and not the other way round. This time nature fights back!

Snarling Vixen

CHAPTER EIGHT

Archie Campbell had lived with the hunting ban as long as he could. He had become the youngest leader of the Mullardoch hunt at thirty-five years old, and enjoyed one glorious season at its head before the hunting act of 2004 came into effect. His accomplishment had not been easy or quick, and he heavily resented the unfair timing of the ban. The Campbell name in the Scottish Highlands still came with negative connotations that did not match the prestige of their wealth and land ownership. Older Highlanders still instinctively mistrusted the Campbell name and he had fought hard for the appointment.

Archie’s father had always enjoyed telling him the family history, chequered as it was. Their support of Robert the Bruce saw the family rewarded with land, titles and marriages into the Royal family itself. Clan Campbell rose to become the controlling power of the Highlands, taking over weak districts with stealthy precision and gaining further titles as they spread west. They manipulated the clan system by joining forces with those with strength and power whilst exterminating the weak. In 1490, Clans Campbell and Drummond joined against Clan Murray at the Battle of Knockmary. It would become known as the Massacre of Monzievaird. The Campbells met the Murrays as they retreated from an overwhelming force of Clan Drummond, and hunted them down until only one man remained, who was saved by a family member. Duncan Campbell was hung for his involvement as an example, but the family gained allies in Clan Drummond and further land and titles in their name.

From there on in, history repeated itself. The Campbell family continued to support the Royal family and were rewarded for it. They fought beside King James IV of Scotland and Mary Queen of Scots, and there were many oil paintings and tapestries around the grand house depicting these historic alliances and battles. In the early 17th century, MacDonald lands were given over to the Campbell family in recognition of their loyalty. When the Clan Lamont tried to take these lands back, Clan Campbell fought them off. A year later, they hunted the Lamonts down and exacted their vengeance at the Dunoon Massacre. When death and debt allowed Clan Campbell to seize Sinclair lands, the remaining Sinclairs disputed the claim and tried to take back their birthright. The resulting Battle of Altimarlech gave rise to the legend that so many Sinclairs were killed, the Campbells could cross the river where the battle was fought without getting their feet wet.

Archie’s 10th great grandfather, the 9th Earl of Argyll, was involved in the Monmouth rebellion and had tried to depose James II. Although they were not successful, his 9th great grandfather, Archibald Campbell 1st Duke of Argyll, was rewarded with the surrender of Clan Maclean, their lands and home – Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull.

There was no sacrifice a Campbell wasn’t prepared to pay in return for power, and at no point in history did this become more evident than at the infamous Glencoe Massacre. When bad weather delayed clan leaders taking an oath of allegiance to the English King, an opportunity was seen by two Campbell cousins. With help of an accomplice, they coerced the King into signing an order to extirpate the MacDonalds of Glen Coe, whom they described as a den of livestock thieves. As the snows of February were on the mountain now, so were they then in 1692. Robert Campbell of Glenlyon and over a hundred men of his command were greeted with the traditional hospitality of the Highlands by his relation in marriage, Alexander MacDonald. For two weeks they enjoyed his protection, and dispelled the suspicions of the MacDonalds by suggesting they were collecting tax. One evening, orders were received and confirmed by Robert. He bid his hosts goodnight over cards and accepted an invitation to dine with the clan chief, Alasdair Maclain, the next day. Maclain was killed as he rose from his bed the next morning. Thirty eight others were slain in their homes or as they tried to flee. Their wives and children died of exposure as the village was burned. Nine of the commanding officers involved bore the Campbell name.

Clan Campbell were seen to be guilty of murder under trust, a heinous crime under Scots Law, and their name had been associated with the acts of traitors ever since. The centuries old feud between the Campbells and MacDonalds became glorified in popular films and works of fiction, helping the further staining of the Campbell name in modern times. Archie was aware that even now, the Clachaig Inn of Glencoe, a popular bar and hotel with climbers, bore a sign advertising ‘No hawkers or Campbells’. Archie had been brought up to expect the malcontent, and had also been taught by his father that despite the scapegoating and occasional reprisals, the Campbells had gained lands and furthered Scotland’s borders to their credit. He viewed his family’s villainy with shrewd scepticism, but not everyone had been quite so level-headed.

Archie had hosted cocktail parties and dinners for years before his approval in the hunt had been gained. His rise through the ranks had been uncharted, to the point where he had even provided the land for the new stables, along with kennels for the hounds. Slowly but surely he had brought them under his wing, until total control was inevitable. He gained it just in time to be threatened with being shut down completely.

Like some of his descendants before him, he was a gifted archer, and he had turned to hunting deer with a crossbow whilst the fate of the hunt had been decided. He took some satisfaction from this activity, and wondered how people who had never known the exhilaration that came from hunting and making a kill could make comment on it. Within a few months of the ban becoming effective, both he and the committee for the hunt had decided to focus on trail hunting. Bags of aniseed would be dragged before the dogs to scent and trail. Archie found it ironic that the very thing that so many protestors had used to sabotage hunts in the past was now being used to keep his going.

When the new season had started, things began well. The hunt would meet as usual and follow the trail. Almost every aspect of the previous hunts was the same, only their lack of quarry had changed. But Archie had noticed the apathy of the other riders from the very first day. There was no thrill of the chase when you were hunting a grubby brown sack. At the end of the trail, the pack hounds would look round in bewilderment. It pained Archie to have spent so much time and money on preparing events that were becoming more and more seemingly futile.

Then one day, quite unexpectedly, as they were following the pre-laid trail as usual, a fox had bolted out from the cover of some bracken in front of the pack. A large foxhound named Hamilton had let out a deep long howl that alerted the rest of the pack to the fox’s presence, and suddenly the entire hunt was on the trail. As the hounds led off, Archie caught the wry smile of some of his fellow riders. He looked around him. The hunt was well within Campbell lands and there was no way anyone would know. He had slipped the small hunting trumpet from his waist and let out a quick burst of tally ho. The hunt was on, for the first time in months it had really been on.

Archie contemplated all of this as he walked towards the feed barn. His gamekeeper Bill Fowler had asked him to meet him somewhere they wouldn’t be seen, and had suggested here. He was impatient to get the hunt underway and didn’t like the idea, but Bill had pressed it was necessary. He glanced quickly behind him to check nobody had seen him slip off as he passed through the large double doors of the barn.

The sight he was met with wasn’t anything he had expected. Sitting on the floor was a grubby young man with greasy looking hair. He looked somewhat dishevelled and was shaking slightly. His jeans and dark green anorak were torn and tattered, and then Archie noticed the blood on his right hand. Bill stood over him, his shotgun resting over his arm. He met Archie’s gaze with a smug smile. Licking his muzzle and sitting a few feet from both of them was Bill’s Dogue De Bordeaux, a rust-red coloured French mastiff named Rochefort.

“So I’m guessing this is the problem you wanted to talk to me about?” Archie asked, a look of smug disgust creeping over his features as he addressed Bill.

“Aye. Came across him trailing the back meadow as I made my rounds,” Bill answered, his eyes darting to the torn sack of aniseed a few feet away.

“Unfortunately, he ran. Rochefort saw to that. Poor wee bugger dropped his phone though,” Bill smiled smugly, handing over the smashed remains of a smart phone. Archie could see the battery and SIM card were missing.

“What a shame,” he replied, this time smiling at the hunt saboteur directly. He let out a sigh. “In a way you’re lucky. We used to have the power to deal with trespassers privately. All I’ll do today is have you arrested. Its tomorrow you should be worried about. I don’t know where you live or work, if indeed you have a job, but I will find out, and I’ll do my best to have you removed from both. There aren’t many landlords or employers around here I can’t influence,” he sneered. “And as you’ve done your best to ruin my afternoon, allow me to show you the same courtesy. We will be calling the police as I say, but I am not disrupting my schedule to do so, so you’ll have to be patient.” Archie nodded to Bill and began to walk out.

“I need medical attention!” the man blurted out. “I’ll have that bloody dog destroyed too.”

Archie stopped and turned back towards the man, his eyes narrowing with contempt.

“What’s your name?” Archie asked with a whisper of a threat.

The man went silent.

“The dog was doing his job and if you hadn’t trespassed, he wouldn’t have had to. Believe me, we will be making a very good case as to how we couldn’t possibly know your intentions or what you were carrying. You may be a poacher. You might well be a terrorist. I haven’t decided yet. You’re lucky he’s so well trained he didn’t do anything but hang on to you. Frankly, I miss the old days.”

With that, Archie beckoned Bill over.

“I’m not worried about this little fool, but I am worried he might not be alone,” he whispered. “What do you think?”

“We can’t use the back meadows now, the trails will be ruined,” Bill replied. “If he’s not alone though, they could only have come from the farm road. It would be a slight risk, but you could take the hunt towards the forest. You’re miles from any trails, and with dark approaching you should be safe from prying eyes I’d say.”

“That might make things interesting,” smiled Archie, liking the idea. He looked back at the young man. “Call the police and give my solicitor a heads up about him will you. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy myself,” he snorted, and strode out of the feed barn.

~

The creature paused a few feet from the trees. It cocked its head ever so slightly to taste the scent on the breeze that teased and distracted it from its intended path. The strong yet sensitive leathery pads of its paws felt the distant vibrations in the ground, telling it of prey on the move. The rich honey sweet aroma was intermingled with two distinct and stronger smells, both of which it recognised. The creature turned and began to prowl the perimeter of the forest, each silent step taking it towards the prey it could sense but not yet see. It stopped to scent the air repeatedly as it went, flexing its muscles each time it did so in preparation, warming and stretching its body into readiness. It began to hunt.

~

Thomas and Catherine checked the rest of the clearing. They found a few more dismembered parts of the wild cat, as well as some hair and dried blood.

“What do you think happened?” asked Catherine, staring at the head on the forest floor.

“Territoriality,” answered Thomas. “Whenever cats meet, regardless of species, there will be a fight to claim the territory. Big cats especially show a very low tolerance for other cats in their territory. I would guess that old one-eye found himself outsized for once”

“That’s awful,” exclaimed Catherine. “Do you think the same thing has happened to the rest of them?”

“It’s hard to say, but the fact that you couldn’t find any signatures from the radio collars hopefully means they have moved on, rather than anything else.” He held up the broken radio collar he had found to show Catherine, just as the distinct blast of a hunting horn floated across the tops of the trees. “The Mullardoch hunt is out tonight,” said Thomas, a look of total disgust forming on his face. Just as quickly though, a wry smile became visible. “Want to get a closer look?” he asked.

Catherine smiled in turn and patted the digital camera in her pocket. They had both long suspected the hunt was still fully active. They had found a number of dug out fox earths, but they had never been able to prove it was the hunt. Catherine realised this might just be the opportunity they needed.

Thomas was pretty sure he could creep up on Archie Campbell without him knowing. He had plenty of practice, tracking and ambushing the illegal bush and trophy hunters he had encountered in Kenya and Tanzania, and he doubted Archie would be much of a challenge. He especially hated sport and trophy hunters. He understood and recognised the skill, nobility and respect needed to make use of an animal for food and other practicalities, but to kill an animal just because it gave you pleasure was no different to how you identified serial killers as far as he was concerned. More than that though, trophy hunting had changed and become something very ugly in the 21st century. People hunted polar bears from helicopters and stalked tame lions in tiny enclosures and called it sport. There was no skill or risk in what they did. He had stared down charging man-eaters in the wild and taken out marauding elephants. There had been plenty of risk and certainly a very real elation in survival, but no pleasure there. In any case, it was simply now illegal to hunt with dogs for sport and he needed no further justification.

~

Archie sat upon Saracen, his 16-hand grey gelding thoroughbred/Belgian-draft cross, a fast and formidable jumper with strength and stamina to spare. He picked out Hamilton and watched the old dog expectantly. The large hound moved methodically from one side of the track to the other in a soft and lumbering gate, taking his time to check each and every scent he found. The hunt moved forward as one, almost silent in their anticipation to find their quarry. As if on cue, Hamilton suddenly lifted his head and let out a deep, long howl as the familiar musky scent hit his nostrils. Archie spurred Saracen on and quickly started moving up through the other hunters. He knew to stay close to Hamilton no matter what.

~

Thomas was lying flat on the ground. He and Catherine had reached the edge of the forest, and from their position could just see the hunt as it edged towards them. Thomas took out a small leather pouch from one of his jacket pockets and popped the button holding it shut. He removed the small pair of binoculars and held them up to his eyes.

“Are you sure you were never a spy?” Catherine whispered.

Thomas smiled without taking the binoculars away from his eyes. The Sony DEV50 digital binoculars had a 12x zoom and a 20.4 megapixel camera that was capable of full HD video. They were a relatively new purchase for Thomas, and he had been desperate for a chance to try them out.

“Archie Campbell is leading the pack,” he told Catherine. “They’re heading this way, so they could be heading towards any of the dens on this side of the forest,” he continued, still looking through the binoculars. “Looks like they have a scent, they’re changing direction slightly, moving towards that clump of gorse on the right.” He pointed so Catherine could see where he meant. Sure enough the hunt was arching round and were beginning to pick up their pace. They could hear the hounds baying now, as they moved along the track.

~

Archie knew that any moment now the quarry would break from its cover. He could somehow always sense when the quarry was near, picking up on the dog’s excitement instinctively before anyone else. The dogs were almost skipping now, as the slower hounds in front stopped the more eager and younger dogs at the back from surging forwards. Instinctively, Hamilton broke from the pack with three other hounds following him, heading to the left of a patch of gorse in front of them. As soon as he did, there was a blur of red-brown fur as a small fox bolted from its thorny refuge and sprinted across the open field towards the cover of the trees.

~

The creature accelerated forward. Its whiskers flicked back and forth and it moved with maximum alertness, ears pricked and eyes scanning forwards. It sensed the prey had turned and was moving towards it. It gambolled forward and left the ground silently in order to clear the chicken-wire fence in front of it. It used the thicker cover of the inner-forest trees to break its outline and shield its silhouette. The sweet honey-like scent was closer now, and it detected the underlying odours of the leather saddles and the hay the horses had lain in. The putrid, smoky scent of the dogs it knew and recognised, as well as the pungent, prickly equine musk. It followed its instinct and crept closer.

~

“Right,” declared Thomas. “Let’s see if we can keep up with them. I need to try and get as much of this on video as possible.”

Catherine hesitated, a slight sense of anguish becoming clear on her face.

”Tom,” she asked softly. “Are we going to let them make the kill?”

“Not if I can help it,” he replied quickly, glancing back at her and registering the anxiety in her voice. He put his arm round her. “We’re in the conservation business, I do remember you know?” He smiled kindly.

Catherine returned the smile and felt better. In her time as an RSPCA officer, she had once nursed and raised a fox cub, which she named Bold after a popular children’s novel. She had always been fond of them and knew she wouldn’t be able to watch one get killed, even if it meant securing a conviction against Archie Campbell. Thomas turned and started making his way through the undergrowth again, and Catherine followed.

~

The fox was streaking away over the brush, nature making it far better adapted for cross-country dashes than the heavy hounds and horses that followed it. Archie had been pleased that they had found the fox out in the open, as entering the trees was always risky, albeit necessary to hide a kill effectively. Killing a fox in the nature reserve meant there was always a risk that some naturalist could be in there at just the wrong time, and they would be discovered. Even if they claimed they were trail hunting, they definitely didn’t have permission to enter the forest and they would be in serious breach of the agreement that still allowed them to hunt.

Archie had already seen by the bulge in her stomach that she was a vixen carrying cubs. This was good, as it meant the extra weight would slow her down. It also meant she was much more likely to rest up or go to ground sooner, her exploits exhausting her far quicker than a younger or less burdened animal. Archie followed Hamilton as the hound instinctively broke away from the other dogs, his three loyal followers sticking with him. Archie smiled as he saw the hound’s cunning at play. Whilst the younger dogs dashed across the field, enjoying the run as much as the pursuit, Hamilton was cutting across the field to intercept the fox at the forest’s edge, where a chicken-wire fence with a stile marked the far boundary of the Campbell estate. He spurred Saracen on, hoping the vixen wouldn’t make the trees. As Hamilton banked towards the fox he broke into a gallop, but Archie could already see the vixen was just enough ahead of them. With a final burst of speed she squeezed under the fence and Archie caught the white wisp of her tail as it disappeared from sight.

Hamilton stood with his forefeet on the stile and he bayed with the forlorn voice of his kind.

“Go on Hamilton,” yelled Archie, thundering towards him on Saracen.

The dog needed no further persuasion and bounded over the fence. His three companions skidded after him and moments later, Saracen cleared the fence and thundered into the forest. Hamilton and his followers pushed past the thick brush quicker and easier than Archie did, but their furious barks and baying howls let him know exactly which path to take through the trees. The branches were thickly entwined, which he was glad for, as it meant they were far from any of the forest paths and were less likely to be discovered. He was keen to make the kill soon though, as the sun was beginning to dip below the trees and in about fifteen minutes there wouldn’t be enough light to see. The less experienced and more hesitant riders soon got left far behind in the maze of tree trunks, thorny gorse and brush. Hamilton led his small band and Archie further and further ahead into the darkening trees.

~

The creature crouched in anticipation. It could hear and feel the approach of hooves and sensed the dogs getting closer in their reckless charge through the brush. It had killed dogs in self defence before, as well as hunted and eaten them with ease. It wasn’t concerned by their presence. The muscles in its shoulders coiled like wound springs and its eyes widened in anticipation. It licked its muzzle, wetting its nose to help intercept the exact direction and strength of the scents. As a gorse bush shivered, it twitched slightly, but let the fox bolt past as instinct held it in position. It knew that better prey followed.

~

Damn, thought Thomas. Even though he could hear the dogs and thought he had seen the flash of a red hunting jacket, he wasn’t close enough to catch any of it on film or clearly prove they were hunting in the nature reserve. He had though managed to get one very clear shot as the fox had sprinted towards them, obviously pursued by the hunt in the background. Now what he wanted to do was surprise the hunt, make them aware of his presence and hope that they would withdraw. He knew that there might be a confrontation, but he doubted they would recognise the binoculars as a camera, and they would probably presume he was out bird watching. Thomas could easily justify his presence, which he knew the hunt could not. He had always told Catherine that lying was a matter of confidence, and he had plenty at the moment.

~

Archie gunned Saracen over a bank of gorse and found himself in a small clearing. The horse came to a lurching halt and bellowed a fearful whinny, stamping its front feet and trying to turn away. Archie hung to the reigns as Saracen bucked and stamped in fright. The hounds were whimpering in terror and desperately turned back to the thorny gorse, finding their way blocked by branches they had passed through just moments ago. Archie glanced to the trees but saw nothing. Saracen dashed sideways and bucked again as he clung on for dear life. Even the dogs were backing away from the horse that was now whinnying in what could only be madness or terror.

The deafening roar that filled Archie’s ears made him turn and face the trees in front of him. He tried to scream as something immense burst from the shadows and leapt towards him, but no sound came from his throat. He felt the molten touch of outstretched claws, as they swiped downwards across his face and chest and reached for their target on the far side of the horse’s neck. He was flung backwards as he slipped from the saddle and both he and Saracen crumpled to the ground. His eyes glazed, the brain not yet giving in to death as the overpowered horse fell on top of his body. The creature that had killed both of them gutted the three dogs with casual flicks of its claws, as they leapt upon it in a futile attempt to protect their master. He watched as it padded over, its great head blocking out the last of the light as it paused above him. The last thing he saw, although his body no longer registered the pain, was the gleaming flash of its teeth as the creature bit down into his chest and tore his rib cage open.

The creature lapped at the hot blood, enjoying the slightly metallic and salty taste. The skin was easy to puncture and it yowled quietly as it sucked and tore at the body beneath it. There was little taste of fat on the meat, but it was soft and tender and smelt clean. The organs spilled freely from the cavity it had made and it enjoyed these the most, finding their taste and smell unusually rich. It had found the animal easy to kill and it savoured the meal. It had learnt to trust its instincts from its earlier experiences and now knew that the strange scent was that of prey, and no longer had to be avoided. It had feasted on man flesh for the first time and it would remember the satisfying taste from now on.

~

If you like what you’ve read, Shadow Beast is available on Kindle and in paperback.

Out now.

http://hyperurl.co/fuuugp

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

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

Shadowy Beasts

Scary stories are an integral part of every culture in the world. But our myths and monsters have more of a purpose than generating nervous laughter around a camp fire, or making your date squeeze that little bit closer.

When I was choosing the name for this blog, I was thinking about the tales and stories I knew of and had researched, and for the most part, they fell into two categories – black beasts and bogeymen.

When I was choosing the colour of my creature for my book Shadow Beast, there was one obvious choice. Black. It’s the colour of choice for getting your creep on. Just think about it: the bit that makes everybody shudder in the 80’s fantasy film The Never Ending Story, is the mural that reveals Gmork, the big black wolf-like creature to Atreyu. Think of a monster and most of the time, it will be black in colour. Dracula, the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and even Death himself all go for the ‘any colour as long as its obsidian’ motto.

This dark coloured continuity goes well beyond Hollywood and literature though. One of the UK’s most prominent tale-types is of large, spectral black dogs. Depending on who sees them and in what part of the country, they can be viewed as anything from an omen of death to a guiding spirit for a lost traveller. The oldest of these tales can be traced back to 1127, where a Dr. Simon Sherwood writes of a very curious incident of a dog in the night time.

“Let no-one be surprised at the truth of what we are about to relate, for it was common knowledge throughout the whole country that immediately after [Abbot Henry of Poitou’s arrival at Peterborough Abbey] – it was the Sunday when they sing Exurge Quare – many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats and their hounds were jet black with eyes like saucers and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been as many as twenty or thirty of them winding their horns as near they could tell. This was seen and heard from the time of his arrival all through Lent and right up to Easter.”

After that, what became known in East Anglia as Black Shuck decided to go it alone, making a very grand entrance in 1577 at the churches of Bungay and Blythburgh. As the congregation at Holy Trinity Church offered their collective praise on the 4th of August, a monstrous black dog burst through the doors to a clap of thunder. It ran up the nave and turned its attention to a man and boy, both of whom it killed. Its thunderous bark then caused the church steeple to collapse through the roof, at which point the phantom dog decided to get the shuck out of there, but not before leaving scorch marks on the north door of the church, which are still there to this day.

What’s interesting to me is the possible truth behind the tale. Other old English legends speak of the Church Grim, an attendant spirit and guardian. They may appear as rams, horses, roosters or ravens, but black dogs were the preference. It used to be a commonly held belief that the first man buried in a new churchyard had to guard it against the devil. Apparently, there was rarely a rush of applicants, so alternative arrangements were made. A completely black dog would be buried alive on the north side of the churchyard, creating a Church Grim to protect the church. The RSPCA wasn’t founded until 1824, so old shuck was out of luck in 1577.

To back this up, the bones of a 7-ft dog that could have weighed up to 14-stone were discovered in a shallow grave in the grounds of Leiston Abbey, Suffolk, in May 2014. Given the size and age of the remains, dating from the 1500’s, it’s probably safe to assume the dog was in fact a type of mastiff and that the general practice of burying dogs was still fairly commonplace in 1577. It also doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to realise that any dog escaping from such an ordeal would be mightily pissed off and somewhat set against church-goers!

These tales have always inspired literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is a prime example. The story of a hellish hound and a cursed country squire almost certainly stem from Devonshire folklore surrounding Squire Richard Cabell, who was described as monstrously evil, was suspected of murdering his wife and was best known for bad behaviour all round. On the night of his death, it’s said a monstrous pack of hounds came baying across the moor to howl at his tomb, and since then, he has led the pack on their phantom prowling. Devonshire also boasts the Yeth Hound, so Doyle had no lack of inspiration for his tale of a devil dog.

The same was for me. I couldn’t resist the allure of the often reported mysterious big black cats seen up and down the UK. In the end, many historical events such as the capture of Felicity the puma in Cannich, where the book is set, made their way into the narrative. Lara the lynx was another example, captured in Cricklewood North London in 2001. Truth really can be stranger than fiction!

So, a quick look at the other category – bogeymen, boogeymen, or bogiemen, depending on where you hail from. Although Hollywood and popular culture has made them into something else, their purpose has always been fairly uniform and universal the world over. They are there to scare naughty children into being good! And there are literally hundreds of them!

My favourite, and possibly surprising choice to feature here is Bigfoot. Not so much the gentle forest giant, picking flowers and protecting his animal kin, more picking up and running off with the children of Native Americans and eating them, as well as those kin’ animals. In the southern states, Sasquatch is referred to as a booger, and Cherokee braves would often take part in the booger dance, chasing young children and women just like their hairy neighbours. Many different tribes tell their children to stay close, or they are likely to be taken up by; Choanito (the night people – Wenatchee), Skookum (evil God of the woods – Chinook), Windago (wicked cannibal – Athabascan), Tso apittse (cannibal giant – Shoshone), Atahsaisa (the cannibal demon – Zuni), Yayaya-ash (the frightener – Klamath), Skukum (devil of the forest – Quinault), and so on. In fact there are over a hundred different names, none of which mean giver of sloppy kisses.

So, the stage for this blog is set. Expect some interesting tales of the weird stuff in the woods, the odd fictionalised account and news and items about my writing. It’s all meant to be fun, as well as a little frightening sometimes. Hope to see you around here again!

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