House Beneath the Bridge – Prologue

Father Cotton clutched his crimson-bound bible to his chest and spat his words. “The Lord sees your sins, creature of darkness, and denies you entry into paradise. What have you say? Speak now, or forever hold your peace.”

“I’m innocent,” cried Emily Tanner, fighting the Hessian ropes binding her to the thick trunk of the diseased oak tree. It had been healthy and strong only weeks before, but was now black, decayed, and listing over the river. “I have done nothing. Where is my husband? Jonathon, where are you?”

Jonathon stepped out of the crowd, clutching Martha Hamleigh, the grieving mother against his chest. “I am here, Emily.”

Her face lit up. “My love, help me! Tell them I am innocent. I would never hurt a child. I would never-”

“Enough, Emily!” her husband snapped, pulling a sobbing Martha even closer. “You are my wife and I love you, but I can not deny what my eyes have witnessed. You broke your vows and gave yourself over to the darkness. Our union is no more, and I will not help you. It pains me so, but Martha is the victim here. You took her children both. What did you do with their eyes, Emily? Their eyes…” He covered his mouth with his free hand. “God help you!”

“I am innocent. Martha lies! Help me, Jonathan!”

Father Cotton thrust out his bible like a shield. The pages fluttered in the odd breeze that had taken up just minutes before. His wiry, brown hair whipped about his shoulders. “You have been given a chance to repent, but seek only to bend and manipulate. To ask Jonathan to intervene is to condemn his soul alongside yours.”

“Damn you,” Emily screamed, glaring at each man, woman, and child assembled in the grove. “Damn you to the darkest of hells. I am no witch. I am no child butcher. It is you all whom are guilty. You who judge with fear and loathing instead of love and compassion. For years, I have lived amongst you. I am your neighbour, your friend…” she looked at Jonathan, then looked away. “Your wife…”

“And have given your husband no family,” someone shouted. “The ungodly cannot bare children. They are cursed barren. Harlot!”

Emily spotted the heckler—Thompson the sheep farmer—and whipped her gaze upon him so fiercely that her hair whipped about her like a nest of golden snakes. “It is you who will be cursed if you do this! Your soul will be forever damned.”

“She admits it! She places a hex upon me! A witch!”

 shouted Emily. “All lies.”

Father Cotton spat in the mud. A gust of wind beat at his cassock. “Quiet beast! Your sphere of unholy influence is at an end. Tonight, all shall weep for the woman you were and celebrate the smiting of the evil you became. May your slaughtered victims rest in a peace you will never know.”

Emily thrashed against her bonds, drawing blood from her narrow wrists. She kicked her feet amongst the leaves and flicked them at the crowd—a defiant, yet ineffectual gesture. “I hope you all die in agony,” she screeched, tears soaking her face. “I will see it so!”

Father Cotton gave no reply. He returned his bible to his chest and put out a hand. Jonathon placed a torch in his grasp. Emily moaned at her husband’s betrayal and he quickly rejoined the crowd. Father Cotton pitied him. A true torture for a righteous man to face, the condemning of a loved one.

He strode towards the pyre, torch held out in front of him. “As your flesh burns, Emily Tanner, and agony cleanses you, Heaven will not await. You give your soul to the devil, and it is to his sickly bosom you go. Be gone! Leave our Lord’s blessed earth. Be gone!”

He threw the torch down into the crisp, dead leaves, and the conflagration was immediate. Flames rose in a circle around Emily feet and she screamed, but only in fear at the moment, for the pain had not yet begun. The night sky turned orange, and the crowd looked upon each other’s faces—none showed regret. They did the Lord’s work today. Taking the life of a child killer.

Emily’s screams halted, and she bit her tongue. More tears came. The look she gave the crowd was no longer condemning, only pleading. Father Cotton had seen the defiance of the wicked melt away before. It always did once their moment of judgement came. All evil quivered before the glory of the Lord. He would hold that beautiful image of Emily’s terrified face in his mind tonight as he flagellated himself. No better way to wash this vileness from his soul.

Emily’s screams begun again—a high-pitched wail like a wounded goat.

The flames circled inward. Heat devoured the dry leaves and started on the chopped logs piled behind Emily’s ankles. The pale skin on her bare shins turned red and bubbled. The stench of hog meat filled the air, made those in the crowd cover their mouths and fall to silence. These were godly people and watching human flesh burn was a dark thing to witness.

Emily’s woollen nightdress caught fire, and her high-pitched screams transformed into bovine moans that reverberated through the crowd. In unison, and without prompting, the villagers chanted the Lord’s prayer.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

The sinewy flesh of Emily’s legs reduced to liquid fat on the bone. Her body began to melt. Blood turned black. Sinew sizzled. Her nightdress shrivelled away and exposed her nakedness. The points of her breasts popped like blisters and drizzled down her chest like pus. The woman’s golden hair curled and smoked, fell from her reddening scalp. Her eyes rolled back in her head. Her bellows became a whimper as her cheeks turned sticky. A few seconds more and she was a glistening skull staring out at them.

Then the fire leapt ten feet in the air and took Emily away forever.

But the blackened oak tree remained. Even in the inferno, it remained.

Father Cotton turned to the crowd. “We did the Lord’s work today, my children. Be not troubled by what you have witnessed, for the righteous act is never the easy one. Go home to your loved ones. Pray.”

A billowing draught had risen, summoned by the fire. It brought sweat to the brow of those closest, including Father Cotton. He clutched his bible tightly and used his free hand to pull the hair from his face. As he did so, pain flared in his left eyelid. “Jesus Mary!”

“Father?” said Jonathan, wheeling on him. “Are you okay?”

Father Cotton pressed his palm against his burning eyelid. “It’s nothing, child. An ember from the flames. We should depart this place, lest its echoes haunt us too long.”

“Of course, Father.” Jonathan attempted to pat his back, but he shrugged him away, angered by the pain still flaring in his eyelid.
“I hope days ahead do not reveal you complicit in your wife’s actions, Jonathan. May the Lord forgive you if you are.”

Jonathan rocked backward as if struck. “I swear it, Father. I had no idea what Emily was doing.”

An angry buzz drowned out their conversation and made the departing crowd stop to look back towards the fire. The great inferno lit the night sky red, but the glow continued spreading outward, tendrils dispelling the darkness in every direction. Embers fled to the air like a swarm.

A literal swarm.

Buzzing filled Father Cotton’s ears.
 Fiery specks flittered through the air, and members of the crowd cried out. Father Cotton did a circle, trying to decipher the Lord’s will in what he was seeing. What was happening?

Jonathan batted at himself, an angry welt rising on his cheek. A wasp, formed of flame, crawled along his jawline. “It’s Emily,” he cried. “She has cast a hex upon us. She swore it. Dear God, what folly have we bought?”

Father Cotton faced the pyre, flames whipping and swirling like a sentient beast. Thousands more tiny, spiteful embers grabbed hold of the wind and descended upon the screaming villagers, but a separate swarm surrounded him alone, marking him out and buzzing in his ears so loud as to make his brain ache. He threw up his arms, dropping his bible into the soft, black mud beside the river, and opened his mouth to scream. But before he could, burning agony filled his throat. Jonathon collided with him, prisoner to his own panic, and knocked him to the ground, and from on his back, Father Cotton stared into the fire and saw Emily. The fiend stared right back at him, passing her own judgement even as Hell claimed her soul.

The swarm of embers engulfed Father Cotton’s face and stung the sight from his eyes. Unable to see, unable to speak, he prayed to the Lord for help.

But the Lord was not there.

ProWritingAid Tutorial

ProWritingAid Tutorial by me.

So, I’ve been going on about ProWritingAid for the last few weeks and it’s because I love it so much. I just finished editing Legion with it and it saved me so much time and improved my writing so much. Many of my colleagues have already grabbed a copy for themselves, but I realise that making a purchase ($35 per year, although you get 1st month free) is difficult without seeing a product in action. Because I know how useful this tool will be to new and old writers alike, I have put together a video explaining some of the main tools in use on my Scrivener manuscript (Word and Google Docs plugins also included).

It really is fantastic for improving your sentence structure, word choice, and style. It has already improved me as a writer after just a few months (really wished I’d discovered it five years ago). Anyway, this is the first video tutorial I have ever done, so go easy on me in the comments.

Please know that the links at the bottom are affiliate links and I will get a small commission if you do end up buying a copy. If you don’t like that, no problem, I still recommend the program and all you need to do is google ‘Prowritingaid’ to get to the website without my affiliate link. Otherwise just click either of the two banners contained within this post.

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UPDATE: ProWritingAid are currently offering a free ebook about editing. FYI, downloading it also comes with a hefty discount off the price of the software if you were considering getting it:

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Legion: Chapter 1

The room stank of death. A syrupy sweet odour melding with a brown, noxious rot. Sweat, blood, piss, and filth. It was all there. The blanket stench of the infirm.

Hospitals. If ever there were a place John Windsor loathed, it was hospitals. Prime Ministerial obligation was the only reason he inhabited one now, and the last time he had entered one voluntarily his granny Margaret gave in to the smoker’s curse and let lung cancer take her. He’d been twenty years old, but he remembered it as being the very last time he had cried. His Law degree completed not long after, he had begun his journey to the courtrooms, where emotion was a hindrance. Now, twenty years later he was the youngest Prime Minister of the 21st Century, the prospects of his own hospital stay still many years distant. Being faced with other people’s impending death was an unwelcome task, even if a necessary part of the job, and he was counting the minutes until he could leave.

A sycophantic nurse waddled over, a proud grin on her chubby face. No doubt she felt important, getting the job of shaking the PM’s hand, but the truth was she would be forgotten the moment he turned his back. Some people held such small ambition, yet he did not deny her the small moment of victory. Leaning forward, he paired the hearty handshake with a peck on the cheek that sent the woman giddy. He fought the urge to wipe his mouth on his sleeve afterwards.

The plump woman gushed. “We’re so glad to have you here, Prime Minister.”

John smiled, certain he could taste the woman’s sweat on his lips. “It’s my pleasure, Joan.” Good spot on the name badge. Plebs love it when you used their names. “It’s a wonderful job you’re doing here.”

“We do what we can. It’s a hard job, but so vital. We had our funding cut last-”

“Shall we take the tour?” said John, waving a hand towards the ward. Cramped tent cubicles filled it, and likely housed various dying occupants. So much money just to park the nearly dead. So inefficient.
“Oh yes, of course, the tour.” The nurse nodded. “This is the oncology ward where we care for stage 4 patients. I would introduce you to our guests, but most will be sleeping. Best not to disturb them.”

John nodded gravely although it was great news. He had held little desire to look upon the diseased. “Of course, Joan. You are an angel to these people.”

“Me? Oh no, I’m just one woman doing what she-”

“Shall we move on?”

“Yes, Prime Minister, of course. There is lots to see.”

And lots to see there was—a dreadful amount in fact. John endured over an hour of sweaty handshakes and prattling small talk. In the children’s ward, he had to go so far as to kiss a collection of clammy foreheads (his PR Secretary’s idea, not his). By the time John looped back around to where he had begun, exhaustion had set in. Two bodyguards accompanied him the entire time and looked just as bored as he was.

It was time to go. Continue Reading →

Should you self-publish in 2016?

Should you self-publish in 2016?

Yes, so long as you set realistic expectations. Wanting too much too fast will deflate your passion quicker than a monkey in your underwear drawer (I have no idea what that means).

So, what is my story of self-publishing? In early 2011 I was in my 5th or 6th year of being a mobile phone salesman in a shop. For the last few years, I had flittered between companies and into and out of management positions (I was never any good at cracking the whip). I was constantly stressed and miserable–mostly because I loathed what I did. Everyday, I grew more and more irritable with the public, and a little bit lazier with my efforts to sell to them. Every morning, I wanted to cry rather than go in and face another day. And don’t even get me started on the immoral area managers who expected results at any cost (Simon Little I am calling you out, bitch!) and felt it was right to treat staff like dirt. Phones4U went bust a couple of years ago and I can’t say I wasn’t a little pleased to see such a dishonest company fall. By that time I was already earning a shit load of cash doing what I love. Charlie, I was winning! Continue Reading →