Friday 8 March 2013

#FridayFlash - Black Dog

My name is Samuel Phipps and I offer my position as a clerk within a firm of engineers as testament to my sanity. I can offer no other evidence as to the veracity of the events which I am about to relate, other than the testimony I shall lay before you.

I was staying with my brother in a small Norfolk village; he has been recently married and I had promised to visit with him and his dear wife. On the night before I was due to take my leave, bound once more for London, I had been visiting another friend on the edge of the town. My brother could not make the visit due to illness, and I found myself in a position of having to leave my friend's lodgings without arrangements for transportation being made.

It is not so large a village that one feels compelled to travel by coach, or even horseback, and at that moment in my visit, both were extravagances which I could ill afford. I deemed it prudent to make the short journey on foot, and took my leave of my gracious host. Moments before I left, he offered the suggestion that I might shorten my return journey by some ten minutes or so by cutting through the graveyard, instead of following the meandering lane. I thanked him for his suggestion, and stepped out into the cold March air.

I had not gone three paces when a small hand tugged on my arm. I am not accustomed to frights, or extended indulgence of my imagination, but the suddenness of the act startled me. I looked down and saw that the hand belonged to that of my friend's maid. She had been returning to the house from the chicken coop when she heard my friend's suggestion, and she begged me to ignore the advice, and take my intended route. I told her that I wished to return home and if my friend's suggestion would allow me to do so all the quicker, then I would follow it. She told me that the graveyard was the haunt of the infamous 'Black Shuck', and she pleaded with me to take the longer route, "all the better to avoid 'im". The little maid seemed convinced that my soul would be lost should I encounter the beast, seen only in the graveyard on nights such as these, and I saw no way to placate her that would not involve a lie. I assured her that I would take the long walk instead, and left her clasping her hands in gratitude.

I am not a man prone to such notions, but I regretted my choice the instant I set foot in the graveyard. A narrow gate admitted me in the rear wall, and a winding path cut a swathe between a host of stones. I normally find such places to be fascinating records of human experience, but with a cold wind at my back, and frost in the air, I found I had little time to read the stones. I fancied I heard footsteps, yet when I turned my head, I saw nothing in the moving shadows.

Something howled in the darkness behind me, and I glanced over my shoulder to discover its source. The path was empty. I heaved a sigh of relief and turned back to the path ahead.

A large black dog blocked my way. Around three feet high, it stood perhaps seven yards away, with ragged fur and enormous paws. Red eyes burned in its impassive face, its features akin to those of a mastiff. It did not snarl, or bare its teeth as I feared it would. It regarded me with vague interest, but I sensed no real malice on its part.  I recalled the fevered words of the maid and wondered if this was the Black Shuck of which she spoke. I found I could not move, bound to the spot as I was with fright.

The dog walked along the path towards me, carrying itself with the dignity one more associates with cats than dogs. It regarded me all the while with its red eyes, and I could not even close my own to prevent my seeing its approach. Some nefarious agency kept my eyes wide open. The dog sniffed my hand in the manner of any normal hound, and lifted its gaze to meet my own. I saw nothing in its eyes, no danger or evil, nor willful defiance of the Lord. The dog simply...was.

With no warning, it stood on its hind legs, and pressed its paws against my chest. I would have started for I felt no weight behind the gesture, no sudden movement that may cause me to stumble backward. The dog gazed into my eyes, and let out a single bark. An instant later, my eyes closed and I regained control of my limbs. When I opened my eyes, the dog was gone, and I was alone in the graveyard.

I hurried home, and arrived at the same moment that I surely would have done had I taken the longer route. I did not tell my brother or his wife of my ordeal, and I retired to bed, pleading a headache. I did not wake for two days, and when I finally did awake, my brother's wife explained in halting terms that the coach I was to have taken overturned on the journey, killing its occupants.

I returned to London a day later, somewhat fearful of the coach, and discovered that a fire destroyed my lodgings on the day I should have returned. A host of such tales played out before me, and soon my acquaintances congratulated me on my run of good fortune. I smiled and shook their hands, agreeing in turn, but I could not bring myself to speak of the events in the graveyard, nor tell of the two mysterious marks that had appeared on my chest, marks shaped like those of cloven hooves.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Read an Ebook Week - Free books!

It's Read an Ebook Week over on Smashwords, so I've made my two self-published titles FREE between now and March 9. Simply enter the code "RW100" at the checkout to get the titles for free - they normally cost 99c. Remember, this offer finishes on Saturday. You can choose between The First Tale, and Checkmate & Other Stories.

The First Tale
A vaguely steampunk adventure, set in the fictional city of Vertigo. The Resistance is pitted against the shadowy Weimar Corporation that runs the City. Their stalemate is broken by the death of a suspected infiltrator, setting Resistance Commander Liss Hunt and her bewildered companion Philip Wiseman on a journey into the depths of both organisations to discover the truth behind who - or what - is really running the City. Featuring automatons, mad scientists, chases, a gun-toting heroine and even the Living Dead, The First Tale is a short novella that proves people are not always what they seem.

It's had one 5* review on Amazon, where you can still buy it for $1.17 if you want to purchase instead of downloading for free on Smashwords.

Checkmate & Other Stories
This collection features fifteen previously published stories, published across the space of two years, spanning fantasy, horror, sci-fi and speculative fiction. Among other things, Bleed Them Dry puts a new spin on vampires as corporate moguls, talking corpses tell their side in The Dead Do Listen and and a devilish game of chess goes apocalyptically wrong in Checkmate. You can read a sample of The Dead Do Listen as a Friday Flash, here.

It's had two 5* reviews on Amazon, where you can still buy it for $1.17 if you want to purchase instead of downloading for free on Smashwords.

I hope you check them out, and if you do...I hope you enjoy them!