View Full Version : Challenges...and other more rambling things

09-14-2009, 02:53 PM
Ok, so I never quite got the hang of the longer stuff - I tried, with not all that much success and being the lazy arse that I am I left it alone and did more short stuff (poetry for want of a better word). Until recently. I got into an email conversation with a friend at work and she was telling me that she had to make up stories on the spot for her little girl based around random things. I jokingly said it didn't sound so hard...and so she sent me a reply with three words at the bottom 'woman, bike, dog' - challenge 1...

To my surprise, the resulting (very) short tale popped into my head pretty much complete, I know it's kind of generic but given that it got done during the day at work around phone calls and meetings I don't think it's horrible.

So I guess I'm saying be gentle (for the many reasons above :)) and if there's any interest I'll post up challenge 2 (they get longer and take longer each time btw, challenge 3 is currently about 6000 words... :o

So then, challenge 1:

It didn't hurt as much as she thought it would. She hadn't ever really had much in the way of a pain threshold; hadn't ever really been hurt come to think of it, not really. This was different though, this was a whole world of different and it hadn't been as bad as she'd expected.

If he'd had those plastic ties; her mind was fidgeting, scrabbling around for something, anything else to think about, to 'do' while she worked. Anything else, not quite - always the negative first wasn't it, never the upside? So why the glass half empty, he hadn't had the plastic ties had he? No, and the rope wasn't up to much either.

She dug herself with the glass again and her mind went mercifully clear as she concentrated on 'don't'. Don't cry out, don't drop the piece and don't, for the sake of all that is holy, stop. With an unpleasant smile that she wouldn't have recognised as her own if she'd been able to see it she started up again.

He wasn't very good at this. Again with the negative but she was deeply grateful. Grateful for the rope not the plastic, old rope not new and perhaps most of all for the water, or more to the point, the glass it was in. The hood, an old and not overly clean pillowcase as it turned out, had been pretty straightforward. Even with her hands behind her she was still flexible enough, god bless that barbie bitch on the workout video after all, to bring her legs up and pin a section between her knees. She lost some hair in the deal but beggars and choosers as someone had said.

She had been surprised how bright it was initially, she had convinced herself it was night but then she thought she'd heard that time sense was the first thing to go. There was just the one window, high up on the wall facing her. Too high a voice in her head had whispered. She'd looked around for something to stand on and that was when she'd seen the glass of water. It wasn't immediately obvious, there was no glowing arrow pointing at it, no sign saying 'break in case of kidnap'. It was just a glass of water. In fact, her first thought had been that she was thirsty, followed closely by how was she going to get to the glass given her current situation?

When it finally dawned on her she had closed her eyes and sat, utterly still for as long as she could, listening. She was trying to remember the sounds from before, from the hood. Had there been any, if so, what? She was underground, the high window, the bare concrete floor and the rough set of stairs leading up to the only door had pretty much confirmed that. Had there been footsteps, conversation, anything? She couldn't remember. The glass was to her right, sat on a crate, she shuffled herself round, half hopping on her backside and had to stifle a laugh with just a little to much crazy in it. Slipping the toe of her right boot through a gap between the slats she eased back. The crate was either empty or had very little in it as it tilted easily, the glass following the motion a moment later it's contents hitting the floor just before the glass itself. It made mercifully little noise but she still sat there looking up, waiting for a reaction, the sound of a chair pushed back from a table, of footsteps coming across the floor to where the door was. There was nothing.

She'd known which piece she'd wanted almost immediately, it was from the bottom of the glass and so was thicker, with a wicked looking curved edge that glittered at her where it had broken. She scraped at it with her heel and it spun over the floor towards her. She cut herself once trying to pick it up and then proceeded to do so again moving it into position. It was sharp though and the cuts were clean, she could feel the wetness more than the pain to begin with, then the dull throbs began. She worked.

He hadn't locked the door.

She actually didn't believe it to begin with and thought her hand had slipped on the handle because of the blood but the door cracked open the slightest amount before she caught it and actually closed it again in her nervousness. Imagine the irony that little voice almost crooned in her head, if it was on a latch before and you've just locked it. Panic slammed into her at this and she whipped her hand away from the handle as though it had burnt her. Shut up she spat at the little voice, no reply. Get a grip she thought to herself and actually giggled as she looked at the partial bloody handprint on the door handle. The door opened again and she squeezed up to the tiny slice of light, more windows up here, still day, she was trying to bend her vision past the edges of the door and frame, trying to see all of the room. Looking for him.

It was a fairly normal looking room, dining table on the far side, sofa and possibly an armchair in the space in front of the door. Someone could be sat in the chair or asleep on the sofa, laid out on it. She couldn't tell. Where was she going to go though, back down the stairs? Easing the door further open, praying for silence, pressing herself into the gap, forcing herself through the smallest possible gap. She is completely silent, on her toes, every muscle wound uncomfortably taut. She doesn't actually cry out but she can't help the sharp intake of breath as her hand tightens on the piece of glass; even partly wrapped in a torn off sleeve it still bites greedily into her palm. She freezes and looks around for the source of the noise. Outside, it was outside. It wasn't in here, with her, she was ok, she repeated this to herself in an effort to get her legs moving again. Finally they did and she slipped fully into the room, eyes hunting everywhere for a door, for another person.

He was on the sofa. Her legs stopped again and she had to concentrate to keep them from folding under her. She had stepped just far enough into the room to see around one end of the sofa and as she did so she saw the top of his head. He was balding, what hair he had left looked lank and seemed to hang together in strands. She couldn't move her legs, they weren't hers anymore. She leant. Inch by inch she could see more of him, he was facing away from her and the mound of his belly sank him into the sofa. She swayed back, almost overbalanced and fell over backwards. His trousers were round his thighs. There was a limit to what she could deal with today and that, she decided, was beyond it. Whether as a result of the visual or the thought of what that visual meant for her if she stayed, her legs were back and she used them. She backed away from the sofa, eyes never leaving the back of the head on the sofa. She jumped as she edged into one of the chairs around the dining table and at that point her nerve broke. She turned and gave up all pretence of quiet as she slammed into the back door, fumbled at the handle and half kicked the door open. She didn't look back. She stumbled onto a rotting porch and missed the first step, as she sprawled into the dirt thinking 'I'm out, I'm out', the little voice spoke up again, it sounded like a scolded child, a smug, scolded child. 'There was a noise from outside wasn't there?'.

Edward 'Eddie' Johns wasn't going to be any more trouble to Clare Brooks, or to anyone else for that matter. It was a heart attack. A big one. He was not a small man and he'd done very little to offset the burgers, the cigarettes and the booze over the last three decades. If it wasn't the physical exertion of grabbing the girl off her bike and bundling her into the van that had tipped him over the edge, then his vivid thoughts of what he was going to do to her certainly had. The first paramedic into the house had looked at 'Eddie' and shouted back to his partner in the yard 'this one went out having a good time!'

Her head had bounced off the ground when she fell, she hadn't got her hands up in time. She could already hear the low rumble as her teeth sank into her tongue. 'What's a little more blood?' she thought to herself, the crazy from earlier was back and had brought friends. The rumble got louder, turned into a growl and she rolled to her left instinctively as the growl became a bark. She desperately tried to orient herself as she lay there, her head still swimming from it's recent meet and greet with the ground. The dog was on her before she'd managed it though and she dragged herself to one side as it snapped long yellowed teeth at where her face had been. She was seeing everything in slow motion, feeling everything in acute detail. The rocks digging into her back as she thrashed around, the dirt sliding around her heels as they scrambled for purchase. The dog was on top of her, she could feel it's weight heavy on her, the nails on it's paws peeling skin from her stomach, her chest. It was snapping at her face repeatedly, it's teeth crashing together, drool hanging in ropey streams and flicking around as it followed her frenzied movements. Something flashed to her right as she twisted her head that way, avoiding another vicious lunge. She was somehow still holding the piece of glass. She brought her right arm up and in with as much force as she could muster and felt a primal satisfaction as it hammered into the side of the dog.

09-23-2009, 02:16 AM
So, same set up as above:

Challenge 2 - Brick, Clock, Radiator.


It was simple really.
{Nothing could be further from the truth and you kno...}
Once you tune out all the high pitched mental static, the terrified, frantic, desperate jabbering. And not just spin the volume knob down but tune it out properly; sit there like the safe crackers from old black and white films, stethoscope and all,
{...u're thinking like this and i'm the probl...}
and ease the dial around, millimetre by millimetre,
{...ust saying wait for a moment, wait and, ah, calmly, yes, calmly re-assess the options, perhaps then you will reconsi...}
until you hit the clean signal.
No crackle, no hiss, no static.


Fuck. Oh fuck Jimmy, this is really notagoodfuckinspot right here. It's bin bad before, first time inside was a proper nightmare but this? Dunno how he did it, spose that's a good thing, a silver lining if y'like. Not knowing how a crazies done somethin makes you not a crazy right? Or duzzit just make you more fuckin stupid than the crazy? I mean nobody wants to think of themselves being stupider than a crazy do they? S'ok if crazies are thick, that's ok, thats very ok. Clever crazies though, that's too fuckin' scary. So shit on your silver lining, I'm no crazy but I'm not smart enough to know whats happened. Can only just remember my fuckin name and even before I smack it my head feels like I drank a pint of everything they had, including the shitty fuckin spirrits.


I wait. He comes round. His head lolls from side to side and I briefly worry that the Botulinum toxin has spread further than intended. Admittedly it was a possibility but the larynx is a sufficient distance from the neck muscles for the risk to be minimal. There were not a vast number of options however and this was a critical element. Finally he lifts his head, sees me, refocusses. He snaps back, away from me and his head crashes into one of the several stainless steel bars behind him. It is a natural reaction, the gun six inches from his left eye must seem extremely threatening. He curses, or tries to and I watch the confusion register as only a whisper results. The toxin is working. His confusion spreads. He now realises he is restrained and struggles violently; his right arm, free from the elbow down lashes towards me but the ties are secure, the towel rail is sunk into the floor and the ceiling as well as the wall. This is an expensive room.


What the...Everything happens at once, I see the man and then GUN! FUCKIN GUN! Hit my head on something behind, hard, fuckin solid. Feel like I'm gonna blackout, I'm screaming my fuckin head off attim but I can't hear myself. What the FUCK? Can't move! I can't fuckin move. Arm, right arm is free sort of. Grab at him, rip his fuckin throat out. Too far. Fucker didn't move, didn't even fuckin flinch. Knows. Course he fuckin knows. Did it to me didn't he. Gotta try and relax, talk to him, get out of this. Oh I got that bad fuckin guts feeling about this though. Bad. Fuckin. Guts.


The key is not weight, it is time. A brick is a surprisingly awkward thing to hold. Try it. The skin goes taut across your knuckles, the webbing between thumb and first rubs gently against the almost imperceptibly crumbling edge. You don't notice that faint contact to start with. You will, if you get that far. The skin is soft there, it is usually well protected and as a result has not developed any defence of it's own. It has not, as the saying goes 'toughened up'. It is very susceptible, therefore, to abrasion. It will chafe with minimal effort. Initially it will become sore. Then the area will quite quickly become raw. In a surprisingly short period, the skin will surrender and split completely. This leads to two different, but inter-related, things; firstly, the hand will bleed, the amount of blood depends upon the condition of the individual. For example, a highly agitated individual, subjected to fear and stress will bleed notably more than an individual who is calm. A straightforward observation but valid given the situation. As an addendum to this first point, any blood will very likely, at least in part, make it's way onto the brick, coating the surface. This will serve to make the brick harder to hold and as a result, require the individual to employ a stronger grip. Secondly; once the skin is cut, the sensation is heightened quite considerably. The slightest touch with the edge of the brick to the wound will now produce a searing flare of pain that is extremely unpleasant. A typical response would be to remove whatever is causing the irritation or pain. In other words; drop the brick. In this case though, that would be deeply unwise.


It's a bathroom. Where? Where the fuck am I? Think you fuckin prick. All you got now so fuckin think. Door to my left, couple of feet maybe. Might as well be fuckin China to me. Light under the door, eyes are gettin better, climatising. He's mucking round with a bag on the floor over by the sink, turned his fuckin back on me, confident bastard. Right though isn't he, I'm royally fuckin screwed right now. There, by the sink. Hotel, must be, all those little bottles of facewash and lotion shit, even a fuckin paper mat under the glass. How the fuck did I get into a fuckin hotel? Gotta talk to him. FUCK! What has he done to my fuckin voice?


Once I have the clock set and positioned, the pictures taped to the wall either side of the laminated A4 sheet and the lamp angled appropriately, I take the brick from the bag, stand and turn around. He has been trying to talk to me, I could hear the breathless whispers as I worked, his mouth is still moving as I face him, his right arm flapping as though hailing a cab. I stand silently, looking at him, his arm stops waving but he tries even harder to speak. After two or three minutes he stops. I move to the side, he turns his head as much as the tie around his neck will allow. His eyes have started to flicker around the room, he is panicking now. I clip the cord to the eye bolt drilled into one side of the brick; he is watching, I feel his eyes on me. I installed the pulley while he was unconscious, the television in the room turned up to mask the drill. I check for tension in the cord and turn to him. I indicate with my own arm what he is to do with his. He does not understand, I repeat the motion, he is trying to talk again. My silence is calculated, it builds his fear. I extend my arm a third time and slowly, still trying to communicate, he lifts his right arm. I press the brick into his open hand, first forcing his fingers around it then squeezing them into it. I look at him again as I give his hand a final, hard compression. He grips the brick and takes the weight as I release his hand. I check the cord one last time, step back and review the scene. He is sweating, small droplets bead on his forehead. It isn't even warm. Yet. I turn away from him for the last time, grab my bag, flick the switch on the lamp and slip out through the door and back into the real world.


He won't fuckin speak to me, he's like a fuckin robot or something. He brings out the house brick and I think he's going to go nuts, go to fuckin town on me while I'm all trussed up. Go to fuckin town - who used to say that, George? Stanny? Oh I am fuckin losin it. I think he already has. He just stands there holding his fuckin arm out to the side. What? What the fuck do you WANT!? I'm fuckin ripping my throat out and nothin. Just fuckin air. He does it again an I get it. The moment my arm goes out he's there, the brick's got some sort of rope or string stuck into it somehow. Can't fuckin turn my head far enough to see where it goes. He wants me to hold the fuckin brick but before I can even think about splittin his fuckin precious head open for him with it he's outta range. He looks at me, picks up the bag and then my eyes fuckin explode. He's turned the lights on, no, not lights, light. Some folding lamp like you see in films on desks of people drawing buildings or writing. I squint around and he's fuckin gone. I nearly drop the brick before I see the note on the wall.




LIVE? What?? Read it three times then I see the clock. Nine fifty-six. There are pictures on the wall as well, takes a couple minutes before I can see them properly. Don't matter though, don't make any fuckin sense even when I can see 'em. One's a woman, pretty enough I spose and a kid, they look happy, on a fuckin beach somewhere. I'd be fuckin laughin and mugging for the fuckin camera if I was on a fuckin beach right now too. Other pictures just some smashed up car, can't even tell what it is, proper fuckin wrecked. Someone did a really top job of that. It's just after ten, my hands startin to ache, all at once the brick feels too fuckin heavy.


As the door clicks shut behind me I take the duct tape from my bag and begin pulling lengths of it. After the first length I pause, walk to the television, turn it on. The roar of the tape unwinding blends nicely with the television. It takes twelve lengths to seal the door satisfactorily. I have already removed the battery from the smoke alarm above the bed. I scan the room once before leaving. I walk down the back stairs and leave through a semi deserted kitchen area. In an hour there will be organised chaos here as the dinner service begins. On the street I flag down a taxi, tell the driver my destination and sit back, thinking. I wonder how long he will be able to hold the brick. I wonder if he will last until the clock says ten thirty, if he will realise immediately that the maid is not coming, not until tomorrow morning. I suspect he will make it that far, staying alive is an excellent motivator. When he does finally give in and the weight of the brick pulls the cord through the pulley, twisting the thermostat of the towel rail first to on and then all the way to 'max. temp'; will he think it was a joke? An elaborate prank? He might, for five minutes, perhaps six. That is how long it will take for the rails to reach 51 degrees, 'max. temp'. Then he will understand. Then he will burn. Then, he will die.

Daily Times Extract.

Charles Duke, Senior Crime Reporter.

Man In Bizarre Hotel Murder Was An Ex Con.

Police are today still refusing to provide more details on the sequence of events that led to a hotel maid discovering the badly burnt body of a man in a local hotel three days ago.

As reported yesterday, the Police are treating this as murder and the floor of the hotel where the gruesome discovery was made remains sealed off today as forensics teams scour the room and surrounding areas inch by inch.

The body was discovered during a routine room cleaning. According to officially released details the door to the shower room was closed and there were several layers of electrical tape around the entire doorframe. The smoke detector in the room had also been disconnected, there were no signs that the room had been used otherwise.

However, The Daily Times can exclusively reveal several new details about the case that have previously not been released to the public.

- The victim is believed to be James Dale, 48, of no fixed abode. Dale was recently released from prison having served 4 years of a 7 year term for armed robbery. Dale had previously been in jail for aggravated assault and causing death by dangerous driving - he struck and killed a mother and daughter on a pedestrian crossing, he was found to be nearly three times the drink drive limit when he finally crashed the car into a wall.

- The maid who discovered the body has been placed into protective custody and is being treated by a Police psychologist. She is reported to have told friends that the man was in the ensuite shower room and had been bound to the heated towel rail. She has apparently been unable to sleep since making the discovery.

- A source close to the investigation has revealed that a number of unusual items were found in the room. These are believed to include two photographs, a sheet of paper containing unknown text (this is not believed to have been written by the deceased at this time), an analog clock, a vial of Botox and perhaps strangest of all, a house brick.

It is unknown what the photo's were of, Police will not confirm they were of people and if so how much progress has been made in locating them. It is this reporter's personal belief that a previous associate of Dale is involved in his death, perhaps for retribution linked to a dispute over a botched robbery committed during Dale's youth. [Story continues on p.7]

09-28-2009, 02:48 PM
SO I haven't read the second one yet, but I read the first.

I really liked the insight into the girl's mind. It was very well done - and I think the way you presented her - panicked and anxious, nervous and scared - was perfect. The only thing I was confused about (and this may just be my inability to pay attention to detail here) was how she got her hands free? I understand she used the broken water glass, but were her hands tied behind her - in front - or not at all?

And I loved the irony of him having a heart attack before she even escaped. Her nervousness and fear that he'd catch her while trying to escape was completely unnecessary, but she never even knew. I liked it. Very dark.

09-29-2009, 12:37 AM
Hannah - glad you liked it and a big thank you for taking the time to leave a comment - very much appreciated :) On the hands thing - it's a very good point :doh: - one of those 'it's clear in my head but didn't quite make it onto the page' things i think. Her hands are supposed to be tied behind her and I could make some very tenuous (at best!) arguments that there are suggestions to that effect in the text but you're right, it's not clear :D I'll have a think and tweak it a bit.

Er, I think the next one is darker :scared:

Thanks again for the spot and the comment.


10-01-2009, 02:44 PM
Ok, so this is the latest 'challenge' - 'vampire, horse, tree'. I'm going to post it in sections because it's a bit long.


'If only they knew.'

He had to concentrate fully to throttle a chuckle, squeeze the life out of it and stop it sneaking out of him.

'Don't laugh, for Christ's sake, it'll just make it worse.'

The delicious irony in this latest thought was nearly too much for him. Had it been possible to do so he would have cocked his head at the sky and tipped a reprehensibly lascivious wink to the heavens. Instead, with a supreme effort and another internal garotting he trapped it. He bit down on his tongue for good measure and shivered minutely with pleasure as he felt the heat {the life} slide down his throat. Now, as they worked, he took the opportunity to release some of the pressure with a scream, his head flung back and a rivulet of blood running from the side of his mouth. That's a nice touch he thought, it's a shame to waste any but it's wonderful attention to detail and besides, there is always more. He screamed again.

The horses reared at the sound and the two younger men, only boys really, took a step back, glancing uncertainly, nervously at the others.

"Geh backere yeh yellar maggets!" growled the big man holding the hammer without looking around.

The hammer's huge, heavy head slid back through the air again, paused momentarily and then blurred forwards. The metallic 'tink' as it struck the head of the spike echoed sickeningly around the empty field, cutting through everything, even the man's screams.

"'E took the Mare's dortah, no marr he di'nt no the price, now C'MERE!"

He brutalised the words as he spoke them, running straight through 'Mayor' as though the subtleties of language were of no interest to him whatsoever. This was, as it happened, entirely the case. Herk was the blacksmith, he had little use for language in general, let alone any of the subtleties it may require. The boys stepped forward again, almost in unison, it was as if someone had roped them and given it a yank. They stood there, swaying as if in a gentle breeze. There was no breeze, gentle or otherwise, it was as if the better parts of the weather had seen what was about to occur and decided they would rather be elsewhere. Only the dark, brooding clouds had stayed.


"Goze rite thru yeh tha, dunnit?" he spat as one of the boys flinched outwardly, as much at the sound as the view. There was a deeply unpleasant smile on Herk's face as he looked up at the man he was nailing to the Thieves Tree. He could have been talking to the boys behind him, or to his two assistants who were busying themselves with tools and supplies. He may even have been speaking to the stranger. Herk had no truck with language but he was no idiot, a thin streak of humour, dryer than a dead dog in a desert ran through him and the double meaning pleased him. So did the continued wailing coming from the stranger, he should suffer for what he'd done. The fact that he hadn't passed out after the first spike had gone in was a little unusual but Herk considered it a stroke of luck. It just meant that he got to feel it that bit longer.

If only he knew.

10-04-2009, 05:57 AM
In case anyone's interested...


He'd arrived about a month before; almost slouching into what passed for the town proper at dusk atop a tall, disinterested bay. He had an elegant insouciance although his clothes, while those of a gentleman, suggested that he had been travelling for quite a distance. They were indeed gentlemen's clothes, the same gentleman whose horse he now rode as it happened. Not a perfect fit by any means but they were cleaner than his previous ensemble had been and he thought he carried the look off admirably.

Her back was to him as he entered but he already knew she would be trouble. She was young, maybe still a teenager, just. Her hair bounced in a golden plait between her shoulder-blades. The dress was polite yet pretty; it swooped across her chest, dipping enough to hint at the swell of womanhood and it clung to her as it dropped towards the floor, drawing delicious curves. The smell of her was intoxicating, such life, such innocence. She smiled sweetly at him as he strolled up to the bar, her blue eyes utterly bereft of any malice or scheming. He was decided. She would be trouble. She would be a great deal of trouble and he embraced it, every last exquisite drop. The fact that this sort of trouble would undoubtedly be very different to the sort that he normally dealt in, at least to start with, made it even more appealing. Well, variety is good for the soul, he thought and allowed himself an easy, wolfish smile. He did so adore his little jokes, even if there was no-one else to truly appreciate them.

He engaged the girl in conversation; her name was Dawn, he had smiled again at this, more little jokes, he would taste a dawn once again. She had positively glowed up at him in return,misreading him, completely unaware. He told her it was a beautiful name, paused a moment, for effect, then told her it suited her perfectly. She flushed at this, the clean white skin of her face blooming red suddenly and she could not return his gaze. He waited, just long enough and then began to apologise for being too forward, all a part of the dance, all so beautifully laid out. Now she did look at him again, saw the earnest concern, the almost shame etched into his face. Oh what a master-class this was; he held it, watching her intently all the while. He was wondering whether to suggest he should leave, find another place to stay when she leapt in. As was often the way, she began apologizing to him. Of course he tried, weakly, to insist that it was he who was in the wrong but moment by moment he allowed her to win him round. He let her lead until she almost insisted that he stayed; he hadn't needed that much of course, not here but he thought such a welcoming tendency might serve him admirably in the coming days.

He had taken a room towards the back of the building, it was shaded by a huge elm. She had initially protested, wanting him to have a room with a 'much pleasanter aspect' but then he had slipped easily into the tale of his being a writer. It was like sliding into a pool of silk and he marvelled at how real it sounded, even to him, as he told it. That as much as it pained him because he did so adore the unspoken beauty of the day, he found his muse most often abroad late at night. His work was everything to him and so he sacrificed other pleasures for it. He had told her he hoped she would understand and again she rushed in, her words almost tripping themselves up in their effort to reach him, reassure him. She was flushed again but this time with excitement and curiosity. She wanted to know about his work, what he was currently writing. He had shyly told her that it was a great love story and she had clutched her hands to her heart. She had wanted to ask to see it, he could almost taste the need on her but manners had restrained her and he hadn't offered. Not yet.

10-07-2009, 02:21 PM

He fell easily into a routine, rising late, afternoons in the bar watching them, learning the town's secrets through it's people. How they interacted with each-other and most importantly with her. He quickly discovered that Dawn's father owned the guest-house, owned a good deal of the rest of the town as well. He had declared himself Mayor some years before and no-one had dared question it for fear of a sudden need to find themselves a new home or simply not being served in the general store. Now he paraded around town, a short man of copious girth and few manners. He lorded himself over them, accepting their strained cheery greetings with what he doubtless felt was a regal air. It was almost too perfect, her sweetness would have have been prize enough but to take something so precious from such a man. The 'Mayor' had of course made a point of introducing himself in front of an audience one evening, a pudgy and overly moist hand was proffered.

“Welcome, welcome. I am Mayor Thomas Levick, welcome to my hotel.”

He grasped the man's hand and shook it, squeezing just enough to induce a slight wince. He smiled broadly at Levick who withdrew his hand as though from a strange dog that might just bite. Levick became aware that the room had turned to watch and attempted to re-gather himself.

“An unusual name that...”
“I am named for the Saint, my Mother was a deeply religious woman...”

This last at least was true, she had been fond of her religion. Not that it had helped her at the end. He had done many terrible things and suffered at least as many done to him in return but they had all healed; all but that one. As he had pressed her to him her battered old crucifix had fallen free of her blouse and lain against his skin. The pain was immediate and unique; no bone break, knife slash or gunshot had ever hurt him so. It was as though all other pain had been outside of him, not quite happening to someone else but close to it. This had raced to the very centre of him and without warning exploded there. He felt as though his insides had been lacerated by shards of white hot glass. In his agony he had briefly bitten down uncontrollably before managing to release and cast her away from him. She had been little more than a husk at this point; her body sailed across the room crashing into the dresser and crumpling to the floor. He had expected the pain to ebb away slowly but it was like a match doused in water. Her last unwitting lesson to him had been a good one, one he remembered whenever he traced the cross branded on his chest. She had been fond of her religion but she hadn't named him Jude. It was another of his little personal amusements to take the names of Saints.

This talk of religion and Jude's distracted air at the mention of his departed Mother had apparently convinced Levick he was a good fellow after all. He was in the process of introducing his daughter when Jude caught himself and realized who it was. He bowed deeply to Dawn, catching the pleasing burst of colour in her cheeks as he did so. He sensed as much as heard the murmur from behind him, disapproval, annoyance, did he even perhaps catch a sigh of jealousy in the air? As the chatter started up around him again, people deciding that there was to be no entertainment tonight, his gaze slithered toward the corner, toward the murmur. There were two of them, young and engaged in intense conversation. He watched without looking, enraptured at this further twist, as they in turn gazed at Dawn as she slipped gracefully through the crowded bar.

He built his time with her gradually, measuring it carefully, allowing her a little more each day. He eased gently from polite yet reserved conversation when she brought him wine to equally polite, almost formal, enquiries as to how her day had been. Then, when he felt she would ask outright if he waited much longer he made an almost offhand comment about how his evening walks were helping his work. He had ensured she saw him start out on these walks; they had confirmed his initial opinion of the town and, as he had learnt to his cost, it was always prudent to know the fastest way to leave a place. It had been the turning point, the open door that she had wanted and he found that he need do very little of the work from then on. Her questions, initially about his work, later more about him made it so very easy. He particularly enjoyed the evenings when the two young men came in; she would sit with him, clearly fascinated, talking vibrantly, animatedly and he would watch them over her shoulder. Watch as they twisted and burned in their seats, glaring at him, malevolent but powerless. Eventually he let himself be persuaded into showing her some of his work. In a whispered conversation he had sworn her to secrecy about it, telling her he was worried other writers might steal his work. Secrets would bind them tighter together, make her feel special, trusted. It was a simple enough thing to dash off a few pages, he was old and she was not well read. He borrowed a line from here, an idea from there and she was enchanted.

The pages he gave her became more and more passionate, he was confident by now that she was his, ensnared, but he continued to manouevre carefully. She was close to being ready, there was an urgency in her eyes when they met and held his; he could taste her need for him growing. He was setting more than one fire though; the two young men, he had named them 'the suitors', their temperature was also rising. He had to be careful not to push them too far, it was still possible that they could ruin everything. This balancing act thrilled him, it was always especially tense as things neared the end and he could feel everything beginning to accelerate towards that moment now. All he had to do was wait.

10-15-2009, 02:17 PM
Ok so irrespective of whether anyone's interested... :evil:


The knock was quiet but sure. He was surprised to feel a little thrill of excitement as he crossed the room to the door. She stood there, wide eyed, hectic colour in her cheeks. Emotions hung around her like perfume; excitement, fear and yes it was there, underlying both, primal, lust. He moved aside, opening the door wide, seemingly drawing her into the room. She stepped past him and he drank in her scent, it swirled into him. He swung the door shut, discreetly turning the thick brass key and slipping it into a pocket as he faced her.

She was beautiful in the candlelight, her hands fluttered nervously from her sides to the clasp of her cloak at her throat to her face before they finally met, clutching at each-other like lost children. The bird in the cage finally sees the cat he thought; yet that wasn't it, not entirely. She wanted this, at least a part of her thought she did, that was what made it so deliciously perfect. He gazed at her a moment,

“May I take your cloak Mademoiselle?”

A delicate laugh escaped her at this and she seemed to soften, become less fragile. He had chanced upon her love of languages a week ago and since then had made a point of dropping a word or two into conversation whenever they were away from anyone else. Carefully building another secret bond between them. She nodded her assent and he padded across the room to her. In the days and weeks that he had been working towards this moment they had only actually touched twice. When she had given him the room key on his arrival their hands had brushed together and once, when she was handing him a glass of wine. He had his hooks in her by that point and even such brief contact had made her tremble enough to spill the wine. This had of course been part of it, part of the tension, part of the dance. Now, now that they could touch, now that they would touch he meant to stretch out the moment until it happened. He wanted to build a storm in her.

Standing with only inches separating their lips he easily slipped the clasp and she turned to let him take the cloak. Her hair, pinned into a loose knot, shimmered in the half light. That will come down he thought; it will all come crashing down. He lifted the cloak from her shoulders and stepped back, dropping it onto the armchair, his eyes never leaving her. It was a dress he had never seen before, one that he knew she would never have dared wear publicly. What would people have thought seeing her in such a garment? What would her Father have thought? Again, the smile swept over his face, she made a nervous pirouette, her eyes snapping back to him as she completed the turn.

“Do you like it?”

She spoke in a strained, urgent whisper. He raked her with his eyes, very slowly, very deliberately; she flushed deeply at this but didn't look away and he could see the pleasure she took from it.

“It is magnificent, as are you...”

He was moving as he spoke, gliding across the room to where she stood. Again he did not touch her, motioning instead to the bottle on the table. Her breathing was rough now, as though she had just run up a flight of stairs. She nodded again and he poured a glass of wine. This was the moment, she was ready. He handed her the glass and as she took it he closed his hand around hers. He saw as much as felt the shiver go through her and he steadied the glass as the wine rolled wildly around it. Here it is then, here is my storm. He gently suggested the glass upwards, she drank eagerly and deeply, her eyes closed. As she lowered the glass from her lips he eased it from her hand, placed it back on the table. Her eyes were still closed when he kissed her, gently, no more than a brush of the lips, tasting the dark, rich wine there. He pulled back slightly and her eyes opened, she looked at him for a singular moment and then moved against him, an arm around his neck pulling him towards her. They kissed again and he could feel the hammer of her heart; she hesitated then her mouth opened to his, he touched his tongue to her lips and this time tasted not wine but her. She let out a small moan and then her tongue found his. He slid an arm around her and up to her neck; the other went to the small of her back and pressed her, eversogently, into him. He let her find herself and slowly her kisses became hungrier, more needful. He caught the red swell of her bottom lip softly with his teeth, held it, felt her go still momentarily and then slowly released her, dragging teeth across the top of her lip as he did so. She trembled, her eyes flashed and then she crashed back into him, her hand in his hair now, her kisses nearly frantic.


Her breathing was ragged, her forehead slick as it rested against his, she could feel him now, hard against her, she arched her back, forcing herself against that hardness, looked at him and said it again.


He slid a fingernail down the ties at the back of her dress and they fell apart, she felt his hand against the hot skin of her back and thrilled at it. She shrugged out of the dress and it fell to the floor at her bare feet, she hadn't dared wear shoes for fear of the noise waking someone. She stood there, naked, the dancing light playing across her body.

“Truly magnificent” he breathed and ripped his shirt off.

His hands went to her breasts, sliding round them, thumbs trailing casually across her already hard nipples. She shuddered and he leant in to kiss her again, deeply, his tongue flicking in and out of her mouth. He brought a hand up and traced a line along her jaw as he kissed her and then the ball of his thumb, amazingly soft, was caressing her lips. The sensation was unbearable but she didn't want him to stop, he slipped his thumb between her lips and she sucked on it greedily. His other hand was still at her breast, drawing tender circles there, working it's way in to the nipple which he took between thumb and first and pinched. The fire inside her crackled and roared higher, he squeezed her breast and turning her head began to kiss her neck. She felt his teeth again, nipping lightly here and there. Now her hands began to work, she fumbled at his belt, struggling with it at first and then feeling it loosen and fall away. The buttons at his waist were pulled roughly undone; she slipped a hand inside and felt him almost immediately, he was like iron. He sighed as her hand touched him and eased his trousers the rest of the way off. They stood there entwined in the candlelight for a moment and then he lifted her; he could feel the heat pulsing from the centre of her as she wrapped her legs around him. He turned and half threw her back onto the bed, she was trying to raise herself onto her elbows but he was on her. He was between her legs, forcing them apart, spreading her. He kissed her on the mouth then began to slide down, kissing her neck, her throat. His tongue flicked at her nipples, she arched her back and pulled his head towards her, he sucked at each nipple and she briefly felt him bite down, the pleasure pain lanced through her and another moan escaped. He slid further down, his kisses dancing across her stomach and onto her hips. Suddenly she wanted him to kiss her there, wanted to feel his tongue on her, in her. He kissed her inner thigh, moving up, up, up and then flitting across, past where she wanted him so badly and onto the other leg where it repeated. It was unbearable and she bit down on the scream she could feel growing inside her; twice she thought he would show her mercy, must show her mercy and release her but no. When he finally slid his tongue into the centre of her she couldn't scream, she couldn't do anything, the explosions in her were so intense, so sweetly paralysing. He pushed his tongue further inside her, feeling how wet she was, tasting the sweetness of her. She bucked under him as he slid upwards, through the cleft in her to her secret place; he dragged his tongue slowly across her swollen clit, holding her down now as she writhed under him. He quickened gradually, pressing harder and working faster until his tongue flickered over her. She had a hand buried in his hair, the other was clenched painfully in the sheets; her head rocked back and cords stood out in her neck as she came. She lay there, trembling, gasping for air. Her hand ached and shook as she tried to open it and then he was there, looming over her, casting her in shadow.

She senses the light change even with her eyes closed and opens them, looks, thinks she sees, something, in his face, but no, it is a trick of the light,
(are you sure?)
of her mind,
everything is still deliciously hazy, he is smiling down at her,
(something not right in that smile though…)
kissing her and then.

All thought is gone, washed away in a tumbling, crashing wave of physicality as he thrusts into her. She gasps at the invasion, at the size of him, it is too much, surely she cannot, yet her hips are already, instinctively, rocking back to accommodate, to welcome him into her. Her arms float upwards to his neck, his shoulder, her nails seeking purchase. As if from far away she feels his hand slip under her, tilting her hips further, trying to find a way to the utter centre of her. She feels him withdraw and has time to know that she is changed now, different, irretrievably so before he plunges back into her again. The pinnacle of only moments ago that she thought would never even be matched is suddenly disappearing away in a vertiginous spiral.

There is a low cry in the room and it takes her a moment to realise that she is the one making it as he surges in and out of her. There is an aching roar between her legs now and something else, a molten heat that is throbbing and pulsing it's way into every part of her. She tries to focus, tries to see his face, there was something (wrong) about his face wasn’t there? As if sensing her thoughts he swoops down and kisses her; she curves her neck to meet his lips, unable to resist, each kiss has become a battle and her heart drums its desperate rhythm in her temples. She is incandescent with feeling now, every inch of her seems burnt, impossibly sensitive. He catches her lip with his teeth again.

She feels his teeth close on her lip as before, feels the pressure build, then there is a shining pain and a sudden warmth in her mouth. He pulls back from her and he seems to change, in the purest moment of her pain he seems to shimmer slightly and there is something, something else. It is as though there is another underneath his skin. He sees her see him, see through him and smiles wickedly, there are too many teeth in that smile. He doesn't miss a beat, sliding into her, winding the tempo ever upwards. She opens her mouth to scream and he clamps a hand there, bends close to her ear and whispers tenderly:

“Oh no my love, this is a private moment, just for us is it not?”

There is too much blood in her mouth, his hand has mashed her already punctured lip onto her teeth and there is too much. She finds his face with her eyes, wild with fear, she shows that she understands, agrees. He lifts the hand a little and she drags in air, nearly choking on her own blood as she does so.

Despite everything, despite herself, she starts to feel the beginnings of an unimaginable pleasure. A war rages inside her; mind (horror) and body (pleasure), the two things clashing and snarling savagely together like wild animals trapped in a cage, a cage of her. This the curse then, to know the truth and not be able to stop, to need it too much to be able to stop.


It is a different plea now, the voice small, strangled and smothered by fear.

“please, no, not like this...”

Even as she speaks the words, she feels the apocalyptic climax racing at her. Her body eager for it, craving the explosion. Her mind frozen, terrified of the implosion.

As the moment erupts he speaks to her one last time, the last words she will ever hear, a venomous whisper...

“Our child will be magnificent.”

He rears back and watches it happen. She is a picture of agony and ecstasy entwined. Her beauty is spent and lost, twisted into ugliness by the cruellest of sculptors. The bloody bloom of her lip an exclamation against the faded background of her face.

Even at the end he had deceived; he could be a father, was a father many times over, but not this way. He had a cleaner, faster, more reliable method for that. However, he had been enjoying himself and felt it was the final disgrace, the thing that would break her completely and how right he had been. He knelt on the bed and looked down at her, his creation. Alive only in the poorest sense; he watched the rise and fall of her chest and wondered if her mind still roamed somewhere inside behind the blank, vacant eyes. If it wandered, fractured and lost or if it had simply cast itself out entirely.

He slipped her limp body back into the dress as best he could and pulled the cloak from the chair to drape around her. The cloak's clasp caught on the chair as he lifted it, he didn't feel it come free. It was always the smallest thing he would think to himself later, God truly was in the detail. He had carried her back to her own room moving easily and soundlessly through the old building. After some deliberation he had undressed her and found a nightgown. He left the cloak over a chair and buried the dress at the back of a wardrobe. He left her laid on her side in bed and slipped from the room.

10-22-2009, 12:49 PM

He rose at his usual time, remembering the night's events as he dressed, replaying moments, savouring them a second time. He prepared, readied himself for it like a man about to step out into a raging storm and made his way casually to the main bar. It was everything he had hoped for and more, there were people everywhere, too many for this time and some he had never seen in here before. Misery loves company he thought to himself and everyone loves a tragedy. The whispers washed over him immediately, a fabulously exaggerated melting pot of rumours about what had happened and how it had happened. He eased through the crowd, allowing the words to wash over him as he went

“..cut her own throat, sheets soaked in blood, gallons of..”
“..sez it ain't catchin' of corse. All over sores she got..”
“..was with child and he went mad, beat her to a pulp, lost the..”

He scanned the room as he went, marking the suitors by the door, faces pale, eyes everywhere, grabbing at people, wanting to know what was happening, desperate. His face was a perfect mask of confused concern. Just as he reached the thronged bar he spotted the uncommonly dishevelled form of Levick appear from a side room. He moved towards him and spoke softly,

“Mr Mayor?”
“Wha? Oh, you, I'm sorry, I can't, my daughter, something awful, I can't...”

He was gone again, bustling down the corridor away from Jude who smiled after him before slipping the mask back on and turning toward the crowd once more.

The housekeeper had learned to leave his room until early evening, Jude was in the bar, finishing his dinner. Most of the town had now left and only a few determined souls remained to keep the vigil. Things had returned to a kind of normality, the kitchen was a low hum rather than it's usual angry buzz and the only people drinking were clustered around a table near the door. The suitor's were there, unsurprisingly, they were drinking with a small group that included a giant of a man. He was Herk; Jude had picked out his name, even from their muted conversation.

There was a commotion from somewhere behind the bar and Levick burst into the room, dragging the housekeeper in tow. At the clatter of the door what little conversation there had been at the suitor's table died away. All eyes went to Levick, his eyes were fixed on Jude. A flabby arm stuck out and jabbed an accusatory finger.


The word seemed to hang there in the air between them, as if unsure of what to do next. No-one moved. Jude finished his wine, seemingly unaware of the pressure building in the room. As he set his glass down everything started to life at once. There was a scraping and grating from the door as the suitor's and the others at the table stood up, forcing chairs back. Levick scuttled around the bar, he looked even worse than before, what remained of his hair stood up in random tufts, there was a deep, sickly red in his cheeks and his eyes were crazed.


His arm was out again as if to clarify the point that it was Jude he was referring to. The housekeeper cowered behind him, looking as though she wished she could be anywhere but here. Jude inclined his head and raised his eyebrows inquiringly. This seemed to galvanise Levick and he fished clumsily in his pocket as he began, haltingly, to speak.

“She, this, my daughter's, found, your room... She found this in your room!”

He brandished the clasp from Dawn's cloak at Jude. There were other words, more anger, spittle flew from Levick's lips as he continued to shake the clasp at Jude. Jude was no longer paying attention though, he was calculating. He saw the table by the door in his mind, counted the occupants; he considered the kitchen staff, how many people on the street outside. It was not a question of if he could overcome them, it was whether it was the correct thing to do. Drawing unnecessary attention to himself was a mistake, it was why he usually preferred the big cities. In a city people disappeared all the time, nobody noticed an if they did they didn't care. Levick was still blustering, Jude let him finish.

“...hear me? I demand to know what you have done to my daughter.”
“I'm deeply sorry for whatever has befallen your daughter, whatever that may be, I can assure you I know nothing about it. As for the clasp, I have no idea how it can have come to be in my room, perhaps your housekeeper, ah, 'accidentally' picked it up and then panicked and claimed to have found it in my room?”

Levick momentarily looked as though he might turn on the housekeeper who had gone white at Jude's words. Then he slowly raised the clasp again and spoke slowly, his voice shaking

“This was torn from her cloak, I have seen it myself. This was not thievery. My daughter sits in her room, she does not move, she will not or can not speak, she does not hear my words or feel my touch. I ask you again, what have you done to her?”
“I am, as I said, deeply sorry but I cannot give an answer if I don't know it...”

Levick looked at him for a long time before a voice broke the silence. Ah he thought, here they are 'the suitors', his bonfire boys and weren't they ablaze now, pushed over the edge and out for blood.

“He lies! He was always with her, always talking together they were...”
“That's right, cozy they were, whatever's happened he's had a hand in it...”

As though in a daze Levick turned to the two boys, as if seeing them for the first time, trying to place them. He waved an arm vaguely in the direction of the upper rooms.

“You two, you...care for my daughter, my Dawn?”

One of the suitor's nodded and suddenly found something of great interest in an area by his shoes, the other spoke again.

“Begging your pardon Sir but yes, she has my heart, it's true.”

He blushed furiously but kept his head up. Levick stood there, he looked thinner somehow, as if someone had let the air out of him. He seemed hollow, distracted.

“Thank you, thank you, I, er, that is, if you would like to, as you, ah, care. If you want to help. Herk?”
“'Ere Sir”
“Herk, this man has stolen from me, I want you to, to...”
“The tree Sir?”
“What? Oh, yes, yes, the tree...”

Levick turned and walked from the room.

As they heaved him into the back of the cart he thought that things has gone reasonably well. This way he would have some privacy to work in, they were bringing his horse along for him and if he was honest he was curious about the tree.

10-26-2009, 01:08 AM

“I'm sorry, I hate to interrupt but did you say 'sunup'?”

The voice was quiet but strong, there was a hint of curiosity in it and something else as well, excitement perhaps? Even a sense of laughter being held just under the surface, held but threatening to bubble up at any time. It was disquietingly out of place. They had been standing around in a rough circle by the horses drinking from the small barrel that had been brought along for exactly this moment. All the 'work' was done and they were now taking their reward and having a friendly wager on when the first birds would arrive to 'investigate' the stranger. They fell silent, words crumbling from lips half finished. They were suddenly very aware of the stillness surrounding them. Eyes flicked to eyes as each man looked to the others to see who had spoken. In their hearts they knew it had come from outside the circle but equally they knew that it couldn't have done. There was only the stranger and he had passed out from the pain some time ago. He was out cold, he was almost certainly done for, he was...looking at them with his head to one side, the way a hawk looks at a nest of baby mice.

Something was very wrong, Herk turned to follow the wide eyed, open mouthed gazes of the two men stood opposite him, facing the tree. The three mugs of homebrew in him should have been keeping him nicely warm but there was a disturbing chill spreading from his gut, seeping into his arms and legs. He looked at the man he had just nailed to the Thieves Tree and the chill reached his head, settling just behind his eyes. The stranger looked back serenely, head still tilted to one side, as if to say 'well?'

"Wha..?" was all Herk managed to drag together and shove out of his mouth.

"I was just enquiring..."

It wasn't a noise you can adequately explain; there was a faint squalling as the spike through his left wrist first protested then shuddered slightly as it jerked forward, out of the tree, about an inch. Mostly though it was as if someone was pulling a boot out of thick mud. His left arm came free of the spike in a rush and he held it up to his face as if examining a new set of cuff-links. Herk saw his eye through the hole, it glittered diabolically then the man winked at him, slowly and very deliberately. It had an energising effect on Herk, some of the ice that had been threatening to beset him fell away.


Herk's roar was almost a physical thing. His assistants moved as if they had been whipped, they both jumped for the cart at the same time, collided, twirled together like drunks and then finally one of them extricated himself, scrabbled in the cart and groaned with effort as he lifted the hammer over the side.

"..as to whether.."

another of those deeply unpleasant syrupy gurgles followed as the right arm came free. Herk was an uncomplicated man, he did not, in fact, care for complications at all. Yet here was a huge complication right in front of him, it was bending sinuously to almost casually pluck out the spike that had, until recently, been buried into the tree through both ankles. The complication straightened up, examined the bloody spike briefly and looked at Herk once again.

"..you fine gentlemen had mentioned 'sunup' a moment ago?"

He flicked a thumb at the heavy rope around his waist, currently the only thing still holding him to the tree, it spiralled away into strands at the point of contact as though it had been cut with a razor.

"You see, I'm afraid that I really can't..."


"...be here for that. Which means, unfortunately, that neither will any of you."

He leapt lightly down from the tree.

Herk's assistant stumbled into the big man and heaved the hammer up at him with shaking arms. Herk looked down, took the hammer easily in a giant, calloused hand. Feeling like he was in a dream he strode towards the stranger who now stood by the tree and appeared to be waiting to welcome Herk like a host at a dinner party. Herk picked up speed as he covered the ground between them, the proverbial rolling stone. The hammer rose, catching the moonlight on it's heavy metal face. He was screaming as he brought his arm down; meaning to pound the man into the earth as though he was a post, meaning to crush this complication, once and for all. Jude took the slightest step back with his right foot, flicked his eyes up at the hammer and almost languidly caught Herk's arm at the wrist as it came down. Herk's scream became an odd, breathy 'Ooof' as his feet briefly left the ground. Jude extended his right arm, palm out, like a footman stopping a carriage, into Herk's chest. It was an eerie movement, freakish in it's speed and apparent lack of effort. At the same time his left hand clamped down cruelly on Herk's wrist and there was another one of those grotesquely wet, tearing sounds. Herk's body flew backwards and thumped into the dirt five feet away. It slid a further two feet and was still. Jude casually tossed Herk's right arm, hammer still clenched in it's massive fist to one side. He stepped towards the remaining men.

The two assistants were rooted, they had both worked with Herk for years, in which time he had repeatedly performed what they considered to be extraordinary feats of strength. Now he lay in the dust in front of them, his arm gone, wide eyes staring blindly up at the moon. His blood, free of it's human prison, explored its brave new world in an ever expanding pool. They looked up together in a comical double take as they realised the man was now somehow behind them. He spun and flowed backwards between them, one arm trailing over a shoulder of each man. He leaned forward, willowy and serpentine, his arms slid around and under each neck. He straightened in a whip-crack of movement and the two pops as both necks gave way seemed terribly amplified in the silence. After all this too was a dance, one he had long since mastered.

A third report, louder than the first two, followed almost immediately and Jude, still holding the now lifeless bodies, looked down at his chest. A small black circle had appeared in his shirt, a tiny pillar of smoke wreathed up from it before a trickle of blood oozed out. He looked up and across the huge mound that had been Herk, to where one of the suitors stood. He was frozen in tableau, a pistol in his hand and a twisted mix of hope and despair on his face. Jude half smiled at the man, the way a benevolent Uncle would look upon a Nephew digging lumps out of his prize lawn. He unfolded his arms and the bodies fell into crumpled heaps either side of him. The shooter was frantically reloading as his friend struggled desperately to free a pistol from his jacket; Jude smiled to himself, it was an ageless, nauseatingly empty thing. He ambled over to them and swatted at the shooter who disappeared backwards. The other suitor made one final, galvanic effort to free his pistol, there was the sound of cloth tearing and then Jude slipped against him. He wrapped an arm around the boy, pinning his gun arm to his side. Grabbing a handful of hair he pulled his head to one side, exposing the neck. He gorged himself, feeling the first twitch as his teeth pierced skin and then riding the subsequent convulsions. The sound of the shot was a distant thing, unimportant, but as he let the desiccated body fall he noted with a bloody grin the smoking hole in the boy's right foot. He let the blood course through him for a moment, he never tired of that feeling of newness, of rebirth. He turned; the remaining boy had cracked his skull on a rock when he landed and was mumbling incoherently, his useless pistol knocked from his hand. Jude peered down at him and shook his head in mock sadness,

“You should be more forgiving of others my boy, it's the Christian way after all.”

This time he did tip a wink skywards.

“I seem to recall you saying something on the subject of dearest Dawn back in town. Now, what was it? Oh yes, you said that she had your heart, well, shall we see?”

Jude dropped to his knees astride the boy who chose that particularly unfortunate moment to regain a semblance of understanding. He saw the nails on Jude's hand shimmer as he brought his fingers tightly together, then the hand sliced vertically down into his chest and he knew no more. Jude felt his knuckles grate against the ribcage and twisted his hand clockwise, keylike. The ribs splintered apart and with a not entirely false joy he exclaimed:

“Thank the Lord, you're fine! She didn't take it after all, look, here it is...”

The crow alighted on an upper branch of the Thieves Tree well before dawn. It was blackness itself, the sky seemed to pale in comparison or rather the bird seemed to drain the darkness from the sky. An obsidian eye gazed in mild curiosity at the scene below; the horses, the cart, the scattered bodies; none of whom appeared to be sleeping. Only one figure moved, rising from over one prone body with something in his hand, something red. The man stood, stepped easily over the body and began to walk towards the horses.

The crow cawed and sound crashed across the field, shattering the silence. He spun, it was a thing of instinct and impossible speed, the edges of him seemed to blur briefly then his eyes locked onto the bird. A smile that was part snarl twisted across the bloody smear of his mouth and he bowed theatrically.

“Until next time..?”

It was half question, half statement. The crow, motionless, stared impassively down at him, watched him turn back towards the horses, mount the larger of the two and ride off. Moments later it fluttered from the tree like a huge dead leaf and settled on Herk's chin; his dead eyes gleamed up at it, briefly.