Tabitha Grey, monster hunter

This is a follow-up book sample to an older post starring Tabitha, the supernatural star of my upcoming sci-fi novel. In a post-apocalyptic world where alien spiders have all but killed off humanity, one woman survives by a billion-to-one chance: her body has adapted to the alien venom she was injected with, and it’s started to give her some very strange powers. Her metallic hands and newfound strength are a match for the alien spiders lurking in her home town, but she’ll soon encounter an altogether more terrifying threat…

The rain spat down cold and hard, lashing against broken windows and tumbling down them in paper-thin waterfalls. For one sudden second, lightning struck the whole world blind. Thunder followed right after, filling the tomb-grey sky. The toppled buildings of the city in the distance turned the horizon into jagged concrete teeth. Tabitha walked on alone down the street, pulling the hood down further over her wet and shadowed face. On either side of her the abandoned cars lay dead and mangled. They had been parked through lamp posts, bus stops, walls and one another. They’d been given the fastest five minutes of their lives down the road out of town, hitting speeds they’d been built for but never dreamt of, only to be ploughed into obstacles by drivers senseless with fear. Here and there Tabitha saw bite marks in the cars’ bodywork. The marks were scraping gouges, twisted and torn out of side panels and roofs. Molten metal had been drooled around the bite marks and set hard like solder. One car’s bonnet had been torn half off. The car bled oil down the road. Looking into the dark cavity, something had gorged itself on half the engine block. The alien’s fading motor-oil footprints led off up the road ahead, into the heart of the toppled city. But these footprints weren’t the small, neat, countless dots of spidery feet that she’d expected. They were big, heavy, clawed, brutal. Bigger than both her feet pressed together. They were the footprints of a predator.

   The city was a stinking grey tomb. Tabitha smelled drains overflowing. The leaden sky gave everything a mood, and the rain pummelled any peace out of the scene. Whatever buildings weren’t toppled and lying dead on the road were cracked and shattered where they stood; crumbled and half-demolished into ragged standing shells. There weren’t any spiders here – it looked like they’d been and gone long ago. There was nothing here, street after street, and that’s what spooked her the most. A city centre should never have nothing in it, she thought, even if it was half-destroyed. Wispy tufts of grass had grown up in the cracks all over the road, and were bent and dripping in the rain. Plastic bottles and wrappers still filled the city streets, browned and sullied in the rain-soaked mud of brick dust that coated everything. Looking around at the rubble of civilisation, part of her wished she’d seen it all come down. She’d always believed that some part of human nature drove them to watch things go horribly wrong. But there had been no great last stand here; no tragic battlefield, or fallen monument to the defiant human spirit. Her first glimpse of humanity took the same form as it had in her own town – a rotten empty skin on a doorstep, caught by the spiders and drained out dry.
   The square in the city centre was a vast open space with a huge statue at its centre; enclosed by towering shops and offices, half of which still stood upright. But nothing seemed to live here. Here and there, a greying human skin flapped in the wind, or lay half-buried in the thin coat of mud that covered the pavements. She tried not to look at their stretched rubber-mask faces, contorted in hole-eyed screams. She tried not to look at their soaking tangles of hair, hanging in clumps from decaying scalps, on heads creased and crumpled like popped balloons. She tried not to think about how humanity could be reduced to empty wrappers, to blow and soak and rot amongst their plastic bags and soiled newspapers. Her next footstep was slippery and soft. She didn’t look down; she couldn’t. The square was carpeted in muddy grey skins, laid out and overlapping like fallen cardboard cut-outs. A sea of skin. It was the small skins that caught her eye though; they made her stare. And the very small skins. She felt the warm sting of tears once she’d noticed the very small skins. She looked up and kept on walking, had to keep on walking. She wiped the tears from her eyes so she could see her way. She had to find whatever had done this. She wanted to let it know that it had missed one. She wanted to make it wish that it hadn’t come to this world.
   Through the world-filling whisper of the rain, Tabitha heard a noise. Thunder split and broke overhead like a god growling, but that wasn’t what she’d heard. What she’d heard sounded like a car crash, around the next street corner and off down the road.

   She didn’t make out its shape at first. It was only when it drooled glowing molten metal as it fed that she noticed it, sprawled out and gripping close to the side of the city tram, like it was making love to it. Its molten slather beaded and slopped from its mouth and hit the wet road in a hissing cloud of steam. Its white eyes stared at the sky, unblinking, while it shredded sheet metal and devoured it with grinding black jaws. Everything about it was black and heaving. It swallowed its mouthful of molten metal so loudly that Tabitha heard it up the road. Some kind of exhaust jutted out of its back then, a glowing growth that hissed and sighed a great jet of steam. The monster’s rubbery black metal body gleamed in the rain and the grey daylight, dripping and hulking as it dropped down to the road and rested. Suddenly its head snapped around in her direction, white eyes staring. She’d hidden behind a half-eaten taxi, its bodywork covered in messy welding where the creature had bitten and slobbered. She peered around from the wheel arch – looking through the doorless back door, through the taxi’s torn-open front, to where the alien stood in the distance. It hadn’t moved; it hadn’t turned its head. It was just staring, eyes glowing like fairy lights, staring down the road for any sign of the intruder. Tabitha didn’t dare breathe.

   Her legs had cramped up. She didn’t know how long it had been; it felt like an hour at least. The thing hadn’t moved; frozen like a watching statue, staring down the road, dripping in the never-ending rain. Tabitha was freezing; she couldn’t take this any more. But she couldn’t face it either. Her hard hands may have been enough to dent those silvery spiders, but not this thing. Its own hands were huge; black and clawed and cruel. It was bigger than a bear. It could crush her, skin her, vomit molten steel over her… whatever it was going to do if it found her, she wouldn’t be able to fight it. Now she understood why the city was empty – everything had to run from it. Or try to. And still it stared into the distance; unmoving, unblinking, just breathing in the rain.
   Tabitha wasn’t sure how long it had been. She couldn’t feel her feet any more, and she’d never thought that she could shiver so much. Still the thing hadn’t moved; hadn’t come to look for her. She couldn’t take it any more. Tabitha reached into the back door of the taxi and pulled out a shard of glass, and getting a good grip on it she sent it spinning up overhead, high over the creature, and it shattered on the road behind it. Tabitha watched it wide-eyed from behind the taxi. As soon as it turned away to search down the road, Tabitha was up and running. Instantly she regretted it; her cramping legs wobbled and stumbled beneath her. You idiot! You stupid woman! She said to herself, dragging herself up from the pavement to run on numb feet, looking over her shoulder down the road. The creature still had its back turned, prowling down the road. Suddenly it swung its huge arms and flung a car across the street in search of her. Tabitha stuck to the kerb, where the cars and bins could hide her while she put some distance between her and it. The thing glanced back up the street and turned away again; she hid behind a bin in the middle of the pavement. She couldn’t just run – she was far away from it now, but there was a clear line of sight down the road. It would chase her down. Instead, she looked over to her right, to the door of an old pub that was hanging open. She didn’t care who or what might be inside – it couldn’t have been worse than being hunted out here. The thing turned again to look back up the street, but Tabitha had already darted inside the open door of the pub.
   It was dark in here, very dark. She was glad. She made straight for the bar, hiding away behind it. She’d hesitated at first when she saw a figure, but it was just her reflection in the mirrored wall behind the bar. She sat down on the floor and pressed her back against the wood, facing the fridges, facing away from the front door. It was a solid old bar, made of good, strong, dark wood. She told herself this as if it mattered, as if it would protect her. There just had to be something big and solid and safe between her and that… thing. She was so frightened she could hardly think. The only thought in her head was an instinct – hide. The only sound was her heavy breathing; the patter of the rain outside. And then, a pounding on the road. Footsteps. And a sound like sniffing, deep and hungry. Tabitha peered around the bar, and saw white eyes in the half-open doorway. She heard a heavy panting, massive and furious. Tabitha pressed her back against the wood of the bar where she sat, and clutched her grey metal hand to her mouth. She prayed to whatever gods were up there, whatever cosmic forces had anything to do with anything, that she wouldn’t hear the sound. The sound of a heavy foot creaking on the floorboards inside the doorway. The sound of death coming for her… The floorboards creaked. Tabitha felt her chest pounding. Everything sped up and slowed down at once, and fresh adrenaline surged every time the creaking footsteps drew closer to the bar. Tabitha looked up from the floor, eyes wide with terror, as the wooden bar-top creaked and groaned under the weight of a gigantic black hand. The smell of burning wood filled her head as the alien drooled molten metal down on the bar, peering right over Tabitha’s head at its reflection in the large mirror. Tabitha watched its white eyes in the mirror, drifting as it swayed its head, figuring out the image of itself. She watched its reflection look down at her, hiding behind the bar. She saw its white-circle eyes shrink to murderous dots. The last thing it saw was a blinding white cloud, as Tabitha emptied the fire extinguisher into its face. She crawled out from behind the bar as the monster smashed it to splintered pieces, roaring and spitting red-hot metal. Blinded, the creature spun and pounced on the spot where it heard her footsteps, demolishing the floorboards. Tabitha bolted out of the door and off up the street, back the way she’d come, back to the square. There was a dust-cloud explosion behind her as the thing burst out of the brick wall, roaring and blind, punching a car into wreckage. But she was already far up the street, looking back at the huge black thing thrashing around on the road, colliding into cars and walls in an unseeing rage. She had to get away from here, out of the city.
   She stopped running when she reached the square, and looked around her. The greying skins soaked in the mud beneath her feet; countless corpses, stretching on forever. She saw the small skins too, and the very small skins. Far down the street she saw the black monster, clawing at the blinding foam on its eyes, but only managing to smear it around. That thing had so many lives to answer for, and she’d managed to trick it and trap it. Maybe it was time the aliens learned something about humanity’s talent for vengeance. Tabitha clenched her metal fists, gritted her teeth, and started walking down the road back towards it.
   ‘Ready when you are.’

 

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Tabitha novel: Tabitha goes shopping

Tabitha had a good view of the city from the top of the motorway bridge. The whipping wind blew the smell of human shit up from the sewage treatment works down below. Off to her left sprawled a consumers’ paradise, a roofed shopping centre the size of a town.

There was no sign that the creatures had come here; but then there weren’t any cars here either. Trudging through acres of car park as the sun rose, Tabitha pushed her red hair from her eyes and squinted at the far entrance to the shopping centre. Huge, heavy shutters stood solid behind the glass doors. There was no sign of entry, no evidence of looters. The place seemed to have been locked up one night and never opened again. Tabitha willed her hands to become black alien metal, cold and clawed. She slammed her fist into the locked glass doors, slipping in through dented metal and cracking shattered glass beneath her boots. Looking at either wall she spied a red light flashing on a little box. Rather than set the alarm off by forcing the steel shutters up, she punched a black fist through them and tore a jagged door for herself. She bent the steel back into place behind her as best she could and realised she was still the cautious type, superpowers or not.

She was a dust-darkened wanderer in a pristine white palace, as bright and silent as heaven. The shopping centre was spotless, untouched, a temple to everything the creatures didn’t need. The place was colossal, a roofed city. Tabitha stood before a large map telling her that She Was Here, and studied it carefully even though she’d been here a dozen times before. Perhaps the place felt so alien now, she thought, that the shops could have moved around somehow. Over on one side of the centre lay a gigantic food hall. On the far side, past fake streets lined with shops, stood a courtyard with an artificial sky. Her stomach growled at the prospect of real food, and she set her heart on the burger place.

Escalators lay frozen as she passed by streets of shuttered shops. Daylight gleamed against unsullied shop windows, pristine and spiderless. A giant fountain stood motionless, its pool of water still as a mirror. Beneath the surface she spied a hundred tossed coins, and thought how they’d never mean anything again.

‘Hello?’ she said into the empty white around her. She didn’t know why; she knew no one was there. Maybe she just needed to hear a voice, after a week of solid silence.

‘What did you wish for?’ she said, sitting on the edge of the fountain and looking at the nearest coin beneath the water. It was only when she couldn’t pick the coin up from the bottom that she realised she still wore alien hands. She fumbled with the coin edges, but it was useless. These were hands for killing, hard and brutal. It was strange how much more comfortable they felt than her own. She pulled her black claw from the clear water, and felt sorry that she’d even rippled the surface. The coins’ owners were dead now. She could at least leave their wishes to rest in peace.

Tabitha sequel: opening scene

I’m currently working on my sci-fi novel Tabitha, a follow-up to my short story of the same name. Here’s a sneak preview at the (experimental) opening scene…

Lindsey watched the bustle of New York rush past outside the cafe, arms crossed, wishing she was somewhere else. Like back in Adam’s apartment, wearing nothing but his bedsheets.

‘I don’t understand you sometimes.’ said Greg, leaning towards her across the table. After four years together, she said to herself, he’s finally hit the nail on the head.

‘You enjoy this.’ he concluded, giving up and sitting back, sipping his coffee. ‘You enjoy getting into these arguments. Why should I even try to make things up with you?’ God, how she hated the smell of his coffee breath. He slurped it too. Every single time, well almost every single time. He was a slurper.

‘I enjoy it?’ Lindsey snapped back, looking away from the neverending crowd of passers-by outside. ’So why am I the one who has to patch things up again?’ she said, lowering her raised voice to a harsh whisper as a man by the bar looked over. Neither of them believed in airing their laundry in public.

‘Look, I’m sick of wondering about this.’ said Greg, pausing, chewing over the words in his head. ‘Is there someone else?’ Lindsey felt a hot rush like her blood had turned to molten lead. Something twisted in her stomach. She couldn’t find the words. Just what was her thing with Adam, anyway? Could she rely on him to move her into his apartment? Or was she just a toy to him? She lost track of time in her silence. How long had it been since he’d asked her the question? Was it a couple of seconds ago, or a couple of minutes? …Why not just tell him?

‘Greg, I  –

Something shot through the window like a golf ball. The cups and plates rattled as Lindsey’s head hit the table, steaming and bleeding.
‘Lindsey!’ he shouted, jumping up from his seat. He leaned her back; she was dead. A few feet away, a meterorite had buried itself in the vinyl floor tiles in a tiny smoking crater. Shreds of Lindsey’s scalp were dotted around the floor beside it. No sooner did Greg look around for some kind of help, something to make sense of this, than the yellow taxi parked outside exploded, slamming passers-by against the walls and windows.

‘What the hell’s going on!?’ screeched the waitress behind the counter. Everyone ducked down as the cafe floor shook beneath their feet. Outside was a hailstorm, an assault of mach-speed rocks. The blue sky was filled with shooting stars. One roared out of nowhere and tore through an office block across the street, sending a mountain of stone and brick dust crashing down onto the busy sidewalk below. The streets filled with screams against a chorus of rumbles and bangs. The air filled with dust and flames. All across the city, black smoke twisted into the sky. Across the bridge, a skyscraper fell to its knees as a meteor ploughed through it. The whale-sized rock bounced and tumbled through city streets in a cloud of dust and death, like God had tossed a marble. The skyscraper crumpled into a dust storm, and the blocks beneath its fallout disappeared.

The whole world was wounded. There was more disaster than the news could hope to report, until TV transmissions blinked out one by one. Today was the day the sky fell. Beyond it, black ships waited in the stars.

 

About my blog

Welcome to my own weird patch of the internet, a floating island among a billion more adrift in an ink-cloud ocean sky. Fiction’s my hearthfire, my addiction, that hot red lightning bolt called ‘purpose’ you sometimes feel in your chest. When I’ve had nothing else, I’ve had words to read and more to write. So I bought myself this allotment to grow my words, some far-flung patch of virtual dirt in the back of beyond where the trees are twisted and black. If anyone happens to read this, please let me know what you think of my stuff. It’s the only way I’ll get better at writing, and it’ll stop me talking to myself.

Well now. Stories. What are they? Stories are the Big Thing. We think in stories. We talk in stories, dream in stories, order and direct our lives by shaping stories in our heads. Stories turn rumours into legends, radical thinkers into gods. We put our favourite people and things they’ve done into mental montages; editing out the bad times and the boredom and leaving only the choicest cuts. Our memories aren’t files in a cabinet but seeds in a twisted garden. Left alone they grow unchecked in the weather of mood and the sunlight of imagination. One day you’ll go back to a long-lost memory and find it mangled, altered, better and worse than you remember; bigger and bolder and further away. You’ve turned something real into a story, people into characters, everyday events into epics because that’s how your mind likes to work. In essence, our brains are wired towards stories. News, gossip, fiction, non-fiction; movies, celebrities, consumer goods and games. Everything that appeals is built on stories, or helps to build them more. Stories aren’t just what make the world go round, they’re what gives us our idea of the world at all.

Anyway, have a look over some of the stitched-together cack-handed garbage I call my writing and let me know what you think. Who knows, with enough feedback I might even start making sense one day. Stranger things have happened.

Empire

Brass tanks steam-punked over vast dead land. Heaving and hauling they mauled and came crawling; clattering mud-spattered death. Half-shrouded in grey lazy fumes, they dragged their sulphur-stench smokewall behind them. The steel-slab chainlinks in their mud-caked tracks clank-clank-clanked into grey forever, crushing trenchman and horse corpse alike. Their enemies felt the cold wind and had no fight, and danced and jumped at the screaming lead in their meat, and lay down in the mud to look without seeing at the big white sky.

The tanks never stopped. No Man’s Land was a crawl in the park. Machine gun bullets that could murder a million only bounced off their armour in fairy-dust sparks. The shining hulks trampled all, and stamped and crumpled what was left. Leaving trails of mile-long gouges in the mud they punched their victory into the field, and turned their guns on civilisation. Their finely-wrought cannons cracked-vicious and spat death. The town toppled like sandcastles. Screams of life extinguished are hard to hear beneath the god-roar of guns. It helped the men in the tanks pretend it was only buildings they were killing. Another town reeled and tumbled at the shots, another patch of Empire freshly won.

‘Tabitha’ novel: the aliens

A filthy woman dug for food in the rubble of Earth. A city lay in ruins all around her; a concrete graveyard, a grey desolation. She thought herself well-hidden but the shapes stalked her from fallen walls and blown-out windows, silent as death, crawling close. Steel flashed and jutted, and a spidery silver plant punched one sudden, silent stab in her leg. The woman kicked and ran; looking back with shaking vision and jarring panicked thoughts as the pack of chittering killer things chased her down, leapt upon her limbs and weighed her down onto the road. She struggled soundlessly as they wrestled and stabbed. She slumped and gargled as they injected her. Alien fluid coursed through her, liquefying living muscle and bone. The spiders drank her contents out, left her empty skin blowing down the road in the wind.

Across the world on a sun-bleached plain, a man spied a black shape in the distance. An alien predator. He knew there was no running from it; no one could ever run from it. A dust cloud rose behind it as it galloped towards him. He took up his gun and let rip, rattling every round into it. They punched through its rubbery metal skin, but did nothing to slow the monster down. Within seconds it was on him; pulled his head apart to lick out the gold fillings in his teeth. It bit the buckle off his belt and crushed the gun down into its red-hot mouth. Then it dropped the body, and kicking up another dust cloud, it was gone.

In the established alien hives of North America, the lanky black lurkers walked out from the Potomac River. There were few of them; they were the upper order. Scuttling silver spiders paused and backed away; hulking predators ground to a halt and bowed as their masters stalked by. They had come to the humans’ white palace, where their leader had been closed away in his room of command. The predator guarding the man-leader’s door let its masters through. The lurkers looked around constantly at such alien surroundings, wondering how such a race could ever function. There were no solar cells on the walls, no wind turbines on the roof. Nothing in these human hives created energy; they only sapped it away.

The human leader himself was weak and afraid, unable to strengthen himself with sunlight, water or wind. It was reported that the humans had to digest other organisms to survive, like the lower orders of life on their homeworld. Such inefficiency sickened the lurkers; this was a planet so much larger and more plentiful than anything they’d ever dreamt of. It was a paradise, and it was diseased by humans. Here their race could flourish, and explore other distant worlds. The humans’ leader was making pleading sounds. It was a vocal communication, much like their own, but like the humans’ bodies their speech was flimsy and inefficient. The lurkers gathered around him, and wondered why they’d ever asked for him to be left alive. There was no great secret to the hairless apes, no higher knowledge that they possessed. They were intelligent and aggressive, like themselves; but the humans were the poorer player, and they would lose. They even fought amongst themselves, destroying one another. They were redundant, a failed mutation, adept at reproducing but completely unsustainable. It was best for them to be removed from the ecosystem. The animals they’d bred to consume would be freed; the crops they’d farmed would grow wild again. The lurkers would preside over a world of peace, where no living thing died before its time. There was much to learn from a planet that enjoyed such long days; such strong sunlight. Their own race was stronger here than on their homeworld; happier and more productive, breeding in half the time. Earth was a paradise. The lurkers had nothing to gain from prolonging the life of the human leader. The tallest amongst them came forward, lifted the human into the air by its neck, and blew it apart with a bolt of light.

‘Tabitha’ Short Story Preview

Below you can read Tabitha’s debut short story (I’m currently working on the sequel as a novel):

In a rainy seaside town, where the rows of houses stand tall and thin, lives a writer whose stories make no money at all. She sits before a brand new computer by the whistling window of her top-floor study, overlooking the cold grey sea. She sips her tea. Scalds her tongue. She’s given up smoking but holds her pen like a cigarette. She checks herself then places the surrogate cigarette back on the desk. A nicotine-starved synapse causes her eyelid to shudder. Her cat leaps up and struts across the keyboard then sits on the far side of the desk. She stares at her cat’s writing:

.;iudxs z\

Tabitha taps the Caps Lock off again and slouches with a huff. It’s 11:04. It’d be high time for a cupcake or a muffin with the ladies, if she still had a job. She puts that massive, crushing thought from her mind with a small shake of the head and focuses her attention back on the text on the screen in its entirety:

Once

.;iudxs z\

She’d opened this new text document when the sun was rising over the sea. She’d felt inspired and began to write. Hours on, she’s just watched her cat casually beat her character count. She sits back and lifts the large mug of steaming tea carefully to her mouth again, forgetting her sore tongue. She burns her lip. A falling trickle of tea patters down, turns the crotch of her light-grey tracksuit trousers into a black piss patch.

Then comes another power cut. Mains electricity has never met with the full approval of this house. The computer’s gentle fan dies. The screen fades to black with a helpless tut. Her morning’s work, unsaved, is gone forever. That could have been the Once that started a bestseller. Once again cruel fate had conspired to thwart her chances of fame and fortune.

Tabitha sees her grim, hedge-haired reflection in the black computer screen. Rain is blowing in from the sea. She stands up and pushes the chair away with her bum. With shuffling slippered feet she carefully carts the huge mug of tea downstairs, while the cat tries to get under her feet every step of the way. He is hungry. The lights in the house flicker and come back on.

The salty scent of bacon fills the kitchen. Both well-fed and sleepy, the cat and his human snooze on the couch to the gentle patter of the pouring rain.

Meanwhile a thin film on the computer screen melts, rolls off the desk in a glassy ball and puddles in a corner of the room. It sinks invisibly into the carpet and with the quietest electronic chirrup a tiny grey shoot sprouts from the floor. The sound is just enough for the cat to stir, ears raised. As he jumps down from Tabitha’s stomach she wakes with a gentle start.

All afternoon the metallic shoot takes in the sunlight that has emerged from the grey clouds, and produces pulsing little lights on tiny fibrous branches. Its presence being neither intriguing nor frustrating to the cat, it has been left unharmed. Its rapid alien growth in the corner of the room goes unnoticed by Tabitha. She sips fresh tea and watches the sunlight sprawl over the ocean, slouching all afternoon before the bright glow of her blank-paged computer screen.

A spider meanwhile spends all afternoon in the bathroom scaling the inside of the aged, grandiose bathtub by frantically picking out, with trial and much error, the rougher patches of the worn enamel surface. By sundown its legs tap against the rim of the bath.

A seagull sits on the weathered, endless metal railing on the seafront. Behind it, across the road, a light in the top window of a town house glows warmly in the gathering dusk. Inside, a crazy-haired lady sits at her computer with her head in her hands. She hears some idiots on the street below, shouting and fighting and screaming, probably drunk. She loses her train of thought. Thankfully they run on down the street, giving Tabitha back her beloved silence.

In the bathroom the cat stares momentarily at a fresh hairball before pawing the spider as it scuttles across the rim of the bathtub. The spider drops and quickly curls up to receive a batting around the lino floor. It gets briefly mangled in the dribbling depth of the cat’s mouth, and coughed out to die in a corner.

Up the second staircase in the study Tabitha suddenly sits up and taps away at her computer:

Once upon a time a

Hesitating, she slumps back in her chair with a huff of defeat. The cat wanders in unnoticed, puffs up in fright at the thing in the corner, and makes a swift exit. Where a small grey shoot sprang up from the carpet this morning there is now a large metallic plant, sitting spidery in the shadowed corner of the room. It extends a sinewy, synthetic arm silently across the room towards the back of Tabitha’s head. Slouching in her chair, Tabitha types something and then deletes it again. The skewer-tipped limb stretches and sways behind her, serpentine, aims for the top of her neck. It tenses up, coils back, springs out silently. Tabitha suddenly kicks the chair back and walks out in search of her vibrator, yawning like a foghorn. Unsuccessful, the murderous plant attempts to wrench its barbed spike quietly from the back of the chair. The cat comes back in and watches it cautiously from the door. Once free of the chair, the plant folds its long arm back up inside, sags with newborn exhaustion and opens up several metallic leaves to absorb the growing moonlight. Its tiny lights flicker out while it recharges. The cat stalks around it, approaches, gives it a careful sniff here and there, and bats it with a paw. The plant remains motionless. It is too hard to pluck or chew and smells of not very much, and is therefore of very little interest just now. The cat resolves to play with the plant’s extendable arm in the future, when the opportunity presents itself.

Tabitha sleeps peacefully that night in her double bed, sprawled out with the newfound freedom of one who is no longer kicked or groped by a snoring boyfriend. Down the street, the cat strides along a garden wall and thinks about sex. In Tabitha’s bathroom, a silverfish taps the spider’s hunched corpse with its antennae. In the study the alien plant folds up its leaves, uproots itself from the floorboards and scuttles its sleek metallic form down the stairs to the large landing. Tabitha’s closed bedroom door thwarts it. It scrambles gently, soundlessly against the door for hours. The tall gap beneath the solid door can accommodate its limbs, but they flap around redundantly and soon withdraw. Tabitha begins to snore, blissfully unaware. The plant slinks downstairs to explore the distant drone of the fridge.

Sunrise over the sea front. The seagulls are calling already. The cat sits on the living room window ledge and watches them keenly, making short sharp meows. His head darts back and forth to follow their flight, his pinprick pupils staring in the bright dawn. Tabitha, fresh from the shower and towel-clad, pads barefoot into the kitchen and makes a bowl of cereal. She smoothes her wet hair over her shoulder and dusts her cereal with extra sugar, flicks the kettle on and leans against the worktop. The alien plant crawls silently from the cupboard behind her and across the wall, and squats its arachnoid mass in the corner of the ceiling over her head. It extends its spiked limb, like a jagged knitting needle on a draftsman’s lamp, while its several small lights focus their attention on the top of her wet neck. Silently, so silently, it moves its clawed feet around for optimum positioning on the ceiling. It moves one leg, then another, then another. Soft as petals it lowers two arms to join the spike, ready to grip her temples before it punctures the base of her skull. Tabitha waits for the kettle and stares at the floor in a bleary-eyed haze, oblivious.

To be continued…

Find out what becomes of Tabitha in Tales of the Strange and Grim, my collection of short stories. It’s available now as a Kindle ebook for 77p or $1.16, and is free to borrow from the lending library for members of Amazon Prime.

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Tabitha Sequel: Quick Sample

The rain spat down cold and hard, lashing against broken windows and tumbling down them in paper-thin waterfalls. For one sudden second, lightning struck the whole world blind. Thunder followed right after, filling the tomb-grey sky. The toppled buildings of the city in the distance turned the horizon into jagged concrete teeth. Tabitha walked on alone down the street, pulling the hood down further over her wet and shadowed face. On either side of her the abandoned cars lay dead and mangled. They had been parked through lamp posts, bus stops, walls and one another. They’d been given the fastest five minutes of their lives down the road out of town, hitting speeds they’d been built for but never dreamt of, only to be ploughed into obstacles by drivers senseless with fear. Here and there Tabitha saw bite marks in the cars’ bodywork. The marks were scraping gouges, twisted and torn out of side panels and roofs. Molten metal had been drooled around the bite marks and set hard like solder. One car’s bonnet had been torn half off. The car bled oil down the road. Looking into the dark cavity, something had gorged itself on half the engine block. The alien’s fading motor-oil footprints led off up the road ahead, into the grey heart of the toppled city. But these footprints weren’t the small, neat, countless dots of spidery feet that she’d expected. They were big, heavy, clawed, brutal. Bigger than both her feet pressed together. They were the footprints of a predator.

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Thanks to everyone for their interest in Tabitha’s weird adventures, and expect more samples soon!

Tabitha Sequel Underway (who the hell is Tabitha?)

Tabitha is one of my favourite characters I’ve written. She’s flawed, self-interested and lazy. And has superpowers.

I first wrote Tabitha’s character about a year ago for my weird short stories Tales of the Strange and Grim. Since then, it’s been pretty clear from the opinions of my readers that the alien-fighting heroine is the one most deserving of a sequel. So I’m starting out on a new book, one I’ve wanted to write for ages – a science fiction.

Fans of Ridley Scott will find something to get their teeth into, as will lovers of superheroes and games like Fallout. Why? Because I’m a massive fan of all these things. And when you’re really into something, it seeps into your imagination like black slime, whether you want it to or not. So yep – expect unashamed amounts of aliens, robots, violence and zombies, and probably a shit-ton more by the time I’m done. (I’m thinking flying saucers and ray guns too.)

The novel starts out where the short story finishes, and will follow Tabitha as she tries to find other survivors of Earth’s alien invasion. Will she find anyone left in her hometown, now a desolate concrete hive for the alien invaders? Is there an explanation behind the aliens’ sudden arrival? Can she ever hope to get her planet back from their steely clutches?

Stay tuned for more about the adventures of Tabitha!

Short story: Mr Volinov

Tales of the Strange and Grim coverMr Volinov is the first of my Tales of the Strange and Grim, my debut collection of dark short stories. It’s available now on Amazon as a Kindle e-book, and is free to borrow from the lending library for members of Amazon Prime.

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In the world in a country in a city in the park old Sergei Volinov was drinking juice. Not just any juice in fact but Doctor Waltzfelder Armorgrade’s Patented Day-Glo Vitality Hyperjuice, the elixir for those without a spark in their plug. He’d sold his house to buy it, because Mr Volinov wanted to be liked again. He didn’t want to be lonely. He wanted to be young and hungry, to get away with what was passing for fashion. He wanted veins on fire and eyes wide open to own the waterblue sky in a glance. Body on fire and hands wide open to enrapture a woman and get in her pants.

The world had gone alien. Marriage and family and a hard day’s work, nothing but dusty relics. Seemed now like the young just slept around and danced ‘til they were sore, drinking electric-coloured drinks. He wanted to be young again, and he wanted all that and all that.

His body was alien too: it was once a strong body with arms like iron, with a hardness and a purpose to match. But the world had gone soft around him. The hunt had melted away into mist. There was nothing left to fight or drink or die for. These days, people only did things for the damn sake of it. His life of strength and purpose had aged and withered and flaccidated into an infantile sequence of mind-numbing events: being stared at by the stupefying, unblinking eye of Television; pottering halfway through the park but having to get back for the man with the meals on wheels; sitting down to a kingly feast of clammy-cardboard steak in dogfood gravy, served on a plastic tray. Sometimes he’d catch the bus into town to share a piss-stained tea morning with the elderlies before nap time. But Mr. Volinov wasn’t an elderly, not him. His brain was too fast and formidable for his bones. The mind was willing; it was the flesh that failed him. He was a thunderstorm locked in a coffin.

Hence: in the world in a country in a city in the park old Sergei Volinov was drinking juice. Not just any juice in fact but Doctor Waltzfelder Armorgrade’s Patented Day-Glo Vitality Hyperjuice, the elixir for those without a spark in their plug. And know what? The damn stuff worked.

He felt an oncoming hardness and vitality of fibrous monolithity in his arms and legs and chest and back and dick. His cloudy cataracts clattered to a timely shatter. Some young, euphoric angel threw a secret brick of cosmos through the window in his mind, a shit-smeared windscreen that was no more. His blue eyes stared and burned and glared afresh like pools of flaming gasoline. His crawling cobweb-clouded mind blew clean away on the gust of youth. Life and light flooded in like a torrent on the rainbow-creamy winds of a flower-scented, wild demented technicolour blitzkrieg.

He stood up from the park bench and scattered the crowded cooing pigeons with an athletic kick. He ran to the pond like a giddy child, fell to his knees and stared into the dirty water. Peering back at him in the reflection, a handsome young man, etched in a scummier tint of sepia tone, the same face in the ancient age-bitten photograph in his wallet.

The world wasn’t old any more. No more dusty decrepit grey vagueness of a grim misunderstanding with age. He walked through town, pulled his pension from his pocket and blew it on new clothes. He saw the world like a newborn baby and walked it with a young man’s body. Life was a multi-tonal fizzy meltitude of candy stripes and names and types and pouting women, a bright happening pool for the swimming. Job centre. Bank balance. Crunching fistful of money. Friday night. Fast car, loud bar. Pub, club, electric-coloured drinks. No chat-up lines, just an age-old wealth in charisma. Arm stroked, ego stroked and no more sleep ‘til ten a.m. A young woman’s lips and breasts and hips and ‘you’re not like other men’. Screams of delight. A sea of life in the night.

Hangover, my old friend. Mr Volinov relished it, the sickness and the guiltlessness and the unforgiving battered head. A sprint down to the shops for eggs and fresh-baked bread. Saturday morning: the time to stop, take stock and feel the aftershock. Saturday morning, for peaceful deathly rest in the bachelor nest. To regret and forget, to count the purse. To nourish the body, to nurse and coerce.

Saturday night had never seen a thing like Volinov. Bouncers bowed before him, their breast pockets fat with his cash. He prowled through pillared palatial clubs. Charmed his fast friends and stood amongst them like a suited statue, a Baroque demonic masterpiece. He whispered honeyed oak into ears hung with diamonds, drew wedding-day smiles from angels in black silk. In a cloud-cloaked tower in a penthouse suite, Aphrodite herself shrugged off her dress with a smile. His stone arms took her. Her screams shook the windows. When she sighed and shuddered and her wide green eyes searched his, and she bared her very soul, he devoured it.

Later that night in the booze-stench bars he brawled and bellowed with a bellyful of beer. He drank his new friends under tables. His new enemies, he punched and kicked and gripped and bit and gouged into the dirt. He staggered and stumbled and slammed the bar, a Norse god made of chiselled wood in a torn and bloodied shirt. He sung a thunderous song to his new lady love who slept in her tower, showed everyone her pictures on the new phone he couldn’t use. The laughing faces around him said he’d bedded a movie star. One man came forward and said just what he’d do to her. Volinov stopped smiling. Then the man spoke of another goddess, another evening-star who burned brighter than his. Volinov took him outside, beat him into a heap in a piss-puddled doorway, and pub-crawled his way back home.

Sunday morning. Mr. Volinov woke up, sat up, got up, chucked up, sparked up, sparked out, woke up, cleaned up, went out, spent out and fried up. He pissed out the booze. Shower, coffee, press-ups, coughing. Opened the window. Let a gust of life sweep through this old house, he thought. The house he’d sold for another taste of youth. He’d already signed on the dotted line and now his life sat around in boxes, waiting to be moved to who-knew-where. He hadn’t thought about where he’d live, but why worry? He was young again. He could sleep on park benches, start life from scratch. The sun seared in the glaring waterblue sky. A cool breeze ushered in the breath of Light and Life. It was all happening out there. The world was rich and vast and happening. Life was ripe for the plucking, the sucking, the fucking and the chucking. No more sitting by the window in a dust-smelling grump. No more grandfather clock to count his life away. No more sniffing at vintage wisps of her long-gone perfume, so different to Aphrodite’s. No more his sole ambition to make the world understand he didn’t like it. Kids played football in the street. No longer did he want to shoot them with his air rifle. May they play and grow, grow up and play, he thought, drunk on life ‘til their Headache Judgement on Hangover Day.

Grinning, he looked in the bathroom mirror. Wiped the dust and grime to a dazzling shimmer. Peering back at him, a bitter old man, etched as if in a super-accurate hundred-thousand-megapixel picture, the same face as the newish passport photograph in his wallet. Sometimes the hyperjuice didn’t last, they’d said. Most times it did, but not always, they’d said. Sometimes the genes didn’t take it too well. It was a gamble, they’d said. He knew the risks, he’d replied. Life was a gamble anyway, he’d said. He signed their dotted line too, handing over his house and every penny for another shot at youth. It hadn’t lasted. Saddened of a sudden, Mr Volinov sighed into the sink. Bawled into the bath. Screamed and raged and blubbered and boiled and biled, and riled and wrankled at his aching ankles and wrinkles. He grabbed his coat and stormed out the door in a fit of shouting and coughing, checked and cheated and locked once more, like a thunderstorm in a coffin.

In the world in a country in a city in the park old Sergei Volinov was broke, and searching the bins for a bottle of juice. Not just any juice in fact but Doctor Waltzfelder Armorgrade’s Patented Day-Glo Vitality Hyperjuice, the elixir for those without a spark in their plug. Maybe there were some drops left in the bottle. Maybe, second time round, the changes would last. He wanted veins on fire and eyes wide open to own the waterblue sky in a glance. Body on fire and hands wide open to hold Aphrodite and get in her pants. While youthfully yawning early this morning, all around him and all of a sudden, the world had gone alien. In the park in some city in some country in the world, a man who looked like a filthy old tramp was ratching through a bin.

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Want more Tales of the Strange and Grim? You can click here to find my ebook on Amazon for 77p / $1.17.