Work in Progress
So much for switching off after finishing the book (The Social Club) this weekend.
Driving home last night I was taken by the magical colour of the golden sunlight against the luxuriant emerald of the surrounding hills and trees.
And then I thought about a story idea. About this part of England. The ancient mystical history of it. And the idea grew. So, I just sat down in the Sky Bunker when I got home, and banged out bullet points of a new novel. Called Sunder Gloom, it’s a horror story set in Bristol. Pre-Yellow Dawn. So it won’t be post-apocalyptic. It’s going to be a loosely associated sequel to “Living in Flames“. Here’s the first chapter, literally hot off the press -copy and paste – with typos and everything .
The high street in the small village of Sunder slowly began to come to life as the gentle glow of a summer dawn spilled across the sky above it. Nothing really happened with much speed in this part of Somerset, and especially in Sunder. So small, people often drove through it without a second thought. Just another row of quiet shops that occupied a mix of rustic farm buildings, and the more modern permacrete and fu-glass structures put there by developers interested in capitalising on the rural gem associated with the village: Hobgoblin Combe. Despite its apparent insignificance it attracted an variety of visitors who came to enjoy Hobgoblin Combe, a densely forested limestone gorge, that stretched from behind the local pub (The Lord Raglan) through to Witchers Corner, some five miles distant, on the A38 road south west of Bristol. Walkers, romantics and lovers would go there to enjoy the steep craggy climbs, and the medieval isolation of its deep woods and upper meadows. Less frequently, it was visited by botanists and biologists interested in the rare species of flora and fauna, and the unusually diverse collection of butterflies it had been noted for. And once in a while, a school, college or academic outing would visit to study the Iron Age hillfort of Sunder Toot and the overlapping contours of Roman and prehistoric field systems.
At 5.15 in the morning, Janine opened up her small convenience store as she had been doing for the past twelve years. The store had been owned by her family for the last four generations and had managed to evolve with each new challenge that the shifting economic climate had swept in. The big brand chains had tried to buy them out, and then tried force them out by opening several large stores in a nearby retail park. But a combination of loyalty from residents; luck and the steady, seemingly endless trickle of people who came to visit the gorge, had managed to see her family and the store through each of the bad times.
Her first customer was invariably Mr Thompson, unless a road cyclist or mountain biker was getting a particularly early start. Mr Thompson ran the local hotel, more of a bed and breakfast, really, and he always came in at 7.30 A.M. to pick up an order of the bacon and egg puff pastry delights that Janine made every morning. He also always purchased a small cloth sack of the coffee beans that she grew in the hydroponic agro-pods out in the back garden. They had been installed by her last boyfriend, before he’d popped an artery in his brain; collapsing in the Lord Raglan with a pint of his favourite ale in his hand, he’d apparently been dead before he hit the floor. Just as well, Janine always thought, as the man had despised any form of waste. Growing coffee, amongst other things, had been her idea and she’d really mastered the art of it. She had even learned to program the two farm-drones her deceased partner had put in to manage the day-to-day maintenance. Her coffee was known by connoisseurs across the South West; she even had customers on the far side of the world.
Internet shopping had killed off the big stores, who abruptly found themselves burdened with property portfolios that weren’t generating profit. Then the Corporate Wars saw the big guns ripping chunks out of each other, leaving the small people to do what they could to survive; and sometimes making use of the leftovers. Then a new breed of consumer began to take an interest in unique, specialised boutique stores and artisan products, with the Internet – and global courier services – providing the bridge between continents and cultures, sewing together a fabulous tapestry.
She saw Carl Jenkins across the street at 7 A.M. leaving home to start his commute into work. Carl looked over the convertible roof of the low-slung electric Firefly, to see if she was in the window, as he always did. She raised a hand and he did the same, grinning like teenager despite being forty-two years old. Then he folded his six-foot frame into the tiny vehicle. She was always impressed how he managed to do that without looking like a man fighting to climb into a washing machine. The support-struts retracted as the helix-propulsion system fired up. Carl had explained to her on several occasions how it worked. And then he was off, the Firefly rotating with computer controlled precision within the confined space of the small vehicle port, before launching upwards into the sky.
Several groups of road cyclists whizzed past not long after, but true to form, Mr Thompson was her first customer of the day. They exchanged the usual pleasantries. He flirted, as he always did, in a jokey way that sometimes felt perhaps a little serious. He was married, albeit not a happy marriage; he was also a similar age to Carl Jenkins and 30 years her junior, but she always felt flattered. She never accepted more than one drink when he came over some evenings to share a bottle of wine.
By 8.15 she had already served more than two dozen regulars. The first batch of oven-baked treats was in the heated display cabinet. The second pot of freshly ground coffee was close to empty and a third was brewing: she sold beans, bags of grounds, and cups of the stuff ready in a filter; she didn’t do single shot espresso or cortado, or cappuccino or lattes or anything fancy like that. Just too time consuming with only her in the store.
It was 8.25 when her first stranger of the day walked in.
He was a heavy-set man in his early twenties, and she suspected he might have been military judging by his crew cut hair and the deep weathered tan lines on his face. Maybe one of the private army units that had taken root near the airport. Lots of them had formed when England joined the UTOC. The man came straight to the counter.
“Er, coffee. Black.”
His accent was East-European. She spotted the orbital free-fall logo on his baby blue T-shirt. Janine liked to deduce, or simply guess, details about her customers. She considered herself an excellent judge of character.
“The pot’s over there,” she told him, pointing in a friendly manner. “You can help yourself and if you stick around long enough to drink a cup you can help yourself to another. The second is always free of charge.”
This young man was likely a part of the newly forming Colonial Defence Force, part solider, part policeman, keeping the booming space-based population on best behaviour. He had undoubtedly had too much to drink the night before. He looked surprised, briefly confused, and then delighted; gave her a square-toothed smile and nodded as he realised she had sussed him out.
“Thank you. My platoon was out celebrating last night.” He walked over to the coffee pot. “Some of them are still celebrating.”
She was about to play along with the formulaic conversation when suddenly she felt as though the ground was shifting beneath her feet. She thought of her last boyfriend and the pint of ale crashing to the floor of the pub.
Oh no, not now. Not today.
Alarmed, she reached out to steady herself but instead was flung against the side of the counter. Then she heard the man cursing, and saw him staggering across store. Either she had become drunk on the fumes he was exhaling or…
A deep, bone grating rumble came from below. The floor began to vibrate. Anything not bolted down began to tremble and judder. Items began to tumble off the counter and from shelves. The rumbling became louder. It began to drill through her skull. She cried out and clamped both hands to her ears. But it didn’t do any good. The sound was passing through her. The man half ran, half stumbled out of the store. The floor lurched violently and she was thrown off her feet. Everything seemed to be moving. The plaster on the walls began to crack and spread apart. The glass windows split as if twisted by invisible hands and fell in. Shelves began to fall from the walls. Janine cried out again, shook her head in disbelief. Then she was crawling on hands and knees, panting in pain and exertion, terrified the building would collapse onto its foundations and leave her trapped, buried alive. The tremors came in pulsing waves, each stronger than the next, each ending in a crescendo of violent vibrations that had her literally bouncing off the floor.
Finally she reached the entrance, her hands bloodied and cut from broken glass – not that she felt a thing. Adrenaline had her in its grasp. Moving quickly. Eager to survive. But outside, she stopped, unable to believe what she was witnessing.
The young man who had been in her shop was standing in the middle of the road struggling to stay on his feet.
Abruptly, without any warning, an enormous rent opened up, tearing the road apart by his feet. The young man toppled over and disappeared.
Horrified, Janine watched as the rent widened and then lengthened, stretching with a blood-chilling booming and cracking sound. She saw Mr Thompson come out of his tiny hotel. And then the hotel, Mr Thompson, and the whole row of houses on that side of the street collapsed in a roar of destruction that was rapidly consumed by the yawning hole in the earth.
A noise erupted from the blackness down there. A monstrous shriek like white hot metal being plunged into ice cold water; but of a volume, and of a size of sound that was beyond comprehension. It was as if some demon had been stirred awake from the slumber of the damned by the early morning sunlight pouring in. She stared, transfixed, her vision blurred from the vibrations, and for a moment she thought she saw the darkness within the gigantic length of the hole lift up, like a flopping tentacle of inky shadow. But it had to have been an illusion. A trick of light and shadow, and a consequence of everything moving. Because in the next instant, it seemed the massive bulk of darkness turned to smoke, vaporised, melted into dust that swirled away on the breeze.
Subscribe (top left) to this blog or join my Facebook page to follow updates.