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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 16: “Deadlines”

2015 WORD COUNT = 22146 words


The gears turn, the arm moves, the clock ticks, and another minute of our time goes by.

I always feel like I’m busy. I get up and get my son ready for the childminders before heading off to work. Once home its son to bed, chores, dinner, something good on television (nearly finished Daredevil season 1) or maybe a little play time on the Xbox (loving Assassins Creed IV at the moment).

And I also like to write.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t plan my time perfectly. It vexes me that my brain is over productive while I’m busy and I find ideas hitting me left, right, and centre with no way to jot anything down. Then I get home and stare at a blank Word doc while I’m dodging tumbleweeds.

I use some of my annual leave throughout the year to have writing days. I love these. Say goodbye to wife and son for the day, get breakfast and then get stuck in. Maybe a movie around lunch time before diving straight back to the story. I was most productive during both last year NaNo projects on days off.

But, for the rest of the time, I find my writing mood fleeting.

Thank God for deadlines.


Nothing gets my creative juices pumping like a good deadline. I used to pop in and out of the writing mood but I changed my habits a little when I started to write this blog. No matter what else was going on, no matter what I was working on, I had a post to put up on a Wednesday evening come hell or high water.

And so far (touch wood) I’ve done it. Sixty Five posts with no breaks.

This year I took it to the next level. Inspired by Betsy Streeter (check out this fantastic interview with her here) I decided to post a story in instalments. So far it’s going well but I will let you in on a little secret.

I am working off the first draft I wrote last November. Each few weeks I take a chunk of the story and see how the flow can be divided up into episodes. Sometimes I need to add stuff to a scene while other times (like episodes 2 and 3) I have to write from scratch because I realised something was missing from the original draft.

But, even though I have a 50,000+ word draft and even though I have more detailed plans going up to episode 14, I don’t seem to be able to knuckle down and get it written. I’d like to have ‘banked’ episodes so that I can work further down the line. I’d honestly like to release them weekly. But for some reason I don’t. Even now, with episode 7 due in 48 hours, I still don’t have a version I’d like to hand over to my two editors.

It was the same in school. It didn’t matter if it was just a weekend or the summer holidays; that homework got done on the Sunday before I went back to school.

I know I’ll get it done. I have for the last six episodes, after all. But I just wish I was better. I started this whole thing last year because I wanted to write regularly and get my work out there. Well, mission accomplished. Now I think it’s time to turn up the gas and produce more. I need to have that stuff in reserve. It’s not about multiple projects; it’s about being ahead of myself and not leaving things to the last minute.


The one plus to the deadlines is that I find I’m most creative under that pressure. Take the upcoming FlashDogs Anthology 2, for example. Once the prompt photos were handed pout I spent the first two weeks with diddly squat. And then, when ideas did come they were, in my honest opinion, crap. Ten years ago I would have been happy with them. Hell, maybe even this time last year. But I can do better now, I’ve proved it.

I panicked a little, sure. But the closer I got to the dead line (less than four weeks now including final edits) the better it got. Old ideas fell away. Something new burned inside my imagination. I’m hoping to get two drafts sent for proofing this weekend while I work on another two.

I have butterflies, my nerves are jangling, as I get closer to the end of May. But there’s something else there, something like inspiration. The pressure is helping.


How about you guys? Do you grab an idea and let it flow onto the page in its own time? Or, like me, do you need that date marked on a calendar to light a fire under you but. And for you readers out there, how often do you want stories fed to you? Do plots fade away if the intermissions are too long? Do you like to binge and plough through story after story?

Feel free to let me know in the comments or on twitter. I’m off now to get stuck into episode 7 of FRACTURED DAWN (48 hours and counting).

See you in seven.



Wednesday, 22 April 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 15: “FlashDogs: The Return”

2015 WORD COUNT = 21538 words


FLASHDOGS EPISODE II
A NEW MASTER

Alone in the quiet village of Portchester, a young writer
struggles with his dreams of finishing just some of the
many stories that fill his notebooks.

Taken in by a mighty Dragoness with the hopes of honing
his skills and controlling his vivid yet wild imagination, the
young writer discovers that he is not alone.

The FlashDogs, a mighty writing alliance, is soon formed.
Using their skills for good they band together to produce
an Anthology that could save the entire galaxy.




FLASHDOGS EPISODE II - THE FLASHDOGS STRIKE BACK

Last year had an awesome ending what with the release of the FlashDogs first Anthology. What’s that you say? First? But wouldn’t that mean . . ?

Yes, yes it would. Another is coming. In fact two more are coming. You see, the FlashDogs didn’t create an exceptional collection, put it up for sale, pat each other on the backs and then go our separate ways. Oh no. That’s not what FlashDogs do.

While most of us got back to personal projects (see FRACTURED DAWN) and our relaxing routine of Flash Fiction contests, all filled with newfound found optimism, the folks over at FDHQ were busy concocting a plan to create something better than that first Anthology.

It can’t be done, you say.

Ha! Ye of little faith. Did you see what we did before? Did you turn page after page of that first Anthology and weep/laugh/gasp?

That was the rookie book; something created by a talented group of people finding their way. But now they, now we, know what we’re doing. As I type this I don’t hold a finished product because there isn’t one. And I lack precognitive powers too. But I know the plan. I know what the FlashDogs have been asked to do and the idea . . . well, just trust me, if you like Flash Fiction and if you like collections, then you’re going to love this.



MY PART IN ALL THIS MADNESS

We’ve had the photo prompts for a while now and I’ve spent weeks brainstorming, trying to come up with something that will blow readers clear out of the water.

I’ll admit I’ve struggled. It’s been tough. I’ve mentioned before that it’s that whole ‘second album’ syndrome. I don’t want my work to be deadweight to the book. I want to impress both the readers and my peers.

I had some ideas early on but they felt clich├ęd. I tried to walk away from them but my mind was stuck in the tar pit of those loose plots and I struggled to free myself, to clamber away and start a fresh.

Thank fully I was lifted when I saw on Twitter that others were in similar situations. I’d fallen back into that world of the lonely writer, completely forgetting that the FlashDogs aren’t just about publishing, they’re a support group first and foremost. Seeing others talk about their frustration or moaning that they must find more time while our fearless leaders calmed nerves (mine included – thank you Mark) allowed me to take a deep breath, relax my imagination, and remember why I’m doing this.

It’s not about impressing. It’s not about being published. Not yet.

Right now it’s about doing what I love and that’s taking a prompt, letting it loose in my mind and seeing what craziness comes out the other side. And then just running with it. How do you think I came up with that story last year about a guy in a post-apocalyptic world driving across the country in a tank that has his dead mothers consciousness merged with the vehicles AI control system.
So far I have one story in a good draft and an idea for the next. I’m feeling it now. I’m finding my groove (just like Stella!).

Obviously at this early stage I don’t want to be the one that spills the beans regarding the plans. As before, information will be released as and when it needs to be.

Until then, I will leave you with the new Anthology banner designed by the ever skillful, Tamara Rogers.

See you in seven.


Friday, 17 April 2015

FRACTURED DAWN - episode 6

Previously on Fractured Dawn . . .

A man wakes on a beach with no memory and discovers a strange purple stone embedded in his chest. Through a series of altercations he finds himself in the town of Bridgewood, a tree farming community far from the larger cities of the state.
To pay off damages caused in a bar fight, the man now known as Cook works in the kitchen of the Highwayman’s Hat.
But people are nervous of the stranger and are not afraid to let him know.




Cook stared at himself in the mirror. The face looking back was still new to him, still a stranger. He traced a light scar from his left brow to the cheek below. His nose looked like it may have once been broken. Even one of his teeth had a tiny chip.
His face had a history, a tale laced with experiences, and he knew none of it. All he could account for was the bump on the back of his head courtesy of Tanel and the bruise on his forehead from his recent bar fight.
He splashed water over his face and stared again at the man looking back. The grinning man with the purple glowing eyes.
Before Cook realised anything was wrong the reflection reached through the mirror and stabbed him in the throat with an ornate knife. The room filled with evil laughter as blood flowed down Cook’s chest and dripped onto the floor.
The world faded to purple.

R

Cook sat up in bed and reached for his throat. There was no wound, no knife. Only sweat. He threw off the sheets and got out of bed. He caught his breath as he crossed the room and stood looking at himself in the room’s only mirror, a man highlighted in the faint tint of the night’s moon, the purple stone in his chest glowing softly. He balled his fist and punched the mirror. A spider web of cracks spread from beneath his knuckles.
He returned to bed, content.

R

It was still early morning when Cook arrived back at the beach. With no real knowledge of the towns surrounding area, he’d figured the best place to get away from people was also the only other place he knew.
Things had changed dramatically since the afternoon he’d woken up in the sand. While the spot that he’d woken was host to a few small objects, further down the beach the rest of the ship wreck was clawing its way up into the sands. It was as if a God had scooped the ship from the seas and thrown it towards the nearest landmass. Timber, sails and furniture littered the beach As far as Cook could see.
Not knowing where to start, Cook walked among the wreckage sifting through anything and everything, trying to find something familiar. All it would take was one thing to cause everything to come flooding back; something with his name on or a picture that might cause some small memory to unravel just enough.
Or maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t he only survivor to wash ashore. A person or persons could be hidden out there among the wreckage, someone with answers.
“Hello?” he called out.
Nothing.
He headed to his left and climbed up a small, rocky outcrop to get a better look. On the other side of the outcrop was a large section of the ship’s bow that rested against the rocks like a head laying on a pillow.
Cook surveyed the carnage.
“Hello?”
Still nothing; no reply, and no movement. His hopes were slowly dashed. He sat on the rocks and looked out to sea, wishing he didn’t have this hope, this need for unlocking his mind. It hurt too much each time that he begun to realise the futility of it all. There was nothing there, nothing at all. His past wasn’t on the edge, just out of sight. It wasn’t teasing him with small glimpses. There was nothing at all. Nothing except this beach and the town of Bridgewood.
“Why are you looking so glum?”
Cook turned to see Tanel making her way through the ship’s wreckage.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Nice to see you too.”
“Are you following me?”
“In a way, yes,” she replied with a smile. “Father thought it was best you not be left alone in your current state.”
“My current state?”
“I know you think you’re big and tough,” she said as she climbed the outcrop to join him, “but you’re lost in a big, big world and you don’t know the rules that surround you. You’ve got into two fights in as many days.”
He tapped his chest. “I’ll be fine, remember.”
Tanel stepped up closer. “You might want to keep that little fact to yourself. If I had a strange rock stuck in me that granted mysterious powers I’d worry about what kind of people found out about it.”
“You mean like your sheriff?”
“Sheriff Lenton?”
“He came to see me last night,” said Cook. “Made it clear what he thought of me.”
“Sheriff Lenton can be a bit of a tough nut but he only has the town’s interests at heart.”
“That much was clear.”
“What did he say to you?”
Cook turned away from Tanel and gave his attention back to the sea. “He said enough for me to know that once my debt with Dusty is clear I’ll need to look for somewhere else to lay my head.”
“He would never kick someone out of town,” said Tanel. “Especially someone who was in trouble.”
“Why would I make it up?”
Tanel went to object but thought better of it. “Maybe you could speak to my father. He can say something.”
“I’m not here to cause trouble, Tanel. I may not know where I am from but it’s not here, it’s not Bridgewood. There’s no point in fighting to belong. The sooner I go looking for answers the sooner I’ll find them.”
“Fine,” said Tanel. She looked around at the shipwreck they were both stood at the centre of. “Did you find anything among all this crap?”
“Nope,” he replied. “Nothing at all.
“It looks like it was a big ship,” said Tanel. “It’s strange you were the only survivor.”
“Right now I’d be happy to find a body,” said Cook. “Just to know I wasn’t alone on this ship.” He started to climb down the rocks when movement caught his eye. “Hey!”
“What is it?” said Tanel. She followed the direction Cook was looking but saw nothing.
“There was someone there,” he said. “By those crates.”
“Are you sure?” said Tanel, but Cook ignored her and scrambled down the rocks. She chased after him. “Wait. It could be those bandits. News of the wreckage will travel fast. Looters will take everything they can.”
Cook continued to ignore her. He jumped down to the sand and sprinted towards where he’d seen the person. “Hey!” he yelled. “I need to talk to you.” He could hear Tanel cursing as she struggled down from the rocks but he didn’t care. If it wasn’t a bandit or a looter then it could be someone with answers. Hope burned alive in him again. He leapt a pile of shattered barrels still roped to a pallet and ducked under the large side section of the ship. He came to a sudden stop when he saw who it was.
The woman with the red hair.
“You again.” He felt his anger rising. This mysterious, silent woman who’s only purpose was to taunt him. “Why are you doing this?”
She gave a hand gesture but it meant nothing to him.
“Just tell me who you are.”
The woman shook her head and gave the gesture again.
“Damn it!”
“Cook,” called Tanel from somewhere nearby. “Where are you?”
The woman with the red hair put her finger to her lips. Shhh.
“Cook?” called Tanel.
He looked behind as she found her way behind the section of the ship. When he looked back the woman with the red hair had vanished.
“Did you find anyone?” asked Tanel.
“I . . . no.”
“I was serious about the looters. We’d better get out of here.”
“I think you’re right.”

R

It was nearly midday as they made their way back through the woods towards town. Clouds had stolen away the sun and shadows spread out from every tree. With a little walking still to go the sky opened and rain poured down.
“Great,” said Tanel. “This is what I get for helping with our town’s new charity case.” She gave him a teasing smile to make sure he got the joke.
“Could do with a little rain,” said Cook. “I can’t say I find the heat very comfortable.”
“There you go.”
“’There I go’ what?”
“Maybe where ever you’re from it’s somewhere cold.”
Cook shrugged his shoulders. “It’s a start.”
Tanel smiled and nodded looking content that she’d lifted his mood. Cook liked her company. But then she wasn’t trying to run him out of town.
He thought of apologising for his earlier attitude as he bumped into her after she stopped walking.
“What’s up?”
Tanel didn’t reply. She slowly raised her hand and pointed to something in amongst the trees. Cook followed her finger but couldn’t see anything.
“Are we in danger?” he whispered.
Finger still pointing, she nodded.
He felt the warmth from the stone start to spread throughout his body. His skin started to harden. He felt taller, stronger, and close to invincible. He kept looking between the trees trying to see what Tanel was fearing.
And then it moved. Just a little, just enough. If you weren’t looking for it you would never notice it, at least not until it was too late. It was some kind of creature that looked like it belonged in nightmares. Taller than a horse, its green and brown fur hiding it well from plain sight, and teeth that could rip you in half. And it was staring straight at them.
“I’ll draw it’s attention,” said Cook. “You run.”
Tanel shook her head.
“It wasn’t a suggestion!”
“Look in its mouth.”
“What?” said Cook but he understood straight away. Though mostly hidden by the grass the creature was creeping through, he could make out an arm, a head, and legs. A body was cradled in the creatures jaw. It wasn’t a large body either, it could only have been a child.
In the distance a horn sounded. The creature growled and then fled.
Tanel fell to her knees and wept.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 14: “Episodic Writing”


2015 WORD COUNT = 19003 words



EPISODIC

I’m into episodic TV viewing (currently binge watching series 3 of Community). Sure, I love movies and won’t hesitate watch anything Marvel or DC that hits our cinema screens. But right now we are living in a golden age of television.  

There’s Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Arrow, Flash, Agents of SHIELD, Daredevil and much, much more.

And while I love watching this format, a couple of years ago I started to think about writing this way too.

I’ve always had ideas for epic trilogies, inspired sagas and even great one off, classic novels (perhaps all I lacked was ego J). But I struggled to plan on a large scale and ideas jumped into my head and evicted the previous ones on a regular basis. I’ve always been more comfortable with short stories and, more recently, flash fiction.

Way, way back in 1999, when I was all about screenplays, I was struggling with a script and took a break. I needed to work on something fresh, something different. I began writing a television series that clearly would never see the light of day, called DARKNESS FALLS. I was into Buffy at that time so it was heavily influenced by this and had lashings of demons, ghosts and even robots.

I planned five seasons, a prequel mini-series and managed to complete the scripts for the first three episodes.

And then, like with all my writing back then, I got bored and walked away.

But nothing ever leaves this noggin of mine. Over a decade later it all came to the forefront and was revamped for my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, MIGHTY GRAY. My plan was (and still is) to produce ten novellas each styled as a television episode and released monthly before packing them together at the end of each ‘season’ in a DVD boxed set style.

I’ve mentioned before that I thought the idea was ground breaking until I discovered that better writers were already doing it . . . better.

Unlike previous projects though, I didn’t give up.

Flash forward to NaNoWriMo 2014 and I wrote the first draft for what would become FRACTURED DAWN (aka, Fallen Swords). The plan for this was on a smaller scale. I’m currently rewriting the project and releasing them in fortnightly 1500 word episodes. You can check them out here.

While I’m enjoying the FRACTURED DAWN project, I don’t want it to stop there. I have a bigger plan, something I’m hoping to get rolling next year.

But, as before, someone else got there first.

Like a lot of my writing discoveries these days, it started on Twitter. I got a new follower, Kara Monterey. Kara has founded a great looking website over at http://channillo.com that’s all about serialised literature. Authors are able to apply for a slot and then release their writing in a regular fashion, whether it be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, short stories or essays.

It sounds perfect, it sounds like just what I want to do. I’m interested.

Now, the down side to this is that the author cannot put up work that is already available for free elsewhere. I’m currently very happy with how FRACTURED DAWN is working and don’t really want to remove it from my blog.

So where does that leave me?

Well, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m starting to see that short, bite sized writing could be the way forward in this time restricted world of ours. Sure, novels aren’t going anywhere, but people’s time is. So if you’re not an established author it’s a lot more than a monetary barrier keeping people from discovering you. There is also that time barrier.

Over the last few months I’ve been looking at several of my unstarted projects and wondered if they would maybe work better in the same format as FRACTURED DAWN. I have several already lined up to start working on in the second half of the year.

I originally planned to put those up on the blog too but now I’m seeing that there’s a market out there for episodic writers beyond our own sites. And Channillo looks to be one of them.

It’s still early. I’m currently working on a couple of other projects that will keep me busy until the end of July. But it’s good to be thinking of the second half of the year now and seeing what else is out there to work on. I’ll be keeping an eye on the site though to see how it grows.



ON A SIDE NOTE

The organisers of this year’s National Flash Fiction Day are getting the ball rolling this year by rolling out Flash Flood on Friday the 17th April (that’s right, it’s in two days’ time!).

Over the last few weeks a whole bunch of us Flash Fiction writers have been submitting our stories in the hope of being included in the Flash Flood.

I’m happy to announce that my story, THE CLIMB, will be one of the stories featured.

So if you have a spare few minutes this Friday then hop over to the site and see what you think. Stories will be going up throughout the day and there will be a wide range of styles for you to enjoy.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 13: “A Quick Word . . .”


2015 WORD COUNT = 18133 words


I did have another post planned for today but, due to some forgetting, incompletion and general words in the air, I think I’ll put it off until next week.

So what’s going to happen instead?

If I’m honest I’m just going to wing it. You see I’m all over the place at the moment. This isn’t a bad thing as there isn’t any panic. It’s a good kind of ‘all over the place’. It’s busy.


I’m really getting into things with FRACTURED DAWN now. The main page for the blog is looking better (though I can’t wait until I have a proper webpage for it) and I have a decent looking logo design now. It can only grow as each episode adds more characters and expands the world.

If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet then go here for the first episodes and see what you think. And let me know here on the blog or over on Twitter. Feedback could be helpful at this early stage.

I’m also getting stuck into my contributions to the next FlashDog anthology. It’s still early, deep within the planning stages, but something is there (actually four somethings are there).

Of course, being the pessimistic fellow that I am, I’m starting to feel that ‘second album’ pressure. The last anthology was good, really good. But this one has the potential to be a hell of a lot better. So I don’t want to be the one that has their name on a real stinker of a story. Or, worse still, it’s excluded because it’s so bad. I’m hoping I honour my inclusion, because I damn well want to be invited back to the next party.


And talking of Flash Fiction, I kinda messed up over the Easter holidays and completely forgot to post my entries from last week. So instead of doing a separate post when I’m four days late, it makes sense to lay them below.



MICRO BOOKENDS

It’s the eleventh ‘Chris And Mike vs’ story and this week I went for action. The alley and the look on the kids face immediately brought to mind those on foot chases from movies and I just went with it. But Chris and Mike don’t run away like little girls, do they?


CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE SCOURGE OF THE NILE

“New plan,” said Chris. “Run!”

The creature’s roar pursued Mike and Chris down an alleyway. They rounded a corner, narrowly missing two goats and a small boy. Mike scooped the boy up without breaking stride. They ran on, zigging and zagging, as the jaws of death closed in behind.

Once clear of the village, Chris turned and held out a golden amulet, one which channeled the suns energy directly at the creature’s chest.

The lizard man exploded.

Eventually the villagers emerged from their homes, cheering. Mike put the boy down and picked a few chunks of meat from his hair.

“Great,” he said. “I didn’t bring a change of clothes.”



FLASH FRIDAY

I struggled a little with this one but not the same way as usual. I came up with an idea pretty quickly, only I wasn’t too happy with it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get away from it as I spent the morning searching for other characters in different situations. As the clock ticked away I conceded and got to work on the piece I entered. I think it’s better than I expected but not one of my best.

A lot of people mentioned it had an Indiana Jones vibe. However, the inspiration came from the opening scene to The Fifth Element.


MISREAD
Why didn’t he listen to me?

The stupid, drunk fool. A teacher too afraid to listen to his student, too obsessed with making a name for himself. And what did it get him?

Dead.

“Don’t be silly,” he’d said. “The symbol above the door pertains to life eternal. Don’t you understand? This is what man has been searching for? This temple is the key to immortality. It is a gift from God.”

But he didn’t see the symbol above it. The rock face was a little damaged and it was hard to read but it was there. I could make it out but I was always good at reading the language. That’s why the Professor hired me.

So why didn’t he listen?

The symbol above meant harvest; ‘To Harvest Life Forever’.  And that’s what’s going to happen now because that idiot ignored me and opened the doors. Now he’s dead and the whole of the world will suffer.

All I can do now is run. Run through the desert. Run back to civilization. All I can do is warn people. 

Because I saw what came out of that temple and it was not a gift from God.
Oh God, why didn’t he listen to me?



ANGRY HOURGLASS

Another week without an entry at the Hourglass but I have a good excuse. I was lucky enough to jusge again and I enjoyed it more than the last time. Of course, this might be because it was a bank holiday, my wife took my son out for the morning and I had a nice, chilled Easter egg to keep me company.

There were some great stories on offer and I got to experience that eureka moment when I found the winner. As soon as I finished it, there was no doubt in my mind. You can check out Voima’s fantastic story here.



And that’s it, another short post. Hopefully I can get some better stuff prepared for the next few weeks while I hunker down with my current projects.

Don’t forget, if you fancy giving Flash Fiction a go then head on over to any of the sites (links on the main blog page) and see where it takes you.

See you in seven.


Friday, 3 April 2015

FRACTURED DAWN - episode 5

Previously on Fractured Dawn . . .

A man wakes on a beach with no memory and discovers a strange purple stone embedded in his chest. After being visited by a silent women with red hair he settles down for the night.
After a run in with bandits, he finds himself in the town of Bridgewood. On his first day out and about he gets involved in a bar fight which leads to him being employed to pay off debt.




The man from the beach was busy wiping down the stove when Dusty Brooke walked in.
“Not a bad first day,” she said as she settled on a stool near the serving hatch. “No one threw up and the coin flowed as normal.”
“What more can a cook ask for?” he replied.
“Indeed.”
The man finished off the stove and threw his rag into the bucket of dirty water beside him. He lifted the bucket and was about to turn when he realised she was still looking at him.
“Is there anything else?” he asked.
“No,” she replied. “It’s quietened down out there. Guess you can call it a night.”
“Thank you.”
“Cook.”
He put the bucket back down. “Excuse me?”
“That’s what I’m going to call you,” she replied. “I’m not liking the whole ‘mysterious man with no name’ thing you’ve got going. I can’t call to you and I can’t order you around. It makes me uncomfortable and I don’t like that. Until you get your memory back I’m going to call you Cook.”
“Fair enough.”
“And if you remember you name and I don’t like it, I’ll still call you Cook.”
He watched her for a few seconds trying to work out if she was joking with him but the face displayed nothing close to a sense of humour. He shrugged and picked up the bucket again. He figured she had a right to be pissed. He had caused a ruckus and broken things in her bar after all.
“I’m sorry again,” he said. “For the scuffle.”
“You were protecting a girl,” said Dusty. “One of my girls. I guess that wherever you’re from they clearly taught you honour.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
Dusty stood up and walked halfway closer to him. “Everything is a bad thing if it ends up getting you killed.”
Cook put down the bucket again and sighed. “That asshole doesn’t scare me.”
“Do you know who he is?”
“What?”
“Do you know who he is,” she said. “The ‘asshole’ that you humiliated and beat up?”
“Right now I barely know who anyone is,” said Cook, trying to keep his calm.
“Then you should be doubly careful who you poke with a stick. You never know who’ll poke back.”
Cook and Dusty just stood there for a while, staring at each other, with only the faint sounds of the few final patrons in the bar for company. Finally Cook nodded and Dusty nodded back. She went to the door leading to the bar.
“Good night, Cook,” she said. “I’ll see you back here tomorrow.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. He waited until she was gone before grabbing the bucket and heading out the back door. He chucked the dirty water over a nearby bush. As he went to head back inside, a sound caught his attention and a small flame appeared to his right. Cook raised the empty bucket over his head ready to throw it just as a man stepped out from the shadows. The man used the lit match on his cigarette.
“That would be a hell of an introduction,” he said.
“Guess I’m not big on people sneaking around,” said Cook.
“Suppose I could have approached you in a less dramatic way.”
Still unsure of who the man was, Cook held on tight to the bucket as he lowered it, just in case.
The man waved the match’s flame away, flicked it somewhere into the shadows and took a puff. “Wife doesn’t like the smell,” he said. “Says I can’t smoke around the house.”
Cook stayed quiet.
The man took another puff and then held out his hand. “Where are my manners? Name’s Lenton.”
Cook shook the hand.
Instead of releasing the grip, Lenton tightened it. “That’s Sheriff Lenton,” he said. He then waited for that to sink in before letting go of Cook’s hand. “Word between the trees is that you’ve been causing trouble in my town. And all on your first day.”
Cook didn’t answer straight away. He had mistaken Dusty’s comments for humour when they weren’t and was beginning to wonder if the whole town had a single funny bone among them. He didn’t feel the need to laugh but he also didn’t want to escalate the situation by getting angry.
“Look,” he said. “I’m in a bit of a strange situation at the moment.”
“You’ve lost your past,” said Lenton.
Cook nodded. “I have. And it’s a little . . . disorientating.”
Sheriff Lenton stepped a little closer. “I knew a man once, same age as my son. They grew up together as best of friends. We fed him at our table on a number of occasions and he always made me laugh with his jokes.”
Cook frowned.
“Two winters ago,” continued the Sheriff, “he killed his wife and cut up her body. He didn’t get far what with the blood trail he left in the snow. We dragged him back to town and charged him with her murder. I watched him cry for two days straight before we hung him. As I led him to the gallows I had to ask him why he did it, why he murdered such a kind person, why he murdered the person he’d loved. And do you know what he said to that?”
Cook opened his mouth to say no but there wasn’t much of a pause to fill.
“He said he didn’t know,” continued the Sheriff. “Said he couldn’t remember a damn thing that happened that night.”
“Was it the shock?” said Cook as the Sheriff took another puff.
“That’s what he probably would have liked people to believe.”
“But you didn’t?”
“Not one bit.”
“So why do you think he couldn’t remember?”
“It’s amazing what a man’s mind will do to protect itself.” His face glowed red has he took a nice, long, final drag. He flicked the butt away before blowing out a cloud of smoke before him. “I think he didn’t want to know what he’d done. I think he was in denial.”
For a while the two men just stood there out back of the inn.
“Why are you telling me this?” said Cook.
“What atrocities are you hiding from, stranger? What’s following in your wake?”
“I wish I knew.”
“Maybe you don’t,” said the Sheriff. “Somewhere in that head of yours are all the answers.”
“Look, I said I’m sorry about the bar fight,” said Cook. “And I’m sorry I have no memory as that clearly offends you. If you want me out of town then that’s your right but I’d appreciate you letting me pay off my debt to Dusty first.”
“I’m not going to kick you out,” said Lenton. “But I’d appreciate you not hanging around longer than you need to. My one job is to protect this town. We’ve got it nice and peaceful out here away from the cities. We get riff raff, sure, but nothing I can’t handle.”
“I’m not going to cause any trouble,” said Cook. “I just want to find my feet before I head off and try and get my answers.”
The Sheriff stepped aside. Cook walked past and opened the door back to the kitchen.
“Do you know what scares me most about you?” said the Sheriff.
Cook turned on the top step and looked down at the Sheriff. With the light of the kitchen Cook could now make out the gleaming Sheriffs badge pinned to his shirt as well as the two hand axes sat snuggly in his belt.
“My temper?”
“Nope,” said Lenton as he pulled another cigarette from his pocket. “I don’t like that you don’t know where you’re from. And I don’t like that you don’t know what brought you to our shores. But most of all, I don’t like the fact that you have no idea if trouble is following you.” He lit the cigarette. “And just so you know, if anyone or anything comes calling for you, I will gladly hand you over.”
“You’re too kind,” said Cook.
“I am,” said the Sheriff. “When it comes to my town I will not compromise for its safety.”
“Are we done?”
Lenton nodded before turning and heading off into the shadows behind the inn. “Good night, stranger,” he called out.
Cook headed back into the kitchen and felt the anger rising. One of his fears was people knowing who he really was and judging him before he could explain his predicament. He hadn’t expected to get on someone’s bad side for not knowing who he was.
He raised his arm and threw the bucket across the kitchen with all his might.