I’ve had a slow start to the year writing wise. This is mostly due to my work life going through some tough changes, and my son earning the nick-name ‘three-nager’. But things are getting better.
I’m currently compiling my answers to some damned fined questions courtesy of FlashDog Emperor, Mark A King. I’m also getting stuck into a horror short that will hopefully sit proud in a special project being devised by the other FlashDog Emperor, David Shakes.
On top of this, I have another story that I’m working on, which is more of a B project. It’s in a notebook I take to work, and it’s mostly for when my main project stumps me, or for when I don’t have my laptop with me. More on that project soon.
CHRIS AND MIKE? CAN YOU HEAR ME.
Of course my main project, the centre of my writing universe at the moment, is CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE WORLD. Frustratingly my perfectionism is kicking in, and while I know I could have book one done and out in just a couple of months, I want so very much to have it not only tie in with books two and three (both sat at a nice stage), but I also want to make sure the series as a whole fits together nicely; no holes or snaggy bits.
Because of this, writing their adventures is running alongside planning their adventures. I want to stick little bits here and there in all their stories that show up later and scream ‘did you see that coming? How cool was that?’.
So the project is slower than I’d like, but it’s the speed it needs to be.
However, I feel like I’ve been going on about it long enough that perhaps it’s time to show . . . something. So, what follows is the first two chapters of book one. I hope you like them and maybe it’ll give you a flavour of what I’m going for.
And if you want to leave any feedback, please do, either in the comments or on twitter (@BrianSCreek).
So without further ado, here is the first reveal of a Chris and Mike story not confined to Flash Fiction. Here are the opening chapters to . . . CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE RISING DEAD.
It was one of those nights.
Dark clouds blocked out the stars. A vicious chill raided the air. Evil deeds were being committed by evil persons, totally in their element.
Not many folks visited St Barnes Christian Church in the middle of the night. Maybe school kids on a dare, or perhaps a homeless person looking for somewhere quieter to sleep than the usual city centre doorways.
Cherub Pesci was neither.
Cherub was a henchman, and proud of it. A snivelling wretch. A dirty, rotten man. A pathetic excuse for a human being. His clothes were long past their sell-by-date, and he hadn't seen anything resembling soap in more than a decade.
But he didn't care how he appeared to the world. His loyalty to his master was the centre of his universe, and everyone else could just roll over and die. His repulsive appearance allowed him to be ignored, to be avoided, making things so much easier for him to get things done. He stuck fast to the belief that one day he would be rewarded for his devotion to the cause, that one day he would be selected by his master, and made mighty. And when that day finally came, he would exact revenge on all those who had constantly ridiculed him.
Until that time came, he would just have to put up with carrying out random, menial tasks in the middle of the night.
Now, Mrs Pesci's only son had never been the fittest person in the world, and tonight's task was testing him. With a shovel in one hand, and a bulging sack in the other, he made his way up the gravel path towards the main doors of St Barnes Church. His breaths were short, sharp, and sweat added an extra layer to his skin, like a shiny, moist force field.
Upon reaching the steps, Cherub let the sack drop to his left, the shovel drop to his right, and prioritised getting his breathing back under control. Anyone passing would have thought Cherub had just reached the summit of Everest. He pulled a handkerchief from his trouser pocket, a piece of material so grubby it looked like it had spent most of its existence at the bottom of a bin. Like dogs that looked so much like their owners, the handkerchief could only belong to Cherub.
It was several minutes before his lungs were less than stressed. Once he felt he could continue with his task, he stuffed the personalised snot rag back into his pocket and then pulled out a scrap of notebook paper from another. Cherub unfolded the paper to reveal a hastily scribbled map. Using the glow of the lamp hanging above the church doors, he checked over the diagram and counted from one point to another. He then looked up at the graveyard before him. His face gathered into a quizzical look as he realised things didn't match up. He panicked then, fearful of his master’s response to failure. He couldn't go back and explain that something had gone wrong, that-
The map was upside down.
Cherub inverted the notepad paper and thanked the dark lords that he was given this task to carry out alone. It was little moments like that that gave others the ammunition to ridicule him.
Content that he now knew where he was headed to, Cherub pocketed the map, took a couple of deep breaths, and grabbed the sack and the shovel once more. Resigning himself to another near death experience within the next few minutes, he headed off away from the church and across to the gravestones that stood to attention over to his right.
Things started to look a little speckled as Cherub's body was once again put under the considerable strain of carrying anything heavier than chocolate cake. He wished that the corpse his master wanted had been an older one, someone buried nearer the church. He zigged and zagged between the headstones as they got newer, less aged. He thought about taking a break, but the night wouldn't last forever, and he had to be out of sight with his new friend before sunrise.
So many dead lay beneath the grounds of St Barnes, but Cherubs master was only interested in one.
Thirty rows back, and fifteen plots to the left. The dedicated henchman once again dropped his baggage and fought desperately to fill his lungs. Eventually he pulled out a tiny key chain torch, something he'd found in a discarded Christmas cracker once, and shone its pathetic blue light over the black marble headstone before him.
HERE LIES JACK REDIT - TAKEN TOO SOON
BORN JANUARY 17th 1972
DIED SEPTEMBER 11th 2009
Cherub spotted an engraving of an angel mounted on the top right corner of the headstone and chuckled. He hung the key chain torch from the angel's wings, picked up the shovel, and proceeded to dig. Once more, years of laziness and dietary abuse made a physical chore close to an endurance event. Yet, slowly but surely, a mound of dirt rose up beside the grave plot and, inch by inch, Cherub closed in on the final resting place of Jack Redit.
Just as Cherub's black, twisted heart began to wonder just why it was being punished so much, the tip of the shovel hit something solid. A couple of hollow thuds accompanied Cherub's wheezing breath as he knocked on Jacks front door. Taking the opportunity to dial the physical activities down a notch, Cherub scraped the dirt off of the coffin until the smooth mahogany lid was fully revealed. He then used what was without doubt the very last of his strength to prise the lid off. Feeling light headed, Cherub had to lean against the side of the hole he'd somehow managed to dig, and steady himself. What a way to spend the night, he thought. Face down dead on top of another corpse after suffering a heart attack. Some would suggest that it as a fitting end. Most people would probably just point and laugh.
Jack had been dead for five years, and it showed. Decomposition had sunk it's claws into Jack's earthly remains and rid him of most of his skin, and a lot of his flesh. His suit too had seen better days. He looked bad enough to cause your dinner to repeat on you. And yet, next to Cherub, he came out on top still. No doubt the smell would have caused a normal person to pinch their nose, or even run for the hills. Again, Cherub was used to bad smells, being the cause of some of the world’s most offensive ones, and didn't flinch. Cherub looked down at Jack's remains, sighed, and then proceeded with the final stage of his instructions.
The henchman reached up to the sack he had dragged through the night, and pulled out an arm. An arm that had been roughly, one would say aggressively, separated from its previous owner, at just above the elbow.
Cherub was about to place it in the coffin with Jack when a glint of gold caught his eyes. There was a nice looking watch still attached to the previous owner’s wrist. Cherub held it close to his ear and could still hear it keeping time; still tick, tick, ticking away. He looked at his own watch, a battered and faded Thomas The Tank Engine watch with a cracked screen. He decided it was time for an upgrade and quickly fiddled with the gold watches clasp, relieving the arm of its decoration. He pocketed the time piece.
With his bonus secured, Cherub carried on with his task, placing the arm alongside Mr Jack Redit. But the arm alone was not enough. Cherub returned his grubby hand to the sack and this time pulled out a foot. It didn't take him long to empty the sack of its grizzly collection of body parts. With the assorted remains placed neatly around the body, Jack lay snug in his coffin, looking like a fragile doll who had been tightly packed for transit.
Now there was only one more thing left to do, but Cherub remembered his master stressing that it was the most important. He reached into a pocket on the inside of his tatty jacket and pulled out a small vial. Inside the vial was something that could only be described as black smoke. Yet it wasn't, not really. It was something else, something alive. Blacker than black. The blackest. And it behaved like it wanted out of that small glass vial. It moved around gracefully, occasionally poking and prodding, like a prisoner searching for that one weak spot to aid its escape.
Using knees and thighs no longer fit for purpose, Cherub crouched over the body of Jack Redit. With fat, dirty fingers, he slowly unscrewed the lid. The contents began to whirl around inside, full of excitement, of expectation. The open end of the vial was tipped towards Jacks cold, mouldy lips. The smoke that wasn't smoke moved then, slowly, cautiously. It crept towards the opening. Then, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, it bolted from the vial, prised open Jacks mouth, and disappeared inside.
Satisfied with a job well done, Cherub placed the vial away. He then defied gravity by slowly, and painfully, pulling himself out of the grave. It took several attempts. Once out, he clambered over to the plot next to Jack's, and proceeded to use the gravestone of the late Gerald Alexander Thornby to rest against.
Cherub checked his new watch to discover that it was still a little way off until sunrise. He pulled his battered tin lunch box from the sack that had recently contained body parts, and got stuck into his breakfast; egg sandwiches and chocolate cake. He expelled only sounds of contentment while he stuffed his face, appearing like someone who had not eaten in days.
With a mouth full of cake, Cherub glanced over at Jacks open grave. He smiled at the sounds of someone else eating a well-deserved meal.
"Eat up Jack," said Cherub. "The boss has got plans for you."
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Reluctantly, Mike stood up and reached to open the microwave door. Steam poured out like a ghastly prison escapee, desperate to get as far away from its tiny cell as possible. Mike waved the light cloud away, put on oven gloves, and reached in to retrieve his dinner for the evening.
It was unhealthy, he knew that. And previous experience told him that it would taste odd, and probably be as chewy as hell. But damn it if he didn't love the convenience of it.
You see, Mike was lazy. He hadn't always been, but things had just turned out that way. And recently he didn't really do much at all.
He grabbed cutlery from the drawer and sat back down at the kitchen table. The smell of the over processed ready meal filled his nostrils. He looked across to the other side of the table.
"Work was okay," he said. "Not much to get excited about, if I'm honest. My boss still has me crunching those numbers. All I can see these days are rows and columns." He picked up the fork and loaded it with something that resembled a potato. Several blows of air were given to the nuked chunk before he risked putting it in his mouth. It was hot. Really hot. He juggled it around on his tongue, not letting it sit still for more than a second. He sucked in cool air and then conceded, rushing to the sink and getting himself a glass of cold water. Once he had the balls to swallow the hot potato he chased it with several gulps of chilled H2O.
Mike sat back down and waved over his dinner. "That Graham prick is still working in my department. I swear to God I'm going to smack him one soon if he doesn't stop prattling on about worthless crap all day long. Some of us are there to work. And you know what really pisses me off?" He tested another potato, finding the temperature more to his liking this time. "He still gets all his work done. How is that possible? You could watch him all day and he never stops turning around and chatting. Yet the little hand hits five, and he's up-to-date, grinning all round, and out the fucking door."
The chicken tasted like a twenty-year old shoe.
"I know, I know, I need to get a better job. But my boss has hinted at a promotion coming up. I've put in so much time at the bank, it would be a shame to kiss it all goodbye and have to start from scratch somewhere else. If nothing's happened by your next birthday, then I promise, I'll spruce up my CV and put myself out there. But a promotion? That's a game changer."
The vegetables tasted like . . . Well they tasted like vegetables, he thought. Only ones that had been left outside in the rain for a week. He really had to start cooking proper meals. He couldn't go on eating crappy ready meals for the rest of his life. It was expensive and unhealthy.
No, he needed to buy a cook book and start taking better care of himself. His wife would agree.
He looked across the table to his wife to see if she agreed.
But she wasn't there.
Michelle had died six months ago.
That was the last time he'd had a proper cooked meal.
Mike placed his clean knife and fork in the drawer and took a mug from the cupboard above it. He liked getting everything ready the night before so that he could just move through the morning uninterrupted; breakfast, shower, dress, and out the door. His routine had been that for years. It was something Michelle said she'd found cute about him.
He checked the fridge and found that he was out of milk. Shopping was something else he hadn't really gotten into since Michelle's passing. Years spent looking after half the house, and now his colleague, his roommate, his love, wasn't around anymore. Now half the stuff wasn't being done.
Mike was a creature of habit, a master of routine. He knew stuff had to be done, the basic day to day stuff, but he'd been running on auto pilot since Michelle's funeral and things kept slipping his mind.
He looked at the clock hung above the sink. The corner shop didn't close for another twenty minutes. Could he miss coffee in the morning? Not bloody likely.
It was cold out and Mike started to regret not bringing his coat. If the shop hadn't of been less than a five-minute walk away, he would have headed back for layers. Of course, if the shop wasn't as close as it was, Mike doubted he'd have left the house.
The streets were quiet due to the hour. Cars could be heard elsewhere, several streets over, perhaps the motorway in the distance.
Mike clenched his fists tight in his pockets and tried not to think about the fog escaping his mouth with each exhale.
In no time at all he was heading up aisle two of the corner shop, a direct path set towards the chillers at the back. He reached for the green top but hesitated. Tomorrow was Friday, end of the week. Perhaps he could treat himself. His hand drifted left, and he grabbed two pints of blue top; full fat milk, the good stuff.
At the counter a small Asian man Mike knew as Balloo greeted him with a good evening as he scanned the milks bar code. Mike handed over the money and wished the shop assistant a good evening. As always, that was the limit to their relationship.
A deep breath and Mike stepped back out into the chilly November night. He was starting to picture his nice warm bed, like a man lost in the desert dreaming of a glass of water, when he remembered he needed some more deodorant. The corner shop sold that too, might as well head back, he thought.
He turned and nearly bumped into a man who must have been following close behind him.
"Sorry," said Mike, as he stepped to the side. "My fault."
"Mrrgh," said the man.
Mike couldn't see the man's face too well due to a hood covering it well. The man was hunched and, if Mike was being brutally honest, smelled like shit.
The man had stopped and, despite not having a visible face, seemed to be staring at Mike. This made Mike more than uncomfortable. The man leaned forward and, if Mike wasn't mistaken, proceeded to sniff, like a dog checking for food. Mike took a step back and weighed up the need to smell good in the morning with the need to get away from a man who did not smell good right now.
"Sorry," he said once more, mostly out of habit born from a disciplined upbringing. He turned and walked away. A quick glanced over his shoulder showed that the man was following, though at a considerably slower, almost shambling pace.
Projecting a million different outcomes to the next two minutes, most of which ended with police tape and a photo of himself on the mornings news as a murder victim, Mike doubled, then tripled his walking. Home suddenly seemed miles away, and a weirdo was very close indeed.
In crossing the street, Mike had to check for traffic (look left, look right, look left again). He noticed then that the man was gone. His heartbeat, recently hammering away in his chest as if it was matching a nightclub's beat, started to settle. Still, thought Mike, you can't be too careful. And so his walking pace did not slow down.
Two minutes later Mike was on the safer side of his front door. With the chain across. And the two bolts secured; top and bottom.
Mike placed the milk in the fridge and headed up to bed. Teeth brushed, changed into pyjamas, and a quick glance out of his bedroom window to make sure the man wasn't lurking. Then his head was on the pillow and thoughts of danger slowly drifted from his tired mind.
And Christina the Cricket bat leant silently by the bedroom door. Just in case.