Monday, 11 February 2013

First rough draft of FORCES complete and sample!

The first very rough draft of my 13th teen fiction novel, the supernatural thriller, FORCES was completed today, although weeks of polishing, editing and proofreading lie ahead.  I couldn't be happier with the way it's turned out, and I don't say that lightly.  As some people have already expressed some interest, I have polished some sample pages from the penultimate chapter. See below.






It was indeed a different London around them as they staggered through that blistering blizzard which greeted them upon leaving Crates House.

The particularly large-flaked snow, combined with its frenzied speed of fall had quietly but profoundly re-sculpted the urban landscape that both men had been so blindingly accepting of.   Now they walked, hands shielding eyes, through a white world of undulating drifts and white-coated figures, of which there seemed to be a surprising number, and all hurrying too quickly to be comfortable.  Had something happened?
Both men reached the end of Hatchett Lane and turned into Madeleine Road where Rupert said he was parked.   In doing so, they passed the same bus shelter that John and the group of people once stupidly called the Red Liners had caught a bus to their collective slow-enacting doom a lifetime ago.   Now underneath it huddled a group of people numbering perhaps fifteen, of varying gender, age and shades of white-coating, so they were clearly not all acquainted with each other.  Instead, they stood huddled around a younger man holding an I-PAD, all looking at something, muttering and shaking their heads.  Their expressions, as much as their grouping, made John and Rupert stop as one.  You just had to.

“What’s happened?” said Rupert loudly, and in a voice which demanded an answer.

“Plane crash in Surbiton.  But it’s weird!  Look!” said the young guy, muffled by a blue tartan scarf draped across his lower jaw.    The group shifted slightly, some giving up and moving away unhappily, clearly having seen enough, and John and Rupert were allowed a reasonably close look at the I-PAD.  It would be a lie to say both men weren’t also glad to briefly escape that eye-hurting, face-numbing snow under the bus shelter’s protection.  Upon its roof, the snow already sat a foot thick easily.

John and Rupert wiped their eyes and peered at the screen.  It was showing the BBC’s news channel on the Internet, repeating over and over on loop a piece of eleven-second cameraphone footage. Beneath it scrawled a banner reading;

Bizarre mid-air explosion above Surbiton.

The footage scratched and played again.   It showed a low-flying Harrier jet cruising through the white snow-choked sky, the tops of grey buildings just below it in the distance, while excited young voices commented on it.

Bang!  The Harrier exploded in mid-air, but exploded as though it had hit the side of a building, since the flames instantly spread up and down against a hard line, as though against an invisible surface.  ‘Bizarre’ was the kindest word.  It....was awful, and yet confusing.  The young phone’s owner and his friends gasped and shrieked, and the utterly wrecked plane fell for what seemed like forever to land across a mercifully empty roundabout, hitting the centre almost like a grotesque bullseye.

The now-shaking cameraphone held on the flaming wreckage for a moment,  while screams grew in the background. The footage scratched and played again.

Suddenly BREAKING NEWS blinked across the feed, and the rather dishevelled and dark-eyed newsreader said something about a different local eye-witness in Islington  “reporting a phenomenon that might relate to the mid-air incident that occurred fifteen minutes ago over Surbiton, although that cannot be confirmed.  I repeat, this cannot be confirmed.”

The screen cut to a proper TV news camera swinging from the black rising clouds in the distance to a rather wild-eyed, very fat middle-aged woman, barely visible inside a huge dark green overcoat (nearly white from the snow), giant brown woollen scarf and black woollen hat pulled low.  Occasionally the camera operator had to rather violently wipe the camera lens to clear the snow that fell upon it. The microphone picked up ambulance sounds and heavy voices shouting in the background.   The woman’s voice was croaky and strained, like someone who had been speaking too loud, too hard, for too long in such weather. Her emotional state was sufficiently rendered clear by the affected nature of her speech pattern though.  She seemed to have trouble with volume control.

“I’m telling you there’s something THERE!  I HEARD it move.  I saw my garden shed just demolished right in front me!  Not just the shed but for yards about it the ground was all sort of ...compressed! And I mean crushed flat! FLAT!  Then I heard it pass over my house, I HEARD IT!  I couldn’t see it but I HEARD IT! FELT IT!  There’s something THERE!  OUT THERE! Oh God somebody do something!” 

The woman violently turned and wandered off in the manner of someone having no particular destination but unable to stay still. The camera followed her jerky stumbling progress through the snow for another five seconds and then went black.

The footage cut back to the newsreader in the studio, who touched his earpiece, looking ever-so-slightly frustrated, which, for a BBC newsreader, suggested immense frustration at what he was hearing.

“Do we...?  No?  No more?”
“Let’s go,” said Rupert quietly into John’s ear, making him jump.  “It’s a direct line from Surbiton to Islington if Red Corners is your destination, and Islington is only three miles away.”

“All for Joe,” whispered John to only himself.  “Coming for poor Joe.”

“LET’S GO!” shouted Rupert, making everybody jump this time, and he gave a vicious yank on John’s arm, nearly pulling him off his feet.  It worked though, and John carried through the momentum into a brisk pace beside Rupert.


* * * *


The drive to Grosvenor Lane was educational.

For a start, it was more of a series of controlled skids, born on an endless, horrendously straining number of stop-starts amongst a city falling apart practically and emotionally.  What should have taken twenty-five minutes took nearly an hour, and that was only due to the endless amount of dangerous decisions made by Rupert behind the wheel, who had never had either his impressive skill, self-control or equally impressive giant black 4X4 put so majorly to the test.

Every road, lane, pavement, street and alley (and he took all at some point) was adrift with high angular hills of snow, or trampled brownish slush-piles.  The streets were choked with cars populated by wretched, pale, strained faces, and more and more, simply abandoned cars.  John peered out from his window in the high vehicle, and personally witnessed perhaps seven or eight violent confrontations, another three or so emotional breakdowns by tearful people leaving their vehicles, and, perhaps ten cases of crashed vehicles.  Some were serious; completely wrecked right-offs but with no victims visible.  One was burning brightly but mercifully both the doors were open.  Others were simply crunched or scraped just enough to put them out of commission or initiate a shouting match/scrap between the owners, creating further pile-ups and anguish behind them.

Rupert drove hard but accurately and as effectively as any man could conceivably do under such circumstances.  He went up along pavements, cut across parks, and even drove up a flight of concrete steps outside a courthouse just to cut across to another street.   


More significantly though, huge plumes of black smoke rose now from perhaps ten different locations across the city from where John sat.   Passing through Central London, they passed the Gherkin to see a huge chunk taken out of one side about a third of the way up.  Rubble, fluorescent warning tape and flashing lights cluttered the base.   Men in yellow high-viz jackets stretched tight over heavily padded winter coats seemed to be everywhere across the city.    The overwhelming impression was of a society trying to empty a rapidly flooding cruise ship with a tablespoon.  Some things are just too much.  Too big.

But the weather was changing also.

The light was fading, but earlier in the day than it should, possibly because of the giant banks of charcoal cloud drifting across that formerly ice-white  sky. It seemed to be getting darker with every couple of minutes, although John didn’t trust any of his senses anymore, so fatigued was he.  Distant flashes of lightning?   Hard to say. Could have been more explosions.


As Rupert snarled to himself, trying to keep the 4X4 moving across a Trafalgar Square covered in shiftless crowds of people dressed so heavily they seemed to have lost their humanity and just become chess pieces, John closed his eyes to it all and rested his head against the icy window, wincing slightly at the cold, but not really capable of any big reactions of any kind.

As he did, he dimly tried to recall his life before the trip to the Professor Laurence J. Carrington Museum; a life that had seemed so entirely conquered, dull and endless.  He tried to recall the kind of person he’d been back then, but his brain couldn’t do it. Wasn’t functioning too well at anything at the moment, give the fatigue he suffered.    He could recall the interior of that living room though, surrounded by all those silly models and props from a childish TV series.  Then he remembered, one by one, the faces of all the Red Liners, the guys who’d stood about him because he’d told them to.  A list of anti-social soldiers now dead because their general had thought breaking into a Museum devoted to a children’s author would be a laugh.  Would be as free of consequences as anything else that the shiftless, angry young John Clay had done in his life.

Then his memory shifted to the footage of that TV interview. He recalled David Frost’s rather smug manner openly shrinking in front of that suddenly cold and cutting response from the previously uncomfortable academic-turned-author.  Yes, there had been something behind that old man image, with his cardigan and comfortable slacks.  Something so powerful that his equally strong and piercing bombshell of a wife had been happy to wait nine years for her fiancĂ©’ to come back to her.    This line of memory triggered the old question again, but never with as much ferocity.

Where the hell did Professor Laurence J. Carrington go during those missing nine years?

And now, if he focused on it, he could feel the coldness from the pendant, even through the wrapping of that T-shirt, even through the heavy material of his coat and jumper.


A flash of lighting behind his closed eyelids stirred him grudgingly back to the present.  A moment later the 4X4 jostled heavily off something and crunched the metal on the left hand side somewhat, forcing his bleary strained eyes to open.  The car continued though.

“Grosvenor Lane,” muttered Rupert, and never had a street name sounded so much like a declaration of war.

They turned a corner slowly, and were almost immediately stopped by a crazy mess of abandoned or dented high-price cars parked higgledy-piggledy all over the street head of them.     Rupert smoothly steered up onto the pavement and the car came to a stop.  Suddenly the hard, seasoned pro that Rupert always represented vanished, and Rupert rested his head upon the wheel, breathing out a succession of shuddering sighs, trying to gather himself after the nightmare journey.  As he did so, John stared out of that window, dumbly rubbing this breath-mist off the glass every so often.


Grosvenor Lane had changed since his late visit.   There was a terrific amount of damage to the formerly elegant and astronomically expensive houses in this ruined street.  Windows were dark, gaping, shattered holes in nearly every frame.    A large number of slates had slid from most of the roofs, exposing the underbeams.  There was a fire flickering behind one nearest to him, the actual room moderately on fire inside, yet nobody was in sight.  None of those abandoned cars had a visible occupant, but a large number had their doors open.  Whatever force had done all this damage had driven people away long ago...and driven them quickly.

The sky above the street was perhaps at its darkest here, indeed, as it broke up into more fragment shards of grey and white in the great distance, an argument could be made for this being the epicentre if one was so inclined to think so.  John was.

They both got out of the car, neither shutting the doors, both staring and stumbling across the slushy surface to stand beside each other in the centre of that white-sprayed street, the burnt sky above cracking every so often in a jerky flash of lighting, although other flashes could be seen far in the distance, and no thunder had yet been heard.

And there was no wind here.  That was the most powerful thing.  In fact it was almost silent. Yes, the distant sounds of the city were very faintly there in the background, but they seemed muffled beyond understanding here.  The loudest sound seemed to be the men’s own breathing, and the snow crunching under their boots where they found fresher fallings.

But there was more than that.  Without a sound, there was the palpable, almost painful sense of being too close to Something, like an insect on that sinking cruise ship crawling across the top of one of its gigantic throbbing engines.     John and Rupert felt it in the air, in their hair, in their fingertips, humming through their bones.

“What is this?” whispered Rupert, looking as though the times were changing his character faster than he could keep up with.   Yes, if that insect upon that giant engine could make a facial expression, it might be similar.

“I...should go in alone,” said John, not liking how loud his voice sounded, nor how little it sounded like the voice he was used to.  It sounded rough and hoarse, an old man’s voice.  The kind of voice belonging to the angry drunks that occasionally drifted into The Court.

Rupert looked like he was about to say something and then didn’t.  He merely nodded and then; “I’ll walk with you to the gate.”


And the two men trudged off through that slushy two hundred yards, negotiating their way through the jammed cars and open doors.  John tried very hard not to look in them, not wanting to take the chance that his assumption that they bore no occupants was wrong.  After all, how much had little John Clay been wrong about lately?


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