The release of “Hellhound” is just around the corner (that’s on the 19th April for those of you who have been living under a rock), so I thought now would be a great time to give you a little taster, so that you can see what to expect. If you like what you read, please consider buying a copy of the book – it’s available in my store (use the code “HOWL” for 10% off until the 21st April!), Amazon & Kindle, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository, Waterstones, iBooks, etc.
So, for your reading pleasure, here is the Prologue and Chapter One.
Many years ago.
Warmth spread across the child’s back. Sunlight poured down, so bright it was near blinding, but the boy didn’t notice, his attentions were elsewhere. Drawn to the shadows, the child’s eyes flickered this way and that, eager to find something hidden just out of sight.
+ Are you afraid? +
At first, the voices startled him. But fear soon gave way to curiosity.
‘No.’ he said, his voice bold and in complete contrast with the tiny, almost sickly, body it emerged from.
+ Then step into the forest. +
Ten-year-old Daniel obeyed the voices happily, following the shadows deep into the dark forest that backed onto his home. Excitement covered his face and he smiled so much he thought his cheeks might split. His parent’s dried blood felt tight and cracked on his skin. Daniel had no need to be afraid; there were no monsters out to get him.
He picked up his pace and started to skip. Birds sang above him, and his cape fluttered behind him. The cape was made from a portion of his father’s back, his skin still smelt familiar.
Bloodied and insane, Daniel skipped into his destiny.
+ Om grutt + the voices chanted, thrilled to have such a young protege. + Om grutt +
The pavement was so hot, Kit Byers reckoned he could have fried an egg on it. But who would want to do that? Imagining the germs that could infect such an egg made Kit cringe. No, thanks, thought Kit. His stomach lurched at the thought. A man and his dog walked past, and Kit pitied the dog. Not only was it covered in fur, but its feet were constantly encountering asphalt. The dog, however, seemed to be putting on a brave face, never wincing and never complaining.
English summers were not supposed to be like this. They were meant to be drenched in rain and overcast, giving the British public everything they needed to complain. If complaining ever became an Olympic sport, Britain would bring home the gold. They excelled at it. Over the centuries, they’d developed a variety of tones, swear words and eye-rolls to help communicate their irritations. The combinations they could create with these tools were almost limitless. This summer, however, had been very different. The British public had still complained, but for very different reasons. Hell’s mouth had opened and it had exhaled its sulphurous heat directly over Surrey. Some people were loving it, basking out in the sun at every opportunity, running around in as few items of clothing as possible while guzzling beer and ice cream. But not Kit. Kit preferred a colder climate, one where he wasn’t permanently coated in a layer of sweat. His pasty complexion didn’t fare well under the strong sun. That unforgiving fireball in the sky didn’t tan him, it left him looking like a boiled lobster.
Each step along the pavement was torture. Using a sweaty and tired hand, Kit loosened his tie. The tie felt almost slimy – a disgusting serpent coiled around his neck, trying to choke him. Buttons popped off his shirt as he ripped the top of it open. He needed to feel the air on his skin and he could always buy a new shirt. Water, he thought, feeling like a dying man in a desert. I need water.
He stumbled through the door of the nearest shop and his skin rejoiced as it took full advantage of the air conditioning. After spending a bit of quality time in the chilled section (long enough to cause some concern for the shop assistant), Kit grabbed an overpriced bottle of water, paid for it and re-entered the furnace outside. The water felt divine as he gulped it down, feeling it flow through his throat and down into his stomach. Crunching the empty plastic bottle in his hand, Kit looked around for a bin. As luck would have it, a bin sat a few feet away, swarming with flies. They buzzed around excitedly as he drew closer and gingerly dropped the bottle like a sacrifice into their kingdom before backing away. Kit hated flies.
Hydration made the walk a little easier, but it still couldn’t be described as enjoyable. His mind raced with a thousand thoughts; each one competing for his attention. He’d fucked that job interview up. He knew it. And he knew exactly where he had gone wrong. What sort of question was “what kind of animal are you?”? An important one, apparently, and “worm” just hadn’t been the kind of answer they were hoping to hear. Kit’s heart had sunk as he looked at the faces of both interviewers when he answered. The moment they stopped happily scribbling into their notebooks he knew it was over. That was never a good sign. Why on earth had he said “worm”? Kit still couldn’t decide if he was just trying to be funny, or if it was all his stressed little brain could come up with.
Who the fuck said “worm”? Is that how he saw himself?
It had been his third job interview in two weeks and, rather than getting used to the interviewing process, his meagre skills were declining. His nerves refused to settle, and he stumbled over his words. Nerves and humidity ganged up on him, making sure his armpits and brow were always sweaty. Nobody wanted to shake the hand of a sweaty man. No-one would ever hire him at this rate.
Kit paused at the crossing of the crossroads. Ahead, a multitude of bars and clubs awaited him, each one ready and willing to help him drown his sorrows and forget his troubles in exchange for a couple of handfuls of his rapidly disappearing savings. Well, probably more than a couple of handfuls, Kit thought. The price of a pint was ridiculous these days. Home waited to the left, while a park and another residential area lurked to the right. A beer sounded bloody good, but Kit knew he had to save his money. Without a regular salary, his savings were dwindling at an alarming rate. Kit needed a job, and fast. Turning his head up to the sky, as if praying to Heaven and a god that didn’t seem to have any idea that he existed, Kit waited a few moments. No divine entity revealed itself. No answers. No help. Only the sun’s searing heat burning his already sunburnt face.
‘I just need a job.’ he said to nobody in particular. ‘I’d sell my soul for a fuckin’ job.’
Unnoticed by Kit, or anyone else around, the shadows cast by the buildings, people and vehicles started to darken. Somehow, they were becoming more whole. Shapes began to form. Vaguely humanoid, they looked to one another before making an exit; destination unknown. God may not have been listening, but someone was. Someone was always listening.
A woman stared at him, trying to work out if he was using a hands-free kit and having conversation with someone elsewhere, or if he was just crazy. The modern-age had made it incredibly difficult to pick out the weirdos from the general population. The woman, seemingly convinced that the sweaty man was indeed crazy, increased her speed and gave him a wide berth, doing everything she could to avoid eye contact. Kit just smiled and went back to his thoughts. Who cares if she thought he was crazy?
A car horn sounded, and brakes screeched. Without realising it, Kit had wandered into the centre of the road, cars swerved around him, trying to avoid getting blood and guts on their bumpers. After all, that was a bugger to clean off. Now he jumped out of the path of one car, only to find himself in the path of another. His breath caught in his throat. His bowels threatened to let go. The second car just missed him, but he felt the air move next to him as it sped past.
Standing at the centre of the crossroads, Kit breathed a sigh of relief. That was close; he’d felt certain that his time was up. He really needed to pay more attention to what he was doing. His body, only just realising what had happened, started to shake.
Now I need a stiff drink AND a job, he thought to himself and decided that perhaps going to a pub was a good idea. Probably the best idea he’d had all day. Besides, one drink would help to settle his nerves. Two drinks would be a commiseration prize for not getting that job. And Kit could easily find excuses for any other drinks that he decided to consume while in there.
Making sure to the look both ways, Kit crossed the remainder of the road and headed to the first pub he could see. Several people stared at him, but quickly averted their eyes when he looked back. No-one wanted a confrontation with the crazy dude who talked to himself and played with traffic.
The pub’s door creaked open and Kit half expected its clientele to pause their conversations and turn to look at him. Instead, nobody paid him any attention whatsoever. This wasn’t one of those old Westerns when the outsider walked into the bar and caught everyone’s interest. Nobody stopped playing a jaunty tune on a piano to turn and look at him. Hell, there wasn’t even a piano. To Kit’s surprise, the pub stood half empty. It seemed that maybe other people were not drawn to a pub at the first sight of sunshine, or maybe they just had planned to cool off in another drinking establishment. Either way, it meant that Kit had a choice of tables to sit at. He chose none of them. Kit planned to prop himself up at the bar for the duration of his stay.
‘Can I help?’ the barman asked, again ruining Kit’s expectations. The barman didn’t ask him ‘what’ll it be?’ as he should have done to fit in with Kit’s internal Western movie.
‘A pint of Hobgoblin and a shot of whiskey, please.’ Kit said, pulling his wallet from his trousers.
‘Any particular whiskey?’ the barman asked as he started to pull Kit’s pint.
‘Whatever you’ve got.’ Kit said, and the barman nodded.
Kit paid for his drinks, thanked the barman and started to study the pub. A song played just loud enough for Kit to hear, but not so loud to interrupt any conversations. Music at the perfect volume. Sadly, it was not the perfect song, it was one of those ones that just kept repeating the same lyric over and over again making you want to scream or drive a screwdriver through your own eardrum. Or both. So, Kit pulled out his MP3 player and popped one of the earbuds in, leaving the other earbud-free, in case someone should need to talk to him. Although unlikely, someone may want to ask him to move out of the way.
The song playing in his left ear was “The South” by The Cadillac Three; one of Kit’s ‘go to’ songs at the moment. Had a bad day? Stick The Cadillac Three on. In a great mood? Must be time for The Cadillac Three!
Kit knocked back his whiskey, enjoying the burning sensation as it ran down his throat. Now he felt even hotter, but at least there was air conditioning in the pub. As he took a small mouthful of beer, Kit began to relax and immerse himself in his music. The song sang about living and dying in the same town, making it sound romantic. While The Cadillac Three were singing about the American south, Kit felt that the phrase could also be applied to Croydon, Surrey. But nobody wrote songs like that about Croydon. Croydon wasn’t inspirational like that. It was the kind of place you tried to escape from. Known by many as the ‘Arsehole of London’, Croydon became known as a ‘shithole’. So, while Kit was born here and was likely to die here, it wouldn’t be by choice. Nobody stuck around inside an arsehole by choice. Even the most stubborn of turds eventually vacated. Except for Kit. Kit was destined to stick around forever.
Vibrations from his phone grabbed his attention, so he checked the screen. Without unlocking it he could see it was a text from his mother. Not only was this obvious because her name popped up on the display, but also because of the first two words: ‘Hi Bernie’. His mother always insisted on calling him by his real name or, at very least, a variation of it. Much to his annoyance, Kit’s real name wasn’t Kit, it was Bernard. And he hated it. Thankfully, since the age of eight years old, most people had called him Kitt due to his rather unhealthy obsession with ‘Knight Rider’. At some point over the years he’d decided to drop the final T. Kit’s mother was not most people. She’d named him ‘Bernard’ and she stubbornly stuck to it. Besides, she thought calling him ‘Bernie’ was cute. It wasn’t. It really wasn’t. Other people may have been fine with the name, but Kit felt like it didn’t suit him. At least, not in the way that ‘Kit’ did. He’d often wondered if everyone should be named after stuff they liked. Wouldn’t that make more sense than the current system? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It would mean that there would be a lot of nameless babies hanging around while their parents waited to see what toy, music, book or TV show they gravitated towards. No, maybe that was a terrible idea.
Returning his attention back to his phone, Kit still refused to read the whole text. He had an idea of what it would say anyway. His mother would want to know how he got on at the interview and Kit didn’t want to disappoint her. Kit was one of the middle children in a family with four kids. His older brother had become a successful lawyer, his younger sister had worked hard to be a doctor and his youngest brother owned his own restaurant. His whole family oozed success, with the exception of Kit. Kit felt like a failure.
In fairness, he still hadn’t received a call about the interview to confirm either way, but Kit was a realist leaning towards becoming a pessimist. If he had got the job, he would have heard by now. Besides, who would hire a worm?
Kit downed his beer and looked up the bar to get the barman’s attention.
‘Same again?’ the barman asked.
‘Absolutely.’ Kit replied, stifling a belch. He handed the barman some more money and waited for his drinks. If he continued like this, he’d be slaughtered by teatime.
‘Are you OK?’ the barman said as he handed Kit his change. ‘I hope you don’t me saying so, but you look like shi-… I mean, you look… er… worried.’
‘Yeah,’ Kit said, taking a sip of his pint. It tasted just as good, if not better, than the first one. ‘You must be good at picking up on that kind of thing working in here. Does everyone burden you with their problems?’
The barman nodded and began wiping down the bar. ‘They tell me a lot, but I don’t mind. It kinda feels nice to help, y’know?’
‘I guess.’ Kit said with a small smile. ‘Personally, it would drive me mad.’
‘It’s fine. I don’t let it bother me. It comes with the territory.’ The barman placed yet another pint in front of Kit, but instead of walking away, he remained in front of him on the opposite side of the bar. ‘Got anything you want to talk about?’
Kit wasn’t big on talking about his problems. People said that a problem shared was a problem halved, but that didn’t make a lot of sense to him. He could tell this barman about his troubles, but they’d still be there. It wouldn’t and couldn’t change anything.
‘Nah,’ Kit said. ‘I’m cool.’
‘OK, let me know if you change your mind.’ the barman said, a reassuring smile spread across his face and then he started to move away. ‘I’ll be here if you need me.’
Kit let him walk away. Complete strangers who wanted to listen to the bitching and moaning of others were weird. Unnerving in a way. Kinda creepy. Still, he supposed, some people were like that. Some people were very odd indeed.
The drinks kept coming as the day wore on. At some point before the evening rush, Kit found himself wanting to open up. As promised, the barman stood by, ready to listen to him. Kit started to tell the barman – for he was still just a barman, Kit hadn’t even thought to ask his name – all about his failed interviews and his money troubles. It felt like he talked for hours and the barman barely said a word, only interjecting words full of wisdom at random points. Kit had to admit that even though his confidant hadn’t taken his problems away, or even offered any advice, he did feel a whole lot better. He didn’t even bother to pick up when his phone rang; his interviewers could tell his answerphone that he didn’t have a job. He didn’t need to listen to their half-hearted feedback about how he only just missed on the post because another interviewee had more experience or had given them a better answer than ‘worm’.
Sometime later, a young woman entered the pub. She ordered a drink and then buried herself in her phone, actively ignoring anyone who looked in her direction. Maybe she was waiting for someone, or maybe she just wanted a quiet drink by herself; with no way of knowing, it would have to remain a mystery. Not without asking her, anyway. The newly open and ready-to-share Kit thought about talking to her, but her body language screamed ‘FUCK OFF!’, so he refrained. Instead, he signalled to the barman for another drink. Both his liver and his wallet were taking a beating, but those were problems for Future Kit; Present Kit planned on getting drunk.
‘How badly do you want a job?’ the barman said, handing over Pint Number Eight… or was it nine? Kit’s hands reached for it greedily.
‘You got a job for me here?’ Kit’s slurred speech failed to embarrass him now. Too much alcohol danced in his bloodstream for that.
‘Something like that.’ the barman said. ‘So, how badly do you want a job?’
‘I’d give anything.’ Kit’s mouth had trouble forming the words, so he took a couple of gulps of beer hoping they’d fix it. They didn’t, but they didn’t seem to make it any worse. Not that he could get any worse now.
‘Anything?’ the barman said, raising an eyebrow.
That’s when everything stopped for Kit and his body lay passed out on the pub’s beer-soaked floor. Not for the first time that day, strangers stared at him and cast judgements.