Series Fiction

As I may have mentioned, I’m thrilled with the covers of these six novellas, and delighted by the way the story pans out. What began in Fearless as a story that echoed my own concerns over the ways we address our personal demons, has gone on to follow a surprising turn of events that I could never have predicted at the start of the journey.

And, for anyone unfamiliar with how the story begins, these are the opening pages from Fearless: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth

The Randolph Carter Memorial Tower stood 200 feet tall overlooking the university quadrangle. Moonlight from a midnight sky illuminated its smooth, bleached stonework. The shape of the tower, combined with the pillared columns of the rotunda at its base, looked vaguely like a huge skeleton’s hand flipping a defiant finger at the night.

“He’s doing it,” Graham muttered.

Robert grinned. “I told you he’d do it.”

“He’s fucking doing it,” Graham insisted. His voice was breathless with incredulity. His eyes were wide with disbelief. He shook his head, stared up at the faraway full-length windows above the memorial tower’s eastern clock-face, and watched intently as a scrawny figure stepped out onto the thin ledge that circumnavigated the tower. “We should stop him,” Graham decided.

Robert placed a hand on his shoulder before Graham could hurry to the compromised door of the rotunda. “We’re not going anywhere. We have a bet.”

Graham shook his head. “He’s going to kill himself.”

“He’s going to walk on the ledge,” Robert corrected. “If he fails to do that, you win the bet. If he achieves that, I win and-”

“Fuck the bet,” Graham broke in. Anger made his tone brittle. “If he dies there’ll be repercussions and I’m not getting expelled from another uni. Not because of some dumbass bet.”

Robert continued to hold onto Graham’s shoulder as they both glanced up at the figure so close to the top of the Memorial Tower. He was wearing Converse, skinny jeans, and a loose T – hardly the most appropriate gear for such daredevil antics. The night was chilly and a sharp breeze tugged at his shirt and toyed playfully with his long hair. Seeming unmindful of the elements, the figure pressed his back against the wall and, with both heels firmly on the ledge, he began to inch around the building.

“That’s insane,” Graham whispered.

Robert nodded silent agreement. He had no idea about the most efficient way to walk on a decorative cornice but, on an instinctive level, he felt sure that back-to-the-wall and facing out-into-the-night was the wrong way to do it. As he watched, the scrawny figure waved down at him and shouted something. The wind made his words meaningless and only allowed his cheery tone to reach them.

“We’ve got to stop him.”

Robert shook his head. “It’s too late.”

“He’s going to fall.”

Robert shrugged. “He might.”

Graham wrested his arm from Robert’s grip and glared at him with sullen fury. “I’m not getting expelled for this shit.”

Robert glanced at him and said, “If you go into that building, you’ll almost certainly get expelled from Innsmouth University. There’s CCTV pointing at the rotunda doors. There’s camera coverage up the staircase and all the way to the top of the tower. Campus Security will see you and, even if they don’t recognise you immediately, they’ll know that someone was with that dumb fucker.” He nodded in the direction of the man creeping around the thin ledge. In a solemn voice he said, “I don’t think either of us wants Campus Security digging into this, do we?”

Graham hesitated and Robert watched the indecision flutter across his features.

“Go in there,” Robert said quietly. “And all three of us will be expelled. He’ll be expelled for his act of dangerous stupidity. We’ll be expelled for being accomplices. Stay out here, away from the cameras, and they won’t expel any of us.”

Graham rolled his eyes and nodded at the figure atop the tower. “Except for him?” he suggested. “They’ll only expel him, right?”

“No,” Robert said coolly. “If he makes it all the way around the tower, the administration here will not want to kick up a fuss about his achievement because they’ll be scared it will start some lemming-like trend of copycat daredevils. They’ll tell him he can keep his place here on the condition he doesn’t tell anyone what he did.”

“And if he falls off and dies?” Graham asked.

Robert’s shrug was a model of indifference. When he spoke, his tone was oily with disdain. “If that happens, the idea of his expulsion becomes somewhat redundant.”

Love for the Cover Artist

Dark Tales from Innsmouth

We often hear people saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. The people who say this are morons.

I agree that, at a metaphoric level, it’s inadvisable to make any decision based on surface aspects. But that’s common sense. If I’m thinking, “That fifteenth cake looks tasty,” or “That cocktail looks tempting”, I have the wit and wisdom to consider the choice for a moment and think, “Do I need those extra calories of a fifteenth cake?” or “Why am I staring at cocktails at 8.00am?”

But we do make many decisions based on surface aspects. And the most ironic area where we make decisions judging books by their covers is when we’re buying books.

All of which his my way of saying thank you to my friend the writer, and cover artist, Colin Davies. Colin is responsible for each of the covers from the Innsmouth series and I think they beautifully illustrate the journey that takes the characters from Fearless to Dagon.

Colin and I regularly chat together about horror stories and you can see some of our recorded discussions on this link to the Ash and Col Podcast.

More importantly, if you want to check out some of Colin’s superb writing, start with Blood Ink and prepare for the forthcoming sequel, Blood Debt. And, when it comes to judging books by their covers, keep in mind that some of the best covers genuinely do contain some bloody good books.

cOVER reveal

Dagon: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth

Delighted to announce that this is the cover for Dagon: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth – the final story in the Dark Tales from Innsmouth series. The book is available for pre-order now and will be released towards the end of November.

Dagon has been summoned. The dead have risen from their graves. And, whilst cultists, researchers and the might of the military try to oppose him, Dagon’s power proves to be formidable. However, there is one, final slim opportunity to save the world from being eaten by Innsmouth’s returning elder god.
A dwindling band of heroes fight against the inevitable apocalypse in this concluding story from Ashley Lister’s series of dark tales from Innsmouth.

Countdown to Escape: Day #5

Escape: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, is due to be released tomorrow, on August 22nd. This is a story that began with Fearless: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, and then continued in Unearthed: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth then Cursed: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, and most recently, Kurgan: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth.

I thought, today, it would be fun to remember some of the kind things reviewers have said about these titles so far.

Please remember, there’s still time to pre-order your copy of Escape: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth.

Honestly, my only critique is that this should be a full novel. Having it as a novella is great and it helps keep the pace up, but I would love to see it expanded more and developed even more. I would say that pace is good and makes for a fun read, but, with such interesting plots and characters, there is nothing wrong with slowing down from time to time to really explore and expand them.

Grimm Deathwish

I read Ashley Lister’s Fearless: a dark tale from Innsmouth in one sitting. Oh. My. Gosh. I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed such amazing dialogue in a story. It’s clever and dark and had me laughing and exclaiming out loud, much to my husband’s dismay. The characters and their interactions are absolutely brilliant.

Lisa Lee

In a rare quiet moment I picked up this book [Cursed: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth] and devoured it. The story and the characters are deliciously dark and the end (which came far too soon!) left an unpleasant aftertaste – which is only ever a good thing when we’re talking horror novels.
I very much enjoyed getting lost in Innsmouth. So much so – I’ve bought the entire series.

Countdown to Escape: Day #4

Escape: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, is due to be released on August 22nd. This is a story that began with Fearless: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, and then continued in Unearthed: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth and Cursed: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth. The fourth instalment is the novella Kurgan: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth.

Please remember, there’s still time to pre-order your copy of Escape: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth.

Chapter # 1

The Thurston lecture hall lights dimmed. An audience of students, scholars and interested layfolk filled the tiered seats. The murmur of their expectant chatter susurrated from the ceiling and walls. Dr Ellie Green thought it was exceptionally busy for a lecture on an investigation into the roots of Proto-Indo-European language, but she was not surprised by the large numbers. Given the upset and notoriety that had plagued the investigation, Ellie had expected this lecture to be packed with ghouls and the macabrely curious. She recognised the faces of a handful of reporters in the auditorium and inwardly cursed each of them.

“This lot are going to eat us alive,” Anjali muttered in a soft whisper.

“We’ve faced worse,” Ellie reminded her.

Anjali pursed her lips, as though biting back a comment. Clearly she felt as though she didn’t need to be reminded about the worse things they had faced, particularly not now when her anxiety was already at insane levels.

The lecture hall lights dimmed again, a prompt that they were expected to begin and, after checking her watch, Ellie gave a light sigh and said, “I suppose we should make a start.” She stepped away from the shorter woman and went to the podium beside the screen. Her shoulders were back. She stood tall and defiant and ready to face anything. Dressed in a form-fitting suit, predominantly charcoal over a white blouse, and with a gold broach in the shape of an ugly mermaid pinned to her left lapel, she presented an imposing figure. She was tall, redheaded and austerely attractive.

With a click of the mouse she turned on the screen and silence blanketed the hall.

The screen at the front of the lecture hall bore the title: KURGAN. Beneath that were the words, presented by Dr Ellie Green and Dr Anjali Hill. Beneath that were the words: respectfully dedicated to the memory of Dennis Waite, PhD, FHEA, MCIfA. In the bottom right hand corner of the screen was the message: Sponsored by the Esoteric Order of Dagon.

“Good evening,” Ellie began. She spoke with a cool confidence that did not betray any suggestion of nervousness. “It’s a pleasure to see so many faces in the hall this evening,” Ellie said brightly. “I had no idea that the field of archaeolinguistics was enjoying such a vogue of popularity.”

There were a handful of chuckles, but this sound was lost beneath the uncomfortable shuffling of feet from those who clearly had no knowledge about archaeolinguistics or its related disciplines. These feet-shufflers, Ellie knew, were the ghouls who had come to hear a first-hand account of the ill-fated research project, and to see how her version of events married with what they’d read in the tabloids and seen on the viral videos about the Dzhebel Caves Massacre.

“Our project, as you can see, has been given the single word title, Kurgan.”

She pressed the mouse and the next screen appeared. Ellie paused for a moment allowing her audience to read the definitions she had placed there.

KURGAN: noun ARCHAEOLOGY; a prehistoric burial mound of a type found in southern Russia and the Ukraine.

Adjective;relating to the ancient Kurgans.

The words were black over an image of a lush green burial mound that sat beneath a cerulean Ukraine sky. The photograph was one of the many she had taken during the first hours of their investigation and, she realised unhappily, it had been taken before the first of the tragedies had befallen their research group.

There was a short, sharp cough and she saw that someone in the shadows of the hall had their hand in the air. Rolling her eyes, not sure how she was supposed to handle this sort of break with lecture hall protocol, Ellie said, “Is that a question already?”

“I thought the Kurgan was that really tall bloke from the Highlander film.”

Ellie glanced toward Anjali. Without bothering to lower her voice she said, “We’ve really attracted the intellectual elite this evening, haven’t we?”

Anjali cringed.

“If we can save questions, even stupid ones, until after this presentation, it will be much appreciated.” Not waiting for her audience to acknowledge this, Ellie clicked to the next slide which displayed a subtitle: Proving the Proto-Indo-European root.

A voice in the audience gasped.

Ellie grinned. “It sounds like there’s at least one person here who understands the enormity of our discovery. Since we seem to be breaking with protocol this evening, perhaps you’d care to share your insights with the rest of the room?”

“You can’t talk to them like they’re a bunch of first years,” Anjali whispered.

“First years in my classes would have a damned sight more knowledge than this ignorant rabble,” Ellie returned.

Anjali was shaking her head, and looked set to argue, but the figure in the auditorium was standing and clearing his throat. “Proto-Indo-European is the theorized common ancestor of the Indo-European language family,” he began. “It’s the single root of all modern languages.” He spoke with the clear tones of a lecturer and sounded confident in the definition he was supplying. Ellie recognised him as Graham McLaughlin, one of the senior researchers from the Cognitive Science Unit. “Its proposed features have been derived by linguistic reconstruction from documented Indo-European languages,” Graham went on. “But no direct record of Proto-Indo-European is known to man.”

Ellie smiled at him and shook her head slowly. “No direct record of Proto-Indo-European was known to man. But that was before Dr Hill and I made our discovery.”

“Good Lord,” Graham muttered, before settling back down into his seat.

Ellie clicked to the next screen.

Someone in the auditorium screamed.

Kurgan: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, is also available as an audiobook.

Countdown to Escape: Day #3

On Tuesday we looked at where the Dark Tales from Innsmouth began with a reminder of the prologue for Fearless. Yesterday, because the story continued with Unearthed: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, I figured it would be fun to see what happened at the start of that novella. Today, we’re looking at the introduction to Cursed: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth.

Please remember, there’s still time to pre-order your copy of Escape: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth.

# Prologue

A fragrance of neglect hung in the air. It was the odour of second-hand clothes in charity shops; the subtle stink of long-forgotten corridors in derelict buildings; and the smell of uninhabited houses.

“This feels wrong,” Stuart whispered. “This is tantamount to burglary.”

“It’s not burglary,” David Middleton assured him. “We’re not stealing anything.”

“I didn’t say it was burglary,” Stuart said. His voice was low and soft, but not so quiet that it hid a note of testiness. “I said it was tantamount to burglary. Tantamount.”

“Did you know,” David began, “here in the UK, only 14 arrests are made for every 100 burglaries?”

Stuart eyed David sceptically. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

David shrugged. “I only mention it because, even though what we’re doing isn’t technically burglary, I thought you might be reassured by the fact that so few burglaries result in prosecution.”

They stood in the majestic hallway of the abandoned Porter house. Dark blue shadows swathed them like a shroud. David knew better than to turn on any lights. That was a sure way to draw attention to the fact that the property now hosted illicit visitors. His eyes were used to the lack of light and he could make out the stripe of the regency wallpaper, the flow of the stairs up to the galleried landing and the hanging presence of an unlit chandelier above.

“Why is this place empty?” Stuart asked, peering myopically into the gloom around them.

“It’s a mystery,” David admitted. “The place was owned by a husband and wife: Mr and Mrs Porter. He went missing one night whilst he was out walking the dog.”

“What? Was he murdered or did he do a runner or something?”

David shook his head. “No. Just went missing.”

“Bloody hell,” Stuart muttered.

“Two days later his wife disappeared.”

Stuart sucked an exclamatory breath of surprise. “That’s terrible.”

“It really is,” David agreed. “The executors have put this place on the market at an inflated price, trying to cash in on a lucrative sale, but that’s not going to happen.” He smiled sadly, an expression that couldn’t be seen in the darkness, as he added, “They’re trying to sell an overpriced property in the middle of a very picky buyers’ market.” Glancing around the dark shadows he said, “This property is going to stay empty for a long time.”

Stuart considered him suspiciously. “You seem to know a lot about it.”

David shrugged. “The property is being managed by Murdoch’s, the estate agent where I work.” He lightly jangled a set of keys and added, “That’s how we were able to get in here so easily.” He could have added that it was because he had gained access using his employer’s keys that their presence on the property wasn’t technically burglary or breaking and entering, but he figured there was no sense reminding Stuart about the source of his earlier unease.

Stuart was looking around, his night-blind gaze trying to scour the darkest corners of the unfamiliar surroundings. “And you’re sure this place is empty?”

“It’s currently untenanted,” David said confidently. “And there’s not been a single viewer since it came on the market.” He drew breath, as though about to make some other point to assure Stuart that the house they were in was empty, when they both heard the deep, guttural shriek from above.

It was the unmistakable sound of a groaning floorboard.

“What the fuck?” Stuart muttered.

David tried to dismiss the noise as unimportant. “It’s probably just the house settling.” Even to his own ears, he didn’t sound convinced but he ploughed on as though, if he spoke about it with enough enthusiasm, he might make himself believe in this fatuous notion. “Old properties like this make lots of inexplicable noises but we only notice it during the quiet of the night.”

Upstairs a door slammed shut.

Stuart ducked as though the noise came from a weapon that had been aimed at his head. “I’m out of here,” he snapped. His words had a finality that brooked no argument. He lurched towards the kitchen and then bolted through the back door.

“Stuart,” David hissed.

But it was too late. Stuart was already gone and David was alone in the house with whatever was stepping on floorboards and slamming doors in the room above. David snorted with frustration.

If it was a tramp or a poverty-weakened squatter, David figured he could strongarm the bastard out of the building and then tell his boss about his heroism and receive an appropriate reward. He could picture himself saying, “I was driving past the property on my way home from the gym when I saw a light in one of the upstairs windows. I thought something was amiss and so I…”

In his mind’s eye the tramp was elderly and hurrying out of the building, apologising for the trespass and assuring David it would never happen again. It was only when David had climbed to the top of the stairs, and reached the galleried landing, that he considered the idea that the trespasser might not be so easy to remove from the property. If it was a young guy, or several young guys, David knew he could be in jeopardy. He occasionally visited the gym but he had no illusions about his abilities to be successful in a fight with an angry junkie, a coked up crackhead or a violent tramp. The last fight he’d been in had been a decade earlier, when he was at school. That had ended with him being knocked unconscious by a girl who was three years younger and he’d never fully recovered from the humiliation of that incident. The idea that he might now encounter someone using drugs, wielding a knife or involved in some other nefarious criminal act made him stand rigid as he contemplated the potential outcomes.

None of them were good.

His bowels threatened to turn to water.

Common sense told him it would be best to tiptoe down the stairs and get out of the house rather than forcing a confrontation. And David prided himself on responding to the dictates of common sense. He would get out of the property, send a text message to the rest of the Explorers Club telling them that tonight’s meeting had been cancelled, maybe even blame Stuart and say that their supporting guest speaker had become nervous and done a runner, and he wouldn’t think about the abandoned Porter property until his boss next wanted him to help some potential client with a viewing. Even then, he would insist that any future viewing took place during daylight hours.

A muffled voice behind one of the doors made him stiffen before he could begin his descent down the stairs. The voice was low, dripping with menace, and vaguely familiar.

Hearing a voice didn’t bode well.

If he was hearing a solitary person, talking to themselves, that was clearly a sign of mental instability. If he was hearing the conversation of two or more people, that meant David was outnumbered and unlikely to come off best if there was a confrontation. Hearing a voice meant his situation was extremely dangerous and he needed to act fast before things turned bad. “Get out of here,” he told himself softly. “Get out of here now.”

David swallowed and reached for the bannister rail, ready to lurch down the stairs as quickly as his body would allow. His heart was hammering so loudly he could feel the tremor of each beat in his fingertips. His mouth was dry and the lump in his throat made it impossible to even think about swallowing. As soon as he was sure he could descend the stairs silently, he was determined to make his escape.

The door swung open and he was momentarily blinded by a blast of torchlight.

The beam was strong enough to sting his retinas. Raising a hand in front of his face, trying to shield his gaze from the pain of the torch, he saw a vague shadow running at him. He caught the glint of silver light sharpening the edge of an eight-inch chef’s knife.

Then something heavy hit David in the gut.

It was more than a punch. He could feel the hot pain of metal sliding through his skin and bone. It was cutting a path through arteries and organs. It was sliding deep into him and made breathing a sudden impossibility. His heart seemed to hammer harder.

“Killed?” he thought, not sure how it had happened. “I’ve been killed?” He didn’t know how it was possible to have his life taken so quickly and with so little warning. Even more puzzling, when David lifted his eyes to meet the gaze of his assassin, he found himself staring at his own horrified face.

Cursed is also available as an audiobook.

Countdown to Escape: Day #2

Yesterday we looked at where the Dark Tales from Innsmouth began with a reminder of the prologue for Fearless. Today, because the story continued with Unearthed: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, I figured it would be fun to see what happened at the start of that novella.

Please remember, there’s still time to pre-order your copy of Escape: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth.

this is how it ends

Harper slowed the pickup to a crawl.

Goosebumps prickled his bare forearms, but he knew the cold weather was not responsible. Tendrils of chilly mist swept against the windscreen and threaded through the halogen beams of his headlamps as they lit the gloomy black asphalt ahead. The roads were unlit. Even the moon was hidden behind an impenetrable blanket of dark grey cloud above. But the inclement night remained outside the toasty warm cabin of the pickup. And still, the goosebumps on his forearms continued to make the small hairs stand erect.

It was a movement he caught in the corner of his eye that made him stamp on the brakes. The pickup slammed to a halt that pulled his chest hard against the restraints of the seatbelt. Harper hissed through gritted teeth. Acting quickly, he released the seatbelt, killed the engine and reached into the glove compartment.

A 45 Magnum fell into his hand. It was already loaded and he thumbed the safety off as he balanced its weight in his palm. Smiling without humour, he pushed open the pickup’s door, snatched a flashlight from beside the driver’s seat, and stepped into the darkness.

“I saw you hiding there, you little fuckers,” he grunted. “Come on out and get what you deserve.”

There was a moment’s silence: the night and Harper each holding their breath. For an instant he wondered if he had been mistaken. He wondered if his senses had let him down, or if what he’d thought he’d seen had simply been a trick played by his overactive imagination. The night’s hours of solitude had a way of whittling down a man’s senses until they were so sharp he could see things that weren’t there. This had been a particularly long night, longer than any Harper could recall experiencing, and his nerves felt frayed and hypersensitive.

But, whilst the temptation to lower the Magnum was strong, the notion that he had not been mistaken was stronger. He switched on the flashlight and placed it beside the barrel of the Magnum so he could see where the path of his bullets would follow. The beam carved a tube of light out of the misted night, creating shapeless ghosts that threatened to haunt him.

“I saw you hiding, you little fuckers,” he said again. This time his voice was raised and meant to be more threatening. To his own ears, it sounded flat and weak as he threw it into the darkness. “Come on out,” he called, “and get what you deserve.”

He had barely finished the final syllable, when the pair of them ran at him. Their sweat-sleek faces glinted wickedly sharp reflections from the stray beams of his flashlight. Their eyes, bright and wild with manic intensity, shone murderously. Their teeth, long, sharp and stained a dirty red, were bared in threatening grins.

Harper went for the one on his left first.

A single shot in the forehead stopped it dead in its tracks. There was an expression of comical surprise on the face and he knew the back of its head had disappeared. The Magnum was not a lightweight weapon. Before he could even see the flow of blood, Harper had turned to aim at the second would-be assailant.

The fucker was fast and bearing down on him with a snarl of malicious intent. Its teeth were gnashing. Its hands were twisted into claws, and it looked set to throw itself at Harper. From its throat came a feral growl of menacing fury.

Harper fired the Magnum twice.

The first shot caught his would-be attacker in the chest, throwing him backwards into the night. The second shot, striking as its victim flew backward, obliterated its face. Headshots were always tricky, but they remained the most certain way of doing what was necessary. And, even though it was a dirty job, Harper was determined to do what was necessary.

The explosion of the Magnum’s gunshots continued to ring through the night, sounding in his ears like a slow-fading buzz of tinnitus. He could smell the dirty stink of cordite as it burnt the air, and the rusty tang of blood from his victims.

He lowered the Magnum and then swept the area to assure himself there were no other figures lurking in the depths of the darkness. Once he had convinced himself it had only been those two, Harper walked slowly over to them and shone his flashlight on their still bodies.

Two dead eight-year-old boys lay at his feet.

Harper smiled with satisfaction.

“Got you, you little fuckers,” he growled. Muttering under his breath, allowing his scowl to glance furtively into the darkest corners of the night, he promised, “And I’ll get the rest of you before I’m done.”

Unearthed: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, is also available as an audiobook.

Countdown to Escape: Day #1

Escape: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, is due to be released on August 22nd. For anyone wondering how we’ve got to this stage, I suppose we need to go back to the place where it all began: Fearless: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth.

Please remember, there’s still time to pre-order your copy of Escape: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth.

Prologue

The Randolph Carter Memorial Tower stood 200 feet tall overlooking the university quadrangle. Moonlight from a midnight sky illuminated its smooth, bleached stonework. The shape of the tower, combined with the pillared columns of the rotunda at its base, looked vaguely like a huge skeleton’s hand flipping a defiant finger at the night.

“He’s doing it,” Graham muttered.

Robert grinned. “I told you he’d do it.”

“He’s fucking doing it,” Graham insisted. His voice was breathless with incredulity. His eyes were wide with disbelief. He shook his head, stared up at the faraway full-length windows above the memorial tower’s eastern clock-face, and watched intently as a scrawny figure stepped out onto the thin ledge that circumnavigated the tower. “We should stop him,” Graham decided.

Robert placed a hand on his shoulder before Graham could hurry to the compromised door of the rotunda. “We’re not going anywhere. We have a bet.”

Graham shook his head. “He’s going to kill himself.”

“He’s going to walk on the ledge,” Robert corrected. “If he fails to do that, you win the bet. If he achieves that, I win and-”

“Fuck the bet,” Graham broke in. Anger made his tone brittle. “If he dies there’ll be repercussions and I’m not getting expelled from another uni. Not because of some dumbass bet.”

Robert continued to hold onto Graham’s shoulder as they both glanced up at the figure so close to the top of the Memorial Tower. He was wearing Converse, skinny jeans, and a loose T – hardly the most appropriate gear for such daredevil antics. The night was chilly and a sharp breeze tugged at his shirt and toyed playfully with his long hair. Seeming unmindful of the elements, the figure pressed his back against the wall and, with both heels firmly on the ledge, he began to inch around the building.

“That’s insane,” Graham whispered.

Robert nodded silent agreement. He had no idea about the most efficient way to walk on a decorative cornice but, on an instinctive level, he felt sure that back-to-the-wall and facing out-into-the-night was the wrong way to do it. As he watched, the scrawny figure waved down at him and shouted something. The wind made his words meaningless and only allowed his cheery tone to reach them.

“We’ve got to stop him.”

Robert shook his head. “It’s too late.”

“He’s going to fall.”

Robert shrugged. “He might.”

Graham wrested his arm from Robert’s grip and glared at him with sullen fury. “I’m not getting expelled for this shit.”

Robert glanced at him and said, “If you go into that building, you’ll almost certainly get expelled from Innsmouth University. There’s CCTV pointing at the rotunda doors. There’s camera coverage up the staircase and all the way to the top of the tower. Campus Security will see you and, even if they don’t recognise you immediately, they’ll know that someone was with that dumb fucker.” He nodded in the direction of the man creeping around the thin ledge. In a solemn voice he said, “I don’t think either of us wants Campus Security digging into this, do we?”

Graham hesitated and Robert watched the indecision flutter across his features.

“Go in there,” Robert said quietly. “And all three of us will be expelled. He’ll be expelled for his act of dangerous stupidity. We’ll be expelled for being accomplices. Stay out here, away from the cameras, and they won’t expel any of us.”

Graham rolled his eyes and nodded at the figure atop the tower. “Except for him?” he suggested. “They’ll only expel him, right?”

“No,” Robert said coolly. “If he makes it all the way around the tower, the administration here will not want to kick up a fuss about his achievement because they’ll be scared it will start some lemming-like trend of copycat daredevils. They’ll tell him he can keep his place here on the condition he doesn’t tell anyone what he did.”

“And if he falls off and dies?” Graham asked.

Robert’s shrug was a model of indifference. When he spoke, his tone was oily with disdain. “If that happens, the idea of his expulsion becomes somewhat redundant.”

For the briefest moment he thought Graham was going to punch him. The man’s right hand tightened into a fist and his shoulder pulled back a little as though he was going to deliver a fierce blow of retribution.

Robert stood calm, unmoved by the threat of violence.

“If you’re thinking of striking me,” Robert began, “please remember you now owe me five thousand pounds. Right now, I’m prepared to be lenient about the payment terms, but I’m unlikely to be so generous if you lay a single finger on me.”

Graham’s shoulders slumped. The tension in his fist relaxed and he scowled at Robert with deep-set disdain. “How did you do it?” he asked.

Robert raised an eyebrow. “Do what?”

Graham pointed toward the top of the tower. “That cowardly bastard was scared of his own shadow when we made this bet. I’ve seen him shudder at the top of stairs because he was uneasy with the height. I’ve seen him stay in a library all night because he was scared he’d have to walk past the mime artists from creative arts on his way back to his dorm. And yet, once you and I have agreed on a bet, he’s suddenly stepping out of tower windows and trotting along a six-inch ledge two-hundred foot above the quadrangle.”

“I’d hardly call it trotting,” Robert corrected. “It’s more like a slow shuffle.”

“How did you do it?” Graham repeated.

Robert shook his head. “We’re all entitled to our professional secrets, aren’t we?” he began. “I have no desire to know how you intend to raise the five thousand pounds you’ve wagered on this bet. And I see no reason to divulge how I influenced an inveterate physical and emotional coward so that he has the courage to perform death-defying acts at the top of the Randolph Carter Memorial Tower.”

“It can’t be bribery,” Graham muttered. “He looks too confident to be a man who’s been bribed to be up there. Is it drugs?”

Robert raised an eyebrow. “Does he look like he’s on drugs?”

“Well, something’s happened to him.”

Robert glanced upward to watch the figure approaching the corner of the tower. Even at such a distance, with shadows and the night obscuring the clarity of his vision, he could see the broad grin on the figure’s face. The smile looked like an expression of achievement and it was accompanied by a wave.

  It was whilst he was waving that he seemed to lose his footing.

“Shit,” Graham gasped.

“Shit indeed,” agreed Robert.

If the figure made any sound as it fell – fell too quickly down the side of the tower – neither Graham nor Robert heard it. There was no cry for help. No wail of impending death, destruction or doom. All they heard was the crumpled thud of a body connecting with the roof of the rotunda.

Robert resumed his grip on Graham’s shoulder.

“Get off me,” Graham said, trying to pull free. “I’ve got to go to him and see if-”

“He’s dead,” Robert growled. “If you go there now, you might as well be dead too.” Speaking quickly, before Graham could argue or protest, Robert said, “From an outsider’s perspective, you’re not involved in this yet. No one knows you were standing here. No one knows you suggested him as our mark for this wager. You go over there and look at his corpse and they’ll tie you to him and your future will be over.”

“Do you think I care about that?” Graham asked.

“You cared about it two minutes ago when that consideration stopped you from running up the tower to talk him down whilst he was still alive.”

Graham paused for an instant.

Then he slammed the punch into Robert’s face.

The blow was neither hard, nor powerful but it was sufficiently unexpected to make Robert lose his hold on Graham’s shoulder. He staggered back a couple of paces and blinked his eyes in surprise.

“You’re a piece of shit,” Graham told him.

“That is probably a correct assessment,” Robert admitted, rubbing his nose and making sure nothing was broken. “But please remember I’m the piece of shit to whom you now owe five thousand pounds.”

Graham scowled.

“I was prepared to give you a month to get the money to me,” Robert informed him. “But now I’m not feeling so generous. I’ll expect full payment within a week.”

“And if I refuse to pay you?” Graham demanded. His hands were still balled into fists and he looked ready to attack. His jaw was thrust up with defiance. “What are you going to do about it if I say I’m not paying?”

Robert’s expression was cool with indifference. “In the past you’ve watched me organise illicit fights in the heart of the campus. You’ve seen me bending staff and students to my way of thinking. And I’m sure you’ve heard rumours about me being responsible for a handful of missing persons.”

“They’re just rumours,” Graham said. He was trying to sound confident but his tone wavered with uncertainty.

Robert continued as though Graham hadn’t spoken.

“Tonight, you’ve watched me transform a cowardly nerd into someone willing to walk around the outside of the Memorial Tower. Admittedly, he wasn’t very good at it. But that’s immaterial. I made him do it. Renege on our agreement and you’ll discover that, when I’m angered, I have the resources and ability to make the repercussions very unpleasant.”

Fearless is also available as an audiobook.

Monday Update

I’ve almost hit the 10K mark for Dagon, which will be the final story in the dark tales from Innsmouth. Writing a series of novellas is new for me and the whole experience has been liberating. I know the story I’m wanting to tell and publishing independently, and at my own schedule, has allowed me to tell the story how I want to tell it. 

Now, I could talk about how all six covers look side by side for this series (they look gorgeous) but I’m aware that book five hasn’t officially released yet, so I’d like to mention that first.

If you’ve already pre-ordered a copy of Escape, thank you. If you haven’t, you can pre-order a Kindle copy on Amazon for the bargain prize of £1.99.  The story is genuinely heating up now and I’d love to see it reaching the broadest audience possible on publication day.

I’ve also been thinking about what I’ll be writing once I’ve moved out of Innsmouth. There’s a picture below to give you an idea of where my thoughts are going.

Seagull hell: couple 'can't sleep, or sit in their garden' due to noisy  birds - Gloucestershire Live

Escape

These are the opening pages from Escape: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth.

Graham McLaughlin thought the view from the top of the Randolph Carter Memorial Tower was impressive. It was only a little after sunset but the darkness was already intense. The world around him was enveloped by an inescapable blackness, broken only by occasional splashes of neon illumination. McLaughlin swung one leg over the waist-high rail that separated the safety of the observation platform from a two hundred foot drop and stepped out onto the narrow ledge that circled the tower top. He drew a deep breath of the chilly air and tried to savour the excitement of being so close to death.

Nothing came.

Beneath him, two hundred feet down, he could see the sprawl of the Innsmouth University campus. The familiar old buildings of LeGrasse and Thurston, as well as the more modern units of the library, refectory and admin buildings, all looked like something taken from the scaled landscape of a hobbyist’s railway set. He knew, if he jumped or fell from this spot, he would make a substantial hole in the roof of the rotunda at the base of the tower. He also knew such a fall would likely be the last thing he ever did with his miserable life. It would be the last contribution he made to the world of Innsmouth’s academia.

And he knew his passing would be no great loss.

To the west of where he stood, McLaughlin could see the shadowy shape of the kurgan that sat atop the shoreline cliffs. It was an ancient burial site where a colleague of his had recently died.  To the north, sitting at the top of the Innsmouth peninsular, with its white walls illuminated by stark security lighting, he could see the imposing structure of Clevedon Manor, standing proud and exclusive in the middle of its own grounds. Clevedon Manor was home to the secretive society that called themselves the Esoteric Order of Dagon, and McLaughlin shuddered a little as he thought about the dangers that the lunatic cult represented. He didn’t dare stare at the building for too long, knowing the sight always fostered dark thoughts of helplessness and despair. Angrily, he wrenched his gaze away and almost lost his footing. The prospect of plummeting down was disquieting, but it did not make his heartrate increase by a single beat per second. He could easily fall to his death without his body showing a single symptom of concern.

A hand reached out from inside the top of the tower and grasped his wrist.

“Professor McLaughlin,” Karl gasped.

McLaughlin studied the student with haunted eyes. He’d had an opportunity to kill Karl several months earlier, but he’d failed to take advantage of the chance. There had been times since then that he’d doubted the wisdom of his kind decision. Even now, knowing that Karl had just saved him from falling to his death from the top of the Randolph Carter Memorial Tower, McLaughlin felt no notion of gratitude.

“You almost fell,” Karl said, concern rich in his tone.

McLaughlin shrugged as he stepped back into the safety of the tower top. He gestured at the man-bag Karl was carrying and asked, “Did you bring the F17, like I told you?”

To pre-order your copy of Escape: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, simply follow this link.