Category Archives: Thrill Reads

Drowning Boy

David Finn is a renowned artist in Coldford. From the first sketches he made to the images of Julia Harvester he created that will be forever etched in history, his work is synonymous with talent tearing through circumstances. He is a rare individual to meet in that he is genuine. Despite his struggles he is unspoiled by the ruthlessness that could have consumed him. He doesn’t see the might of the great towers of City Main. He doesn’t see law or religion. He sees the blend of colours that make up such a landscape and through the city’s eyes he paints them. I am reporter, Sam Crusow, and this is the ‘drowning boy’.  

David Finn’s Muse Collection

*** 

“Why don’t you swim?” 

“Why can’t you swim?”  

“Where you never taught to swim?” 

“If you moved your body you could, you know.”  

David lost himself in swirls of dark blue. He could feel the pressure pressing down on him.  

“Just keep trying. There’s a surface to reach somewhere.”  

The blue became darker as more black was added. The black was diluting the soft blue more and more as the swirls grew larger and larger.  

“Why don’t you swim!?” 

There was breathlessness as all colour fell to nothing. The black was so deep in the centre it reflected a little of the light above. You could reach up but what would you find? You had fallen into blackness now. It was too late. Even in a consuming mouth of water all roads lead to the same place in the end.  

David finally took a breath. He looked up to observe his piece. The central figure was genderless and without feature. It could be anyone caught in the whirls of darkness. Even without features it was clear the figure was in distress.  

“Can’t you swim?”  

“Why can’t you swim?”  

David could still hear the voices of his vision ask him. The sculpted heads on the shelves beside him had varying reactions to his latest work. There was one he called the screamer. They were always shocked at what was produced. What was art though if not shocking? There was the comedian who laughed through the worst of it. A great chuckle was their response no matter how black the paint got. Then there was the crier. They wept as the images revealed themselves on canvas. So beautiful, so tragic, so pleasant, it didn’t matter, it all brought a tear to their eye. Then there was the sculpture named Arthur who at full size stood watching over his shoulder with a contemplating hand on his chin and searching expression that seemed to change to suit the mood of the room.  

“Well done, David,” the statue seemed to say.  

It didn’t matter if he could swim or not, art was about throwing yourself in the deep end.  

Da\vid contemplates his latest piece.

*** 

David had a strong vision but sometimes it become cloudy. His talent became apparent to a high school art teacher named Mr Cassell. Cassell could see the raw flare in David and he sought to encourage it as much as he could. He was worried that David would become a product of his environment and would be swallowed up in a poverty trap and the images he could produce would be forever unseen. He was already falling to drugs and it was only a matter of time before his loosening grip as a teacher would break completely and David Finn would fall into the pits of society, another lost soul.  

“It would be a tragedy,” Mr Cassel had insisted at the time. “It would break my heart when I know what David Finn is capable of.”  

For David though, travelling through a world if images the colour blends became blurry. Sometimes it was such a striking use of form it drew from its darkest depths. Needless to say, try as his art teacher might, David fell into those murky waters and started to drown.  

“Tragedy,” Mr Cassel insisted. “An absolute tragedy.”  

*** 

Those murky waters of his life were cold and the current was strong but David had those around him who were willing to help pull him free. Having been raised in an almost feral environment by an uncaring mother David had spent his life seeking the positivity of life outside of his home. Luckily he found it when he stumbled upon the Ferrald family. Alex Ferrald was his closest friend. Alex was opposite to David in that he was raised in a caring home. Dr Graham Ferrald and his wife Stephanie welcomed David with open arms. He found the positivity he needed there and safety where his artistic vision could be nurtured.  

“I cannot wait to see it,” Stephanie announced of his latest painting that was to be unveiled at the Dalway Lane gallery in Main that very evening.  

David looked up from the stain he was trying to wipe off his shirt.  

“You’ll need a good jacket,” Stephanie decided.  

“This is my good jacket,” he stated.  

“Hmmmm,” Stephanie was disapproving. “I’ll fetch you something of Graham’s. I know you artists like that no care aesthetic but it’s a big night. She took the shirt from him and looked over the stain. “What is that anyway?” She asked.  

“Pizza sauce,” David assumed.  

Stephanie shook her head with a smile of exasperation. “I’ll see what I can do with it.”  

What she could do with it was throw it out. It was an old shirt but since it was what David had held his favourite it had some sense of sentimentality.  

When Alex arrived on scene he was dressed in his best jacket. His hair was neatly combed.  

“I forget just how handsome my boy can be when I get so used to seeing him look such a scruff,” Stephanie teased.  

Alex rolled his eyes. A Coby games T-shirt and jeans was usually more his style. Stephanie went off in search for good jacket for David.  

“I’m really looking forward to seeing this one,” said Alex.  

Most times when there was a particular image David was wishing to create, Alex would be told to wait for a grand reveal when it was done. He didn’t like showing a working progress. More often than not though David would be so excited by his piece he would describe it and the young veterinarian would play a game with himself as to how close the image in his head matched the final product. David’s descriptions were apt but the only way to capture the true beauty was to see it with your own eyes.  

“Thanks, man,” David said. “I’m nervous.”  

Alex patted his arm. He would be nervous. He always was with any kind of unveiling but he had been clean now for a while. His body was rejecting those murky waters from itself and that caused a lot of psychical pain. 

That was where the Ferrald family would find a suitable jacket for him. It would be thrown to him like a life jacket in a storm.  

Now dressed in one of Dr Ferrald’s blazers but still carrying the grungy artist underneath, David had Stephanie’s arm around him as she pulled both he and Alex closer.  

“Don’t the boys look so good?” Stephanie asked Dr Ferrald.  

Dr Ferrald, eminent cardiologist, gave a smile of approval as he finished affixing his bow tie.  

From the warm family home in the upper Mid West the murky waters flowed to City Main and the Dalway Lane gallery, passing underneath the tunnel of David’s career.  

*** 

David Finn was a raw talent. There were many who had hoped to hone his skill but the artist felt it was best he be free from the restrictions of learned technique. He was a true artist in the sense that the only value he saw in his work was from people who appreciated the vision. There was no coin required. His friend, Harper Lane, did though. She was an artist of note herself but unlike David she had swam the waters of society a little more carefully, relying less on her vision and more on astuteness. Art fed the soul and that was okay by Harper but only coin fed the mouth so she was willing to accept the need for business in the art world. Showing David’s pieces was a boon to both of them. It was a fine balance of colours with each cup filled equally.  

With warm embraces Harper met David and the Ferralds in the rotunda of her gallery. Her long, dreadlocked hair had been wrapped in a yellow and black Subalan head scarf.  

“Everyone’s so excited,” she said to David in an aside. “It’s all that everyone’s talking about. I’ve heard there’s some Penn reps in tonight so … please no outbursts.”  

David had been clean and sober for a while now but Harper was such the big sister type she would always show him which way the river was flowing so he wouldn’t waste time swimming against it.  

David took a deep breath. 

“I’ve got it. I’ve got it,” he said, more to himself than to Harper.  

Harper smiled with a natural radiance. “I know you do,” she said and she kissed his cheek.  

“I have some fan mail for you,” she said passing him two hand written notes.  

The first read as follows: 

I am sorry I can’t be with you tonight. I wish you every success. I’m so proud of you. Vincent. 

The second was more scribbled.  

I wish I was there, honey, but I’ll get up real soon. Take lots of photos. I love you. Tee 

David smiled. He folded the notes and pushed them into his pocket. There were some other people like his rehab mates, Tawny McInney and Vincent Baines, who had their own murky waters submerging them but they were there for each other. Even just having their encouraging words made David feel a little better.  

Harper led him inside.  

“We’ll get you some orange juice,” she offered, noting he was looking a little sickly.  

David Finn’s ‘Taking the Bait’

*** 

“Ladies and gentlemen. We’ve come to know David Finn’s work to be hard hitting, provocative and bold. His latest piece promises to be no different. Speaking to David earlier he said to me this particular piece could have been one of his longest to complete. It reflects life as a journey down a river from the calm pools to the rock filled rapids so it would never be truly finished for we’re always turning and changing and life flows on. That being said David felt it was time to climb out of those waters and find clearer, fresher ones, but the journey so far will be forever imprinted. I am most pleased to present, David Finn’s – Drowning Boy.”  

The curtain fell. The observers gasped. Upon a large canvas a wash of blues and blacks fell upon them. The central figure reached out in such a way it was for the observer to decide whether it was pulling you in or pleading for you to pull it out. The image plummeted towards ever darker depths.  

“Astounding!” Was one exclamation.  

David, bashfully received his applause.  

*** 

Alex and David had taken a return trip to gallery the day after the unveiling. They were looking at the drowning boy again. David was busy thinking of the true journey that the image represented. It fitted his own experiences well but there were so many people out there who he knew would understand. He maybe couldn’t pull all of them free. He couldn’t stop them drowning but he could express himself in such a way that showed without a single word uttered that he understood.  

“Don’t get too keen on that hanging there. It’s off in the morning, like,” these were the words of Reggie Penn. He was bounding towards them quite excitedly.  

Reggie had always been a fan of David’s work from when Harper Lane first displayed. The painting had been one called ‘This Child Bugs Me’. Reggie’s morbid curiosity of the great fat woman with a fly head throwing a baby had captivated him.  

“I need to have that,” Reggie had told his influential family.  

The image was one of horror but to look deeper there was a tale of inhumane selfishness that surrounds us at all times. It’s a greed that will never be filled. The child represented discarded potential so easily cast aside as the flies of society pick at the shit of what’s left behind.  

“I know all that,” Reggie insisted, when Harper’s partner, Gabrielle, explained this to him. “I get the depth. It’s a real cool story but it draws your eye too.”  

Drowning boy had caught his attention again but this time it was to be put to auction. He had come personally to see it in the gallery.  

The Penn family had something of a notorious reputation. The patriarch Reginald Penn was hailed as the King of Main. Reggie and his two brothers were met with a reverence and respect and the Penn family responded in kind. They had a certain nobility about them that earned them their would be titles. In order to keep them their reputation was also a violent one. With this in mind, as Reggie greeted David with familiarity, Alex was rendered tense.  

“How’s it going, Alex?” Reggie greeted the vet who had been responsible for treating some of the rats the quirky triplet kept.   

Mild mannered, upper Mid West, Alex found Reggie intimidating enough but he was considered the most personable of the Penn Triplets. Alex was something of a deer in the headlights when he turned and noticed Reggie had been accompanied on this day by the middle triplet brother, the boxer better known as Punchline Penn.  

“You’ve not been logged in in ages,” Reggie was saying of an online game he had been playing which he had invited Alex to.  

Reggie considered he and Alex bonded over their mutual love of video games. Alex did love video games but he considered them bonded over his fear of the triplet and now his more muscular and aggressive counterpart, Simon, was in tow.  

“I’ve been busy,” Alex said, “but thanks for the invite. I really look forward to it.”  

The situation would probably have been much easier on Alex if it hadn’t been for David fanning the flames for his own amusement by saying things like, “I heard one guy beat Reggie in a game once and he ended up disappearing.”  

“He did not,” Alex shook it off but there was always a ‘what if’. With the Penn triplets that was a big ‘what if’. 

Simon was observing the painting. He leaned his head back to get a good look at it.  

“It reminds me of the ‘Ripples’ by Gourdy that hangs in Luen,” he said. His upper lip tightened. His gaze narrowed. Then he nodded. “This is much better, like. It’s more real. ‘Ripples’ could be any old art you find but this one stands out.”  

David beamed. “Thanks man, I appreciate it.”  

“I knew you’d like it,” Reggie told his brother. 

“I do,” Simon said. “It’s a good one. I’ll talk over the details with Gabby.”  

The Penns went about his business, Reggie lingering a little behind his brother observing the paintings again as though it was the first time in seeing them.  

Alex breathed a sigh of relief.  

David chuckled. 

“You’re such a wimp,” teased the artist.  

“I can’t help it. I think it would be easier if they were mad at me. Then I would know what to expect. For some reason it’s much worse when he’s trying to be my friend.”  

“Reggie’s a good guy,” David assured. “Marcus is really to the point but he’s sound too. Besides, if they were mad at you do you really think you would know what to expect?”  

Alex shuddered. “Better a friend …”  

“I heard they once gave some guy the death by a thousand cuts treatment.”  

Alex frowned. “Shut up. They did not.”  

“I’m telling you man, it was brutal. The guy only asked for directions.” 

Alex’s frown deepened. “They did not. Shut up!” 

“I’m kidding,” David said. “It was because he tried to hit on their mother.”  

Alex shook his head. “I don’t believe you.” 

“You can take the chance if you like,” David offered.  

Alex gave it some thought. There were worse things than having a Penn pal he supposed. Then he thought about it some more.  

“Hang on,” he said. “If you’re so knowledgeable about that then you won’t mind discussing it with Simon.”  

David shook his head. “Would I fuck, man. I’m liable to get my face smashed in. It’s different for me. I’m not one of the inner circle like you.”  

Alex’s eyes widened. “That’s not how they see me.”  

“Put it this way,” David explained. “They love my work. They’ve bought loads from Harper and Gabby but I still ain’t been invited to Reggie’s Lonesome Nights server.” 

Alex gave another shudder.  

THIS CHILD BUGS ME: David turns his childhood misery into a striking piece of art.

*** 

When they returned to Alex’s home in Caroline Apartments, the vet made a point of accepting Reggie’s request. He had stayed offline since then but he was comforted in the knowledge that at least Reggie would know he was making effort in their seemingly blossoming friendship.  

Alex and David lost themselves in other video games. Alex was forced to hit pause when his phone rang.  

“Might be the clinic,” he said.  

“Hello?” 

“Hello, Alex? It’s Reggie Penn.”  

‘Oh, no, why?!’ He thought. 

“I’ve been trying to get ahold of David but the number we have isn’t working. Harper said he’s probably with you.”  

“He’s here,” Alex explained passing the phone.  

The two engaged in a battle of whispers and expressions before David finally answered.  

“Hey, man,” he said cheerily. “What’s been happening?”  

“We had your auction,” Reggie informed him. “We got your buyer.” 

“That’s cool, man. Who?”  

“A City Main collector. He’d love to meet you. Could you maybe come in so he can say a few words before he takes the painting away?”  

David agreed. “Sure. I’ll get up as soon as I can.”  

“One of us will be here all day anyway so just let us know when you’re here. Oh, and tell Alex I got his acceptance. I’ll see him on the server soon.”  

Ringing off from Reggie, Alex scowled at him.  

“I’ve got no phone,” David admitted. “They couldn’t get me.”  

When the details of the call had been divulged Alex said, “that’s good news about the auction. Maybe now you can get a new phone.”  

“It’s never the first thing I think of,” David admitted.  

The murky waters of life can carry us many different places. Beginning in the slums of the Shanties, David had struggled through the undergrowth to find himself in the great wide mouth of City Main. It was an unexpected journey and no knowing how the tides would turn but swim on he would. He had come too far to still be the drowning boy. The drowning boy was now to stand as a symbol of perseverance in the hands of a collector who’s eye it had caught.  

*** 

The light and setting of the auction house made the ‘drowning boy’ painting seem more ominous. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and such a beauty as the grim desperation of the drowning figure was viewed differently depending on the mood. The darkness of the auction house store where it had been moved offered an abyss for the figure to fall into. On the other hand it could look as though the figure had managed to climb to the greatest heights. City Main was after all considered the greatest of heights in Coldford. There were many peaks but City Main was where it all came together. There ‘drowning boy’ could fall into concrete pools of aggressive business and ruthless politics. It was a different kind of murky water from the poverty of the Shanties but it was no less able to drown.  

Looking at the painting again gave David some doubts. Should he maybe have waited for this piece? He had admitted that his journey was still ongoing. There were still struggles to be had and dangerous waters to swim.  

 “Good morning, David,” a familiar voice drew him from his thoughts. 

“Mr Cassel! I haven’t seen you since …”  

“Since high school, yes,” Mr Cassel said. “That’s longer than I care to admit.” 

David had been so taken aback by seeing his old art teacher. He was flustered in a way that was akin to a child seeing their teacher outside the classroom. He looked different. He looked older, a little more casual in dress but he was smiling warmly.  

“Did you come to see the painting?” He asked.  

“I came to take it home. It now belongs to me,” the teacher told him with pride. “When you were my pupil I hoped upon hope that you would make a success of yourself. The success would of course fair you well but I hoped too because I just new people had to see your vision. It’s fearless, it’s encouraging, it’s humbling, it’s all those things and more. I promised myself that when you did I would have one of your paintings and here we are. Alex had mentioned this to Reggie Penn and he kindly gifted to me. I couldn’t not be more proud of what you became. I know it wasn’t easy but you got there didn’t you. This painting is even more significant to me because as your teacher I could only instruct you on how to swim. I always worried those waters would get far too choppy but you had it in you. You swam and you emerged. I can hang this painting with pride and know that you did it.”    

David laughed with joy. He wrapped his arms around his old teacher and embraced him tightly. The emotion spilled from his eyes.  

“I’m glad I did you proud, man,” he said. “I’m glad.”  

*** 

We all have that drowning figure within us. The rivers that swamp us are different but struggle is a universal experience. We all struggle from time to time and the ‘drowning boy’ painting stands a vivid representation of that. The purpose of art is to provoke. It provokes emotion and it provokes discussion. Seeing the image had me thinking how our world would be if we acknowledged that we all struggle in the water of our lives from time to time. Drowning comes from our own being no longer being able to struggle. The water enters the lungs despite all resistance and we are consumed. But what if we stopped trying to struggle and we helped each other out of the water instead. What kind of picture would that paint then?                                    

                                                                                                             

Art is subjective and will always live on.

“No Davey, No!” where the last words he heard him cry. It took some time for him to remember his childhood but now the artist’s ‘tortured boy’ piece is ready, thanks to his latest muse. 

Available now.


Trauma, obsession and addiction are just some of the reasons to seek refuge at Harbour House rehab clinic. The world outside can be a scary place after all.  

Table Manners

Beckingridge Manor: home to the Beckingridge family for generations.

Beckingridge Manor was a place that many would dream of living in. It was a beautiful old mansion house that had been in the family for generations. They were old money but Jeffrey Beckingridge aka Gramps was who made it really what it was. But behind those mansion walls lay skeletons. Like for instance, Alice Beckingridge. She had been accused of murdering her son. The boy had been born deformed. He had been hidden inside the manor, few even knew of his existence until his life was cut short and his body discovered buried in the Manor House lawns. She’s dead now too so plays little part in the following events. 

Then there was Alice’s sister in law, Elizabeth. Growing up in the world of privilege she had never really learned what it meant to consider others. Spoiled and selfish as you would expect Elizabeth set herself apart from the rest of her family by having a conscience. She did try. What made her the same was she had her skeletons too. The became less over the years with Gramps no longer around to lock them away. 

Then there was Alice’s daughter Catherine. School shootings, extorting teachers and running her aunt Elizabeth over with the car so that she now walked with a prosthetic leg. Young Catherine was quite the up and comer. The society pages of the Filton Crier were keeping a very close eye on her indeed. Now she had her own baby, little Vicky. Time would tell where Victoria Beckingridge would fit into her family. 

Probably the most notable in terms reputation would be George. Elizabeth’s nephew and Catherine’s younger brother. He had hit first hit the headlines at age eight when it was he who had discovered his mother’s body. The already famous Beckingridge heir became even more so when he was kidnapped by his music teacher, Vincent Baines. Dead dogs, dead relatives, dead teachers were left behind. If there were a competition for the ûmost skeletons among the Beckingridge’s the safest bet would be George. Psychopathic tendencies is what they say about him but given his status in the city no one seemed prepared to do anything about it. The music teacher instantly regretted his decision to take the boy away from what he felt was a toxic environment. The Manor House was indeed toxic but stealing him away just gave George a whole new playground for ten long years. The musician’s life was made a misery but the family sighed relief being rid of little George for a while. When he was found they would have denied him if they could. 

Vincent Baines’ latest pupil is a handful.

So quite a mess as I’m sure you will agree and it rested on the shoulders of patriarch, Ernest Beckingridge. Sweet natured Ernest didn’t have the bite of his sister, Elizabeth. He didn’t have the iron will of his wife, Alice either. Quite frankly he didn’t have what it took to lead the Beckingridge Empire or keep his son and daughter in line. 

“Stop killing things!” Ernest cried in despair. “Why can’t you just act like a real boy?” 

George grinned. It was only feeding his temperament. 

“It’s okay, baby girl,” Ernest said to Catherine. “We’ll be fine.” 

Catherine snuggled into her father’s arms. At her age she really should have been learning responsibility but it was easier to hug her and keep her quiet. Ernest wouldn’t be around forever and Catherine was in for a rude awakening when she didn’t have her billionaire father to protect her. Elizabeth tried to warn her brother of this. She had experienced the same thing when Gramps died. 

Disfunction. A term used when a family unit is broken but carries on anyway. Blood is thicker than water. Money and entitlement make you even thicker than that to the ways of the world. But despite all their troubles life at Beckingridge Manor went on. Dinner was always served promptly at eight. 

***

The salad course had only just been served. George hadn’t ate much of it. Instead he made a fuss of it with his fork then left the shredded pieces. He had spilled some of them onto the table. Catherine wasn’t paying much attention as usual. With one hand she was trying to feed her baby. Vicky was leaning forward in her high chair trying to catch the spoon in her mouth but her mother’s eyes were too busy reading her phone. 

“George, will you take that disgusting thing off of the table!” Aunt Elizabeth barked. 

It was a stuffed mouse she referred to. It’s fur was matted, the stuffing was crushed and for some reason it smelled like garlic. He named it Cecil and he took it wherever he went. 

George glared at Elizabeth. “Cecil stays here,” he stated. 

“You’re eighteen,” Elizabeth chided. “It’s ridiculous that you would carry that filthy thing around with you.” 

Ernest looked up from his plate. He finally decided to speak up. 

“Come on now George,” he said. “Take it off the table.” 

Elizabeth wasn’t satisfied. “We’re trying to eat here and I need to look at those … stains? What even is that?” she wrinkled her nose. “Never mind. I don’t want to know, just get the damn thing away.” 

George grinned. Seeing his aunt get upset made him giggle. Cecil tended to have that affect on people.

“May I be excused?” Catherine asked in what should have been a polite request but was instead laced with frustration. 

“No you may not,” Elizabeth said. “If you didn’t have your face stuck in that blasted phone the entire time you would be done by now. Eat your salad.” 

Catherine looked to her father. Ernest raised his eyebrows but said nothing. It wasn’t his problem. He had ate his salad. 

“How is the tuition going, George?” He decided to attempt polite conversation with his son. “Are you coping with it?” 

George wouldn’t be an easy pupil to teach. The general public scoffed at the idea of a grown man removing his pupil from his home only to become the kidnap victim himself but Ernest knew his son. It was indeed very plausible. The most unsettling thing about the whole scenario was how George had returned to the manor after all that time and it seemed like nothing had happened. The Beckingridges could adapt to any scenario. It was what helped them keep the flow of cold hard cash to the city. 

George nodded. “It’s okay.” He looked at Cecil. In his mind Cecil must have said something he didn’t approve of so he knocked him over. He could see Elizabeth stifle a stomach lurch at the toy. 

“And Kappa So?” Asked the father. “It’ll be pledge week soon.” 

Ernest had been a member of the exclusive Filton Fraternity back when he was George’s age. He wasn’t exactly one of the in crowd but Charles ‘Chick’ Owen who was the Chapter Leader at the time accepted him as one of their own. The fraternity was now under the guidance of Chick’s son Buddy. George had taken a shine to him. He even started to imitate him quite a bit, using turns of phrases he wouldn’t normally. 

“Kappa So!” He would scream, already wearing his blazer even though he hadn’t officially been accepted. 

“Buddy said you’re a peg legged whore and the only time you shut up is when you have a dick in your mouth,” George gleefully announced to his aunt. 

“George!” Ernest finally decided to intervene. 

It was too late though. Elizabeth was already on her feet. He had her fork in her her hand, pointing it at her nephew like Satan with his trident. She decided against it. With a clang she dropped the fork onto her plate and lifted her glass of wine instead. 

“Liz!” Ernest tried to stop her but it was too late. She emptied the glass into George’s face. 

“That’s disgusting!” He complained. “It tastes like feet.” 

Elizabeth sat back down. Her scowl had dissolved into a wry smile as she watched George try to dry himself with the table cloth, almost knocking his plate to the floor. 

“Gah!” Vicky started to reach out for her great aunt. 

“May I be excused?” Catherine asked again. 

“No,” Elizabeth barked. “We’re a family and we have dinner together. Even if we must share the table with lunatic Larry over there.” 

Ernest was shaking his head. “Can’t we just have one meal where someone doesn’t empty a glass of wine of another’s head. Don’t we deserve some quiet after everything the family has been through?” 

“Oh Ernest do shut up,” Elizabeth barked. 

Ernest sighed. He attempted to change the subject. It was always especially volatile between George and Elizabeth so he decided to engage his daughter. 

“So Catherine,” he began. “Did Vicky sleep through the night? I don’t believe I heard her.” 

Catherine shrugged. How would she know? If baby Victoria had been screaming merry hell from her nursery it still wouldn’t have been her mother to go and fetch her. 

“I think she was trying to say da da,” Catherine offered. 

Elizabeth was turning her empty wine glass in her hand. “It’s a pity she doesn’t know who Da Da is,” she commented. 

“I hope you choke pills and die you cantankerous old shrew,” Catherine snarled. 

Elizabeth gave a hearty laugh. “Oh Catherine, I wouldn’t have to be cantankerous if you didn’t leave your child for everyone else to look after.” 

Vicky had woken up through the night as it happened. Catherine wouldn’t have known this because she had ignored the baby’s cries until Elizabeth had come to fetch her. 

“Come to me my little darling,” she had heard Elizabeth whisper to her daughter over the monitor in a sweetened tone she used with no one else. It was so alien to her aunt that at first she didn’t realise who it was. 

Catherine raised her finger at her aunt. George was giggling to himself, his fair hair still stained with red wine. Ernest was almost burying his face in what was left of the salad in despair. 

“Can we leave the vulgarity please!” Ernest requested with a little more passion than they were used to. “It’s not for the dinner table.” 

“May I be excused?” Catherine asked again. 

“No.” This time it was her father who requested that she stay. 

“I’m not hungry,” she tried. 

“Maybe not,” said Elizabeth, interrupting Ernest. “But your baby still is.”

“I have a vulgar story,” George put in.

“No George,” said Elizabeth. “You don’t.” 

***

Later that evening the Beckingridge manor quietened. Elizabeth had decided to take a walk around to try and tire herself out. She sensed that evening would be one where sleep would not come easily. As she passed by Vicky’s nursery she could hear singing. At first she thought it was a figment of her imagination it had been so soft and tender. She recognised the song but couldn’t quite place where from. It was a male voice. Ernest wasn’t an easy sleeper then either so perhaps he had gotten up to spend some time with his granddaughter. Was the song the lullaby their nanny used to sing to them as children? Elizabeth still couldn’t decide. She didn’t want to disturb the sweetness. She actually found herself enjoying the tone. She pushed the door open gently. The nursery was bathed in soft nightlights. Stars danced across the roof. Vicky had pulled herself up onto her feet in her cot. It wasn’t Ernest who was singing to her though. It was George. The lighting had subdued his normally sneering expression. At the least the light had provided some of the softening. Some of the serene look had been given from the way he was watching his niece. 

He hadn’t heard his aunt behind him. His focus remained on his niece. Victoria tried to reach through the bars of her cot to Cecil.

“No,” said George, again surprisingly calmly. Normally he threw a tantrum when anyone tried to take Cecil. It was ridiculous to see a young man of nineteen who was supposed to lead the Beckingridge Tower one day throw a tantrum like a toddler over a stuffed animal. He smiled at Vicky though. It seemed the after dinner entertainment was called off. 

“You don’t want Cecil,” George explained to the child. “He’s not a nice toy.” 

It had been the first time Elizabeth heard George admit he was a toy. Every other time he was insistent that it was his friend. Elizabeth knew he had just being doing it to create a scene. What frightened her the most about that realisation was that she would have created a scene too if someone irritated her the way she seemed to irritate George. 

George lifted a stuffed monkey and passed it to the infant. 

“Here. You have ‘cheeky monkey,” he said. 

Vicky grinned and clasped the monkey to her chest. Cheeky Monkey looked exactly like the little monkey on the pink onesie she wore. 

“Cheeky Monkey is a much better toy for you,” the uncle explained. Vicky seemed to agree but she kept her eyes on Cecil. 

“Cecil!” Vicky garbled in toddler language pointing to him. 

“That’s right,” George agreed. 

He seemed to take closer note of Vicky behind the bars of her cot. 

“They won’t keep you in here all the time,” George went on. “I won’t let them. It was so easy for them just to lock that door and forget me when I was a little boy. I won’t let them do the same to you. I know it can get scary in here sometimes. The door is heavy and the windows are high up but you won’t be locked in here. You can’t let them see you get angry. That’s when they lock you in here.” 

“Gah?” Vicky said almost agreeing. Her tantrum earlier had seen her banished to the nursery just like Uncle George said. 

“Yeah, that’s right,” said George. “They just lock you in here, sometimes for days. They would always have you smile. They would always have you laugh. You can’t say anything no matter how much you want to scream and rip into someone’s belly. But don’t you worry Vicky. You won’t be like me. You won’t need crusty old Cecil. I won’t let them lock you in here. 

He leaned over and kissed her head. “You are cute!” He gushed. 

Vicky giggled. “Yes you are.” 

“That’s enough George,” Elizabeth finally interrupted. 

George turned round finally paying heed to his aunt’s presence.

“She was crying,” he said. 

Elizabeth insisted. “Then I’ll see to her.” 

“She wanted me,” George was adamant. 

Vicky lay herself down in her cot, clutching Cheeky Monkey closely. She yawned. George and Elizabeth left her room to let her drift back to sleep. 

“Good night, Aunt Elizabeth,” George said neither sweetly nor sneering. For a few moments he could be mistaken for a real boy. 

“Good night George,” Elizabeth replied. 

“Sleep well,” added the nephew. 

Was that a threat? Was that a genuine request? Was he deliberately being a nice to essentially be an irritating prick? Elizabeth found Ernest in the lounge and when she had relayed to him the conversation she had overhead with Vicky it seemed to make him uneasy. They had locked him away often when he was a child but what choice did they have? He was out of control. Who’s fault was that? 

George pulled the sheets up to his chin. Cecil sat balanced on his belly watching him with his beady black eyes. That was when he heard his door click, locked from the outside. Behind those mansion walls lay a whole host of skeletons. The Beckingridge family experts at locking them away.

As a grown up George still keeps the stuffed animal he named Cecil close.

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Lost Souls

A cult is quite often a religion with unorthodox practices. In a world where the court of public opinion is one which holds the most esteem, being swept up in cult like waves becomes easier and easier. When asked why someone would join a cult the most likely answer is that they can find something there that they can’t find anywhere else. Affection, acceptance, understanding, or a mixture of all those things. It isn’t always some sinister group hidden out of the way of civilised society. You can see it in the chanting of songs at football matches. It can be seen in a crowd of teenagers wearing the latest trends. It can be the way we are hooked to social media. 

For the moment allow me to examine the idea of cults in their most natural form. With the help of cult deprogrammer, John Reynolds, I was offered an insight into the depths of these cult groups. Before this interview I would have dismissed the cult idea as foolish people being brain washed. Reynolds helped me understand it better and it was more than that. It was more about a power struggle rather than brain wash. I am reporter, Sam Crusow, and I invite you to join me as we step inside the cults of Coldford. 

***

As I sat in my usual booth at Bobby’s lunchbox looking across to John Reynolds the first thing that became apparent to me was the brightness in his persona. When I had been told I would be meeting with a cult deprogrammer I must admit my mind went to a stereotypical assumption. I expected a brooding character. I expected a troubled soul. When he bounded into Bobby’s Lunchbox with a cheery, “I’m super stoked for the interview, Sam,” my presumptions were completely off. 

We took a seat and I began to record. 

“For legal reasons I understand that most of your cases are classified,” I began. “I’m not looking to press you. I don’t want to put anyone in a difficult position but I would love to hear your insight.” 

Reynolds smiled. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. I guess it’s about time I talked about it. Get a load off, you know?” 

I nodded. “I am agreed that nothing will go to print without your say so so feel free to talk openly. Consider this entire thing off the record.” 

“What do you want to know?” Reynolds asked. 

“Why don’t you start with some of the cases that shaped who you are.” 

“Funny you should ask,” he said. “The first one that comes to mind, you reported on.” 

John took a sip of his water. Although he seemed calm I could see a little tension shake him just below his skin. Giving account of some of his experiences seemed to be taking a toll on him. I pushed stop on the recorder. 

“We can take five, if you like,” I asked. “This is your story to tell. It’s up to you how you wish to tell it or how far you want to go.”

I was going to remind him that his story deserved to be told as a way of urging him to open up but it seemed I didn’t need to. He had already decided that for himself. 

“No,” he said. “It’s fine. I’ll go on.”

I pushed recorded again. 

“You may remember a gnarly story In the Express some time back. It was about a girl named Eileen in her late teens. She had found herself in trouble. She was pregnant by her step father. Her mother was a drug user who accused her of seducing him. She was only a young girl and the step father was a real shitty dude,” John explained.

It was a typical tale of abuse, if you find yourself desensitised to such things. 

Eileen was forced to leave. She didn’t have enough money to buy a plane ticket. She didn’t have enough money to pay for a hotel room for the foreseeable future. She found herself on the docks of Swantin. A lot of unfortunate souls found themselves there. Their bodies were the last marketable product they had at their disposal so it stood as the best chance of survival. She had been real close to a small vessel called the ‘Lily Ann’. It was no ordinary boat. It was a floating brothel. She had been almost been at the point of climbing on board when she heard the ferry man calling,

“The 6:15 Hathfield Bay! All about the 6:15 to Hathfield Bay.”

Eileen approached the man.

“Excuse me, sir,” she interrupted. “How much for a ticket to the island?” 

The Harbour Master eyed her suspiciously. She had no bag with her, the leather of her shoes was bursting and she had a look in her eyes that suggested she would be drugged and whored before the night was out.

“I have been kicked out of my home and I have nowhere to go,” she went on to explain.

He passed her a ticket. 

“I’ll let you on,” he said. “You look like you need a break and I’d be honoured to be the one to give you that chance.” 

Eileen looked at her ticket. 

FERRY WAY LINE.

CHAMBERLAIN DOCKS, COLDFORD – HATHFIELD BAY ISLAND: ROYCE PORT.

She could see the Royal Chamberlain crest on the side. 

“Why are you doing this for me?” She asked. She wasn’t much used to generosity or kindness from strangers. 

“I said you look like you need a break. The Wigan commune is over there. If you go to them they will give you shelter. They’ll look after you. They don’t have much but they are welcoming.” 

Eileen had taken note of the Wigan pin the man displayed proudly, now it held a lot more interest. 

“Thank you,” she said. 

“Wigan bless you,” was his response. 

She had heard of the Church of St Wigan. She didn’t personally know any members but if they could offer her some shelter and sanctuary it was her best bet.  Better off in the hands of a religious commune than a brothel, right? Perhaps. 

***

The travel across the sea was freeing. The waves that lashed against the side of the ferry liner were like her problems being washed away. By the time she arrived on the island she was smiling again. Although the thin rain had soaked the clothes she arrived in. When she reached the entrance of the commune she was feeling a little feverish. Pulled the purple tasseled bell. She could hear the deep knelling ring. Before long she was a greeted by a woman not much older than herself. 

“I have nowhere to go,” Eileen said. “Please can you help me? I’m pregnant. I’m with child.” 

The girl looked at her blankly at first. Then she smiled. It brightened her freckled face. Her smile was natural and soft. Her hair was long and tangled. She had purple ribbons tied into her braid. 

“Wigan embraces all,” she said in response. Her island accent bouncy and warm. “What’s yer name?” 

“Eileen,” the young woman said. 

The Wigan girl introduced herself. “My name is River. Come in and rest. You are safe now.” 

Eileen entered the commune and the door closed behind her. 

***

The first days in the commune were quite pleasant actually. Eileen had no regrets in accepting the Harbour Master’s passage. She had been given clothes. They were real basic but they were warm and comfortable. They even had some elderly women check on her baby. They gave her a lot of old wives tales about the tell tale signs of it being a girl that she carried but they seemed to know what they was doing and according to them the baby was healthy and its heart was beating strong. The real world seemed so far away. Wandering onto the bay at the rear of the commune where she could hear nothing but the waves was her most favourite activity. On this particular day I now detail she had looked up at the sky first. The clouds were thick and grey. The rain wasn’t far off. There was a man sat on the sand, looking out onto the sea. He had drawn his knees up to his chest and was embracing his surroundings like he was seeing them all for the first time. He turned when he heard her. 

“I didn’t mean to disturb you,” she apologised. 

The man smiled. He had an engaging stare. She could feel herself smiling too. There was some white in his dark hair, despite his youth, just a streak. He reached his arm out beside him. 

“Ye might as well sit with me,” he said. “It would be nice to have the company.” 

Eileen took a seat, delicately at his side. He kept his attention focused out onto the sea. 

“So you must be the city dweller they call Eileen.” 

Eileen agreed. “Yes, that’s me. I came for sanctuary and I have been given that. I will always be grateful.” 

The man nodded. “That’s good to know. I’m glad.” 

“Have you been here long?” She asked him. 

The man chuckled. “My whole life,” he said. 

Eileen was fascinated. “It must have been quite different from the city.”

“They say not much could go on on a little island but you’d be surprised. You really would,” he explained. 

“My life was shit over in the city. My mum was a drunk. My step dad forced himself on me. The baby I carry is his. My mum blamed me and the Harbour Master took pity on me. Now I’m here.”

The man turned to her. “Fear not,” he said. “You’re safe here. We are like a big family. We’d love for you to be part of our family.” 

“I’m not really a religious person,” Eileen was ashamed to admit. She felt ungrateful given how accepting they had been of her, no questions asked. 

“Maybe now’s the time to start,” the man suggested. “Ye can find out quite a bit about yerself.” 

Eileen made a vow to try. She really did want to show how appreciative she was.

“What’s your name?” She asked. 

“Dominick,” the man returned. 

“Your Eminence!?” Came a cry from the commune. There was a monk standing by the entrance in robes. 

Dominick looked back. He nodded to the monk who went back inside. 

“Your Eminence?” Eileen questioned. 

Dominick stood. He reached his hand out and helped her onto her feet. 

“I’ve been blessed with the leadership of our church,” he explained. “We always welcome new members.” 

Eileen took a vow that very day. She vowed to learn what she could about her new family. Before the baby was born she took a bonafide vow. 

***

Reynolds had been based in City Main at the time. He was working out of the offices of CPD. He had been brought onboard when the Office of Law Makers brought their attention to the rise in missing person’s cases in the Coldford. Reynold’s specialty was people who weren’t necessarily missing. They just didn’t want to come home. 

It had taken a few months before Eileen’s mother began to show concern. The deadbeat step father had done the same thing with a neighbour so she threw his ass to the kerb and decided she wanted to reconnect with her daughter. A hand written letter had come to the mother with the stamp of the bay. In this letter it told of Eileen’s indoctrination so far. She was pleased to be where she was. She was turning her hand to all kinds of positive things. She was embracing a religion and it was bringing out the best in her.  What she made abundantly clear was the fact that she had absolutely no intentions of coming home sans step father or not. That ship had sailed and it had sailed off to Hathfield Bay carrying Eileen’s mother’s only daughter with it. 

Eileen’s mother, whom records had named as Lorna P, made an appointment with our investigator. 

“I want my daughter back,” she had plead. 

She was preaching to the converted in this scenario because Reynolds wanted the girl back too. The issue was as he looked at her she looked real spaced out. She said she had given up the drinking but she had been rad with it very recently. All the signs were there. Her bulbous nose was red with burst vessels. Her breath was putrid. She had made an effort to dress herself but the clothes had a smell of dampness about them. If this girl was to come back, what exactly would she be coming back to? For better? For worse? It wasn’t Reynolds’ decision to make but he had to make sure she understood. 

“I will do what I can to bring her back but you gotta level with me. Are you going to be there for her.” 

Lorna scowled. She looked as though she was about to give the usual, ‘are you telling me what to do with my own kid?’ speech but she retracted her statement before it was aired. She knew she had treated her daughter like shit. She should have stood by her daughter. She would be heavily pregnant by now if she hadn’t lost the child. The letter never mentioned either way. 

“I want to do better. I want to put the past behind us,” was her claim. “I got a job. I’m cleaning at the Lunch Box.”

Reynolds leaned back in his chair. 

“It could get real rad,” he warned. “You need to be ready for that. If she does come back you need to be there for her. The process could take a long time.”

Lorna P nodded. “I’m ready for that,” she assured. 

Rule number 88 of a Cult Deprogrammer: First contact with the lost soul could make or break a case. That first contact had to be made.

***

The meeting had been set for four pm. The location was Bobby’s Lunch Box. With Reynolds’ consultation Lorna P had composed a letter of apology to Eileen. She wished her well. She was not to ask her to come home. She was not to make any demands of her. All the letter was to do was to let her know that the mother was open to meeting should the daughter accept invitation. No mention was to be made of the baby. 

In response to this letter Eileen accepted the invitation. She too said nothing of the baby.

Lorna P was keeping an eye out for her daughter. The young woman who had come in her place was not her daughter, at least in everything but the physical sense.  She looked nothing like the way she had when she left. She had let her hair grow long. She wore a long, grey dress made from thick fabric. It spilled over her ankles. She had a purple ribbon tied around her neck and a Wigan pin on her breast. 

“Who are you?” She asked Reynolds at first. 

“I’m pleased to meet you, Eileen,” he said. “I’m John Reynolds. I was asked along by your mum. I was hoping we could have a chat.”

Eileen eyed him suspiciously but she took a seat at the diner booth. 

“I don’t go by Eileen anymore,” she said. “I shed my city dweller name. They call me Heather now.” 

“Heather?” Asked the mother. “Why Heather?” 

Reynolds had encouraged her to ask questions as long as they weren’t asked in a challenging tone. 

“It’s my favourite plant. You would know that if you knew anything about me,” the girl responded. 

“We’re just here because we’re wanting to reconnect,” said Reynolds. 

Heather, formally known as Eileen, scowled at him. She turned back to her mother. 

“Been off the booze?” She asked her. “For how long this time?”

“For good,” she said. “I promise.” 

Reynolds directed the conversation. “We’re stoked that you came,” he said. “There’s no pressure on you. Your mum told me about your letter. You seemed really thrilled over on the island.” 

“I am,” said Heather ney Eileen. She was beginning to wonder who this John Reynolds was. Why would he be associated with her mum? Surely he wasn’t a boyfriend. Although he looked like he was a bit of a boozer too so maybe that was how they were connected. Was he her sponsor?

“When you left you were pregnant,” said Reynolds. “Would you like to share what happened? Are you well?” 

Eileen started to soften a little. No, not Eileen, her name was Heather now. 

“I had a little girl. I named her Ivy.” 

“Pretty name,” said Reynolds. “Your mum is glad to be a grandmother.” 

“She couldn’t be a mother. What chance does she have of being a grandmother? Did she tell you who fucking knocked me up?”

“Wigan opens his arms to the sinners. You cannot be saved. Your baby cannot be saved. Your ma most definitely cannot be saved,” Dominick had said to her. 

“I want to try, Eileen,” said Lorna P. 

“My name is not Eileen! It’s Heather.” The girl shrieked. “I am a child of Wigan and he accepts me for all of my sins. You cast me out and he found me.” 

Lorna P made to say something but Reynolds stopped her. 

“So you took the oath,” he said with a casual calmness that eased the tension. “Who was your sponsor?”

Eileen was quite taken aback by Reynolds’ knowledge of it. Wait. No. Her name was Heather. She was Heather and she was a daughter of Wigan, not some drunk who let her step dad impregnate her. 

“You’re a Wigan?” She asked. He had no tell tale signs. He had no pin. His mannerisms were far too mellow for someone who had taken the oath. 

“I’m not,” Reynolds replied. “I am familiar with them though. Have you been to McIvor’s Ice Cream parlour over on the bay yet?” 

“I have,” she admitted. “I go there quite often.” 

“Do you have a favourite flavour?” He asked. 

“Strawberry,” she replied. 

“She always loved strawberry,” said Lorna P with some measure of pride. 

“Some days it was all you gave me to eat,” responded the daughter. 

“Family is more than blood. We are bound here stronger than any mother and child, any father and son, any brother and sister. We are the family of Wigan and we’re all here for each other,” said His Eminence. 

It was the family that Heather needed. When she took the oath she felt complete. It was fate that the Harbour Master gave her that ticket. It was fate that she fell in love with His Eminence. 

“The weather over there can be a little temperamental,” Reynolds said matter of factly. 

Heather smiled. “These clothes keep me dry. These clothes keep me warm.” 

The commune keeps you safe. The commune keeps you fed.

“I’m going to call you Eileen,” said Reynolds. “It’s not to upset you. If you have shed that name then that is your decision but your mum wants some closure before you return to the commune and it’s the name she recognises. It could be her chance to shed it too if it is what you really want.”

Lorna looked to Reynolds with some surprise. They hadn’t discussed the possibility of her never returning. That wasn’t part of the deal. She kept her mouth shut though. Reynolds seemed to have a handle on the situation. 

“I have nothing left to say,” she said. “You can call me what you like. I know what my name is.” 

LET THEM BE CONSUMED BY FIRE! 

Coming back the city was not going to be easy. She had seen way too much. Her life had changed. 

“If could just sit and maybe hear what your mum wants to say?” Reynolds urged. 

Heather, no Eileen, was held in her place. 

The smell of the burning flesh was stomach churning. At least it was at first. 

Dominick had been screaming, “you cannot be saved!” 

He was crazed but in that moment but as she watched him she could only think of how passionate he was and how much he loved his Wigan family. He was leading them into a future with furious fire. She had been so swept up she helped with the torches. The city dwellers screamed in pain but their cries for mercy were drowned out as the congregates began to sing. 

‘Eileen. I’m going to call you Eileen. That is your name. You are not Heather. Heather was a bayside lunatic who watched four city dwellers burn. Heather gave birth to a little girl named Ivy. Heather danced with the strangely named River, Autumn and April whilst Ivy was blessed into the Wigan faith. Eileen was still on the docks contemplating becoming a prostitute. 

You cannot be saved Eileen. 

“Yes you can,” John Reynolds reminded her. 

***

I pondered the question first before I voiced it.

“Did she come home?” 

“It was one of those deals where you gotta count your blessings,” Reynolds said. “She was coming home. She had gotten as far as a little fishing boat she planned on rowing herself all the way over from the bay. She had Ivy with her.” 

“Then what happened?” I asked.

“She disappeared.” 

“Did she return to the commune?” I questioned. 

“I don’t think so. She had made the resolve to leave. Rule number 36 of a cult deprogrammer: when the victim attempts to leave, the cult will use any force necessary to keep them.” 

The truth of the matter was the little fishing boat had been found, beached just a little while along the coast. The blanket she had wrapped Ivy in was discarded, wet and sandy. Ivy was carried by River back to the commune. The seasons changed and the little girl grew beyond infancy. She didn’t know her mother. She didn’t know Heather. She most definitely would never have recognised Eileen. The Wigan life was what she came to know. Praise Wigan! 

***

Discussing this case gave me a lot of food for thought. We can all find ourselves swept up in an ideology. It’s like an unstoppable force which in the hands of those who wield it well can be destructive. It takes people like John Reynolds to combat that kind of thinking. As he would say, ‘you can be saved. You can succeed. You can come back.’ 

How far must someone fall though before they are merely a sandy, soggy blanket on a discarded boat? Or a victim of a complete stranger’s anger? 

John Reynolds will keep fighting on though until everything is groovy again. 

Diamonds and Stripes

Within the Shady City there are the shades. Everyone has their motives – greed, desperation, a selfless pursuit or the unwavering protection of others. There are the shades and then there are two colours that are so polar opposite you could never imagine them emerging into a pleasant picture. In Kingsgate, the ancient part of town, where the cobbled stones are engrained in centuries of law and order reside the Bergman family. They are owners of the Diamond Parade in City Main. They are wealthy and influential in Law Maker circles. Patriarch, Howard Bergman, is a kind man. He is a law abiding man and raises his son and daughter to always do the right thing when they are faced with challenges. He is a fine role model for his nephews. If you were to ask any in City Main they would tell you that Howard is an upstanding man. That is, of course, those who don’t have an agenda against him and by agenda I mean a complete lack of understanding that someone with such integrity could possibly exist. 

Then, at the opposite end of such a spectrum, exists the Stoker family. Proprietors of the Stoker Circus they live an existence that sees them travelling here and there. They are not people of integrity. They are such that they will carry out any task, no matter the filth, if the pay is right. Their family is of a huge number not only of blood relatives but of circus stow aways they have picked up on their travels. They have three tents. First is the red, featuring the stunt shows and in ode to travelling performances of old, macabre freak displays. This lies under the control of Freddy Stoker. Freddy is ideal for leading the exhibit of oddities because he is something of an oddity himself. He is boyish and engaging in a car wreck sort of way. The blue tent is next and this lies in the hands of Freddy’s Uncle Valdrick or Val as he is more commonly known. The blue tent is ironically the holder of shows to cure your blues. The clowns, comedians and animals are generally what you will find on offer. Val himself is a juggler so he is adept at handling many things at once. He prefers to reside himself in the Rumilaw of City Main. If you aren’t familiar with this particular area, it is home to unlicensed dentists, cheap lawyers and to no surprise a villainous little juggler who operates a pawn shop. Val and his treasured wife, Gigi, are looking to make a home for themselves in Coldford but before your mind rings with, ‘that’s a terrible idea’ let me complete the tents with the great striped Big Top. Clasped tightly in the long fingers of Val’s younger brother and Freddy’s father, Irvine, The Stoker Big Top really is a site to behold. Even when she is raised among their struggling theme park in the Alford area she brings a glory of past days that will probably never be rekindled. 

I’m reporter, Sam Crusow an

***

If you were to ask Howard Bergman how he managed to make such a name for himself, whilst not finding himself a target, he would tell you modestly that ‘doing the right thing,’ is his policy. He prides himself on his consideration for others and showing respect. What he wouldn’t tell you was that believing in that simple truth was what helped him cope with a traumatic experience he had many years before. He arrived in Coldford as a young child, seeking refugee from the Country of Levinkrantz. A political upheaval there had led to an event termed the bomb blitz that literally and figuratively tore young Howard’s life apart. He believes that had more people with integrity come together, such a disaster could have been avoided. When the Good Gang took shape it gave him great relief to see all that he had held onto through his darkest times step into the light.

Howard Bergman raises a glass to the future of Coldford.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up for a sensational, inspirational, full in your face expectational show. I’m Adrien Stoker and welcome to Stoker Circus!” 

The image was a little grainy but the advert was allowed to run in its entirety. Sat on the floor with the empty bowl in his lap Freddy Stoker smiled at the advertisement for an old Stoker show. 

I’ve introduced the current Stoker players but allow me to take a moment to discuss Freddy’s grandfather. Adrien Stoker was known as the Amazing Adrien. His magic and escape acts as the Stoker ringmaster earned him this title. What also cemented the amaze that preceded his name was his commitment to bringing joy to the people of Levinkrantz even during their darkest time. 

“We’ll be here for three weeks so be sure to come on down and check out our exciting new acts. It’s fun for all the ages and remember, there is only one rule for the Stoker tents and that is you are not allowed to leave sad.”

Adrien beamed a wide smile. The advert jingle played. The message was fun and clear but being spoken in the language of Levinkrantz added a coldness. The advert disappeared into the screen. Despite warnings against inviting undesirables into this tent, Adrien continued to play his shows. The brewing civil unrest caused everyone to live in a climate of fear. Adrien, with his circus spirit, broke it as best he could. The Amazing Adrien was a man to be admired. 

Freddy smiled at the blank screen. Freddy was not the same as his grandfather. 

A hand landed on his shoulder. He moved little as though he’d been expecting it. Behind him was Gretel Stoker better known as ‘the legless woman’. She was one of Freddy’s oddities. Gretel joined the family when her own well to do parents discarded her in a river as a child. I suppose in that respect it could be said that they are still doing their part in bringing people together. Freddy exploits his exhibits for the feel of a coin in his hand. That same coin keeps them loyal to him. 

“We better go,” Gretel said. 

Climbing to his feet he took off the glasses he had been wearing. Turning to the sofa he observed the body lying with his head resting towards his right shoulder. Freddy slipped the glasses back onto the corpse with gloved hands. He stepped back and observed a little closer this time. Leaning forward again he adjusted a few locks of the departed’s hair. He took the spoon from the cereal bowl, opened the corpses mouth and gathered DNA on it. The spoon and the bowl, with only a small dribble of milk left lying at the bottom was set aside but at an askew angle so that it appeared casually discarded. 

He lifted a bag that was now filled with valuable possessions that had been found about the home. Nothing too large or ambitious. Small items such as jewellery or cash were easier to carry and when the circus was moving town you had to learn to be mobile. It had to look less conspicuous too when the police arrived and uncovered the body. 

Freddy had not committed murder. The corpse was Mr Brewer. He had a middle class home in Swantin. He sat himself on the sofa with the intentions of enjoying the latest instalment of soap opera, MARCH OF OUR TIMES when he felt his heart flutter and he took his final rest. He had been lying there for so long a smell began to resonate with the neighbours. When attention was called to this, the telephone of the City Pest Control rang and who should answer but Ellard Stoker. Ellard listened to the neighbour suggestion that an animal of some kind had gotten trapped in vents and died. 

It was only a matter of time before Ellard, pest controller by day and animal trainer by night, had alerted his nefarious relatives. 

There was a pest in the building, that much was true and that pest had cleared the home of any viable loot. He was now taking one last look at the room to confirm it was exactly what the police would expect to find. 

“Time to go,” said the legless Gretel again. 

Freddy opened his arms. Climbing up his leg, Gretel rested into his clutch and he carried her from the house. 

Falling from the Amazing Adrien, to scavenging the homes of the recently deceased is quite reflective on who the Stokers are. They have that hero in their family the likes of which Howard Bergman would be admiring of. However, they take their inspiration from that bag of loot. If only they watched those old adverts a little longer. 

The effect Amazing Adrien had on those who came to see his show wasn’t completely lost on his eldest son, Valdrick. Val did admire his father. His Big Top was a symbol of joy in a war torn land. It would rise above the chaos that was being left behind with its vivid blue and red stripes. The problem was one man’s symbol of joy was another’s symbol of disobedience. Such are the way things go.

‘You were a real trooper there,’ Val thought of his father. But joy ain’t going to do jack shit when the real world starts to bite. Joy isn’t going to feed such a big family. No worries there kiddies, you might not have had a solid meal in days but we got plenty of joy. Grab a plate and we’ll spoon that shit out. Tastes great joy does but when that moments over you’re still hungry and still freezing your ass off in a tent because you can’t afford any warm clothe. Wow! Pass me another plate of that joy. That first one was so good I just to have me another before I blow my Goddamned brains out I’m so fucking ecstatic. 

Money makes the world go round and it’s easy for wealthy people like the Bergmans to feast on a complete diet of joy. Who wouldn’t be joyful when their whole existence is diamond encrusted? 

Money is the route of most problems and the biggest problem you can have is having no money. Where his nephew was scavenging from homes no longer required Val was accepting any item of value for pawn, an arguably more legitimate but no less despicable route. The gross mark downs offered and the money lending on the side made Val no less than a juggling little swindler. He knew this. He was okay with this. He knew his father would have expected better than him. He knew with the blood of the Amazing Adrien in him he could do great things. Think of all the joy you could get with that! Val knew these things and he thought about them more than he would ever care to admit. He should have had the Big Top. He was the head of the family but he just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t bring himself to be amazing. He had to think of himself and his beloved wife Gigi too of course. Val and Gigi had the blue tent but they had all but left the life behind. They wanted a quiet existence now. They actually wanted to do better things if what I’m told is true and that meant leaving the circus behind. There was only one thing holding them back and it certainly wasn’t a lack of joy. 

“This is just getting worse, missus,” Val complained. He was staring into a mirror, adjusting a tie. 

Gigi, who’s height towered a considerable amount above his own, was adjusting the collar of his shirt. 

“I know, sugar,” she replied, looking over her husband’s shoulder, tidying her platinum blonde hair. “But we’ve got a whole lot of trouble coming our way and we can’t exactly pay our way out of it.” 

The trouble was stirring from the motherland. It was a bit of baggage that should have long been left behind and never brought to Coldford. The money lending business had been proving quite fruitful but when the bills came in faster than you could fleece the suckers it left you with a very firm final reminder situation. They didn’t need reminding. They just needed to get themselves as far away from Coldford as they could. If only you could fly on joy. 

“Good morning, Mr Whitley,” Val said into the mirror as though rehearsing. “I’m Mishokov Froraderick and this is my wife, Sue,” 

“Hello!” Gigi yelled in a heavy Levinkrantz accent, leaning on Val’s shoulder and reaching her hand out as they she were shaking the hand of the unfortunate sap they clearly had their mark on. 

“She doesn’t speak much English but we’re in the market for a new home and the more fancy pantsy the place is the better. Give me a whole lot of a joy with five bedrooms.” 

“Do you have one with pool?” Gigi asked the mirror man in this rehearsal of misfortune. 

Val broke character. He turned to his wife. 

“Do you have pool?” He imitated her character’s accent. 

“The leaflets that were made up said pool,” Gigi was certain. 

Val shook his head. “Yes, I know, my dove, but you don’t speak much English remember? Why would you ask for a pool?”

“I could speak enough English to know to ask for a house with a pool,” Gigi surmised. 

None of this mattered though. The byplay they were in the middle of was interrupted by a little jingle. That little jingle may as well have have been the sound of joy because through the doors of the pawn shop in shady city’s shadiest corner of Main stepped Diamond Daughter, Elsa Bergman. 

Val and Gigi both turned to her like dancers on a music box. That joyish little tinkle lit a smile on their faces. 

“I need to borrow some money,” said Elsa. She didn’t want to pretend she was in their domain for any other reason. 

“Your daddy’s loaded,” Val frowned. “What would you need to borrow money for?” 

“I’m in a spot of trouble,” Elsa admitted. “I’d rather keep my dad out of it.” 

The word around the city was that Elsa was losing bad at gambling. That is certainly something the clean cut Howard Bergman wouldn’t want to become public.

“How much?” 

Whatever amount Elsa asked caused Val and Gigi to turn back round again. 

“This is the big break we’ve been waiting for!” Val said in an aside. 

Gigi wasn’t so certain. “She’s Howard’s daughter.” 

“I know!” Val stated, thinking that was just about the cherry on top of the proverbial cake. 

He had known Howard a long time. They were friends once. He decided the level he was bothered by this did not match his need to set he and Gigi up. 

“Alright, Missy,” he said to Elsa. “I hope you know what you are getting yourself into.” 

The deal was done, debts were reshuffled and Elsa left the Rumilaw with some easing of her shoulders. She was a little cash cow that was going to bring a whole lotta joy! 

Val and Gigi Stoker outside the Big Top.

***

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up for a knuckle whiting, nail biting, full in your face exciting show. I’m Irvine Stoker. Welcome to Stoker Circus!” 

The ring master of the three tents was Val’s younger brother and Freddy’s father, Irvine. Irvine Stoker is a striking man and that is before he adorns his Stoker jacket and ring master garb. He has a looming, insect like frame that can bend into interesting shapes. He is full of charisma as you would expect. To meet him on the street you would find him odd but intriguing. His welcoming voice would catch your attention. The bright colours surrounding him would draw you closer and then before you knew it you were swept up in his arms and taken along for a journey you didn’t realise you had already paid for. 

Irvine kicked the dust of the centre ring aside. One of the animals had shat there again. The whole place was falling to the pits. He reached his arms up and in a swift movement another set of hands clasped his from above. He was raised up and he went soaring towards where the audience would be seated later that afternoon. He clutched the arms of trapeze artist Eroll Easy, who with his sister, Ethel formed a duo called the Trapeezy Easys. Irvine was dropped in among the audience area and he skipped back towards centre ring. Before he reached there Ethel had swung down and collected him under his arms and they soared towards the middle. She dropped him back on his starting point. He landed in the animal excrement he had kicked dirt over. 

“Eugh!” Irvine groaned. As if things weren’t shit enough. “You wanna watch were you’re dropping?” He called up to the easys.

“Sure thing, boss,” Eroll swung past. 

Irvine shook his head, wiping his shoe in the sand and readied himself to start all over again. Rehearsals were cut short though because he received a call from his strong man, Otto.

“It’s time, boss,” he said. 

There was a show to get going but Irvine took the time out of rehearsals to bid farewell to one of their own. They would expect him to say something. 

Coming together in times of loss was something the Bergman family and the Stoker counterparts would share. The two Easys dropped down and they made their way to the back of the Big Top where a group of mourning Stokers were gathered. They parted when they saw their ring master. Irvine made his way to the front laying a consoling hand on Otto’s broad shoulder. He removed his hat and he turned to his family. 

“She was a fine mare,” he said. “It’s always a tough one to take when one of us dies. Trot on Sparkles.” 

“To sparkles,” the others sounded off. Sparkles was the leading Dressage horse of the Stoker Circus. They weren’t kidding when they said she was a sore loss. She was a beautiful animal. She was also the highest earner of the herd. This is where the Bergmans and the Stokers differ in their thoughts on loss. 

After offering a respectful send off to the stables in the skies the carcass was dragged off to be disposed off. Luckily Olga the clown arrived on scene with her replacement. Olga had on her blue and red clown face paint on but was yet to complete with her wig. 

“What the fuck is that?” Irvine asked.

“It’s what the Perry’s sent,” Olga informed him. It had been she who had brought the animal from Perry Zoo. 

“We asked for a horse,” Irvine claimed. 

“It is a horse,” Olga shrugged. 

“That is not a horse,” Irvine growled impatiently. 

“It looks like a horse,” Olga reasoned. 

“That is a fucking donkey,” said Irvine, clasping the animal’s snout and shaking him. The donkey did not appreciate this in a slightest. He hee hawed his objection.

Olga handed him the rein. “I’m just passing it on. You’re the ring master, boss, you deal with it.”Deal with it? Teaching dressage to a donkey just about summed up the state of affairs for the Stoker family. 

***

And those, dear readers, are the Stoker and Bergman families. One, a symbol of kindness and integrity. The other a symbol of greed and selfishness. However, like most things in Coldford there are the shades. The Bergman struggle could very well test their integrity and as the Stokers continue to keep themselves breathing above water it could offer them the chance the realise that whilst it is easier to con, fleece and sneak their way through life, in the long term doing the right thing will see them much better off. Joy, they would find, is a currency worth spending. 

The Stoker Circus family and the Bergman diamond merchants have a long history. They finally find common ground when a cult group gathers popularity. They are very different though so deciding how to deal with it will prove problematic.

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Dinner At The Manor

Beckingridge Manor was a place that many would dream of living in. It was a beautiful old mansion house that had been in the family for generations. They were old money but Jeffrey Beckingridge aka Gramps was who made it really what it was. But behind those mansion walls lay skeletons. Like for instance, Alice Beckingridge. She had been accused of murdering her son. The boy had been born deformed. He had been hidden inside the manor, few even knew of his existence until his life was cut short and his body discovered buried in the Manor House lawns. She’s dead now too so plays little part in the following events.  

Then there was Alice’s sister in law, Elizabeth. Growing up in the world of privilege she had never really learned what it meant to consider others. Spoiled and selfish as you would expect Elizabeth set herself apart from the rest of her family by having a conscience. She did try. What made her the same was she had her skeletons too. The became less over the years with Gramps no longer around to lock them away.  

Elizabeth makes attempts to distract her nephew by hiring a music teacher.

Then there was Alice’s daughter Catherine. School shootings, extorting teachers and running her aunt Elizabeth over with the car so that she now walked with a prosthetic leg. Young Catherine was quite the up and comer. The society pages of the Filton Crier were keeping a very close eye on her indeed. Now she had her own baby, little Vicky. Time would tell where Victoria Beckingridge would fit into her family.  

Probably the most notable in terms reputation would be George. Elizabeth’s nephew and Catherine’s younger brother. He had hit first hit the headlines at age eight when it was he who had discovered his mother’s body. The already famous Beckingridge heir became even more so when he was kidnapped by his music teacher, Vincent Baines. Dead dogs, dead relatives, dead teachers were left behind. If there were a competition for the ûmost skeletons among the Beckingridge’s the safest bet would be George. Psychopathic tendencies is what they say about him but given his status in the city no one seemed prepared to do anything about it. The music teacher instantly regretted his decision to take the boy away from what he felt was a toxic environment. The Manor House was indeed toxic but stealing him away just gave George a whole new playground for ten long years. The musician’s life was made a misery but the family sighed relief being rid of little George for a while. When he was found they would have denied him if they could.  

George and his beloved companion Cecil.

So quite a mess as I’m sure you will agree and it rested on the shoulders of patriarch, Ernest Beckingridge. Sweet natured Ernest didn’t have the bite of his sister, Elizabeth. He didn’t have the iron will of his wife, Alice either. Quite frankly he didn’t have what it took to lead the Beckingridge Empire or keep his son and daughter in line.  

“Stop killing things!” Ernest cried in despair. “Why can’t you just act like a real boy?”  

George grinned. It was only feeding his temperament.  

“It’s okay, baby girl,” Ernest said to Catherine. “We’ll be fine.”  

Ernest Beckingridge has a lot on his shoulders.

Catherine snuggled into her father’s arms. At her age she really should have been learning responsibility but it was easier to hug her and keep her quiet. Ernest wouldn’t be around forever and Catherine was in for a rude awakening when she didn’t have her billionaire father to protect her. Elizabeth tried to warn her brother of this. She had experienced the same thing when Gramps died.  

Disfunction. A term used when a family unit is broken but carries on anyway. Blood is thicker than water. Money and entitlement make you even thicker than that to the ways of the world. But despite all their troubles life at Beckingridge Manor went on. Dinner was always served promptly at eight.  

*** 

The salad course had only just been served. George hadn’t ate much of it. Instead he made a fuss of it with his fork then left the shredded pieces. He had spilled some of them onto the table. Catherine wasn’t paying much attention as usual. With one hand she was trying to feed her baby. Vicky was leaning forward in her high chair trying to catch the spoon in her mouth but her mother’s eyes were too busy reading her phone.  

“George, will you take that disgusting thing off of the table!” Aunt Elizabeth barked.  

It was a stuffed mouse she referred to. It’s fur was matted, the stuffing was crushed and for some reason it smelled like garlic. He named it Cecil and he took it wherever he went.  

George glared at Elizabeth. “Cecil stays here,” he stated.  

“You’re eighteen,” Elizabeth chided. “It’s ridiculous that you would carry that filthy thing around with you.”  

Ernest looked up from his plate. He finally decided to speak up.  

“Come on now George,” he said. “Take it off the table.”  

Elizabeth wasn’t satisfied. “We’re trying to eat here and I need to look at those … stains? What even is that?” she wrinkled her nose. “Never mind. I don’t want to know, just get the damn thing away.”  

George grinned. Seeing his aunt get upset made him giggle. Cecil tended to have that affect on people. 

“May I be excused?” Catherine asked in what should have been a polite request but was instead laced with frustration.  

“No you may not,” Elizabeth said. “If you didn’t have your face stuck in that blasted phone the entire time you would be done by now. Eat your salad.”  

Catherine looked to her father. Ernest raised his eyebrows but said nothing. It wasn’t his problem. He had ate his salad.  

“How is the tuition going, George?” He decided to attempt polite conversation with his son. “Are you coping with it?”  

George wouldn’t be an easy pupil to teach. The general public scoffed at the idea of a grown man removing his pupil from his home only to become the kidnap victim himself but Ernest knew his son. It was indeed very plausible. The most unsettling thing about the whole scenario was how George had returned to the manor after all that time and it seemed like nothing had happened. The Beckingridges could adapt to any scenario. It was what helped them keep the flow of cold hard cash to the city.  

George nodded. “It’s okay.” He looked at Cecil. In his mind Cecil must have said something he didn’t approve of so he knocked him over. He could see Elizabeth stifle a stomach lurch at the toy.  

“And Kappa So?” Asked the father. “It’ll be pledge week soon.”  

Ernest had been a member of the exclusive Filton Fraternity back when he was George’s age. He wasn’t exactly one of the in crowd but Charles ‘Chick’ Owen who was the Chapter Leader at the time accepted him as one of their own. The fraternity was now under the guidance of Chick’s son Buddy. George had taken a shine to him. He even started to imitate him quite a bit, using turns of phrases he wouldn’t normally.  

“Kappa So!” He would scream, already wearing his blazer even though he hadn’t officially been accepted.  

“Buddy said you’re a peg legged whore and the only time you shut up is when you have a dick in your mouth,” George gleefully announced to his aunt.  

“George!” Ernest finally decided to intervene.  

It was too late though. Elizabeth was already on her feet. He had her fork in her her hand, pointing it at her nephew like Satan with his trident. She decided against it. With a clang she dropped the fork onto her plate and lifted her glass of wine instead.  

“Liz!” Ernest tried to stop her but it was too late. She emptied the glass into George’s face.  

“That’s disgusting!” He complained. “It tastes like feet.”  

Elizabeth sat back down. Her scowl had dissolved into a wry smile as she watched George try to dry himself with the table cloth, almost knocking his plate to the floor.  

“Gah!” Vicky started to reach out for her great aunt.  

“May I be excused?” Catherine asked again.  

“No,” Elizabeth barked. “We’re a family and we have dinner together. Even if we must share the table with lunatic Larry over there.”  

Ernest was shaking his head. “Can’t we just have one meal where someone doesn’t empty a glass of wine of another’s head. Don’t we deserve some quiet after everything the family has been through?”  

“Oh Ernest do shut up,” Elizabeth barked.  

Ernest sighed. He attempted to change the subject. It was always especially volatile between George and Elizabeth so he decided to engage his daughter.  

“So Catherine,” he began. “Did Vicky sleep through the night? I don’t believe I heard her.”  

Catherine shrugged. How would she know? If baby Victoria had been screaming merry hell from her nursery it still wouldn’t have been her mother to go and fetch her.  

“I think she was trying to say da da,” Catherine offered.  

Elizabeth was turning her empty wine glass in her hand. “It’s a pity she doesn’t know who Da Da is,” she commented.  

“I hope you choke pills and die you cantankerous old shrew,” Catherine snarled.  

Elizabeth gave a hearty laugh. “Oh Catherine, I wouldn’t have to be cantankerous if you didn’t leave your child for everyone else to look after.”  

Vicky had woken up through the night as it happened. Catherine wouldn’t have known this because she had ignored the baby’s cries until Elizabeth had come to fetch her.  

“Come to me my little darling,” she had heard Elizabeth whisper to her daughter over the monitor in a sweetened tone she used with no one else. It was so alien to her aunt that at first she didn’t realise who it was.  

Catherine raised her finger at her aunt. George was giggling to himself, his fair hair still stained with red wine. Ernest was almost burying his face in what was left of the salad in despair.  

“Can we leave the vulgarity please!” Ernest requested with a little more passion than they were used to. “It’s not for the dinner table.”  

“May I be excused?” Catherine asked again.  

“No.” This time it was her father who requested that she stay.  

“I’m not hungry,” she tried.  

“Maybe not,” said Elizabeth, interrupting Ernest. “But your baby still is.” 

“I have a vulgar story,” George put in. 

“No George,” said Elizabeth. “You don’t.”  

*** 

Later that evening the Beckingridge manor quietened. Elizabeth had decided to take a walk around to try and tire herself out. She sensed that evening would be one where sleep would not come easily. As she passed by Vicky’s nursery she could hear singing. At first she thought it was a figment of her imagination it had been so soft and tender. She recognised the song but couldn’t quite place where from. It was a male voice. Ernest wasn’t an easy sleeper then either so perhaps he had gotten up to spend some time with his granddaughter. Was the song the lullaby their nanny used to sing to them as children? Elizabeth still couldn’t decide. She didn’t want to disturb the sweetness. She actually found herself enjoying the tone. She pushed the door open gently. The nursery was bathed in soft nightlights. Stars danced across the roof. Vicky had pulled herself up onto her feet in her cot. It wasn’t Ernest who was singing to her though. It was George. The lighting had subdued his normally sneering expression. At the least the light had provided some of the softening. Some of the serene look had been given from the way he was watching his niece.  

George loved music lessons as a child.

He hadn’t heard his aunt behind him. His focus remained on his niece. Victoria tried to reach through the bars of her cot to Cecil. 

“No,” said George, again surprisingly calmly. Normally he threw a tantrum when anyone tried to take Cecil. It was ridiculous to see a young man of nineteen who was supposed to lead the Beckingridge Tower one day throw a tantrum like a toddler over a stuffed animal. He smiled at Vicky though. It seemed the after dinner entertainment was called off.  

“You don’t want Cecil,” George explained to the child. “He’s not a nice toy.”  

It had been the first time Elizabeth heard George admit he was a toy. Every other time he was insistent that it was his friend. Elizabeth knew he had just being doing it to create a scene. What frightened her the most about that realisation was that she would have created a scene too if someone irritated her the way she seemed to irritate George.  

George lifted a stuffed monkey and passed it to the infant.  

“Here. You have ‘cheeky monkey,” he said.  

Vicky grinned and clasped the monkey to her chest. Cheeky Monkey looked exactly like the little monkey on the pink onesie she wore.  

“Cheeky Monkey is a much better toy for you,” the uncle explained. Vicky seemed to agree but she kept her eyes on Cecil.  

“Cecil!” Vicky garbled in toddler language pointing to him.  

“That’s right,” George agreed.  

He seemed to take closer note of Vicky behind the bars of her cot.  

“They won’t keep you in here all the time,” George went on. “I won’t let them. It was so easy for them just to lock that door and forget me when I was a little boy. I won’t let them do the same to you. I know it can get scary in here sometimes. The door is heavy and the windows are high up but you won’t be locked in here. You can’t let them see you get angry. That’s when they lock you in here.”  

“Gah?” Vicky said almost agreeing. Her tantrum earlier had seen her banished to the nursery just like Uncle George said.  

“Yeah, that’s right,” said George. “They just lock you in here, sometimes for days. They would always have you smile. They would always have you laugh. You can’t say anything no matter how much you want to scream and rip into someone’s belly. But don’t you worry Vicky. You won’t be like me. You won’t need crusty old Cecil. I won’t let them lock you in here.  

He leaned over and kissed her head. “You are cute!” He gushed.  

Vicky giggled. “Yes you are.”  

“That’s enough George,” Elizabeth finally interrupted.  

George turned round finally paying heed to his aunt’s presence. 

“She was crying,” he said.  

Elizabeth insisted. “Then I’ll see to her.”  

“She wanted me,” George was adamant.  

Vicky lay herself down in her cot, clutching Cheeky Monkey closely. She yawned. George and Elizabeth left her room to let her drift back to sleep.  

“Good night, Aunt Elizabeth,” George said neither sweetly nor sneering. For a few moments he could be mistaken for a real boy.  

“Good night George,” Elizabeth replied.  

“Sleep well,” added the nephew.  

Was that a threat? Was that a genuine request? Was he deliberately being a nice to essentially be an irritating prick? Elizabeth found Ernest in the lounge and when she had relayed to him the conversation she had overhead with Vicky it seemed to make him uneasy. They had locked him away often when he was a child but what choice did they have? He was out of control. Who’s fault was that?  

George pulled the sheets up to his chin. Cecil sat balanced on his belly watching him with his beady black eyes. That was when he heard his door click, locked from the outside.  

Behind those mansion walls lay a whole host of skeletons. The Beckingridge family experts at locking them away.  


The Beckingridge family can buy just about anything. What they can’t buy is peace of mind from the psychopath that lives in the manor with them.  

The Beckingridge family thought they had it made. An obsessed music teacher took their problems away but ten years later it was back in the manor and the teacher in Harbour House rehab.  

1105: Interview with Vincent Baines

Vincent had a good life with his partner Daniel Weir.

I am now speaking to a well presented gentleman. He is groomed, well dressed and watching me keenly. Former music teacher, Vincent Baines, initially appears to be a person whom most would respect and even admire. He is after all a talented musician. However, he struggles with serious personality issues and his residence at Harbour House came at a huge cost.

Interviewer: Son of the great composer, Fredrick Baines. A concert pianist by age 12 and a professional violinist by age 15. By all accounts you are an accomplished man so I must ask, where did it all go wrong?

Vincent: I thought that much would be quite clear. It was all over the newspapers at the time.

Interviewer: It was indeed. Murder, kidnapping and making an enemy of the richest family in Coldford City. But I’d like to hear it from your own perspective. Can you tell me a little bit about where it began?

Vincent: (Taking a deep breath) Must we?

Interviewer: I’m afraid we must.

Vincent: I was contacted by Elizabeth Beckingridge. She was looking for a music tutor for her nephew, George. George had been exhibiting severe behaviour problems and she thought it might help. He was a natural with the piano.

Interviewer: But the tutelage didn’t go so well did it?

Vincent: I did what I thought was best. When I first arrived at the Beckingridge Manor there was still police tape. How was I supposed to know?

Interviewer: You suffer from Obsessive Personality Disorder, correct?

Vincent: All my life, yes. It did me no good with the Beckingridge family though. When I met George all I could think about was getting him away from such a toxic environment. I didn’t realise he was the cause.

Interview terminated by my own choice. Vincent continues to struggle with what he did and it may be best he be allowed to settle into the Harbour House rehabilitation facility before reconvening.

#amreading #harbourhouse2020 #thriller by @VivikaWidow


Bring me your sick. Bring me your troubled. Bring me those that society can no longer cope with for they will always have a home here at Harbour House. 

Did your aunt tell you she murdered someone? No, she would leave that part out.” 

Killing is a game for the rich. 

When Vincent Baines is given the job of teaching music to little George Beckingridge he expects a typical commission from a privileged, wealthy family. George’s outbursts become more and more violent. His father is always absent, his aunt is afraid of him and his sister has been sent away to boarding school. Vincent is the only one who can get to the bottom of what is causing the child’s manifesting distress and unearth the terrible things the boy has seen.

***** A thrilling read ***** Hits all the right notes

1310: Interview with David Finn

David Finn arrives at Harbour House rehab clinic.

A scruffy young man is sat before me. His hair is bleached, his body thin and a little malnourished. He’s been through a lot it seems but brought to Harbour House to combat a drug addiction he’s on the list of those we aim to make better.

Interviewer: You were once described at Coldford City’s most promising young talent. You were a truly terrific artist. But you threw it all away on drugs, didn’t you, you rogue.

David shuffles a little. It seems the close scrutiny is making him nervous or perhaps withdrawal from needles is already getting to him. Still, no fix until he begins to cooperate.

David: You know what happened. You’re the reason I’m here, man.

Interviewer: How do you feel?

David: Like I got a life that ain’t worth saving.

Interviewer: A little bleak but I can see why it seems hopeless for you right now.

David: It’s the baby that got me the most. Elliot? What’d he do? What did his mums do?

Interviewer: You feel responsible for what happened?

David: Of course I do! He’s not the first kid I’ve said goodbye to either.

Interview terminated. Resident 1310 became too distraught to continue. Awaiting notice from Dr Winslow.

#amreading #thriller #harbourhouse2020 by @VivikaWidow


“No Davey, No!” where the last words he heard him cry. It took some time for him to remember his childhood but now the artist’s ‘tortured boy’ piece is ready, thanks to his latest muse.

Bring me your sick. Bring me your troubled. Bring me those society can no longer cope with for they will always have a home here at Harbour House.

Character Profile: Daniel Weir

Age: (At time of Maestro events) 26

Occupation: Photographer

Features in: MAESTRO ; HARBOUR HOUSE

Daniel is son of hotelier Rodney Weir. He is heir to the WEIR HOTEL chain with sights set upon running the City Main Weir after his father retires. Running a hotel in the Shady City isn’t without its challenges. It requires complete discretion, the ability to overlook shady doings and a firm hand when guests get out of control. This lack of moral thinking never really sat well with Daniel and through it he and his father clashed. Rodney had at least hoped the support of KAPPA SO brothers would help Daniel survive in the Shady City but pledging required a spirit that Daniel just didn’t possess. A night at the CHAPTER HOUSE left Daniel in hospital. After this event Daniel swore he no longer wanted anything to do with his name sake hotel or the father who was pushing him to be someone he just wasn’t.

Coldford City’s premier hotel. Shady Suites for Shady people.

Kind spirited, trusting and loving, Daniel sought the quiet life of a photographer instead. When he met a music student, VINCENT BAINES, he finally started to drift into the life he had always wanted. A loving partner, a nice home and a promising career it seemed Daniel had it all. But that danger his father had always tried to prepare him for ran deep under the grounds of Coldford. Even the beautiful suburbs of FILTON was not far enough away to escape it. His partner had issues, his home could not lock out psychopaths and his career would be cut short. If he had listened to his father, taken his place at the Weir and allowed himself to embrace the bad blood that ran through his veins, that same blood that allowed the Weir to survive, things might have been different.

Trusting Daniel was helping Vincent tackle his issues.

Daniel learned the hard way that trust and kindness only get you so far when the policy of your family hotel is that once the reservations are made you pay no mind to what goes on behind the closed doors. His partner, Vincent, didn’t want that life for him either. He knew what good a person Daniel was and he shuddered to think of what the hotel life would do to him but no matter how far you run you can’t escape your true calling. Isn’t that right, Vincent?

When he stepped through the gates of Beckingridge Manor, that’s when it all went wrong.

I am reading @VivikaWidow. #maestro #harbourhouse2020 #thrillerfan #blogreads

Out Now.

Daniel can’t help but notice his partner, Vincent, is acting strangely. The muddy footprints, the unexplained absences. He’s letting his obessions get the better of him again and someone is going to get hurt.

Coming Soon.

Vincent Baines has made many mistakes in his life. What happened to Daniel was the biggest. He just can’t help his obsessions hurting the ones he loves.

As long as it takes

Quiet. The noise of the workers on Chamberlain Docks faintly resonated in the distance. The ferry from the Island of Hathfield Bay would be arriving in soon. The 11:15. It always left port on time and the crossing was always a precise 56 minutes. What would it be bringing? Who would be returning? It didn’t matter because all of that was behind the tall hedges obscured from view. You see, it wouldn’t do good for the residents of Harbour House to look at what went beyond the safe little world that had been created for them. No that wouldn’t do at all, according to DR WINSLOW. Harbour House was a place of rehabilitation. Maybe seeing what was beyond the hedges, fences and walls would do them some good? Maybe it would give them some hope of returning to normality, but they weren’t there to hope. They were there to get better. They were there to shed all kinds of ailments. 

One such resident was music teacher, VINCENT BAINES. 1105 was the number he was given and obsession was his reason for being confined to Harbour House. The air of the place was fresher than he had ever sampled deeper in the city and for that he was grateful. The noise of the birds chirping formed a pleasant little melody to accompany the blossoming rhododendrons. He had circulated the gardens three times when he came to a stop again. The door leading back into the facility slammed as a woman joined him. She looked a little surprised at first to see that she wasn’t alone but she smiled at Vincent and wandered to a bench and sat herself. She was slim of face and body. Her soft eyes were like clear blue pools of water. The way she had hunched nervously gave Vincent reason to deduce that she was new to the ways of HARBOUR HOUSE. She had been crying. She was still in clothes one would have worn outside. An intervention staged perhaps? Her family refusing to return for her until she was ‘normal.’ What was normal? No one was normal. Especially not in the city of Coldford. 

“It will take a while to settle in but you’ll get there,” Vincent decided to say to her. 

The girl looked up and smiled. “Thanks. I’ll be fine.” 

Vincent nodded. She wasn’t a drug addict. She wasn’t a victim of trauma. Something else had brought her to them. He checked himself though. Ever since he was a little boy he had been drawn to the vulnerable, to those who needed help. His obsession meant that he was in no position to help. His obsessions just made things worse. The girl just needed to be left alone. At least Harbour House was helping him with something. 


“How long do you have to stay here?” The girl asked just as Vincent was preparing to make another stroll of the gardens. 

Her face was soft. She was pleading to him. She wanted his help. He could help. He had to help. She needed him. What was her name? Should he ask? If they shared their names that connected them. That made them a pairing and when you know someone who needs help you should help, shouldn’t you? Her watery blue eyes were begging him. ‘Help me, please!” 

Vincent took a deep breath. “As long as it takes I suppose.”

The girl nodded. “I thought so.” 

Vincent pushed his spectacles further up his nose. “You’ll get the help you need here.” 

That much was true and that was all he would have to say on the matter. He had to leave it at that. If he thought about it more and started to question her as to what brought her there he would set himself back and Harbour House had been doing him good. 

The door was thrown open again. TAWNY, an a old show girl and fellow resident leaned out. She had a cigarette dangling from her lips. 

“C’mon honey!” She called to Vincent. “We’re going out to the roof.”

She giggled as the artist, DAVID FINN, also a resident, pushed beside her in the doorway. 

“I painted my walls with pudding and they think its shit!” He laughed. 

Vincent shook his head. “Very mature, David,” he replied but he was laughing too. 

He made his way to join his friends. He stopped at the girl on the bench. “You’ll be fine,” he said. 

The girl smiled in return. “You think so?” 

Vincent didn’t dare allow himself to ponder the question. 

A matron of the facility, Beverly, was making her way to the gardens. 

“I know that was pudding!” She barked at David, slapping his arm. 

David and Tawny fell to laughter. “Had you going though!” David teased. 

The three made their way to a quiet spot on the roof. Beverly called to the girl. 

“Emily?” She said. “I need you on the floor.” 

The girl nodded, took a deep breath and stood. Her family had left her there. They wouldn’t return until she was better but she wasn’t a resident. She was a nurse. Just like the residents she would be there as long as it took. 

#amreading #harbourhouse2020 by @VivikaWidow

Vincent thought he had his life together. A loving partner, a thriving career and all the blessings life can offer. When he accepts a wealthy new pupil his obsessions threaten to derail everything.

Celebrating 4 years! Read the hit novella that brought Mr Baines to Harbour House.

Those little mind worms can wriggle deep. But you have an public persona that you need to keep. They wriggle, the squirm and they embed. You can’t get those thoughts out of your head. There’s one place obsession can meet its cure. In Harbour House, that I can assure.

Character Profile: Evan Heath

Age: 47

Occupation: BECKINGRIDGE FIRM accounts adviser.

Features in: MAESTRO ; KNOCK KNOCK

A skilled negotiator for the most part, Evan is charming but also very full on. He started his career in sales for COOPER Garage when he was a budding accounts student at FILTON University. With his proven stats behind him he was head hunted for the advice team for Beckingridge Firm. This suited Ethan. BECKINGRIDGE TOWER was the one place in Coldford he wanted to work. There he thrived and there he also met his wife, Sonya.

KNOCKKNOCK_theheaths
Mr and Mrs Heath are two HIGH FLIERS from the Beckingridge Firm

So what exactly does the accounts advice entail? Evan, being a proven salesman with a head for numbers formed a formidable team with his wife. They were placed in charge of bringing in wealthy new clients for the financial giants to invest their money. They were also charged with pushing old clients to invest in new projects. All with that ultimate goal – Cold Hard Cash.

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The Heaths are tough negotiators.

Successful at their job and paid well the Heaths bought a lavish residence in Filton. Fancy cars and expensive restaurants like the DELPHINE are all part and parcel. They just can’t get enough which is why their teenaged son is still sent drug errands to the Shanties.

Times change and the flow of wealth in the Shady City can be treacherous. As music teacher, VINCENT BAINES, watched the Heaths leave for work one fateful morning he couldn’t help but notice that Filton had no soul. Who needs a soul when you can sell it for a mansion house?

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Ernest Beckingridge describes a phone call in the middle of the night that alerted him to trouble with the Heaths at The Tower.

 

Music teacher Vincent Baines shudders when he arrives at the home of his latest pupil. Behind mansion walls are where the true skeletons lie. 

Mr and Mrs Heath found themselves on the wrong side of the Knock Knock Boss Lady. It was time to take a leap of faith. Complete Season 1 of the Knock Knock graphic novel series is free to read here or click below to download for Kindle.