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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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I Am What I Am

A short play adapted from the novel Purple Ribbon

SCENE 1

Standing outside the Church of St Wigan, FATHER VERGER is greeting his congregates as they leave. He is approached by DELORES and her daughter TAWNY. DELORES Is dressed in a sombre black dress with a Wigan pin on her chest. TAWNY is dressed in a cheerful red dress with white polka dots.

DELORES

It was a beautiful service Father.

VERGER

Thank you Mrs McInney. I trust you are keeping well?

Turning his attention to TAWNY.

I would have thought you would have worn a more mournful outfit on account of your father.

TAWNY

Smiling warmly.

Pa hated to see people glum.

VERGER

Still, show a little respect.

TAWNY

Not paying much attention to the priest her focus is caught by someone waving to her from offstage.

Hi honey! It’s good to see ye. When did you get back?

Speaking to Delores.

Excuse me, ma.

TAWNY exits the stage.

DELORES

Shaking her head

I’m sorry Father. i thought with Reuben’s passing she would pray with me. Every week is a struggle to het her to come along.

VERGER

Looking over in TAWNY’S direction.

She needs the church’s guidance now more than ever. As her mother it is up to you to take care of her. Her immortal soul is at stake. St Wigan will impart the strength you need to correct her.

DELORES

I don’t want to lose her.

They both look towards offstage where TAWNY has just exited.

VERGER

Praise Wigan.

DELORES

Still looking after TAWNY.

Praise Wigan…

SCENE 2

DELORES is sat at home. The home appears draughty and uncomfortable. She is seated at a table centre stage where lighting is focused on a single empty plate and a Wigan book. DELORES is holding her Wigan pin in her hand. TAWNY is not present but her voice can be heard off stage in a dream like sound as DELORES reflects on her words.

TAWNY

Sounding as though she was in some pain when the words were spoken.

I am who I am.

DELORES

Rests her hand on the Wigan book.

I was worried about you. You were my daughter and you were putting yourself in mortal danger. I wish you could understand. If you turned to the Church maybe you could find forgiveness.

TAWNY

Crying.

Why can’t ye just love me for who I am?!

DELORES

Sighing she sniffs back the emotion.

I do you love. You’re my daughter. You wouldn’t listen to me and you made me angry. I was losing you and I had to do something. Ye were embarrassing yerself night after night like a wanton hussy.

TAWNY

If your church is asking you do this what kind of religion is it! Help me Ma!

DELORES raises a napkin to her lips.

DELORES

it was for your own good.

She sniffs again and composes herself.

You cannot be saved …

When Tabitha is sent to Hathfield Bay to meet her estranged grandma, she is given an inside look at the Cult of Wigan of which granny is a member. 

Nightmare Fuel

“To sleep—perchance to dream.”

Hamlet

I’ve had many strange dreams throughout my life. Maybe it’s the symptom of having an over active imagination. If you follow me on Twitter you may have heard me discuss this (@VivikaWidow).

The dream world has always fascinated me. Those little stories that your mind tells you as you sleep can be vivid and memorable. They can be akin to some of the best experiences of your real world and they can also make you realise worst. Since I’m a lover of all things macabre I’m going to take a look at some of the darker moments I have experienced in the dream world.

Spider child!

Yes you read that right. The earliest dream I can remember must have occurred when I was about six or seven. In the dream I had heard my mum wildly exclaiming at the news. (In real life this was no rare occurrence. She was an excitable sort). She was crying to my dad to get me away from. Whatever was on the news would be too much for my childish sensibilities. It didn’t work though. I saw the report. In the news report the journalist was discussing the spread of an unexplained phenomenon that was effecting children just like me. The footage showed a large spider in a box. This spider was unusual in that it had the head of a child. His name had been Ricky before. Now he was spider boy and not in a friendly neighbourhood spidey kind of way.

This was so upsetting for me. However, before I could process anything this dream was telling me I found myself at an indoor carnival. Who doesn’t hate clowns, right? I just happened to have watched Stephen King’s IT at the time and my elder brothers, the darlings that they were, told me Pennywise hid in my closet and waited for me to go to sleep so he could eat me. So as fun as this carnival was with all the lights, music and rides I was deeply concerned. I was on my own. I was lost. Then I saw a clown. (He was remarkably like Pennywise – no surprise). He was handing some candyfloss to a little girl with blonde pigtails and little pink glasses. The clown turned his attention on me. I knew better. My brothers had warned me so I ran away. I didn’t want any of his damn candyfloss.

Running away I stumbled into a storage room. I could hear the clown and all his clown friends looking for me. I could hear a rattle of something tapping against glass. As my eyes adjusted I could see hundreds of jars, each containing a child with a spider body. Including the little girl with pigtails!

“Come e’re!” The clown cried.

That’s when I woke up. I was so startled by this dream I was crying. It sounds like childhood fantasy now mixed with the unfortunate placement of being the youngest sibling in a household of wind up merchants.

Ducks in a row!

I was just a young teenager when I moved 200 miles away from my home to attend medical school. Needless to say it was a time of stress and big changes. It is common to experience vivid dreams during times like this.

During my first week of classes I had a dream whereby I was walking past a river and saw a group of baby ducks. A raft of ducks I believe is the proper term. These baby ducks were struggling to get back to the river so being the caring soul that I am I decided to lend a hand. I gather the ducks in my arms and start to head to water. One slips out and splats on the ground (complete with side effects and everything!). Then another slips. SPLAT! Then another. Before I know it all the ducks have splattered on the ground. With there being no real logic in dreams I scoop those splattered ducks up in my arms and still take them to the river. The ducks just fill with water …

This dream obviously speaks to my anxiety of beginning a new part of my life and moving away from home at a young age but it was really vivid at the time. It played on my mind for some time afterwards. Well, having just recounted it for you it seems it still plays on my mind …

Dream big!

Dreams aren’t all bad. There have been some where I’ve been rested on a beach with a bronzed hunk. There have been some where I’ve achieved impossible odds or met my idols. There have also been some where my devious sister in law has tried to send me into space or billions of years into the future. My point is, anxiety and hopes, fears and ambitions all reveal themselves in the dream world. When time comes for us to wake again it’s up to us to do decide what to do with that.

So tell me about your dreams. What’s some of the wildest you’ve had?

Speaking of nightmares … The circus is in town and there’s no coincidence home invasion robberies are on the rise.

Performers of Stoker Circus can slip in anywhere. When fresh money making opportunities are offered it may be their downfall.

Building Bridges: Fullerton Construction

“We are Filton!”

Location: FILTON

Features in: KNOCK KNOCK  ; HARBOUR HOUSE ; MUSE ; PURPLE RIBBON

The biggest names in construction in the Shady City the Fullerton family firmly established themselves as the premier provider of construction and demolition services. With the monumental Fullerton bridge to their names no one can argue their reputation for knowing how to build sound structures. They are also responsible for the building of other notable buildings in Coldford such as the Faulds Park Building, the WEIR HOTEL and the BECKINGRIDGE TOWER.

A large family the Fullertons are known to have their fingers in a lot of different pies around the city. Brothers Jake and Caleb head the construction contracts, whilst their sister Jenna makes her name in the adult film industry. Until recently matriarch grandma, Lynette Fullerton sat the top of the family table but unfortunately she was one of the fallen 59 in the event known as the FREE FALL MASSACRE.

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Lynette Fullerton provides some tough negotiations for the Beckingridge Financial Firm.

They are an old money family from the wealthy town of Filton. Keen to show pride in their town they have ownership of one of the University teams. They aim of which is to build bridges between the two main institutions of higher learning in the city.

The construction empire currently in the hands of Jenna Fullerton

Whether it is tearing it apart or building it back up, Fullerton Construction are on hand in the Shady City.

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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. 

Grandma Knows Best

When Tabitha is sent to Hathfield Bay to meet her estranged grandma, she is given an inside look at the Cult of Wigan of which granny is a member.

Growing up Tabitha had only heard tales from her aunt of how cruel her grandma was. Now she has the chance to meet her. Will it be tea and biscuits or prayers and lashes? 

Some people become hard hearted trying to protect their soul. Some souls cannot be saved. A last chance to connect with family leads to an unexpected connection. 


A mysterious illness and a desperate phone call sends Cult Deprogrammer Reynolds’ sights on the Wigan faith of Hathfield Bay island. Time to face the past.

Available May 14th 2021

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Check out the latest thrillers from Vivika Widow. 

Available now. 

Salvation is nigh

Coming May 14th

Cult deprogrammer, John Reynolds is called to action when a close friend joins the Church of St Wigan. 

With the help of a pandering con man, Reynolds uncovers a much larger problem as new Wigan Church leader, Dominick, sets his sights on cleansing the city.

We’ve all fallen into holes throughout our lives but do we have the strength pull ourselves out of it?

“You cannot be saved but repent and you may, just may, be forgiven.”

Dennis has managed the Knock Knock club and never was there a dirtier job.  Would you believe me if I told you he had done worse? Does he now have what it takes to put his past behind him? 

L


Coming 2021, from the Author of MAESTRO ; MUSE and HARBOUR HOUSE , step outside the Knock Knock club and head on over to Hathfield Bay Island for a nail biting, knuckle whiting , full in your face exciting glimpse into the lowest depths of humanity. 

Available now:

How far must a man fall?

We’ve all fallen into holes throughout our lives but do we have the strength pull ourselves out of it?

Dennis has managed the Knock Knock club and never was there a dirtier job. Would you believe me if I told you he had done worse? Does he now have what it takes to put his past behind him?

When you’re a man with nothing to lose, deciding what to do with what you have left is the ultimate test of character.



Coming 2021, from the Author of MAESTRO ; MUSE and HARBOUR HOUSE , step outside the Knock Knock club and head on over to Hathfield Bay Island for a nail biting, knuckle whiting , full in your face exciting glimpse into the lowest depths of humanity. 




Available Now:

Managing Just Fine


It takes a little bit of extra pizazz to work the KNOCK KNOCK club and to be the manager you got to really have your wits about you. Here’s what our manager, DENNIS brings to the table:

GREET THE CUSTOMERS

There are a lot of regular faces returning to the SHANTIES for the best night in town but as the manger you really need to keep a keen eye out for strangers. The club is invitation only (by orders of the BOSS LADY). Given the nature of the joint there can be a lot of creeps hanging around. Your job as manager is to weed out the miscreants and send them packing. Except if one of those strange faces happens to be a reporter for the COLDFORD DAILY, the biggest publication in the city. Then he goes right on in.

049


KEEP THE BOOZE FLOWING

The KNOCK KNOCK girls are skilled at flirting with the customers and making them feel special. A horny man will part with cash quicker than his trousers if he thinks he’s getting something out of it. He’s not. Your job as manager is to keep those drinks flowing so the customers are sent home with a smile on their face one way or another.

052


CHEER THE ENTERTAINMENT

No one loves the BOSS LADY more than the BOSS LADY herself so when she takes to the stage it is always on the HEADLINING spot. As manager you have to make sure the crowds are wild and having a great time. It helps to throw in a little whoop and cheer yourself just to get the ball rolling on slow nights.

054


PREPARE THE GIRLS

Choosing the girls sounds like a dream job for any hot blooded man but there’s more to our KNOCK KNOCK lovelies than meets the eye. These kittens have got to have claws. There is no use bringing in a new flirty waitress only to have her pack it in a week later. That’s bad for business and its bad for morale. Get those girls prepared, pretty and ready to lash out because in a place like the KNOCK KNOCK club those kittens got to have claws. The SHANTIES are no place for damsels in distress.

224

WISH YOU HAD NEVER COME

Alright so this one is specific for Dennis. We’re pretty sure anyone would just love to manage the club but when you have had to leave your family life behind and submit all power you once had it can feel more like a life sentence. Should have kept your hands to yourself then Dennis, you dirty fiend.

251


Do you have what it takes to manage a place like the KNOCK KNOCK club? Have we made it seem like an appealing place for a night out?

After it all you can just sit back, relax and consider a job well done.

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COMING 2021

A mysterious illness and a desperate phone call sends Cult Deprogrammer Reynolds’ sights on the Wigan faith of Hathfield Bay island. Time to face the past.

The Patron Saint of Sinners

It was written many years ago that Noah Wigan crossed from the mainland of what would have been Coldford City to the Island of Hathfield Bay. There had been three attempts but each time the Wigan boats approached and considered landing, the wary islanders gathered on the beaches to see what was heading their way. Ill-educated in the way of God they were a simple people. They mostly frolicked in their nakedness. The women wore garlands of flowers and the men were restless and curious. So Wigan retreated. That night through to early morning he sat in counsel with God.  

“God give me strength,” he prayed. “So that I may teach these people of your ways and bring them into your fold.”  

Deprived of sleep, Wigan heard the Lord speak to him. 

“They will follow if you lead,” said the Almighty. “For your heart is pure and strong. They will see your love for them. You must be prepared to bring the word and as any good father would you must punish the children who will not obey.” 

“We are the children of Wigan and our hearts are pure and strong. We praise our beloved Saint and so we sing this song…”

So, the following morning Wigan took the boats again and travelled to Hathfield. As before, the islanders gathered on the beaches to observe their arrival, but rather than retreat this time Wigan felt himself filled with the grandeur of God. He climbed from his boat. His feet were cooled by the waters of the bay. He crossed onto the sands and he fell to the feet of the first man he encountered. He kissed his feet as the islanders watched on in bewilderment.  

“My friend,” said Wigan. “I come with good news for you and for all of your people. My name is Noah Wigan and I am a messenger of God. Your people cannot be saved but I will show you how you may repent.” 

Wigan stood and looked around himself. His own people who had followed him from the boats were already in good cheer.  

“God has come to Hathfield!” they announced excitedly. “And you should rejoice.”  

The islander man bid him to stand  

“I don’t know of your God,” he said. “But you are welcome friend. Please stand so that we may become acquainted.”  

Wigan stood. He embraced the islander in sight of them all.  

“I’ll teach you of the one true God,” said Wigan. “So that you may find eternal happiness for you, your family and your people.” 

Quite enamoured by the spirit of the new arrival the islanders offered their hospitality.  

“You must be thirsty from your journey across the waters,” said the man whose name was Riley. “You must be hungry from your desire to visit my people,” he added and it was the truth. 

“We know we can’t be saved but repent and you’ll be in his embrace.”

Riley lived on the west of the island with his wife Anna and his two young daughters, Rowan and Willow. He opened his home to Noah and his companions and so for weeks Wigan spread his good word over the island and began to educate them in his ways. Most of them were intrigued and flocked to him to hear what he had to say. A great many of them decided that Wigan’s word – the voice of God on the island – was a path they now wished to follow but it would not be an easy path, Noah Wigan warned. It meant that the fruitful relationship they had always enjoyed with sands and the sea was no longer in their control. It meant that a higher power was what they owed their crops to and not the hard work of their own hands or their own toil. If they were to believe what Wigan was telling them it was a higher power to which they owed thanks to for the fruitful wombs of their women and not the women themselves carrying, birthing and feeding from their breast. That was where the problems for Wigan lay.  

His presence was no longer a novelty. The numbers he had gathered to him were starting to dwindle and the islanders who resisted the outsiders were starting to stir. But Noah Wigan was persistent. He knew the natives of Hathfield Bay would require a little more convincing. He needed to be patient in demonstrating the glory of God. So he gave it more time. He prayed. He began to fall in love with the daughter, Rowan. He began to lose his focus and in desperation he wrote letters home.  

The island is a blissfully happy place.  

The people don’t seem to show any penance for their sins. They fornicate and dance. A man will lie with another man. A wife will lie with a man who is not her husband. It is anarchy and I fear my journey here may have been a little misguided.  

After three more months the islanders were beginning to return to their own ways and those who had opposed Wigan were now preparing to usher him from their shores. Wigan began to lose his faith as his relationship with Rowan deepened.  

“Why would you send me on a fool’s errand?” Noah asked of the Lord as he prepared to leave the following day.  

But the Lord spoke to him again as he took slumber under the sound of the waves. 

“You misunderstand your mission,” said the Lord. “You must punish unruly children for it is said that the hand of the father should be loving but firm. It is for their own good. They will soon respond.” 

At that Wigan was awakened. The waves were now crashing. The people of Hathfield Bay were his children and they had to be taught. 

And so it was that his preaching became more frequent, more filled with rapture and more demanding.  

“Submit yourselves to God,” he warned them. “Or you will be punished.”  

The islanders who opposed him took up arms. It was time to remove the new comer from the sands.  

“I don’t wish to cause any bloodshed,” Wigan spoke of his concern to Riley. “Perhaps we can meet with them and I can explain my view to them. I love the people of this island. I’d like the chance to embrace them. Tell them to come together and I will provide proof of my God.”  

Riley then invited the non-believers to the east of the island. They gathered in the shack on top of the eastern hill that was Riley’s home.  

“Come inside,” they were beckoned.  

“He needs to go,” one non-believer named Yuri spat.  

Riley looked around his family. As any good father would he wanted to keep them safe. His wife Anna was by his side in whatever decision he was to make. His daughter Willow was prepared to follow. But where was Rowan?  

“We are the children of Wigan and we know we can’t relent, until the flesh of every sinner burns or they learn to repent.”

The shack was bolted closed from the outside. St Michael the Punisher, Wigan’s right hand, stepped forward and dropped the first flaming torch. God’s fury fell on them as flames of punishment tore through the shack. The non-believers were burnt in a fiery torment for their refusal. Rowan clutched Noah’s hands and knelt before him as  they listened to the screams of the heathens rise above the waves in a glorious triumph for God.  

Those who chose to believe and follow Wigan survived for God said it would be so. Upon the bones, teeth and ashes of the non-believers was built the first church of St Wigan.  


John Reynolds is an experienced cult deprogrammer. He has spent a lifetime bringing people to their sense. When someone close to him runs off to join the Church of St Wigan he has to delve into th darkest side of the City if he hopes to bring them home.

Coming Spring 2021