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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Magic Seven

Of all the numbers, seven is considered the most mystic or sacred.

Pythagorean considered four and three to be lucky numbers, and of course when added together they make seven. Among the Babylonians, Egyptians and other ancient peoples there were believed to be seven sacred planets, and this was espoused by old astrologers and alchemists, each planet having its own ‘heaven’ (and there’s the phrase ‘to be in seventh heaven’).

We don’t need reminding that there are seven days in creation, seven days in the week, seven virtues, (seven deadly sins!), seven divisions of the Lord’s Prayer, seven ages in the life of man.

Ancient teaching propounded that the soul of man, or his ‘inward holy body’ is compounded of seven properties which are under the influence of the seven planets. Fire animates, earth gives the sense of feeling, water gives speech, air gives taste, mist gives sight, flowers give hearing, the south wind gives smelling; so the seven senses were perceived to be animation, feeling, speech, taste, sight, hearing and smelling. [Not sure what the other three winds gave!]

The Seven is used to identify a group of seven people, such as the Seven Champions, the Seven against Thebes, the Seven Sages of Greece, and in modern times, Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven.
 
The option rights of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 epic film Seven Samurai were bought by producer Lou Morheim for $250 in 1958, with a view to making an Old West version of the story. Morheim took the project to Anthony Quinn, then directing Yul Brynner in The Buccaneer. Quinn agreed to take the part of Chris, the chief gunfighter, and Brynner would debut as the director. However, UA persuaded Brynner to take the lead and Quinn a supporting role, but Quinn backed out acrimoniously. Brynner hired Martin Ritt to direct, but delays with the script meant that Ritt dropped out and in his place came John Sturgess.

The first version of the screenplay presented the Seven as ageing Civil War veterans, but it was then rewritten for younger characters. Several writers worked on the film before it was ready, though it was rushed as an actors’ strike was imminent.

The film was planned to be shot entirely in Mexico. However, the Mexican government still sourly recalled the less than favourable treatment of Mexican characters in Vera Cruz in 1954. They insisted that the script be amended so that the villagers initially attempted to buy guns rather than straight away hire gunmen, so they wouldn’t appear cowardly.

The studio wasn’t taken by the film, thinking it was slow and outdated and its release in 1960 didn’t set the world alight in the States. However, when it hit Europe, the box office returns told a different story. The studio revised the poster and re-released the film in a lot more US theatres. By the mid-60s, the film was so profitable, they wanted a sequel; there were three made in total: Return of the Seven (1966), Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969), and Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972). And in the 1990s there was a TV series. Now there are rumblings that MGM will do a remake of The Magnificent Seven.
 
While you’re waiting for that, you might like to read the hardback The Magnificent Mendozas, which puts a different slant on the familiar tale.

From the book depository, post-free worldwide here
 
From Amazon UK here
 
From Amazon COM here


More tomorrow…

Monday, 28 July 2014

Writing competition - first mystery novel

Writing competition - Best First Traditional Mystery Novel
 
 
Prize: $10,000.00. Entry fee: $0.00. Deadline: October 15, 2014

Minotaur Books and Malice Domestic, imprints of St. Martin's Press, are inviting mystery fiction writers to enter this year's Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition.

The judges will award a $10,000 standard publishing contract to the author who has written the best book-length story in the mystery genre.

Submission guidelines:

1. Submit one manuscript of over 65K words written in English.

2. The manuscript must be original, unpublished, and the work of the author.

3. The author must not have had a mystery book previously published.

4. Murder, mystery, and/or crime should be the core elements of the story.

5. The characters, both the innocent and the presumed guilty, should know one another. The suspects should display valid intentions and logical possibility to have executed the crime. The protagonist must be the "detective" who solves the crime.

The $10,000 prize is offered as an advance against royalty payments.



I can’t enter as I fail on guideline 3, but I wish everyone who is able to enter the best of luck!

 

 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

'...a very entertaining read...'

We write genre fiction to entertain. If you want to send a message, then that's fine too, though Western Union might be more appropriate (as Sam Goldwyn reportedly said) – or, these days, maybe use Facebook or Twitter!

I’m pleased to say that a reviewer has been entertained by one of my books:

“With a strong mix of male, female, and child roles, and the dramatic rescue methods used, all told in Ross Morton’s very readable style, this book proved to be a very entertaining read.”

My latest western, The Magnificent Mendozas has received an advance review. Please ride on over to Steve Myall’s blog to read the full review; you won’t see this review on Amazon.

 


Thank you, Steve!

This hardback can be purchased at the book depository and despatched post-free anywhere in the world. http://www.bookdepository.com/Magnificent-Mendozas-Morton-Ross/9780719813221

I'll be writing a little more about the book later this week.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

'The crimes are appalling...'

A new review of  my romantic thriller Blood of the Dragon Trees  can be read in full here:
http://francesdiplinoreviews.blogspot.com.es/2014/07/review-of-blood-of-dragon-trees.html

A few snippets can be found below:

Blood of the Dragon Trees is the first Nik Morton novel I’ve read. Based on this one, I can’t wait to read the other mystery/thrillers he has available. Set in Tenerife, a place I have visited several times, I hoped the author would be able to recreate the setting without giving it the feel of a travelogue. I needn’t have worried. His clear knowledge of the place enables him to put the reader on the island without overdoing the settings in the slightest.
...
The action is fast paced and the romantic elements don’t slow this down, rather they add another layer to the intrigue. For those who like to try to guess who the bad people are while reading (like me) there are plenty of artfully placed clues and misdirection, which only become obvious towards the end of the novel.

The crimes are appalling, the characters well drawn and credible, and the settings superb... Go and buy a copy. You won’t regret it.

Thank you, Frances di Plino, an author to watch.


http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Dragon-Trees-Nik-Morton-ebook/dp/B00E8NE1SW/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1406379531&sr=1-4&keywords=NIK+Morton


http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Dragon-Trees-Nik-Morton-ebook/dp/B00E8NE1SW/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1406382197&sr=1-3&keywords=nik+Morton


Friday, 25 July 2014

Saturday Story - 'Tagged'

With the latest news about targeted radiation for breast cancer sufferers, it seems yet one more giant step will be made against this indiscriminate killer disease. In the beginning of June there was an encouraging report about a seemingly miraculous recovery from advanced melanoma after being treated with a new immunotherapy drug, pembrolizumah.

For some years it has been known that there’s a close relationship between the body’s immune system and cancer.  Recently, understanding has reached to the cellular and molecular level.

Cancerous tumours grow so vigorously because they’re able to switch off the auto-immune response that would normally combat unfamiliar cells found in the body. The tumour cells have a protein on their surface that binds with a compound on the surface of the cells that make up the advance guard of the immune system. The binding action turns off the defensive cells, allowing the tumour to flourish.

The new generation of drugs bind to those proteins on the tumour cells’ surface, stopping their interaction with the defensive cells. This enables the immune system to do its job and fight the cancer.

In effect, it is the body itself that can now fight the cancer. Professor Justin Stebbing, Consultant oncologist of London believes that in five years’ time immunotherapy will be the backbone of cancer treatment, rather than chemotherapy. It’s not a fix-all for every cancer, it seems; not the prayed-for magic bullet, and hopes should not be raised prematurely, but this research suggests that the fight against cancer will mean that thousands of sufferers will live longer and enjoy a high quality of life.

And maybe, ultimately, it’s all to do with our own bodies turning a switch. That’s a lengthy lead in to today’s short story, which was published in 2010 in the Costa TV Times 
 
PET scanner - Wikipedia commons(Jens Maus)
 

TAGGED


 

Nik Morton

 

Alex Santini wished he wasn’t claustrophobic. It’s not as if he hadn’t been here before, either. Very much like a tunnel, he supposed. Maybe there’s hope now, light at the end of the tunnel.

            I’m hungry, he thought, which isn’t surprising since I haven’t eaten in over six hours. Nerves, too, are having their effect. Mind over matter is the answer. Think thin. That’s one way to diet, though it probably doesn’t have a great deal of success.

            It was only forty-five minutes ago - seems like ages - when Nurse Baker led him into the special preparation room. A radioactive substance created in a cyclotron was tagged to some glucose and injected into his bloodstream. She reassured him: ‘The intravenous injection’s just a slight pin-prick, Mr Santini, nothing to worry about.’

            ‘Fine. I’m not worried,’ he replied. In truth, worrying never cured anyone. Surgeons did, sometimes. Self-belief might. Faith often did.

            Odd, knowing it’s coursing through your body, yet not feeling the radioactive substance. Will I glow in the dark? The radioactivity is supposed to be short-lived, so maybe not. Afterwards, he was supposed to drink lots of fluid to flush out the radioactivity. He speculated about his radioactive liquid waste - would it mutate the rats in the sewer system?

            The injection was the easy bit, even though he didn’t like needles.

It’s the claustrophobia that he was really worried about.

            The PET scanner looked like something out of a science fiction film, similar to a large doughnut. Doctor Richards told him all about it in an effort at calming his anxieties.

            The Positron Emission Tomography scanner was made up of multiple rings of detectors that record the emission of energy from the radioactive substance in his body.

            The cushioned examination table was comfortable enough, just like last time. Then he started to sweat as it slid into the hole in the doughnut. Although he couldn’t see them, he knew that images were being displayed on the computer monitor as he lay there. Pictures of my brain, he thought.

            But was the tumour still there?

            This was the final test.

Three months ago, they’d run a PET scan and found the small abnormal shape, about the size of the hole in a doughnut. The cause of his headaches.

            ‘Sorry, Mr Santini,’ the Doctor Richards had said, ‘but due to the site of the tumour, it’s inoperable.’

            The fact of a tumour was bad enough, but to be told it couldn’t be removed was devastating. Alex’s head really ached then. They wouldn’t say how long he’d got. He could understand that. They could raise false hope or create premature despair if they were mistaken. When he got home, he radically changed his diet and drank lots of carrot juice. Over a few weeks, he purged all the toxins he’d fed into his body from coffee, tea and alcohol. Thoughts about closing stable doors crossed his mind but he dismissed them. He didn’t keep horses, anyway.

            Then for six weeks Alex meditated, picturing the unwanted cells that had gone astray, visualising the tumour shrinking, not growing and not spreading. Eating itself.

            The body is a remarkable creation, Alex thought, which is taken for granted until it malfunctions. It deserves to be taken care of, looked after. A balance, between the psychic and the physical aspects. A bit late in the day, he realised, but he devoutly believed that.

Now, as he waited for Doctor Richards to come out of his office with his diagnosis, Alex sat calmly sipping water from a bone china cup.

            The door opened and the doctor came through, a frown on his face.

Think positive, Alex told himself. ‘Well, doctor, is the tumour worse or not?’

            ‘What tumour, Mr Santini?’

            ‘Pardon?’ Alex said.

Doctor Richards shook his head. ‘Our PET and CT scans have diagnosed thousands of patients and we’ve helped almost all of them, saving their lives. You’re the first I’ve known where the tumour has simply gone away.’

            A massive wave of relief surged through Alex. ‘But you did save my life, doctor. If your PET machine hadn’t detected the tumour, I wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.’

            ‘Deal with it?’ Doctor Richards held his head to one side. ‘I don’t understand.’

            ‘I believe in mind over matter, doctor. Let’s be honest, we know that we only use a fraction of our brainpower. Just think, if we could utilise the unused portion, who knows what we’d be capable of accomplishing?’

            ‘But…’

Alex held up a hand to stall the doctor’s objections. ‘I know it isn’t taken seriously by scientists, but you have to agree that I’m living proof now that it can work.’ He smiled. ‘In fact, you could say that it’s become my pet project.’

***

Note: Since then it has been revealed that the urban myth that we only use 10% of our brains is a falsehood. That figure was probably plucked out of the air by early psychologists and subsequently made famous by Dale Carnegie’s 1936 self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. It has been perpetuated by the self-improvement industry, since we all like to think we can better ourselves by expanding our minds. – Sources: Daily Mail/Barbara Sahaklan, Professor of clinical neuropsychology, University of Cambridge, and Sam Wang, a neuroscientist at Princeton University. Even so, individuals have been spontaneously cured of cancer and other ailments; maybe that’s positive thinking or mind over matter…

 
***

Tagged (above), copyright 2014, Nik Morton

My collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat, features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye.  He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection, Crooked Cats’ Tales.
 
 
Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback for £4.99 ($6.99) and much less for the e-book versions – UK or COM.
 

 


http://www.amazon.com/Spanish-Eye-Nik-Morton-ebook/dp/B00GXK5C6S/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1399382967&sr=1-5&keywords=nik+morton

 

FFB - The Woods

Harlan Coben is a quite prolific mystery-suspense writer. He became popular and won crime-writing prizes for a series of novels about Myron Bolitar, a sports agent turned amateur detective. Then he broke out into stand-alone novels with Tell no one and is more or less guaranteed to get his new book onto the bestseller lists.

The Woods (2007) was Coben's fourteenth novel and it is an uninspiring title for a riveting page-turning book. Paul Copeland, Cope to his friends and colleagues, is a county prosecutor in New Jersey. Shortly after his beloved father’s demise, he’s involved in a particularly nasty rape case. Cope is used to coping, since his wife died and he’s busy raising his six-year-old daughter alone. Grief is not unknown territory for him, either. His sister Camille was one of four teenagers murdered in the woods of a holiday camp facility twenty years ago.

Professor Lucy Gold is troubled by an imaginative essay that is handed in to her. Its writer is anonymous. The words conjure up events from her past, a past she has striven to forget for twenty years.

Coben has employed first person and third person narrative in the same novel before, and it works to good effect here too. We can empathise with Cope while also glimpsing what’s going on outside his own purview. 

When a homicide victim turns up with curious links to Cope, a number of well-buried secrets from Cope’s past start to break the surface. The writing is spare and slick, ensuring that you want to read on as twist follows twist. The woods are a metaphor for Cope’s journey into understanding. It’s about responsibility, and honesty and facing up to problems rather than running away. The past always has a knack of catching up, especially in Harlan Coben’s novels!

If this is your first Coben, you’ll enjoy it and come back for more. If you’ve read his books before, you know what to expect and you may just be one step ahead of the revelations as they pile up, but you’ll still finish the book well satisfied. 

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Writing tip - hidden gender/identity

Why do we writers do it? Why tie ourselves in knots to confound the reader? To spring that additional surprise, perhaps, to add that extra frisson of pleasure – or, if it backfires, annoyance.

Popular culture is full of instances where the reader or the audience is led down a particular path only to have the ground pulled away from them.

Here are a few examples (spoiler notice, though I imagine these ‘surprises’ are now well known; if you haven’t seen or read these examples,
Two Mules for Sister Sara
The Sixth Sense
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The Watcher
please jump to the next section, Spoiler-clear! Otherwise, read on.

The film Two Mules for Sister Sara has the audience and Clint Eastwood character believing Shirley Maclean is a nun; near the end it’s revealed that she’s actually a soiled dove.
 
Two Mules for Sister Sara - Wikipedia commons

The Sixth Sense convinces the audience that Dr Crowe is a real person until the final revelation when we learn he’s the ghost.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1920)
The book ends with an unprecedented plot twist. Poirot exonerates all of the original suspects. He then lays out a completely reasoned case that the murderer is in fact Dr Sheppard, who has not only been Poirot's assistant, but also the story's narrator.
… Reader response to the ending varies from admiration of the unexpected end to a feeling of being cheated. – Wikipedia.

The Watcher by Charles Maclean (1982)
First person narrator finds his wife murdered… and only gradually do we learn that he’s an unreliable narrator and committed the crime…

Spoiler-clear
In a few of my books, I’ve attempted to conceal the identity and or gender of a protagonist from the reader as well as from the other characters in the story. Unlike the above examples, the concealment isn’t always the main point of the tale, merely an added extra.

None of my own examples rely on the unreliable narrator, which is very difficult to pull off, and is used in three of the examples above. However, as I tend to write ‘visually’, where the reader can see characters in their setting, I find it hard to maintain the secret.

If a character is depicted but not the gender, naturally I can’t use ‘he’ or ‘she’ in the narrative. If I use ‘he’ but in fact it’s a ‘she’, I’m cheating. Cheating is somehow worse than misdirection.

You can get round this issue by referring to the individual as ‘the murderer’, which has been done by other authors, or some similar descriptive title. Yet that get-round can become tedious to the reader. Maybe just introduce ‘the murderer’ then show everything from his or her POV, without telling at all? That works, after a fashion.
 
However, if ‘the murderer’ has to interact with other characters, there’s a problem. These other people see ‘the murderer’ as an individual – and if they see ‘the murderer’, then so should the reader, since the book is a film in the reader’s head. Tough one. Some writers simply ignore that aspect. I’ve opted for ‘the murderer’ wearing a disguise – or a mask, even – and being addressed by a title or different name; theatrical, but necessary to preserve the cinematic truth.
 
Naturally, if we’re seeing the scene from another character’s point of view, then they may see her as ‘a man’ when she isn’t. Describing what you (and the reader) see or think you see. That’s probably fair and not quite cheating…
 
So, if you want to conceal the gender or identity of a character, be prepared to go to considerable lengths to make it work. It’s worth it when, finally, a reader comments along the lines, ‘That was a big surprise!’

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Writing market - Tingle those spines!

Burne-Jones - le vampire - Wikipedia commons

If you enjoy writing spine tingling tales, then this site may be of interest. Spinetinglers of Northern Ireland run a monthly competition, free-to-enter, with cash prizes for the top five stories each month. Open to writers worldwide.

According to the website, the story ‘doesn't have to be macabre and morose; it can be light-hearted or even uplifting. Whether it is filled with ghosts or ghouls, possessions or poltergeists, or merely the suggestion of something supernatural, anything is acceptable. We want you to let your imagination run wild and come up with the story or stories that make our spine tingle.’

Keep your stories under 5,000 words if possible, though they’re unlikely to reject a story they like if it happens to be 5,100 words.

‘Your story can be violent or leaning towards erotica but please nothing too explicit. Anything too gratuitous may be automatically rejected.’


Register on the site (which is of course free) and then login and submit your story. 1st Place receives £100.00 GBP plus guaranteed inclusion into a future printed Spinetinglers Anthology and of course a Certificate. 2nd place receives £50.00, 3rd, 4th and 5th all receive £25.00 each. We have stated in the prize money in pounds - sterling, however if you live outside of the UK you will receive the equivalent to this amount in your local currency.

Winners will receive their prize money within three months of publication.

You can read previous winning stories on the site; the latest, for July, are already there..

Submissions are considered on the 15th of each month and if received after that date will be considered for the next month.

Spinetinglers, 22 Vestry Road, Ballygowan, Co Down, BT23 6HJ, Northern Ireland.


 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Words writers invented

When I was about fifteen, I wrote a spy thriller and coined the word ‘contortured’ – applying it to the effect on a vehicle’s tyres during a chase; combining ‘contorted’ and ‘tortured’. A good friend advised me to take it out; I had no business inventing words, the dictionary was adequate, it seemed. The point of a new word is that it should be understood by anyone coming across it.

A new book has just been published, Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers by Paul Dickson (Bloomsbury). Yes, the word ‘authorism’ is an invented word, too.  Indeed, the verb ‘to coin’ was coined by George Puttenham in 1589, when he observed that youngsters ‘seeme to coigne fine wordes out of the Latin’.

A brief list of some words created and the writers who invented them follows:

William Wordsworth – pedestrian
Alexander Dumas – feminist
John Milton – earthshaking
Dr Seuss – nerd
Ben Jonson – clumsy, damp
Thomas More – anticipate, fact
Milton – pandemonium, lovelorn
Karel Capek – robot
Raymond Chandler – unputdownable
Nabokov - nymphet
Shakespeare – bedazzle, subcontract, scuffle

Of course some of Shakespeare’s ‘invented’ words may have been around before his time, but it appears he was the first to write them down and use them in context. Milton seemed as inventive, accredited with over 600 new words.

Also mentioned are those words writers invented that didn’t catch on at all: for example, Tolkien’s ‘eucatastrophe’ and James Fenimore Cooper’s ‘Americaness’, referring to a female American.

So, Authorisms is definitely on my ‘to buy’ list.

Another book of interest is Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue: The English Language. As he points out, ‘No other language has anything even remotely approaching it in scope.’ This book is worthy of closer inspection.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

‘Physically and emotionally travelled with the characters…’

I’ve just seen a 5-star review on Amazon.com of my romantic thriller Blood of the Dragon Trees and would like to share it here:

Blood of the Dragon Trees is a mystery/thriller that deals with a topic I find rarely treated in other mystery books – human trafficking and harvesting endangered species for profit. Set on the idyllic Spanish island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, the novel immediately engulfs the reader in the ambiguities and complexities of life.

Tenerife is described in exquisite detail by author Nik Morton from its rugged, majestic volcanic mountains to its lush pine forests, valleys, and quaint towns. It seems like almost the perfect holiday resort. But all is not beauty on this “Island of Eternal Spring.” Lurking beneath the apparently peaceful environment are the heinous activities of an organization dealing in capturing endangered species to be used for everything from carving ivory figures to manufacturing supposedly legendary aphrodisiacs. The organization is run by the mysterious “el Jefe.”

Thrown innocently into this environment is Laura Reid who is hired to tutor Maria and Ricardo Chavez, the twin children of Spanish widower and plantation owner Don Alonso.

Complications arrive quickly as a mutual attraction develops between Don Alonso’s brother, Felipe, and Laura. At the same time, Laura encounters Andrew Kirby who works for CITES tracking down illegal traders in endangered species. While Andrew seems smitten romantically by Laura, she hesitates getting involved with him. The conflict increases as we discover Felipe has a hostile relationship with Andrew based on past experiences and that Felipe is also involved sexually with the unscrupulous Lola, a jealous lover and master manipulator of men.

There is danger and excitement throughout the fast-paced Blood of the Dragon Trees. Mr. Morton’s skilful descriptions of the environment put the reader there, and his careful delineation and development of the characters lead to a thoroughly enjoyable read. There is romance, action, and danger as the novel carries the reader through more twists and turns than a roller-coaster. The reader journeys with Andrew, Laura, Felipe and others as the thieves, murderers, and kidnappers are hunted down. Morton drops clues for the perceptive reader along the way as to the identity of the mysterious “el Jefe” making Blood of the Dragon Trees a delightful, enriching, informative puzzle wrapped in mystery and intrigue.

I recommend Blood of the Dragon Trees highly. Nik Morton’s experiences and his writing put the reader in the novel and I felt like I had physically and emotionally travelled hand in hand with the characters through their arduous ordeals.


Kudos for a job well done!

*****

The reviewer is George Hopkins, an American author of four crime thrillers. Thank you, George!
 
http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Dragon-Trees-Nik-Morton-ebook/dp/B00E8NE1SW/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405848018&sr=1-3&keywords=nik+morton

My other book set in Spain is Spanish Eye, also published by Crooked Cat:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Spanish-Eye-Nik-Morton/dp/1909841315/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1399383023&sr=1-4




 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Saturday Story - 'The sandstorm'

A horror story...           
                                  

THE SANDSTORM

 

Nik Morton

 
'Shut up whining, you spoilt bitch!' Burt growled and slapped Alice's face. With the force of the blow her head of long blonde hair jerked back, momentarily obscuring Zeke's view through the rickety pickup's windshield.  A red weal appeared as she choked on her sobbing.

            'Cool it, Burt' Zeke shoved her back onto the hot cowling that vibrated between them. 'This storm's bad enough without you making it worse.'

            Burt squinted at the virtually impenetrable Arizonan sandstorm. Wind rattled the truck's loose and rusted bodywork; air screamed in gaps and crevices; sage-brush scored the windshield.  'Zeke - we gotta find shelter soon...'

            Unexpectedly, as though an apparition, an adobe building loomed up out of the swirling dust clouds. 'There!  Pull in!'

            The engine cut out in front of the shack. Wincing against the savage, pummeling sand, they bundled Alice out of the cab and pushed her towards the door.

            The choking sand tore at them, cutting faces and lips.  Tumbleweed rustled past, cart-wheeling. An eerie wind-howl pounded in their ears, whistling round the building's smoothed corners.

            'Dammit!' The thick wooden door was locked, the windows boarded up. Covering his mouth with a spotted bandanna, Zeke hammered his hairy fist on the paneling.

            'Anybody there?' But the wind snatched his words away.

            Dressed only in a flimsy blouse and mini-skirt, Alice's topmost skin had already been flayed off in places, leaving her red-raw, stinging unbearably. She cringed in the shallow doorway, partly shielded by Burt's quarterback bulk.

            Stubble chin digging into her neck, Burt rubbed suggestively against her. She was nearing hysteria when, without warning, the door's lock clicked open and she almost fell inside. Burt steadied her, his strong hands taking swift advantage. It was as though his stubby fingers had not only hurtfully squeezed her breasts but had lanced deep inside her body, churning her stomach. He had repeatedly tried pawing her since the kidnapping two days ago. If it hadn't been for Zeke...

            'Can I help?' A frail-looking old woman, graying and wrinkled, held the door open a mere crack.

            Zeke instantly thrust his revolver into Ethel Becker's parchment face. 'You've got guests, Ma!' he snarled above the wind's howl.

            As he thrust the door wide Ethel Becker released a plaintive shriek and stumbled backwards, aging eyes alarmed and watery. Burt followed them, roughly dragging Alice in a viselike grip.

            The door slammed shut. Wisps of sand and dust scattered and swirled, fell to the floorboards. The sudden contrast with the outside was haunting: so quiet, the storm a dim memory.

            A welcoming black metal stove stood in the far corner, its rusted funnel stretching through the mildewed rafters. Coffee and stew warmed on the hotplate; the smells permeated the place. Furniture was scarce: a tallboy, bed and table, two chairs, a rug and stove.

            Zeke helped himself to some coffee; the warm strong black liquid drooled down his dimpled chin. 'That's better! Jeeze, that sand gets everywhere!'

            At this, Burt laughed obscenely, hands tightening on Alice's arm.

            'What kind of a place is this?' Zeke queried, eyes wandering.

            Having regains some of her former composure, Ethel pointed to the windows' iron bars, shuttered outside. 'Used to be a jailhouse when the West was Old,' she remarked. The only door was sturdy, Zeke's bruised shoulder testified to that.

            Just then, Burt set eyes on the rusted iron bedstead on the opposite side of the room, its rugs and blankets patchy and unkempt. He licked his parched lips, leered. Alice didn't like the hardening sensation against her buttock, or his rancid breath. But his grip was unshakable.

            At that moment Ethel stepped forward, took Alice's hand. 'Here, girl, I'll treat those nasty cuts.' And she boldly led Alice to the tallboy, away from the astonished Burt. 'You people lost or something?' she asked, breaking out a small first-aid tin.

            Alice moved back a pace, gripping the crochet shawl that covered the old woman's narrow shoulders. 'They - they kidnapped me!' she cried, her whole body trembling.

            All pain was forgotten in her renewed fear. What could she hope to achieve by telling this old woman? Her heart pounded as Burt purposefully strode across the suddenly hushed room, the floorboards occasionally creaking. Unconcernedly, Zeke continued sipping his coffee by the stove.

            Now, Burt towered over the two women.  Mercilessly, he pushed Alice to one side, against the rough-hewn wooden table. Gasping in shock, she stumbled and fell and some of the crockery smashed to smithereens on the bare boards.

            Burt was no respecter of age, either. A backhanded slap sent Ethel crumpling onto the soft bed, its springs squeaking.  'We're out to fleece her rich ol' man, y'see, Ma? So, mind your own business, do as you're told, an' we'll let you be.'  His cold emotionless blue-gray eyes glared meaningfully. 'Okay?'

            Wiping the blood smear from the corner of her mouth, the old woman nodded. With an effort she raised herself.

            'Now, how about some grub, eh?' Zeke said as if nothing had happened.  Rubbing his belly which overlapped the belt of his filthy jeans, he added, 'Smells like some damn' fine stew's on the hotplate.' He then lowered himself at the table, expectant.

            By now Burt had hauled Alice to her feet. Apart from the flayed skin and bruising, she was chalk-white. 'You okay? Don't want the merchandise broke, do we?'

            Abruptly, before she could get her breath or reply, he swung her round and twisted an arm painfully up her back. She let out a scream, to no avail. He wrenched even harder until she stopped struggling, drained of any responses at all as his lips lowered, slobbering hungrily over her throat and chest, bristles aggravating her torn skin. His touch was enough to send her insane; it was like some grotesque nightmare - but for the waves of pain, which increased, gyrating her stomach, tearing her insides apart. She felt faint, sensed the bile rising...

            'That's enough!' Zeke yelled, slamming the rattling coffee-pot on the table, its contents slopping over. 'I want her alive and in one piece - leastways till they pay up. Now, let's eat!'

            Scowling darkly, Burt released her with some reluctance, his glare freezing her blood. He joined Zeke at the table. 'Sure - plenty of time...' he said, wiping his fleshy mouth with the back of his hand.

            Fingers distractedly fumbling with her torn blouse, Alice sank onto the decrepit bed. Wordlessly, Ethel had watched the whole incident. Now she offered a quick reassuring smile and hobbled over to the stove.

            Scooping thick steaming stew into two large pewter bowls, Ethel carefully carried them on a tray to the two seated kidnappers. Then she tipped the tray into Burt's lap.

            Jerking upright, almost screeching, he swore and flung his chair back and almost overturned the table.  The stew was scalding hot. Tears welled in his screwed-up eyes. He frantically lowered his soaked, steaming trousers, baring skinny hairy white legs that were already covered in red blemishes.

            Paralyzed with dread, Alice sat on the bed. The old woman couldn't win.

            Zeke had jumped up, but Ethel was ready for him as well. She swiveled round, spraying the spilt stew from the tray directly into his eyes. As though flung with an electric shock he jack-knifed backwards, a rabid scream on grimacing lips.

            Dropping the tray, Ethel hurried over and grabbed Alice's arm and led her dazedly to the door. 'Use the truck - there's a phone a mile up the road!' she barked, indicating the general direction to follow.

            'Wh - what about you?' Alice stammered.

            'I'll be all right. Now go!'

            Obediently, without pausing to argue, Alice slid out into the savage blasting sand. The appalling force of the storm nearly swept her feet from under, snatching the breath from her. Faintly she heard the door crash shut, the lock click. Bracing herself in the doorway, reluctant to bare herself once more to the storm's full fury, she saw the large metal key scrape under the door, between her feet. The old woman had locked herself in with them.

            She could not hold back any longer now and stumbled towards the gray shape of the truck.  The pain earlier on paled to nothing compared with the agony now of the whiplash of sand-spicules. Her cuts and grazes inflamed anew, joined by fresh lacerations.

            Shaking violently, she fell inside the truck's cab and struggled frantically to close the door. As the metal clanged into place the hellish noise outside diminished a little, enough for her brain to start thinking again.

            The keys were in the ignition - fortunately, they'd been in too much of a hurry finding shelter to remember them.

            The old engine stuttered then fired. She must get help, save the old woman.

            As the rickety truck trundled onto the turnpike - marked by askew telegraph poles - she heard two loud reports, unusually clear in the noise of the storm.


Sunset slashed the barren landscape with reddish hues. The turnpike stretched as far as teh eye could see. Not a wisp of wind; the sandstorm had abated two hours ago, leaving the desert with a new and unsettling silence.

            Parked slantwise outside the adobe shack was a State Police station-wagon. The patrolman leaned inside the open window, unlatched his radio-transceiver. 'Patrolman Kent reporting.'  Static, crackle. 'Dammit!'

            Wrapped in an Aztec-style blanket, Alice stared vacantly from the shack's doorway. Slowly, her face quite blank, she closed the bullet-riddled door. 'The woman - where -?'

            A stomach lurching sensation writhed within her. At the moment that she had entered the shack, against the orders of Patrolman Kent, she had felt strangely giddy, her chest constricted, abdominal muscles tightening unbearably. And then she had seen Zeke and Burt...

            Instead of feeling revulsion as the patrolman had feared, her thoughts were sanguine, objective. Impassively, she had watched the pair of them, dangling upside down from the rafters. They had been stripped naked - and Burt had been stripped of more than clothes. The coagulated blood was black between his thighs. Deeply incised crosses glistened darkly upon their foreheads. Otherwise, the place was empty, laden with dust and cobwebs and skittering spiders. The vile, sulfurous smell pervaded the place, entered her nostrils, made them twitch involuntarily. Dimly, as though from a dream, she half-remembered alien voices, foreign words, like incantations, as thought the sounds came from the very walls of this adobe shack.

            The patrolman threw down his microphone. 'Must be a storm interfering.' He shook his head in bewilderment. 'Lady, are you sure you got your facts right? This place has been deserted fifteen years now, didn't you know?'

            Alice closed her eyes, briefly, nodded slowly. A swirling sensuousness warmed her body. 'Yes, patrolman, I know...' Tingling pleasurably, she walked to the car. The cop opened the door for her and squinted at the incipient dusk. She didn't miss the quick glance he gave as her skirt rode high up her thighs. The upholstery was warm, soft. 'Yes, now I know,' she repeated.

            Patrolman Kent started. 'What - what'd you say, lady?'

            She smiled. 'I know this place was closed down when Ma Becker was mysteriously murdered fifteen years ago.'

            'How'd you - wait a minute! - you said before - '

            Alice sidled further inside the car. 'Come in where it's comfortable,' she whispered. 'And let's you and me forget all about this dreadful place...'

            He hesitated, but only for a moment. 'Just as you like, honey,' the cop said, unbuckling his gunbelt.

            And as she possessed him, the first of her new disciples, she smiled archly. Ma Becker's will gained increased strength from the coupling, enabling her to crush the last vestiges of decency within the mind of Alice. Domination was complete. Fifteen years was a long enough to wait for rejuvenation, she thought, and the body of Alice would serve her very well.

***

Previously 1975 Published in NEW WITCHCRAFT, 1975 under the byline Platen Syder
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014

 


My collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat, features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye.

He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection, Crooked Cats’ Tales.
 
 


Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback for £4.99 ($6.99) and much less for the e-book versions – UK or COM.