A cloaked, twisted figure …

Cover: The Eighteenth of November

Extract from Chapter 10 – The Eighteenth of November

The light from the vast clock glowed sharp white, throwing a carved gargoyle into sinister relief. Alice jumped, her heart racing like a hamster’s wheel. She was being silly, she told herself, there was nothing to be frightened of, it was just a stone effigy. She set off again, gripping the rail more tightly. After a few steps she glanced back; she let out a shriek, stumbled and almost fell. It had moved. She was sure it had moved; and its eyes had glowed red. Fabriel didn’t respond to her cry. He didn’t even move when she sat down next to him. Didn’t give the smallest sign that he was aware of her presence. This was no longer the gentle protector she’d met in the park, the one who’d tucked her up in her nest of pillows. Alice put her hand in her pocket and touched the mouse. She would have liked to take it out and talk to it, but was intimidated by the presence of this stranger.

Alice wondered if she’d offended him in some way and then told herself not to be so selfish. From the look of him, she was the last thing on his mind. Alice hotched closer and leaned against him. He didn’t stir. She sat quietly and stared ahead wishing she could figure out what had happened to her. She couldn’t concentrate. She felt as though her thoughts were bubbles floating around and past her. They burst if she reached for them. There were pictures too; snapshots that disappeared as quickly as they’d appeared. A red tractor. A little striped cardigan. A tiny mottled egg. Flames. She didn’t even know the names any more, seeing only the pictures before they disappeared. Perhaps it was best not to try to think too much. Alice closed her eyes. Perhaps it was another dream. If so it was a very long one; she hoped she’d wake up soon.

They didn’t notice the crouched gargoyle bare its stone fangs nor see its smooth contours waver and dissolve. A cloaked, twisted figure began to traverse the roof in scuttling, crablike movements, dodging between the dormers, melting into the shadows cast by the giant clock. There it squatted in the gloom, glaring down at their entwined figures, gibbering with malice. Its glittering eyes shone like coals beneath the all-enveloping hood. A stink of sulphur crept across the cold night air.

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On the roof

Cover: The Eighteenth of November

Extract from Chapter 10 – The Eighteenth of November

The roof looked very steep, and dangerous. Alice nearly cried out for him to be careful. Remembered just in time that angels are used to heights. She wasn’t used to heights. She wanted him to come and help her but something about him stopped her calling out. The doorway led onto a long, narrow platform; Alice stepped out onto it, clinging onto the doorframe with one hand and not letting go until she could hold the platform rail with the other. She stood there, gripping it tightly, hardly daring to look down, keeping her eyes fixed on Fabriel until she felt safe enough to sit, still holding onto the rail, using both hands now.

It was dark but a lightness in the sky suggested dawn or just before; it was hard to tell. The sound she’d heard was louder now though she still couldn’t make out what it was. A little below, to her right, she could see the outline of roofs and chimneys and, further down, windows. Blurred squares seen as if under water or through muslin. And was that a lighthouse perched on a roof? Perhaps she was dreaming after all. She looked back to where Fabriel sat under a huge clock. It loomed over him, so close it looked as if it could topple straight down on him and crush him. She thought with a pang that he looked crushed already.

His whole body spoke of defeat. She wanted to go to him and hold him but was afraid at first to leave the platform. When at last she plucked up courage and made a move she found that it was easier than she’d thought. There was a little ladder at the back of the platform and the roof, although though it sloped a bit, was flat and quite wide with a rail to cling on to. After a few steps it was just like walking on the pavement, if she didn’t look down.

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Alice and the Mice

Cover: The Eighteenth of November

Extract from Chapter 7 – The Eighteenth of November

The first thing Alice noticed was the mice. They were everywhere, lying across the rails and between the rails. Some were stretched out on the platforms, some huddled under the benches. They lay singly and in piles, perfect little corpses. Someone had once told her why the mice in the underground were so small but she couldn’t remember now. It didn’t matter anyway. They were dead. Alice knelt down and took one of the tiny creatures between her thumb and forefinger, straightened up again and sat on the bench with the frail body in her lap.

She stroked its soft black fur rhythmically with one finger. She lifted up a tiny paw and studied the perfect nails, glowing like seashells hidden in its pelt. She turned it over and tickled the loose underbelly, scratching under its chin as if it had been alive and begging silently for more. The way cats do. Alice slipped the mouse in her pocket, keeping her hand on its furry body. She wondered if it had babies. She’d had a baby once. She wondered what had happened to it.

Alice set off down the deserted platform towards the tunnel. The strange silence reminded her of her favourite book, a book she’d loved when she was six and which she’d never quite forgotten. It had a rectangular yellow cloth cover and shiny coloured pictures and she’d never been able to find it again, even though she’d searched bookshops. She couldn’t even remember the title. It was all about some children who’d woken up from sleep one day to find their village deserted, all the parents gone. The children had set out to find them. Alice didn’t remember if the parents had been found or even why they’d been spirited away, but in her head she could still see the pictures of the underground tunnel where the elves lived, dimly lit with orange lanterns shaped like seed heads.

There were no lanterns here, no elves. There was a strong smell of smoke and oil as if there’d been a fire, but no signs of fire or even an explosion or any other clue as to what had happened. Maybe it had been gas. They couldn’t all have died from natural causes. Not all these mice. Alice had to keep her eyes down as she walked, to avoid treading on them, and considered for a moment trying to sweep them all up into neat piles so they wouldn’t be crushed as well as suffocated. There was no broom, though, and nothing else that would do, like a stiff piece of cardboard or stick or something. She shoved the mice gently to the side with her foot as she made her slow way along the platform, so that as she progressed a wavy line of little bodies formed a wake behind her. She stopped when she got to the tunnel. She wanted to go in, to walk along the rails, to see what it was like. Maybe she’d find the elves.

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A surreal, twentieth-century parody of hell

 

Cover: The Eighteenth of November

An extract from Chaper 6 - The Eighteenth of November

The escalator levelled out. People pressed forward. Fabriel was shoved hard against the girl; the back of her neck was soaked in sweat. He put his arms out to protect her, suddenly conscious of the wet on his own shirt and under his arms. His feet were burning. He looked down; flames were licking round his ankles in a surreal, twentieth-century parody of hell. Then a noise like a high wind. Something that looked like a jet of flame. People screaming. A pall of oily black smoke engulfed him.

They fell together, the girl underneath him banging her head on the hard floor; the baby was sandwiched between them. It didn’t cry. Something crashed down, right by his head; heat seared his face and throat. He ducked; the girl wasn’t moving but he felt the baby stir. Fabriel pulled his jumper up so it covered his mouth and nose then, keeping as close to the floor as he could, bundled the baby under one arm and with the other grabbed at the girls coat and tried to pull her along. He made slow progress for he hadn’t got much purchase and, although she was slight, she was a dead weight. The baby under his arm started wriggling and whimpering. His face was practically on the floor but every breath he took was like breathing in fire. His eyes were streaming. He couldn’t see in the oily darkness.

The sensible thing would be to get the baby out and come back for the girl but he knew he’d never find her again, even if she survived the flames. His head throbbed. A great wave of tiredness engulfed him. He was vaguely aware of the baby, still wriggling, but his grip on it was weakening. ‘Hang on in there.’ Fabriel snapped into consciousness. Another face an inch from his. Fabriel tried to speak, heard only cries and screaming. Made a gesture towards the girl. His rescuer got the message. The man grabbed the girl beneath her shoulders and crawled backwards, pulling her behind him. Fabriel followed as best he could, sliding on his stomach and elbows commando-style, the baby wedged between one arm and his chest. It had stopped wriggling.

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Alice knew quite a lot about angels …

 

Cover: The Eighteenth of November

Extract from Chapter 2 - The Eighteenth of November

Alice thought she heard the alarm clock shrill, but turned over and decided she’d dreamed it. Then she dreamed that she heard something scratching at the door. It was only when Lucy jumped on her back that she realised the sounds had been real. ‘Get off cat!’ She turned over and burrowed under the covers but Lucy just came further up the bed and sat on her head. Alice shook the duvet to dislodge the animal, but she clung on with all four sets of claws. ‘Get off Lucy, you daft thing. Go on, bugger off.’

‘Lucy!’ Matt had exclaimed. ‘What sort of name is that for a cat.’

‘It’s really Lucifer,’ she’d said sulkily. ‘But we found out it’s a girl. So now she’s Lucy.’

‘Why not Beelzebub? Much nicer.’

‘I told you, she’s a girl.’

‘Lilith then.’

‘Lilith wasn’t an angel,’ she’d said, taking the mewing kitten from him and placing it in its basket.

Alice knew quite a lot about angels. She’d always liked the fallen angels best and thought that chasing them out of Heaven seemed hardly Christian. She’d continued to hold a torch for Lucifer and his brothers, even when mocked by Matt and his friends. She’d been little then, and perhaps more resilient. Now, at twenty-two, she wasn’t as sure as she had been. Matt said she let people push her around. That was just great, coming from him. When she did stand up for herself people made a big deal about it. ‘Oh look. Alice is being assertive.’

A wail from the box room announced that Zoë too was being assertive. But by the time Alice had shuffled into her slippers and padded across the corridor the child was fast asleep again. Alice sat on the corner of the upright chair and watched her baby through the bars, her breathing automatically adjusting to Zoë’s so that soon their chests rose and fell together. Zoë’s little puckered mouth made rubbing, goldfishy movements from which tiny sounds escaped. It was a bit like the sound waves might make sucking in and out of a miniature cave.

The door creaked; a ginger shape slid into the room and made for the chair. The child’s eyelashes fluttered. Alice felt the warm tickle of Lucy’s fur on her bare legs. She should get up and feed the cat, and she needed to get dressed and wake Zoë and feed and dress her too. She didn’t stir. Just sat there savouring the sight and sound of her baby, the smell of her, all warm and milky like fresh custard. Alice put her hand through the bars of the cot and smoothed back the damp dark curls plastered on Zoë’s forehead. Was she running a temperature? Should she ring Martha and cancel? Call in sick at work?

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Fabriel’s Dream

Cover: The Eighteenth of NovemberExtract from Chapter 1 – The Eighteenth of November

He was running through a wood, moving faster than the ground allowed. His toe caught on a root, he fell heavily onto his shoulder and lay winded. He scrambled to his feet, cursing, and ran on until the trees began to thin out and he could see a vast field, stretching ahead of him. It sloped downwards in a gentle gradient before rising sharply to a small hill. His breath caught in his throat. From the summit of the hill a column of smoke rose dark against the sodden winter sky.

He threw himself forward, almost falling down the field in his desperation. As he reached the bottom, drifts of thick yellow smoke billowed towards him, searing his eyes and burning his nostrils. Firefly sparks settled on his clothes and in his hair He pulled his cloak across his face and charged upwards. As he mounted the last slope the smoke parted suddenly, like a curtain, revealing indistinct shapes darting and scurrying about like ants round a disturbed nest.

At the summit a mass of people formed an impenetrable hedge, the smoke so thick he could scarcely see their features. He fought to get through, clawing, gouging, kicking, using hands, feet and elbows. Suddenly the crowd surged forward, baying, dragging him with them. He burst out of the circle and found himself staring at the thing in the burning embers.

Fabriel woke screaming, lay still, trembling, the screams still ringing in his head. They could stay there for hours, days. There had been times when he dared not sleep for fear of them. He made himself take deep breaths and look methodically round the room, ticking off the familiar items now reduced by moonlight to shades of grey. The heavy carved chair with his linen shirt draped across it. Dark suit hanging on the wardrobe. Deep leather armchair. Tiled floor. Mosquito grilles. The door into the bathroom was half open; it creaked slightly in a sudden movement of air. He could feel it play over his face, a touch like a spiders web.

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