The Dark Streets Below

Closed Sign

I am the fine line that shouldn’t be crossed.

I am the final judgement, the one that all people fear.

I am the vengeful knife in the dark, bringing balance to your sins.

I am –

“Dale to checkout three, Dale to checkout three.”

I am Dale.

By day, a mild mannered cashier at your local supermarket. Ready with a smile and a nod, unjudging of the bucket of Vaseline and bottle of vodka in your trolley, unblinking in the face of your eye rolling disdain, tolerant of your screaming children and loud phone conversations. A ruse, a cunning ruse, to keep you safe from the darkness that lies within me. Because at night, when I’m not working nights that is, I am… The Avenger…

“Mate, I know it gets boring here after a while but seriously, you can’t sit there talking to yourself like that. It makes people nervous.”

Shit. I’m talking out loud again, a bad habit that no amount of long nights on the sharp edge of societies blade can fix. Luckily he doesn’t know the truth. To Steve, checkout team leader, I’m just another co-worker, meekly trudging through the day with no higher hopes than a pie and a pint when I clock out, no greater fear than my card being rejected.

“Dale, we were at the pub quiz last night, granted it was a close finish but that’s not exactly the bleak underside of society is it? And you’re still talking out loud.”

Oh Steve, you poor, soft-hearted fool. Ever blind to the darkness that lays just beyond the happy picket fence of his perception, held back by the things I do, the places I go and the parts of myself I give up to protect his serenity. He’s a reminder, a reassurance that those parts of myself I surrender to protect those around me aren’t lost in vain.

“Whatever. Quiet today isn’t it? Was quiet yesterday too, and the day before. Always seems to be quiet these days, funny that.”

Steve keeps talking. Steve always talks, in the silence he can sense the danger, the danger I live with in every waking hour. The danger that haunts my dreams and sets fire to my nerves as I walk through this clean cut, sterile world, pretending there’s no filth lying beneath the surface. I ignore him, when I can, he’s my ward, but the chatter drags me back to a time when I was an innocent, like him, a complicit yet blind witness to the human detritus of the underworld that surrounds us.

“Dale, I know you might not be the best person to ask, but there’s never really anyone else around is there? Do you, erm, do you think it’s a little weird? All this? I mean, I know you talk to yourself, you’ve always done that, I’ve never minded. You’re a good worker after all, never late, never off sick, very polite and we all have our little quirks don’t we? You must have noticed though that we’ve been here, alone, for six months now? And that’s a little weird right? Even last night at the pub, it was fun and all, really, great laugh but the old place did seem a little, you know, burned down…”

Steve shouldn’t think, I can see the hamster wheel of his mind spinning erratically behind those bovine eyes of his. Childlike in his ignorance, desperate for me to comfort him with simple truths and easy lies. Although he does have a point, not that I’m not used to it and all, being the unshakeable warden of humanities dark underbelly and everything, but the pub did seem a little… destroyed, yeah.

“And my house, you know, you’ve been there, do you remember it being mostly rubble at all? I don’t and it seems like the kind of thing I’d have noticed, I mean we only had the decorators in a year ago and they did a proper job, skirting boards and everything. You live up on the estate don’t you, that’s gone a bit… flat too.”

A suburban idyll, Steve’s pebble dashed fantasy of cosy tedium, a precious dream held far more delicately than he could ever know. Although I admit, there has been a touch of the scorched wreck about it recently. Which is a bit strong, even for the rising tide of scum and criminality that haunts this town. Not to mention that my settee used to be on the tenth floor but not it seems to be at ground level. Surrounded by chunks of blackened concrete.

“Even here, right, even the supermarket used to have a lot more in the way of walls and roofs and running water and… people… things like that. Not that I’m complaining, it’s a good job and all, bit of a grind but they promoted me and I’m glad of it, remember that’s how I paid for the new car. Still though, bit of an odd one eh?”

I don’t want to go on and nor does Steve, I can see tears gathering in his dull, naive eyes as the truth claws at the door to his soul. I turn away, an end point to the dangerous path he was starting to wander, a path only I can walk – my body trialled and tested enough to bear the burden.

“There was that mushroom cloud too. I know you said it was just swamp gas but I’m fairly sure there aren’t any swamps around here and even if there were it did look pretty, well, nuclear didn’t it? I don’t mean to be a dick either but your skin has been flaking off a fair bit recently too. I know I’m no picture myself and I’m not one to bring these things up but you’ve got to wonder haven’t you? Haven’t you? I mean if there’s been an apocal-”

“Steve, mate, could you not just shut up for a bit? I’m on my break in a minute.”

“Yeah, of course mate, of course. We’ll, er, say no more about it then I suppose.”

Sometimes I think Steve’s a bit of a tosser but that’s not a very Avenger-y thing to say. Besides, he’s still the boss. And my innocent ward, I think I’d go a little bit wrong in the head if I didn’t have him to protect from the dark morass of human corruption.

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The Pirates of Deptford Creek

The Pirates of Deptford Creek

The Royal Navy tried, they really did. Frigates, destroyers, dreadnoughts, rubber dinghies, armadas of novelty inflatables, they gave it their best and bless ’em for the effort.

Then the Americans came in, late, as is their habit, and took their turn. They brought an aircraft carrier and three nuclear submarines, not to mention the fighter jets, Apache helicopters and, eventually, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Matt Damon on their day off. They’d both trained extensively for the job but in the end their performances were unconvincing. Right up to the point where they were hung high from the yard arm, tarred and feathered with a copy of the South London Press jammed into their mouths.

The Russians chanced their arm next, ships, planes, tanks and a whole heap of grim faced, heavy set men in ushanka hats with little patience for anything that stood in their way. They filled Deptford Creek with soldiers and sailors, an impressive achievement given that the tide was in, but still they had no luck. In the end Vladimir Putin himself had to do the back stroke in and call his lads off, to the jeers of locals and the smug nods of nervous American Generals keen not to be outshone.

After that it became a bit of a free for all really. The French came and went with not a shot fired, the Germans threw their spiky hats into the ring then ran when they were thrown back, the Israeli’s tried building a wall, the Chinese built a bigger one, the Mongols came by on horseback and the Swiss waved their pikes around. All for nothing as the Pirates of Deptford Creek repelled the greatest powers the world has ever seen without even breaking a sweat. And by the end even they were starting to feel bad about it, after all it doesn’t do anyone’s pride any good to be beaten back by a load of people who’ve only just stumbled out of the pub and onto a slightly lopsided old trawler. When the fire was in them though, when the black flag was flying and the dirty brown sea spray of the Thames was in their eyes there were none finer on the water or under it than those fiendish sailors of South London. And to think, until someone had the bright idea after closing time to sneak onto a ship and go for a joyride not one of them had ever been closer to sailing than floating a rubber duck in the bath.

So it went and so it still goes though. Not a tourist cruise is safe, not a party boat goes un-raided, at least when there’s nothing worthwhile on the telly and it’s not pub quiz night. The Royal yacht doesn’t dare show it’s face and HMS Belfast has given up and applied to join the infantry, police boats skulk in small inlets, surreptitiously smoking roll ups and hoping not to be noticed while coracles sailed down from the wild wastes of Kent and Essex overturn themselves in fear at the shifting of the waves.

The Pirates, for their part, take it all in their stride. They’re local heroes now, their names spoken in reverential awe by landlubbers and salty sea dogs alike – from Brockwell Lido to the raging waters of the Atlantic. Barrington ‘One Eye’ Daniels, Trevor ‘Trevor’ Murdoch, Lisa ‘Kick ‘Em In The Head’ Flynn, Dan ‘I Can’t Swim’ Levy, Irfan ‘Don’t Get My Shoes Wet’ Hussain, Mandy ‘My Other Boats A Frigate’ Mitchell – titans amongst giants amongst mere mortals. One day, they say, we’ll leave these homely waters, when the novelty wears off of sinking boats full of drunken students and confused tourists, we’ll sail to the very edge of the earth – or perhaps over to Calais on a booze cruise. But as the Royal Navy, Americans, Russians, French, Chinese, Swiss, Mexicans, Mongols, Malaysians, Mamluks, Mercians, Madagascans and Peruvians have learnt from bitter experience – you just can’t shift a Deptford Pirate.

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No Cure for Shell Shock Giveaway

Yes you read right, everything must go! And by ‘everything’ I mean as many copies as possible from an endless, intangible pool of eBooks. Until the 24th of March you can download No Cure for Shell Shock for free via Amazon. As with all these promotions the small price I’ll ask you to pay is to review it (on Amazon or Goodreads) and, if you can, share it via your social media outlet of choice. I say it enough for it to be my mantra now but just for good measure – every share, every review, every recommendation and every mention helps immeasurably and is very appreciated.

Anyway, grab your copy now and hope you enjoy.

Cheers,

Dylan

No Cure for Shell Shock Update

Just a quick update to say that NCfSS, my upcoming collection of short stories and poetry, is well on it’s way to completion. Currently it’s being reviewed and edited with cover art being worked on too but, for the most part, the writing bit is done. Unfortunately I still can’t give a firm release date but early November is looking increasingly likely in both eBook and paperback formats.

I’m also planning to release a separate collection of short pieces around the same time which won’t be tied together by any particular theme. That’s an as yet untitled side project but it does mean that it’s going to be a busy end to the year, so hopefully lots to look forward to. If you want to be kept in the loop then I’ve included the sign up form for my newsletter below or you can follow me on Twitter @dylanorchard.

I’ll finish up with the brief outline of NCfSS that I put up a few months ago, as well as some links to excerpts which have already been released…

It’ll be a very different piece from either Crashed America or Laikanist Times. The style is far more ‘literary’, for what that label’s worth and given the subject matter it’ll be a far heavier read too. Which, hopefully, is no bad thing. A mix between micro-fiction, short stories and poetry it’s a collection rather than a single coherent story and in case you hadn’t guessed it’s about war. Not about the conflict itself but about the human result of it, the instances and effects that the individuals involved endure.

I’m not writing from experience here, nor am I aiming to present any ‘truth’ from the subject. Instead I’m trying to present potential ways to understand those experiences which lie so far beyond the normal realm of human life as to be incomprehensible. It’s an outsider’s attempt to make sense of what is so easily judged and so seldom understood about the frayed edges of human experience. I feel that personal ignorance is worth stating more than once. With everything human the only real representation is the original, everything else is an aspiring imitation polluted for better or worse by the creator. And hopefully with NCfSS my polluting touch leads to something worth understanding, or even better, just worth thinking about.

Preview pieces:

Immaculate Fracture
Forgotten Light

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Mambo Martian-o

Bit of a revision of my release schedule as vaguely hinted at here but I’m nonetheless glad to say that very soon I’ll be releasing a new (long) short story. It’s a little something I’ve been sitting on for a while and the original plan was to drip feed it through on this site, but as there are bigger projects coming which’ll be sampled here I figured I’d try something new.

So this story, at the moment still untitled, will be released exclusively on Amazon for the low low price of 99p. A bit of an experiment really but as I’m sure you’ll all agree I’m worth at least 40% of the price of a manky cup of coffee from Starbucks – right? And in this brave new world of Indie Publishing you’ve got to try anything short of black market organ trading and prostitution to get by. Hell, even they’re on the list of options should times get particularly hard.

Currently I’m doing the last edit, sorting some cover art for the ebook and doing the assorted mundane bits and pieces that make the whole process that much less joyful. A sample chapter will be coming in due course and I’m not going to say much until then beyond ‘Sci-Fi’ and ‘Strange’, which should be enough for anyone really. What I have done though is run up a little playlist, as is my habit, that I feel frames the story nicely. Plus I get to have a drink and listen to some good music while I line up the tracks, which is never a bad thing.

If you’re interested in knowing more about project ‘Strange and Sci-Fi’ be sure to sign up to the newsletter, follow me on Twitter, carve my name on your chest and sacrifice your first born to me. No American Express though.

And as a bit of a side note – we landed a very small thing on a very far away thing the other day. Humanity, what a species. My endless respect to those behind the Philae lander project and hello to the strange and terrifying life forms we’ve undoubtedly awoken on that comet.