Excerpt – So Many Nights, So Many Sins – A Vampire’s Tale
From Dark Tales and Twisted Verses (c) A. L. Butcher
Amber firelight flickered in the small grate, casting a dancing pattern on the grubby walls of the cellar-bar known as The Cavern. It was, some said, hypnotic; others said the fire heard and saw all – for even in summer it was never truly out, merely banked to embers. Fire had been the friend and enemy of man since Prometheus snatched it from the gods, and this particular blaze had been smouldering for years. Some said decades, even centuries, and that it watched all that went on. Whether this was true Wolfgang had no idea, but it was not a normal fire, and such tales served his purpose.
The Cavern had stood on this spot for at least three hundred years, and before this, various structures from longhouse to army tent to inn had been in the vicinity. This land was old, saturated with history. And blood. Battles had been fought, lives taken, lost and even given and through it, all the Cavern stood in one form or another, and its fire burned. Creatures who lived in the twilight world of the undead were drawn to this place. Perhaps it was the blood, perhaps there was something special here. Life was a lure, to those who possessed a parody of it, but in truth, no one really knew or dared to discover. It was the sort of place no one asked too many questions or expected honest answers and so those patrons with things to hide and enemies aplenty caroused in The Cavern in an uneasy truce. The fire saw all, and so did its current keeper. For now, both the fire and The Cavern had Wolfgang’s undead patronage, and both knew it.
Wolfgang Feuerleiben turned his bright hazel eyes despondently towards the blaze and shivered; as usual, he could not seem to get warm even close as he was to it. This place, generally, was cold, as old buildings often were, even with the impressive blaze. Wolfgang had no internal heat, nor did any of his kind; but habits are hard to shake and even a vampire likes to be warm. Bodies with no inward heat found themselves stiff and slow and it wasn’t like a vampire could bask in the sun. Wolfgang surmised it was a throwback to his human past. Memories faded, became corrupted or were forgotten; it was a curse and a blessing – an elder had told him. Wolfgang considered this – ‘memories went with morality. One could not be haunted if one had no memory of past sins and past transgressions’ the Elder had said. Yet almost all his kind suffered nightmares – or rather daymares and the Vampire Scholar who’d propounded his theory had died raving in a fire of his own making. Driven mad by the guilt of split blood. It was hard to be a monster. And much, much harder to be a monster pretending to be a man.
Dark tales of ghosts of war, blood from the Autumn of Terror, the wrath of nature, an unusual murder and a cynical vampire. Twisted poetry of loss and mayhem. Some adult themes and language.
Winner of the NN Light Book Heaven Award for Short Stories 2021
Are you an audiobook addict? June is audiobook month and there’s a huge event going on at N. N. Light’s Book Heaven Celebrate Audiobook Month. 31 audiobooks featured plus a chance to win a $75 Amazon US or CA gift card.
I’m thrilled to be a part of this event. My audiobook, The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles, will be featured on 7th June. Wait until you listen to my audiobook clip. My narrator nails the characters and I’m so proud of it. Trust me, you won’t want to miss it.
Excerpt The Watcher – A Jack the Ripper Tale (c) A. L. Butcher
There she was, that whore. Once more. There she was.
Beneath the flickering gas lamp at the corner of Dorset Street, Whitechapel, she strode, grinning a seductive smile at a passing sailor, just ashore and looking for company. He, as bad as the bitch whose breasts he felt and whose ear he nipped with yellowing teeth, the unseen Watcher thought. With eyes burning hatred and a menace previously unseen and misunderstood. It was, he thought, a righteous hatred, and they blaze all the brighter for it. The beast within told him so. For he was the beast and he was its creature, at once the same.
She could have been twenty or forty; the Watcher neither knew nor cared. She’d not see another year, another week, another night. The dim streets grew ever wickeder to those of her sort spreading around their sin, their poison. Defiling this town, this land, defiling HER. The Watcher shook his head; no more whores and this place would rise like the jewel it was. Not jaded and dull but glorious and fit for a queen. The beast within whispered in his head. “Cleanse this town, make it fit again.” And so he did. A knife in the darkness, once more.
Geneva liquor and poverty aged a person far better than mere passing of the years. In the greatest Empire on Earth, they blighted the land. Gin palaces, opium dens, and hash houses aplenty gave heaven and hell to those with money, and those without. Life was cheap, and oblivion cheaper. The Watcher knew these unfortunates dropped their drawers for a taste of it, panting and moaning beneath the bridges and in the alleys, with their grunting men, and their penny a tumble.
The sailor moved on. He’d had his pleasure with another of her kind and spent his last pennies in the tavern, and she was here to work. Nothing was free in her line of employment. Except for death.
So there she was, alone. Death walked these streets – and tonight it watched the red-haired whore, who sang and smiled and patted her new bonnet. There she was. The whore. Alone.
The minutes passed, creeping towards death; ebbing away from heaven and him ever closer to immortality. The whore did not know it. Of course, she’d heard the tales, everyone had. Screamed by newsboys on every corner “another ‘orrible murder” but rent still needed to be paid. And so she plied her trade. Afraid. Denying it would be her turn this night. A whore, alone.
Another night, another customer. Fear curled in her belly; these streets were streets of blood, four of her sisters slain in just a few weeks. But hunger was the greater force. Desperation made Mary-Jane brave – so she walked the streets, as she had often done. It wouldn’t be her, she thought. As they had. It couldn’t be her. Besides the police watched the alleys and the thoroughfares. The streets were largely empty, save the desperate and the foolhardy, and those too much in drink or lust to know or care.
The Watcher stood, beyond the pool of light from the gas lamp. This night was his. She would be his. This woman wasn’t as much a drab as some of her sisters-in-sin. Lust rose, entwined with his loathing. Two joined as one, desire and disgust, powerful and compelling. He’d never understood why they went together, but then he was a simple man, not one of the mind-doctors who had been so influential of late. The beast within did not care. Lust and hatred, pain and desire…bound so close he could experience little else when the darkness overtook him. Now, however, he watched.
The hunt was almost as enthralling as the kill; the knowledge of their fear, their desperation, and yet still they strutted themselves, offering a screw in the alleys and passages of the East End, and more if the customer had money and the taste for it. Filthy strumpets, he’d said to any who’d listen. Never did he consider the terrible choices they made. Never did he consider their choice was no real choice. What cared he for desperation and poverty? Respectable women did not sell their bodies. They kept sex for the marriage bed. SHE did – his icon, the woman he loved above all others.
The whores’ sins, the watcher thought, was what damned them. And they would pay, in this world and the next. He’d save London. He’d save it for HER. Blood would cleanse the streets.
The year is 1888, and the place is Whitechapel, in the very heart of London. But the heart is bleeding. A mysterious killer is stalking women of the streets – his true name is unknown, but his legend will go down in history. This is a short tale of Jack the Ripper.
The candle spluttered in the attic as the wind curled about the badly thatched roof. Glowglobes were currently beyond Coel’s means so in the small flickering circle of meagre light Coel assessed his night’s takings. The tavern wench had gone to her own bed or someone else’s and in many ways he was glad; any undue attention would be unwelcome in the circumstances. Coel had got away with the theft, at least he could hear no hue and cry from below or boots on the stairs. With luck, the fellow would either not miss the trinket or simply not recall his movements that evening. There had been no mistake, not this time.
Darkness oozed lazily in the remainder of the room, nosing into corners, under furniture and behind Coel, unseen, part of it detached. “That was quite a performance, bard. You have some talent, and not just your music. Although your judgement is flawed, it is never wise to steal from a thief,” the voice was smooth, like liquid velvet and very sure of itself.
Coel’s hand moved towards the dagger nestling in his belt; it would not be the first time he had been called on to defend himself, although that was how he had ended up in this mess he thought bitterly. Just one mistake, then another and now, it would seem, another.
“I do not know of what you speak! I am not a thief.” His brain caught up and he continued, “How did you get into my room? The door was locked. I’m not a bloody fool.” Coel could hear his own heart pounding. There was something about this man which frightened him. He felt like a mouse beneath the gaze of a cat. Perhaps the hangman’s noose would have been the better option.
The slate-grey cloak swirled around boots of ebony leather and the cowled figure chuckled. “That lock was barely a moment’s work. I must have a word with the owner of this place about his security. I have yet to find a door in Erana which will not yield to me. You may as well remove your hand from that blade, or would you bet your life you are swifter than the Thiefmaster? I doubt it, boy, I doubt it. Believe me when I say you would be dead before that knife left its scabbard. It would be a pity to waste such talent, would it not?”
Coel removed his hand from the dagger, his sense telling him that continuing to draw it would be a terminal decision. Instead, he placed his hand on the table and the voice breathed into his ear, Coel shivered, he had not heard the man move.
“I thought not. Sensible lad, if a lying one. This too can be a skill which can save your life, if it is used correctly and with assurance,” Darius told him.
This menacing shape was right behind him and Coel began to turn, opening his mouth to protest, and found a gloved hand on his jaw, firm but not unduly painful. “Curious are we not? This may sometimes serve you well. As for other occasions, it is wise to accept things as they are, this is one such occasion… Coel.”
The bard caught his breath, how did this man know his name? The sweat began to pool in his back, making his shirt stick unpleasantly to his skin. Had this man been hired to kill him? Had his mistake finally caught him up? Yet as Coel’s brain frantically grasped at any hope and his fingers tried to overrule his brain and reach for the dagger he realised the man had said he was a thief. A robbery, that was not so bad. It would not be the first time.
“This is not merely a social call; you are honoured for the Master of Thieves does not always test a potential recruit’s skills for himself.”
“I usually charge for my skills, music and other kinds, if that is what you prefer. I can be flexible, and my tastes are…varied. Perhaps just this once I might offer them for free. Take the coin and the trinkets, take it all.” Coel’s brain finally caught up with the conversation, “What do you mean potential recruit?”
I’ve been a full-time author since 2017. I’ve zig-zagged between high fantasy, post-apocalyptic, and gamelit. I’m trying hard to stay focused on writing fantasy stories, but that doesn’t stop the Muse teasing me with ideas for space opera tales.
Tell us about your book(s) – title, genre etc (short)
My main fantasy series is called The Ravenglass Chronciles, this is a 21-novella series where each book is inspired by the tarot. My latest novel, Dawn of Assassins is set a few hundred years after The Ravenglass Chronicles and tells the story of a pair of thieves who are recruited by a master assassin. But they’re thieves, not killers.
When did you start your writing adventure? What was the inspiration for it?
I’ve worked as a professional writer for most of my adult life, mostly in journalism. I’ve written stories, comedy scripts, and lyrics since I can remember, so I’ve always had that drive to tell stories. When I saw I could bypass corporate publishers and produce books on my own terms, that’s when I decided to follow this as a career path.
What writing plans do you have for the future?
To keep writing stories in my Ravenglass Universe. As I establish the universe, I want to branch out into other media and work with other writers. There’s potential for video games, movies, and comics. It’s very exciting. It’s also meant that when I get an idea for a story, I ask myself whether it will fit in the Ravenglass Universe. If it doesn’t, I thank the Muse and move on.
What do you like to read?
Books! And lots of them! I read in most genres. My favourite stories tend to be fantasy. Give me banter and swashbuckling and you’re onto a winner.
What piece of advice do you wish you’d had when you’d started your writing adventure?
Just because someone’s got a system that works for them, it doesn’t mean it’ll work for you.
There is no magic bullet.
Author bio and book synopsis
Jon Cronshaw is a full-time fantasy and speculative fiction author based in Morecambe, England.
Born in Wolverhampton, he has a PhD in the history of art and has written for local and national newspapers across the UK.
He’s an avid reader, podcaster, and history geek.
Dawn of Assassins:
Two friends. A master assassin. One deadly choice.
Fedor and Lev are thieves…not killers.
They lead a desperate life in the tunnels of Nordturm, conning and stealing to buy their next meal.
But when an assassin recruits them against their will, they are forced into a life they do not want and cannot escape.
If they leave, they will die. But if they stay, they must kill.
Can they survive the master’s relentless evaluation?
Is loyalty stronger than the will to live?
Will their friendship last the ordeal?
From the best-selling author of The Ravenglass Chronicles, comes a new thrilling adventure featuring a new cast of unforgettable characters.
You’ll love this high fantasy series, because these unlikely heroes have a story you won’t be able to put down.
The whine of the chainsaws, and the rumble of iron machines cut through the growing sound from the forest. Death came on tracks of metal and wheels of rubber. The monkeys who commanded the machines waited, smoking and pointing towards the edges of the forest. “Where do we start?” one asked, eyeing the trees.
“Make your way to that big old one – the tallest. That will take out plenty when it falls. Look it’s three-quarters rotten anyway! Break the heart of the forest and tame it! That is how it’s done, lad.” The speaker pointed towards the Great Oak, satisfaction creased his face, and power gave his countenance a smirk. The monkey who walked on two feet was lord of the land and knew it well. He had brought death to the flora and fauna of this land, and their sap and blood soaked the soil. And he ignored the cacophony of music around him.
“This is the last patch of woodland in the country, the only unspoiled wilderness left,” someone said, from the back. “Must we?”
“It’s coming down. It’s needed for houses – people are more important than trees. They are just plants.” The foreman glared at the speaker, as the wind began to blow around them. “It’s not the last, there’s that coppice over in Haydock, and the Amazon of course.”
“The Amazon went a decade ago, boss. And that place in Haydock was bulldozed last year.” The first speaker reminded him.
The boss shrugged. “Not my problem. We have our orders. Now get to it, there is no place for conscience or sentiment here.”
The machines snarled, they spat their poison breath and rumbled forward, inexorable, awful. Monsters of modernity, some had called them. Progress had been their name from others. All the trees understood was the choking stench and the inexorable roar of impending death. Trees are not complicated, but they are not stupid. The knowledge of the wood pulsed through every branch and root; the force of nature, the will of life to survive surged.
Crack! The sound of tons of wood uprooting drowned the roar of the engines. It was the sound of defiance. Earth showered from roots, and leaves swirled as the mighty trees moved. Nature stopped; from red fox, and blackbird to tiny grey mouse life paused – the cry of war flowed through the ground, squeaked from the lowliest and sung from above. ‘We come! We stand! We fight! Nature Rises!’
Birds swooped, squawking at the monkeys who walked on two feet. Beaks were sharp, and eyeballs soft. The brave robin and the humble thrush dived, their song the sound of battle as they flew towards danger. ‘Be gone! Be gone!’
The humans flapped their arms against the onslaught.
“Get away, filthy creatures!” one monkey yelled. “I hate birds!” His flapping arms knocked birds to the ground, and some rose up for another onslaught. Others lay broken but roused the song to inspire their comrades.
“What is this? Alfred Hitchcock been ‘ere?” The foreman cried, trying to bat away the crows, pecking at his face. Blood flowed, feathers flew, and the beat of the Primal Song changed again – the music surged as other creatures joined the fray.
Where magic is outlawed a troll Shaman calls from her deathbed to her heiress, Mirandra Var, daughter of the storm. Mirandra vows to find her missing kin, sort friend from foe, and claim the dangerous secrets guarded by unthinkable creatures. If she succeeds, she will become the leader of her tribe. If she fails, there will be no tribe to lead.
2022 is a new year, so to celebrate I have updated the covers for my novels.
The Shining Citadel
Who rules in this game of intrigue where magic is forbidden, and elves enslaved? Journey where beliefs shatter like glass, truth is unwelcome, and monsters from ancient times abound: share the romance and revenge, magic and passion, and the wages of greed in a world of darkest fantasy.