Cover Reveal – Cirque de la Nuit

My latest work update posted yesterday on my author blog, with cover reveal and blurb – take a look and let me know what you think of my latest WiP 🙂

Mel Cusick-Jones

Latest update from my current project Cirque de la Nuit – here’s the book cover and blurb. Let me know what you think – everything is a work in progress at this stage! 🙂

Cirque de la Nuit cover

When Beth Woodall wins a night at the circus, she’s looking forward to an evening of entertainment and excitement – she never expected she would become the main attraction…

Nothing is as it seems at the Cirque de la Nuit, a mystifying extravaganza staged by vampires, werewolves and a whole host of other worldly creatures. Backstage are secrets no one could guess, especially not Beth, the sceptic. But, once she sees behind the costumes and bright lights, even she has to wonder if there is something more dangerous lurking behind the scenes. Perhaps, even that the colourful characters are more fact than fiction…

“Ladies and gentlemen, beasts and night creatures – please take your seats, for…

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Tony’s Writing Tips: The only rule of writing I know

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham

 

Maybe not, but there’s one rule I have discovered…almost by accident really. It’s going to seem strange to people just starting to publish that they shouldn’t do it, but here it is:

Don’t respond to a review.

That’s it; Good or bad, do not respond to a review of your story. Ever.

Of course, the nice thing about rules is that they’re made to be broken, and I’ve broken this one a few times…but here’s the modifier: The reviews I’ve replied to are only to people I know. Don’t do it somewhere like Amazon, as tempting as that ‘Reply to this comment’ button is.

There are times and places to thank your readers for leaving reviews, and you have to pick them using some judgement.

So why not respond?

It’s a good question. You spent weeks or months (or years!) writing your beautiful story and someone doesn’t get the fuss you kept making about Sam’s dress being green. They missed the symbolism of it all, The Big Image You Had in Your Head.

Two sentences, you can clear it all up for them, right? That Reply button is looking so tempting…

But don’t.

It’s frustrating, I know. I’ve had someone leave a one star review saying a short story “Wasn’t true and was too short.” I could have pointed out that the story is A) Clearly listed as fiction, and B) Clearly listed as a short. But I didn’t, although I still have to restrain myself every time I go and check my reviews.

Console yourself with the knowledge that you did the best you could. Try harder next time, and accept that most people aren’t going to be on the same mental wavelength as you (Another reason editors and beta-readers are so useful, by the way).

It’s going to sound odd, but the minute someone reads your story, it isn’t yours anymore.

People take reading very seriously…and what they take away from the story might not be what you wanted them to take away. Get to live with that, because it’s true. I didn’t take anything away from The Road, for instance, but a damn dull time. I’m sure Cormac McCarthy had something else in mind when he wrote it.

If someone didn’t like your story, do not tell them what they missed. Do not tell them you’re the best writer since Shakespeare or Dickens. Brood over a bad review if you have to. Rend your garments and thrash about on the floor for a while.

Just don’t do it in public or to the people who left you a review.

Replies to reviewers scare them away.

I discovered this one on an Amazon board where the question What do you think of authors replying to a review? was asked.

I was quite shocked by the drift of the comments. One person said they felt as though the author was breathing over their shoulder as they read; another said they had trouble saying how much a story sucked for fear of hurting the author’s feelings, knowing they were checking in.

But they said such nice things!

This one is harder to deal with, I think, than a bad review. Someone gives you five stars and said your story made them cry. I can tell you, that feels damn good. Even better if it’s your intent. ;-).

But take the good with the bad. Go out and celebrate for a while. Come back to the good reviews when you feel like what you’re writing is Bantha Poodoo and take heart from them. But don’t reply, even to the good reviews.

Reviews – good and bad – aren’t there for you as a writer to gloat or weep over (although, of course, we do). It’s the obvious point, but it wants restating anyway: A review is for readers. Remember that and stand back.

 

(Reblogged from Musings – The Blog of Tony Talbot)

Writing Tips: How to write a great author bio

This caught my eye today on the BookBaby blog – a nice resource for authors on writing, publishing, marketing and much more. Anyway, if you’re thinking of revising your author bio – or even just want to check that you’re on the right track, this is a good little article to help you along the way.

http://blog.bookbaby.com/2014/03/how-to-write-a-great-author-bio/?utm_campaign=BB1510&utm_source=BBeNews&utm_medium=Email&spMailingID=48142534&spUserID=OTI1MTU2NjExMgS2&spJobID=640344388&spReportId=NjQwMzQ0Mzg4S0

Tony’s Writing Tips: Show-not-tell with dialogue

One of the things they always tell writers to do is show and not tell. “Don’t Tell Me the Moon Is Shining; Show Me the Glint of Light on Broken Glass” to paraphrase playwright Anton Chekov. Chekov was talking about describing the world, but here’s another way you can use that show-not-tell: to describe your characters using only their dialogue and body language.

It’s certainly one of my favourite ways of doing it. Here are some snips from my own Eight Mile Island:

Mum comes out onto the deck from the cabin behind me and weaves along it towards me. …

“Dylan?”

I ignore her for a minute, pretending not to hear my name until she says it louder. I turn from the waves and face her. “What?”

“You’ve got to come inside. You’ll be washed away.”

“So?”

“Please, Dylan. Don’t start. Not today.”

And these are the first word you hear Dylan say…half a page in, one surly question and you know you’re dealing with a boy with attitude and a mother helpless to do anything about it.

Neat, isn’t it? And it’s not magic or sleight of hand. We all make conscious and subconscious judgements about people we meet by the way they talk and the words they use. It’s the same for readers, and it’s something you can use – should use – in your dialogue and your character’s body language.

What I’m not talking about here, by the way, is stereotyping. Don’t bother with the gay character who talks in a high pitched voice and is flaming all of the time. Most of them don’t, and you shouldn’t either. Make it subtle, folks. One hand movement or high-pitched comment can be enough.

I wrote a story recently for an Australian competition and sent it off to a ‘Straylian friend for her input. She returned it with a comment about stereotyping an uneducated train driver and I cleaned up the dialogue. Here’s the first version:

He smiled, but it faltered and failed quickly, and he returned to gnawing his lip. “Thought so. That aftershave your wife buys you stinks somethin rotten.”

“Tom, I don’t think I’m the right person for you to be talking to right now. You need a doc.”

“Siddown, Bill. I gotta tell someone. Cops out there wouldn’t believe a word of it.”

I moved to the table and sat down opposite, looking towards the two-way mirror Tom couldn’t see. The man I am looked back at me, and that man looked scared out of his wits.

Tom leaned back as far as his bolted down chair would allow. “What did they tell ya?”

Now I fidgeted. “That you wouldn’t talk to anyone but me. That you, uh…you –”

“I killed em both, Bill. Merciful, it was. Best thing for em.”

“Uh, Tom…I really think you need a doc. For that lip, at least.”

His tongue tasted the blood and darted back into his mouth. “Let it bleed. Maybe it’ll be enough to end it.”

“Is that what you want?”

He leaned forward and his breath was foul, his body odour sweet and sickly and I retreated from it. “What I want…is for them to kill me.”

Here’s the modified version:

His nostrils flared. “That you Bill? I can smell that bloody aftershave your wife buys you.” Even though spasms racked his body, the voice was still solid.

“It’s me, mate.” I paused. “Tom, I don’t think I’m the right person to be talking to. You need a doctor.”

“Siddown, Bill. I gotta tell someone. Cops out there wouldn’t believe a word anyway.”

I sat opposite him and glanced at the two-way mirror. The man I am looked back at me, and that man looked scared out of his wits.

Tom leaned back in his bolted down chair. “What did they tell you?”

I fidgeted. “That you wouldn’t talk to anyone but me. That you, uh…you –”

“They think I killed them? Yeah, merciful if I did, I’d say. Best thing for them.”

“Uh, Tom…I really think you need a doctor. For that lip, at least.”

His tongue tasted the blood. “Let it bleed. Maybe it’ll be enough to end it.”

“Is that what you want?”

He leaned forward, his body odour sickly. “What I want…is for them to kill me. So I don’t have to dream about those women anymore.”

What I’ve done is make Tom and Bill’s dialogue slightly more formal throughout, but the whole is more than the sum of its parts. For instance,

They think I killed them? Yeah, merciful if I did, I’d say. Best thing for them.”

…instead of the more direct

“I killed em both, Bill. Merciful, it was. Best thing for em.”

You can also subvert dialogue. A good example is in John Wyndham’s Day of The Triffids. A character named Coker – working class, superficially poorly educated – sometimes pops up with words and references beyond what you would expect him to know. The main character asks him about it, and discovers that Coker found out that the better educated wouldn’t listen to him unless he spoke as if he was educated; and poorly educated people wouldn’t listen to him if he did. Sometimes he drops it for a word or two, just for effect.

Give your characters different voices and you won’t many need dialogue attributes. It’s a way to show who’s speaking and not just tell again. Here’s a phone conversation from Eight Mile Island:

“Yeah?” a rough voice speaks in my ear.

“Hello, is this Mr Yates?”

“Who the hell wants to know at this goddamn hour?”

“Uh…you don’t know me, my name is…is, uh…” I look round the kitchen and a box of cereal catches my eye. “Uh, Teddy Graham. I’m trying to contact Cassie. About a reunion we’re having at the school for former pupils.”

“What the Christ you callin me at this hour for?”

“S…sorry, I forgot about the time difference. So, anyway, if I could talk to her, maybe…?”

“Well, son, if you want to talk to her, go ahead. I got no objections to it. Why not ask her yesself?”

What?

“You mean she isn’t there?”

“No, for Gods sake, you stupid or sumthin’? She’s at the school, ain’t she?”

“Uh, yeah, sure. I misheard you, sorry.”

“Yes. Cassie is happy at the school. Doesn’t ever want to leave there. Happy there. Don’t even have to call her to check she’s all right.”

I hang up as quickly as I can make up an excuse, my legs going weak.

…because we have a good idea how Mr Yates ‘sounds’, when something odd happens at the end of this conversation, it jumps right out.

 

So, just a final exercise: How old is this character from Fidget? How did I show you without telling you?

One morning in the big school holiday, when I got up after a long sleep, I went downstairs into the kitchen. Mummy was outside, hanging the big white bed sheets out on the clothesline, and I went outside to see her, even before I had breakfast.

I ran my hands down the sheets, pretending I was a pirate and they were sails on my ship, the wind making them blow and huff. I got to the end of the clothesline and stopped. The big red flowers were in front of me off to one side, and the big trees behind them were bending with the wind. The day was bright and blue and hot on my head.

 

I hope all that helps you see how you can make your characters do the work for you when it comes to show-not-tell!

Reblogged from: Musings – The Blog of Tony Talbot. http://www.tony-talbot.co.uk/wordpress/?p=547

‘Underhill’ – Halloween Short Story

Yesterday afternoon I messaged Tony to see if he fancied doing a random short story challenge for Halloween  – as you’ll already have seen, he stepped up to the challenge and has posted his story 🙂 So, here’s mine now, posted on my own blog a few minutes ago, because I’ve only just finished it!

After deciding to do this yesterday, I’ve not done too badly with it, although I massively over-ran the original 2-hour timescale I’d given myself to write this. It ended up being more like 5-hours. But, overall, I’m quite happy with it – I’m never any good at writing short stories…every time I have an idea for something short, I end up fleshing it out so much that it becomes a whole new book idea! 🙂

Anyway, I hope you like it and you’ll have to let me know if I got anywhere close to spooky with it 🙂

Mel x

Underhill

 

I peered down into the dark rock crevice and took a breath. A deep one.

Why did I do this to myself? Why did I ever listen to that silly voice inside my head that told me doing something new would be fun and interesting.

Standing here now, with cool metal clamps in my hands; rope at my feet and an excitable friend bouncing at my side, I realised it was a mistake. And a big mistake, at that. Where was the little voice now, telling me this would be fun and interesting? It was hiding, because my tougher sounding logical voice was now yelling and it was scared.

I hate small spaces, I don’t like being damp, I’m not really the outdoor-adventure-girl-type… That’s what was running through my head right now. Rock climbing was one thing, but rock climbing inside the ground – that just seemed crazy.

“Can you tell me again why we have to go under the mountain, not over it?”

“Because it’s fun,” Emily shrugged, as if fun was some kind of explanation.

“Fun – OK,” I nodded, taking another look at the tall-ish rock face above us. “But, that looks pretty fun too. And we don’t have to mess around with all of this extra equipment, we can just carry on climbing.”

“Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“Exactly where yours is: standing here, waiting to get started.” I scuffed the toe of my boot against the stone ground. “I’m just more inclined to climb up and over than drop down, crawl, probably swim and possibly find a giant pile of guano poop that will give me bat madness.”

“Wow, you have a vivid imagination.”

“English student, what do you expect?”

Emily grinned. “Well, as a Geography student, I’m hoping for some nice rock formations, interesting post-glacial features and possibly some nice underground waterways.”

I pouted. “I told you there’d be swimming involved.”

“You’re such a freak,” Emily said.

“I know.”

Sigh. This was happening, wasn’t it?

“OK,” I said, resigned to the fate I’d inflicted on myself. “Get me kitted up and we can get going. I don’t want to be coming out the other side of the mountain in the dark.”

“Why? Are you scared because it’s Halloween and everything is s-p-ooooooo-kyafter dark?”

“Nope. I want to get back to the hotel and out to the pub at a decent time to drown out the symptoms of my guano madness.”

“Ha ha, oh yeah? Now you mention that, I think it’s more to do with that gorgeous bar man you noticed last night, than the bats.”

“Maybe,” I agreed. “Either way, I’ll need time to wash bat poop from my hair when we get back – so let’s get going!”

 

*   *   *

 

“How tight was that gap?” I asked Emily as I caught up with her in the next cavern. In the light from my helmet lamp I could see dark dusty-mud marks smeared across my chest – and I assumed I would have the same across my butt – where the widest parts of my body had squashed through the crack in the rock.

“I know.” She patted her stomach. “It made me wish I hadn’t had pie and chips on the way back from the pub last night.”

I laughed a little, waiting with my hands on my hips as I caught my breath. Although it was hard work at some points, the caves hadn’t been as bad as I’d expected really. Most of them had been large, round caverns, with the odd puddle and small pools of water, but nothing that needed wading through. I watched the beam of light from my helmet bounce around the latest space, taking in the dark crevices and dangling rock formations. It was mildly creepy maybe, but not terrifying and no bats – as far as I could see.

“What was that?”

I jumped at Emily’s sudden question, caught up in my own little bat-finding world. “What was what?”

“That noise. Sort of like a snuffling, grunting noise.”

My chest turned to ice. “Are you kidding me?” Please say yes, please say yes….

Emily shook her head and moved her gaze more slowly around the cave, allowing the light from her head lamp to spill across the rocky features. “It must have been me, just hearing things,” she said after a few tense moments of suffocating silence.

“There’s nothing there? It wasn’t bats, was it?”

Emily sighed. “For the fifteenth time, there are no bloody bats!”

I held up my hands. “You were the one that heard snuffling, grunting things – not me.”

Emily looked around again. “Yeah, well – I’d hate to see the size of the bat that would make the noise I heard.”

Apparently satisfied that there were no giant bat-things crawling around the cave we were standing in, Emily pulled the cave map out of her pocket and clicked on a hand-held torch. I watched over her shoulder, as she swung the light over the plastic-wrapped page, following the path we’d taken to get here.

“We’ve only got another three caverns to go through then we’ll be at the passage that leads to the hillside.” Emily said.

“Sounds good to me – I should have plenty of time to clean up AND get to the pub!”

“Come on then,” Emily flicked off the torch and began folding up the map. “The middle cavern looks like it’s got a river running through it. You may still get wet.”

“Great,” I muttered and set off, following Emily’s silhouette as she began leading the way to the next cave.

We walked and climbed in companionable silence for a long while. I was happy to follow in Emily’s shadow, as she bounded off into the unknown darkness ahead of us. In some ways – being the jumpy character that I was – I didn’t like being at the back of the group, as much as I would have hated being at the front. Although, with just the two of us down here, there wasn’t much choice in the matter, was there?

Emily’s voice broke the silence.

“Don’t you find it weird how quiet it is down here? You could imagine that there was nothing else left in the world except us, right now.”

I pulled myself up the last couple of metres to join Emily at the top of the small outcrop she was standing on. “Yeah. That’s not a comforting thought, you know. Remember my vivid imagination? Saying things like that tends to send me in to a mini-meltdown – especially when we’re alone, in a cave, in the dark….”

“Don’t worry, we’ve not got far to go now.”

She set off again as soon as I reached her.

“Watch your footing as you come down this bit.” Emily said. “It’s a bit – “

Her words cut off, followed by a surprised squeak and then a moment or so later, there was a loud splash.

“Emily!” I stumbled, trying to find a safe pathway forwards in the dim, bouncing light from my lamp. “EMILY?” I saw shiny black ahead of me and knew it must be the river from the map. Stepping carefully, but quickly, I made my way to the nearest edge and scanned the water.

“It’s OK, I’m here.”

Emily was standing on the opposite side to me, drenched from head to toe, but otherwise she looked fine.

“What happened? Are you alright?” I noticed her helmet was missing.

“My feet just went from under me,” Emily waved her arm in the direction we’d come. “I slipped straight down and landed in the water. It wasn’t that deep though.”

I nodded, watching as Emily’s face waved in and out of the shadows made by my light.

“Your helmet’s gone.”

“I know. It came off in the water – I don’t know if the light went out or got broken when I fell, but I can’t see it now. Can you?”

I looked away and tried to see anything other than the empty blackness around us. I couldn’t find anything in the water at all. “It must have sunk or floated away. I can’t see anything down there.”

“Perfect! I’d borrowed it from a girl on my course.”

“Sorry.” I told her, scanning the water again. “It’s probably going to be expensive to replace.”

“Yeah well, at least it wasn’t the map that got washed away.”

Holy shit. My stomach immediately knotted up at the idea of being lost down here. “You still have it?”

I saw Emily patting her pocket as I flashed the light back onto her.

“Don’t worry – it’s here. And I’ve still got my torch.”

With those words, she clicked on the small, bright handheld torch she’d been using to read the map earlier.

Shaking my head around, I found a narrow point in the stream a few meters further on. I headed in that direction, thinking it should be easy enough to jump across where my side was slightly higher than the opposite bank.

I cleared the narrow gap easily enough and began walking back in the opposite direction to where Emily was standing, consulting the map. “Which way now?” I asked as I drew closer.

There was no answer. And I noticed Emily wasn’t actually looking at the map at all.

“Em, are you OK?”

Emily didn’t move and her eyes stayed blank and staring – looking past me to a far corner of the cave.

“Emily?” I tried again. “Did you bang your head or anything when you fell? Do you want me to take a look?”

For a long moment nothing happened. Emily stayed silent, eyes glazed over.

“Emily!” Her sudden behaviour was making me panicky.

When I called out this time she reacted at least. With the slowest and smallest of movements, she gradually turned to look at me. Her eyes still looked weird – a little confused, surprised maybe – but blank at the same time. She looked like I’d just woken her up and she wasn’t sure where she was.

It was a small relief. “We need to get you out of here,” I told her.

need to get out of here. I cast my eyes around the empty darkness, which suddenly felt small and close, like there was something I couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to, see hiding in every shadow. The vague discomfort I’d felt coming down here and been holding in check whilst we were climbing, was now moving full throttle towards terror. There was obviously something wrong with the competent, confident leader of our little party, which left me to sort things out.

I have sarcasm, metaphors and a wild imagination – not orienteering skills and bravery.

Why did I agree to this?

I knew full well that I preferred reading about adventures and living vicariously through feisty, daring characters in books.

Get a grip. It’s not too far from the outside now, just get your friend sorted, work out which way you need to go and then get the hell out of here. And never listen to your fun, exciting side, ever, ever again.

“Em,” I prompted, using my extra calm voice, as she’d still not said anything whilst I had a mini-breakdown. “Do you want to show me the way we need to go to get out? I can take the map.”

When she didn’t answer, I moved around to stand beside her and peeked at the map in her hands. Whilst I was there, I checked the back of her head and other visible parts for any sign of injury, but couldn’t see anything obvious.

Turning my attention to the chart now, I was surprised to find it was easy to follow. It looked just like a normal map really, only with some markings, which I imagined showed depth, rather than relief as they would above ground.

“There’s the river…so, we need to be heading straight across there to where that passage is…” I glanced across the cave in that direction and could just about see the outline of the next tunnel. It was quite large and didn’t look like it would be quite as tight as some of the previous ones. I looked back at the map. “And then, once we’re in the last cavern, we follow the wall around to the left and then come up the main passage that leads to the surface.” That sounded simple enough, although the size of the upward tunnel did not look too large or appealing.

I took the map from Emily’s hand and she made no move to stop me. Folding it and putting it into my pocket now, I pulled out a plastic-wrapped silver thermal blanket from my backpack. Freeing it from the small package, the sheet billowed out, crackling loudly in the echoing space. Taking one edge, I wrapped it around Emily’s shoulders and held her close to my side.

“Let’s get you out of here and into some dry clothes, OK. You’ll feel better soon.”

I thought Emily nodded, but I couldn’t quite be sure. We set off together, me pulling Emily along slightly, as she walked forwards with unsteady, mechanical steps.

 

*   *   *

 

“Are you sure you don’t mind me going downstairs for a bit? I can bring you some food back up, if you don’t feel like sitting downstairs.”

Emily was lying down in bed, her face turned towards the window. She didn’t answer.

“Emily?” I prompted.

This time Emily’s eyes moved to look at me, her head turning slowly to follow the direction of her gaze.

“Yes?” She said, pronouncing the word in a drawn out sigh.

“I asked if you minded me getting some food. I can bring you something back, if you like?”

Emily stared at me for a few seconds, almost as though she’d never seen me before that moment. I was about to say never mind, when she spoke again.

“I want you to go.”

“To the bar?” I asked, not exactly sure what she was trying to say.

“I want you to go.” Emily repeated; still in that slow, drawling voice.

“OK – if you’re sure. Do you need me to get you anything at all? You still seem a bit – ”

Emily swivelled away from me, looking out the dark window again. “I am tired, I want to sleep.”

I was going to say a bit weird, but to be honest, this isn’t just a bit weird…it was a lot weird. Maybe there had been bat-poop in the water and she was getting a strange guano-flu…? Or, maybe Emily was right and I should leave the bats alone.

“I’ll be an hour – tops,” I told her back, as I picked up the room key and headed to the door. “I’ll just grab something warm to eat and come back up to keep you company.”

There was no response.

“Alright, well, see you in a bit then.” I closed the door behind me, hearing it clickand began walking towards the lifts.

The corridor was long and empty. Decorated in a deep maroon and cream colour scheme, the only features in the corridor were the occasional windows I passed by, which gave a view of black nothingness. All the windows faced onto the mountain we’d crawled through that afternoon, and with nothing much between the hotel and the hillside, there were no lights out there at all.

I shivered. Knowing that there was something so big, made invisible by the darkness just a short distance away, was odd somehow. It felt as if anyone who left the lights of the hotel behind them, could be swallowed up by the world outside, never to be seen again.

The lift stopped on my floor, with the usual ping and I stepped inside, pretending that I wasn’t checking my reflection in the mirror as I reached over to press the button for the ground floor. I felt quite drained after our expedition this afternoon and was glad that I didn’t have to put on a show and go on another drinking binge tonight. Emily normally wouldn’t pass up an opportunity for going out, she must be feeling really ill. And it was no wonder she was behaving oddly: she’d done everything I had, but soaked to the skin for the last part after falling in that stupid river.

“Bloody geography students,” I muttered to myself. They always had to get into the middle of everything.

The lift doors opened directly into the main reception. Flicking a polite smile at the older lady standing behind the ornate reception desk, I turned in the direction of the bar, following the muted sounds of people and smell of warm food.

There weren’t many people sitting around in the bar tonight, although, from further along the corridor I could hear the faint pulsing beat of music and the sound of a lot of voices.

I should have brought my book. I didn’t really like sitting on my own in public with nothing else to do.

“Hello there.”

I turned toward the voice – a lovely, warm deep voice, with a hint of a Scottish accent – Mister Barman was back.

“Hi.”

“It’s pretty quiet in here tonight,” he said, needlessly waving his arm towards the empty room.

“Halloween party?” I guessed.

“Yeah – they’ve got their own free bar in there, so there’s no way anyone’s going to come and pay for drinks in here.”

“Probably not. I just wanted to grab something quick to eat, if that’s OK?”

“Sure,” he started fiddling behind the counter, then produced a small, folded cardboard menu. “It’s just the basic bar menu tonight, but there’s a decent choice on there if you’re just looking for something quick.”

“Do I have to sit at the bar?”

“You want to sit and talk to me?” Mister Barman threw me a cheeky smile.

Wow. I was being pretty brain-dead this evening. Of course you didn’t have to sit at the bar to have the bar menu. For someone who was pretty good with words, I didn’t use them well sometimes! I was about to turn away and pick another seat, when I realised there was no point. Why not talk to the cute guy behind the bar while I waited for my dinner? At least I might have something interesting to tell Em when I got back upstairs.

“I’m pretty tired,” I said, pulling out a stool from the end of the bar and lifting myself onto the seat. “So, maybe I can have a drink and you can talk to me about interesting things.”

He laughed. “Deal. What are you drinking?”

I tried not to notice how handsome he looked, when his eyes crinkled up with his smile. Instead, I turned my attention to the drinks and began scanning the shelves and fridges behind the bar. “A large glass of rose would be good.”

He turned around, reached into the furthest fridge and pulled out a half empty bottle of a pale-coloured rose wine. As he stood up, I noticed the name badge on his waistcoat. Tom.

“So,” Tom said as he began pouring my drink. “What kind of interesting thingscan I talk to you about this evening?”

“Anything you like really,” I shrugged. “Although, maybe not anything too spooky, even though it is Halloween. I’ve been creeped out enough for one day.”

He placed a white paper coaster in front of me and slid the glass of wine onto it. “Creeped out – with what?”

“Oh – it’s just me being a big girl I suppose. My friend and I went pot-holing this afternoon, up on Pendle Ridge – it’s not really my thing and those caves just got a little bit… eurrrgh…after a while.”

The barman whistled through his teeth. “You’re not being girly – that place creeps me out: above ground, during the day.”

I snorted quietly and took a long sip of the wine. “I don’t believe that. You look like you spend plenty of time outdoors doing adventurous things.”

“Yeah, well, not there I don’t. I know it’s stupid, but I think it’s the history of the witches that used to use the caves on that hillside that bothers me.” He shrugged his shoulders in a miniature shiver. “Half the time I don’t really like working here, just in the shadow of those hills.”

“Witches?”

Tom nodded, leaning forwards on his arms and lowering his voice, as if he was going to tell me a secret. “There have been a number of covens over the centuries that have used the caves on that hillside – there’s a whole section about it in the village museum. If you go down there tomorrow, you can read about them.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“No, it doesn’t. But, there are other stories I’ve heard, from people who’ve lived around here for a long time. They say that there’s been a history of people – women – disappearing on Pendle Ridge, ever since the last coven of witches were driven out and burned at the stake, by the old crossroads.”

I pulled back and picked up my wine glass again. Women disappearing…. Mister Barman was beginning to sound slightly creepy himself now. Maybe he was trying to spook me after all?

“Surely, the police would investigate if people were disappearing.” I pointed out.

“They have and they still do. They just don’t ever find anything much.”

I picked up on his words. “Still do? How recently has this happened?”

“There was a girl last year, on a field trip from college: Jessica Farley. During the day, she’d fallen into one of the rivers that runs through the hillside – it goes into the caves and comes out over land on the other side. At first she seemed fine, but by the time the group got her back to the hotel, she was barely talking, not moving properly. It was like she wasn’t working right or something.” He looked away, across the room as if he was picturing her. “I hadn’t been here that long – seeing the way she was, so…strange and blank…I’ve never forgotten her.”

“How did she go missing, if her group brought her back here?”

“In the morning, the girl she was sharing with found the door to their bedroom wide open and Jessica was gone.”

“And no one saw her leave?”

“She was seen,” Tom pointed over his shoulder towards the reception area. “In the middle of the night, she walked out of the hotel on her own, in her pyjamas – they found it on the CCTV.”

That sounded so bizarre. “Where was she going?”

He shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “She walked off into the darkness beyond the hotel grounds, in the direction of Pendle Ridge.”

I shook my head. It was such a weird story, but in fairness, the bar man seemed genuinely bothered by the story he’d repeated to me.

“In the museum, it tells you about some of the rituals the covens had. They used some of the rivers on the hill to baptise new members of the coven when they joined. It was a ritual that bonded the new witch with the rest of the coven – washing away their old life, joining them with their new family, which like the river, would flow forever.”

I shivered. This was getting a bit intense. “You seem to know a lot about this stuff.” I tried to diffuse the tension.

“I just have a good memory for things I’ve read,” he said. “Nothing major. Anyway,” he clapped his hands together, making me jump. “Enough of this morbid stuff – you said nothing spooky, didn’t you?”

“I did.”

“Well, I’ve already kind of messed that up, haven’t I? Let’s get you a menu and some food sorted.”

I smiled. “That sounds good.”

He smiled back at me, placing the menu on the bar near my drink. “Are you going to wait for your friend to come down to order, or do you know what to get for her?”

“It’s just me,” I tapped the menu. “She didn’t feel like coming down for anything.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, she was a bit tired and flat when we got back. In one of the last caves we came through, she managed to fall into a small river and got soaked through.”

Tom’s eyes widened. “She fell into one of the rivers in the caves?”

“Yes. She was OK: I had one of those thermal sheet thingys, so we got her warm and back here pretty quick. I think she was just tired.”

I heard my own words come back as me. She was just tired…

   Suddenly, everything felt…wrong. A sliver of ice cut through my chest, sending freezing currents up my spine. I shouldn’t have left Emily alone; I should have made her come with me.

“I – just – give me a minute.”

“Are you OK?” I heard Tom call out, as I bolted from the room.

I didn’t wait for the lift. Half of me felt stupid – crazy, even – as I ran up the stairs two at a time. But, there was another part of me that felt scared, as if there really was something to the stories I’d heard tonight…something that could affect us.

Reaching the fourth floor, I was fumbling for the room key in my pocket as I opened the door from the stairwell to the main corridor. Pulling it free, I looked ahead to our room – number 418 – and realised that I didn’t need the key: the door was standing wide open.

“Emily?” I called out as I ran towards our room.

There was no answer.

Banging into the doorframe as I entered, I scanned the small space quickly, seeing no sign of my friend. “EMILY?” I shouted, moving forward to knock on the bathroom door. “Emily – are you in there?” The door opened onto a dark, empty room.

“Hey.”

I screamed, jumping out of my skin in surprise at the voice behind me. It was the bar man – Tom – from downstairs.

“Are you alright?”

My hands were shaking as I looked at the empty bed, where Emily had been, ten minutes before when I went downstairs. “It’s my friend,” I told him. “I think she’s gone.”

 

Happy Halloween from TonyT: The Long Walk

The campfire was down to its last embers before Jonas turned to me and asked me to tell my tale. I smiled, but it didn’t reach my eyes.

“It’s not really a ghost story, Jonas,” I replied. Circled around me, the kids of class nine yawned and rubbed their eyes. Billy McAllister was the only one really still awake; the rest struggled and stared vacantly at the fire, eyelids drooping.

They were a little old for campfire ghost stories anyway. What would I tell them? The story of the hitchhikers and hook hand? They’d laugh that one out of the ballpark.

For an answer to my complaint, Jonas only shifted and tossed some more sticks on the fire, shrugging away my denial. “Give it a shot anyway,” he said.

I started at the fire, not seeing it.

“I was about the same age as you kids when it happened. But before we get to that, you need to know what happened before…if that makes sense.”

Billy nodded and the rest turned sleepy eyes towards me. I couldn’t have been much more than a shadow to them against the light of the fire, and that was fine by me. “Before…

 

…then. My brother had been killed in a car crash a few summers before, and my family was still picking up the pieces and wondering where we all went from here. We all had our ways of dealing with it.

Me? I went for long walks. Twenty five mile, six hour long walks. I was out from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon. Once a week I’d find a day and walk. Solitude was my silent partner, and a welcome one at that.

Through sleeping fields of corn and wheat, I looked for some answers, and tried to come to terms with what happened. It was good to get out of the house and away from it all for a while. On a long walk, I’d slip into a quiet Zen state, my feet moving automatically over what become well-known footpaths and fields. Long walks and silence. It was beautiful.

Except the countryside is rarely silent; there would always be a tractor or a car moving somewhere in earshot. Radios playing, or people moving in the dozing villages and hamlets I passed through without stopping. Always moving, always walking, that was me.

Something you should know about the car crash – there was another car involved. Yes, my brother was racing – new car, hot pair of wheels and a feeling of invulnerability. All it needed was a wet road and the laws of physics took over. Seatbelts don’t help when you roll a car that fast. The other driver – Andy, I think his name was – survived. Death by dangerous driving. Five years in jail.

Anyway, I walked and I walked, and I dropped into a Zen sleep. You walk a footpath often enough, even a twenty mile one, and you don’t even need to look at your feet anymore. Or think anymore.

Except this day was different.

 

I paused in my story, and the kids shifted and fidgeted. They were all listening now, more awake. Some of them had brothers, after all. I looked away from the fire and up at the night, endless and infinite before I told them…

 

…I was on my way home that day. A route I’d taken a dozen times before. A narrow road with high hedges, a gate, a farmer’s field. Five miles from home. Nothing I hadn’t seen or experienced before; nothing out of the ordinary in any way. A little quieter than usual, that was all.

I stopped to take a drink of water from my backpack when it started: That feeling on the back of your neck, the one that stretches its way up your spine and down your back. You turn, and there is no one there; but the feeling remains. The footpath and the field you stand beside are empty, the sky a deserted blue apart from the islands of floating clouds. Not a soul in sight.

You tell yourself it’s nothing, but the feeling stays there.

The feeling of being watched. The feeling of being followed.

And it’s a feeling that gets stronger the more you stay and the more times you look back. Whatever it is comes closer, and whatever it is, you don’t want to meet it. Even in broad daylight on a hot summer day, you do not. Want. To. Meet. It.

The silence behind me was thicker than usual, the bird song muted and the trees silent and watching.

So I picked up my pace a little…and the feeling faded again. Until I stopped, and there it was again. Still nothing behind me but emptiness and solitude. Only that solitude felt like a threat now, a danger I never recognised.

I turned my back on that feeling and walked on and on.

Then at about three miles from home, something odd happened. From nowhere the thought popped, complete and relating to nothing:

Maybe I’m needed at home.

But that’s not the extraordinary thing. The instant the thought about being at home came into my head, the feeling of being watched vanished instantly as though it had never existed.

I still didn’t look back though, or pause to rest. I must have made those three miles in record time.

It would be simple now to check something like that…a text message or a phone call, and you’d have such a random thought cleared up in a few minutes. But this was twenty years ago, kids. Nothing so advanced back then. I was alone and no one knew where I was. I was three miles out and an hour away from knowing.

 

I made it home, of course, with no one following me. There wasn’t anything out there but my imagination. Nothing at all.

Except:

When I got home, my mother told me that the other driver in the car crash – Andy – had received an early prison release that day.

 

Billy was the first to ask, the others turning to him as though they’d forgotten he was there.

“You think it was your brother, sir? Haunting you or something?”

I could have lied to them, I suppose. I could have told them something. “I don’t know, Billy. I really don’t. I only know it scared the life out of me.” I stretched. “I’d been walking twenty miles a week until then…but I didn’t go for a walk the week after.”

Billy nodded, seemingly satisfied. “What was your brother’s name, sir?”

I coughed and cut my eyes to the empty log to my left. “Jonas.”

 

(Excluding the framing story of the campfire, this did happen to me – all of it. What was following me that silent summer day? I really don’t have a clue…but it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.)

Happy Halloween!

Cute Ghost  To those of you that love all things spooky and dark, Happy Halloween! 🙂 And if you don’t like things scary, then have a light party instead and make yourself brighter and happier than ever.

Last year we did an October-fest spooktacular (I know – I’m sad, but I love puns, even the cheesy ones) on Aside from Writing, with lots of short stories, features and posts from people about all things spooky.

I’ve not had time to do that again this year – but yesterday, I decided to set myself the challenge of writing a quick, short and (hopefully) spooky story to post today. Think of it as a warm up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which starts tomorrow… Come back later today, if you want to see what I managed to write in the hour time limit I set myself…and hopefully I can get some other surprise posts for you today as well. Flash-fiction? This is flash-blogging, surely 🙂

IAM Writing Tips…Pace Yourself

Guest Feature

Today Tony is with us to talk about the magic of pacing…

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Pacing in books is a bit of an odd thing. You’re reading at the same speed as you normally do, but suddenly the story is whipping by in a blur and you can’t stop reading.

How do writers do it?

It’s magic tricks actually, an illusion – and some simple illusions at that. Magicians aren’t supposed to tell you how it’s done, but what are we here for if not to share? And it’s not like you can’t Google this and get the answers anyway. 🙂

At first, I didn’t hear his movements in the trees behind me. The forest was beautiful this time of year, the naked trees clothed in ermine snow, nature reduced to a frozen slumber. As I breathed out, the condensation steamed up my glasses and the world turned momentarily foggy and blurred. My feet in the heavy boots crunched and squeaked through the unbroken snow, toes starting to freeze.

I twisted on the spot when the branch cracked behind me, scanning the frigid world as the hairs on the back of my neck rose and stretched.

That wasn’t a deer, I thought.

Nothing moved, but I knew he was watching me. Every shadow was suddenly malevolent and dangerous.

I heard the breathing first: Short, ragged gasps. Like a man running, from my left somewhere.

Coming closer.

Trying not to show how freaked out I was, I turned away slowly and walked on. Faster now, though. Focusing ahead and behind, trying to hear how he moved as I moved. The way he stopped when I stopped.

It didn’t matter how much I hurried my pace. He always kept up with me. Mewling to myself, I turned my head, still seeing nothing, but hearing him breathing beside me, ever closer.

My nerve snapped and I gave up the pretence, taking to my heels and starting to run, pummelling the snow so the white clods flew from my heels, trying not to slip on the now treacherous ground, pouring my strength through my lungs and into my aching legs, the air cold-burning my throat as it cascaded into me, breath streaming back like a silent scream.

I urged my dying legs to push me faster, faster, until my lungs burned with the agony of it, the cold taste of steel in my throat like a blade pushed into my larynx.

It wasn’t until I felt the hand on my arm that I stopped, dragged off my feet by the powerful backwards tug. I spun, lashing with an arm, hand forming into a fist. He batted it away easily, the side of my hand smacking into nothing.

My brain struggled to catch up with what I wasn’t seeing, not having time to react as the all-too-visible knife flashed towards my heart, the last thing I ever saw.

 I heard his voice around the exhalation of his breath when he spoke, the last words I ever heard.

“So. The invisibility cloak works then.”

I’ll break it down into how it usually works.

  Approach.

 At first, I didn’t hear his movements in the trees behind me. The forest was beautiful this time of year, the naked trees clothed in ermine snow, nature reduced to a frozen slumber.

As I breathed out, the condensation steamed up my glasses and the world turned momentarily foggy and blurred. My feet in the heavy boots crunched and squeaked through the unbroken snow, toes starting to freeze.

The approach is the setup for what comes later. Take as much time as you want over this part – in some ways, the slower the better. A good example is a section of “The Shining” by Stephen King, where Danny knows something is going on in one of the haunted hotel rooms and investigates. King doesn’t put Danny in the bathroom where he wants him – he starts off with Danny outside the closed hotel room door and spends three pages on the approach.

Anticipation. 

I twisted on the spot when the branch cracked behind me, scanning the frigid world as the hairs on the back of my neck rose and stretched.

That wasn’t a deer, I thought.

Nothing moved, but I knew he was watching me. Every shadow was suddenly malevolent and dangerous.

I heard the breathing first: Short, ragged gasps. Like a man running. From my left somewhere.

Coming closer.

Trying not to show how freaked out I was, I turned away slowly and walked on. Faster now, though. Focusing ahead and behind, trying to hear how he moved as I moved. The way he stopped when I stopped.

If you show an explosion, you get a bang for a second or two and nothing else. Show a countdown clock ticking down, and the tension can be kept as long as you like – countless movies have been made with nothing else driving the story but a countdown timer, after all. Anticipation is what keeps you reading and watching.

Also, notice what I’m doing here. The sentences and paragraphs are shorter – one of them only two words long – and the descriptions of the world around the character gone apart from describing the shadows. You read those 103 words faster than you read the 68 in the first segment. You didn’t have a choice.

Another way of speeding up the pace is a favourite of Dean Koontz. Have short, snappy dialogue without attributes that pull you down the page:

“Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“That breathing.”

“Creepy.”

“Just a little.”

Also, try changing your tense – past tense shifted to present works really well. Your character is reacting, not just remembering. Just remember to change it back when you’ve finished.

Trying not to show how freaked out I am, I turn away slowly and walk on. Faster now, though. Focusing ahead and behind, trying to hear how he moves as I move. The way he stops when I stop.

My weapon of choice is more of a tumbling style though – run the sentences into one so they blur:

I heard the breathing next: Short, ragged gasps, like a man running, from my left somewhere.

Coming closer.

Trying not to show how freaked out I was, I turned away slowly and walked on. Faster now, though, focusing ahead and behind, trying to hear how he moved as I moved, the way he stopped when I stopped.

And you can combine them of course – tumbling sentences in present tense, whatever works the best.

 Reveal and Aftermath

My nerve snapped and I gave up the pretence, taking to my heels and starting to run, pummelling the snow so the white clods flew from my heels, trying not to slip on the now treacherous ground, pouring my strength through my lungs and into my aching legs, the air cold-burning my throat as it cascaded into me, breath streaming back like a silent scream.

I urged my dying legs to push me faster, faster, until my lungs burned with the agony of it, the cold taste of steel in my throat like a blade pushed into my larynx.

It wasn’t until I felt the hand on my arm that I stopped, dragged off my feet by the powerful backwards tug. I spun, lashing with an arm, hand forming into a fist. He batted it away easily, the side of my hand smacking into nothing.

My brain struggled to catch up with what I wasn’t seeing, not having time to react as the all-too-visible knife flashed towards my heart, the last thing I ever saw.

 I heard his voice around the exhalation of his breath when he spoke, the last words I ever heard. “So. The invisibility cloak works then.”

In terms of pacing, the running paragraph (My nerve snapped…) is one sentence of 66 words. There’s more internal world than external as well – no more looking at how wonderful the trees are; as readers we only care now if the ground will give up its traction, how cold that breath is.

Look how short it is. I spent 173 words getting this character freaked out enough to run for their life – I give them 66 words to describe it. The imagery has changed as well – from soft ermine snow at the start to the taste of steel now.

Your reveal can be a red-herring of course – this could be a deer following our character. Or it could be foreshadowing for a reveal later in the book and we never know at this point what it is.

In some ways, the reveal is the quickest part of the whole process. In the 407 words of this story, the reveal is 76 words and two paragraphs (It wasn’t until I felt the hand…), and one of those runs straight into the aftermath.

To go back to the example of “The Shining” – Once Danny is in the bathroom where a ghost waits for him, King only spends half-a-page describing it before going into the aftermath.

And don’t forget that aftermath by the way; give your readers some closure – or leave them hanging if this is the end of a chapter.

‘Bad Monsters’ Blog Tour – Excerpt

Bad Monsters -- Blog Tour Banner

We hope you’ve enjoyed our week of features with author Clinton Harding and learning more about Bad Monsters and the Our Monsters Chronicles. For us, it’s always a pleasure to host Clinton on the blog, he’s shared some fantastic guest posts with us over the past couple of years (read them here) and we look forward to hearing more from him in the future 🙂 For our last feature of the week, we are excited to share with you an excerpt from the opening of Bad Monsters and we’re offering one reader a copy of the book in our giveaway today – just pop a comment in the post to be entered!

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BAD MONSTERS

The Our Monsters Chronicles Book Two

By

Clinton D. Harding

CHAPTER ONE

Glass crunched underneath the soles of General Mauser’s high-polished boots. The sound gave him pause and he fought the urge to grind his teeth with each additional step.

Four teenagers… four children managed to move through a heavily fortified military base with so much ease?!

Shards of glass lay scattered about the circular room. Above him, a breach the size of a small adult human punctuated the steel framing of the domed ceiling, the metal bent inward, the glass panes gone. The sound of groaning metal and breaking glass tore at the general’s mind, a dull razor against paper.

How many internal hybrid attacks had Carpenter endured in the last few years? Uncountable. That is the hazard of working with beasts, with monsters. You don’t walk into a minefield and expect not to step on at least one land mine. In the past each monster incident had ended with the escaped hybrids sedated, the threat neutralized and contained. Minimal paperwork required. This time… a handful of soldiers lay in the infirmary and security found three high-ranking officers handcuffed to a pipe underneath a sink.

Embarrassing.

Children had fought and subdued Mauser’s soldiers, had handcuffed his lead scientist, his head of security, and a captain. Not hybrids but children. There would be a hand-cramping amount of paperwork to fill out in order to explain this mess… Mauser would not subject his hands to that ache, his incompetent subordinates would.

Embarrassing.

At least no other hybrid managed to escape its bonds, except the four.

Mauser forced himself to stop grinding his teeth. He took in a deep breath and held it for the space of half a minute before exhaling.

None of this was supposed to happen. The hybrids were to be taken from the children, brought back to the base, examined, and contained once more. If it were not for his own son’s blubbering tears and his wife’s insistence that he and the boy have a “man-to-man” conversation, the General would have been at the base last night.

Now the newest, youngest batch of Carpenter hybrids was gone… again. This was not part of the original plan.

“We adapt or die,” the General muttered under his breath. He had spoken these words to himself once before. It had been two weeks after the fallout in New Mexico, after the monsters ripped their way through to his world, his country, and proceeded to tear apart rightful citizens of these United States. He picked up the pieces of tragedy those many years ago and refocused disaster into opportunity.

Glass crunched and scraped as Mauser turned on his heel.

Professor Martin Graves stood in front of a stainless steel worktable polishing a set of surgical instruments, likely to keep his hands busy. He had changed out of his surgical scrubs and into a pair of rumpled suit slacks and a white un-ironed shirt with the sleeves cuffed up past the elbows. Tired and miserable, Graves kept his back to Mauser. That spoke more than words.

Can I trust him? Mauser believed it possible that Graves had helped his son and his son’s monster escape Carpenter. How else could the boy, his friends, and the beasts have ghosted past security? They had certainly made an entrance. From what Mauser understood, it was his lead scientist’s badge after all that allowed the group of teens access to the underground facility.

Then there was First Lieutenant Greg Marshall, leaning against the doorway, rubbing his wrist absently. Another family man, one more devoted than the absent Graves, for sure. The reason why Mauser brought Marshall to Carpenter was the soldier’s values. His commitment to his family. That loyalty made a man strong, made him willing to die for his beliefs and loves. Yet a family man’s priorities centered on his family, sacrifices were not easily made outside that inner circle.

Neither man dared to face Mauser’s disapproving gaze, Graves and Marshall wanting to avoid admonishment for the blundering display of idiocy the previous evening.

Mauser glanced at his wristwatch. Morning. The night had slipped by as quickly as the children and the beasts.

She should be here soon.

As he lowered his arm, Mauser caught the sight of the exam room table. Strange to see the restraints not snapped with great strength or cut by a knife. The undone brass buckle of the two-hand-span wide belly restraint swayed, nearly brushing the ground. Its casual ease taunted Mauser. Yes, it had been that easy. No extraordinary powers needed.

Both subordinate officers had offered their stories to Mauser. Neither had known their sons would break into the mountain base. Nor did they understand how Grave’s son had burst through the domed ceiling like a superhero and walked away without a broken bone. Stern lectures and a month without television or video games would not be enough to produce hangdog teenage faces and second thoughts. Graves and Marshall would write reports later and their hands would indeed cramp. If nothing, Carpenter was a government, a bureaucracy, right down to the last scrap of paper and drop of ink.

I should have fought harder to keep the families away from these projects. Mauser chided himself for that moment of weakness when all this started.

Mauser believed his men needed their families close. He also wanted to keep the soldiers from rotating to new posts, to protect the integrity of the confidential operation and to hide the project in plain sight. For those reasons he allowed Carpenter to grow around a town, for the civilians and military to merge into a cohesive unit. Mistake number one.

A recent mistake was letting Sergeant Major Scott leave the room. Scott headed the Lightning Squad. With tanks strapped to their backs, each filled with a nerve-twitching amount of hydro-electricity, the team was effective in controlling a hybrid. Scott also had a reputation for getting things done, costs be damned if he preserved a greater number of lives. Mauser’s kind of soldier.

For what Mauser needed next, Scott was the preferred soldier.

“I’m sending out a team to recapture the escaped monsters,” Mauser said to neither man in particular. Striding to the door, to where Marshall stood, he made to leave.

The air stirred as the other men surfaced from their downcast reverie.

Another thought occurred to the General. “Capture the monsters and bring in the children.”

A pause.

Glass crunched. How many of the panes did the Graves boy bring down?

Magnificent potential.

“I’ll establish my team immediate—” Marshall started to say before his commanding officer cut him off.

“No,” Mauser said flatly, simply, and louder than necessary. He intended for his voice to roar like thunder, to straighten backs. The General commanded authority and he would have obedience.

Letting the singular word resonate and dig, Mauser continued more quietly. “First Lieutenant, you are needed here in Carpenter. You must maintain order at our facility. Plus, your boy is out there and your judgment will be clouded if you lead.”

That is how you ground someone, Mauser acknowledged proudly.

“But this is… you… ” Marshall started to speak out of turn, to question his superior officer’s, his commander’s orders. Then he remembered himself. With little emotion, Marshall corrected his delivery. “Sir, if not myself then who will be set as squad leader?”

“Scott.”

“Sir, if you don’t mind me saying,” Marshall began slowly, choosing his words carefully, not wanting to again question orders or speak ill of an enlisted man so near his own rank.

“I do mind, First Lieutenant,” Mauser said, reaching for the doorknob. “Scott is more qualified for this mission than yourself. End of discussion.”

Mauser cut off the man with a simple gesture. This young military officer was not thinking straight, he’d shortly before seen his son walk out of his life, disobeying parental orders to extricate himself from the military’s affairs. In the wild, if a cub questioned the lion, the lion would eat the impudent pretender. Plus, Mauser was unsure he could trust the father of one of the teens who’d stolen the hybrids. Not at this moment anyway.

Until now, Graves had chosen to continue sanitizing and polishing his surgical tools. Smarter man than Marshall. Maybe Mauser could…

Graves dropped a gleaming scalpel, or perhaps the professor lightly tossed it down. The tool hit with metallic clatter.

“You mean Scott has more experience with hybrids,” Graves said, not turning his gaze to meet Mauser’s own.

Mauser arched a bushy eyebrow, raising it over the rim of his spectacles.

Marshall looked between the military man and the scientist, not understanding, still rubbing his wrist. “Professor Graves, what do you—”

“He’s sending Scott’s team and a team of hybrids to take down the escaped ones.”

Mauser did not flinch or acknowledge this information as factual. Silence was sometimes more powerful than words. Silence could unravel a man’s composure more than a passionate shout. Marshall was a family man. He cared for his son no matter the boy’s transgressions. He was also ten years younger than Graves and that gap was more apparent the closer you stepped to the edge for the man’s love for his child.

Turning the knob, the lock disengaged with an audible click. Pushing the door open, Mauser walked out. He paused when his First Lieutenant spoke out unchecked.

“Our fully grown hybrids are not field tested,” the soldier said, stepping into the threshold of the lab door, “there’s a chance they might rip the escaped subjects apart… and the kids too!”

Mauser chose to ignore the reckless passion in the soldier’s voice, to turn the cheek at the slap. Only now had Marshall validated the General’s decision to involve Scott.

“They will be once this is over,” Mauser said. “If the children are smart, they will turn themselves over to Scott and his team. Besides, from what you both told me, it sounds like the children are more than capable of handling themselves. Let us observe how this plays out… shall we.”

Not a recommendation… an order.

“Let it go, Greg,” Graves interjected softly.

“You’re going along with this, Martin. I know you’re a man of science but… god man, Jon is your boy.”

“We’ve been waiting for this opportunity since Generation One, First Lieutenant,” Mauser said to Marshall when the professor did not answer immediately. “Who knew we’d be so fortunate. Believe me when I say… we want the children back more than their freakish pets.”

Getting Russell a viper would have been safer than one of the monsters, Mauser mused with wry humor.

Clipped to his belt, a handheld radio crackled and a voice called out to Mauser. Mauser answered that he was listening and then waited.

“Sir, we’re escorting the girl inside the facility now. We’ll put her in a holding room until you’re ready to speak with her. Over”

More white noise crackled. Mauser answered with an affirmative and placed the radio back on his belt, the opposite side from his firearm. He did not excuse himself.

CHAPTER TWO

Hood over her head, all was dark and muffled. An expansive sea of despair and mysterious finality stretched out before her. Mikaila could hear her panicked breathing even more acutely in this hooded-world. She was more aware of her heaving chest as it labored out shallow breaths. Her ears pounded with the rushing of blood to her head. Back rigid, shoulders hunched and cramping, she nonetheless decide to prepare for… well… anything. A firing squad, maybe? Did the military execute traitors with firing squads these days?

Regardless of her possible execution for treasonous acts against the United States, Mikaila found she was not worried about herself.

I hope Isis is alright, she kept thinking, steeling her resolve and wrapping that armor around her. She’s with Jon. She’ll be fine with Jon and Bo to take care of her.

Thinking about Isis only forced silent tears from Mikaila’s already damp eyes. Underneath the hood, the moisture made the hood-world experience even more humid and uncomfortable, hard to breath.

Jon was her second concern. Not for his safety. He was smart and thought fast on his feet, though his mouth ran faster. Mikaila laughed at this thought and nearly sobbed perceptibly that time.

Someone, a voice far away, told her to be quiet and settle down. The voice was from one of the soldiers who had picked her up at the bus station in Carpenter. The soldiers had come upon her not even two seconds after she stepped off the bus and onto the platform. She did not hate the three men and one woman as they were following orders. Their postures and gentle—yet detached—treatment of her spoke volumes.

Her thoughts returned to Jon. His words to her in those short moments when they split paths were as clear as the sounds from the world beyond the hood. Jon’s look, the fiery blaze of betrayal in his eyes when she told him she could not come along with the group, broke her heart. He would never forgive her. However, Mikaila could not betray her parents and leave them alone in Carpenter with no idea where their only daughter had run off. Their possible pain was greater than her own discomfort was when standing in front of Jon and her apprehension at this very moment.

Then there was Isis. Poor, sweet Isis. What would she think when she woke from her drug-induced slumber? The hybrid would wail, scratch and try to take flight in order to search for her human companion. Mikaila knew this as true.

The hood pulled away. Her curly brown locks tumbled in front of her face, which she scrunched up. Sterile light flooded the cheerleader’s vision and blinded her, pain squeezing her temples and forcing her eyes shut. Fresh air caressed her face, refreshing and full of life compared with the stink of the confining hood.

Bursts of black spots appeared in front of Mikaila’s gaze as she tried to open her eyes again. For a brief second of delusion, one of those dots stretched and morphed into the silhouette of an avian hybrid. Then the black shape rose into a blazing sun and vanished.

Please, Jon, keep her safe. Keep Isis from flying to me and to this hellish place.

Mikaila blinked. She squinted one eye, closed it, opened the other eye ever so slightly, and then closed both.

As her vision cleared, she slowly allowed her eyes to open and reveal her surroundings.

Standing before her, a black human blob of a shape came into focus and took the shape of General Mauser. Bunched up in his hand was the dark hood that had blinded Mikaila. The General tossed it on the table between him and her.

“Good morning, young lady,” Mauser said. “I trust you are comfortable…”

Mikaila attempted to lift her arms. The handcuffs binding her hands, attached to a longer chain affixed to a u-shaped bolt in the floor underneath the table, kept her from raising her arms higher than her chest.

She tilted her head while holding out her hands in placidity, the chain jangling.

“As comfortable as I can be, sir,” she answered, trying to channel as much of Alice’s blind bravado as she could. This man before her, who wanted Isis and the other hybrids as lab rats, would not get satisfaction from her pain or discomfort.

A moment passed in which she thought the General might smack her. She prepared herself.

Instead, Mauser chuckled and shook a thick, stubby finger at her. His smile only touched his lips. “Good for you, young lady. You have moxie in the face of authority and an adult. I’ll let it pass… for now.”

Suppressing a shudder, Mikaila bowed her head and brushed her hair back from her face and behind her ears. Her bound hands made his difficult but she managed, she needed to take her mind away from this military giant. From what Russell said about his father, the General was more than a little narcissistic and more than a little mean. She agreed.

“If you’re going to ask me where my friends are going, don’t waste your time,” Mikaila said. Her words came out more squeaky than confident, making her sound more like the mouse caught between the lion’s claws. This made her shrink in her chair a little.

“Why would I ask such a question, hmm?”

Was this a trick? “The military, you, want the hybrids back here in Carpenter. You believe them your property and because of that you—”

Mauser broke in, raising a hand for her stop. “Correction. Not my property. Property of the United States Army Corps.  I am only a caretaker.”

Snorting, Mikaila said, “Some caretaker. You’re evil. You don’t care about the hybrids or what happens to them. To me, you lack the care in that title… take is what you concern yourself with.”

“These are not fluffy bunnies or unicorns, young lady,” Mauser said, keeping his tone neutral. He cared no more for the cheerleader’s opinion than he did about the treatment of the hybrids. In his mind, she was a stupid little girl playing in a fantasy world. “If you look them in the eye, challenge them, they just might take a swipe at you, scratch up that pretty face of yours. That would be a shame and is something I want to prevent. Ms. Taggart, this is not a zoo. This is the wild world under the protection of the US Military.”

Across the table, Mauser leaned in close and locked eyes with Mikaila, a predator assessing his prey’s weaknesses. Almost immediately, she shifted in her seat. Shortly after, her head turned to the side to escape. She would have hugged herself, to rub away the chill coursing through her body, but the handcuffs…

The table creaked as Mauser straightened and took his weight off the table. Not a fat man, he certainly didn’t have the whipcord thin and sinewy build of a soldier in regular combat. Soft around the middle, he still had some strength in his chest and shoulders. Stress had etched the wrinkles across his forehead and around his eyes, not smiles. His slicked back, peppered hair was thinning, yet he retained the sharp, severe widow’s peak that seemed to touch the space between his eyes.

After a while, when she was unsure if he wanted her to speak, Mikaila took a chance. She would tell the truth, a lie felt too dirty and she was already too exposed. “I can’t tell you where my friends took the hybrids. They didn’t tell me.”

That felt good. A wave of release left the cheerleader in a rush of air.

“I didn’t make myself clear… I don’t need you to tell me, young lady,” Mauser retorted flatly.

Mikaila snapped her head front and center, focusing her attention. Mauser’s face betrayed nothing. His expression was not smug or remote; when he did elaborate, it was matter-of-factly and seriously.

“You don’t think I can’t track the hybrids? That I don’t know where your friends are right now? I’ll tell you something, I have a team ready to go out this minute. On my way to see you, I commissioned an officer and a… let’s say a special team… to retrieve the hybrids.”

A frightening realization came into focus. Something that Russell, the General’s son, had been worried about and everyone shrugged off. For a while, their little group, their developing family, felt safe and comfortable. No one from Carpenter had come after them. Jon said he saw no surveillance cameras watching him when he found the hybrids the day of the fieldtrip. Yet, when they all broke in to the underground base, soldiers were on the four teens almost immediately upon identifying the threat.

Mikaila whispered, her voice shaking. “You knew all along we had the hybrids, didn’t you? You let us have them?”

Mauser nodded.

“But… but why? Why would you let five hybrids out of the facility?”

“Our reasons are our own. Project Evo is classified, meaning you are not authorized to have that information. However, let me give you this, young lady. I took a great chance in listening to your friend’s father when he suggested this field test. He seemed to think the monsters wouldn’t rip you five to shreds. Professor Graves has immense faith in the beasts he created; he’s wrapped up too much of his heart in them, he believes nurture wins out over nature. I had my doubts, especially with my witless son involved. Don’t mistake me, I love the boy, but sometimes his head is not fixed in the correct direction.

“Suffice it to say, when the hybrids attacked my soldiers the day you all came to my house looking for Russell, my suspicions were confirmed. They are dangerous. Unchecked, they are weapons without a guidance system.”

“They were trying to protect us! Protect Trick!” Mikaila nearly leapt from her seat, the chain attached to the table preventing her from getting far.

Mauser stood still. Unflinching. No wonder Russell was so scared of his father. The man was an uncompromising brick wall. Run headlong into a wall and it might break bones. Would you expect an apology from the wall? You cannot reason with a brick wall. You can only avoid the headlong collision.

Mikaila sat down hard, concentrating on slowing her pulsing heart.

Able to breathe and speak without her words tumbling out, Mikaila asked the question that been nagging at her since the soldiers picked her.

“Now what are you going to do?”

A wide smile stretched across the General’s lips. For some reason, the delight in his expression was more menacing than his cold authority.

“Why, I want to ask you the question I came to ask.”

Mikaila waited, saying nothing, brushing her hair back out of her face again—she wished for a hair tie or even a rubber band right now, her curls always got in the way. She watched Mauser, trying to exude sheepish innocence.

“Tell me, young lady, how is it that you came by the ability to fly like your hybrid friend?”

CHAPTER THREE

Hateful words flew from his lips. Each was a blade meant to slice, rip, and cut deep to the bone. He wanted Mikaila to feel what he felt in this moment.

“Go then.” Jon snarled. “Leave!”

Immediately he regretted throwing those daggers.

Mikaila showed him her back and dipped to grab up her bags.

As her fingers curled around the plastic handles, Jon reached out with one hand and took hold of his best friend’s wrist. He thought better of the amount of pressure he used. Instead, he loosened his grip and placed his other hand on her hip, motioning for her to stand. This was the first time Jon was aware of his best friend’s curves. Soft. Feminine. Jon wanted his hands to explore Mikaila’s curves; her hips, her waist, her collarbone, her neck, and every other mysterious bend. A tingle surged from the tips of his fingers to his wrist. His hand nearly jerked away, but it stayed, not wanting to let go of that hip.

Sobs. The word daggers had cut her.

“I… I’m… I’m sorry, Mick!” He blurted the words out, an actor on stage attempting to grab hold of his audience and direct their emotions to a place of his choosing. “For weeks, I’ve been an idiot. No! That’s not right… I’ve been a King Kong sized moron stomping on your heart like it were Tokyo. The worst friend anyone could be, unfair to the person who means the most to me.”

Mikaila slowly rotated around on her heel to face him. Tears flooded her big brown eyes. Normally so much light shone from her eyes, now, her eyes overflowed with weeks of hurt and pain. Jon quickly lowered his own eyes and focused them on his hands in hers. Was every part of her so soft? Part of Jon wanted to discover the answer. This frightened him and yet it was a good fright.

“Not weeks,” she managed to say between sniffles of tears, “I would say a couple of days.”

Shaking his head, Jon decided to tell her the whole truth. “No. I should have spoken sooner. Zach had me in a janitor’s closet on the fieldtrip.”

She snorted. The abrupt sound drew Jon’s gaze up to Mikaila’s face. She wore little makeup, if any. Her eyes were watery, red with the beginnings of puffiness, but there were no mascara streaks. There was no anger there, as Jon expected, only a playful impishness.

“In the janitor’s closet, huh?” She raised an eyebrow. “Did something happen between you and Zack that you never told the rest of us? A little…”

“Oh yeah, we had a special moment. All the conflict and meanness was just pent up affection we manly guys knew not how to express to each other. Instead, we acted like cavemen with clubs, beating each other over the head ’til someone relented to come back to the other’s cave.”

“Never knew you had a thing for Zack, Jon.”

“Imagine my surprise, Mick!”

They both gazed seriously into each other’s eyes and a heartbeat later broke into a fit of giggles. The laughter was as loud as cracking ice.

When they both wrestled back control, Jon let go of his best friend’s hand and let her wipe away her tears.

“Are you ever serious?” she asked with an exasperated sigh, there was a hint of annoyance there.

“Rarely.” Jon’s smile vanished, knowing that this moment was the time to be serious.

“I want to be serious now, Mikaila.”

She cocked her head to one side listening. A brown curl came loose from behind her ear. She made to pull it back. Jon beat Mikaila to it and she blushed girlishly.

“Zack pulled me into the janitor’s closet to ask me to help him…” Jon trailed off, thinking of the appropriate word to describe Zack Wedge’s intentions, which were less than honorable. “Well, he wanted me to help him get on your good side, to get you to date him for the purpose of… you know.”

Silence.

A bus pulled in the station, the breaks squealing with effort.

“He wanted to add you to his trophy collection,” Jon finally managed to say, not very straight forward but the analogy would do where the exact words would have been too R-rated. He wanted this situation to remain PG-13. He explained to her about his and Zack’s fight behind the bleachers the night George had first tapped the power in Trick’s sun stone. How he’d heard what the stupid jock wanted out of his relationship with Mikaila and how he was ready to beat Jon bloody to stop any interference. “Don’t be mad at me for not being honest, I just didn’t want you to get hurt.”

“You should have just told me the truth, what you thought, I would have listened, Jon.”

“I was angry you said yes to the date.”

“Because…” Mikaila was reaching to pull the truth from him, she wanted it, her eyes were hungry and trying to eat Jon’s soul whole.

This is the moment I should have had with her… I should have said this before and not been a complete spaz!

“Because Zack is not good for you, Mick, and…” Jon sighed, using the space of a breath to collect his courage. “… I couldn’t bear to see you with him and not me.”

Mikaila’s eyes lit up brightly, as they always did when she saw him or when she looked at the world and simply saw bunnies bounding and rainbows arching. Jon felt special in that moment, chasing bunnies underneath the rainbows. A fluttering of wings beat inside his chest, urging him to press himself against Mikaila and fly them away.

“I’ve been waiting for you to tell me something like that for years, Jon. All your talk of Alice, your wanting her, it hurt—”

“Sorry, I was an idiot. You were standing right in front of me and I didn’t… I didn’t see you.”

“Can you see me now?”

“I see you now,” he told her, “Come with us, please…”
At his feet, Jon’s backpack rustled and nudged his leg. Bo probably wanted to throw up, listening to Jon and Mikaila act out a scene from some cheesy young adult novel with vampires or some such stupid stuff. Jon ignored his hybrid friend and instead rose up on his tiptoes and leaned forward toward Mikaila’s lips.

“Of course I’ll come with you, Jon. How could I think of doing otherwise after your confession?!”

Again the backpack rocked against Jon’s leg. Jon gave Bo a gentle kick.

Mikaila’s lips, a gentle pink, moist and inviting, opened slightly and came to meet his. Her curly hair fell forward and brushed against Jon’s cheek and the smell of buttery popcorn popped in his nose.

The weight of a bowling ball came smashing down on Jon’s foot, his lips an inch away from Mikaila’s…

And Jon was back on the bus.

When he’d fallen asleep earlier the backpack with Bo inside had been sitting on the seat next to him. Not anymore. The backpack and Bo had rolled on top of Jon’s lap. The nylon of the pack rose and fell with the sounds of wet, flapping snores. With that, the appeal of moist lips and kisses exited the building, leaving behind a shameful heat around his neck. Red anger flooded into Jon’s vision, except… he didn’t know who he was mad at. Was he angry with Mikaila for turning her back on the group, on Isis, on him?

He slumped down in his seat, blew out breaths of frustrated air, and fingered the knots of threads of the friendship bracelet tied around his wrist. Or am I mad at myself for not stopping Mick from leaving?

Jon rubbed the sleep from his eyes and tried to order the nauseating wave of muddled feelings inside him.

Would he have told Mikaila he possessed romantic feelings for her just to keep her from leaving the group? And how much of Jon’s dream was rooted in truth? If he followed the root, would it lead him back to some tree with Mikaila sitting underneath it, waiting to shower him with kisses and embrace him? Better question, would he run to her with open arms?

He touched his cheek, expecting to sweep her brow curls away. All he found… confusion.

“Jon, you wake?” Bo whispered with clear concern, the hybrid’s gruff voice muffled by the confines of the pack.

Looking down at his pack, Jon caught the glint of two eyes staring back at him through the darkness of the backpack’s main compartment. Each was like a chip of obsidian.

Sticking his hand inside the pack, Jon rustled the fur around Bo’s thick neck. “Go back to sleep, buddy. I’m okay, for the moment. Just a… an odd dream is all. It woke me up. Nothin’ to worry over.”

The nylon weave of the backpack shifted, making a rough rubbing sound as Bo snuggled down into a comfortable nest within the compartment.

Peeking at the crack separating the two seats in front of him, Jon noted Alice and George sleeping. Her head rested on his broad, muscular shoulder.

To see two of his friends so connected and happy within each other’s casual embrace left Jon feeling lonely.

Don’t forget confused. I’m a whole heap of confused.

Outside, the sun bowed to the entrance of night. As the season was fall, the time could only be six now. The group of teens and hybrids had been traveling less than a full day. An escape from a military facility. Switching buses three times at random to throw off any trail the Carpenter military might attempt to follow later. No one was fighting sleep.

Jon checked on Isis. Inside the pet carrier Mikaila had brought with her—to shuttle the avian hybrid around with minimal question from random gawkers—Isis lay in a tortured sleep. One tiny wing covered her head. Her body shook with distress. Like Jon, the hybrid also could not escape her dreams.

That was enough of a reason for Jon’s anger to return. He wrapped himself in that warm but threadbare blanket.

From within one of the backpack’s compartments, Jon took a palm-sized mp3 player. He shoved the ear buds in and turned up the volume, skipping to a song about mad sorrow, about love lost and stoking the fire within the empty space in the heart until it raged.

Quickly, Jon found sleep through the smooth motion of the bus’s progress on the darkening highway combined with the screams of his heavy metal. If only the sleep could have lasted longer.

***

In Clinton D. Harding’s debut novel “Our Monsters”, Jon Graves and his friends escaped their parents and the military, leaving behind the only home they’d ever known, the small town of Carpenter. But their freedom is short lived as they find themselves in more danger than before they left Carpenter.

“Bad Monsters”—the second book The Our Monsters Chronicles, released March 2014—picked up where its prequel ended. Jon and his friends are on the run and hunted and by General Mauser and his military dogs. Jon can practically feel them breathing down his neck, as the jaws of the military dogs snapping at his heels.

Blood is spilled, friendly and not, and now Jon must answer his friends’ questions sooner than later, or risk one of those friends dying. He’s just not sure he’s the person to be deciding their fates or if he, Alice, and George are fully prepared to walk away from their normal lives.

A farm in northern California may serve as salvation to this scared, but brave, group of teenagers. However, can they trust the inhabitants they find there, who themselves have a history with Carpenter? If Jon can talk his way past the shotgun in his face, he might just discover what he and his friends need; answers about the history of Carpenter, the hybrids, the powers the teens borrow from their hybrids and who are the true monsters. In all this confusion and danger, Jon may also find a young woman who can help heal the wounds left by Mikaila when she left him and the group.

Pick up “Bad Monsters”, the second installment in The Our Monsters Chronicles, is now available and can be found in e-book and paperback form at major online retailers: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords.

***

Clinton D Harding (author pic) When Clinton D. Harding is not busy wrestling and taming wild Scottish Terriers in wilderness of Oxnard California, he’s using a magic pen he pulled from a stone to craft new worlds filled with fantastic beasts and evils that need fighting. He is also the author-publisher of The Our Monsters Chronicles, a YA series of novels that combines fantasy/sci-fi elements with horror chills. For more information about Harding and his creations visit his website, like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, or become a fan at Goodreads.

Tony’s Writing Tips: That’s what he said

I stumbled across a blog the other week. I won’t tell you who it belonged to, but they were giving a writing tip on ‘using alternatives to he said / she said’. They gave quite an impressive list of adjectives and managed not to include any adverbs (-ly ending words). It was well thought out and presented.

But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to tell you exactly the opposite:

He said – she said is absolutely fine.

Seriously – don’t worry about it and don’t look for anything else; most people are reading the dialogue and not overly wondering how your characters are saying it. Give them a context and they’ll be happy.

The only exception to this is rule I would suggest are asked and replied. Feel free to use those as much as you need.

Let’s do an example and see which one you think works the best:

 Adjectives

I sprinted to the boulder and dived behind it, so close to the stone that it radiated cold back against my cheeks. I waited a second longer, then when I didn’t hear anything, I dared raise an eye above the marbled edge of the rock. The S’loths hadn’t moved from the fire, not even stirring to look in our direction. So far so good.

I looked back over my shoulder. Jack still stood at the edge of the forest, hesitating. I waved him towards me, but it was another long minute before he sprinted towards me. He mistimed his dive and smacked into the boulder with far too much noise, not able to hold in a cry of pain.

“Quiet!” I hissed.

“Sorry,” he whispered.

I waved him to silence and peeked over the rock again. A S’loth yawned and stretched, but nothing else was moving.

“What do you see?” he inquired.

“They aren’t moving…just sitting there. We might be able to go around them,” I breathed.

Jack rose beside me, peering over my shoulder, his mouth a centimetre from my ear, his breath close enough to stir the hair. “Are you sure?” he wondered.

Nothing wrong with that, you might think. Works, doesn’t it?

Yes, it works…but I think you’re over-egging the pudding. Give your readers some credit for their intelligence. The context tells them your two characters aren’t shouting, doesn’t it? They know when one of them has asked a question, don’t they?

He said – She said

I sprinted to the boulder and dived behind it, so close to the stone that it radiated cold back against my cheeks. I waited a second longer, then when I didn’t hear anything, I dared raise an eye above the marbled edge of the rock. The S’loths hadn’t moved from the fire, not even stirring to look in our direction. So far so good.

I looked back over my shoulder. Jack still stood at the edge of the forest, hesitating. I waved him towards me, but it was another long minute before he sprinted towards me. He mistimed his dive and smacked into the boulder with far too much noise, not able to hold in a cry of pain.

“Quiet!” I said.

“Sorry,” he replied.

I waved him to silence and peeked over the rock again. A S’loth yawned and stretched, but nothing else was moving.

“What do you see?” he asked.

“They aren’t moving…just sitting there. We might be able to go around them,” I said.

Jack rose beside me, peering over my shoulder, his mouth a centimetre from my ear, his breath close enough to stir the hair. “Are you sure?” he asked.

Just for another idea, here’s the way I would write it. Strip out the said and dialogue attributes as much as you can – fillet your dialogue down to the bone. This has the effect of speeding up the pace as well –the stripped dialogue drags you through the story.

Filleted

I sprinted to the boulder and dived behind it, so close to the stone that it radiated cold back against my cheeks. I waited a second longer, then when I didn’t hear anything, I dared raise an eye above the marbled edge of the rock. The S’loths hadn’t moved from the fire, not even stirring to look in our direction. So far so good.

I looked back over my shoulder. Jack still stood at the edge of the forest, hesitating. I waved him towards me, but it was another long minute before he sprinted towards me. He mistimed his dive and smacked into the boulder with far too much noise, not able to hold in a cry of pain.

“Quiet!”

“Sorry.”

I waved him to silence and peeked over the boulder again. A S’loth yawned and stretched, but nothing else was moving.

“What do you see?”

“They aren’t moving…just sitting there. We might be able to go around them.”

Jack moved close beside me, peering over my shoulder, his mouth a centimetre from my ear, his breath close enough to stir the hair. “Are you sure?”

Give your readers a clear enough scene and they’ll know who said Quiet! And who apologised for it – without you having to lead them through it.