Coming Soon from DarkMuse
Back Cover Copy:
There's a man walks the streets of Frampton. Some people see him, though most don't. He's just the street sweeper...but he's a preacher, too, and he's preaching death.
People are dying to feed the dark apostle's faithful. The townspeople and outsiders alike find themselves fighting for life against those who would do them harm in the name of the street sweeper's dark god.
Warren Johns, the last of a dying breed, knows the dark god's name and he's come to fight.
But the dark god's name is The Hangman, and he rides a dark horse. He holds sway over the town and the one man that can stop him is already too late.
And in the middle of the battle to save the soul of the town, a young woman and a boy find there are more important things to fight for than life itself.
Upon the gallows hung a wretch,
Too sullied for the Hell
To which the law entitled him.
From Upon the gallows hung a wretch
The rope burned the ancient oak as it was drawn high over the bough.
The naked man sobbed, but he was more boy, still, than man. His name was Luke. Luke Brightmore. A child on the cusp of manhood at 19 years of age.
He shivered from terror and the cold, too. It was the middle of night in a long cold winter. Rain fell slantways across the potted road and the boy’s bare shoulders. Light from a torch shone from the boy’s slick skin, and the black road, too. In the glare of the torch it was hard to make out the faces of the men who took him from his shared bed.
To Luke, they looked like monsters. Teeth bared with shadow and light playing across their exaggerated features, they seemed part ape, part human.
Not one of them spoke, despite Luke Brightmore’s pleas...despite his begging.
It was just a joke. Some kind of local fuckery. Nothing more.
But it wasn’t, and he knew it. There was something in their eyes that shone out hungrily against the dark. A hungry, dangerous look. Almost sexual, their anticipation. Their breath misted in the air.
The villagers watched while a one man strung the rope from the tree. Another, a broad man with thick strong arms, held the boy tight. Luke bit down and felt blood pour into his mouth but the man didn’t even cry out. He could tear the flesh from the man’s arm and he wouldn’t cry out.
‘Please,’ he said.
Then one of them placed the noose about the man child’s neck and pulled it tight enough to cut off his words.
Luke felt the rope burning his skin, like it was on fire.
They hoisted him high. Luke grunted, then his wind was gone. His neck cracked, but didn’t break. The rope bit tight. Tears leaked from Luke's eyes and he stared into space, not seeing the villagers or the tree or the rain. He could see nothing but black, and God, he thought, all he wanted was his mum, his dad, his baby sister...
Somewhere deep down, he swam away, under the rain, through the agony in his neck and throat and head. He swam deep down and looked up at the rain on the water, and the water there was warm.
Then he sank, panicking, because he could not breathe. But it didn’t seem to matter anymore.
As his feet kicked, the large man watched and licked the blood from the bite in his arm. He tied off the rope, then, with a satisfied last nod at the hanged boy, he and the villagers turned back through the wind and the rain toward the village.
They left Luke Brightmore behind, hanging from the bough of the tree, swinging in the wind.
Grant Bridges braked hard, swerving into the verge and bumping the nearside wheels on a random piece of kerb as a tractor roared by. The driver of the tractor obviously had no intention of stopping for anyone.
‘William...’ she said, flicking her head at the backseat. ‘Would you just take a bloody gum and stop swearing?’
‘He won’t be,’ said Mrs Bridges, ‘You keep driving like that.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘You’re driving like a dick.’
‘You want to drive? I’ve been driving since bloody six o’clock.’
‘Well...’ Grant thought about telling his wife to shut up, but thought better of it. She was right. He was driving like a dick. Not as much of a dick as the tractor driver, though.
‘You see that?’
‘Yes,’ she said.
Bridges, he thought. Forever building bridges.
‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t swear like that. Just...tetchy.’
‘Alright,’ said Marianne Bridges, his wife of five years. ‘I’m sorry, too. That fucking tractor scared the shit out of me,’ she added with a smile and a wink.
‘Oh, pop a gum, will you? He’s asleep.’
Grant laughed. Marianne was pretty good at building bridges herself.
‘Friends?’ he said.
‘BFF,’ she said and leaned over to kiss her husband on the cheek.
‘What’s a BFF?’
‘Show you when we get to the hotel.’
‘As long as you take a shower first. You stink.’
Grant shook his head. Laughed. ‘Better be worth it,’ he said.
‘Oh, it’ll be worth it,’ she said.
All the while William, not so little anymore at seven years old, slept on in the back seat, his head down on his chest and a line of drool attaching his chin to his jumper.
While they’d been sitting at the side of the road, the windows had misted. Grant turned up the heating, wondered what the hell a tractor was doing on this shitty little country road in the middle of winter, and pulled out, back on the road to The Noose and Gibbet.
The Noose and Gibbet, the brochure said, was a 16th century building, recently restored. There was a horrible picture of an actual noose hanging from the gibbet. It looked like a child’s hangman game, if it’d been draw by Edgar Allan Poe.
Marianne flicked the brochure over and checked the directions again.
‘Told you we should get sat-nav,’ she said.
‘Wouldn’t have to if you could read a map,’ said Grant, but he was joking. This time. He’d been such a dickhead since giving up smoking that she’d almost gone out and bought him cigarettes herself.
‘OK, Honey,’ she said, keeping her voice light. ‘I don’t think we’re anywhere near it...hang on...there,’ she said. There was a turning with a small sign with arrows pointing out from it, a typical country sign. She didn’t recognise the other two villages on the signpost, but it didn’t matter, because one hand pointed at the turning, and she had good eyes.
‘Frampton,’ she said, triumphant.
‘Alright, smart arse,’ said Grant, and that edge was in his voice again.
Marianne didn’t push it. When he’d been smoking, she could have ribbed him, but not now.
He took the turning, heading onto a narrow one-lane track, overhung with ancient trees, deadfall crunching under the tires of the car, and sometimes bouncing up to hit the undercarriage.
‘You sure about this?’
‘No, but this goes to Frampton, and The Noose and Gibbet is in Frampton.’
Grant grunted, and Marianne hated him a little for it. Not enough for a divorce, but maybe...
Just one little injury to add to a long, long list.
‘Shit!’ he said jumping, then laughed. ‘Fuck.’
‘What?’ she said, looking up. Then she saw what he was seeing and laughed, too, because it was so corny.
‘Looks pretty good, though, doesn’t it?’
Marianne got a good look as they drove underneath Luke Brightmore’s swinging corpse.
‘Naked? Yeah. Nice touch.’
‘I know what you’re going to say, and you know what I’m going to say, so let’s just get there, OK?’
She nodded, another strike against Grant, because she knew full well what he’d say. Of course it’s not fucking real, he’d say. And she’d end up feeling even more shit than she did now.
She turned to check on William, and there he was in the back seat, eyes wide, silent tears running down his cheek.
‘Honey?’ she said.
‘Mummy, that boy is dead,’ he said, and Marianne felt chills break out along her spine, because William felt things...knew things...
And, when she thought about it, so did she. Didn’t she? Not all the way, like William seemed to know things. William was more ticklish than she was...but he was crying in the back seat and she wasn't laughing.
‘Grant, go back,’ she said.