Friday, 20 March 2015

Guest Author JP McLean of British Columbia

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the world of writers, it’s how kind and generous a lot they are. Allan Hudson is a perfect example of that generosity. Thank you, Allan, for inviting me to visit the South Branch Scribbler, and for the support you’ve shown the writers you showcase here. It’s an honour to be invited to your blog.

You’ll find me online at J.P. McLean. I use initials because Jo-Anne is often misspelled, which is deadly in today’s online world of search engines. I live on a small Gulf island off the eastern shore of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The rugged beaches of the west coast feature prominently in my novels, as it seems I never tire of the landscape.

It’s the perfect setting for the contemporary thrillers that I write, especially because they all contain an element of fantasy that will leave you believing the impossible and wary of the night skies. And if you lose yourself while reading them, or just lose track of time, I’ll have done my job.

When I started writing The Gift: Awakening, I thought it would be a one-off book. But it turns out, writing is more like potato chips for me—all that salty crunchiness, yum—and I couldn’t stop at just one. So, I traded in the one-off idea for a trilogy and outlined two more books, The Gift: Revelation and The Gift: Redemption

I thought a trilogy would satisfy my craving, but it didn’t. I’m now in the process of publishing a fourth book, The Gift: Penance. Of course, a fourth book has ruined the whole trilogy concept, and now I’m busy replacing references to The Gift Trilogy with The Gift Legacy. Notice how Legacy makes room for further adventures from these characters who just won’t sit still? That’s what you call learning through poor planning. 

For the South Branch Scribbler, I thought I’d share a sneak peek at Penance. It will be released in April in trade paperback and electronic formats. If the story piques your interest, you can read excerpts and more about the series at


The sturdy concrete piers of the Burrard Street Bridge rose up from the False Creek seabed, its steel girders looming eighty feet overhead. My small kayak felt inconsequential by comparison. I rested my paddle across the hull and drifted forward into the bridge’s shadow. A weak sun struggled behind the overcast sky.

My breath condensed in white puffs. I loved these crisp, cool mornings alone on the water. It was peaceful. Out here, life felt simple, uncomplicated. Almost what I imagined normal felt like. A
light breeze stirred the chilly air. The kayak rocked gently, its yellow hull reflected in the ripples that lapped quietly against the hull. I gazed up toward the underside of the bridge deck where car tires thumped over the expansion joints.

In the distance, the rumble of outboard motors drew my attention. Time to get a move on. I tugged my cap down over my ears and blew a warm breath into cupped hands. The dry suit that kept my body warm did nothing for my head. The temperature hovered around five Celsius and the cold was finally getting to me.

I gripped my paddle and continued seaward, my strokes cautious of the outboard motors that grew louder as they approached from behind. Six strokes later, almost out of the bridge’s shadow, the tandem outboards roared, drowning out all other sound. I darted a wide-eyed glance behind and then hunched my shoulders and braced for the inevitable waves that would follow.

The marine speed limit in False Creek is five knots or dead slow. They had the dead part right. They raced by on either side of me with their throttles wide open. I barely got a glimpse of them before I felt the powerful effect of their wake. My kayak rolled dangerously when the first wave hit broadside, but it was the second wave that swamped me. It struck from the opposite direction and lifted the hull, dumping me into the frigid water.

flailed in the dark, trapped upside down in the seat of my cockpit, groping for the tether to my lost paddle. I’d practiced the Eskimo roll that would right me dozens of times, but all of those self-induced rolls hadn’t prepared me for the real thing. It wasn’t the sting of salt water in my eyes, or the frosty temps of a February ocean, which made holding my breath difficult, it was the clear memory of drowning—my drowning.

It’s not something you ever forget: the desperation that compels you to inhale water into your lungs. The way the weight of that water sinks you more effectively than any anchor. It’s the disquieting euphoria of finally letting go. The panic that should have compelled me to jettison, instead froze me in place. A memory flashed by at the watery sight of my outstretched arm. Last summer that same arm reached for a surface that I could see, but couldn’t reach.

Precious seconds ticked by.

I felt my cap lift away in the current. It was enough to shake me from the nightmare. Latent terror galvanized me into action. I yanked on my paddle’s tether and re-established my grip. In an adrenaline-fed stroke, I swept my paddle in a powerful arc and rode the momentum to the surface. The instant my face cleared the water into a halo of light and oxygen, I heaved a ragged breath then coughed and choked in another gulp of air.

“I’ve got you,” a man’s voice called. His red kayak bumped against my hull. A dark beanie covered his head. I pressed my knuckles against my eyes to clear the stinging water. My rescuer steadied the kayak while I caught my breath.

“Thank you,” I sputtered. The mother of all ice cream headaches stabbed across my forehead. As I caught my breath, I took in the man who’d come to my rescue. I put him in his late twenties. A day’s stubble covered cheeks flushed red with the cold. He had the shoulders of a weightlifter and a firm grip on the cleat behind my cockpit. He’d laced his paddle under the bungee cording to steady me.

“That was a lot easier to do in waist-deep water,” I rasped, my throat burning. No wonder the instructor insisted we repeat the Eskimo roll exercise each time we went out. She’d said I’d likely never use it. Yeah.

“You probably shouldn’t have been out here alone. You did well, considering.” He offered a conciliatory smile.

My natural impulse should have been to claw my way out of the cockpit. “I probably should’ve done a wet exit.” I’d practiced those, too, struggling back into the kayak to pump it out. At least the neoprene spray skirt had kept most of the water out of the kayak.

“I saw you go under. Luckily, I was just across the channel.”

“Thank you.” I glanced around for his partner, but was grateful enough for his help to not mention the fact that I didn’t find one. A wave rocked us and he held us steady. His upper arms were impressive.

“We need to report those yahoos,” he said with contempt. “They’re going to get someone killed out here.”

“You know who they are?”

“No, but I know where they rented those boats. Where are you headed?”

“Back to my car. I put in at Kitsilano, but now I think I’d better find somewhere to warm up first.” This outing was supposed to help me build the upper body strength my new kayaking hobby demanded. Perhaps I’d been too ambitious.

“I know a place. Do you know Scuppers?”

“No. Where is it?”

“Not far. It’s where I was headed. Want to follow me?”

“Yeah, thanks,” I said then reached over to offer my hand. “Emelynn Taylor.”

“Owen Cooper,” he said jutting his hand out to take mine in a fierce grip. “Nice to meet you, Emelynn.” He offered a confident smile that reached up and crinkled the corners of his dark brown eyes.

Owen disentangled his paddle from the bungee webbing and swung around. “This way,” he said, paddling landward back under the Burrard Street Bridge. Within minutes we’d slipped under the grey steel and concrete of the Granville Street Bridge. We passed a small marina with swaying sailboats and pulled alongside a dock parallel to the rip-rap shore of Granville Island.

“You can tie up there,” Owen said, pointing to the end of the slim dock. He continued ahead while I secured my kayak. I unfolded myself from the cockpit and climbed onto the dock. My limbs shook from the effort, or maybe it was the receding adrenaline. It didn’t help that the cold breath of winter on my sopping wet head sucked the heat out of me. I needed to get warm and fast. With stiff shoulders, I pulled my dry bag from the rear hatch.

I shivered as I clutched the bag to my chest and scanned the docks for anyone out of place. Constant vigilance was a heavy weight I would gladly shed if I could. I walked to the far end of the dock to find Owen. I was halfway up the ramp when I spotted him and stopped short, staring like an ill-mannered child. Owen operated an electric winch, which had just pulled him from his kayak and deposited him in a wheelchair at the top of the ramp.

He looked over and waved me up. I snapped my mouth closed and checked my footwear. I didn’t know the man, but I could have sworn I saw him grin. I swallowed my embarrassment and continued up the ramp, watching him unhook the harness apparatus.

“Sorry for staring. You caught me by surprise,” I said.

“I usually do.” His grin widened into a smile. “Your reaction was stellar. Maybe one of the best. I wish I had it on film.”

“Guess I’m fortunate you didn’t have a camera,” I said feeling the heat of a blush warm my face. “It was rude. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s cheap entertainment for those of us easily amused. Come on; let’s get warm.”


The Gift: Penance is coming in April, 2015. If you’re interested in receiving an ARC of Penance in mobi or epub format in exchange for an honest review, I’d be happy to send you one. You can email me at

I love hearing from you. Connect with me on Twitter @jpmcleanauthor , Facebook, Goodreads or visit my blog.

Thanks again, Allan. Happy reading, everyone!

Thank you Jo-Anne for sharing from your latest novel.  Please drop by Jo-Anne's website for more information on her writing, her series of novels and what life is like on the west coast.

Next week the 4Q Interview will feature Michael Smart.  Michael spent 8 years sailing around the Caribbean which became the setting for The Bequia Mysteries.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Wall of War - An excerpt by Allan Hudson

In 1953 Father Suetonius Graft, an amateur rock climber discovers a cave while scaling a 600 foot rock face in the Peruvian Andes. Poking his flashlight in the hole he discovers  skeletal remains. The curled bones reach out from a fallen boulder luring him inside. 

You read the first Chapter of the Wall of War here (archived 05/09/2014) This exciting novel of Incan gold, an unfortunate priest, a Spanish crime lord and Drake Alexander is coming in the Fall of 2017. Following is an excerpt. Copyright is held by the author.


The enormity of his speculation bemuses him. His shoulders droop as if they alone carry the weight. Never before in the four decades of his life has he been handed such a weighty platter. He is lost in a torrent of possibilities; not only in historical significance but the enormous value of what this artifact could be worth if it is all gold, most likely pure. It seems beyond his frail human belief. The wall has to weigh many tons; if he guesses it would not be unreasonable that is over 10,000 pounds. He knows from his own modest investments that gold is selling at present at $34.OO per troy ounce. Rough calculations tell him it could be worth over four million dollars in gold bullion. When he considers that his wages are $1.10 an hour, that’s a fortune. Gigantic in his mind is who he must tell.

That thought alerts him to what steps he must take, he is enlivened with the idea that he must somehow verify this as well as the dimensions. His energy is renewed as he imagines what the discovery can do for his church. That must to be why God saw fit to send a priest. As he begins to recite the rosary in his mind, he withdraws his note book and pencil from one of his stuffed pockets. He turns it sideways so he can sketch on the widest portion. He draws a rough image of the wall and the figures it contains. When he is satisfied that his drawing is as accurate as possible he writes a header, The Wall of War.

Flipping the page he begins walking off the dimensions carefully noting the sizes as best as he can estimate, he wants to be conservative but yet not diminish its grandness. He is shocked once more when he hurries to the end he first discovered to judge how thick the wall is, at least eight inches. He touches the rough back while shining his light up and down. It is textured and unfinished, given little, if any consideration. Stepping away from the wall he shines his light back and forth over the fearsome figures thinking the work must have taken years. He can barely contain his emotions. He shuts off his light and finishes his prayers in the darkness.

Fifteen minutes later he turns the light back on, replaces the notebook and pencil, pauses to think of anything else he should do. It is starting to get cooler, the sweat on his body long dried. Donning his t-shirt he decides he can’t leave now. There is one more thing he has to find. How could the workers possibly get in and out of this cavern he asks himself, how could they bring their supplies in. He has to know because there is no sign of any engineering where he entered; there are no other bodies either. He will take another half hour trying to find another entry. He points his light to the rear proceeding cautiously towards the void.

Moving to his right where he can see the bench, he follows that. It extends half as long as the wall on the opposite side. The clutter is similar from one end to the other, except in the center where remnants of woven bowls lay half eaten away. They contain shards of dried foods, possibly avocados distinguishable by their wrinkled skin, stem and petrified leaves still attached.  He walks slowly beyond the shelf towards the bare rock wall sidestepping the scattered debris, watching for cracks when his light shows him that the cavern sides are closing in. He flashes his light back at the golden wall gauging that he is at the farthest end from where he entered. He returns the ray of light to his front and sees another slight bend. He follows the curve until the sides shrink to an opening that comes to the middle of his chest, about four feet but twice as wide as him.

There is huge split in the floor where the pathway he is on ends. He creeps carefully to the lip shining his light down. There is nothing to see except granite. Scrunching down on his knees he shines the light into the hole. He guesses the gap to be about six feet wide. He lifts his lamp and what he sees amazes him as much as the hammer but not with the same exuberance. He grins as he thinks to himself, “the experienced discoverer now”.  His gaze takes in what seems to be a store room, broken barrels along one wall. The bent spears propped against another narrow stone ledge suggest an armory and directly in front of him, twenty feet away, is a stairway amazingly cut from the hardest stone. It is a captivating sight. The steps follow two wide cracks in the mountain, joined together at one time with fresh timber. The wooden, un-rotted ends are still wedged onto the rock treads. The central part of the stairway gave way centuries ago and vacations at the bottom of the dark pits.

The steps turn sharply to the left about seven steps up and are filled with rocks and dirt. There must have been a cave in Suetonius realizes, that would explain the fallen rocks in the caverns. He stares at the whole scene for many moments trying to understand what he’s found. His whole body tingles, small ripples pimple his arms and upper body. He is experiencing an epiphany of what all his previous life has meant. He gleans from the confessional that everyone wants to know, “Why am I here? What purpose do I serve?” How blessed he feels. The heavenly reality is physically accompanied by an abundant flow of adrenaline from the stress he is experiencing. He asks himself, “what if this fell in the wrong hands”. It’s located in the wilderness; it would be vandalized to no end. He will have to be very careful; without a doubt, there are people who would kill for this knowledge. He trembles bodily as the idea ferments.

He will write it all down as soon as he returns to his lodgings. He will write in the most obscure of the several languages he knows. Checking his wrist for the time, he is disheartened knowing he should leave or he might not get off the face before dark. Giving the room one last sweep of light he notices something reflective in the far corner. It’s small whatever it is, he can’t find it again. Then there it is; a tiny ray of something bright. He keeps his hand steady trying to see what is making the light bend. It is about twenty feet away cornered with other detritus. Dust blankets everything. It is difficult to discern from where he crouches. The ray wavers as he moves his hand so slightly. Reminded of the star of the Wise Men, is this to be a guide for him, he ponders. He doesn’t think too long until he decides he has to have it. It could be the proof he seeks.

I always wanted to write a novel about Incan Gold and a mysterious discovery, a discovery so enormous in historic and monetary value that people would kill for the secret. That's Wall of War. Watch for it in Fall 2017.

Please visit the Scribbler next week and meet guest author JP Mclean of British Columbia. Read an excerpt from her new novel Penance, set to be released in April, 2015

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Guest Author Katrina Cope of Australia

So pleased to have Katrina Cope back on the Scribbler. She has been featured here before with Book 1 of The Sanctum Series. Now you can read an excerpt from Book 2. Her links are listed below. 
Scarlet's Escape
Wow! What a ride. Ever since I have pressed the publish button on my first book ‘Jayden & the Mysterious Mountain’ on September 2nd, 2013, I have learnt so much about the publishing industry, indie and mainstream (with still a lot more to learn). I learnt from my mistakes and worked on fixing them making sure not to do them again for the next release of ‘The Sanctum Series’. This is the whole reason why the 2nd book ‘Scarlet’s Escape’ took so long to release after the first.
I started with no history, no contacts and not knowing anything about the whole industry. You have a great original story with lots of emotion, characters, and twisted plots not to mention a nice cover – it’s going to take off all by itself, right? Ha, ha! No, I wasn’t that naive but I had a long way to go.
I am delighted that as my first book reaches more people I am starting to have more people like my work and they are keen for the next stage in the series.
I have also had the honour of receiving a 5 star rating from Readers’ Favorite reviewer Dinorah Blackman for the Preteen category and it is now posted on their site:

Copyright belongs to the author. Used by permission.

When they entered, they were astounded by the amount of weapons in that one building. It was like a huge gun closet where the collector had gone mad. There was every kind of gun and rifle, many more than the two boys had ever seen before. Further inside there were grenades, missiles and boxes and boxes of explosives.

“Alpha?” Jayden spoke over the communicator.

“Copy contender.” Avando’s voice sounded over Jayden’s headset.

“Can you see this?” Jayden asked him in shock.

“Yes, I can. Unfortunately, it is as I had suspected. I will need you to destroy it.” Avando told him.

“Destroy it?” Jayden queried in surprise.

“Yes, this is why you have been sent in. It is a great danger to our people.”

“Copy,” Jayden responded getting over his initial disbelief. “How would you like us to do that?”

“Well, looking at all those explosives, the best way would be to blow it up.”

“Really?” Jayden was surprised.

“Yes! There is too much to be able to do anything else.” Avando confirmed.

“Copy Alpha.” Jayden set to work with Aaron’s help.

They began to work, rigging all of the explosives and setting them all ready to blow in five minutes. Then they prepared to leave in haste, heading for the main door. They peered out the window near the door and as they went to open it, they realised that it also needed a code to exit from the inside.

“What?” Jayden said out loud involuntarily. “Who puts a security lock on a room from the inside?” His voice started to tighten in panic. “Aaahhh! Puzzler?”

“Copy.” Eva’s voice sounded over the headphones.

“We need a code and we need it now!” Jayden started showing a slight panic.

“Just try the code that you entered last for getting in,” she stated like it was obvious.

“What was that?” he urged.

“C59835,” she advised.

He entered the code but found that it didn’t work. “No good Puzzler,” he said as dread filled his voice.

“Ahhh! Okay!” she sounded surprised. “Show me the pad and I’ll set to work.”

Jayden showed her the pad so that she could copy it and get to work on the code. “Be quick, puzzler. We only have four and a half minutes left to get out in one piece.”

“Copy,” she said and went silently to work. At four minutes left Eva spoke. “Try these…” and she rattled off several different codes, which Jayden entered quickly, but with no success.

“No good puzzler. Give us some more, please.” His voice was even tighter with tension now.

“Copy,” she said and silently went to work again. At three and a half minutes left, her voice came over the headset again. “Right try these,” she said and ran through several more codes, again with no success.

“We need more quickly,” Jayden almost screamed at her. The sweat from the stress was starting to run down his face. He wiped it away with his sleeve and looked at Aaron anxiously, only to see his emotions mirrored in Aaron’s face. To make matters worse, the security alarm had set off from not having the correct code put into the system before the required time. Terror crossed both boys’ faces at the same instant. “Now puzzler. We need the good code now!” He was yelling both from panic and the need to be heard over the alarm.

A few seconds later Eva’s voice sounded over the headset. “Right try these ….” She called out a few more, finally with success. The light turned green and the alarm stopped, with only two and a half minutes remaining to get far away from the building and out of harm’s way.

They opened the door to see that there were soldiers running in their direction. They both glanced at each other with a look of dread crossing their faces, but they had no choice left now other than to make a dash for it, out the door in full view of the soldiers. Immediately they heard voices yelling at them, then shooting, and next they heard bullets hitting the building behind them. They continued to run to the side of the building from where they had come from, but they were not so lucky as to be able to make it.

It all happened so fast. Jayden felt himself falling forward to the ground. No matter how hard he tried he could not get up. He started to crawl forward in the direction they were planning to go. He glanced around quickly to see how Aaron was doing and saw that he was also crawling along the ground. ‘Great,’ he thought sarcastically, ‘that’s not going to help us get out of here quickly!’ They both picked up their rifles and started shooting back at the soldiers, which slowed their advancement after them. Aaron and Jayden continued to crawl. Their progress was annoyingly slow and the soldiers started aggressively coming at them again. So they were forced to start shooting back, slowing them down yet again. When they retaliated enough to deter them, they continued crawling towards their exit. Jayden glanced at his watch. To his horror he saw there was only thirty seconds left.

“Contender!” Avando’s voice came over the headset. “You really need to hurry, as you are still in the danger zone.”

Jayden didn’t respond but continued moving as fast as he could with Aaron in close pursuit.

Fifteen seconds. “Come on contender!” Avando almost shrieked over the headset.

They were already going as fast as they could, so all that they could do was to continue on at that speed. Ten seconds … five … then it happened. One brilliant flash accompanied by a large whoosh, which flooded over them.

“Contender?” Avando spoke over the communicator. “Contender?” Urgency now pierced his voice. “Come in Contender! Contender?” Nothing. Silence followed Avando’s voice.
Thank you Katrina for sharing this excerpt from your novel. Please visit Katrina's website for more information on this keen author and her novels.

Please visit again on Friday, March 13th and read an excerpt from my second novel - The Wall of War.  A tale of Incan gold. I am presently completing the second draft with hopes of having a completed novel by Fall, 2015.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Guest Author Maggie James of Bristol, United Kingdom.

This is Maggie's third appearance on The Scribbler. In December, 2014 you read the Prologue to her captivating novel, The Second Captive. In January, you read Chapter 1 and today you can read Chapter 2. (You can access the previous posts from the archives on the bottom left side bar) .

Stockholm syndrome: the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor.

What happens when you love the man you should hate?

Beth Sutton is eighteen years old when Dominic Perdue abducts her. Held prisoner in a basement, she’s dependent upon him for food, clothes, her very existence. As the months pass, her hatred towards him changes to compassion. Beth never allows herself to forget, however, that her captor has killed another woman. She has evidence to prove it, not to mention Dominic’s own admission of murder.

Then Beth escapes…

And discovers Dominic Perdue is not a man who lets go easily. Meanwhile, despite being reunited with her family, she spirals into self-destructive behaviour. Release from her prison isn’t enough, it seems. Can Beth also break free from the clutches of Stockholm syndrome?

A study of emotional dependency, The Second Captive examines how love can assume strange guises.

Copyright is held by the author. Used by permissions

CHAPTER 2 - Dominic

When the idea to kidnap a woman first comes to me, I’m not too fussy about whom to take. Someone young, pliable, whom I can mould into the perfect companion, but other than that, I’ve few criteria. I search, but somehow no woman strikes the right note with me. One day, driven by an impulse I don’t understand, I retrieve from my junk room an old photo, one I’ve not looked at since my father died. As I stare at it, I realise what’s missing from my plan. Restitution.

Beth Sutton’s the one who’ll help me achieve it. At eighteen, she barely qualifies as a woman. She fits the bill, though; her resemblance to her predecessor is striking, given they’re not related. I’ve chosen well. I’ve discerned from our conversations that there’s tension at home. Issues with her father, apparently. She yearns to cut loose, without knowing what she wants from life. It’ll be my pleasure to teach her. If I break her in right, all she’ll want will be me.

I dress with care for our dinner date tonight, taking pains to preserve the image she’s formed of me. The successful financial risk-taker with the flash BMW, the man who’ll wine her, dine her, show her a good time. Such foolish, schoolgirl fantasies. What I have to offer Beth Sutton is more solid, more real, a permanence that’ll force her to grow up. In time, she’ll come to love me, accept the security I’ve given her, thank me for it. Sex isn’t the reason I chose her. Rutting like animals holds no appeal for me. What I want is more complex. A companion, yes, but a mother figure as well, and for that her age is an obvious disadvantage. I’m prepared to wait, though. In my head, she’s my companion first, and then, when she’s earned a few privileges, she can take care of me. Beth being so young is good, really.
With her glowing skin, her shiny hair, she’s clearly healthy. Not destined for an early grave like Mum. Dead at fifty, a mere seven years after my birth. A miracle she ever conceived, given the thirty kilos of surplus flesh she carried, not to mention her stratospheric blood pressure. She did, though, and refused to contemplate abortion.

‘Told her to get shot of you, but the bitch wouldn’t have it.’ Oh, blunt was my father’s middle name. I was seven years old when he laid that one on me, right after his hand cracked against my face, knocking me backwards. We’d just returned from Mum’s funeral. She’d been my shield against this man. Always there, protecting me when he lashed out at either of us. Now my safeguard was gone.

Her voice echoes in my head, a memory from long ago.

‘I’m going upstairs for a bit of a sleep.’ My seven-year-old self, absorbed with my Lego, doesn’t respond. Something for which I’ve always blamed myself. I never get to hear her voice again. I carry on playing, grateful for the fact it’s a weekend and my father’s at a football match. He won’t come home for hours yet. When he does, he’ll stink of booze.

At six o’clock, I realise I’m hungry. The house is silent. Normally at this time, Mum’s in the kitchen, cooking our evening meal, plating up my father’s food for whenever he decides he’s had enough alcohol. I run upstairs, intending to ask her to cook fish fingers tonight, unaware of what awaits me.

Her door is open. Mum’s on top of the duvet, fully clothed, her head turned towards the window. A tiny flash of awareness sparks in my brain that something’s very wrong here, but at seven I lack the ability to process the thought. I stand by the side of her bed.

‘Mum? Mum, I’m hungry.’ When she doesn’t respond, I shake her shoulder, wobbling the flesh on her arm. I walk to the other side of the bed.

Realisation hits me the minute I see her face. Her mouth hangs slack, a line of spittle running from one corner. Eyes wide and staring. At seven years of age, her death strikes me hard with a cruel reality check. A brain aneurysm, swift and lethal, has snatched my mother from me.

I crawl onto the bed beside her, pushing myself into her arms one last time. When my father storms upstairs, hours later, demanding food, that’s how he finds us.

 Memories that over two decades later are fuzzy around the edges. Her face has faded to a blur in my head. All I have is the memory of her voice, the squeeze of her arms around me, her scent in my nostrils. Dad slung all her possessions in the bin after her death. Her clothes, all the photos of her, everything destroyed. Just the memory of her warm arms, along with the scent of Samsara, remains. An evocation that fades over the years, as any perfume will, leaving only a faint trace at the back of my skull. When I go into department stores, I head for the fragrance counters and breathe in my mother. A bottle of Samsara sits in my bedside cabinet, a constant reminder of her.

So Beth Sutton has big shoes to fill. It’ll take time for her to grow into them, adapt to what I’m asking of her, but she will. I’ve been waiting twenty-one years for her to keep me company. Tonight her new life will begin. 


I’m supposed to be cooking for Beth, but the kitchen is cold, unused. My stomach, knotted at what I’m intending, rebels at the idea of food. I’ll eat later, when Beth’s safely stowed in the basement. I’ve picked well, choosing a girl so confused, so mixed-up. When I first approach her in The Busy Bean, something about her calls to me. Is it her air of vulnerability, the way her shoulders speak of unhappiness as she drinks her coffee, unaware of me watching through the window? Oblivious of the fact I already know her name and where she lives?

Not a soul knows she’s coming here tonight. ‘You’re my guilty secret,’ she tells me when we’re at the Harbourside. When I probe, veiled questions designed to dig out who, if anyone, she’s told about us, I’m reassured.

‘Easier that way.’ She shrugs. ‘Otherwise I’ll get the ‘whilst you’re under my roof’ lecture from Dad.’ A smile. ‘Nobody knows about you, Dominic.’

That’s good. Very good. So far, Beth Sutton has proved an easy catch. I smile back, reeling her in further. Oh, I’m adept at the gestures that crack open a female’s defences, my teachers the DVDs I watch. I take my cues from the masters of the art: Brad Pitt, Colin Firth, Johnny Depp. In real life, I’ve never had a girlfriend, never wined and dined a female apart from at Troopers Hill. It’s been a good many years since any woman set foot in this cottage.

A memory stirs within me, deep and primeval. I clamp down on it, hard. Tonight’s not the time to remember such things. This evening is about Beth. What I can offer her. And what she’ll give me in return, once I’ve broken her in. The relationship we’ll forge will be good. Strong.

Not like my parents’ marriage, its pendulum swinging between bitter rows and angry silences. They married late in life. Past forty, my mother’s health not good, keen to produce a child before the menopause claimed her, she settled for Lincoln Perdue as her best bet. As for him, I’m guessing he wanted a live-in maid service, his meals cooked and his laundry done, with sex on tap to boot. He must have figured a wife to be cheaper than a combination of housekeepers and whores. Being a father didn’t come as part of the package, though. Small wonder he loathed me from my birth. Especially my eyes, which entrance some people and repulse others. One a soft brown, warm, with faint gold flecks, inherited from my mother. The other blue, chilly, with hints of green, straight from his genes. People’s eyes can change colour during childhood, from what I’ve read. Had my mother lived, I believe my blue iris might have darkened under her influence to match its sibling. I’d have ended up with her eyes. Instead, I’m a weird hybrid.

‘The child’s a damn freak,’ I hear Dad shout at Mum once, when I’m supposed to be asleep. Instead, I’m crouched on the landing outside my bedroom, listening to yet another argument, my mother’s words ricocheting off the walls like bullets.

‘I’ll take Dominic and leave you, Lincoln. If you don’t shape up. Quit the drinking. The other women.’ My father merely snorts in reply.

My life would have been different had she followed through with her threat. Instead, the aneurysm claimed her three months later. At seven years old, life abandoned me to Lincoln Perdue, the rest of my childhood spent tiptoeing around the cottage, in constant fear of his rages. Mostly he ignored me. After Mum’s death, my father, wealthy from his building business, hired a local woman to clean, do the laundry and prepare our meals. To the outside world, I presented an acceptable face: smart clothes, enough food to eat, nothing to spark alarm from the teachers at school. Inside, I withered, starving emotionally. The pendulum swung in favour of my blue eye, and the gradual warping of whatever genes my mother gave me commenced. Her influence still lingers a little, though.  Despite my plans for Beth Sutton, I’m a better man than my father was. He was a cruel man. I’m not.


When I’m ten years old, I discover his porn stash. Dad’s downstairs, watching sport. The muted voice of the television commentator reaches me as I lie on my bed, together with my father’s shouts of derision. Bored, I wander across the landing into his room, careful to avoid squeaky boards. The cottage where we live consists of two old miners’ residences, converted years before into one, its eighteenth-century floors prone to creaking. If he catches me in his room, it’ll mean the back of his hand cracking across my face, but I sometimes steal in here anyway. The room always has a stale odour from his frequent belching and farting.

I slump against the wardrobe, hugging my knees, my cheek resting on my arm. My gaze travels across the floor, spotting something under the bed. I unravel, going over to peer underneath. A pile of magazines sits, pushed against the skirting board over the far side of the bed; the one I’ve seen has slipped from the top. My fingers reach in, pulling the magazine towards me.

After so many years, my memory of the woman on the cover is still sharp. She’s naked, on her hands and knees, facing the camera. My eyes skim over the curves of her waist, her heavy breasts, towards her mouth. In it is a large red ball, the woman’s lips stretched around the plastic, leather straps securing it in place. I’m repulsed, the image being beyond my ten years of age. My fingers reach out to trace the O-shape of the woman’s mouth as it embraces the sphere that’s gagging her. Later on, I do understand. Whilst it’s not a path I’ll ever follow, the photo calls to something buried deep in my psyche. The need to control, inherited from my father. 


I don’t know much about Dad’s other women, of course. He never brings any of them to the cottage, but sometimes he arrives home, belching alcohol, his shirt buttoned up in the wrong holes. When he does, the perfume of his latest whore mixes with the whisky on his breath. I wish he’d do it more often; he’s mellow afterwards, his urges slaked, meaning I get shouted at less. Over time, as I transition into a teenager, the visits to the whores decline, along with Dad’s health. Years of booze and burgers take their toll. His waist balloons, stretching his trousers around his belly like the woman’s mouth around the ball-gag. Red veins scribble themselves across his nose and through the whites of his eyes. Sometimes, he clutches at his chest, pain slashing deep lines into his forehead, beads of sweat dotting his skin.

One time, his right leg swells, turning as red as his cheeks. He phones the doctor, fear in his voice, as I escape to the sanctuary of my bedroom. My father isn’t a man who bears pain well. A day or so later, I check the prescriptions that have arrived in the bathroom cabinet. One for angina, the other for cellulitis. I prise off the lids, the child caps no match for a thirteen-year-old, and I tip the contents into my palm; some tablets are round and red, like my father, others are small and white.
I Google both conditions. After that day, I play more sport and avoid burgers in the school cafeteria, keen to avoid ending up like Lincoln Perdue. That’s when I realise I possess a degree of self-awareness my father lacks.

The year after, I turn fourteen, and my father starts to wheeze, his breath sounding like air dribbling from a balloon. An inhaler joins the prescription bottles in the bathroom cabinet. As his asthma worsens, it’s never far from his side, either in his pocket or next to the television remote as he slumps in front of the weekend football. The visits to the whores are rare these days, declining in inverse proportion to the height of the stack of magazines under his bed.  


I’m sixteen when I first contemplate suicide. The idea comes to me as I lie on my bed, listening to my father curse at the television downstairs. Earlier on, he hit me. His cellulitis has flared up again, and his mood’s foul as we eat dinner. As a result, I’m nervous, my fingers clumsy, knocking my glass of water across the table. My father hauls himself to his feet, his face ruddy with rage.

‘Stupid bastard!’ His right hand swipes my cheek, knocking me from my chair. I grasp the table to prevent myself falling further, the jolt as I do so spilling his beer. I don’t wait around, heading straight for the door, but even with his bulk, he manages to grab me. His arm lashes out, once, twice, fiery pain spreading though my face. My father is panting, sweating, and utterly repulsive. As soon as I recover, I’m up the stairs and out of his reach, his curses following me to my room.

As I lie on my bed, I realise my existence is pointless, meaningless from the moment Mum died. The world would be better off without me, and vice versa. What stops me is the inability to decide how best to kill myself. I’ve no access to sleeping tablets, and I’m too much of a coward to slash my wrists. Drowning holds no appeal either. Too likely to be ruled an accident; if I’m to commit suicide, then I want the world to know I chose to end my own life. With a note, explaining why.

The solution comes to me. The basement. I’ll hammer a hook into the wooden rafter that runs across the ceiling, and I’ll hang myself. Release from the hell I live every day is possible; I savour the thought, knowing it’s available if my father gets truly unbearable. Instead of a noose, I slide into my first episode of depression. A dark beast that’s stalked me ever since, eager to sink its fangs into my flesh.

Beth will rescue me from its bite.  


As I head downstairs, ready to collect my girl, the twin smells of disinfectant and air freshener assault my nostrils. Such odours were banned when my father was alive; he claimed they triggered his asthma. Since his death, I’ve kept the cottage as clean, as neat, as Mum always did. It’ll impress Beth, of course, when I bring her through the front door, when she realises this is no squalid bachelor pad, stale with old pizza and cigarettes. The pine freshness will also prevent her from realising there’s no food cooking in the kitchen.

The keys to the BMW are where they always are, together with my house keys, on a hook behind the front door. I’m nothing if not neat. My fingers reach up to grab them, this morning’s threatening letter from the bank shoved to the back of my mind. OK, so I’ve been on a losing streak. A few lucky deals and I’ll be on top again. I’m Dominic Perdue. The markets never beat me for long.

As my hand takes the keys from the hook, an urge to check the basement stops me. One last look, to ensure everything’s ready for my guest.

I replace the keys and backtrack to a door on the right, opposite the staircase. My hands reach out and pull it outward, revealing steps leading downward. The basement isn’t large, occupying the space under one cottage out of the pair, before some previous owner knocked both houses into one. For some reason, he or she didn’t do the same with the basements, keeping them as two separate rooms accessible from opposite sides of the cottage. It was my father who blocked off one of them, its entrance now walled up and papered over. Across the ceiling of the remaining one is the wooden rafter from my suicidal fantasies. A tiny window sits high up on one wall. I guess Beth’s new home is about twelve feet each way, giving plenty of room for her needs. Three things are in the basement, the bare minimum she’ll require. My father would say I’ve been generous in what I’ve provided. Beth Sutton will have to earn whatever privileges I choose to grant her. Her first few months in here will teach her that.

I remind myself I’m granting her the most precious privilege of all. The right to life. The last occupant of the basement didn’t enjoy such a luxury.

Enough. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Time to collect Beth Sutton and introduce her to her new life.

Maggie James' novel will keep you spellbound until the very end. Buy it here.

Please drop by midweek to read an excerpt from Katrina Cope's novel Scarlet's Escape. Katrina has been a guest on the Scribbler and I am pleased to welcome her back. She lives on the Gold Coast of Australia.