Mist Rock-Chapter 1-At Summer’s End (Excerpt #2)

Marke shuffled through the dark streets of Mist Rock, ducking into alleys as city patrols wandered past. There weren’t many guards stationed on the path he’d decided to take to the gatehouse, but those who were would happily elect to stop him, try bleed a minute out of the long shift ahead of them. And if they saw who he was, they could open the whole night up at the neck.

In the lower quarters of the city, the rows of thatched houses bunched together, nestled one another as they slept. It wasn’t quite yet midnight, but almost all of their lights were extinguished, a single candle in a corner of Winden Street the only one left standing guard. In Marke’s own house, he knew his father would be doing the same, sitting on the third step of their stairs with his gaze fixed on the door. That was always how Marke found him. He’d been there when Uncle Derek died, when Nadia fell from Dawnbreaker and when his son came home late after kissing Lynia Duler at the summer festival. That last time, he’d winked, risen without a word and gone off to bed with a smile on his face. In some ways, Marke felt he’d always be on those stairs, watching, waiting for something that never seemed to come.

A couple of dimmed figures moved on the wall overhead, but they didn’t glance down at Marke as he passed beneath the shadow of the gatehouse. He pulled back his hood, wiped some of the trail dust from his clothes, and pushed hard on the oak door into Sir Ritchenn’s accommodations.

***

Inside the fire had sunk down to a few flames, waving lazy side to side, beckoning him into the small office. Marke saw immediately that he was alone, spied another closed door opposite him and wondered was Sir Ritchenn within. The air, heavy with the smell of smoke and charred meat, made his eyes water. He tried and failed not to cough. Listening for a reply, he heard nothing and decided to study the room.

A solitary shelf stretched across one wall, cramped with jars, scrolls and a bag of what once might have been food. A wooden chest sat underneath it, decorated with the marks of the Aelia, though much of the paint had been scratched off. On the wall opposite woven tapestries hung, their sewn images marginally more clear, one of them depicting the Great Northern Storm where the King had fought the rebellious Nareland lords. In the centre, a couple of worm-eaten chairs had been placed around a large table. Marke frowned down at the contents: a few plates of old meals and a cracked mug. Hardly fitting for the captain of the gatehouse, he thought.

Then, as he considered whether he should be there at all, he heard commotion in the room next door, noise like a barrel rolling from a ship. The door smacked open before Marke could escape, rattling its hinges and then the single largest man he’d ever seen stooped into the room.

“Luken, I believe?” he said cheerily.

Marke opened his mouth to answer, but came up with nothing, heard only the crackles in the fireplace. The knight took a step closer, looming up over him, his grin almost child-like.

“No, you can’t be Luken. He passed in yesterday. I presume you are here about the academy though?”

Marke nodded his head, watched the giant of a man turn and poke through his shelf.

“You know I have this list somewhere. I’m sure I can find some ink if you give me-“

“My name is Marke. I want to sign up. I want to be a guard of the realm and pledge my life to the sword.”

He winced. The words had spilled out before he could stop them.

The knight paused in his search, half-turning to look at him, “Yes. Marke. You’re the tailor’s boy. Yes, I do know your father.”

Marke’s heart quivered. Very few people knew his father, not in the friendly sense anyway. And Dad never mentioned Sir Ritchenn, he thought. Suddenly he felt naked, exposed against a man in full armour.

Sir Ritchenn sank into the battered chair, unrolled the long sheet on the table. He looked to weigh it down with a mug, saw it was wet and reconsidered. Casually, he passed Marke the ink and quill.

“Just sign your name and we’re out of here. Well, you are at least,” the knight said, looking around his office with obvious disappointment.

Marke cleared his throat. “On this day-“

“Give the formalities a rest, boy. Especially if you don’t mean them,” he added interrupting.

Marke gave a weak smile and nodded, unsure whether Sir Ritchenn was teasing him. His hands were covered in sweat. Wiping them on his cloak, he uncorked the ink, dipped the quill fast into the black pool and drew it out again before he changed his mind. Only then did he look at the list.

As expected, it was packed with names, none of which Marke could put a face to. He saw second names that were memorable enough: Helm, Dracus, Fletchen, Erden. He knew that a Drimmer served on the council, so it was interesting to see that signature scrawled down there too. He found space at the bottom and added his own, then raised his head to Sir Ritchenn. The knight was busy lighting a candle and kept his eyes on the task. But when he spoke, his voice was soft, almost honey-warm, taking Marke by surprise. “Well, go on. boy. Give your mist to it.”

Marke dropped the quill and knelt at the table. He pulled the list down in front of him and sighed, wondering had his dad been as nervous when he’d signed up. If there was a time to go running to the tailor life-to any other life-this was his final chance.

And then, quick and quiet, the single breath came, a small puff over his signature. It was done.

His hands trembled as he passed the page back to Sir Ritchenn. The knight ran his eyes down the scroll, grinned and gave him a thumb of approval. Marke bowed his head and turned, felt the knight slouch heavy into his seat behind.

“Boy,” he called out before Marke reached the door. “Hold your head up. If you let them think you’re ashamed, you should be”.

Marke paused, considering the advice as behind, Sir Ritchenn fiddled with his pages. Hastily, he made a gesture for him to wait.

“Your family name, does your old man really spell it like that? Always thought he wrote that with a K,” he said.

Marke smiled. In that moment, for whatever reason, he knew he had made the right choice. “As it is written, Sir,” he said, turning so the knight could see the light cross his face. “I am Marke Calin, son of Thyron Calin. It would be an honour to serve here when I finish”.

Sir Ritchenn stacked the pages neatly, measured Marke with his eyes and laughed. “The honour would be mine. Mr. Calin. Now, enough of the formalities. Go! Tell your father!”

***

Marke shivered as he met the night air, but decided not to pull his cloak any closer. Tonight, there would be no hooded disguise.

High above the city, the stars were stirring.

A very frightful read (for all the wrong reasons)

Over the past few weeks my reading attention has been turned to Dean Koontz’s 77 Shadow Street, which was a novel I picked up on a whim when about to take a lengthy bus journey without a book for company. At the time I was just finishing up Stella Gemmells wonderful fantasy debut The City, the review of which is available https://kyle8414.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/the-city-by-stella-gemmell-game-of-thrones-meets-roman-history/.

Somebody once told me I had a knack for storytelling. Somebody also once told me I was always up for a good rant. Here, to either your joy or dismay (neither of which particularly influences my writing style of course), I will be employing the rant, because damn it is justified.

If I could use an analogy of what reading this book feels like, it would probably be something like ‘that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you know you have been well and truly duped by some conman’. We’ve all been there, whether it was holiday souvenirs or online shopping; everyone one of us has had that gut punch to our ego when we realise someone has got the best of us. Over the last few weeks, Dean Koontz put that feeling in my stomach. He didn’t literally put it there of course. He was probably back in his mansion somewhere counting all the money he garnered off this sad excuse for a novel.

In retrospect, I should have had some inkling all was not well when I read Mr. Koontz has had over sixty novels published in his career (although looking at his website’s bibliography this figure could actually be much bigger). “What the hell?- you might say. Surely a writer with such an illustrious career couldn’t possibly turn out a bad novel. Yes and No. Koontz’s success must be the result of some talent, which I won’t deny, as I have not read his more recommended works. But it doesn’t take an avid reader to know someone churning out that many books must surely be writing some amount of awful stories along with the good stuff. I, of course, went and bought one of the poorer ones.

I sincerely hope this story is the worst he has published. If he actually can stoop lower than this and still get it to market, I’ll have lost faith in literature altogether. The most glaring thing wrong in the first few pages is the sheer volume of words on the page. Not that the font is small-au contraire. No, here I refer to Dean’s seeming obsession with using every large word he can shake out of a dictionary. For about ten pages I wasn’t actually sure what the book was about, because I was trying to wade through all the mess he had put in front of me. The worst thing is I really wanted to like this story; I really did. I love the idea of a horror house/mansion/hotel, with all sorts of ghosts and goings-on. In fact I’m sure most horror writers would testify that this is the easiest plot to work with.

Step 1: new person goes to the house

Step 2:Weird shit happens

Step 3: Some kind of resolution

THAT’S ALL YOU HAD TO DO DEAN

It was a ‘in and out’ job, with no need for mucking about. The first character we encounter, some senator figure who returns drunk to the hotel, is dead in ten pages (oops spoiler). Nobody minds a character dying, but it’s the fact that this character literally has nothing to do with the rest of the whole book. Zilch. His literal purpose was just to show that ‘ooh house is spooky’. I think one other character noticed he was missing, and he was the security guard so ya, doesn’t count.

The rest of the next hundred pages uses a character by character approach, which I actually don’t mind, as we get a good feel for the whole house. The problem is literally all these characters suck. Besides Bailey Hawkes, and some other fella who I’m sure dies anyway, I really hated everybody in this book.

“Oh, Oh but I’m sure he meant for you to hate them”

No. He didn’t. He meant for us to hate like two or three and love the rest. Sorry Dean, I hate them all. What Koontz thought would be a good way to make us like his characters was to give them all problems. Seems smart right? Only issue, I can’t sympathise with any of their shit. I really don’t care about some singer we just met telling us she got divorced, and I couldn’t care less about a pair of old sisters who are in retirement and bored. At this point of the book (page 100 of 400), I knew I already hated this book, and I just wanted to see how bad it could get. Readers instincts paid off it seemed; it got far worse.

What apparently is happening in the house, which has a dubious history with previous owners for murders etc, is that every 38 years the Pendleton (which is what it is called now as a hotel) will transition to the future, where all the characters will be hunted in some post-human world. Coming up to this event, loads of stuff will go wrong in the existing time, such as strange moulds growing everywhere, or characters from the past showing up only to disappear. Dean’s description of fungi got very annoying. There were no ghosts in this entire novel really, but there was a fuck load of fungus. Nobody in the world finds mould frightening. I mean yes it’s ugly but it’s not creepy is it. The real terror then is this strange creature that will kill all the inhabitants.

Thumbs up to Dean for somehow making his villains even worse, by making this otherworldly creature that is made up of millions/billions of nanobots. You see readers? It was science all along. Fuck you Dean Koontz. The last thing a horror reader wants is a plausible explanation. This isn’t Scooby Doo. I remember the original episodes incidentally. Now those were scary.

Meanwhile back in the house of scary plants and zero ghosts, our characters have to contend with problems such as rooms looking different, and TVs saying ‘exterminate’ but not actually doing anything. In order to survive, our group of barely tolerable freaks band together in one room, only to do the one thing decades of low budget horror movies have informed them you do not do-split up. Cue loads of deaths that are completely the characters fault. Maybe Dean koontz wants me to support the villains, and if so, he is a genius. At this stage, I am cheering them on as they kill our heroes.

I forgot to mention that at several points throughout the book, some dope called “the one” interludes for a page or two. Apparently he is the master behind all this future-present and the whole fungi-creature-environment is all part of one world organism. Ya, I know, it’s fucking stupid. These pages were perhaps the worst. Lines upon lines of ‘the one’ spewing so much shit about how he is a legend so that you seriously question whether Harry Potter going on about being the chosen one was actually even annoying at all.

As for handling the whole ‘oh look it was science all along’, Dean is way out of his depth.

“Hey, I have a BA in English, that means I know how technology and science works”

Reading it was painful, trying to nod along to shit you knew were just pure guesses. I doubt he could stop for a bit of research like. I mean, if he took twenty minutes out of his day, he’d probably not have published another book.

I’m sure nobody has made it this far, but OH WAIT, I forgot my favourite worst part: Dean’s sentence length. The odd time in a book, you’ll come across some whopper of a thirty or forty word sentence and wonder what the author was thinking. Try that every two minutes in this book. I’m sure a good few actually hit the 50+ word mark, and at that length you actually cannot keep track of whatever the fuck the writer is trying to say. Not fifty short words either. At least half will be straight out of the thesaurus, who as a happenstance, sounds like a far scarier dinosaur villain than the mute beats we have to read about here.

In the end, all the characters don’t die. Boohoo. I’m telling you the ending because it will save you four hundred pages of life you don’t get back.

Seriously, the scariest thing about this novel is the writing.