Heartweed: Chapter 25

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 25

Artie lay in the low camp bed, drifting. The vaulted stone ceiling of the cellar Gorth had brought her to spun in and out of focus. She was coming apart. Whatever Gorth had injected her with was causing her to decohere. Her mind was spreading out through the room like a mist.
Artie struggled to concentrate, to hold herself in one piece. So difficult. If she let go, would she just keep on dissipating, through the walls, through the streets of York. Stretching further and becoming more thinly spread.
She saw a bright flash in the dim light of the cellar. A knife – the blade so often sharpened that it curved inwards. Gorth brough the knife down to her chest. He moved the blade through her skin – quick and deep. She howled, except that she didn’t, couldn’t. Her body was frozen. Her dispersed consciousness howled and screamed and battered itself against the walls.
She felt her dry lips peel away from each other and fall apart. Gorth had said that the pain would be excruciating. It was. Her heart raced. Every breath in brought sharp pain. Every breath out gurgled wet and brought the taste of blood onto her tongue.
He was killing her.
Gorth was killing her.
She stared up at him. His face looked carved from pale wood and a smear of blood crossed his jawline. His eyes were intent. He glanced up; saw her  looking.
“Almost over,” he said.
The sound of footsteps clattered on the stairs. Gorth turned to the doorway. The black-eyed man Gorth had sent out to keep watch lurched into the room.
“We’ve got company.”
Gorth’s face contorted into an angry snarl. “Stall them.” He turned back to Artie. How had she thought that face kind and handsome? It was cold – all business. The black-eyed man darted back through the door way.
He reached into her and the pain wracked her again. Her heart sped to the frequency of a hummingbird’s wings. Then the feeling was gone. So was the pain. A rough, ice-cold sensation hunkered at the centre of her. Her consciousness drained from the room back into the receptacle of her body.
Gorth loomed above her. His arms were drenched to the elbows in blood. In his hands a hunk of flesh trembled and fluttered. Her heart. The fluttering turned into a thump; spurts of blood squeezed out. It thumped again. The heart was still beating.
The black-eyed man fell heavily backwards through the door. A large dog sprang through after him and landed on the man’s chest; its muzzle peeled back from sharp teeth. The dog, or was it a wolf,  snapped at the man’s flailing arms. Gorth stood up, his face twisted in annoyance.
Artie was fading or the world was fading around her. She raised her head and blinked rapidly, trying to stay conscious. A man came through the door; he leapt nimbly over the struggling flesh and fur. It was the disapproving businessman from the bar, carrying a long, thin sword. He glanced between her and Gorth, his eyes widening as he saw her looking back at him.
He turned his attention back to Gorth and the sword point with it. The suited man stepped forwards. Dark shapes rushed from all over the room towards Gorth and enveloped him. He vanished away like March and Alex had. This time Artie could see the ripples in reality that he left behind. Not radiating, but awkward and fractal. Tantalising. She wanted to reach out with her hand – not her hand – and tear them wider.
A different kind of darkness rushed towards Artie. The last thing she saw was the suited man stepping towards her, then the world flickered out like a blown candle.

Heartweed: Chapter 24

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 24

The rain had started. It was the dismal kind that didn’t really fall, just hung in the air and crept down the back of Artie’s neck. Gorth turned his collar up and strolled away up the cobbled street. Artie followed, almost having to trot to keep up with his long-legged gait.
“What do you want, Artie?”
Gorth’s voice was soft and Artie wasn’t sure that she had heard him right.
“I told you: vengeance.” The needle-sharp fury stirred within Artie; she saw March’s gleeful face rise behind her eyelids.
Gorth nodded. “Vengeance.” He drew her into the shelter of a shop doorway. “You’re sure?”
The fury pushed out a stab of anger towards Gorth. “You said you could make me strong enough to kill March. Were you lying?”
Gorth frowned. “No. I wasn’t.”
“Then let’s do this. You said it would cost me. How much?”
Artie reached into her pocket and pulled out the wedge of notes. Gorth waved it away.
“Let’s talk price later. Once I’ve told you what you’ll be letting yourself in for.” He looked down at Artie, his face a careful blank. “I’ve recently come into possession of an object that can confer upon someone almost unlimited speed, strength and magical power.”
Artie chewed her lips. “What’s the catch?”
“It will transform you into something that isn’t human. And you will never be human again.” He paused. “And it will likely kill you.”
Artie shivered at the chill in his voice and the words it spoke. “How likely?”
“Only a handful have survived for more than a year after the procedure.”
“But even if it does kill me – I could have a year to get to March.”
“You could.”
Artie thought of her mum and dad, of Sam and James and ROb. March had threatened them all. They had been drawn into danger just because they knew her. She thought of Alex – laughing carefree Alex – and March’s face as he snuffed out her brother’s life. Her own life was a price worth paying. What else was she going to do with it?
“That’s fine,” she said.
“OK then.” Gorth straightened and pushed himslef out into the street.
“So how much will this cost?” Artie nervously fingered the money in her pocket. “You said rare and valuable.”
“It is.” He smiled back at her. The smile had something in it that made Artie blink, then it was gone. “More than money can buy.”
“What does that mean?”
“That I want something as rare and valuable in exchange.”
“What?”
“Are you a virgin?” Gorth tossed the words over his shoulder.  Artie stopped dead in the middle of the street.
“What?”
Gorth turned. “Have you had sex?”
Artie thought of Saturday night’s awkward grappling with Rob; she flushed. “No. I haven’t what business is it of yours?”
“It is relevant to our discussions.”
Artie felt her upper lip curl. “So the price is my virginity?”
“No – the price is your heart. A virgin’s heart.”
“Is that metaphorical?” Artie shivered. “Like I have to fall in love with you or something?”
Gorth stepped close to her. The smile was gone and his face was unreadable and as inhuman as if he had been wearing his faerie features. “Actually it is extremely literal. To affect the transformation I have to implant the object, the seed, within your chest.”
Artie stomach churned at the image, and the implications. Gorth continued. “Something goes in; something else must come out – your heart.”
Her voice was hoarse. “Wouldn’t that kill me straight away?”
“The seed’s magic would keep you alive.”
“The seed?”
“The object is a seed for a parasitic plant. You share your body with it, it shares its power with you.”
Artie took a faltering step backwards. She raised her hands as if to ward Gorth off. “This has just taken a turn for the way too surreal and terrifying. You want to take out my heart and replace it with a plant and I’ll still be alive?”
“And powerful and strong and fast.”
“And dying?”
“And dying.”
Artie laughed. A loud, jagged sound that tore at the inside of her throat. Gorth regarded her with an unblinking stare.
Artie closed her eyes. The image of Alex stepping into the road rose in her mind. Like it did again and again and always. He stepped into the road. She saw the flash of a car coming towards him. She screamed. Then it was all a blur. Except that this time it wasn’t a blur. She saw clearly. Each instant played out in excruciating slowness. The glaze fell from Alex’s eyes. Realisation, and fear, flooded into them instead. He saw her, opened his mouth to say her name. Then the impact – his body flying through the air.
She choked on a breath. It stuck in the middle of her chest. A sharp thing sticking into her heart. Opening her eyes she met Gorth’s stare. His soft eyes, pinched around the edges.
“My heart,” Artie said. A broken thing.
“That is the price. Are you sure that you can pay it?”
Artie nodded once, her bitten lips pressed together.
 

Heartweed: Chapter 23

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

 

Chapter 23

Artie stepped off the 416 bus in York. The evening was grim; the threat of rain hung in the air. She pulled her jacket tighter around her and hunched her shoulders. Almost eight o’clock. She was supposed to meet Gorth at nine.
The past two days at college had been a special kind of hell. By the time she had turned up on Monday morning everyone had heard the story. How she’d freaked out on Rob and tried to stab him, then run into the garden to slit her wrists. Or so everyone was saying.
In the morning she had ignored it. In the afternoon she had walked around with her sleeves rolled up so they wouldn’t have to strain themselves to see. On Tuesday she had been tempted not to even turn up.
She’d kept her head down and stuck close to Sam and James – which hadn’t been difficult, they’d obviously made a pact between them to keep an eye on her. Artie was only a little irritated by this. Them keeping an eye on her had made it easier for her to keep an eye on them. Since March had made his threats she had been seeing him out of the corners of her eyes everywhere. Watching her with her parents. Spying on her eating lunch with Sam and James. Lounging against the wall of the corridor where she bumped into Rob – an excruciatingly awkward moment that ended with them avoiding each other’s eyes and hustling in opposite directions.
Toying with her is what he was doing. And part of her was glad for it. The longer he spun this out, the more time she had to do something about it. Even so, waiting for him to make his next move was wearing at her. Her stomach was in constant knots, wrung out like a dishtowel. But it would be over soon she hoped.
Her phone vibrated furiously. ‘Home’ flashed on the screen. Artie pushed the call to her voicemail. Five seconds later it rang again; she let it ring out this time. Two texts came in quick succession: one told her she had a voicemail, the other was from her mum.
“Where are you? Said you were going to Sam’s. We called. Not there. Phone us please.”
Artie switched the phone off.
She could have arranged an alibi with Sam, but she figured that with the way things were at the moment Sam would have just turned around and grassed Artie up to her parents. Everyone wanted to look after her. Like she couldn’t take care of herself. Like she wasn’t taking care of all of them. She bit her lip. Maybe they were right. It wasn’t like she had done a very good job of taking care of Alex.
Her phone banged against her leg as she walked – a guilty weight in her pocket. She paused and switched it back on. Another text announced another voicemail. Artie tapped out a quick text to her mum.
“Sorry. Got to sort something out. Don’t know hwen I’ll be back.”
She paused, the added:
“Love you.”
She sent the text and switched the phone back off before they had a chance to respond.
When would she be back? Gorth had said that he could make her powerful. By magic. Was he offering her a power that had to be worked for, training with some faerie sensei for months or years? Or would he make her strong enough to kill March tonight, as easily and offhandedly as he had killed Alex? Could she turn up back at home tomorrow and tell her parents – what? That she had killed the creature that they had never believed to have killed their son?
Either way Gorth had said that she would be changed forever. She couldn’t imagine what that would mean. Forever powerful – not bad. But you never get something for nothing. There was going to be a catch. Gorth had said that there would be a price, but not what that price would be. She didn’t think he was talking about the kind of price with a pound sign in front of it, or at least not only that.
She stopped at the cashpoint on the corner and withdrew the maximum: £300. She added the wedge of notes to the same amount that she had withdrawn yesterday. Six months of scanning shopping at the supermarket and hoarding her pocket money. Saving for a better computer. She hoped it would be enough. What was the going rate for magical powers?
Her heavy boots clattered on the stone streets as she crossed the city centre, heading for the bar where she was to meet Gorth. She hadn’t given it much thought until now, but a bar was a rubbish place to meet. With the height and build of a 12-year-old she’d never get past a bouncer. She hoped they checked ID at the bar and not on the door.
The streets were quiet. The cold and clammy kept everyone inside. Artie turned onto the narrow cobbled street where the bar was. The entrance to the bar was garishly lit with multicoloured fluorescent tubes. Artie slipped through the unguarded doorway into the crowded and noisy bar.
The crowd was made up mostly of uni students. There was no sign of Gorth, but she was over half an hour early. Artie shoved her way down the long room, using a well-judge elbow every now and then. The crush of people reminded her of March’s party. A bitter chill went through her despite the sticky heat of packed bodies; she looked around to reassure herself of the humanity.
The blue-haired gentry? Artie jolted to a stop and stared around again. She had thought she’d caught a glimpse of him standing in the shadows by the wall, but there was only a lone man in a suit there. As she stared up at him he met her eyes; disapproval smeared over his face. Like he never drank underage. Artie scowled back and turned away.
Ahead of her she saw Gorth leaning against the bar. He looked both exactly the same and different. His features were smoothed and dulled. A glamour to make him look human. He caught her eye and beckoned.
Artie slid through the crowd to his side. Gorth leaned down to her ear and shouted: “What will you have?”
“Orange juice.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Nothing stronger? Sure I can’t tempt you to a cocktail?”
Artie shook her head. “They won’t serve me alcohol, trust me.”
Gorth shrugged and turned to capture the bartender’s attention. Artie shifted her feet. What she had said was partly the truth. If she tried to get served alcohol she’d run a strong risk of getting ID’d and maybe asked to leave. But a bigger slice of truth was that getting drunk around handsome, confident guys wasn’t working out so well for her this month.
And he was handsome. She hadn’t noticed it before – too shocked at finding herself in a place that couldn’t exist, too worried for Alex – but Gorth was very good-looking. Even more with his features morphed into the more human shapes that she was used to.
He  turned and handed her a glass a smile crinkling around the corners of his soft brown eyes.
“So what’s the deal?” Artie asked.
Gorth shook his head. “Not here. Too noisy. I’m just waiting for another valued client. Then we can go somewhere to talk. OK?”
“OK.”
Gorth leaned back against the bar, his eyes sweeping the crowd. Artie sipped her orange juice.
A woman sliced through the crowd towards them. Artie gaped – she could have been a supermodel. Tall and slender – the woman defined the word statuesque. Her black hair was woven in elaborate ropes and her orange dress looked sprayed on. Artie felt every heterosexual male’s eye swivel to follow her across the room. The disapproving businessman was appraising the woman in minute detail.
The supermodel stopped beside Gorth and Artie, she towered over both of them. Artie felt a twinge of guilty hatred for this beautiful woman. She felt like a lump of wood in comparison. The woman pulled a folded piece of paper out of the top of her dress. She rolled her wrist over towards Gorth and he plucked the paper from between her fingertips. He read it. Nodded.
“Tomorrow?”
The woman nodded. Gorth pulled a roll of twenty pound notes from his pocket and unwrapped ten from the roll. He handed them to the woman and they vanished into the top of the dress. Artie sneaked a look around the bar. Nobody appeared to notice the dodgy-looking deal happening right under their noses. Even the horny gazes had been deflected. Were the three of them inside a glamour?
The woman’s eyes slid towards Artie. Artie blinked in surprise. The woman’s eyes were a luminous amber with thin horizontal leaf-shaped pupils. Artie realised that she was staring and shut her mouth.
“Um. Nice contacts.”
A lazy smile stretched across the woman’s face and she sashayed away. Artie turned to Gorth, he was grinning.
“Not contacts?”
Gorth shook his head. “Nope.” He drained his drink and jerked his head towards the door.
“Let’s talk.”
Artie put down her half-finished drink on the bar and followed him.

Heartweed: Chapter 22

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

 

Chapter 22

Sam found her there a few minutes or an eternity later. She peeled Artie’s hand a finger at a time from around the knife handle and passed it to James. She muttered to him to call Artie’s parents. He slipped back into the house, past the clutch of curious in the doorway.
Sam was murmuring soothing words and stroking Artie’s upper arms, trying to catch Artie’s eye. Artie sat, aware of it all, but at the same time outside of herself. Her rage and terror had been spent, leaving her numb from the outside in.
I will see you again. Soon. March would come back. Who would he take from her next time? Her mum? Her dad? Sam? Rob? James? And all in the name of a game. Just for fun.
Artie felt the anger inside begin to kindle again. She remembered the glee in March’s eyes as Alex stepped under the speeding car. He had liked Alex, or at least found him useful. His wife’s favourite. But that hadn’t held him back from an act of deliberate cruelty.
James came back out in to the garden. He crouched down beside Sam.
“Her parents are on the way,” he murmured. “Let’s get her inside.”
Artie let them guide her to her feet and marshal her past the muttering group at the door. Chloe’s face stood out among the others – eager and greedy for scandal. Her eyes roved over Artie’s arms. It would have made a better story if she’d come out here to slit her wrists. Thought she doubted that lack of evidence would stop Chloe spreading the most outrageous version of events.
Sam stored her in the dining room, away from the party, until her dad arrived. There were murmured words at the door and concerned glances. Then she was helped to the car. Her dad drove her home in silence.

Artie closed her bedroom door. It cut down, but didn’t cut out the sound of her parent’s voices. She knew they were talking about her. Everyone was worried. Everyone was speaking in low voices around her.
Artie stripped for bed. She was surprised to find herself without a bra. It was probably still on the floor of Sam’s bedroom. Her mind flashed over what had happened with Rob, but she couldn’t really bring herself to care.
The alcohol-induced numbness had washed out of her, leaving a core of brittle and bright fury. For the first time since Alex’s death she felt clear and unconfused. The fury was clearer than grief, purer than plain anger, and it burned towards a since purpose: March’s death.
She sat with her laptop. Gorth had replied to her email.

I think I can give you something for vengeance.

A magic that will make you powerful enough to travel between the worlds and kill March yourself. There’s a price though. It will change you and there will be no going back.

Artie hammered her response in:

Whatever it takes.

Heartweed: Chapter 21

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 21

Artie was empty. In fact, she felt like she had gone past empty into whatever lay beyond. She’d thrown up until there was nothing left inside her except for the taste – sharp, slick and impossible to get rid of, no matter how much she spat.
Rob had rattled the door a couple of times. She’d told him to go away. Now Sam was there, giving off clouds off worry that permeated the door. Artie leaned her cheek against the chill tile surrounding the bath.
“I’m fine,” she said again. She wasn’t fine. Nowhere near. She wasn’t even on the same planet as fine.
Artie heard Sam move away from the door, murmuring to someone else. She drew herself to her feet and opened the frosted glass window. The cold air was like a slap in the face.
March smiled up at her from the garden. He beckoned, his long, white fingers coiling and uncoiling, and turned to disappear back into the shadows of the garden.
Artie’s own fingers released the window edge. They were numb and stiff; she hadn’t realised that she had been gripping that hard. She fumbled to fasten the rest of the buttons of her shirt. The landing was empty. Artie hurried downstairs. She could hear the sound of laughter and voices in the lounge, where the remainder of the party sounded like it had ended up.
The kitchen was almost empty. Chloe and her friend were leaning against the counter, their conversation had turned into alcohol-laced proclamations. Artie ignored them and they ignored her as she rooted through a drawer.
She stepped out into the still night. March wasn’t there. Artie strained her eyes into the shadows, waiting for them to adapt, and took a cautious step deeper into the garden.
“Cold iron.”
The liquid hiss came from behind her; Artie spun towards the voice, raising the serrated steak knife. She pointed it towards March’s heart. The faerie lolled against the sagging fence. Like spider-silk, his hair stirred in air currents that Artie couldn’t even feel. His loose clothes merged with the darkness. He gestured at the knife.
“A sensible, but useless, precaution.” His eyes bored into Artie’s. They were bottomless; they pulled her in and down. Artie came back to herself with a heart-stopping jerk, like waking from a falling dream, to find the knife reversed in her hand – the tip over her own heart.
“Do you see what I mean?” March said.
Artie blinked and focussed her eyes on a point beyond March’s right shoulder. She turned the knife away from herself and dropped the hand gripping it to waist height, holding it there stiffly, not trusting it.
“Murderer.” The acid in the word burned Artie’s tongue. “I’m going to kill you.”
She didn’t see him move, but he was in front of her, so close that the floating strands of his hair stroked her face. He gripped her wrist and leaned even closer. His breath was hot on Artie’s face as he whispered: “Are you sure of that?”
Artie started to twist away. March pushed his thumb deep into the tendons on the inside of her wrist; the pain froze her. March laughed and flung her arm away with such force that she staggered back, struggling to keep her feet.
“Why are you here? What do you want?” Artie almost sobbed.
A rictus smile. “Why, to ruin your fun – the way that you ruined mine.” The smile transformed into a snarl. “I don’t forgive such impertinences.”
“So you killed Alex, what?” Her voice felt hollow, “To spite me? To hurt… me?”
March’s shoulders rose and fell like a sea swell. “You do not seem to be very hurt over your brother’s death. Already throwing yourself into that handsome youth.” His lips curled. “I wonder if my wife would like him as a replacement for Alex. She was quite addicted to your brother. No other tidbits I have brought for her cut through her vapid melancholy quite the way he did.”
Artie screamed and lunged, the knife in her fist. March sidestepped deftly and she tripped on the edge of the flowerbed. Her shoulder slammed into the fence. She sprawled face down at his feet in the dirt.
“You know what I think?” Artie glared up at him and spat earth from her mouth. “I think you just killed Alex because he was better at giving it to your wife than you are.” She tensed for the kick or the blow, but neither came. March went still.
“Perhaps.” He crouched down. “But your brother is dead and no longer interesting. You are interesting.” He reached a hand to touch her face. Artie slashed at him with the knife – and missed, again.
“So are you going to kill me now?”
“No,” March stood. “I am going to tear you apart. Those you love – the blonde girl, the tall boy, your lover, your mother, your father – I will kill them, and anyone else you allow into your heart, instead. One at a time. I might even take years to do it, but be assured I will take them all from you in the most painful ways possible.”
He straightened the cuffs of his shirt,
“This has been most amusing. I will see you again. Soon.”
The shadows roils around him and he vanished. Artie stared through the space he had left for a long moment, then put her face back down into the soft soil. Tears streamed from her eyes.

Heartweed: Chapter 20

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Warning – this chapter contains mild sexual content.

Chapter 20

Sam’s room, with its single bed, was the only empty one. Artie strode in. She snapped on the desk lamp. She turned to see Rob lingering in the doorway, his posture a mixture of eager and reluctant.
“Are you sure about this?”
She nodded and held out her left hand towards him. Her right brought the bottle of blue to her lips. As a magic potion the alcohol was failing her. It dulled everything but the grief and had brought the things she wanted to forget into sharper focus, which the real world blurred away.
“I mean, you’ve had a lot to drink.” Rob hadn’t left the doorway. Artie laughed and put the empty down on Sam’s desk.
“So have you.”
Rob shrugged. “I just don’t want you to do anything you’ll despise me for tomorrow.”
He wasn’t going to start this. And she didn’t really know how to. Artie felt a wave of irritation followed by one of embarrassment. Maybe he didn’t want her. Maybe he was just watching out for her, on Sam’s or James’s orders.
Then he stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. Artie let out the breath she had been holding. She reached behind him and twisted the lock closed, pressing her body against his. He did want her. She could feel his erection digging into her stomach through the layers of their clothing. It seemed disconcertingly large and thick. Artie felt a flutter of panic in the pit of her stomach. Was that normal? Was that good? Would it hurt?
With the door closed Artie felt like she was in an oven. Her skin felt hot, like her blood was simmering beneath its surface. Their alcohol-fumed breath created a close cocoon of hot, sticky air around them. Artie swayed against Rob; he put firm arms around her to steady her and the flutter of panic in her stomach sweetened into anticipation. She put her hand on his face nad pulled his mouth down to hers.
Artie had kissed boys before. A boy. On holiday. She had been drunk then, but then again she was drunk now. The kiss felt clumsy and she felt like she was just pretending to know what to do. Maybe Rob would call the whole thing off. But he didn’t seem to mind. His reluctance had vanished and he was working hard to push as much of their bodies together as he could. He pushed his lips and tongue into hers. His hands slipped between her shirt and jeans and ran up he bare back.
Artie didn’t know what she was supposed to do with her own hands. Right now they were tangled in his hair, closed to his neck. She tightened them, pulling at his hair, and Rob grunted into her lips. His hands clamped on her hips. She gasped with surprise as lifted her up. Their kiss broke. Without thinking about it she wrapped her legs around his waist.
Rob carried her to the window and sat her on the edge of the high sill. She put her hands down to steady herself. His face was millimetres from hers, his breath heavy and rapid, his trousers straining. He put his hand in his pocket and brought out a foil square – a condom.
“You sure you want to?”
Artie swallowed and wetted her lips. She looked up into his eyes. He had such nice eyes, like syrup. Eyes she could drown in, could drown her sorrows in. She nodded. Something still held him back. She reached for the waistband of his trousers. The skin beneath it was so hot it scorched her. She snapped the top button open and this snapped his hesitation. He kissed her again with bruising strength. His crotch ground into hers and she reacted by tightening her legs around his waist. This left her hands no room to continue undoing his fly. Artie tried to crush the glimmer of relief at that fact and lose herself in Rob’s kiss, in the physical sensations.
Rob fumbled her shirt open. His hands were on her body, pushing up under her bra, kneading and rubbing into her flesh.. His lips broke away from hers and moved down her throat. She tipped her head back and away to the side to make room for his damp kisses.
At the side of her vision she could see the dark space outside of the window. She looked away and quickly looked back. There was someone out there. The light spilling from the kitchen window into the garden illuminated only his feet, but Artie knew that whoever it was was watching them.
Rob was working his way back to her lips. She turned to meet the kiss and was almost swallowed by it. Let them bloody well watch, Artie thought with a giddy release. She reached up and pushed her shirt off her shoulders; after a half second of hesitation she unfastened her bra and dropped it to the floor.
Rob stepped back, his hands on her waist. Her skin prickled as his eyes roved over her. The memory of the ‘no tits’ comment rushed to the front of her mind and she felt colour rushing to her cheeks. Rob’s face was in shadow and hard to read.
“You’re amazing,” he said, and pulled his t-shirt over his head. Artie let her eyes and then her fingers trail down his chest. It was lightly muscled; the patch of hair in its centre, soft.
Rob’s burning hot hands moved to her waistband and started to unfasten her jeans. His mouth dropped to one of her breasts. In his eagerness he pushed Artie back into the window. She shivered; the cold glass on the skin of her back working against the heat of Rob’s lips and tongue on her nipple in a way that drove all thoughts from her mind. Artie heard herself moan.
A rough chill swept through Artie that had nothing to do with the cold glass at her back. The icy blade of someone’s attention stabbed into the back of her skull. The watcher in the garden? Somehow she could feel his eyes slicing into her.
Artie stiffened, causing Rob to stop his fumblings at her zipper. A swollen, sick feeling rolled around her stomach. She turned away from Rob to stare out into the garden again. The figure was still there. It stepped forwards into the light and Artie saw the face that she had expected to see. March. His black shark-eyes fixed on her. His face twisted in amusement.
The sick feeling grew until it filled her up and raced up her throat. Artie gagged. She shoved Rob back away from her. Ignoring his bewildered concern, she slid from the sill to the floor.  She snatched up her shirt from the floor and bolted towards the bathroom, the shirt clutched to her bare chest.

Heartweed: Chapter 19

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 19

The windows of Sam’s house were all open. Music thumped out carrying with it waves of laughter and conversation – the advantage of living in the middle of nowhere. Sam had only one neighbour and their house stood dark and empty.
Artie hesitated at the foot of the path. Just like the pub after Alex’s funeral. Part of her wanted to be in there, in the warmth; part of her wanted to run far away.
“Artie?”
She recognised the voice, one that usually sent shivers through her.
“Hi Rob.” Artie turned. The slight breeze brushed his fine hair across her forehead. He slouched, hands in pockets. His eyes were watchful.
“You going in?”
“In a second.” The words came out slowly, but easily. She was always so tongue-tied in front of Rob, but today she couldn’t muster enough of herself to care what he thought of her. “I just need a minute.”
“OK. Do you want me to wait for you?”
If he went in alone now, she could bet he would tell Sam that she was lurking out here, that she needed looking after.
“Yes. Please.”She flashed an automatic smile up at him. It drained from her face as soon as she looked away. Rob scuffed his feet. He cleared his throat.
“So how are things with your family? How are you all coping?”
Artie lips twisted again, this time into something that was nothing like a smile.
“Badly. And one day at a time.”
“Mmm.” Rob put his hands in his pockets and glanced around. The awkwardness of the moment was palpable, and strangely restful. Artie took a deep breath.
“Shall we go in?”
“You ready?”
As I’ll ever be, Artie thought. “Yeah. I need to drink and to dance and to just forget about things for a while.”
She started down the path. Rob’s crunching footsteps followed her. At the door he overtook her and reached for the handle.
“If you think that’s a good idea, then let me buy you a drink.”
He gave her his best smile, the one that crinkled the corners of his eyes and introduced the suggestion of wickedness into his expression. Artie found herself smiling back a real smile. Rob swept the door open for her and she walked past him into the party.

The kitchen table couldn’t be seen under the forest of bottles. Alcopops of all colours and types were crammed tightly together. The garish colours in teh bright halogen spotlights made them look like witches’ brews.
Potions to dull grief. Potions of forgetting. Artie smirked. There was no need for Gorth’s faerie magic for that.
“What can I get you?” Rob gestured at the table.
“I think I’ll start at red.” Artie pointed, then meandered her finger around the table. “And work my way through the rainbow to purple.”
Rob grabbed two bottles of postbox red booze. He knocked the caps off on the table edge and handed on to Artie. She raised it to her lips and swallowed. Too sweet. She swallowed again, a bigger gulp this time, then backed off coughing.
“Steady,” Rob said. His own drink was untouched. He held the bottle neck out and an angle towards Artie.
“Here’s to Alex.”
Artie clinked necks with him. Yeah, here’s to my fool of a brother, getting himself killed for a pretty face, she thought. Getting killed and abandoning me. Artie drained the bottle in a serious of messy gulps that left a trail of the sticky drink down the side of her chin. Rob reached up and wiped it off. She moved a backwards, only a centimetre or so.
“Orange now,” she said, in an effort to cover the prickling confusion that the simple touch had raised in her. Rob hesitated before handing her the next bottle. She couldn’t read what was in his eyes.
“Rob. Artemisia.”
Artie turned to see Chloe Smith. Hanging just behind Chloe’s shoulder was a bottle-blonde girl whose name Artie didn’t know. She’d seen them both at Alex’s funeral. They both hung out with the football team. Artie thought she remembered Chloe and Alex hooking up at one of these parties, unless it had been one of her almost identically styled friends. None of them ever had any time for Artie. So she had to fight to keep her lip from curling when Chloe gushed at her: “Artie. I’m so, so sorry about Alex. He was just wonderful.”
“Um. Thanks.”
“It’s so sad.” Chloe turned from Artie to Rob. “It’s just so sad, isn’t it.” Her shoulder neatly cut in between Artie and Rob. The nameless friend circled Artie to cut in at the other side.
The movements seemed perfectly choreographed and, with the benefit of a bottle and a half of alcohol in her, hilarious to Artie. Clever girls, she thought and felt the urge to giggle. Bottle-blonde turned her black-ringed, mock-soulful eyes on Artie.
“It really is a tragedy. Alex was so handsome and popular.”
So it would have been OK if he was ugly and unpopular? Artie hid her sneer behind another swig of the neon orange drink. I bet if it had been me, you lot wouldn’t be calling it a tragedy, just talking about how I was a bit weird and probably threw myself in front of the car.
“Excuse me,” Artie said to the girl, who simpered and whipped around to talk to Rob so quickly that Artie barely saw her move.
She banged her second empty bottle down on the table and reached for a yellow one. Rob caught her eye around Chloe and frowned. She waved vaguely at him and gestured that she was leaving.
Artie drifted on the eddies of the party until she found herself in the lounge. Sam was there, sat on Aaron Burke’s knee, her face and his so shoved together that they might have been one piece of flesh. James sat at ease on a sofa. He was devoting his energies to making a slight, curly-haired lad laugh. Artie caught his eye and waved her bottle at him. He bent forward, interrupting the boy next to him to beckon Artie over. The curly-haired boy shot Artie a cold look.
Artie paused near them, but didn’t sit.
“Hey. Good to see you…” James waved a tipsy hand around the room.
“Out and about?” Artie finished.
“Yeah.”
“Glad to be of service,” Artie muttered.
James turned to the guy sitting next to him. “This is Alex’s sister. Artie, this is Eric.”
Alex’s sister. She was still defined by him, even though he was dead. She took a mouthful from the bottle.
“Hi.”
The coldness on Eric’s face had been replaced by that uncomfortable sympathetic look that Artie was becoming familiar with seeing.
“Sorry for you loss,” Eric said.
“Did you know my brother?”
Eric shrugged. “I saw him around.”
Artie nodded. “Well thank you for your condolences.”
Another awkward silence. Artie felt like she was becoming a connoisseur of them. She filled the silence with the rest of the yellow bottle.
“I’m empty. Do you guys want me to fetch you another drink?”
They shook their heads and Artie left them to whatever she had interrupted. That was the cliche, wasn’t it, she thought as she passed the still entangled Sam and Aaron: death made everyone want to get laid.

Green. Poison green. Artie leaned against the wall in the hallway. She stared at the photograph on the opposite wall. A photo of Sam all dressed up for the end of high school ball. Alex was behind her his arms around he waist. He would have looked suave if not for his enormous grin. Instead he just looked happy. His life ahead of him. So much for that. The photo was not yet a year old.
Alex looked so grownup and handsome in his ball picture. In hers she had just looked gawky. Big eyes, long hair. A little kid in her big sister’s clothes. She was alone in her photo. She and James had come stag together.
The day after she saw her photo she had cut her waist length brown waves back to the last two inches. Her mum had gone spare.
Artie drifted into the bottleneck. Her face felt numb.
“Saw you take the green. Thought I’d better get your next lined up before they’re all gone.”
A blurry Rob, two bottles of glacier blue alcohol in hand, stood beside her. Artie blinked him into focus. She lifted the bottle of green in front of her, considered the remaining third – necked it.
“Thanks.” She reached for the offered bottle.
“He was a good bloke.” Rob gestured at the picture.
“Despite the fact he punched you in the face?”
“You heard about that.” Rob leaned against the wall beside her. “Yeah, well I deserved it.” Artie could hear the slight slurring in his words. He lowered his voice. “Did he tell you why he hit me?”
Artie rolled her head to the side to look up into Rob’s eyes. She nodded.
“Oh.” He caught his lip for a second between his teeth. “Well I’m sorry, it was a stupid thing to say. I didn’t mean it.”
His breath felt warm on her face. She said, “Which part?”
His forehead puckered in slow confusion. Artie pushed herself in closer to him. Now she could feel the warmth coming off his whole body. It wouldn’t be a cliche if it wasn’t true. She pushed herself onto her tiptoes and put her lips to his briefly. They were sticky and sweet.
“Do you want to go upstairs with me?”
Something sparked in his eyes: eagerness coloured around the edges with apprehension. Artie turned and swayed towards the stairs. She was halfway up them when she heard him follow.

Heartweed: Chapter 18

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 18

Bzzzt. Bzzzt.
Artie peeled her sleep-glued eyes open a crack. Her mobile phone jigged about on her bedside table. Sam, registered the display, and in the bar at the top of the screen: 10.05. 10.05 on a Saturday, ugh.
Artie pushed herself up in bed and reached for the phone. The buzzing stopped. She sucked her upper lip, staring at the phone. The return phone call could wait until she was more awake. The unfurled acorn laying beside the phone pricked at her memory. Her laptop skulked under the bed where she had left it. Artie dragged it out and kicked it out of hibernate. She drummed her fingers while she waited for the old machine to creak to life. She’d been hoping for a Mac. Unrealistic, but there had been a glimmer of hope. This refurbed machine served her needs. Eventually.
The laptop woke up enough to connect to the internet. Artie browsed to her webmail account. The inbox was empty: no reply from Gorth. Her phone buzzed again.
“Hello.”
“Hi hon.” Sam’s bright voice jangled out of the speaker. It softened into the required careful tone to ask the question: “How are you doing?”
Artie shrugged before realising that more was needed from her over the phone. “Better. It’s… hard.”
“Yeah.”
Silence settled like a heavy blanket. Artie cast about for something to say; Sam saved her the trouble.
“So the reason I’m calling is… well… the party, the pre-exam party that I organised, is, was, tonight.”
Artie’s browser refreshed. An unread email flickered to the top of her inbox. “Mmm hmm, OK,” she murmured, staring at the email. It was from Gorth. The subject line read ‘How can I help?’
She realised that an expectant silence was hanging on the line. Sam was waiting for her to speak. Artie blinked. “What?”
“So is that OK?” Sam said.
“Yeah, it’s fine. I mean, I had forgotten about it what with…” The unspoken words were like a punch to the heart. “…everything. But I’ll still come.”
“Um, good. It’ll do you good to get out.” Sam paused. “I guess what I meant is whether it’s OK to have the party so soon after Alex’s death. I mean, it’s only been a week.”
Nine days, thought Artie. She said, “He wouldn’t have wanted everyone else’s life to stop.” It wasn’t a lie. Alex had been the heart of their parties. Laughing and joking, making up stupid drinking games, a new one every time, for everyone to play. “In fact it would be more disrespectful to his memory not to have it.” Artie smiled: a tight, fleeting movement of her mouth.
“That’s what I thought.” Artie heard the tension unwind from Sam’s voice. “So, see you tonight?”
“Yeah.” Artie stared at the email at the top of her inbox. “Look I have to go now. See you later, OK?”
“Later.”
Artie dropped the phone on the duvet and clicked the email open.

Sorry to hear about your brother. What do you need? Potions of forgetting? Something to dull the grief?

What do I need? Artie hit reply. Deliberately she typed in the words.

Vengeance. March dead.

The reply came almost instantly.

That might be more difficult. Let me look into it and get back to you. G.

Artie clicked the lid of the laptop closed and slumped back on the bed. She stared at the ceiling and listened to the swift beating of her heart.

Continue reading.

Heartweed: Chapter 17

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 17

Artie slammed the heel of her hand against the back of her bedroom door. He hadn’t believed her. She and her parents had spent dinner, not in silence, but with big empty spaces in the conversation. Empty places like the one that her mum kept forgetting not to set for Alex. She had all but run away up here to avoid the atmosphere.
Her father had suggested grief counselling . For the whole family, of course. But he had sent enough under-lash glances at Artie for her to know that it was all for her benefit.
No one believed her: police, doctors, mum, dad. And why would they? She was starting to not believe it herself. Artie dropped onto her bed and stared at the ceiling. PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The words she had heard her dad muttering to her mum as she fled up the stairs. Did she have it ? How would she know? Artie didn’t think that it had anything to do with ‘seeing things’. Had she been seeing things?  Everyone knows that faeries aren’t real.
Artie reached for her sketchbook. She flipped through the pages to the crude lines of Lord March’s picture, then to the gloriously detailed portrait of Lady March. They were real; they had to be. If they weren’t, then her ‘seeing things’ had started before Alex’s death. And if that was the case – how could she trust any of her memories. Maybe she had pushed Alex in the path of that car while living out some crazy fantasy.
Artie shivered. She turned the page back to the picture of Lord March. It was the only one she had kept, the only one that really caught him: the cold glee, the perfect unnaturalness of his features. Murderer.
He was real. He really had killed her brother. And Artie would kill him. All these were true facts. There had to be a way back through to Faerie. She would find it, no matter what, and when she go there she would kill Lord March. The thought crystallised something inside of Artie. She felt a part of herself setting and locking into place. It had sharp edges. Like a lens, the crystal hatred focused her mind into a new clarity. She remembered.
Artie leaned over the side of the bed and raked through a pile of clothes in the corner. She fished out a pair of jeans with earth-stained knees and gave a quick thanks that they had escaped her mum’s take-no-prisoners laundry sweeps.
A glossy green acorn rolled from the pocket into her palm. My card, Gorth had said, in case you need to contact me. Artie rolled it between her fingers. It was just an acorn. She pulled the nut out of the cup and looked at its base. Hoping for a hollowed space, she was disappointed by the smooth continuity of the nut. A joke at her expense. Or, she felt a mist of doubt threatening to rise within her, had she just picked it up in the woods while drifting in a hallucination of flying green girls and cats on their hind legs. The sharp part of her forced its way out in a high-pitched, jittery laugh that she despised the sound of. Her eyes stung and she felt her throat closing.
“Shit.” Artie slammed the acorn down on her bedside table and then covered her face with both hands. “Gorth. Shit.”
A faint crackle. A louder crack. Artie quickly glanced at the acorn; it twitched. She brought her face closer to it. The acorn rolled to vertical. Fine lines traced from the apex of the nut to almost the base. As one, the segments spread open to form the shape of a six-petalled flower. Inside was a tightly rolled piece of paper.
Artie let go of another giddy laugh. “Tap and unwrap.” She reached for the paper and with delicate fingers unrolled it. She stared for seconds at the letters written in flowing brown script on the paper.
It was an email address.

Continue reading.

Heartweed: Chapter 16

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 16

The chirp of her phone intruded through the rippling drumbeats and startled Artie out of her meditation. She pulled her headphones from her ears and opened her eyes. She was in the woods. She was still in the woods.
It had been a long shot. For the past four evenings she had been spending hours out here looking for… something. A way through. A way back to that crumbling mansion where her brother’s killer lurked.
Four evenings of searching through the woods, looking for a way into fairyland: through a ring of mushrooms; through a group of oak,  ash and hawthorn trees; through sheer force of will. Nothing worked. Four evenings of trying to prove to herself that it hadn’t all been a dream. False memories produced by trauma. Whatever.
Tonight was the second time she had tried meditating, focusing her mind on where she wanted to get to, on the crushing shadows that were the way there. Today, just like yesterday, her mind had refused to comply. It tore around and around in circles showing her the same images again and again: Alex’s body flying through the air; March’s face as he watched his wife kissing Alex; March’s twisted smile as he met her eyes across the road.
Artie just ended up angry at herself and her failure, while her memories of March and Faerie just seemed more and more unreal each time she revisited them, like a word that when spoken too many times in a row lost all meaning. In her mind March’s face had blurred to the point that all that was clear to her was his smile, hovering in nothingness like the smile of the Cheshire cat.
Artie rubbed her hand over her face and reached into the bag looped over her shoulder, careful not to cut herself on the stainless steel kitchen knife in there. They didn’t like steel, or so the internet said. She pulled out her phone and read the single line of text from her mum. “Dinner. 15 minutes.” She dropped the phone back into her bag and stood up, stretching and twisting to get the kinks out.
She emerged from the trees a few feet from the spot where Alex had stepped to his death. On the opposite side of the road her father stood. A half drunk bottle of beer drooped from his hand.
“Dad?”
His eyes drifted upwards to stare through Artie. For a second it seemed as if he didn’t recognise her, then he blinked as if she had suddenly snapped into focus.
“Hi, love. Your mum sent me to fetch you for dinner.”
Artie nodded and crossed the road to his side. When he didn’t fall into step beside her she stopped. His eyes were still fixed on the road; he took a long drink.
“Coming?”
He nodded absently, but still didn’t turn. “Found out today. That kid plead guilty to vehicular manslaughter.” Artie flinched at the harshness of his voice. “Drunk – it should have been murder. Whatever he gets it won’t be long enough.”
Artie muttered: “It wasn’t totally his fault.”
“I know you said that Alex,” there was a hitch in his voice when he said his son’s name, “that Alex walked out in front of him, but that’s no excuse. If he hadn’t been drinking he would’ve seen him earlier, been able to brake.”
His hands tightened into fists. Artie was afraid that he would crush the neck of the bottle into his hand. “I went out there. The next day. No skid marks. not until after the point where Alex was hit. He didn’t even touch the brakes, not until after he took my boy away. I hope my son’s murderer gets the punishment he deserves.”
Artie’s dad drained the last of the beer and turned towards the house. “Let’s go in to dinner.”
“Dad?”
He turned back to look at her. “What, love?”
“It wasn’t his fault. He was just used.” The story that she had tried to tell the police came spilling out of her again. Her father just stared at her, his face getting redder and redder, except for his lips, which were pressed together so hard that they went through white and into blue.
“What the hell are you talking about?” The angry words burst out. “A fairy. Do you mean a queer?”
“No,” Artie closed her eyes. Believe me, please believe me, she thought. “A real faerie. I know this sounds crazy, but he used some kind of magical, mind control-”
“Mind control! Magical! Yes, Artie, that is crazy.” He ran his hands through his hair until it stuck up in clump. “Is this what you told the police? They said that you were hysterical. Raving about someone else being there, but there was no evidence and no one else saw…” He stepped close to Artie, the desperation in his eyes bored into her. “Was there someone? Who was it? Who killed Alex?”
“There was. A faerie, Lord March, he-”
Her father turned his back to her in an abrupt motion. The empty beer bottle flew from his hand towards a nearby waste bin. It hit the edge of the bin awkwardly and shattered. The sudden violence of his actions shocked the words from Artie.
“No more talk like that.” His voice was deadened. His shoulders were hunched and shaking, as if with the effort to keep something in. Then they eased. “I’m sorry.”
He turned back towards her, trying and failing to form his face into a composed expression. “Your mum and I, we’ll get you anything you need, any help you need for this… PTSD, or whatever. Anything you need. Just tell me. Was there another person there.”
Artie heard the faint inflection on the word person. She shook her head. “I’m sorry Dad.”
“It’s OK.” He stared past her. “Just try not to say anything about fairies or another person being there in front of your mother.”
He turned away from her and lead the way back towards the house.

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