Sunday, 3 March 2013

Storms: A Blackbrooke short


One of the great things about writing a trilogy is expanding the world you create. Blackbrooke, in its infancy, was a one book affair but that quickly changed as I started to write and the town grew and grew. The main plot ended up sprouting offshoots of stories in my head which I've been jotting for a while.

I've made no secret of my affection for the character of Denzil Rathbone. After all, he is the voice of the reader - bringing Liberty and her friends back down to earth when they spiral. Having written the first book where his relationship with a certain lady is introduced, I started to think about the story of their love and found myself writing the short story, Storms.

There are many more (probably enough to write another book) and if people want to hear more of the story of this budding romance then I'll be more than happy to post it ;-)

Until then, I hope you enjoy :-)

Also, see below for a competition to win a paperback copy of Blackbrooke. There are FIVE to giveaway and the competition is running until the end of March. Anyone can enter from anywhere in the world!

Now, make a brew and get comfortable....

Storms: A Blackbrooke short

His grubby trainers squeaked on the floor as he bolted down the corridors of Blackbrooke Academy.
Third strike.
This was it. He’d been given three chances not to mess up and this was the last.
To make matters worse, he had a legitimate excuse this time. His grandmother had the worst coughing fit in a long time and the pool of blood soaking into her handkerchief was enough to tell him not to leave her until it had stopped.
“I’m sick, Denzil,” she’d smiled sadly. “You know that.”
Of course he knew. It was just easier to forget but the dark blood on the crisp white cloth made it near impossible.
Now he was late.
Biblically late.
The headmistress taught Blackbrooke class so there was no way she was going to let this one go.
Would it be easier if I disappeared and pretended I’d walked out? He thought feverishly as he slammed his hands into a set of double doors. Would that be the best option all round?
He knew, sick or not, that his grandmother would clobber him if he got expelled. Iris was one tough cookie and despite how frail she’d become in recent months, he knew better than to cross her. In fact, she was the only person left in his life he had any respect for at all.
His teachers were a joke with their too serious faces and love for this godforsaken town and as for his peers…
He skidded to a stop and turned, lip already curled into a snarl at the person who dared to stop him.
“Hiya.” David Connor raised his hand in a feeble wave as he stepped out of the boys’ toilets. “Listen, I-”
“In a bit of a rush here, mate.” Denzil gestured to the door he was holding open. “Make it quick.”
“Of course,” David said worriedly. He fumbled in the pocket of his school trousers and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Denzil raised an eyebrow as he watched him, anger evaporating immediately. Although he played on the football team and therefore deemed as one of the ‘cool’ kids, David wasn’t so bad. He kept himself to himself and left Denzil alone, until that point. “I was wondering if you could get some…stuff.”
David’s cheeks flushed pink as Denzil snatched the note and proceeded to scan the scrawled handwriting. His eyes flicked back. “I need payment in advance.”
“Sure,” David flushed even redder and reached into his shirt pocket, pulling out several neatly folded notes. “Can you get it all?”
He almost laughed. Of course he could. All David wanted was alcohol and cigarettes from the Outside. Items that were readily available in Blackbrooke but they were still two years away from being old enough to make those purchases. “It’ll be tough but…” he snatched one of the notes out of David’s hand that he’d retained, “I’m sure it can be arranged.”
“Great!” David looked that bit too excited. “We’re having a party and I really want to-”
“Shh,” Denzil raised an index finger to his lips as he read over the items again. “I don’t want to know. I never need to know.” He grinned. “Come to the shop on Thursday to collect it. And David?”
David turned, eyes darting in both directions. “Yeah.”
“If you ever,” Denzil stepped so they were stood toe to toe, “stop me in my tracks to place an order again, or pass me an order in the Academy…”
David opened his mouth to defend himself but Denzil raised his hand.
“Shut up. You know the rules. You place orders in the shop, not in the Academy in full view of anyone who might be keeping a beady eye on me.”
“Got it,” David said tightly.
“Great!” Denzil grinned, moving his head so his overgrown hair wasn’t in his eyes. He reached into David’s shirt pocket and pulled out the remaining money. “This is for the inconvenience.”
David didn’t argue and watched as Denzil turned and bolted for the classroom.
“Ah Mr Rathbone,” Miss Prince said with a snarl as he let himself into the room. “You decided to join us.”
Denzil made for his seat at the front of the class and plonked himself down. “Sorry I’m late.”
He clenched his jaw waiting for the ancient Miss Prince to tell him to get out and never come back to the Academy. The rest of the class was quiet aside from the odd giggle coming from the Academy bimbos sat at the back.
“That’s okay,” Miss Prince fixed her stare on him over her crescent moon glasses and smiled sweetly. “It’s absolutely fine, Mr Rathbone because you have a chance to redeem yourself today.”
She chuckled at his puzzled expression and moved to walk up and down the desks. Miss Prince was a dragon and everyone feared her. She was probably that bit too old to still be working but no one dared to suggest otherwise. Even the other teachers in the Academy avoided her like the plague as she stalked by in her trademark pristine brown loafers and beige trouser suit.
On occasions Denzil wondered with morbid curiosity whether Miss Prince had ever had sex. He always concluded it was a resounding no and then would imagine how different she’d be if she’d got married and had children. Probably a pussycat.
“You have the chance,” she repeated, her voice coming from the back of the room, “to volunteer yourself to be the first in the class to present your half term project.”
Oh shit. What project?
As though reading his thoughts, Miss Prince was immediately at his side and leaning down to speak in his ear. “The project I tasked you all with before half term.” Her breath stank of coffee. “Practise for your final assessment. You need to stand up and talk for two minutes on a topic of your choice. Are you ready, Mr Rathbone?”
He felt a grin tug at the sides of his mouth. He was born ready. One thing he was never short of was words.
“And don’t think you can just stand there and talk,” Miss Prince was inside his head again. “This is a presentation but I trust you have all of your materials ready and waiting in your bag to present to everyone.”
It wasn’t a question. They stared at one another and he felt his forehead prickle with nervous sweat.
“Because if you’ve failed to bring your materials with you, you’ll be looking at a very serious punishment. One that will require your grandmother to come into the Academy and bear witness to.”
He gulped and lowered himself further down.
“As we have no volunteers,” she continued, clearly enjoying herself, “it’s my choice and I choose you. So, are you ready?”
Denzil could hear the blood pumping around his body. He was going to be expelled. Not only that, he was going to be expelled in the presence of his grandmother. He could just imagine the look of sheer disappointment on her face and the small shake of her head she always did whenever she was upset. His throat seared hot with emotion. He’d let her down continuously since his parents walked out. All of the little acts of rebellion had hurt no one but her and the one thing he’d promised was that he’d try his best at the Academy and take his exams. That was all she asked of him.
“Well?” Miss Prince demanded, jabbing him roughly in the shoulder with her knobbly finger. “Do you have your project, Mr Rathbone? Or do I have a phone call to make?”
He lowered his eyes to the desk and was horrified when they filled with tears.
The other pupils were deadly silent as they watched one of their classmates effectively hung, drawn and quartered in front of them.
“You have a phone call to make,” he croaked, not looking up.
“Excuse me?” she cupped her hand around her ear for effect. “I didn’t quite catch that. Can you speak up, Mr Rathbone?”
He clenched his jaw. “I said, you have a-”
“I’ll do it.”
The pupils shifted in their seats and Miss Prince squinted at the back of the room. “Who said that?”
Denzil frowned and slowly turned.
One of the bimbos was on her feet with her hand raised in the air. She shot a worried look at Denzil before settling her eyes back on Miss Prince. “I’ll go first. I have all of my things with me.”
Miss Prince pulled on the bottom of her jacket, clearly flustered. “Miss Picton, you’re permitted to go after Mr Rathbone. I’ve made my decision and-”
“But you said,” the bimbo piped up before turning scarlet and lowering her voice, “You asked, before Denzil came into the classroom, whether anyone wanted to go first but I-I didn’t,” she stammered. “I do now though. I’ll go first.”
Denzil narrowed his eyes. This girl knew his name. He didn’t know why he was surprised, he was quite well known in the Academy for being able to get items from the Outside but it wasn’t usually the girls who handled that dirty business. Especially not the bimbos, they got their boyfriends to sort that with a flick of their hair and a flutter of eyelashes.
Miss Prince glared at the girl who’d dared to interfere with her grand punishment. “Fine, Miss Picton. Come to the front. Mr Rathbone can go after you.” She smiled triumphantly.
The girl’s chair scraped and she made her way to the front. “I’ll try to make this quick,” she said, rummaging through her bag on Miss Prince’s desk. “But I’ll apologise in advance if I end up chattering away until the end of the lesson…”
She flashed Denzil a meaningful look and he stared back in surprise. She was covering for him. He didn’t know who she was. They all blended into one person from the bimbo batch, looking like Hitler’s dream hot tub party with their long blonde hair and blue eyes. Perhaps he’d got her boyfriend some contraband recently and this was her way of saying thank you. Either way, he was grateful to this Picton girl. He picked up his pen and started to doodle in his workbook as the girl removed several items from her bag.
“Okay, today I’m going to talk to you about…” she stopped and bit her lip. Her eyes flew to the ceiling as though she was debating whether or not to continue. “Well, I suppose you could say I’m quite interested in…storms.”
A couple of her bimbo friends at the back giggled and her cheeks reddened again. She looked at her feet. Denzil noticed one of her grey socks had slipped down while the other remained pulled up above her knee. He shook his head and returned his eyes to the workbook.
“I’ve always been interested in storms and their causes,” she said, still avoiding everyone’s eye. “A storm is a violent disturbance in the atmosphere, usually resulting in rain, thunder, lightning and sometimes hail and snow-”
“No shit!” Someone piped up and the whole class laughed.
She looked mortified and stared at the floor.
Denzil turned and locked eyes with the smart arse culprit whose smile quickly diminished as he shrank back.
She coughed and looked down. “If you want me to stop then I will.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Miss Prince folded her arms. “Start again and introduce yourself properly. You’ll receive an instant fail if you don’t introduce yourself in the final presentation.”
Bitch, Denzil thought, narrowing his eyes at his teacher. He returned his look at the girl. She looked as though she wanted the ground to open up and swallow her so he couldn’t understand why she’d been so keen to take his place.
“Sorry. My name is Marie Picton and I’m going to talk about storms.”
Someone blew a raspberry at the back and everyone laughed.
“For the love of fuck!” Denzil slapped his hand on the desk and turned again, his chair scraping loudly. “Shut up and let the girl speak.”
“I’ll do the teaching thank you, Mr Rathbone,” Miss Prince snapped.
He locked eyes with the girl he now knew was Marie as he turned back to the front. She bit her lip and looked worried. He gave her a serious nod as though he had the authority to command her to continue. He didn’t of course, but she started to talk anyway.
“Storms are created when low pressure develops with a system of high pressure surrounding it. It’s these opposing forces that can create winds and result in storm clouds, such as…” she stopped and looked to the ceiling as though struggling to find the word. She rubbed her lips together and Denzil looked back at the paper in front of him.
“I can’t remember what they’re called,” she waved her hand dismissively, developing more confidence by the second. “Anyway, there are many different types of storms including ice storms, blizzards, snow storms, fire storms, dust devils, tropical cyclones…”
Denzil’s eyes seemed to have a magnetic attraction to her and he felt the corners of his mouth turn up as she grew more animated, reeling the names off on her fingers. He listened with interest as she went on to describe some of the biggest storms recorded in history and was even oblivious when chatter broke out around him between bored pupils. Even Miss Prince had taken to reading her book at the back of the class.
Only receiving eye contact from Denzil, Marie spoke directly to him. She tucked a stray hair that had come loose from one of her braided pigtails behind her ear. “What I really love is Greek mythology because they have many gods of storms. I love the idea that they get really angry and command the clouds to rain hell on the world.”
Denzil tipped his head back and laughed. “Sounds like me on a bad day.”
She let out a small laugh and looked at the floor again.
He wondered how someone so pretty could be so self-conscious.
“Briareos is the god of sea storms, that’s the only one I can remember.”
Denzil frowned and tapped his pen against his lips. “That makes me think of the Hokusai painting-”
“The Great Wave!” she jumped in excitedly. “Yes! I love that painting, it’s one of my favourites.”
“Mine too,” he grinned.
No it isn’t! his brain screamed. You don’t give a toss about art. You only know it because your Gran does!
He mused as to why he’d just lied to this girl.
When the bell sounded for the next class, the pupils couldn’t move out of there fast enough and pushed for the door in one big rush. 
Denzil watched the bimbos from the back of the class descend on Marie like pastel vultures. They giggled and chattered loudly as she packed her posters and newspaper clippings of storms back into her bag.
As they walked out of the classroom, Marie raised her hand to wave at him and flashed a perfect toothy smile that made her eyes glitter.
He didn’t move. His hands gripped the edge of the desk. How was it possible that someone who less than an hour ago was just another bimbo at the back of the class was now the most amazing girl he’d ever seen?
“Are you planning on leaving at any point today?” Miss Prince was over his desk, arms folded.
He sprang to his feet and bolted without a word.
Damn you, Marie Picton, he thought as he stalked to his next lesson. Damn you and your storms.

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  1. I love the idea of an expanded universe revolving around a core story. I've always wanted to explore that kind of thing, but other core story idea just seem to get in the way.

    I thought Storms was a pretty intriguing glimpse into the world.

    1. Thanks Ash-matic :-) It was so much fun to write!