Toil and Trouble – a Macbeth Noir mashup short story

Toil and Trouble by Matt Cowens

It was past business hours when the dame walked into my office. She didn’t say anything at first; she just stared and frowned and weighed me with her eyes. She had dark hair and pale skin, and the dress under her coat was finely made. She was beautiful all right, but there was something cold in her eyes, something which flashed a warning sign to my tired nerves. If I hadn’t been two months behind on the rent I’d have thought it wise to hear the details of her case before taking it on. Money being the root of all evil, I knew I was hired, whatever mess she was set to drag me into.
“Take a seat, Miss…?”
“It’s Lady, actually, but you can call me Gruoch.”
“That’s an unusual name,” I replied.
“Not where I come from.”
She sat and I leaned back in my chair, looked down at the .38 revolver strapped to the bottom of my desk. The barrel was pointed square at Gruoch’s chest and the safety was off – the safety was always off. I reached down and spun the pistol to point at the wall. Clients tend not to pay their bills once there’s an extra hole in their rib cage.
“You want me to find someone?” I asked. “Your husband’s cheating on you and you need proof before you divorce him?”
I figured it wouldn’t be anything that simple but most of my cases were cheating husbands. They were easy to solve and I usually didn’t end up needing to visit the hospital.
She shook her head and I felt my muscles tighten in anticipation of the tough spot this case was almost certain to get me into.
“I want you to find three women.” She slid a folded piece of paper across the desk and I felt hope rekindle. Three women was a whole other level of cheating but it still meant the guy was thinking with his little head, and I might be able to get the jump on him.
“I’m sorry to hear your husband’s been unfaithful…”
I unfolded the paper and stopped talking. No mid-life crisis would see a man run to the arms of three bearded, haggard crones. I remembered a case I’d worked few months earlier, a dame whose husband had been lost at sea. She thought his ship had been sabotaged by a bearded woman. I hadn’t been able to prove anything, but I had a name.
“The Weird Sisters? You’re sure you want me to track them down? They ain’t exactly what I’d call friendly…”
Her hands were restless, rubbing against each other. She forced a smile and clasped them together. “My husband has been consorting with them. I need to know what he has heard. I need to know…”
She paused and I stood up, turned my back to her. Through the blinds I looked down on the street below the office. A dirty street, barely lit by greasy streetlights. There was grime out there in the city, grime and violence and corruption. But it was my city, my sewer to wade through. This dame wanted to drag me to a blacker place, an underworld where getting shot was the least of your worries.
I heard a metallic clank on the desk behind me.
“He knows something, and I have to know too. His mind was full of scorpions but now, now he is… resolved. And I…”
I turned around. She looked tired, and was rubbing her hands again. The coldness was still there but I saw past it, saw a sadness, a grief. There was an open pouch of coins on the desk, the old fashioned kind. Gold. A small fortune.
“Dead men don’t need rent money,” I muttered to myself.
Lady Gruoch started. Her hearing was good. Her knuckles went white as she gripped the arms of her chair. She straightened and all the feminine charms she wielded as weapons to disarm me seemed to drain from her. It was like a cloud of blackest night gathered in the office and I knew she could do anything, could dash my brains out, and heaven wouldn’t see a thing. I felt a chill run through me but I reached out and took the money anyway.
“Nothing. I’m on the case. I’ll find the sisters, find out what they said, and you’ll know whatever your husband does.”
“Perhaps then I will be able to rest,” she replied, standing. “Do not fail me. I would not be pleased, and you do not look much like my father.”
I didn’t understand the words but I got the message loud and clear. The coins weighed heavy in my pocket as she walked out. The case ahead of me weighed heavy on my soul. Something wasn’t right with Lady Gruoch. She didn’t need a detective; she needed a doctor, and maybe a priest. I popped the catch on the desk holster and slipped the .38 into my pocket. Wherever the case lead me, wherever the Weird Sisters were, I was leaving the safety off until the case was over. I was headed out of the city, out of the streets I knew so well, into a wide darkness. It was time to be bold and resolute, and hope that I wasn’t just teaching bloody instructions.
I feared I was, and hoped a hospital stay was the worst thing that lay ahead.

Heart of Daftness

Debbie and I wrote a few sketches back in 2010. I’m giving a presentation on mashups and fanfic on Friday and I rather like this – it has held up well for a 5-year-old idea:

The Heart of Daftness

Principal Hargreaves:  Ah, Marlow, glad you could make it.  Take a seat.

Marlow:  Principal, what’s all this about?

PH:  It’s a delicate matter, Marlow.  Very delicate.  I need someone to go all the way up to H block, into the heart of the technology department.

Marlow:  That’s a pretty dark block, sir.

PH:  The darkest.  Duty teachers don’t go there, half the students are afraid to even walk past.  It’s one of the darkest places on this earth…

Marlow:  What do you need?

PH:  It’s the head of the IT department, Professor Kurtz.  He’s been hidden away in H block for years now, one of our best men.  He’s always sent out good test scores, able students, but lately he’s been…

Marlow:  What?  Slacking off?  Failing to mark test papers?

PH:  Worse.  Much worse.  He’s out of control, Marlow.  Out there at the edge, away from civilisation, with only Youtube and Facebook for company, he’s changed, Marlow.  He went out there to teach something noble, something good.  He was going to be a light in the darkness of those students’ lives… that’s all gone now.  Look at this!  Read what this child’s report says.

Marlow:  Jayden is one of a number of students who has not completed this term’s assignment, but he has over 50,000 hits on his beached whale animation on Youtube.

PH:  And there, scrawled on the side of the paper?

Marlow:  Exterminate the brutes!

PH:  The kids are worshipping him like a god, there are computer monitors on spikes all around his office, and with every account he deletes or password he changes they worship him more.

Marlow:  So what do you want me to do?

PH:  He’s out of control, Marlow.  He’s looked into the human soul and that heart of darkness has changed him.  Yesterday he froze the internet accounts of half the staff.  Today, he blocked Twitter for every user of the school network.

Marlow:  The horror, the horror!

Pride and Prejudice and… Sherlock Holmes?

murder-matchmaking_debbie-cowens_front-cover_lores_thumb2 It has been great to see the warm response for Murder and Matchmaking, a new novel by Kāpiti author Debbie Cowens released by Paper Road Press. It’s a retelling of Pride and Prejudice where Mrs Bennet, worried that her daughters might not be able to find husbands, starts murdering the prettiest young ladies of Hertfordshire to give her girls a fighting chance. The eminent detective Sherlock Darcy is summoned to solve the murders, something Elizabeth Bennet has been working on in secret.

The book is available on Amazon, where it’s currently #8 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Mashups🙂

More information is available at Paper Road Press.

Mansfield with Monsters: Student and Teacher Edition

At this year’s NZATE Conference several copies of the student and teacher edition of Mansfield with Monsters were up for grabs as prizes. There’s another copy which will be won by one lucky punter who likes the facebook page for the 2015 conference (once it hits 200 likes).

Mansfield with Monsters student and teacher edition

The conference page can be found here:

More information about the student and teacher edition is available on the Steam Press website, here:

Baby Teeth – a fundraising anthology

ImageYesterday Debbie and I attended the Wellington launch of the horror anthology Baby Teeth. It’s a collection of creepy stories, mostly by New Zealand authors (Debbie and I both have stories in the collection), based on the creepy things kids say. All proceeds from sales of the book are going to the Duffy Books in Homes literacy charity.

It’s important to point out that while there are a lot of characters in the stories who are children, and the charity is a children’s literacy organisation, the books is definitely not for children. Some of the stories are funny, some are whimsical, but a few are downright disturbing. Not all of the kids in the book make it out alive.

If you don’t mind some dark horror in an anthology mix, you like a short short story (most are around 1000 words) and you have NZ$25 to spare, you could do worse than heading over to Paper Road Press and picking up a copy. It’s going to be available in ebook & audiobook formats too, so you could check those out too.

Share and share alike

I posted this as a status update over on Facebook and it attracted something like 40 shares in 24 hours. Not a huge number, but compared to any of my other posts? I guess it’s all about timing…

It’s 3am. Your doorbell rings. You open the door and a pedant tries to argue with you about your waking routines. You turn to where your portait once hung in the hall and see only a framed picture of a giraffe. You take the picture down and strike the pedant repeatedly in the head with it. The pedant falls, unconscious, perhaps lifeless. You stand in the early morning stillness of your doorway looking down at the pedant. It is silent. No picture looks at you from the wall. You are alone. You wonder whether silence is preferable to pedantry. The giraffe picture slips from your fingers and you step back into the darkness of your house. In the distance a police siren wails. You push shut the door and retreat further into the stillness of your house. You think about what you have done.

You… think… about… what… you… have… done…


Going West Books & Writers Festival 2013

goingwestfestivalThis weekend Debbie and I had the enormous pleasure of attending the 18th annual Going West Books & Writers Festival in Titirangi, Auckland. We flew up on Friday, spent a marvellous weekend in Auckland, and returned home on Monday.

We divided our time in Auckland between looking after our son, and attending the festival while his grandparents took him to the zoo and Rainbow’s End. On a side note Rainbow’s End was a huge hit with our son and we were impressed that they let him in at an autism-related discount and also gave my mum a discount as his official caregiver for the visit!

The Going West festival was held in the Titirangi War Memorial Hall and was meticulously organised, had a superb sound setup, and was a warm, friendly and fascinating event to attend. The single stage meant everyone at the festival saw the same speakers – no need to choose between competing sessions and miss out. The guest speakers included some legends of New Zealand writing.

One highlight of the festival for me was seeing Sarah Laing and Dylan Horrocks in conversation. I have long been a fan of Hicksville and have been enjoying Sarah Laing’s Let Me Be Frank comic series, They talked about the writing process, about over-sharing, organic art processes and striving to be functionally fabulous.

Sarah Laing in conversation with Dylan Horrocks

Sarah Laing in conversation with Dylan Horrocks

I also loved the in-depth and insightful conversation between Phillip Mann and David Larsen, which dealt with Mann’s new book The Disestablishment of Paradise as well as recapping his career and drawing links between his many novels. Talking with Phillip Mann at the end of the festival was also a great pleasure.

At the end of the day on Sunday Debbie and I took to the stage for our own conversation with Sarah Laing. She asked brilliant questions, guided our conversation expertly, and we were delighted by the questions from the audience at the end. It was a thoroughly enjoyable discussion for us and the audience responded well which was lovely.

I was impressed by every aspect of the festival and found the suburb of Titirangi to be delightful too. With Debbie’s navigational skills and a map we managed to find our way around Auckland without too much trouble, only missing one motorway on-ramp during the weekend. We’ll definitely be back again!

It was a real privilege to be invited to the festival and we had a wonderful time. Kia ora to everyone who had a part in making our weekend so special.