The Passenger, an unpublished excerpt

The following text is a chapter deleted from my novel Necessary Monsters during the editing process. For those who have read the book, it describes an incident upon Irridis’s arrival in the City of Steps. During the revision it was apparent that it wasn’t essential to the story, but I thought readers might enjoy it in the spirit of an outtake. If you haven’t read the book, and this sliver has made you curious, you can find it here.

Irridis_sketch_web_crop

THE PASSENGER

The evening was cool and clear when the City of Steps became visible from the deck of the Narwhal. It was a welcome change. For days, the vessel’s wake had been the only clear evidence of movement, a ruled line of phosphorescence on a calm sea. Atmospheric murk had hidden the stars and left the sun a bleary, inconsistent eye. At the rail, the passenger watched lights moving on the coast. Irridis wasn’t expecting to find comfort in their warmth. Hardened by months of cold seas and wind, his stomach carved by hunger, he didn’t dare to expect better from the city.

He stood with his hands behind his back, watching the famous limestone staircase come into view. He felt no awe, or nostalgia for that matter. He closed his eyes, preferring to observe the approaching city through the ocelli, five luminous stones that floated about his head like a crown. Through them, he experienced a view far sharper and brighter than the one his eyes could provide. He saw people moving along the steps and across the market square in front of the Cloth Hall. Beyond the market, the city became visually impenetrable, a puzzle of sagging rooftops, street openings and ancient gardens. Hidden in this maze was Moss, the man Irridis had promised to visit. His only friend. Irridis prized solitude above all else. He’d already decided that this visit to the City of Steps would be his last. He’d come to say a final goodbye.

“You will have to slip away quietly,” said the captain, his voice still hoarse from a month of influenza. “I can’t have you seen or I’ll have the harbor police crawling all over me.” The captain’s face was as grey and pitted as a chunk of dead coral. His salt-stiffened oilskin rode on his body like a half shed carapace. The captain was a man of compromised principles, which had thus far played to Irridis’s advantage. They’d met on New Year’s morning, after gales had forced the Narwhal to take shelter in the lee of a wooded island. When the clouds broke, the crew was astonished to see a stranger emerge from the birch forest and walk toward their encampment on the stony shore. Or at least this was what Irridis guessed from their vacant expressions. Irridis had offered no explanation for his presence on the island, and would have been left to his fate if he hadn’t produced a fist sized ball of ambergris. Despite the ship’s dwindling stores, the captain had unquestioningly accepted the stinking, tumorous mass as payment for a berth.

The chief officer and the ship’s doctor stood beside their leader, watching their illegal passenger, heads tilted like inquisitive crows. Irridis had made no effort to learn their names. The crew of the Narwhal were a collection of uncouth, ill-provisioned thugs. The doctor was a sinispore addict, and the chief officer a sycophant that treated those beneath his rank with open contempt. For Irridis, the voyage had been one made among ghosts.

“Did you hear me?” the captain said, raising his voice. “A dory has been signaled to intercept us in a few minutes. You’ll leave as soon as it arrives. If it ever comes up that you were here I’ll flatly deny it. I expect you to do the same.” Irridis assented with a nod.

“Look at that,” said the doctor. “Am I hallucinating?” The men followed his crooked finger seaward. A large canine appeared to be standing on the water.

“A wolf,” said the chief officer.

The doctor shook his head. “What’s it doing out here?”

“It must have drifted out on some wooden debris.” The chief officer leaned over the rail.

“It’s no wolf,” said the Captain. “It’s a city mongrel, probably rabid. Get my rifle and tell them to cut the engines. We’ll save the brute a slow death. Hurry, before it drifts out of range.” The chief officer hurried away. Irridis stood back, detached, an audience of one observing a play. He didn’t like the look in the captain’s eyes. A few seconds later, the chief officer returned with the rifle and flashlight. He thrust it into the captain’s hands.

*

The captain took aim and fired the rifle. The dog’s haunches dropped. The men shouted and pressed their chests to the rail, their ranks momentarily forgotten, unified in violent pursuit. Their voices trailed away as it became clear that the bullet had struck wood and only startled the animal. It watched them, eyes luminous in the torchlight, panting. Its fur was jeweled with seawater. The crate it stood on tilted in the waves that spread from the hull of the ship. The sound of the dog’s claws scrambling for purchase could be heard over the throb of the now idling engine. The captain lifted his rifle again, training it along the beam of the chief officer’s flashlight.

“This is wrong.” The doctor stepped forward and put his hand on the barrel of the rifle pulling it downward. His actions froze the group. The captain’s features were unreadable in the stark shadows, but Irridis could see the fear in the doctor’s smile. The breath of the three men filled the air, lit by the flashlight that the chief officer had swung around in surprise. The captain tried to lift the rifle against the pressure of doctor’s grip. A distant thrum was audible on the water. It was the promised launch arriving from the city. The sound broke the doctor’s concentration, and he glanced away. The butt of the rifle flew up and broke his nose. He folded large hands over his face and stumbled out of the light.

The second rifle shot went wide of the mark as the captain roared at the chief officer to get the torch back on the dog. The man tried to comply but he was unnerved and the beam moved crazily over the water.

“Enough of this,” said Irridis. The words were out before he had time to consider the consequences. The captain, already provoked by the doctor’s interruption, turned on his heel and leveled the gun at Irridis’s head. His eyes darted in the direction of the water. The tip of his index finger whitened against the trigger. There was more behind the captain’s heavy lidded expression than annoyance. The floating ocelli reflected in the febrile glassiness of his eyes.

“I’ll do as I please.” The captain’s tone was calm. He stepped forward until the barrel was inches from Irridis’s forehead. “You should back off and mind your own business.”

“You will never kill it,” said Irridis. “You’ll merely injure it and prolong it’s suffering.”

The captain shook his head. “It’ll starve to death if I leave it. Would you want that for it? Would it ease your conscience?”

“Bring it aboard,” said Irridis. An outboard motor sputtered on the other side of the ship.

“That’s your ticket. You need to go.”

“Lunatic,” yelled the doctor from the dark, though to whom this was directed at was unclear.

The captain smirked. “Don’t worry about him. A little sinispore and he’ll be fine.”

“Put the gun down,” said Irridis.

“I’ll not be given directives on my own ship. Now, I’m not telling you again, grab your duffle and get on that boat.”

“Would you shoot me?” said Irridis.

The captain sighed. “Give me half a reason.” He rattled the rifle. “You’ve been frightening my men for weeks. I don’t know what you are, but nobody of consequence knows you’re here, so I’d tread lightly if I were you.” Leaving this threat in the air, the captain turned back to the dog, which had drifted closer to the ship. Without warning, he pulled the trigger. The dog stumbled backward into the water. Irridis reached for the rifle, but the captain anticipated him and feinted to the left. He fired a shot at short range. The sound deafened Irridis, but the bullet missed his head. Behind him the doctor’s cursing abruptly stopped. The chief officer ran toward the stern shouting for help. Irridis closed his eyes.

The first ocellus struck the captain to the left of his sternum. He fell to one knee, letting the rifle clatter to the deck. In an effort to maintain equilibrium, his shoe skewed in a spreading oval of blood. The second ocellus struck him in the back of the head, snapping it forward. Shaking hands rose to hold together the skull already breaking apart beneath the skin. Half way to the task, they fell into the man’s lap as he crumpled forward. Irridis walked across the deck and shoved the rifle into the sea with tow of his travel worn boot.

***

Irridis helped the dog from the water to the boat. Although it was leaner under the thick fur than he had imagined, its limbs were strong. As it scrabbled over the side, Irridis was aware of the shifting group watching from the ship’s rail. He ignored them. They were too frightened to interfere, but that surely wouldn’t last. The dog stood in the middle of the boat, shivering on spindly legs. It alternated its attention between Irridis and the cowed man clutching the tiller.

“Take us to the city,” said Irridis. The rusty outboard roared and spewed exhaust. The boat slewed away from the ship and headed in the direction of the city. The dog lurched sideways and then sat down in the water sloshing at its feet. Its long snout followed the five ocelli that now darted around the boat.

On the dark water, midway between the ship and the city, the man piloting the boat yelled over the engine. “I can’t believe someone would kill a man over a dog.”

Irridis didn’t answer. Looking at the dog’s reflecting eyes, he had the unsettling thought that it had been sent to meet him.

Months Later…

I am shocked to see that I haven’t updated my blog since May. On the other hand, I don’t feel too bad because I stuck pretty much to my work plan for this year.

This summer saw the release of my fantasy novel Necessary Monsters. The earliest drafts of NM go back a few years, so this was significant for me. After that, I did some illustrations for somebody else’s book, which I enjoyed a lot (specifics to come). Once those were finished and turned in, it was time to sit down and look at my next novel, (working title Tailor of Echoes) with a fresh eye. Now, with that finished and turned into my agent, I am working on a series of illustrations for my short story collection Magpie’s Ladder. And this will take me close enough to the year’s end that I will still have time to do some Christmas shopping and call it a day, er, a year. Then it will be time to peek into that folder called, Fragments, where I keep the seeds for my next writing projects. I also have some art shows coming up, but I will talk more about those when the time comes. So there you have it, how I spent my summer and how I intend to spend my fall.

If you haven’t read my novel, and you’d like to, you can find it on Amazon. There are also a few signed copies on my webstore. I recently added an original pointillist ink drawing to the store, called Forager, so check that out too.

If you have read my novel, and you liked it, consider leaving a comment on Amazon or Goodreads, to help other readers find it.

For my part, I am reading Amatka by Karin Tidbeck, which looks amazing (check out her interview in the August edition of Locus). I’m also starting Brian Aldliss’s Helliconia trilogy, which is an unpardonable gap in my reading history.

9781630230500_fc

 

 

Search Party

Search_Party_web
Search Party, 2017, ink on archival board, 8″ x 10″
Search_Party_web_detail
Search Party – detail

This is a new piece called Search Party. I’m taking a break from some large pieces to execute some smaller ideas. For this drawing I used brush and ink for the main subject and a dip pen for the background. It was done on archival Cranson board. I’ll probably do a few in this vein. It behooves me to mention that this drawing is available for purchase in my webstore, where earlier in the week I added a few other small originals.

Earlier in the month I sent the copy-edited manuscript of my novel Necessary Monsters back to the publisher. The publication date has been changed to June 6. It is available for pre-order on Amazon and other on-line sellers.

I also sent a revised to manuscript of my short-story collection Magpie’s Ladder to another publisher. I hope to have an announcement around this project in then next few weeks.

  • Cheers, Richard.

 

January Update

9781630230500_fc
Cover of Necessary Monsters, 2017, Arche/ Resurrection House

I am very excited to show you the cover of my new novel Necessary Monsters, which will be published this May and is now available for pre-order. I can’t wait to share this novel with readers. I re-wrote the book many times over the last few years, refining it to the book I saw in my head. It is, to paraphrase the publisher, true to my art. This observation pleased me immensely because I wrote it to explore the worlds I love through my characters stories. This is a novel filled with books, crumbling cities and unsettling landscapes, magic and of course, monsters. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Other stuff: I spent the last few days moving my website from one platform to another, taking the opportunity to simplify, and cull some older images. The flexibility of the new platform will make it a lot easier to keep the site updated. What can you expect to see? The work highlighted under the Portfolio tab is personal work and ranges from 2009 to present. The Illustration tab highlights various publications, which I either illustrated or contributed to. Over time, I will turn some of those images into gallery links, displaying images from the various projects. But that is phase 2 and will unfold time permitting. Another page, which will be more dynamic and added sooner, will be called Available Originals. My plan with the Available Originals page is to showcase original works appropriate to all budgets. Works on this page will typically be unframed. As an aside, I am very careful with the shipping of original work – at minimum, works are placed in an archival mylar sleeve and shipped sandwiched in 3 pieces of stiff foamcore, within a plastic bubble envelope. For those interested in purchasing a print, they are available in my webstore.

. Richard

 

Fall to Winter

Following a very busy autumn, I’m now finally sitting down to plan creative work for 2017.

My new novel Necessary Monsters is scheduled to be published by Resurrection House/ Arche Press in May. I thought I’d share the description from the distributor’s website.

 Lumsden Moss is an escaped thief and an unrepentant bibliophile with a long-suffering desire to foist some karmic retribution on those who have wronged him. But when the opportunity to steal a rare book from the man who sentenced him to prison puts him on the wrong side of the wrong people, Moss finds himself on the run. And it’s not just the book he stole that these people want, it’s also the secrets of a long-forgotten location on Nightjar Island, a place cursed and abandoned since the Purge.

When Moss falls in with Imogen, a nimble-fingered thief who has taken a traveling bookcase filled with many secrets, he starts to realize how much of his unsavory past is indelibly tied to a frightening witch-child and her nightmarish pet monster.

In a fantastic world, still recovering from a war where magic and technology were fused together, Moss and Imogen must decipher the mystery of their mutual pasts in order to illuminate the dark heart that still lurks on Nightjar Island.

Bookending 2017, fall will see the publication of my illustrated short story collection Magpie’s Ladder. I just signed the contract for this project last week and will have more details when I am able to share them. Needless to say I’m very excited about both of these projects.

In late November I turned in 8 illustrations for Centipede Press’s edition of Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Houses Under the Sea – Mythos Tales. This title will be published sometime in 2017.

Also on the art front, I’m working on some new personal work, which I plan to share here as the winter progresses. Sometime in the next few months I’ll be participating in a show with the Shadowood Collective. Shadowood shows are always incredible and this one will be no exception.
– Richard.

Mythos Tales

houses_final_web
Interior illustration for Houses Under the Sea, Mythos Tales

Caitlin R. Kiernan has posted this illustration to her blog, so I guess I am okay to share it here as well. This is for the forthcoming Houses Under the Sea, Mythos Tales. Caitlin has provided details about this book on her blog. The book also features amazing art by John Kenn Mortensen and Vince Locke. Houses Under the Sea, Mythos Tales will be available from Centipede in 2017.

  • Richard.

A Grotesque

Dictionary.com defines grotesque as

fantastic in the shaping and combination of forms,as in decorative work combining incongruous human and animal figures with scrolls,foliage,etc.

This new piece is the first of many I’m doing on a beautiful block of 140lb Arches coldpress paper. My go-to paper is their hotpress, but the texture of the coldpress is perfect for these small pieces. It looks great in a raking light. I like to hang miniatures in unexpected places in a house, where the light can find them at a certain time of day. I hope you enjoy this one. In my filing system, it is Grotesque_1 but in my mind it is the Flowerfish.

If you enjoy process shots, you can follow my work in progress snaps on Instagram. I also post interesting things related to my work that don’t necessarily require a blog entry. In the coming few weeks I’ll be posting images of new grotesques, some new personal works and some in-progress illustrations for a short story collection called Mythos Tales, by Caitlin R. Kiernan, to be published by Centipede Press. If you are looking for original art work check out my Etsy store, Radiolaria Studios

  • Richard
Grotesque_1_web
Flowerfish, 2016, ink on paper, 7″ x 10″