This is another short story collection, mainly of stories which I had ideas from, but which went no further than that, originally. The collection also includes a few newer ideas, such as the story More Steam, Vicar? I wrote that tale for a steampunk website. There is also The Dark House, collecting a tale which you can read on this website for free. There is a brief Sherlock Holmes vignette, with The Adventure of the Murdered Prisoner; and a Briggs and Prenderghast tale with The Triple Trick.
At the end of the book there are notes on the stories, as well as a few fragments of prose.
Here, as a taster, is the story The Pristine.
“Have you heard about the Pristine?” Jack said. Jack was my best friend.
“Is that some new band?” I had long ago lost interest for what passed for music in the charts, but Jack still found things to listen to, raving on about bands like the Killers and other bands which I had never heard of before. I thought that this must just be another guitar band with not very good tunes.
“No, they’re a type of Undead.” Jack said. Jack, I should say, was also into some weird shit, going on about werewolves in Germany and vampires in Serbia and how Jack the Ripper must have lived in Spitalfields.
“You mean like a zombie?” I asked.
“No, not really.” Jack said. “In fact, they are the opposite of zombies. Zombies spend their time rotting, with bits dropping off them, while they wander around looking for people to bite.”
I hoped that Jack meant just in horror movies, and that he did not believe that there were really any zombies in the world. But with somebody like Jack you could never be sure.
“The Pristine, when they become undead, don’t rot.” he continued. “They don’t suffer any sort of decomposition. Have you heard about people who, when you exhume their bodies, do not appear to have had any sort of decomposition at all, but are still as fresh as the day when they were buried?”
“Well, they are the Pristine. I think that Alexander the Great was one of the Pristine, as it was said that, after he died, his body did not suffer any corruption, and that it looked like he was still almost alive.”
“So what do these Pristine do?” I asked.
“That’s it, nobody knows.” Jack said. “They haven’t done anything yet. They are just sleeping, waiting in their graves, not doing anything at all. But I have a theory.”
“Go on.” I said, knowing that Jack would tell me, whether I wanted to hear the theory or not. Once Jack got interested in something weird like this there was no stopping him.
“I think that they are waiting, until their numbers are high enough.” Jack said. I don’t think that they are formed very often, maybe one or two people a year become a Pristine. Maybe it’s a few more than that. They are like the nobility of the undead, or other monsters. They are waiting – sleeping – for their numbers to be high enough. When there are enough of the Pristine, they will all wake up at the same time, and then, as rulers, they will lead the undead in taking over the world.”
“How do you know all this?” I asked.
“I have my sources.” he said, darkly, as though it was all some big secret.
“What sources? Do you mean the internet?” But Jack would not say. He refused to tell me what his sources were. I suspected that maybe Jack had made all of this up, and that he was, perhaps, trying to create some sort of urban legend. I would not have put something like that past him, to try and create a new urban legend, perhaps hoping that it might appear, one day, on something like Wikipedia. Unless it was already on there, of course.
Jack got a little bit annoyed by the constant questioning, I guess, about the Pristine as he takes off in the end. I don’t think that he liked me mocking him.
After Jack left I decided to try to check out this legend of Undead called the Pristine. So I tried searching for these undead creatures called the Pristine on Wikipedia, the place where I go for most of my information. But I could not find anything on these seemingly elusive undead creatures.
It was then that I decided that Jack was making everything up. He had decided to invent the Pristine as a monster although I could not begin to understand why he might want to do something like that. But Jack could sometimes be an odd old cove. Maybe he wanted to start his own urban legend and, when it began to appear on places like Wikipedia, he would then reveal that it had been him behind it. Perhaps he thought that it would make him famous.
The next evening I went around to see Jack. But he wasn’t there; his house was in darkness; but his car was on the drive. I didn’t understand where he was, as he was obviously back from work, and he only really tended to go out on the weekend.
I knocked in the door, again, and waited. Maybe he was in, but something had gone wrong with his electricity.
One of his neighbours, an old man, came out of his front door while I was standing on Jack’s doorstep.
“He’s gone.” the old neighbour said.
“Gone? Gone where?”
“No, he’s gone. Dead.”
“What?” It couldn’t be true. Jack couldn’t be dead. I did not comprehend what the old man was saying.
“He must have had a heart attack.” the old man said. “I heard him come back up onto the drive, and I heard the car door slam. But I didn’t hear the front door go. Not that I was listening in, you understand. I was just watching Pointless on the teevee in the front room.
“Well, I began to think it a little odd that I didn’t hear him moving around in his house, as he’s not all that quiet, not that I’m complaining or anything, ‘cause I have always said that you should not talk bad of the dead. But he used to like his music, you see, all that modern rock rubbish which he used to listen to.
“I thought that I must have imagined the car pulling up onto his drive, so I went to my window to have a look. Not that I’m the sort of person who spies on his neighbours through the net curtains, you understand.
“That was when I saw him. He was on the drive next to his car. I ran out of the house, but I couldn’t find a pulse. So I rang for an ambulance. But by the time that they arrived it was too late, I guess. They reckoned that he must have had a massive coronary. Well, that’s it, I’m afraid. Sorry about your friend.”
The neighbour, having said his piece, went back inside. I stood there, next to Jack’s car, for another few minutes, not really knowing what to do. I could not believe that Jack was dead. He was a year younger than me. He was not even forty yet. He used to play squash to keep fit. How on earth could he have had a heart attack? I was far less fit than he was. But then I recalled that the guy who had invented jogging had died of a heart attack… while out jogging.
I drove home. There was nothing else that I could do.
The funeral was at the weekend. Jack’s parents contacted me with the details. I went out and bought a black suit.
I don’t like funerals. This was only the third which I had ever been to – the others had been my grandmother, and a former girlfriend who had been stupid enough to get run over by a tuck while crossing the road. Funerals always make me miserable. But I suppose that is the point, isn’t it? You are supposed to feel miserable. You are supposed to be mourning a lost loved one.
The funeral took place in a local Church of England church, despite the fact that Jack, in all of the years that I had known him, had not evinced the slightest interest in religion. I’m pretty sure that he didn’t believe in life after death, or reincarnation, or anything like that. But once you’re dead you have no say in such things, despite what your wishes might have been.
His parents were paying for the funeral, and they wanted a proper Christian ceremony, so that was what they got. It didn’t matter what Jack wanted. You can’t really control your own funeral, no matter what you think.
I didn’t stay for the sandwiches afterwards. By the time that the funeral was over I just wanted to get out of there.
He was dead and gone, anyway; six feet under, as they say. I did not expect to see my late friend ever again.
Two weeks after the funeral, though, I had a strange experience. It was on a Saturday morning, and I had just gone out to buy a newspaper and a can of coke.
I was still half-asleep. I had been out with some friends on the Friday night, even though I had not really felt like it. But they had insisted that I come out, to help get over Jack’s death. So, come Saturday morning, I was feeling a little hung over.
I went into what everybody calls a corner shop, even though it wasn’t on a corner. It was in a row of two shops, the other being an off-licence. It was the sort of shop which sold just about everything you needed, while concentrating on sweets, newspapers and cigarettes. It was open from six o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night. But by the time that I wandered along on Saturday morning it had been open some four hours or so. I don’t get up early when I don’t have to work.
I went in, bought a copy of The Sun (I wasn’t feeling like anything with an adult reading age) and a can of coke. I handed over the money, and began to walk home. And that was when I had the strange occurrence.
I had almost got home, and I was just about to turn into my road. Then I thought that I saw Jack out of the corner of my eye.
I stopped in my tracks. I slowly turned, to look down the road, where I thought that I had seen Jack. But, of course, there was nobody there. I had just imagined it, of course. I had probably just had Jack on my mind, that was all.
I went inside my house, with my ‘newspaper’ and can of coke. I was shaking, though. I was physically shaking, something which I don’t think I have ever done before. But, slowly, I calmed down, telling myself that Jack was dead, and that there was no way that he could have been there.
I thought nothing about it. Not for a few days, at least.
A few days later, though, I had a similar strange event. I was on the way to work when I thought that I glimpsed Jack. When I turned to look, though, he wasn’t there. Of course he wasn’t there, because he was dead. You don’t see dead people. I told myself that I must have imagined it because I was finding it hard to accept that Jack was dead. People as young as he was were simply not supposed to drop down dead.
Just my imagination.
A few days after that, though, while I was out shopping, I though that I saw Jack’s face in the crowd. This time I actually set off to where I thought that I had seen him. But when I got there, there was no Jack to be seen. There was me, turning around on the spot, trying to see somebody who I knew to be buried beneath the ground.
I knew, that time, that I had seen something, though. It had been Jack’s face, even if it had been entirely in my mind. Something was going on.
When I got home I sat down and had a think, once I had put the shopping away. Something was going on, and I tried to work out what it was.
I recalled what Jack had said about the Pristine. I had thought, at the time, that Jack had been making it all up. But now I wondered just why he had told me about that other, unknown type of undead thing. Was the Pristine connected with Jack suddenly dropping dead, and the fact that I kept seeing his face, even though I knew that he wasn’t there?
Slowly, a theory began to form in my mind. It was that Jack had told me about the Pristine because he was one of them. He had known what was going to happen to him. He had not actually dropped down dead, but dropped down undead, entering some sort of state where he had been transformed into one of the Pristine.
Now he was lying in state under the ground, his undead body perfectly preserved inside his coffin, as one of the nobility of undead creatures. But he was trapped there, unable to get out of the coffin. So Jack had sent images of himself into my mind, to try to tell me what was going on. That was why I kept seeing his face out of the corner of my eyes, even though I knew that Jack wasn’t there. He wanted me to help him.
He must have told me all about the Pristine as a way of warning me what was going to happen. Yes, that was it. He had known that he would appear to die, and that he would end up being trapped inside his coffin. So he had told me all about the Pristine, as a way of preparing me for what I would have to do.
Of course I told myself that such a theory was crazy. It was insane, and I am not a crazy person. I tried to expunge the theory from my mind. But it refused to entirely disappear. It was there, right at the back of my mind, eating away at my resistance. And I kept seeing the face of Jack.
I didn’t tell anybody about all this. What, I was going to tell Jack’s parents that I kept seeing his face? They would think that I was crazy. But they did not know about the Pristine.
Eventually I could not stand it any longer. Jack had worn me down, by flashing his face to me every few days or so.
“Okay, okay, I’ll do it.” I muttered, one dark night. I knew what Jack wanted me to do. It was obvious.
I waited until after midnight, so that there would be few people around. Then I drove down to the graveyard, taking a spade with me. I parked outside the graveyard. I turned off the engine of the car. I looked up and down the road, but nobody was about.
I got out of my car, closing the door as quietly as I could. I did not want to attract any attention. I opened the boot, and I got the spade out. I closed the boot. The sound of it closing seemed very loud in the quiet of the night. I feared that the lights of nearby houses might come on, or that somebody might come out to see what was going on. But nothing like that happened.
Then, coming from the front, I saw, suddenly, a pair of headlights as a car came down the road towards me. I ducked down behind the boot of my car, hiding in the shadows there, as the car roared past. I didn’t think that they saw me. I hoped that they hadn’t seen me.
I waited for my heart to stop beating quite so quickly. Then I went into the graveyard and found Jack’s grave. I began to dig.
It takes a long time to dig up a coffin. Why do they have to bury them so deep? Are they scared that the occupant will claw their way back out? Well, if coffins weren’t buried quite so deep then maybe Jack would have been able to do just that.
It took me hours to dig the coffin up. I was covered with sweat by the time that I got it out of the ground. This was despite the fact that the night was not exactly all that warm.
I knocked on the lid of the coffin.
“Jack, can you hear me?” I asked. I didn’t like to shout or raise my voice because the night was so quiet that I was scared that the sound would carry. No reply came back from inside the coffin. But maybe he had only heard the knock. Anyway, he should have known it was me, after sending me the image of his face.
I had to get him out of the coffin. But the lid had been screwed down. I considered using the blade of the spade to break through the wooden lid. But I was scared that, if I did that, I might injure Jack.
I had a small box of tools in the boot of my car. I rushed back to it, and ferreted around until I found a screwdriver which was the right size. Then I ran back to the coffin. I had already taken more time than I had intended. But this had to be done. I had to get Jack out of there. It didn’t matter to me that he was one of the undead, he was still Jack to me.
The screws had been really tightened down. They really had not wanted Jack to get out of the coffin. At first I had thought that I wasn’t going to get the lid off. But, with a great deal of trouble, I finally managed to get the lid off.
Jack was there. He looked just as though he was sleeping. But he was totally uncorrupted, just like the Pristine was supposed to be. Great, he had been having a nap while I had been doing all of the hard work.
“Good thing that your parents decided not to have you cremated.” I said. I saw Jack grin at me. He seemed to find it funny. “Come on, let’s get you out of here. I’ve got the car just outside of the graveyard. We’ll get you home and then decide what to do next.”
I helped Jack up out of the coffin. His legs were still stiff from having spent a couple of weeks or so in the same position, not being able to move. But I knew that he would be fine once I got him back to my house.
I got Jack into the passenger seat of my car.
“Look, just wait there, I need to go back and sort the coffin out.” I whispered. I saw him nod, his head moving forwards in the dark interior of my car. I guessed that neither of us wanted to make any noise.
“If anything happens – I mean, if the police or anything turn up – then sound the horn.” I told Jack.
I ran back to where I had dug Jack up. I had intended to put the coffin back, and then fill all of the earth back in. But that would take too long. Now I just wanted to get out of there, and get Jack back home before it got light. I didn’t know if the Pristine could stand sunlight or not, or whether it damaged them like it was supposed to damage vampires. There was little point in rescuing Jack if I only had him turn to dust because I kept filling in the dirt until the early morning sun came up.
I wiped down the coffin, to remove any fingerprints which I might have put on it. This was despite the fact that the police did not have my fingerprints on file, anyway. Then I grabbed the screwdriver and the spade and ran back to my car.
I dumped the screwdriver and the spade in the boot of the car. I closed the boot, again as quietly as I could. I had got away with things so far, and I didn’t want anybody to see me now.
I got in the car and I drove home, for my new life harbouring one of the Pristine.
The good thing was that, being one of the undead, I found that Jack did not need to eat anything. The strange, supernatural process which had changed him had left him not having to eat anything at all. Nor did he have to drink blood or anything like that. I would not wake up in the middle of the night to find him bending over my neck. He was a prince of the undead, his body remaining perfect.
So my new life began. I would leave Jack at home as I went out to work, as Jack could not show himself, as he was supposed to be dead. If Jack had been seen by anybody who knew him it would have caused far too many awkward questions. Once it was discovered that he was undead he would probably be taken away and experimented on. I’m sure that he would never have been allowed to remain free. But Jack was my mate, even if he no longer had a heartbeat, and I was not about to allow that to happen to him.
It meant that I could not invite anybody around my house, not with Jack being there. So I could not have any girls over. But that was really only a small sacrifice to make. I could always go around the girl’s house, I supposed. But I did not really like to leave Jack in the house, by himself, just in case something happened.
So each day I would get up and go out to work. I would come home and spend all evening talking to Jack. I found that he always had something interesting to say. I quizzed him about being one of the Pristine, but I found that he did not have anything to add to what he had told me back when I was alive. He had suspected that he might have been destined to become one of the Pristine, but he was not able to tell me how he had known that. I guessed that it was just some sort of instinct.
Everything went fine until the day that I came back home to see a police car outside of my house, and the front door open. My initial thought was that I had been burgled. Then I realised that couldn’t be the case, with Jack inside the house.
I hurried inside, not knowing what was going on. There were a couple of policemen in there, and no sign of Jack.
“What’s going on?” I asked. I didn’t understand why the policemen were there.
The coppers explained that they had come out to investigate a complaint from one of the neighbours, concerning a smell coming from my house. I didn’t understand what the policeman was saying, as my drains were fine. They didn’t smell.
Then the police said that they had found a rotting dead body when they had searched the house. They had taken the body away; and they were going to charge me with grave-robbing.
They had abducted Jack. I tried to explain that Jack wasn’t dead, but undead, and one of the Pristine. But the police clearly did not believe me. They put the handcuffs on me, and forced me into a police car, and took me away, as well.
Sorry, Jack, I’ve failed you.