So. Mick and I go way back. We’ve worked at three of the same jobs at the same time, and I guess both of us having author on our resumes adds a fourth. He also runs a weekly internet radio show called the Headphone Bleed, well worth checking out. In this post, I’ve asked Mick to introduce us to his novel, Night Shall Overtake.
Night Shall Overtake is a whodunit creaturefest set in a city whose gritty underbelly might try to eat you. Weird creatures that normally inhabit bad dreams roam the streets. Lovecraftian horrors have day jobs, things that defy imagination are running convenience stores and fast food joints. Twila Matthews, an underpaid shapeshifting private detective with a cell phone possessed by an unnerving demon, is hired on a simple missing person’s case. But when she finds her target dead, an unraveling conspiracy leads Twila and her crew into the darkest parts of the city in direct confrontation with the most evil and diabolical of monsters…
I didn’t intend to write this story, but I suppose that’s for the best. It probably wouldn’t have turned out the way it did if I had intentions. Truth be told, when I started writing it a few years ago it was because I had stopped writing. I had taken a 3 or 4 year hiatus from writing in part because of my divorce and in part because I felt I had to express myself another way. In this case through an electric bass guitar.
I started to write again but only with some exercises to work some atrophied writing muscles. This was one of those exercises. The damn thing took on a life of its own despite that and wound up an actual story and something I began to care about. It became a detective novel because I was too lazy for it not to be. The character that takes us on this weird little ride is Twila, a surly shapeshifter. She’s tough, grumpy, and wrestling with a self imposed loneliness (traits in which Twila and I share two out of three). In a city with a myriad of different creatures, she and her crew have to navigate through and eventually wind up in the darkest places confronting the most horrible of evils.
This story fell together completely on its own and there was very little I could do but try and keep it from resembling a pair of headphones left alone for more than a minute: a small but surprisingly compact knot of nonsense. The main plot revolves around our intrepid detectives getting caught deeper in a conspiracy concocted by three disenfranchised idiots. It was a reflection of all the completely impractical policies and practices I was dealing with at the time. It was also a good way of working through my frustrations. Which explains all the questionable language. Twila was to be the one pragmatic voice of reason in a vortex of stupid. As the story grew and matured I started to play around with different elements. The idea of have all these horrible nightmares and crazy monsters just walking around in regular society is a theme that I’ve played around with as a kid. Shows like the short lived Ugly Americans and the video for the song I Monster by The Blue Wrath helped bring that back and consciously/subconsciously they became a major part of the book. Being a massive fan of H.P. Lovecraft I couldn’t resist making the most evil things on the block C’thulian. Because there ain’t no evil like an Elder Gods evil.
I really wish I could say that I was carefully building metaphors about society, acceptance, and how we view those different than us. Those metaphors are in there, but they slipped in while I wasn’t looking. This was not what I envisioned my first published work to be, but I’m happy as hell that it is. As Twila so sagely put it: “Be wary when stupid people start making plans.”
The world is a strange place.
Supernatural is a misnomer, it’s pretty much natural. Weird creatures that normally inhabit horror films and bad dreams skulk the streets. Things that practically defy imagination are running the 7-11’s. Last week, I was almost eaten by a green boogeyman, and afterwards, he gave me his number. Sad thing is, I almost called him, but luckily my phone talked me out of it. Score one for the phone spook. By the time I got to the office, Kevin sat at his desk near the front door frazzled by some little troll-like man berating him loudly, while Joe morosely sat in his office. It wasn’t a big area, just a little hole in the wall tucked between a dry cleaners and a barbershop. The yellow and white linoleum was chipped and faded, as well as the walls. The place had the kind of lighting that was never enough in the daytime, but almost blinding at night. I had hopes that today was going to be relatively hassle free, but that was immediately dashed by the dark corner full of Shades. I tried to ignore the living shadows because they gave me the creeps.
As I sat at my little desk in the dim back corner, I wondered if Kevin even knew they were here, the sneaky little bastards. We never officially called Kevin the receptionist, but that’s pretty much what he was. He didn’t get a chance to do much fieldwork, but he was a wiz at research. He was technically my assistant, so he was getting paid even less than I was. I felt slightly guilty for not telling him about the difference in pay, but I rationalized that if he wanted to be a good investigator someday, I’ll leave it to him to figure it out.
Our reception area was a threadbare couch that sat across from Kevin’s desk so potential clients could give him the stare down while they waited. Joe, naturally, had his own private office at the rear, where he sat with the door shut most of the time. My desk was a dented and chipped metal affair with a poorly veneered top. Just as I sat down, as if on cue, the Shades slithered around the corner amongst the shadows, up to my desk, and reared up like some two dimensional cutout.
A whispery voice floated on the air, “Ms. Twila Matthews? We need to hire you.” I nodded. Shades don’t like to be spoken to directly; usually they don’t like to be bothered. Which doesn’t seem to stop them from peering at you in the dark or being ace pickpockets. I know both from experience. “We need you to find Janae Hollifield,” it said.
“I trust you can pay.” It may seem unprofessional to be a rude to potential customers, but they didn’t have pockets, so where were they going to keep their money? They shuffled, affronted.
“Yes, we have a bank account,” it said, realizing I wasn’t impressed by the affronted shuffling. I doubted they had a bank account. You had to be relatively humanoid-ish, or at least corporeal, to get one .What they probably had was a stack of wallets somewhere.
“Where was she last seen? I need a picture and any pertinent information you have that can help me.” I began rummaging for a pad of paper in my war zone of a desk drawer. The first thing I was taught when I started working here is a client is a client. If they have the money, we have the time.
“She is in the Dark Quarter. When you find her, please, just kill her, and come to us looking exactly like her. We will pay you triple your fee, plus expenses,” it said.
“Get. The fuck. Out.” I slammed the desk shut with such force that Kevin’s loud troll finally shut up for a second. The shades started to protest, but I cut them off. “I don’t care how much you pay me, I’m not doing your dirty work, and I sure as hell am not replacing anyone! Leave!” I pointed to the door. After a moment’s hesitation they slithered off to the door and left. I stood, stomped off to Joe’s office, and slammed the door behind me.
“Goddamit, Joe, this is the third time in one month. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. I don’t replace people and where the hell are these things getting the idea we bump people off?” Balding and paunchy, my boss sat in his cracked brown leather chair, staring blankly at the picture frame in his hands. It looked like he was wearing the same clothes from yesterday, brown suit and striped tie. If only he had a mustache, then the 70’s cliché would be complete. His office was a cluttered mess of papers, take out containers, and file cabinets. I sighed and slumped into the cracked leather chair across from his desk. He wasn’t listening. He hardly did anymore. His divorce was still affecting him even though it happened over a year ago. I really need a new job.
“Joe!” I yelled and jerked him out of his reverie.
“What’s up, Twila?” he asked distractedly. His eyes looked bruised from lack of sleep and too much alcohol.
“I just had a pack of Shades come in here wanting me to bump off some chick and take her place.”
“Fucking shadows,” he mumbled.
“This is the third time this month we’ve been asked to kill a person. Twice they asked me to do a replacement. This is bullshit.”
“They offer extra?” He saw my glare and put up a hand, “Sorry, force of habit. What do you expect? We extract the occasional rogue creature, so they assume that we exterminate. Occupational hazard, don’t take it so serious.”
“That’s not the problem. It seems that word is getting out about me. You aren’t advertising, are you?” He didn’t look directly at me, but he knew what I meant.
I am a Shapeshifter. No, I can’t change into a lamppost, or anything like that, but I can change my appearance and resemble human and human-like creatures. It’s a skill most people would love to have. Make yourself as beautiful as you want and hide all those ugly genetic hand-me-downs. I could be a different beautiful model everyday for the rest of my life, but instead, I hated it. Sure, it’s useful now and again, but for the most part, I just forget I can do it. Though, in fairness, I do occasionally change my hair color, mainly because it costs too much to have it done professionally. Usually, when people ask about it, I tell them it’s none of their damned business. As occupationally useful as it might be, I don’t brag about what I can do.
“Don’t worry, I’m not advertising. It’s not like you keep it a deep dark secret anyway.” He placed the picture frame on the desk and actually took a moment to pay attention to me. In the frame, was a photograph of a pretty brunette with piercing and lively green eyes, who up until a year ago, was married to him.
“Hey, I was drunk that night, and I didn’t see any of you discouraging me.” I glared at him, but it was no use. He was gone again, looking back into the picture of Madeline. After a moment I stood, and he slid a scribbled-on piece of paper towards me.
“Go find this chick, there is damn good money in this one.” I took it, looked at it, and then slammed it back on his desk.
“Asshole! This is the same girl the Shades just wanted me to off. I told you I’m not doing it.”
“Then it looks like a race to see who will find her first. Our client isn’t the Shades. The client said something about keeping her from the Shades and the Uglies. You got this; I know you can handle it.” He didn’t even bother to look up or sound interested. I snatched the paper back and stormed out of his office.
* * *
Michael R Collins is an author of stories that need be told. Often dark and sometimes seedy, they can also be poignant. They are fast-paced and atmospheric stories with characters both fantastic yet relatable. Born and raised in Southern Idaho, he currently lives in the creative bosom of Austin, Texas. If he’s not working for the man, he’s either writing or annoying the neighbor by playing his bass guitar far too loud.
His other passion is music and getting music out there for the masses. He hosts an internet radio show live every Saturday night at 9pm called Saint Zero’s Headphone Bleed. You can catch it live at www.live365.com/stations/saintzero or previous episodes here on the blog.
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