Ears to See and Teeth to Tune.

By Jay St John Knight.


Autumn had finally awoken. Somewhere in the scrub nearby a meadowlark chirped as it plucked fat bees out of the air, and the snarls of coyotes in the low valley slipped through the gaps in the workshop. The alluring scent of wet prairie grass mixed with varnish as the old man finished stringing a guitar on his lap. Each string was threaded into the headstock and wound until tight. So acute was his ear that it took only a few plucks for him to find each note perfectly. The guitar had a sparkling tone; the notes dancing with each other through the air. His hands were made to shape wood that made beautiful music.

He spent the remainder of the afternoon checking the instrument over. His fingertips ran over every millimetre of the instrument, feeling for tiny hairline fractures in the woodwork and varnish. Finally, as the bullcrickets took up their nocturnal chorus and the night-birds stirred in the bush, he hung the instrument amongst the others on the wall. He was done. It was done. He shuffled slowly out of the workshop and locked the door.

Night had the world firmly in its grasp. A wind howled through the trees and battered against the log cabin. He was sat in a padded armchair pulled close to the fire. In the corner of the room a phonograph played a Willie Brown record, the fuzzing of its surface noise blurring with the crackles of the fire as he sipped whisky. The evenings had been quiet recently. His apprentice had been sent back home before the snows made travel impossible. He’d return in the spring, along with the prairie violets and the frogspawn in pools of freshly melted snow. The boy was eager to learn.

The bottle of whiskey was running dry. He’d gained a stockpile of it from the store owner down in New Creek, in exchange for fixing a mandolin. It was good stuff, keeping him warm each night when the cold crept in. As he sunk back into the armchair, he noticed the wind had stopped howling. There was no rustling of the trees outside, no creaking of their branches. The midnight calls of the nocturnal birds had ceased too. The world outside of the cabin had fallen silent. The final notes of Willie Brown’s guitar faded and the record player joined the empty orchestra. All that remained was the gentle purring of the fire and the sound of his breathing. He cocked his head, straining to hear. Then, there was a knock. He froze, heart pounding. Three sharp taps on the door to his cabin. The old man rose and moved towards the door, running his hands over the furniture, feeling for the gun that was propped up against the wall.

‘Who is it?’ he called.

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Staring Through God’s Eye.

By Jay St John Knight


The Earth looked like a giant glistening jewel hanging in the nothingness of space from the observation deck, with sapphire oceans giving way to emerald continents and swirls of cloud formations like milky quartz playing across the surface. Earth, an eden set on a field of black, hemmed by stars of eternal white fire. Ray stared longingly at it, fixated by the beauteous sphere that was intangible to anyone who hadn’t seen it from up here. He had children down there, and a wife. A home too, in a sleepy town on the outskirts of a big city just far enough away for the stars to fight their way through the light pollution.

Ray slurped the last droplets of his lunch through his straw and got up. There was much work to be done. Data had to be collated and processed, ready to be transmitted back to Earth, and there were some general maintenance that needed attending to as well. He strolled out of the observation deck and made his way down the corridors of the station. It was silent save for the constant hum of technology around him, pulsing like an artificial heartbeat.

Ray’s first stop on his rounds was one of the three server rooms. They were whirring rooms of white and grey, blinking lights and towers of hard drives with wires connecting to each other like spider webs. He plugged his diagnostics tool into an access terminal and began running the maintenance program. These rooms were the processing hubs of the orbital station, integral to everything from communications and life support to maintaining the station’s orbit, and were vital to his existence up here. His tool beeped when the program was complete and he carried on.

His next stop was the oxygen farm. A large, cylindrical room filled with a multitude of plants that transformed his carbon dioxide into fresh oxygen to breath. This room was the counter balance of his presence here, thriving off a combination of his recycled organic waste and the solar rays that constantly bombarded the station. He would sometimes spend hours sat gently pruning leaves and carefully checking each plant for disease or signs of malnutrition. He’d even began to grow food in here, tomatoes sat in one corner happily flowering and next to them runner beans flourished in a makeshift tepee of offcut plastic strips. There was even a tiny herb garden in standalone pots on the floor. It was his own Earth, a sanctuary of green amongst a station of white and grey. Ray ran his diagnostics and carried on.

He stopped by a small maintenance hatch, keying in an access code that unlocked it with a heavy clunk. Inside was a shaft that ran the length of the corridor, eventually dropping down into the engine core that sat at the centre of the station. Ray got on his hands and knees and crawled towards a terminal. The closer he got to the centre the louder the hum of the station got, like he was crawling through the arteries of a metallic leviathan towards its gargantuan heart. The core was generally off limits unless there was a serious system failure, so the terminal was as close to the station’s core as Ray could get. It was a delicate and immensely expensive piece of technology that was nearly impossible to repair, so ensuring it was properly maintained was vital.

After Ray crawled out of the shaft, he carried on down the long corridors. His footsteps echoed as he strolled, spiralling off in both directions down the corridor. He was heading towards the data centre, where he spent a lot of his time analysing and compressing various data streams from the probes and unmanned craft that scanned the fringes of the solar system. And there it was, at the end of the corridor, the glowing red light that sat above the door. Ray stopped in front of it, staring in through the dust covered reinforced glass into the darkness beyond. It had been locked for nearly four months; a whole wing cornered off until the support team could come up and deal with the situation. Ray lingered, peering, and in the darkness something moved.

The Passing of a Prairie Dog.

By Jay St John Knight


All that’s left to show for my old pa is this piece of junk car. It can barely outrun a coyote on the straight and I’m sure it wouldn’t hit the state line without falling apart. Piece o’ shit same as him.

My stomach won’t stop rumbling. Haven’t eaten in two days and it’s too hot out to go hunting on the prairie. Ain’t had a nickel for food since I was dropped from the farm and no one wants to hire a nobody who ain’t ever been to school. So I gotta do what I gotta do. If that means sticking up gas stations and shops for a few bucks then so be it.

There’s one now. A little shop in the middle of nowhere, probably run by an old-timer too. He won’t kick up a fuss. Easy pickings. Got me a shooter too. Swapped it for my ma’s gold ring after she passed. Used to use to it keep the coyotes away from the chickens back when we used to have the old house. Back before pa gambled it away. Don’t work no-more, seized up a while back, but they don’t know that.

It’s too hot. I hate this bit. Walk in, case the place, see what’s what and then grab the money and run. Fills me up with nerves. Exciting too mind, like pluckin’ up the courage to kiss a girl. It goes one way or another. Yes or no. No in-between bit, no medium.

He is an old-timer. I can’t see anyone else in this shop save the boys stacking potatoes on the other side. They’ll be easy to handle. Just stroll on up, pull the shooter, ask for the money and go. That’s the plan. Easy. Here goes…

*

It was a hot day. Outside, the road stretched in both directions towards the horizon where it dissolved away into a rippling mirage, occasionally disturbed by dirt covered pick-up trucks that pulled over every now and then to pick up groceries before going on their way. It was a small shop, right in the middle of the road that went from Louville to Cairn’s Creek, but it was his shop. He’d married into it, the shop originally being owned by his wife’s father and then passed on down to them when he became too old to run it anymore.

It was a slow day today. That was the heat; people kept to the shade on days like these. Old man Lester was shuffling about picking up his milk and other bits and pieces and a couple of the boys from the Shenningham’s farm were dropping off potatoes and other vegetables.

“You got any eggs left, Harry?”

“Should be over there by the chiller, Lester, unless we don’t got none left.”

Lester shuffled off in the direction of the chiller, mumbling as he went. Outside, Harry heard another truck pull across the loose gravel and stop. He chewed a few times, hacked, and spat a brown sludge into a bucket he had behind the counter, before putting another pinch of tobacco in his mouth.

The clang of the door opening shook through the quietness of the shop and Harry looked up from his paper. A man stood in the doorway, quickly scanning the shop. He was sweaty, more so than he should be on a day like today and scruffy looking, his jeans caked in dirt and grime and his hair a thick matted mess of brown. Harry watched carefully from behind the counter as he walked up towards him.

“Afternoon, old-timer. If you could just reach on into that there till and hand over all your money I won’t have to shoot you up and make a mess of this here shop.”

Harry met his gaze. He looked desperate, unhinged. “’Fraid I can’t do that, mister.”

“Well look here…” The man reached into his trousers and quickly pulled out a rusting revolver. “…I don’t want to have to kill you, friend. Just needs your money is all.”

Harry smiled wryly. “Alright, buck. Cool your boots.”

Just then Lester had emerged from an aisle, dropping his eggs the second he clapped eyes on the gun. The robber span at the noise and, as he turned, Harry reached under the counter with lightning speed. A low boom silenced the little shop and the robber dropped to the floor with a quiet thud. Harry stood there, a smoking sawn-off pointing at the lifeless body, and hacked again before spitting into the bucket with a resounding twang.

Chasing Shadows

By Jay St John Knight


There was no traffic about on the roads as PC Anne Coldine and her partner drove their route. An indigo sky fought with the tentative rays of sunlight as dawn crawled its way over the horizon. They were on their routine patrol, cruising up and down the streets of one of Hammerside’s nightclub districts, keeping the peace. She had forgotten the amount of tickets she’d written for public urination. Or the amount of times she’d advised inconsolable friends who had fallen out to ‘just sleep on it’. Back at the station they called these shifts the ‘parent patrols’. She could see why. Her partner pulled a right down Eustene Street and drifted past a kebab shop that was closing up.

“I reckon their jobs are harder than ours on nights like these.” Tom said as he nodded towards one of the workers mopping up vomit outside the shop.

“I think you’re probably right you know.”

“Bet they get paid shit all too. A fraction of what we get for the same abuse.”

The patrol car carried on down the road and Anne stared out of the window, watching a flock of birds in the distance pulsate in the air like one giant entity. It reminded her of the view from her mum’s house out in the country, birds dancing in the fresh dawn over the Downs and morning hikes with the kids in their bright wellies through pine forests and over wet marshland. She missed the countryside.

“Oh, what have we got here?” Tom’s voice snapped her back and she saw a man sprint across the road, vault over the central barrier and disappear down an alleyway, quickly followed by another man dressed in black.

“They’re making for the underpass. Try and cut them off.”

The car raced down the road and towards the exit of the alleyway. There, she spotted the first man burst out and make for the underpass that led to the park, the other close behind.

“Drop me here, I’ll pursue on foot.”

Anne was a fast runner. She got to the stairs leading down to the underpass and took three at a time, practically jumping down the last set before she heard the shot. She paused, if only for a nanosecond to take her gun out, before sprinting towards the entrance. There, silhouetted in the amber glow of the strip lighting, the man in black knelt over the body of the runner, rifling through his pockets.

“Freeze!” She slowed her pace; panting heavily, panic settling in.

The man stood up slowly and turned to face her. His gun hung at his side and in the other hand he held a wad of bank notes.

“Drop your…”

“Stop.” His voice echoed down the underpass. “You won’t hit me by the time I raise my gun at you, you’re shaking too much and I’m too good at this.”

She stared at him, in shock at his calmness. Words failed her.

“I’m going to leave half of this money on the floor. You’re going to turn around and I’m going to disappear. You will say you lost me, and then you can either pocket the money, or not, that decision is entirely up to you.”

She looked at the figure, unable to speak, as he picked out half the notes and dropped them on the floor. She pictured her children running around in their garden, her husband making dinner in the kitchen smiling. Tom’s voice crackled over her radio.

“Anne? What’s your situation?”

Tears welled in her eyes.

“Anne? I heard a shot.”

She slowly turned around.

“He got away Tom. Call in back up.”

The Man Who Ate Stones.

By Jay St John Knight.


This piece was intended as an extract from the beginning of a larger work of detective/noir fiction, potentially a novel, and was an exercise in trying to write something outside of my genre comfort zone. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comment box below.


The tungsten bulbs in the hallway are cold and the corridor sways with me as I zigzag off the walls. She keeps talking, asking inane questions about the neighbours and the local cafes and bars. I respond with grunts of affirmation, not listening, not caring. The key struggles to find its way into the lock. She laughs and I can smell the red wine and cigarettes on her breath. Key meets lock and we burst in. The apartment is dark save the fingers of amber that reach out through the blinds. I ask her if she wants a drink as I pour myself a whiskey. She asks what I’ve got. I hold up the bottle.

I slam two glasses on the coffee table and slump into the sofa. She walks around my apartment, picking up old reports and photos from past cases as I fumble for the lamp switch. She asks if I’m a policeman or something. I tell her I’m a detective as the lamp explodes into life and she sees the wall covered in notes and statements and photographs. She begins asking what they are and I tell her not to look. They’re not pretty, darling. She sits down next to me. I finish my drink and pour another. She sits there sipping. She strokes my hair and tells me catching criminals is sexy. You know, cops and robbers and good versus evil. There’s nothing sexy about my job, I tell her. Not when you’re up close and personal with a hunk of meat that was once a person. Not when you catch the killer and you stare into their eyes and see nothing but an abyss of hatred, of evil, of pleasure. She’s doesn’t say anything for a while. I neck the rest of my whiskey and kiss her to break the silence.

*

The phone’s ringing and my head is pounding. I untangle myself from the mess of limbs and bed sheets and stumble for the phone. “What is it?” She asks. Just the phone I say, go back to sleep. The sun’s not even crept over the skyline. The clock on the wall says 07:28. I groan.

“What?”

Wolfe is that you?” A voice replies. “It’s Hempsbury.”

“What do you want?” I rub my eyes.

We’ve got a situation in Devon we need help with.

“Nope.” I go to put the phone down.

Wait, you’ll wanna hear about this one. They found him full of stones.”

I hesitate. “Where?”

Dartmoor. Lacerations too, they look pagan.”

I put the kettle on. “Text me a postcode, I’ll leave in the hour. Send me everything you’ve got so far.”

It’s got all the tell-tale signs, Wolfe.”

“It’s been five years, Chris. It was bound to happen sooner or later.”

I go back to the bedroom. She looks up at me, barely covered by the sheets.

“I’ve gotta go to work. I’ll ring you a cab.”

*

The roads are clear. I see the commuters in the other lane stuck in traffic jams with expressionless faces. It’s five hours to Devon normally and I want to make it there in three. I pull into the fast lane and scroll through the contacts on my phone. It rings several times before I’m greeted with silence.

“…Christina, it’s Jerry.”

“I know, you rang my mobile.”

“I’m on my way to Devon. I’ve had a call. I think it’s another one.”

“Jerry, I…”

“I’m just letting you know. This could be it, Chrissy. This could be the one I’ve been waiting for.”

“You can’t drop it, can you? You could never forget about it, never let someone else carry on where you left off.”

I can’t think of a response. I hear the muffled sound of a boy’s voice in the background.

“Is that him?”

“Yeah, he’s about to leave for school.”

“Give him a kiss for me. Tell him I love him.”

Silence. “…I will. But you shouldn’t be ringing me Jerry, not anymore.”

“I know.”

I hang up and focus on the road. Rain’s starting to speckle my windscreen and I’m driving into a growing mist. I light a cigarette. It’s still a long way to go.