Mike Shevdon didn't intend to be a writer, indeed, he didn't even start writing until he was in his forties, and by then he'd forgotten the limited amount he learned at school and had to start again. Mike grew up reading fantasy and SF when Robert Heinlein was alive and no-one had heard of Urban Fantasy. His favorite authors include John Wyndham and Robert Crais, Barbara Hambly and John le Carré.
Mike's fiction interleaves the real world with his own fictional twist, blending history and imagination into stories to give a sense of magic and mystery in the real world. It has been described as gentle, compelling and unputdownable. Sixty-One Nails has been listed in the best releases of 2010 for Barnes and Noble Fantasy and The Road to Bedlam was SciFi and Fantasy Book of the Year for 2010. You can read about Mike, writing, history and fiction at Mike's Website: http://shevdon.com/
Published by Angry Robot Books - http://www.angryrobotbooks.com/
You can read the opening chapter of Sixty-One Nails at http://angryrobotbooks.com/our-authors/mike-shevdon/sixty-one-nails/
Once again, Terry caught himself looking out of the corner of his eye to see if the mark had re-appeared. It happened at times like this, when he was sitting at the study desk in his room, ambient clatter filtering down the corridor from the communal kitchen, unidentifiable thrash-metal rumbling through the ceiling from the room above.
The mirror took up the wall-space behind the desk, between the built-in wardrobe and the chest of drawers where his stereo stood. It was a big sheet of glass for such a small room. He supposed it was intended to make the room appear bigger, but it didn't work. The rooms were compact when they were built but after they'd been retro-fitted with en-suite showers there was even less space. The mirror meant he was constantly aware of the proximity of his own image as he sat at the desk poring over medieval history texts, some distortion in the perspective giving the impression that he was looming over himself.
At first he thought it was his breath, misting on the glass, that brought the mark out. He would skew his books sideways and position himself sideways so he didn't breathe on the glass. Inevitably, though, his eye would be drawn back to the mirror and he would find himself angling his head to see if it was still there.
He'd tried everything to remove it. First he'd used washing up liquid from the kitchen, but that only succeeded in smearing the lipstick across the glass. Then he'd tried kitchen cleanser, gently at first since he didn't want to lose his deposit if the cleanser marked the glass. He needn't have worried, it cleaned the smears off but left the writing, fainter than before but still readable at certain angles. He struggled to find anything stronger. Doug next door was a first-year chemist, so Terry asked him for advice on cleaning marks from glass and then demurred when asked what it was he was trying to clean off. He couldn't show it to anyone. Finally, he'd bought some nail polish remover. That had initially removed it, but then the writing had re-appeared like a shadow in the glass.
He couldn't have anyone in his room until the mark was gone. Worse, they were only a couple of weeks away from the end of the summer term and he would have to move out for the holidays. They would clean the rooms for the summer and find the mark. Then everyone would know. Everyone would see what what she had written on his mirror in purple lipstick.
What kind of a name was Tee? A nickname? An initial? He looked into the mirror, not seeing the gaunt shadows under his eyes from too many disturbed nights, but thinking back to the night he found her.
They all teased him, all the guys on his corridor, even Tim - and he was gay. Just because Terry was shy around girls. When their girlfriends stayed over they would sit all in the kitchen drinking coffee and hanging out, and when he went to get a drink the girls would say 'Hi Terry', trying to draw him into conversation, knowing he would stammer and stutter and the words wouldn't come. Then they would all laugh and he would disappear back into his room, slamming the door on the cat-calls of "Loooooserrrrrrr."
He'd tried everything to overcome his shyness; everything he could think of. There were self-hypnosis tapes in the drawer, self-improvement books on the shelf, even a book of magic spells. Nothing worked, until he found Tee.
He'd only seen her that once, only been with her once. She was everything he desired; ash-blonde straight hair that rippled as she moved, long legs, a heart shaped face and eyes that glowed with lavender highlights in the dark. She had a voice low enough to melt chocolate.
He was at the college party. She walked across the room to him; walked up to him and asked his name. He'd looked into her eyes and for once he didn't stammer.
"It's Terry," he'd said. "What's yours?"
She'd just smiled and whispered something that was drowned by the thumping music. He'd leaned down to catch what she's said and instead of whispering her name, she'd gently kissed his neck and said, "Take me somewhere quiet."
The two of them had left the party and stolen away to his room, her cold hands on his warm back exciting him long before they reached the accommodation block. They had tumbled into the tiny bed then rolled off onto the floor with a dull thump and muffled giggles. She had pressed her finger against his lips to pause him and then stood over him in the dark, drawing the slinky purple silk of her dress up over her hips and then slipping it over her head and draping it over the back of his study chair so it slithered onto the seat. Her pale skin glowed in the dark as she knelt across him, her finger on his lips to silence him when he realised she wasn't wearing anything underneath.
It was then things started to get fuzzy. It wasn't drink. He'd only had a couple of beers at the party and he knew that was not enough to dull his passion. It was when she had pressed her skin to him, cool and naked, that his memory started to waver. They had kissed and he had wrapped him arms around her, but then the memory slithered away from him like the silk dress on the chair. He woke later to find himself cold, naked and alone, the incriminating scrawl on his mirror a testament to his performance and her disappointment.
He'd wanted to explain, apologise, ask her for another chance to prove himself, but he couldn't find anyone who knew her. He'd asked the guys on the corridor, increasingly angry at their refusal to even admit they'd seen her at the party. He couldn't understand it - she wasn't the sort of girl who would pass unnoticed in a room full of young men. They said he was making it up, and started referring to his 'imaginary friend'.
That was no worse than any of the other teasing. What really bothered him was his apparent inability to satisfy her. He even visited the student medical centre, worried that some deeper problem was manifesting. They told him he was tired and slightly anaemic, but nothing a better diet and more sleep wouldn't cure.
More sleep? Each night, more and more frequently, he was caught from sleep by a voice that jolted him from slumber. He began to wonder if it wasn't a trick being played by the guys on the corridor, or someone using the kitchen who sounded like Tee, someone who passed his room at two in the morning, then three...then four.
He knew it was the tiredness that made him irritable. Even the guys said he was changed. They whispered of depression. It was almost sympathy, and part of him wanted to confide, to share his burden, share the pain, but then they would have a new stick with which to beat him.
It was then he started seeing the shadow in the glass, the writing visible at odd moments and from odd angles, particularly when he sat at the desk trying to concentrate on his work. At first he had assumed the cleanser had marked the glass, leaving a shadow where the lipstick had been. He used more nail varnish remover to go over the area again, but it made no difference. He would swear the mark had gone, then just when he let his guard down he would see it out of the corner of his eye.
Finding himself awake in the small hours, rubbing at the glass with his bare hands and staring into the darkened mirror, he realised he was going to have to do something.
He shook himself. It was up to him. He would have to save himself. No-one else was going to help him. He had to make a clean break - act now, before it was too late. He turned the light on and sat down at the desk, carefully avoiding his reflection and wrote out a note.
I'm sorry, I just couldn't stay here. I'm sorry about the mess. I have to go.
He signed it with a flourish, leaving the pad on the desk where it would be found, feeling suddenly unburdened.
Then he stood facing his reflection. He looked at his image and liked the returning light of determination and resolve he saw in his eyes. He knew he was doing the right thing. He picked up the chair by the seat-back and held it high for a moment. He drew it back slowly, then throwing his whole weight behind it, smashed it into the mirror. The sound of crashing glass and tinkling shards filled the room. He was free.
He stood facing the blank wall, his heart beating hard in his chest. The corners of glass still screwed to the wall reflected only broken fragments of the room. The mirror was no more.
Hammering on the door jolted him back to the present.
"Terry? It's Doug. Are you all right?" It was his next door neighbour. The crash must have woken him.
He found his slippers and padded gingerly across the room, avoiding the shattered glass, pulling on a robe from the back of the door.
The hammering increased. "Terry? Open the door!"
He turned the lock and opened the door enough to see Doug.
"Are you all right? What was that noise?"
Doug's concern was touching. Terry hardly knew the guy, but he'd pulled on some jogging bottoms and come to see if Terry was okay.
"I had an accident. I broke something. Sorry to wake you." Terry's tone was placatory. He was already starting to feel better.
"Jeez! I thought you were coming through the wall. Hey, you're bleeding."
Terry looked down, surprised at the blood running down his wrist and over his hand where the flying glass had caught him. He blinked. "It's nothing, just some broken glass, that's all. I'll put some tissue on it, clear up the mess in the morning."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. You can go back to bed."
Doug smiled hesitantly and then nodded and turned away. After a few seconds, Terry heard his door closing. Terry pushed his own door closed and faced his room. He didn't need to clean up. He needed to leave this room now.
He stepped quickly across the floor to his chest of drawers, then swore as he realised he was dripping blood across the floor onto the shards of shattered glass. Grabbing a tissue and blotting his wrist, he opened his drawers, taking out clothes he could wear for the journey. If he went now he might catch a night train going south, it didn't matter where it was going. He would find his way. He selected socks and pants, trousers and a warm shirt. The dawn would arrive in a couple of hours and it would be cold.
That was when he heard it. A soft sound in the early hours of the morning. The low voice with just one word.
It was the same voice that was wrenching him from sleep every night, and this time he was ready for it. He jumped over the glass fragments and wrenched the door open, determined to deal once and for all with whoever was tormenting him.
There was no-one there. He listened for footsteps retreating down the corridor. All was quiet.
Then the voice came again, "Terry?" It was from inside his room.
He closed the door slowly and carefully and turned back to the room. It was in here with him.
"Terry? I'm here."
The voice was close, feet away. He scanned the room for the source of the sound.
He caught the sight of something odd reflected in the shattered fragments of glass, an image that shouldn't be there. A face was fractured across the shards. Her face.
He knelt down over one of the larger fragments, caught by the odd way it reflected not the room, but another space, another room, somewhere else.
She came forward, pressing her hand against the inside of the mirror, covering most of the fragment with her palm and obscuring her image. Pieces of her hand appeared across the floor in jumbled array as other fragments picked up the image. Tentatively he put his hand out and put his finger where her hand was. It felt, not smooth and glassy, but soft and warm. He opened his hand and pressed it against hers. "I'm here," he said.
A jolt travelled down his arm. His breath caught in his throat. He hiccoughed and then coughed, eyes wide in shock. His body jerked. He tried to pull his hand away from the mirror but it was as if the drying blood had welded his hand to it. His eyes went wider still, their gaze turning inward. His body shook with tension, the muscles standing out on his frame, veins pulsing at his temples. Saliva drooled from his parted lips while he knelt, twitching and jerking. His entire body trembled. A wisp of steam rose gently from his kneeling form. His skin began to quiver as if something moved beneath it. His head rolled back and his mouth opened wide.
He tried to call for help, "Ach, Aach!"
His body jerked sideways, splaying him out across the glass-scattered rug, sending glass fragments skidding across the floor. He jerked again, the force of it banging the bed against the wall. It repeated, until the sound of the bed hammering against the wall was like a pounding heart as his body spasmed and shook. A pain so sharp he felt he was being cut in two started in his groin and travelled slowly up his spine. He finally managed to scream.
It was the banging on the door that did it.
She pushed herself to her knees, wrapping the huge expanse of Terry's robe around her. She was still shaking. Her hair was lank with sweat and she smelled of male. She pulled herself up using the bed and stood unsteadily.
"Terry? Terry, are you okay?" The banging restarted.
She staggered to the door crunching across the glass in slippers too big for her and then leaned against the back of the door. Her legs felt weak.
"Just a minute." she said, through the door, wiping the long strands of damp hair from her face.
She turned the lock and then leaned around the door as she pulled it ajar.
"Hello?" she said.
Doug was standing there. When he realised who had answered the door, he blushed deeply.
"Oh. I'm sorry. I thought...that is..."
Tee blushed, tucking a strand of blond hair back behind her ear. "I'm so sorry. It's Doug isn't it? Did we wake you? I didn't realise how much noise we were making. I'm truly sorry."
"No, no. It's okay really. I just thought...well, anyway."
"I'm really sorry. We'll be quiet now, I promise."
She smiled and his colour deepened.
"No," he stammered, "It's my fault. I saw Terry a few minutes ago and I thought he was...alone."
She smiled again, shyly.
He gestured sideways with his thumb. "I'll…go back to bed. Sorry."
"No problem. Our fault entirely. Good night."
She pushed the door closed and then turned and leaned against it, breathing slowly. Then she bent and carefully collected the largest pieces of glass into the bin and used the rug to sweep the worst of the rest into a corner.
Sitting back at the desk, she pulled history books from the pile, tossing them aside one by one.
"It must be here."
Pushing aside newspapers, she pulled out the desk drawer and upturned it onto the bed so that everything scattered across the bed.
"It must be."
Starting at the bottom, she went through his clothes drawers, pulling out the top one completely and emptying it out onto the pile on the bed. Socks, underpants, and a book tumbled onto the growing pile. Unlike most of the university books, this one was bound in leather.
"There you are. Underwear drawer - very original."
She picked it up gently. The title, On Daemons and Spirites, was burnished into the cover. She smoothed her hand across the leather and sniffed it, then placed it gently on the desk, leafing gently through it until she found the page. It had the corner turned down. How could he do that to something this precious? Had he no respect?
The page was headed, "On the Summoning of Succubi".
She had a good idea of what Terry had been trying to do when he'd first used the book. Men. They were so predictable. She drew her finger down the page and read through the curlicued script three times before closing her eyes and intoning it softly to herself, hand on the book.
It was then she noticed the note on the desk in Terry's untidy scrawl. She read it and then smiled. That would do nicely.
She pulled her fingers through her hair - it was lank and sweaty. She smelled like a men's changing room. _Using the shower in the tiny en-suite, she washed away the last traces of male sweat and then dried herself carefully with the cleaner of his towels. Emerging scrubbed and feeling considerably better. She looked at the clothes that Terry had laid out, longing for the slinky mauve dress she had purloined the first time. Oh well, needs must.
She took the shirt and shrugged into it, doing the button up, but leaving the upper ones unfastened. It hung on her like a tent. She turned to face the wall to see how bad it looked and found it blank. The remains of the mirror were in the bin.
"Damn you, Terry. Can't you do anything right?"
Pulling it back over her head, she tossed it onto the bed, then rifled through Terry's drawers until she found a black T-shirt, wriggling into it. It hung loose on her, but with a little artful arrangement it hung off one shoulder, leaving the skin pale and bare.
Stashing the book back into the underwear drawer, she pushed the pants and socks back around it and closed the drawer. She picked up Terry's comb, pulling it slowly through the long strands of her hair while she searched for something for her feet, eventually resigning herself to the oversized slippers. She glanced again at the wall, and then went to the door. Glancing back at the room, she dismissed the mess with a shake of her head.
Putting the lock on the latch, she pulled the door closed behind her and tip-toed down the corridor to the next room. She tapped on the door and waited, then tapped again. The door cracked open hesitantly. Doug peeped out.
"Hi Doug…I didn't wake you, did I?" she said, conscious of the noise in the empty corridor.
"No…it's okay. Where's Terry? Is everything okay?"
She smiled shyly. "He's completely out of it. Some men…" she shrugged, "…no stamina."
She watched his reaction, watched his eyes as they took in the T-shirt, the bare shoulder.
"Yes, only…Terry's mirror is broken and I can't see to comb my hair." She watched him process the information. "I was wondering if I could use your mirror?"
"I…er…don't know. I'm not even dressed."
He watched her slow smile as she wet her lips. "Okay, well I suppose I'll manage. It'll be a mess in the morning." She half turned away, all the while watching the pulse in his neck as his heart caught up with his brain and the tips of his ears went pink, then hesitated. "I'd only need a minute, and you're awake anyway?"
"Well, I suppose…"
"May I come in?" she asked.
He backed up a little and the door opened. Glancing down the corridor, she noted the number of doors, shivering a little as she crossed the threshold on a tacit invitation.
Boys, she thought. They're so sweet. She would never be able to stop at just one.
© Mike Shevdon 2011
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.