Martyn Waites is an English actor and author of hard-boiled fiction. Raised in Newcastle upon Tyne, he spent his post-university years selling leather coats, working in pubs and doing stand-up comedy. After a stint in drama school, Waites pursued life on the stage, performing regionally in theatres across England. TV and commercial work followed, and he continued to act full-time until the early 1990s, when he began writing his first novel: a noir mystery set in the city of his birth. Mary’s Prayer was published in 1997, and Waites followed it with three more novels starring the same character, an investigative journalist named Stephen Larkin. After concluding the Larkin series in 2003, he created another journalist, troubled reporter Joe Donovan, who made his first appearance in The Mercy Seat (2006). Waites is also responsible for the Tania Carver series of crime novels. Visit his website at www.martynwaites.com
Eel Marsh House. Dank, dilapidated, unloved and unlived in.
It has stood alone on Eel Marsh Island for the best part of a century. Surrounded by swirling, damp mist that paints it darker and greyer and by clammy, cold drizzle that renders it indistinct, it looms out of the fog. Empty. But not silent.
The water swirls and susurrates around the island the house has been built on. It laps the edges of the marsh that surrounds it. It permeates through the softer ground turning it to quicksand, ready to claim the lives of travellers who have strayed, pull them under and close above them once more, swallow them whole, leave the surface undisturbed, as if no one has ever been there. Beneath the surface, the water churns with the eels constant slithering and writhing, snakes with angry faces, they feed on whatever living matter makes its way down to them.
The house has been undisturbed for decades. An ancient pile of heavy stone, it has weathered but endured, crumbling but upright. But there is movement on the island, in the house. Recent. Unwelcome.
The front door is pushed open. It throws light on darkness, causes dust to rise, small animals to scurry for the shadows. Paintings have been taken from walls, old photographs, documents, papers, ornaments have all been thrown in boxes, stored away.
In their place come things new to the house. Unfamiliar things. Alien things. Heavy, black curtains have been put up at the windows, creating a new world within. Wrought iron beds have been carried up the stairs, arranged in the bedrooms and mattresses placed on top. The house is to have new occupants.
Now, thick black cable snakes through the house, taking on twisted, serpentine shapes, a dark mirror of the eels writhing in the water below and around it. The cables connect to a generator that casts a hum down the halls and through the rooms. Gas masks hang from hooks, their blank, round-eyed stares the first welcome newcomers will receive.
The overgrown grounds outside the house have also been cleared. Slowly, a garden, long since subsumed by wilderness, is beginning to emerge. And with it the rest of the island. Even the stones in the graveyard have had ivy and moss cleared from them, making their names legible once more.
The house is ready.
The house is waiting.
(C) Martyn Waites, 2013
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