Tuesday 2 July 2013

The Haunting of Hanford

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

Matt Cooper is a freelance writer who often works for Deep Skies, "the magazine for all your up-to-date extraterrestrial news and conspiracies..." He has the potential to be a recurring character, so this is subtitled 'a Matt Cooper Mystery'. The Haunting of Hanford is a ten thousand word short story that went out to beta readers last week! =)

Local legend says the church at Hanford is haunted, but there might just be a bit more to it than that... While investigating, Matt stumbles on a group of robed figures holding a ritual, but they spot him and beat him up. He wakes up the next morning...


Matt knew he was alive and in one piece because everything hurt, from his toes to his scalp, and that meant it was all there. He opened his eyes and groaned at the daylight. The daylight hurt.
He was in some kind of medical room, with a wheeled curtain in one corner, a table with a box of tissues and a box of latex gloves, and a night stand with a glass of water on it. The walls were plain white, covered only by informative, laminated posters about vitamins and telltale symptoms and not using mobile phones. He didn't think the last was really necessary; it hardly seemed worth having a mobile in Hanford.
A cheery, round, middle-aged woman stuck her head through the open door.
"Mr. Cooper. You're awake."
"Yuh." He coughed, winced at the pain, then swallowed hard and tried again. "You're the doctor?"
"No, I'm the nurse."
"Where am I?"
"Hanford village hospital. You were brought in last night, how do you feel?"
"Like I got beaten up by a bunch of crazy people in a graveyard."
She smiled. "Funny, that's how you look, too."
"Who brought me in?"
"The night nurse said it was a couple, I think, in suits."
"More secret agent than smart banker?"
"I didn't see them, they didn't leave any contact details I'm afraid."
Matt grimaced as he sat up and more aches presented themselves for his delight. He was very conscious of the fact that someone seemed to have undressed him and re-clothed him in a hospital gown.
"Can I leave?"
The nurse regarded him critically. "We should have the doctor check you over first."
"I feel fine," he said, hopping to his feet, sending spasms from his calf muscles though his thighs to explode in his lower back.
"See," he said in a pained voice. "Fine."
She made a sceptical noise and gave him a look to match.
"I shall get Doctor Harway. You will wait for him. When he is done, your clothes are in the wardrobe."
She indicated a closed door in the corner of the room, partially hidden behind the wheeled curtain and waited for him to sit himself back down before she left to find the doctor. He briefly entertained the notion of simply leaving, but decided to stay. The nurse would probably come after him, and she looked the type to hurt him more, for his own sake, and do it with a kindly smile on her face.
Then he felt guilty for being mean and began prodding himself while he waited for the doctor, wondering if there was any part of him that didn't hurt.

The doctor gave him the OK and Matt gingerly changed back into his own clothes. He checked his phone and saw the signal flicker up to one bar for the briefest tease of a moment before dropping to nothing again. He could probably just about make it back to the Swan in time for breakfast; that and a shower and he might feel halfway human again.
He heard a shout from the next room.
"Set me free!"
He dropped his phone into his pocket and rushed into the corridor. The next door along was open and the nurse and doctor were paying too much attention to their patient to send him away.
"So long. So far!"
The vicar was lying on the bed, twitching, hyperventilating, eyes wide but unseeing as the doctor tried to calm him down. It was as if he was experiencing some vivid nightmare he couldn't wake up from. Just like Ben Morris.
Matt realised there was someone at the window, someone else watching. He turned his head sharply and saw a pale face looking in. But the movement must have alerted the other man because his wide, dark eyes flicked briefly to Matt before he ducked out of sight. It was only a fleeting glimpse, but there was no mistaking the unnaturally pallid skin, unusual features and bald head of the man who had been at the bar the night Matt had arrived.
The man the suits had been questioning the barman about.
"Release me!"
Matt dashed down the corridor to where he could see a waiting room that, presumably, led to an exit. It did, and, ignoring his complaining muscles, he ran around the side of the hospital. But the man was gone.
It really was a village hospital, smaller than most doctors' surgeries Matt knew in London, and it didn't take him long to walk a circuit of the building. There was no sign of the man though, and whether he had run into the woodland at the back or into the town centre it was impossible to tell.


  1. Happy Xeroversary and thank you for the extract! Sounds intriguing. It was good to read something of yours that was longer-form.