Cold Fire



Available in paperback and eBook formats from Amazon.
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Available in audio formats from Amazon, Audible and iTunes.
Audio narrator: Lee David Foreman.
*1st Hardback Edition published as 'The Estate' by Crowded Quarantine Publications.

Back Cover Copy:

How far would you go to save those you love? Into the house of the damned? Into Hell itself? 

It takes a near death experience to open Sam O'Donnell's eyes to what he is - just another addict on the road to ruin. He knows it's time to make a fresh start. And yet, when Sam and his wife move to an estate by the sea, nothing goes as planned. The estate is not what it seems. Something has taken it over. It is cold. It hungers

To save all he loves, Sam must go into the house of the damned...and into Hell itself. When weighed in the balance, a man can only face his demons alone and pray he is not found wanting. 

But Sam is not alone.

Three Chapter Sample:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Henry Francis Lyte, 1847

Part One

Cold Fire

1.
Fire is the cure

Frank pours petrol on himself, turning the bottle upside down and tipping it over his head. He looks like a hot man cooling down on a summer’s day, but he’s not. He’s cold, and fire is the cure.
He flicks his thumb over the wheel on his lighter. At first his thumb’s slick and slips then the flame catches and runs along his arm, up first, to his face and hair, then down, flames dripping to the grass.
The damned are all around him. He stumbles, blind now. The fire leaps from his face and arms, his legs, catching them where they reach out and grasp at him.
They burn and crackle with true fire, purifying heat.
‘I feel their fire, Sam,’ he says. I can barely hear him, over the sirens and the crack of timbers exploding as the estate burns around us. He says something else, the last words I hear. It sounds like, ‘...it has an old feel.’
He’s laughing by then, as his face melts, but by then his lips are gone and the hardest thing is that finally, whirling and burning as they surround him, he smiles. I think it’s a smile. It’s hard to tell, with his face messed up and his lips shrivelled into black worms.
I cry as I watch him die, because by then I love him, a little. But then it’s not a sad sight. I think maybe he was always dead.
I turn away because the job’s not done and he gave himself, maybe saved himself, so I can finish it.
Maybe it’ll never be done, because I’m damned, too, just like the ones with the cold fire dying as they surround my friend.
I’m damned, like Frank. Like my wife and my dead daughter.
            I watch the houses burn for a second, and while I watch the stranger’s there in me, watching too, and he’s a dark man, so dark sometimes I can’t see what he was doing.
The estate’s burning, the sirens are wailing. But it’s not done, not yet. Because there’s one house left. One more house that’s got to burn.
But I’m wrong. So wrong.
            That was the end, or near enough it doesn’t matter to the dead.
It’s hard to pin down the start. I once thought it was three minutes past midnight when I died, or maybe my little girl, Samantha. It could have been the kettle. It could have been when the stranger returned.
But really, it begins and ends with the estate.

2.
You burn, too

The first time I see one of them, the burning ones, I’m on my way home from the hospital.
            I spent nearly a month in a cold boring ward, sometime with a catheter in, sometime in a wheelchair, in rehab, in bed, dribbling like baby over sausage and mash.
A stroke and a heart attack’ll do that to you.
It’s a story, but it’s not the story.
Let’s just say 19 stone addicts aren’t built to last.
It’s a Sunday when I get out. My wife, Helen, wheels me out of the ward. She says thanks to the nurses, to the porters, to the cleaner. She’s over the moon. She’ll be thanking the other patients before long.
‘Come on, honey,’ I say, just to move her on. ‘Come on. Before they change their minds.’
Me and Helen are solid again, in a way we’d been before the coke and pills and beer and every other thing I could get my hands on shy of sticking a needle in my arm.
I think if I’d gone down that road there really wouldn’t have been any second chances.
We’re solid, but not all the way. Like a wooden house, sturdy enough, but built on mud or sand. A heavy rain and it’ll slide. It still felt like that in the early days, just after I died.
The nurse on the desk smiles at me as Helen thanks every damn one in the hospital. I’d wink at the nurse, but I’m pre-winked at the moment, what with a droopy eyelid from a stroke. I settle for what’s probably a disquieting grin.
After a stroke, crazy blind eye and my whole right side fucked, I’m well aware I’m no catch.
The nurse gives us a little wave as the door to the ward closes behind us. I don’t say anything more. I’ve said all the thanks I need to say. At least I think I have.
We go down two floors in a glass elevator. I haven’t been in this one before. Usually, on the way to see Seetha, my physio, I go in a dull metal elevator with walls that look something like brushed steel.
I’m tired already and I just want to get home, but Helen needs the toilet. Maybe it’s the excitement getting to her. You know, having your crippled husband come home. Maybe some people get excited about things like that. I’m not too happy about it but I’m not complaining. Helen’s giving me a second chance I’m sure I don’t deserve.
Helen goes into the toilet and leaves me in my chair.
We’re on the ground floor. I look up at one of the signs that let people know they’re in the wrong place entirely for what they’re looking for. It says ‘Chapel’. There’s no hint of any kind of denomination.
I wonder if I’m done here, done with the hospital, the rehab, done with Seetha. I wonder for a while, just sitting there like a cripple in my chair. It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do than watch the people go by with my one good eye, my one dead one.
Apparently I’m lucky. Don’t feel so lucky when I walk into a half open door in the dead of night. Still, it’s better than being dead.
People look at me as I sit there in my chair. Some people do that look; the look away, look back sideways thing. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care if people stare at me all day, because there’s probably only three or four a day rude or curious enough to do it, and on average I only see half of them.
I sit there, wondering. It’s good, all the wondering I’m doing. It’s keeping me busy. Helen’s still gone. Must be long times.
I kind of feel I should stop at the chapel but at the same time like I don’t care either way. I’m not really religious. I used to be a Catholic, as far as I was ever anything. I’m pretty shaky on religion as a whole. But maybe I should stop off and say thanks. Thank someone. I’m not sure who I should thank. I’ve got this vague feeling I should offer up a prayer to whatever deity resides in there, but then I figure a chapel in a hospital is more like a telephone booth where a prayer is just a pound coin. I don’t know though. Maybe God only takes cards these days.
Whatever. It won’t matter either way. I don’t believe in God. I believe in Helen and I believe in Seetha and the best present I ever got – a yellow tennis ball.
I used to believe in myself, but I know now I was wrong.     
            I can’t wheel the chair. My right hand doesn’t work. It’s as shit as my right eye. I don’t need my right eye for pretty much anything. I can manage without that. I’m royally fucked off about my hand, though.
I’m in a wheelchair, but I might as well be in a straightjacket. I’d be just as mobile.
            But I do want to go into the chapel. I haven’t been in a church since my wedding day. I want to go. See if he’s there, maybe. Just say a little prayer, something simple. It doesn’t matter what. I feel I should.
            I’m sitting by a big glass window, stuck, waiting for Helen. There’s a ton of glass in the hospital. It probably saves on lighting. It’s not for the view, that’s for sure.
An old guy and his wife walk toward me. You can tell they’re married. There’s something in the set of their walk. The way they mirror each other, like they’re opposite, but connected, too.
I catch the old guy’s eye. Give him a little nod of my head. He takes a diversion from whatever course he was on.
            ‘Do you need some help?’ he says. He’s got a twinkle in his eye. His wife looks sick, but he looks spry. He’s got a good walk. His legs are bowed out so he rolls when he walks.
            ‘I’m sorry, but you wouldn’t wheel me into the chapel, would you?’
            ‘Sure,’ he says. He looks around. It’s right there, but people don’t see what’s right there. He looks at the sign, even though if he looked he’d see the door with the stained glass window. Same as me. I didn’t see the door. I saw the sign.
The stained glass is in the shape of a cross. So is the frame for the glass, I suppose.
            ‘Stroke?’ he says.
            ‘I hardly know you,’ I say.
            He laughs like he’s barking.
            I just smile at his laugh, a smile that’s wasted on him because he’s behind me, but it feels good to me. I’ve smiled more since being in the hospital than I did the whole time before. You think drugs’ll make you happy, but it didn’t work that way for me. I think maybe you get too deep, you forget to smile and just concentrate on getting back to the surface.
Now I’m at the surface, it’s still fresh, and I feel like I’m just gasping for air and that’s enough.
            ‘Sorry, son,’ he says. ‘Shit luck, init?’
            ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘That’s about the sum of it.’
            He wheels me in. He turns me so he can open the door with his back then he pushes me into the aisle, which is the only place the chair will fit.
‘OK?’ he says.
I don’t reply. Just nod dumbly.
He puts his hand on my shoulder. Softly, he says, ‘I wish you well, son. You’re young. You’ll bounce back.’
            But I don’t reply. No…it’s more like I’m not aware of him leaving or me saying anything in reply. That’s more accurate.
            Because of the woman kneeling at the front of the chapel in front of a brass figure of Christ on the cross.
            My heart’s thudding like mad. I’m biting down hard to hold in a scream.

            She’s burning. Flames are licking the back of her head like hair blown in the wind. Tendrils of fire flit about her head, sucking oxygen from the air. The fire is feeding on the air, but totally unnatural, too, because only her head burns.
            I think maybe I’m having a heart attack. I’m aware I’m making a kind of keening, terrified sound in the back of my throat. My teeth grind.
She’s wearing a coat. The coat is untouched. It’s a black coat. Looks woolly. Like it’d catch fire easy enough.
I can feel the sweat under my armpits, like her heat’s reaching me back here, at the entrance to the chapel, but it’s not her. I’m cold, but I’m still sweating. Cold enough to burn.
            In as much as I’m thinking anything at that moment, I’m thinking about her coat, and wondering about how flammable it might be, because I can’t think of her head on fire. Bright red and orange and strangely green petals dance in the air and all she does is kneel there. She should be screaming.
            I should be screaming but the scream can’t make it past my teeth. I don’t want her to turn. I don’t want her to know I’m there.
            She crosses herself. I can tell by the way her right elbow moves, even though I’m behind her.
            Then she does turns. She walks down the aisle, straight to me.  I’m in a fucking wheel chair. I can’t run, I can’t move. I can’t get away. I try to turn away because I can’t see her face. Beneath the flames there is no face.
            Nonetheless I know she’s crying.
            She stands before me. I think I say ‘no’. I think I try to turn my head, look away.
She doesn’t touch me. I don’t think I could bear it if she did. I can feel cold fire burning off her and I see her hands, too, are alight.
‘Don’t touch me, God don’t, don’t, don’t...’
I’m pleading, begging, even though she can’t speak maybe she can hear. She can’t speak anymore than she can cry with no face, but that doesn’t matter because I know what she says after all.
            ‘You burn. You burn, too.’
            She makes like she’s going to touch me but I scream like a fucking convent girl and squeeze my eyes tight shut then I hear the doors behind me slam against the wall and feel a hand on my shoulder.
            My heart thumps, massive, like a coronary, but I’m not dead.

*

3.
Did I scream?

I flick my head around, my neck cracking, ready to thrash out if the burning woman’s behind me. I don’t care about touching her, I just want to...I want to...
But I turn and Helen’s there.
‘I was worried sick,’ Helen says. Her voice is calm.
            I’m shaking. I turn away from Helen and stare straight ahead. I don’t want Helen to see me like this and I don’t want to look behind me anymore. 
            ‘Where is she...? There...’ I say. But the words die in my mouth, my jaw aching from clenching my teeth so hard. I don’t say what I’m going to say, because it’s not real. It can’t be. And if it’s not real there’s something wrong with me other than the frightening, mad drumming of my fat heart.
            ‘Who?’ she says. ‘You OK?’
            Of course she didn’t see the woman go out the door because if she had she would have screamed like me.
            Did I scream?
            No. I did not.
            If I did, Helen would have opened with something more appropriate to the sudden terror I was feeling. Like, ‘What’s wrong?’, or ‘I heard you scream, I came running.’ She’d be pale. She’d be shaking. Like me.
            ‘What’s wrong?’ she says as she moves round in front of me. ‘You’re shaking. You’re pale.’
            That’s how I know I’m in trouble. Either I passed out, or I had some kind of waking dream.
            Didn’t happen and it wasn’t real. My heart’s slowing, and I’m not afraid.
            I’m damned certain I didn’t have a religious experience. It wasn’t the face of Jesus in a slice of toast. It was a woman with flames framing her face where she should have had hair. A woman in a black woollen coat (cloak. Was it a cloak? Did people wear cloaks, anywhere, anymore? No. It wasn’t a cloak. And it doesn’t fucking matter because there wasn’t a woman with a burning head in the chapel).
            ‘I want to go home.’
            ‘OK, honey,’ she say. She doesn’t crouch down to talk to me like I’m a kid, but just goes behind and takes the handles of the chair. She backs out the door and pulls me into the corridor where everything is absolutely normal for a hospital. The walls are a kind of blue grey, almost like steel. There’s a yellow line down the centre of the wall. I know it’s yellow, because it’s a different hue to the walls. A bum wheel on a bed squeaks as a porter wheels a young kid with a cast on his leg to whatever ward he’s going to. People walk and talk and there’s the constant murmur of life just going on quietly. People are quiet in a hospital. Even when they’re in pain, there’s a sense all sound is muffled. It’s quiet, and there are yellow eyes painted in between the yellow line on the grey wall as Helen wheels me to the glass door. The eyes watch me go. I don’t know why the hospital would paint yellow eyes on the wall anymore than they would paint a yellow line.
            I know it’s yellow, but I can’t see yellow anymore. I know it’s yellow because it’s the same colour as my tennis ball, and people don’t make grey tennis balls.
            Helen wheels me to the car and bundles me in. By the time I’ve had my first taste of fresh air my head’s cleared. The cold sweat coating me dries. My heart’s normal for me. Doomp. Doomp. Just a steady beat of a guy who’s not dying anymore. The beat of a guy who’s not scared because he didn’t see a woman on fire.
            And yet I look for a woman on fire the whole way.
She’s not there.
There’s a winter moon in the cold black sky. It’s chilly but the goose bumps on my body have nothing to do with the air.
            God, I think to myself, I just want to go home. I’ve got a thumping headache but it doesn’t stop me falling asleep before we even make it out of the car park.

*