The Hand of Kane (revisited)

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Port of Belfast with Cave Hill in the distance

I re-read my 2017 posts last night and really enjoyed this short mystery story that I wrote for Goodread’s #MysteryWeek in May; the idea is to write a short mystery story in no more than five sentences.

Okay, so I pushed the five-sentence rule to the absolute limits of credulity-twelve hundred words! – so I’ve edited the story to more reasonable sentence lengths while minimising any changes to the structure or flow of the story.

It’s a short revenge story set in the land of my childhood; our last home in Northern Ireland overlooked the outer dock and the shores of Belfast Lough.

***

THE HAND OF KANE

Barbs of rain flayed the granite skin from Napoleon’s Nose and lashed down Cave Hill towards the steel-grey lough and the harbour ring road. The forensic team was clearing out, and the peelers were ducking beneath the tape that surrounded the burnt-out Vauxhall Vectra.

“Here’s what we have so far, from the VRN and ID in the vehicle…”

The young RUC officer’s eyes were pasted to his notebook, not wanting to see again the pathetic contents being zipped into the body bag. One glimpse of the dead man’s right hand had been enough, sloughed off skin, the muscle roasted and shrunk to reveal bones. The rest of his body was cherry red, untouched by fire and intact, apart from a crushing bruise over the right temple.

“James Kane, 54 years old, North Belfast, a cashier at the petrol station convenience store up the street, going by the lanyard around his neck.” He waved his hand along the road that loped around this outcrop from the shore, this dreary hinterland of distribution centres and the outer harbour ferry terminal.

“Thon’s Jimmy Kane – your man did a twenty stretch for shooting those wee Quinn lads, Catholic brothers they were, in the 70s, yonder down the road on the Jennymount estate,” his older companion and superior, Swanson, replied.

“Surprised he’s lasted this long outside – could be a Republican revenge hit. Come on Corr, we’ve had another call, possible suicide down at the city port – still feel like a bite to eat?”

The port of Belfast authority staff had taped a cordon on the dockside, where the body lay close to the ferry that was looming, waiting to return across the North channel to Cairnryan.

“We didn’t see him here for a wee while down there, at the bottom of the rock wall”, explained a harassed port authority supervisor, wiping his forehead, sweaty despite the biting breeze scuttering over the water. The body lay, half in the grey water, snagged on the gabion walls that augmented the natural quayside – male, medium height, rail thin, age maybe mid-sixties.

The trajectory was clear to all who saw his broken body; he’d leaped from the ferry, but not the one currently docked; had they really not noticed him here for four hours, Swanson wondered, dragging his fat, inexorable finger down the printed ferry timetable he was handed by the port supervisor. The previous ferry had docked just before seven this morning.

There was some connection between these two deaths, he mulled, and when Corr called Swanson’s attention to the pair of well-worn leather gloves that lay on the ground just above the body, he knew there was more to this than the suicide of two auld fellas; he had a hunch that probed his hardened but not sclerotic sensibilities, and chilled him more than the wet salt wind that dove deep into the fissures of his craggy features.

Pathology was pending, but the reports would confirm what Swanson knew; Jimmy Kane was knocked out by a mighty blow to the head and left in his still-running car with a hose from the exhaust. He suffered third-degree burns to his right hand, probably inflicted from the half-full canister of petrol by the car.

But it was the body by the ferry that held the key to the double deaths, and it told a tale as old as mankind; 64-year-old Harry Doran, born Harold Kane, elder brother to the deceased in the car, was an exile from Norn Iron for forty years.

The appointment card in his pocket for colorectal cancer treatment suggested he would soon be a permanent exile if he hadn’t taken his own way out, and the door to door plods working the neighbourhood of Jimmy’s home had convinced Swanson there was no need to pull in anyone else, Catholic or otherwise.

Jimmy Kane never moved from his birthplace, reveling in his notoriety, even taking a job close to the home of his victim’s long-suffering parents, but Harry left the province after his brother’s conviction, returning only now when he had his own death sentence –

“But Sarge”, blurted Corr, following this line of reasoning only so far, “I can see he might have wanted to off his brother, family disgrace and all that, although that doesn’t happen too often around here, but this hand and glove business; is it something to do with the flegs?”*

“You’re on the right road”, interrupted Swanson. “My theory is that Harry burned his brother’s hand to show it was a revenge killing, the Red Hand of Ulster and all that; but as to the gloves, take a gander at the items found on Doran’s body.”

He handed a printed sheet to Corr, who scanned the list, none the wiser:

  • Appointment card for Oncology Department, Royal Marsden Hospital
  • Order of service card for funeral of Mrs. Roberta Doran, dated one week previously
  • Leather wallet, same brand as the gloves found on deceased, containing cash and a one-way ferry ticket to Belfast
  • A pocket bible, Old and New Testament
  • Three news articles cut from the Belfast Telegraph, various dates; the oldest one covering the 1974 retaliation murder of brothers Matthew and Mark Quinn, a later story about tension in the community after Jimmy Kane was employed close to his victim’s family, and an article on the history and myths surrounding the symbol of the Red Hand of Ulster.

Shakily underlined in felt tip pen on the third sheet of paper, worn smooth from being handled and folded many times, was the following passage:

Some myths tell of a time when Ulster was without a king so a boat race was held; the one whose hand first touched the shore of Ulster would win the crown. One contestant, seeing that he was losing the race, cut off his hand and threw it to shore, thus winning the race.


* Author’s note – “flegs” is how the people of Belfast pronounce the word ‘flag’, but is also used in discussions to encapsulate the opposing loyalist and republican viewpoints of the topic of flags, and when and where they are erected in Northern Ireland, a hotly debated topic that has erupted into violence in the past.

Link to the story on Goodreads

Guess Who’s Back…News Roundup

It’s been a few months since I’ve posted, even though in the interim I’ve had a couple of flash fiction stories published; my non-writing life got in the way, and family comes first.

I hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year’s, constant reader; a gift I inadvertently gave myself for 2018 was some distance on my two novels-in-progress; going back over both drafts this week, I appreciate the chance to look at my work with fresh, critical eyes. I’ve got a couple of word games on my phone, and I often get stuck on a stage – closing the game and leaving it a day invariably helps me find that impossible word and progress a level! It’s the same thing with my writing.

And although I haven’t been actively working on my drafts, I’ve been mulling over some plot and thematic issues, and reading, reading, reading! A Christmas and New Year movie-marathon also threw up some good ideas, as did a couple of crazy Youtube videos! It’s all grist to this word miller.

If you get a chance please head on over to 101fiction.com and reflexfiction.com where you’ll always find great new flash fiction; I was pleased to make their Summer 2017 long list of 50, from 320+ entries, for the latter.

I wish you all a happy, productive and creative New Year!

Flash Fiction October 2016 – “Between”

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“From Beyond” artwork by Mike Dubisch at http://www.hyaenagallery.com/dubisch/frombeyond.jpg

I admit it, I’m currently on a real kick for Horror fiction in general and HP Lovecraft in particular. Maybe it’s the time of year; the evenings draw in, there’s a catch in your breath from the cold air, it’s Halloween season, and your thoughts turn to cosmic horror and undying gods beyond the stars and under the sea…

I love that there’s such a rich HPL vein to mine these days; I remember having to order a copy of HPL’s collected works from another library, upon first discovering him as a teenager; I’m happy that his genius is more widely recognised now, and there’s a plethora of books, websites, artwork, (see the top picture for a great example from Mike Dubisch) graphic novels and podcasts, as well as a few interesting films based on his stories in the pipeline.

I recently discovered a great podcast that discusses Lovecraft’s literary output, it’s really worth a listen: The HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast; Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer have some great readers and special guests and I can really recommend it; most of the HPL podcasts are on iTunes for free.

I also tracked down (in the US) a yellowed and battered paperback copy of a collection of short stories called “The Shuttered Room”, supposedly completed from unfinished HPL notes and ideas, but in reality probably wholly written by Lovecraft’s literary champion, August Derleth. I’m enjoying the stories so far, adding as they do to the Lovecraftian mythos. There’s even a 1967 creepy British film based on the title story featuring the late great Oliver Reed!

All this cosmic otherworldliness got me thinking,and my submission to the 101fiction’s Halloween edition had to be an HPL tribute – I plumped on an homage to “From Beyond“, an unsettling tale of a mad scientist’s (mad in both senses of the word, the guy has a grudge!) quest to see and interact with the unseeable things that inhabit the air, unbeknownst to mankind.

I’m really pleased to announce that this 100-word story, “Between“, is featured in the special Halloween edition 13 of 101fiction; please do have a read of it and the other great short fiction published by John Xero.

I hope you like the story! You don’t need to have read Lovecraft to (hopefully) enjoy it, but if you have, I hope it adds a small extra frisson to your reading experience…

A Hiatus and HPL…

HP Lovecraft, 1934
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1934

I’ve had a tumultuous couple of months, and my writing has suffered; in fact my output nose-dived to zero. I keenly feel the truth of the (probably apocryphal) Chinese curse of living through interesting times. You may note, dear reader, the lack of any posts on here since July, but my hiatus is hopefully over, and I’m able to concentrate once more on the only thing that really matters.

In the meantime I’ve kept my hand in by reading and catching up on some recommended podcast listening; I’m currently working my way through the excellent HP Podcraft.com podcast, a literary treasure trove of all things HPL, as well as some excellent readings of Lovecraft tales. And now we’re in October, what better time to read of witch-haunted Arkham and the evil cults that worshipped and called back to earth the Old Ones?

Talking of Halloween, John Xero’s 101fiction.com is open for submissions of 101 word micro fiction; the theme is “Hallowe’en or unlucky thirteen or just something dark and chilling”  – head over there if drabbles are your thing, and keep your fingers crossed for me, I’ve just submitted an HPL-inspired tale!

Although I haven’t completed any serious writing for several months, I have written down a couple of short story ideas, and the plots for Buntings and Bondage have been simmering at the back of my head, so I hope to make quite a bit of progress on both drafts before year-end.

Last but not least on this brief round-up, I haven’t neglected my editorial duties at strippedlit500 – if you haven’t already read them , please take a look at the excellent short fiction I’m proud to present in Issue 2.

Happy writing!

Flash Fiction June 2016 – “Glaucus”

Bartholomeus Spranger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Glaucus and Scylla [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One of my 100-word stories has been published today by John Xero in Issue 12 of 101fiction.com . The theme of this issue is “underwater”.

I love reading the other stories published at 101fiction; the quality is very high, so if you like reading bite size horror, Sci-Fi, fantasy and surreal tales, please check it out.

My story’s title is “Glaucus”and it concerns a lovelorn Greek deity and his unsuspecting crush.

It’s another piece of flash fiction inspired by my day job;  on occasion I have to descend into cable tunnels, deep underground in London, some of which lay under the River Thames and other waterways.

I enjoy being a tunnel rat, but it’s undoubtedly a little unsettling; the damp walls and the occasional squeak of unseen but nearby creatures all add to the atmosphere….

I hope you like the story.

Flash Fiction April 2016 – “The Expedition”

Plumtree blossom copyright M. McGoverne
Plum tree blossom, the author’s garden, 2013

Today I’ve had a piece of flash fiction published at Ad Hoc Fiction, a Bath Flash Fiction Award project.

The title of my story is “The Expedition” – it was published in the 27/4/16 weekly edition, but if you have difficulty locating it in the Flash eBook format, I’ve saved a copy for your perusal here!

As with much of my writing recently, this is another short story based on one of my childhood adventures.

Please do visit the site and have a read of (and vote for!) the stories featured; Ad Hoc Fiction provides a great platform for flash fiction writing; the most-voted-for stories win the authors free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction Award.

Margaret

Flash Fiction March 2016 Part III – “A True Story”

Woohoo! Three pieces of flash fiction published in one month, my all time best!

Today I have a new story published on Tim Sevenhuysen’s fantastic  fiftywordstories.com, it’s called A True Story, and it is in fact based on an event in my childhood.

Please have a read of my story, and check out the other great submissions on Tim’s site, including the award-winning flash fiction author Bob Thurber.

Margaret