After Invisible Friend, the next 6 long works were all novellas. Of these, only one bears discussion: Relick is a comedy novella (26000 words) about a group of archaeologists fighting the Catholic Church and the USA in preserving a holy relic – the poo of Jesus. A few little tweaks and I reckon I might just be able to sell it. One of the few pieces I’ve written that I actually enjoy.
Okay, so we come to the next novel. Return (1995) is an odd 55500 word novel, told in a twin time-frame format.
In the first time frame, set in modern times, a demon has returned to Earth. Tyson is suspected, but it is not him. His daughter, and two old friends – a priest and young woman – get involved, as well as a member of the US military. In the second time frame all these people are much younger, and the demon makes its first appearance in Sydney, Australia. I liked the way the old story reinforced the new, and the way they tied in so nicely together. Nowadays, they seem a little forced at times, and the whole child thing does not sit right or ring true.
The character of Tyson is, I think, well written in the present, but too moody in the past. The priest is too angst-filled in the present, but feels about right in the past. The young woman is okay in the past, and inconsistent in the present. The US guy shows no signs of growth or change. The concept, though, is a nice supernatural one with much more psychological horror than I thought I was capable of at the time and a lot of the gore horror is implied or the results only are depicted.
Again, with some tweaking, I could possibly make it more “adult” than the semi-adolescent state it currently sits in.
QUEENSTOWN – APRIL 1994
It started as nothing more than a dull cramp in the centre of his stomach, but by mid-afternoon it was clear to his companions that Father Eric Wagner was in serious trouble. The middle-aged Australian priest was rushed quickly from the small flat he lived in, just a short walk from the Saint Francis Xavier Church where he served as one of the two priests to the Catholic community of this New Zealand city, to the local hospital. As darkness fell his condition worsened without any apparent cause until he was listed as ‘critical’ and taken to the Intensive Care Unit where he was placed on partial life support. Father Ennio Trimboli who had first called for an ambulance and had then accompanied him to the hospital emerged from a conference with the doctors, his expression one of deep depression and sorrow.
“We must pray,” he told the group of ten parishioners who had come to the hospital to lend their support. He did not need to tell them that the doctors believed Father Wagner would not see the night out, nor that they had absolutely no idea what ailed him, just that they should pray for the senior priest’s eventual recovery…
It was the attending nurse who saw the blood first. She dropped the bedpan she was carrying and stared in terror at the bedridden man before her. The doctor rushed quickly to her side from the nearby office where he was examining a large text-book, trying hard to discover what had struck down this healthy man – his own priest – so suddenly when nothing came up in blood tests or scans or anything. “What is… shit!” And he approached the man with caution.
The blood which flowed from the wrists of the man was dark and thick. The surgeon could make out indentations in the skin, as though there was a hole between ulna and radius, right below the wrist, but could find no actual hole, no puncture in the skin. The body seemed to be simply sweating all of this blood. Something in the back of his mind rang familiar and on instinct he lifted the gown they had dressed the man in.
The heavy thump behind him did not distract his attention as he gazed in wonder at the hip of the man and the red welt also oozing blood there. He looked up at the head and saw that the priest also appeared to be sweating blood from all over his scalp. Closer examination revealed that a number of small lines – almost cuts, but none which actually broke the skin – had taken shape on the scalp, each sweating droplets of blood. And, smiling despite himself, he pulled back the bedclothes to reveal the feet… and saw the blood there also, coming out of the tops and soles of the feet, as though they had been pierced clean through. And he nodded to himself. He knew what this was, and he knelt to pray…