When Steve Stevenson isn’t writing terrible advice articles for Man Cave Daily, he’s writing novels under his cunning pseudonym Steven Wetherell. His latest, Into The Black, released in association with DeadPixel Publications, smashes the expectations of British fantasy by swapping pithy boy wizards for drunken swordsman and soul-farting demons. Expect action, grim comedy, and twisted monsters from the very bowels of insanity.
Fitch and Karyzu got to their feet and gathered their things.
“This is it,” said Karyzu. “Don’t panic. Let me do the talking. Just keep your mouth shut.”
Fitch stared in dull fear at the approaching ferryman. His boat was of the same bone-white wood of the jetty, and looked about as sturdy. The ferryman himself was nothing like the Rover or the lost soul, instead seeming to be a hodgepodge of spindly limb and animal scale. Strangest of all it had no head, just a smooth arc across its broad shoulders. Fitch wondered where the singing was coming from, and then saw as the ferryman drew closer that it had a huge mouth across its navel, and a smatter of fishlike eyes across its chest.“Dillydallydolly, Your tears are like wine, Dillydallydolly, I’m so glad you’re mine. Dillydallydolly, I’ll drink at your eyes, Dillaydallydolly, And feast on your sighs.”
The long boat bumped into the jetty and the ferryman turned and grinned with its gruesome stomach-mouth. Fitch saw that there was no tongue, just shark-like teeth overlapping folds of pink flesh.
“Hello fellows!” said the ferryman, in a jovial, slightly gurgling baritone. “Be you needing a ride across the way?”
Karyzu stepped forward. “Yes,” he said. “I need to bring this mortal boy back to Pan.”
Fitch felt his eyes grow wide and his heart drop.
The ferryman boomed a horrible laugh. “A mortal boy, eh?” It bent down to Fitch, peering at him with its flat, grey eyes. “You picked the wrong rabbit hole little urchin!” he said.
“What will be the payment?” said Karyzu.
The ferryman scratched at its armpit thoughtfully. “Werrrll,” it said. “I’m sure the Lords’ll not be needing all of the boy. I’m sure you could spare me a pinky finger, just for a keepsake. Rare indeed is a mortal boy down these parts.”
Karyzu considered the offer. “You may have the tip of his finger. No more.”
Fitch felt his heart drop once more and he began to tremble.
“A fair bargain!” boomed the ferryman. Then it paused, and sniffed. “Funny. He don’t smell no different from you.”
“Damn fool fell into the Creek trying to escape me.”
“That’ll do it!” said the ferryman, laughing. It put a heavy, clawed hand on Fitch’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, young mortal, I’m sure the Lords’ll scrub you smooth and pink before they have their way with you.”
Fitch could not control his shaking, and Karyzu had to half carry him onto the boat.
“Whoa! Whoa!” said the ferryman. “The little wriggler’ll have us in the muck if he don’t smarten up. Do you want I should whack him with an oar and stun him?”
“No,” said Karyzu, coldly. “A tip of his finger is the bargain, you’ll get no more out of him.” He pushed his hand down on Fitch’s shoulder, and the boy collapsed into a sitting position.
“Don’t,” Fitch said. “Don’t, please. I don’t think I can take it.”
“Come now!” said the ferryman, pushing the boat off the jetty with his long oar. “A tip of a finger is only a small thing to give. Why, you’ll barely notice it!”
The sailed across the turgid, writhing sewage of the Great Creek. The smell and noise unbearable. As the ferryman rowed his oar, cack demons would cling on desperately, shouting and cursing until they were dunked back into the creek.
As the boat’s pace quickened the ferryman began to sing again.“Dillaydallydolly, The freedom you seek, Is the sympathy smile, On a grim vulture’s beak.”
The journey was long, and the ferryman’s voice did not waver. After what seemed like an age, they bumped against a jetty on the opposite shore, a thin bank of sand that halted at yet another impossibly high cliff face. Karyzu grabbed the terrified Fitch bodily and hauled him onto the shore. Fitch, in his fear, still pale and shaking, could not even stand. He slumped to the ground, unable to take his gaze from the fish-eyed, mouth-bellied demon.
“On the shore all safe and sound!” said the ferryman. “Now let’s have the payment, and do it close if you’d be so good, for I do like to see the looks on their faces.”
Karyzu drew his blade. “Come closer then, I’ll do it here.”
Fitch shook his head from side to side, his tongue numb and dumb. The ferryman made a satisfied slurping sound and put one of its spindly feet upon the prow. Karyzu moved quickly, planting his boot on the creature’s torso, who barely had time to yelp in surprise before it was kicked backward, tripping over its own boat and stumbling into the Great Creek.
The ferryman was instantly engulfed by cack demons, thrashing its limbs wildly as it was dragged away to the centre of the lake, there for its body to be drowned or trapped with the weakest of the stinking monsters. It was able to open its mouth for a roar of outrage, but only once, as a wave of cack demons forced their way past its gums, some giving away their lives upon its teeth just for the pleasure of choking something.
Fitch watched with wide eyes and then turned to look up at Karyzu’s grinning face.
“You didn’t think I was really going to chop your finger off, did you?” the swordsman said.
Carefully, Fitch picked himself up off the ground and dusted down his jacket. He straightened his collar and looked Karyzu squarely in the eye. Fitch was a well brought up young man, but he had heard the curse words of his peers. Sometimes even Mrs. Bellidge would surprise him with her vocabulary if she nicked her thumb while peeling spuds. In short, he knew a great many swears. He said them all now, one after the other, and then again for good measure.
Once the echoes had died away, Karyzu blinked his wide eyes for a moment. Then he laughed and laughed and laughed. Soon Fitch laughed with him, though he honestly couldn’t have told you why.
Into The Black is available to download FREE from Amazon right now!