Pack with the Devil by Michael Gouda
Published May 30th 2019
Sales Links: MLR Press| Smashwords
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Michael Gouda here today to talk about his new story, Pack with the Devil. Welcome, Michael.
Hi, I’m Michael Gouda and I was born in London, England at the start of WW2.
In my mid thirties after a disgracefully enjoyable time in the gay pubs and clubs of London I decided to take life more seriously, went to University, obtained a respectable degree and took up teaching in the Worcestershire town of Evesham.
I took early retirement to a limestone cottage in the Cotswold hills where I lived with a series of neurotic collie dogs, a domineering cat and a determination to write. Since then I have written over one hundred and fifty short stories and published longer works with Dreamspinner Press and M.L.R. Press.
I like to introduce incidents from my own deplorable past into my stories of crime and misadventure. Being a romantic at heart though I never allow a tragic ending, however downbeat may be the indications in between.
In ‘ Pack with The Devil’
I wanted to write a story about quite a few emotions, betrayal was actually the one that as it were rose to the surface, though of course it isn’t the real one.
I intended to write a mystery. Of course the narrator himself is a bit of a mystery for in fact we never know his real name. Not that that hasn’t been done before, notably in Daphne duMaurier’s, ‘Rebecca’.
Having decided on that I wanted to spin a web of characters, any one of which could prove to be the ‘villain’, some more obvious than others.
There was of course Lex Warrington, the handsome, super-attractive lover who himself is a mystery being forbidden by law (the Official Secrets Act 1989) to divulge his position/job whatever. It is interesting to know (to me at least) that the (mainly women) code breakers at Bletchley Park during WW2 were similarly bound, and some even went to their graves at advanced ages without telling anything. Others though did.
The second most important character was Jacob Levin, Johnny’s life-long friend with whom he shared so many ‘adventures’ in early life up to the time they were parted by the iniquitous 11+ exam which decided the fate and future of so many children, long before their potential could be realized.
Other suspects, in fact red herrings, were the terrorist whom Johnny photographs and could have identified him as his name was included in the byline of the newspapers and of course on the Internet.
I also hinted at the possibility that it might be Christian, Johnny’s sexual partner at University, aggravated by rejection, or even someone in the Police Force itself, though the motivation for this was unlikely.
What I had to do was to try to head the reader’s attention away from the real killer and I hoped that by maintaining contact and seeing the relationship purely from Johnny’s point of view, the actual denouement would be something of a surprise.
I admit that Johnny’s actual escape from death was a little fortuitous but I thought that, in describing Johnny’s final surroundings, I had made them sufficiently sordid for the accident to be believable, especially as the villain’s madness had resulted in such erratic movements.
Occasionally in my writing I include events that have actually happened to me, the incident that took place in the grounds of Alexandra Palace was real, though I’m not sure I behaved then with such presence of mind, but my friend of the time did escape any harm, and we never told our parents, knowing something was wrong but not sure exactly what.
My inspiration for writing can come from anywhere. I have actually written 186 short and novel length stories and obviously they must range over a wide area. I have written stories set in Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, Rome, (which obviously needed a considerable amount of research which I enjoyed.), occasional science fiction (though I’m not really a fan). There is one set in Shakespeare’s time where he ‘meets up’ with his fellow dramatist Christopher (Kit) Marlowe who was murdered in a bar room brawl, though there are conspiracy theories about that – and I give an entirely fictional account as to whom the mysterious ‘WH’ was, whom Shakespeare dedicated his sonnets to.
There is also a gay sendup of the legendary King Arthur – ‘Gay Knights and Horny Heroes.’.
Most of my stories, though, are contemporary and practically anything I hear on the news, see on the TV, remember from my past (for example the flood of 2007 inspired a longish novel about a writer and his friends and their adventures). I like reading thrillers or police procedurals and many of my stories are in similar vein (like ‘Crook’ and ‘Crimes of Passion).
I have also written a full length novel about WW2 based on what I have read and my father’s stories. He was an ARP warden during the war, not being called up as his work was a reserved occupation.
Sometimes I include my agnosticism in my characters, who can’t believe in a loving god when there’s so much hatred and evil in the world and the innocent suffer. Nor can I really understand how a so-called monotheistic deity has three gods and certainly cannot comprehend life after death. However my atheist characters are able to disregard all this and remain loving and human beings .(or the opposite – such is the power of the author)”
For the past three years I have been immobilized in a Home, unable to stand or, of course, walk and having to be moved via a hospital hoist. Luckily I have retained at least most of my marbles, so I can type away at my tablet whenever I get a reasonably inventive idea.
I think I write to entertain though occasionally I must admit secretly I think I also write some stories to inform, though hopefully not in a didactic, or worse in a patronizing way.
My next story is already on the stocks. It involves the complications of Mistaken Identities.
Part 1 The Book
It was all his great aunt Marion’s fault…
If she hadn’t had a birthday and Adrian hadn’t felt pressured into buying her a present…
If she hadn’t made pointed remarks about liking old books and how the backstreets of the town were full of second-hand bookshops which were an excellent source…
If her birthday hadn’t fallen on the 25th of the month and his pay day wasn’t until the 28th so that he was really short…
If he could just have ignored that birthday without incurring her displeasure which might have meant being left out of her will–and she was after all pushing eighty…
And all those ‘ifs’ meant that Adrian was wandering down the High Street when it was at its hottest and grubbiest, the air feeling close and sticky and the sky a heavy uniform grey. He had just finished his part-time shift in the local BurgerBar and had hoped that the air outside would be less clogged than the greasy atmosphere of his work place. The hot spell it seemed was about to break and not before time. Stagecoach buses and cars made pedestrians’ lives hazardous while the vehicle exhausts pumped out choking pollution fumes to fill the air.
Sundry ‘homeless’ persons sat against the walls and spread their legs and feet out onto the pavements begging. Some had dogs and Adrian felt more sorry for them than he did for their human owners. Most of the dogs looked bored and would obviously have preferred to be running around a field chasing after rabbits than sitting looking forlorn in the High Street. He was pleased to see though that they looked well-fed–which was more than he could say for their owners.
Except one–who was young, dogless and quite attractive with curly dark hair and wide eyes which looked open and appealing. He was dressed in a pullover–must be hot, thought Adrian, and some tight jeans which, as the man–well he was scarcely older than a post adolescent boy really–sprawled his legs out onto the pavement, wrapped and emphasized the shape of his genitals in a very stimulating way–surely intentionally.
Adrian tried to catch his eye, but the young man seemed to be looking into the middle distance, his eyes glazed and unfocussed. Maybe he was on drugs, Adrian thought.
The Spa Town had once–perhaps some two hundred years earlier (Adrian was not all that good at history)–been the height of fashion when gentlemen in silk hose and ladies in crinolines came to take the waters at the Pump Room, but Time and the corrosive effects of sulphur dioxide had not dealt kindly with the elegant stonework which was now pitted and marked so that it looked as if it was being eaten away by a virulent disease. Nor had the economic recession helped for almost every other shop front was now boarded up, the graffiti and advertising posters making a patchwork of cluttered disorder.
But Aunt Marion had been right in one thing–there were second-hand bookshops in abundance especially in the little side streets which branched off the main thoroughfare every twenty yards or so. Adrian wondered how they could possibly make any sort of profit, there being so many of them and so few apparent customers. Some of them had tried to attract custom by putting a box of dog-eared paperbacks and old remaindered hardbacks in the front with a sign saying ‘Only 50p each’ but it was hardly an unrefusable inducement to buy.
Adrian, though, was out for a bargain so he stooped down and rummaged through the contents of one such box. Now would Aunt Marion appreciate a grubby, torn, ‘bodice-bursting’ Mills and Boon–he thought not. He might be a cheapskate, but he didn’t want to appear to be one too obviously. Right at the bottom of the box he found a yellowed book which, at first sight, appeared as unsuitable as the first. Its print was crabbed and blurred, and the paper was thick, the sides of the pages seemed almost torn rather than cut to size, their edges rough and uneven. It had no front cover and Adrian was about to toss it back in disgust when his eye caught a date in Roman numerals at the bottom of the title page–MDCLXXV.
It took him a little while to work out but eventually he deciphered it as 1675. The title seemed to be in Latin ‘Compendium Rerum Malorum’ and the author was someone called Thomas Weir of Edinburgh. None of this meant very much to Adrian, a Compendium, he thought, meant a collection–but certainly the book looked old and, if he had worked out the date correctly, nearly four hundred years, could be quite valuable. It would make an ideal present for Aunt Marion who loved Antiques. He wondered if perhaps the book had got into the box by mistake and the bookseller would make a fuss about selling it to him for 50p, so he picked out three other books from the box and took them into the shop.
“Four from your bargain box,” he called out cheerfully to the little man, crouched like a gnome behind the counter, and looking as dusty as most of the stock on his shelves. He waved them in front of the man’s face and then plonked down two-pound coins on the surface.
When Adrian Foster finds an antique book containing what appears to be spells covering all kinds of attractive eventualities. He also meets Steven Miles and the two are attracted to each other. Adrian tries out a spell which is granted, as does Steven. However Adrian decides to go even further and makes a pact with the Devil which, although his wishes are granted, the cost to himself is disastrous. Steven attempts to rescue him from Lucifer’s clutches but Adrian rapidly goes downhill until he is a wreck of his former self. Can the two youths find a way out of the appalling situation which is killing the man Steven loves?