My new thriller, written under my Stephanie Marland pen name, is out today! Whoop! And as a publication day treat I thought you might like to read the prologue for free.
First here’s the blurb: “When a group of urban explorers stumble across a murderer’s kill room in a derelict film studio, terror strikes. And when one of the group is found dead, the team realise – they’re being hunted.
DI Dominic Bell is investigating the murder, but as the body count rises, time is running out. The only person who can help him is a figure from his past, Clementine Starke – but Clementine is haunted by her own demons. Can the two of them pair up to catch the killer? Or is it already too late?”
And now to the prologue…
YOU DIE NEXT: PROLOGUE
It’s streaming. Quality’s good, not HD, but clear enough. On screen, top left, are the words: JedUrbXTM is LIVE. Could be that he’s the guy in the balaclava.
He’s close to the camera, holding it out like he’s taking a selfie, his face over-sized from the weird angle. The tight woollen hood obscures his features, reducing him to two irregular-shaped eyeholes and a gash for a mouth. There’s light somewhere below his face, illuminating his lips. It makes him look ghoulish.
He’s talking. The balaclava shifts, the material skewing a few centimetres to give a hint of stubble around his mouth before the hood slides back into place. The sound has a miniscule delay, as though he’s lip-syncing out of time. His accent is northern, from Manchester perhaps. ‘I’m Jedx, and for me this is all about the rush… the massive adrenaline hit. The risk . . . ’
As he speaks, hearts and thumbs-up emojis float across the bottom of the screen; the viewers of the live-stream are showing their appreciation.
He grins and gives a thumbs-up. Then the camera swings away from his face, plunging the view into darkness, and the autofocus struggles. The picture is grainy, impossible to make out, but the audio remains clear; there’s a sound like running water, as well as loud rustling, muttering with a few swears, then hurried footsteps on gravel.
A picture morphs into view. Three people, silhouetted by torchlight, march ahead of Jedx. The camera rocks from side to side as he follows them. Trees hang over the pathway, their gnarled branches clutching at his jacket like deformed bony fingers. The undergrowth is dense.
Jedx’s voice, disembodied this time, says, ‘It’s tough getting in, but no surprises there. We’ve found a virgin site . . . unclaimed. We need to tread careful. We didn’t see any on-site security when we reconned the place, but there are loads of ‘Keep Out’ signs. If there’s a patrol, we don’t want them to know we’re coming.’
Comments are appearing under the live feed:
DavidSees: Where are you guys?
UrbexFan984: Loving this feed
VulcanD86: Where you at?
The camera wobbles and closes in on the three figures ahead. As it reaches them it pans right, to the closest one. ‘Hey, Sass. Tell the viewers where we are.’
‘Hendleton Studios.’ The woman’s voice is quiet, breathy. She half-turns to the camera but all that shows is that she’s wearing red lipstick, and tiny diamantes glitter around the eyeholes of her balaclava. ‘Famous from the black and white era until the end of the sixties . . . the hit movies Die Happy, Marriage and the Man, Lola’s Journeyand The Fourth Way Downwere made here. So was the cult horror classic Death by a Thousand Daggers. The studio closed after owner Joey Oakenridge died unexpectedly—’
‘In totally dodgy circumstances,’ a new male voice cuts in, higher pitched and younger sounding, with a London accent. ‘Well suspicious if you ask . . . ’
‘Beaker’s right.’ Jedx turns the lens back to himself. The angle’s crooked once more, with only his mouth is visible. ‘Wikipedia says it’s haunted.’
‘Fucksake. I’m trying to give the facts here.’ Hands, with orange-painted nails emerging from fingerless gloves, grab the camera and yank it round to face the woman, Sass, again. ‘The verdict was death by misadventure.’
There’s a shout to hurry up from another voice, an older sounding guy. The view shifts forward and the image sways as the trio jog towards the fourth person. He’s standing in front of a high wire fence. Although he’s a half-foot taller than the rest of them, the fence must be a good two feet higher than him.
The camera focuses on a sign. It’s weathered and faded with age. NO ENTRY. TRESSPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED. The taller guy throws a rucksack over the fence, followed by a crowbar. It hits the top and the wire jangles.
Sass pulls the camera back to her. ‘Mortgaged several times over, the studio stopped production and closed its gates for the last time on 24 January 1972. It’s been lying dormant ever since.’
‘Until tonight,’ says Jedx. The view returns to him. He’s smiling beneath his balaclava and puts on an American accent, movie voiceover style. ‘Because tonight, folks, we’re breaking our way in.’
The onscreen counter beside the word LIVEis at 28:03. The viewer tally beneath it stands at over four hundred. A doorway comes into view, boarded-up with plywood. Tattered ‘Keep Out’ notices are pasted haphazardly across it like badly hung wallpaper. The arched stone doorframe is green with algae but still impressive. Carved into the stone over the top of the door is HENDLETON STUDIOS: SOUND-STAGE ONE.
Jedx swings the camera round to face him. ‘We’re gearing up to gain entry. As you know, this is kind of illegal.’ He grins into the lens. ‘But you guys won’t tell anyone, will you?’
Pinnyhip078: Do it!!
DavidSees: Oh this is epic. Let’s see what’s in there!
Koso: Don’t go inside
LiveWildRock: Your secret’s safe with us!
UrbexUncovered: Googling Hendleton now!!
Thumbs-ups and hearts stream across the bottom of the screen again.
Jedx laughs. ‘Looks like you’re as keen to see inside as we are.’
The camera moves to catch the tallest guy taking his crowbar to the boarded door. The plywood splinters, rotten chunks of wood crumbling away as he levers off the board. He flings the pieces out of his way and steps through the mouth of the building.
‘Come on,’ he says, not looking back. Two paces in and the darkness swallows him whole.
The lanky guy – Beaker – follows, pulling a pair of night-vision goggles into place as he steps through the doorway.
‘We’re entering the sound-stage where all the biggest hits were filmed.’ Sass’s voice is hushed, excited. She climbs over the discarded wooden board as she talks.
‘Let’s check it out,’ says Jedx. The view swings left to right as he navigates the doorway. ‘This is such a rush. My heart’s going mental. Ready for anything. Bring it on!’
Inside, the only light comes from their torches. The hall is narrow. Old movie posters hang in tatters from an ancient noticeboard. The ceiling has caved in, spewing wires and debris onto the floor below.
They move quickly.
‘It stinks in here,’ Jedx narrates. ‘Really bad.’
Beaker, in the camouflage jacket, turns towards the camera. ‘Like somebody died.’
‘Shut up.’ Sass’s voice has more tension in it now. ‘You’re creeping me out.’
There’s a clatter as someone kicks something.
‘Fuck.’ Beaker stops. Curses some more under his breath.
The tall one calls from the front. ‘You OK?’
‘Yeah, Cap. I just . . . ’ Beaker shines his torch onto the ground. ‘Shit.’
The camera zooms in. At his feet is a wooden box. It’s filled with clown heads.
Jedx laughs, but his voice sounds nervous as he swings the camera around and addresses the viewers. ‘Freaky, yeah?’
Laughter emojis float across the screen showing that those watching the action are still enjoying the show. The comments keep coming.
DavidSees: How does it feel being inside?
LiveWildRock: This is crazy!
Upyeah99: It’s too dark. More light needed.
Pinnyhip078: Woah! Awesome!
UrbexUncovered: Great work. Lovin’ your channel.
FunLeapExp: Great explore. Can I join you? DM me.
Jedx is nodding as he reads the comments on the live-stream from his phone. He looks into the camera lens. ‘David, it feels awesome, totally pumping. We’ve got torches, Upyeah99, that’s all the light we have. FunLeapExp, sorry man, we’re a tight group, no vacancies.’
‘Come on,’ Cap calls from off camera. ‘Keep moving.’
Jedx gives a mock salute and the view rotates. He follows Sass along the corridor, manoeuvring around the piles of broken ceiling tiles and mouldering boxes that litter the route. The floorboards creak beneath their feet.
They move faster.
At the end of the corridor they stop. There’s a door. On the wall is a large beacon covered in decades of dust. The sign beside it says: NO ENTRY WHEN RED LIGHT IS ON. RECORDING.
Cap turns to the camera. The whites of his eyes look artificially bright against the balaclava and gloom. He’s talking fast; high on the thrill. ‘This is it, nirvana for this site. Abandoned over forty years ago. Now we’re about to breach. You ready?’
Sass holds up her SLR camera. Grins.
Beaker takes out his mobile. ‘Ready, Cap.’
‘Streaming live every step of the way,’ says Jedx. He looks into the camera. ‘You guys ready to see inside?’
Hundreds of thumbs-up icons flit across the feed.
DavidSees: Get in there now!
LiveWildRock: Hell yeah!
UrbGold300: This is so fascinating.
Upyeah99: Show us! Can’t wait it see how it looks.
Koso: Don’t! Go home.
Pinnyhip078: Dudes, go for it!
Jedx nods as he reads them from his phone, then grins at the camera. ‘I’ll take that as an affirmative.’ He pushes his phone back into his pocket and nods at Cap. ‘We’re good to go.’
As Cap pushes down the door handle the other three crowd in close. The camera tilts, and as it moves it looks as if the dusty red light blinks. Then the view is blocked, and only Beaker’s camouflage jacket and Sass’s black fleece are visible.
‘It’s stuck,’ Cap says. ‘The wood must have warped.’
There’s a thud and the camera view jerks upwards, showing Cap shouldering the door. The hinges squeal. Cap exhales hard. Then it finally starts to inch open.
Sass turns to the camera, just one of her crystal-ringed eyes visible, and whispers, ‘We’re in.’
They move into a small space, like an anteroom. Floor to ceiling curtains hang across the opening to the main sound-stage, obstructing their view. As they look around, their torchlight illuminates a row of dust-covered chairs and a low table with a pile of decomposing magazines. On the wall is a shooting schedule from forty years ago; the daily running order for a film titled Dark Pleasures.
Sass grins towards the camera. ‘This would have been the waiting area, the twilight zone between the real world and the fantasy of whichever movie was being filmed.’ She steps towards the curtains. ‘I’d have expected velvet curtains like in a theatre but—’
‘It’s black plastic sheeting.’ Beaker sounds nervous. ‘The velvet’s piled up in the corner over here.’
The camera moves to a heap of material in the corner, then Jedx swings it round to face him. ‘There’s no dust on these curtains, they can’t have been here long.’ He moves the camera closer to the plastic. ‘Yeah, these are pretty clean. The colour hasn’t faded and the plastic is thick, heavy-duty stuff.’
Sass appears. She runs her fingers across the black plastic. There’s confusion in her tone. ‘It’s been cut precisely to size and carefully hung, completely filling the opening.’ She looks past the camera, towards Jedx. ‘We’re not the first here. Someone did this recently.’
‘Wow’ emojis appear on the live-stream. Questions are being asked in the comments.
DavidSees: Why replace the curtains?
UrbGold300: Who did that? If the place hasn’t been touched for forty years . . .
Upyeah99: Plastic curtains?? Weird as!
ExpoDisW: Don’t like the look of that. Get out of there guys!
For a moment there’s complete silence. Then Cap steps alongside Sass and slides his hand between two of the plastic sheets. A chink of light appears.
Sass inhales hard. ‘Why’s there light? This place was cut off years ago. There shouldn’t be any power.’ She reaches towards Cap. ‘Wait, we ought to . . . ’
But she’s too late. He’s already pulling the plastic aside.
The light is blinding.
‘Fucking . . . what the . . . ’ There’s a tremble in Jedx’s voice. ‘That’s . . . that’s . . . ’
The camera swerves sideways, the autofocus struggling. Silhouettes seem to morph into each other in the haze. Then the view stabilizes and there’s a glimpse of a wooden frame, before it shifts again, focusing on an old Arriflex movie camera, its body and shooting reels covered in dust. The view tilts, revealing a second camera behind the Arriflex. This one is tripod-mounted and modern. Focused on what’s in the centre of yet more plastic sheeting, spread out across the stage floor.
Sass cries out.
Beaker turns towards the camera, his eyes wide. ‘We need to move. Fucking move.’
‘Go.’ All the bravado’s gone from Cap’s voice. ‘Get out before they—’
There’s a noise like an angry roar. It sounds half human, half animal.
Cap shoves Beaker and Sass backwards into Jedx, blocking the camera’s view. They jostle against each other, panicking. Jedx twists round; the camera’s view is a blur of light. He pushes the others ahead and, for a brief moment, the camera finds colour – grey rope, brown wood, and a long river of crimson. Then it’s gone.
‘Quick, come on.’
They scramble back through the plastic curtain. Barge through the door into the hallway.
The camera jerks side to side. Angled down, it films three sets of feet; black Nikes, maroon Converse, some kind of leather hiking boots. They’re sprinting. Leaping broken floorboards. Swerving round debris. Something falls from Cap’s pocket, no one seems to notice.
Loud breathing. Panicked cries.
There’s a crash. Swearing. The camera drops to the ground, landing at a right angle to the floor, and the lens fractures.
Jedx is on his knees, clown heads scattering around him. He scrambles to get up, the heads rolling in his wake, but they bring him down again, his face inches from the lens.
Loads of ‘wow’ emojis and hearts are flooding across the live feed.
Jedx’s gaze is focused past the camera. He’s shaking his head. Eyes wide. Mouth open. Fear obvious.
Footsteps thud along the floor in a slow rhythm. Confident. Deliberate.
‘Oh fuck.’ Jedx lurches forward on all fours, his arms and legs paddling wildly. His expression desperate. His foot catches the camera and it spins, sliding along the floor, out of reach. Jedx crashes over the clown heads, crushing their skulls beneath his feet. Disappears.
The camera lies still.
The image is grainy. The view split into three by the broken lens. Rotten floorboards. Upturned prop box. A clown head with its smiling face caved in.
The footsteps come closer. Black Doc Martens appear on-screen. Halt. There’s a sigh, just audible. A gloved hand reaches towards the camera.
The image cuts to black.
JedUrbXTM livestream terminated.
If you’d like to find out what happens next, click on the book cover below to hop over to Amazon where it’s available in ebook, audio and paperback…