Author Feature: Passing Bell by Leighton Dean

Passing Bell is the second story (all new characters) in Leighton Dean’s weird west universe.
Dark and powerful magic summons the bounty hunter, Varuna, to the town of Oradour. There, he must face his mysterious past, along with his unfortunate captive who he drags with him.
Trigger Warnings: Nudity. Verbal and physical abuse. Bloody Violence. Human Sacrifice. Witless prose and humour guaranteed not to make you laugh.

Varuna crouched, pressing a knee down into the sticky mud. Cupping his calloused palms, he plunged them into the frigid stream. Crystal water splashed up at his face and he shook out the droplets from his week-old beard. A delicate mist clung to the ground, and only a few flowers were still blossoming, straining to catch the final rays of the setting sun.
Soon, they too would have closed up their sweet petals, preparing to rest for the night.
Varuna shut his eyes and smiled.
The glade lay quiet behind him, its leaves dancing and kissing high above and amongst the surrounding forest.
And at the threshold of his hearing, music and cheerful hollers from some distant party carried over to him on the wind. He reached down to his side, reclaimed his wide-brimmed hat, and settled it atop his head. He stood and turned toward the music and the flickering lanterns, far from Kimlin woods and all the way to the Redensk mountains’ foot.
The end of the summer was drawing close, as were the final harvest celebrations.
He’d made good time. Harlach was now just a two-day ride south, and if he left early enough, he could be at the Rass staging post by tomorrow afternoon. A warm bed called out to him, along with plentiful hot food and draft ale, and his bounty, tucked in a cell for the night.
A snap of a branch, accompanied by a snort, swiftly turned Varuna’s head.
His stomach growled as if angry at him not feeding it.
He slid a hand down to his boot, pulling a leaf-green dagger from its sheath. Stepping across the stream, Varuna followed the rustling bushes until he spotted it—a peccary, a tiny grey pig with bristly hair, looking nonchalant as it chewed on its supper.
Under the shadow of a large oak, the little pig gorged itself on a clump of truffles.
Varuna knelt, opening his consciousness to the world.
The trees sang in harmony, their limbs reaching to their neighbours, and birds withdrew to their nests. The little pig raised its head, long lips slapping as it chewed on a fresh mouthful.
Its nose twitched at the air, and it arched its head until its bulbous black eyes met Varuna’s.
The peccary blinked.
A front trotter lifted. The pig’s shoulders pitched toward an exit, but Varuna held its gaze with his own and eventually, the hog lowered its leg, placated. With a resigned snort, it left the remaining truffles, scuttling forward through ferns and moss, stopping by Varuna’s feet.
Varuna stroked the peccary’s snout with his hand as if it were a pet.
He extended a warm smile, soothing its concern, and said, ‘Thank you.’
Quick as a flash, making sure the action would be pain free for both himself and the pig, he plunged the knife in behind its ear, piercing the peccary’s brain. It bucked and shivered momentarily—just reflexes. It had felt nothing. Of that, he was sure, and Varuna gently laid the peccary to the ground as though putting a child to sleep in a warm bed.
He removed the blade, bringing back an empty hand to stroke the swine’s neck.
He spoke in a dead language, and while the words were as potent as any other, Elvish was unmatched in its musical prose. They’d been arrogant, yes. But they had not deserved the hatred and violence that ultimately destroyed them. Everything east of the Redensk had belonged to them, and now it belonged to humanity.
As did everything else in their brave new world. It was an unfair and heinous theft.
Again in a reflex action, the pig kicked its hind legs one last time as Varuna removed the blade from its flesh. Its chest stilled. Varuna closed the hog’s eyes with care and respect, listening as the finches began mourning the death in song. He wiped the blood from his blade in the long-wet grass and sheathed it, then dusted mud from his knees and carried the peccary back to camp. Yes, he thought. In less than three days, when he’d received payment for his bounty, he intended to head south to Persussas. The fighting here in the north had worsened markedly, and Uefel had turned into a dangerous place for lone travellers. Even those such as him.

A Bite of… Leighton Dean

Where is your jumping off point when writing?

Yellow writing pad. Pencil. A choice of Zimmer, McCreary or Djawadi. Two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half full of cocaine… dammit, thought I was at my NA meeting.  I always start with something visual. It may not make it into the final edit, but I find a physical object helps ground me (and the reader) in the scene. 

Do you know the story as a whole? Or do you just have a beginning or a character?

I am a plotter. However, I have discovered that there’s little point in plotting detail once I’ve done the first 25%. Characters will be characters and no matter how excessive the creation process, they don’t flesh out until they interact with other characters.  Once I’ve written 25% I will, of cours,  correct the remaining story and detail the next quarter. I am more successful in finishing a project if I know the end scene, but I do not need to know how it ends. For example, I know John Doe will lead Mills and Summerset to the middle of nowhere for the final showdown, but I won’t decide what’s in the box until one of them opens it. 

If you could host a literary lunch, who would your three guests be?

J. Michael Straczynski. Julian May. Philip K. Dick. 

Do you have a guilty pleasure? 

Conspiracy Theories. I tell myself they’re great story potential, but I love getting lost down a good YouTube rabbit hole at three in the morning. 

Leighton Dean is an author of genre fiction—sometimes with a touch a horror. He lives with his wife in South Wales, UK.
Raised by a 24-inch coloured television, Leighton was a true child of the 80s. To this day, terrible dialogue and innuendos are the foundation of his conversational skills. If he speaks at all.
He now lives in his hobbit hole with his very own hobbit princess and rambunctious golden retriever, which he rides to his day job on. When not banging his head against his keyboard and swearing at a blank screen, he pretends to be a samurai and waltzes about his garden, whistling Bonnie Tyler songs. He also spends an inordinate amount of time curled up in a corner berating himself for admitting such nonsensical schlock.
You can find him on Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads and his own website.

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