1. Dented Iron

Warning: Violence

London, 1903

‘Stay down, you piece o’ shit!’

‘Fuck you.’

It should be a dark and stormy night. It really should. Instead, as Craig Harper is pressed back into the wall with a knife at his throat, it’s drizzling quite pathetically.

At least if the weather’s not being professional about this, his opponent is. The short thickset man isn’t messing around. His knife rests over Craig’s carotid, beneath his jaw; not dead-centre of the throat where all he’ll do is slash Craig’s trachea open and let him asphyxiate instead of bleeding out. God, will he ever stop being a soldier? The curse of his profession – Craig knows exactly what’ll happen to him: the slumping deadweight of his corpse, his gurgling death rattle – when Shorty will inevitably open his throat in a lurid smile and watch him drown in his own blood.

So no, is the answer. Craig’s not going to stop being a soldier, ever. Thus: he’s not messing around either.

‘Y’know what?’ His enemy glares, blood dripping from his crooked nose where Craig had managed to angle his elbow just right. The wet crack of cartilage had been deliciously satisfying. Shorty presses him into the wall, left hand fisted into his collar. Two hulking shadows circle like hyenas – Ponytail glowering through a black eye, Scarface limping on an injured leg. Craig glares back, refusing to be intimidated. If he’s going to die – and that’s looking more likely every second as the knife brushes his skin like a lover’s caress – he’s not going to go down easily. ‘You’re annoying me.’

‘And you’re a grub in fancy clothes,’ Craig growls back. He jerks a nod toward the pub. ‘Who’s better at beating little girls than fighting men.’

Pale faces press against the grimy windows, watching. In the doorway, the redhead barmaid huddles against the bartender. She raises a hand to her face.

A raw pink weal blossoming below her left eye. A livid cut on her cheek.

Shorty’s left hand ring is speckled with red.

Blood hisses in Craig’s ears. He feels the kiss of cold steel as the blade nicks him, when he really should be pleading and begging for his life right now but all he can feel is bloody furious. Really bloody furious. His lip is split and his left leg – why that leg again? – is aching where Ponytail got a vicious kick in. His cracked ribs grind as icy rainwater trickles down his neck but all he feels is white-hot sizzling rage.

Barely three hours in this bloody city and already these idiots are ruining everything for everyone.

‘You don’t. Hit. Girls,’ he growls.

Shorty’s lip curls. He leers closer. ‘Yeah? We do whatever the hell we want. That’s jus’ how it is.’ He turns to his smirking goons. ‘What’ve we got ‘ere, boys? Got ourselves an idiot who dunno when to quit. You should learn when yer beat.’

Craig bares his teeth in a feral grin. ‘I don’t learn. One o’ my issues.’

WHAM! A fist crashes into his belly. He doubles over, fighting for breath. Grits his teeth against the searing pain. Raises his head.

‘That all you got?’


Whistles shriek down the street.

‘Peelers!’ Scarface hisses.

Shorty’s head whips around, the blade slackens and Craig seizes his chance, shoving full-force, hands clamped on the wrist gripping the knife. He feels the cold glance of the blade and the warm dribble of blood as he wrenches free, smashing the knife from Shorty’s fingers as he goes. That doesn’t stop a thumping blow to the ribs that leaves him wheezing. He drops to one knee, narrowly avoids a scything kick and smashes a fist deep into Shorty’s balls. Yowling in pain, Shorty staggers away.

The furious clatter of approaching carriage wheels. The growing thunder of hooves.

A boot crunches into Craig’s ribs. Ponytail towers above him, sneering.

No. They don’t get to do this to him. He walked in here open-eyed, and he’s walking back out. He has nothing to lose and it feels wonderful, ice crawling down his spine but he feels utterly, gloriously alive.

On your feet, Sarge!

Craig explodes upwards, ramming his elbow full into Ponytail’s throat. Ponytail falls to his knees, gagging for air. Craig launches past him at Scarface, who rears back wide-eyed, hoping to dodge.


Craig’s fist crashes into his sternum, two hundred pounds of boiling rage. Scarface sprawls onto the cobbles, gasping and clutching his ribs.

Walk away from that, you bastard.

Ponytail lurches upright. ‘Fuck this, boys!’ he croaks, eyes darting to the surrounding streets. ‘Coppers, boss! Let’s go!’

Shorty shakes his head and lumbers forward, raging. Fists swinging. At the last second Craig ducks under a flailing left and crashes a right hook into his gut.

For the barmaid.

Shorty folds over, groaning. Craig spins him into the wall and buries a knee deep into his balls. Shorty crumples to the pavement.

Craig slumps against the wall, blood pounding through his skull.

Don’t give up. Keep fighting!

Shorty scrabbles upright, glowering through a broken face. ‘The hell’s wrong with you?’ he rasps, ‘you’d rather die for some dumb bitch you don’t even know?’

Craig shoves off the wall, swaying on his feet. ‘Three cowards layin’ into one girl…while everyone else watches?…and you wanna know what’s wrong with me?’ He raises his fists. ‘Yeah…I’d rather die…so bring it on!’

Hooves pounding on cobblestones, louder, louder. Shorty bares his teeth, but Ponytail is already hobbling away and Scarface tugs on his arm, pleading. ‘Now, Bill! We gotta go, c’mon!’

Shorty spits contemptuously, then scuttles off down the alley after Scarface.

Craig collapses onto the floor. Grits his teeth against the crushing band of white fire squeezing his chest.

A shadow falls across him. He tenses.

‘Hey, hey.’ The brawny bartender hauls him upright. ‘Easy, son. Let’s get you inside.’

Craig gently disentangles himself, wincing. ‘Best not. Don’t want any fuss.’ He kneels down to pick up Shorty’s knife, grimacing from cracked ribs.

The bartender frowns. ‘We owe you, mate.’ He glances towards the barmaid, who flashes a weak smile. ‘You saved us a whole lotta bother.’

Craig pulls away. ‘I wasn’t here, right? They came, and they left. That’s it. Yeah?’

Don’t hang around. Blood on the floor, and a copper’s first instinct is to herd all witnesses together and start asking questions. Or worse, clap everyone behind bars and sort it out later. Wasting time you don’t have. Awkward questions. Not good.

Slow comprehension dawning on the bartender’s face. He nods. Squeezes Craig’s shoulder. ‘Alright, mate. Just remember…we owe you.’

Craig presses a handful of shillings into his palm. ‘You didn’t see me. I was already gone.’

The bartender grins. Taps his nose and winks. ‘Sure thing, mate. Take care out there.’

Craig limps away down the street, blood hissing through his ears. His bad knee aches with every stumble, teeth clenched against the lancing pain from battered ribs. He turns the corner just as the first Black Maria rattles into view.

In. Out.

In.            Out.

The fetid reek of the canal sharp in his nose. An arched bridge over the scummy water. His haversack safely stowed right where he left it. He squelches through the muck and collapses into the shade.

In.                            Out.

It’s okay.

He’s okay.

His eyelids droop, exhausted. The steady patter of drizzle soothes his nerves, lulling him to sleep. One hand curled around the hilt of his knife.

Just in case.

All over London, the rain continues to fall.

(1250 words)

© 2017 Tom Burton

49 thoughts on “1. Dented Iron

    1. Thank you! 😀 I appreciate how beginning a story with action can often deter readers from continuing onward, but does this opening help craft a protagonist whom you can root for/sympathise with?
      I’m trying different approaches for building characters – the original was merely ‘travels from docks to inner city, has a panic attack in a shop because CROWDS’ but this time I hoped to portray a character the reader could care about from the start. What are your thoughts?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. yes it was difficult for me to finish with that level of violence but your writing flows so well. Most people love action and blood and guts so you’re probably onto a best seller, but what would I know 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, he’s definitely someone I can root for. Throwing us into the scene without explaining it really worked well in this bit. I like that I have almost no idea what’s going on except that I know there’s a fight, and it’s because this guy did something noble. That DEFINITELY works in his favor, lol. And, yes, I definitely think so. There’s no complete explanation as to what’s going on, but the scene feels more fluid that way, and way more real. It flows better with the bits and pieces we can pick up in the middle of the action. It does way more showing than telling, and that, in and of itself, is a compelling way to tell the story 🙂 (personally, I’m not a fan of stories that give enormous amounts of exposition right off the bat. I like to be dragged into the world first, and then have it explained to me, and I think you did that well.)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wow! 😀 Thanks ever so much! Absolutely love your in-depth analysis of this – I’ve always enjoyed engaging stories with lived-in worlds that pull me right in from the start through dialogue and action rather than the author just padding out the wider setting through description. Thanks for such positive feedback! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m the exact same way with my reads. I don’t like being spoon-fed information, I’d rather it be pieced together. I feel like the author gives me more credit as a reader that way, and I just find it to be more engaging. And, absolutely! It was a really fun tidbit. I can’t wait for more of the story 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This was a very enjoyable read, not my usual genre of choice, however that said, you definitely pulled me in right away and piqued my interest. I love how you truly bring your reader right into the story making them a part of the action and story line!😊 ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey, Tom! Finally read it and my, I wish I’d read it earlier. What a great start! Luckily, I don’t have to wait for the next chapter.😁

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, it’s interesting to see you re-wrote chapter one! It definitely works well! I think with this version we definitely see another side to Craig much sooner than in the last one (e.g. he’s established as a ‘defender of the downtrodden’, experienced in combat, good morals but isn’t scared to be violent, takes risks, autonomous and doesn’t expect people to return any favours), rather than his more anxious and analytical side that we got more introduced to last time. I like that it begins dropped in the middle of some action, which gives some curiosity for the before and after. Some of the thoughts that would want to make me read on are: ‘Why does he get involved? Does he have nothing to lose? Where is he going?’

    I think you are really great at conveying what I imagine to be the classic early 1900s Londoner accent in the dialogue – At least, I can’t help reading it in that sort of accent 😀

    I particularly like when Craig analyses situations in his mind, and the way he objectively assesses everything to figure out the most advantageous outcome. Also, when I read, I’m a big fan of when its switched up between third person but also has some first person thinking as well – I think it really elaborates the character and I love it. 🙂

    Great introductory chapter and very gripping!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love your detailed analysis! 😀 I know my first attempt was very much focussed on world-building & how he reacts passively to things, whereas THIS time he’s a much more proactive character who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty for a worthy cause (in this case, diverting bullies away from civilians).
      Glad you’re enjoying the story so far! Will be sure to sprinkle plenty of ‘luv’, ‘guv’nor’, ‘ey up’ throughout to enhance the Cockney ambiance! 😛

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks ever so much, Liv! 😀 So thrilled you enjoyed the opening & could empathise with the hero. Sometimes it can feel pretty cliche having a fundamentally ‘good’ character, but I was getting reader’s fatigue from stories using gruff anti-heroes with tragic backstories & hoped an upstanding protagonist would be a welcome change for readers. Leaving such encouraging comments really means the world to a budding writer like me. ❤


  4. Okay – first of all, this is absolutely enthralling. What a powerful beginning that draws the reader in. I’m so, so impressed. Secondly – I need to say I belly laughed OUT LOUD within 30 seconds at the line “at least if the weathers not being professional about this, his opponent is.” I’m serious that was so unexpected and brilliant!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m SO thrilled you enjoyed this opening, April! 😀 Very glad it pulled you into the story & hope you had fun reading this. It means so much when fellow bloggers leave such encouraging feedback for my first story attempt ❤ Plenty more already published, so I'd love to hear your thoughts on the next few chapters! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m so humbled that such a talented blogger like yourself loved the opening so much 😀 ❤ The next few chapters feature an adopted dog, elderly flatmates, a housecat with attitude, and standing up for the little guys against bullies, so hopefully you’ll enjoy how it unfolds!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. As the great Terry Pratchett put it:
        “You think it’s the cat turning up obediently at the back door at ten o’clock for dinner. From the cat’s point, a blob on legs has been trained to take a tin out of the fridge every night.” 😺

        Liked by 1 person

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