Killing a Dead Man

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Killing a Dead Man - Book Cover
A Young Adult supernatural thriller about a teenage boy trying to avenge his twin brother. When Danny is murdered, he returns as a spirit to protect Jordan on his mission. The only problem is, nobody believes he is back.


[Five Years Earlier]

When I got back to the hotel room, Mum and Dad were furious and Danny was still missing.

The tears had already started and my legs shook so much I could barely stand. Ten-year-olds shouldn’t feel this kind of panic. It felt just like one of those nightmares that makes you sweaty and breathless.

Dad stepped forward, gripping my arms to keep me steady. I'd never seen him look so serious. It made my stomach churn. “Where's your brother?” he asked.

“I don't know!”

They were just as worried as I was. Dad ordered me and Mum to stay put and call the police while he searched the streets. He had a picture of Danny on his phone that he was going to show to anyone he crossed paths with. He’d question the whole of Devon if that’s what it took.

The hotel door hadn’t even closed behind him when Mum picked up the phone and started dialling. The call didn’t last long as long as I thought it would. We waited together but I guess the seriousness of what was happening didn’t hit me until the police turned up. Their uniforms terrified me. Back home, Dad was a constable himself, so I was used to being around police – just not like this. They weren’t here for a casual chat with Dad; they were here for Danny. That made everything different.

One was called PC Halls, but I forgot the second woman’s name as soon as she’d said it. She had red hair, though, like my Uncle Ryan.

Mum pulled me towards her as the two policewomen scribbled stuff down in their tatty black notebooks. They asked me a ton of questions and I answered as best I could, telling them about the kids we’d been with and the game we’d been playing – I knew their names, but I didn’t know where they lived. I told them we left the beach even though we promised Mum and Dad that we wouldn’t. And then I told them about the forest: the gap in the fence, the brook, the clearing, the barn, the dead tree...

I told them that Danny hadn’t even wanted to be there in the first place, that I’d left him, that this was all my fault.

Mum held my hand the entire time. She said nothing as the policewomen explained the next steps they were going to take. She didn’t even seem mad that we’d broken our promise.

When PC Halls and PC Red-hair finally left, it was almost three a.m. I’d never stayed up that late before. Mum closed the door behind them and then turned to me.

“Go to bed, Jordan,” was all she said. No more questions. No more hand-holding.

I don’t know if she expected me to sleep. How could I, with Danny still out there? Instead, I closed the bedroom door behind me and shut myself off. I left him, was all I could think, Why did I leave him …?

I sat on the floor with my knees propped up, leaning against the wall next to the door at the end of my bed. The light from the living room lit the threshold. Mum was silent and I ended up in a sort of trance, staring at Danny's empty bed through blurry eyes.

I wasn’t sure what time it was when Dad came back, but the sun had just started to bleed into my room. Mum burst into a fit of tears, an explosion of agony. I knew exactly what that meant: still no Danny.

I clutched my aching stomach and pressed my face into my knees, suppressing a sob of my own. A stab wound would’ve hurt less than this.

Days dragged and nights lingered. Time passed but nothing changed. My head was filled with worry and empty of everything all at the same time. The hotel manager said we could stay another week without charge while the police looked for Danny, but we didn’t need that long. It was only five torturous days later, on a sweltering Saturday afternoon, when we got the call: “We think we’ve found your son,” Police Detective Cooper said. He’d taken over the case three days ago. He was the one who told us Danny was lying by a creek in the forest we’d been playing in. Dad went to identify the body.

My brother had been murdered.


The funeral was back at home in a plain town called Woodlock. There were no clouds in the mid-August sky, just the strong rays from a sun too bright for mourners.

Mum cried into a handful of wet tissues. Her eyes seemed bloodshot all the time now, and her thin face was always red and puffy. She’d stopped wearing make-up, hardly ever washed her hair and seemed to live in the same baggy jumper and jeans. She’d made an effort today, though: black dress, flat shoes, veiled hat. She still wasn’t wearing make-up, but at least her hair was clean.

Dad stood between us, his body locked in place, standing tall but looking twice his age. He stared into the distance as he held my mum, keeping her from collapsing to the ground.

I stood on my own, away from everyone, feeling the full weight of loneliness pressing hard on my chest. I’d stopped listening to the priest. I didn’t believe in all that Heaven and Hell stuff, and I didn’t need to hear about all the hearts Danny had touched or whatever. I knew it was a tragedy. I knew he’d be missed. I was living it every damn day. Nobody could put our loss into words. Danny had been taken from us and I wanted whoever did it to suffer in a way no one had ever suffered before.

So far, the police had no leads and hardly any evidence to go on. Whoever did this had covered their tracks well. The case was still open, but it didn't look like the monster would be caught any time soon.

I stared down at the small coffin as it was lowered into the ground. How the hell did this happen?

The air was still and – other than Mum crying and the priest priesting – the cemetery was silent. I took a breath. This wasn’t right. It should’ve been me in that coffin, forever buried beneath cold dirt. Not Danny.

I balled up my fists, digging my fingernails into the palms of my hands as I imagined pressing something sharp into the killer's empty heart.

That's when I felt it.

A cold hand gripped my left shoulder. The only person close enough to reach me, though, was my dad. I looked up at him, but both his hands were still holding Mum.

My forehead started tingling. I looked away, confused … And there he was.

It was him. I know it was. I couldn't see him but … I could feel his presence. I know that sounds weird, but I don’t know how else to describe it. It was just a feeling, like if you close your eyes in a room full of people you can still sense them there.

The air was cold and heavy where he stood, even when he lifted his hand from my shoulder. I smiled at him and then I felt him smiling back.

“What are you looking at?” Dad asked, finally noticing me.

“Nothing,” I said. I didn't tell him I'd sensed my brother until a week after the funeral. Danny had followed us home and he barely left my side after that. Mum got really upset whenever I brought it up but I could hardly keep quiet about it. They needed to know that Danny was still with us. I’m not sure why they couldn't sense their own son, same as I wasn’t sure why they sent me to see a psychiatrist less than a year later. I wasn’t crazy or anything. But at least I still had Danny to help me through it all.

Chapter One

[Tuesday: Present Day]

“Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

The class gathered round for a piece of the action, encircling me and Matt. Mr Anderson had only left to fetch extra copies of Othello but that's all the time Matt would need to plant a few swift punches in my sorry face. I looked from the grinning crowd to Matt's hard stare.

“What's the matter?” he snarled. “Afraid I’ll smash your face in?”

My mouth was as dry as the dust under the supply cupboards. I watched him outstretch his arms and flex his fingers. The gesture was saying come and get me, but I wasn't taking the bait. He was far bigger than me, the result of his deep-fried diet.

“Where's your imaginary friend now?” he sneered.

“I don't have an imaginary friend–”

Liar. Kevin said he saw you talking to yourself again in registration this morning. That's why you don't have any real friends!”

He cracked his knuckles, and as I scanned the kids around us, searching for a gap in the crowd, Matt took a step towards me.

He shoved me in the chest and the crowd made a noise.

“Come on, wuss,” Matt said, looking me up and down. “Fight back or I'll kick your teeth in.”

My palms grew moist. You'll kick my teeth in no matter what I do, I thought.

He outstretched his arms again, this time as if offering me an easy shot. I didn’t move. Surely, he wasn’t serious.

Matt shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

His beefy knuckles slammed across my face and the crowd cheered again. Fucking... Ow! I stumbled but managed to avoid the humiliation of falling over. The gloves were off.

I saw Matt ready himself for another punch but when it came, I somehow dodged it. That’s when the air turned cooler, thicker, beside me. My forehead tingled and my body buzzed with a new energy. Although I couldn't see him, there was no mistaking Danny’s presence.

And there was nothing I could do to stop him intervening. He felt colder than usual – a sign I’d come to recognise as him gearing up for something.

Please, I thought, directing it to Danny. Don’t do anything dangerous …

He’d already left my side, though.

“You just gonna stand there or what?” Matt said. He took a step towards me and then seemed to trip on nothing, landing by my feet. The response was instant. Everyone burst out laughing.

“You’re in for it now,” one of Matt’s friends said to me, as though I was the one who’d pushed him over.

I ignored him, stifling a laugh of my own. To everyone else, it looked like he’d lost his balance or tripped on his shoelace. I knew better. He was lucky that was all Danny did to him.

Matt's acne-riddled face was redder than usual with a combination of rage and embarrassment. “Think that's funny, do yuh?” he spat.

He got to his feet and squared up to me. Just thirty seconds ago I would’ve felt threatened, but with Danny next to me I knew I was safe. I just prayed he wouldn't take it too far this time. My brother was so mad. Goosebumps had formed along my pale arms and I even noticed a couple of bystanders glance up at the closed windows, checking for the source of the sudden draught. It wasn't the weather. Danny was about to unleash an attack Matt would never be able to match.

Matt rolled up his sleeves and I tensed, bracing myself for whatever he had planned. I was trying to think of all the humiliating ways Danny might choose to get back at him when I heard Mr Anderson's muffled voice outside our classroom. It was over, and Matt knew it.

The temperature in the room returned to normal. Satisfied that Matt was no longer a threat, Danny was gone again.

“It's a good job your brother's dead,” Matt muttered. “Otherwise there'd be two ugly wimps I'd have to beat the shit outta.”

He shoulder-barged me on his way back to his desk but the pit of my stomach had already dropped to my feet. He only wanted to get a reaction out of me. I knew that.

My hands started shaking. I couldn’t control it. I ground my teeth together as though trying to crush his hideous words – and then something inside me snapped.

I went for him.

“YOU'RE SCUM!” I yelled, spittle flying from my lips.

The circle of kids was broken, their cries a mixture of surprise and excitement as we rolled on the floor with each other, punching and kicking.

I scored a few good hits and the adrenaline masked the pain from Matt’s blows. I was vaguely aware of Mr Anderson telling us to break it up but my instincts had taken over. Matt was going to get what was coming to him.

We crashed into one of the desks, knocking off somebody's work and pencil case. My elbow skidded on a sheet of paper and Matt took his chance, ending the fight with three heavy punches before Mr Anderson managed to drag him off me.

“I said break it up!” Mr Anderson shouted.

Someone restrained me from behind. I looked up and, to my embarrassment, found Mr Johnston – the head of the English department – holding me back. “That's enough, the pair of you!” he bellowed, right by my ear.

I flinched. I'd never heard a teacher shout so loud before. I'm guessing it was a first for Matt, too, because it wiped the perpetual snarl from his face. “Right, pack your things,” Mr Johnston said.

“But he started it!” Matt dared to protest, pointing an accusing finger at me.

Mr Johnston held up his hand. “I don't want to hear it.” He looked at us both in turn, nostrils flaring, his thick eyebrows so furrowed they almost joined in the middle. “This is unacceptable behaviour. I'm taking you both to Mrs Patel.”

I swallowed. I'd never been sent to her office before. I'd heard from others that she could be ruthless – not that I was expecting anything less.

As Matt and I gathered our things, Mr Johnston added, “If you boys give me any form of trouble, I'll be sure to suggest a punishment far more severe than a couple of weeks’ suspension. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes sir,” I muttered.

Matt nodded, and then the two of us were marched out of the classroom.

The adrenaline had worn off by this point. In its place was a horrible taste in my mouth. I didn't know how Matt could walk so tall. I kept my head down, shoulders slumped, not wanting to be seen by anyone.

A sickly feeling formed in the pit of my stomach as I imagined the number of different punishments I could face. And don’t even get me started on Mum and Dad’s reaction to all this.


Charlotte Valentine Wed, 01/09/2021 - 21:33

This had me gripped from beginning to end. Great premise from your brief synopsis & your opening pages really delivered. Good, pacy writing which flows well. I look forward to reading more!

JerryFurnell Mon, 27/09/2021 - 12:03

Well done on making the long list. You have a great grasp of YA. Nothing like a good bullying scene to get a kid's interest. I love your title. That would make me pick it up for sure.