Graveyard Shift: Excerpt and Cover Reveal

Maria Lewis

The following is an exclusive excerpt and cover reveal for The Graveyard Shift, by Maria Lewis, coming in September from Datura Books. Maria Lewis is a screenwriter, best-selling author, and pop culture etymologist based in Australia. Her new novel features a horror-loving radio host who finds herself next on the killer's list after a bloody murder in the studio.

Thursday night festivities were just beginning to wind down when Tinsel pushed her way through the front door of The Fitzroy Pinnacle. There was a tuckshop window that provided a view into the beer garden out the back and as she’d passed it, she’d seen that even there amongst the fairy lights and creeping vines, the crowd had dissipated.

“Babbbbbbe!” her favourite bartender Gee yelled as they spotted her. “I was just about to turn off the frozen margarita machine but could sense in my waters you were around the corner.”

The greeting did a lot to ease the discomfort that had been steadily growing until she’d stepped over that threshold. A spicy frozen marg would do even more. Gee was in a variation of their standard uniform: bucket hat, eye catching earrings, tea towel thrown over their shoulder and cute sweater/blouse combo.

“Where’s Ray?” she asked, looking around and finding only one indoor table remaining that was occupied with patrons picking over her number one dish, the pulled pork nachos.

“It was so quiet, I sent everyone else home,” Gee rxeplied, grabbing one of the cocktail glasses. “I’m doing close by myself.”

She slipped behind the bar, taking the stem from them and using her hip to bump Gee aside. “Then close away, don’t let me stop you.”

“Ugh, you’re a gem!” They planted a kiss on the side of her cheek as they dashed off, Tinsel only half watching as Gee began swirling around the place like an organised tornado. Cutlery containers were collected, candles were rapidly blown out, tables were wiped, empty glasses were stacked and packed. While they were busy, it meant she had free reign of the music and she quickly queued a handful of Swet Shop Boys bangers to come on after the Madonna track faded away.

Until then, she grabbed a slice of lime, used its juice to rim the glass before placing it face down in the Tajin chilli seasoning until there was an even coat lining the glass, poured the last of the frozen margarita mix as it churned from the slushie machine, flipped the switch off and added her original piece of lime as garnish. Tinsel took her usual spot at the end of the bar, hanging her bag on the hook underneath and letting out an audible groan as she took a heroic first sip.

“Okay, I can tell your day has been drab if you’re smashing half a marg on the first go,” Gee commented, flying around her as they made their way to the closed kitchen.

“If only you knew,” she murmured. Since the clock had ticked over from midnight until now, it felt like Tinsel had been copping kicks to the snatch one after the other. The day had started out horrific and gotten progressively terrible, with her metaphorical vadge all but dust now. Her phone rung and she flinched when she saw it was Zack.

Pandora had this motto – never sleep on an argument – yet this was more than an argument. This felt like the end, truthfully, and Tinsel cringed at the thought of all the things she’d slept on in this relationship. Years of it. When it finally stopped ringing, she blocked his number. Eventually she would have to talk to him, but that was beyond low on her priority list. Subterranean, even. She didn’t want to see him and with a start, she realised that eventually when he came home, she didn’t want to be there.

Wallowing was the last thing Tinsel needed to do and action made her feel foolishly positive. Downing another gulp of the frozen margarita and licking the chilli powder from her lips, she quickly text Detective James new instructions. She’d meet him at the staff door as the pub was closing up. The dots of a message being written in response were clicked away as she stood up, sculled the last of her drink and rinsed the glass. Slipping it in the dishwasher, Tinsel hit the necessary buttons for a wash cycle and grabbed her stuff.

Gee appeared around the corner just as she was passing the kitchen, catching her by surprise and causing a scream.

“Fuck!” she yelped.

“AAAA!” Gee responded, both grabbing each other and clutching on to their arms for dear life. The panicked breaths turned into uneasy chuckles.

“Sorry,” they started. “I didn’t–”

“No, I’m sorry. Just very jumpy at the moment.”

“How unlike you,” they purred. “Halloween hangover?”

“Something like that. Listen, I’m going to call it a night.”

“Okay hon, luvya.”

They embraced and parted ways, Tinsel taking the internal route through the backroom, past the locked staff door, and up the stairs to her apartment. Heading directly to the bedroom, she pulled an overnight bag from the wardrobe and began throwing supplies into it. Double checking she had enough of everything for a few nights, she tossed in her makeup bag and headed towards the bathroom to grab her toothbrush and a few toiletries.

Pandora had a spare room and a never-ending desire to involve herself in Tinsel’s problems, so she would make the most of it for a few days. Finally throwing in her laptop, back-up hard drives, and chargers, she slung the bag over her shoulder and made her way out, flicking off the lights as she went. Cracking open the staff door, she made herself comfortable sitting on top of one of the empty silver kegs that were positioned outside for collection.

Resting her back against the wall, Tinsel watched as a loud ding heralded the arrival of a tram that sped past on the main road at the corner. It was the motion that drew her eye and she frowned as she watched the dark figure of someone leaning against the wall of the bottle-o across the street. They were in shadow, so she couldn’t see their face or make out much detail like height or clothing, but it irked her.

Now would be a good time to show up hot cop, she thought to herself, pulling out her phone to check on his status. She had just one message from him.


“Shit,” Tinsel muttered. Looking up, she was the only person down this side street, which peeled off Saint Georges Road and was largely residential besides The Pinny. There were parked cars lining the curb and she watched as a cat skittered across the road only to shimmy under a garage door. Her eyes darted back to the bottle-o, but the person standing there was gone. The neon ‘open’ sign had also switched to ‘closed’, casting the parking lot around it in even thicker darkness.

Her decision to wait there for him suddenly felt foolish and she wished Gee was still inside. The darkened windows of the pub told her they were long gone. She had her keys clipped to the belt hoop of her jeans and she reached for them, turning her back to the street as she went to unlock the door behind her and head inside again. Yet her fingers were barely on the cool metal when she heard a thump behind her.

Tinsel spun around, pressing her back to the wood of the door. Her eyes scanned the street desperately for the source of the noise. It sounded like weight hitting the bonnet of a car, the noise somewhat metallic and hollow at the same time. There were shadows everywhere, the branches of the banksia trees that lined the footpath blowing softly in the wind and creating even more. It was the fauna that caused her to look up, beyond eyelevel, and that’s what made her breath to catch.

A beaten-up car was parked at the top of the street, the first and last spot before you hit the main road. It had been tagged to shit, with slogans and logos spray-painted over every clear inch. The windows were long since smashed and a paper council removal notice fluttered uselessly under the window wipers. It was right next to an overgrown tree, the leaves blocking the glow from the street light overhead.

There was another metallic crunch, this sound sharp enough it made her flinch as she stepped away from the pub to get a better view. It sounded like someone trying to key a car door. Or a knife, she thought before she could stop herself.

That was bullshit and Tinsel knew it. As if to prove it to herself, she grabbed her phone and hit the flashlight button, which wasn’t exactly a spotlight but would do in a pinch. She shined it towards the car, the beam tracking up towards the roof. The second it shined on a pair of black sneakers, she was already running.

She’d barely had a moment to digest the figured dressed all in black crouching on top of the car, hunched over and leaning towards her with intent. Tinsel didn’t need more time than that. The phone had slipped from her hand in panic, but that was the last mistake she’d make. She sprinted down the middle of the street, giving herself as much room as possible as she pummeled the pavement.

The thump had repeated, telling her they had jumped down after her and the panting she could hear confirmed it. They were right behind her.

Tinsel hadn’t spared much thought for where she was going, she just knew that she had to put distance between her and the cretin on her heels. She didn’t even want to risk banging on a door for help, all the lights inside turned off and the time it might take for someone to wake up and come down to her… she’d be the next Mera Brant.

The end of Taplin Street was looming in front of her, however, and she’d have to make a choice. With a start, she realised she was being herded into an even more dangerous situation. Tinsel had been almost at the top of the street and that’s exactly where they’d blocked her path, meaning she was forced away from the main road. At the opposite end was a park, with a bike path that was usually busy during the day but isolated this time of night. The whole space was, actually, with thick bushes and enough distance between the nearest house that it was likely someone might mistake a scream of hers for a fox taking out another neighbourhood cat.

It was the kill zone.

Tinsel took a sharp left, skidding and sliding across the bonnet of a car as she sprinted down a tight alleyway. A surprised grunt sounded behind her and she felt a spur of energy knowing she had caught her pursuer off guard. She risked a glance over her shoulder, seeing only a darting black mass that was closer than she would have liked.

They were faster than her. Yet this was Tinsel’s neighbourhood. She knew every derelict alleyway thanks to years of spilling out of house parties and into them with her friends.

If she could just keep running, just keep ignoring the pain in her chest that burned from a shortness of breath, just keep ignoring the overwhelming fear she felt threatening to immobilise her, then she could make it. Take this alleyway west, pop out near Saint Georges Road, sprint along the tram tracks in open space until one came along or a car – didn’t matter which. Until that happened, she’d keep picking her way back towards The Pinny where there was a twenty-four hour BP service station next door that she could run into for help.

Tinsel committed to that choice in her mind as the alleyway arched around towards her destination. She could see the clear street in sight, grateful for the Stan Smith sneakers she’d chosen that day instead of something with a heel. As it was, she was still tripping and stumbling on every fourth step, these alleyways largely unchanged since they were first put down and remaining some of the oldest infrastructure in the city. They were cracked, uneven, and it was just as likely you could break a neck as break an ankle if you fell.

It was on one of these near misses that she risked another glance back. The alley was empty.

There was no one there.

The long, dark and grey path stretched behind her like an insidious reptile. She slowed to a halt, slapping a hand over her mouth to quiet her panting. She strained to hear something in the dark, any rustling or footsteps from the shadows she couldn’t fully penetrate visually. Not taking her eyes off the darkness, she patted herself down, looking for the lump of her keys. Shit, she thought. She’d left them in the lock of the fucking door.

Tinsel would have felt marginally better if she had her switchblade. Staring at the alleyway, she thought it might have been a trick. She couldn’t be certain, yet maybe they were just out of frame, waiting for her to be dumb enough to retrace her footsteps. Then they could lurch out and end this unseen, her body discarded until someone was unlucky enough to come along.

No, she wouldn’t be got that way.

She should have charged at the person from the start and taken her chances at trying to make it to the main road. Slowly, quietly, she turned and started jogging towards the alley entrance. She couldn’t see what was waiting for her on either side of the opening, so she put her head down and sprinted, eyes focused on Saint Georges Road up ahead. Tinsel burst out of there in a rush and


She screamed as she immediately collided with a figure, barreling into a man and knocking both of them over. He gripped her shoulders on the way down, taking the brunt of the fall. Her palms extended outwards, the flesh ripping off as they grazed the concrete. She kicked and punched and hit him as she desperately tried to untangle herself and get away.


She paused, recognising that voice as hands clutched at her.

“Tinsel, it’s me!”

She leaned back, arching her body enough so she could see the person beneath her properly.


“Hi,” he replied, his bashful smile half cloaked in the low light.

“I… uh–”

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted, her breaths nearly turning to sobs.


She looked behind her and down the alleyway. It was still.

“Tinsel, what is it?” he repeated, gently shaking her shoulders.

His tone was serious, believing, and he stared at her intensely.

“Someone was chasing me.”

The effect was immediate, with Detective James gently rolling her off him and leaping into position. He drew his gun, angling himself in front of her and towards the mouth of the alley.

“I couldn’t see who it was,” Tinsel continued. “It could be som–”

He held a finger to his lips. She fell silent, nodding her head to indicate that she understood. They both remained quiet, listening to the sound of the night around them. She was still sitting on the path, her hands stinging and her breath shaky as she tried to bring her heart rate back down, Detective James took one step towards the alley before changing his mind.

He spun back around, reaching a hand underneath her arms to help her up while still keeping his gun in the other.

“Come on,” he said, gaze remaining fixed on the alley.

“Where are we going?” Tinsel asked.

You are going to my car,” Detective James replied. “Where I know you’ll be safe and where I know your exact location.”

The Pinnacle was visible over the rooftops of the houses they were passing, the pair of them not having to march far until he was opening the passenger door of a Holden Commodore parked right in front of the staff entrance.

“What?” he asked, watching as she hesitated.

“My bag, my phone…”

Detective James followed her gaze. “Get in the car, lock the doors.”

Tinsel didn’t question the directions, doing exactly that as she nervously watched him in the dark. Her eyes darted from his figure, gun drawn and torchlight now held under it, to the space around Detective James that could have held anything or anyone creeping towards him. After a few minutes, he returned to the car unharmed, passing her phone towards her and tossing the overnight bag in the backseat. The vehicle doors slammed and locked behind him in quick succession as he slid into the driver’s seat.

He placed his gun up on the dash, where it was still within reach, and clicked off his torch. Detective James’ gaze slid to the steering wheel, where Tinsel had both her hands hovering over the worn covering there. She drew them back, feeling stupid.

“I was going to honk if someone came up behind you,” she explained. “It’s silly b–”

“It’s not,” he said, cutting her off. “You would have given me a warning.”

He reached out and took her hands as she was drawing them back. Gently, he turned over her palms. His fingers examined the deep grazes, careful not to get blood on himself, which was challenging given how much she was shaking. Mercifully, he didn’t comment on that. He just reached across, unclicked the glove compartment and retrieved a tiny first-aid kit that looked like it was contained in a red purse with a white cross on it.

“Are you hurt anywhere else?” he questioned.

“No,” she whispered. “I don’t think so. Maybe tweaked an ankle, but nothing an ice pack won’t fix.”

“You talk,” Detective James began. “And I’ll bandage these. Tell me everything that happened.”

Her words came out steady despite how unsteady she felt at her very core. Tinsel only had to pause once, hissing as Detective James tweezed a chunk of gravel from under her skin. The sting of the Betadine to her wounds didn’t exactly help, but by the time her hands were padded and wrapped, she was done.

“You didn’t get a good look at the guy on the car?”

She closed her eyes, trying to recreate the image in her mind. All she could dredge up was the silhouette of the hunched figure.

“I couldn’t even say if it was a guy,” Tinsel admitted.

“Did they have the same physique as the person outside the bottle-o?”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry, I really couldn’t tell in either case. I just know they were fast and…”

“And what?”

“I don’t want to sound hysterical, but it felt like they were waiting for me.”

He nodded as if that didn’t sound hysterical at all. Neither said what they were both thinking. They didn’t need to. There wasn’t anyone in custody for Mera Brant’s murder yet and they both knew the killer was still out there.

She jumped as there was a loud screech from within the car, a strangled choke escaping Tinsel’s own mouth. It took her a few beats to realise what it was, the sound having come from a police scanner strapped to the dashboard. It was only when human voices began speaking over the transmission, with the same screech punctuating each sentence, that she was able to calm herself properly.

“Be chill,” she whispered, placing a hand over her heart. “Be chill.”

“This is a decidedly unchill situation,” Detective James muttered, grabbing his police radio. Tinsel spaced out for a moment, his chatter combining with the scanner so that she only picked up key words like “assailant” and “assistance”. The adrenaline had finally worn off and she was left exhausted. When he touched her shoulder, her lids felt heavy as she opened her eyes and refocused on him.



“I’ve got back-up on the way. Whether it was some junkie and you got unlucky or someone with other motives, we’ll get to the bottom of it. Okay?”

“Okay,” she nodded.

“Until they arrive, I need to go back out there and look for any evidence I can,” he continued, passing her his phone which had the maps app open on their location. “Can you show me exactly where you ran?”

She traced the route with her finger, answering the brief questions he had until Detective James seemed happy.

“Alright,” he sighed. “I’m going to give you my keys.”

His words triggered something in her memory and she leaned forward, looking past him.

“My keys.”

“What?” Detective James twisted around to see what she was staring at.

“I had them in the door when I heard the noise. I didn’t have time to grab them when I ran and they’re still there.”

“Leave it with me.”

He handed her his own set in the meantime, Tinsel hitting the button on his keyring that locked the doors as he stepped back out into the dark. Switching off the car’s overhead light so she didn’t look like a sitting target, she watched as Detective James examined the area around the staff door and grabbed something metallic. Then he began retracing her steps and moving out of her line of sight.

It was excruciating waiting there, her mind unable to help but imagine Detective James moving through the labyrinth of cobblestone alleyways that snaked behind, in, and around most of suburban Melbourne. The torchlight would be the only source of light as no one usually cared whether you could or couldn’t see down there. He would inch past a wheelie bin, unable to see the figure crouched behind it until it was too late.

Tinsel exhaled slowly, her nerves entirely shot. There was no point imagining horrors when the ones she was dealing with IRL were just as prescient.


From THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT. Used with the permission of the publisher, DATURA. Copyright © 2023 by Maria Lewis. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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