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What I’ve Achieved Lately – Or Not!

In between the battle of the plague which decided to go 2 rounds with me – it fooled me into thinking I was getting better then sneakily came back and hit me all over again – I have been able to continue reading, writing and submitting. This post is really written as a note to myself to remind me of what I have actually done with my time lately, a little taking stock if you will. Sometimes you can feel as if you’ve not actually done anything.

Reading. This has focussed on my fellow authors at Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shock’s Series. I wanted to see the nature of the works amongst which my Asylum of Shadows had been included and I wasn’t disappointed. Whilst some styles of horror were more to my taste than others, they were all extremely well-written and none were a disappointment. I have posted reviews for each of these on amazon and goodreads (when I read a book from smaller presses I do try and give a review, even a short one rather than just a rating). I am quite pleased that editor Dean Drinkel is publishing a variety of takes on the horror genre as it means there is definitely something for everyone with a taste for the darker side of life. I am looking forward to the next batch which should be published soon. With life being so fast-paced, these are great stories to read in those precious moments of downtime.

I’ve also tried reducing my TBR pile – a continued fail I must say as the pile has now increased again with my purchase of Tim Lebbon’s The Silence. I had watched The Quiet Place but had never heard of Lebbon’s book. When I read the blurb I honestly thought TQP had been based on it although there was no apparent acknowledgement. I’m looking forward to reading it and seeing the film when it comes on to Netflix.

Writing. I’ve now joined a sort of subset of HWA’s Fright Club where a small handful of writers submit one story a month and critique two others. I’m hoping this will keep the short story writing aspect of my life disciplined and productive(!!).

In terms of the Waiting Game for responses I have:

One novel out chasing agents

Another novel sent to a publisher for consideration

A novella with yet another publisher

8 short stories with different publications

I have fingers-crossed on all the above but who knows …

In the meantime, I’m just carrying on … like we all do. And I managed to get back to the gym so things are looking up.

Short Sharp Shocks and an Even Shorter Story

As an antidote to some rejections of late, it’s been nice to see two publications appear in February. The first is my gothic horror, Asylum of Shadows, published as part of Demain Publishing’s new Short Sharp Shocks! venture. The stories in this series range from 5k-10,000k with my own coming in at just over 9000 words. Seeing this length of story as standalones is something different in a market which normally focusses on anthologies, novellas and novels. Will 2019 be the year we see the growth of the novelette? It’d be nice to think so as they’re perfect short reads for those on the go.

About Asylum of Shadows:

Amongst the slums of Limehouse stands a new hospital, a monument to Victorian philanthropy. Marian, destitute and about to be orphaned as her father succumbs to the ravages of syphilis, is taken there by Dr. Janssen. This eminent physician offers her work and a roof over her head. Employed as a seamstress, she stitches shrouds for the dead and hoods for the hangman. Marian is taken to the ward of St. Carcifex. This shadowy ward receives the recently deceased, particularly those who have hung from the gallows. Her task in this gloomy place is to watch over them, make sure the dead stay dead. On Marian’s first night, she is charged with the care of two murderers, who, despite their hanging, do not appear to have the expected deathly pallor. On the second night, these guests are joined by innocent, hard-working men, victims of an unfortunate dock accident. Marian is enraged that such should be forced to share the ward. As her own mind falls victim to the ravages of the disease which killed her father, she metes out her own justice, her own vengeance – on dead and alive alike.

The story is currently available for pre-order and will be out on 1st March. Initially it will be ebook only but hopefully will make it into print in some form in the not too distant future. If you decide to take a read, please consider leaving a review – positive or negative, all feedback is welcome. I know I’m looking forward to reading the stories of my fellow authors and I’m loving the covers and branding.

The Siren’s Call ezine WIHM Special

I have been lucky enough to get a short piece of flash, Deliverance, accepted in this month’s WIHM special. Inspired by the Wicker Man, it doesn’t quite end as expected. This is a free ezine with many wonderful writers and stories within its pages. Read it and enjoy what women can bring to horror.

2019_February_ezine_cover_med

Flash Back: Blue Sky Thinking

Blue Sky Thinking

I often sky write these days, trace letters in the shapes of twigs and branches, see what words they form.  It is a hobby, one I practise in secret.  I keep myself to myself since the edict went out banning our language from being written – or even worse – read.  We are only allowed to listen to the Scholars.  Theirs is the only message that carries truth, they say.

When the world ended the first time, it was because of religion based on words in a book.  Words misinterpreted by many.

When the world ended the second time, it was because of weapons triggered by an exchange of words.  Words misinterpreted by many.

The world will not end a third time, they say, because they have banned words, the most dangerous weapon of all.

We have been told that to survive we must avoid communicating, avoid words.  And so speech has also been banned.  The latest edict demands the cutting of vocal chords, rendering us mute.

But my parents secretly taught me to read and write without books or paper, tracing letters in the sand, words in stone.  They drew pictures for me with their words; pictures from a time long gone.  Today I see Monet and I imagine a tranquillity of water-lilies where I float peacefully, serene.

When I open my eyes again, I imprint the artist’s name on my mind knowing I will never be able to teach my own children as I was taught.  Tomorrow my vocal chords will be cut and I will no longer have a voice.

There are so few of us left now, it never ceases to amaze me how many ways man seeks to destroy himself – even when extinction is staring him in the face.  We cannot help ourselves.

If only we had known the right words, we could have been saved.

Flash Back: A Few Days in the Life of Ivan Ivanovitch

Here is small flash blast from the past, an appropriate commentary on most people’s view on their ruling class.

A Few Days in the Life of Ivan Ivanovitch

Once upon a time, a house sat silent on a hill overlooking the town of Skeptitsizm and every day Ivan Ivanovitch would gaze towards that dark gloomy place.

“Who lives in that house, Mama?” he asked.

“It is the home of the Mayor,” she replied.

“Yet we never see him here,” said Ivan.

“No, but we know he is watching, always watching.”

Ivan Ivanovitch thought for a moment. “It is the election soon. Will he come down to the Ratusha for the debate?”

His mother merely shrugged.

On the day of the debate, Ivan looked for the mysterious Mayor but he was not to be found.

“Who will you vote for?” he asked the townspeople.

For Mayor Bezumiye,” they replied.

“How can you when he did not speak!”

“Because what he said was worth listening to.”

The election arrived and Ivan watched his compatriots vote for the absent man. He was furious that they were wasting their vote. Indeed he was so angry, that when the town hall closed, he crept in and stole the ballot boxes. Then he made his way up the hill to confront the Mayor.

The house seemed deserted until he came to the drawing room overlooking the town. Seated by the window was a skeleton, wearing the Mayoral chain. Bezumiye.

Ivan sprinted back home, told his mother what he had found, what he had done.

“Of course he is dead,” she said. “Do you think we would allow a politician to tell us what to do?”

Ivan had to admit the town’s reasoning made sense. He told her about the ballot boxes.

“Return them,” she said, “no one will say anything.”

He did so and Bezumiye won by a landslide and continued to govern wisely and well.

2019 I have a Plan(ner)

Certain writing friends of mine, naming no names (AJ Walker and David Shakes) often announce they have a plan. This year I have decided to join their club and create a plan of my own – or more accurately I’ve bought a planner – and I now intend to try and create some balance in my life.

Whilst I achieved a lot in 2018, I found that quite often I would sideline my own writing efforts and allow editing and reviewing to take over – I missed a number of submission calls this way. I don’t want to feel I’ve missed out in 2019, even if I have no or little success, I want to know that at least I took the chance and tried. If you want to see the demands on my time during the week, this is actually how it breaks down if I follow THE PLAN (during term-time):

Monday 7.15 am -4 pm – day job. Evening: Horror Tree’s Trembling With Fear

Tuesday  – day job. Evening HWA Writing Group.

Wednesday – day job. Horror Tree’s TWF (writing editorial)

Thursday – day job. Writing time.

Friday – day job. Writing time (or have-a-glass-of-wine-once-January’s-over-and-forget-everything time).

Saturday. Housework/Gym. Horror Tree’s TWF.

Sunday. Housework/Gym. Writing Time

Writing Time. What am I doing here? Trying to: keep up with writing group assignments, produce more short stories for submission calls, finish the novel I started in NaNoWriMo, finish gathering my flash together for publication, create a batch of drabbles for TWF.

Other stuff. Reading obviously will be most days. I have a couple of books currently to read and review and I will be dipping into HorrorAddicts review list to read some more. I have a big TBR pile and I also need to keep reading the teen/YA books in my library in order to help recommendations to students. Beta-reading once a month for a small writers’ group in the US. Pushing for an agent or publication for my novel The Five Turns of the Wheel and an earlier one, Live.

And more – The Infernal Clock. I have to give our next project a real think through. There are also blog sites and posts and podcasts I’d like to read/listen to more …

Current Work in progress: a short story for The Shadow Booth’s women only sub call which closes on 15th Jan. The clock is ticking and the date has been marked in the planner  …

It all looks a lot and occasionally it can be overwhelming – discovering I was coming to Wales meant getting 2 short stories finished (luckily I had done the bulk of the work) and my Visual Verse sub done in one evening (I was very stressed on 2nd Jan), just in case the internet was dodgy over the border. I know you have until the 15th for Visual Verse but I always write mine on either the 1st or 2nd day. Other times TWF can be relatively quiet and that frees up time for reading/writing or gives me an evening off.

And don’t forget family, they are in there somewhere being tolerant …

Other plans for 2019? Not to get too stressed …

Looking forward to:

borders1Horror Without Borders anthology, ed. Oleg Hasanov containing my flash piece, Silo. The book will be available as an ebook in English and Russian but print will only be Russian. My first time in translation!

 

 

 

My short story Transcending Nature, will be appearing in an Industrial Horror anthology in August and I have a longer short story, Asylum of Shadows (gothic horror) being published by Dean Drinkel’s Demain Publishing at some point this year.

I can feel this year flying by already 🙂

Time to put up the Christmas Tree

I wrote this little story a few years back and have put it up each Christmas. It’s back again for you to enjoy and is still one of my favourite pieces of flash.

The Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree waited patiently at the bottom of the garden.  It was nearly time.  From behind, the others rustled their bare branches in expectation.  They were old and nobody came for them any more.  It did not matter, Christmas was a time for sharing and they would still enjoy the festivities.

A new family had moved into the house in the summer and three young children had spent those distant hazy days running in and out of the trees, hiding from grown-ups and tormenting the ageing dog that had come with them.  The mother had spotted the tree during one of their games and made a mental note that it would be the perfect tree for Christmas.  The high-ceilinged rooms of their house demanded the presence of such a majestic specimen.

The first day of the holidays had been spent putting the finishing touches to the decorations that now hung around the house until all that was needed was the tree.  She had sent the children on ahead of her whilst she gathered together the angel and the little wooden soldiers that were to adorn its branches, listening with half-an-ear to the sound of their youthful laughter echoing through the cold night air.

Her sons ran wildly in the happy beam of the moon, darting between frost-trimmed branches that glittered as brightly as any tinsel, releasing their pent up energy into the darkness.  The moon loved this time of year, when the children would come to decorate the tree.

As their mother called to them from the house, the boys dived beneath the tree’s branches, stifling their giggles, trying to ignore the scratch of needles.  They loved to hide from her and the tree helped them.  It curled its limbs around their waists, gripping them tightly, lifting them up, silencing them before they realised what was happening.  Then the tree stilled itself, waiting as the mother approached her children’s hiding place and started to creep quietly into the darkness, ready to make them jump, not expecting the surprise in store for her as a branch dug its needles into clothes and flesh so that she too was held prisoner.  She struggled fiercely but the tree  was obstinate and refused to give her up, piercing her body with its knife-edge leaves so that she too had no choice but to stay.

The mother’s protests, sung as loudly as any carol, were ignored as she was lifted higher and higher, past the bodies of her children that now dangled like little wooden soldiers in their crimson coats, up and up until she cleared the topmost boughs to be placed almost reverently at its peak.  The finishing touch, a dusting of frost, made her shimmer as brightly as any angel.

The others let out a gentle sigh of approval, a shared delight in the decorations that now adorned the tree.  Christmas had finally come.

 

The Last Supper

It’s been a while since I’ve put anything up here, mainly because of the focus on NaNoWriMo, however to make up for it, here is a free story. The Last Supper was first published in KnightWatch Press’ The Last Diner. It is one of my earliest horror stories and retains a special place in my heart. Some of the dishes described in the story are real – Casu Marzu and Sannakji are both on YouTube amongst other more exotic offerings.

The Last Supper

Nobody paid him much attention as they hurried by. Just another down-and-out huddled in the doorway with the obligatory mangy dog. They would draw a glance, nothing more, before their presence was swiftly and conveniently forgotten. If anyone did notice them it was more out of pity for the dog than compassion for its owner. They were a grey pair, dirty, unkempt, unwanted – except by each other. There but for the Grace of God … thought many as they passed. They didn’t realise however, that God had nothing to do with it.

A man in uniform approached the vagrant; a stark contrast that was all shiny shoes and cleanliness. A cup steamed in one hand whilst the other clutched an open tin of dog food.

“Something a bit stronger would’ve been appreciated, Major,” said the man as he accepted the coffee with some distaste and put the tin in front of his dog.

“That stuff’ll be the death of you if you’re not careful,” said the Major. “It’s about time you got off the street. We’ve got a room down at the hostel.”

“Persistent bugger aren’t you,” said the tramp. “Told you. This life suits me. I’ve got the perfect spot here. It’s all in the location.”

The Major looked up and down the precinct. It seemed busy enough but the recession had closed many of the shops and there was a growing air of neglect and despair about the place. This had been reflected in the numbers that now queued up at his Salvation Army hostel for either food or a bed. Apart from Jack that is. The man had inhabited the doorway of The Last Supper since it had opened three years ago. The owners never seemed to bother him. They were closed during the day so he was left in peace whilst at night, when it was open, he would appear to move elsewhere. The Major had never come across him when he walked the streets at night, he had no idea where he went; only that he returned once the customers had vanished.

The Major peered in at the tinted windows. As usual he could see nothing. Even the menu had been taken down. Occasionally the thought crossed his mind it was about time he tried the food there but every time he had neared the place something had happened to distract him and he found himself walking away – even as others went through its doors.

“Don’t think it’s to your taste,” said Jack as the Major gazed up at the restaurant sign.

“Oh, why not?”

“I think you’d find it a bit too hot and spicy … and I’m not just talking about the food if you know what I mean.”

“Ah,” said the Major tugging uncomfortably at his collar. “Perhaps I might just give it a miss.” But he turned away rather regretfully, his curiosity piqued. He felt he might return at some point, after all there could be some lost souls to save.

Jack watched the Major walk away, a smile hovering on his lips. His way was now clear to eye up the night’s clientele and to plan the menu that would be offered. He was certain it would be to die for. A fragment of conversation reached his ears.

“… get to school. You don’t say nothing. Do you hear?”

Jack turned his head in the direction of the man’s voice. He saw someone not much cleaner than himself, thickset and shaven-headed. A meaty fist was grasping the arm of a young lad who wore the uniform of the local secondary school. The boy’s face was sullen but even from this distance he could sense the youth’s fear.

The man moved his face closer to the boy’s. “And if you say anything to your mum, you’ll get more of this.” He raised his other fist to reinforce the message. “Understood?”

The boy nodded and headed off towards the school, head down to hide the black eye he sported.

Jack knew questions would be asked but nothing would be done. The social workers were terrified of Michael Reeves, choosing to accept his assurances all was well and young David had merely walked into a door.

A flyer brushed Reeves arm and landed at his feet. Michael bent down and picked it up. “Free meal, eh? All you can eat.” He looked at the advert for The Last Supper and then across at the restaurant itself. He did not see the tramp in the doorway. “Why not?” he thought and tucked the flyer in his pocket.

Jack grinned. The first invitation had been issued, one seat filled. He scanned the road for the next customer. He had a table for six to fill, three of them in fact.

A middle-aged woman, scowl-faced, was going into the supermarket opposite. Her purchases, fags and booze, were paid for with a debit card in the name of Mrs Lilian Wilson. He knew Mrs Wilson, now 80 years old and requiring round-the-clock care, remembered her when she was younger, a kindly district nurse who had time for everyone, even a man like him. This woman was not her; Lilian had been a teetotaller and non-smoker all her life, these purchases were not for her.

In his mind’s eye he could see Lilian, bruised, lying in her bed, waiting in terror for the woman who was supposed to care for her. He sent a flyer dancing along the street, floated it into the hand of the false Mrs Wilson who glanced at it absently, not registering that she had not picked it up. Mrs Jennifer Borden was stressed, she had a long shift ahead of her with old Mrs Wilson. She did not relish the thought, all that dribble, all that … frailty. She had to find her perks where she could and lord knows she deserved them she thought, but still it would be nice to have the day off. Her mobile vibrated. Scanning through the messages – so many missed calls from her husband – or rather avoided – she found the last one was a voicemail from the office. Apologising for the short notice they had given her the day off. Someone else had volunteered to look after Mrs Wilson. A big grin appeared on her face, she glanced happily at the advert. Free drinks with every meal. That would do nicely.

Two seats had been filled.

From the opposite direction came two businessmen, sharp-suited sharks, partners in crime.

“We need to send Garvey in,” said the thinner of the sharks.

The other laughed. “Yeah, he’ll get results all right. Although I think we need to remind him to show some restraint.”

“What, no broken teeth and hit them where the marks won’t show?”

“Something like that. Should get our cash flow moving again.”

“Perhaps we should review our interest rates,” said the thin shark. “I could do with a holiday, I think a nice long cruise would go down a treat. The missus has been banging on about it for a while, given me the proverbial earache.”

“Same here. What do you reckon? 1%?”

His partner nodded his agreement. They needed to celebrate he thought, his eyes registering the restaurant for the first time.

“Hey, look over there. They’ve got an offer on tonight, two-for-one. Up for it? We could take the wives, keep ’em sweet.”

The men continued on their way. That was one table filled. The first six. The next table was easier still. Like flies to a corpse they came, clustered together, bleary-eyed, foul in breath and mind. The cream of the nation’s girlhood. Their night had only just finished, now they were planning the next.

One of the girls charmingly vomited into the gutter and wiped the specks away with a flyer that had dropped to the pavement beside her. A fitting use thought Jack, you could even call it the perfect analogy to his own plans for them. He allowed another leaflet to find its way to the group.

“Hey, look at this,” said the bottle blonde. “It’s for that posh restaurant over there. Really exclusive it is.”

“’Cos it’s so bleedin’ expensive, that’s why,” said an orange-skinned girl, tugging at her sagging boob tube.

“There’s a special discount for groups of 6 tonight and a Happy Hour on their cocktails. I’m well up for it. Anyone else?”

The girls eyed the restaurant hungrily. It was rumoured some of the top footballers dined there. It would make a good hunting ground. Current boyfriends could be dumped, a disposable commodity in their climb to the top. The girls were easily bought, For Sale signs glittered in their kohl-caked eyes.

That was the second table filled. The second six. Perhaps he should make sure that the other table did indeed contain the lusted-after footballers, that would really make their night – but no, that would be too easy. He would save the footballers for another time.
The customers he had in mind would not be walking this way that morning; however, there was always the good old postman. He’d ensured that flyers had been delivered with the morning’s post. He also knew they would come – there was no choice really, not once they’d been selected.

On the guest list was a politician, wasn’t there always one? Pedlar of lies, dealer of deceit. He would make good company with the author, plagiarist of the works of others. Then there was the vicar who was betraying his wife, the spy who was betraying his country, the judge who betrayed justice. That left one seat and it was already taken, by him. He always took part in the festivities. He had his third table filled. The third six. Coincidence? Not really, he was just a sucker for a good allegory. A subtle touch that went over the heads of his clientele but he was pleased with his own sense of the theatrical. He stood up and stretched although making sure he remained in the shadow of the porch and out of the reach of the morning sun. It really did nothing for his complexion. He cracked his knuckles and gave a low whistle.

“Come on boy,” he said to his dog. “We’ve got a menu to prepare.”

The animal bared its teeth in response, forming a curiously malicious grin that sent an unwary child who came over to pet it, scuttling back to its mother.

The woman looked angrily at the vagrant and his dog, ready to do battle with whatever had upset her little angel but when she caught the man’s eye she merely smiled and waved. The thought crossed her mind it’d probably been her son who’d upset the animal. Children really should not torment defenceless creatures. He needed to be punished. The smack echoed down the street, attracting the attention of a passing policeman who in turn noticed the fingermarks forming on the child’s face.

Dog and master turned their back on the scene, opened the door to the restaurant and stepped into the gloom. They walked through to the kitchen where spotless stainless steel surfaces gleamed, carving knives glinted. A certificate from Environmental Health hung proudly in its frame. It was a showcase of a kitchen. You’d think no one ever cooked there … and you’d be right. Service was carried out at the table side to ensure the customer knew exactly what was coming and so far there had been no complaints. He picked up his chef’s whites and moved to the back of the restaurant. The air trembled around him, he could almost taste the anticipation.

“Only a few more hours,” he said aloud, watching in mild amusement as his dog sniffed at one of the chairs and then cocked its leg, marking his territory. “Now, now old fellow. You know you mustn’t show any favouritism.”

The dog wagged his tail in agreement before meting out the same treatment to all the other chairs. The puddles of urine slowly seeped into the carpet, the colour of which could not be described, soaked as it had been with all manner of bodily fluids since the restaurant had first opened. Today was its third anniversary and the tramp-now-chef thought that warranted a celebration of some kind.

He started to chalk up the day’s special on the board. It was certainly an eye-watering dish for any discerning customer. The menu cards were laid out by the till. He scanned the bill of fare, chuckling at his little jokes. Whores d’oeuvre for starters, Taste of Pain for the mains and Just Desserts for afters. A bit lame, a touch cliché but then again wasn’t the whole evening one big cliché?

The clock struck 6.00 pm. One more hour. Time to fire up the ovens. The diners were on their way.

The girls were already tipsy when they arrived, falling over each other as they crashed through the door. Without a word he led them to their table where he had already placed complimentary cocktails. He could feel six pairs of hungry eyes fixed on him as he walked away.

“He’s a bit of alright,” said one.

“Mmm,” said another, her eyes dreamily following the receding figure.

Jack glanced in the mirror as he made towards the door whose jangle had announced further rivals. His skin was cracked and ravaged, streaked with dirt, grey with age. Greasy hair hung down the sides of his face, framing bloodshot eyes. His whites were still white but they clothed an unwashed body over which an army of lice marched whilst his shoes had split at the toe to reveal yellowing nails. His fingernails weren’t much better. None of this however was visible to his customers. They would see what he wanted them to see, free will was left at the door.

He fixed a smile on his face and prepared to meet the new arrivals. Jennifer Borden, Michael Reeves, the loan sharks and their wives.

“May I take your coats, ladies?” he asked.

They handed them over without a murmur. Jack briefly disappeared through the door marked Cloakroom and chucked the coats into the furnace.

“This place has class,” said Shark Wife No.1.

“Nothing’s too much for you sweetheart,” said her husband.
Jennifer Borden eyed Jack appreciatively; salt-and-pepper hair, firm-jawed, trim, everything Mr Borden was not. Michael Reeves also eyed him approvingly, wondering if he could indulge in some mild flirtation.

Jack left them happily sipping their complimentary champagne. Politician, author, vicar, spy, judge. The last five had arrived. He seated them personally before taking his own seat. The glasses on this table were filled with a blood-red vintage. He raised his glass, admiring the depth of colour as it absorbed the glow of the candles which flickered around them. It was at moments like this, when his sense of anticipation was at its highest, that he felt most happy. He cast a beneficent smile on his gathered guests who all gazed quite contentedly back at him. When the scales eventually fell from their eyes, he knew they would not be as happy. He stood up, ignoring the flies that now buzzed around his head.

“Welcome, my friends,” he said. “Tonight you will participate in a gastronomical event unique in both content and delivery. A dining sensation I can guarantee no other living soul has experienced. Of course should our service disappoint in anyway, we will do everything in our power to put things right.”

His audience, in their unknowing self-conceit, applauded his speech, ignoring the globs of liquid that fell from his glass as he swung his arms wide in greeting. The scarlet stain crept slowly across the tablecloth. The flies dropped lower.

It was time for the first course. Small slivers of burnt toast appeared on empty plates.

“We pride ourselves on the freshness of our products,” he said. “Permit me to prepare these personally.”

He walked over to the table of girls who were still positively drooling at the sight of him.
“The Whores d’Oeuvres,” he announced dramatically. “Ladies Fingers.” A razor-sharp cleaver materialized in his hand. Still they smiled, eyes empty and vacant. Much like their brains, he thought.

“It is a custom,” he continued, “hands be inspected for cleanliness before their owner is allowed to dine. Personal hygiene is something that this establishment naturally takes very seriously. My dears …”

At this command, the girls obediently held out their hands in front of them. He took them gently, caressing their soft skin then raised the hand holding the cleaver. The steel shimmered above his head. Another mirror reflected this heroic pose. God he was good, he thought admiringly. Such poise, such finesse. He dropped his arm, watching it arc down, steel slicing through fingers as if they were butter. Six from each woman. Six mouths open in noiseless screams. He put a finger to his lips to hush them. He did not want any sense of pain to disturb the current ambience – just yet. He placed two fingers on each diner’s toast. But something wasn’t quite right. He gazed at the plate thoughtfully, it was lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. Aah, how could he forget? He threw a small piece of limp lettuce and a cherry tomato, only slightly mouldy, on each. There. It was all in the garnish.

“Please, enjoy.” His prompt made hands, mutilated or whole, reach for the canapés, crush them into mouths that had not yet registered what they would be ingesting. “Food needs to be experienced by all the senses,” he expounded as he circulated between the tables. “You must fully engage with your eyes, your ears, your nose, your touch … your taste. Chew long and hard. Allow the juices to dance across your palate.”

Obediently they all bit down, two of the tables still oblivious to what they were eating whilst at the girls’ table they gagged and choked as they repeatedly attempted to spit out fingers that had begun to crawl down their throats. Spear-like fingernails, painted in killing colours for the occasion, ripped at gullets, clawed at stomach walls. Jack grinned with satisfaction … bleeding to death, internally or externally, asphyxiation, shock, he had all his options covered. Life – no, death would be more accurate – was good, and the evening had only just begun. He noticed there were still two fingers left. He threw them to his dog who swiftly wolfed them down. One of the tables was now silent. Would they be missed? Probably not.

It was time for the main course. He had to admit that for this he had stolen his ideas from South-East Asian cuisine. Dammit, but they were creative devils. Such inventiveness was to be admired.

The dirty plates had been replaced by equally filthy plates across which maggots now crawled. He was slightly annoyed. The wriggling larvae were not supposed to appear until the end. He shrugged his shoulders, maintaining perfection was not always possible.

The sushi was placed in front of the diners. Multi-coloured, multi-textured, a real appetite sharpener.

“Please help yourselves. Choose whatever you wish.” The guests did not realise his comments were not directed at them. Sushi for loan sharks, little fish eating big fish. Very appropriate. Slowly the lobsters and crabs righted themselves and crawled towards their chosen diners. Gasping fish leapt and gulped across the table, sannakji – octopus tentacles – writhed and wriggled up chopsticks. Human mouths opened automatically to allow ingress to the moving banquet.

Jennifer Borden put down her empty cocktail glass, expecting another instant refill but none was forthcoming. She looked around for a waiter. There was none. The table in the corner was strangely quiet but a shadow hung over it so she was unable to make out what the girls were up to. Perhaps they were getting better service than herself. The thought made her angry and she stabbed her knife forcefully into the food in front of her. It reacted violently. Pincers flew at her face, cutting through flesh so that rivulets of blood ran down to mix with the marinade.

Michael Reeves was faring no better. Suckers from the octopus had clamped themselves to his tongue, pushing, rolling it back so that his airway was covered.

The loan shark party in turn had received their meal plus interest, although the wives looked distinctly less than satisfied. But as Jack had said, all the senses needed to be engaged to fully appreciate the meal. He allowed their eyes to see, really see, touch to really feel. Now they were awake, albeit only for a brief moment. They would be allowed to taste life and pain to their full before they were sated.

That left one table. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Scratch that. Eat, drink and be merry for today we die. They had come so willingly, these pillars of society, it seemed almost a shame.

He resumed his seat, giving his companions a fatherly smile as he did so. They grinned idiotically back. Around them the candles on the other tables had gone out making their own an oasis of light in the encroaching darkness. They had dined on human flesh and not noticed, they had choked on the living and not noticed. The final dish would only reinforce this metaphor for their own lives. Its pungent smell announced its arrival.

“Ah, the cheeseboard, ladies and gentlemen. Today we have a rare Sicilian delicacy, Casu Marzu.”

He flung stale crackers at them. The time for careful presentation had long since passed. It was he who was getting hungry now. The cheese knife hacked out mounds of the roiling yellow substance which he tossed after the crackers.

“Eat, eat, my friends. You must eat your fill. I insist.”

Obedient fingers raised the cheese to mouth, to teeth, to tongue. He watched with satisfaction as the light of realisation dawned in their eyes, the horror as they registered the maggots squirming inside it, on top, all over, the desperation as they tried to spit out the intruders but couldn’t. More and more larvae exploded from the cheese until the whole table was one writhing surface, spreading towards each guest, covering them, filling them up. They could not scream. He would not allow that. Such bad manners to speak with your mouth full. His stomach rumbled, his dog drooled. It was their turn.

Outside, the Major noticed the last lights going out. He had come back to see if Jack needed a bed for the night. The doorway however, was empty. That was a good sign. He hoped the man had been able to get a meal as well, perhaps the restaurant had taken pity and given him some leftovers. Comforted by the thought he turned and walked away, back into a night inhabited by so many suffering souls.

At the far end of the precinct a nightclub disgorged a group of pumped-up, primped-up, boozed-up footballers. One of them noticed a flyer at his feet. He picked it up.

 

A New Dress for Betty

This was my entry for this year’s Flash Monster competition at The Molotov Cocktail. It didn’t get anywhere but I enjoyed writing it (congratulations to all placings by the way). It features Betty, who originally appeared in my short story The Dance and is set in the world of my latest WIP and also that featured in The Way of the Mother (Nosetouch Press, The Fiends in the Furrows anthology). I have a soft spot for this particular monster, perhaps one day I just might write his biography.

A New Dress for Betty

It was time for a new dress. Betty discarded his fire-blazed velvet—after all the Dance was done—and stood in the centre of the clearing. His brother stepped forward and laid the swords at his feet.

“You can cut new cloth with these,” said Tommy.

“And ribbons?” asked Betty.

“And ribbons.”

Shadows began to flicker across his body as the sun shrank back, muted colours to become a displeasing palette. Every village demanded a unique performance and Betty had to dress the part to become the Maid. He stepped into the knife-formed pentagram, surveyed each blade. They all looked the same but he knew each sang a different song. The one which sang soft velvet was silent. It knew it would not be chosen. Four remained. Which one? Wool, leather, cotton … silk?

Silk. Soft, sensuous. The blade rippled in the smudged moonlight. Betty smiled. Silk. He picked up the sword and looked at Tommy. His brother pulled out the dice on which were carved the names of the villages of the Weald and tossed it into the air, landing at Betty’s feet. Cropsoe, the hub, the centre of the Wheel.

Tommy grinned. “Time to start turning.”

Betty threw back his head and howled. Shaggy-maned and his body matted with thick hair, you might have thought him a wolf. Step closer and gaze up into the giant’s eyes, into his razor-filled mouth and you would see you were wrong. He was more, much more.

His other brother, the third of this Otherworld triumvirate, pulled out his violin and started to bow the strings. Sent notes of steel into the air, perfumed them with blood. Fiddler’s music would dance with Betty that night.

Betty ran lightly through the forest, watched by the hidden. Out into the open now, travelling the path between the two worlds, the seen and the unseen, stepping off it and into the slumbering village. Cropsoe. Silk. He sniffed the air. Silk meant youth, not the leather of the Crone, the wool of adolescence.

Fiddler’s notes continued to spin around him before leaping towards a small cottage on the village bounds. Here was silk. Twenty-one years. The coming of age. He tapped the door with the tip of his blade. The lights turned on quickly, the man who answered understanding immediately what Betty had come for.

“Take me,” he begged. “To lose another son would kill his mother.”

Sorrowfully, Betty shook his head. “Your first born honoured the Mother at the Dance. Now you have been chosen again. A double honour.”

His wife and son appeared behind him, the young man, rigid with terror. Hunters weapons hung on the wall, a rifle on a table, yet none made a move towards them. None disobeyed those who acted in the name of the Mother. The Weald had always fed her and her son, Hweol, Lord of Umbra, the Otherworld.

Betty reached out and put his arm around the youth, pulled him out of the house. “I thank you for your gift,” he said, bowing as he did so to the distraught and helpless parents.

Others had woken, peeped out from darkened windows but they too did not, could not, help.

Betty led the youth to the Dressing Meadow where Fiddler sat, now playing a different tune.

“You will feel no pain,” said Betty as the music drifted over them, sedating the lad, dimming awareness.

As he swayed, as if in time to the melody, Betty lifted his sword and started to prise flesh from tissue, away from muscle, separate from bone. His giant’s hands were delicate in their touch, each sheet of flesh carefully draped over the low branches of a nearby tree.

“Now ribbon,” he said, once the flaying was complete, and proceeded to prise out delicate crimson veins which he immediately laced into his beard and plaited into his hair. His victim looked on unseeing, had passed unaware from life into death, a blessing only some were given by Betty. He picked up his cloth and surveyed it thoughtfully. Beautiful silk but not quite enough.

“Again?” asked Fiddler.

Betty looked up at the moon and nodded. He had enough time. By daybreak, Betty’s arms were full of silk, the rising sun dappling its surface.

“Pretty,” said Betty, as he draped it over himself and twirled amongst the cornflowers and daisies.

Fiddler’s melody had changed its cloth, its notes, become lilac and rose, led the satisfied brothers back to their Umbran home.

In Cropsoe, families sighed in relief that they had not been chosen. But there was always next time …

Folk Horror and NaNoWriMo

There seems to be a resurgence in this type of horror and when I wrote my short story The Way of the Mother (pub. Nosetouch Press’ The Fiends in the Furrows anthology), I hoped that people wouldn’t think I was jumping on any bandwagon. To this end, I did a trawl of my previous shorts and found a number of them were actually ‘folk horror’ without me even considering the label. Rural life had, and still does, exert an influence over me.

Those years I lived in the middle of nowhere in rural Shropshire have left their mark. In fact ThCiderhousequattsmalle Way of the Mother evolved from a world created in a short story I had published a few years ago so, no, I’m not jumping on any bandwagon – I just happened to be wandering along folk horror’s dark path already. Past stories of mine such as The Yowling, We Walk in the Night as Strangers, Domnuill-Dhu amongst others follow this track. (Pictured left is my childhood home, The Cider House, a pub in the middle of nowhere.)

I’ve seen some good reviews for Fiends lately and have been really pleased with some comments about The Way of the Mother. From The Maelstrom, a men’s online lifestyle magazine, I got this:

‘And The Way of the Mother by Stephanie Ellis is classic folk horror at its very oddest with its toe-curling rituals and powerful god monster.’

Whilst on amazon ‘he Way of the Mother by Stephanie Ellis was horrifying’.

This brings me on to NaNoWriMo and whilst I want to write a follow up to The Five Turns of the Wheel (currently out on beta read) at some point, I intend to use the month to come up with something new – but still folk horror. So here are the details of the new novel which you’ll also find posted up at NaNoWriMo (I am Stevie64). Whether the story meanders from this is yet to be seen as being a complete pantser, this initial idea is as much of plan as you’re going to get!

NaNo Novel Title: Bloodline

Miriam is one of four Outlyers in the village of Wootton. These women inhabit dwellings on the edge of the village at the four cardinal points. The strange powers of these women allow them to protect Wootton and its ways. Apart from Miriam, the other 3 Outlyers have all married and each has a child to continue their role. Miriam however, has taken note of life in the village and turned her back on its ways, refusing to either marry or have a child. This angers the elders and one day she is found dead by the nearby river with her stomach filled with stones.

The elders seek to appoint a new Outlyer in her place but the doors of Miriam’s house refuse to admit anyone, until Abigail, a distant relative and a descendent of a branch of Miriam’s family which escaped Wootton many centuries ago, is discovered. Abigail puts a dead-end job and disastrous marriage behind her to take on her inheritance, knowing nothing of the background of her deceased benefactor.

Soon the walls of the cottage start to whisper its stories to her and she discovers a charm, hidden by Miriam. This charm reveals Abigail’s inherited, but buried, powers. As she comes to terms with Miriam, and Wootton’s, history, hints as to marriage and motherhood become more and more overt, even aggressive. Without the bloodline continuing in the homes of the Outlyers, the villagers’ way of life will disintegrate and they will be forced to join the modern world – or so she is told.

But by the end, Abigail is forced to consider whether the powers of the Outlyers are real or if they are just imagined – and if imagined, is she mad?

 

 

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