October 31, 2014

#FridayFlash – Radio Waves

The two girls sat in the darkened back room of Fordyce’s Antiques, waiting until the chattering outside dissolved into silence.

“We’re going to get interrupted by trick or treaters all night, Mae,” said Abi.

“We’ll just ignore them, same as the last four times,” said Mae. She hefted the old radio onto the table and plugged it in.

“That’s not even gonna work, Mae. Didn’t they turn off the radio waves?”

“Don’t be stupid, Abi. There’s still radio. They just want people to go digital. But you can still get longwave, I’m sure. Besides, ghosts don’t want to listen to Radio 1, they can talk through the white noise.”

Mae turned the old dial back and forth, scanning through bursts of static. Abi lit the candles in front of the radio and gestured for Mae to sit down. The girls pulled their chairs closer to the tables and ignored the sounds of children dressed as ghouls and witches outside.

“Is there anybody there?”

The radio replied with two crackles.

“Is it once for yes, twice for no, or the other way around?” asked Abi.

“I can’t remember. If you’re there, can you tell us your name?”

More crackles. Mae glared at the door, willing the gaggle of trick or treaters to try another door.

“How old are you?” asked Abi.

“I’m eighteen and I like it!” A blast of music came from the radio, filling the cramped back room. Abi snatched her hands away from the table, but Mae sat closer. She turned to Abi, her eyes shining with wonder.

“That’s Alice Cooper!” she whispered. “It’s communicating through the music! Ask something else.”

“Where are you from?” asked Abi.

“When I get to Warwick Avenue…” Static cut off the rest of the line, muffling Duffy’s lyrics.

“But Warwick Avenue’s in London,” said Abi.

“I know. Guess he’s travelled a bit then. Why’s he up here then, if he’s from London?” asked Mae. She repeated the question to the radio, but only white noise replied.

“Someone might have moved up north and sold something of his to your dad,” replied Abi.

Mae nodded, and the radio changed station again.

“I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping, still my guitar gently weeps.”

“Must be that guitar by the door. Who brought it in?” asked Abi.

“I don’t know. Listen, how did you die?” asked Mae.

“I fought the law and the law won! I fought the law and the law won.” The Clash blared out of the speakers. Abi shuddered, and even Mae moved away from the table. They’d both seen experiments like this on the TV, but the paranormal investigators rarely got more than static in reply.

“What is it that you want?” Mae wrapped her fingers around the cross that dangled from the chain around her neck.

“‘Cause I wanna be Anarchy!” Johnny Rotten snarled out of the radio in between static crackles. Mae and Abi exchanged looks.

“What year is it?” asked Abi.

“So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999″. Mae shuddered to hear Prince in the tiny back room but Abi shook her head and frowned.

“Ah well you’re wrong there, mate. It’s 2014.”

“Then why did you ask me the question?” The voice boomed from the speakers, too clear to be a radio station, but too bookended by static to have come from anywhere else.

“Is that you?” asked Abi.

White noise filled the room, increasing in volume as the dial began to spin, flicking through the bands too quickly for Abi or Mae to make sense of anything they heard. Mae reached forward to touch the knob but it was hot beneath her fingers. She snatched back her hand, and blisters rose on her fingertips.

“What the hell?”

Abi scrabbled under the table and yanked the plug out of the socket. The radio fell silent, and Abi crawled back to Mae. She stood up, and the radio blared back into life.

“I thought you unplugged it!” Mae shouted at Abi while nursing her sore fingers.

“I did!”

Thunderous laughter issued from the speakers. Both candle flames flared, burning blue in the darkened room. The power cord rose into the air, the plug snapping back and forth like the head of an angry snake. It whipped towards Abi, and the girls shot across the room. They hauled open the door and threw themselves into the shop beyond.

“What do we do?” asked Abi, slamming the door shut.

“I don’t know. This never happens on TV!”

They stood in the shop for what felt like hours, listening intently to the back room. The static faded into silence.

“Did you hear that thud?” asked Abi.

“I think it was the plug. It must have hit the floor,” replied Mae. “Look, we have to go back in and put the candles out, at least.”

Abi nodded. Mae opened the door and peered into the back room. The two candles remained in their holders, their flames extinguished but the wicks still smoking.

“Oh no.”

“What’s wrong?” asked Abi. She peered over Mae’s shoulder. The back door stood open – and the radio was gone.

Mae rushed into the room and slammed the back door closed. She looked under the table, but couldn’t find the radio. Abi helped her to tidy the room, and leave everything as they’d found it.

“We don’t tell my dad, yeah? That radio’s been here for years. There’s no reason for him to look for it now,” said Mae.

“Or we tell him we sold it.”

“That’s even better! It was only £20.”

“I’ll give you a tenner tomorrow,” said Abi.

The two girls left the room, and headed out through the shop. Neither of them noticed the dark stain on the wallpaper in the back room, and neither of them watched it slide into the shop. They left the shop, locking the door behind them, and the dark shape made itself comfortable inside a china doll behind the till.

It could wait.

October 25, 2014

Get Suspended in Dusk for FREE until Halloween

suspendedinduskI posted a little while ago about having a story in a new anthology, Suspended in Dusk, edited by the lovely Simon Dewar, and featuring an introduction by Jack Ketchum. Isn’t that a fabulous cover?

Well it’s been causing quite a buzz, earning some wonderful reviews over on Goodreads and Amazon! I’m really pleased to be part of it, and to be sharing book space with such fabulous authors.

The best part, though, is that it is currently FREE on Smashwords in e-book format until Halloween. That means you can grab it for devices that support ePUB, MOBI, PDF, and even HTML, if that’s what you fancy. Simply head over to Smashwords, following this link, and add the coupon code DA68M at the purchase point, and it’ll be all yours…for free!

My story, A Woman of Disrepute, is fourth in the collection, and I wrote a blog post here about the inspiration for the story, including the prostitutes sanctioned by the Bishop of Winchester, and Crossbones Cemetery.

Check the whole anthology out and let me know what you think!

October 24, 2014

#FridayFlash – Borrowed Time

Image by benkersey.

Death stopped the clock at 2:34am GMT. Her three sisters didn’t want to help but Death could be incredibly persuasive when she wanted to be.

War got to work, spiriting away armaments from all sides. She couldn’t change their warlike nature, and almost congratulated herself for encouraging it in the past. She rebuilt shattered settlements and created homes for the displaced. War cried at first, but she soon found making instead of destroying to be far more satisfying – although if any of these new spaces were damaged, there would be hell to pay.

Pestilence took up a mop and set about clearing up the oceans. The devastation shocked her, and she only wished that she’d taken more humans if it would have meant less chemicals in the water, fewer damaged reefs, and better fishing stocks. She absorbed the poisons of the seas, and considered how she might best use it to create a new plague in the future.

Famine swept through the land, reversing damage to the forests, and purifying the air. She imbued crops with an innate resistance to pests, and absorbed blight from trees and plants. Quarries were filled in, covered with forest, and the landscape breathed a sigh of relief.

Death got to work on the people and the animals. She rooted out the men who were dead inside, hollow shells masking a hole where their conscience should be, and snuffed them out. Poachers were removed, and she gave life back to the animal population to help swell the numbers of endangered species.

It took them a year, and they met in Parliament Square when their work was done.

“We’ve done well, ladies. It’s a shame it took our intervention but hopefully everything has been balanced, and they can maintain it,” said Death.

“But if they don’t…” said War.

“Then we saddle up and do this all over again the good old-fashioned way.” Death grimaced.

The four sisters hugged each other before Pestilence, War and Famine went their separate ways. Death pointed at the clock of Big Ben, and snapped her fingers. The minute hand slid to 2:35am.

Humanity moved onto borrowed time.

October 22, 2014

More of my Inktober sketches

My attempts at producing an ink drawing a day for Inktober continue! Day 1 is here, and day 2 until 7 is here, with day 8 until day 14 here.

Day 15 – Sheep

Day 16 – Tree

Day 17 – Doodle Square

Day 18 – Halloween House

Day 19 – Cavalier

Day 20 – Dragon

Day 21 – Gothic & Proud

Day 22 – Eye

What do you think?

October 17, 2014

#FridayFlash – Life Song

Sheet music by Egilshay and poppies by Anyone71. Edits by me.

A young man sits opposite Poppy on the train, a large folder open on his lap. Poppy tries hard not to stare at him but his old-fashioned three-piece pinstripe suit keeps catching her eye. A poppy rests in his buttonhole, even though it is far from Remembrance Day, and a bowler hat sits on the empty seat beside him. He looks up at her once, and the pale skin around his wide grey eyes crinkles as he smiles.

Poppy blushes and forces her gaze away from his open, handsome face, with its neat pencil moustache and cheekbones she could ski down. She glances at the open folder as the young man looks away from her. His eyes skate across the pages, reading sheet music as one might read a book.

Without really wanting to, Poppy starts following the lines of crotchets and quavers, forming each note in her mind before bouncing to the next. She frowns more than once as it is not an easy tune, but soon she realises that it’s actually some kind of symphony. Her pianist’s eye takes over and she hums the melody, although she can hear the strings and the woodwind in her mind. It’s a strange piece, somehow both melancholy and triumphant at once, and when the young man turns the page, she recognises the music. It’s music that she has been hearing all her life, in the back of her head – it is the music of her life. This sheet music displays her, in all her glory, in staves and quavers.

The young man puts his bowler hat on, closes the folder, and stands up as the train pulls into the next station.

“That’s my music!” she blurts.

“It is, my dear. But do not worry yourself, there are still three whole movements left yet. And they’re very long movements,” he replies.

He winks, and slips out of the open doors, taking her music with him. She tries to watch him go but he’s swallowed up by the throng on the platform.

The doors close, the train lurches onward, and Poppy sits back in her seat, humming the song of her life.

October 14, 2014

Inktober continues!

Last week I posted my Inktober sketches so far, so I figured I’d do another compilation of the work I’ve been doing since then!

Day 8 – Plague Doctor

Day 9 – Dice

Day 10 – Lipstick

Day 11 – Fairytale in a Box

Day 12 – Pumpkin

Day 13 – Catwoman quote

Day 14 – Buttons

There’s some fantastic work being done for Inktober this year, so check out the hashtag on Twitter to see some more of it!

October 10, 2014

#FridayFlash – Stolen Memories

Image by Tizwas01, edits by me.

This is the final part in a three-part serial, following Other Ways In and Lifting Enchantments. Fitzwilliam has sneaked into the Underground City from his privileged life in the City Above, and became enchanted by a Siren. The spell was lifted by a trio of housewives, and now he tries to find his way out.

Fitzwilliam couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being followed. He looked over his shoulder as he picked his way along Green Dragon Close, and peered down the alley as he turned onto the main street, but there was no one there.

No one I can see, at any rate.

He’d heard the stories of the Underground City, of mysterious figures that lurked in the darkness, jumping from shadow to shadow. Occasionally tales abounded in the City Above of Shadowkin caught stealing in the dead of night, but the harsh punishments meted out to anyone from the Underground City usually deterred all but the most determined of opportunists.

If only Penelope hadn’t backed out. She wouldn’t have been any better at spotting a Shadowkin than he was, but at least she would be company. He considered turning back and asking the housewives for advice, after all, they’d been the friendliest inhabitants he’d encountered so far. Of course that meant going back past whatever was behind him.

Maybe I’m being paranoid.

Something had clearly befallen him to lead him down a narrow close in an unfamiliar place, and while he wasn’t sure what, Fitzwilliam suspected an enchantment of some kind. If he was right, then he had every reason to be suspicious – hardly a sign of paranoia.

Fitzwilliam headed back to the shop that would take him back up to the City Above. A string of lanterns hung above the street, casting their sickly glow across the bustle below, and Fitzwilliam kept to the centre of the street where the light was strongest. Shadows pooled against buildings between gas lamps, outside their circles of flickering light. He eyed the puddles of darkness, and hurried onwards.

A gaggle of housewives poured out of a small shop to Fitzwilliam’s right. By the lank cloth in the grubby window, he guessed it was a haberdashery of some kind. They were laden with baskets and boxes, and ignored the people hurrying to and fro as they careered across the street. Fitzwilliam tried to slow down, to give them room, but they jostled him to one side, and he stumbled into one of the shadows.

The arm wrapped around his neck before he could cry out. Pressure on his throat, gentle but firm, kept him quiet. Another arm snaked downwards and he felt the tip of something pressed against his stomach. By the thickness of the metal, and the bluntness of the blade, Fitzwilliam judged it to be a Novocastrian slake, a dagger designed for causing as much damage as possible.

“I’m going to move my arm off your throat, but if you so much as whimper, this goes in your gut, see?” The voice in his ear was female, which surprised him. It was deep yet husky, as though it were made of cobwebs and darkness.

Fitzwilliam nodded and the arm loosened around his neck, although the slake remained pressed against his stomach. At that angle, she could have his intestines out before he could blink. He tried to think of defensive tactics, or counter-moves, but blind fear robbed him of his training.

“Whatever you want, you may take,” whispered Fitzwilliam. He stopped himself from adding some form of insult.

“That was my intention, you dolt,” she replied.

“I have a bag of coinage. It’s for the City Above so it will do you little good, but you may take it all the same,” he said. He fished the bag out of his coat, and held it out to her. She remained behind him, but he guessed that she was taller than his own six feet.

“This is pretty leatherwork. Keep the coins, but I will keep the purse.” She dumped the money back into his pockets.

“Is that all?” Fitzwilliam couldn’t believe such good fortune. The purse was a present from a distant relative on his father’s side. He’d never really liked it, which was why he used it on his illicit excursions, in case something like this took place.

“Not all. I want a memory.”

“A memory?”

“Yes, a memory, not an echo.” The Shadowkin jabbed at his stomach with the slake to make her point.

“Which memory do you want? I have more than one I’d be happy to part with.”

“I don’t want memories of your disgraces, dog. Hold still.”

The sensation was incredibly unpleasant, as something cold penetrated the back of his head, as if she’d dipped her own ethereal hand into his skull. His memories swirled in a monochromatic haze, colliding into one another in a confused montage that unspooled before his mind’s eye. Fitzwilliam clutched at his head, clawing at his scalp in an effort to stop the maddening procession of images.

“Ah, this is what I want.” The coldness disappeared from the back of his head, and Fitzwilliam slumped against the wall. He didn’t notice the removal of the slake from his gut, or the exit by the Shadowkin. His vision darkened, and he spiraled into oblivion.

* * *

He came to in a dark room, the only source of light pointing to a staircase that led up into the gloom. He couldn’t remember how he’d gotten there, but he knew he wanted to go home. He scrambled up the stairs, and stumbled through a maze of corridors until he found a door that led into the street. He burst out into a familiar quiet street at the edge of the City Above, with the pink fingers of dawn beginning to grasp the edges of the sky. Fitzwilliam saluted the growing sunrise as he ran through the streets towards the Military Academy.

It was only when he let himself into the side gate and sneaked past the guards that he realised he couldn’t remember the layout of the building, or even where his room was. The memory was gone.

If you’ve enjoyed this serial, then why not try my novella, The Necromancer’s Apprentice, set in the dual world of the Cities Above and Below? Find it on Goodreads, Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo!

October 7, 2014

Inktober so far

As I described last Wednesday, I’m taking part in Inktober, an art challenge to produce a work in ink every day of October. I’m not exactly Picasso but I’ve been enjoying it, and I wanted to collect what I’ve done since last week.

Day Two – Puppy

Day Three – Mystery Man

Day Four – Squirrel

Day Five – Penguin

Day Six – Typography

Day Seven – Song Lyric Quote

So far, I think I’m most proud of my puppy, but I was pleased with my mystery man since I didn’t use any photo or image reference!

Have you been doing Inktober?

October 5, 2014

Night Will Fall: The importance of documentary

As a Film Studies academic, I often feel called upon to defend the study of something as seemingly frivolous as cinema. People hear I’m doing a PhD, and eagerly enquire as to the topic. The moment I say “Film Studies” I see the same disappointed expression, and hear the same “Oh. Well as long as you enjoy it, I suppose”. Film Studies is somehow seen as not a ‘real’ subject, lacking in practical application and therefore the refuge for students who weren’t clever enough for maths or science.

So it is somewhat vindicating for me when a film comes along that outright proves the importance of the moving image to society as a whole, and it’s even more valuable to that society when the film in question is as powerful as Night Will Fall, directed by André Singer. By turns horrifying and mesmerising, this documentary is thought-provoking but sensitive, and ever the objective tale.

In 1945, the Allies discovered the horrible reality of the Second World War in the form of the concentration camps. The possibility that such sights could be denied as wartime propaganda was a real one, yet soldiers were armed with a weapon perhaps more powerful than the machine gun; the movie camera. They filmed everything they could to provide damning evidence of what had been going on, and producer Sydney Bernstein decided to turn the footage into a documentary, the German Concentration Camps Factual Survey. With input from none other than Alfred Hitchcock, and footage from British, American, and Soviet soldiers, the documentary “would prove one day that this actually happened” – Bernstein. While the footage was used as evidence in the war crimes trials that followed the war, the documentary never saw the light of day due to the political manoeuvres of post-war Europe. The uncompleted edited footage, director’s notes and completed scripts were labelled, filed away, and forgotten about.

Until now. The Imperial War Museum have used the package to complete Bernstein’s film, which will screen at the London Film Festival. In the meantime, Night Will Fall intersperses interviews with surviving cameramen and editors, shot footage from the camps, and clips from the documentary to tell the story of its making. This is not an easy film to watch. As a horror specialist I’ve seen some incredibly gory films, but no matter how many internal organs are spattered on the floor, I know that the actors will get up and go home at the end of the day. There was no such release for the victims of the death camps, and it is difficult to connect the emaciated, lifeless forms on screen with a conception of your fellow man. The footage is not entirely new to us, having appeared in one form or another over the years, but one can only imagine the horror of seeing these sights in person back in 1945, the movie camera the only intermediary between the soldier and these visions of hell.

Yet there are touches of hope. Survivors of the camps add their stories. The Russians explained their use of the camera pan to sidestep accusations that footage had been faked. The original documentary included footage of the healing process, and for the first time I really thought about what actually happened to the survivors after the liberation of the camps. A handwritten sign proclaiming a warehouse of clothes to be ‘Harrods’ brought humanity back into an inhuman sphere.

We need the hope as well as the horror to remind us that humanity is capable of both extremes, particularly in such a war-torn and bloodsoaked era as ours. If the Great War was intended to be the war to end all wars, yet less than thirty years later humans could commit such atrocities against their fellow man, then we’ll need an awful lot more hope in the twenty-first century.

October 3, 2014

#FridayFlash – Lifting Enchantments

This story follows on from last week’s tale, Other Ways In. Fitzwilliam has sneaked into the Underground City, and is pursuing a Siren for what he believes will be a pleasurable encounter.

Fitzwilliam followed the Siren at a distance. Unwelcoming gazes tracked his progress, and he did his best to ignore the discomfort that his presence provoked among the locals. Seeing the filth and hearing the noise of the Underground City, he couldn’t be surprised that its inhabitants would be ill disposed towards a newcomer, so clearly belonging to the City Above. Every time his doubts clouded his mind, and he considered turning back, the Siren would toss him another provoking glance, and he continued on his way.

Urchins ran up to him, threadbare caps held out for alms, but Fitzwilliam had little in the way of currency in his pockets. He pulled the buttons from the sleeves of his coat and passed them around the sweet-faced young boys.

“We’re grateful, sir, but me ma won’t want me comin’ home with buttons,” said one scamp, covered in soot, his eyes pale in the smudges covering his face.

“They’re solid copper, my boy.”

The urchins cheered, and ran away down the lane, hollering about the “dashing gent from Above.” Fitzwilliam frowned – his presence had drawn enough attention as it was. Soon he’d be mobbed by these people, and they’d strip him naked to sell his fine clothing.

He looked ahead to the Siren, and again she flashed a come-hither smile. Instead of plunging along the lane, she took a turning to the right, and disappeared from view. Fitzwilliam followed. A grimy sign on the side of the tenement building proclaimed this to be Green Dragon Close, and it was close by name and close by nature, barely wide enough for two men to pass shoulder to shoulder. Still, it was quieter, and reasonably clean, compared to the main street.

The Siren skipped ahead, ignoring the dark looks of the housewives exchanging gossip in doorways. Her kind clearly weren’t any more welcome down here than they were above. In many ways, they were worth less than the Night Ladies.

“If yer don’t mind me sayin’, sir, you can do better than ‘er sort,” said a blonde housewife as he passed.

“I thank you for your interest, my good lady,” replied Fitzwilliam.

“I’d run on back to your own City, if I were you,” said another, a homely woman with auburn hair. He prepared an angry retort until he caught sight of her expression. She bore him no ill will, or even reproach. She genuinely worried for his welfare.

A third housewife peered into his face and frowned.

“He’s been enchanted, probably by that minx. Where’s your Jyximus, Mae? He could sort this one out.”

“He’s still at the House. I don’t know when that Eufame woman will let him have a holiday,” replied the auburn-haired housewife.

“That Eufame woman?” Fitzwilliam gasped. He’d never heard the necromancer general spoken of in such a flippant tone in the City Above. Perhaps her stern reputation had not stretched so far below, but clearly her son was Miss Delsenza’s new apprentice, hired to assist with the Coronation Parade. This was an interesting development.

“Hang on, I don’t think we need Jyx now. Look at his face, his eyes are all clear now,” said the third housewife.

“Yeah, I reckon ‘e should be good to go now,” said the blonde.

Feeling as though a cloud had lifted from his head, Fitzwilliam backed away from the women. He didn’t have a single idea why he was talking to three housewives in an Underground City close, or why he’d come down this street in the first place.

“Who are you? Why am I here?” he asked.

“Yer got lost, sir, and yer came down ‘ere to ask fer directions.” All three housewives smiled.

“Oh. Directions to where?”

“The way out. You’ve seen a lot of the Underground City, but I reckon it’d be best if you went on home.”

“You want to go back down this close, and turn left. Keep going along the main street until you see a house with three golden balls hanging outside.”

Fitzwilliam recognised the description of the house he needed to find to get back up the staircase to the City Above. He didn’t remember getting lost, and he certainly couldn’t remember asking for directions – no member of the Military Academy would ever stoop so low. Still, they were pleasant enough women, for housewives, and perhaps they had a point. He could return home, and procure a map of the Underground City, as well as appropriate garb, for another visit.

Fitzwilliam removed the decorative buckle from his belt and handed it to the housewives. He bowed deeply, thanked them for their time and assistance, and headed back along the close towards the noise of the street beyond.

The Siren lurked in the shadows further down the close, and scowled at the housewives for their interference. A figure moved in the gloom beside her.

“He will not follow me again. Their chattering has seen to that. You will have to work your own wiles,” said the Siren.

The figure nodded, and moved away down the close, skipping from shadow to shadow. It passed the housewives unseen, and followed Fitzwilliam into the street.

Continues next week!

Main image was originally by Debsch, but I’ve edited it to turn a daytime street in Luxembourg into an underground scene!