February 27, 2015

#FridayFlash – The Moor

Skipton Moor, by Steve Partridge

There wasn’t always a moor to the north of Little Howling. Local tales told of an ancient forest, stretching for miles across the land now occupied by the moor, and Great Howling. Angela loved the stories of witches in the woods, and thickets so dense that villagers became lost in them, their cries for help giving rise to the names of the twin villages.

“But the greed of the villages was too great,” her grandmother would say as she recounted the stories in her cottage on the edge of the moor. “They cut more and more trees down to build houses, until there were none left. Just a great big scar in the land between here and there.”

Angela liked to walk on the moor during the day, sometimes even venturing across to Great Howling to visit their shops. If she stayed too late she got the bus home instead of walking across the moor at night. The vast open space became threatening after dark, a place of endless night and mysterious rustlings. Once or twice she even fancied she heard wind through branches that were felled long ago.

Angela left Little Howling for London, swapping the village for university. The moor faded from her mind, though she sometimes dreamed of the gales that whipped across the grass, or the plaintive cries of the sheep in autumn. One nightmare cast her as a nightdress-clad Gothic heroine, running across the moor with a masked rider in hot pursuit, though she woke when she tripped over a rock.

Her mother’s second marriage drew her back to the village, and she spent an evening trading memories with her grandmother.

“If you believe the stories, the last tree was felled three hundred years ago this very evening.”

“Do you believe the stories?” asked Angela.

“Some of them.” Her grandmother gave that quiet, knowing smile that drove Angela mad with curiosity, and would say no more.

That night, Angela couldn’t sleep for the screaming that came from the moor. At three minutes to midnight, she found herself standing in the living room, gazing at the mirror that faced the window. The view outside revealed a barren, desolate landscape, dotted with the tiny pin pricks of light from Great Howling. The view in the mirror showed a mighty forest, the trees pointing their largest branches in the direction of the village.

“I knew some day they’d be back,” said Angela’s grandmother from the doorway.

“What’s going on?”

“The trees are back.”

“How? They were cut down.”

“Yes, but their spirits remained. And they’re very, very angry.”

Howls erupted outside. Black shapes rippled like wind through the leaves, passing along the streets and tearing through houses. The screams of the trees merged with the screams of the villagers. Angela dashed toward the door, but her grandmother blocked her path.

“Don’t worry, child. You’ll be safe enough in here.”

“But Mum and Gerry-”

“She’ll be safe too. So will he. You’ve both got enough of my blood in you, and he’s an outsider.”

“Your blood?”

Angela’s grandmother moved towards her, suddenly stronger and taller than she’d been that morning. Her eyes shone with a strange light, and she smiled. Angela backed away, her hip connecting with the sofa.

“Who exactly are you?” asked Angela.

“The last witch of the woods.”

Her grandmother laid her hand on Angela’s face, the skin of her palm cold and smooth as glass. The world went black and Angela’s last thoughts were filled with screaming trees.

* * *

She woke up twelve hours later to find her mother and Gerry making a makeshift lunch in the kitchen. The whole village was cordoned off and the quarantine meant the wedding would be on hold until the authorities could discover what caused the deaths of half of the village, leaving the other half untouched. Angela didn’t need to ask how long the survivors had lived in the village. She knew none of their families were in Little Howling three centuries ago.

“Where’s Gran?” asked Angela.

“I don’t know, love. We came round to check on you both, and we found you passed out in the living room. The front door was wide open,” replied her mother. “Did she say anything to you last night?”

“No, nothing. She just told me some ghost stories before I went to bed.”

Angela looked out of the living room window. Somehow the moor didn’t look so desolate any more.

February 20, 2015

#FridayFlash – The Bell

The road stretched away across the moor, disappearing and reappearing with every undulation of untamed land. Edward Fenwick peered into the distance in both directions. The view yielded only miles of lonely heather. He fished in his horse’s saddlebag for the creased square of parchment.

“Well this is a fine business. Digby’s map surely shows Cransland House, yet there is not even a cow shed to be seen!” Edward looked down at the horse. The mare whinnied, and bent her head to nibble at the grass verge.

Edward took his pocketwatch from his waistcoat. Only 3pm, and yet the shadowy fingers of dusk already felt their way across the moor. A cloud crossed the face of the low sun, and Edward shivered. The crammed dwellings and clamour of London could never prepare him for this.

“I am late! Thirty minutes, no less. I should have taken the cart that was offered,” said Edward.

He gazed across the moor, as if expecting the dilapidated old hall to materialise before him. Nothing. Not even a sheep or cow to break the monotony of the view.

A gust of wind danced around Edward, carrying a faint ringing. The mare lifted her head and pricked up her ears; Edward leaned forward in the saddle, straining to make out the sound. Regular yet insistent, Edward recognised the call of a small bell. He flicked the mare’s reins, but the horse refused the budge. Unable to urge her forward, but keen to discover the location of the bell, Edward clambered down out of the saddle and set off down the road.

Hidden by a swell of moorland, another road crossed the empty landscape. A wooden post gave directions where the two roads met, and a mound of earth lay heaped at the foot of the sign. Edward ignored the westward arm pointing toward Cransland House, focussed instead upon the mound. A narrow wooden contraption protruded from the ground, topped by a small copper bell. Sheltered from the sudden gusts of wind by the ground’s swell, the bell continued to ring.

Edward snatched his hat from his head and turned it in his hands. He spun around, casting wild glances in all directions. As before, he was alone on the moor. He crossed to the loose mound, searching the ground for clues as to the grave’s occupant. Stories tumbled through his mind unbidden, tales told by his old nanny about the witches and vampires buried at crossroads. Even at the age of 43, he found himself unable to pass through London’s many crossroads without wondering about the ground beneath his feet.

Edward mopped his brow, his teeth chewing his lip in time to the bell’s call. Leaping devils pranced before his mind’s eye. His feet tried to direct him back to the mare. He shook his head, trying to dislodge his thoughts.

“Come along now, this will not do. You cannot believe in such superstitious nonsense,” he chided himself. “You have heard the stories of premature burial – some fellow could be gasping his last down there while you dither up here.”

The bell’s ringing grew louder, as if in reply. Edward forced himself towards the mound. Nestling his gloves inside his hat, his fingers got to work on the soft earth. The soil broke apart and fell aside as he scooped handfuls to his left and right. His red face shone with a halo of sweat when his fingertips finally brushed the splinters of untreated wood.

“Hallo there, I am here! I shall have you free in a moment!” called Edward. He hauled the last of the clods behind him, laying bare a rough wooden box, some six feet tall and three feet wide. Edward worked his fingers into the crack between the lid and the box, pulling upwards with all the strength his accounts clerk arms possessed. His mare neighed somewhere in the deepening twilight behind him, a call filled with panic.

“I shall be back, dearest horse!” shouted Edward, looking back over his shoulder as his hands finally pulled the lid free.

Edward looked down into the coffin, expecting to see a grateful face gasping for air. The box was empty, lined with rough sackcloth. He looked up to see if the trapped victim had hauled themselves to freedom when he called to his mare. Nothing but shadows surrounded him. He turned back to the coffin.

Something hit Edward square between the shoulderblades and he tumbled forwards. The last thing he felt was sackcloth against his face.

February 13, 2015

#FridayFlash – Silhouette

I’ve not been well this week so this is a repost! Enjoy!

Green digits flash in the darkness, proclaiming the hour to be 2am. The bathroom door opens, throwing a rectangle of harsh light across the filthy carpet. Bare feet avoid the sticky patches near the dresser. Serena’s shadow looms large on the wall, the sickly glow from the muted TV turning the silhouette into a twisted monster.

She sits on the edge of the bed, pulling her knees up to her chin. The shadow shakes itself free from her bare feet and stretches. Its talons rake across the stains and tears of the carpet. Serena watches the shadow slide across the room and under the motel room door.

It will return before dawn and she will wake with blood on her hands.

 

February 11, 2015

Icy Handmade On Display!

I work at a local college among lots of other lovely creative people, and we recently had a staff exhibition to display all of the work that goes on outside of everyone’s normal day jobs. It ranged from illustration and textile design to photography, animation, fine art and ceramics. I hadn’t originally intended to put anything in for it, but eventually I decided I’d display some of my jewellery and knitwear.

staff_exhibition

The boards feature a mixture between work that is for sale, and work that I’ve done for myself. In a way, they also demonstrate what I do digitally due to the strict grid system that I adhered to when putting the boards together. The collar/scarf on the left is one of my own, while the hat and scarf on the right are for sale on Etsy. They’re made from Women’s Institute yarn, which is surprisingly soft and an absolute delight to work with (so it’s a shame it’s only available at Hobbycraft…)

WI hatIt was interesting because while those with whom I share an office know that I knit, crochet and make my own jewellery, a lot of people that I see on a daily basis didn’t! It was also cool to see what everyone else does – we often get quite caught up in the ‘day job’ and don’t always have time to ask what people do as freelance practitioners. A lot of the staff are also bad at self promoting, and don’t like to blow their own trumpets, so it’s been a good experience to really enjoy what everyone can do.

The exhibition also showed that what you expect someone to do isn’t necessarily how they spend their time. I teach graphic design and illustration, particularly the Adobe Creative Suite software, and while it’s true that I do produce book covers outside of work (most notably Lost Children and The Guardian’s Wyrd, both by Nerine Dorman – in each case, I did the layout and typography while others produced the artwork), my main non-academic interest is my Icy Handmade sideline. People expressed surprise that I’m known for teaching digital skills, particularly Photoshop, yet I was displaying textiles!

I’m immensely proud of what I make, and how far I’ve come in a relatively short space of time. I’ve been knitting since around 2008, and I took up crochet seriously some time last year, and I’ve been making jewellery since mid-2013 – but there are lots of future plans that I’d like to see come to fruition. I also managed to sneak a photo of Mummy into my textiles board, so her #mummyselfie from the British Library appeared! She does love promoting The Necromancer’s Apprentice wherever she can, and I suppose in a lot of ways she likes promoting herself. Look at that smile!

If you’re a crafter, have you ever displayed your work?

February 6, 2015

#FridayFlash – Pestilence

Die Pest, Arnold Böcklin (1898)

The figure stretches, ancient joints popping as it shakes free the sleep of decades. It emerges into the nocturnal world of the city, neon light sparking in puddles outside 24 hour cafes and quiet laundromats. Laughter pours from the bars, and the figure turns away in irritation. The moan of the sickroom is its favourite song, not this outpouring of mirth.

It stalks through the city, claws clicking on the rain-slicked pavements, and heads towards the suburbs. The shades are drawn here, houses silent as their occupants sleep. The figure can smell the modern plagues of depression and anxiety, the long fingers of stress worming their way into even the most carefree of minds. It smiles.

Glowing wards bar several doorways, and the figure sulks in the street, glowering at its inability to cross these thresholds. It will return in a few more nights with some new illness to strike down these families. Yet more doorways remain as yet unbarred, and into these houses it skips with gleeful abandon. Its twin stalks the continent across the ocean, but it hasn’t had such free reign in this land for many years.

The figure probes bedrooms, visiting the young and old alike. It sprinkles its menace wherever it can, sneaking through windows and disappearing through air vents whenever an occupant stirs. They will wake in the morning, unaware of the danger in which they find themselves. They will carry the seeds of their own destruction far and wide, taking the figure’s dark message out into their community. Before long the first rashes will appear, accompanied by condemnation and panic.

The first fingers of dawn claw at the sky, and the figure disappears into the fabric of time and space. It has spread its perverse joy for now, an affliction it long thought defeated on these shores, and will return with more dark tidings before long.

February 3, 2015

Why on earth would I be a writer?

Yesterday, my dear editor and exceptionally talented author Nerine Dorman wrote this post about why she writes, and after an email conversation last week on the same topic, I felt like I should add my own two cents to the conversation.

Back in 2005, I decided I wanted to take my writing seriously, and started submitting short stories to magazines. Back then, the general idea was that you got a few publications under your belt, then you submitted your novel to an agent, who attempted to shop it to the publishing companies. I wanted to be a full time writer, free to devote all of my ‘day job’ time to writing new novels.

Then along came the Kindle.

I missed the early boom of writers making it big with e-books, not having a finished novel to my name at that point, and a lot of these same writers preach that it’s possible to make a living from e-books, without needing to go through the old route of agents and the big publishing giants, but because they managed to snaffle success before everyone else started doing the same thing, I feel this somewhat misses the point.

Every man and his dog is an author on Amazon these days.

That makes for a very crowded marketplace, my friends. Every genre is full of other titles that a reader might choose over yours, and due to the advice that free e-books will help you to hook readers who’ll make future sales, most Kindles are full to bursting with e-books that will, in all likelihood, never be read. Why prioritise a book you didn’t even have to pay for?

Apprentice_eBook_smallMake no mistake, I’ve had things published. I’ve had short stories in online magazines and anthologies, including Nothing but Flowers, Eighty-Nine, Short Stack (for which my story, One Woman Cure, was singled out for particular praise), European Monsters, Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar and Other Stories, and Suspended in Dusk. My first novella, a pulp Western named The Guns of Retribution, was published in September 2011 through Pulp Press, before switching publishers in May 2013 to Beat to a Pulp. My second novella, a horror fantasy named The Necromancer’s Apprentice, was published in March 2014 through Dark Continents, only to switch to Crossroad Press in August of that year.

Not one of them has made me rich, or a household name.

I’m not going to bandy about sales figures as I don’t really have access to them, but I’m not going to be able to quit my job on the royalties. I could go on and on about the possible reasons why, from the Western being a niche genre to the fact I don’t like slapping people in the face with constant adverts on social media, or the fact that it’s nigh-on impossible to get people to review the books they’ve read or pass on that vital ‘word of mouth’. But I won’t, because what it boils down to is the fact that a lot of other people are trying to do the exact same thing that I am.

I’ve finally made my peace with the fact that I’m never going to be the next J. K. Rowling. Those days of heady publishing success are gone. Unless I want to churn out badly written fan fiction and dress it up as pseudo-S&M, I’m not going to be E. L. James either. I don’t think I’m a bad writer, it’s just there are so many books available now, and more choice for the reader means the sales are divvied up among more writers.

So why do I continue to do it?

Entertainment. There seems to be a bizarre elitism among writers, that writing is an art, and therefore you shouldn’t expect payment, and also that you should strive to achieve all of these lofty ideals about uncovering the true nature of life and the universe through your fiction. Tish and pish. I’d rather write about bloodthirsty mummies, thanks. I’m a big believer in the power of escapism, and if someone can read one of my stories and forget about the world and all of its ugly realities for just half an hour, then I’ve done my job. I’m like the Michael Bay of writing, with fewer explosions and juvenile references to genitalia. Obviously that ties in with my first point – even artists get paid to create their high art, either through the sales of their work or patronage, so why should writers give away their work for free?

I don’t just write fiction, either. I wring thousands of words out of my brain that have nothing to do with fiction, in the form of my academic work in the field of Film Studies. It satisfies the analytical, logical side of my brain in the way that fiction satisfies my inner child that wants to play in the Gothic house at the end of the street, with the lady who keeps dragons as pets. But I also make jewellery and knitwear, and in all honesty, I make more money from that than I do writing. Money is important, and anyone who says it isn’t is either a liar or unaware of how capitalist economies work, and PhDs are not cheap! But that aside, earning money from my crafty pursuits frees me up to write fiction that entertains or amuses.

As writers, we’re extremely lucky. We get to have two jobs. One that pays financially, and one that pays in genuine satisfaction. If you’re happy to balance the two, then you really well get the best of both worlds. Can’t say fairer than that.

February 1, 2015

Review of Illamasqua’s Aura Multi-Facet palette

I’ve been tempted by Illamasqua’s Multi-Facet palettes for a while now, but I often felt like £45 was just a little bit too much for something I might not like. After all, I sometimes find the brand’s products to be a little hit and miss. For example, I love their Cream Pigment in Mould, but their Liquid Metal 02 palette is just too greasy, and no amount of powder will set the cream pigments to stop them creasing. I tried one of their liquid foundations and it was beyond awful, and I’m not impressed by their cream foundation either – neither range give the type of coverage that I like. I love the range of colours available among their lipsticks, but Apocalips can be very drying. That said, their intense lipglosses are a good buy, particularly Facade, which is perhaps my favourite lip colour ever.

01 PaletteHowever, I do love their solo powder eyeshadows, and I’ve recently grown to love their Complement palette, despite initial misgivings, although I’m still never going to prefer another makeup manufacturer to Urban Decay when it comes to eye colours. But when the Multi-Facet palettes appeared in the Illamasqua sale for £13.50, I couldn’t really say no, and due to the colours included, I opted for Aura. The two squares on the left are; Gleam in Aurora (top, a creamy highlighter) and Powder Blusher in Tremble (bottom). The top two squares on the right are; Cream Pigment in Hollow (left, for contouring) and Eyebrow Cake in Thunder (right). Below that are four Powder Eyeshadows. You also get a double ended brush which I ignored in favour of my own sets of brushes. (Yes, I have more than one set.)

02 The LookThis is what I ended up coming up with. Pretty neat, huh? I’ve got Hollow just below my cheekbones to add definition, with Tremble on the apples of my cheeks, with Aurora highlighting the top of my cheekbones. Aurora isn’t as much of a highlighter as I’d have liked but it’s difficult to find a super-pale shade for highlighting when you’re already as pale as me! Tremble is perhaps a more ‘pink’ blusher than I’m used to, since I normally go for darker, browner shades, but it seems to work, particularly where it covers Hollow. I packed the lightest eyeshadow shade below the eyebrow as a highlighter, then swept the peachy shade all over the lid. I blended the heathery shade along the brow bone, and then blended the darkest shade into the socket. Finally I used Thunder to shape my eyebrows.

04 Eyes Aura

The other products I’m using are; Urban Decay Eye Primer Potion, Revlon Color Stay foundation, Bourgeois Concealer, Rimmel Exaggerate liquid liner in 100% black, Urban Decay eye pencil, and L’Oreal mascara in black.

03 The LookI didn’t end the look there. I also grabbed one of Illamasqua’s intense lipglosses in Hermetic while it was only £6.60. The lipglosses are a funny formula, almost like liquid lipstick, and while Hermetic isn’t as easy to apply as Facade, it really does give intense colour and has a wonderful shine, if you like the ‘wet’ look. I’m just glad Illamasqua have decided to include brush applicators with their intense lipglosses instead of the slanted tips that don’t allow for the same level of precision. Hermetic is described as a ‘wine red’ and it is a genuinely gorgeous colour – it’s also perfect if you’re pale like me, and want to wear red, but can’t pull off the bright scarlets.

What do I think of them? Well I’m extremely impressed with the palette. The mirrored lid is just the right size for putting your makeup on, and while Gleam isn’t as strong a highlighter as I’d like, I loved Thunder for my brows, and the eyeshadow shades are perfect. They also last very well throughout the day – as I’m writing this, I’ve been wearing them for six hours and they’re still wearing well. Hermetic is a nice shade and it complements the colours in the Aura palette well, although I know from experience that the intense lip glosses don’t have the same ‘staying power’ as lipsticks, though that’s only to be expected. I think Aura will definitely become my ‘go to’ palette if I’m travelling since it keeps so many products in one place!

4.5/5 for Aura

4/5 for Hermetic

January 30, 2015

#FridayFlash – She

Shadow and doorways from Freeimages.com. Assembled by Icy Sedgwick.

Shadow and doorways from Freeimages.com. Assembled by Icy Sedgwick.

She stands beyond the doorway, and watches through windows.

Her breath fogs the pane at night, and her feet make the floorboards creak in the hall when you think you’re the only one home.

She’s the smudge in the reflection, observing from the other side of the glass, and the shadow that moves at the corner of your eye.

She prowls around your house and stalks through your garden, always putting walls between herself and the living.

She stays at the edge, patrolling the boundary but never crossing it, never daring to approach your flickering warmth.

She stays outside.

If she came inside…she’d have to kill you.

January 25, 2015

The Lost Art of Subtlety in Supernatural Horror

I went to see The Woman in Black: Angel of Death on Friday, having been so impressed by its 2012 predecessor starring Daniel Radcliffe, and I have to say…this sequel encapsulates just what is wrong with contemporary supernatural horror in the cinema. I’ve seen a lot of it – I have to, since my thesis is all about these films. But The Woman in Black: Angel of Death just proves that this particular cycle of supernatural horror has lost all pretence at subtlety. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers in the post that follows, but The Woman in Black: Angel of Death isn’t exactly a film that relies on narrative twists and turns.

In a nutshell, The Woman in Black (2012) told the story of Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), sent to the isolated Eel Marsh House sometime in the 1900s to sort through the personal papers of the late Alice Drablow. While there, he encounters a ghostly presence. Every time the Woman in Black is seen, a child in the nearby village dies in some gruesome fashion. It seems the children are persuaded to kill themselves by the Woman. Arthur investigates and discovers that Alice Drablow had a son who died in a tragic accident. The problem is, Nathaniel was not Alice’s son, but rather he was the son of Alice’s sister, the unmarried Jennet Humphrye. Already unhinged after the forcible removal of her son, Jennet’s grief turns to rage when Nathaniel drowns, and she blames her sister. After she kills herself, she returns as a force of nature capable of stealing local children. Arthur tries to lay her to rest, but fails.

Fast forward to the 1940s, and two teachers, Mrs Hogg (Helen McCrory) and Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), are taking a group of schoolchildren to Eel Marsh House to keep them safe during the Blitz. I won’t support with your intelligence as to pass any comments regarding the wisdom of sending children to a house associated with such a legend. The local village is now abandoned, and the Woman in Black develops an affection for one of the children, an orphan named Edward (Oaklee Pendergast). The film essentially becomes a tussle for Edward between Eve and the Woman, and naturally two children are dispatched during the process. RAF pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine) is added to provide an adult male counterpoint to the film’s two female teachers. Who will win the day, Eve or the Woman?

Yet the true villain of The Woman in Black 2 is Backstory. Yes, it becomes so important to the narrative, so all consuming that it becomes a solid presence in the film. Everyone has a Backstory that seems to be something they need to overcome, or it becomes their sole motivating force throughout the story. Eve feels compelled to save Edward from Jennet’s clutches because she lost her own child – she couldn’t just want to save him because, as his teacher, his safety is her responsibility? Or because it’s the right thing to do?

It seems instructive at this point to compare the first film and the sequel. Let’s look at Arthur Kipps. He investigates the secrets of the house because it’s his job to go through Alice Drablow’s papers. He uncovers the family secret almost by accident, and when he realises who the Woman in Black is, feels compelled to help her. He has Backstory, in the form of the death of his wife, but he wants to help reunite Jennet with her son because he thinks it’ll bring them closure, and because he wants to lay Jennet to rest before his own son can arrive in Crythin Gifford. By contrast, Eve’s Backstory makes her almost hysterical in places, and it seems to be the only way the screenwriters could get the Woman to target her. Why? The Woman in Black was shown in the previous film to be an indiscriminate force, taking children no matter who saw her. This made her frightening – there was no rhyme or reason to her appearances, and the lack of logic or predictability elevated her beyond the status of a mere spectre. There were no laws governing her behaviour which meant there was no obvious way to stop her other than staying away so you couldn’t see her. In this film, she’s given an air of predatory intelligence seemingly at odds to her previous appearances. In one scene, the Woman pursues them away from the house, kicking off a veritable visual feast of special effects worthy of a KISS gig to force one of them, any of them, to see her so that she can claim another child. It’s a weird inversion of the childhood belief that if you can’t see a monster, it can’t harm you. In Jennet’s case, if she wants to harm you, then she’ll find a way to make you see.

Eel Marsh House, so integral to the first film, has become a dilapidated wreck, a visual demonstration of how much Jennet has disintegrated since Arthur Kipps’ well meaning intervention forty years earlier. Already unhinged, born as she is from sheer rage at the loss of her son, and her punishment at being unable to fit within the narrow confines of Victorian sexuality, her rage has now become vindictive. Eve is initially set her up as her double – both are women who have had children taken from them due to social pressures. Later Eve is cast as a double to Alice, Jennet’s sister and the cause of her son’s death, and therefore a target for the Woman’s rage. She seeks to ‘punish’ Eve by taking Edward. To me, this is unnecessary, since the Woman would have been just as potent had she not been viciously targeting Eve, but simply trying to replace her dead son with Edward. This reading would have been supported by her behaviour, exacerbated by her tendency to target those children who have wronged Edward in some way. She’s not just an angel of death, she becomes his avenging angel. In a more intelligent horror film, the Woman could have become the projected personnification of Edward’s own paranoia, but sadly those days of horror seem long gone.

I loved Jennet in the first film, but in The Woman in Black 2, Hammer seem to have confused her with Kayako from Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), while her costume design is based more upon the Bride in Black from Insidious (2010)! You can probably guess the ending, and despite its largely negative reception by critics, there will no doubt be a third instalment, and Jennet will be further reduced to a dull bogeyman, instead of the potent force she was in 2012. It must be borne in mind that Hammer were a company based on the franchising of monsters, making nine films about Dracula between 1958 and 1974, seven films about Frankenstein between 1957 and 1974, and four films about mummies between 1959 and 1971. Yet do we need another monster franchise where the only way to generate suspense is to show people wandering around in the dark, just so the director can add cheap jump scares by making the spectre go “Boo”?

In essence, this is my problem with contemporary supernatural horror. It’s the lack of subtlety. This particular strain of horror was born as far back as the Graveyard School of poetry in the mid eighteenth century, and influenced the original Gothic texts such as The Castle of Otranto (1764). The original supernatural tales were creepy, weird, and downright unsettling – you only need to read ‘The Signal-Man’ by Charles Dickens, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman or pretty much anything by M. R. James to see that. Move into the twentieth century and watch Night of the Demon (1957), The Innocents (1961), or The Haunting (1963). Hell, even watch The Sixth Sense (1999) – there should be an air of unease, a tension between the existence of this world and the next within the same physical space. James Wan got it right in 2013 with The Conjuring, and its pointless prequel, Annabelle (2014), suffered massively by having a director who didn’t understand suspense or subtlety. Backstories are held up as the be-all and end-all, as if humans aren’t capable of reacting to a crisis based on their own moral compass, or simply the situation at hand. In The Conjuring, the family simply move into the ‘wrong’ house, and have to deal with the consequences. Backstory is irrelevant. So why is it so heavy-handed in The Woman in Black: Angel of Death?

Having said that, horror always moves in cycles. The ‘assault on the family’ films of the 1970s were replaced by the endless slashers of the 1980s, which gave way in the early 2000s to the slew of titles inspired by the success of The Sixth Sense. I’d argue that it was the success of Paranormal Activity in 2009 that kickstarted the current trend for supernatural films – which is ironic since the first PA film succeeded precisely because you spent much of the film waiting for something to happen. With any luck the studios will stop underestimating the intelligence of their audience and reintroduce subtlety, nuance and elegance to a strand of horror that was always about what you imagined, as opposed to what you saw.

January 23, 2015

#FridayFlash – The Professor

The Professor comes in at 4:45pm every week day, and Shaun tells me he comes in at the same time every weekend, too. I don’t know what he’s called, and the one time I asked him his name he asked me who I was and who I worked for, so I just call him the Professor. It suits him, in an absent-minded sort of way.

He always wears a battered old macintosh over a pinstripe jacket and black Polo neck, but his faded blue corduroy trousers don’t match the jacket. Even though his clothes never change, he never looks dirty, and he certainly doesn’t smell like some of the people that shuffle in off the street, wearing plastic bags over the remains of their shoes and begging for cups of tea. The Professor also wears a big Russian hat, and even temperatures in the twenties won’t persuade him to take it off. He has the ear flaps pinned up at the crown, and while the stalls at the market sell versions in tweed or acrylic fluff, I think his may be genuine fur. He speaks with a thick Russian accent and waxes lyrical about the good old days in Moscow but I suspect he’s never been further east than Basildon.

He won’t read newspapers, and he doesn’t trust electronics. Still, he tips well, and he’s a sturdy regular among the ‘half decaf with almond milk latte’ brigade. The Professor can’t stand those types – he likes to lean across the counter, and whisper about them. Most of what he says is funny but then he’ll inevitably start talking about the mirror people, and how the posh customers, with their sugar free syrup and inability to be polite, can’t see them. I can’t see any people in the mirror, apart from the reflections of the people in front of me, but I just smile and nod, and agree with everything he says. It seems easier that way. He’s a nice guy but there’s a hare trigger there, and I don’t want to be around when he snaps.

It’s a cold and blustery Monday afternoon when I first notice something isn’t right. He’s not his usual self when he comes in. The smile he offers is tired, and forced, and he hides himself in a corner where he couldn’t see the mirror behind the counter. He’s quiet, and withdrawn, and even the incessant chatter of the yoga bunnies with their mobile phones and diet juice doesn’t stir him. I try to coax him out but eventually he leaves after half an hour. He’s normally here for at least two.

Tuesday afternoon is busier than usual, and I’m rushed off my feet. Eventually the crowd dies down and I realise it’s 5pm and there’s no sign of the Professor. We close at 7pm, and those two hours drag by while I keep peering into the street. I don’t know why I’m looking for him, it just feels strange in the cafe without his outlandish stories. Wednesday and Thursday pass, and there’s still no sign of him. I worry about him, particularly after his behaviour on Monday, but I’ve got no one to call. I don’t know his real name, where he lives, or if he’s got anyone to look after him. Will anyone besides me notice if anything has happened to him?

4:45pm on Friday comes and goes, but I’m clearing tables when movement behind the counter catches my eye. The cafe is empty, except for me and a man doing the crossword by the window, but I think I see someone in the mirror. It’s just a smudge in the shape of a person, but it’s enough. Worse still, I feel like it’s seen me too.

I do everything I can to avoid looking into the mirror, and for the rest of my shift, I keep thinking about the Professor. I close up at 7pm and head home, wondering what’s happened to him. I think about a million and one trivial things, just to keep my mind off that shape in the mirror. The shape with eyes. Did I recognise those eyes?

Every time I look in a mirror that evening, I see movement. Small blurs, tiny flickers – none of it made by me. I stop looking in mirrors on Saturday, and I spend the afternoon wearing no make up and watching rubbish films on TV. I forget about the reflections, and for a little while, I forget about the Professor.

Sunday morning rolls around and I decide to pop out to see the new Michael Keaton film. I want to know if it’s worthy of the Oscar nominations. I go to the bathroom to wash my face, and I look in the mirror. I’m alone in the room, only my reflection isn’t alone. The Professor stands behind me. He holds out his hand to me, but I scream and run back into the living room like a little girl. I go out without makeup, and avoid looking in shop windows on the way to the cinema. I catch a glimpse of him in the mirror in the ladies’ toilets, and I finally realise what’s happening.

The mirror people got him at last. And now he’s here for me.