Neil Snowdon chats about Horrorthon 2018

A short account of Horrorthon 2018 . . .

. . .  courtesy of Neil Snowdon, editor in chief of our Midnight Movie Monographs series, part of the Electric Dreamhouse imprint, following Horrorthon 2018 in Dublin, scribbled while sitting in the airport at silly o’clock in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Take it away, Neil.. . . a special event, courtesy of Neil Snowdon, editor in chief of our Midnight Movie Monographs series, part of the Electric Dreamhouse imprint, following Horrorthon 2018 in Dublin, scribbled while sitting in the airport at silly o’clock in the early hours of Sunday morning.

I had a wonderful time at FantasyCon 2018, and was absolutely delighted by the response to the books we launched there: Tim Major’s LES VAMPIRES, Tim Lucas’s SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, and John Connolly’s HORROR EXPRESS. Thanks to everyone who came to the PS Launch, to everyone who bought books or sought me out to chat about what we’re up to and what’s coming next, and to go check out Tim Major’s post-con blog about it for a lovely summing up, and his Fact File on LES VAMPIRES over at Ginger Nuts Of Horror

gingernutsofhorror.com/features/les-vampires

if you need further enticing to read his book . . .

As I mentioned already, last weekend saw me in Dublin

So, had a chance to chance to catch your breath? Good. Let’s do it all again!

For the Irish Film Institute’s annual Horrorthon weekend where they screened HORROR EXPRESS to coincide with the release of the awesome John Connolly’s Midnight Movie Monograph on the film, and what a fantastic weekend it was!

The Irish Film Institute is a fantastic venue on Eustace Street in Temple Bar. So it was a pleasure to discover the place on arrival. Not only that, but it has a fantastic shop attached, selling a superb range of Books, Blu-Rays and DVD’s.

It really is a film geeks paradise, and my heart leaped with glee . . . while my wallet screamed in pain.

My thanks must go out to all the staff at the venue, but especially to Kevin Coyne, and Ed King, who programme the event, and Gerard Sweeney at the Filmshop.

They are exactly the kind of kindred spirits that meant Electric Dreamhouse fit right in, and they ensured I was well looked after and everything ran as smoothly as possible.

With our screening set for the Saturday, I had Friday night to kill

So I took the opportunity to catch a film. In this case, NIGHTMARE CINEMA a new anthology film by festival Guest Of Honour, Mick Garris (CRITTERS 2SLEEPWALKERSMASTERS OF CINEMA et al) who produced, and co-directed along with Joe Dante (GREMLINSMATINEETHE HOWLING), Ryuhei Kitamura (Vs), David Slade (HARD CANDYHANNIBALAMERICAN GODS), and Jorge Brugues (JUAN OF THE DEAD) . . . and who should I run into in the queue, but Swan River Press honcho Brian J. Showers.

The film was a lot of fun, and the crowd had a great time, but there was no doubt in my mind—and in Brian’s—that the standout episode came from David Slade, whose black & white episode ‘This Way To Egress’ based on a story by Lawrence C. Connolly (no relation) put us both in mind of Joel Lane or Gary McMahon. Meanwhile, I got a chance to talk briefly with Mick Garris himself, who lived up to his reputation not only as the ‘Peter Bogdanovich of Horror’ (he really does know EVERYONE!), but also one of the nicest men in the business. If you haven’t caught his many interviews

Never fear, Dublin readers, they will have more soon!

After that… well after that I could relax, and relax I did, Dublin has a LOT of good places to eat and drink, and John knows the best of them. It also has some gems for book and music lovers (check out The Secret Book And Record Store), Gutter Books (who will also be stocking John’s HORROR EXPRESS), and Alan Hanna’s Bookshop if you’re ever in town.

Now I’m in the airport, heading back to Newcastle, suitably shattered, and ready for a day of rest. The film is flapping in the projector and the light is flickering out. See you soon!

with genre titans, pop over to mickgarris.com, or check out his Post Mortem Podcast. You won’t be disappointed.

And so came Saturday and the HORROR EXPRESS screening . . .

. . . where John was, as ever, eloquent, and impassioned, and gave a great intro to the film that really set the scene for the 130 or so people who turned out to see it… a good half of whom had never seen the film before (take that, Stephen Volk! I told you it’s not THAT well known!).

The film went down well, and afterward books were bought and signed to the point where, by the time I left, there was only one left in the IFI Filmshop.

Never fear, Dublin readers, they will have more soon!

After that… well after that I could relax, and relax I did, Dublin has a LOT of good places to eat and drink, and John knows the best of them. It also has some gems for book and music lovers (check out The Secret Book And Record Store), Gutter Books (who will also be stocking John’s HORROR EXPRESS), and Alan Hanna’s Bookshop if you’re ever in town.

Now I’m in the airport, heading back to Newcastle, suitably shattered, and ready for a day of rest. The film is flapping in the projector and the light is flickering out. See you soon!

HORROR EXPRESS is in-stock and available to order. 

The Long Way Home by Richard Chizmar

Sneak Peek Story Extracts:

“I’m scared,” the dying cop said.
“You’re gonna be okay. Help’ll be here soon.”
“I’m dying.”
I shook my head. “No, you’re not. You’re gonna be okay.”
My partner of fifteen years coughed and blood bubbled from between his lips. I lifted his head higher, my fingers slick with sweat. My other hand remained pressed against the bullet wound in his chest, a warm scarlet glove.

From The Bad Guys

 “What’s going on, man?”
Jimmy looked over his left shoulder at the house, and then over his right at the front yard. Seemingly content that no one was eavesdropping, he scooted his chair closer to Brian. Lowered his voice. “You remember what we were talking about yesterday…about Mr. Pruitt?”
“About him being sad?”
Jimmy shook his head. “About him being different, acting weird.”
“Okay, yeah.”
Jimmy looked over his shoulder again in the direction of his next-door neighbor’s house, then back at Brian. “I was thinking about it last night…remembering things.” He took a deep breath. “I think something bad might be going on over there.”
“What exactly does something bad mean?” Brian slid his chair a little closer.
Jimmy thought about it for a moment before answering.
“You promised you wouldn’t laugh.”
“Just tell me what you—”
“I think Mr. Pruitt might be a serial killer.”

From The Meek Shall Inherit

The man holds the video camera in his left hand and grips the steering wheel with his right. The road, and calling it a road is charitable at best, is unpaved dirt and gravel, and the camera POV is unsteady. Mostly we see bouncing images of the interior dashboard and snippets of blue sky through a dirty windshield. The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” plays at low volume on the radio.
After another thirty seconds of this, we hear the squeal of brakes in need of repair and the car swings in a wide circle—giving us a shaky glimpse of a stone lighthouse standing atop a grassy point of land—and comes to a stop facing rocky cliffs that drop perilously to the Atlantic Ocean below. The ocean here is dark and rough and foreboding, even on this clear day.

From Widow’s Point (with Billy Chizmar)

 “I hate Halloween.”
“You hate everything,” I said.
“That’s not true.”
“Name three things you don’t—”
“Pizza.”
“That’s one.”
“Fishing.”
“Two.”
Frank Logan, bald head, double chin, and wrinkled suit, stared out the passenger window of our unmarked patrol car.
“Well, I was gonna say you’re the third thing I don’t hate but that was before you started with this shit.”
I laughed and swung a right onto Pulaski Highway.
“So what do you have against Halloween anyway?”

From The Witch

My father and I started digging the day after school ended.

From A Nightmare On Elm Lane

 “You got any money?” Heather Neely asked.
“Not much,” I said. “Why? You runnin’ short again?”
“Yeah, kinda.” She looked over at me. “Maybe it’s time for the gorilla mask.”
I nodded. I needed some extra credits myself.
Now before you get all uppity about this very delicate subject we’re about to discuss, just remember one thing. You take that forty-seven percent inflation rate we’ve got, and you couple that with the new budget cut-backs imposed on coppers, and you consider that most of us are married with families, and maybe you can understand why we don the gorilla mask so damn often.
I said, “It’s my turn to be the robber.”
“The hell it is. We flipped for it last time, remember? This time it’s my turn.”

From Dirty Coppers (with Ed Gorman)

Lester Everett Billings. White male. Devoted husband. Father of two lovely daughters. College educated. Local business owner. Avid fly fisherman. Volunteer volleyball coach. By all accounts, a good family man, neighbor, co-worker, and friend. And one of the most prolific serial killers in modern history.

From Mischief

six ninety-three…six ninety-four…six ninety-five.
I live three blocks from the corner of Hanson and Cherry I stop in front of the Redbox machine and tap the toe of my right shoe against the bottom of the unit. Three times. Not two times and not four times. Always three.

From Odd Numbers

Another child was killed yesterday…
And probably right around the time that it happened, I was sitting alone on my screened-in back porch, eating dinner and watching the storm break.

From Roses And Raindrops (with Brian Keene)

Someone was standing in the middle of the street, staring up at the house.
Between the darkness and a tangle of overhanging tree branches, Harold couldn’t make out whether it was a man or woman. All he could see was the still figure of someone standing there, watching. He was about to go downstairs and investigate further when the shadowy figure turned and started slowly walking away.
Harold watched the person disappear down the street and then climbed back into bed. He clicked the remote to turn off the television and lay there in the darkness, thinking about what he’d just seen. He wondered how long the person had been out there watching the house before he’d walked by the window and noticed him. Harold felt unnerved and was certain that sleep would be a long time coming, but within minutes of turning off the television, he was snoring even louder than his wife.

From The Association

The sound came again, louder this time, a harsh scraping sound, as if something heavy were being moved in increments over the floor. Something much heavier than Sophie. It came from the direction of his studio down the hall.

From The Sculptor (with Ray Garton)

I was watering the tomato plants on my balcony and trying to decide whether I should take a shower or go for a run when the phone rang. No one called me these days—except for misguided solicitors a few times a week—so I let the answering machine pick up. It beeped and I heard my mother’s voice, sounding much older than the last time I’d heard it: “You need to come home, Charlie. Your father died.”
And that was it.
I sat on the armrest of my rented sofa and played the message. When it was finished, I played it again and listened with my eyes closed. My mother sounded like a stranger. I pictured her standing in the kitchen of the small house I’d grown up in, staring out the window above the sink at the ancient weeping willow tree that bordered our side yard, absently twirling her hair in her fingers, the phone pressed tight against her ear.

From The Long Way Home

Available for Pre-Order.

The Dark Masters Trilogy by Stephen Volk

Whitstable – 1971

Peter Cushing, grief-stricken over the loss of his wife and soul-mate, is walking along a beach near his home. A little boy approaches him, taking him to be the famous vampire-hunter Van Helsing from the Hammer films, begs for his expert help . . .

 “A beautiful piece of work . . . heartfelt, respectful, elegant, brave”

—Dread Central

 

He couldn’t face going outside. He couldn’t face placing his bare feet into his cold, hard slippers. He couldn’t face sitting up. He couldn’t even face opening his eyes. To what? The day. Another day without Helen in it. Another day without the sun shining.

For a moment or two before being fully awake he’d imagined himself married and happy, the luckiest man on earth, then pictured himself seeing her for the first time outside the stage door of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane: she a shining star who said a platypus looked like “an animal hot water bottle” – he in his vagabond corduroys, battered suitcase, hands like a Dürer drawing, breath of cigarettes and lavender. Then as sleep receded like the waves outside his window, he felt that dreadful, dreaded knot in his stomach as the awareness of her no longer being there – her non-presence – the awful, sick emptiness, rose up again from the depths. The sun was gone. He might as well lie there with his eyes shut, because when his eyes opened, what was there but darkness?

Habitually he’d rise with the light, drink tea, take in the sea view from the balcony, listen to the wireless and sometimes go for a swim. He did none of these things. They seemed to him to be activities another person undertook in a different lifetime. Life. Time. He could no more picture doing them now than he could see himself walking on the moon. The simplest tasks, the very idea of them, seemed mountainous. Impossible.

Yet it was impossible, also, to lie there like a dead person, greatly as it appealed to do so. It was something of which he knew his darling would so disapprove, her reprimand virtually rang in his ears and it was this that roused him to get up rather than any will of his own.

His will was only to . . .

But he didn’t even have the strength for that.

She was his strength, and she was gone.

Helen.  Oh, Helen . . .

Even as he sat hunched on the edge of the bed, the burden of his loss weighed on his skinny frame. He had no choice but to let the tears flow with the same cruel predictability as his dream. Afterwards, weaker still, he finally rose, wiping his eyes with now-damp knuckles, wrapping his dressing gown over baggy pyjamas and shambling like something lost and misbegotten towards the landing. A thin slat shone between the still-drawn curtains onto the bedroom wallpaper. He left the room with them unopened, not yet ready to let in the light.

A half-full milk bottle sat on the kitchen table and the smell hit him as soon as he entered. The sink was full to the brim, but he poured the rancid liquid in anyway, not caring that it coated a mound of dirty plates, cups, saucers and cutlery with a viscous white scum.

He opened the refrigerator, but it was empty. He hoped the milkman had left a pint on the doorstep: he hated his tea black. Then he remembered why he had no groceries.  Joycie did it.  Joyce, his secretary, did everything for ‘Sir’. He pictured again the hurt in her eyes when he’d told her on the telephone she would not be needed for the foreseeable future, that she needn’t come to check that he was all right because he was all right. He’d said he needed to be alone. Knowing that the one thing he didn’t want to be was alone, but that was not the way God planned it.

Nasty God.

Nasty, nasty God . . .

He shut the fridge. He didn’t want food anyway. What was the point? Food only kept one alive and what was the point of that? Sitting, eating, alone, in silence? What was the point of that?

He put on the kettle. Tea was all he could stomach. The calendar hung facing the wall, the way he’d left it.

The letter box banged, startling him, shortly followed by a knock on the wood. It was Julian the postman, he thought, probably wanting to give his condolences in person. He held his breath and had an impulse to hide. Instead he kept quite still.  Julian was a sweet chap but he didn’t want to see him. Much as he knew people’s wishes were genuine, and appreciated them, his grief was his own, not public property. And he did not want to feel obliged to perform whenever he met someone from now on. The idea of that was utterly repellent.  How he dealt with his inner chasm, his utter pain and helplessness, was his own affair and other people’s pity or concern, however well-meaning, did not make one iota of difference to the devastation he felt inside.

He stood furtively by the doorway to the hall and watched as a package squeezed through and fell onto the welcome mat, and beyond the glass the silhouette of the postman departed.

It had the unmistakable shape of a script.

His heart dropped. He hoped it was not another one from Hammer. He’d told them categorically via his agent he was not reading anything. He knew Michael had newly found himself in the chair as Managing Director, and had a lot on his plate, but could he really be so thoughtless? Jimmy was a businessman, but he also counted him a friend. They all were.  More than friends – family. Perhaps it was from another company, then? Amicus?  No. Sweet Milton had his funny American ways, but would never be so callous. Other companies were venal, greedy, but not these. They were basically gentlemen. They all knew Helen. They’d enjoyed laughter together. Such laughter, amongst the gibbets and laboratories of make-believe. Now, he wondered if he had the strength in his heart to meet them ever again.

He picked up the package and, without opening it, put it on the pile of other unread manuscripts on the hall stand. Another bundle sat on the floor, a teetering stack of intrusion and inconvenience. He felt no curiosity about them whatsoever, only harboured a mild and uncharacteristic resentment. There was no small corner of his spirit for wonder. They were offers of work and they represented the future. A future he could not even begin to contemplate. Why could they not see that?

He sighed and looked into the mirror between the hat hooks and what he saw no longer shocked him.

Lord, the make-up job of a master. Though when he sat in the make-up chair of late he usually had his hairpiece to soften the blow. Never in public, of course: he abhorred that kind of vanity in life. Movies were different. Movies were an illusion. But – fifty-seven? He looked more like sixty-seven. What was that film, the part written for him but one of the few he turned down? The Man Who Could Cheat Death. But he couldn’t cheat death at all, could he? The doctors couldn’t, and neither could he. Far from it.

Dear Heavens . . .

The old swashbuckler was gone now. Fencing in The Man in the Iron Mask. The Sheriff of Nottingham. Captain Clegg of Romney Marsh . . . He looked more like a Belsen victim. Who was it said in a review he had cheekbones that could cut open letters? He did now. Cheeks sucked in like craters, blue eyes sunk back in deep hollows, scrawny neck, grey skin. He was positively cadaverous. Wishful thinking, he thought. A blessing and a curse, those gaunt looks had been his trademark all these years, playing cold villains and erudite psychopaths, monster-hunters and those who raised people from the dead. Yet now the only person he desperately craved to bring back from the grave he had no power to. It was the one role he couldn’t play. Frankenstein had played God and he had played Frankenstein playing God. Perhaps God had had enough.

The kettle whistled and the telephone rang simultaneously, conspiring to pierce his brain. He knew it was Joycie. Dear Joycie, loyal indefatigable Joycie, who arrived between dry toast and correspondence every day, whose concern persisted against all odds, whose emotions he simply couldn’t bear to heap on his own. He simply knew he could not speak to her, hear the anguish in her voice, hear the platitudes even if they weren’t meant as platitudes (what words could not be platitudes?) and, God knows, if he were to hear her sobs at the end of the line, he knew it would tip him over the edge.

Platitude:

An animal that looks like a hot water bottle.

Hearing Helen’s laughter, he shut his eyes tightly until the phone stopped ringing, just as it had the day before. And the day before that.

Quiet loomed, welcome and unwelcome in the mausoleum of his house.

He stared at the inert typewriter in the study, the signed photographs and letter-headed notepaper stacked beside it, the avalanche of mail from fans and well-wishers spilling copiously, unattended, across the floor from the open bureau, littering the carpet. He pulled the door shut, unable to bear looking at it.

Hardly thinking what he was doing, he re-entered the kitchen and spooned two scoops of Ty-Phoo into the tea pot and was about to pour in boiling water when he froze.

The sudden idea that Joyce might pop round became horrifically possible, if not probable. She wasn’t far away. No more than a short car journey, in fact, and she could be here and he would be trapped. Heavens, he could not face that. That would be unbearable.  Instantly he realised he had to get out. Flee.

Unwillingly, sickeningly, he had no choice but to brave the day.

Upstairs he shook off his slippers, replacing them with a pair of bright yellow socks. Put on his grey flannel slacks, so terribly loose around the waist. Needing yet another hole in the belt. Shirt. Collar gaping several sizes too big now, too. Tie. No time for tie. Forget tie.  Why was he forced to do this? Why was he forced to leave his home when he didn’t want to?  He realised he was scared. The scaremonger, scared. Of this. What if he saw somebody? What if they talked to him? Could he be impolite? Unthinkable. Could he tell them how he really felt? Impossible. What then?

He told himself he was an actor. He would act.

Back in the hall he pulled on his winter coat and black woollen hat, the kind fishermen wear, tugging it down over his ears, then looped his scarf round his neck like an over-eager schoolboy. February days could be bright, he told himself, and he found his sunglasses on the mantelpiece in the living room sitting next to a black and white photograph of his dead wife. At first he avoided looking at it, then kissed his trembling fingertips and pressed them gently to her cheek. His fingerprints remained on the glass for a second before fading away.

I’m a little saddened whenever I think of Peter Cushing, and not for the usual reasons of his loss of his wife and, of course, our loss of his remarkable talent. I bought two huge bound volumes of the classic EAGLE comic, both of them the original property of Cushing—and they came with a bona fide provenance. They were the pride—or one of the prides cos I have a lot—of my collection but, alas, a day dawned (as they always do, eventually) when I had to let them go. I often think of those wonderful bound volumes. If you’re reading this and you’re the fine fellow into whose custody I placed those marvelous volumes—and you’re thinking now of letting them go on to someone else—then please do get in touch.

 Leytonstone – 1906

Young Alfred Hitchcock is taken by his father to visit the local police station. There he suddenly finds himself, inexplicably, locked up for a crime he knows nothing about – the catalyst for a series of events that will scar, and create, the world’s leading Master of Terror . . .

 “Volk possesses a questing mind and an expansive heart and paints dark and light sides of the human equation like few others”

—Mick Garris, producer/director, MASTERS OF HORROR

 

“Desirée . . . Maxine . . .”

Pigeons nod at crumbs on a pavement.

“Burly Rose . . . Royal Kidney . . .”

Water empties over the flagstones. The winged pests scatter with a grey fluttering.

“Kennebec . . . Avalanche . . .”

Dark legs stride in mirror-black shoes. A man scrubs the pavement with the stiffest of brooms.

“Belle de Fontenay . . . Pentland Javelin . . .”

Indoors, a small framed picture sits like a window on the Byzantine Lincrusta wallpaper. Francis of Assisi, eyes turned piously upwards, arms outstretched like Christ on the cross, birds perched along them, treating them like branches, and aloft, circling his head and halo.

“Sharp’s Express . . . British Queen . . .”

In the greengrocer’s at five hundred and seventeen The High Road it is evening, but this room behind the shop is dark even at noon. The fruit and veg are out front to catch the sun, but the spuds, like the family, are kept at the back, in the gloom for safe keeping.

“Northern Star . . .”

The boy sits with elbows up on a plain wooden table, frowning with deepest concentration, hands cupped round his eyes.

“Eightyfold . . .”

Fred is a chubby little dumpling with a cockscomb of hair on top. (Born 1899 – last knockings of the old century, when Victoria was still on the throne – making him just under seven now.)

“Evergood . . .”

A woman’s hand removes the potato from the table-cloth in front of him, replacing it in a flourish with another.

“Up To Date . . .”

Another.

“King Edward . . .”

Another – the last, and it’s done.

“Red Duke of York . . .”

She shows him her empty palms. The silent, regal mime of applause that accompanies a miniscule tilt of the head is praise enough to make his cheeks burn. Sometimes it takes a lot to make his mother smile, he knows, but when she does it’s like getting a gold medal from the Queen. A V.C. for gallantry. And she is the Queen. In this house, anyway. Prim and proper and elegant – so much more elegant than any of his schoolmates’ mothers. A different class entirely. And dresses – oh, immaculately. Never seen outside without her white cotton gloves. Spotless. What are the others? Loud-mouthed fishwives, most of them, with brown baggy stockings and bruises where they’ve been on their knees all day.

“Onions!” he cries. “Test me on the onions now! Please, Mother! I know them all!”

“Back home they say onions are a great cure for The Baldness,” she singsongs in her Irish brogue. “Rub the scalp with a spoonful of onion sap, it’d put hair on a duck’s egg!”

Fred chuckles, but at the sound of the latch the moment between them is lost, and so is the chortle in his throat.

His father comes in, taking off the flat cap which confers him a degree of status to those he employs, and hangs it on a peg. Unties the knot of his tan apron at the small of his back and dips his fingers in the font, quickly genuflecting to Our Lady before hanging up the apron on the hook behind the door.

“The sailor home from the sea,” Fred’s mother says, as if some joke is being shared between her and her son. Fred twitches a smile, but just as swiftly it is gone and he lowers his eyes.

His father washes the earth off his hands under the tap at the Belfast sink. Water runs black down the plug hole. The soap is an unforgiving brick. A disinfectant smell bites at the air. There is no mirror, but while his face is still wet he flattens his moustache and eyebrows with several strokes of a forefinger and thumb.

“Father, I’ve been learning how to – ”

“Is he ready?”

The stiff tap turns off with a harsh twist leaving a stain of grime where the man’s thumbs went. He dries his hands briskly in a tea towel. “Now, Bill,” his wife says. “Just a little longer . . .”

“No.” For once he gives her no quarter. He is adamant. “If it’s to be done, let’s have it done.”

“Name o’ God, let him have his tea first.”

“Name o’ God nothing.” He returns the tea towel to its nail and rolls down his sleeves, folding over his cuffs and prodding in the links which he keeps next to his shaving paraphernalia on the shelf. “Fred, put your coat on, son.”

Fred’s mother rises and lifts the small tweed jacket from the back of Fred’s chair and the child puts it on. It matches his shorts exactly. It’s a suit like that of a grown man. She crouches in front of him, buttons it up, tucks his shirt tail in at the back, adjusts the knot of his little tie. Fred notices her smile is still there, yes – but it is not the same smile as was there before.

“Where are we going?”

“You’re going with your father.”

She wraps a woolly scarf around his neck. Knots it. There.“Don’t mollycoddle him, Em. Leave him.”

His father takes a black jacket from its hanger, flicks off dust with his fingers and slips his arms into the sleeves. He takes a different hat – a black bowler this time – from the peg next to the flat cap.

“Come here,” says Fred’s mother to her child. She gives him a hug – a swift hug, but a tight one, then a kiss on the cheek so hard it almost hurts. She rubs the red stain from her lips off with a licked thumb. Then kisses him a second time, even harder. He tries not to wince. “I’m going to make a great big steak and kidney pie. That’s your favourite – a nice big steak and kidney pie, isn’t it?”

Fred nods enthusiastically then turns at the sound of a cough.

His father cocks his head for Fred to follow him. Which the boy does, smiling and obedient as ever and smiling because his mother is smiling, after all.

They walk through the shop, the boy behind the man, smelling the sweetness of carrots and parsnips and the cloying heaviness of soil and sacks and straw and the boy does not see his mother sit back at the table, her knees suddenly weak.

When she hears the front door open and close, the shop bell tinkle, she clutches her rosary beads, closes her eyes tightly and for several minutes thereafter silently prays into her white-knuckled hand to Mary, the mother of her God.

Netherwood – 1947

Best-selling black magic novelist Dennis Wheatley finds himself summoned mysteriously to the aid of Aleister Crowley – mystic, reprobate, The Great Beast 666, and dubbed by the press ‘The Wickedest Man in the World’ – to help combat a force of genuine evil . . .

“Beautifully written. Perfectly nuanced. I loved it”

—Neil Spring, best-selling author of The Ghost Hunters

“Mesmeric and demonic. An instant classic”

—Johnny Mains, series editor, Best British Horror

“The perfect finale to the Dark Masters Trilogy. Packed with word magic, full of illuminating darkness.”

—A. K. Benedict, author of The Beauty of Murder and Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts

 

“Netherwood”

The Ridge

Hastings.

23rd October, 1947.

Care Frater Scriptor

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

I beg of you, come immediately. I need a good man, with a strong heart. A life is at stake – and not my own. (Telephone number on reverse.)

Love is the law, love under will.

Oliver Haddo

A∴A∴

 

The view beyond the window was monochrome. A blighted land. Not green and pleasant, but ashen, a charcoal sketch. A thick layer of dirt separated him from the world, inhibiting his gaze as if ashamed of what lay beyond. Home and hearth despoiled. The very coach he was riding in, filthy, tired, dispossessed. Too weary, like the many millions of souls shivering by their firesides, to be a disgrace.

He remembered the poster he’d stood next to on the platform at Southampton. ‘SHABBY? YES! IT WILL TAKE TIME TO REPAIR OUR 800 SOUTHERN RAILWAY STATIONS – BUT IT WILL BE DONE AS SOON AS WE GET THE MATERIALS!’ A war-devastated company slow to recover after it had ended, like so many. The line had suffered all the more because of its closeness to the Channel ports – vital to the war effort – its routes commandeered for troops and military supplies, not least for Normandy, and Overlord, resulting in its malachite green carriages and sunshine yellow livery running the gauntlet along the south coast and getting a real pasting.

He tried to create a clean oval with his fingertip, and failed. The grime was on the outside. Nevertheless he could see enough of what he didn’t want to. Fields pitted by bomb craters. The landscape ravaged. Recovering, perhaps, like a crippled Tommy, but unbowed? Or was that a brave face it was putting on, still wracked with pain from its visible and invisible wounds? He felt it in deep his own body, too, as clearly as he felt the jostling of the track underneath him.

The Blighted Land.

A potential title? He took out his notebook and jotted it down, immediately capping his fountain pen self-consciously.

A young couple occupied the same compartment. Sweethearts, he guessed, from their whispered endearments, and the fact that they clasped hands so tightly. The man’s uniform that of a lance corporal, the three feathers in his cap badge indicating the Royal Regiment of Wales. Clean shaven. Not that there was much to shave. Forehead wide, chin small, he reminded him of Chad, the graffito character chalked on every wall for the last several years with variations of the same cri de coeur: ‘Wot, no sausages?’ ‘Wot, no girls?’ – or, in this case, possibly: ‘Wot, no war?’

Not wanting his lack of conversation construed as sullenness, he spoke.

“Glad to see you got through unscathed.”

“Not exactly,” the young man said. “Lost one of my balls at Zeeuws-Vlaanderen.”

Dennis raised one eyebrow.

“You and Hitler both, then. If the song is to be believed.”

The lad laughed, heartily.

Dennis reached out his right hand to shake the other chap’s. The lance corporal reached out his left. Dennis quickly swapped to his left and clutched it vigorously.

“Right-handed before I left.” The soldier still laughed. “Now I have to learn all sorts with my left hand. Quite fun doing so, to be fair.”

The girl blushed and nudged him in the ribs with her elbow. He pretended it hurt more than it did, then snatched a mischievous kiss on her cheek. The grin did not leave his face, and peculiarly that made Dennis sadder instead of happier, though he didn’t let it show.

He liked their playful banter, their intimate chatter, their sentimental need to touch. If there could only be that, he thought, they would be happy – and good luck to them. They probably read no newspapers, had no interest in world affairs. They’d probably had enough of ‘world affairs’ for a lifetime. He couldn’t say they’d be wrong, either. We’d all had a big party, but there was still rationing. The war was over, but nothing had changed. There were no planes droning overhead, but there were still bombed and demolished buildings. After the blackouts, it was odd to see all the shops with their lights on, but things hadn’t got better. Not in the way we’d all been led to expect. By a long chalk.

Was he the only person who felt the ubiquitous cheerfulness had a desperate, hollow ring to it? Under the surface, to him, there lay a mild sense of anarchy waiting to escape. He wondered how foreigners saw the British now? Could they perceive all too clearly we had a deeply false vision of ourselves? The jollity but a tiresome artifice? He for one still had the stink of the Blitz in his nostrils. A sense that he’d walked out of a burning building without so much as a scratch. He’d come out of Hatchett’s, a new basement restaurant, one night to see Burton’s the tailors ablaze, and Piccadilly lit up like a funfair. The Café de Paris, yards away, had suffered a direct hit, and he’d seen looters scrabbling amongst the dead and dying for valuables. One woman was bent over, cutting off fingers. He still had that feeling in his stomach now that he had back then, almost every day.

Best of all, he liked that the young couple didn’t recognise him. He was hardly a public figure or a matinee idol. He suffered no illusion about that. But some did, from the dust jackets. For now, though, he could enjoy the welcome anonymity.

A lover and his lass. He shut his eyes and drifted back to The Savoy, 1940. The band playing It was a Lover and his Lass by Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson and his West Indian Orchestra. The usual, painfully predictable litany of questions that always come once you’d made the schoolboy error of saying you’re a novelist.

Oh! What have you written that I’ve read?

He’d have to grit his teeth.

—I don’t know. What have you read?

His darling wife, in her element. Ferociously well connected. Joan Gwendoline Vanden-Bempe-Johnstone, as was. Daughter of the Hon what-what. Ex-wife of Sir what-what, Second Baronet what-what. And so it went back. Back to the dawn of time, it seemed.

So, old chap, do you make an actual living from this ‘scribing’ lark?

—Touch wood.

You know, I’ve an absolute corker of an idea. If I could only find the time to write the dashed thing.

—It does help.

Thing is, I know it would sell like absolute hot cakes! I say. Here’s a thought. We could collaborate. I’d have all the ideas, you wouldn’t have to worry on that score, but you can get it down on paper, you see? And you have the contacts. We could go 50-50. How’s that? Make a fortune!

—Rescue me.

These were Joan’s people, not his.

—Enjoy the claret, she’d invariably reply, from the corner of her mouth.

—About all I am enjoying.

The penguin suits were a far cry from the khaki sitting opposite. And he knew which he respected most.

“D-Day?” he said to the lance corporal.

“Nothing so grand.”

“I don’t care if you spent all your time spud-bashing. You did us proud.”

He meant it.

The young man looked embarrassed, and coloured slightly, examining his boots, which made Dennis admire him all the more. They were all heroes to him, and the sight of a uniform did peculiar things in his chest. He couldn’t help it. He’d cursed the fact that he’d been forty-two, over the age at which ex-officers could be re-commissioned. Additionally galling as two of his stepsons and his wife were all either in the forces or employed by the government. The thought of enduring the war as a dreary civilian was anathema. He’d tried everything to get a posting, by hook or by crook – applying to the Ministry of Information three times, without getting as much as a reply – finally, rather ignominiously, settling for becoming a fire warden. He bitterly regretted not serving in the thick of it as he had in the Great War. But he did do his bit, as it turned out, thanks to an extraordinary stroke of luck. The kind of luck that had been his boon companion all his life.

Joan had put her motor car at the disposal of the War Office, acting as a driver for MI5. She’d always liked mucking about with engines and, doling out fuel rations, came into her own, known, rather amusingly, as ‘The Petrol Queen’. One day she’d overheard an officer in the back seat saying it seemed horribly clear Germany would invade, but they had little idea how or when. “Why don’t you ask my husband?” she piped up. “He uses his imagination for a living.”

This was the welcome catalyst for him writing Resistance to Invasion. His avalanche of ideas went down well, and immediately. Greig and Darvall liked what they read and gave him his next assignment, to imagine himself as a member of the Nazi High Command. Not only a tough exercise, but a vitally important one, and he’d taken to it like the proverbial duck to water. In forty-eight hours solid, sustained by three magnums of plonk and tearing through hundreds of cigarettes, he’d churned out the 15,000-word Invasion and Conquest of Britain, putting himself in the shoes (or jackboots, rather) of a calculating and heartless enemy who’d think nothing of employing poison gas or bacteriological warfare, with no humanitarian considerations whatsoever. What followed, when his writing had gone to the Chiefs of Staff, and copied to the King himself, was a swift request for more reports – hundreds of thousands of words, delivered to ‘Mr Rance’s Room at the Office of Works’: the cover name for the Cabinet War Rooms in Churchill’s bunker under Whitehall.

Dennis was inordinately proud of his war work, and grateful for it. It taught him about the lives of real people and true bravery and danger that would help no end in making his own tales plausible and authentic. More than that, it made him desperately conscious of the things he held precious, and the things he feared. His mind had spun. His fingers had developed calluses where his pencil rubbed. His hands got cramp. Yet his fears urged him on. The narratives he was dreaming up dare not stop. If they stopped, he would feel like a coward on the battlefield turning his back and running away. His fiction could wait. Sleep could wait.

And yet, the question plagued him, constantly, even now . . .

Was it enough? His million words, for a readership of four?

Could anything ever be enough?

“We are champions of Light facing the creeping Darkness,” he remembered writing, in those clearer, more terrified, more united days. But is the Darkness ever truly defeated?

The braying voices at the Savoy came back to him.

I couldn’t sleep for weeks after those dreadful scenes of devil worship in the Home Counties.

—Quite right too.

And the appalling Mr Mocata!

Where do you get your ideas?

—Little shop off the Marylebone Road. Terribly useful.

—He writes about what scares him, said Joan, her hands on his shoulders. Don’t you, darling?

Emboldened from his natural shyness by her kiss on his cheek, he’d happily sign with a flourish the next dozen, or two dozen, copies of the novel with his name on the cover. OVER THREE MILLION COPIES OF THIS AUTHOR’S NOVELS SOLD, it read. THRILLING BLACK MAGIC STORY, it promised. ‘THE BEST TALE OF ITS KIND SINCE DRACULA’ – JAMES HILTON, it heralded.  In the bottom corner, a gigantic scarlet goat stood on its hind legs exuding flames from its nostrils, while around it danced naked figures, one in a pointed hat hunched over a broomstick. Dominating all, the face of a bald-headed man bathed in emerald green light, with searing, malevolent eyes, his hands twisted in conjuring gestures, thrown as claw-like shadows behind the author’s surname.

That brought him back to the letter.

Its writer, behind the all-too-obvious pseudonym, not difficult to discern.

‘Oliver Haddo’ . . . the odious scoundrel in Somerset Maugham’s novel The Magician, described as having a head like a pea balanced on an egg, who inflicted his awful poetry on unsuspecting guests. Quite obviously an extremely thinly-veiled portrait of Aleister Crowley. In fact, when the subsequent film was released, Dennis seemed to recall, Crowley tried to sue for compensation, but there was, of course, no hope of damages. His reputation was deemed so black by then it essentially couldn’t be made blacker.

But he had known the identity of the sender before he’d read as far as the signature.

The envelope had been sealed with the cartouche of Ankh-f-n-Khonsu in blue-grey wax, made with the same seal ring Crowley had worn when they’d met, the significance of which he had gone to pains to elucidate. If further confirmation were needed, the letterhead was the telltale vesica enclosing Crowley’s ‘Magister Templi’ lamen, which consisted of a crown bisected by a sword, scales on its tip balancing the Greek letters alpha and omega, surrounded by five Vs, indicating Crowley’s motto of initiation: “Vi Veri Vniversum Vivus Vici”  – again, imparted to Dennis by the man himself: “By the power of truth I have conquered the Universe”.

Either an extraordinary statement of fact or quite remarkable wishful thinking.

 

   Now Available for Pre-Order.

Dark Mirages edited by Paul Kane

Let’s talk about visual entertainment . . .

TV shows/treatments and movies. And while we’re at it, let’s also talk about adapting tales for transmission.

In fact, to be more specific, let’s talk about DARK MIRAGES, a new anthology of unmade film and television scripts put together and edited by Paul Kane.

 

Here’s the lowdown from Paul himself . . . 

I love film and TV. I should do, I spent six long years at university studying both. And it was during my time at uni that I began reading scripts myself, some as part of my courses, but a lot of them purely for my own entertainment. It’s a hobby that’s stayed with me, through into my career as an author, editor and screenwriter myself.

My favourite kinds of genre shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me or my work. I love the imagination involved in good SF, Fantasy and, especially, Horror movies and television. So, when I began thinking about a new anthology project a little while ago, it seemed an obvious choice to compile a book of TV/Film scripts and treatments. But, to give it a different slant these would be either rare or unmade, or both, meaning that this would be the only opportunity you’d ever get to read them…unless you’re fortunate enough to know the writers, that is.

And there were just so many to choose from, because—as anyone in the business will gladly tell you—a lot more material gets written than gets made. Too much choice, actually . . . However, to kick off proceedings we have six writers whose work I’ve admired for a good while, with projects I’ve long been a fan of.

Michael Marshall Smith and Stephen Jones (aka Smith & Jones) should need no introduction; their work in the genre is tireless and legendary— have been absolutely amazing if it had been filmed! Drawing on what series creator Clive Barker did with his original, and lacing this with nods to some of the other entries, I first came across this project back when I was writing The Hellraiser Films & Their Legacy, so it’s an honour to be able to present it here for your reading pleasure . . .

I’ve been aware of Stephen Gallagher’s BBC Dracula project for about as long, as Steve has been talking about it for years on various scripting panels. An attempt to ‘strip away all the perverse matinee-idol romanticism and get back to Stoker’s nasty-minded predator’, according to the man himself, this production was sadly cancelled when one executive heard an exaggerated rumour about the status of a rival ITV drama (starring Martin Kemp and the Cheeky Girls!). After reading Steve’s script yourself here, you’ll lament the fact that it didn’t happen just as much as he does . . .

I first came across—and was bowled over by—Axelle Carolyn’s work a few years ago, when I saw her excellent short movies Hooked and The Halloween Kid, which she wrote and directed after starring herself in movies such as DOOMSDAY, CENTURION and BLOOD + ROSES. Most recently, she wrote and directed the superb feature film SOULMATE (starring Hellboy II’s Anna Walton), and contributed an entry to Tales of Halloween. Here, though, is a rare opportunity to read the story that inspired her first short movie, The Last Post—another touching ghostly tale, which starred genre icon Jean Marsh (The Changeling, Crooked House)—presented alongside the film’s script.

Peter Crowther is another legend in the field, a British journalist, short story writer, novelist, editor, anthologist and—with the equally legendary and multi-award-winning PS Publishing, founded with his wife Nicky— publisher as well. Pete also scripts and the long-lost entry we’re presenting here was meant to be part of the CHILLER TV series back in the 1990s, but never appeared. I’m delighted that we can give it a new lease of life in this book.

I first met the wonderfully talented Muriel Gray when I interviewed her live on stage at FantasyCon over a decade ago. A massive fan of her novels—THE TRICKSTER, FURNACE and THE ANCIENT—plus her short stories, in particular the superb ‘Shite-Hawks’, I was incredibly nervous. But, Mu being Mu, she soon put me at my ease and we’ve been firm friends ever since. I knew from chats with her that there were treatments and scripts she had written over the years—some with fantastically original premises, like The Seven included here—so I was delighted when I was able to add her to the line-up of this project . . .

Finally, yet another famous name in the horror genre, Stephen Laws was at the forefront of the ’80s boom with bestselling novels such as GHOST TRAIN, SPECTRE and THE FRIGHTENERS right through to CHASM (* watch out for a brand new PS edition coming your way very soon indeed), FEAR ME and FEROCITY in the ’90s and 2000s. But, like many other horror prose writers, Steve also carved out another career for himself in film and TV, and we’re lucky enough to have here a supernatural telemovie that, once again, sadly didn’t get made—but is getting a fresh airing in this book.

So, film and TV fans, it only remains for me to say enjoy these scripts and treatments, presented in their original formats, and of course enjoy the Dark Mirages that they conjure up in your imagination!

Fade to black . . .

Now Available for Pre-Order.

 

Rime by Tim Lebbon

Sneak Peek Extract: 

I open my eyes and I’m still alive. It comes as a blessed relief and a welcome miracle, as it has every morning since I’ve been here. But then I remember the reason for my survival, and what came before, and guilt lands with the force of unknown gravities. I despair at the awfulness of it all, yet I can’t help but revel in my continued survival. The two emotions form the extremes of every waking hour. I am, as Luke insists on reminding me, a creature of contradictions.

As if bidden by my thinking his name––and perhaps that’s true, because there are many aspects I have yet to learn about this amazing, almost unfathomable future––Luke walks through the door as if it wasn’t there at all. I have seen this a dozen times since my arrival, and a dozen times I have tried, unsuccessfully, to leave the same way. For me, the door remains solid.

“Good morning,” Luke says. “Shall we go out onto the balcony?”

I’ve tried going out there as well, but have found no way to open the wide glass walls. Luke and the woman accompanying him walk straight through. I follow, feeling no hint of resistance at all. Once outside, I glance back briefly and see myself reflected in the glass, like a ghost from the past.

I’ve been avoiding my reflection because it reminds me of what I’ve done. I see the sad, haunted man; the thin, haggard face; the long limbs, tall body, waving hair framing my sadness. Yet it’s the unmistakable glint in my eyes that troubles me most. The knowledge of a second chance.

“Shall we sit?” Luke asks, and three comfortable stools rise from the balcony’s floor.

“Who’s we?” I ask, looking at the woman. Like everyone I’ve seen here she’s very beautiful, and perhaps one day soon I’ll ask about that. It’s one more question whose answer frightens me.

“This is Olivia,” Luke says. “She’s going to be your liaison for the case.”

“I’m being charged, then?”

Luke’s smile drops. Olivia looks away, out from the balcony and across the staggering view that I usually see only through glass. Now, being out in the open air and involved in the view itself, it almost takes my breath away. The building I’m being kept in must be over a mile high, one of seven set across the wide, flat plain. Silent aircraft drift gracefully between towers on slender wings, and huge airships sometimes cruise in from the distance, emerging from the haze to park high above and disgorge their smaller cousins.

A river flows across the plain, and the tall towers are built along its winding course. There are boats moving slowly along its length. Settlements speckle its banks, none of them large. Herds of creatures I can’t identify spot the ground, moving like shadows on my eye. Birds flock and swoop, and several times one or more have landed on my balcony, cleaning their feathers or scraping their beaks on the balustrade. None fly close now, not with us sitting there. I’m not surprised. It’s as if they know who I am.

“I don’t think there was ever any doubt,” Olivia says.

“You’re responsible for the deaths of seventeen million people.” She has no real expression as she states that stark fact. I can’t read her at all. I’m already doubting that they’re even human.

“You can’t kill those that are already dead,” I say.

Olivia sighs and looks away, as if I’m already a lost cause.

“That’s not what the ship’s records hint at,” Luke says.

He’s only repeating what he’s stated a dozen times before.

“You told me you’re not sure what they show. That they’re so old, you’re having trouble accessing them.”

Luke glances at Olivia and shrugs. It makes no difference. I know the truth, however unknowable it is.

I stand and lean on the balustrade, looking down. The height is dizzying, barely visible vehicles crawling around the base of the tower like ants, wisps of cloud drifting past below. I wonder if there are real ants on this world. Once, several days earlier, I awoke to find a low cloud layer obscuring the entire landscape, only the protruding tower tops visible, sunlight making the cloudscape glow with a gorgeous, unnatural light. It was beautiful, but didn’t make me feel any more lonely than I already am.

I wonder if they’re worried that I’ll throw myself from the balcony. I suspect there are safety measures I can’t see. And even if there aren’t, I would only be ridding them of an awkward, unprecedented problem.

“It wasn’t my fault,” I say, tears burning my eyes because I know, I know, that all of it was.

“Tell Olivia what you told me,” Luke says.

I laugh. “What, so it can become my defence?”

“Just so that I know,” she says. “Luke thinks…” She glances at Luke, and it’s the first time I’ve seen anything approaching doubt, uncertainty, humanity. It confuses me even more.

“I’ve told her you have an amazing story,” Luke says. I look out over that vast, incredible landscape once more, and wonder if I’ll ever feel that I’ve reached the end of my journey.

Available for Pre-Order. 

Tim Lebbon tells us his inspirations for his SF novella, Rime.

Rime by Tim Lebbon

I’ve always loved the epic poem ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, and much as I’d love to claim it was from a love of classical poetry … in truth, it’s all down to Iron Maiden. I remember being in school when their Powerslave album came out, featuring their song based on the poem, and every day we’d pile into school and ask our mates how many times we’d listened to it the night before. Their song led me to the poem. I still love both poem and song (in fact, I listened to it only yesterday), and for a long time I’ve considered writing a science fiction novella inspired by both.

The chance came when I decided to try writing something longhand.

Now, anyone who’s seen my handwriting will already be guffawing at the mere idea of me picking up a pen. Sometimes even I have a problem reading my own writing (true … and a problem when I randomly scribble a story idea down and then attempt to retun to it later). But I’d been thinking for a long time about how writing something longhand, instead of sitting at a computer, might change the creative process. So armed with a couple of new notebooks––and like most writers I love empty, fresh notebooks––I left the house and hit the cafes.

Rime probably cost me a hundred pounds in coffee and cakes to write, but it was a fun process. The notebooks filled quickly, the story flowed, and I sensed that my writing style was somehow streamlined simply through the process of brain-finger-pen instead of brain-keyboard. Maybe that’s because I wasn’t constantly going back and correcting what I’d written (I’m a 4 fingered typist, which necessitates frequent pauses to correct what I’ve typed.  An ongoing editing process, but perhaps also a distraction).

When it was finished, I left the novella for a while and moved on to other projects. This is also something I don’t often do anymore, and in this case it did the story some good.  Typing it up––and revising and editing as I did so––was a revealing process, and I’ve ended up with a novella that not only is unlike most things I write, but which also makes me very proud.

I hope you’ll check it out!

Available for Pre-Order.

The Smallest of Things by Ian Whates

Sneak Peek Extract:

IT ALL STARTED WITH A TEXT. Nothing dramatic, just a simple message that popped up on his screen: Help need 2 c u urgent. The number was tagged as Claire’s.

Since he considered himself a prime candidate for the world’s worst texter, Chris felt a sense of achievement when he managed to send a simple where when in response.

Gino’s 6 pm 2day,came the reply, far more swiftly than his inept fumbling.

Six o’clock: a little over two hours away, which gave him about half an hour to get ready and out of the house—assuming no one cancelled a train on him. He almost texted back suggesting a later time, but hesitated.

He had plans for that evening, though nothing that couldn’t be rearranged. Ella, a second date—God, did people still say ‘date’ these days?—though in his heart of hearts he knew it wasn’t leading anywhere. He was just going through the motions to appease Susan, his sister, who’d set him up with her ‘friend’ in the first place. The excuse to cancel came as blessed relief.

Ok, he sent back.

After the exchange, Chris sat staring at the screen for a moment, wondering what could be so urgent; it wasn’t like Claire to press the panic button. He hadn’t seen her in months, not since she took up with her new boyfriend, Bartosz. Chris had nothing against Bartosz; he simply didn’t know the man. Just a tall, broody, Eastern European mystery—Polish, if he remembered correctly.

Claire had grown elusive since the two of them had hooked up—not for any sinister reason; she was simply too wrapped up in her new beau and what was developing between them to spare any attention for much else. Even her band, the Quiet Catastrophe, found itself relegated to the limbo of hiatus, and that was something Chris had never thought to see. They’d seemed on the brink of breaking through, as well, with their peculiar brand of retro-ambient sleaze, steadily gathering an online following, getting bookings for larger venues…He’d never known Claire to put any man ahead of her music before.

His first thought on receiving the text was that their relationship must have floundered, but that didn’t feel right. Claire had plenty of girlfriends with sympathetic ears and shoulders broad enough to cry on if need be; far more likely she would turn to one of them. She wouldn’t trouble him with anything personal like that, not while calling it ‘urgent’ at any rate. no, there had to be something more going on.

After all, Claire knew what he did for a living.

The lead up to six o’clock is never a good time to travel in London: The swell of rush hour is still in evidence, which means packed trains and bustling crowds of distracted people impatient to get home. You never can tell who or what you might bump into among so many. Chris was on his guard, but today everything felt reassuringly normal.

Gino’s was in Dean Street, just a brief shuffle across from Claire’s shop in the upper reaches of Berwick Street, which was one of the reasons they used to meet there. Chris surfaced at Leicester Square tube station because that was the most convenient place for London’s underground system to deposit him. He exited on to Charing Cross Road at a few minutes short of quarter to six, which meant he was more or less on time. Weaving his way through the crowds, he skirted Chinatown and then dodged the traffic across Shaftesbury Avenue before entering Dean Street. Then it was just a matter of crossing Old Compton Street and he was almost there. A minute later found him stepping through the coffee shop’s doorway.

Gino’s was a narrow, cramped room stretched along the inside of a plate-glass window. Chris could never decide whether they’d utilised the space cannily or had tried to squeeze in one too many tables. Despite treading this delicate line, the place always managed to feel welcoming, not least because of the coffee, which was unfailingly excellent.

It had been a couple of months since his last visit, but some things remained unchanged. A great domed gleaming-chrome espresso machine squatted on one end of the bar—the centre of the whole operation—and Luciano, the shaven-headed barista, stood at his station beside it. He nodded a greeting as Chris came in. The espresso machine resembled a robotic extra from a sci-fi movie, though the sounds it produced were more steampunk than R2-D2. This machine was Luciano’s pride and joy, and Chris always got the impression that the barista had just finished polishing it the second before he walked in.

Chris ordered a double caffè macchiato, which was produced with a minimum of banter and presented with a foamy heart-shaped flourish on the top. Only then did he spot Claire.

Nowhere at Gino’s could be described as ‘at the back’, but Claire had done her best, choosing a seat at one of the few tables that didn’t stand directly against the window, and about the only one not immediately visible from the doorway, hidden as it was by the bulk of the espresso machine.

Coffee in hand, Chris threaded his way past a couple of occupied tables to join her. Claire wore a faded black T-shirt beneath a black leather jacket adorned with silver studs, and sat huddled in the corner; a defensive position whether she realised as much or not. Most of the stylised white lettering on the T-shirt was obscured by a combination of her posture and the jacket, but he recognised it as one of her staples and knew what the slogan read: “Ultraviolet Catastrophe: Infinite Power,” a reference to her first self-produced online album.

“Chris.” The relief in her voice was unmistakable. She gripped his arm as he bent to kiss her hello. “Thank you so much for coming.” Her smile was as warm as ever, but it seemed fragile and her eyes betrayed tension even if her voice remained steady. She looked drained and dishevelled, frazzled.

His intended ‘Are you okay?’ died before the words were formed. She clearly wasn’t. “Christ, you look dreadful,” emerged instead.

“Thanks. You really know how to make a girl feel good about herself.”

It wasn’t especially true, come to that—or only in comparison to the vibrant woman he was used to. Still in her late twenties, Claire had the sort of flawless complexion and striking looks that most women would kill for, defying the vagaries of mood and any lack of sleep or makeup. She was tall and slender, with a mane of auburn hair that was tied back on this occasion, which only accentuated her high cheekbones and showed off the inevitable silver earring—a miniature Gibson Flying V guitar—which he could never recall seeing her without. Today, though, her normally vivacious self seemed dulled and oddly muted. She looked vulnerable; which was something he had never expected to say about Claire.

“You know what I mean,” he temporised.

“Yeah, I know. It’s been a long day.” Her gaze dropped to the half-drunk cappuccino sitting on the table before her, dried froth clinging to the inside of the cup.

He didn’t push but waited patiently as she gathered her thoughts. At length she looked up, dark brown eyes meeting his gaze. He noted weariness there and fear—perhaps fear that he wouldn’t believe her, though she should have known him better than that. When she did speak it was with deliberate quietness, as if to ensure that even Luciano, who stood only a few feet away, had no opportunity to overhear.

“Chris…Someone’s trying to kill me.”

If anyone else had said that he might have laughed or made a wisecrack, but not today, not from Claire. “Who, and why?” was all he said.

“Fuck knows and ditto.” She was visibly shaking, clearly struggling to hold it together.

“I suppose it would be a cliché for me to say ‘Start at the beginning’…”

“Yeah, probably.” And she grinned, which he took as a good sign.

“Too late now, though, eh? Okay…” She took a deep breath and then the story came tumbling out, the words chasing each other as if anxious to emerge into the open. “I’m having trouble getting my head around all this, so I’m sorry if it doesn’t make much sense but I’ll do my best…It must have somethingto do with Bartosz… I just can’t work out how or what…I think they killed him, Chris. I saw them, saw what they did to him, and then they came after me, hunting me…” There was a suggestion of tears as she screwed her eyes tight. “Fuck, how did this happen? God, Bartosz…”

“Hey, slow down, slow down.” He reached across to hold her hand. Her grip in response was tight, desperate.

Luciano was looking across at them now with obvious interest, if not alarm.

“Yeah, I know, tell it from the beginning…” The deep breath she then drew was more akin to a shudder. “Sorry, but as you may have gathered, it’s not easy…”

“That’s okay. Tell me in your own time, as it comes.”

And she did, with far more coherence than he would have credited given the jumbled start.

“Bartosz is a dispatch rider, you know?” Chris didn’t, but saw no point in admitting as much. “Even in this day and age, not everything can be handled online—some things, even documents, need a physical existence. ’Specially sensitive stuff, you know? no electronic footprint…” She sniffed, and wiped a finger across her nose. “Anyway, he had this delivery today south of the river, at offices in Tooley Street, not far from the Shard but towards the Tower Bridge end. We’d arranged to meet for lunch—there’s this brasserie in Hay’s Galleria, where they do the most fabulous sarnies made to order: roast turkey off the bone with mustard, and really good smoked salmon with a squeeze of lemon and a grind of pepper…” She was starting to babble, her words tumbling out unfiltered. “And it has a terrace that overlooks the water. I got there early, so rather than wait around I decided to walk across and meet Bartosz after he’d made his delivery. Don’t know why. Wanted to surprise him, I suppose.”

She took another deep breath, and when she spoke again her tone was more measured, as if she was determined to tell this properly. “There was no sign of his bike outside the office but that was hardly a surprise—the traffic warden gestapo are real bastards in that area; it doesn’t matter if you’re just stopping for a few seconds to make a delivery or what. So I went round the side of the building—there are a couple of narrow back streets with metred parking. Sure enough, there was Bartosz and his bike, but he wasn’t alone. Three men were standing with him. They’d sort of surrounded him, and the strange thing was their clothes: long brown coats, buttoned up to the top. It’s been cold the last few days but even so, these looked…I don’t know, wrong. They were all identical, like some kind of uniform—and those coats might have been fashionable in Eastern Europe maybe, in the 1940s, but today and in London…? It was as if they were extras who’d just stepped off a film set.” She shook her head. “It wasn’t just the coats either. They all had these rimmed hats on—fedoras, you know?— like Chicago gangsters in an old movie.

“I stopped as I rounded the corner. Wish I could make you understand what it was like: the oddness, the menace of these three outlandish figures. It was fucking sinister! Their posture and the way they had him penned in…For a moment I wasn’t sure whether to walk brazenly over and show support for Bartosz or sneak back round the corner and not let anyone know I was there. Before I could decide, one of the brown coats whipped out some sort of a gun and…shot him. It was so sudden, so abrupt, and the shooter didn’t hesitate, didn’t pause to threaten or even take aim— it was just one swift movement…And Bartosz vanished. I screamed, I couldn’t help it, and all three of them spun around and looked at me.

“Those eyes…They had no whites, Chris, just gleaming blackness. Three pairs of demons’ eyes…These brown coats, they aren’t human…not our sort of human, you know?”

Unfortunately he did, all too well.

Most people think of London in the singular, as just one place. They’re wrong. Consider it this way: If you were to ask twenty different individuals the first image that pops into their mind when they hear the word ‘London’, you would likely get twenty different answers: the Queen, Buck House, the changing of the guard, pomp and ceremony; Harrods, Knightsbridge, Fortnum & Mason, and all those boutique shops; the City, the stock exchange, and the financial hub; 10 Downing Street, Parliament, Whitehall, and the machinations of government; red busses, black cabs, and beefeaters at the Tower; Le Gavroche, the Ivy, celebrity restaurants, and top-end dining; Covent Garden, street theatre, and bustling markets; pie and mash, jellied eels, pearly queens, and cockney humour; theatre land, the Royal Opera House, and the ballet; Soho, sex shops, and scantily clad lap dancers; museums, cultural events, and art galleries; the London Eye, Madame Tussauds, and Regent’s Park Zoo…The list goes on. And that just accounts for those faces of the capital that everyone is aware of—the facets that catch the light and glitter. The truth is that there are many Londons, not all of them so apparent or accessible; but at certain times in certain places the boundaries between the different Londons blur and merge. When that happens, the oddest things can sometimes slip between the cracks. At those times it’s possible to step across into places that are unsettlingly familiar but at the same time profoundly different…If you know how to.

Chris knew that Claire was one of the privileged few—or perhaps some might say ‘cursed’—who were sensitive to London’s shifting faces; she had seen things in her time that most people wouldn’t believe, and she had just let him know that those hunting her didn’t belong here, that they came from somewhere ‘other’. now he understood why she had turned to him with this rather than anyone else. Claire knew full well that he had seen far more and far worse than she ever had.

Available for Pre-Order.

Ian Whates chats about his new novella, The Smallest of Things.

Character Profile: 

A few years ago, after a day of wandering around numerous shops in central London, I sought refuge in a pub close to Covent Garden. While my better half, Helen, continued with the retail therapy, I began jotting down some notes on the various characters we’d encountered during our browsing.

As I did so, I reflected on the manner in which London possesses so many different faces: the political hub of the nation, the financial centre, the home of pomp and ceremony, celebrity restaurants and high-end dining, exclusive boutiques and famous stores, cockney heritage and the spirit of the Blitz, nightclubs and all-night bars, markets and street entertainers, red buses and tourist attractions, and so on… What if there were other Londons, less apparent, more difficult to find? Londons that brush alongside the city we know without quite intersecting, hidden from view by the facets we’re so familiar with that catch the light and sparkle.

That was the moment Chris was born; an individual who can sense the places where other versions of London come closest to what we know, who is able to step across into these other realities. Chris is a fixer, a solver of problems, utilising his (almost) unique talent to find objects and sometimes people that have fallen between the cracks and become lost between worlds, putting folk in touch with those who can help them, even when they don’t realise it themselves.

Those notes, jotted down while sipping a pint or two of Young’s Special, became a story called “Knowing How to Look”, which marked Chris’ first appearance. Making a cameo appearance in this tale was a character called Claire, based on a tall, vibrant young woman who had been serving in a Berwick Street shop earlier that day. Despite the brevity of her contribution to that particular story, there was an obvious chemistry between her and Chris, and Claire returns in a far more pivotal role in “The Smallest of Things”.

I was keen to revisit Chris because that first story had barely scratched the surface. It centred on the dark side, on the shadows, involving infidelity, a succubus, and a curse, but the potentially infinite nature of alternative realities offers a wealth of other possibilities beyond that. The set up enables me to straddle the boundaries between science fiction and fantasy, depicting high-tech societies that boast gadgetry far in advance of our own and low-tech ones where spells and magic prevail. I have great fun drawing on both of these for “The Smallest of Things”, with high and low tech tricks being called upon as Chris and Claire strive to stay one step ahead of their pursuers, while the story’s denouement relies on a scientifically feasible anomaly thrashed out between myself and a friend, who also happens to be a leading MD often consulted by the BBC.

London is somewhere I know reasonably well – I spent seven years attending school in the City and have been a frequent visitor ever since. It’s a place where I feel comfortable, so provides a natural home for Chris and his exploits. London has a beat, a rhythm, a pace of life that can seem bewildering until you acclimatise, and I wanted to reflect that in “The Smallest of Things”, producing a high-paced narrative intended to keep the reader guessing and intrigued, while throwing in a twist or two along the way.

“The Smallest of Things” was a joy to write and – who knows? – Chris may well crop up in further stories. I still have a great deal more to say about him and the worlds he inhabits.

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Remembering Harlan Ellison

Once upon a time when the world was younger and maybe just a tiny tad or two wiser . . .

(though perhaps that’s just the way it seemed), I strolled to the stop one day after school to pick up the bus home and, keen to delay homework, sidestepped into one of the Leeds branches of Woolworths—yesirree in those days the bigger towns regularly had several Woolworth stores. First port or ports of call were the comics and book counters (always a healthy display) and their Embassy records stand where you could buy cover versions of ‘hip pop songs’ of the day recorded by other artists (yeah, these truly were wiser times). Anyway, on the bookstand, I saw, amidst a confusion of gaudily covered paperbacks, one book that has, it’s fair to say, pretty much changed my life: ELLISON WONDERLAND by Harlan Ellison, in whose brief but brimming 190-page array of creativity I was to meet Skidoop, a beatnick Beelzebub; I think, member of a race of suicidal super giants visiting Earth briefly on his way to eternity; and Gnomebody, a jazzy little leprechaun in a pork-pie hat.

I bought the book (aged 13 or so—it was 1962) and pretty much read it that same night and so started a love affair with Harlan Ellison’s writing, his joie de vivre, that irreverent and often downright cruel chutzpa, and his pure alligator-like irascibility. And now he’s gone. Just like that.

And so we went on together, with me steadily building my Ellison collection (along with many others), the two of us, not actually meeting until 1993 at the World Fantasy Convention in Bloomington, Minnesota (about which more later).

In the dog days of autumn 1988 . . .

John Gilbert and the Newsfield crew (CRASH magazine, LM and others) came up with a new magazine called FEAR and I started freelancing for them doing reviews and fairly detailed interviews which I was also doing for David Pringle’s INTERZONE and MILLION, Jessica Horsting’s MIDNIGHT GRAFFITISTRANGE THINGS ARE HAPPENING and so on which included Ray Bradbury, Patrick McGrath, Andrew Vahchss Jonathan Carroll, Ramsey Campbell and, of course, Harlan not to mention umpteen musicians including Frank Zappa (now there’s a story!).

Talking to Harlan was a gas, hilarious, eye-opening (and—watering!), and both funny and sad, often in the same breath. The man did not pull punches and when he had an opinion (like, when did he NOT!) he let everyone know. Thus you’ll find many people in the industry hold differing opinions and I have to say that they’re all justifiable. In closing that particular item, I’ll say this. Being some years away from emails and the internet, I sent the article across to Harlan and got on with the process of preparing for our annual holidays then a couple of weeks away.

Imagine my surprise, then, at the docks about to leave for France, to receive a telephone call (I had a mobile phone courtesy of my job at the bank but it was a far cry from the tiny cell-jobs I carry now . . . more a fully realized telephone kiosk strapped to my back!) from my mother who, in turn, had received a delightful call from a “lovely young man (all men were young as far as my mother was concerned, even then, when she was the age I passed just yesterday) in California called Alan Ellington” who wanted me to ring him about an article. To cut to the chase, I called Alan Ellington (a cunning disguise on Harlan’s part) and he waxed lyrical about the piece which, with a handful of amends, he passed for publication.

We remained pretty good friends from that point, exchanging comic books and telephone conversations.

 

Harlan never seemed able to come to terms with the fact that when it was 8 in the evening for him, it was 4 in the morning for me. But I have to say I could forgive the guy pretty much anything, even when, just a few years ago when we were working on the special PS edition of ELLISON WONDERLAND (which is where we came in on this topic, kids, so stay with it to the end as well as this entire Newsletter) and had a contretemps with Harlan calling me daily (in the Yorkshire Dales when Nicky and I were taking a few days walking) and saying things that I like to think he didn’t really mean. Thus the book appeared without the two of us speaking about it, but it did receive some great reviews and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to reprint the book as a trade paperback under PS’s Drugstore Indian Press imprint . . . along the same lines as our Caitlin Kiernan collections. I’ll let you know.

But now I’d like to finish a little more upbeat

. . . by going back to my attending (at the same time as Harlan, whom, I believe, was a Lifetime Achievement winner) the Convention in Bloomington.

It was my first Big convention and my first time in Minnesota where, I kid you not, the spit freezes in your mouth in seconds unless you dress warm. I was up for Best Anthology Award for my editing debut, NARROW HOUSES and, in line with the generosity and warmth of spirit that is so prevalent in this screwball business lots of folks were coming up to me and telling me—with winks and back-slaps galore—that I stood a good chance of winning, even given the remarkable quality of volumes up for recognition. Thus I spent a goodly amount of time the evening before the big Banquet at which the Awards were made, writing my acceptance speech.

And so I sat, trembling nervously as one after another, the categories and nominees were announced until, lo and behold, Small Crowther Person, the time came for Best Anthology.

Now, I’m not going to BS ya on this cos it wouldn’t be fair.

This is how we operate, you and me, and it’s too late to stop now even if I wanted to. And so I will tell you this: for the briefest of moments, I wanted to kill Dennis Etchison, for it was he who, with that fabulous tome, METAHORROR—and Dennis, there’s still a part of me that hates you—accepted the Best Antho Award to rapturous applause. And ladies and gentlemen, I have to tell you that some of that applause was from me—truthfully—delivered as it was with a rictus grin and a tear-channelled face. METAHORROR was/is a damn fine book. And, hey, I regained the power of speech in a short time thereafter.

But there was someone else at that Convention, someone else who, it turned out, also thought I should win (not as much as I thought I should win—don’t forget, we’re telling truths here, kids) and, Goddamnit, he was on a mission to make sure the whole world knew.

So I’m in the lobby talking with Dennis Etchison (who, somewhat annoyingly, was holding his statuette—MY damn statuette, ladies and gents) plus Tom Monteleone and Peter Straub. And suddenly, entering stage right, Harlan appears a few yards away, and he’s marching determinedly in the direction of we four humble scribblers.

I like to think that everything went quiet and, heck, maybe even time stopped, but I guess it didn’t, not really. But Harlan’s presence turned heads—no question. And he stepped right up to us, took hold of my beard (I wore a full set in those halcyon days) and shook it so hard I thought he was about to pull the damn thing right on off of my face. And relaxing his grip, Harlan said “You wuz rucked, kiddo.” And without further ado, having completed his message to the troops, he strolled off like the Tasmanian Devil in the old Warner Bros cartoons, threw his saddle and blanket over the pinto tethered to the bar and then he was gone leaving Dennis, Tom, Peter and me considering the only possible response which was “Hey, who was that masked man?”

And now he’s gone and, dammit, I’m pissed off that that singular voice has been silenced . . . though I suspect that on certain nights when the fire embers are still crackling in the grate and the candle is flickering close to dark, we’ll hear from him again—or think we did. And that’ll just have to do for now.

Happy trails, Harlan. You were a rascal, no denying, but one rascal every once in a while is essential.

— Peter Crowther 

 

Sneak Peek Extract: Uncommon Miracles by Julie C. Day

 

Check out these story extracts:

Change always comes slower to the Midwest. Sacramento, California, had lost power months ago: bunnies in the substations and gas pipelines that had run dry. Meanwhile, DC had emptied of its politicians and any semblance of nation-wide emergency management.

The Ohio version of the apocalypse mostly involved Pilates classes and running clubs filled with other women of childbearing age. Bunny fever, people called the new birthing paradigm, and not in a good way. If you were a woman, you better be a skinny woman with no possible baby bump in sight. Nothing like impending group hate to motivate. Regular exercise had never been so popular.

Even after the fall of both coasts, in Lakemore we had streetlights, local news, and reliable refrigeration. And staying healthy wasn’t such a bad thing. Compared to most everywhere else, it was actually a good place to live. That’s what Steph and I and all those other women told ourselves. And why not? We had nowhere else to go.

—From “Everyone Gets a Happy Ending”

And this:

Horace’s fingers were skeletal thin and oh so hungry. His eyes dark as empty holes. Once upon a time, before the scream of metal against metal had mixed with all those other screams, before she and Horace and the Orphan Train had arrived in the woods, Horace had been different. Back then, Horace had loved the hills on the west side of Manhattan almost as much as he loved these woods. He’d loved rolling barrels through the alley next to their apartment and yelling at the top of his lungs. One autumn day he’d tucked one of their father’s many hand-rolled cigarettes behind his ear and chased a wooden barrel down the steep hill on Strathmore Street, grinning and making Eliza swear she wouldn’t tell, even as he flipped and fell and lay sprawled across the paving stones at the bottom. Eliza had screamed then too despite Horace’s laughter, wrapped her arms round his neck.

—From “The Woman in the Woods”

Or this:

Long before Veronica’s death and everything that followed, I understood the power of film. The one secret that all photographers know: Only physical images offer an actual path to our living world. It is the chemicals—the darkness—the photographer’s intention—that cuts through death’s wall. No photographer is ever really alone. When we’re working, our darkrooms are like crowded railway stations: the dead passing through with each developed frame.

At night in my darkroom, I soak my limbs in developer, fixer, rinse, and then stare—hopeful—as the ghosts rise from the pictures I’ve imprinted on my arms: a longhaired child with stick-thin limbs, a scowling old woman with a limp, a village, a traveling horde, a forgotten family, the father carrying their smallest child. No matter what I try, it is always dead strangers who follow my guideposts back to the land of the living. My wife Veronica’s face is never among them. And so, each night after our daughter, Jenny, goes to bed, I turn on the blood-red light, submerge my arms, and try again.

—From “A Pinhole of Light”

What about this:

Just like every other morning, Momma sat with Sylvia and Grandma in the dim, wallpapered kitchen. Momma sipped her coffee and Grandma ate her oatmeal one careful bite at a time. Sylvia could almost count the seconds between each mouthful.

Three. Two. One. Swallow.

Meanwhile, Momma smiled and smiled.

“I thought I’d plant a few flowers, Mom, to get my mind off of things. You know, therapy.”

From the center of the table, two salt-and-pepper-shaker girls in yellow dresses watched Momma and Grandma Charko. Nearby a crowd of wallpaper ladies stared at them with faded, gone-away eyes. Momma’s own eyes were wide and shiny, like all those nights in Asheville when Momma didn’t bother to sleep, swallowing stuff she took out of that small wooden box. Momma took a different kind of pill now. Grandma and her days-of-the-week pillbox made sure of that.

—From “Raising Babies”

Wait, this:

After Tuttle’s stealth inspection and her second letter, the deputy, some newcomer fresh from the academy, showed up at my front door. He wore aviator sunglasses and very little hair. His pink skin glowed, oily from the summer heat, as he stared down at me. I thought I saw his nose wrinkle as he bent down to give me the papers.

“I don’t want them,” I said, trying to wave him away. This was only partially true. Paper was always a useful addition to the collection. It was the words written on them that I didn’t want.

“I drove all the way out here,” the deputy said in slow, careful tones, as though he was sure I’d somehow never noticed the county sheriff’s substation on my walks around town. As though my tiny stature indicated a tiny brain.

Stupid Arizona hick. I knew the titles of most works in the Phoenix Art Museum’s Latin American collection, along with a handful more in the Heard. I spent my time with Vik Muniz, Mario Martinez, and Gabriel Orozco. When I looked at their works, I felt myself stretching high into their private universes. Breathing was easier inside those frames.

—From “Holes in Heaven”

Also, this:

Peter’s hand moves slowly, hovering above Delia’s bare forearm, as little as an eighth of an inch between her flesh and his trembling fingers. The ghosts feel safest that way. That’s what Peter had told her as he swallowed the last of his beer and set the glass aside, his eyes intent, lingering first on her lips, and then falling from her breasts to her right arm.

Peter doesn’t look away despite the sideways glances of their companions and the uncomfortable clatter of their silverware. A lone waiter watches from across the terrace. Delia bends her head, ignoring them all. She is focused on Peter’s open palm as it creeps above her bare arm.

“Concentrate,” Peter whispers. His hot breath envelopes the outer curve of her ear.

What do the ghosts feel? Delia wonders but does not ask. Instead, she closes her eyes. For a moment nothing changes. The night air still feels dark and cool on her bare shoulders. She can hear the cars on the nearby Boulevard Saint-Michel as the taxis bring their loads of tourists to the Left Bank. A cab parks just beyond the terrace’s back stairs. A group of women erupt from the open door, speaking in English.

—From “Finding Your Way to the Coast”

And this:

When I was little I thought the world must be full of Mrs. Henrys: a second voice safely encased inside each special child, watching everything through their bright young eyes.

Back then, David didn’t care that he couldn’t see or hear or even touch Mrs. Henry. After all, Mrs. Henry was funny. And I was more than happy to repeat everything she said.

“When I’m bigger…” David said. “When I’m bigger, I’ll drive a car all the way to Alaska so I can see the polar bears and the igloos. Esta will come too because she’s my friend.”

“I was bigger once, little David Tissandier,” Mrs. Henry replied in her Mrs. Henry way, and already David was cracking up. “No. Really. Much bigger. With two extra rows of teeth, just like a dragon.”

“Fat whopper, Mrs. Henry. Fat whopper. Everyone knows dragons have one row of teeth. It’s sharks that are all jumbled.” But David was laughing. And Mrs. Henry was laughing too, the sound like a deep hum or a rumbling purr.

Of course, I was the only one who could hear her.

—From “Florida Miracles”

And this:

As soon as Hazel stepped off the ferry and onto Vinalhaven Island, she felt it. The carved stone eagle, the curb, the granite planter set in front of the fire station: the ghosts of Carver’s Harbor were embedded in the building materials of the little town. The other passengers who’d disembarked—even Hazel’s mom—didn’t seem to notice a thing. In that way the island ghosts were no different from the ones at home. Most people missed their presence entirely.

It was June, not even close to the height of tourist season, but the harbor town’s streets were bustling. An old man walked along the sidewalk dressed in a three-piece suit, his expression hidden by both his walrus mustache and the brim of his Trilby hat. A little farther down, a woman with weathered skin and upswept hair stood outside the Davidson Realty storefront. Despite the month, she wore a black skirt that hung just inches from the ground. Meanwhile, two boys in knee-high boots and woolen trousers raced the length of Main Street.

—From “Signal & Stone”

One more:

I took my time, silent, lips soft against your stomach. Tangled sheets. My hands clutched your narrow hips, then slipped higher until I felt the outer edges of your breasts. I tasted the dampness trickling from between your thighs, salt and musk. Like 8-mm film, my movements took sixteen frames one slow second at a time.

Afterwards, you held pieces of your special brown-orange film up to our bedside light, sharing your work. Each cell was marked, scratched, the original image buried somewhere underneath. Your art, you told me, was about transformation.

Even then I made mistakes. Pointed out a slash mark, an odd corner of red. Left the ghost of a fingerprint behind. “Love me,” I cried, finally deciphering the film’s tiny words. The long L and five smaller letters suddenly clear.

—From “Raven Hair”

C’mon now! How can you resist? Julie C. Day’s debut collection is now available for pre-order