Darker Companions by edited by Scott David Aniolowski & Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

Welcome to DARKER COMPANIONS, a celebration of Ramsey Campbell.

The year 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ramsey Campbell’s first fiction collection, THE INHABITANT OF THE LAKE AND LESS WELCOME TENANTS. The Arkham House book, published in 1964 when he was just 18, was actually his second appearance at Arkham House, the first being in 1962’s August Derleth-edited anthology DARK MIND, DARK HEART, his first professional sale as an author. To commemorate the impressive event, I thought it only fitting to assemble an anthology of stories in tribute to Ramsey, written by some of his many fans and friends currently working in the field of the weird.

Here’s the line-up in all of of its perverse pleasure:

  • Introduction: Hymns from the Church in High Street by Scott David Aniolowski 
  • Holoow by Michael Wehunt 
  • The Long Fade into Evening by Steve Rasnic Tem 
  • Asking Price by S.P. Miskowski 
  • Author! Author?  by John Llewellyn Probert 
  • Meriwether by Michael Griffin 
  • The Entertainment Arrives by Alison Littlewood 
  • Premeditation by Marc Laidlaw 
  • A Perfect Replica by Damien Angelica Walters 
  • There, There by Gary McMahon 
  • We Pass from View by Matthew M. Bartlett 
  • Meeting the Master by Gary Fry 
  • Saints in Gold by Kristi DeMeester 
  • This Last Night in Sodom by Cody Goodfellow 
  • The Whither by Kaaron Warren 
  • Uncanny Valley by Jeffrey Thomas 
  • The Dublin Horror by Lynda E. Rucker 
  • The Sixth Floor by Thana Niveau 
  • The Carcass of the Lion by Christopher Slatsky 
  • The Granfalloon by Orrin Grey 
  • Little Black Lamb by Adam L G Nevill

Available for pre-order.

Treasure Trove of Tales: EXTRASOLAR Line-Up

And then there are the Earth-type planets circling red dwarfs like Proxima Centauri, much discussed recently.

With such extraordinary new astronomical knowledge in mind, I asked contributors toExtrasolar to write stories exploring super-Earths and superjovians and hot Neptunes. I also suggested that they could look at how SF itself is being altered by the tantalising filling in of so many gaps in the cosmic map. This is the treasure trove of tales that resulted:

  • Holdfast – Alastair Reynolds
  • Shadows of Eternity – Gregory Benford
  • A Game of Three Generals – Aliette de Bodard
  • The Bartered Planet – Paul Di Filippo
  • Come Home – Terry Dowling
  • The Residue of Fire – Robert Reed
  • Thunderstone – Matthew Hughes
  • Journey to the Anomaly – Ian Watson
  • Canoe — Nancy Kress
  • The Planet Woman By M.V. Crawford – Lavie Tidhar
  • Arcturean Nocturne – Jack McDevitt
  • Life Signs – Paul McAuley
  • The Fall of the House of Kepler – Ian R. MacLeod
  • The Tale of the Alcubierre Horse – Kathleen Ann Goonan

Available for pre-order.

EXTRASOLAR Edited by Nick Gevers

Sneak peek extract:

Introduction by Nick Gevers 

Imagine you’re the captain of Earth’s first interstellar spaceship. The twist is, though, that the spaceship is the sort of vessel dreamt up by SF writers of the mid- to late twentieth century. This could be an advantage: the further back in SF’s history you go, the freer writers seem to have felt in ignoring the obstacle posed by the speed of light. So your spaceship is an FTL one, Faster Than Light, propelled by some sort of hyperdrive. You can reach the stars in a few weeks of subjective time.

Now imagine, further, that your conception of exotic solar systems—even close ones, like Alpha Centauri’s—is based entirely on guesswork. Your ship is twentieth century, your knowledge is twentieth century. You know nothing of what orbital telescopes and other technologies have in fact revealed over the last couple of decades. Like any SF writer of the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, you have had to rely on intelligent extrapolation from the nature of our own, familiar, solar system. Rocky terrestrial planets near the sun, gas giants further out, plenty of rocky moons orbiting the gas giants, lots of comets and other ice objects in the outermost reaches. Surely this pattern must often repeat itself, especially in the case of yellow dwarf stars like our sun? And thus there must be many Earth-like worlds, home to complex forms of life, worlds with breathable atmospheres, potential New Earths?

You and your crew sally forth as outright discoverers, using direct close-up observation to confirm or disprove your suppositions. You are aware of the possibility of shocking outcomes. Perhaps other stars simply have no planets at all. Perhaps you will find peculiar configurations; after all, writers like Hal Clement, Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, and others conceived of very odd, even crazy, planetary arrangements in their time. Might godlike aliens have engineered entire solar systems closer to their hearts’ desire, fashioning ringworlds, Dyson spheres, shapes more fantastic still?

So you are ready for surprises; your imagination has been primed by the cognitive shocks implicit in a thousand SF stories. Your imagination is a capacious one (after all, you’ve come up with a starship and yourself in charge of it, so you’ve a bold enough fancy.) But the universe has a tendency to overwhelm us with its cosmic ingenuity…

Thus your tour of the stars in our galactic neighbourhood astonishes you. Colossal superjovians, gas giants eight, ten, fifteen times the size of Jupiter, barrel along in grotesquely irregular orbits around their suns, creating gravitational chaos, spinning planets and moons of more ordinary size all over the place, even into interstellar space. Such displaced rogue worlds can wander for billions of years between the stars, unless captured by another stellar primary. There are plenty of smaller gas giants, some like Jupiter, some like Neptune; also no shortage of rocky Earth-like bodies; but in many cases a star’s entire family of planets orbits it extremely close in–inside the equivalent of Mercury’s orbit–enduring temperatures of many hundreds of degrees centigrade and thus qualifying as so-called hot Neptunes and hot Jupiters. They must have formed much further out, so how did they migrate inwards with such freakish consistency? Their years are equal to a few of our days. And those terrestrial-type worlds: so often these are super-Earths, a lot bigger than Earth itself, with several times our gravity and very thick atmospheres. Indeed, even a less imposing super-Earth can boast a bizarrely thick atmosphere, earning the designation ‘super-puff’. Or a rocky planet drowns beneath an ocean thousands of miles deep!

You and your starship crew are in due course both drunk on novelty and in the grip of alarm. You had hoped to locate a reasonable number of worlds physically resembling Earth and safely within the Goldilocks zone, that orbital space around a star where it is neither too hot nor too cold for life to evolve on a stably orbiting rocky planet with an atmosphere thick enough to shelter fragile organisms, yet thin enough not to stifle them. But there are discouragingly few such havens; and even if they carry liquid water, misadventures like solar flares, nearby supernovas, errant superjovians, asteroid and comet strikes, gamma ray bursts, and huge volcanic eruptions can render them no refuges at all. Where are the New Earths to be found?

A member of your crew makes a suggestion: why not direct the search to red dwarf stars? If planets so frequently orbit very close in, wouldn’t the comparatively dim output of light and heat by a red dwarf leave its terrestrial planets potentially habitable, despite their proximity? So you set course for a selection of these stars, and you begin to approach your El Dorado. Many worlds huddle around these ember-red fires; there are Earths and super-Earths in great numbers, and could that gleam over there be home to a mighty alien civilization, dreaming under a blood-red sun?

 

#

 

The answer to that last question is Probably Not, but this is an imaginative exercise, after all. All the facts about exotic stars and their planetary companions, revealed to us over the last twenty-two years by astronomers using the Kepler and other space telescopes and employing various methods for filtering information out of complex observations, can be summarized, though very inadequately, as I’ve done above. The implications of these findings are dismaying, in confirming that complex organic life is unlikely to occur often; but also encouraging, demonstrating the extraordinary talent Reality has for defying our expectations, and opening up grand new vistas for the scientific intellect to explore and the science-fictional imagination to populate with scenarios of far-ranging wonder.

For Extrasolar, I asked fourteen leading SF writers to take on the new possibilities, whether in hope or in fear or a mixture of the two. The results are gratifyingly and fascinatingly diverse; so here we go, beyond our comfortable solar system, out to others, enticing, menacing, always bracingly strange…

–Nick Gevers, Cape Town 2017

Now available for pre-order.

Chapter 1 MONSTER TOWN

Sneak Peek Extract:

MONSTER TOWN by Bruce Golden

 

THE BLOOD OF HIS BLOOD

It was a hard wet rain that beat an ominously staccato rhythm on the roof of my Packard as I drove to the outskirts of the city.  Thunder rumbled overhead like a bowling ball sliding down a corrugated tin roof, and the ferocious whipcracks of lightning sounded as if they were tearing great rents in time and space.

The rain didn’t bother me. Neither did the thunder.  I was sober . . . more or less.  What nagged me was the unknown. Not the unknown that I knew about.  I could deal with that.  It was the obscure unknown, the one that always popped its ugly mug out of a dark shadow with a cackling laugh, that worried me.  Call it a personality quirk, but I could never be completely relaxed if there was a mystery to be solved–even if I knew the answer would presently reveal itself.

What puzzled me this particular evening was what the wealthiest man in town wanted with me. Usually I just took pictures of cheating spouses, or an occasional insurance scammer pretending to be laid-up, but actually water skiing off Catalina. But three hours ago I’d gotten a call from some secretary saying her boss, one Vladimir Prince, would like to speak with me about contracting my services. What the job was she wouldn’t say, asking only that I arrive precisely at seven. I almost said no thanks, as I’d planned on being deep inside a bottle by seven.  Normally I never let my work interfere with my drinking, but the rent was due.

You may or may not know that Vladimir Prince was the owner of several wineries and a couple breweries, along with enough other businesses and real estate holdings to choke a platoon of accountants. However, unless you keep up with the trades, you probably don’t know that Prince feathered his initial nest egg working in the movie business. He was known back then as “Dracula” or “Count Dracula” or “the Dark Prince,” depending on the script. Unlike most horror movie stars, he’d invested wisely.  Which is why he lived out on the very edge of Monster Town, away from the urban blight and general riff raff that infested the main streets.

Of course Monster Town isn’t the way most people picture it. Yes, it had its roots in a time when movie monsters were ostracized by their Hollywood brethren. Instead of fighting to fit in, they let themselves be ghettoized just south of Beverly Hills, into a post-war industrialized area whose industries had gone belly-up.  And it wasn’t just famous freaks of the silver screen that lived there. It was also home to hundreds, hell, thousands of wannabes.  It wasn’t unlike Hollywood in that sense–where every waitress is a star-in-waiting, and every valet has a screenplay he wants you to read.

Yes, Monster Town, for the most part, is populated with the hopeful, the star-struck, the dregs of the Earth who weren’t quite monstrous enough.  Its avenues are peppered with the gimps, the geeks, the freaks who never got their shot at fame and fortune.  Of course some of the more well-known monsters reside there too, though few of them were as smart or successful as Prince.  What they have are their memories, their posters, their faded fame . . . but little fortune.

Casting directors still, on occasion, trolled the streets for a small part here or there, but Tinseltown just wasn’t making monster flicks like they used to.  So, when the celluloid gravy train dried up, monsters had to make a living like anyone.  Now they were fry cooks and teachers and dog catchers and shopkeepers.  Some were hoodlums, others thieves, and a few were even killers.  In other words, Monster Town was really like any other city.

Before I could get to the suburb I was headed for, I had to pass through the ghost town that had been the old factory district.  Most of the companies there had gone out of business years ago, but I saw a few that still showed signs of life.  Whether they were actually making things, or just tearing them down, I had no idea.  I passed the old pump station, and was surprised to see it still pumping away, despite its rusty exterior, diverting water from the L.A. County Waterworks’ main line to Monster Town.  I guess something had to keep the toilets flushing.

Even though I lived in Monster Town, I wasn’t in show business–never had been.  I ended up there by happenstance.  Not really an interesting story.  Now I was just looking for a job to pay my bills and keep me in hooch.  Though I never imagined a job would take me this far from the grime and crime.

Even when I was flush with cash I didn’t get out of town much.  I certainly was never invited to any parties in the ritzy suburban neighborhood I was driving through now.  I belonged here like broccoli belongs on a chocolate sundae.  But the trees and green grass were a nice change from the littered asphalt and cracked and peeling paint I could see from my own digs.

The truth is, it was almost a dreamscape.  Each house I drove past seemed bigger and more ostentatious than the last.  When I finally reached Prince’s place, it was, without a doubt, the biggest one yet.  You couldn’t even call it a house.  It was a full-blown mansion . . . a pearly white summer palace standing iridescent in the rain.

I gave my name at the gate and was granted entry.  The rain slowed to a damp drizzle and the sky cleared just enough to reveal the setting sun.  I didn’t know if it was the still-lingering clouds or the fact I needed another drink, but it felt like an uncertain gloom had settled over the lush countryside.  The only thing I was certain of at that moment, was that I needed new windshield wiper blades.

I pulled into the estate, saw its grounds manicured as carefully as a duchess in waiting.  Guards patrolled the extended property with sentry dogs.  I shuddered just a little.  I didn’t like dogs–not guard dogs, not poodles, not friendly little mutts. I wasn’t afraid of them. I just didn’t like them.  Fortunately there were none close to the house where I was told to park.

I pulled up and got out of the Packard.  I put on my hat and adjusted my trench coat.  Maybe it was just the extravagance of the setting, or the idea I’d be sitting down with the richest man in town, but I noticed the old fedora was getting a bit threadbare.  That made me think about my coat, and the stain on it from that night I couldn’t remember.  Well, he wasn’t hiring me for fashion advice . . . if he really was hiring me.

Prince’s stately manor reeked of intrigue and danger, with its stately columns and interlacing arches rising up like some old southern slave plantation.  I stared up at it and could almost hear a mysterious, forlorn trumpet wailing in the background, backed by a handful of inscrutable violins.

Out front here was actually an open tent designed just for car.  It wasn’t just any vehicle, but a Rolls Royce.  A manservant was busy polishing it, and I noticed the usual female “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament had been replaced with a sterling bat, it’s wings outstretched in an imitation of flight.  It was weird, but definitely appropriate.

Four guys in expensive suits came walking out of the huge double doors before I reached the stairs leading up to the manor’s entrance.  They weren’t monsters and I’d never seen them before. They got into a limo that was waiting for them and drove off.  I trudged up the stairs, breathing harder with each step and thinking a little exercise now and then wouldn’t kill me.  It didn’t help that the rain always made my old wound ache.

Catching my breath I rang the bell.  Faintly I heard something from inside sounding like the summoning of the monks.  It was only seconds before the doors opened.  Standing there was this guy dressed like a cross between an opera singer and a 17th Century general. I recognized him right away from his movie days, when he played Renfield, Dracula’s servant in all those old films.  Apparently some actors couldn’t shake their erstwhile roles.

He stood there for a moment, staring at me with disdain, before saying, “Mr. Slade, I presume.”

“That’s right.  I’m here to see Mr. Prince.”

His bug eyes reminded me of Peter Lorre.  Using them to full advantage, he gave me another look like he might have to disinfect place if he let me in.  Resigned to it, he stepped aside so I could enter.  I caught of whiff of gun oil as I passed him.  He had it hidden well under that costume of his, but I figured he was packing.

“May I take your hat and coat?” he asked in a manner that told me he didn’t really want to touch them.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’ll keep them.”

It was a grand entryway, wide open and almost high enough for King Kong to stand without slouching. A huge staircase dominated the space, its lacquered railings leading up and around to where they finally vanished from view. The decor was all ivory and chrome–not at all what I expected from the Prince of Darkness.

Renfield directed me to the library, which, with its hundreds of books, looked like any other millionaire’s library–I presumed, having never really been in one. I wondered how many of the books Prince had actually read. My first thought was, probably not many–though if the rumors about his age were true, he just might have had the time to read them all.

“Wait here,” instructed Renfield. “The master will be with you shortly.”

I looked the place over. It was cluttered with wood carvings, little stone statues, and other eccentric doodads. There was a large fireplace with an ebony gargoyle perched on either end of the mantel, a finely crafted antique work desk, and some overstuffed chairs. But what dominated the room was above the mantel. It was a life-sized portrait of Prince himself. From what I remembered, it was a perfect likeness. It featured his aristocratic nose, his close-set black eyes, and that famous stare of his that would have frozen a hot cup of joe.

Nosey sleuth that I was, I wandered over to the desk and looked at the papers scattered there. I was surprised to see a brochure from that new amusement park they’d recently built down in Anaheim–the one I figured was mostly for kids. It didn’t seem like a place Dracula would visit for fun. Yet there was a map of the place and some design schematics I couldn’t quite make out.

I didn’t want to touch anything, so I twisted my head around to get a better look. I was only half-twisted when a voice surprised me.

“I thought I’d come down and get a look at you myself.”

Standing in the doorway was a sleek dame decked out in a simple white satin dress that likely cost more than my Packard did new. She was a looker and, by the way she stood posed there, she knew it. She had dark hair, sophisticated eyes, and pouty lips, but her face was pale . . . almost sickly looking.

Out of reflex, I took off my hat. I don’t think she cared.

“So you’re the private detective.” It wasn’t a question so I didn’t answer. “I thought gumshoes only existed in movies.”

“I’m real enough . . . but it usually takes me a couple of belts to get warmed up.”
She flashed a quick smile and sauntered towards me with sufficient sex appeal to stir a eunuch. When she was close enough for me to smell her perfume, she stopped. She reached out to touch my chest with her finger, as if to be certain I wasn’t an illusion.

I wasn’t sure what she’d try to touch next, but I thought it best to remain professional and not find out. I took hold of the hand she’d stroked me with and gave it a little shake.

“Dirk Slade. Pleased to meet you. Are you Mr. Prince’s daughter?”

She giggled at some private amusement as I released her hand.

“Mr. Prince doesn’t have any daughters . . . that I know of,” she said, staring up at me with a wantonness that was hard to miss.

“I see you’ve greeted our guest, Mina.”

I looked up from her beckoning eyes and saw him. I’d expected him, I knew I’d be meeting with him, but to actually see him in the flesh was a shade unsettling. I mean, how often do you find yourself in the presence of Count Dracula? Even if he was just an old actor, he was still the grand monarch of monsters.

“Now, please,” he said to her with only a slight accent, “I need to speak with Mr. Slade alone.”

She pouted but it was a little girl act that faded quickly to an alluring smile. She waved her fingers at me and walked out.

He waited until she was gone and said, “My son doesn’t approve of my paramour. He thinks she’s too young.”

It’s true she didn’t look half his age–and that’s if he was only as old as he looked.

“However, like many people, I’m a creature of my desires. And I’ve always had an indescribable thing for girls named Mina. She’s not particularly bright, but she pleases me in the ways that matter most.”

I briefly speculated on what those ways were, but realized I probably didn’t have the imagination to do it justice.

He moved towards me then. I say “moved” because he seemed to glide more than walk. He was as smooth as milk on marble and right next me with his hand out before he should have been.

“Vladimir Prince,” he said, taking hold of my hand but not shaking it. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.” He’d let go of my hand and was making his way around his desk before I knew it. “You come highly recommended, Mr. Slade.” His voice was gently commanding, yet reassuring.

“Please, have a seat.” He gestured at the chairs in front of his desk.

“Who recommended me?” I was curious who would vouch for me with a high-roller like Prince.

“Oh, I know many people, Mr. Slade. I have many sources.”

“I’m a fan of yours, as well,” I said. “I’ve seen all your–”

“Please,” he said a bit too loudly, “let’s let the past stay in the past. I’d rather speak about the matter at hand.”

Apparently he didn’t want to talk about his old movies. Maybe the association was bad for business. That was jake with me, so I took a seat.

“What is the matter at hand? I was told you were in need of my services.”

He hesitated and I took the moment to study him more carefully.

He was slender, with short, slicked-back dark hair, and a pasty complexion, not unlike his young squeeze. He wasn’t wearing the cape I half expected, but looked refined in a very expensive, stylishly embroidered smoking jacket. The only thing out-of-place about him were his long fingernails. Whether he sharpened them to a point or they just grew that way, I had no idea.

He still hadn’t answered me, so I reached into my coat pocket. Before I even touched my pack he said, “Please don’t smoke.”

Renfield appeared then, carrying a tray filled with an elaborate bone china tea set and some little biscuits.

“Would you join me in tea?”

The tea really threw me. I found his choice of beverage surprising for a guy whose empire was built on booze. If anything, I expected him to offer me a mug of Impale Ale, or maybe a glass of Vlad’s Sangria.

To be polite, and because I really needed this job–whatever it was–I picked up one of the dainty cups of tea Renfield had poured and took a sip. I was almost afraid my big mitt would crush the little thing.

“Before I tell you why I’ve asked you here today, Mr. Slade, I must be certain I can count on your discretion.”

“I’m as discreet as they come, Mr. Prince. I wouldn’t last long in this business if I wasn’t.”

He sipped his own tea and I watched the shadowed corners of his mouth, hoping for a glimpse of those famous canines of his. I didn’t see them. I did notice his face held this cool, controlled expression that never seemed to change. Not even when he began to tell me why I was there.

“My son has gone missing, Mr. Slade. I want you to find him.”

“How old is he?”

“John is 17.”

“How long’s he been missing?”

“Three weeks now.”

“If you don’t mind my saying, it seems like a long time to wait before trying to find him.”

He got this faraway look in his eyes. “My son has been known to make himself unavailable for days at a time. You might say I was unconcerned I hadn’t heard from him, at least until recently.”

“Why not call the police?”

“I don’t want the police involved. I’m sure you understand.”

I nodded. There could be a dozen reasons why he didn’t want the police in on this. Half of them legitimate.

“Alright, I’ll take the job. I get $100 a day,” I said, doubling my normal fee, “plus expenses.”

He waved his hand as if it were an insignificant detail.

“Any idea where I should start looking for your son?”

“I know he has a school friend at James Whale High named Harold Talbot. I believe young Talbot is on the football team. He might know what happened to John.”

“Is that where your son goes to school?”

“Yes. But he hasn’t attended for at least a month, according to their records.”

“Then he dropped out even before he disappeared.”

“It would seem so.”

“Alright, I’ll start there.”

It had all been very formal. Almost like he’d hired me to pick up his dry cleaning. For a guy whose son was missing, he seemed rather cold . . . stiff. Not that I would have expected a gush of emotion from an old bird like him, but he’d handled the entire transaction like he had a wooden stake up his ass.

“You’ll keep me apprised of your progress?”

“Sure.”

“That’s a recent photo of him,” said Prince, pointing one of his overly long fingernails at a framed photo on his desk.

He was a good-looking kid, slender like his father, with the same dark hair and eyes.

“You can take it with you if you like.”

“Not necessary,” I said. “I’m good with faces. I’ll remember him.”

More likely than not, the kid was playing back seat bingo with some dolly deep in Monster Town, with or without a needle in his arm. I’d roust some bums, ask a few questions, kick in the odd door or two, and probably find the little Prince in a few days . . . though, at a C-note a day, I might not be in any hurry.

Like I said, it wasn’t show business, it was just a job . . . and that was jake with me.

 

 

Interview: MONSTER TOWN by Bruce Golden

A QUICK INTERVIEW WITH BRUCE GOLDEN

AUTHOR OF MONSTER TOWN

Now available for pre-order.

PS: How did you come up with the idea for Monster Town?

GOLDEN: Years ago I wrote a short story titled “I Was a Teenage Hideous Sun Demon.” It was a bit of dark satire based on the title character from a little known 1958 B-movie called The Hideous Sun Demon. For that story I created what you might call an alternate universe where movie monsters actually existed and played themselves in the movies. More famous monsters like Dracula and the Wolfman did well for themselves. The Hideous Sun Demon not so much.

PS: How did that lead to the book?

GOLDEN: I always felt the idea of such a world was fairly unique, and would provide a great setting for a book-length tale. The more I thought about it, the more I pictured it in my mind as a kind of film noir–a murder mystery set in a place called Monster Town.

PS: But movie monsters weren’t the only thing you satirized.

GOLDEN: No. The idea of a film noir murder mystery led me to think of the old hard-boiled detective stories. I decided to combine the movie monster genre with that of the forties and fifties detectives. Being a lifelong film buff and former movie reviewer, I knew movie monsters and film noir fairly well, but I wasn’t as familiar with the hard-boiled detective stories. So I read as many books as I could get my hands on by authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Mickey Spillane. I also watched plenty of old horror movies and films like Out of the Past, The Big Sleep, Murder My Sweet, and The Maltese Falcon.

PS: That sounds like a lot of research.

GOLDEN: You can’t do a good job of satirizing something unless you know it inside and out. But satire is a tricky thing. I prefer a subtle brand of parody that sneaks up on you as opposed to slapping you in the face. There are certainly plenty of quirky characters in Monster Town, but the plot is told straight-forward. The satire is in the “hard-boiled” language of P.I. Dirk Slade’s narration. But, like all humor, it’s subjective. Some people get what you’re trying to do and others . . . well, you just hope they enjoy it on another level.

PS: Is there a chance we’ll be seeing more of private investigator Dirk Slade?

GOLDEN: You never know. It would certainly be jake with me.

Now available for pre-order.

Chapter 4 KNUCKLEBONES

Sneak Peek Extract:

KNUCKLEBONES by Marni Scofidio 

Now available for pre-order.

At first Clary didn’t recognise her surroundings, half-painted by moonlight, half by sodium. She had fallen asleep by the lounge window; the sun had kipped up hours ago.

Felix! She checked her mobile. No messages. Had something gone wrong? Note to self: must stop watching all those true crime programmes on Quest.

She had started to dial when the mobile pinged, an incoming text message she could read by the light of the sodium outside. don’t worry cariad taid thought you needed a rest so we’ll keep felix tonight unless we hear from you. love you more than all the stars in the sky. xxx

Clary smiled, licked her dry lips. Mum—typical English teacher— must be the one person left in the world who didn’t text phonetically. She hit lock and shoved the mobile into her pocket. She shivered, her skin painful with goosebumps.

She needed a change of clothes, something warm. But of course, it was all packed, and her body felt stuffed with concrete. Clary staggered to her feet, jerking like a marionette, her head pounding. A big glass of cold water and three paracetamols, that’ll sort me out. But she had no idea where the paracetamol was. She managed to drag herself all the way into the kitchen before she remembered the water was off. Had she missed the Tai Ffrynt plumber? They might think her a timewaster and not send anyone out now until Monday.

Bottles. Bottles of water in my handbag. And paracetamol. She ruffled through the bag. Damn thing was so big, the black leather interior made finding things impossible. A plastic bag containing bottles of water should be locatable by feel. The supermarket bag she’d packed was not in her handbag.

Clary didn’t even like water, but knowing she couldn’t have any made her want it more. She lay on the couch, sweaty yet barbed with chill, teeth on edge, burning up.

Outside and inside, nothing. No hum of traffic, no bass lines, no insects; not even seagulls. The building’s location a few yards away from a roundabout meant there should at least be the occasional car. But there was no sound at all.

I’ve never lived anywhere so quiet in my life. This must be what it’s like to be dead.

She shifted on the couch and pulled her knees up to her aching belly. Somewhere, above or below her, she couldn’t tell, a clock chimed the hour. One, two, three, four . . . seven, eight, nine . . . eleven o’clock. 11.00 p.m. They’d all be asleep at her mum’s. She couldn’t wake them up just because she felt a bit flu-y.

A full moon, fat and sanguine, looked about to roll off the black slope of Tan-y-Gopa. The harsh rasp of her breath caught in her throat, rattled in her chest. She hated noise, but it was preferable to this kind of quiet, the quiet of cemeteries and crems.

And as if in answer to her thought, the first footstep fell. From below, ascending. Slow and dragging. No ring or aggressive staccato tap of high-heels. She heard the footsteps turn the corner of a downstairs landing, rise towards her flat.

Had she given her mother the spare key? She couldn’t remember.

Her cracked lips parted but no sound came out. Up another staircase feet plodded, relentless. The banister groaned as a hand clutched it; the footsteps rounded another landing.

Mum?

But there was only one landing that led to her flat. The new flat.

Mum, is that you?

More steps, more stairs, two more landings. A floorboard creaked.

Someone inside the flat. Someone who hesitated on the threshold.

She shut her eyes. Maybe she could imagine it away. Breathing in the room, ragged, wet, said no.

She opened her eyes, and gasped. She was not in her new flat; it was the old one. She could just make out a dark shape, hulked in the lounge doorway. Moonlight fell on a dress pattern, dark and viscous, as two square hands kneaded the sodden material. Then a deep voice groaned, creaky, as if not often in use.

Help me.

Clary tried to shout. Her throat rasped with the effort. Stay back. You just stay back.

Help me. Don’t want to hurt you. Need help.

How did you get in?

The white hands twisted and turned. Please, it’s my mother. She won’t wake up. I’ve shook her and shook her and she just won’t wake up.

The figure shambled into the patch of moonlight. It dripped on the carpet. Its hands and dress disappeared into gloom. Lank grey hair framed a candle-yellow face that hung as if disembodied, open idiot mouth filled with blood. The left eye so pale it seemed all white, no iris. The head caved into a red sodden mess where the right eye should be.

Him. Him. Why was he in a dress? Why did he babble about his mother when he’d once said that his mother had been dead for years?

She was back in the old flat in the Kinmel Estate. On the couch, the window behind her open, blown by wind and rain.

As he shambled towards her she shouted at him but her voice had gone. Then he reached the patch of moonlight, and brought up his hands again, and she saw that he held Felix in his arms, and her voice returned, scream after scream that rasped her throat and woke her up.

The doorbell shrieked. Clary jerked up on the couch; a flailing limb knocked over the picture frame on the coffee table. The room was still dark, though afternoon sunshine laced through the soaped window and the open light. No one stood in the lounge doorway.

Clary’s handbag lay fallen open by the couch. Two bottles of water and a bag of microwave rice poked out of the supermarket bag inside. Beside it was her mobile. She checked the messages: nothing. No text from her mother.

She picked up the picture frame. A large crack in the glass split her and Felix; a long shard of glass fell out of the frame. Best wrap it in some newspaper before she cut herself. Clary wrapped all of it, glass and frame, in a sports page from the Ffrynt Voice and put it back in the box she’d brought it in. She’d get the glass replaced before her mum saw she’d broken it.

The doorbell shrilled again, over and over, insistent. Not like Anita. Her mum knew with Felix it sometimes took Clary a few moments to get to the door.

But Clary didn’t have Felix.

Maybe something had happened to them. Maybe it was the police.

‘Can’t be the police, stupid,’ she told the panic voice. ‘How would they get in the front door?’ Fuck off, panic voice. You gave your mum the spare key and forgot.

Clary ran to the front door and threw it open. She expected to see Anita, cradling Felix like the best present in the world.

Now available for pre-order.

KNUCKLEBONES: The Musical

Marni Scofidio discusses her debut novel, KNUCKLEBONES. Now available for pre-order.

Now available for pre-order.

Everything I write is sparked by rage. On my last visit to America, someone I love confided in me that they’d been abused as a child but never told anyone because they didn’t want the family broken up.

That was the most outrageous thing anyone’s ever said to me. But those words brought me Daere and Clary and Felix, inside whom I’ve tried to live, uncomfortable as it’s been.

I wanted to write characters who’ve been through hell—one is treading water, one isn’t—but also to entertain (if nearly gifting a heart attack to one beta-reader is entertainment), to bring the reader through the catharsis of a story with characters s/he might come to care about. I wrote what I love to read.

~~~

I tried to make one of the villains of Knucklebones sympathetic, in that to their (damaged) way of thinking, nothing they do, up to and including murder, hurts others. They simply pursue happiness like the rest of us. In fact, they probably wouldn’t even do what they do were it not for what others have done to them. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone, that some people who commit evil are just plain twats. But that sort of badness doesn’t interest me.

~~~

I’m so squeamish, at times I wonder why I write in this genre: I must be the only writer in the world trying to research decomposition in dead bodies without actually looking at any of the graphic pictures on my search engine. I have to understand the structure of an image, then describe that image in words that might lodge in a reader’s mind like a poem: a trick three of my favourite writers, Ruth Rendell, Ramsey Campbell, and Chet Williamson, are geniuses at.

~~~

Being an incurable pantser, I used to envy writers who could outline. I can’t even visualise, not a full picture of anything: in my rather flaky mind I can just see parts or corners of things. But now I enjoy the not-knowing. I get excited as I work—my subconscious rarely lets me down—and plot twists reveal themselves to me. If I can surprise myself, maybe I can surprise the reader, too.

~~~

It’s a funny old thing, being a multi-national. At times I’ve felt I have no voice, that to be a proper writer you need one country—Joel Lane’s England or Charles Bukowski’s America or John Kennedy Toole’s New Orleans (a country, trust me)—to infuse your work with identity, with a cultural voice.

~~~

The name ‘Daere’ is supposed to derive from a Welsh word that means ‘fiend’. I can’t find any factual basis for this, but maybe someone else will.

~~~

When I was younger I had a stalker, luckily for me, one who was quite easily discouraged. Stalkers are horrendous in real life but I love nothing better in fiction than that sort of incredibly uncomfortable encounter between two people, one deluded, the other unaware.

~~~

To avoid self-pity that can arise with a chronic medical condition such as ME/CFS, a failing of the immune system which has gifted me with a premature old age and which I’ve had since 1997, I watch programmes about people who rise to challenges far more debilitating than my own.

Clary and Felix were born from watching documentaries, in particular a series (the name of which completely escapes me) about single parents with special needs children. If ever the word ‘hero’ can be applied, it’s to these courageous people. Also to carers, who toil in lonely and difficult circumstances, saving the UK millions of pounds in wages every year.

~~~

All of my characters are cobbled together from parts of me, or are me, distorted, or me in an alternate universe, the alternate universe where I’m a 5’9” thirty-year-old leggy redhead who knocks men dead. The ugliest aspects of human nature, or what a writer can imagine about them, are most useful in fiction. Some of these aspects can even be made beautiful. Though trolls who write one-star reviews to bring down a book’s rating on Amazon are not beautiful. Still, any publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell my name right.

~~~

The flashpoint of Knucklebones was sparked by an unexpected conversation, but the entire thing began with a 2010 note in my commonplace book. I followed Patricia Highsmith’s advice to keep asking, What if? even when the story seemed too far-fetched― postman as love interest―or ludicrous. I’m not comparing myself to her genius, but Highsmith made a cross-dressing schizophrenic art thief/con artist/ serial murderer not only believable but sympathetic over a series of five novels.

Altogether, my story’s genesis encompassed seven years. Originally it was meant not for publication but as a self-printed Christmas gift for a few close friends.

~~~

I wanted to be a stage actress, and for a time in my youth, was, playing a range of roles, from St Joan to Madame Wee Wee Dupres, a Bourbon Street hooker in a hit Buffalo dinner theatre show, to all the girly bit parts in Play It Again, Sam and, in San Francisco in 1978, Dr Frank N Furter in a multi-media production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show; our production was filmed and shown on Argentinian children’s television!

I considered myself to have failed at my dream until I found I could use my acting skills in creating characters. Every single character in Knucklebones, I’ve put myself inside their skin. I don’t understand all of them, but some I don’t want to understand.

~~~

The sad thing is so many people like my loved one suffered, or suffer, in fear or silence, which shouldn’t be: every abuse survivor should be able to be heard, believed, and make themselves whole. For me the process would involve castration with a potato dibber.

In writing about a woman who does her best to not just survive her violent past but flourish, I’d say living well is the better revenge after all. At least I can hope so.

~~~

Ffrynt is an amalgamation of all the towns I’ve lived in on what my husband calls The Welsh Riviera, or Valhalla, according to one South Walian wag: the coast between Rhyl and Llandudno in North Wales. Because of my ME/CFS, I’ve been unable to physically walk these towns. To avoid criticism for sending characters the wrong way down a one-way street, or to eat in a retaurant that no longer exists, I made up my own town, and have a giant wall map to prove it. Making maps is a lot easier than writing fiction. Also I can have my own weather.

~~~

A Welsh, indeed British, custom is to twin towns with other towns, usually European, so as to provide beanos for local politicians. Ffrynt is twinned with R’yleh. Which might explain why the Conservatives got in.

~~~

Knucklebones’ working title was Number 9, as it was my ninth attempt at a novel and the first I was happy enough with to send into the outside world. When I realised that part of a character’s psychopathy was that they played with children a child’s game called jacks, my husband told me about knucklebones, gifting me with the title.

~~~

Readers rock. Beta-readers gave me the confidence to submit my novel. After many, many rejections, I was extremely lucky to be accepted by the best publisher in the world for me: the experience has been all that I dreamed of. If there are any readers I missed in the acknowledgments, I’d like to thank them here. I write for myself, so anyone who reads and likes my work is a gift, and I’m eternally grateful. Thank you. And cheers for reading this, too.

~~~

The friend I’ve known longest in Britain asked if reading Knucklebones will change her opinion of me. ‘Darling,’ I said, ‘only if you can’t differentiate between fact and fiction.’

~~~

WE ARE THE MARTIANS: THE LEGACY OF NIGEL KNEALE

we-are-the-martians-the-legacy-of-nigel-kneale-hardcover-edited-by-neil-snowdon-4286-p[ekm]298x420[ekm]Sneak Peek Extract: Introduction by Neil Snowdon

IN MANY WAYS, WHAT YOU HOLD IN YOUR HANDS IS A DREAM, coalesced out of passion and goodwill.

Passion for a writer not given his due is perhaps the fiercest passion in fandom, and the greatest motivator for critics. Certainly it was mine when I conceived this book and pitched it to the contributors. Passion for the work, and a sense of injustice, of incredulity, that a man who created so much, who changed lives and opened minds, should have so little written about him; should seem so little known.

Quite apart from his achievements as a storyteller and a dramatist, he is ground zero for the development of the televisual drama as a powerful medium in its own right. Not an approximation of theatre or the poor cousin of cinema, but a medium that could take the best of it’s narrative forebears—the intimacy of theatre, the visual drive of cinematic storytelling, the length, breadth and depth of the novel—to create something new. Not the ‘lean in and listen’ safety of Radio (which no matter its content will always approximate the tale around the fireside of old) but something that projected its light into your living room. That broke into your home and embraced or assaulted you, something that was—in a way—the fire itself. Lean in close and look into the flames…but not too close, or you might get burned. That was what Nigel Kneale offered. There is nothing passive about his writing. Nothing ‘cosy’. He wants to make you think and feel.

And he does just that. In spades…

It says an awful lot, I think, about how much Kneale’s work means to the contributors herein (how deeply he made them think and feel) that they stepped up to write for this collection so willingly. That each of these immensely talented writers would throw their lot in with a newbie editor without a second word. Indeed, in some cases, they came knocking at my virtual door, asking to come in.

I was overwhelmed by the response of the writers you will find between these pages. Humbled and thrilled in equal measure. And the work that they’ve put in is staggering.
If you’re new to Nigel Kneale, I hope this sends you straight to his work (run, don’t walk, to your viewing device of choice). I hope it helps contextualise the work too. Not that it needs it: the ideas, the characters and the situations are as potent and as urgent as ever they were. But methods of production change. In some cases they have dated, and I know that can be an obstacle. For those who find such elements an issue, I hope the passion of the writers will help you past it. That the context the writers provide— anecdotally, historically, critically—will help unlock the modes of making, scrape away the tarnish of accreted years to expose the thrumming primal core within: Kneale’s writing. His ideas.

For those of you who know Kneale’s work, and come to this as fans, I hope you feel we’ve done him justice. Gone some way to correct the imbalance. However you come to this book, know this: it’s just the beginning. We are not done with Nigel Kneale. We have not covered all his work. In an effort to properly embrace the passion and fervour of my contributors, I did not force them into a scheme to cover every title or every topic. I let their passion guide them. That was always foremost in my mind. With luck, there’ll be a Volume 2 to follow, because there’s more to tell. And besides, the amount of people who—having gotten wind of the project—came forward and asked if the could be involved, has been thrilling to me. And not a little touching. Nigel’s work means so much, to so many people, to practitioners within his field and beyond. He has inspired writers, film-makers, musicians, doctors, scientists…there’s a great deal more to come. I hope that you’ll come with us too.

This book is about the Work. The Legacy of an incredible talent and a unique mind. But I’d like to say a word or two about Kneale ‘The Man’.

There’s a common misconception that he was ‘Difficult’. ‘Curmudgeonly’, ‘Cantankerous’, ‘Misanthropic’ even.

I don’t buy it.

This is a man who was at the peak of his field. In television, he created his field. And he knew it.

I don’t think he was arrogant, and he wasn’t a show off (he was too British for that). But he knew how good he was, and his standards were high. And he didn’t mince words about anything he saw as failing to meet those standards. He set the bar high, for himself and for others.

Interference from people (film and television executives) who were less experienced and less talented, must have frustrated him. Indeed, at times, I’m sure infuriated him. Certainly, I think that was the case with HALLOWEEN III, with which he was forever associated despite removing his name (at cost to himself) from the film. Because the changes that were made fell below the standards he held to his work and his name.

Unfortunately, for contemporary readers, because John Carpenter remains (rightly) a popular figure among film fans today, I think that particular bad experience overshadows everything else. Kneale’s name and work is so little known in pop culture circles, that this is the example that comes up again and again…‘he wasn’t happy with what they did to his script’, ‘he wasn’t nice about the final film’, ‘he didn’t get along with Carpenter’. All of which is true. He did not like what was done to his original script. And as a result he removed himself from the production and his name from the credits (losing any residual payments he might have received for his involvement with the film in the process). It’s also true that he disliked the final film…and let’s face it he was not alone. But having removed himself from what he saw as inferior work, his name stuck. I can’t think of a review or an article that doesn’t mention him. And I think the more that went on, the more annoyed he got and the less kind he became about the film. Because this fly in his ear just wouldn’t go away.

This image of Nigel Kneale pervades internet culture, and that’s a shame. Because as a man and as a writer, Kneale was SO much more…

I’ve read people talk about Kneale as a misanthropic writer, but I don’t read the work that way at all. He is a deeply humane writer. Concerned with human drama as well as big ideas. Indeed, all his big ideas are profoundly linked to what it means to be human.

If, as they say, drama is conflict, then Kneale’s dramas deal with the conflict of what most afflicts us not only as people, but as a society, and as a species. They may seem pessimistic, and there is often an ambiguity to them, a queasy uncertainty…but there is always hope. The potential to overcome our worst aspects is always present. Literally, as in the Quatermass stories, or implicitly, as if by showing our worst, by confronting us with our fears and foibles and failures, Kneale is offering a warning. A plea…must we be like this!?

Kneale is a profoundly emotive writer, his ideas are never divorced from emotion. He makes us feel the idea (its implication, its meaning for us as people), not just think about it.

It seems to me that, in his combination of the emotive and the intellectual, Kneale not only demonstrates what great drama can do at its best, but what we as thinking, feeling beings can be…

Humane, emotive and intellectual in equal measure. These are the things that typify Nigel Kneale and his writing. These are the things that cracked my head wide open when I first saw QUATERMASS AND THE PIT at roughly 9 years old.

I’m not usually an advocate for violence, but I hope he does it to you too.


Order your copy, here.

 

 

THROUGH A MYTHOS DARKLY – Story Extracts

3D Through a Mythos DarklyThe Roadrunners by Cody Goodfellow

It was a hell of a way to leave the flying fortress that had been their home through three wartime years and forty-four missions. Might’ve come to mutiny, if she weren’t sinking in the red mud that covered the whole Gulf shore up to the top of Galveston’s most inspired Protestant steeple, and erased the Fort Butler aerodrome off the map.

“Don’t take it so hard, ace,” Captain Schwering told his co-pilot. “You put us down dead on top of the airstrip, anyway.”

They beached the dinghies on a sandbar on top of the old San Jacinto battleground. Cowles played Taps on his harmonica. Norman laid his Norden bombsight on a boulder and smashed it to bits with another rock, then threw the wreckage in the water.

From higher ground, they could see nothing alive but the huge, freakish jellyfish things wheeling in the sky. They’d flown forty-three runs over Germany, and after the Nazis folded, they volunteered for the task force to go back to America when communications were cut off and it became clear that some kind of Axis endgame had played out at home. So far as they knew, they were the only ones out of the thirty-plane group to survive the Atlantic crossing.

Scrimshaw by Jeffrey Thomas

MASSACHUSETTS, 1851

The roar had been going on without cease for three solid days now.

It came from out to sea, but it rolled through the streets of New Bedford like an unbroken boom of thunder, causing people to speak very loudly or even yell to be heard in conversation, causing people to stuff their ears at night with little balls of candle wax so they might sleep, or try to sleep. The roar was so deep in tone it rumbled inside one’s body like a vibration, though occasionally there would be overlapping notes, layers of other sounds. One of these was like a sustained blast, or series of blasts, on a trumpet. . . carrying from far away but abrupt enough to make one flinch. Superimposed over these sudden bleats and the consistent roar, there might be a crystalline ringing sound which penetrated one’s ears like icicles. Usually, however, it was just the baritone roar.

Sweet Angie Tailor in: Subterranean Showdown by John Langan

The ambush came later than Angela expected, a succession of explosions on the boulders around her, scattering chips of rock, lead fragments, followed close on by the cracks of the rifles from the low ridge at her back. Had positions been reversed, she would have opened fire when her target was halfway from the foot of the ridge to the mouth of the cave and the weird arrangement of boulders in front of it. Assuming she had Petty’s bravos at her disposal, she would not have had all of them shoot at once, either, since she was fairly certain none of them was in possession of a repeating rifle, giving their target whatever time she needed to find cover, as Angela was doing now, ducking behind a rock like a large stone talon. Her Schofield was in hand, but the ridge was too distant for accuracy with the pistol. Better to be patient, wait for her would-be assassins to descend to finish her, and if necessary employ the terrain to balance the advantage of their numbers. She was sufficiently ahead of schedule to be able to pause here for a moment.

An Old and Secret Cult by Robert M. Price

Young Mr. Abernathy looked sheepish and looked both ways as he approached his Ecclesiastical History instructor as class was breaking up. Professor Exeter dropped his stack of rumpled and long-used lecture notes into his briefcase as he focused on his inquirer.

“Yes, Mr. Abernathy? What can I do for you? Can I perhaps clarify some points? Sometimes I take too much for granted, I know.” The old man’s avuncular manner went some way to putting the seminarian at ease.

“Clarification. Yes, I suppose so, Professor. It’s this passage right here.” The average-height, brown-haired, unassuming young man had used his finger as a bookmark in his copy of scripture, and now he flipped the well-thumbed text open to the page and repurposed that digit to indicate one particular verse. “Isn’t the Apostle saying that the apocalypse is coming soon? I mean, we always hear that it means it’s going to happen soon for us, but he doesn’t really say that, does he? Isn’t he really saying his own generation should get ready for it?”

Dr. Exeter sighed silently. It was not the first time a student had seen the problem and raised the same question confidentially. It was not a topic of polite conversation in the halls and dormitory of Miskatonic University’s School of Divinity. Talk like that could get a fellow branded as a heretic, a doubter, and that could have career-killing ramifications, to say the least. Still, keen minds could not keep silent forever.

Stewert Behr–Deanimator by Pete Rawlik

1. SIX SHOTS FROM THE SHADOWS

Of my friend and colleague Stewart Behr, much has been written, and even more is whispered. It has been more than half a century since I first met the man in the hallowed halls of Miskatonic University’s School of Necromancy. We were students then, enthralled in our studies of the anatomy and physiology of the Resurrected. Our fellows had pursued more commonplace studies, focusing on the ailments of the still living masses that made up the bulk of the plebian populace of the Americas, but Behr and I had chosen a different course. Under the tutelage of the eminent physician Lyle A. Shan we sought the training necessary to serve as physicians to the Resurrected themselves, those dark luminaries whom the Emperor himself had gathered and bestowed upon the necromantic gift of immortality.

To Kill a King by Don Webb

1961, as I saw on the cover of Mad Magazine, was the “upside-down” year. That is to say you could write down the digits of the year, turn your paper upside-down, and it still read 1961. It seemed an upside-down year for me as well. Some pride of the South had firebombed the Freedom Riders in my home state, we had put Alan Shepard into outer space, and I won the Pulitzer Prize. There were other winners as well: Phyllis McGinley won for writing poems about suburban lawns and the joy of picking her husband up at the train station. My oldest brother got around to calling me.

“Nell, I liked the book, really I did, but I am surprised so many people are interested in Monroeville.”

“I was surprised they were interested at all, but Tru said they would be.”

“But you left out the big part. What happened to you and Amasa and Tru.”

“That would distract from what I wanted to talk about. Besides, I don’t want that old photo running anytime they mention the book.”

“You should still write it down, or get Tru to write it.”

“I did write it down. I just made it fiction and that enabled me to say certain things about racism and the class structure.”

“And skip the monstrous truth.”

“I was not writing for a pulp magazine. Tennessee Williams may have begun by writing for Weird Tales but I am not Tennessee Williams.”

“Are you working on anything now?” This is the question all writers hate. Do people ask their doctors if they’re doing surgery?

“I am working on a true crime story.”

“Like Tru?”

The Last Quest by William Meikle

Arthur Pendragon, forty-ninth holder of name and title, watched from Westminster Palace as the Saxon dirigibles rained fiery death from above. Londinium burned for the twelfth night in succession, and Arthur was only too aware that all he could do was stand on the balcony and look splendid in his too shiny armor that had never even seen a battle.

“The people need a symbol.” He’d heard the phrase—his whole line of ancestors had heard it—heard it so often that it was almost the family motto.

“This is all your fault, you know,” Arthur said to the much smaller robed and hooded figure at his side. Merlin—first and only of the name, at least to Arthur’s knowledge, did not say anything in reply, so Arthur went on. “Do something, man—call up your old magic—send them home. Do your duty.”

Merlin laughed at that, a harsh, low chuckle that came with a watery rumble, as if something was broken deep in his chest.

“Duty now is it, Sire? I was called to your family all those years ago— bound to you by chains you will never begin to understand, and yet you have the nerve to speak to me about duty? Shame on you, Arthur—you are the king here, not I. I may have grown old over the years, but at least I have not yet grown soft. All of your machinations in the name of progress, all of your politics and treaties and kowtowing to the Northmen has only led us here, to this fiery end. The Saxe-Coburgs have torn up every treaty, walked over all of our old allies in weeks—and here they are perched on our doorstep—and burning down the house. And now that disaster is upon us, you look to me for answers, as you and yours have always done. And as always, you already know what is needed—the land needs its king, and the king needs the sword and the grail—as it ever was, as it ever shall be.”

“The grail is lost,” Arthur said.

“And forever will be, unless you look for it,” Merlin replied.

It was an old argument, and one that was not going to be resolved any time soon. Arthur dragged his gaze from the burning city, turned his back and stepped inside, into the great hall, where the knights sat in session at the table. They would look to him for guidance—but as yet he did not have the slightest idea what he could tell them.

Fate of the World by Christine Morgan

At cruising altitude, the thudding ascent of Asgard-One’s eight rotor-engines became a steady gallop of smoother, soothing motion. The big Sleipnir-class aircraft leveled off, riding as easily above the clouds as a longship might skim the open seas. Beyond the round windows flitted wisps of white, and beyond that stretched blue sky and curving horizon.

All fell quiet but for the distant thrumming noise of flight, and what muffled conversation filtered in from the steerhouse at the stern. They’d refueled in Cusco, been warmly welcomed and generously hosted by the Inca, and from there embarked upon this last and most dangerous leg of their journey.

Leif Freylindesson stretched, and rolled his head, glancing over at his brother on the far side of the wide aisle. Harald, two years older, wore his flax-fair hair and beard short and neatly groomed. Leif preferred the wilder bad-boy look, himself. His own flowing mane was amber-gold, his beard reddish like their father’s had been, though they both had their mother’s storm-gray eyes.

They hadn’t spoken much since leaving New Thingvellir. What else, really, was there to say that hadn’t been said already?

“Do you think she’s sending us to our deaths?” Leif had asked.

“I think she’s doing what must be done,” had been Harald’s reply. “And who better for it?”

“True enough.”

Now, here they were, leaving the last outposts of humanity further and further behind, with only the barest inkling of what awaited them. Just as their own ancestors had, centuries ago, set the prows of their ships westward, knowing it was a brave endeavor from which they might never return.

Red in the Water, Salt on the Earth by Konstantine Paradias

“Ever seen a drowney funeral from up close, Rookie?” Brown asked over the rising bass hum of the throat-singing mourners.

“Once, in Crawfish Rock,” Tieg said, nodding. “Three days before Christmas. There were three times as many, back there.”

“L.A is drowney country. Can’t go two feet inna water without bumping into one of the rags. Got a cousin in the Channel Islands, tells me the water’s just thick with the bastiches,” Brown said, struggling to roll a cigarette under the soft glow of the gas lamp.

Across the length of Baker Beach, came the beat of orca-bone drums. Slowly, the throat-singing faded into silence. As one, the mourners dropped to their knees and began to crawl toward the water. They splashed at the frothing sea with their open hands like children, sending whorls of foam and jets of spray across the Moon’s reflection.

“They’d built a temple, near Long Beach. More like grew it, actually. Brought in some red corals from their home towns and let them take root in the ocean floor. In ten years’ time, there was a shiny red bell tower sticking out of the water. The mayor made us blow it up with depth charges,” Tieg said, looking down at the mourners, listening to the drumbeat slowly replaced by a gentle, sensuous hiss.

“Did you get any of the punks?” Brown said, cigarette secured between his teeth. He struck a match against the hem of his raincoat.

“A couple of them. The temple Oorl and his mate. There was a girl with them, though. A fuzzy duck by the name of Sophie Lamburg,” Tieg said and found that the guttural, back-of-the-throat slur of the Deep One word still came natural to him. You don’t learn, came the hoarse, croaking voice from his past. You remember.

The Night They Drove Cro Magnon Down by D.A. Madigan

All this tuck place in late ’64… Novemb’r ah b’lieves. Yassuh, that seems rah’t. Least as best Ah can ’member, now, so long a piece afta’ards.

We’ud beat the Yankees back in three . . . no, fowah . . .recent battles and we was feelin’ powerful smart. Afta Bragg broke that gods-damned Semite Jehovah worshippah Rosecrans at Chattanooga in late ’63, it war lahk we jest never looked back. We rolled on up through West Virginny, goin’ back inta Pennsylvania along the same busted, blasted ground we all’d just retreated ovah aah the first Battle o’ Gettysburg. O’ course, the Second Battle o’ Gettysburg went just a might bettah fo’ us, and that bastard slave stealer Lincoln sent off a telegram to President Davis askin’ to meet him fo’ a parley on neutral ground . . . an’ every waggin’ tongue said he was gonna ask for peace terms. Glory, glory.

Me and Jasper Bennitt—not Jasper Bennett, from the big plantation up at White Church, he up an’ got hisself shot at Antietem, no, I’m talking about the third son from the Bennitt clan down in Noble Crick, the one whut got caught with his second cousin Cindy Lynette in the haystack at that winter dance ovah in Harperstown—anyway, me an’ Jasper, we was stationed at Charleston at the time the news come in. We got us a 72 hour leave. Prob’ly coulda made it six months, ouwah major was that drunk. Noble Crick not bein’ all that far from Busey, where Ah hail from, we decided we’d grab a train back down to Georgia togethah. Postmaster Reagan had put a lotta runaway contraband to work rebuildin’ the war damage an’ a surprisin’ number o’ the rail lines was runnin’ again. We hopped a freight an howah after we got ouwah papahs signed and we was well on ouwah way. We rolled inta Savannah by three in the aftahnoon and set out to find a wagon headin’ out the direction we needed t’go in.

We seen a whole power o’ contraband, o’course, workin’ on the lines alongside the train as we rolled on by. Now, leathers ain’t people, o’course, no matter what those crazy Yankee abolitioners wanna tell ya, but they’s some decent ‘uns anyways. . . my own Auntie Sussanah, fo’ example, she loved me like Ah was her own blood an’ me and my folks always treated her good. She was honest and gave a good day’s work. An’ Ah have knowed a lotta leathers like that. . . good an’ kind and willin’ and hard workin’.

But leathers is animals, not men, and some of ’em are juss stupid and willful and some of ’em are downright ornery an’ bad. An’ these contraband, well, they was all runaways what got captured back durin’ the War, so you know they was all trash . . . no good an’ worthless, lazy and ready to rise up against they ownahs. Mah thinkin’ is, once a leather has proved itself to be one lahk that, all you ken do is hang ’em. No point tryin’ to put ’em back in harness, you cain’t nevah trust ’em. But ain’t nobody evah made me Postmaster General fo’ the Confederacy, so Ah guess Ah jess gotta hesh up.

Sacrifice by Sam Stone

Captain Nemo stared out, unblinking, into the dark blue depths and let his mind wander into the realms of creativity that could only be found below the surface. Deep in the ocean, in his own giant isolation tank, the world above, and the concerns of man, couldn’t touch him. His pupils were dilated. He had not surfaced for more than a year and although this did not alarm him, sometimes his crew needed to see land, walk on soil, take respite with a whore or two.

The time to resurface was rapidly approaching.

He let his mind float, barely registering the sea life that swam before the expansive window, as he turned the Nautilus slowly around. He was only half aware of the navigation system bleeping agreement that he was turning in the right direction and the slight upsurge of whirring as the engine boosters kicked in. Nemo needed no guidance. He knew the ocean like the palm of his own hand. The technology was for his pilot, not for himself: he could not be at the helm for all hours of the day.

Nemo was the son of an Indian rajah, and his olive skin would have been darker but for the fact that the captain rarely saw daylight. From an early age he had been raised in England, brought up as a man of privilege and wealth. As a result Nemo spoke in a cultured English voice. He had been educated to a high standard, soon surpassing his tutors, and mostly dressed as any English gentleman might. However, at sea he wore a beard which gave him a distinct pirate air.

The Nautilus shuddered. Nemo blinked, bringing his focus back from the water to the submarine around him. Sometimes he forgot completely that there was anything but himself and the sea.

Get Off Your Knees I’m Not Your God by Edwrad Morris

For everything, there is a place. A time. A time to swing in the branches and play, and be glad. And a time to rend. To uproot that tree from the ground and make a club of it, and test its swing.

A time to smear my face and chest with the blood of my kills, to hide the shine of sweat and mask my stink from the larger predators. To sleep upside-down in trees, like the great fruit bats who come when it is warm and eat all the worst of the bugs.

A time to go out and execute natural law. To do what must be done. To hunt. This is good. The way. Mine.

But there is peace, too, when the nights get long and late, and this big island talks and talks and talks. Like Mama would, but in an older tongue I can still understand when it’s just us awake. Just me and this island.

This island talks deep. Deeper than the slow fingers of the tide that washes up baby turtles and driftwood and stranger things. Deeper than the chatterings of the wriggling two-legged rats that washed up and nested on my beach some other time ago, even when they pound their hide drums and sing.

Deeper than the cries of the lizards, the serpents, the wing’d and nighted things who sweep down at me sometimes, like great troublesome mosquitoes which I must pause and snap in half.

This island speaks. Just as I speak. That clearly. The island and the forest do, the wind in the trees, right there for anyone to hear.

In the tongues of the ancestors of my ancestors, they sing to me, and teach me everything I need to be. Everything that makes it make sense, when I listen and hear, and let my terror run off and get itself good and lost out there in that thick, dank fog.

Excerpts from the Diares of Henry P. Linklatter by Stephen Mark Rainey

Wednesday, July 16, 1969

Today was my birthday! I am 11 years old. Mom made a cake, and Terry, Beth, Dan, Faun, Suzy, Joe, and Charles came over for a party. I got a fishing rod, a G.I. Joe, a model sailing ship, and some other stuff. Also, Apollo 11 landed on the moon this afternoon. We watched it on the news, and even Walter Cronkite was excited and laughing! Neil Armstrong walked on the moon tonight and said “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” I got to stay up late and watch it. That part was exciting, but a lot of it was just looking at the leg of the LEM and nothing else really happening. But I’m glad we landed on the moon!

Plague Doctor by Tim Waggoner

They’re inside me. Multiplying, growing, filling me . . . Millions upon millions of tiny voices joined in dark song, sharp and discordant, and all the more beautiful for it. Their song is more than sound, though. It’s the heat blazing at the core of my being, roasting me from within. It’s the throbbing ache deep in my muscles, that’s settled in my bones like corrupted marrow. It’s the thick rattle in my throat whenever I try to draw in air, the heaviness in my lungs, the bubbling of infection . . . And it is glorious.

Amidst the Blighted Swathes of Grey Desolation by Lee Clark Zumpe

“I seen things I shouldn’ta seen over t’the barrier,” Benita Mullen said, her voice sounding uncharacteristically small and feeble. “I just had to follow ’em, see what kind ’a trouble they got themselves in.

“Stop your wrigglin’, Mama.” Benita’s daughter used a damp cloth to cool her forehead. “The medic will come soon.”

“Soon,” Benita said, managing a reassuring smile for her two grown children. She knew no treatment would stop the inevitable. Her killer’s blade had gone too deep. She had lost too much blood trying to get back to her loved ones in the small, rustic farming village. “Don’t fret now,” she said, wiping a tear from her son’s cheek. “Been a good life.”

At 48, Benita was the oldest member of her clan. Like all the others, she had spent her life toiling in the fields. She and her extended family had worked just about every kind of crop imaginable in Florida: citrus, sugarcane, tomatoes, peppers, cotton, watermelons, peanuts, snap beans and potatoes. For Benita and her kin, recompense for the drudgery came in daily allotments of food and water, tolerable living conditions and suitable shelter, basic healthcare and—most importantly—the opportunity for select newborns to be “elevated.”

Neither Benita’s son Napoleon nor her daughter Zoe had been chosen by the administrators. They had, however, picked her sister’s little baby girl back in 1997; and, before that, one of her cousins. Her own mother told her that her grandmother’s twin sister had gone to the great, shining city in the north—a near-mythical metropolis known as Jacksonville.

“Listen good, you two,” Benita said. She struggled to remain composed as waves of pain radiated from the gash in her belly. “Don’t you go gettin’ no ideas about revenge, you hear? Don’t go lookin’ for trouble—ain’t no reason. This is my doin’—I shoulda kept clear of ’em. Whatever that bunch over t’district twelve got into, you keep away from it. Administrators’ll catch ’em. You stay away from them folk and that church they built back in the shadows of that old orange grove. No tellin’ what kinda of thing they worship out there . . . no tellin’ what kinda wicked ceremonies they get up to.”

When the district medical officer arrived, the sun had already descended below the horizon, leaving only a shrinking reddish band as purple twilight overtook the skies. Benita had been dead for hours.

Cognac, Communism, and Cocaine by Nick Mamatas and Molly Tanzer

Ghyslaine burned the inside of her left arm as she removed a tray of rolls from the oven. The seared flesh went cold, then hot as she almost swooned, rolls skittering across the parchment paper with the sound of autumn leaves over pavement. Then the nausea hit her. No matter how often she burned herself—and she did so often—she never got used to the sensation. The way the back of her neck prickled as she broke out in the inevitable icy sweat. The way her limbs went weak. She turned, looking for a place to set the rolls, and gasped as Maxim’s maître d’ leapt out of her way.

He did not look to be in an understanding mood.

“Watch out, you daft slut,” he hissed, his words blending with the tap as she ran her arm under water. “Ones preserve me! They’re arriving, and—” He gestured expansively at the busy kitchen. “Just look at it down here! Chaos!”

Ghyslaine was not in charge of the kitchen, but that did not concern Mr. Sarkozy. Nor for that matter did it concern him that neither was he—it was not his job to scold anyone in the back of the house, even a humble boulangère like herself.

“There is no bread out on the tables,” continued Mr. Sarkozy, as Ghyslaine applied a smear of butter to her arm. “Where are the rolls, Ghyslaine? The rolls!”

“Here, Mr. Sarkozy,” said Ghyslaine, singeing her fingertips as she distributed the hot little rolls among several baskets. Philippe, the tournant, earned himself a grateful look as he brought out the dishes of beurre maître d’hôtel from the icebox. She would thank him later, when things had quieted down.

“And what are these, exactly?” Mr. Sarkozy, who ought to have been instructing the waiters to bear the bread out to the tables, if he was so concerned about it, picked up a roll and inspected it. “So plain. So small! Perhaps you think you are baking for prisoners, instead of the international literati?”

Ghyslaine desperately needed to get away; her brioche was at a tricky point and she still had more displeasing rolls to bake. “The chef sets the menu, Mr. Sar—”

“The chef!” spat Mr. Sarkozy, as if this was the most absurd protest she could come up with. “I don’t care what the chef says, I am telling you— hmm?”

It was one of the waiters, hovering anxiously.“Mr. Sarkozy, the gentleman who arrived early, he says he’s here in advance of the guest of honor, and he wants, er, or rather he needs. . . help with…” the waiter looked to Ghyslaine, clearly unwilling to say whatever it was in front of her.

“Help him, then!” exclaimed Mr. Sarkozy, throwing his hands into the air.

“Are you confused about what a waiter does? He waits on the guests!”

“Please, Mr. Sarkozy,” urged the waiter. “I—we—need your expertise for this one.”

This was the correct thing to say. The maître d’ nodded, lips pursed; after shooting Ghyslaine a nasty look, he departed.

Kai Monstrai Ateik (When the Monsters Come) by Damien Angelica Walters

Daina Mielkut stood her post on the Curonian spit, knives at her belt and the butt of her spear in the sand, watching the placid waters of the Baltic Sea. Her skin tingled with a sensation of flame without heat and ice without cold—a sign the monsters were waking. Nothing new, this sensation—Daina had lived on the spit for twenty-three years, ever since her sixteenth birthday—but something about it felt different in a way she couldn’t explain, something undefinable underneath the sensation.

All across Lithuania, people would be preparing the midsummer bonfires for the Saint Jonas’ Festival and with good reason: this was the first summer since the end of the Great War, the second since Lithuania once again came under her own rule.

Here on the spit, though, the bonfires held a different purpose. There would be no singing and dancing while the sun set, no making flower wreaths, and no stories. There were only the globėjai, the men and women who volunteered to stand guard, to fight, to kill. Some summers brought luck and there were no monsters at all; this would not be one such summer . . .

The spit, a curved piece of land ninety-eight kilometers long, ran from Klaipėda down to Kaliningrad in Russia and separated the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. Nearly a hundred years of monsters, of globėjai, and the reason the monsters chose a segment of the spit roughly one kilometer in length for their attempted incursions was still a mystery.

Some stories said a ragana tried to use magic—for what purpose, it was never said—and opened a door that should never have been opened. Some said the turmoil of man created an abscess and the monsters were akin to pus from a wound that would not heal. And still others blamed the Russians, yet with half the cursed land falling on their side of the spit, it was unlikely. But you didn’t need to know how or why a terrible thing was happening to know it must be stopped.

Order yours, here.

 

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

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If you were around when TWIN PEAKS blew us all away back in the early 1990s then you’ll know that that beleagured town is back big time on our small screens this weekend.

So, it’s only right that we share a sneak peek extract from Maura McHugh’s Midnight Movie Monograph, TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME.

SNEAK PEEK EXTRACT:

The temptation when examining Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (FWWM thereafter) is to become bogged down in the minutiae of its originating TV series, lost in the labyrinthine theories which have sprung up across multiple online forums and discussion groups. Twin Peaks is one of the first true Cult TV shows that thrived upon fan groups in the nascent Internet era, colonising space on the World Wide Web from an early stage. Despite comprising only 30 episodes, the world of Twin Peaks has endured and fascinated fans long after the show was cancelled.

While FWWM is hugely indebted to the TV series Twin Peaks, the film exists as a separate artefact and possesses its own unique identity. It functions as a prequel to the series, but ultimately it is a hymn to Laura Palmer, the fetishised mystery girl of the original series, who was only glimpsed in death through a kaleidoscope of epistolary details: diaries, video tapes, and second-hand recollections. 

In FWWM writer/director David Lynch brought his attention wholly upon Laura and her struggles in a direct and unsettling fashion. The film deals with spiritual crisis, incest, and the suffocating realities of small town America in a way that Twin Peaks couldn’t represent. Twin Peaks was a co-creation between Mark Frost and David Lynch, but FWWM was always Lynch’s vision (though he shares the writing credits with Robert Engels). In FWWM the town is seen through the prism of Laura’s experiences, so its spectrum of darkness is more visible. The film, which was rated R by the MPAA due to scenes of sex and violence, was also not limited by the bounds of television content restrictions, and did not shy from showing the awful realities of Laura’s predicament.

At its best cinema is about producing unforgettable moments that sweep the audience up with their grandeur or immense introspection. TV is often obsessed with the small moments of many lives. Thus Twin Peaks is about the town and the community but FWWM is all about the person. 

Available for pre-order.