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.

Exalted on Bellatrix 1 by Eric Brown

SNEAK PEEK EXTRACT:

Eric Brown

Hendrick stood before the wall-window and stared out across Paris.
The lights of the city scintillated like an incandescent galactic cluster. Firefly air-cars threaded their way along colour-coded air lanes, zipping past Hendrick’s penthouse apartment in a flash of sleek coachwork and running lights. To the south, at Orly, the Telemass station stood tall on its tripod of scimitar legs. As he watched, a brilliant white beam of light arched through the night and hit the translation pad, delivering a cargo of demolecularised passengers on their multi-light year journey from the stars.
It was five days since he and Mercury Velasquez had returned to Earth from Alpha Reticuli II. In that time Mercury had followed mind-leads all across Paris in an attempt to discover the whereabouts of Hendrick’s ex-wife and daughter. On arriving on Earth, Mercury had forecast that she would have a viable lead within two days, but she had come up with nothing so far. Hendrick was experiencing mood swings, the euphoria of his new-found love for the telepath alternating with despair that he might never again see his daughter.
His wrist-com chimed and his heart skipped. Every time he heard the distinctive double note he expected Mercury with good news.
A grey-haired man in his sixties stared up from Hendrick’s metacarpal screen.
“Thierry. How’s things?”
Every month his lawyer, Thierry Duvall, contacted Hendrick with the latest news. More often than not, there was no latest news.
“Sit down, Matt.”
Hendrick moved from the wall window and lowered himself into a foam-form, feeling a little sick. “Bad news?”
He’d hired Duvall five years ago to liaise with Europe’s top research labs and notify him if there was any breakthrough in the quest to discover a cure for his daughter’s condition. He lived in hope but always, on receiving Duvall’s monthly call, feared that the labs had declared Sam’s condition incurable.
Mercury had chided him on this point. “Brighten up. The companies won’t give up. Research is ongoing. They want to cash in on the Euros, no?”
“I was contacted by Omega-Gen a week ago,” Duvall said, “while you were off-world. I would have contacted you as soon as you returned, but I wanted to be sure.”
Hendrick leaned forward, his heart beating fast. “Be sure?”
“That what Omega-Gen told me was a one hundred per cent, nailed on certainty. So I took a flier down to Madrid and talked to the medics myself. There’s no doubt, Matt. They’ve found a cure for Sam’s condition.”
Hendrick stood up, choking. He strode to the window and stared out. He’d lived for this moment, anticipated his reaction, for  years. The lights of Paris blurred beyond his tears.
“The Piserchia team made the breakthrough a month ago,” Duvall went on. “It’s something to do with telomerase reversal and chromosome replacement. I don’t really know – they blinded me with science. But Dr Gonzalez is flying to Paris tomorrow and he’ll tell you all about it then. I’m so happy for you, Matt.”
Hendrick shook his head. “Thanks… I mean, thanks, Thierry, for everything you’ve done.”
“Things is,” the lawyer interrupted, “you any closer finding your daughter?”
“Mercury’s working on it,” Hendrick said. “She expects to find something pretty soon.”
Duvall nodded. He looked suddenly grim.
“What is it?”
“Just one thing…” Duvall hesitated. “This isn’t going to be cheap. The cure, it comes at a cost.”
“I never expected anything else. How much?”
“I think you should sit down again.”
Obediently, Hendrick returned to the foam-form. He had a couple of million stashed away, and was confident he could raise double that it need be. How much, after all, was his daughter’s life worth?
“Okay,” he said, “I’m ready.”
“We’re talking about staggered payments. Omega-Gen know you’re a private individual, not some corporation or government body. So they’re trying to make it manageable for you.”
“How much?”
“They suggested three payments over a couple of years. An initial deposit of five million Euros, then five million on completion of the treatment – which shouldn’t take more than a week – and then, a year later, a final payment of five million.”
Hendrick swallowed. He felt as if something very heavy and painful had hit him in the stomach.
“Fifteen million Euros?” he said.
“I know, I know… It’s a hell of a fee.”
Hendrick tried to compose himself. He didn’t want Duvall to see his shock and intuit that there was no way he could raise such an amount. “You’re telling me. Okay…” He let out a long breath. “Okay. I need to talk this over with Mercury. We’ll find some way…”
“I’ll be in touch about tomorrow. Gonzalez is due in at eleven. I suggest we meet over lunch.”
“Sure… that’s fine.” He thanked Duvall again and cut the connection.
He moved to the window and stared out. He raised his wrist-com and tried to get through to Mercury, but she wasn’t taking calls. He turned and strode across the lounge, back and forth, working off nervous energy. They had a cure for his dead daughter, a miracle that would bring her back to life.
He closed his eyes and felt the little girl in his arms again; she was five years old, on the colony world of Landsdowne, alive and looking forward to going to the zoo.
And a year later his daughter was dead, sealed into a coffin-like suspension pod against the day when medical science might discover a cure for her ailment.
Hendrick’s insurance didn’t cover the cost of the cure, and barely covered the monthly fee of the suspension pod. He’d saved over the years, juggled investments and lived frugally – a regime not helped by having to pay Telemass fees in order to race from world to world around the Expansion when his ex-wife absconded with the pod in a hare-brained attempt to find a cure herself.
Now a miracle had happened. His daughter could be cured. All Hendrick had to do was find Sam… and fifteen million Euros.
His wrist-com chimed. Mercury looked up from his metacarpal screen, her tricorne askew and stray strands of jet hair pasted to her sweat-soaked forehead. She looked out of breath as she grinned at him.
“Done it, Matt.”
His heart missed a beat. “You found her?”
“Well, I found out where your ex and Dr Hovarth fled to.” She peered up at him. “Hey, you okay?”
He hesitated. “Fine,” he said.
“You don’t look fine.”
She had the amazing facility, when her tele-ability was switched off, or when speaking to him over the net, of being able to discern his moods. She’d honed the skill of subliminally reading the facial tics and mannerisms of a subject so that, even when she wasn’t reading the mind in question, she was able to discern temperament and mood.
“Well done,” he said. “So where are they?”
“They led me a hell of a dance,” she said. “I thought it’d be a cinch to pick up mind-trails leading from the Orly station, but I was wrong on that score. Every one finished up in a dead-end. Thing was, Maatje and Hovarth didn’t know themselves where they were heading after Paris.”
“So how…?”
“I haunted the station every day this week, reading every worker there. No one knew anything, until I came across a wisp…”
He smiled. “A wisp?”
“That’s what I call them. Not really conscious thoughts in the head of a subject, but subconscious visual memories. Wisps, lasting a fraction of a second – fleeting images. I was reading this receptionist at the station when I caught a fragment – the visual of your ex and Hovarth in conversation with a short, stocky off-worlder. From the woman’s memories, I worked out the meeting had taken place four days ago. So I backtracked and read the heads of everyone working at the station that shift, and hit pay dirt. Someone knew the off-worlder: he was a Telemass agent working for the Berlin station, with an office in Montmartre. So off I went, staked out his office, and read him when he came in a couple of hours ago.”
“Go on.”
Mercury clicked her jaw sideways, skewing her lips. “Ah… I found out where they went, Matt, but I’ll tell you when I get back, right?”
“There’s a problem?” he said, his spirits sinking.
“I’ll tell you later.”
Hendrick closed his eyes.
“Matt,” he heard her say. “What’s wrong? You’re holding something back…”
“That’s the trouble with being in love with a  telepath,” he said. “They know damned near anything.”
“I wish…” she said. “So, spill.”
“I just had a call from Duvall. Gonzalez at Omega-Gen has found a cure.”
Mercury stared at him with her big, Spanish eyes. “But that’s… great,” she said. “But there’s a problem, hm?”
“You said it.”
She sighed. “Look, I’ll be back in thirty minutes. We’ll trade problems then, okay?”
“Sure…”
“Fix me a long, ice cold G&T, would you, Matt? See you then.”

* * *

Every time he set eyes on Mercury Velasquez after an absence – not that there had been many absences in the two weeks he’d known her – he marvelled anew at the fact of their love. He also experienced a retroactive sense of dread at the thought of how, but for the twist of chance that had taken him to a certain bar at a certain time, he might never have met the woman.
He heard the roar of turbos as the taxi-flier landed on the roof of their penthouse, and thirty seconds later the door swished open and Mercury padded across the thick-pile carpet. In a form-fitting black one-piece and tricorne, she looked like a cross between an attenuated matador and a catwalk model. She was forty-two, severely slim, and heart-stoppingly beautiful.
They embraced, and Hendrick handed her a long, ice cold gin and tonic. She frisbee’d her tricorne across the room, stretched out on the sofa, and lodged her bare feet on his lap. He massaged her insteps.
She took a sip, closed her eyes in bliss, then said, “Hokay, Matt. Your problem first.”
“You’re not reading?”
“I’m not reading, but let me guess…” She studied his face. “They have a cure… but it’s damned expensive, yes?”
He stared at her. “You’re amazing, Ms Velasquez, you know that?”
“Well, wasn’t much else it could be. So they want… what, three million Euros? Five?”
“No.”
She looked aghast. “What? Eight?”
“Try again.”
“Ridiculous! Ten…?”
He shook his head. “Fifteen.”
“Fifteen!” She was on her knees now beside him. “That’s extortionate. Hokay… We can do this, Matt. I can raise a couple of million if I sell all the artwork I’ve squirrelled away over the years, And I have half a million in savings. You?”
He sighed. “A couple of million saved, and I reckon I could raise that much again.”
“That’s six and a half…”
“There’s no way anyone would loan us more than eight million,” he said. “Anyway, I’ve arranged to meet Duvall and someone from Omega-Gen for lunch tomorrow.”
She reached out and stroked his five o’clock shadow with her knuckles. “We’ll work something out. Maybe they’ll be amenable to a deposit and spread payments.”
“Duvall said they want five million up front, same again at the time of treatment, and five million a year later.”
“The bastards.”
He laughed, without humour. “He said Omega-Gen realised I wasn’t a corporation, so they’d make it manageable for me.”
“Manageable? That’s generous!”
“It’s ironic, isn’t it? Duvall informs me of a cure, and you find out where Maatje’s fled to.” He looked at her. “So… let’s hear your problem.”
She finished her drink, uncurled herself from beside him and crossed to the bar. “You want anything?”
“A beer.”
She returned with the drinks and sat beside him, a hand on his thigh.
She said, “Maatje and Hovarth left Earth early yesterday morning, from the Telemass station at Berlin.”
“Headed to?” He sipped his beer.
“A planet called Beltran, orbiting the star Bellatrix in Orion, around two hundred and fifty light years from Earth.”
“Do you know if they had the suspension pod with them?”
“They did,” she said, and went on, “Beltran is home to the Vhey, to give the shortened version of their name. The most secretive race of ee-tees known to humanity.”
He sat up, spilling his beer. “Just a minute… I’ve read that access to the planet is limited.”
“It is. Very limited. You can’t even Telemass straight to Beltran, but to an orbital station. From there you take a shuttle down to the planet’s surface.”
“And they’re secretive, I recall reading, because they’re a civilisation perhaps ten thousand years more advanced than the human race?”
“That’s the reckoning, Matt.”
“So…” He shook his head. “Why have Maatje and Hovarth been allowed onto the planet?”
She rubbed thumb and forefinger together. “They paid, and paid a lot.”
“They wouldn’t do that just to get away from us,” he said. “Perhaps Maatje’s on another alien-race-can-cure-my-daughter kick?”
Mercury sipped her drink and considered. “I don’t know,” she said at last. “But we might find out more tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?”
“When I learned where they’d skedaddled to, I pulled in a favour with high-ups at the Hague. We’re meeting with a couple of suits tomorrow afternoon who, I hope, might be able to pull a few strings and get us to Beltran.”
“Not only are you beautiful, Mercury Isabella Velasquez, but you’re a genius.”
She stood up, reached out with both hands, and pulled him to his feet. “I’ve had a hell of a day and I’m dog tired. But not too tired, Matt…”
Later, he stared up at the stars through the diaphanous roof and wondered how he might have gone about the daunting task of locating his daughter all by himself. The thought made him shiver.

Order yours, here.

Alan Baxter chats about his new novella, THE BOOK CLUB.

Mashing Genres by Alan Baxter

3D The Book ClubI’ve always loved genre mashing. It’s not something I ever did consciously. I didn’t even really realise until other people started pointing it out to me. Just like I didn’t know I was a horror writer until other people started referring to me that way. Or to my work as horror, at least. But I don’t think I am a horror writer, especially. I just include a lot of horror in my work. Same as I’m not a fantasy writer or a mystery writer, but include loads of those tropes in my stories. I’m most definitely a genre writer. I love all the genres – horror, fantasy, thriller, mystery, crime, and so on – and the more of them I can get into a story, the better I like it.

My novels, especially the most recent ALEX CAINE trilogy, are decidedly cross-genre. They’re fundamentally thrillers in pacing and style. They’re heavy on the supernatural. They’re incredibly dark in places, definitely delving into the realms of horror, they have extreme fantastical elements. I tend to usually say that I write supernatural thrillers, dark fantasy and horror, as that description is relatively short and seems to encompass most of what I do.

With THE BOOK CLUB, my new novella coming from PS Publishing, I wanted to combine the weird with a straight up mystery. I’ve played a lot in the cosmic horror sandpit over the years. I’ve never written actual Lovecraftian mythos, but I love the concepts involved: the examination of humanity as a speck in the greater universe, the possibility of eldritch entities more massive or complicated than we can possibly imagine. Many of my novels and short stories explore those ideas to one degree or another in a variety of ways. When it comes to THE BOOK CLUB, I’d recently read GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn and loved it. It became a bit of an inspiration. I’ve long been a fan of crime and mystery, those elements appear regularly in my stories as well, and I wanted to address a disappearance. It’s truly one of the greatest existential horrors, I think, certainly for me, that someone might go missing. When a loved one dies, it’s traumatic, but there’s a certain closure. We know they’re dead. But I often read about missing persons and think that must be so much harder. There’s no proof they’re dead, so the spark of hope can never really die. It remains to gently burn, to torture those left behind forever. GONE GIRL played brilliantly with those themes in one way. I wanted to play with them in another. I considered what might happen when the missing person, or aspects of their life, are found? Of when details of the disappearance are uncovered but the person is still missing? What secrets and truths might float to the surface, what light may shine on things best left in shadow? And THE BOOK CLUB slowly took shape.

When I started the book, I wasn’t sure whether it was going to be a novel or not. It had that potential, but I knew it was one of those stories drawing on so many pulp tropes – horror, crime, mystery – that it was potentially a perfect candidate for the novella length. That turned out to be true and it comes in at around one third the length of an average-sized novel. And I think it works best that way. Now I can’t wait to see it out in the world, to see if people find it as engaging and exciting to read as I found it to write. And with that awesome Ben Baldwin cover, I can’t wait to hold it my hands.

Order yours, here.

Genre Chat with Stephen Volk

What’s in a Label?

THE-LITTLE-GIFT_coverOn the occasion of the publication of THE LITTLE GIFT, my new novella from PS Publishing, a thought comes to me unbidden, and it’s this:

Sometimes I have absolutely no idea of the genre of what I’ve just written.

It’s true.

It’s not like they come with the labels sewn on: “XL” or “Hand Wash Only”; “PG-13” or the late and much lamented “Certificate X”.

I’m not reluctant to call some of them Horror, and I’m certainly not disapproving of the word, like some people. Personally, I consider it a perfectly respectable, nay noble, appellation. It’s also where I come from, culturally speaking. My home turf, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

But the truth is, sometimes the stories I want to tell have Horror writ large—supernatural, frightening, disturbing—with monsters, often the human kind—and sometimes they don’t.

Increasingly, I must admit, I want to rein in the “H” quotient so it doesn’t splatter you with gore. Maybe it’s just a pinprick on your thumb that you have to suck. Maybe it’s not a painted skeleton dropping in front of your face on a ghost train ride, maybe it’s a line from today’s newspaper, or one of those thoughts you get before you drift asleep, or in that paranoid hinterland before waking.

To scare the pants off you and nothing more interests me less and less, because (here’s a secret not many will divulge . . . ) it’s kind of easy.

So what does interest me?

Not sure.

Never sure, until I start tapping the keyboard.

Science Fiction? Yeah—but never stuff that would turn on fans of Robert Heinlein or Greg Bear.

Fantasy? Once in a blue moon, but they’re as far from Terry Pratchett as even Terry Pratchett (were he alive) could imagine.

One or two might be Humour, I think (others might strenuously disagree): but they’re not exactly Martin Amis, let alone P. G. Wodehouse.

Then there’s Crime. A genre without boundaries, if there ever was one. And then it becomes complicated . . .

The simple fact is, like all writers, my touchstones are manifold—not just H/SF/F authors.

(And that’s, surely, as it should be.)

One person who lit up my imagination with a mega-ton bomb of illumination as to what a short story could do was Raymond Carver, who (some say with the aid of scissor-wielding editor Gordon Lish) honed a pared-down style of poetic naturalism that pretty much held in thrall every aspiring fictioneer who came after him.

Richard Ford and Suri Hustvedt are two contemporary writers who follow in that tradition, demonstrating (to me) that the deep observation of seemingly ordinary lives can reveal contradictions and dark, spiky insights, all the more effective than weary, tried-and-tested Horror tropes because they came from psychological realism and a kind of honest, un-showy reportage.

Ian McEwen’s early stories, too, had a big impact, using as they did disarmingly benign prose to convey shadowy perversions, straight-up grotesquerie and creepy menace without recourse to the safety net of the gothic. As Poe said all along, you don’t have to look further than the human mind, and its endless abnormalities, to find what to be fearful of.

(Yet what was McEwen dabbling in, if not Horror, or at least Crime? The Comfort of Strangers is about a psychopath. Enduring Love, a stalker. Saturday, a home invasion. Literary, schmittery!)

Furthermore, I’ve always had a very soft spot for Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell, unfettered from her Inspector Wexford), whose protagonists are often shambling, unremarkable creatures shoved reluctantly centre stage. Absorbingly, if there’s a crime, you seldom know who’s going to commit it, or why, or when. And that’s riveting.

For the exact same reason I have been engrossed by certain recent television dramas of a similar bent—Bloodlines from Netflix and the excellent BBC drama Apple Tree Yard—both of which have hardly a police officer in sight.

They’re all about broken lives, not neat, Cluedo resolutions. We get a chance (as one actress recently put it in an interview), to “sit with the character’s pathology” and “see them unravel”.

That fascinates me far more than the crossword-puzzle allure of Inspector Morse, (and for that read Endeavour, Lewis, Foyle, and for that matter Rebus and his army of hard-drinking, hard-boiled clones). If I ever use a detective I always think they should be, like James Stewart in Vertigo, part of the mystery, not the solution. My characters should contribute to the mess, not merely the tidying up.

So which of the above notions, you might ask, amidst all this rambling, has directly influenced my rather uncharacteristic, I’m told, novella, THE LITTLE GIFT?

I couldn’t tell you.

Well, I could. But I don’t want to.

For a start, I think a guy who reveals to you the punch line of the joke he is about to relate is the very definition of a pub bore.

Secondly, the bottom line is, I don’t think many writers want their work to be labelled. Most want to simply see it out there amongst readers and have a life, like a paper boat you put in a stream you hope doesn’t run aground or get swallowed by a drain.

The rest in is the lap of the gods.

But if a story takes you, the reader, by surprise, even unsettles you because you were expecting something different? Great. I’ll be happy.

And if you can’t put your finger on what genre it is . . . I’ll be even happier.

Order yours, here, and decide for yourself.

The Little Gift by Stephen Volk

SNEAK PEEK EXTRACT:

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THE NOCTURNAL SCAMPERING invariably signals death. I try to shut it out. The cat might be chasing a scrap of paper or a ball of silver foil across the bare floorboards downstairs, say a discarded chocolate wrapper courtesy of my wife, who likes providing it with impromptu playthings. I tell myself it isn’t necessarily toying with something living, but my stomach tightens.

What time is it?

I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to have to fumble to find my glasses and look at the clock. I want to go back to sleep, but dawn is cracking through the slatted blinds. I want to ignore what destruction and mutilation might be going on below, but now the cat is in the room, hopping onto the bed and I have the awful feeling, eyes still closed, it might drop a mouse, alive or dead, in the valley between us.

It settles, purring, relaxes, and so do I. For once no ghastly surprises.

Its head nuzzles against my outstretched hand. I feel its small pointed incisors against the soft skin below my little finger. This is my early morning call. I sink back to sleep. My wife is up first as she always is, kettle on before the children wake. I dimly perceive her weight leave the bed, but a minute later her cry from the ground floor cranks me off the pillow. I hurry down in boxer shorts and bare feet asking her what’s the matter, but I already know.

The room is full of feathers—never a good sign. There’s no doubt the cat has been to work, had its fun, prolonged the killing process in the way that millions of years of evolution has engineered it.

“Look!”

“What kind of bird is it?”

She sobs, tightening the belt of her dressing gown. “A beautiful one.”

They are always beautiful to her. Whatever our beloved feline brings in from the garden, whatever dire state they are in, however bloodied or punctured or lifeless, she thinks in some way they warrant saving—I swear, like they are Stuart Little or something. For the last few years we’ve been hoarding plastic soup containers, their sole purpose the catching and liberation of garden kill. My wife makes air holes in the lid with a kitchen knife and drips in water and feeds them bits of granola or Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, even if they’re at death’s door. She knows I think it’s ridiculous the way she insists on caring for the doomed creatures like some Mother Teresa of vermin. There again, I’m not always right. Once we had a field mouse with an eye missing, eviscerated down one side. I walked to the other side of town and emptied it into the river and it swam off happily. This time, though, it’s a bird and still alive, lolloping along the skirting board.

My wife grabs our cat, a haughty and self-satisfied Abyssinian, in her embrace and decants it into the utility room, shutting the 17th Century door and throwing the 17th Century bolt. I return to the living room wrapping a glove of kitchen roll round my hand to see the bird isn’t moving now, not even when I lift it up in cupped hands.

“Monster,” I say under my breath.

Order yours, here.

PS Australia

PSI logoWe had already decided at last week’s meeting . . .

. . . that we would do a bit of a hoo hah this week to promote our Aussie cousin, PS Australia . . . and what better way to start than with a healthy extract from a hugely enthusiastic review of Jack Dann’s epic DREAMING IN THE DARK anthology written by Colin Steele at SF Commentary. Take it away, Colin:


71aef99546cc2f579f3bc3f32342593ddbefc358“The good genre news is that Pete and Nicky Crowther, founders and publishers of the British specialist genre imprint PS Publishing, have begun an Australian publishing operation, PS Australia. Well known author and anthologist Jack Dann is PS Australia’s Managing Director.

The first PS book to appear, DREAMING IN THE DARK, edited by Dann, brings together a number of Australia’s leading science fiction, fantasy and horror authors, whom Dann labels under the catch-all term “Australian fabulists”. It’s a nicely produced hardback with cover and artwork designed by Greg Bridges. An illustrated slipcased edition, signed by the contributors, and limited to 200 copies, is also available.

Dann has assembled an impressive set of names: Venero Armanno, Alan Baxter, James Bradley, Paul Brandon, Simon Brown, Adam Browne, Rjurik Davidson, Terry Dowling, Lisa L. Hannett, Richard Harland, Rosaleen Love, Kirstyn McDermott, Sean McMullen, Jason Nahrung, Garth Nix, Angela Slatter, Anna Tambour, Janeen Webb, Kim Westwood, Kim Wilkins and Sean Williams. All the stories come with postscripts from the authors.

 As ever with anthologies, there is a wide range of stories in style and content and DREAMING IN THE DARK is a collection to be much welcomed and a fine beginning for PS Publishing in Australia.”

Hey, way to go, Colin.

DREAMING IN THE DARK [an anthology edited by Jack Dann]

dreaming-in-the-dark-hardcover-edited-by-jack-dann-4112-p[ekm]298x442[ekm]A celebration of Australia’s current Golden Age of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and magical realism. Jack Dann—the multi-award-winning author and co-editor of the classic Dreaming Down-Under, the anthology that “has been credited with putting Australian writing on the international map” and the first Australian book to win a World Fantasy Award—has collected a wonderfully eclectic range of short fiction that showcases what our best fantasists are doing right now at this genre-bending moment in time.


 

16985966fa90bab8316711dc106fe175c630abc6And way to go, too . . .

. . . for PS Oz’s showing in the Aurealis Awards, Australia’s premier speculative Awards—a wonderful recognition of some tremendous work. Here are the PS nominations—11 PS OZ showings in eight categories.

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY

“A Right Pretty Mate”, Lisa L Hannett (DREAMING IN THE DARK)

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY

“The Red Forest”, Angela Slatter (WINTER CHILDREN)

BEST HORROR NOVELLA

“Served Cold”, Alan Baxter (DREAMING IN THE DARK)

WAKING IN WINTER, Deborah Biancotti

“Burnt Sugar”, Kirstyn McDermott (DREAMING IN THE DARK)

BEST FANTASY NOVELLA

“Burnt Sugar”, Kirstyn McDermott (DREAMING IN THE DARK)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY

“Trainspotting in Winesburg”, Jack Dann (CONCENTRATION)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELLA

WAKING IN WINTER, Deborah Biancotti

BEST COLLECTION

CONCENTRATION, Jack Dann

WINTER CHILDREN, Angela Slatter

BEST ANTHOLOGY

DREAMING IN THE DARK, Jack Dann (ed.)

Good luck to all authors mentioned.


CONCENTRATION [a collection by Jack Dann]

aa3204c5531d54ea41677a44c1765612f3259ad1JACK DANN’S groundbreaking anthologies Wandering Stars and More Wandering Stars used the tropes of science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism to ask—and try to answer!—what it means to be a Jew. In his new short-story collection Concentration, Dann enlists the techniques of fabulation to illuminate one of the defining events in human history: the Nazi Holocaust.


WAKING IN WINTER [a fantasy novella by Deborah Biancotti]

eb2c6b159c26a35dd6c9018c8faf2c1a6e409217On a far, frozen desert world, Muir the pilot discovers an ancient artefact in the ice. She sees a mermaid at first, but later comes to wonder if it is Ningyo, a fish god from her homeland in Japan. A god that brings misfortune and storm. A god that—by all means possible—should be returned to the sea. The rest of Base Station Un see something else. Bayoumi the lab rat sees Sekhmet the lioness goddess, daughter of the sun god. Partholon the creep finds in its shape a ‘good, old-fashioned cruxifix’. But all of them want to possess it. All of them want it for themselves.


WINTER CHILDREN & OTHER CHILLING TALES [a horror collection by Angela Slatter]

3e83e46ce810df7fe99390e22022824e12136453Winter Children and Other Chilling Tales collects some of Angela Slatter’s finest horror stories to date. From the Lovecraftian laments of “The Song of Sighs” and “Only the Dead and the Moonstruck” to the uncanny notes of “The October Widow” and the stunning new “The Red Forest”, it’s clear that Slatter is, in the words of Stephen Jones, ‘a powerful and eloquent voice in horror fiction.’ Each tale is a darkly crafted gem.


So that was PS OZ 2016. What about 2017/18?

Well Jack Dann has found us another raft of stars for our schedule, here they are:

  • THE BOOK CLUB, a novella by Alan Baxter
  • ODIN’S GIRL, a novella by Kim Wilkins
  • PHANTOM LIMBS, a story collection by Margo Lanagan
  • A DYNASTY OF DRAGONS, a novella by Janeen Webb
  • UNGENTLE FIRE, a story collection by Sean William
  • THE RAYS SLIP AWAY, a novella by Veny Armanno
  • And Terry Dowling’s complete ‘Rynosseros cycle’

And more on the way but we’ve got to keep a few things under the hat.

“Alan Baxter’s THE BOOK CLUB is nearly ready to go to the printers,” Nicky tells me, “and ODIN’S GIRL by Kim Wilkins is being copy edited as I write this.

“Also hitherto unallocated are possible reprints of Terry Dowling’s acclaimed CLOWNS AT MIDNIGHT (PS, 2010), Will Elliott’s THE PILO FAMILY CIRCUS (2008) alongside Jack ‘The Man’ Dann’s PROMISED LAND (subtitled ‘Stories from another America’) from 2007. And yet didn’t we say we’d calm down the line-up a little?”

Heh, who can remember. But thanks Nicky.

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So what are you waiting for? Check out some of these wonderful titles from way down under!