Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Story: Eliza is a Witch

Our parents had been told that Eliza Belmont was a witch. It was a Wednesday evening and the PTA had decided to go en masse to the nearest bar for a drink to smooth over any disagreements after their bi-monthly meeting. I don't know what Eliza Belmont was doign there, but she decided to take the opportunity to tell everybody. She tapped a spoon on her wine glass and waited until everyone was quiet, cleared her throat, and spoke louder and clearer than anyone had heard he speak before. She told the assembled adults that she was a witch. Dad told me that there had been an awkward pause after she’d spoken, then a couple of laughs. The laughter spread. Then Bobby Creed’s stepfather had slid into the booth alongside her.

“If you’re a witch,” he said, “let’s see some magic.”

Dad said she didn’t even blink. She just lifted her hand off the table and clicked her fingers. Bobby Creed’s uncle’s head dropped straight onto the table with a smack. He didn’t ever lift it again. She pushed him out of her booth and stood up. Everyone took a step back. Eliza closed her eyes and every glass in the place shattered. There was all kind of screaming and yelling. Shards of broken glass were stuck in people’s hands, and Shirley the barmaid suffered a hailstorm from the broken beer mugs that had been hanging over the bar.

“Quiet,” said Eliza, and everybody was. Dad said he didn’t feel like he had a choice. Neither did anyone else.

“I said I’m a witch,” she said. “I’m telling you this for your own good. I’m telling you this so you’ll know to leave me alone. There won’t be another warning. This is as clear as I can make it.”

And with that she turned and walked out. She left a twenty dollar bill on the bar for Shirley.

I was still awake when Mom and Dad got home. They usually came in to say goodnight. But that night I heard them climb the stairs, go straight to their room, and close the door. I heard their hushed voices coming through the wall but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.

The next morning they told my brother Jason and I about it over breakfast.

“You boys know Eliza Belmont? Young lady who lives down on Foxwood Street?”

We nodded.

“You boys need to stay clear of her. Understand?”

“Why?” asked my brother. At thirteen he was four years older than me, always a little readier to challenge my parents on whichever issue happened to present itself.

“She’s a witch,” Mom said simply. Dad turned to look at her and she shrugged. “What? It’s better that they know. We agreed. They need to know.” She turned to us and I could see in her eyes that she meant to be heard. “You keep away from her.”

Before we could ask any more questions we were ushered out of the house and onto the school bus. The bus was quiet that day. The bus had never been quiet, not a day that I’d ridden it.

It wasn’t until after school that I heard the name mentioned again. I was looking for Jason to see if I could hang around with him and his friends after school. He usually let me, as long as I kept my mouth shut and didn’t tell anyone what they got up to. That afternoon I found him behind the library, talking to Mike and Eddie. Eddie was tall, a little round, and decent to me, but Mike was short, skinny, and mean. Whenever Jason let me tag along Mike made it clear that I wasn’t welcome. Most of the time he’d tell me so. It was Mike that spotted me first.

“What the hell do you want?” he asked, and Jason turned round.

“What are you doing here, Ollie?” The surprise in his voice told me that they were planning something. Something they didn’t want anyone to know about.

“Just seeing what you guys were doing,” I said, as casually as I could.

“Bring him along,” said Eddie. “We could use a look-out.” Mike hawked a glob of phlegm at the ground and Jason nodded.

“Fine. Come on, squirt.” I tried not to let them see how happy this made me.

As they walked down the street I stayed about a foot behind them. That was very important. Any closer and they’d lower their voices and stare at me until I retreated. I heard Eliza Belmont’s name mentioned several times. If I’d had any sense I would have run home, or tried to convince them that they should let it go. But that wouldn't have made any difference. It might have made them more determined to do it.

We made a left turn onto Foxwood Street, walked past three or four houses and then stopped. I knew whose house we were looking at. It looked just like all the others. The only thing different about it was that the curtains were drawn. We could see that the front door was firmly closed behind the screen door.

“What do you think?” asked Eddie. Jason scratched his chin.

“If she’s home, we leave. If she’s not, we go inside, take a look.” He turned and put both hands on my shoulders. “If you see her, you fuckin’ yell. Understand?” I nodded. “Good. Let’s go.”

Mike smirked at me. He liked that I was staying behind. I watched them creep carefully around the side of the house and out of sight. I stood there, shifting my weight from leg to leg. I waited for what seemed like forever. After a while I realised that I desperately needed to pee. If they didn’t get back soon I’d have to abandon my post or piss myself. As I looked around to see if there was anywhere I could go I heard a whoop. The three boys were running towards me, each with big grins plastered on their faces.

“Did you go inside?” I asked. Jason ruffled my hair.

“Sure did, squirt,” he said. “Hey, I got something for you.” He handed me a small silver clock. I turned it over in my hands. The back of the clock was engraved, quite simply. To my Eliza. I smiled up at my big brother. I knew what he’d done was wrong, but what was I going to tell him?

On the walk back they talked about how easy it had been, how the house hadn’t been creepy at all. They talked about what they would have done if Eliza had been home. I did notice that we were walking a little fast than we had on the way there. Then Eddie and Mike left and I walked home with my big brother alone. The rest of the evening couldn’t have been more normal. We had dinner, we were asked about school, we watched a little TV, then we went to bed.

I was woken up by my mother shouting. I thought that I might have missed the bus, but the clock told me that there was more than enough time. Dad stormed into my room, ran to me and grabbed me by the shoulders.

“Where’s Jason?” he asked. I told him I didn’t know. The telephone rang and my mother answered it. Seconds later she was calling to my father, saying that Mike’s parents didn’t know where he was. Then Eddie’s mom rang asking if we knew where Eddie was.

I stayed in my room while all this was happening. I sat on my bed. I knew what had happened. By the look on Dad’s face when he came back into my room, I could tell that he did too.

“Get dressed,” he said.

I’ve never felt shame like I did standing outside Eliza Belmont’s screen door while my Dad rang the doorbell. She answered it quickly. She’d been expecting us. I thought I could see just the tiniest trace of a smile. She spoke before Dad could open his mouth.

“They’re gone, Mr. Deakin. Where they’ve gone they can’t get back from. You should be grateful I left you with this one. I did tell you. I told all of you. Mr. Deakin, I only told you last night.”

She looked down at me. When I’ve dreamt about that moment I’ve remembered her eyes as being furious, or tearful, or gleeful. But the simple fact is that it was patience that I saw. And I’m sure that in her opinion she’d done me a tremendous favour.

“Now, you have something of mine, don’t you, Oliver?”

I’d brought it with me. I reached into my coat pocket and took out the small silver clock. She took it from me and turned it over in her hands, looking at the inscription. The smile grew, then disappeared completely.

“Thank you, Oliver. Goodbye, Mr. Deakin.”

She closed the door. I could hear Dad starting to cry as we walked home.

That night, when I couldn’t hear my parents arguing anymore, I got out of bed, put on my jacket and my sneakers, and crept out of the window. I walked quickly and quietly. I knew where I was going. I knocked on Eliza Belmont's door. After a moment or two it opened.

“Hello, Oliver.”

She came out onto the porch dressed in a long black coat. As she looked down at me I could see that she was wondering what to do with me. After a moment or two she took a step forward and closed the door behind her.

“I was just going out for a walk, you can join me if you like.”

I nodded. We walked in silence for a couple of minutes. I was a little surprised when she finally asked me a question.

“Did you come to ask for your brother back?”

I nodded.

“I can’t do that. I couldn’t do that. Not even if I wanted to. Would you like to know why you’re still here.”

She didn’t wait for me to nod.

“If I took you as well, who would be left to tell people what I can do, what happens? I told your parents. You know that, don’t you? I told everyone.”

She gestured at the houses that lined the street. Not a single house had a light on. I wondered how many people were actually sleeping. As if on cue I saw an upstairs curtain twitch in number 41.

“They were all told. But this still happened. So now, you can tell them. Because you know what I’m capable of. Here we are.”

I saw that I was standing in front of my house.

“Go to bed,” she said. “And tell people what happened to your brother.”

I told people. I didn’t have to, everybody new. But I told people anyway. Our family packed up and moved away about three weeks later. As far as I know, Eliza Belmont is still there. I hope she’s been left alone.



So, here's another one. This was a bit of a Comfort Zone story. People who've read my stuff before will know that I write about witches quite a lot. Well, I like writing about witches. And while I've got a lot of time for evil witches and ethereal witches, I really like witches who just get on with it. Admittedly this story isn't my most original work, but I was quite taken with the idea of a witch who told everyone who and what she was.

There's also the matter of the American setting. It's been a while since I tried this. I apologise for anything that doesn't ring true, but it just sounded American in my head. Or what I think American sounds like. If any Americans are reading this, it's set in an area that you don't know very well. It's a small town in....that area. You know the one. They sound a bit like Brits there.

Eliza Belmont may return, or be transplanted to THE NOVEL IN PROGRESS. I like her no-nonsense-ness. I also like her name.

Just a quick note about names. I'm not good at making up names for my characters. They're quite a useful procrastination tool ("Look, I can't do any more writing until I figure out what he's called!"). In the past I used to just cull names from my CD collection, now I've resorted to cribbing surnames from characters in era or area appropriate films. However, Eliza comes from not one, but two songs (Myla Goldberg by The Decemberists and Where the Wild Roses Grow by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), and Belmont is one of the roads I grew up on. Eddie and Mike just seem like the names archetypal American teenage kids would have if they weren't going to make it to the end of the story/film/whatehaveyou.

That being said, every now and again a character will spring to life with a full and decent name. Doesn't happen very often, but it's nice when it does.

Hope you liked the story.

Monday, 25 July 2011

In which I apologise for the long wait and give you a scary poem for children


I hope the story below is alright. It took a while to write, I'm very much out of practice with the whole short story writing thing. The nice thing about writing novel-length stories is that you get to postpone the ending until you can really come up with a good one. With short stories, wow, they come round fast. But hey, at least you can end on an ambiguous note and there's slightly less of a feeling of disappointment for the reader. Probably.

The story below didn't offer up one ending. I had about five different ones. A couple of gruesome ones, one fairly elaborate, and a couple that were just awful. I have to credit my good friend and collaborator Martin Parsons for helping me to get to the one I finally used. I do like it. I was determined to write a non-horror story (although it is a bit, isn't it...), so the next story will probably be scarier.

Anyway, I won't say more as it's right below for you to read. To compensate for the delay, here's a scary poem for children that I wrote a long time ago but I still like. Until the next post, then.

The creature in the forest

Knows the road you take

The creature in the forest

Always stays awake

The creature in the forest

Knows you’re far from home

The creature in the forest

Knows you’re all alone

The creature in the forest

Doesn’t care if you’ve been good

The creature in the forest

Only wants his food

The creature in the forest

Thinks that this is fun

The creature in the forest

Will chase you if you run

The creature in the forest

Is an enemy of light

The creature in the forest

Lives to tear and bite

The creature in the forest

Knows the road you take

The creature in the forest

Knows you’re still awake

Story: In 37A

Joseph’s leg was going to sleep. He hadn't counted on waiting this long. He’d been sat in his car for about an hour, no, at least an hour. He should have been and gone by now. In and out. This was getting ridiculous. Finally he saw a shape move behind the glass front door of the block of flats. He grabbed the three shopping bags and was out of the car like a shot. He was across the street and juggling the bags around, trying to get one hand into his pocket, by the time the old man was hefting the door open. He looked up at the moustachioed gentleman in his heavy navy Barbour coat and smiled at him apologetically, making sure the bags looked heavier than they were. The man nodded, stepped aside, and let him slip by. Joseph was inside.

He moved quickly over to the lift, still carrying the bags on the off chance that the old man looked back. He saw an A4 sheet of paper sellotaped to the lift door. Out of order. Shit. Never mind. He refused to allow himself time to think. He would go up to the fourth floor as planned. He had been watching the couple that lived there. They should be out at work for at least another hour. That was the flat, that was that.

He considered dropping the bags but decided against it. Just in case. He started up the stairs, counting the floors in his head as he went. He fought the urge to panic. This was fine. It was just a broken lift. Nothing had changed. Third floor. Just keep going. Keep the head down. Look like you’re finding your keys.


Caught between keeping going and stopping, he almost tripped on the step. Get it together, he told himself. Take a breath. He looked up. A thin, dark-haired woman, dark blue jumper, black skirt, standing by door 37A, one orange plastic bag in her hand, looking at him. She didn't seem to pose an immediate problem. He smiled. Keep moving.

“Hi there,” he said, and turned to go.

“You’re on the fourth floor, right?” she asked.

He stopped again. Of course there had been the chance that someone might see him, might want to talk to him, why was he fumbling? He was better than this. He was good at this. No backing out now.

“That’s right,” he said, with a grin that was friendly enough, a few teeth, but not so friendly as to suggest he wanted to keep talking.

“McGrath?” she asked.

He nodded. Maybe a mistake but too late. He was now McGrath. The woman smiled and he reminded himself that, pretty as she was, she wasn't smiling at him, she was smiling at McGrath.

“I spoke to your wife yesterday. I’m Lydia. Lydia Schwartz? She said that you’d both be coming for a drink. I guess she’s running late, but why don’t you come in?”

He made noises that he hoped were discouraging. Clock ticking. Time to get going. But she was having none of it.

“Please, come in and have a drink.”

He paused. She smiled again. It was a tough smile to say no to. Slightly fragile in that way that Joseph found very difficult to risk upsetting.

“Come on. You look like you could use a drink. Come on. I’m not taking no for an answer. I’ll take offence if you don’t.”

And before he knew it he was walking towards her, walking right through the front door. How could he be so stupid? He would leave quickly. He could fake a phone call. Suddenly notice the time. Remember some prior engagement.

Maybe he didn't have to. As he slipped off his shoes and followed her down the corridor he told himself that there was sure to be enough worth taking here. Same area, same building even. Better to take advantage of this situation, not go chasing after a plan that was completely wrecked. She wouldn't even have to know. He wasn't a violent man, there was no need for any of that, was there? No. He would wait until she was out of the room, then he would grab a couple of things and go. Easy.


She was staring at him. She’d been talking to him and he’d let himself drift. This was no good. This was not helping.

“Sorry, I was miles away,” he said, and smiled. Aiming for reassuring.

“I just asked what I could get you to drink.”

He asked for tea. No need for anything to muddle his head. He was muddled enough already.

“Great,” she said, “I’ll make a pot. Do you want to come and take a seat in the kitchen?”

He didn't but couldn't see any way around it. He followed her into the kitchen and sat on one of the flimsy-looking wooden chairs as she took off her coat and threw it over the door. As the kettle grumbled into life she turned to look at him, one hand on her hip. It might have been something about the way she was standing or the way that the light was hitting her but he was finding it difficult to keep thinking clean thoughts. It was the nervousness, he told himself. It had him all jittery. He couldn't be preoccupying himself with this now. He was here to do a job. In a way she should count herself lucky, he thought. He wasn't a violent man. And he certainly wasn't the kind of man to...well, he would never do that. The fact that he even thought about thinking it made him uncomfortable. Was he an intruder? He’d been invited in. Forget it; he was just going to grab a few valuables and leave. Make the best of a bad situation. Quick sip of tea. The back of his tongue felt bone dry. It was that nervousness again, creeping up from the stomach, right up to the back of the throat.

“So how are you finding the flat so far?” she asked.

“It’s lovely,” he said. “Really very nice”

“And does your wife like it? Are you happy?”

“She is. We’re very happy in it.”

She frowned. Her brow furrowed. Something in Joseph’s gut did an unhappy back-flip. Maybe his answers were too simple. Not enough detail. He took a moment to collect himself.

“Well,” he said finally, “We’re very happy. To be honest, though, we could be happier with the flat. It’s not quite as it was described to us. There’s...” and he thought of a good turn of phrase, “quite a lot to be desired.”

She bit her lip. The panic helped him think clean thoughts.

“How do you take your tea?” she asked, and he told her that just a splash of milk would be fine. She put it gently down on the table in front of him. He took a sip and burned his tongue.

“I’m sorry,” she said. Before Joseph could tell her that his scalded tongue wasn't her fault she grabbed his hand and continued. There was something in her face that he’d been too preoccupied to notice before. That smile wasn't fragile. It was broken.

“ I've invited you in under a false pretence.” She paused. “Am I saying that right? False pretences? There’s something I simply have to tell you. And I really don’t...I didn't know how to tell you but I simply have to, there’s no other way. Your wife has been sleeping with my husband.”

She paused for a moment, presumably to let the fact sink in. Joseph didn't know what to do. He tried to look shocked and confused. Not much of a stretch.

“I know, you've only just moved in and already he’s sticking his...I’m sorry, I know this is a terrible way to find out, but I just went up there to ask her what time you were getting home and the door was unlocked and I thought maybe you were already there so I went in to say hello and they were there and he was there and he was and she and they...”

She paused for breath. She took a gulp of air so big it Joseph thought he could sense it leaving the room.

“I knew he was unhappy but...I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I’m being so selfish. You've been...Can’t we just...”

She looked into Joseph’s eyes and he forgot everything. He stopped thinking. There was only her. The trembling, broken smile under the tears running from those big green eyes. Any control he had over the situation was lost forever when she reached out and took his hand.

There was a scream from upstairs. She took her hand away. It was a man screaming. Howling. She grabbed his hand again.

“You have to understand, Mr. McGrath, I had to do it. I couldn't let them get away with it. Get away with doing that to me, to the both of us? Don’t you understand? I was trying to tell you, trying to explain, tell me you wouldn't have done the same thing...”

The screamer from upstairs began to form words. At first they were indistinguishable sounds but they quickly made sense. He heard the word “dead.” Then he heard the word “wife.” He was suddenly aware that he had to leave. Right now. But something in her staring eyes kept him rooted to his creaking seat.

Her grip on his hand tightened. Her nails dug into his hand. He yelped as tiny pools of blood formed around her fingertips.

“Who are you?” she asked.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Hello there

So, yes, hello.
As you may have gathered from the blog title, my name is Jonathan and I am a writer. I would say aspiring writer but I think that if you're actually writing then you're not really aspiring to it, are you? You're doing it. Aspiring published writer? Yes, OK, let's go with that. I'm an aspiring published writer.
What do I write? I've spent the last year or so writing a novel, and I'm currently working on a follow-up as well as a sort of script thing that will occasionally disappear from my list of things to do before bubbling up again. I mostly write horror. Or dark fantasy if you'd prefer. I do write in other genres, but I do find that a story I'm writing will often take a nasty turn.
This blog is here for a few reasons. Firstly, I'm envious of my friends who write very clever, very entertaining blogs, and I thought I'd like to give it a try. Secondly, I find I'm more productive when I'm working towards something. Being a naturally slothful person, I write best when I'm working towards a deadline, even when it's self-imposed. I've not been setting myself enough deadlines recently as, after enjoying a thorough round of rejections of my manuscript for my first novel, the little part of my brain that thinks that my writing is any good retreated off somewhere for a bit. It's back now, although it's a lot smaller and quieter. Sometimes it'll be laughing quite happily, then the smile will drop and it will go off to sit on the windowsill for a bit and it's all too clear that it suffered a great deal. Maybe it feels like this.

Maybe one day it will talk about it. The point is that I love writing. It's fun, addictive, and there's nothing quite like it. This blog will allow me to put at least some of what I write out there for people to see. Thirdly, I'd like to talk about writing. Not in a precious way, but in a nuts and bolts sort of fashion. Finally, I miss writing short stories. While I am in the process of working on a novel (and the script thing, which refuses to go away), there have been little ideas popping up that would be nice to do something with.
What this blog won't have is very much of "what's going on in my life". This is because what's going on in my life at the moment isn't really that interesting. What it will have is some stories. Some scary, some funny, some sad, and hopefully some that are all of the above. There may even be some happy ones. But I won't lie, they probably won't pop up that often. The first story should be coming soon. I hope you enjoy it.
Still not sure about the blog title. That comma...