Monday, 27 February 2012

A Thrilling Warning to Naughty Ladies

The intrusive tree branches were beating against the windows of the girls’ dormitory at St. Catherine’s, encouraged by the wind that found its way through the cracks of the old building. It was approaching midnight and the girls were not yet ready for sleep. They inched to the edges of their beds, pulled the covers tighter around themselves, and whispered loudly about Alice Cander.

Alice had crept out of the school to meet up with her boyfriend, Ricky Gale. Ricky Gale wore a leather jacket and drove a shimmering shining silver motorbike. None of the girls apart from Alice had spoken to Ricky Gale, but Peggy and Blanche had seen him drop Alice by the back gate last week. When they’d questioned her, Alice hadn’t told them much. Just that Ricky drove a motorbike, that he was so much more mature than any boy she’d ever met, and that he smoked Malboros.

Alice had snuck out after lights out at ten. She should have been back by now, but no one was surprised that she wasn’t. Not when she was out with Ricky Gale.

“Has she kissed him yet?” asked Libby, her teeth wired to the hilt with vindictively elaborate braces. The girls laughed at Libby. Of course she’d kissed him. She’d probably gone all the way. Everyone knew that Alice was like that.

“Who’s on duty tonight?” asked Blanche. She wanted to know how much noise they could get away with making.

“I think it’s the new English teacher, Miss Tindfall. She only arrived tonight, it seems a bit mean,” said Peggy with a grin that told everyone she didn’t think it mean at all. New teachers were always a source of great entertainment.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” said Libby, anxious to regain some ground after demonstrating her naiveté. “Why don’t we tell a ghost story?”

Laughter again. Libby curled herself into a sad little ball in the dark.

“Go on then, Libby. Tell us one we haven’t heard before,” said Blanche.

“Lover’s lane with the hook?” asked Peggy.

“There’s a killer in the backseat?” asked Blanche.

“How about Bloody Mary?” asked Mandy, who had previously been silent for the same awkward, nervous reasons as Libby but had spotted a great opportunity to use her friend as a stepping stone to slighter greater popularity. Libby felt the betrayal slip between her ribs like a knife and it would be many years before she hated anyone with the same sincerity.

“I’ve got a story for you,” said a woman’s voice from the doorway. The girls gasped and turned to look. A figure stood, cast in shadow in front of the light from behind her. As the girls hurried to lie down she stepped into the room. She was a young woman in her twenties, dressed in a long white nightgown, with long brown hair past her shoulders.

“It’s midnight, children. You should be asleep. Instead you are talking and one of you is missing. You needn’t bother protecting her, she has been found.”

“We’re sorry, miss. We were just telling ghost stories, weren’t we?” said Peggy. Everyone, even Libby, murmured agreement.

“Ghost stories, is it?” asked the woman. She stepped inside and softly closed the dormitory door behind her. “I see. If I tell you a ghost story, one that I tell you is absolutely true, will you promise to be good and go to sleep?”

The girls agreed. What choice did they have?

“Very well. Close your eyes and we’ll begin.

These events took place many, many years ago. Did you know that this school used to be a convent? All these buildings in which you sleep and learn, these are extensions to the original place of worship. Only the chapel and its chambers beneath remain. The convent was much admired in its day as a place of great spiritual enlightenment. The women of God who lived here were among the most respected in the country.

And this is why Nathaniel Steerforth packed his daughter Madeline into a carriage with a suitcase of her belongings and brought her halfway across the country to deliver her here. Nathaniel had envisaged a great partnership for his daughter. She was to marry Alastair Granford, the son of Abel Granford, a neighbour and politician whose company Nathaniel aspired to greatly. Alastair was four years younger than Madeline and eager for her love and attention. Madeline was not responsive. To Madeline, Alastair was just a boy. She could in no way envisage a life with him. Madeline had someone else in mind.

She had been seen with Michael Critch, a labourer on the Steerforth property. While Nathaniel did not consider himself unsympathetic to the whims and unbridled passion of young love, Critch had a reputation for drinking, gambling, and carousing that made him the last man a father would want for his daughter. At first Nathaniel simply asked Madeline to break off her relationship with this reprehensible character. When she did not agree, Nathaniel ordered her. When she still did not agree, Nathaniel confined her to her room. When he realised the doors and windows of his house could not hold her, he saw that only one course of action remained.

Madeline was strangely quiet during the journey to St. Catherine’s. Nathaniel had anticipated great rows and fits of rage but she merely sat in silence, watching the changing scenery. At no point did she attempt an escape.

After several days spent travelling they finally arrived at the convent, where they were greeted by Sister Verity. Sister Verity was tall, taller than Nathaniel, and had the figure of a woman who had denied herself every pleasure in service of the Lord. She smiled at Nathaniel and Madeline and told them that they were welcome. Nathaniel thanked her on behalf of himself and his daughter. Madeline did not speak.

St Catherine’s did not look too imposing from the outside. But winding staircases led to endless corridors and underground chambers, many of which had even then been abandoned to the ages, unused. The abbess showed Nathaniel and Madeline to their rooms on the second floor. It had been agreed that Nathaniel would be permitted to stay the night on account of the length of his journey before returning home the next morning.

They ate supper with the nuns that night. A long thick wooden table stretched the length of the dining hall, lined on either side with women in black habits. Madeline ate sparingly before complaining of a headache. Nathaniel, weary himself, permitted her to retire. Madeline said good night to the nuns and thanked them for their hospitality before leaving the room.

When Nathaniel went to say goodbye to his daughter on the next morning, Madeline was not in her bed. The sisters began to search the grounds but they did not search for long. A coat that Nathaniel recognised as belonging to Critch was found in her bedroom, and they quickly reached the conclusion that the young man had taken Madeline away. Heartbroken, Nathaniel finally gave up on his daughter and returned home.

But if they had searched longer they would have uncovered the truth. They would have discovered that Critch had indeed appeared in Madeline’s room, brandishing a bottle of wine and the keys he had stolen from the abbess’ bedroom, and together they had walked the convent until they had found somewhere they were sure to be undisturbed: the crypt. Critch laid the torch carefully on the floor and decided to claim what he had come for. Despite having been willingly coaxed into abandoning her room, even a young woman as sparingly decent as Madeline knew that it was wicked to perform such acts in a house of worship. But Critch did not care. On that night she saw the beast that lurks within men and she silently pledged that, when she escaped, she would commit herself to a life spent in repentance.

When Critch was finished with Madeline the fog that had fallen in front of his eyes lifted. He saw the young woman crying on the cold marble floor and saw the evil he had done. He foresaw the punishment that would befall him were he to be captured in such a place having committed such an act, and he acted quickly. He grabbed the torch from the floor, stepped over Madeline’s prone figure, and closed and locked the door behind him. On hearing the key turn in the lock, Madeline came to her senses and the horror of her situation became clear. Panicking and alone, she was searching for the way out when she tripped and fell, hitting her head.

Too weak to move or even to cry out, Madeline survived for three days in the dark with only the ghosts of the long dead for company. Her body is down there still, waiting to be found.”

And with those words, the woman opened the dormitory door. The girls looked up, startled by the light, and saw Alice standing in the doorway. She didn’t seem to notice the other girls. She stared straight ahead. She was shivering. The woman put her arm around Alice’s shoulders and smiled.

“Alice has had quite a night. But she’s safe now. Come with me, dear. I’ll take care of you.”

She turned to face the girls. Her skin was so pale but her eyes shone.

“Good night, ladies. Be good.”

She turned and led Alice out of the room, closing the door behind her.

The girls shivered in the dark. Blanche was about to speak when the door opened again.

A round woman in her late fifties with black hair done up in a tight little bun peered at the darkness in front of her through thick round glasses.

“Girls, are you awake? I’m terribly sorry to have to tell you this but something awful has happened to Alice Cander.”

“Who…who are you?” whispered Blanche.

“My name is Miss Tindfall. I’m your new English teacher.”


Hello there.

Right, I have been instructed to credit Nia Childs of @nia_loves_films and the Long Good Fridays and Sunday Mornings blog as a co-writer on this short story as she is responsible for the title. I think we were having a discussion about slasher movies which led to Gothic which Nia pointed out generally functioned as a thrilling warning for naughty ladies. So naturally I stole the title and wrote something set in a girls' boarding school.

It's supposed to be set in an undetermined place in an undetermined time which is why characters who clearly should be 1950s American schoolgirls talk like English people. It was initially just going to be a Gothic ghost story, then I wanted the frame so I had to write Phemonena/Suspiria/generic American teen horror movie which was obviously very upsetting to me. It was going to get a lot more Angela Carter in the crypt but I decided against that in the end, for better or worse. Basically it's supposed to be as silly as its title.

Hope you enjoyed it. And yes, the branches are phallic.

Things are progressing in other areas. Slower than I'd like, but that's generally the theme. Editing takes time. If anyone's got other ideas for titles, please let me know! I've really enjoyed writing these.

I'm off to watch the most excellent St. Vincent tonight, so here's one of her songs.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Story: Mermaid Skin

Gunnar sat in the middle of the boat, staring at the woman. She stared right back at him from under the matted mess of her hair. Her face was caked in blood. Her clothes had been torn to rags. She had not been allowed to clean herself for days.

The boat rocked gently. There had been no wind for two weeks.

It was just the two of them left now. There had been twenty.

She was grinning at him through a mouthful of broken teeth.

They hadn’t known she was a woman when they had let her on board. The old man who had paid for their passage had told them that she was his son. She had kept her face hidden under a hood. The old man said that his son was deformed. The captain had said that they would be allowed on board provided it was not contagious and had taken their money.

There had been nothing unusual about their departure. The wind had come as soon as they reached open water. They had gone about their business.

But it was Gunnar who had gone below decks and found the woman cleaning herself. And it was obvious that she was not who she claimed to be. He had told the others. It was not long before they had cornered her. She had screamed for help. The old man had come running and was held back by the youngest member of the crew who was eager to prove himself. The priest, a recent and unpopular addition to the crew, had discovered them and gone running to the captain. The captain had joined in.

In a rare display of generosity, the captain had patted Gunnar on the shoulder and told the assembled men that “Gunnar will go first.” Gunnar had been absurdly touched, and then had gone about his business. When he had finished, he went above to get some fresh air. It was dark by the time he heard the old man wailing, and saw him carry the girl on his back to their cabin.

The men had drunk hard that night. There was some laughter early but it quickly gave way to silence. No one wanted to speak to anyone else.

Gunnar had woken to the bell ringing the next day. Ulrich and Bjarne were missing. They searched the boat from top to bottom before realising that they couldn’t possibly be on board. When they had called off the search, Thomas had pointed out that the wind had dropped.

The wind did not return. And men did not stop disappearing. When they were fifteen they had decided to stay in the same room and take turns keeping watch. After two nights of the men being left on watch disappearing, they had decided that the blame must lie with the old man. They had tied the woman up and left her on deck. They had gutted the old man and threw him, still flailing, overboard, attached to a rope. Bait. The food was going rotten. They had caught nothing.

When they were ten, fog descended. They could barely see the hands in front of the faces.

Ulrich had told them they had upset the gods. Quickly convinced, they had crucified the priest on the main sail to placate whatever it was they had provoked.

When five were left they had debated killing the woman. Ulrich had advised against it. So they had stayed awake, sat in a circle on deck. The fog had grown thicker, colder. The only noise had been the water gently lapping against the hull. Gunnar had started making small cuts on his arm to stay awake. Then Thomas was gone. Then Bjarne.

He had thought he heard Ulrich scream and ran towards the sound. He had tripped and fallen over the woman, who sat calmly in the middle of the deck. He had asked her where Ulrich had gone. She had nodded her head towards the side of the boat and smiled. Gunnar had sat down heavily in front of her and stared.

“What are you?” he asked. She did not answer. The water lapped against the hull and the boat rocked gently. She laughed, her voice cracked and harsh.

Gunnar felt ice shoot down his spine. He gasped and tipped forwards, his head hitting the damp wood with a thud. Darkness.

Gunnar opens his eyes. He’s still on the boat. Something is wrong. Something is very wrong. He does not feel right, something has changed. He can hear laughter. He blinks and things become clearer. Ulrich is staring at him. Ulrich, and Bjarne, and the captain. Everyone is here. And he is there too. Somehow Gunnar is standing in front of him, grinning. He knows the grin. It is not his.

“Gunnar will go first.”


Hello there.

So, this is the new short story. The title comes from my colleague, collaborator, and survivor of our second year student house Martin Parsons (find him on Twitter @martang66). I hope he likes it.

I toyed with different time periods. I thought about setting it in a circus but then I realised that I was ripping off Geek Love, which I have just started reading and have instantly fallen in love with. So I went with a more literal mermaid thing.

I haven't written anything unpleasant in a while. If it hadn't been from Gunnar's perspective it would have been more graphic. Gunnar's situation and his nature kind of inform the way the story's written. I wanted to keep it clipped. There are bits that aren't, of course. Also, I'd be amiss if I didn't mention the influence of Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum's excellent film The Woman. Not a direct influence on the story, but certainly indirect (can you be certain about an indirect influence?)

It's generally nastier than the last couple of stories but I hope you enjoyed this horror short story. Here's a song:

Friday, 17 February 2012

Story: Time To Don The Vanilla Suits

“I’m going to look stupid”

“You’re going to look great.”

“Shut up, Luke. Just...just shut your face. I’m going to look stupid. We’re all going to look stupid.”

Neither of them looked away. Not yet. For now each had their gaze fixed on the items of clothing that had been left carefully in clear-plastic dry cleaning bags on the chairs in front of them.

At some point they had agreed to this. Someone had come to them late last night, asked them to do it, and they’d agreed. Because it was a wedding. They hadn’t even asked for any extra cash. They’d just said yes. They’d laughed. They had thought that it would be funny. A band like them wearing something like that. Maybe the beer had convinced them that it’d be romantic. Maybe. Jason was pretty sure he’d said “It’ll be great” but there was no way he was going to admit that to the group.

“I think, maybe, you know, maybe, if we all go out as a group, no one will question it,” said Brandon, twirling his drumsticks and staring fixedly at the suit like it was the abyss staring back at him. Jason tore his eyes away from the suit he was holding at a safe distance and looked over at his band-mate.

“You’re the drummer, you dick. You could be naked behind those things and no one would care. Oh calm down, I only meant because they wouldn’t be able to see you. Everyone knows you’re more important than me.”

The door swung open and Karen staggered in, a nearly-empty glass of champagne in her hand. They turned and watched as her eyes opened wide and slowly pointed at the thing laid out in what she’d designated “Karen’s Area” in a fit of what they’d decided was diva-ness on finding her mobile under one of Brandon’s sweat-soaked t-shirts.

“What is that?”

“It’s a suit, Karen. We agreed to wear them,” said Luke. Karen turned to Luke, no less horrified for hearing the awful truth.

“Did we indeed? And when was this? Was I here? If I’d been here...”

“It was last night, Karen, and yes, you were here” said Luke.

“Oh last night? Then I wasn’t really here, was I? I was certainly in no shape to be agreeing to anything as monstrous as this...monstrosity!”

Jason walked over to Karen and put a hand on her shoulder.

“I think we should burn them, to be safe,” she whispered. He patted her head and sighed.

“They asked. It’s their special day,” he told her. She turned to him, pushing his hand off her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, no. There’s no special that’s special enough for these. We’re not the fucking Rat Pack, Jason. Possibly for a funeral, if it was someone’s last request that we play in these...things. Possibly. Like, if Patti Smith died and she asked us to play her Parisian funeral dressed in these, then possibly. Or if mankind finally gets off its arse and decides to go to Mars, and they want us to play the launch of the shuttle, and the only way we can do it is by wearing these. Or...”

“Yes, yes, we get it,” said Brandon, poking his suit with his drumsticks. “But until we get flown to Houston for the Mars Mission...”

“Which would be awesome, actually,” interrupted Karen.

“Yes, which would be awesome, we’ve agreed to this. So, Vaginal Vengeance will play your brother’s wedding in these unholy mistakes.”

Karen put her head in her hands, and the three of them huddled around her supportively.

“My brother hates me. It’s the only explanation. But I hate him so much more.”

“We know,” said Jason.

“We can make it ironic,” said Brandon.

“Can you be ironic at a wedding? Isn’t that kind of cruel?” asked Luke. Karen emitted a low moan and thrust a finger at the offending object.

“That! That is cruelty!” she cried. Jason patted her head again and she slapped his face half-heartedly.

“I know, I know. But it’ll be alright. We’ll know that we’re being ironic, even if no one else does. Now come on. It’s time to don the vanilla suits.”


Right, hello there.

I wanted to write something short and funny. This is what I came up with. I don't really have much to say, really, except that Ben Sheppard of Treppenwitz blog infamy (here it is) gave me the title. I think he was trying to be difficult. It's him that I'm writing the script for (Anna Land Comes Home, terrible 1st draft complete, slash-and-burn edit pending) so maybe he wanted to give me a difficult task to get me back on the script. Anyway, here it is, Ben. Also, Vaginal Vengeance comes from a Twitter conversation I was having with @filmlandempire @e_film_blog @nrm1972 and the probable instigator @AnneBillson about films with, well, you can probably guess, so I should credit them for that name.

Otherwise, editing continues. I'm tempted to put the short story that the novel comes from on here but it would have to be with the caveat that I'm a better writer now than I was when I wrote the story (probably). Keep checking the blog or my twitter page for updates, if you're interested.

Hope you liked the story! Here's Patti Smith as a reward.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Explain yourself, Jonathan Hatfull, and what is this novel of which you go on about?

Hello there.

So I'm going to explain myself a bit. If any of you read this blog with any kind of regularity, first of all, thank you, and second of all, you've probably heard me moan about The Novel That Nobody Wanted (Yes, it's a reference to the fantastic book The Bear That Nobody Wanted by Janet and Allan Ahlberg which insanely seems to be out of print...but I digress).

It's a novel that I started writing while doing the amazing MA in Writing Programme at The University of Warwick. I spent a lot of that time wondering how in the hell I managed to trick them into letting me on the course with people clearly more talented than me, and a lot of the rest of it starting work on My Novel.

It started with a short story. I was swapping short story titles with Will Metcalfe (District Reporter for at North West Evening Mail in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria). It had been pretty productive. I stole the title for my story Gilly Is A Victim from him and it was my story in our MA class' anthology of short fiction (download for kindle HERE!) but more importantly I took the title A History of Outpatients, which was my first short story that I submitted for the MA's fiction workshops.

In the story, Thomas Colburn remembers his relationship with his childhood doctor, Roberta Fisher. Thomas fell in love with her, and she took his blood, telling his mother that Thomas was suffering from some mysterious sickness. When the mother finds out that Roberta has been taking blood from all the children in the village using the same excuse, the doctor flees from the outrage. But Thomas has never resented what she did. He was in love.

This short story grew into a darkly comic horror novel called Lovely Creatures. Thomas, now an adult, is convinced he is still suffering from the strange malady Roberta described and sets out to find her before it's too late. Accompanied by his best friend Poppy, Thomas' journey takes him into a strange and terrifying world of human monsters and monstrous humans and finds that the answers to his questions are in the most dangerous places. In the MA anthology I described my then-in-progress is as being about "Blood, monsters, family, European cities, and how annoying it is to be stuck in a car with the same people for days on end." This is still accurate.

I've been unable to find a home for the novel. I have thought about just letting it go, but I haven't been able to. So in a final act of self-delusion, I have decided to give it one last edit before e-book publishing it myself. There's almost certainly a better way of phrasing it than that, but I'll find all this out soon enough.

Basically I just wanted to explain what I was up to. Editing is such a wonderful and excruciating process. You get to rip out all the bits you hate, but you also realise quite how much of it you hate. But hopefully at the end of this there will be a novel that you can download (if you want) for some kind of small fee. Until then, the stories will be still be going up on here, and I will occasionally mention how things are progressing with Lovely Creatures. And now you will know what I'm talking about.

Oh, I'm publishing this on Valentine's Day. Happy Valentine's Day. Here's a song:

Saturday, 11 February 2012

A Short Story Double Bill! "Surprisingly Moving With Its Oddness"

So, today we have two short stories with the same title! "Surprisingly Moving With Its Oddness" #1 is a romantic tale for Valentine's Day (kind of) and "Surprisingly Moving With Its Oddness" #2 is somewhat darker. Shall we?


The night had gone well. Better than Nancy could have hoped for. Her expectations had not been high. Birthday parties had traditionally involved heated arguments in front of everyone and cooling vomit somewhere so hidden that she wondered how it could possibly have got there. So she’d taken care with this, her thirtieth. She’d made sure to organise it herself. She'd invited the nine people she wanted to invite and she had given them strict instructions not to invite anyone else. There would be no unwanted exes, no unpleasant surprises.

And there hadn’t been. She’d made the food with the help of her sisters Tara (whose thirtieth birthday party had been two years ago and was still not spoken of) and Lisa (who was twenty two and had made sure that there were as many objects with the numbers 3 and 0 on scattered around the house). People had shown up on time. They all knew each other. They shared similar interests and the ones who held radically different opinions had agreed to disagree, at least for the evening. And Paul had been there. Lovely Paul.

Nancy had seriously considered not inviting Paul. They had only been together for a month. She had been determined to avoid any awkwardness and worried that he might feel pressured or that her friends and family might put him on the spot. But a week before the party she had told him that she would be thirty soon, and gave him the particulars. He had smiled and told her that he would love to come.

She had told everyone that she didn’t want presents. The guests had been allowed to bring nice booze, nice nibbles, and other things of that nature. Fancy puddings were explicitly encouraged. Anything gift-wrapped would not be allowed into the house. To her surprise, everyone did as she had asked. She could be very authoritative when she wanted to be. But after the main course had been cleared away, Paul had leaned over and whispered in her ear that he had a surprise for her. He’d got her something special that would have to wait until everyone else had gone home. She had lost count of the number of glasses of what had been declared “Present Wine” she had drunk by then, and was touched by the gesture and not a little excited.

It was after midnight by the time everyone had left. Tara had been the last to go, staggering from the front door to the taxi that had been patiently waiting for her to say a long and emotional goodbye to Nancy. When Nancy had closed the front door she took Paul into the living room, both carrying refreshed glasses of Present Wine, and sat down on the sofa. Paul gave her a long kiss and gave her his present.

Nancy looked down at what she was holding. At first glance she thought it was a child’s scrapbook. It had faded red card for a cover, with NANCY SO FAR written on it in black marker pen. She looked up at Paul, who sat there next to her, grinning. She opened it.

It may not have been a child’s, but it was definitely a scrapbook. Each page had a photograph stuck onto a piece of white card, with a brief description above and below written in different coloured felt tip.

Page one had a picture of Nancy as a baby, open-mouthed and beaming at the camera. She turned the pages slowly. Nancy showing off her missing front tooth at her fifth birthday party. Nancy age seven, clutching a green ribbon awarded to her for coming third in the hundred metre dash. Nancy age nine, dressed as a sheep for the school’s nativity play. Nancy age thirteen, wearing a slightly-too-long blue dress for the school dance.

She became aware that Paul had put her arm around her.

“Where did you get these pictures?”

“Your parents, of course,” he said. “Go on, keep going.”

The photos glued onto the card pages were no longer ones that her parents would have taken.

Nancy celebrating getting into a bar under-age, clasping a cigarette and a tequila sunrise. Nancy with her hands held up on the dance floor with a man who might have been called Rob or Jason wrapping his arms around her. Nancy in her room in university halls surrounded by books and empty packets of Malboro Lights. Nancy and Tara celebrating her graduation with a fancy meal that Tara had treated her to. Nancy looking something of a stressed mess moving into her first flat in London. Nancy holding up her shelter cat Beast up to the camera. Nancy, Tara, and Lisa celebrating Tara’s 30th birthday with Tara looking like she might cry.

And Nancy felt that she might cry too. She was drunk, and these were good memories. But as she stared at the scrapbook in her hands she wasn’t sure that she liked it very much.

“You found all of these in a week?” she asked. It was the only thing she could think to ask.

Paul smiled and nodded but the smile wasn’t quite as sure of itself as it had been a few minutes ago. Nancy wondered what sort of reaction he had been hoping for.

“Do you like it?” he asked. “I was trying to think of something that no one else would get you, and it wasn’t gift-wrapped or anything. I mean, most of the pictures were on Facebook anyway. I thought it would be nice.”

“Yeah, it is...nice. But it’s just...I don’t know Paul, I just wasn’t expecting it.”

She sat still for a couple of minutes, not knowing what to do with the scrapbook. Should she put it on the table, give it back, or hold onto it? She held onto it. It seemed simplest. After the silence had grown unbearable, Paul stood up.

“It’s getting late, I should probably get going.”

He paused, waiting for her to say that he could stay the night. She didn’t. He leant down and gave her a quick peck on the cheek, then grabbed his coat off the banister and left, pulling the front door closed quietly behind him.

Nancy sat on the sofa. She finished her glass of Gift Wine, and opened the scrapbook at the beginning.



Owen was waiting for the house to go quiet before entering. Having arrived at the appointed time, he stood at the bottom of the garden, as per his instructions, and waited for all the lights to go out. While he waited he cast an eye around at the toys that had been left outside at the end of the long summer’s day. A football that had rolled under a holly bush. A doll’s house that sat with the front door wide open.

It was the parents’ bedroom that looked out on to the garden. Owen was not worried about being seen. He was not seen unless he wanted to be. Standing perfectly still came naturally to him. A spider fell from its dangling thread onto his shoulder and paused, wondering which direction to go. Owen pinched it between the nails of his thumb and index finger and, without really thinking about it too much, pushed it between his lips and ate it.

The light in the parents’ bedroom went out. Owen had his instructions. He waited for another fifteen minutes and stepped out. He was in no hurry as he walked the length of the garden. The back door did not present much of a challenge. He simply pushed and it opened, as he had been told it would. It had never occurred to Owen that it wouldn’t. He closed it quietly behind him.

The house was quiet. He was not concerned about waking any of the inhabitants. He walked softly by nature regardless of what he was wearing. He didn’t even know what this body’s footsteps sounded like.

Naturally, the grand-parents were first. Their room was at the very top of the stairs and the door creaked a little as he opened it. The old woman frowned in her sleep but did not wake. The old man showed no sign of noticing anything at all. He walked over to the bed and took out his knife. The task was completed quickly, every instruction followed to the letter. They hadn’t even noticed it happening.

The parents were next. He had been told that they were restless sleepers and he was not too surprised when the mother woke halfway through and screamed, forcing Owen to make things rather messier than he had wished. The father managed to get out of bed while Owen was distracted and was moving towards the door by the time Owen turned to finish him. Now there was only the child left to deal with. Owen walked along the corridor to the small room at the front of the house and opened the door.

The child’s bed was empty. The bright green duvet had been flung almost halfway across the room but the door had been closed when he had entered. The child was still inside. Owen moved in a spiral around the room, drawing ever closer to the bed at the centre. He looked at the stars on the ceiling and realised they came from the nightlight plugged in at the wall. He knew a lot of children under five were scared of the dark. But he could not be distracted. There could be no room for error. There was a sound from outside the room. He paused by the wardrobe and listened.

A cat was yowling. Owen realised that the sound was coming from the grandparents’ bedroom and he wondered how he could possibly have missed it. He left the child’s bedroom. He was confident that she would not leave her hiding place. The instinct for self-preservation was too strong.

A fat tabby cat stood at the foot of the bed mewing at the stationary, bloodied figures above. As Owen entered the room the cat turned and hissed, arching its back. Owen understood it to be hostile and grabbed the animal by the scruff of the neck. The cat screeched and scratched wildly at him with its claws. Owen lifted the knife with his free hand.


He turned. The child stood in the doorway. He had been wrong. She had abandoned her hiding place. She had abandoned safety for the life of the cat. He did not understand.

“Don’t hurt him!”

He looked again at the cat, who had not grown tired, still swinging its claws at him. He put it down and looked at the child. The cat ran past the child and down the stairs. It didn’t care that she had saved it. That didn’t seem to matter to her. She stared at him, tears streaking her face. He was confused. And he was troubled.

He walked past the girl, down the stairs, and left the house by the back door. As he walked back down the garden he tried to understand what had happened.


Well I hope you enjoyed these short stories. The title comes from Stacey Siddons (her blog here) I had two ideas, you see, and I couldn't decide which to write, so I wrote both. #1 is sort of a cross over between a Michael Haneke movie and Crazy Joe Davola's shrine to Elaine Benes in Seinfeld. I don't think there are many short stories written for blogs by a someone who's a quarter Finnish that has Haneke and Seinfeld as its chief influences (covering my bases here) so I hope you enjoy. There's a bit of manic-pixie-dream-girl/boy poking going on too, not that it needs it.

#2 was conceived as something quite different and a lot more explicitly violent that I may write at some point but it didn't feel quite right for the title. You can make up your own mind about who or what Owen is. I have an idea but I'd be interested to hear what you think. It was also going to be longer at one point but I wanted to keep it short and simple. I think if it was any longer Owen's perspective wouldn't work. I toyed with the idea of having more family members but I think there's just enough of a Bucket family from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory thing going on that I'm happy. I wasn't sure about the spider at first but I like it now. (These insights are fascinating, aren't they! God!)

There will be another blog post possibly tomorrow explaining my plans for The Novel That Nobody Wanted. I have a vague sort of almost plan for it. Hopefully it will be something positive and will allow me to stop thinking about it and move on with the rest of my life.

I'm still looking for titles! Remaining, we have: Time To Don The Vanilla Suits!, Mermaid Skin, A Thrilling Warning to Naughty Ladies, and I Was Dead Inside Until I Met You.

Thanks for reading. OK, here's a song. It's really good. I'm not just posting it because it's Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Von Haselnuss Rides Again

Ellie von Haselnuss was having a tough time at school. There was no way of getting around it. Her parents told her that at ten years old she needed to be making friends, talking to kids her own age. But since they’d moved from the woods to the city she’d found it harder and harder to make a connection with anybody. Ellie loved stories but no one wanted to talk about stories, at least not the stories that Ellie was interested in. They called her Dracula before someone with a slightly higher IQ pointed out that Von Haselnuss sounded a bit like Van Helsing and the name stuck. She would walk home from school alone, trying to understand why things were so different here and why her parents had thought it had been necessary to move. She would lie awake at night and pretend that she could hear the trees rustling outside her window, that she could hear the animals calling to each other in the night. But then she would wake up, and she would be in the exact same sad place.

The only real refuge that Ellie could find was in her books. Her favourites were the grand, swooping Gothic tales that her parents let her read so long as she was careful with them. They were old paperbacks whose spines were coming unglued. With quick but careful little fingers she made fast work of these novels and soon needed fresh supplies.

One day, while taking a different route home from school to avoid three girls who wanted to know what she was staring at, she came across a charity book shop. From the outside it looked more like a home than a shop, with only a small hand-written note in the dirty window letting the casual passer-by know the opening hours. Ellie could smell the books from the street. She was inside within moments, and a little silver bell at the top of the door announced her arrival.

The young man behind the desk barely looked up from his magazine and Ellie didn’t bother to acknowledge him as she made a beeline for the horror section at the back of the shop. Squeezed between Crime and Thrillers and Science Fiction and Fantasy were three small shelves dedicated to Horror and Dark Fantasy. Elle ran her finger along the spines of the books; skimming over the ones she had already read and the ones she had no interest in reading. Then something made her stop and lean closer.

In between a fat book about teenage werewolves and an incorrectly placed Mills and Boon novel was a slim volume with a name that made Ellie gasp.

Von Haselnuss Rides Again by Stefan Rachen.

She took the book and paid for it with the two pound coins she had in her pocket. The young man behind the desk barely bothered to check the amount. Ellie walked home quickly, cradling the fraying paperback and studying the cover. The artist had depicted an impossibly winding road up to an impossibly angular castle that seemed to seep into an impossibly craggy mountain-top. A bolt of white lightning seared across the purple night, and a single yellow window beckoned from what could only have been the castle’s attic.

It took Ellie just two hours to read the book from cover to cover. It was the story of a young, practical German journalist named Theodor at the turn of the 20th century who is told he has inherited his great-uncle’s castle in the mountains. Theodor is a sceptic and dismisses the executor’s stories about his great-uncle as superstitious nonsense, and hurries off to stay the night at his new castle. During the course of that night, he comes to the shocking realisation that he is merely the latest in a series of young men tricked into spending a night trapped in the castle, and that his great-uncle needs the blood of twelve human males to rise from the grave. What’s more, Theodor discovers with horror that he is to be the twelfth and final victim. It was with some satisfaction that Ellie read the gloriously ghoulish finale, in which the arrogant young man fails to escape at the last moment, and loses consciousness as he sees his great-uncle rise, with all the vigour and good looks of youth, from a vast pool of blood in the castle’s crypt.

Having finished the novel, she took it to her parents. She thought they would enjoy the coincidence of the title, if not the book itself, but she couldn’t have anticipated her father’s reaction.

Von Haselnuss Rides Again?” said her father. “I haven’t read that in years!” He turned to his wife who peered over his shoulder. “You remember Stefan, don’t you?” He started flicking through the pages, smiling as he skimmed a few words here and there. “Stefan was one of my very best friends at school. His parents were German too. My parents used to take me to his house so they could complain about things in their native tongue. Stefan was always dragging me to see these terrible horror films, all blood and guts, the gorier the better. I used to cover my eyes at the worst parts and then he would lean over and whisper descriptions of what I was missing.” He looked up with a wicked grin and waved his finger at his daughter. “You should not be watching any of these films for a long time, preferably never. I want to make that clear.” He laughed again and handed the book back to Ellie.

Later that night, after Ellie had gone to bed, she could hear her father on the telephone talking to Stefan Rachen. She was glad that she had made her father so happy. When she saw the light go out in the hallway, she hopped out of bed and found a pen and a pad of paper. She sat down at her desk, turned on the night-light, and began to write about her forest that was no longer outside her window, and the monsters that still waited there.


Hello there.

This short story title came from David Hayes. I hope he likes what I've done with it. It was going to be more of a horror story at one point, but I have ideas for other titles which involve plenty of that, so I thought I'd try something a bit nicer. There will be time for horror short stories later, but I did have fun summarising the plot of Van Haselnuss Rides Again. I may need to write that at some point!

Please keep the ideas for short story titles coming in, I welcome any ideas. The next story will be "Surprisingly Moving with its Oddness". The title comes from Stacey Siddons.

Otherwise things are going...well they're going. My novel is being uncooperative, so I will be returning to some script editing until I get some more ideas. But enough of my yakkin'! Here's Nat Johnson and her Dirty Rotten Soul!