Monday, 12 March 2012

The Girl in Club Sorrow

Tonight's short story is a horror, with suicide themes so please be aware of that before reading it. Or not reading it. Your choice. Please enjoy.


Grace was dead. By her estimation she had died about two minutes ago. Well, she thought that was how long she had been looking at her body, wishing she could have left a prettier corpse. But she knew that it had never really been an option. Grace hated the way she looked, she hated the way she had been, she hated her life in general. Maybe more than anything Grace hated her name. She thought about what her parents must have been hoping for when they named her. They must have been imagining someone elegant, beautiful. Hell, they must have been imagining someone graceful. How could they have been so cruel?

These were a few of the reasons why Grace had opted out; as she had described it in the note she had left behind. She had worried if the note was a bit trite, she’d worried about whether people still left notes. Still, it was too late to do anything about it now. And she was glad that she had decided to leave a note because she thought that her family deserved an explanation. She had briefly mentioned the bullying, but she had decided not to name any names. She didn’t want to start any call to action. She just wanted to be left alone. Which was why she was here now, floating about a foot above the ground, and looking at what she had left behind.

She was getting used to the movement. She didn’t exactly walk anymore. It was floating, really. She could stand on the ground if she wanted to, or she could hover. She supposed she could do whatever she wanted. Incorporeality probably meant that she could be upside down if she wanted to be. She thought about where she wanted to go and there she was. She saw the window and thought about how she wanted to be outside. Before she knew it, she was in the garden, looking up at the bathroom window. From outside it was impossible to tell what had happened in there. She supposed her parents would find her in the bathtub. Or her big sister Katie, or her little brother Jack. She hoped it would be Katie. Not because she deserved it. Because she was the one who would be able to handle it best. Her parents would be upset and Jack was too young to see something like this. He wouldn’t be able to handle the trauma.

And as she focused on the word trauma she found herself somewhere else. No longer outside, but just as cold. She recognised it even in the dark. Her school corridor. And she had landed right by her locker. She’d thought she wouldn’t have to come back here ever again. She’d been humiliated here today, like every day before it, she had no desire to relive the experience. She just wanted to be somewhere away from here.

“They’re going to ask you to join them,” said a small voice from behind her. She turned to see a young boy in school uniform. The skin around his eyes was puffy and had gone a disturbingly purple colour. When Grace realised that both he and she were already dead she calmed down a little bit.

“Who are you?” she asked. “What am I doing here?”

He moved a little closer and looked around nervously. Grace thought that she could smell gas.

“We don’t have time; they don’t know that I’m here. They’ll try and get you to join them, they’ll try and tell you that it’s the right thing to do but they’re wrong.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

The strip lighting in the corridor flickered on and off and the boy looked up, startled.

“Oh God, they’re already here,” he muttered. He turned. “I’m sorry, I’ve got to run. If they know that I’m here…They’re coming to find you.”

And with that he vanished into thin air. Grace thought about shouting after him but she got the impression that he didn’t want to be found. Then she saw a light go on. The frosted glass on top of the door of the ladies’ toilets. She looked up and down the corridor. She felt scared but she knew that was ridiculous. She was dead. What could there possibly be to be scared of? She crossed the corridor to the ladies’ and pushed the door open. It stank of cleaning fluid. She didn’t particularly want to be here. She didn’t want to be in this school. But she had time to spare.

As the door closed behind her she became aware that she was not alone. The lights flickered for a moment then stayed on. In the centre of the room she saw four figures, each wearing slightly different school uniforms, all with the same insignia. On the left stood two girls, one with deep open running down her arms and the other with what Grace guessed was rope burn around her neck. On the right stood two boys, one dripping wet and the other with the left half of his face simply missing, a red and white gory mess in its place. Grace wondered how he’d gone. They were all smiling. They saw Grace, and then they started to clap.

“Welcome,” said the scarred girl. “We’re so pleased to see you. Welcome, welcome.”

“Who are you?” asked Grace. The four figures looked at each other and continued to smile as they turned back to face Grace.

“We’re like you,” said the dripping boy. “We all opted out. We all went to this school, at one time or another. We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Waiting for me?” Grace asked. They nodded, those smiles still fixed on their faces. The smiles worried Grace for reasons she couldn’t quite pin down.

“Welcome to Club Sorrow,” said the girl with the rope burn. “My name is Alexandra. The girl who slit her wrists is Bridget. The boy who drowned himself is Ryan. The boy who jumped in front of a bus is Darren. And you are?”

“I’m Grace,” she said, and held out her hands. “Wrists, too. Not very original is it?” She had thought she’d try bad taste and found that she instantly regretted it. But it didn’t seem to bother anybody.

“It’s tough to be original,” said Bridget. “It’s all been done. Don’t worry about it. Oh, I should say, please don’t think that Darren is ignoring you. He lost the ability to talk after his exit. I don’t know how that works, I mean, he’s dead, you’d think they’d let him talk. Anyway, sorry, I’m rambling. Welcome.” She took a deep breath. “Now we are five. Now we can start.”

Grace felt herself being pulled towards the four of them. They all smiled at her and held out their hands. They were welcoming her. This felt different. This felt nice.

So she felt bad when she knew she had to ask, “Start what?”

“We’ve been waiting for fifteen years, Grace,” said Ryan. “We’ve been waiting for the a fifth to make us strong enough.”

“Sorry, but strong enough to what?”

“I’m sorry about Ryan,” said Alexandra. “He likes making these grand speeches and he’s had a lot of time to practice. We’re talking about revenge, sweetheart.”

“Revenge?” asked Grace.

“That’s right,” she said, and took Grace’s arm. “We’re stuck in limbo and they get to keep walking around like nothing happened. It doesn’t seem right, does it? And during the long years we’ve had to ourselves, we’ve finally worked out how to get back at them for what they did to us.”

“Possession,” whispered Bridget theatrically.

“Exactly,” said Ryan. “If you’d let me get to my point, I would have told Grace that we needed five spirits for what we have in mind. I know, you’re only just getting used to everything, so I’ll just give you the important bits. It takes two spirits to get inside a living body. It takes three to begin to alter mood. Four can create a little bit of movement, sort of like a nervous tick, but nothing really major. Five spirits working in harmony will actually give us full control of the body.”

Grace listened to all of this. She found the positivity in the room disturbing. So she asked the best question that she could think of. “Why?”

Ryan looked puzzled. “Sorry, do you mean why do I think five will give us full control of the body or why do we want to get full control over the body in the first place?”

“The second one. And whose body would you want to control?”

The four looked at each other and back at Grace. Grace felt like she was being made to feel like she was asking stupid questions when they were actually very reasonable.

“Sweetheart,” said Alexandra. “The ones who bullied us. The ones who drove us to this. We’re going to make them suffer. We’ve got it all worked out. Bridget?”

Bridget stepped forward when her name was called.

“Right, my one. He’s still young. Well, he’s in university. He used to tease me. So my idea was that we would go and give him a taste of what it was like.”

“And now that you’re here,” said Ryan, “We can finally get things going. So, we’re going to join hands, we’re going to let Bridget picture…what was his name again?”


“Right, Vince. Then we let her us there. Oh, just one final point, it’s very important that none of us, Grace, leave Vince’s head before we’re finished. We all need to go in at the same time, and we all need to leave at the same time. Otherwise the ones left behind will be stuck there.”

“There were five of us last week,” said Alexandra. “We left a boy behind in my old gym teacher.”

“You’ve done this before?” asked Grace.

“Well, once. And like I said, it didn’t go well. We’re feeling a lot more confident about it this time,” Alexandra replied.

Grace started to back away towards to the door of the toilets. She held her hands up and tried to give a decent approximation of the smile they’d been giving her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But I’m not the right girl for this. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Bridget. “They were so horrible to you.”

“Of course they were,” said Grace. “But that doesn’t mean I want to hurt them back. That would make me just as bad as they are. And just as bad as you are. And I’m sorry that this boy Vince made fun of you, that’s terrible, but if you do this…I can’t. I don’t want to hurt anybody.”

The four looked at each other, then back at Grace. The smiles had all gone. The positivity had left the room.

“I’m sorry, Grace,” said Alexandra. “But we’re not giving you a choice.”

They rushed through the air towards her and grabbed her by her hands and shoulders. As Grace started to scream Bridget screamed the name Vincent and everything went black.

It was cramped. Grace could feel the four pressed against her. It was like being trapped with them in a warm, damp, airless cupboard. But there was a light source not too far ahead of her. She moved towards it and looked through to a bedroom she didn’t recognise. She saw a desk, she saw books, and she saw hands that weren’t her own. She was inside the Vincent boy’s head. She felt rough hands on her shoulders pulling her back.

“Focus, everyone,” muttered Bridget. Grace looked at her and Bridget turned to meet her gaze. “You’d better focus or I’m going to make the rest of your afterlife hell, do you understand me?” Grace nodded. “Right, focus on that hand.”

She did as she was told. She could feel the atmosphere change, wherever they were. More than just the atmosphere. She could feel the body they were in resisting their presence, their instructions. But it wasn’t strong enough. Through Vincent’s eyes she could see his arm begin to move, scrabbling across the desk to an orange pair of scissors. She could hear him shouting. She closed her eyes just as she saw the first drops of blood forming on his forearm.

The four were laughing and cheering, telling each other that it was working. Club Sorrow was in full control. Grace moved away from the light and wondered how she had managed to end up at the mercy of another group of horrible people. It hurt her to know that this is where she had ended up, and who she had ended up with. It hurt terribly. In fact, it hurt worse than terribly. It was excruciating. It was too much to bear. She started to scream. The laughter stopped and the four turned to see what was going on. She saw their grins drop, replaced by fear.

“No!” shouted Alexandra. “Stop her, she’s getting away!” She felt their hands grabbing for her, and she felt herself slipping out of their grasp. “She can’t leave now!”

She opened her eyes. There was a long clear plastic tube running out of her arm. The arm itself was covered in bandages. She lifted her head and saw her mum asleep in the chair opposite. She let her head drop back on the pillow. A cool hand was pressed against her forehead. She looked up and saw a nurse smiling down at her.

“They’re trapped,” she told the nurse. “They can’t hurt anyone in there.”

The nurse patted her head and didn't think twice about what she was saying. Grace closed her eyes and went to sleep.


Right, so.

I'm not sure how much I like this story. I like the title, given to me by Dan Cole (@gizmo151183), and I thought I had a good idea for it. Then the issue of tone came into it and I'm not sure how well it's come off.

My idea was definitely a horror but bits of it are inspired by/cribbed from the lovely indie film Wristcutters: A Love Story, which is based on a short story by Etgar Keret that I regretfully haven't read. It's also impossible for me to write gory ghosts talking without thinking of An American Werewolf in London, which is probably why they're a bit funny (hopefully) as well as nasty. There's also a bit of Being John Malkovich in there, with the possession. I thought about making the inside of Vincent all wet and guts-y and Clive Barker-esque but I decided against it. When I first thought of it it was going to be quite a lot nastier but I found myself backing away from it, partly because of how the character of Grace ended up being. Which is partly why it ends how it does. If I ever give this another re-write it might end differently, I'd like to hear what you think about it. I suppose eventually I thought the actual subject matter was dark enough, I didn't want to wallow in it.

With a lot of these short stories I'm finding it difficult to keep to a tone or to one storyline. If this were longer I'd feel comfortable about going to some slightly darker places with it. I'd also want to explore the limbo a lot more and see what other characters are there. But the challenge with a short story is keeping it short. I like it more than I did after the first draft but I'm still not really sure how well it all fits together so I'd be interested to hear your opinions. The point of this blog at the start was to have some writing about writing here as well as short stories, which there hasn't been much of recently. Maybe if there's enough feedback, if you think it could be better a different way, I'll write another draft of it at some point. But, in the end, there is quite a lot that I like here. I hope you enjoyed it.

Here's the Wristcutters trailer

And here's a bit of Tom Waits for you


  1. Hmm. I can see what you mean about your source material - it definitely wears "Wristcutters" and "Malkovich" on its sleeve. But then again, like Bridget says, it's tough to be original with some of these topics.

    For what it's worth, I think it's as good a story as any. Not one of your best, it's true - but it suits me fine.

    Tonally I thought it was fine, and although maybe Grace is a little too blasé about having 'opted out', I got a sense that it was right and good for her character to be so. That, it seems to me, is what separated her from Club Sorrow: she didn't get, for want of a less patronising expression, hung up on it. She was in a shitty position and, from her perspective, got out of it. I'm not sure if that means that she trivialises suicide, but I don't think so. Especially as someone who has been a teenager and as a victim of bullying (although I have limited understanding of being a girl), I can see the logic of someone doing that.

    I did think her apparent resurrection at the end was a bit hokey. To be fair I thought the same thing about Wristcutters, although the fact that it was a love story meant that it was pretty much obligatory, and there was enough charm there to pull it off. Now, I'm not saying that that's not the case here, but I agree with you: Grace is an excellent PoV character to explore limbo with. Is it wrong that I thought she should have stayed dead?


  2. Hi David,
    Indeed, I actually found it pretty difficult to try and find a fresh angle on it that wasn't, well, crap. "Wristcutters as horror" wouldn't really work at all I think, so I just kind of tried to find a middle ground. I definitely didn't want to trivialise suicide either (hopefully that goes without saying...) I'm glad you enjoyed it, I would have been worried if you'd said you liked it as much of some as the others!
    So the ending, yes, originally I planned to have her stay dead. I think that ending works in Wristcutters, but I don't think it works that well in my story which is why there is now an alternate ending!
    Thanks for the comments, helpful as always.