‘The hunt continues’… Finding a Home for ‘The Bargheist’

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‘The Bargheist’ continues to stalk undeterred…

Last month I wrote an article on how I had recently completed my latest short story (see here). Entitled ‘The Bargheist’ the story was originally written for ‘The Ghastling’ Magazine as part of their open submission period.

Since then, ‘The Bargheist’ was sadly not picked up by the magazine. It is not something I feel downhearted by and I’m actually looking forward to reading the latest issue of the magazine to uncover improvements to my own short story writing.

With that behind me, I found myself wondering what next to do with my latest short? Was I simply to resign it to the failures drawer with several other stories – including ‘Vegas’ (See here) and the initial draft of ‘Noisy Neighbours’ (See here) – or was I simply to carry on with the submissions in the hope that another magazine would see the potential in the story and pick it up?

You’ll be please to know that I decided to carry on with the submission process. There are many great and exciting online magazines out there that I feel the story would prosper in and benefit. Having taken the steps to create a list based upon this, I’ve now elected on a more focused approach instead of the scattershot submissions of yesteryear. Now, instead of sending them out on mass, I’m looking at submitting three at a time, using a one month (or 30 day) period as a ‘waiting’ period for feedback, before resubmitting elsewhere.

So far, I’ve looked at the following magazines:

  • Santitarium Magazine (See here)
  • Lamplight Magazine (See here)
  • Dark Alley Press (See here)

I’ve also used this time to concentrate on writing further bespoke covering letters and synopsis, each time focusing my approach using a similar approach to what I did on my past submission. It’s an approach I’m interested to try and have happened upon some really exciting new magazines that I  hope will see it in their interests to publish ‘The Bargheist.’

But that’s not all.

As I had a friend look over and critique my manuscript and mulled over my next course of action,  I realised that the story has further potential to prosper beyond the short story format. By focusing on my original inception of the story, one beyond the guidelines placed upon it by magazine conditions, I realised that the story could be morphed into a novella; a form that I have yet to try my hand at.

In fact, It transpired that the manuscript I produced, was but a prelude or accompanying piece to another story that needed to be written. And so that’s where I stand now. As I move deeper into my research next month, I plan to use my weekends to begin planning this novella.

Finally, a quick announcement and a precursor for next months post.

This July, I’m going to be taking my annual leave this month. Instead of seeking the sunny beaches of Spain or Florida, I shall be partaking in a week away to the land of Vampires itself, Romania. Starting in Bucharest, we plan to travel to Dracula’s castle (Bran Castle, as seen here), as well as visit the gloomy forests that inspired the vampire folklore. A self-confessed fan of the Gothic, horror and folklore, I can’t help but think of a more exciting place to holiday and will certainly be taking a set of short Vampire stories with me for inspiration. Not only that, here I plan to commit some time to writing, where hopefully, I’ll either bring back a few pages of script or at the very least uncover a few new pieces of inspiration for more stories.

More on my Romania trip, next month- until then, see you guys!!!

 

 

 

 

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“Something wicked this way comes”… Short stories, Whitby and Big Black dogs

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The Abbey at Whitby, one of my favourite places to visit in the UK and the setting for my latest short story ‘The Bargheist.’ 
With my MA essays all written until next year, the month saw me take a 4 week sabbatical from my studies in order to pursue some of my other creative interests, many of which I have had little time to put towards in the previous 8 months.

One of these interests has been the creation of a short story; one that had been brewing in my mind for some time and of which I wrote for inclusion within a specific literary magazine. Named ‘The Ghastling’ (see: here), the magazine focuses specifically on ghost stories and tales from the supernatural. These are stories that favour terror over horror and unease over gore. Their influences span such authors as M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson; writers who’s fiction I greatly admire. It is a magazine which has long been on my radar, with many of their stories ‘ticking my boxes’ when it comes to reading in my spare time. I’ve long wanted to take part and submit a story, and realised that this was perhaps the perfect time to do so.

The story I began to write was named ‘The Bargheist’ and was born from my experiences holidaying in the North Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby. Known for its associations with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the town has become a haven for Goth culture in recent years. Anyone who has followed me recently, knows of my love of the small fishing port. Its a place that not only holds special memories for being the place where I completed my first novel, but its unique aesthetic, cool little pubs (and amazing fish and chips) have made it one of my favorite locations to visit in the UK.

With its prior associations with the Gothic, its no surprise that the town has its own fair share of ghost stories, myths and legends. I last visited the the town in September of last year and while I was there, myself, my girlfriend and brother went on two ghost walks. The first walk was focused on the local folklore related to Dracula, while the second was focused specifically on the various ghost stories associated with the town.

During the first walk, the storyteller told the group of the legends associated with a great black dog that patrolled the town. Named ‘the Barghest’, to hear its howl was to bring bad luck to anyone who heard it. It was a story that kindled an intrest within me. I don’t know why. Maybe it was my childhood fascination with old monster movies, or the thought of some legendary wolf roaming the land. Whatever it was, I immediately wrote the note down on my pad as something to pursue at a later date. Except, I couldn’t let it go.

I kept thinking about the story, the theatrical name of the beast and its associations to folklore, particularly around the county of Yorkshire. My goal became increasingly clear when I saw that the Ghastling was accepting open submissions. I knew that I wanted to contribute and had just the story up my sleeve.

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An old account dated 1577 of an encounter with ‘Black Shuck’ as written by Abraham Fleming in A Straunge and Terrible Wunder. 
I undertook much research, looking at the many various incarnations of black, demonic dogs across the British isles. Creatures such as Black Shuck in Suffolk, Hairy Jack in Lincolnshire and even the Beast of Bodmin moor (for more info, see: here). All of these tales held some kind of fascination in me, but it was the malicious Barghest (associated with York and Whitby) that continued to prey upon my mind. Taking some artistic license (as well as looking upon the origins of the name), I renamed it slightly, calling it the ‘Bargheist’, something that to me sounded slightly more supernatural and ominous, as opposed to the rather more demure or domesticated Barghest.

For a while I wasn’t sure how to start the story. In fact, I tried the tale with two different narrators before finally finding the correct voice. I elected to focus on the whole ‘tale within a tale’ approach, using the recognisable horror cliche of the old storyteller in the local inn, whilst adding  flavours of self-aware humour. The object was to pay homage to the old ghost stories of old, keeping it in the same vein but with a contemporary edge. Not only that, but I wanted to keep elements of the story ambiguous; offering possible explanations but ultimately leaving it up to the reader to come up with the answers.

Once I got the story down, the editing was easy. I managed to tear my way through the story, trimming the fat where possible, while adding extra muscle to places where it was required. For once, the entire task felt like a pleasure. Whereas sometimes a crippling under-confidence can set in, this time I felt I was getting it right. The wheels were spinning and I was just along for the ride. The concept of the Barghest and my confidence in its inception got me through and enthralled me enough to finish what was to be my first piece of creative fiction in just over half a year.

I really hope that I can share the story with you in the near future. In the meantime, just be wary of any big black dogs you see at night…they’re probably just a Labrador, but you never know.

 

 

Inspiration: ‘My week holidaying in a Haunted House’

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The gloomy, beautiful Derwent Water, Keswick, Cumbria.

This article is going to be something or a ramble, so I apologise in advance.

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come from anywhere and appear in various forms and guises. It can come from a dream, a picture, a sentence or even just a thought – a ‘what if’ scenario – that sets in motion the nucleus of a story, or any other piece of art for that matter. Sometimes such inspiration leads to nowhere, just another idea that gets filed away in the ‘I’ll figure it out later’ drawer, along with a thousand other ideas.

Yet sometimes, inspiration comes from more than just a glimpse or random encounter with an almost supernatural force of creative power. Sometimes, instead of capturing such ideas in a butterfly net, you have to truly live and experience something that imbues inspiration.

With this in mind, I’d like to talk about the time I spent a week in an alleged ‘Haunted house’ while on holiday in Cumbria. The house in question was based in a small hamlet in the south lakes, bordered by a small river and two pubs. Our being there was by complete random accident, my mother had booked the property for the week as a family retreat for the week.

On arriving, the house seemed fine from the outside, just a normal, old country cottage, but as soon as we entered, a strange uncanny atmosphere took over. Inside, the house was almost constantly dark. Although certain renovations had been made to the kitchen, the rest of the house was full of old wooden panels and seemed to creek and watch from the shadows. I say that because its true. It was like something was watching you all the time. You knew nobody was there, but you couldn’t help but feel an unseen pair of eyes watching from the dark… though that could have been the four dogs we had with us.

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One of the windows from the top of the house

Not only that, the furniture also worked to create a sense of unease. Situated within the hallway was a rocking chair, one that rocked on its own for several seconds after someone had sat in it. The result mimicked that famous scene from The Woman in Black stage play, something that many of my family replicated with glee, hoping to catch somebody descending the stairs in time to see it moving unaided. Not only that, creepy old black and white photos decorated the walls; two of which featured chilling portraits of small children that my aunt had to take down in order to feel comfortable.

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A window into the back garden from the main living area. This demonstrates the contrast between the light outside and the dark inside the house.

At first nobody said anything, we kept quiet so as not to hurt my mums feelings, but I think deep down everyone was thinking the same. Myself, my partner and brother were relegated to the attic (another horror cliche in itself) and the three of us decided that neither of us wanted to walk the house alone, particularly at night. Furthermore in our attic room, a series of small cupboards lined the floors, almost mimicking tunnels or chambers. The result led to us remembering urban legends of evil twins or unknown horrors locked in the attic or living alongside a buildings occupiers while the people themselves remain unawares.

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The stairway to our attic rooms.

Eventually, within several hours (and after having had a few pints down the local boozer) I eventually confronted my mother, to which the rest of the house also contributed. The feeling was soon compounded when my uncle and grandfather went to the local pub and started talking with the locals (cue another horror cliche) whom went on to say that the building was haunted. Not only that, upon their return, we all soon checked the guestbook, of which several entries claimed that they had seen figures and heard footsteps in the night.

Although our being there was completely at random, I must admit, I was incredibly enthused. As a ghost story enthusiast and former resident of Cumbria, it has always been a dream of mine to write an collection of original ghost stories based within the gloomy, rural lakelands that I partially grew up in. Beautiful, ominous and full of sublime countryside, it’s a world of wild, untapped Gothic potential of which I hope to soon bring to light.

In terms of inspiration, this house was therefore perfect for me. With its cold, uncomfortable atmosphere and with enough local mythology to boot, it was like I was living in one of my stories. It allowed me first hand to experience what it was like to live (and sleep) within a ‘REAL’ haunted house. Although creepy at the time, the experience helped to generate ideas and even contributed to tone for several stories, including my first novel Hillcroft Manor.

Such an experience even led to me wanting to write a short stories based on the house and while I’ve plotted several stories (even beginning one) each time I’ve never quite been able to capture the atmosphere and feel of the house. With my MA now on hiatus over the summer holidays, I’m hoping to get more time to write fiction and as a result, I am eager to return back to the house and try to recapture that ‘lightning in the bottle’, which I had experienced while treading the floorboards of that old Cumbrian house.

Oh yeah…you’re probably wondering if we actually experienced anything supernatural or paranormal while we were in the house. The reality is no, nobody experience anything valid during that week in the house… although my granddad did wander around the house flicking a glass of whiskey whilst grasping a camera, hoping to catch a photo that might make him a millionaire.

The only thing scarier than a ghost it seems, is a drunken old Scotsman on a mission.

What’re your opinions or inspiration or haunted house experiences? Please feel free to comment, follow, share and like!

“Noisy Neighbours” and getting a story “right.”

 

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“You never know quiet until you live in a Graveyard” – Grayfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh (Note: Incidently, this is also the opening setting for Hillcroft Manor)
Hi guys, it’s been a while since I’ve posted on my official writers blog, having had all of my time eaten up by both my MA at Birkbeck and my newest position as a writer at Talkingcomics.com (please feel free to see my stuff: here).

I thought I’d do a bit of a ‘double-whammy’ here since its been a long time since I’ve posted. Originally I was just going to write about my time in Dublin, particularly my newfound appreciation of the works of the Gothic writer Sheridan Le Fanu, but I instead found myself drawn towards writing about something that I only just noticed in the past few months and which particularly came to my attention upon reading the novel A Dark Place by Peter Straub. That of the art of getting a story “right” – or writing the story that  you originally wanted to tell.

Many writers will tell you that stories are organic; that the characters pull them along their way and act as muses, pulling the story in the directions they choose. I think this is an extremely healthy way of writing and completely endorse it, even if I personally use a slightly more structured approach.

However, sometimes a story just doesn’t come out the way you expected it. Sometimes you’ve got an idea of what you want, but when you actually sit down to write it, something else comes out which you did not intend, nor want. For instance, I’ve been toying with a series of short fantasy stories, having rarely diverged into the genre and wanted to try my craft at attempting one of them just on the off. As I set down to write it, I got into something of a flow and upon finishing it re-read the thing. What alarmed me was just how far off the mark the story was. In one way, it was amazing, as I came to realise that the story I really wanted to tell came after the story I’d written, but in another, it was quite infuriating that I had spent such time on a piece that would never be given the light of day.

This brings me to the second part of this article. I used the example of Straub earlier, who upon writing the story A Dark Matter, also brought out a limited edition of the text, entitled The Skylark, which acts as a longer, unedited version of the story that would later become A Dark Matter. What’s amazing is his openness with this, his willingness to share with the readers the differences between the earlier versions of the text and its final form. It is with this that I would like to introduce my readers to another short story, which I didn’t quite ‘get right.’

The story is called ‘Noisy Neighbours’ and was originally intended as a Ramsey Campbell meets pulpy, EC Comics styled horror story for a competition hosted by The Emerald Magazine. Although the pulpy elements remain and I’m somewhat impressed by the quick reveal of the spirit, I wasn’t fully convinced about either its length, or that at times cliched elements it displayed as well as the ridiculous pace deployed throughout. I quickly realised that this was not the story I wished to tell and binned it… until now.

Although I still have plans to return to ‘Noisy Neighbours’ as a piece of flash fiction, I thought I’d include the original version of the story here for my readers to view, critique or take the piss out of as they see fit, just as Straub did with The Skylark. Here is a story by a young, unpublished hack that would never have seen the light of day, but one that I think will be useful when charting my development as a writer. It will act as a time stamp of an earlier time.

So please, if you’re still reading – go ahead and read ‘Noisy Neighbours’ in its original form!

Please feel free to comment, like and follow me – any exposure and advice I can gain would be of tremendous help to my development!

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‘NOISY NEIGHBOURS’

BY C.J. THOMSON

‘You never know quiet, until you live in a graveyard.’

That’s what Joe Colback said whenever anyone asked about his profession.

‘Isn’t it kinda grim living there?’

‘Doesn’t it get scary at night?’

Those were other questions. Another classic was whether he ever got lonely?

‘I’ve always got company,’ he’d say.

It may have been Tongue-in-cheek, but as the twenty-year custodian of Hilliyard cemetery near Penrith, New Hampshire, Joe never felt alone. He had never had a wife, nor had he needed one. All he needed was his little stone cottage and his Alsatian, Lucille; named after that old Kenny Rogers song.

He didn’t need anything else. Loneliness suited him.

***

One evening, Joe received a phone call.

‘H-hello, is Joe there?’ the woman said.

‘Speaking.’

‘Hi. I’m sorry to call. I’m not sure if you remember me, but my name’s Alice. Alice–‘

‘Alice Sharpe?’ Joe said. ’God, it’s been years! How you keeping? How’s Ronnie?’

‘That’s what I’m calling about. Ronnie’s dead.’

‘Dead? Jeez. I’m sorry to hear. How’d he-’

‘Cancer,’ she said. ‘He passed away last week. Too many cigarettes. He was strapped to an oxygen tank in the end.’

‘That’s awful. I’m really sorry.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Is there anything-’

‘Well, that’s why I called Joe. I was wondering if you’d be able to help me.’

‘Sure, what do you need?’

‘Well, I know you work at the cemetery there in Penrith, so I was wondering if you’d be able to bury Ronnie there?’

‘I would, but you’ll have to talk with Miss Schzott. Her family own the graveyard, so you’ll need to sort it out with her first.’

‘That’s the problem. Ronnie didn’t exactly die rich. I was wondering whether you’d be able to do it… well… whether you could do it for free?’

‘You serious?’

‘Joe I’m desperate. I really need your help. Is there not anything you could do?’

‘I can’t, I’m just the caretaker. Why can’t you get him cremated? It’ll be cheaper.’

‘Ronnie was very particular. He wanted to be buried back home in Penrith. Please Joe. I loved him so much. I don’t want to let him down.’

Joe fell silent. He couldn’t believe it, after all these years! The nerve. How dare she even-

‘Look,’ Joe said, ‘I can maybe talk to the Schzotts and try to weasel you a discount.’

‘Really? You’d do that?’

‘I said I’ll try. I can’t promise anything.’

‘Thanks Joe, I won’t forget this.’

‘Okay. G’bye,’ Joe said, putting the phone down. He shook his head and sunk back into his tired armchair.

‘Why should I help?’ He thought. ‘It’s been years. We were kids when we last met. I barely know her anymore.’

Lucille entered the room and sat at his feet. He ran his thick, weathered fingers through her coat, scratching her neck as she leant against his knee. Old memories came flooding back. Memories of before the graveyard; of skinny little Ronnie with his slick blonde hair and sharp cheekbones. He thought of secondary school and how they’d each had eyes for one girl.

Alice Redman.

How times had changed. Now Ronnie was dead, Alice was a widow and Joe was alone. Then again, perhaps time didn’t change all that much. But maybe it could? Was there a possibility that this was fate? Were the odds now finally stacked in his favour? It was then that Joe decided he would make things right.

He decided to bury Ronnie Sharpe.

***

Alice had aged little in the years since leaving Penrith. Despite being in her forties, she had still retained her slim figure, and while the odd crow’s foot etched the side of her eyes, not a thread of grey was visible in her hair. By contrast, Joe looked ancient. His skin was wrinkled and sun-damaged, his belly bloated from years of drinking Coors light, while what little remained of his hair was now drawn silver. He felt ashamed, almost embarrassed to see her.

‘Joe, I can’t thank you enough,’ she said before hugging him. Her eyes were sincere.

‘No problem!’ Joe said, relieved.

They went from there. Joe paid a grand from his own savings and arranged a discount for the burial. He declined the opportunity to see Ronnie in the chapel. Instead, Joe preferred to remember him as the boy he once knew, rather than the middle-aged man he’d become. His body starved by cancer.

At the funeral, Joe accompanied Alice to the graveside and chaperoned her throughout. The procession was minimal. Ronnie and Alice had conceived no children together, and what little remained of their families were either too old or too infirm to offer any meaningful support.

The grey clouds began to spit as Ronnie was laid into the ground. As the clods of earth fell upon the coffin, Alice clutched hold of Joe’s arm. Her grip tightened as she cried. Joe held her. And he didn’t let go.

***

In the following weeks, Joe began to see Alice more often. He invited her for coffee, just to see how she was holding up. That led to a meal, a drink at a local, then a walk in the local woods with Lucille. With Ronnie gone, she decided to downsize from her rented home in Claremont to a flat near to where she’d been brought up. She got a new job and Joe helped her move.

After several months, their friendship blossomed into something more. For a man who assumed life as gravedigger had made him repellent to women, Joe found a new lease of life. Now he had another to care for; the woman of his dreams in fact. As he found himself kissing those same lips he had so fantasised about during puberty, he began to wonder about the possibilities for the future. At a time when the pages of his life had once seemed to be running out, it was a shock to find that there were still fresh stories to be told. They rarely spoke of Ronnie. Whenever Joe brought him up, Alice was dismissive. He felt guilty in one way, sleeping with his old friend’s wife, but then wasn’t this what Ronnie would have wanted? Wouldn’t he have wanted his wife to be happy?

By coincidence, it was around this time that strange occurrences began to happen around the graveyard. One night, after dropping Alice off, Joe returned home to find handprints on the window pane; as though someone had breathed on the glass and left them there to see. Doors slammed during the night. Windows were smashed at odd, uncertain hours and Lucille began to growl and whine, reluctant to go for her evening walks. As Joe wandered the yard, things would move in his peripheral vision, while beyond the rows of old moss-eaten crosses and collapsed statues, a lone figure would bask in the moonlight, disappearing in a blink.

For a while he thought nothing of it. Only the cliché that his eyes were playing tricks on him. He carried on as normal, continuing to live his life with Alice.

Then it all changed.

***

It was raining that night.

Joe had slept for hours, waking only upon hearing what sounded like footsteps creaking on the stairs and landing. A door slammed shut.

‘Lucille?’ Joe said, ‘here, girl!’

The dog wasn’t at his feet where she usually slept. He looked at the clock. Four zeroes flickering red on the dashboard. The smell of tobacco perfumed the air. Lucille barked. Downstairs.

‘For Christ’s sake. Lucille!’

As he sat up, Joe saw it. The shock almost stopped his heart from beating, before sparking it to life in fast, locomotive thuds. Bloodshot eyes pierced from the shadows, while a spindly body sat straight and upright at the end of the bed. It was a familiar figure, lit pale in the moonlight and dressed in a leather bomber jacket and jeans. Its face was gaunt and tired, a look of terrible malice chipped into its marble features.

‘Ronnie!’ Joe said.

‘You Bastard.’

‘No, you’re dead!’ Joe said, gasping for breath

The vision sprang forward and fastened its cold grip around Joe’s windpipe, lifting him off his feet and into the air, slamming his head on the ceiling.

‘I’m here for her Joe.’

‘Y-you mean Alice?’

The dead man nodded.

‘Please, you have to understand. She came to me for help- she had no one else to turn to!’

‘It’s too late for that. What’s done is done.’

His grip tightened.

‘Ronnie, please! She wanted to come home, back where she’d been brought up.’

‘She always wanted to come home,’ the spirit said. ‘I told her there was nothin’ here for us but she wouldn’t listen.’

‘But, sh-she said you wanted to be buried here? Back home!’

Did she?’ the apparition said, a twisted grin crippling its face. ‘Alice always was a good liar. Tell me Joe, what do you really know about her?’

‘W-what do you mean?’

‘Well, for instance, did you know she’s a murderer?’

The words split Joe like an axe.

‘Murderer?’ Joe said.

‘Yeah. She killed me.’

‘W-why? What did you do to her?’

‘What makes you think I did anything? I got in the way, if you must know the truth. Just like you will if you’re not careful.’

‘How did she? How did Alice-‘

 ‘That doesn’t matter,’ the spirit said, relinquishing his grip. ‘What matters is why I’m here. You’re going to bring her to me.’

‘Bring her to you?’

‘Yeah. I want her here, in the grave with me.’

‘You want me to kill her?’

‘I want you to bury her Joe. Bury her with me and I’ll never bother you again.’

‘No, I can’t- I won’t do it. You’ll have to kill me first.’

‘No I don’t,’ the spirit said. ’You’re gonna do exactly what I want. All I have to do is stay.’

‘What do you mean stay?’

‘You’ll see Joe,’ it said. ‘You’ll see.’

With those words, the spirit stepped back and disappeared into the shadows, as though it had never been there. For a moment, Joe lay shivering in his bed clothes. Long finger marks now decorated his bruised neck. The cold touch wouldn’t go away.

Then the footsteps returned. On the stairs at first, followed by the downstairs hall. The kitchen door opened and Lucille began to bark, before a terrible yelp echoed throughout the house followed by a deep, violent thud. A shrill, diseased laughter emanated from the darkness.

And it didn’t stop.

***

In the following weeks, the smell of tar and tobacco followed Joe everywhere. Plants began to wither and die around him, whilst scratches of red graffiti appeared on the cottage’s granite walls.

Bastard, the words said.

I’m not going anywhere.

You know what to do.

Kill her.

At night it got worse. Raising itself from its crypt, the spirit would torment Joe as he slept. Fresh soil dirtied his bed sheets as the vision whispered from the end of the bed.

‘She’s a leech.’

‘She’ll use you. Just like she used me.’

‘She’ll leave you.

‘Do you think she wants to stay with someone like you?’

Joe asked whether he could stay with Alice. She agreed, but even then the spirit lay with them, cradling his breathing wife in its dead, varicose arms.

‘She’s thinkin’ about me y’know,’ it said, stale, fetid breath, washing Joe’s face. ‘She’s thinkin’ about how I used to love her. How I used to do it better than you.’

He thought about telling her. Explaining how he was going mad. That he was being tormented by the ghost of her dead husband. The spirit dissuaded him.

‘She won’t believe you.’

‘She’ll have you committed. Do you want that?’

Kept awake by the mass ravings of his neighbour, Joe began to lose weight and developed a nervous shake whenever he stood still. As it grew more noticeable, Alice told him to see a doctor, who gave Joe pills that made him sleep. But even they didn’t make the nightmares go away. He began to grow distant, barely keeping his commitments to the graveyard around him. Worst of all, his suspicions about Alice grew.

Was she a murderer? Did she really kill her husband? If she did, then what was the motive? Was it mercy? After all, she had said Ronnie was on a ventilator when he died. Then again, maybe he’d been abusive? Who knew what kind of a man Ronnie Sharpe had become since he’d left Penrith? If his spirit was any indication, then perhaps it was clear.

He needed to know the truth, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask. The shame of questioning was too much. He could lose her forever. So he kept it bottled inside him instead. He repressed it.

Weeks turned into months, and Joe began to use drastic methods to be free. He tried to spare Alice by killing himself instead. Yet each time the spirit prevented it. It took the razor from his grasp, plucked the poison from his mouth and tore the rope from around his neck. The bloodlust was now insatiable. The dead man would get what he wanted. Nothing would stop that. And so, weak and desperate, he called Alice and invited her to his home.

He would prepare them supper.

***

Joe stirred a saucepan and picked a bottle of merlot from the bottle rack. He uncorked it and poured two glasses.

‘Use the Rat poison,’ the voice said.

‘I can’t.’

‘Use it and I’ll go away!’

‘I won’t, I-’

‘Did you say something Joe?’ Alice said, peering in from the sitting room.

‘Nothing,’ Joe said, ‘lemme just come in there to talk.’

He left the wine and joined her on the sofa. A fire crackled, lighting the room. She wore a navy dress, not dissimilar from one she wore as a teenager. Joe had always liked it, only now, he wished she hadn’t picked it.

‘Are you okay, Joe?’ Alice said.

He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead, ‘No. Alice, there’s something I need to ask you about.’

‘She’s a murderer Joe,’ said the voice, ‘You can’t trust her.’

‘What?’ she said.

‘Well, I wanna know what happened to Ronnie.’

‘I told you what happened. He had cancer.’

‘Yes, but what he was like when he died?’

‘Why?’

‘I just- I need to know if there was anything else I could have done. To help him that is.’

‘Ask her what it was like to murder her dyin’ husband.’

‘I don’t want to talk about this,’ she said, attempting to sit up.

‘Please Alice.’ Joe said, grabbing her arm. ‘I need to know.’

Alice closed her eyes and thought for a second.

‘Okay,’ she said, before breathing in and sitting down. ‘I’ve always loved Ronnie. But he was different when he died. So distant. Manipulative. Far from the man I’d married.

So she killed me.’

‘He was suffering Joe,’ Alice said, her eyes beginning to well. ‘In his last days, I just- I just wanted to ease his pain. To bring him home.’

‘I didn’t wanna go.’ 

‘Ease his?’ Joe said, ‘did you-’

‘-No’ she said, snapping me a stare, before wiping a black trail of mascara from her cheek. ‘I- I wanted to do what was right. I wanted his funeral to remember who he was. In happier times, before we left Penrith. I loved him so much. I had to let him go- he had to let go of me.’

The voice was silent.

‘You understand, don’t you Joe?’ she said.

Joe brought her close and held her, ‘I understand Alice. And I’m so sorry.’

He kissed her and walked into the kitchen to pick up the wine.

‘Do it. Do it now.’

***

Joe moved Alice from the house with great difficulty. Although grief had sapped some of his strength, she was still heavier than he’d expected. Steam puffed from his mouth and Tears ran from his eyes as he moved her across the moonlit cemetery towards her husband’s plot, where he eventually placed her on the dew soaked grass. He picked up his shovel and began to dig. Thirty-six inches of depth with only twenty-six inches of soil; the minimum requirements for a grave. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to go any lower. That familiar scent of nicotine filled his lungs.

‘Bury her deep,’ the spirit said.

‘I did what you said,’ Joe said. ‘Now you have to keep your end of the bargain.’

‘You have my word.’

The grave was deeper than he’d predicted. As his shovel struck the wood of Ronnie’s Coffin, Joe climbed out the hole and looked toward Alice. Her body was rigid and lifeless, black eyes open in shock. He cradled her for a moment and kissed her. She was cold. Joe covered her in a bed sheet and lay her on top of Ronnie’s coffin. After replacing the dirt on top he collapsed, rubbing his muddied fingers across wet, wrinkled cheeks.

‘It’s done,’ he said. ‘Now go. Leave me alone.’

The spirit nodded.

‘G’bye Joe,’ Ronnie said, before disappearing into the dark.

As the moon drenched him in its witchlight, Joe Colback began to realise something. He was alone again.

***

Later that night, Joe thought about death.

Relief had been replaced by guilt and everywhere he looked he saw her eyes. Those wretched, painful eyes; shocked and hurt by his betrayal. He walked to the Kitchen cabinet and picked up the poison before studying the label.

Strychnine. If it was good enough for Alice, it was good enough for him.

He poured a glass of wine and walked into the lounge. Sitting in his chair, he scooped the white powder and mixed it into the drink.

‘Joe.’

Joe looked to the window, where he caught the glimpse of a familiar face, staring in through the window pane. The sight caught his heart to explode, his arm hairs standing on end.

Tired, hateful eyes, burning through the glass. Blonde hair, a navy dress and those etched crow’s feet, scars on chalk white skin.

‘Bastard,’ the face said, streams of red erupting from its mouth. ‘You Bastard.’

‘God, no!’ Joe said, scattering the powder as he fell over a nearby coffee table.

‘That’s the easy way,’ the corpse smiled, her teeth pink and soiled. ‘You have to stay here. With me.’

Alice.

END

‘Vegas’ – A piece of Flash Fiction

'Vegas' - as night begins to draw in, its true nature is revealed Picture: (c) Copyright Gavin Thomson
‘Vegas’ – as night begins to draw in, its true nature is revealed…
                                                 Picture: (c) Copyright Gavin Thomson

Well its been a month, and what better way to celebrate the first month of my blog (and a rather late Halloween) with a short piece of Flash Fiction for you guys.

This here, was one of my first attempts as writing Flash Fiction and I think it comes across as one of those stories that’s a bit of fun, but still clearly written by a young, raw, hack, who is still searching for his craft.

The story is entitled ‘Vegas’ and comes from my own experiences of holidaying in the self-titled ‘City of Sin.’ It’s a strange tale of many mixed feelings for me. On one hand, the story comes from my own personal love of the city, yet on another, this is juxtaposed against some of the more negative aspects that I couldn’t help but notice about the city. A place that if you peel away the surface of the glitz and glamour, you can’t help but see its true form, in all its ugly, sordid and destructive finery. Vegas, more than any other city, is a paradox.

I spawned the story from the most obvious question: “How can people tell the time in a casino with blacked out windows and no clocks?” It became clear that time had no meaning in Vegas, and with that, I began to wonder who would benefit from such an environment? This in turn, set the seeds for the short story that you now see before you.

So please enjoy, and tell me what you think!

NOTE: Please be warned there is some harsh language and descriptions that could be seen as disturbing…and that’s not even mentioning the command of the English language!


‘VEGAS’

By C.J.THOMSON

Most people come out at night here in Vegas.

Not that you know what time of the day it is; most of the casinos haven’t got any windows or clocks. It’s always been like this. I should know. I’ve been living here for the best part of forty years.

Every night, I ride along the strip; cursed to cruise under the bright lights and signs of capitalism’s big, pulsating wet dream. The lights flicker above me. They tell me from the sky it’s like a little circuit board of LED’s and metal. I’ve never been on a plane before. Too dangerous.

It’s come a long way since I first remember it. All the girls, the booze and the tourists. Oh and the casinos! Caesar’s Palace, Treasure Island, The Bellagio – they’re my favourites. I like them because their existence is a con; a grotesque simulacra of over six thousand years of civilisation. Just like me.

I get out of my taxi cab and enter the MGM Grand. A postmodern city of gold, guarded by Lions. A doorman welcomes me inside and I glide through the glittering mania of fruit machines, marble columns and roulette. Gambling has no thrill to me. I’ve been around it too long. Instead, I thirst for a different kind of thrill than its clients.

There are victims a plenty here; people that the world, and Vegas, for that matter, won’t miss. The locals I don’t care for. Too weird, too strange for my tastes. It’s the tourists I like. Eyeing out the weak; preying on those who cannot handle what this town has to offer.

This time it’s three frat boys. Abercrombie nightmares with the words ‘University of California’ emblazoned across their chests. I’ve been stalking them all night.

They stumble out into the casino’s entrance. Loud, boisterous and stupid.

‘Where ya headed?’ I ask, when they finally get into the cab. The answers rarely differ. Anything with tits, cards or booze.

‘Fremont Street!’ One of them says, under the drunken mayhem of laughter. ‘I think it’s called the Golden Nugget?’

‘Sure thing. Buckle up, boys.’

The strip is busy, traffic jammed at each stop light. Outside, Tourists litter the streets, punctuated by the many drunks and homeless; people whose American dream has been destroyed under the plaster obelisks of the city of sin. We drive past The Bellagio’s water fountains; neon graffiti dancing to the sound of generic Italian tenor music. Where else would such garbage be acceptable?

‘Hey buddy, how long we gonna be?’

‘Depends,’ I say, ‘usually takes about fifteen-twenty minutes.’

‘I need a piss,’ the fat one says. ‘Can you get us there quicker? We’ll slip you an extra coupla bucks?’

This is it. It’s usually much harder. I take a right turn down a side street; moving away from the strip.

‘Where we going?’

‘Short cut,’ I say, parking up. The street is isolated, my cab drenched in the bloodied neon of a dilapidated strip club.

The boys are confused.

‘Are you serious? What the fuck is this?’

I reveal myself quickly; doing what I need to survive. They scream like pigs as I rend and tear their flesh to pieces; crimson running down the side of the cab. The back seat is an abattoir, but the taste is enriching. Just my kind of high. I take their money, before ejecting them from the cab. Their corpses stagger off as they fall into the shadow.

I drive back to the strip.

More blood to consume, more dollars to make; all under the bright lights of the boulevard of broken dreams.

As the great Don King once said, ‘Only in America.’

(c) Copyright 2015 Craig Thomson. All Rights Reserved

The Most Important Book You’ll ever write… The First Novel

Hillcroft Manor in its first form
Hillcroft Manor in its first initial form

Since this is my first real post on this blog, I thought it would be relevant to begin by talking about first novels. Recently, I just finished my very first novel and thought it would be an interesting space to discuss my initial feelings on the subject.

When I say I “just finished” my first novel, I mean that I’ve finalised my editing, had two very trustworthy (and  most importantly, critical) allies read my text and have now begun the ongoing submission and rejection process.  The novel is a Gothic tale named Hillcroft Manor and has been a labour of love for me over the past few years. Born of my own love for Gothic stories such as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Grey, the story follows the journey of a young, rebellious aristocrat, who journeys to a remote, rural mansion to live with his reclusive uncle. It is a story of patriarchal oppression, the supernatural and madness with a distinctly satirical edge, and has taken  many long nights of dedication and hard work to finish it. Needless to say, its been an experience like no other and with movies such as Crimson Peak being released to audiences soon, the story could make an attractive, marketable venture within the current climate. So much so, that I would go as far as saying that Hillcroft Manor, despite being currently in that  ‘writers limbo’ between completion and agency representation, could well be the most important novel of my life.

You may be thinking, why? Why would a novel that has not even been taken on by an agency or might not ever see print, be my most important and valued novel? There are many reasons for this to be the case.

First of all, Hillcroft Manor taught me what it takes to be a novelist, including; what to do and what not to do. I’m willing to admit that I made many mistakes whilst writing Hillcroft Manor. Be it from simple sentencing and grammar issues, all the way to plotting and characterisation. I’m sure as this blog goes on, I’ll go further into these details, but as it stands, this was the novel that offered me valuable lessons into what it takes to be a novelist and also, how to actually WRITE a novel. How to dedicate and plan my time, how to mould characters, to set scenes, quicken the pace and stop ‘purple’ patches of prose from appearing throughout the manuscript. Whether these lessons have resulted in a publishable work, remains immaterial. The fact that they have helped develop my writing skill for future works is what is important. I once read that writing is like an continuously ongoing apprenticeship, that one can only get better at. It’s a good way of looking at it and in this case, Hillcroft Manor has been an valuable tool in continuing my progression.

The novel has also  provided me with the opportunity to explore the novel form and show that I can, if I put my mind to it, complete and dedicate myself to finishing one. For years, I have pluttered with short stories, scripts and small stretches of Flash Fiction, but the novel is always one that I have shied away from. In my naivety, I was of the opinion that the aspiring writer must cut his teeth on short stories and novellas before making the ‘serious’ leap to novels. Of course, this is far from the truth. Short stories are very different from novels, in terms of form, composition and requirements. It’s a different type of artistry and so if you feel as though you are better at writing novels, do exactly that, write novels. It was here that I found my niche. That although I love short fiction and flash, I am a more natural novel writer than a short story writer – though I’m still working on that! Novels suit my writing style better, in terms of pacing and form, and this is something I will take into my career as it continues to progress.

Chateau Miranda in Belgium - An Inspiration for Hillcroft Manor
              ‘Chateau Miranda’ in Belgium – An Inspiration for Hillcroft Manor

Finally, Hillcroft gave me something I have never experienced before. It gave me substance as a writer. After years of trying, finally, I had something to be proud of. Something that was physical, tangible and that I felt was decent enough to be sent. It also gave me the opportunity to experience life as a writer, visiting places for research (again, another article coming up) and reading on things I never would have expected (19th century Edinburgh prisons?). After years of writing short stories and sending them out to small time publishers, here I was with something I felt confident enough with that I felt it could be sent to agents. It also gave me experiences of creating submission packs for agents (As of writing, I’ve sent five out, with the potential for more fairly soon!) and the rejection that follows. It’s kept me positive and grounded in terms of expectations, as well as realising submission pack mistakes and removing them for later submissions.

It is for these reasons that Hillcroft Manor, no matter what may come in my life, will always be regarded as my most important, most personal novel. I’ve loved every second of writing it and its taught me a lot.

I just hope that one day I can share it with everyone.

A new era… Welcome to C.J. Thomson’s official Blog

Hi guys,

Welcome, one and all, ladies and gentlemen, to the official C.J.Thomson blog!

After months of trial and error, I’ve finally got around to starting my own writing blog, which will work opposite my ‘Enter, the VAULT!‘ blog.

The need to do it came from many articles that I wanted to write, only that they were not suitable for the previous site.

Do not worry, the ‘Enter, the VAULT!’ blog will continue to function, with all the critiques and opinions of popular geek culture, only this will function as more personal blog, one devoted to my hobby of writing and story telling.

In the coming months, I will post articles on my own experiences as a writer. Anything from:

  • Details of my current or upcoming projects
  • Stories and commentary associated with the very art of writing
  • Articles on how an idea came into fruition and how each of my stories have been developed
  • Input into my life as an academic in the world of literature
  • And even…fingers crossed…. some short previews of short stories and pieces of fiction I’ve written.

Anyway, I’d like to thank you all for reading and hope to have more information and articles for you in the coming months on both this, my new official blog, as well as the ‘Enter, the VAULT!‘ site.

Cheers!

C.J. Thomson