Monday, October 31, 2011

The Mushroom Man.


Welcome to the second story in the Luddensley chronicles - The Mushroom Man.

Based in the (mostly) fictitious Luddensley village and its neighbouring town Neerthorpe which together boast far more than the usual amount of murder, mayhem and paranormal activity, The Mushroom Man tells the tale of Gerald Pembroke, a harmless and somewhat stressed mushroom grower who is not faring particularly well in his chosen profession. His wife Marion considers him something of an idiot and is more than happy to treat him as such while she herself engages in a string of affairs with younger men.

Things start looking up when he discovers that Derek, his grow room manager, is using his facilities to grow hallucinogenic Liberty Cap mushrooms as a sideline to enhance his meagre salary. After a brief discussion it becomes apparent to Gerald that there's a quick fix way out of his debt situation staring him in the face, and after a little exploratory fumbling he eventually turns the entire farm over to Liberty Cap production.

As a general rule, if something looks too good to be true it usually is, and as the local drug dealers get a whiff of Gerald's new product they decide that they want in on the action, which attracts even further unwanted attention from the local constabulary.

After an impromptu visit from the police Gerald's courage takes a massive swan dive and in a fit of drunken panic he clears out the entire crop and dumps it down a disused well on the farmland. Unfortunately and unknown to Gerald the spring that feeds the well also feeds a local spring water bottling plant so now everyone's getting some and the whole of Luddensley begin to discover the wonderful benefits of hallucinatory paranoia and this, as they say, is where it all begins...

The Mushroom Man is a story of hilarious tragedy, misconception, violence and blood letting wherein only one man knows the truth and he's the one that caused it all and is therefore, very wisely, keeping his mouth shut.


The Making of...

People are now familiar with the extra features available on DVD that describe how a movie was made, but there's no reason why I can't apply the same principle to the written word so long as I don't give too much of the plot away, and while I'm aware that someone reading this may not have actually read the story I can live with that if it'll pique further interest, so here it is, the making of The Mushroom Man.


The process began with a simple idea, ending some six months later with a bizarre set of characters on quite literally the 'trip' of a lifetime. The initial premise is drawn from true accounts of the Salem witch trials of 1692-3 wherein about fourteen women and five men were wrongfully convicted of, and executed for, acts of witchcraft. Modern speculation is that they were the unfortunate victims of ergot poisoning, which results in manic behaviour, hallucinations and delirium but isn't fatal unless you jump off a cliff while under the impression that you're a bird.

The Mushroom Man uses a similar scenario with the exception that the offending substance is derived from particularly strong hallucinogenic Psilocybe Semilanceata mushrooms. Of course if you're going to poison an entire village you'll need an awful lot of mushrooms as well as a rapid and sneaky means of delivering the stuff, because not everyone likes mushrooms and even fewer will try the magic variety.

It stood to reason that the main character would have to be a professional mushroom grower and luckily the way to grow magic shrooms is pretty much the same way that commercial  Bispora (white buttons) are cultivated so that was a no brainer. But what were our mushroom grower's motivations? Why would he turn all of his resources over to producing the illegal fungi while being fully aware of the penalties involved? The star of the show, Gerald Pembroke, had to be a man of conscience and he had to be broke, and the best way to be broke is to turn all of your production toward servicing the supermarkets, who have been notorious of late for setting their own purchase levels, much to the detriment of the financially exclusive growers.

Being a good man, Gerald couldn't just take the first step toward villainy, he had to be led, and so there had to be characters around who could harass him toward, and lure him in, to the same destination. Marion, Gerald's wife, is the one who was never happy, thus driving Gerald to be more successful, and Derek, the grow room manager, is the one who does the luring by being seen to reap large benefits with very little work. With these key personalities influencing him all that remains is to catch him in a moment of weakness and he'll make the requisite mistakes.

Having grown all the mushrooms then how are they to be delivered? Not as mushrooms of course because nobody will eat something that they're not familiar with. The delivery method also needs to be invisible so that the victims are completely unable to see the cause of their delusions, only then would they accept them as reality. It had to be put into the water supply somehow and to be readily consumed by everyone. The bottled water plant covers the distribution part but how to get it into the water in the first place was an issue. 

I remember in my infancy living in a house with a communal well in the front yard. The well had long since been covered over with large sandstone slabs but I remember digging away with a stick all the earth that had become trapped between the stones and finally working my way completely through. I stared between the stones with one eye and saw the still perfectly round tunnel of brick work and the flickering black disk of water at the bottom of the well.

All wells are essentially connected by the water table so it makes sense that something foul falling into one well would be detectable at another eventually. I used this notion to connect the old well that was on Gerald's land with the bottling plant which is fed by the same spring, and thus the key features of the plot fell into place.

After giving Gerald the motivation to grow the mushrooms I then had to motivate him to dump them down the well when the time was right, so he needed to be a bit of a knee jerk merchant, someone who would be panicked by authority figures. This opened up several other character vulnerabilities, such as his tolerance of Marion's extra marital abuses, his feelings of personal responsibility toward his employees and his envy at Derek's initial but minor success.

Once his personality was sorted out his dialogue flowed easily and his petty frustrations shone through in comedic fashion. Of course, being the hero of the piece meant that he couldn't remain the way that he was in the beginning of the story. There had to be a grand transformation, from victim of vicissitude to man of the hour. He had to lose everything and in so doing, find himself. I made him realise where the true values of his life were and then, having nothing left to lose, I made him reach out and take them back.

On his journey he comes into contact with some extremely unpleasant but nonetheless very entertaining characters and being the adaptive creature that we all are, some of their dark nature inevitably rubs off on him. It is this adoption of darker traits that enables him to escape the consequences of his earlier actions. It does beg the question though; can the powerful ever be truly innocent? In the early stages Gerald was a victim of circumstance and may perhaps be forgiven for his bad judgement, but as his anger develops he takes power from the situation and begins to ignore his own concept of justice by blaming the whole thing on a dead man. In all honesty I don't like the way that he turned out, but it was either that or put him behind bars for a very long time for making a bad decision when the pressure was on. I didn't feel justified in jailing him but then I've never let that worry me before. Maybe I just thought that he deserved a break for once.

I wanted to save Marion because despite all her bravado and her constant belittling of Gerald's achievements she was probably the most vulnerable character in the book, wanting little more than a bit of attention from the man that she loved but essentially felt unworthy of. I toyed with the idea of killing her at the hands of Sir Douglas but she and Gerald need each other and so I let her live.

I love Topper Turpin's character. He's a totally hard and selfish bastard but he's also very intelligent and worldly wise and the only way to kill someone like him was with sheer bad luck. You can't sneak up on a man like that. He sleeps with his eyes open, when he's not shit faced on whiskey that is. He is immune to threats and is capable of anything. Unfortunately time has its way with everyone and so he needed a willing young apprentice. Bosch Clegg didn't even need to apply for the job. He was another man who knew what was his and was willing to kill to defend it, or in order to get some more.

One of the surprises for me was Tracy Pleasance. Who'd have thought it? A young woman with a dark secret who comes into the plot very late to save the day by being essentially the most barbaric character in the story and having no greater a motive than the fact that she liked killing people. Bless her.

Sir Douglas was another character that I wanted to somehow save but he had to move over to let Tracy in. He did end up as a local legend of sorts which is no less than he ultimately deserves.

As ever, there are inevitably several throw away characters who meet with grisly deaths, my favourite in this case being Santa who has always struck me as a bit of a weirdo.

The fun part of any dark fiction project is always sitting back with a Tequila Diablo, or three, and deciding who lives and who dies. It's important not to apply favouritism in these cases in order to create shock factor by killing off characters that are perceived by the reader to be key players. This takes all of the inevitability out of the plot and keeps people wondering what the hell's going on right up to the end.

I hope that you've enjoyed reading The Mushroom Man as much as I've enjoyed writing it and that I've given a little insight into how the story evolved.

If you haven't read it yet but would like to know what I've been rattling on about for the last eighteen paragraphs why not buy a copy? 



Virtually all of your favourite on-line ebook sellers will be able to provide The Mushroom Man in ebook, Apple, Sony, Nookbook and Kindle formats using the digital ISBN: 978-1-4658-5628-9

Alternatively it can be bought in print from any online bookstore or ordered by your local book seller using ISBN: 978-1-906755-23-2.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Brief Moment of Lucidity.


I was never good at waking up. Some people leap merrily out of the sack as soon as their eyes flick open and they hit the ground running. I don't. My consciousness pours into the day like syrup (with the sweetness taken out). I dawdle forever on the edge of the abyss. I do it because I like it there.
As a teenager I was even more susceptible to the pull of the dawn limbo than I am now. I used to linger in the strange psychopompic state that lies between wakefulness and dreaming for hours, barely able to distinguish one from the other. This was particularly true of school days.

One particular occasion stands out. I was late getting up for school (nothing new there) and my mother was standing at the bottom of the stairs shouting for me to get my bony adolescent ass out of bed. I slid out from under the duvet, made a toilet trip, went back to my room, dressed, and then descended the stairs yawning. I walked into the living room and my mother was standing there with my bowl of cereals. As I took the bowl from her she opened her mouth and screamed: 'Will you get out of that bloody bed!' and I woke up.

I had actually dreamt the entire previous ten or so minutes in microscopic detail. So real was it that I was utterly convinced that I had already gotten up, washed, dressed, everything. I remember feeling quite shocked at the realisation but as I rolled out of my bed for the second time I also began to ask the question; how do I know that it's not happening again?

How do you tell? The stream of consciousness is continuous. Even a lapse of consciousness results in little more than the moments before and after the lapse being stitched seamlessly together so that we have no memory of the darkness in between. The primary difference between the sleeping and waking states is that when we sleep the faculty of judgement is temporarily dormant so we don't question what we 'see' when we dream. This is a potentially dangerous situation because everything is automatically true, which is why the body has to switch off so that we don't strangle our sleeping partners while under the impression that we are fighting for our lives against invading hoards of Samurai warriors (in the UK a man was once put on trial for killing his wife while she slept and this was actually his excuse, although I don't remember if he pulled it off). It's not until we awaken that we can appreciate the absurdity of being chased around the house by giant snakes, (it's happened to me) and may dismiss the event with a trembling sigh of relief.

A Brief Moment of Lucidity takes this theme and, as usual, extrapolates it to a monumental extent before presenting it for your viewing pleasure.


A Brief Moment of Lucidity - outline. 

This is a third person narrative following the bizarre adventures of a fifteen year old boy who, having woken up three times on the same morning while firmly believing that he's already lived it, finds himself unable to tell whether or not he's still dreaming. Confusing as this all is for him, the shit really hits the fan when his whole life then becomes one long nightmare.

Characters.

Daniel Norris - a fairly standard fifteen year old who is grumpy, spotty, sleepy and a general pain to all but his peers with whom he regularly meets to drink cider around the back of the corner shop. His rapidly developing adolescent brain takes him on a nightmare voyage through dreamland with somewhat twisted results.

Trina Norris - Daniel's younger sister and a key player in most of Daniel's dream episodes, unless of course he's making her up.

Daniel's parents - as unwitting pawns.

Gay Dave the drama teacher - He means well but doesn't manage to help much.

Here's a link to the smashwords version.

The usual price is US$1.99 but you can get it for US$1.00 using this coupon code: JX92D

A Brief Moment of Lucidity is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords for US$2.99 but I'm offering a cut price version to readers of my blog to discount their purchase to US$2.00. That's a fifth the cost of buying all of the tales individually even at the discount price above, and how often is it that an author gets the chance to give a little back as an act of appreciation? It's a win, win situation. The coupon code is: MX45W.

For those who really do prefer a print version Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tiw's Cup


In the normal state of things we are fairly simple creatures with only two prime motivators - Sex and Death.

I capitalised them and made them bold because I'm not just talking about sex and death. I'm talking about everything that they represent, effectively the carrot and the stick that in various forms prompts we poor donkeys to keep walking, regardless of the load that we're forced to bear.

In general, Sex represents all the good stuff. The sweet flavours, physical pleasures and groovy sensations that are the comfort zone that we strive to stay warm within. Death on the other hand is the pain, the cold and the absence of comfort that we all naturally dread, and the whole of human joy and misery can be found in the merry dance that worms its way endlessly between one and the other.

Some of the merry dancers will try to gravitate toward the Sexiness of it all because they believe that you only get one turn around the floor and that you should grab what you can. Others lean towards the Deathliness because they believe that the dance is some kind of test and that there are prizes at the end for those who can defer their gratification, (a bit of a risky policy in my humble opinion).

Finally there are those who wander the middle path and carefully pick their way between the other dancers indulging in none of the available adventurous potential. We shall ignore these people because their lives are a complete waste of fucking time and they just get in the way of us real men.

Let's go back to the first bunch. Those who love the Sexiness. These are the Hedonists. Unashamedly self-indulgent they eat everything, drink everything, smoke everything, try all the lovely drugs and are always on the lookout for a girl with bigger tits. They are shallow people but tremendous fun at parties. The only ones who fail to be entertained by a good Hedonist are people from the second bunch. I'd use the term death eaters because it's perfect but unfortunately already taken. You can't entertain Death lovers because they make a point of not being entertained. Being terminally bored and pale faced is sexy to them.

Hang on a minute! Doesn't that make both sides of the dance floor sexy? Well yes, because this dance floor isn't flat or circular. It's shaped like a Mobius strip. It only has one surface and which ever extreme you care to dance toward you'll inevitably end up at the other. Think about it. The final outcome of the true Hedonist can only ever be stagnation and boredom because in the end nothing is ever enough - hence we find Death. On the other hand, deprive your senses of stimulation and they seek it out. That's why sensory deprivation floatation tanks make you feel so good. You come out of the darkness into the normal world and life's a fucking cartoon for the next few hours because your senses have turned up the volume. So in seeking Death we find the sexiness of our lives enhanced (adrenalin junkies take note, there will be a test).

So, here endeth the lesson and now down to business...

Tiw's Cup - Outline. 
Tiw's Cup is a cocktail of drugs imbibed by the Viking Berserkers before they go into battle. It's their way of making our metaphorical dance floor very much smaller. So small in fact that Sex and Death end up wearing the same party dress, with hilarious results.
A thousand years later, put a profoundly Hedonistic adventurer in the same room with the ancient recipe, take a seat, crack open a beer and watch the fireworks.

This is a third person narrative told almost entirely in flashback. The beginning and the end are in the same place. I thought that would be appropriate, bearing in mind the above lecture.

Characters.
Ethan - A great guy. A very intelligent man born to wander the earth looking for the next good time. He's done it all and almost all at once. Eventually, burned out and bored, he dissolves into alcohol and waits for the end until a passing remark by a fellow drunkard alerts him to the fact that there is a path as yet untrod. This is where the tale truly begins because for Ethan, too much is not enough...

In the true spirit of the story I'm giving it away as a complete feebie but only for a limited time. The Hedonists amongst you will appreciate the sexiness of getting something for nothing whereas my dear friends on the morbid end of the spectrum will thoroughly enjoy not enjoying watching the Hedonist in the tale pay a hefty price for his idiocy.

YES. It's free to all who have read this far! But if you feel guilty about accepting it then leave a review here or on the smashwords site as payment for all my hard work.





Tiw's Cup - Introduction.

As a reader of dark fiction you are no doubt familiar with the tingle of uncertainty that a good horror story can bring. Indeed, it's probably the very reason that you pick a story like this up in the first place. Some people dive to horrendous depths on a single breath to experience that thrill while others will scale to dizzying heights with little more between them and bone crushing death than a moist fingertip hooked onto a nub of fragile rock. But what do these people do when they've done everything? How do they cope with an existence made monochrome by the absence of adrenalin? And what will they do if they then discover that there is one more step left to take? Tiw's Cup is the first of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales…


*********


Tiw's Cup.

The mist was lifting, leaving only the bitter cold behind. It bit into his face with icicle teeth as he drew a deep breath and turned his stiffened neck to look around him. He couldn’t remember anything, not even his name.
Ethan, his own voice eventually told him. His name was Ethan.
Ethan sat, his back propped up against the mouldering dampness of the wall. The half light revealed something of his surroundings. An old room; empty and smelling of rot. Wires hung out of the walls like burst veins. Floorboards, dry like old bones. The windows dusty and pock marked with brick holes placed by the young engaged in dismantling the old.
And all this blood.
The survival instinct is a singular entity. Ethan didn’t care where the blood had come from, only that it wasn’t his. He felt no pain and was therefore gently reassured.
The mist lifted further. Ethan sat for a short eternity between thoughts. His body, rigid and heavy, felt no inclination to move. This pale mist, an odd composition of thickness and light felt almost tangible to him. In normal circumstances thick fog allows you to see that which is close up but obscures the distance. This mist, which filled the room, seemed to work the opposite way around. But it was lifting, Ethan felt sure. It was only a matter of time.
His cold mind though still somewhat solid and lethargic forced his eyes to rest on his bare feet. At least he assumed that they were his. These were dirty and misshapen, bulbous and swollen, but they seemed to be in the right place so they must be his. Damn this fucking fog! Where the hell was he?
This question was not uncommon in Ethan's life. Anyone else would have had grave cause for concern if they had been in a situation that prompted this question more than a few times in their entire span. But in Ethan's life this question came up a lot! Ethan was an adventurer, a spiritual warrior, a Byronic hero. Waking up in strange places with no memory of the previous night was what he did. From an early age he’d been considered intellectually gifted. He could speak intelligibly at six months old and read pretty much anything by the age of four. His parents positively celebrated him but they were inevitably missing something. He was beyond them in virtually every aspect by the time he was nine. That’s not to say that Ethan was arrogant or dismissive, far from it. He loved his parents deeply but his inner nature drew him into fundamental conflict with their orderly lifestyle.
He wasn’t going to university. There would be no PhD. No scientific breakthrough or miracle surgery. No concert pianist or prime minister.
Ethan had decided to live instead.
They had accepted his decision in grave silence, and their unvoiced disappointment had torn him down more effectively than all the anger, tears and emotional blackmail that they could have used had they loved him less than they did.
There was so much in the world to be appreciated and Ethan was spiritually inspired to appreciate it. He’d left home at eighteen with a rucksack and two hundred pounds. He’d picked a road at random and stuck out his thumb.
There had been women on his travels. He was known by name in almost every brothel in Europe it seemed. He’d shagged his way around the world, eaten every conceivable delicacy, stood atop mountains and drunk the oceans dry.
And then of course there were the drugs. Opium in China, hashish in Morocco, peyote in Mexico, LSD in San Francisco. You name it; Ethan had snorted, swallowed, smoked, popped, sniffed, chased or mainlined it. He had screamed into the face of God after drinking virola juice in Columbia and awakened ten days later emaciated and caked with shit, strapped to a stinking, bug ridden mattress in a far away hovel. He’d almost died of dysentery.
What a fucking rush.
But what if anything, had he learned? Ethan was quick but he still never quite figured it out. The big lesson, that hedonism dulls the senses. You can only take so many stimuli before the brain begins to close down and ignore them. So to get the same buzz you have to go further, take more, and do more.
So he did.
Spiritual greed is greed nonetheless. His body had suffered. At twenty seven he looked like a man of fifty. Only his eyes betrayed his true age. They burned in their darkened sockets like emerald flares. He would not live a long life. But it would be a life to make the Gods envious.
At the peak of his own self destruction he’d been sitting, or rather slumping in a bar in Reykjavik, listening to a silver bearded academic piss head rattling on about how the Viking invasions of Western Europe were still affecting world politics. His Absinthe glass was empty, this made him sad.
‘If we still had it’, the piss head slurred, ‘we could rule the world.’
Ethan picked his forehead up from the table.
‘Had what?’
‘Tiw's cup.’ Piss head belched. ‘Tiw's fokking cup!’
‘What?’
‘The Berserkers.’ Piss head's eyes rolled in their sockets. ‘The Viking warriors, feared by everyone. They drink from Tiw's cup and go completely fokking insane. They run into battle naked and kill everything that moves. The recipe was lost. If we still had it….’ His voice trailed off, his drunken stupor victorious.
Sometimes the smallest of things are significant. The discarded cigarette that begets the forest fire. The irritating glint in the foaming rapids that entices the salmon to the hook.
Ethan was caught. His bored spirit had found new hope in the small promise of a stone yet unturned. It stirred once again engaging the help of his rusty but still remarkable intellect. He spent the next few months in libraries, museums and internet cafes looking for references to the magical brew known as Tiw’s cup. He found manuscripts, extracts and historical notes that pushed him into lateral avenues of folk lore, botany and neurochemistry. There were new languages and dialects to absorb, places to go, people to see. Ethan's life turned around.
It took four years, but in the end a small sheet of paper held the sum of his relentless enquiries. He had it, ‘Tiw's Cup’, the recipe for divine madness. The ingredients were surprisingly easy to obtain. Common sense dictated that they had to be freely available throughout Western Europe. Psilocybe mushrooms formed the basic juice, Lobelia, Wormwood and Lopium followed although the quantities varied with each account, throw in a little Hemlock and garnish with a pinch of ergot of rye. There seemed to be no real complexity involved. The reason for this was simple. It didn’t work. He’d locked himself away in a hostel room and thrown the key out of the window because he didn’t want to risk hurting anyone. Having cooked it all up he downed it in one gulp, wincing at its bitterness. He’d buzzed for the next six hours, had a few strange visions, laughed until his ribs ached, vomited liberally and then fallen asleep. All in all it was nothing that he hadn’t done many times before.
There had to be some missing ingredient or at least an aspect of the preparation that formed a catalytic effect. For weeks he returned to his precious photocopies. Manuscripts, legends and the odd learned dictation formed the core of his research. After hundreds of ever decreasing mental circles there was one in the end that threw him a lifeline.
A photocopy of a single historical reference which at first glance had seemed too superficial to be of any importance, but being the man that he was he had copied it anyway. The key it seemed was in the phrasing. It said simply ‘the drink was made for each warrior…’ at least that’s the way he’d interpreted it. Ethan wasn’t that hot on the use of redundant Scandinavian possessive terms. This implied that the brew was customised to suit the individual. But how the hell was that supposed to happen? He threw the papers down and sat in silence. Ethan's intellect, powerful as it was, seemed lost. As his thoughts ground slowly to a halt a small light went on somewhere inside him and in the silence his heart screamed the answer.
Blood.
When he’d drunk the virola juice the shaman who made it told him to breathe into the mixture otherwise it wouldn’t work because the spirits of the tree wouldn’t recognise him. Ethan had laughed, but blown into the pot anyway. He knew nothing of spirits, he just wanted the buzz.
He’d read various accounts of druids and witches using blood to bind potions to specific people. It was common practice in medieval medicine and in some areas of the world it still is. There was a downside of course, the risk of severe allergic reaction. Everything’s fine the first time you take it, but take it again and you’re dead. The problem is that you don’t know whether you’ve reacted or not until it’s too late.
He knew he was right this time. He felt it with the firm certainty that always accompanied the solution to a difficult problem. He would make the potion again but this time he would add his own blood.
Over the next few days Ethan had found a more suitable venue for his grand experiment. He’d been out in a small patch of woodland hunting amongst the roots of the old birch for Psilocybe mushrooms. The September weather had put a thick layer of mud and leaves on his already distressed training shoes and the clothing that he habitually wore, jeans and a loose fitting sweater, were proving of little help against the cold damp air. As it started to rain he’d looked up from his quest to find shelter. He’d noticed the old house then, set back amongst the thickest part of the wood. It had been well and truly abandoned though Ethan could barely imagine why such a formerly grandiose place had been left to decay. Perhaps the owner had more money than sense.
On closer inspection the house proved to be empty as Ethan had suspected although still quite secure it seemed. This would be a good place. Quiet and secluded, away from everyone and any possibility of disturbance. And if he became sick well he’d just have to deal with it. A bottle of brine was guaranteed to empty his stomach within minutes if needed. He’d bring some with him.
He’d returned to the house two days later. It was twilight and the air was cold. He’d already prepared the brew minus the blood. He’d brought a razor blade for that job. Ethan wasn’t fond of pain but sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Unfortunately he’d found the house to be more secure than he’d initially estimated but there was an outhouse around the side that may have something in it that he could use to pry open a window. As luck would have it he found an old toolbox which held various bits and pieces that were perfect for a spot of breaking and entry.
Having levered open a small window he climbed inside. The smell of mildew greeted him as he sneaked into the hallway looking for the stairs. This house could be safely categorised as spooky or possibly borderline creepy. His mind flicked back to his childhood, watching TV with his parents. Tales of mystery and imagination. ‘Not for people of a nervous disposition’ the announcer had said every week before the program began. Talk about the power of suggestion. That single phrase had scared him far more profoundly than the incredulous rubbish that had followed for the next hour. Ethan chuckled to himself as he mounted the dark staircase. Adrenalin was already focussing his attention on the slightest of movements.
He checked out the bathroom. No water, just grime on the mildewed shower curtain and puss coloured lime scale where the bath tap had once dripped. There were dead flies on the windowsill and hanging by the legs from the rotting lace curtain. The toilet bowl was dry and coated with dirt but at least he’d have somewhere to shit and puke should the need arise.
The bedrooms were next. Each one was much the same as the others with its high ceilings ornate with intricate plaster covings and pale squares on the walls where pictures had once hung. He chose the one nearest the bathroom; it was as good as any. The window overlooked a small roof that would serve as an escape route if needed. He tried to open it but found his strength insufficient for the task. He went back downstairs for the toolbox and having loosened the reluctant sash frame he put the tools away in the corner.
He fished two tee light candles from the pocket of his jeans and placed them on the floor. He lit each one carefully with a dark blue disposable lighter that he’d carried around for months. He had to tilt the lighter right over to get to the short wick and he cursed aloud as he burned a finger on the tiny yellow flame. The house seemed to shudder at his voice as if sound itself had become a thing long forgotten.
As each of the tee lights warmed through their flames grew slightly brighter and the room became alive with dancing shadows and although they couldn’t possibly have had any significant effect on the temperature of the room Ethan would have sworn that he felt warmer and more comfortable.
He sighed heavily and the flames flickered and the shadows danced. He reached into his other pocket and retrieved a small jar. He was glad to take it out because it had been digging into his hip as he moved. He’d no idea of the dosage required or how much blood he’d have to put in. Perhaps only a few drops would suffice, perhaps not. He unscrewed the lid of the jar and placed both jar and lid carefully on the floor between the candles. He reached into his back pocket to claim the razor blade which he’d wrapped in several layers of paper. He unwrapped the blade and it glinted in the pale candlelight.
Holding his left hand over the open jar he approached the base of his thumb with the blade. He hesitated, unable to make the cut. He cursed his own cowardice.
‘It’s just subconscious self defence.’ he assured himself. ‘Just make the fucking cut.’
He swiped at his hand hoping to somehow cut himself by accident. Oddly enough this actually worked although he had to keep pinching the pitifully shallow wound to milk the liquid out. He managed two drops, watching each one adopt the shape of a swirling toroid as it penetrated the relatively clear liquid in the jar. He stirred it in with his finger.
So then, this was it. He raised the jar as if making a toast. He imagined for a moment that Tiw the Norse war god had opened a lazy eye to witness an event not enacted for over a thousand years. A mild shiver played along Ethan's spine.
‘Tiw,’ he spoke aloud, ‘it’s been a while. Can you still do it?’
He gulped down half of the brew. At least two of the ingredients were potentially lethal so if he survived the next hour he’d consider drinking the rest then. He sat back and waited.
Twenty minutes elapsed. Ethan became impatient, then frustrated. But something was happening. Nothing special, just his heartbeat, slowing but becoming harder, almost audible. Some of the alkaloids in the brew were depressants so it was no great shock that his cardiac rhythm was affected. But it was loud, very loud, fearfully loud. His vision grew foggy, as if a mist had descended on the place. He expected more, flashing lights, voices perhaps, but nothing materialised and after a while the beat of his heart subsided. His disappointment turned to desperation as he picked up the jar and threw the remaining brew to the back of his throat. He slammed the jar against the wall where it exploded into twinkling fragments. Hitting the floorboards hard with his fist he swore into the empty room.
His knuckles, grazed by the impact, began to sting but this sensation was short lived and quickly replaced by something else, something totally out of context and unexpected.
Pleasure.
A warm, relaxed and almost orgasmic sensation sprouted from his injured hand and expanded out towards his elbow. But it didn’t stop there. It reached his shoulder, increasing in intensity, almost burning.
‘Fucking hell!’ Ethan gasped. His body grew hotter, his skin felt inflamed, irritated. Soon the heat became unbearable. He tore at his clothes, scratching at the flesh of his stomach as he pulled at his sweater. Again the orgasmic wave began. Sprouting from the scratches, pouring into his loins and down his legs. ‘Shit, shit, fucking Jesus shit!’ Ethan pulled off the rest of his clothes. He had to get naked, to cool off or he’d explode. He stood motionless in the cold darkness, totally internalised. He knew what this was.
Sensory transference. It was common enough with LSD. The brain confused the sensory input streams and misinterpreted everything. You could see sounds as colours and hear colours as tones. Pictures and words became the same thing mingled and indistinguishable. But this was different. Pain into pleasure? He slapped himself across the face and the wave started immediately. Blasts of hysterically intense sensations pushed into the nerve roots in his teeth and ears, flashing like lightening in his mind's eye. Ethan became ecstatic. Laughing manically he slapped himself again, caving in and falling to his knees under the relentless pressure of orgasm after orgasm. His knees hit the floor and pleasure burst forth like liquid fire engulfing his testicles. He could sell this stuff. He would be seriously fucking rich.
He dropped forwards onto all fours. His skin was reddened and he was sweating profusely. As his hands touched the floor the waves started, immersing his head and neck in spasmodic jolts of ferocious pleasure. So it wasn’t just pain that triggered the pleasure response Ethan noted. It was any tactile sensation at all. A sickness fell upon him as he crouched in the darkness. A side effect of the lobelia. His stomach heaved but nothing came up and as his abdomen cramped the wave sprouted again. This time it washed him away.
‘Fuck this is good.’ Ethan groaned, barely able to hold himself up. He reached for a piece of the broken jar and with some hesitance jabbed it into his thigh. The pleasure wave hit him so hard that he lost control of his bowel. But it wasn’t the same as before. A different type of pain generates a different sensation of pleasure. Slaps and bangs were good but cuts, Ethan thought to himself, cuts were totally fucking groovy! He jabbed the glass shard into the same wound and then twisted it. He howled and fell, rolling onto his back and giggling hysterically. He shit himself again and then ejaculated. Breathing hard he rolled his head back and forth on the floorboards feeling the powerful pleasure response now subtle in comparison to the electrifying jolts leaping from his gushing thigh. He watched his blood expand across the dusty floor caring nothing for it. Then he caught sight of something that may as well have been the Holy Grail.
‘Oh yes.’ Ethan laughed. ‘Come to daddy.’ It took approximately seven orgasms to reach the toolbox but it was going to be worth the effort.
Ethan giggled, heaving open the rusted lid. He picked out a large hammer, nodding his approval. He splayed his hand out on the floor and slammed the hammer down hard on his index finger. He collapsed instantly, all his strength blasted away by a pleasure so intense that he would have cheerfully died right there. He gathered himself up and hit it again and again.
‘Fight it Ethan,’ he moaned ‘you can take this shit all fucking day.’ He launched a frenzied attack on the rest of his fingers but in the end it still wasn’t enough. Hedonism dulls the senses. He kept hitting though just to make sure, right up until he spotted the pliers.
He reasoned carefully as he picked the heavy rusted grips out of the box. If busting a finger sent him to heaven then pulling a tooth should fire him straight up almighty God's arse and out of his mouth. He chose a large molar. At least then nobody would notice the gap. His plan misfired, but in a good way. Instead of gripping the tooth and working it loose he squeezed too hard and the tooth shattered. His eyes rolled back and his arms fell limp at his sides. He knelt for a while in a pool of hot urine convulsing softly. When he finally became lucid he went straight for another molar but something inside him shouted fuck it and in a twenty second flurry he smashed every tooth in his head and begun grinding the stumps together while choking on the pieces. He did indeed fly up God's arse.
Having no more teeth left him at something of an impasse. What he wouldn’t have given for a litre of boiling water and a rubber tube. Then he remembered the razor blade.
‘Cuts are good.’ he reminded himself, ‘Cuts are our friends.’
The veins and arteries run longitudinally, Ethan remembered from secondary school biology, so cutting across lost you more blood per inch of incision than slicing up and down. Feeling smug at his reasoning he picked the silver edged blade from the blood crusted floor and ran it lightly down the inside of his left thigh. The pleasure wave was initially sharp but quickly died off and then slowly built to a more acceptable intensity. Ethan was disappointed. He wanted an explosion. After waiting a little longer he put the blade in the same wound and dug deep. The explosion came, pushing him beyond pleasure and into transcendence. Floating freely amongst the gods for an eternity made instant Ethan was truly at one with all things. He would have stayed there. He would have died a thousand horrific deaths for one more second but the gods drew back, and as they abandoned him he wept. A weakness overtook him. He inspected the wound in his leg through tearful eyes. His femoral artery was open and his life was pouring out, spreading like a scarlet vine at his feet.
He lurched over to where his clothes lay and scooped up his jeans. Ripping the thin leather belt from the loops he wrapped it around his thigh at the groin and jerked it tight. He stood swaying in the dim candle light. There was fear. There was dread. There was realisation.
The magic was failing. The potion was wearing off.
He wanted more.
Ethan wanted to live amongst the gods again. He’d worked hard for it. He deserved it. To be away from them, only that was death.
He screamed, kicking at the walls and cracking the ancient plaster away, the bones of his toes shattered under the impact. Not enough.
He punched the windows. The skin of his forearms peeled and the tendons split and shrank back. Not enough.
Each remorseless act bore waves of pleasure that died away like birth strangled children.
This was the moment that the berserker became. Not in the gaining of his power, but at the loss of it. Screaming and crying Ethan bowed his head and ran at the nearest wall. The cracking of his skull echoed through the cold dark house. He finally fell, unconscious to the floorboards.
Several hours later, as daylight hinted at the possibility of its arrival, Ethan awoke.
The mist was lifting and Ethan knew the truth. Soon the magic of Tiw's cup would be completely gone and he’d be cast into a world of unimaginable pain. He reached down slowly and deliberately to untie the thin leather tourniquet from his thigh and as the fount of his life spewed forth Ethan thought that he may be lucky after all.
What a fucking rush.

*********



Tiw's Cup is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords for US$2.99 but I'm offering a cut price version to readers of my blog to discount their purchase to US$2.00. That's half the cost of buying all of the tales individually even at the usual discount price of a dollar, and how often is it that an author gets the chance to give a little back as an act of appreciation? It's a win, win situation. The coupon code is: MX45W.

For those who really do prefer a print version Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here

Monday, May 23, 2011

Kirlia



I was brought up in an age of fringe sciences when various affluent governments were knee deep in the possibility of remote viewing and its applications in espionage. We had Bionics, although as far as I'm aware that only ever made any cash from television advertising during the Six Million Dollar Man. There was an entire academic underworld subculture based on spoon bending, telepathy, artificial intelligence, astrology, alien civilisations, lost worlds, ley lines, divination, magic, esp etc. The list goes on and on, and they were all wonderfully imaginative and eagerly explored by a plethora of pseudoscientists with flowers in their hair, assuming that the funds were available, (for the research, not the flowers).

Then there's my personal favourite - Kirlian photography. I have to admit the evidence is there. The pictures prove it. You can, given the right conditions, photograph the human aura. Wow! A bit of a breakthrough there then. Think of the medical applications. According to some, the aura changes in the presence of disease and it's better than an x-ray because it can even tell if you're having a bad day (the colours reflect your emotions). Well no. Actually all the colours are an artifact of the development process and what you're really seeing is an electrical corona effect. Even inanimate objects have auras so you can tell if a basketball or a ten cent piece from your pocket is also having a bad day (and why shouldn't they?).

Stolen from Wikipedia
Anyway, picking up on the possibilities I started to wonder. What if all that 1960's fringe exploration was still going on? In the dark and underfunded basement labs where the fuzzy haired lunatics cackle insanely over disected frogs while the overhead flourescent tubes flicker themselves to death. Where would it be now?

With this in mind I came up with Kirlia.

Outline.
This is a third person narrative following the adventures of a single character who, through a bizarre combination of fate and being a tosser, finds himself with a backstage pass to the doors of Kirlia.
Kirlia is a place. It is the landscape that you'd see if Kirlian photography were taken to the nth degree and it uncovered and made plain all those things that were normally concealed from the waking senses. Imagine a world packed full of UHF flora and fauna, flowers and butterflies, predators and prey.

This is all well and good - unless the things that live in Kirlia don't want to be seen...


Characters.
Carlos Soames. He's a bit of a miserable bastard. He's a writer, an alcoholic, and a tight ass. He's chronically sarcastic and self centred and he's in for a bitch of a ride. I have to feel a little sorry for him really, he doesn't deserve his fate the low life that he is, but what the hell.

Here's a link to the smashwords version.

The usual price is US$1.99 but you can get it for US$1.00 using this coupon code: KR82V

Kirlia is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords for US$2.99 but I'm offering a cut price version to readers of my blog to discount their purchase to US$2.00. That's a fifth the cost of buying all of the tales individually even at the discount price above, and how often is it that an author gets the chance to give a little back as an act of appreciation? It's a win, win situation. The coupon code is: MX45W.

For those who really do prefer a print version Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here

Friday, May 20, 2011

John's Story


I look around me at the the world news and I see that a few days ago a man ran into a shop in Spain, picked a meat knife from the kitchenware section and used it to cut the head from a fellow shopper, a woman whom he didn't even know. He then ran out of the shop and threw the head away along the pavement before running off. I mean, it's not as if he even needed it for anything, (although there's a good recipe for brain pate in my novel Thaddeus), so why on earth did he take it? He's been apprehended now but I think the authorities will be looking at him long and hard before they figure out what motivated him to do what he did and I'll be waiting with baited breath to hear what he has to say. Apparently he's some kind of mentally ill vagrant who probably saw it as a good way to get free accomodation and four square meals a day for the rest of his life. The only way is up.
The point is that when he acted he probably behaved rationally from his own warped perspective. He obviously thought that his act was justified in some way, otherwise he wouldn't have done it. It seems pertinent to me now to use this tragic event as the lead in to this tale because it bears some similarity in that the main character, Dr. John Dante, is utterly deluded (or is he?) and yet at the same time entirely rational. It just goes to show that even the drooling psychotic nutter who sits in the corner of your bedroom while you sleep, gently and repeately stabbing the carpet with a butcher's blade can probably offer a valid explanation as to why he's there. So if you suddenly jerk awake in the wee small hours and notice him grinning in the darkness, ask him why he wants your liver and then drop me a line. I'd be interested to know.

John's Story - outline.

This is a part third person narrative, part dialogue driven tale with flash back scenes, about a poor deranged man who thinks he's a killer. This may be true of course, you'll have to read it and then decide for yourself. Apart from the explicit violence and bloodletting that I love so much, the key to this story is in the fact that it isn't clearly resolved. It's left uncertain then whether he's merely a deranged simpleton or a serial killing bastard. In the end, as far as John Dante is concerned the outcome is the same, although after the end may also be of some concern.


Characters.

Dr. Robert Mason. A lecturer in psychology who, using Dr. Dante as his model, attempts to explain the nature of his condition. Poor Robert has a limited perspective and tries to explain Dante's behaviour in his own terms. This is to some degree a mistake because he's not really equipped to live in Dante's world and so Dr Dante's treatment at his hands yields somewhat less than ideal results. Never mind. He tried.


Dr. John Dante. A very successful and accomplished physician with a dark secret that's slowly killing him. Dr. Dante believes he's done something very naughty indeed and no-one seems to be able to convince him otherwise. The problem is that he's now determined to make recompense for his misdeeds in an equally despicable and violent way.

A cast of tens. Various psychology students who all have their own opinion on the matter and serve to drive the discussion on the nature of delusion and how it is best approached.

Here's a link to the smashwords version.

The usual price is US$1.99 but you can get it for US$1.00 using this coupon code: TB96X

John's Story is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords for US$2.99 but I'm offering a cut price version to readers of my blog to discount their purchase to US$2.00. That's a fifth the cost of buying all of the tales individually even at the discount price above, and how often is it that an author gets the chance to give a little back as an act of appreciation? It's a win, win situation. The coupon code is: MX45W.

For those who really do prefer a print version Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here

How do you like yours?




I'm starting with a short story which I have to admit met with mixed reviews, predominantly because it deviated quite strongly from my usual writing style, and as all writers know, your writing style is your brand. It's what the readers enjoy almost as much perhaps as the story itself.

My preference for a story is usually a third person narrative ie;

'As Leon put his head through the doorway into the darkness he knew that something primeval had taken place here. The smell of blood, like that of cold meat, filled his nose and his mind, and his body alerted him of its urge to run. This was the part that he hated the most. The physical sensations that always heralded the oncoming mental images, like the threat of a violent death...' etc. etc.

How do you like yours is very different. It's a first person account that reads like a lifestyle magazine article. This is because it's the main character Julia Smedley that's telling the story and that's how she speaks. If she spoke like me it would seem entirely false, so I let her have it her way, and for me it works.

The key to the tale is in Julia's narrative delivery. Like most warped minds Julia's believes itself to be normal and cannot understand why anyone would consider her romantic preferences to be in any way abhorrent. For this reason Julia chronicles her personal adventures in a deadpan fashion despite the creepy nature of the content. From her perspective she is quite normal whereas from the 'normal' reader's perspective she's very far from it. This is what, for me, generates the energy and some of the shock factor in the story.

Background.

This story, like all the best dark fiction and horror, has it's basis in fact. I saw, some years ago an American news broadcast of a live car chase down a main highway. The chase lasted for over two hours as police pursued a young woman whom, while working as a mortician's assistant, had fallen in love with one of the 'clients' and decided to elope with him in a stolen hearse. Eventually the pursuit ended safely as the woman pulled over to the side of the road and gave herself up to the police. The thing that struck me, apart from the absurdity of it all, was the fact that the woman, on being interviewed by police and the press, absolutely could not understand what all the fuss was about. In the end, since she hadn't broken any significant laws, other than taking a vehicle without the owners consent for which she apologised (she didn't even exceed the speed limit during the 'pursuit'), she got off with a fine after a psychiatric evaluation.

To tell this story as it stands would be little more than plagiarism on my part and so of course I've added all kinds of embellishments, but I can't go into detail because this would spoil the show.

Here's a link to the smashwords version.

The usual price is US$1.99 but you can get it for US$1.00 using this coupon code: NL54B. Please don't forget to leave a review on smashwords or a comment on my blog. Thanks.

How Do You Like Yours is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords for US$2.99 but I'm offering a cut price version to readers of my blog to discount their purchase to US$2.00. That's a fifth the cost of buying all of the tales individually even at the discount price above, and how often is it that an author gets the chance to give a little back as an act of appreciation? It's a win, win situation. The coupon code is: MX45W.

For those who really do prefer a print version Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:

Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here

Why Shadow Children?

I am John Vault. I write dark fiction, short stories and novels.

Originality is my driving force, so I stay away from the run of the mill horror fodder. There are no vampires, werewolves, zombies or flesh eating aliens in my work. They've already been done, spun and respun, and even if I get a great vampire idea I throw it on principle. It's not sufficient merely to write. We indies have to bring something new into the mix.

We need to get back to the drawing board instead of revamping (no pun intended) ideas from the 1940s. Stephen King gave it a go, but alas I think even he has been battered into submission by publishers who think they know what sells.

Unfortunately, much like the music industry, the common man is only presented with material that the publishers believe to be marketable. 'We sold this stuff last time and we made a fortune, so let's do it again.' is the clarion call, and inevitably the death rattle, of the fossilised few big publishing houses. They don't live in the modern world. They don't understand the way that on line media has bypassed the walls of their ivory towers and flooded around their feet. They are doomed because they wilfully limit the level of choice within the market that they presume to serve. It's the consumer that gets to choose what they consume. It is the consumer after all, who fronts up with the cash. It you see a shop window with only three items in it, you're gonna walk on by.

More unfortunately, the big publishers still control the route to market. This thankfully is the only vestige of power remaining to them and it is fading fast. Why? Because their market is the brick and mortar bookstore. For the most part, traditional booksellers are influenced by advisors who, in turn, work for the publishers, and again their advice is based on what has gone before.

I therefore ask the question: How can you possibly foster originality based on what's already been done? There are no prior sales indicators for purely original work, which means that the publishers are in exactly the same situation as you and I when it comes to helping you to decide on your next reading purchase.

Luckily the answer is not only afoot, it's sprinting toward you.

If you have a manuscript ready - don't waste it on a publisher who will never get around to reading it, will send you a rejection slip out of hand, or worse, will take up your work and then fail to give it the support it deserves.

Instead, place your work with someone who will understand it, cherish it and do their utmost to see it put before the right people.

In other words, do the job yourself.

Yes there's more work involved. Actually writing your story is perhaps twenty percent of the task. There's proof reading (several times), editing, styling for publication, cover work, pricing, genre selection and registration, ISBN management... The list goes on.

And then the work really begins, because the hard part, the really hard part, is getting noticed.
 
That's the challenge, more than anything else facing the indie author, regardless of his or her talent, because if no-one knows you're there how are they going to read your work?

This then, is the purpose of my blog. I'm shouting out, waving a flag, whatever it takes to get seen.

Shadow children is a term that well defines the dark fiction indie author. Or perhaps shadow orphan may be better. We're on the outskirts, of publishing and of genre.

Horror and dark fiction are not the big genres that they were. Why? See above.

Horror is more at home in the cinema these days. Why? See above.

Because of this the publishing houses seem to have moved away from the horror genre which serves to compound the issue. Low interest equals low sales equals less support equals lower interest, and so it goes.

I have often asked myself if readers are becoming less imaginative these days. If they need all the visuals to be dished up and spoon fed along with the popcorn. I sincerely hope not or we're all doomed to writer's hell.

I want indie horror to flourish like a dark flower, a black rose amongst the compost that the big publishers are trying to pass off as quality.

The potential market is huge. It's our job to be noticed.

Do you have a tale to tell? A short story or poem perhaps? Darkly themed and dripping red?

If so I'd like to hear it, and if it moves me I'd like to add it to a blog page.

It's worth a freebie, I think, to wave your flag.

I've thrown my hat into the ring. It's called:

Tiw's Cup.

John Vault.
Author of Thaddeus, The Mushroom Man, Crones and Uncle John's Bedtime Tales.

Email: hiriskpublications@gmail.com