Friday 22 October 2010

Friday Flash - The Priest Hole

Pete threw down the EMF meter in disgust. The needle lay at the neutral end of the scale. Six hours of staring at it, and the damn thing refused to move. He hoped he could find the receipt when he got home.

Pete made another circuit of the room. His objects remained where he’d planted them. No footprints disturbed the flour sprinkled across the floorboards. The thermometer wouldn’t budge below a consistent 22°C.

He yanked open the door and stomped into the corridor. A trail of flour followed him down the hall.

“Hello? Who’s there? Is that a spirit?”

A voice called from the library. Melanie. The supposed psychic who called him in on the job to accompany her. Oh Bettley Hall is definitely haunted, she’d said. I felt a real presence when I went to see Lady Maude, she’d said. I’m sure we’ll have success this time, she’d said.

“No, Mel, it’s just me,” he replied.


Pete pushed open the door to the library. Melanie sat cross-legged on the floor, a ouija board laid out in front of her. She sat at the northern point of a square formed along with her three assistants. The teenagers kept their black hair long and straight, and wore identical black outfits. They turned their sullen gazes towards him.

“Any luck?” he asked.

“Not as yet, although I’m still hopeful,” replied Melanie.

“I thought you said you’d felt a presence,” said Pete.

“I did. I can’t understand it, I thought we would have made contact by now. But there’s still time,” said Melanie.

“Still time,” echoed her assistants.

“It’s nearly dawn. We’ve been here for hours. Surely, if something was going to happen, it would have happened by now?”

“It’s your negative energy, that’s the problem. You’ve chased it away.”

“Oh really? Maybe I should go into exorcisms then.”

Melanie pouted. She leaned in toward the ouija board. Her assistants did the same, and they all laid their fingers on the glass.

“Would you mind leaving the room? I don’t want your negative energy blocking the spirit,” said Melanie.

Pete rolled his eyes and left the library. He walked back down the corridor to the morning room. Lady Maude claimed most incidents happened there. Disembodied voices, orbs, cold spots, floating body parts - Pete couldn’t think of a typical symptom of a haunting she hadn’t listed.

He retrieved the EMF meter from the floor under the table. He switched on his digital camera and waved the meter over it. The needle flickered, and dropped back to zero when he turned the camera off.

“So at least you’re working,” he murmured.

Pete checked his watch. Only an hour until dawn.

“Seriously, is there anybody there?” he called.

Nothing. The EMF meter remained quiet. Pete walked around the room, feeling for cold spots. He switched the camera back on and took a few aimless shots. He couldn’t see anything on the viewer but maybe something would show up on his PC.

Who am I kidding? There’s nothing here, he thought. I’m just a ghost hunter who can’t find any bloody ghosts.

The anticipation of the vigil had turned to boredom some time earlier, and Pete left the morning room again. Instead of turning left to the library, he turned right. The corridor crooked around a corner. Pete ducked under a cracked oak lintel into a narrow passage. Threadbare tapestries covered the panelled walls, and the pitted floorboards creaked beneath his boots.

Pete shivered. He guessed the passage led to the west wing, the original block of the house. Lady Maude told him the first Bettley Hall dated back to the Tudors, and the family harboured priests during Elizabeth I’s campaign to uncover Catholics.

Pete shoved his hands into his pockets. Puffs of his breath hung in the cold air. Pete wondered why Lady Maude never installed heating in this part of the castle. She could make a fortune renting it out as holiday accommodation.

The EMF meter crackled into life in his pocket. Pete pulled it out, feeling the cold nip at his fingers. The needle shot up the scale, buzzing around the upper level. Pete’s jaw dropped open.

A sharp knock made him jump. It came from the wall to his right. Pete swept the meter along the wall. The meter squealed when it reached a moth-eaten tapestry depicting a pregnant woman kneeling at an altar.

“Is there anybody there?”

“Succurro mihi.” 

The disembodied voice came from behind the tapestry. Pete held out a trembling hand. He fumbled with the edge of the fabric. Plain wood panelling lay behind the wall hanging.

“Wh-wh-where are you?” called Pete.

“Hic, hac.”

An opaque figure passed through the wall into the corridor. It wore the robes of a priest. A large crucifix hung around its neck. It turned its bald head to face Pete. He looked into empty, staring eyes of the apparition, and fainted.

* * *

Fowlis Westerby pulled off his ridiculous Tudor priest disguise. He straightened his hat and moustache. The Cavalier looked down at the pitiable ghost hunter at his feet.

“I do apologise, old boy. You’re just so much easier to scare when you’re not expecting to see anything.”

The ghost strolled down the corridor towards the library. The séance would surely net him scores of Scare Points.

* * *

The theme for this week’s flash came from the Write Anything Fiction Friday prompt, “Include this theme in your story… After a long night, a hunter sees something he/she cannot believe.” It also marks the second appearance of Fowlis Westerby on my blog – you can read his first appearance here. My beloved spectral Cavalier ghost stars in my very first novel, currently in the redrafting process.

Click here for more information on priest holes!

Wednesday 20 October 2010


After some subtle persuasion from Paul Anderson and Carrie Clevenger, I set myself up with an author profile on Goodreads. It seems odd to say that, to call myself an 'author'. I'm not sure why - I have had short fiction published sporadically online since July 2008, I have actually sold copies of my first e-book, The First Tale, and I now have a short story included in a bona fide anthology - the Chinese Whisperings Yin Book. If the definition of 'professional' is doing something and getting paid for it, then I must be a professional writer (even if it isn't my main source of income).

The very supportive Benjamin Solah was good enough to put The First Tale on Goodreads, and it's very cool to see that people are reading it. I genuinely blush when people send me tweets saying they enjoyed The First Tale - and it takes A LOT to make me blush. Yet it's so nice to know that people actually read what you do - and enjoy it. In a lot of ways, it makes the whole thing worth doing. I can't think of anything more sad than being a writer and never letting anyone read your work. I suppose I can understand the reasoning behind it - after all, if no one ever reads it then no one can ever tell you that you're no good. Besides, if you're writing for your own enjoyment and you're keeping yourself happy then it doesn't mean that you need to show it to anyone else.

Then again, writers tell stories. It's what we do. Whether we're novelists, journalists, copywriters or chroniclers, we're all telling stories. Is a story still a story if it isn't read? It's that age old philosophical question - if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound? I mean, I tell these stories for two reasons. 1) I write them because I have to (I'd go crazy from the voices in my head if I didn't write down what they said). 2) I write them because I want people to read these stories - I want to entertain people! If someone reads something I've written and can escape from the mundane drudgery of their existence for those few minutes it takes to read a flash, then I consider the whole endeavour worthwhile. If the readers learns something too, then brilliant.

The most momentous stage in setting up my profile was selecting what genres cover my style. 'Short fiction' was an obvious, if generic, term, and I felt compelled to put down 'science fiction & fantasy' as opposed to 'horror' because I feel a lot of my stuff comes under the 'speculative fiction' or 'urban fantasy' bracket, as opposed to 'horror'. I always wanted to be a horror writer, but I realised fairly early on that I was no Clive Barker or Stephen King. Indeed, an email I once received about my short piece Left convinced me of that - the author of said email told me my style reminded him of Neil Gaiman or Ray Bradbury. When I'd recovered my jaw from the floor, I realised that horror clearly wasn't my 'bag' unless it was based on reality. But more importantly, I finally nailed my colours to the mast and put down "historical fiction" as one of my genres. I really enjoy writing things that require research, so you can expect a few more historical pieces over coming weeks.

Of course, one of the many advantages of historical fiction is it covers such a wide range of topics. I can continue to write my tales about bodysnatchers, mental asylums or vengeful knights, but still continue to write steampunk (a genre characterised by its adherence to an historical 'aesthetic') and stories about pirates...

Monday 18 October 2010

Photo Prompt 03

I've decided to start running my own photo prompts on a Monday in case anyone needs inspiration for their Friday Flash!

All I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! I promise to comment on any story that comes from this photo.

The third prompt is Angel.

Have fun!