Friday 27 May 2011

Friday Flash - House Hunting

Image by Aunt Owwee

“Is this the right street?” asked Libby Dreiberg.

“Latimer Lane? Yep, this is the one,” replied Eddie Vasquez. He looked between his Google maps print out and the quiet street in front of them.

Picture postcard houses lined the street, set back from the road behind neat lawns and clipped privet hedges. Each house was small yet elegant, painted a different pastel hue to its neighbours. Cats sunbathed on front porches, and window boxes groaned beneath the weight of their colourful blooms. The street curved away, taking the parade of well-kept homes out of sight.

“Holy hell, these must cost a fortune,” said Libby.

“Few hundred thousand, I guess.”

“They’re all so pretty,” said Libby.

“Yeah well, we only came for one of them.” Eddie grimaced.

They set off down the street, Libby’s heels clacking on the pavement in time with her ungainly steps. She hooked a finger under the collar of her floral blouse.

“Nylon? Seriously?” She pulled the scratchy material away from her neck.

“Stop that. This is camouflage, remember? Try and look like you wear that all the time,” replied Eddie. He shrugged his broad shoulders inside his badly-fitting business suit.

“I hate this part. Why can’t we just be ourselves?”

“Ssssh, I think we found it.”

Libby followed the direction of Eddie’s gaze. The street veered away again, and a house sat in the crook of its curve. A line of trees in its back yard loomed over the house, reaching gnarled limbs toward the road. Long grass stood motionless in the still air of the quiet Tuesday afternoon. The screen door hung from shattered hinges, the front door behind standing ajar. A jumble of jagged glass filled broken window frames, the dark, empty rooms beyond lying in wait. A sudden gust of wind ran its fingers across the lawn, parting the grass to reveal the remains of a rusting bicycle, and part of a pram frame; the remnants of childhood, left to decay.

“Yep, that’s the house alright,” said Libby. “It’s beautiful, in a creepy and derelict kind of way.”

A cloud passed in front of the sun, casting long shadows across the house. A gust of wind pushed open the front door, and it swung inwards with a protesting screech. Libby stared into the yawning black doorway.

“Urgh, these houses...they make me sick. How could anyone just up and leave? People sleep in the gutter while perfectly good houses sit and rot,” said Eddie.

“Yes, yes, quite right,” said Libby, snapping out of the house’s trance. “It should be put out of its misery.”

“Do you want to do the honours?”

“Well you did the last one.”

“Then be my guest.”

Eddie put down his navy sports hold-all. Libby kept watch on the house, sure that it flinched as Eddie unzipped the bag. It probably knows what’s going on, but it has nowhere to go, she thought. She bent down and reached into the bag. Her fingers fastened around cold steel. Libby hefted the Real Estate 5000 out of the bag and up to her shoulder. Eddie connected a series of tubes from the weapon into a reinforced Plexiglas reservoir in the bag. Libby ran her free hand along the wide barrel of the gun, her fingers tracing the raised letters emblazoned in red. They spelled out ‘House Hunters Inc.’.

“I’m sorry”, whispered Libby. She pulled the trigger and the Real Estate 5000 spewed forth a gush of fire. The flames coalesced in mid air, and the fireball blasted across the lawn. It sailed through the open front door and into the house.

The fire rushed from room to room in a headlong flight of destruction. The flames tore at discoloured wallpaper, and engulfed rotten floorboards. Windows smashed and rusty metal warped in the heat. With a creak and a roar, the upper floor collapsed. The inferno squealed with delight as it picked through the debris for new toys.

Libby bent down and fished around in the long grass by the splintered picket fence. She stood up holding the battered old mailbox – painted letters spelled out the name “Feldman” on the side. Libby tore the name panel free as if the metal were paper.

“Don’t get attached, Dreiberg - they’re long gone. Nothing but an old house left behind to die,” said Eddie. “Remember our motto. Survival of the fittest.”

* * *

This flash was inspired by a conversation with Helen about typos - I managed to mistake 'plague' for 'plaque' (good job I'm not a dentist) and Helen said she kept spelling 'haunted house' as 'hunted house'. Et voila!

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Book Review - 20th Century Ghosts

I'd never heard of Joe Hill when I picked up a copy of 20th Century Ghosts for the princely sum of £3 in HMV. The accepted wisdom in publishing circles is that short story collections don't sell particularly well, but personally, I prefer them as an introduction to a writer. Indeed, I discovered Neil Gaiman through his Smoke and Mirrors collection, and Clive Barker through his Books of Blood. The advantage of collections over novels is that it's ok if one story sucks, you can skip it and go onto the next one. To my mind, they're a better advert for the range of styles a writer can do. But that's just me.

So my interest in ghost stories, my leanings towards collections and the shockingly low price were all factors in my picking up 20th Century Ghosts. The blurb reads thus; "Imogene is young, beautiful, kisses like a movie star, and knows everything about every film ever made. She's also dead, the legendary ghost of the Rosebud Theater. Arthur Roth is a lonely kid with a head full of big ideas and a gift for getting his ass kicked. It's hard to make friends when you're the only inflatable boy in town. Francis is unhappy, picked on; he doesn't have a life, a hope, a chance. Francis was human once, but that's behind him now. John Finney is in trouble. The kidnapper locked him in a basement, a place stained with the blood of half a dozen other murdered children. With him, in his subterranean cell, is an antique phone, long since disconnected . . . but it rings at night, anyway, with calls from the dead. . . Meet these, and a dozen more, in 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS, irresistible, addictive fun showcasing a dazzling new talent."

There's certainly a range of stories on display here, and indeed some of them aren't even ghost stories. You Will Hear The Locust Sing recalls 1950s sci-fi pulp, Abraham's Boys tells a Van Helsing story, and The Cape is a superhero horror tale. The stories stay with you long after you're finished - so while the stories might not necessarily be about ghosts, they're definitely haunting. My own personal favourites are 20th Century Ghost, about a movie-loving ghost who haunts a cinema, The Black Phone, about a boy struggling to escape a kidnapper using supernatural help, and Voluntary Committal, a novella that explores mental illness and the bonds of family within a narrative framework of dark fantasy.

There may be far too much emphasis on baseball within the stories, although I'm sure this is purely due to the fact that I'm a UK reader and have no interest in baseball. If you're not a baseball fan, and you don't understand the mythology surrounding it (the first time a boy plays catch with his dad, or the first time he goes to a game) then these stories will fall a little flat. I suppose it would be the same if an English author tried to describe his love of going to see a first division team on a Saturday afternoon, despite the fact they've never won a match in three months. Some of the stories don't work but that's ok - there are plenty of enjoyable stories in this collection, stories that really will work their way into your brain and get you thinking.Great for a quick read - and based on this, I'd definitely try one of his novels.

Four blunt pencils out of five.

Monday 23 May 2011

Photo Prompt 34

Latest prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, 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! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The thirty-fourth prompt is Cellar.


All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr. You can also buy my prints from Deviantart. 20% of all proceeds go to charity - the other 80% go towards my PhD fees!