Friday 23 March 2012

Friday Flash - Speak Easy

Dora sat near the back of the room, a trashy romance novel in her hand, and a glass of cheap lemonade on the table. She paused at the end of each page to glance around the cavernous basement bar. The hotel dated back to 1910, but the current decor screamed 1980s time warp. Even the background music seemed to be stuck in a world of TV infomercials and bad karaoke.

Matches my book, really, thought Dora. All sleazy leopard print and bouffant hair.

She studied the image on the cover. The book’s heroine, Kitten Chantal, was draped across the hero, Steel Grainger. Dora sighed and returned her attention to chapter fifteen’s steamy encounter in the pool house. An elevator muzak rendition of REO Speedwagon’s Keep On Lovin’ You provided the soundtrack.

The song finished, and a saxophone blared into life. Dora started at the sudden change and looked up, expecting to see someone at the jukebox. She couldn’t even see the jukebox through the heavy pall of cigarette smoke that hung in the air. Laughter and raucous jazz filled the room.

Dora stared at the scene before her. Wood panelling replaced the acrylic splendour of the bar, and men in fedoras and women in long gloves filled the room. She looked down at the tall glass of lemonade on the table, now replaced by a martini glass. Dora sniffed the drink, the scent of pineapple and white rum hitting her nostrils.

“Don’t sniff it, honey, drink it!” The woman beside her winked.

“What is it?” asked Dora.

“A Mary Pickford. Don’t you remember ordering it? Jeez, how many have you had?”

Dora put the glass back on the table – maybe she’d try it later. Nigel didn’t approve of alcohol, and she didn’t want to upset him. Although he doesn’t approve of my choice of books, and I still read those, she thought.

Dora noticed her hands as she held the stem of the glass. The swollen knuckles and liver spots had gone, replaced by the hands of a much younger woman. She let go of the glass and examined the slender fingers. She remembered these fingers, and these hands, but she hadn’t seen them in around twenty years.

The double doors at the top of the staircase burst open, and the shrill sound of whistles filled the air. Dora looked up from her new, youthful hands to see a swarm of policemen sweep down the stairs and into the bar. They brandished batons and grabbed at collars as they went. The good time guys and gals scattered, clambering over tables and upturned chairs in their haste to escape the police.

“Come on, honey, seems the party’s over,” said the woman beside her. She grabbed Dora’s arm and yanked her out of her seat.

 The band cut off their song and leapt down from the stage, instruments abandoned as they joined the stampede for the stairs. A man shoved her in the back and she stumbled forward, her elbow hitting a table as she fell.

Dora blinked. She gasped to see the gaudy Miami Vice stylings of the bar, while a bad instrumental cover of Heart of Glass piped into the room from a speaker near the ceiling. She knelt on the floor several feet away from her table, her novel lying open on her seat. She looked around, but saw no sign of the jazz baby who’d pulled her to her feet. The afternoon drinkers ignored Dora completely.

Dora slipped back into her seat, her face flushed with embarrassment. She examined the wrinkles and blue veins of her hands, and sniffed the drink in her glass. Definitely lemonade, she thought.

She looked up to see Nigel making his way toward her. His nylon anorak didn’t look at all out of place in the bar, and Dora found herself cringing to see his neatly pressed slacks and carefully combed over hair.

“Afternoon, love. Didn’t keep you waiting long, did I?” he asked. He planted a dry kiss on her cheek.

“Not at all. Did you find your medication?”

“I did. I’d left it in my toilet bag. Silly me, eh?” Nigel chuckled, and patted his anorak pocket. Dora forced a smile, and closed her book. Steel Grainger would never forget his blood pressure tablets. Steel Grainger probably didn’t even need them.

“But I had a chat with the receptionist on my way down here. You’ll never guess what she told me!”

“I really have no idea.”

“This place was once the site of a Prohibition speakeasy! Apparently there was a major bust, and the whole hotel was closed until the Fifties. What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I’m just surprised. How fascinating.”

“Come along then, love. Martin’s waiting in the lobby. He’s eager to show his old mum and dad the joys of Chicago.”

Nigel smiled. Dora gathered her coat and put her novel back into her handbag. She followed Nigel across the bar. They reached the double doors, and she imagined a horde of policemen piling down the stairs. Nigel held open the door but Dora gazed down into the cavernous bar.

Sadness bloomed in her heart as she found herself mourning a life that she had no idea she'd lived.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Lucky Seven Meme

I was tagged by both Helen Howell and Sonya Clark for a Lucky Seven Excerpt.

The rules are simple:

1. Go to page 77 in your current manuscript
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next seven lines as they are - no cheating
4. Tag 7 other authors (Done on Facebook)

This is from To Kill A Dead Man, the sequel to The Guns of Retribution. I know it looks like a lot but that's literally seven lines in the front I'm using!

“Boss, pardon me for sayin’ so, but you’re normally so calm and collected. Only this stuff with Miss Marsden has got you all riled up. Forget about what Marvel said we did, or didn’t do. Right now, we gotta find McEavy, get Bess back, and hopefully find Miss Marsden.” 

He looked me straight in the eye, his blue eyes all serious and earnest. I’d never seen Billy look like that, and he might as well have slapped me. I took a step backward, and shook my head, trying to clear away all the cobwebs. Billy was right. I was getting carried away, and I needed to focus. I was no good to Peggy if I went off half-cocked.

If you liked that, maybe you'll enjoy The Guns of Retribution!

Monday 19 March 2012

Photo Prompt 77

New prompt available!

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 77th prompt is Covent Garden Sunset.

Covent Garden Sunset

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!

Sunday 18 March 2012

Am I really a horror writer?

Since the beginning of January, I have posted a Friday Flash for each week of 2012, which is a total of eleven stories. However, of those eleven, only three have been non-horror related (one fantasy comedy, one slice of life, and one historical). The other eight have encompassed zombies, mummies, vampires, Gothic horror, evil puppets and as-yet-unnamed creatures who wear human skins. Is anyone else as surprised by that as me?

Back in the day, I called myself a horror writer. We're talking back when I was about sixteen and didn't know any better. I read Stephen King and Clive Barker, and I wanted to write like that too. Problem was, I didn't really enjoy writing "gore". It just didn't seem to work for me very well. I stuck to my "weird fantasy" stories, writing about games of chess between celestial beings, or jewellery boxes that turned their contents into gold, and eventually put out my Checkmate & Other Stories collection, composed of those stories I'd had published online. Definitely not 'slice of life' or realistic, but not really horror either.

So time went by, and I branched out. I wrote historical stories, and ventured into steampunk, and wound up writing a pulp Western last year. I'm damned proud of The Guns of Retribution, but there's always been a little tug back towards my roots - to the extent that its sequel, To Kill A Dead Man, sees Grey O'Donnell pitted against villains of a more supernatural nature. I hardly think it's a surprise that I'd find myself back within the horror genre, considering I spend my spare time hunting ghosts, and studying haunted house films for my PhD - and that's when I'm not reading about the psychological theories that underpin the horror genre as a whole. My life is pretty well steeped in Bizarro at the moment.

Or is it something deeper? I like to think my "craft" has improved since those first stories were published back in 2008, and I'm in a better place to write horror stories that get under the skin. Perhaps spending so long writing weekly flashes, and working on longer stories or novels, has honed my idea-generating skills to the point that I feel I'm better able to work with horror. Maybe my experiences with strange events, and my research into them, has given me better insights into what ideas will work, and what won't. Or maybe the stressful nature of my life at the moment means that the stress has to come out somewhere - and it's choosing to birth weird ideas from my imagination.

Either way, I want to ask a question. My work seems to fall into two major categories, and then a whole bunch of little ones beyond that. So what would people rather see from me - horror stories, or my historical tales?