Friday 15 June 2012

#FridayFlash - Living Hell

Agent Barnes picked his way through the detritus towards Special Agent Langley. Broken masonry and tattered advertisements littered the floor of the museum. Shattered glass lay in fragments between the corpses.

“Yes, Barnes?”

Langley didn’t even break her gaze to look at Barnes. Her keen brown eyes swept the scene, picking over the details as crows pick over carrion. Barnes glanced at the creased paperwork clutched in his hand. He looked down at the broken body of a tour guide and gulped.

“Um, we got the report on Person Zero.” Barnes didn’t even know how they could identify the source of this blast among all the wreckage, but the boys in forensics could work miracles.

“And? Details, Barnes.”

“Her name’s Penelope Ann Fairweather. 35, mother of two. Phone records say she’d placed eight calls to the same number in the hours before the event, and she’d placed sixty three over the preceding four days.” Barnes stared at the paper, determined not to look across the atrium towards the figures in white suits. He knew they surrounded a body – the body of Ms Fairweather. At least, what was left of it.

“Any leads on the number?”

“Her therapist. She was being treated for –”

“Let me guess. Severe anxiety, paranoia, and possibly some form of depression.” Langley folded her arms and faced the remains. The white suits sifted and prodded, muttering between themselves in a language that was utterly alien to Barnes. Langley frowned.

“How did you guess?”

Langley pointed at several corpses on the floor. Two were spindly figures, more like skeletons wrapped in leathery skin. Skinny fingers ended in claws shaped like sickles, and serrated fangs lined their open mouths. Two more corpses were fat, white and limbless, the goo from their bodies forming pools on the floor where they lay.

“The gargoyles are anxiety reapers. Nasty buggers, but they don’t look as well fed as I’d expect. Those white maggots are paranoia parasites. You can guess what they do. And that pile of chalk white dust near the window was a depression demon – they disintegrate during direct contact with daylight,” said Langley, gesturing towards the dust heap.

Barnes looked around the museum atrium. He tried to focus on the twisted bodies of unearthly creatures, ignoring the humans caught up in the blast. Melancholy painted the walls grey, and despair tinted the remaining glass dark blue. Black streaks of anguish marked the floor like smears of ash in the aftermath of a fire. All of that emotion, repressed through time but unleashed in an instant.

“What the hell happened to her?” he asked.

“Something scared the hell out of her, Barnes. And based on this mess, I’d say it was a very personal kind of hell indeed.”


This flash was inspired by the line “it’s scaring the living hell straight outta me” from I Found Away by Alkaline Trio.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Abandoned Spaces

Anyone who knows me will know that I have a fascination for urban exploration, and for those places that are 'lost' to regular habitation. I have a particular fondness for abandoned houses, theatres and so on, and I find these spaces both sad and mysterious. They don't always give up their stories easily, and a lot of imagination can be required to re-paper the peeling walls, shore up collapsing ceilings, or repopulate them with the fragmentary ghosts of their pasts. Whenever I pass a ruined house, or a crumbling wreck of a building, I always wonder who built it, and who abandoned it. What happened to its owners?

I'm particularly interested in these spaces as they occupy what is known as 'liminal space'. They are places on the boundaries of existence - they occupy a physical space, and provide a physical presence in the world that can be seen and felt, but they are denied their intended usage, and they stand alone, empty, and often unloved. A house without occupants seems to be half a house, while theatres that no longer host performances seem cold. They easily become sites of horror within popular culture - their existence on the boundary of life grants them a privileged position, and this position can become a portal, granting access to that which dwells beyond the boundary.

Having said that, I came across something entirely new over on Urban Ghosts - that of the 'stub street', or 'ghost ramp', which form part of the so-called abandoned motorways of Britain. Now these are different beasts from the crumbling ancestral homes or faded picture palaces that I normally look at, and it's made all the more strange because I've even seen some of these fragments of road - but not realised what they were. I thought they were still under construction - I didn't know they had stood half-built for any period of time. This image is of the ghost ramps at M8 West Street in Glasgow (Junction 20), taken in May 2003 while the West Street on-ramp was closed for bridge works (taken by Ddmiller).

I think part of what makes these so bizarre is the way they encapsulate such an inherent contradiction. A street is intended to connect points A and B - they allow journeys to be completed, and the implication of a street is that it leads somewhere. These streets and ramps don't. They stop, often suddenly, and halt the progress of the journey. Points A and B become disconnected and the route is severed. Humans will naturally find another route, even if it means making a new one, but there's something unsettling about a road to nowhere.

What I do have to wonder though is...what if they aren't roads to nowhere? What if they do lead somewhere - what would we find there?

Main image by Darren Kirby.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

[Book Review] Inkarna by Nerine Dorman

Way back in February, I reviewed Blood and Fire, a collaboration between Carrie Clevenger and Nerine Dorman. The story involved Carrie's vampire, Xan Marcelles (his novel, Crooked Fang, is coming soon) and Nerine's reincarnating spirit, Ashton Kennedy. With Inkarna, Ashton gets the chance to tell his own story. And in a world where 'paranormal' books seem to be preoccupied with vampires or werewolves, Nerine Dorman gives us reincarnation, ancient Egyptian mysteries and even daimonic powers. What's not to love?

The story is told by Ashton Kennedy - or rather, by Lizzie, a woman reincarnated into the body of this fairly obnoxious young man. As one of a race of beings known as Inkarna, Lizzie belongs to House Adamastor, a group of people dedicated to knowledge and secrets. Sadly the afterlife is just as riddled with politics and intrigue as the mortal coil, and Lizzie, as Ashton, finds herself caught up in a deadly tug of war with House Montu, a warrior cult - as if it's not hard enough just to deal with the enemies Ashton made during his lifetime! This is some serious stuff, people - no twinkly vampires or cuddly werewolves here. The Inkarna have daimonic powers that put the Jedi and Sith to shame, and when it all kicks off, it REALLY kicks off.

There are many things I loved about Inkarna, and clearly its basis within ancient Egyptian mythology was one of them. Dorman knows her stuff and her passion for the subject bleeds through every word. The concept of a woman finding herself trapped inside a man's body was equally fascinating, and Lizzie's slow transition as she 'grows into' Ashton was impressive and well-handled. The setting of South Africa was also a point of interest - I've never been, but I feel like I've explored Cape Town along with Ashton and Marlise, his partner-in-crime.

There were several occasions when reading that I got so wrapped up in the book that I almost missed train stops, and I'd get "itchy fingers" until I could get back to turning the pages. For anyone who loves paranormal or mystical fiction, or for anyone who likes stories that are a bit out of the ordinary, or for anyone who just enjoys a well-written book, I'd highly recommend Inkarna.

Five blunt pencils out of five!

You can buy the paperback here, or the Kindle edition here. Nerine will be visiting my blog next Wednesday to talk about Inkarna some more!

Tuesday 12 June 2012

15 Habits - Update

On Wednesday, I discussed the fact that I'm starting Jeff Goins' 15 Habits for Great Writers series. Jeff's running a post every week day for three weeks, and as I said I'd do periodic updates, that's what this post is about!

Day Two (Wednesday) of the series was all about belief, and I was supposed to get up two hours early to write. As I said in my introductory post about the series, I really can't build that into my day, and I don't want to make writing something that will induce stress. A lot of writing coaches add caveats about making sacrifices and airily say "Oh just get up earlier" but that's not always possible - and it isn't helpful when they act as though you're not serious about your craft if such an endeavour won't fit into your shcedule. Sorry, but emotional blackmail is not a good motivational tool. Instead, I said I'd write for an hour - and I did. I added just over 1k words to my work in progress, which I consider to be a good achievement. I'm really pleased with the direction it's taking, although I sometimes worry it's taking on a mind of its own.

Day Three (Thursday) was all about initiative, and the challenge was to "start something you're scared of". Well I'm not a beginner writer and I have projects on the go as it is, so I took the opportunity to just add more words to my work in progress. By this point, I was beginning to wonder exactly how much use I was going to get out of the series since a lot of the tasks seem to be geared towards those who are just starting out on their writing career. Still, if it keeps me writing, then it can't be all bad. Getting the words out of my head and onto paper is the ultimate goal here.

Day Four (Friday) was all about practice, and Jeff suggested that everyone stop talking about writing, and get on with it. His suggestions were to pitch a magazine you want to write for, ask a friend (or stranger) to guest post on his/her blog, publish something on your blog you’ve never shared with anyone, or submit that book proposal. Trouble is, that's all stuff I do anyway! So I chose to just do the "get on with it" part and kept writing. The work in progress is turning out to be rather exciting.

Day Five (Monday) was all about preparation. Jeff talked about the need to actually get things out there, and get things moving. His biggest thing was "Ship something. Anything. It doesn’t matter how bad it is, just put it out there." Sadly, I disagree with him on this point. I am NOT going to put something terrible out there, just to have something available. That's the quickest and easiest way to completely destroy the fragile reputation of self-publishing - which so many people already think leads to shoddy workmanship and poor quality. So instead I shall do as the title of the post suggests and continue to prepare my work in progress. If people want to buy my work, they can choose Checkmate & Other Stories, The First Tale, or The Guns of Retribution.

Day Six (Today) was oddly about stealing. Jeff's theory is that good writers copy, and great writers steal. As he says, we're constantly borrowing from what's around us, which we mash up and regurgitate in our own fashion. So the day's task is to "give up on your pursuit of originality and genius and just find something that inspires you. Borrow from your friends and heroes and mash it all up into something that looks, feels, and sounds like you." Problem - I've been doing this long enough now that I already have my own style, and a way of working, that suits me. Can you guess how I'm going to approach the task? Yep, I'm just going to add more to the work in progress...

Monday 11 June 2012

Photo Prompt 89

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 89th prompt is Headless Angel.

Bowes Statue

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 10 June 2012

How to break out of a creative rut

How to Break Out of a Creative Rut
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