#ShortStory: The Reunion

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Since it’s Friday, I thought I’d share a short story with you. Hope you enjoy it.

The Reunion

The wind howled over the small lake causing white horses to form on the surface. Frank had inherited the old house from his grandmother and turned it into a boutique hotel. The old lady was probably spinning in her grave at the idea of the local riff-raff sleeping in her bed, but the house was the perfect setting for honeymooners or couples on romantic getaways. The only problem was that when the cold weather rolled in, his love-struck guests rolled out.

He’d sunk all of his inheritance from his grandmother and his parents into fixing the house up so that he could turn it into his dream – a five star boutique hotel. Unfortunately, the monthly expenses to keep it running exceeded the income from the hotel guests. His cooking wasn’t good enough to make the restaurant a draw card for the Johannesburg culinary types or for the less picky Pretoria bunch.

The Magaliesburg was known for its B & B’s and little hide-away restaurants. Most of them were close to the main access roads, but Frank’s place was hidden and only accessible by dirt roads. Someone kept stealing the signs he put up on the main road, so his guests kept getting lost on their way to him and then decided to stay at one of the places they could find more easily. In short, the competition was stiff and Frank was broke. But he kept hoping that with just the right marketing strategy those honeymooners would start streaming in, even if the weather was cold and the roads were crap.

As it was, his wife had just left him. Tracy hated the hospitality business and her feelings towards Frank were decidedly cold. He was now running the place on his own. The only help he had was Bettie, the maid he’d inherited with the house. She was eighty, and managed to make him feel like he was a naughty school boy who needed a smack every time he asked her to do something. He’d known Bettie his whole life. She’d practically raised him. It was Bettie who’d taught him to tie his shoelaces, not his mother. He’d learnt to speak Zulu before he’d learnt English. Bettie’s grandson, Mpho, had been like his brother. Mpho had died of AIDS several years ago, and Frank still missed him. They should have been running the hotel together. Bettie would have liked that, his grandmother and parents on the other hand may not have felt the same way.

As he went through the house, closing the windows to guard against the unseasonal storm that was heading his way, a small, bashed up old Mini Cooper bounced along the drive towards the hotel. A young couple, who made no effort to keep their hands off each other, fell out of it in a giggling heap. They’d obviously had a few drinks. How they made it down the dirt road without crashing or how they’d managed not to get pulled over by the Johannesburg Metro cops was a mystery to him. He made his way to the front entrance to greet them, like any good hotelier should. After all, hospitality was the name of the game.

He stepped outside the front door and noticed that the sky had turned that grey yellow colour that always seemed to precede a hailstorm. Winters in South Africa were supposed to be dry. Storms happened in summer, but lately the weather had been unpredictable and the storms were the worst he’d seen in twenty years. It looked like the latest one was going to be one for the record books. One of the wooden deck chairs that he’d forgotten to fold up and put in the storeroom rolled across the front lawn. The chair impersonated tumbleweed with remarkable aplomb. Its journey to the water was stopped by the canoe he’d pulled out of the water and turned over to resemble an elongated turtle. The house wasn’t really equipped to withstand a bad storm, but that wasn’t something he would put in the brochure. In anticipation, he’d stocked up on candles for the inevitable power failure. He needed a generator, but couldn’t afford one, so paraffin lamps and candles were the best he could do, and that combination probably wasn’t a good idea. He reminded himself that the house had been standing for a hundred years and would probably, with a little maintenance and some cash, be standing for a hundred more.

The couple clung to each other as they stumbled up the long gravel pathway towards the front door. A blast of wind tried to separate them, but only managed to make them crumble to the ground in a hysterical mass of laughter. A flash of lightning cracked the sky. The thunder clap was only a few seconds behind. The lightning strike was close by, only a few kilometres away and getting closer judging by the rumble. The man got back up on unsteady legs. He looked to be in his late teens, early twenties. He’d probably only been shaving for a year or two. The girl was even younger – fresh out of high school and still wet behind the ears. He didn’t envy either of them the hangover they were going to have in the morning, but he couldn’t help but envy their youth and the happiness they shared in their drunken stupor. Had he ever been that young and that in love? He couldn’t remember.

Something shimmered at the periphery of his vision. The hair at the back of his neck and on his arms bristled. He put it down to the electricity in the air created by the incoming storm, but a feeling in his gut made him look over his shoulder. In that instant he wished he could rewind those seconds and ignore his gut. Four men stood behind him. Their pale skin and blood shot eyes turned his stomach. Not to mention the assortment of knives, axe’s, and bloody machete’s they carried. Fear and confusion tore at his brain. He blinked hoping that they were simply a horrific mirage. When he opened his eyes the men were gone and he was still alive. He let go of the breath he’d been holding and thanked a god he’d never been sure he believed in, but saying a little prayer seemed appropriate. He chalked the ghostly vision up to his overactive imagination. There’d been a few grisly murders in the area over the last couple of years and no matter how much security he put up, sooner or later someone was bound to show up and try and take what was his.

The young man, who on closer inspection was little more than a boy, stood behind him holding up the girl. He had one of those ridiculous patches of beard on his chin and the girl had bleached her hair that silvery white blond that seemed to be the fashion with young girls. They both wore happy grins, which made him feel old. Frank wondered how they’d gotten up the pathway so quickly. Just a couple seconds prior, they’d been falling about laughing at their car. It should have taken them longer to make their way up the pathway. He’d only turned away for a split second, he was sure of it. He shrugged his confusion off and chalked that one up to being over tired.

Men’s laughter came from inside the parlour. Those men were inside his house. They hadn’t been a figment of his imagination. He tried to calm himself down. Panic would only get him killed. He’d last seen Bettie upstairs pretending to dust some of the bedroom furniture but he knew, from previous experience, that she’d probably dosed off on one of the beds. Bettie was a tough old bird who wouldn’t have let anybody, who wasn’t a paying guest, inside without a fight. He hoped that she was still asleep and blissfully unaware that they had unwanted guests. His other, newly arrived, guests looked at him expectantly.

“Hey bro,” the boy-man slurred. “Can we have a room? We just got married.”

“Look, now’s not a good time,” Frank said. He couldn’t let the kids inside. He needed them to get help. Although he wasn’t sure they were capable of doing much of anything in their condition.

“Sounds like there’s a party going on,” the boy ignored him and pushed past Frank, stumbling inside with his young bride hanging on his arm.

“Shit,” Frank swore under his breath. He didn’t want to die. He hadn’t changed his will yet. Tracy would inherit the house and that would really piss him off. She’d probably sell the place off for a fortune and spend it on her new toy-boy. He took a deep breath, pulled his shoulders back and tried to control his bowls as he stepped inside the house to face his deadly guests. Perhaps he was wrong about his visitors. Perhaps they were simply there to have a good time. Perhaps their idea of a good time didn’t include killing anybody. A man could hope.

The four men stood at the bar his great grandfather had built in the 1920’s. Their weapons had been carelessly discarded on the polished mahogany surface and they’d each poured themselves a generous glass of Johnny Walker Red.

“I can still remember how that little boy squealed just before I stabbed him again and again. He only stopped squealing after the fifth time I stuck him like a pig,” one of the men said, fingering a knife lying on the counter next to him. His hair looked like he’d put one of his fingers in an electrical socket and the bulge in his pants caused by his recollection was disturbing to say the least. Frank wanted to run away screaming, but he and his two young guests were transfixed.

“The boy probably sounded like you did when they fried your brain, Sparky. I always did enjoy a good electrocution, especially when a paedophile like you gets fried. They should never have gotten rid of the death penalty,” the man with a face like an exploded melon said. “If I’d been on death row I would have lived longer and had a better last meal.”

“I might have been fried, Pretty Boy, but at least I didn’t get a beat down like a bitch in the prison yard.”

“Fuck you! Those guys were a bunch of cowards and I took a few of them with me.”

“Who are you calling a coward? I gave you that face,” said the man with a missing eye.

“And I took your eye for your trouble. So I guess we’re even, One-Eyed Jack.”

“Not by a long shot. It took me a week to die from an infection thanks to your dirty finger nails. Do you know how crap it is to die in a prison hospital? My nurse was a horny inmate with a cock like a bull who thought it would be funny to rape me while I was in a coma. My arse still hurts. You and I will never be even.”

“Do we have to go through this every year? For twenty years I’ve been listening to you idiots moan about the same shit. Can’t we just kill a few people and enjoy our weekend without all the other crap?” Asked a man with rope burn marks around his neck and blood shot eyes. There was something familiar about him. Frank was sure he’d seen his face before. A memory scratched at the edge of his brain.

“Speaking of victims,” One-Eyed Jack said. “Slim pickings this year. You really picked a crap spot. I told you we should have gone to Knysna. There are tourists there all year round.”

“You can choose any spot you like when it’s your turn, but I had the pleasure of raping the slut who used to own this place upstairs in her bed. She was my first. I made her boyfriend watch before I slit his throat. She came to say goodbye at my execution with my kid on her hip. She smiled and made my son wave goodbye when they made me do the hangman’s jig. This house has a special place in my heart,” the man with the rope burn said as he looked around the room and nodded. “Good memories here.”

Frank’s grandmother had never spoken of what had happened to her when she was a girl, but he’d seen old newspaper clippings in the attic. That was why the man’s face was familiar. He’d seen his face in those old clippings and it was his father’s face. What had happened all those years ago was something nobody in the family ever talked about. No-one spoke about the fact that his grandmother never married or that his father had been born nine months after the rape. She’d kept her son when most women would have given him up for adoption. Sometimes he wondered if it wouldn’t have been better for his father if she’d done that, though. Knowing that he’d been the product of rape and the offspring of a notorious serial killer had haunted his father all his life.

“And here’s the fruit of my loins. He’s a disappointing sight, isn’t he?” The ghost of his serial killer grandfather said. “Must take after his mother’s side of the family. Doesn’t look a thing like me.”

“Lucky for him,” said One-Eyed Jack. “I thought this was supposed to be our reunion not a family one.”

“It’s not a family reunion, just some unfinished business.”

“What unfinished business?” Sparky asked.

“That’s between the kid and me,” his grandfather said as he put his empty whisky glass down and walked towards Frank with a panga in his hand. A bolt of lightning struck one of the trees outside the parlour window. The windows rattled from the blast. An orange glow emanated from the flames as they licked the dry tree branches. Frank hoped the rain would put out the blaze, he didn’t foresee any fire fighting in his immediate future. As his grandfather walked towards him his future looked short and bloody. The girl screamed as One-eyed Jack pulled her towards him. The boy tried to punch Sparky’s leering face, but his fist passed right through what should have been solid matter.

“Hey,” Pretty Boy said. “Where’s mine?”

“Up-stairs, asleep on the old slut’s bed,” Frank’s grandfather said. “She’s waiting just for you and she probably hasn’t seen any action in the last twenty years.”

Pretty Boy’s laughter as he ran up the stairs to find Bettie stirred Frank’s watery bowls.

“Just don’t piss yourself,” his grandfather said over the sound of Bettie’s and the girls screams. “Me and the boys get together every year and remember the good old days when we were alive and killing our way across this country. We have fun together, just like we used to,” he said as he put his arm around Frank’s shoulder. Frank got a whiff of old blood as his grandfather waved the panga around under his nose. “Your grandmother was a slut and I should have killed her the night I put my seed in her belly. I should have come back when I found out she was having my bastard, but the cops stopped me before I could. I let your father live because he, at least, was a man. That little wife of his knew what would happen if she didn’t respect him. He knew how to give her a good slap if she stepped out of line. But you, my boy, are a disappointment. Look at yourself. You’re a disgrace.”

Blood sprayed the curtains as One-Eyed Jack and Sparky sliced and diced the young couple. Bettie’s screams came to an abrupt end followed by the sound of Pretty Boy’s gurgled laughter. Frank watched as his grandfather brought the panga down on his neck. His own, short lived, screams were accompanied by the sound of the rain and thunder.

“Don’t worry, Son. That wife of yours won’t live here for long. The boys and I’ll pay here a visit next year on our way down to Knysna.” His grandfather stared down at him as his blood pumped out of his severed artery. He drifted off to the sound of laughter, glasses clinking, and rolling thunder.

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This story was originally published in Tales from The Lake Vol 1.

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Short Horror Fiction

Hello my Freaky Darlings, Last week we chatted about crafting horror, this week we’ll be talking about writing short horror fiction.

This article also appeared in Horror 101: The Way Forward.

‘If a novel is a feature film, a short story is a single scene and a poem a single frame. The shorter the segment, the more attention will be paid to the picture you’re painting. The shorter the piece, the more certain you should be that every detail is compelling and engaging and has a place in the scene.’Louis Greenberg (aka the other half of S.L. Grey), author of The Mall 

A short story is by its very nature focused and compact. Every paragraph, every sentence, every word has to have an impact on the story. If it doesn’t move the story forward – get rid of it. When writing a short story, long winded, flowering prose is unnecessary. The least possible amount of words are used to describe the settings and characters. Your writing needs to be tight. This also holds true for novellas and novels. The tighter your writing in any situation, the better your book or story will be.

I’ve found that using a lot of dialogue in short stories really helps to move things along as well as  with introducing and developing characters. A character can be described quite well by the things they say. Dialogue cuts out on long descriptive passages.

When writing a novel, you have a few scenes to set your characters and the scene up, but with a short story you have to drop your reader right in the middle or as close to the action as possible. Your suspense build up needs to be quick, but still slow enough to build the suspense that keeps your reader guessing. It’s a hard balancing act, but the art of writing a short story requires that delicate balance.

In the horror industry there are quite a few magazines, ezines, and websites that accept short story submissions and some of them pay quite well. There are also quite a few anthologies that are regularly looking for submissions. They’re a great way to get your name out there. If someone’s read one of your short stories in one of those magazines or anthologies, chances are they’ll go out and get that novel you’ve written. Short stories are also a great way to hone your craft while you work on your novel and earn some cash at the same time.

Short stories are easier to sell than longer ones, especially for newbie writers. Short stories take up less print space in magazines. Readers also have a short attention span (especially on-line). Read  the submissions guidelines before you submit any story. If your story is over their word limit chances are they won’t accept it. The same goes for being under their minimum word count. As a rule of thumb I’ve found that the magazines and ezines want stories of between 2000 to 3000 words and anthologies want slightly longer stories of between 5000 to 7000 words. But seriously, read their submissions guidelines.

I would also suggest taking a long hard look at all the different markets (magazines, ezines, and anthologies) that are looking for short stories before you submit. Who have they published before? How long have they been running? How much do they pay per word? Is it a publication you’d be proud to be in? What do you want out of the deal? Are you just looking for exposure? Or are you only interested in a pay day? Who is the editor? Has the editor been around for a while or are they a fly by nighter? If you’re happy with the answers to these questions, then go ahead and submit. I’d also suggest having a few stories out doing the submissions rounds. It takes some of the pressure off of having just one out.

Then there’s the themed anthology. Just be aware that if you submit to one of these and your story doesn’t get picked up, it may be harder to sell somewhere else. A good idea is to have more than one theme to your story so it’ll still work for another publication and you’re not stuck with a story you can’t sell. The nice thing I’ve found with the themed anthologies is that it does give you a place to start, a jumping off point especially if you’re struggling to come up with an idea. Some of them have some really nice ideas and even if I don’t submit for it, I keep the idea in my ideas file for a later date.

Having an ideas file works well for short stories as well as novels. If I get one of those eureka moments while I’m working on another project, I make a note of the idea, a pretty detailed note, and file it away for later use. Those ‘what if’ scenarios often find their way in to it.

If you haven’t already tried your hand at writing a short story, I suggest you go write one right now. That’s the nice thing about short stories, they don’t take long to write. A novel can take years to finish, but a short story can be churned out in a day or two and be on an editor’s desk a couple days later. Talk about instant gratification. Short stories are perfect for the modern age.

Recommended Reading

And of course any of the anthologies that I have stories in which can be found listed to the right of this page.

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Tales from the Lake

Tales from the LakeFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Crystal Lake Publishing
Email: crystallakepub@gmail.com

www.crystallakepub.com

Tales From the Lake Horror Writing competition winners join Graham Masterton and other horror greats in newest anthology.

Dive into fourteen tales of non-themed horror, with short stories and dark poems by some of the best horror writers in the world, including a story by the master himself, Graham Masterton.
Allow the very first instalment of Tales From the Lake to transport you to lakeside terror in Lover, Come Back to Me, Lady of Lost Lake, and Game On; journey to the basement of your local pet store in Dead Pull and your neighbourhood pub in O’Halloran’s; visit the apocalypse in Devil’s Night; travel to Africa in Witch-Compass and The Reunion; spend time with talking dolls in Don’t Look at Me; experience the horrors of drug addiction from close up in Junksick; and climb a ladder to the heavens in Perrollo’s Ladder.
Tales From the Lake Vol.1 includes the winning stories from the 2013 Tales From the Lake Horror Writing Competition: a nautical tale in Jenn Loring’s The Art of Wrecking; a bizarre story of strange addictions in J. Daniel Stone’s Alternative Muses; and a cult horror story in the jungles of South America in William Ritchey’s Las Maquinas.

Introduction by Rocky Wood – president of the HWA.
Artwork by award winning artist Ben Baldwin.
Edited by Joe Mynhardt.

Book info:
Tales From the Lake Vol.1
Theme: Non-themed, but with a touch of lake-side terror and camp stories.
Fourteen horror short stories and two poems
Published by Crystal Lake Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-9922272-8-9 (paperback); 978-0-9922272-7-2 (Kindle)
288 pages
The paperback will sell at $12.99 and the eBook at $4.99

APPEARANCES and EVENTS:
Eight radio ads will be played on Nightwatch Radio, JackalopeRadio.com and several other online radio stations.
Various stories from the collection will be read on the Tales to Terrify Podcast.
Various online media outlets will promote the release, including This Is Horror, Hellnotes, The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog, and Promote Horror.
Events will also take place on several online forums: FB, Twitter, Google+, MyWritersCircle.com, Goodreads, Shocklines, HWA Forum, and Permuted Press.
A Goodreads giveaway will take place 2 weeks before the launch.
Guest blogs and interviews will be posted almost daily on the Crystal Lake Publishing blog.

New Release: Gary McMahon’s Where you Live

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Where You LiveNow available: Gary McMahon’s Where You Live in paperback and Kindle. (http://getBook.at/WhereYouLive)

“Gary McMahon is a spellbinding storyteller.” – Graham Joyce

“Gary McMahon’s horror is heartfelt, his characters flawed and desperate…” – Tim Lebbon

“Gary McMahon is one of the finest of a new breed of horror writers.” – Steve Rasnic Tem

Horror is everywhere…

It’s waiting behind a closed door, sitting in an ordinary chair, or following you on a country walk. Perhaps it’s washed up on a tranquil beach, hanging at a local skate park, recorded on an MP3 player hard drive, or even embedded somewhere deep within the design of something as simple and innocuous as a supermarket barcode.
Horror is everywhere, in the shadows and in the light.
It takes on every shape, comes in every conceivable size.
But most of all it’s right where you live.

Author: Gary McMahon

Published by: Crystal Lake Publishing

Cover by: Ben Baldwin

Interior artwork for the paperback by: Niall Parkinson

eBook formatting by: Robert Swartwood

Edited by: Joe Mynhardt

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18970903-where-you-live

“Horror – but full of emotion and substance. A real commentary on the human experience.” – Kevin Lucia, author of Things Slip Through

“The latest collection from the prolific pen of Gary McMahon takes twelve stories from his sold out, very limited, collection It Knows Where You Live and adds to these an additional seven stories. McMahon is a great proponent of the short story and the selection on offer here maintains his reputation for strong, emotionally impactful fiction.” – Ross Warren, Dark Minds Press

What Gary has to say: http://www.garymcmahon.com/2013/12/where-you-live.html

Noir Carnival Launches Today

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

WEBNoir Carnival launch poster A3

Noir Carnival is officially available today!

Dark’s Carnival has already left town, but it’s left a fetid seed behind. There’s a transgressive magic that spooks the carnies and unsettles the freaks. Beyond the barkers and the punters, behind the lights and tents where the macabre and the lost find refuge, there’s a deformity that has nothing to do with skin and bones. Where tragic players strut on a creaking stage, everybody’s going through changes. Jongleurs and musicians huddle in the back. It seems as if every one’s running, but is it toward something—or away? The carnies bring you stories, a heady mix of shadows and candy floss, dreams gone sour and nights that go on too long. Let them lure you into the tent. Carnival: whether you picture it as a traveling fair in the back roads of America or the hedonistic nights of the pre-Lenten festival where masks hide faces while the skin glories in its revelation, it’s about spectacle, artificiality and the things we hide behind the greasepaint or the tent flap. Let these writers lead you on a journey into that heart of blackened darkness and show you what’s behind the glitz. Underneath, we’re all freaks after all…

You can download your Kindle copy from Amazon.com or order your paperback copy.

Press Release: Piracy by Fox Spirit Books

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Big Fox logo

Fox Spirit is delighted to announce the release of the first Fox Pocket ‘Piracy’.

Piracy Fox PocketsThe order of the next three volumes has been confirmed as Shapeshifters, Guardians and Missing Monarchs.

Small but perfectly formed collections of stories by a den full of talented writers put together by Fox Spirit books for your enjoyment.

The stories are flash fiction, giving the reader bite sized introductions to Fox Spirit and the writers we love to work with. All designed to fit perfectly into the pocket so you can take a little fox with you everywhere you go.

There are ten books to the collection being published during 2013 and 2014 and titled:

Piracy, Missing Monarchs, Shapeshifters, Guardians, Under the Waves, In an Unknown Country, Things in the Dark, The Evil Genius Guide, Reflections, Piercing the Veil.

Stories in Fox Pockets will wander unfettered between genres, mixing horror, fantasy, science fiction and crime. The subjects are deliberately loose to invite a wide range of interpretations. This pocket series showcases some of the wealth of new talent coming through in genre fiction.

The books will be available as a paperback through Lulu for 24 months after the release date of each volume. Ebook releases will take place a month after the paperback and will be available for longer, but not forever.

Fox Spirit will be offering a subscription to the paperbacks as part of a give-away through the newsletter this summer so please subscribe on our home page to make sure you don’t miss out.

More about all our titles at www.foxspirit.co.uk

Piracy can be found at http://www.lulu.com/shop/various/fox-pockets-1-piracy/paperback/product-21044766.html

Noir Carnival

Hello my Freaky Darlings!

web-final-noir-carnivalMy short story, Trapped, was accepted for Noir Carnival, an anthology edited by the fabulous K.A. Laity. It’s due for release in July 2013. Here’s the line up of authors and stories:

Family Blessings ~ Jan Kozlowski

In the Mouth of the Beast ~ Li Huijia

Idle Hands ~ Hannah Kate

The Things We Leave Behind ~ Chris L. Irvin

She’s My Witch ~ Paul D. Brazill

The Mermaid Illusion ~ Carol Borden

Natural Flavouring ~ Rebecca Snow

Madam Mafoutee’s Bad Glass Eye ~ Chloë Yates

Buffalo Brendan and the Big Top Ballot ~ Alan Watson

Carne Levare ~ Emma Teichmann

Leave No Trace ~ A. J. Sikes

Fair ~ Robin Wyatt Dunn

Things Happen Here After Dark ~ Sheri White

Mister Know-It-All ~ Richard Godwin

Trapped ~ Joan De La Haye

The Price of Admission ~ Neal Litherland

Take Your Chances ~ Michael S. Chong

Young Mooncalf ~ Katie Young

The Teeth Behind the Beard ~ James Bennett

And here’s the teaser trailer for your viewing pleasure:
In other news Shadows is finally back in print, you can get the paperback from Amazon.com! And Ray Wallace interviewed me over on his blog.