Flash Fiction: Emotional Labours

hauntedhouse

Some gothic horror fun for Hallowe’en. Cross posted from Medium. Happy Hallowe’en to everyone who follows this blog.

There are subjects in every family which are not spoken of. In mine, it is my father’s death. Since my father died when I was five, spending time with my family has been a chore. The manner of his death was ridiculous, because my father cannot do anything that is not ridiculous, but also more ridiculous is the pretence his death never happened. Inevitably the whole charade will slip, he’ll walk through a wall without thinking or drip the ectoplasmic remnants of the puddle he died in all over the hall floor and my mother will loose another piece of her favourite china at the kitchen wall.

We have always spoken of my mother’s nerves but really it is my mother’s anger that hangs over us and makes my father’s death an impossibility. I suspect they would both be happier if he were simply allowed to pass in the ordinary way. She has always found him the most infuriating person and her anger has always brought out the worst in him. But I’ve noticed as I get older that people are prone to falling into habits and in time those habits become cages. So it was with my parents.

Those of you who are eldest children will understand there are certain emotional labours which befall us, to which our younger siblings are blithe, if not entirely oblivious.

Unfortunately, my younger brother and sister had invited me to a family get together which I felt obliged to attend.

My sister, Millicent, sent a handcrafted invitation to each of the family, even though most of them are still in residence in the old family home. My brother, Algernon, phoned me to ensure I’d received mine and spent a painful fifteen minutes extracting praise from me which he would pass on to her. She included my partner, Francis, but I refuse to involve him in our ludicrous affairs, having carved out a small niche that is entirely apart from them.

I suspect my siblings have become somewhat deranged over the years, maintaining their blithe spirit.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to fix them for you?” Francis asked, as I picked up my sword cane and made for the door. Outside, the rain poured down in a solid sheet and the taxi driver tapped the steering wheel impatiently.

I stood on the threshold and sucked in a breath. “They’re still my family.”

“Is that not rather the point?” Francis asked. He did away with his own many years ago without a great deal of fuss. The police have still to find any suspects, though they nebulously blame the act on occult practices. He considered me from under his heavy brow and then with a wave of a hand, added, “Well, if you change your mind….”

“Of course,” I said non-commitally. He is wont to fly into a funk if he thinks I’m at all critical of his life choices.

I found some consolation in shutting down all small talk on the taxi ride over. I caught myself sliding the blade from my cane absent-mindedly when it winked at me in the streetlights.

Milly and Algy crowded me as soon as I was through the door of our old pile, deluging me with hugs and kisses which I tolerated for a few moments before setting them both aside.

“Did you like my invitation?” Milly asked. She was dressed as some kind of witch, with her hair teased into a demented fuzz around her head.

I slipped the grey card from my jacket pocket and ran my finger over the real spider she’d trapped there under a plastic coating and the ‘Trick or Treat’ she’d scrawled across the top in someone’s blood. “Charming,” I assured her. “Very inventive.”

“Papa’s in disgrace, again,” Algy confided. He’d favoured a vampiric costume for the evening. “He keeps re-enacting his death. I don’t think he can stop, poor thing. It’s driving Mama wild.”

“Do you think you can fix him?” Milly asked. Francis’s offer ran through my head. Milly meant it in a completely different sense, of course.

“Oh, do try, Gus,” Algy pleaded. “You were always ever so good at that sort of thing.”

I nodded and went through to the sitting room, my cane tapping lightly across the ornate hall tiles. My father lay hovering an inch above the floor, face down in a puddle of blueish-grey fog. He was particularly insubstantial.

His words came back to me from that day. You can drown in a puddle of water, Gus. Only takes a couple of inches.

And of course, I hadn’t believed him. And of course, he had to demonstrate.

I walked over to the centre of the room, where he lay. A spectral chill cooled me to the bone. What had I said?

Nothing. I’d giggled. And then he’d turned blue and my mother had looked up from her roses and seen us. She’d come flying across the lawn.

“What are you doing, stupid man?”

I turned to her now, standing in the doorway. Yes, that’s just what she’d said that day. And then she’d pushed me aside and hauled him up by the back of his tweed jacket. But it was too late, of course.

I knelt down by his side, as I had that damp autumn day, and pressed my palm down on the back of his head. Just so. And she came flying across the room.

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Gods and Insects Playlist

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Vanitas by Simon Renard de  Saint-Andre, Public Domain

I know a lot of writers like to work to music. I tend to write best in silence, which is not very exciting. I do occasionally put together playlists for inspiration (and procrastination). However, I get to be extra lazy here, because my friend has made an amazing one for me, to go with one of my vamp novellas. Here’s the gothtastic playlist for my second vampire novella, Gods and Insects, in all its glory, courtesy of Johnny Truant.

Gods and Insect Playlist on 8Tracks.

As 8Tracks has a weird licensing thing outside the US, here’s a track list, in case anything skips (it does for me, in the UK).

  1. Spellbound – Siouxie and the Banshees
  2. Nocturnal Me – Echo and the Bunnymen
  3. Kill Your Sons – Rozz Williams
  4. The Fix – Bloody Dead and Sexy
  5. The Sanity Assassin – Bauhaus
  6. Figurative Theatre – Christian Death
  7. Radiant Boys – The March Violets
  8. Man on Fire – Silent Scream
  9. His Box – Dalis Car
  10. Lion King – Ghosting
  11. Day of the Lords – Joy Division
  12. Ruins – O. Children
  13. Cernunnos – Faith and The Muse
  14. Penance and Pain – Soper Aeternus and The Ensemble of Shadows
  15. Sebastiane – Sex Gang Children
  16. Sharp Fangs, Pale Flesh – Coliseum
  17. The Drowning – Christian Death
  18. My Kingdom – Echo and the Bunnymen

 

 

Gothic/Horror Month Guest Interview: What is Gothic Crazysauce?

moon-clouds

I invited Jack Swift, my writing group buddy and vamp muse, to talk about gothic crazysauce.

(1) What is gothic crazysauce?

“Gothic crazysauce” is an informal term that was getting thrown around on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. I thought the phrase was a hilarious and apt description of everything I am about.

To me, “gothic crazysauce” describes the ridiculous, melodramatic, yet gloomily atmospheric happenings in certain gothic literature. Not all gothic qualifies.

Keeping a mentally ill wife locked up in an attic a la Jane Eyre is pretty gothic.

Marrying someone you hate, and then abusing her and her child, all just to get revenge on someone else, Heathcliff-style, is approaching crazysauce.

Literally summoning Lucifer to help the man you love enjoy another, as Matilda does in The Monk? That, my friends, is full-blown gothic crazysauce.

Gothic crazysauce is when your characters never experience being happy, sad, angry, or horny—instead they are ecstatic, hysterical, murderous or deranged with lust. Your plot twists are well beyond byzantine. Everything takes place in a mouldering haunted castle, with a double order of bats. Outside is a thunderstorm. There is always a thunderstorm. You flee into it, from the man you both adore and despise, clad only in your diaphanous white nightdress, and lose yourself and your mind on the moors.

Gothic crazysauce is generally used as spice for the dish, rather than as the meat of an entire work of literature. More rarely, brave souls set out to pen entire novels and plays utterly drenched in the crazy. My hat is off to them.

(2)  Do you have some recommendations of this from literature?

I already mentioned the classics Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Monk, in ascending order of crazysauce. The Monk is literally all crazysauce, all the time. Nothing that those characters do really makes sense—unless you are Lord Byron high on laudanum trying to get into the pants of both Percy AND Mary Shelley at the same time.

Speaking of laudanum-fuelled Byron/Shelley orgies, the novelization of the Ken Russell film Gothic, written by Stephen Volk, is another fine example of non-stop crazysauce. I am not going to say it’s actually a good book—but it sure is fun, if you just want to marinate in aesthetically pleasing batshit insanity.

Shakespeare’s tragedies, though they obviously pre-date the gothic movement, have plenty of crazysauce to go around.

King Lear springs readily to mind, especially the scene where Edgar erroneously convinces the blinded Gloucester that he has actually attempted and survived suicide by jumping from a cliff—all without revealing that he is actually his estranged son.

Othello has plenty. (“Blood! Blood! BLOOD!” Sounds exactly like a Christian Death song. Also, if you become so upset that you fall into a “trance” or “epilepsy” from sheer emotion, you are probably staring in some major gothic crazysauce.)

Julius Caesar, my personal favourite Shakespeare play, is a lot more gothic than people give it credit for. In an oft deleted speech, Cassius describes how he “bared [his] bosom to the thunderstone,” daring the gods to strike him down with their lightening. (Trying to be struck by lightning for deity-defying reasons, or indeed for any reason at all, is like the Tabasco of gothic crazysauce—a dependable, classic standby.)

And of course, there’s Titus Andronicus. Crazysauce slathered on your sons, who are baked in a frigging pie.

The delightful play Irma Vep is an extended parody of gothic crazysauce, and as such, hits pretty much every ridiculous note you can imagine. Vampires! Werewolves! Mysterious dead wives who might not be dead but instead locked in the attic! Secret passages! Betrayal! Passion! Murder! You get the picture.

(3) How have you injected gothic crazy sauce into your own work? (feel free to plug anything you’re doing here, including music).

My main work in progress at the moment is a novel called The Conspirators, concerning Cassius and Brutus, the assassins of Julius Caesar. I have been working on this novel in some form or another for more than ten years. Originally it was conceived as “serious historical fiction,” and you’d better believe I did a lot of serious historical research.

But eventually, I admitted to myself that I wanted it to be a gothic novel.

Why a gothic novel? Well, honestly, a lot of the crazy is already there. Plutarch reports very seriously that Brutus conversed with the ghost of the murdered Caesar, on more than one occasion. Brutus’ wife Porcia supposedly committed suicide by swallowing hot coals. You can’t get more gothic than that! Cassius’ greedy mentor Crassus had molten gold poured down his throat after he was beheaded, and his head was used as a prop in a play. The orator Cicero had a hairpin stabbed through his tongue, after he was also beheaded. Brutus’ father-in-law Cato disembowelled himself with his bare hands, after being stitched up from a previous suicide attempt. Not to mention the assassination of Caesar himself! Sixty plus senators converging on one man, who fought like a wild beast up until the very moment that his beloved friend Brutus stabbed him, right in the crotch!

The deaths, as reported by the ancient historians, are just wild. You can’t make this stuff up. It doesn’t just beg for crazysauce. It is crazysauce already—real life, canonical, historical gothic.

Of course, being me, I couldn’t resist pouring even more crazysauce on top of already nutso history. One thing I knew, which will likely drive the Serious Historical Fiction buffs mad if I ever publish, is that I wanted to take the homoerotic tension between the Cassius and Brutus of Shakespeare, and make it explicit. Extremely explicit. And ferociously sadomasochistic, and pathologically intense.

So it was that my Serious Historical Fiction turned into a gothic romance/ghost story/work of erotic horror. Imagine mashing up Shakespeare’s Caesar with The Monk, The Haunting of Hill House, and The Story of O, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of where I am going with this.  I should probably be ashamed, but strangely, I’m not.

One of the biggest challenges of writing extreme gothic crazysauce is maintaining the proper atmosphere and tone. Everything should be dialled up to eleven, at all times. This is probably why the book is still in its first draft.

If you try to write gothic, you will get self-conscious. You will second guess yourself. You’ll think your prose is too purple, your metaphors too dense and ridiculous, and that your characters are acting like Bronte heroines on a bad acid trip. That is as it should be. Write from the heart, the gut, and from your sense of melodrama. Anything that just plain doesn’t work can always be deleted later.

Wow, that’s some good advice.  I should probably take it. And I will.

As soon as I finish up this swooning fit.

(4) Do you think the gothic genre has a place in the modern world, and how would it differ from more traditional gothic?

Really good question.

Of course, “gothic” originally emerged from the Romantic Movement, which came out of a specific moment in history, and was a reaction against the Enlightenment. So it would be easy to assume that no, gothic has no place in the modern world, divorced as we are from that particular place and time.

But let’s dig a little deeper. The Romantic Movement was about breaking away from the overly restrained, intellectual, and reasoned approach of Enlightenment-period art and poetry. Romantic literature was about instinct, emotion, spirit—the heart and the gut, rather than the head. Gothic just takes all of that further, striving to plumb the darkest, nastiest depths of human experience. Gothic is about madness, bliss, extremes of feeling, the sundering of societal taboos, and reaching some visceral, something primitive. I think that impulse will always exist in humanity.

Right now, some people feel alienated from the easy answers of science and materialism and the legacy of the Enlightenment. But many of these alienated souls have no desire to follow the equally pat and easy path of conventional religion. I think a Gothic revival could be upon us—and I am not just referring to the influx of black lace and dark lipsticks to mainstream fashion, although that too is symptomatic and related. There has been a rise in interest in witchcraft and paganism among a certain set of young people, similar to what happened in the 90’s. The Satanic Temple in America has been steadily gaining followers and popularity. Pop stars are aping gothic looks and themes in their songs and music videos—and more importantly, it’s selling like hot cakes. All of these things point to individuals seeking a third path, a dark path, where sentiment, mysticism, intuition, instinct, and desire can be valued.

I might be talking out of my ass a bit now, because of course I love writing gothic fiction and would like to think people will read my books. But honestly, I am convinced that as long as passionate, sensual and imaginative souls exist, gothic will always have an appeal.

So go forth, my friends, and chug that sweet spicy gothic crazysauce, right out of the bottle. Wash it down with absinthe. And then cry.

Jack Swift is a rock musician and wannabe novelist. As Johnny Truant, he fronts The Truants, and plays bass for Cardiac Dream, two deliciously dark San Francisco-based post-punk bands. He is also a queer, trans, polyamorous, polymorphously perverse pervert, general wastrel, and androgynous source of sexual confusion. He resides somewhere in his native San Francisco Bay Area, with his boyfriend and three black cats—Wednesday, Babs and Dorian. Look for his novel Nik’s Revenge Road Trip Mixtape sometime next spring, which isn’t very gothic but does have a ghost in it. Look for his novel The Conspirators sometime in the next hundred years or so (fingers crossed).

Newsletter

I’m going to start a newsletter about my writing, and other related noodlings. I have a link up on the contact page, but thought I’d flag it up here as well.

If you’re interested, you can sign up here.

And you can unsubscribe whenever you want. I definitely won’t be spamming you regularly, so don’t worry.

I’m currently working on a sequel to my vampire novella and editing my 1920s occult mystery novel; that’s the sort of thing I’ll tell you about in the newsletter.

[Vampire Month] Mythic Proportions and Howling Voids by Ambrose Hall

My guest blog post for Vampire Month…

Lurking Musings

Ambrose Hall is here now to talk about his favourite stories and how they have influenced his writing… Be prepared for sticky ends and maggots.

I’ve always enjoyed stories told on a grand scale, with the emotions writ large, the stakes high, and the amp cranked up to eleven. That’s why I enjoy the gangster genre in film—because everything is so big, so extreme, so much larger than reality. The emotionsBFD Wool Exchange and the motivations have the quality of myths; they have that do or die edge to them. It’s possibly why The Wire is one of my favourite TV shows, and Omar my favourite character in it. With a clear nod to Achilles, he pushes his revenge to the edge of insanity for his Patroclus. Characters in these stories tell themselves they have a code, that their world is run according to rules, but in the end, no one else is…

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[Vampire Month] Ambrose Hall Interview

Here’s my interview for Vampire Month.

Lurking Musings

Our second victim in the Vampire Month interrogation chair is Ambrose Hall… find out more about their life in the questions that follow…

  • What is the earliest memory you have of writing? What did you write about?

I did a lot of writing and drawing as a kid. I think most of my writing was fantastical orBFD Wool Exchange magical in some way. I remember being obsessed with witches, as well as Narnia and Robin Hood. I think I was a bit of a goth, even then. I had a secret magic club in my mum’s garden shed, which I shared with my friend. I wrote a lot of poems as a kid, and in my teens, but I’ve lost my bottle for it as an adult.

  • When did you decide to become a professional writer? Why did you take this step?

I studied English and media with the intention of…

View original post 1,409 more words

Novella Promo: Love is the Cure

loveisthecure small

I have a promo running on my gothic novella this week. You can get the ebook for 99c/99p until Saturday in the US and UK.

Linkies:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01BI0T0EC?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01BI0T0EC?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Blurb: Love is the Cure

There’s a knack to eternity. Not everyone has it.

Kerrick’s come a long way from the gutters of Victorian Spitalfields, but he’s still rash, violent, and a demon with a knife. He’s also desperately alone. When he turns Asher, a young homeless man, he thinks he’s found a companion, but their relationship quickly turns sour, and Asher refuses to feed. Through his desperate attempts to save his new child, Kerrick attracts the attention of an ancient vampire who dwells beneath Highgate Cemetery, and he is drawn into an old feud that spans centuries.

A gothic novella told in fragments, from the points of view of five very different vampires.

You can read an extract here.

Love is the Cure: Extract

loveisthecure smallHere’s an extract from the start of my vampire novella, just to give you a flavour.

Asher hasn’t fed for a week. Now he just lies on our bed, staring at the wall. He grows paler each day, taking on an unhealthy tone like grey mould smeared across white walls. It sickens me. The dry dusty smell of him seeps into the corners of the flat, permeating everything with the stink of death. His despair taints my mood, until I mistake it for my own. If I had a weaker mind, it would break me. I don’t know when it began, his despair. One day he looked at me, and in his eyes there was fear and disgust. My touch repelled him. He shrank away. And then he began to shrink from existence too, to withdraw into himself.

“Come on, boy,” I say, pulling him over by his shoulder. He falls back limply. His blank eyes look through me.

I slap him gently across the face and hold his jaw, forcing him to meet my eyes. His lids snap shut.

“No,” he says in a low whisper, paper thin, as if simply uttering that one word tears his throat. I look away. It is hard to bear, even for me. He’s mine, after all, my own creation.

“Let me go,” he rasps.

I look back and his eyes meet mine, haunting pale green, unnaturally so. When I turned him, they took on the strangest shade, lightening from the muddy moss colour they’d been, to iridescent jade. I saw the potential in him, but I couldn’t have predicted the masterwork he became. At first, he thrilled in his new strength and speed, and pushed himself to new limits, testing himself like the sportsman he is. His muscular form was exactly what I’d always wished for myself, and I desired him all the more for it. I’d preserved him in that perfection, unlike the skinny kid I’ll always be, teetering on the edge of unfinished adolescence. Eighteen forever.

I thought of Caravaggio, and Asher spoke of university rugby clubs, still clinging to his mortal world, and those youthful pursuits I’d robbed him of. I wondered then, if I’d made a mistake. He wasn’t the boy I’d thought he was when I’d found him on the streets, desperate for food and money, wounded at heart, like a fallen angel.

Now he decays, wilfully.

It is an act of will, what he does to himself. At first, the hunger wracked him. The nail marks down the lining paper above the bed bear testament to his battle. At his young age, it’s much stronger, that need, but it passes quicker. A few days, and he weakened. I could have forced him then. I could force him still. But I can’t bring myself to do it.

I trace my fingers down his torso, following the contour of his muscles. It’s hardening with lack of blood, assuming the texture of marble. Cruel irony—he’s fast becoming one of the Greek statues he so resembles. If I do nothing, that will be his fate, to be little more than a statue, not yet dead, but dead to sensation— it is existence only in the slightest sense.

He asked me, a month ago, to give him release. To drive a stake through his heart and take off his head, to expose his remains to the sun, to leave no doubt as to the completeness of his annihilation. He imagines me without emotion, that I could end him so easily. There was a time when I was capable of such an act. I’ve put my children to death before—those that rose up against me. I made the mistake of recounting those tales in moments of anger. But I’m unwilling to undertake that course of action now. Not for him.

My eldest child, the only other one who still lives, mocks me for these street boys I choose. He knows I was a street boy once. He was not. I turned him purely for his money, and he’s prospered, as he did in life. I should hand Asher over to him, trust my boy to a more capable man than me.

I pull the switchblade from my boot and flick it open, tracing a red line down my wrist. Asher shakes his head weakly, as I raise my hand to squeeze droplets onto his lips. He turns away at the last minute, and the deep red blood splatters against the sickly grey of his cheek. It takes strength of mind to resist this long, to ignore the overwhelming pull that blood holds. A particular kind of stubbornness, at least. I don’t understand the drive in him for annihilation. Perhaps he believes he has no other choice.

“Damn you!” I snap. I lick my wound closed, and pull away from him.

I slip the blade back into my boot.

Time to hunt.

***

You can buy it here on Amazon: US, UK

(c) A.Hall, 2016