Soon to be Published...

2011 will see a short story of mine called The Firewood Collector published in Carillon Magazine.  The story started out as a 150 word flash fiction piece used for a competition, but I decided to expand the story because I knew that there was more to say for the character of Reuben, the man in the striped clothes.  This happens often; a flash fiction piece or short story just simply demands your attention and more often than not you come up with something amazing.

The Firewood Collector

Green over umber; these colours filled Reuben’s vision, vibrant and deep, reminding him of childhood summers spent in the Rhine valley. Childhood aside, he’d lived and worked in Berlin most of his life, until the war began, and now everything had changed, his life and his world had changed immeasurably.

Sweet smelling moss and pine laced the mist around him as he followed the soldiers along the path. The sky had turned grey, as though sullied by an unwelcome fear.

Reuben collected firewood every day for the camp, had done so for five years. It was a hard task, finding enough to stoke the furnaces and power the machinery. He dragged along a large cart which he had to fill with wood. Sometimes he made two or three collections during the day, which left him exhausted at night, although not as exhausted as some of the younger men in the camp.

They moved further up the hill. Mist clung to the trees like a cloak and veiled the crows hiding along branches, but Reuben knew they were there, he could hear them. The air was still, damp and somehow heavy, and each crunch underfoot seemed to carry across the forest.

He looked out from the hillside, saw the camp below. Square shaped huts dotted his vision, the darkened roofs reflecting the rain which must have fallen in the night. A large funnel of grey smoke billowed from the chimney of a nearby building, the smoke stack rising high into the air. The stench from the smoke stack didn’t reach the hillside, and instead drifting across the forest to the east, drenching the surroundings with a chalky coloured powder, slightly sticky to the touch. Reuben was glad he couldn’t smell it. It knew what they burned to make it so nauseous.

He looked to his right, saw the railway track leading up to the gates of the camp. The forest was silent today, but tomorrow there would be more people arriving, crammed into the wooden carriages. More men and women, more children.

The soldier in front stopped, lit a cigarette. The smoke coiled around his face, reluctant to leave. He exhaled slowly.

Reuben’s brow drooped. Lines in his once fresh face deepened. He pointed. ‘There’s no wood here. We have to go up to the clearing to get the best wood.’

The soldier smoked, shook his head. ‘No, here is fine.’

Reuben rubbed soiled hands down his striped clothes. ‘But...there’s no wood here...’

The soldier watched Reuben carefully with retentive blue eyes as he smoked.

Reuben’s grey eyes slowly turned dark. Afraid. He knew that look; he had seen it so many times. Behind him, he heard the other soldier moving about and it made him turn, the sensation of fear scuttling across his skin.

The other soldier stood near a muddy patch of ground, foot on a large boulder, his rifle slung around his shoulder. He stared at Reuben with dark, almost black cloudy eyes, as though they had lost sheen and no light could penetrate them.

Reuben shuddered, turned to the soldier in front. The clouds in the distance undulated and churned, it looked like more rain was coming.

‘There’s no need for you to collect firewood anymore, Reuben,’ the soldier said. The soldier lifted his rifle. ‘I’m afraid you’ve outgrown your use.’

Reuben shook his head. ‘But I don’t understand...’

‘I got my orders.’ The soldier coughed as though he had grit stuck at the back of his throat.

‘No...please!’ Reuben cried, his insides contracting with fear. ‘I’ve been a good worker, I’ve broken no rules.’

‘We know that,’ the other solider said from behind Reuben.

Reuben looked at him. ‘You need me. Who else is going to collect the firewood?’

‘The boys can do it,’ the soldier replied, indifferent.

The little boys, all without mothers, who picked around the camp, clearing up the detritus and the dead. There were always more of them coming in every other day.

‘But I know all the best places for wood,’ Reuben said.

‘The boys will find new places,’ the soldier said, pointing the gun at Reuben’s head.

Reuben stared at him, saw white knuckles on the trigger, poised. Wonderful memories shot through his mind; family dinners and parties, evenings around the piano, going to work alongside his father at the furniture factory on the outskirts of Berlin, getting married. Then the dark memories rose up and smothered him; losing his wife the day the soldiers came for them, losing his children. All three boys murdered on the sullied streets of Berlin. All these elements, all that he was, had gone.

He blinked.

The shot scattered crows skyward. Reuben fell, his shattered face buried in the moss, red over green.

‘Shame,’ the German soldier said, nonchalant. He flicked his cigarette. ‘I liked him. Still, he was a Jew nevertheless.’

More Winners...

Another little flash fiction won a competition recently.  My fellow writing friend Lily Childs holds a weekly 100 word flash fiction competition, which is an excellent way of fine tuning one's micro fiction skills. I won last week's competition with Fell, the Breath, a slight breakaway from the norm of dark stories and instead this one touches on the subject of love.

If you fancy a flash fiction challenge, you can find Lily's blog here:

Fell, the Breath

A mere touch, supple like the haze of Spring and yet so cherished with colour like pale pigmented blossom, I finally broke through her concrete defences to reach in and grab the block of cold quartz where her heart should have been.

I opened the bedroom door; hand gestures and soft smiles unwrapped the delicate ribbons of trust. I watched her defences melt.

First contact of hands to silken skin; the chain that had for so long kept me at a distance finally dissolved. A captivated breath fell from my lips; the rush of love.

I was her first girl.
I wrote a poem called Strength and Honour a few months back, which won the One Word Challenge over at Writer's Talkback.  I'm fascinated with history, so I used that as inspiration for the poem by combining history with myth to write about a hero of mine - a certain man called Spartacus.

Strength and Honour

Graphite shapes stencilled in your eyes,
Seemed to hold back an imaginary darkness,
The sting of your words eased,
But you still swiped me with a spiteful claw,
Our malice sullied the air,
As thick as our blood in the sand.
Juddering heartbeats drowned us,
Like a collective fear,
The stagnant mist of death,
Came, cloaked, and in silence,
We challenged each other,
Braced and twisted and fraught,
Clash of iron and wood and flesh,
Sinews stretched beyond their means,
Two ruddy reflections beneath the sun.
One memory at a time climbed in,
To suppress the beast within me,
A woman and child lost to time,
Whose bodies lay among the reeds
And now withered against the heat.
But the pain drives my sword,
To strip any flower of its petals,
And as sunlight glanced from my armour,
The maiden glare blighted you,
I cracked you open,
And victory sprang from my lips.
Challenged and defeated at my feet,
Venting your spleen and soiling the ground,
The crowd roared my name.
Spartacus! Spartacus! Spartacus!

Horror Stories

What makes a good horror story?  Well, lots of things.  Setting, tension, atmosphere, tone and a knack of drawing the reader into a false sense of security.  It also depends how much we want to chill our readers.  I write horror (such a wide genre) and dark tales, as well as contemporary thrillers, and I like to explore my dark side every now and then.

I wrote Lonely Hearts for Thrillers Killers and Chillers (published November) which is a dark tale of revenge and justice, albeit in a nasty way.  But then horror isn't meant to be nice, is it?

WARNING: Graphic content - may offend.

Lonely Hearts

She closed the diary, flicked the light off and left the house.

She had weathered an eight-year storm; lost on a cold, grey ocean of unlimited depth and for a long time, bilious undercurrents had swept her further from reality. Her life had been all but a slate coloured mist, except for the needle like pain of a moment in the past that periodically brought her to. This static encrusted memory kept her going because she knew she would find him again, however long it took.

She remembered his face; deep frown lines peppered with beads of sweat, the hint of whiskers poking through sun kissed skin. She remembered his scent; the mix of musky perspiration and beer and traces of Armani. She remembered the heady mix of desire and alcohol, the way he deftly lowered her defences when she least expected, as neatly as unzipping a dress.

The art of betrayal had ingrained in her memory, never to leave.

She remembered his stale breath against her face, his saliva like slime, left on her skin from a tongue hewn from granite, trailing like a snail from mouth to vagina. And his eyes, as distant as a blown star, never burned with depth or feeling. They were dark, indistinct and somewhere behind the burnished facade, a demon huddled, waiting.

She remembered his touch, rough like sand across her skin. He left marks across her flesh, deeper ones in her mind. He had sliced her with the penknife, leaving trails of blood soaking the bed sheets, eking out a name in broken flesh: slut. When he forced a path inside her and split her open, she haemorrhaged crimson clots, while hot streams oozed from nose and mouth.

He had snatched the thin thread of trust that she had forged during their date, ripped it from her in that moment of frenzy.

But she couldn’t fight him, couldn’t kick, nor would she dare or scream; she could barely raise a whisper. She had to listen to the screams in her head while the fear sat crushing her chest like churlish demon.

He worked in a hospital. A doctor. The drug he’d used was Benzodiazepine. It had clouded her motor functions, impeded thought and she unable to stop him and at first, she couldn’t feel the pain, but as the drug dissipated through her veins and began to wane, the fire in her groin became intense, like a container full of nails had exploded in her womb.

Long after he had spilled his seed and was gone, the pain in her abdomen remained for days, a grotesque reminder of her naivety.

She shook the memory from her mind and looked up at the face in the distance bathed in ochre from the street light. His was a familiar square face, suffused by the swirling darkness which protected him.

Clicking of heels over cobbles signalled primitive urges. Red lips, plump and waiting for a kiss, moved in perceived slow motion.

‘I’m Jen.’ A lie. ‘You must be Morgan.’

Morgan Smith looked at her from beneath lowered eyelids as though gauging her as he cast a probing shadow across her pale face.

As she moved to shake his hand, her shirt opened out to reveal her breast. ‘I have a lovely bottle of Chateau Neuf du Pape waiting at home,' Jen whispered. ‘Shall we?’

His voice was soft, rounded. ‘You’re much smaller than your picture. I thought you would be taller.’

She looked up. Subtle flecks in her pale green eyes bristled beneath the dull light. ‘Everyone says that.’ Her attention dropped to his left hand as he moved. The gold wedding band glinted. Her eyes narrowed.

He saw her expression, slipped his hand in his pocket. ‘I’m separated.’

She smiled to ease his tenuous expression. ‘Don’t worry, I meant what I said in my advert. No strings, right?’

The advert in the lonely hearts column of the local newspaper, the no strings fun of two consenting adults.

His eyes darkened. ‘Right.’

She walked along the cobbles, her footsteps echoing through the alley. ‘My place isn’t far.’

He followed, soft even steps mingling with hers.

Ten minutes later, she opened the front door and stepped into the dark umbra clouding the hallway. She walked towards a door at the far end.

Morgan closed the door with his foot. Immediately a shadow rose from the floor, growled, startled him. He stiffened against the door.

She flicked the light on. ‘Oh, don’t mind Jason. He’s wary around strangers, that’s all.’ She slipped into the kitchen.

Morgan gazed at the sleek black Doberman. The dog stared back at him, very still, upright, ears to attention like sharpened spears.

Morgan slowly eased past the dog and entered the kitchen.

Jen had already popped the wine. She handed him a full glass, then grabbed hers, gazed up at him, her green eyes glowing with a strange, eerie candescence. She sipped the ruby coloured liquid, licked her lips.

He watched, fascinated, took a gulp from his own glass.

She reached up and touched his face, saw how his eyes became like polished steel. She sipped her drink. ‘Drink up.’

He grinned, knocked back the glass. She poured him another.

She was silent as she took his hand and led him upstairs. She pushed open the door to the bedroom, allowed the feminine scents to tantalise him, draw him in.

A cool pewter glow from a full moon framed her silhouette as she stood by the window. The darkness crowded them, pressed against their piqued skin. She undid the coat and slipped it off.

Morgan could see her naked shape against the moon glow pressing against the window. He set the wine glass down and quickly unbuckled his belt and unzipped his trousers. Buttons popped as he ripped off his shirt, threw it across the room.

She moved forward, her milky shadow grazed by the light. She settled on the bed. She reached up and pulled him down on the bed beside her; lay close enough to feel the warmth of his body.

His scent tickled her nose. Armani and raw musk. Her memory fizzled.

She felt his hand sweep up her leg and hip, then up across her back, but the sensation was cold, insipid. Hot breath clouded her face as he tried to find her lips, but she had her head turned towards the pale light, her eyes focused on the moon through the half-closed curtains. The cold man in the moon seemed fearful.

She let him paw her.

After a long while of play she moved so that she sat astride him, rubbed her hands down his chest and groin. She could just make out the slight smile on his face as he settled back against the pillows.

She gripped him, thumb rubbing his against glans. From the greyness, she heard him moan. It was a subtle sound, almost lost in the darkness.

She eased forward, reached under the mattress with her right hand, continued to rub him with her left. Her fingertips touched the blade beneath the mattress, found the handle.

He moaned again, throbbing against her palm.

She tucked the knife tight against her wrist and sat up again.

His engorged penis throbbed against her thigh.

She glared at him through the gloom. His face hadn’t changed. His eyes were still dark and barren like a lifeless moon, still the same cold expression. Still the same stench poured from his skin.

Her insides juddered as she remembered him. Everything about him.

She curled her fingers around his penis, thumb and forefinger squeezing gently. She tucked her feet beneath his thighs. She eased the knife from the protective veil of the darkness, lifted his member and without a sound she sliced it at the base, pushed deep into the flesh.

Morgan screamed as the pain shot into his system, although it sounded more like an intake of breath meeting a cough, and he gurgled on his own saliva. He tried to sit up, found that he couldn’t.

‘What the f--’

‘Flunitrazepam,’ she said, cold, sawing through him. ‘Rohyphnol to you and me. And you know all about that, don’t you, Morgan? Being a doctor.’

Tears spilled from his eyes and mixed with saliva. ‘Bitttchh...what the hell...’

Even through the maw, she could see his distorted face, his neck swollen with pain, veins throbbing and crawling beneath his skin. Thin threads bulged in his face, looked as though they would burst any moment.

Something warm splattered and dribbled down her stomach.

She tore the last remaining sinew from him and his member detached. A slimy film of blood covered her hands. ‘Look Morgan, bits of you. This is what hurt me. This is the weapon you used against me.’

He was breathing shallow, hard, the creeping numbness in his body making him cold. He stared at her through his pain. ‘You crazy bitch!’

‘Eight years ago. You answered my ad in the lonely hearts column of the newspaper. You lived in North London. Single white female seeks fun with single male, 25 - 40. But it wasn’t any fun for me you bastard. I thought it was the alcohol, but you drugged me. That what you did to all your blind dates, Morgan? Drugged them and raped them?’ She waved his severed penis at him. ‘Not anymore.’

‘I’ll kill you for this you crazy slut,’ he rasped, his senses beginning to fog.

‘Eight years. That’s how long it’s taken to trawl the lonely hearts columns of the newspapers, week in, week out.’ She got up off the bed, grabbed her coat and slipped into her heels before she opened the door. ‘You might want to get to a hospital, Morgan, before you bleed out. Think of your poor wife. Oh, one last name is Melanie, not Jen.’

It took all of his strength to fight the numbing sensation of the drug to clamp his hand over the gaping hole where his cock had been. Melanie Clark, early twenties, brunette hair, mesmerising green eyes. Tiny little thing. Now he remembered.

Melanie wandered downstairs. She deposited the bloody knife in the sink and washed her hands and then walked down the hallway.

She smiled at the dog. ‘Hungry, baby?’

The dog sat up, barked.

From upstairs she heard Morgan wail.

Long glistening strands of saliva dripped from the dog’s mouth, splattered against the tiled floor.

She threw the bloody piece of muscle to the dog. ‘Enjoy, baby. Eat it all up.’

The dog snatched it up, chewed it eagerly through the flesh and fat. The deep, satisfying sound of mastication filled the hallway and drifted up the stairs like a sinister trail of vapour.

Morgan could barely move. He heard the dog chomping, screamed again.

Melanie smiled to herself, watched as the dog licked up the remaining blood. She slipped her coat on, grabbed her keys and left the house.