Christmas Horror: Snow Angel

WinterCliff was more than used to spending Christmas alone. Well, technically, he wasn’t alone. There were his parents under the basement floor, his sister under the patio, and his youngest brother in the woods just beyond the back fence. But that was his little secret.

He lit another cinnamon scented candle; a vague attempt to cover the slight smell of rotting that permeated the walls of the house. At least it wasn’t quite so potent in the winter.

This year, he had a guest. There were two plates for Christmas lunch, two crackers, two jokes. He grunted. That’s just what everyone else at the office thought; he’d heard what they said in hushed voices.

The first time Cliff had spoken to Veronica was at their office party a week ago. She’d only been with the firm for a couple of weeks before that, and was the only temp to ever attend the annual evening of ostentatious torture that was the office Christmas party. But that was her. Always keen to break the mould.

“I’m on the payroll,” she’d told him. “Why shouldn’t I come?”

There was no argument to that. They’d stood in silence for some time; sipping their cheap champagne, nibbling bread sticks, enjoying spending time with someone else who saw small talk as another pointless endeavour. And in the week that followed, they’d been practically inseparable.

“I suppose there’s no point in us both spending Christmas alone,” Veronica had said during lunch one day. They were sat at their usual table, tucked behind the hum of the vending machine, eating together in silence.

“I guess. Want to come to mine? I already have a turkey,” Cliff said.

She shrugged. “Could do.”

Cliff had simply nodded, pushing the last bite of his ham and cheese sandwich into his mouth. His insides were doing the cha-cha, but not a flicker of emotion reached his face. He dared to let the words pass into his brain. Kindred spirit.

Cliff laid the table, stopping to rub a spot from a knife. If the table was perfect, she’d know how he felt. He glanced at the clock. Ten minutes to spare.

Cliff flicked on the basement light, the fluorescent tube flickering and hissing into life, and carefully descended the wooden steps. The banister had been missing for years, and he still hadn’t fixed the third step from the bottom.

The aroma was more intense down here, and Cliff closed his eyes, basking in its familiarity.

“Hey Mum, hey Dad,” he said. “I’m bringing a girl home for you to meet. She’s nice, a lot like me. She doesn’t need to fill every silence with inane chatter. I think you’ll like her.”

Cliff idly picked at the corner of a cardboard box. His mum liked to have her stuff around her; she’d always been sentimental.

“So I’d like you to be on your best behaviour,” Cliff added. He nodded, satisfied.

Somewhere above him, a sound rattled through the hall. It was so long since he had last heard it, that it took a moment for him to realise that it was the doorbell. He climbed the stairs and carefully bolted the basement door.

Veronica’s coat was open, revealing a bright red dress that matched her lipstick. She nodded a greeting and stepped into the hall. As she shrugged off her coat, she stopped and sniffed the air.

“Mmmm, smells delicious,” she said.

Cliff frowned. “The turkey?”

“And the other.” Her fingers brushed his. “We have the same hobby.”

They ate lunch in silence, donning the paper hats from their crackers in a sense of either irony or tradition. Did it really matter which?

As Cliff placed down his cutlery and leaned back in his chair, he felt Veronica’s toes slide over his ankle. He looked at her, one eyebrow raised.

“Cliff,” she said. “Who at the office have you fantasized about?”

Cliff looked down at his plate. Was he meant to say her? In truth, he’d fantasized about them all. He’d planned each of their deaths in meticulous detail; separated those who begged for their lives from those who threw futile threats. The criers, the screamers, the ones who fought back.

Veronica’s foot moved up his leg. “You’re thinking about it right now, aren’t you?”

Cliff watched her lips move, imagining the red lipstick smeared across her chin, black mascara staining her face. In the hall, the basement door rattled. Mum and Dad wanted her too.

She stood and moved around the table. She leant forward, placing her mouth by his ear. He closed his eyes from the view down her dress.

“I’ve thought about it too,” she whispered. “You would be so beautiful.”

Warm liquid filled his lap as she sliced his thigh open. Cliff smiled, pain crystallising his thoughts. Her neck felt like heaven under his fingers, even better than he could have imagined. He liked how surprised she looked, her mouth gaping.

 

Cliff stood in the open doorway, looking out over the snow-covered garden. Footprints led to the fence and back, their route highlighted by drops of his blood. His thigh ached in the cold air; it made him feel alive. It had been too long.

He hummed ‘Silent Night’ to himself as he closed the door. She was the most beautiful yet.

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Halloween Flash: Love Letters

SpaghettiLove Letters

Brent opened his dorm room door to Fitch, Mags, and Jake in nothing but a towel.

“Yes guys?” he said.

“Just wanted to get the details for the Halloween party,” said Fitch.

Brent’s parties were famous. Every year had a theme, with prizes for the best costumes, and nasty forfeits for the worst. He revealed the theme to his inner circle with twenty four hours notice, everyone else only got four.

“No party this year. While you kids are bobbing apples, scaring old ladies, or whatever it is you’re doing, I will be doing Kristi. She’s invited me over to watch scary movies.”

“Are you serious?” Mags whined.

“Did you not hear me?” said Brent. “I am going to get laid.” He over-pronounced the word, emphasising it by thrusting his hips. “But fear not kiddies, I hear Rupert’s having a party.” He winked, and closed the door.

“Really?” Fitch slumped against the wall. “King of the dorks?”

Rupert was a scholarship student. Having skipped a grade at school, he was younger than everyone else, and a complete social recluse. Although, not entirely through choice.

Last semester, Maloney, Fitch, and Mags had written a series of love notes to Rupert from April Reeves; the head cheerleader. They’d continued the ruse for months. Rupert had finally plucked up the courage to speak to April, presumably to ask her out, and waited for her outside the girl’s change rooms. April told everyone he’d grabbed her breasts. He’d been known as ‘Ruperv’ ever since.

“Maybe if we turn up with a keg, we can manage to turn it into something halfway cool,” Mags said.

“Not like we have anything else to do,” said Jake.

Rupert’s party was everything they’d expected it to be. Streamers, balloons, lame Halloween decorations, and children’s party games.

“Surely it’s the people who make a party,” Jake said, “and it looks like pretty much everyone’s here.”

“At least we’re not the only ones venturing into dorksville then,” sighed Fitch.

As they pushed through the crowd and into the house, they spotted people with shot glasses. Mags took one from a girl’s hand and swallowed its deep red contents.

“Weird aftertaste, but it’s booze!”

The shots were a prize in some game happening in the kitchen. They were blindfolded before being led inside. Jake knew the game from his childhood. Chocolate coins would be hidden in a bowl of spaghetti, pasta, and onions, and you had to overcome the gross textures to claim the prize. The chocolate coins were simply replaced with shot glasses.

Jake dug his hands in, pushing aside slippery, spongy shapes, and turning his nose from the smell. His fingers felt the hard edge of a glass, and he pulled it out triumphantly. Mags wasn’t far behind finding his.

“Is this hair?” Jake heard Fitch say.

Jake raised his blindfold, and staggered back into a chair. Fitch’s hands weren’t buried into a bowl of pasta shapes, he was elbow deep in the open stomach of April Reeves.

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Monday Motivation: Old Habits…

Monday MotivationOne thing a lot of writers struggle with is motivation. Unless writing is your day job, and actually paying your bills, it can be hard to incentivise yourself enough.

The trouble is, writing is hard work, and after a long day at your job, in education, or parenting, hard work is the last thing you feel like doing. Which, really, is fair enough. But the crux of the issue is, of course, that you can’t be a writer if you don’t write.

But I sympathise. It’s far easier to shut down your brain and stare dumbly at the TV, or mooch around on social media, or watch endless videos of dogs on skateboards or cats playing the piano. It’s so much harder to actually think, and create, and breathe life into something.

We’ve all heard the advice about distractionless writing. Turn off the TV! Turn off the internet! Turn off your phone! I’ve even given that same advice to others. But it’s far harder to follow. I’ll put an old, favourite movie on, one I’ve seen a hundred times, and I’ll tell myself I won’t actually watch it, that it’s just for background noise. Or I’ll tell myself I’ll just keep the internet open for research, or finding names, or checking word definitions. But it’s all distractions, and it all nibbles away at your motivation.

Today I’ve written double my daily wordcount target. I’ve been focussed, motivated, and unwavering in my desire to write. I’ve pushed the story forward, developed characters, and revealed plot points like an absolute trooper.

And why?

Because there’s a fault at our local telephone exchange so we’ve had no broadband.

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WIP Wednesday: Charging Forward

WIP WednesdayYesterday I did some quick calculations in my head, trying to work out the date I needed to finish my first draft of The Visionary for the promised December release. Then I worked out the minimum words I needed to write each day. Then I panicked.

Luckily, mental arithmetic is not my strong point.

Today I used a calculator and realised that, not only is it entirely possible to finish on time, it even gives me some breathing space to either finish early, or (more likely) get ahead because I’ll find it almost impossible to work at weekends.

Anyway, the good news is that my work on The Visionary is absolutely storming ahead today. It’s only just lunchtime and I’ve already exceeded today’s word target. (Ok, so I’m celebrating on day one, and we all know how easy day one is, don’t we?) But I think a positive attitude is important, and by celebrating the little victories, we’re motivated to keep working towards the big victories. That’s my theory anyway.

How’s your WIP going?

The Visionary coming winter 2016

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Tuesday Inspiration: Comfort Zones

Tuesday InspirationI came across a book title generator site that offers up an often hilarious solution to your titling problems in a choice of genres. So I challenged my 10-year-old niece to a story title competition.

She chose her own genre, and I chose a title for her to write a story from. She asked me to choose a genre, but wouldn’t let me choose horror as that’s what I write anyway. So I chose children’s. I’ve never written for children, so I was enough out of my comfort zone to give me the handicap and level the playing field.

But then something happened to the story. I tried, I really tried, but I returned to the familiar, and it came out as horror. I just can’t help it!

Just for fun, here’s my story, and the title she chose for me…

Bunny of the Moon

As Hannah slammed her bedroom door, the following ripples along the wall knocked two books from her shelf, and dropped a photo frame onto its glass front. Groaning, she dropped forwards onto her bed and screamed into the pillow.

Everything about their new house was awful. Everything about their new town was awful. It didn’t bode well for Hannah starting her new school next week. The whole house had a funny smell, her parents were stricter here, and her little brother even managed to squeeze a little bit more annoying out of his already more than frustrating personality. But worst of all, her best friend, the only person who understood her, and the only other person who knew about Bunny was no longer living across the street. She was more than 300 miles away. Was it so unreasonable to want to Skype her? To let her know that she was ok, that she missed her, that this new town totally sucked.

Hannah couldn’t believe that her internet ban was still in place. It had been imposed back home, back in her real home, surely it didn’t still count. She had to be able to Skype Cassie. For all Cassie knew, she could be dead. Lying in a ditch at the side of the road, or abducted and being held prisoner. Was it really so much to ask for just five minutes to chat? Apparently so.

* * *

Two hours later, a gentle knock at the door roused Hannah from her boredom-induced nap.

“Are you coming down for something to eat?” came her mum’s voice.

Hannah replied with a grunt.

“We ordered in pizza. We’ve got your favourite.”

Were her parents really trying to bribe her with pizza? “I don’t care,” she called back.

The door creaked open just a tiny bit.

“You’re invading my space,” Hannah groaned.

Unrelenting, her mother’s foot appeared, and then a hand, and finally a face. “Sure you don’t want pizza?” She waved the pizza box back and forth, filling the room with the mouthwatering scent of melted cheese and still-sizzling peperoni.

Hannah rolled away from the temptation. “No. I don’t.”

She heard her mum sigh, pad across the room in the ugly pink slippers she insisted on wearing, and felt her weight settle onto the bed.

“I know how you feel,” Hannah’s mum said.

“No you don’t.”

“I do. When I was your age, my parents moved us a long way from home too. I left everyone behind. But you know what?”

Hannah sat up. “I know. You soon made new friends, loved your new home, and forgot all about the people you’d left behind.”

Her mum smiled and then shook her head. “No. I hated that new place. Sure, I made new friends, but I never stopped missing home. And we didn’t have luxuries like Skype and Facebook back then. Me and my best friend wrote to each other every week for more than two years. But the letters became less frequent and, finally, stopped altogether. But I never forgot her. I still have all her letters in a box somewhere.”

“So what did you do?”

Hannah’s mum stood up, leaving the pizza box on the bed, and crossed to the window to pull open the curtains. “I looked at the moon and the stars.”

Hannah slipped a slice of hot pizza from the box and cradled it in her hands. She moved from the bed and stood next to her mum.

“It’s the same moon you looked at before, and the same moon that Cassie’s looking at too. No matter how far away you are, there are some things that will always stay the same.” She ruffled Hannah’s hair. “Why don’t you set up your telescope?”

* * *

Hannah peered through the eyepiece and focussed her scope on the moon. It was the same moon, the same pits and craters, the same shadows and ridges. And there was Bunny. Poor, abandoned Bunny.

When Bunny had been new at their school, with her dorky plaits, her clunky shoes, her geeky glasses, Hannah and Cassie had latched onto her straight away. She taught them about the moon, the stars, the solar system. She taught them how to use telescopes, and taught them about orbits, rockets, and propulsion. They almost liked her. Almost. But she was everything they hated. Everything they hated about who they had once been. Everything they tried to escape from. So she had to go. A one-way mission to the moon.

Hannah sat back from the telescope and smiled. However lonely she might feel, she’d never be as alone as Bunny.

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Monday Motivation: Unexpected Opportunities

Monday MotivationIsn’t it funny the way that opportunities seem to be more likely to present themselves when you’re not looking for them? Like luck, love, buses.

My husband was chatting about me to a guy he’s been working with recently, a guy whose wife happens to be something of a voracious reader. She downloaded The Bottle Stopper, read it in just a few days, and then went on to buy the next book in the series; The Matching. She’s now looking forward to book three’s release.

In the same vein, I was talking to someone this morning, someone from my personal life and completely unrelated to my writing, and they had a proposal for me. A ghost writing opportunity. Completely out of the blue, but I’m really excited about it.

So the lesson is this: talk to people, be open to opportunities, and say yes, even when they take you by surprise.

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