Thursday 25 April 2013

Dark Fiction - Hot Water

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Hot Water

By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash

Survivor log #27482-EURO – Kenneth Brown

‘Most people have the concern that as soon as they sit on the toilet, get naked or do anything else that makes them vulnerable, that they will be burgled. Or that some other contrived situation might arise causing them to deal with the emergency services whilst only wearing a dressing gown. Few would expect the world to end at bath time. Even fewer would actually have it happen.

I was in the bath when it happened, as you might have guessed. It was a nice deep one, the kind with the water upto my ears and the buoyancy making my arms float pleasingly a few inches from the bottom. I had some lavender fragranced Radox bath salts which were making me very drowsy. I remember having the thought that I had better pull the plug or end up drowning, when a colossal boom made me flinch so hard that as I relaxed again my head thumped on the backward slope of the white bath. I wasn’t sure what was going on, although my whole body tingled and ached with the flood of adrenaline. My ears sang like a wet finger being run around the rim of a crystal glass. Before I could marshal my thoughts, the bathroom window blew inwards in an explosion of twirling glass. Somehow I did manage to get my arms up to protect my face, the only injuries being some nasty gashes on my forearms and shoulders.
The next thing I remember was the broiling heat. I moved my arms down away from my face and saw waves of rolling flame licking in through the window frame and moving along my ceiling. It was like it was alive, an ocean of orange and yellow lapping around the light fixtures. I gasped as I felt my face tighten and begin to itch, so I sank lower into the bath water to escape some of the heat. The air had become thin and bitter, tanged with the smell of burning. My breathing rasped in my throat. I thought I was going to die, to blackout or get cooked alive. It was then that I felt a malodorous breeze on my face and quickly realised that air was being sucked through the plumbing by some sort of equalizing pressure. I moved my face closer to the overflow drain halfway along the bath and breathed in deeply, fighting the urge to retch as the smell of drains corrupted my nose. It was horrible, but I think it is what saved my life.
I don’t know when the fire vanished, my shell-shocked mind was just happy to be breathing and was wholly focused on the source of air. When I did look up, my ceiling was black and smouldering, my shower curtain gone, its rings charred and clinking in the breeze from the window space. I do not know why the fire burnt out. Later, when the fire-brigade did finally turn up, they put it down to some kind of unique mixture of the atmosphere in the bathroom and the construction of the house. They told me I was very very lucky. I didn’t need to be told, I knew. I later found out that one of the fireballs from AST6-75 landed in the field behind my house. It was only a few feet across but I am just thankful it wasn’t where the main rock fell to the earth. Others weren’t so lucky so I count my blessings. The burns have healed now, and they don’t hurt as much as they did. I am told that with time they wont bother me at all, but for now, I have my writing.’


Tuesday 23 April 2013

Dark Review - Jeff, One Lonely Guy

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Jeff, One Lonely Guy Book Review

By Casey Douglass

Book written by Jeff Ragsdale, David Shields and Michael Logan

I found this book at random while browsing Amazon one day and was intrigued by the premise. Jeff decides to put up a flyers around Manhattan asking for people to contact him if they would like to talk. The flyer and phone number soon goes viral, appearing on and spreading by word of mouth.

Jeff ends up receiving thousands of calls and texts, much to his astonishment. The nature of the calls showed a large spectrum of human emotion and communication. From the "You're crazy" ones to people confiding in him about the most personal things. The calls/texts are in the main shown with Jeff's responses omitted but they are still understandable. This does let you make your own conclusions also.

I very much enjoyed reading the book. There was usually something unexpected or touching to be found on each page, and I went from thinking how lonely some people are, to thinking what arseholes some can be as well, often within the space of a few pages. Viewed as a social commentary, it is a little sad that he had so many responses and I am not sure what that says about the world we live in today, where people are connected to more people than ever, but only virtually, and not so much in the old ways. I also wonder how such a thing would fare if carried out electronically. I would be doubtful that such a message on Twitter would have the same effect as this flyer pinned to a wooden pole. Maybe we are getting to the stage that so many people are online and interacting via IM, emails and Skype, that if someone like Jeff goes the old-school route, maybe they stand out that little bit more.

One thing I would say is it is a very short read, maybe two hours or thereabouts. I picked up the Kindle version for £3.99 which felt about right. I don't like to judge something like this by price but it did come into my impulse buying decision, and £3.99 seemed about right for the amount of content, however revealing it might have been.

I haven't read a book like this before and I am glad I took the chance with this one.

Friday 19 April 2013

Dark Pondering - What is your horror response?

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I was thinking today. I know, it is a dangerous thing, but I did make sure I wore the appropriate safety gear. I was pondering what I look for when judging how affected I was by any given horror tale/film. It goes beyond being startled by something, as I feel I get that response from the silliest of things, like the phone ringing as I happen to walk past. I think my own horror indicator is an icy gut. It is very rarely triggered by a film and even rarer by book, but the times it has been triggered, I have usually been impressed with the quality of the fright.

Two films come to mind that triggered it for me. One was the 2009 film Drag Me to Hell. There is a seance scene about two thirds of the way through, and after an anti-climax where nothing happened, the actual happening moments later really caught me out. My gut went very icy, like I had just swallowed very cold water and it had somehow shot straight through me. I would like to make it clear that I did not wet myself, it didn't shoot ALL the way through me.

The second film that triggered the ice response was this years Dark Skies (an average film in many ways that suffered by showing too much of the creatures as the film progressed). There was a scene in the film where the mother walks into her son's room to check on him, and in the brief moment when she opens the door you see a tall stick like figure standing over him in the darkness, the only light the soft moon/street light coming through the window. When she turns the light on, both the son and the creature are gone. The half second that showed the thing standing over the bed triggered me nicely and it was a bit sad for me that the rest of the film devolved into the usual way of manufacturing the scares.

I am struggling to think of any books that may have caused me to react that way, if any ever have.

I would be very interested to hear from anyone else on this. What is your own horror response and what has caused it in the most startling way? Comments welcome below.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Dark Fiction - By Proxy

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By Proxy

By Casey Douglass

Bent over lower than needed to avoid banging his head, he scrabbled around trying to coax the four large collapsible boxes into a shape that was conducive to being wedged under one arm. Finally corralling them together and shoving them into his armpit, he slammed the car-boot down harder than he would have liked and dashed for sanctuary through the rain, the blip of the car alarm system enough surety that the car would still be there when he returned.

He dashed up the steps, his feet sliding on the dark mossy concrete, but he trusted to his own momentum to see him safely to the top. The large black door at the summit swung open as he approached, a wrinkled face peering out at the lashing rain, its mouth falling open as it saw the hurtling shape coming towards it. The door was wrenched fully open and Bradley gratefully stumbled inside, the boxes finally slipping from his underarm and shooting over the polished parquet floor like a strange poker hand being dealt to a giant. He bent over and panted, the sound of the inclement weather finally muffled as the door snapped shut behind him. He turned to thank his saviour but before he could speak a mottled hand was thrust into his.
‘Christ mate, you’re optimistic!’
‘I’m an all or nothing kind of guy I guess,’ Bradley smiled as he shook hand. ‘I’m Bradley Joiner, I’m here to empty my dad’s flat.’
‘Oh yeah I reckoned that, what with the boxes and all. I’m Arthur White, I live...lived next door to your dad. You got a key?’
Bradley patted himself down and felt the slight clinking in his left jacket pocket. ‘Yes the police gave it to me after I identified the body.’
Arthur grimaced and put his hand on Bradley’s shoulder. ‘It must be hard.’
Bradley shook his head. ‘Not really. We didn’t get on or have much in common. He was a bit like a stranger to me. That might sound cold but it’s just how it is.’
‘No not at all mate. Families can be overrated at the best of times. They are fine when they all get along but when they don’t they can be worse than enemies. I got a brother I don’t speak to so you are peaching to the choir...squire!’ Arthur’s face wrinkled as he erupted in laughter.
‘Well, it was nice to meet you Mr White, but I really should get on.’
Arthur snorted as he tried to subdue his own amusement. ‘You’ll need more than those few boxes.’
‘Oh I don’t doubt it. Its just a preliminary blitz through at the moment, the rest can be sorted through next week when I can get the time off work.’
‘Even so...’
‘You’ll see. Anyway, follow me, I’ll take you to the door.’
Bradley stooped and retrieved the rain spotted cardboard from the floor before looking up and seeing the back of Arthur vanish around a bend at the top of the stairs. Swearing under his breath he jogged up the stairs, wondering why he had the luck of having the sprightliest old man in London as his guide.
‘Are you coming?’ the voice wafted around the corner.
‘Yes yes I’m coming,’ and in a softer voice, ‘you spry old coot.’
Gaining the landing, he turned right and saw Arthur leaning out of a doorway and pointing to the next one along. ‘It’s that one! Good luck!’
The old head disappeared and the door closed with a sharp crack. Bradley traipsed slowly along the hallway, the air full of the smell of rain from the small window that was open a crack at the very end. Reaching the indicated door, he fumbled for the key and unlocked the shiny black wooden door. He stared up at the large number seventeen artfully placed two thirds of the way up, the bottom tip of the number one starting to rust slightly. He hesitated before he opened it, his right hand trembling a little. He pressed his hand to the door, the cold wood making his palm go cold and tingly.

He breathed out and pushed. The door gently and easily started to swing open before suddenly stopping with a dull thump. Bradley pushed hard against it but the door was blocked from the other side. He dropped his boxes once more and pushed his head through the gap in the open doorway.
‘Holy shit!’
He heard muffled laughter through the wall to his left. The old coot no doubt. He shook his head as he surveyed the scene. Books everywhere! Tall piles stacked from floor to ceiling, lining the hallway of the small flat. Looking down, he saw that a couple of piles had toppled over, probably after the police had left as he couldn’t imagine they could have removed the body otherwise. He strained against the door but was unable to get it to budge. Muttering, he squeezed himself into the gap and slowly pushed his way through. Once on the other side he kicked the blockage away, he certainly wasn’t going to be squeezing through twice.

He turned again and just stood and stared, his chest feeling tight with a feeling that mirrored the constrictive space in the hallway. Slowly, he walked forward, his eyes half roaming over the book spines, those at least, that were angled the right way. Travel books, self-help, history, cooking, religion, it was all there. He smiled and ran a finger along some of the stacks, excitement tickling his stomach. He sighed happily,‘So many books!’
He eased one out of the pile to his right and flicked through it eagerly, the ins and outs of psychology laid bare. He extricated another from further down, the process of hypnosis explained in laymen’s terms! He set them on the floor and carried on, cherry-picking the ones that excited him and made him want to sit and read them on the spot. His teachers had always joked that he was the true definition of a bookworm, and he certainly felt at home in this tunnel of paper. He remembered sitting on the floor of his first bedsit, a blanket around his shoulders and the wind blowing through the ill fitted window. Aslong as he had a book in his hand, he didn’t mind one little bit.
He heard a faint chime from a clock, either deeper in the flat or next door’s, and checking his watch found that almost half an hour had passed. He tutted as his eyes finished sliding down one last pile and briskly walked on. He reached the first opening to another room and sheepishly looked inside. It was a bedroom, the bed giving testament to that. Around it on almost every side, simply books books and more books. He reached another room. Books. Floor to ceiling. He wondered how the floors could take the weight? The deeper he moved into the flat, the more the smell of the ageing paper got into his nose. He didn’t mind the smell, but such a quantity was making his nose tickle. He reached another room and let out a small grunt and smiled. The kitchen was free of books and remarkably clean. ‘Just when I thought I had you sussed old man.’
The final room was the dark lounge. Bradley walked in slowly, the smell of books mingling with something else, something more clinical. He moved slowly to the large heavy curtains and opened them fully, letting the meagre light of the day intrude into the dim room. The books in this room looked newer, their paper white and crisp rather than yellow and flaking. Neat stacks dotted the room, culminating around the plush easy chair that had its back to the large window. It put him in mind of a city of small skyscrapers ruled over by whoever sat in the chair. Dad’s world.
His eyes settled briefly on the missing seat cushion that made the chair look barren and emptier than it should. The police said that they had taken it away as it was contaminated. They had found him sitting there, a half open book clenched in his arthritic hand, his reading glasses still pinched tightly to his nose.
Bradley leant forward and put his hands on the back of the chair, partly to steady himself, partly to reassure himself of the reality of what had happened. That last book that his dad had held was still open to the left of the chair. Bradley stooped and picked it up, curious about what it was that his dad had been reading. “Animal Husbandry for fun and profit.”
Bile shot up the back of his throat as he looked around the room once more. He’d known this. He had been there. All that effort when he had left the bedsit, to throw out and give away his old books, the hooks that they had in his mind so hard to sever. He knew it was the right thing to do then, he felt more free, less weighed down by the next book to read, and exposed, unable to hide from the experiences and seek sollace in mere theory. It had almost got him again! His mind chafed at how it had failed to remember that a few moments ago while he had stood worshipping at the stacks of his former Gods. Bradley threw the book across the room and thumped the back of the chair with his fist.
‘You fucking coward! You filled your flat with books about everything under the sun and never put any of it into practice. Animal husbandry? How the fuck would you have done that!’
Bradley marched out of the room, unsure at who his speech was really directed. His face felt hot and itchy, like ants running across his cheeks. He stormed allong the hallway, kicking the neat pile of books he had made as he passed it. He heard the thump of another pile of books crash down behind him but didn’t turn around. Slamming the flat door behind him, he strode to the end window on the landing, feeling the fresh breeze from outside on his face. Tears stung at the edge of his eyes.
‘Allot of books.’
He turned and scowled at Arthur who had appeared in his periphery.
‘You could say that.’
‘He was a nice man...from what I knew of him.’
‘I don’t imagine that was much.’
‘He kept to himself to be sure, but was always willing to take in parcels, or help out if asked. He never did no one any harm, as far as I know.’
Bradley sighed. ‘That’s probably why we didn’t get on. He was nice, he was helpful, but he expected life to just give him what he wanted. He was a dreamer. Like me. I moved on though.’
Arthur nodded sagely.
Bradley pointed back at the flat door. ‘Those books in there aren’t just books, they are his dreams, dreams that he trifled with and then shelved, moving onto the next flight of fantasy, never getting anywhere,’ Bradley said, a shiver running through him.
‘There is more to life than achievement though.’
‘Yes of course, there is the social side, community, taking part in the world, but none of that applies here. He holed himself up against life like someone stockpiling for the end of the world, more content to live in his thoughts than put in any effort.’
Arthur shrugged. ‘I don’t know what to tell you. You probably knew him better than I did. All I’ll say is there are worse things in life than to live how your dad lived.’
The two of them stood and looked past each other for a long moment, neither moving or making eye contact. Finally, Arthur smiled and said, ‘Cuppa?’
‘No, thank you though. I think I’m done for now.’ Bradley offered Arthur the key. ‘You like books?
Help yourself. I don’t need them...,’ he said as he walked away, the hard soles of his shoes squeaking on the polished floor, ‘...any more.’