Short Story: The Chair

They’ve taped him to the chair using three rolls of duct tape. It’s wound tightly around his hairy chest, holding him upright against the back of the chair, then around each of his bare legs, fixing them to the two front legs of the chair. It’s gonna hurt like fuck when they pull it off; if they ever do. His arms are pulled tightly behind him, bound together and secured to the two back legs of the chair with yet more tape. The fourth roll of tape from the multipack that Steve found in Kev’s shed has been used to attach flattened crisp boxes to all of the windows, both to keep prying eyes out and to keep them enclosed in near darkness inside. The only light comes from the torches that they both hold, which they occasionally shine in the man’s eyes when they hear him whimper.

They didn’t plan this. Well, not seriously, and definitely not today. But the man had pushed his luck and now it was time for him to pay. Now that they’ve started, they have to carry on. A couple of times, Kev has protested, saying they’ve gone far enough, they should stop now. But Steve is in the zone.

‘We need to teach this bastard a lesson,’ Steve says. He walks slowly round the bound figure, flashing the torch-light into his eyes. ‘What’ll we do first, Kev?’

Kev sighs. ‘Dishcloth?’

‘Yes!’ Steve says. He loves the dishcloth. Their old man was a champion at the dishcloth and especially liked to use it on Steve, often leaving him with painful bleeding wounds on his bare legs when he’d gone a bit over the top.

Kev dampens the cloth under the kitchen tap and throws it to Steve, who catches it easily in one hand, despite the near darkness. Kev shines the torch into the bound man’s face and watches his eyes light up with fear as he realises what they’re about to do. He can hear rather than see what Steve is doing; he’s spinning the dishcloth into a tight rope.

Flick.

‘Mnnaaaggh!’ the bound man squeals. It’s muffled, coming through the rolled up sock they’ve stuffed into his mouth.

Flick.

Kev shines the torch into the man’s eyes and watches as tears roll down his face, soaking into the makeshift gag. He directs the torch down to the man’s thighs, now sporting angry red welts, and he remembers their dad; he doesn’t want to catch Steve’s eye. ‘That’s enough now, Steve,’ he says.

‘You’re right,’ Steve says. ‘I’m getting bored with this… What’s next? Teaspoon?’

Kev says nothing, just goes through to the kitchen and switches on the kettle.

‘Pleeessh,’ the man says, through the sock.

‘What was that?’ Steve says, poking the man in the ribs. ‘You want another flick, do ya?’

‘Nnnngg!’ the man says, and Steve just cackles.

‘Kettle’s boiled,’ Kev shouts through from the kitchen.

‘Your turn,’ Steve shouts back. ‘Hurry up!’

Kev appears, brandishing a teaspoon he’s just dipped in the water from the boiled kettle, and while Steve shines the torch in the man’s face, Kev presses the back of the spoon into the soft skin just below the man’s ear.

‘Nggggaaahh!’ the man says. Kev laughs now, getting into it.

‘Heat it up again,’ Steve says.

They do it another couple of times with the teaspoon, before Steve complains he’s getting bored again. He asks Kev what they should do next.

‘Well,’ Kev says, ‘I read this thing about pouring ice cold water right into an ear… Apparently it hurts like fuck and leaves no trace…’

‘Brilliant,’ Steve says. He goes through to the kitchen, and Kev hears him rustling about in the freezer, looking for ice.

The man starts rocking the chair from side to side, making more noise through the sock. ‘Oi!’ Kev says. ‘Shut it! Stop wriggling, you’ll only make it worse!’

Steve appears back in the room just as the man crashes to the floor on his side, whimpering. He holds his torch towards the jug of water and ice that he’s carrying, showing Kev what’s he’s got. ‘Perfect,’ he says. ‘Idiot’s just made it easier for us to pour this in… stupid bas−’

He stops mid-sentence at the sound of a key in the lock. The front door opens wide, bathing them all in a bright ray of outside light. Julia, Kev’s wife, is standing in the doorway, her arms filled with shopping bags and her mouth hanging open in shock.

‘Kev? Steve? Jesus Christ, what the hell are you two doing?’

‘It’s not what you think, babe….’ Kev says.

‘Yes it is!’ Steve butts in. ‘He fucking deserves it, giving you that third ticket… for parking outside your own house, for fuck’s sake…’

Julia’s expression changes. She walks fully into the house and kicks the door shut behind her. Her initial shock at seeing the naked Traffic Warden taped to one of her new dining room chairs had thrown her at first, but she recovers quickly, dropping the bags of shopping on the floor.

‘Ok then,’ she says, grinning at them. ‘Have you done the dishcloth?’

The man in the chair groans.

Kev and Steve hold their torches up under their chins and grin back.

* * *

First posted at The Black Flag

What's the point of short stories?

I’ve been having a few discussions with readers and writers lately about the pros and cons of short stories so I thought I share some of these views…

Short stories have been around since the days of Charles Dickens, Franz Kafka and Ernest Hemmingway, and of course Edgar Allen Poe. In my opinion, Stephen King is the modern-day master of the short horror story, and writers such as Ali Smith are more well known for their short stories than anything else.

But some readers I’ve talked to don’t ‘get’ short stories. They don’t like the way that the narrative quite often forms part of a single scene and often has a slightly ambiguous ending, leaving the reader to use their imagination to work out what it was all about. I wrote what I thought was quite a satisfying short ghost story until a reader commented: ‘Where’s Part 2?’ It got me thinking – I was pretty sure the story worked as it was, but I could also see the readers point that they wanted a more concrete resolution (if you’re interested, you can read that story here.

And what about flash fiction? The even shorter form of story (of which there are various definitions of length) that is currently very fashionable on the internet. A brief search will yield hundreds of weekly competitions for 100-200 word stories (see BWP, for one), while websites such as Nano Fiction and Fractured West are actively seeking submissions of stories of around 400 words for their regular print anthologies.

Who is reading this stuff? Well, lots of people, I think. Everything is fast now and people want instant hits from everything in their lives, so short fiction delivered onto their electronic reader*, or mobile phone, provides that quick glimpse of another world while standing at a rainy bus stop or waiting for a delayed train.

*Notice I say ‘they’ when I talk about eReaders… I don’t have one and I don’t want one. I read some short stories, excerpts of stuff and the odd chapter online, but I’d never use one to read a novel, but that’s another post all together…

So who is writing this stuff? Again, lots of people. For most new writers (not all, some of the crazy ones take the instant plunge into novel-land), the short story is a way to learn the skills of writing: character, plot, conflict, grammar, structure and the classic ‘fledgling’ error, where to put the comma when writing dialogue. For some writers, this is merely a stepping stone to writing something bigger, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for others (me included), there is a huge buzz in entering the many writing competitions out there (a quick search will yield hundreds of them, all levels, all genres, there is definitely a place for everyone to submit things to), and getting any sort of mention or accolade is like winning the lottery each and every time. For me, every story I write uses something I’ve learned from the previous one, and far from being a stepping stone, short stories seem to be the backbone of what I do.

Saying that though, I would love to finish a novel – and I hope to finish the one I am working on some time this year. But I will never stop reading and writing short stories. Not even if I win the lottery.

Asylum: A Ghost Story

He stared at his watch for the third time and fumbled with a box of matches as he attempted to light another cigarette using fingers that had frozen into useless lolly sticks. He gave the gate an angry shake and the padlock clanged against it with a hollow metallic echo. Where the fuck was Parker? He was about to give up and walk back to the car when a sudden gust of wind whipped up a pile of fallen leaves and stopped him in his tracks. An old man stood on the other side of the gate. Marcus almost leapt out of his Timberlands.

‘Jesus Christ, you nearly gave me a heart attack!’

‘Sorry,’ the old man muttered. He was fiddling with a bunch of ancient looking black keys.

‘Never mind,’ said Marcus. He stamped his feet and blew on his hands to try and warm himself up, then he picked up his briefcase and rifled through it for the property particulars that Parker had given him. He thrust the papers towards the old man. The old man just nodded; the gate was open now and he ushered Marcus through. Marcus tried again. ‘I’m Marcus Skelton,’ he said, stuffing the papers back into his briefcase and now imposing his hand on the old man to shake.

The old man ignored him and started walking. More tired than pissed off now, Marcus followed. In the fading autumn light, the building looked dark and brooding. Only a few windows remained intact. Some were boarded up; others stared down at him with an empty blackness. The grounds were unkempt, and some of the outside walls had already succumbed to the clutches of the trailing vine weed. Marcus shivered. The kid at the estate agents – Parker – had told him the place was creepy; which was probably why he hadn’t bothered to show up. The old man hadn’t spoken since they were at the gate, and now, as they stood outside the front entrance of the building that had once been an asylum, and in its latter years, an orphanage, Marcus felt uneasy.

‘So, are you the caretaker, or something?’

The old man sighed and led them inside. It was colder inside than out. The old man produced a couple of gas lamps, handed one to Marcus. ‘No ‘lectrics,’ he said.

Marcus stared at the lamp. The old man was already making his way down a corridor that in the flickering light of the gas lamps, with the eerie jumping shadows, had instantly become the last place on earth that Marcus wanted to be. But he’d already started walking, and all he could see in the distance was the fuzzy yellow light of the old man’s lamp, and in the other direction he could see nothing. He liked to think he didn’t scare easily, but in the middle of this dark labyrinth he now regretted not taking the early morning appointment that Parker had suggested.

Shit.

He hurried down the corridor in the direction of the lamp, but after a few fast steps, he realised he couldn’t see it anymore.

Fuck!

Marcus stopped, listening for footsteps, trying to work out what to do. He was pretty sure if he just about turned and walked back exactly the same way he’d come, he would make it back to the front door, but the lack of light in the narrow corridor was disorientating and when he turned round, each way seemed to be blacker and more confusing than the other. He felt his heart begin to pick up pace.

‘Hello?’ he called. The sound of his voice echoed down the corridor. ‘Hello?’ he tried again. His heart was thudding now. Then he heard another sound; an intermittent squeak and step. Like the sound of someone wheeling a rusty bicycle. ‘Who’s there?’ he said.

Another squeak, followed by laughter; a child’s voice.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. ‘Co…come on now,’ he stammered. ‘This isn’t funny.’ Another burst of laughter. Marcus stood still, held his breath, waited for another sound, but the sound of his own heart threatening to burst through his chest was almost deafening. He lifted his lamp higher, trying to cast a wider arc of light. The light flickered.

‘Oh no… no…’ Marcus whimpered as the light flickered once more before going out. He leant back against the wall, panting. With shaking hands, he pulled his matches from his coat pocket and managed to strike one on the second attempt. As he held the flame to the wick, the lamp flared bright and Marcus came to the sudden realisation that he was no longer alone.

He couldn’t move.

Pinned to the wall by fear, he surveyed the faces of the children that stood around him. One of them was leaning on a small red bike. The frame was bent out of shape and it looked like one of the tyres was flat. The children stared at him; their dirty faces streaked with silent tears. A small girl with a smattering of blonde curls looked up at him, and as he leant instinctively to touch her, she crumbled into dust. Then from somewhere nearby, came a piercing scream that flipped Marcus out of his trance and suddenly he was running; running faster than he thought he could ever run, blood pounding in his ears, his heart in his throat, away; away from the scream that carried on and on and on until he burst out of the front door when suddenly, it stopped.

His knees buckled and he fell onto the grass, clutching his head in his hands. He heard the crunch of tyres on gravel and eventually, he looked up. A car was pulling in behind his; the lights on full beam illuminating the building that Marcus had stupidly thought would make a great development of luxury flats. He pulled himself to his feet and realised that at some point he’d pissed himself. Cold air whipped at his wet trousers as he ambled slowly towards the gate, the adrenaline that had swept his body already dissipating through his veins.

‘How the hell did you get in there?’ said Parker, from behind the locked gate. He was brandishing a shiny set of keys.

‘Care…taker,’ managed Marcus, his voice shook.

Parker swung the gate open and gave him a puzzled look. ‘But there’s no caretaker,’ he said. Parker glanced around and Marcus followed his gaze. They both saw the abandoned red bike that lay on the grass behind the gate. Another, smaller, one leant against the gatepost. It was pink.

Marcus felt sick. He placed his hands on his knees, tried to steady himself. ‘But… I−’

‘Been no one near this place since… that… that… thing…’ Parker interrupted, struggling with his words as he stared at Marcus with a face that couldn’t disguise his own terror. ‘You ok, mate?’ He took a couple of steps towards him. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’

* * *

Originally posted at The Black Flag

Flash Fiction Fridays

Since September 2011, Morgen Bailey has been showcasing Flash Fiction (1000 words) from various writers (plus a few of her own fabulous stories) on her excellent writing blog. As well as this section, she also includes regular author interviews, writing exercises, collaborations, guest blogs and all sorts of great things for writers. Make sure you stop by and have a look, and if you are interested in submitting, get in contact with Morgen through her blog or via Facebook/Twitter – she is lovely!

Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog

I was honoured to be invited to post one of my stories there last week – which was of course Friday 13th, hence it has a rather dark theme! You can click on the title to read my story The Advert (it is also linked in my ‘Short Stories’ bar on the right). The story will be podcast on 13th February and I am very excited to hear it read out! The post also includes a bit of info about the idea for the story, and a short bio. If you have any comments on my story, it’d be great if you could post them at the end of it on Morgen’s page… 🙂

Happy New Year – Happy New Writing

Hello again…

Well after a flying start at the end of last year, I’ve become a bit slack with the blog… sorry about that! At the end of November I had intended to write about my experiences of NaNoWriMo, but I felt so drained after it that I ended up not writing much at all… So what happened? I bailed. Yup, I’m a NaNoWriMo ‘loser’ so I don’t get the winners’ badge. But am I bothered? Not really.

NaNoWriMo – NO!

It started off well with words flying from all directions. I had an outline of the whole book and it changed and grew with every word I wrote, and for a lot of the time, I enjoyed it (anything that can get me out of bed at 7am has to be a good thing, right?). But then I had a bad day. Then I picked it up again. I even wrote a chapter from my sister’s spare room while I was away for the weekend, ensconced in a house with an unruly toddler and a screaming baby (both of whom, I LOVE, by the way…) But then I had another bad day. Really bad. I wrote, but the words weren’t making sense anymore. I was rushing to the finish line, words came out jumbled and wrong and there were too many plot holes and ridiculous coincidences and I started to HATE my main character and everyone else around her.

So at 40,000 words I made the decision to stop. I had two choices: break my neck trying to bang out the remaining 10,000 words over two days to reach the goal and become a ‘winner’, sacrificing my enjoyment of writing and any hopes of the novel being readable OR just stop, put it away, and be happy with the achievement of writing 40,000 in 28 days, which by most people’s standards makes me a winner of sorts anyway. It was certainly the most I’ve ever written, and the furthest I’ve got with a draft novel. I haven’t re-read anything that I wrote yet. I know that a lot of it is toe-curlingly bad, but I still think it has legs. So for now it’s been stuffed into the virtual bottom drawer, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone for good.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

So the day after ditching the ‘novel’, I wrote something else. A story called ‘As Black As Snow’ for the first edition of the fabulous What The Dickens! Magazine. It starts on Page 25 if you want to read it 🙂

Then I did pretty much nothing in December, although I did manage a post at my usual haunt, The Black Flag.

Then two things happened: I won a writing diary in an online competition on Mslexia, then I got sent a free book from a publisher after I tweeted about the author’s previous one (it’s not released yet, so I’ll keep that one quiet for now – I plan to review it very soon). I don’t usually win things, so I was pretty excited about both of these 🙂

THEN I spotted a link to Cara Michaels’ WIP500, a new challenge for 2012 with the aim of encouraging writers to produce 500 words a day – every day – for the whole year. Yup – that’s 183,000 words. The thing about this though, is that it can be on any Work In Progress (WIP), not just on one thing like NaNoWriMo. I decided it was the challenge I needed. So far it has yielded me two 100 words stories (you can read them on my Facebook page), plus a new Black Flag post here, half of a story that I intend to submit to an anthology and a story called ‘The Advert’ for Morgen Bailey’s Flash Fiction Friday which will be posted (fittingly) on Friday 13th Jan.

WHEW! ANYTHING ELSE?

YES! I was awarded an honourable mention in the Five Stop Story October/Halloween competition, and I am still waiting to hear about a story I entered in Writing Magazine‘s 1000 word story competition – fingers crossed (but I’m not holding my breath on that one – the competition is usually very fierce). They did, however, print a letter I sent to them about a couple of articles I read in the last issue. It was a lovely surprise when I opened the magazine this evening and saw my byline 😉

IS THAT IT NOW? JEEZ…

One last thing… I’ve met loads of lovely writers on Twitter since I started frequenting the place in mid-October… and I am now contributing to a joint blog called The Pyjama Club. It’s fun – come and have a look 🙂

Oh wait, one more… I managed to blag obtain a review copy of a great new book by Nicola Morgan by chatting her up nicely on Twitter (again, not yet published – but I will write a review when it is). I am hoping it’s going to be my saving grace for my entry into this year’s CWA Debut Dagger competition (which I haven’t written yet, but I seem to write better with looming deadlines… maybe I should become a tabloid reporter?)

That’s it now… I think… Must get back to today’s 500 words (or more – I think it might be more… A whole novel outline presented itself to me while I drove home tonight…)

Speak to you again soon(ish)!

Susi x

P.S. I think I might go to CrimeFest this year… do a bit of literary mingling 🙂

NaNoWriMo… Here we go!

Just a quick update on this evening’s activities…

My new boxingwithpencils entry is added on the right (Flip Flop Ice Skates). I think it’s better than last week’s – that was WAY too dark, even for me. In my defence I wrote it quite late last night :-/

Twitter found me another new writing market today: http://www.eclatfiction.com They are brand new and taking submissions for their very first issue, deadline is 5th December, but as I already had something half formed, I finished it and sent it off. Fingers crossed they like it, but if not, I’ll try again for the next issue. Rejections don’t phase me (at the moment, at least). The piece I sent was a flash fiction called ‘A Day in the Life of a Phone Canvasser’ and it was inspired by old people who talk too much… 😉

I made a lot of notes for NaNoWriMo. I got all my characters names, ages and occupations. I always struggle with names so I used an online name generator and also looked at some street names on a local map – it worked pretty well. I also thought up the MOs for the serial killers (yes, plural) in my novel. Sometimes I fear for my own sanity, and I’m sure the postman does too: the other day I got two books from Amazon: ‘The Serial Killer Files’ by Harold Schechter and ‘Without Conscience’ by Robert D. Hare. They’re really going to really mess up my ‘recommended for you’ section…

Must finish my notes now as it’s just over an hour until I am allowed to write my first NaNoWriMo word… clock’s ticking.

Hocus Pocus, I Need to Focus…

So, since my last post, I’ve done a few things. Mainly I’ve tried to keep off Twitter. Well, sort of. I have actually done a bit of writing. I just submitted my 100-word flash fiction to http://boxingwithpencils.com/. I do this every week and its quite cathartic (read the entries on there, and you’ll see what I mean… this week’s is called Gobble Dee Gobble Dee Die!) The first entry I posted won the comp (it’s called ‘Poppy Cock Action’) and my second entry got an honorary mention of ‘Most insane scene’ 🙂 It’s called ‘Automobiles or Whatever’. Note: these are the competition titles, the stories are written in the comments fields on the pages, they don’t have titles, they just have to use the theme and 3 words supplied and they must be 100 words or less. There’s a $5 prize for the winner too…

In other news – I sent a competition entry to http://www.fivestopstory.com called ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ its a ghost story, and a bit of an homage to Joe Hill’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’ (but clearly in no way as brilliant…): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0575081864

I also read one of the entries to NYC Midnight posted by one of my new twitter writer friends and quite frankly, it is so good that I would be shocked if she didn’t go through to the final. It is called ‘The Dispossessed’  by LJ McMenemy. I hope she won’t mind me posting it here:  http://ljmcmenemy.com/?page_id=143

I’ve also been writing notes for my NaNoWriMo novel, which I think might be ok, as I have lots of threads to work with, but I am a bit concerned that I will draw a complete blank when I sit down to start writing on 1st November… So many people are doing it and blogging about it and tweeting about it, I am too easily distracted… I think I need to stay off the net as much as I possibly can!

Oh, and I’m still waiting to hear back from Fractured West about a flash fiction piece I sent them.

That’s it. I think.

P.S. No it isn’t. I also wrote some notes for the winter Toasted Cheese comp (http://tclj.toasted-cheese.com/) – I want to write it now, but I think I need to get NaNo and my other list of stuff out of the way first… focus…

P.P.S. Don’t let me forget about ‘Tournesol’ and ‘Bag Lady’…

Time for bed ~ Zebedee

I just sent in my entry for NYC Midnight. I found it tough again with it being romcom. The story flowed quite easily but I found it difficult to edit it down to 1000 words and still keep the detail it needed, not to mention a bit of comedy. I don’t know why I struggle with this genre so much, I think I just find it all a bit predictable and I’m not good enough at writing it to make it less so. Anyway, it’s posted on the right, it’s called ‘No Cakewalk.’

If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor ~ Edgar Rice Burroughs

Well just after I wrote my update last night, I got a nice surprise. I won this weeks Boxing with Pencils 100-word flash contest – whoohoo! You can read it here:

http://boxingwithpencils.com/poppy-cock-action-winner/

I’ve recently discovered this site and I like it for one main reason. It’s fun. These guys are not about the grammar and the apostrophe’s (see what I did there?) and the trawling through the thesaurus; they’re about good stories… and when you think about it, that’s the most important thing, right? (Thanks, GG – spot on).

I actually had quite a prolific night last night. As well as my submission to Writers Magazine, I re-worked another mothballed piece and sent it to Guttermag. I suspect they might be too good for me, but nothing ventured nothing gained and all that.

Tonight I discovered another new writing site too (thanks, Twitter…). You can find it here:

http://5minutefiction.co.uk/

I emailed the editor, Gail, asking about submission guidelines. They don’t have any. They are fledgling and enthusiastic. Another nice site! So anyway, I whipped something together thanks to a prompt from the inimitable Dr Phil. I don’t know what made me suddenly google  ‘characteristics of serial killers’, but Dr Phil’s handy 14 point list was unintentionally hilarious and led to the very fast production of a flash piece called ‘Careers Advice’. I’d also like to thank my careers advisor at school for the last line. Somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if he ticked more than a few boxes on Dr Phil’s list.

Disclaimer: No frogs were harmed during the writing of this story.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it ~ W. C. Fields

It’s interesting how the thought of entering a writing competition can fill you with horror, pain and excitement all at the same time. While a large part of your brain is telling you, ‘This is crap, I’ll never win, there are much better writers than me entering and they’ll probably have 100s of entries.’ The other, smaller, hidden-in-the-wardrobe part says, ‘I have just as much as chance as anyone.’ So with the wardrobe part fully functioning today, I decided to actually enter something. The deadline is 15th November, its a 1000 flash (my favourite) and I thought, ‘I’ve got weeks left to think of something.’ Well, being the procrastinator that I am, I realised I didn’t really have time to think of something new (except for 100-worders and nano stuff for twitter) because my head is fully engaged in plotting and outlining for my upcoming first stab at the wonder that is NaNoWriMo. So I started looking through my back catalogue of unpublished, un-entered wonders… Actually, someone else has to take credit for me doing the story-trawling (not to be confused with TROLLING, cos that’s just horrible) – the lovely person who is setting up my brand new website… you know who you are.

Anyway, I found something I’d written in January 2010 for a website comp. It didn’t win, didn’t even get a mention (I already took that defeat on the chin, no need to bring it up again) but I still like the story, in fact I had doubts that I’d actually written it as it was actually quite good… So, with a bit of re-reading and a few minor edits, it was ready, and off it has flown in cyberspace to the desk of the writers-online folks from Writing magazine (https://www.writers-online.co.uk/). It’s called ‘Baskets and Buckets and Life’. I hope they like it, but if they don’t, I’m not going to sweat it, I’m going to keep going with the thought that all the best authors got rejected more times than we’ve all had hot dinners and they still didn’t give up.