The Boy Who Listened in at Doors by RJ Barker

So… while you all eagerly await the announcement of the longlist for the #SJIBFS competition (which is a tough job, incidentally…) I’d like to share with you a brilliant flash fiction from a writer I am very glad to call a friend. Not only does he write brilliant fantasy, crime and horror of his own, he has also been an invaluable sounding board for my work, giving encouragement and constructive criticism and a kick up the arse when required. So, without further ado –  please read, enjoy and let us know what you think in the comments. RJ is one to watch. You can say you saw him here first…

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The Boy Who Listened in at Doors
by RJ Barker

There are Witches out there, with skull faces.

On windy nights they gather in the tree outside his window and huddle together on branches winter-shorn of leaves. They chatter and laugh, flap their cloaks and watch him with beady black eyes.

All witches, all watching. Laughing black leaves on the cold oak’s boughs.

“They’re just crows,” says Mother with her half-sad mouth. “Just crows, my boy, just crows.”

The Boy pulls his curtains together tightly.
not even the mercurial moon
can peek into his room.
Better the dark than peeking Witches,
with skull faces.
Hard, black, leather-skin carapaces
Long dead grimaces.
Grinding and eating and cawing and gnawing.

He has protectors, many and varied.
Can’t, doubt the bravery of Flying Fred Ted nor Keemo the duck that Daddy brought him from the hospital.
When Daddy was still here.
Stick thin on the bed.
The bears hate the witches with Skull faces and he hugs his small army close.

He should feel safe.

Witches talk
And squawk
And screech and cackle and yatter and caw-caw the night away.
Outside those thick black curtains that Mummy, with the half-sad mouth, fitted.

“They’re just crows, My boy, just crows,” she had said as she hung the curtains, shoulders slumping, a pale hand covering tearfilled eyes.

When they first visited – black flecks falling out the dusky sky to populate the bare oak –  Raggedy capes making excellent wings for those who wish to be something else.

The same night the Terminal took Daddy went away.

Witches have guile, they know people would spot birds with skull faces straight away.
(Make a fuss.
Call animal protection.
Or the newspapers
Get the T.V. People
Or maybe write a book.)

Witches don’t want that.

So they slip their black pointy hats down over their shiny-leathered skulls.
Hard black beaks
Cover hard black faces.

“Just crows my boy, just crows. Where do you get these things from, my son?”

Sometimes, the caw-cawing and yattering starts to swirl in his head, stops being squawks and screeches and becomes words.

Always the same.

Taunting, teasing, sneering, squealing, high pitched, rakkety-ratchet old-hag, warty-chinned voices

“Shall we eat the boy tonight? Good and plump he is. Who’d miss the lonely little scrap? Our bellies would be full and his mother not be sad.”

Again they say it.
Again and again.
Each time more teeth-on-glass voices join the chorus until eventually, in a great taunting, teasing, sneering, squealing, high pitched, rakkety-ratchet old-hag, warty-chinned wail the whole flock of skull-faced, witch-crows takes to the sky.

Raggedy capes flap. Hat mouths croak. A dark spiral rising up and out over the city.

‘They’re just crows, my boy, just crows’ she says but the tears in her eyes and the tremble of his lip won’t leave.

‘Daddy would scare them away.’

‘I’m sure he would,’ she looks at the floor to hide her tears as she tucks him in. ‘There are no monsters, my son. Nothing eats people They’re just crows, my boy, just crows.’ Her voice a strangled sob.

He tries to be brave but he knows she lies and pulls the covers over his head and curls up, folding in his fear and pain with ganglion arms.

Monsters are real.

‘I’m sorry, Mrs Taylor,’ said the doctor. ‘There’s nothing we can do. It’s eating him away.’

* * *

RJ Barker is slightly eccentric and lives in Yorkshire with his wife, two year old son and a constantly growing collection of poor quality taxidermy. His short fiction has been published in all manner of places (including charity anthology ‘Off the Record 2: At the Movies‘) and received three honourable mentions in, ‘The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror’. RJ’s illustrated poems (together with Mikko Sovijarvi) ‘Interment’ and ‘The Social Diary of A Ghoul’ have received pretty good reviews (like, here) and are available through Amazon for electronic readers. A paper version is planned soon.

He’s recently signed with Literary agent Robert Dinsdale of Dinsdale Imber and is working on something a bit longer.

You can find RJ on Twitter as @dedbutdrmng or read more of his work on his blog at http://wah-wahwriter.blogspot.co.uk/

When not writing, RJ dreams of growing a huge pair of antlers and hiring himself out as a novelty coat-rack.

The 'Write' Place

Having the right place to write is the only way you’re ever going to get anything written, right? Wrong…

So where do you write? At a desk? On the train? In the airing cupboard? This week’s guest post comes from the luxury writing environment of Keith B Walters, where we find out that it’s really not that simple…

My daughter just came into the room before I finished typing that title – which in many ways illustrates just how difficult I find it with a young family to find the right place (not mention the right time) to write. Okay, so it’s nearly 10pm on a Sunday night and she should be in bed ready for school tomorrow – but the downfall of snow has put paid to that theory this particular evening. She did, however, have to open a door to find me. After many years of moving my working and writing space around my home, I have settled in half of our dining room to give me room, and that much welcomed door I mentioned.

For me, setting up places to work in and around my home has got to have been the biggest form of procrastination I have ever entered into, and I don’t even want to think about the hours lost making working spaces that could have been spent writing.

I’ve always made spaces to write, to draw, or to paint – whatever the current project is and at all stages of my life. When I lived with my parents I had a large semi-circular desk top made to fill the bay window of my room – at that time I was into movie special effects and horror fiction writing, so the large desk top was often filled with all manner of horrible projects at various stages – making many wonder just how I slept in that room.

When the current Mrs W and I moved into our first flat, I earmarked the spare bedroom, with a flat-pack Ikea desk set-up which served for my day job (as a Sales Manager I have been home-based for many years) and my then horror fanzine writing in the evenings and weekends.

I soon discovered that the small room wasn’t really big enough though, and so installed a loft ladder and made a makeshift den in the loft space above our kitchen table where I could type stories and reviews on an old Amstrad 9512 computer (Lord Sugar would have been impressed).

And then it was the move to our house where (in the thirteen years we have been living here) I would guess I have had about seven areas of working. I set up a small Argos desk in one of the alcoves of the living room – too noisy when the children came along and then a desk in the dining room (where it was often too cold to work). A few years back we had the loft converted to give us extra space and I adjusted the plans to give a small office space on the landing between the staircases just enough for a desk and chair (oh, and my bookcases) and I was happy there for quite some time – but then I outgrew that too. And, always at the back of my mind was that I needed somewhere to hide away, to lock out all distractions, all noise (if possible) – then, and only then (I foolishly thought) the magic would happen and I would finally write THAT novel.

My dear Nan left me some money when she passed away and that, I decided, was the time to do what I had always wanted, which was to build a special place, a shed at the end of the garden, a place just for me, for my books and for my writing. The shed was ordered and, over the course of a weekend and with help from my Dad, was built and decorated – noticeboards, electricity, a small desk and chair, a rug (because it really ties the room together – Lebowski fans) and then I was good to go!

Keith's Writing Shed

Well, that was the plan….but then it rained, it rained a lot. And then the kids wanted help with homework after school and started to go to bed later and, before I knew it, it was always after 9pm before I could even contemplate skulking up the garden path in the dark and the wet and the with a laptop under my arm to start anything and, did I mention, I was tired?

And so, although my lovely little writing shed is there, and I do intend to get a lot of use out of it someday, for now I have remained inside – returned to the dining room, another new desk (a nice one from Staples this time with one tower of drawers for work related stuff and the other for writing stuff), and I close the door when I want to get things done.

All that said, and despite the fact that I write mainly here, in this one place, I have come to terms that, in order to get things done, I am having to be much more flexible with my writing space. I now carry a notebook at all times at work, I write whilst on trains, I tap on an ipad if I get ideas in bed, tape them or record them on my phone if out and without paper for any reason. I use coffee breaks when out at work to split between half working on work emails and then some time to write some notes on whatever my current project is.

I kick myself often when I see professional writers’ working spaces on television shows or in magazines – they are rarely the huge and expensive looking book-lined offices you might expect and that has helped me realise that the ‘write’ place is just the place that’s right for you and it’s the words and the work that matter, wherever you can get them down.

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About Keith

Keith B Walters has been dabbling with horror and crime fiction for some years, mainly writing about other people’s writing until recently; although he’s always tried to get some of his own work done when time permits.  He initially interviewed horror authors and actors, before branching into ‘a life more crime’ – inspired in a big way by a Crime Writing Masterclass run by Minette Walters (no relation) and Mark Billingham several years ago at the London Book Fair.  A keen blogger, he has attended recordings of the TV Book Club, the launch of World Book Night and, for the last two years, has been ‘Blogger in Residence’ at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. He has stories in two collections: Once Upon A Time: A Collection of Unexpected Fairytales and Off the Record 2: At the Movies.

You can find him online at his two blogs:

Keith has recently released two short story collections:

  • DEADLINE: Seven stories featuring his character Detective Inspector George Haven
  • GOOD FOR ONE FARE:  a collection of crime, supernatural and horror tales

And also a children’s book called Neverville

You can also find him on twitter @keithbwalters 

Pretty Woman: Snippet and Interview #OTR2

Remember this film?

Remember Off the Record 2 – the short story anthology based on film titles?

Remember that the proceeds go to children’s literacy charities?

Well, now you can read reviews of the book at:

Crime Fiction Lover
Z7HQ
CrimeSquad

…and you can read an excerpt of my story below  – enjoy!

*

…Finally she turns round and sees me. For a second, she just stares then she catches herself and decides to speak.

‘Got a lighter?’

‘Sorry, I don’t smoke. There might be some ma─’

She flared her nostrils; reminded me of a bull getting ready to charge.

‘Fuck’s sake,’ she said. ‘It’s all right for you.’

I was genuinely confused. All right that I didn’t smoke? I suppose, but…

‘You don’t have to put up with it like I do.’ She sounded agitated; she was pacing about, one hand on hip, the other waving her unlit cigarette.

‘What?’ I said, carefully as I could. I wasn’t really up for listening to her rant but I didn’t seem to be getting a choice.

‘Everyone fucking coming on to you all the time. Pawing at you. Smacking your arse…’

Now I was intrigued. ‘Who’s smacked your arse? Someone here?’ I instantly suspected Paul, the trainee butcher. I’d heard other girls complaining about him before. He wasn’t particularly nice to me either, but that’s another story…

*

If you want to know more about what inspired the story, you can read an interview with me here

(and with many of the other authors here)

And if you want, you can read the rest of my story (and all the others too) by clicking on one of the links below: