Part of the Landscape

May 6, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: News, Stories 

gibsonsquareBill Hussey, Joseph D’Lacey and I have put together a chapbook for the Horror Reanimated Tour taking place this May to celebrate the release of Bill and Joseph’s new horror novels.

The chapbook features a piece of fiction from each of us, and is called Echoes. It will hopefully be the first of several we publish as Horror Reanimated.

My story is called Part of the Landscape, and is more of a novellette than a short story, coming in at just over 10, 500 words. The story is based on my walk to work, back when I lived in Islington in central London.

Walking from my flat in Devonia Road just off Upper Street, N1, and then Richmond Avenue off Liverpool Road all the way to Charlotte Road in Shoreditch, my route took me via Gibson Square, back streets, the Packington housing estate, over the Regents canal and across a main road or two. A bog-standard 30 minute route, one that I varied regularly over the couple of years I walked the route as per my moods and the weather, as one route was a few minutes shorter than the other.

pack11These walks gave me an hour a day to lose myself and I would find I was almost walking without thinking, suddenly snapping into focus, becoming aware that I was nearly at work as I turned into Charlotte Road, EC2.

But I did notice things during that ‘lost time’: almost without fail, whatever the weather, old men sitting on benches on Murray Grove. And it got to the stage where I wanted to say morning to them, but I never did, mainly out of their apparent disinterest in me. They looked busy, lost in their own thoughts, and I didn’t want to disrupt this state.I noticed the rubbish and the decay, the graffitti and the animals snaffling out an existence in the urban grey. And I saw these animals, dogs, cats, foxes, pigeons in the same place at the same time, following their own rhythms and their own paths.

Time permitting, at lunch, I would walk for a few minutes to clear my head of work-stuff, always pausing at a burnt out factory that sat across from my office, on Great Eastern Street. The most interesting aspect of this place, for me, was the basement area that’s been boarded up and allowed to grow wild over the time I worked there (about 9 years). You could pop your head through a gap in the boards and get a glimpse of a tree, and undergrowth and loads of rubbish that had collected in layers. You can still see this factory, just wander along Great Eastern Street. I’ve always wondered why nobody’s bought the land and built yet another office block. But, I have to say, I like it just the way it is.

img_2652A couple of years later, now living in Surrey, I was walking back from the train station, down a path I call ‘Squirrel Lane’ as it’s one of those paths where the trees meet in an arch overhead and bushes surround you on both sides, allowing the inhabitants of the green to scamper up and down and all around you. It was dark, about 9pm, and the bushes rustled as I walked by; there was a growling and as I stepped back a little, something barked at me almost lunging from the darkness of the bushes. But it wasn’t a fox, it was a man, sitting hidden towards the back of the foliage, barking and laughing and growling at me. It sounds plain weird, but this is a true story. And it got me thinking about why he chose to ‘communicate’ with me; about those old men, the ageing, decaying buildings , the routes animals and humans take, and the influence we have on them, and they upon us, as the 9-to-5 grind goes on around them; and so Part of the Landscape came together…

Here’s an excerpt from Part of the Landscape

City landscapes change quicker than any environment on earth, so walk to the end of this street and turn the corner; head south for five minutes and Howard entered a half-derelict estate. A blast of wind welcomed him, penetrating his clothes, skin, icing behind his eyeballs, settling in his bones.

Blocks of flats forced themselves upward, monstrous brick and beanstalks with black holes for windows; he couldn’t tell if there was glass in the frames, too high, the light gloomy this early autumn morning. On a balcony halfway up, three high-rises away, a wind he could not feel blew someone’s washing dry with someone else’s dirt. Had a figure stepped back from a window, hole, up there?

A plastic carrier bag wafted into his view, moving swiftly at head-height, a substance dripping from the flapping edges. Again he felt no breeze. He stopped and watched the bag’s silent progress: miraculously it avoided obstruction and drifted into the distance. Perhaps someone would meet it headfirst as it flew around a corner, picking up pace, escaping the estate.

pack2He became aware of the estate’s acoustics, temperature. It was a raw place: the air turbulent but secretive; wind whistled around corners, bringing hip-hop music, at 7am?, on unseen currents that also carried tainted moisture from the nearby canal. A dull thud: somewhere close someone kicked over a half-full can of something. The thud was followed by a yelp, or was it a bark? Startled, he looked around, nobody about that he could see; on an estate like this the sound of a can being kicked was like a battle cry. He was sure curtains were twitching up and down the rows of windows that surrounded him. Was it the wind again, a wind inside buildings? Streetlamps winked off one-by-one as the morning grew. The buildings looked uncomfortable, embedded on gradually disintegrating foundations of mouldy brick. Litter scraped and crawled across the cracked concrete, pinning itself against pointless knee-high fences of thin wood protecting muddy, well-trodden verges and patches of thinning, unhealthy grass.

A muscular dog pissed against a wall, looked over, smiled, waddled off, claws skittering on the pavement like teeth. Steaming terrier urine puddled in a shallow hollow, not enough volume to reach a nearby drain. Howard wondered if the dog used the same place as a toilet every day, eroding both the wall and pavement. All those dogs; all that piss. There was a prodding at his ankles, he was forced to wade through a mound of fast food boxes. He hadn’t noticed them earlier; urban cardboard tumbleweed blown across the City, waiting for the next pedestrian to trip over them, then moving on. Their bright red and white packaging was a shock to his monotone-accustomed eyes; but it wouldn’t be long before the elements drained the colouring into the uneven pavement, like the entire estate, that dog’s piss. The whole City is bleaching into the ground. Fucking dump. He wouldn’t miss this City if it fell off the face of the planet, nor any of the people in it.

Through a doorway he glimpsed an ethereal figure flitting from right to left in the half-light, crouching at low-level, from one high-rise to another: a paperboy, perhaps. He quickened his pace and walked towards the little humpback bridge that traversed the canal, marking the end of the estate. He wanted to check over his shoulder, the squat figure’s twisted gait had unsettled him, but he wouldn’t let himself. His tired mind was working overtime in an attempt to avert apathy.

He passed several sorry benches on his approach to the canal. Of course they were unoccupied at this time of day, broken-backed and empty with a thick coating of graffiti, or bird shit, or both. Their emptiness seemed appropriate; this route was too quiet, eerie. At least there were people on his usual walk to work. Like that old man who sat on the bench; he was slightly more animated than the gaunt buildings in this part of the City, casting their heavy shadows that made Howard stoop unconsciously whenever he was out and about, but certainly less so than the streamers of rubbish that twisted in the wake of countless cars: paper, chicken bones, sticky messes curling and choking, cooking in exhaust fumes.

The water in the canal was heavily coated with an oily grey-white weed. A shopping trolley protruded from the mixture, the weed thick enough to prevent it sinking to the canal’s bed. Polystyrene chunks and several pieces of wood adhered to the crust like croutons. This City’s soup was sluggish, almost stagnant, rich in flavour and odour. The surface undulated imperceptibly. Howard waited for a minute or so, but nothing broke through the weed.

He wouldn’t come this way again.

***

Part of the Landscape is currently only available in Horror Reanimated 1: Echoes, limited to 200 illustrated, signed copies.

Horror Reanimated: Echoes

April 27, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: News, Stories 

hr-echoesJoseph D’Lacey, Bill Hussey and I are giving away an illustrated chapbook to those who attend our evening readings on May 6th and May 7th at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green and Borders Oxford Street in London respectively.

The chapbook will hopefully be the first of several and we hope it’ll prove to be a nice little collector’s item in the future, when our careers reach heady heights, ahem…

I thought it would be nice to share the cover, which was designed by Lee Casey, and contents with you as a teaser.

Horror Reanimated 1: Echoes contains 3 pieces of fiction totalling 25,000 words; one from each of us:

  • Joseph D’Lacey’s Rhiannon’s Reach – the victim of a diving accident conquers his fear of the water
  • Bill Hussey’s A Room Thus Stained – a Victorian vigilante loses himself in the streets of Whitechapel
  • Mathew F. Riley’s Part of the Landscape – a disenchanted worker is drawn from the everyday into an underworld of memories which form the fabric and structure of London

The night on May 7th at Borders kicks off at 6.45pm and then we’re all off to the pub – upstairs at The White Horse on Newburgh Street for around 8.30pm. A customer review on Beer In The Evening states: “Great sausages, great red wine. I’m happy.” Can’t say fairer than that I guess, and hopefully they’ll be selling some nice ales too.

It’d be good to see you there.

These two nights in London kick off The Horror Reanimated Tour – more information here.

Seems Only Right

April 8, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: News, Stories 

seems_only_right2My short story, Seems Only Right, won the British Fantasy Society’s latest Short Story Competition.

It’ll be published in New Horizons in June, but I wanted to show you the illustration that will accompany the story – as I’ve only just received it today and am incredibly happy with it.

Due to the unavailability of a friend or two, I recently put up an announcement on LinkedIn that I was looking for an artist to have a go at illustrating the story, in a very traditional pen and ink style that suits the tone of the piece. I was fortunate enough to receive a great response from several artists, but I opted to go with Robert Elrod, and boy am I glad I did, as I hope you’ll agree.

seems_only_right_pencilRobert read the story and fortunately liked it and came up with a pencil sketch for my comment.

He then inked it and finished it off in Photoshop. Robert’s also written a little blog piece on the process.

It was a satisfying experience all round and I like to think that Robert and I will work together in the future. He also produces bespoke Monster Portraits…

And, thanks to Andrew Hook, Editor of New Horizons, for letting me share this artwork in advance of the magazine’s publication.

Everything He Touched, Burned

April 5, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: News, Stories 

curator_small1I’ve placed all the short stories I’ve written to date over the last couple of years, (which isn’t many, although there are several on the go), but Everything He Touched, Burned is the first to see publication. It’s in the latest issue of Dark Horizons, which is published by the British Fantasy Society and edited by Stephen Theaker.

The cover of the magazine can be seen on the Stories page, but I though I’d share the accompanying illustration with you, which was inked by my friend and ex-colleague Owen Priestley, a great artist, illustrator and graphic designer whose work you can check out in the appropriate Links section. Owen’s also illustrated a couple of my other stories and I’ll pop those up too, when they see the light of day.

The story is the first of several that are inspired by the subway systems and tunnels beneath New York, employing them both as a location, and as a character. It also revolves around the idea that once the darkness of the tunnels has seen you, got inside you, it’s difficult to make the break and return to the surface of the City.

Here’s an excerpt from Everything He Touched, Burned:

That, my friends, that is why we lives like we lives. Ain’t nobody giving none of us a ball contract. What we got is a complete lack of talent. That’s what God gifted us. What you waitin for? Go git it little man!”

Milton’s barked order awoke Julius from his sun-induced stupor. He jumped to his feet and went after the rogue basketball that bounced down the slope surrounding the decaying court.

“Hurry UP half-breed! It only a bit of plastic, it CANNOT be faster than you! Man that was one poor attempt…”

Julius heard these last words trailing off in disgust, thankfully aimed not at him, but at Will who’d made the awful shot. The other boys laughed and echoed their leader’s jibes. Julius sensed their impatience with the quality of their game, and with him. He was fourteen, a Latino, neither black nor white in a predominantly black neighbourhood: the youngest, newest, and smallest of the crew. These facts of his life meant he often sat out the game, reduced to the lowly task of ball boy. He hoped to earn their trust and respect gradually, on his own terms. He’d learnt his first lesson fast: do not argue with Milton, even when you are in the right. His arm was still bruised where Milton had proved his point the week before.

He scurried towards the broken concrete path that traversed the park’s baked mud flats. The ball was gaining speed, gravity and rubber outpacing him. If he’d been paying attention this wouldn’t be happening. The damn thing was rolling into the storm drain! If he let that happen he’d take another beating and be expected to come up with a new basketball in time for the next game. Which was something he knew he wouldn’t be able to do: he couldn’t ask his mom for a loan; she had other priorities these days, and he certainly wasn’t one of them.

The basketball bumped into the storm drain with a hollow thump. Julius reached it one second too late, but the ball didn’t disappear from view as he expected it to. Instead it wedged itself into the space between the discoloured concrete lips and sat there, waiting for him.

Please, please stay right there…

“Man you IS lucky.”

Julius ignored Milton’s distant observation, luck was something he was sure he’d never experienced, and bent down to retrieve the basketball. He linked his hands behind it, and felt something lick or breathe or both on the backs of his hands. He ripped the ball towards him, scrabbled backwards as fast as he could and fell onto his backside. He heard his crew laughing even harder behind him, but their merciless taunting quickly faded into the background ambience of the City.

Julius sat on the path with the ball in his lap, and stared at the face that watched him from the drain.

***

The story was partly inspired by reading The Mole People by Jennifer Toth which gave me a great deal of  ambience, which would otherwise have necessitated a trip down a sewer system. A viewing of the film Dark Days also helped set the tone once the story moves beneath the surface. Finally, I would like to thank Rick Kleffel and Kealan Patrick Burke for their advice and comments.

If you’re interested in reading more then I believe you can purchase Dark Horizons from the British Fantasy Society by emailing Helen Hopley at store@britishfantasysociety.org. The issue looks pretty good judging by the diversity and interests of the contributors, all of whom are detailed on this page.

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