Mark Morris, doyen of all things creepy, has edited a new anthology of horror fiction for Titan Books. New Fears will be published in September and contains my story Succulents. The book also contains stories by Alison Littlewood, Stephen Gallagher, Angela Slatter, Brady Golden, Nina Allan, Brian Keene, Chaz Brenchley, AK Benedict, Brian Lillie, Ramsey Campbell, Carole Johnstone, Sarah Lotz, Adam Nevill, Muriel Gray, Josh Malerman, Kathryn Ptacek, Christopher Golden and Stephen Laws.
The waiter was a young man with high cheekbones, a half-mask of light stubble and a tattoo in burgundy and ochre that peeked out from the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt. He kept yawning and rubbing his eyes. Her mother allowed Fearne a diluted glass of the white Burgundy she was washing her bivalves down with. Each time she heard a boot gritting on the pavement she lifted her head in case it was Dad, but he didn’t appear. Her mother flirted with the waiter, her chin slicked with butter. Fearne wanted to be in her room listening to music through her headphones, reading her book, anything else.
‘Do you live around here?’ her mother asked the waiter. Fearne turned her face away.
‘Yeah, just up the road in Mapleton. But I’m aching to get out. I’m busting a nut. I don’t trust the power station. I don’t trust the sea. This place is a ghost town and nobody here realises that yet.’
‘What’s wrong with the sea?’ Fearne asked. Her mother arched her eyebrow, evidently amused that she’d engaged with another human being, and a boy at that.
‘It’s like a tsunami, only in super slow motion. Tide goes out. Comes back with interest. I don’t want to be around come that reckoning.’
‘Oh don’t be so apocalyptic,’ Mum said. ‘Guy your age. You shouldn’t be worrying about stuff.’
‘Yeah well,’ he said, ‘I’ve been here all my life. I’m not just a tourist.’ He seemed about to say more but he pressed his lips together and collected plates instead. ‘How was the meal?’
‘Lovely,’ Fearne said. ‘What’s wrong with the power station?’
‘Nothing,’ said the waiter. ‘Guy my age? I shouldn’t be worrying about stuff.’
‘People around here,’ her mum continued (Fearne recognised the drawl that alcohol lent her voice), ‘and I’ve heard them, still talk about the sea as if it should be placated. As if we should be sacrificing our first-born sons or daughters. Flinging them piecemeal into the waves, like rubby-dubby. Like chum. What do you think of that?’
‘You don’t have to worry,’ he said, smiling at Fearne. She felt her cheeks burn. ‘Your daughter is no child.’
‘She’s my little girl,’ her mum said, tartly. ‘She always will be. My baby.’
For a moment Fearne thought her mother might cry, but she cut it off with another gulp from her wine glass. Thirteen years old. On the cusp. Like this place. Her hips were becoming wider, like the bay. Her breasts were swelling, like the ocean. She felt something like the tide pulling at her insides. Childhood was something she had wanted to escape for so long, but now that time was here, she feared it. She wanted infancy back. The comfort and simplicity. The lack of confusion and doubt.
My story, The Offing, which originally appeared in Terror Tales of the Ocean (ed. Paul Finch, Gray Friar Press) is to be reprinted in Best New Horror 27 which will appear later this year from PS Publishing.
Lancaster University, 1993. I’m in a class. It’s the creative writing MA. My tutor is Alan Burns. He wrote Europe After the Rain, Babel, Dreamerika! He was one of a group of experimental writers knocking around in the 1960s which included BS Johnson. Alan used to talk about cut-ups a lot. And he was fond of this exercise: choose a word and don’t say anything but, all day. See how it makes you think. See what it does to the word. How does it change your perception of what words mean. Fishpaste. He spent all day walking around saying nothing but fishpaste. He had a dream once, in which he was playing in an orchestra and he was sweating because he didn’t know what the hell he was doing. But then he looked to one side and there was Picasso on the cello, so then he knew everything would be fine. Interesting guy, Alan Burns.
And We, Spectators Always, Everywhere, Kirsten Kaschock
When they finally come back to the playground, the boy is in pain. He does not say so, but affects a slight limp. His left foot makes less viable connection with the balance beam than the right. She holds his hand, failing to register this new asymmetry. The boy’s gait is his first test for her and she fails. The mother clearly prides herself on attention to minutiae – so says the unnatural lift of her brow. The boy has a bruise on his heel, but it might be bone cancer. After the initial fever, polio can look like this, in other boys. In other times and countries.
Distraction is written all over. The blue sky scrawls with plane sign, and worms are fingering bottle caps and butts near the exposed roots at my feet, covered in boot. My book, soaked through days before, is illegible – each page polluted with the next, warped, stuck, tearing if turned. A buzz emanates from the mother’s purse. She checks it, smiles, and puts him down. She is no longer beside him. She is somewhere else.
Change Management, Angela Slatter
What would it be like to be loved, to be wooed, by someone like Lucy?
Dangerous. Uncertain. Different. Oh, so exciting. There would be no ordinariness, nothing banal or commonplace – no status quo, only constant change. The idea threw a frisson down Eva’s spine that was part terror, part elation. What on earth was happening to her?
She examined the last page, with the red-brown dots – the reason, Eva was certain, the woman wanted the letter. Little stains that, when sniffed, touched to her tongue, smelled and tasted ever so faintly of old iron.
L0ND0N, Nicholas Royle
I wasn’t questioning my view about the likability or otherwise of characters, but I was concerned about what I might be getting into. A widely held opinion is that it is a mistake to conflate narrator and author, yet a convergence of Ian and his narrator was precisely what I feared.
What if Ian was like his narrator? Did it even matter? Well, yes, I tended to believe it did. Not in general, but in this particular case. I kept a Wankers Shelf – a section of my library reserved for authors so narcissistic they asked their publisher to stick their author photo on the front cover of their book, or they wrote a piece for publication constructed around extracts from their fan mail; for authors so convinced of their own greatness they refused to ‘get out of bed for less than a grand’ when invited to contribute to an anthology; for authors who were just wankers – wankers to their editors, wankers to their publicists, wankers to booksellers, wankers to their readers. Just wankers.
The Hungry Hotel, Lisa Tuttle
Soon I was treating him as if we’d met for the first time that day. I ‘made conversation’, asking him about the band, their touring schedule, and he obliged with answers and anecdotes. He tried to take my hand, and I flinched.
We had a late, heavy lunch in an ostentatiously German restaurant, and talked about food, our favourite dishes, the fact that neither of us knew how to cook. Then we talked about recent movies we had seen.
Driving back to the city, the sun going down behind us, we were silent, exhausted by the effort of working through every possible subject for conversation. I noticed, as we drove through the practically deserted back road leading into town, that there was a new development on this western outskirt. In addition to the houses, town-homes and a shopping mall still under construction there was a brand new hotel, towering over the landscape from its hilltop perch, its multitude of windows glittering like faceted gems in the last rays of the sun.