Short Story Of the Day (Flash Fiction), Kitten on the Highway by Bill Chance

What our children have to fear is not the cars on the highways of tomorrow but our own pleasure in calculating the most elegant parameters of their deaths.

—-J. G. Ballard

 

(click to enlarge)

 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#37). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Kitten on the Highway

Kyle Tellman had two routes that he would drive to work. As he took his shower every morning Kyle would listen to the radio that sat on a shelf over the toilet. The traffic reports would run every ten minutes and would help him decide which way to take. One route was over ordinary streets, residential or arterial, stoplights, stop-and-go. The alternate route was over Interstate 635, which, like all freeways in Texas, was dedicated to and named after a famous local politician. This particular highway honored President Lyndon Baines Johnson and was usually referred to as LBJ freeway or simply LBJ.

LBJ was an endless circle that looped around the city of Dallas with a radius of about twelve miles, centered on the giant crystal towers of downtown. Along the stretch that Kyle inhabited it was eight lanes each way – sixteen in total – a wide, nasty, hot curve of killer concrete.

He made the wrong decision that morning. There was no mention of accidents on the radio so Kyle chose the freeway but traffic was jammed up, inching along, bumper to bumper. Once he was on, he was committed, so there was nothing to do except turn up the radio and resign himself to being late.

Off to the right, as he crept past, he could see an amateur monument, a white wooden cross planted along the ditch. He could see the bundles of flowers bleached by the sun and a few glass candles with pictures of the Saints silkscreened across the front. A loved one had died here, flipped over at speed or ground beneath the tires of an eighteen-wheeled truck..

To the left, Kyle could see the cause of the slowdown. Two motorcycle cops had a speed trap set up in the lanes going the other way. They were crouched down behind their big ‘cycles resting their radar guns on the seats to steady their aim at the onrushing vehicles whipping around the curve into their sights. White helmets and black leather.

That two cops on the eastbound side would stop traffic on the westbound lanes was insane, but they did. Once the onlookers… the rubberneckers, began getting their amusement from the misfortune of folks that were exactly like them, only going the other way, the whole system jammed up and nobody got anywhere. The wages of Schadenfreude.

There were more than fifty thousand vehicles on LBJ freeway during morning rush hour. Kyle’s eyes were constantly moving between the car right in front of him – watching especially for red brake lights, occasionally checking the two cars locked in on each side, and flicking every second or so up to the mirror to look at the truck behind.

The traffic, all the commuters were not moving very fast, but were still way too close together. Fifty thousand souls locked together in an anaconda of steel, biting its own tail, wriggling slowly in the red light of the rising sun, moving fitfully around the circle of unforgiving concrete.

At that one critical instant, Kyle was not actually looking at the little patch of moving concrete freeway between his hood and the rear bumper of the car leading him, but out of the corner of his eye he caught something… a mottled white blotch that, moving back from under the car in front, visible for a second, and then passing quickly between his own wheels. He reflexively looked up into the mirror to get a split-second glance as it came out behind him before it disappeared under the trailing truck that followed him.

It was a kitten, and it was alive.

Or was it? Everything had happened so fast, his brain had not had time to reliably process what his eyes had reported. It was only a vague shape from the corner of his eye. He was trying to figure out what he had seen based on a memory – a half-blurred and rapidly fading memory. Was it a kitten? Or was it a piece of windblown trash?

And if it was a kitten, what could he do? He was still stuck in traffic and it was a half-mile before the next exit. He was already running late for work and his boss had not been happy lately. Kyle could not afford to be waltzing in after everyone else – especially with the vague and insane excuse of seeing a live kitten on the freeway. Even if he went back, what good would it do? The best thing by far was to forget what he had seen and troop on, get to work as fast as he could.

But Kyle could not forget. The image of the kitten… of something… out there on the highway… he could not get it out of his mind. It burned. As the green exit arrow appeared to his right he realized he had no choice. It didn’t matter how much trouble he would get in at work. He exited the freeway.

There was a U turn lane at the cross street so he didn’t have to wait for a green light. He whipped around to the opposite side and took the ramp up into the speeding stream of vehicles. Traffic this way was lighter so he was able to open it up. He remembered the motorcycle cops and the speed trap so he was careful no to exceed the limits.

As Kyle approached the spot he thought he saw the kitten he moved to the left and desperately tried to look over into the other lanes, but there was a high concrete crash barrier so he couldn’t make out anything at street level. His heart sank, though; there were a lot of cars over there.

Finally he drove past where the cops were and saw they had given up and gone somewhere else. He exited again and this time, had to wait through two lights, making two left turns, to get on the frontage road and then the entrance ramp.

Rush hour was ending and the cars were now moving at speed. Kyle was looking for the kitten and hit his breaks, driving as slowly as he could. He looked closely at the pavement as he moved past the stretch where his memory told him the kitten had been. Kyle’s stomach turned with the fear of what he might see. He couldn’t imagine the kitten surviving and was petrified to come across a smashed spot. And what if the kitten was alive? He had slowed and all the other commuters were whipping around him at speed. He didn’t think he could stop and get out, chase a frightened kitten across the lanes without getting killed.

As these thoughts roiled his brain, he was past. It had gone all too fast. He had seen nothing.

So now what? He had checked. He could go on to work.

But as he passed that ramp he realized he had to look once more. What if the kitten had moved to another lane? He went around again, as fast as he could, and then drove slowly through the zone, as he was beginning to think about it. This time he used the lane closer to the median. Nothing.

Around again. This time the outside lane, nothing.

One time, really testing things, risking it, going very slow, he started opening his door at the critical spot and looked directly down onto the moving concrete. Kyle was surprised at how much stuff was scattered across the freeway: smashed cups, cigarette butts, chunks of dislodged concrete, torn hunks of paper, bits of shredded tire, little arc-shaped lead weights, a license plate, churned hunks of flattened steel from old accidents… but no kitten. His sight became eagle eyed as he scanned the surface on each trip, over and over.

Finally, he mustered all his willpower and grappling with the wheel with white knuckled fists he bypassed the exit ramp and went on. It was too late, though. He had spent too much time and had looked too hard.

He could not go on to work. As he passed the familiar exit that he took every day, year after year, he kept on going, straight under the rising sun.

The freeway is a loop – there are gas stations – I have a credit card,” Kyle thought to himself. He wasn’t sure how long he could keep driving or how long he would keep driving. The only thing he knew was that he wouldn’t be stopping soon.

Short Story Of the Day, The Call by Bill Chance

“As useless as always. There are so many jerks out there. I had a shoot last night and the photographer made a pass at me. Of course that happens, but this guy was awful. And disgusting.”

—-Bill Chance, The Call

Telephone Pole, Deep Ellum, Texas

 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#7). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


The Call

Jim was not a morning person and suffered from bad hangovers. He had learned to drink a glass of water and take aspirin before he fell dead asleep drunk – he knew hangovers were partially caused by dehydration – but had forgotten. Again.

The ringing phone felt like needles poking him through thick cotton. The phone was tangled in the same mass of sheets and blankets he was. The only way to find it was to trace the cord from the wall through the disorganized confusion until he found the instrument. His last apartment had one of the new style phone system with square jacks in the wall where you could move your phone from one place to another but this one hadn’t been updated and the phone was hard-wired. At least there were two, one in the living room and one by his bed. That was a modern luxury.

Finally, he had the earsplitting thing in his hands. It felt huge and heavy. At least it had buttons. He never missed the rotary phones that had mostly disappeared over the last few years. He would always hesitate, stumble and get wrong numbers with those things. He stared at the phone and considered not answering. He could not think of anyone he wanted to talk to right then. But he knew the phone could keep ringing for a long time so he lifted the receiver, mostly to shut it up.

“Hello?” he said.

“Hello,” said the voice on the other end of the line. Jim tried to figure out who it was. It was female and sounded young – about his age. The voice sounded a little familiar and he felt embarrassed that he couldn’t figure out who it was. He decided to go with it and try and figure out who it was by context.

“How are you?” Jim asked.

“Oh, good, good. I just wanted to check in and see how you were doing.”

“I’m fine, same as always. What’s up?”

“Nothing really. I just wanted to check in and talk.” Her tone was cheerful but flat. No clues. “Did I wake you up?” she asked.

“Oh no, I’ve been up for a while,” Jim lied. “I’ve just been puttering around, making breakfast, that sort of thing. Went for a short run.”

“You run in the mornings?”

“I try to.” Another lie. “You know it gets so hot later in the day.”

“No kidding.”

There was a pause and Jim realized he was no closer to figuring out who the hell this was. He decided to kick it up a notch.

“How’s your family?”

“Great, great, really. My sister is graduating high school later this year and everybody is excited about that. The last one to leave the house.”

“Has she made college plans?”

“Well, she’s never really been college material, as you know, but she is thinking about State. Giving it a shot, I’m proud of her.”

Jim scraped his mind for someone with a little sister that wasn’t too smart. And “State” didn’t help him at all. What State? Which State? He was going to have to dig deeper.

“How’s your love life?” he asked. There was a pause.

“As useless as always. There are so many jerks out there. I had a shoot last night and the photographer made a pass at me. Of course that happens, but this guy was awful. And disgusting.”

So she was a model. Jeez, did he know any models? His poisoned brain cells were not working very well, he couldn’t think of any women he knew that did that. Who was this? Nothing to do but keep on asking questions.

“That’s awful. The world is full of jerks. What was the shoot for?”

“Nothing, really. My portfolio mostly. That makes it worse. I should have known.”

And the conversation went on. Jim really enjoyed talking to this woman. She was funny, thoughtful, and did a lot of interesting things. She was the kind of person he had been looking for his whole life. And he couldn’t figure out who she was. He cursed his foggy mind. He cursed the damn telephone.

They talked for over an hour. They talked about movies they has seen, television shows they watched, and music they liked. They talked about the weather and the politics and even traded the best jokes they had heard lately. Jim’s hangover had disappeared and he was beginning to feel like this was going to be a good day, maybe the best of days.

But suddenly there was a pause on the other end of the line. She was not responding to what he said. He could hear her breathing.

“Are you okay OK?” Jim asked.

Another long pause, then the question, “Frank?”

“Uhhhh,” was all Jim could say. Then a click and a dial tone. “Wait!” he shouted even though he knew it was too late.

Jim had been a wrong number all along.

Suddenly feeling sick, he hung up and stared at the phone. He stared at it for a long time, trying to will it into ringing again. It never did.

He wished that there was some way to find out what number had called. He wished he could call back. Maybe someday, but that would be too late.

Short Story Of the Day, Neiman’s (part 2) by Bill Chance

“No, I’m fine… I’ll catch the next train.” As she said this she became aware that drops of blood were running down from her shoulder and dripping off her elbow.

—-Bill Chance, Neiman’s

(click to enlarge)

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#6). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Read Part 1 Here


Neiman’s (part 2)

“Never mind my name, and that package seems very heavy for a cabbage.”

Apple realized how much effort she was putting into cradling the severed head in the crook of her arm, trying to cover up as much as she could with the remains of the shopping bag.

“Umm it’s very dense, a lot of flavor.”

“Why is it wrapped like that?”

“Valuable, Neiman’s… their Christmas catalog…”

“In Chinese newspapers?”

“It’s exotic, it’s imported.”

“Ma’am, I’m afraid you’re hurt.”

“No, I’m fine… I’ll catch the next train.” As she said this she became aware that drops of blood were running down from her shoulder and dripping off her elbow.

“You’ll have to come with us, come down and make a statement.”

Apple’s mind was drowning in a flood of panic when a sudden noise… a sharp crack echoing down the tunnel… caused all three to turn. With the corner of her eye she saw the homeless guy from the train slide something dark back into his loose-fitting trousers. She looked at him and he gave her a quick wink before he slid behind a tiled column and disappeared.

It was one of Gallo’s men, the homeless-looking guy. Apple didn’t know if she felt relief or horror.

The two cops were suddenly standing by the shopping bag thief and were yelling into their radios. The kid had slumped completely over and a large, dark stain was quickly spreading out from his now-lifeless body.

Apple smelt the ozone of a train pulling in behind her and felt the rush of cool air as the doors opened. She stared straight at the cops who weren’t looking at her at all as she stepped backward into the train, still holding the paper-covered head cradled in the crook of her arm. The door whisked shut and she was gone.

 


This bit of text is mostly from a glob of NaNoWriMo I did (I won that year) several years ago – I don’t think I have posted any of it before. I’m going to rewrite and rework some of it into something a little more self-contained. We’ll see.

Short Story Of the Day, Neiman’s (part 1) by Bill Chance

Which one?… The schoolgirl with her headphones? The businessman with his crossword?… The workman in his grimy t-shirt? Some filthy homeless looking guy was staring right at her.

—-Bill Chance, Neiman’s

DART train at the Plaza of the Americas (click to enlarge)

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#5). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Neiman’s

“A severed head in a shopping bag weighs a lot more than I thought it would,” Apple said to herself. She had lugged the Neiman Marcus bag from Gallo’s limousine to the train and the weight surprised her. She could feel rivulets of sweat pouring across every inch of her skin as the train moved out of the station and the standing riders lurched. Apple jerked as a stray foot bumped against the bag.

“They can’t see it – they don’t know – all I have to do is make the delivery and I’m done,” she repeated over and over – a mantra to calm her shattered nerves. As the train shuddered through each stop she scanned the faces of the other passengers, wondering which ones were members of Gallo’s crew making sure the package is delivered on time. Which one?… The schoolgirl with her headphones? The businessman with his crossword?… The workman in his grimy t-shirt? Some filthy homeless looking guy was staring right at her.

The train accelerated into a tunnel, rocking randomly back and forth, while dim lights flashed past the windows. Apple could still feel the oppressive weight of the horror in the bag against her ankle, and moved a fraction away from it. She was beginning to think she might survive – only three more stops – and the train pulled into the murky concrete cavern of an underground station. As the doors whipped open Abbey saw a kid with a burr haircut, nose ring, and some sort of open sore on the left side of his chin stand up and walk quickly down the aisle. As he passed Apple he dipped and in a quick and fluid motion grabbed the shopping bag and leaped out the door.

Apple didn’t even think as she shoved herself from her seat and grabbed the edge of the closing train doors, forcing them back open, and hurling herself out and down the platform toward the fleeing kid. The shopping bag was swinging wildly in his hand and it slowed him down. It wasn’t very far before Apple hit him like a linebacker – every inch of her muscles straining against the kid – wrapping him up as they tumbled hard to the concrete platform. She looked up to see the kid bent over, on his knees, making little “woof… woof” noises. Apple had skidded across the rough floor – one leg of her slacks was shredded up to her thigh and a patch of blood was soaking through her shirt at the shoulder. She ignored her pain in a panic, scanning around for the bag. It was only a few feet away, torn, with the round contents half rolled out – wrapped in newspaper with a grid pattern of reinforced strapping tape holding it together. She crawled to the package, gathered it in her arms and stood up, only to come face to face with two blue uniformed transit cops.

“Jeez lady… good tackle,” said one.

“It’s alright now, I have my package back,” she said, “I’ll just get going.”

“Just a minute, ma’am, what do you have in that package,” said the other one. He spoke in a serious businesslike monotone. Apple looked at his name tag which said, “Friday.” “Oh, great,” she mumbled to herself.

“Um, it’s a cabbage,” she said.

“You came out of that train and tackled a guy for a cabbage?” asked Friday.

“Come on Joe,” said the other cop, “Don’t give her such a hard time.”

“You’re name is Joe Friday?” asked Apple. “Besides, it’s a valuable cabbage… see,” she pointed to the torn shopping bag, “it’s from Neiman’s.”

 


This bit of text is mostly from a glob of NaNoWriMo I did (I won that year) several years ago – I don’t think I have posted any of it before. I’m going to rewrite and rework some of it into something a little more self-contained. We’ll see.

Short Story (Flash Fiction) Of the Day, Memory by H.P. Lovecraft

In the valley of Nis the accursed waning moon shines thinly, tearing a path for its light with feeble horns through the lethal foliage of a great upas-tree. And within the depths of the valley, where the light reaches not, move forms not meant to be beheld.

—- H. P. Lovecraft, Memory

H.P. Lovecraft

If I was looking for something to read, and stumbled across the opening lines reprinted above… and didn’t know who wrote them – I would have skipped on. Life is too short. It has all the hallmarks of bad writing – present tense, overwritten, trite adjectives, silly names. But this is Lovecraft after all, and it is crackerjack.

When I first read Lovecraft, in college almost a half-century ago, I didn’t, at first, understand why he was so famous. The writing didn’t seem to have aged well. But then I tried to go to sleep and found my dreams haunted by the monsters from the page. Lovecraft understands what we are afraid of more than we do ourselves.

Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn—

Read it here:

Memory by H.P. Lovecraft

from Flash Fiction Online

H.P. Lovecraft

Short Story Of the Day, Premium Harmony by Stephen King

They’re going to Wal-Mart for grass seed. They’ve decided to sell the house—they can’t afford to keep it—but Mary says they won’t get far until they do something about the plumbing and get the lawn fixed. She says those bald patches make it look shanty Irish. It’s because of the drought. It’s been a hot summer and there’s been no rain to speak of. Ray tells her grass seed won’t grow without rain no matter how good it is. He says they should wait.

—-Stephen King, Premium Harmony

 

Woodall Rogers Expressway, Dallas, Texas

Hey, it’s a Stephen King story – expect some horror – you are warned. The interesting thing is that you probably feel more shocked at what happens to Biz than to Mary. There are reasons for that, I guess.

Read it here:

Premium Harmony by Stephen King

from The New Yorker

Short Story Of the Day, The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs

“All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.
—- Toni Morrison

Deep Ellum
Texas

You’ve already read it, I know. Probably you read it, like me, in middle school. Still, maybe you haven’t. Doesn’t hurt to read it again… it’s crackerjack.

My son and I were watching a bit of some movie that wishes were involved in. I asked, “It isn’t a monkey’s paw, is it?”

He didn’t know what I was talking about. I guess there are people that haven’t read it.

 

Read it here:

The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs

 

Short Story of the Day (redux) – The Quest for “Blank Claveringi” by Patricia Highsmith

“I feel I stand in a desert with my hands outstretched, and you are raining down upon me.”
Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt

Illustration by Jean L. Huens for the Saturday Evening Post. Done for the short story “The Snails,” by Patricia Highsmith.

A long time ago – in 2012 I wrote a blog entry about a short story I remembered reading when I was a child.
The short story had scared the crap out of me when I first read it in 1967 (I would have been ten years old) in The Saturday Evening Post and it had never left my mind. In 2012 I did some web searching, found the story, and in a trip to the library found and read a couple of different versions of it.
Over the years since many people have hit that blog post searching for information on the story. It seems I wasn’t the only child frightened by this story of giant man eating snails.
The other day I finally found an online version of the story – someone has uploaded a PDF of the the version from Patricia Highsmith’s collection The Snail Watcher and Other Stories.
You can find the PDF here:
It’s a cool story – go read it.
Back in 2012, I wrote a bit of… I guess it would be fan fiction – a sequel to The Quest for “Blank Claveringi” – You can read that here:
I have wanted to write another sequel – a monster story about the National Guard fighting giant snails – sort of a Godzilla-type thing – The Attack of the “Blank Claveringi” – maybe I’ll write that over the weekend or sometime.
So little time.

Snapshot

“Was there any human urge more pitiful-or more intense- than wanting another chance at something?”
—-Joe Hill

From Snapshot, by Joe Hill

Oblique Strategy: Honor thy error as a hidden intention

Four down, ninety-six to go.

A few days ago, while working on my goals for 2018 I decided to set a goal of reading a hundred books in the year. Thinking about it, I decided the only way to pull this off was to read short books. I made a list of 66 short novels and wrote about it. Thinking more about it, I was excited enough to jump the gun and start the 100 books immediately. The first one I read was Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The second was Zastrozzi, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The third was The Room by Jonas Karlsson.

Next up is a Novella, Snapshot by an author I have never read before (to my memory), Joe Hill. Not sure where I read about Hill, but I did read about him somewhere and he sounded like something I’d like so I put his collection of four Novellas onto my Kindle.

And Joe Hill is an author that I’m interested in.

You see, I have this odd theory of literature. It’s not the only theory – but it is one that I think about a lot. There is the ordinary life that we all live – but it is a small amount of four-dimensional space in the whole of reality. Beyond this little island of our everyday, comfortable world is the bottomless sea of chaos. There is a thin barrier, a translucent membrane, separating us from this tractless void that surrounds us. Certain fictional people, certain stories, rub up against- or penetrate completely this delicate membrane. Sometimes the characters return, sometimes not. This is what I’m interesting in writing about and reading about.

In Snapshot the character is an overweight unpopular teenager and his experience with the void is in defending an addled old woman against a lunatic tattooed man with a very strange and dangerous camera. It is a crackerjack tale. I especially like it because not all wrongs are righted and not all secrets are revealed.

Another nice thing is that there are three other novellas in the collection – though they will have to wait for later.

From Snapshot, by Joe Hill

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 26 – At Lorn Hall by Ramsey Campbell

Here’s a closeup of the sculpture on the clock on the carriage house.

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 26 – At Lorn Hall by Ramsey Campbell
Read it online here:

At Lorn Hall by Ramsey Campbell

To its left, where he might have looked for a doorbell, a tarnished blotchy plaque said LORN HALL. The door displayed no bell or knocker, just a greenish plaque that bore the legend RESIDENCE OF CROWCROSS. “Lord Crowcross,” Randolph murmured as though it might gain some significance for him if not summon its owner to the door. As he tried to recall ever having previously heard the name he felt a chill touch as thin as a fingernail on the back of his neck. It was a raindrop, which sent him to push the heavy door wide.

—-Ramsey Campbell, At Lorn Hall

Ramsey Campbell is considered one of the masters of modern horror – and from what I’ve read, I’d have to agree. I particularly impressed by the evolution and breadth of his talent… from Lovecraftian tales, to jewels of erotic horror, to his increasingly complex novels.

Today’s story is a straightforward gothic frightfest… a haunted house full of ancient furniture, barely functioning lighting, and foreboding paintings of the master, Lord Crowcross looking down on every scene. There are these odd headphones that narrate the tours… and maybe more. There are even spiders that add their webbing to the lace patterns of doilies on the furniture.

Scary stuff. Game over.

Interview with Ramsey Campbell:

Starburst: What are your thoughts on horror fiction? Do you think one must experience horror in order to write it?

Ramsey Campbell: I think you have to experience horror in the imagination. That’s what you dream up onto the page. On a personal level, my childhood is a case of nightmares. Someone once said I was born to write horror; I’m not too sure about that. A fair number of horror writers have a strange background. It’s not specific to the field, and I’m not certain if it’s even special to it. That said, I grew up reading adult horror. It was a very small step from reading George MacDonald to fairy tales. Victorian fairy tales were a complete nightmare that have been cut out of the later versions. They use the same kind of suggestions. What is left out is then up to my imagination, for me, that’s how much of the best horror fiction works, even today.

Thoughts on your childhood?

I had a very strange childhood. I lived in a small house with my parents. They became estranged very shortly after I was born, and I didn’t know my father at all for about twenty years, even though he was in the same house. I never saw him, and he became this kind of monstrous figure. My mother suffered from schizophrenia, and at a very early age I had to figure out the difference between what she saw and reality. I had to work that out when I was three years old, you know. A useful perception, obviously. That’s defined a lot of what I write, this difference between what is perceived and what is real. That was a long answer. (laughs)

What type of influence did H.P. Lovecraft have on you, in particular your early work?

Oh huge. Huge! I read a number of anthologies from the library when I was young and teenage. You couldn’t get a book on Lovecraft, and it wasn’t until 1960, I believe, that the first ever paperback collection of Lovecraft stories came out called, Cry Horror. They contained Call of Cthulhu and Rats in the Wall. Some of his masterpieces. Also some of his lesser stuff like Moon Bog. But I read that through in a single day, and I was completely steeped in it. I knew that was what I wanted to write, basically. But I didn’t write short stories or a novel for at least three years. At eleven I completed a terrible work called, Ghostly Terrors, which was everything I read just stuffed together, but it gave me focus. I knew this was the kind of thing I wanted to do, and I wanted to imitate. But I hadn’t travelled, never gone further than Southport, and Lovecraft’s work was set in Massachusetts. I wrote five stories very much imitating Lovecraft. Lovecraft didn’t use dialogue, so nor did I. I unlearned a lot of stuff. I sent the works originally to Arkham House to see if they were any good. They wrote back two pages describing what was wrong with the pieces. Not the least of which, of course, was the lack of dialogue. It’s interesting how many writers start off imitating other writers.

—-From Starburst Magazine

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