Monday, 3 October 2016

Do You Believe In Ghosts?

I'm pleased to announce that Ten Tall Tales, the latest anthology from NewCon Press edited by Ian Whates, was launched at FantasyCon on Saturday 24th September.  Among a truly wonderful collection of writers, it contains my short story Do You Believe In Ghosts?, a quietly bleak tale about grief, love and what lengths the recently bereaved might go to for one last chance to say goodbye.
cover art by Sarah Anne Langton
Ten tall tales of horror, dark fantasy and dark science fiction, commissioned from some of the most twisted imaginations writing today, as part of NewCon Press' 10th anniversary celebrations. Each story is inter-leafed with a wicked limerick from that master of terror, Ramsey Campbell. 

Introduction – Ian Whates

Ten Twisted Limericks – Ramsey Campbell

The Power Of… – Paul Kane

We Know By the Tenth Day Whether They Live or Die – Simon Clark

One Little Mouth to Kiss You Goodnight – Lynda E. Rucker

The Fruit of the Tree – Maura McHugh

9 + 1 – Michael Marshall Smith

The Book of Sleep – Edward Cox

For The Win – James Barclay

Do You Believe in Ghosts? – Mark West

The Loathing of Strangers – Sarah Pinborough

The Marble Orchard – Andrew Hook

The book is available as an A5 paperback and a dust-jacketed special edition hardback, limited to just 100 copies; each copy is individually numbered and signed by 8 of the contributing authors (Ramsey Campbell, Edward Cox, Maura McHugh, Paul Kane, Simon Clark, Lynda E. Rucker, Andrew Hook, and Mark West)

£12.99 (A5 paperback)
£22.99 (Signed Hardback)

Signing the hardbacks at The Grand in Scarborough, picture by Maura McHugh
from left - Andrew Hook, Lynda E. Rucker, Paul Kane, Simon Clark, Ian Whates, me
For some reason, I now only tend to write short stories when editors ask for them (which is a nice situation to be in, don't get me wrong), so I have a theme to aim for.  The days of me getting an idea and being excited enough to write it on spec are rare but this was just one such occasion.  I wanted to do something with photographs (which I love and take lots of) and the idea of somehow revisiting a love affair through them.  I started writing with no end in mind but when I stumbled over the idea of forums for bereaved partners it kind of worked its way through to a logical conclusion (though my pre-readers got to choose between two very different endings).  When it was finished I had a really good feeling about it, put it into my writing group for critiquing and it went down very well (it's perhaps the best-received piece I've ever submitted) and Ian picked it up then.  He also suggested the title change - my original was Losing Carole Duffin which worked but didn't suggest a supernatural story.

Having lost Carole Duffin once before, I was determined it wouldn’t happen again…

* * *

The funeral took place on a wet Thursday afternoon, the mourners huddling under black umbrellas as if repelling an attack.  I stood with a couple of old school friends, listening to the rattle of the drizzle over my head, trying but failing to catch the vicar’s words.
   Although I’d known Carole for over thirty years and we’d been boyfriend and girlfriend in the Sixth Form at Gaffney Tech, our current relationship was only a few months old.  She’d divorced her husband due to his insistence on getting other women pregnant, though I could see him standing beside the open grave, tears and rain water running down his cheeks.  My own marriage had also fallen apart, work pressures tearing into a bond that I once thought unbreakable.   It had been acrimonious and unpleasant, the worst six months of my life and I seriously doubted my ex-wife would have been standing at my graveside crying.
   Three months, two weeks and a handful of days.  A chance encounter on Facebook led to late night messages, an understanding of the emotional landscape and then a tentative meeting, exchanging pleasantries over the clatter of cutlery and crockery at the cafĂ©.  A realisation that we could make this happen and suddenly I was a teenager again, asking if she’d like to go on a date.  A meal at the local Italian, a trip to the cinema, holding hands on the back row and, later, a kiss in the car as I dropped her off.  Things seemed to speed up after that and we spent as much time together as possible, making love as if trying to make up for the lost years. 
   I was the happiest I’d been in years and Carole told me she felt the same.  We’d been brought down by divorce but had found each other again in the process and things were going to be different this time.

* * *

We’d had a lovely evening.  She came to my flat, I cooked spaghetti and made garlic bread, we listened to 80s music and laughed, danced in the kitchen and made love.  Normally she’d have stayed over but as she had an early meeting we dozed in each other’s arms before she got up at 2am and left.  I waved her off from my window - we blew kisses and promised to phone the next day.  I never saw her again.
   I didn’t know anything was wrong until the following midday when she didn’t answer her phone.  I rang, on and off, until the early evening and when I still didn’t get an answer, I went to her flat.  Her friend Annie answered the door, her eyes red and puffy from too many tears.
   “Oh Martin,” she said and began sobbing, pulling me into a hard embrace, “you were on my list to ring, but I didn’t know what to say to you.”
   “About what?  What’s wrong, Annie?”
   “It’s Carole.  Last night, a drunk driver.”
   “She wasn’t drunk, she hadn’t…”  I stopped and prised myself away from Annie, holding her shoulders.  “Where is she?”
   Annie took in a deep, hitching breath and silent tears rolled down her cheeks.  “She’s gone, Martin.”

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