Archive | September, 2014

Stairwell – A Flash Fiction Zombie Story

25 Sep

There’s a noise above me, or is there? I know they’re coming up behind me, chasing me, but fear strikes deep inside me as I realise they might be ahead of me too. I look up, craning my neck, but I can’t see anything. The stairs twist and turn, and just as I can’t see those coming up from below, I can’t see if there are any in front of me. Am I running towards more danger, even as I try to escape from the danger which is following me already? I’d pause and listen, but if I do that I’m dead because those who are pursuing me will catch me and rip me limb from limb. I know this because I’ve seen then do it to others. That was when I started running, somehow ending up in the stairwell where I’d started to climb. I began on five and now I’m twenty floors up with maybe another fifteen to go. I’ve given up trying to get out. The doors which provide access at every floor only open from the other side, designed to let people out in an emergency and not let them in. This means I’m trapped on the stairs with only two options: up or down. I can hear the howls and roars of my pursuers echoing up from below, bouncing off the bare concrete walls, disorienting me, robbing me of the ability to tell which direction they’re coming from. Why on earth did I choose up? Was it some sort of innate instinct that told me up was best? Maybe it was a lingering primal urge from when we used to live in the trees that made me want to climb in order to escape. Whatever the reason, I know now that it was the wrong decision. I should have gone down. Why the hell didn’t I go down? I could have been out on the street by now. But then again, would the street be any safer? Surely they’d be out there, too? I reach yet another landing. The number on the wall says twenty-one. My lungs are screaming from the exertion, my legs aching, but I know I need to keep going. Now I’m here, I have no choice. I glance upwards. Was that a movement I saw? A flickering shadow indicating that they’re up there, too, waiting for me? Or was it just my imagination? I’m running on fear and little else. My mind’s racing, but I can’t think straight. I look backwards. From the sound coming up from below, I can tell they’re closing in on me, but I can’t tell how close they are. They don’t seem to tire, they don’t pause, even for a moment. As I slow with every step, they seem to speed up. I can’t see them, but I know they’re there; I can hear their feet pounding on the stairs. I start climbing again, no longer even knowing where I’m going or what I’m going to do once I get there. All I can concentrate on is trying to escape, on keeping them out of sight, hoping against hope they’ll finally give up, even though I know in my heart that they won’t. I hear the noise again. I can tell that it’s closer, but I still can’t tell where it’s coming from. What can I do, but keep climbing, hoping that somehow I’ll manage to escape, even if I know that I won’t? It’s either that or I give up, and there’s something embedded in my very soul that just won’t let me do that. So onwards I go, knowing I’ll keep running, keep climbing until I can go no further. With no way out of the stairwell, what else can I do?



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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

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Learning To Write

22 Sep

At the moment, I’m helping to teach the daughter of a friend of mine how to drive (a prospect that, at first, terrified us both), and I’ve been thinking about when I learned to drive myself. Back when I first got behind the wheel it all seemed so impossible to get the hang of, especially given that here in the UK pretty much every one learns to drive in manual car and not an automatic. Now, after more than twenty years of driving, it all seems so straight forward and natural that I can do it without even thinking, but back then, it all seemed so complicated and alien, and at times I thought I’d never be able to do it. Yet, despite this, I did.

While musing on all of this, it occurred to me that learning to write is a lot like learning to drive. When you first start out, you look round at all these other people with their brilliant books, and then you look at your own raw scribbles and you think there’s no way you’ll even end up being able to produce anything even vaguely competent.

This puts a lot of budding writers off. This is because they have this amazing idea for a story in their head and when the sit down to actually write it, it turns out that it’s all a bit crap. Mostly, this is because they haven’t tried to write anything since their high school English class and even then, it was an essay titled What I Did On My Summer Holiday.

However, just like driving, it takes practice to learn how to write, and particularly to learn how to write well. Everyone knows you can’t expect to just get behind the wheel of a car and be able to drive perfectly right away, but a lot of people seem to think that the ability to write is a skill you’re either born with or you’re not. This just isn’t true. It takes a lot of hard work to learn how to write a good story, and just like learning to drive, you need to have an instructor who will give you encouraging, but honest feedback. You need someone who will read over your work and point out where it doesn’t work, and then explain why, but they need to give you praise when you get it right, too.

This means that when you’re learning to write, you need to seek out someone who’s opinion you value, but who you trust to give you honest, yet positive, feedback. This last part is important. Negative feedback, even if honest, can put you off writing forever, while over-positive feedback which isn’t honest gives you a false sense of confidence and will rob you of the chance to learn how to improve your writing skills.

So, how do you go about finding someone to give you the feedback you need as you learn how to write? This is always tricky. Your first instinct will be to go to a family member or your best friend, yet they are often the worst person to go to. This is because if they are too brutally honest, it may damage your relationship with them, and they know this. This means they will tend to avoid criticising you, even when you need criticism, because they want to preserve their relationship with you. This is not good and will do nothing to help you learn how to write. Instead, you need to find someone you trust, but you who you are distant enough from to avoid this conflict. In addition, this needs to be someone who is widely read and who knows what they are talking about.

When I first started writing, I turned to a colleague I knew from work who was also a budding author, and showed him an early draft of my first book. It took some persuasion to convince him that no matter what he said, it wouldn’t damage our friendship, but What I eventually got in return was a five-page critique and some of the best writing advice I’ve ever received. It helped me turn the book from a basic and two-dimensional story into something much more complete and compelling. Even today, I look back on that advice and remember the key issues and short-comings that it raised. Without it, I probably wouldn’t be the writer I am today.

So, just like driving, when you start out writing, it might seem at first like you’ll never get the hang of it, but with plenty of practice and some good advice you’ll get there in the end. All you need to do is stick with it and eventually you’ll get to the stage where you’ll look back and find yourself thinking ‘why did I ever think this was so difficult?’

Once that has happened, the chances are that, at some point, you’ll meet someone else who’s just starting out and that’s when you get the chance to pay something back by becoming the person who provides the advice to help them become the writer they want to become. Yet, when you do, you have to remember back to what it was like for you when you were just starting out. This is when you finally learn for yourself how to give honest, but positive, feedback to others, and through doing this, you’ll learn that helping others will make you a better writer, too.



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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside … Even In A Zombie Apocalypse

16 Sep

In a zombie apocalypse, there are two main struggles for survival. One against the zombies and the other to get enough food to survive. Believe it or not, one of the best places to be to ease both these struggles is where the sea meets the shore. Humans have always prized such locations because of the protection they can provide and the abundance of food they offer. We know this because throughout the world, we find evidence of ancient middens made up of the shells of millions of discarded oysters, mussels and other seafood. These middens were created by humans over hundreds and thousands of years as our ancestors foraged for food. Their sheer size and the length of time over which they were laid down show just how important these habitats have always been for human survival.

Why is this? Well, twice a day, driven by the power of the moon, the sea recedes, revealing a bounty of potential food items ranging from crabs to oysters, limpets, cockles and even small fish. With even the slightest amount of effort, you can easily gather enough food to survive in just a few quick minutes, and that beats having to fight other survivors for the last remaining can of spam in some suburban supermarket.

Of course, not all shorelines are equally productive, and you need to select just the right kind of beach if, after the end of the world, you’re going to set up camp and live off the sea like so many of our ancestors once did. At first glance, you might think that a broad, sandy beach would be best, but while they are attractive to look at, they’re like marine deserts. There’s food there, but you’ll have to work hard to find it and you’ll struggle to scrape enough together just to keep you alive. Instead, you’d want to head for a rocky shore because it’s here that the real bounty lies. This is because, clinging to the rocks is seaweed, and where there is seaweed, there’s life in great abundance. When it’s covered with water, this seaweed sways majestically in the currents, and forms the marine equivalent of a tropical forest. Once the tide goes out, this forest collapses, but it pull back and you’ll see the abundant life that lies below, just waiting for you to harvest it. In as little as five minutes, you can have enough to feed you all day, leaving you plenty of time for that other crucial element, surviving the zombies themselves.

As it happens, rocky shorelines are also great places for building a safe and easy to defend camp, especially if they’re littered with small islands. It’s no accident that such islands have been used as places of safety by humans since before recorded history began. The water acts as a defensive barrier that is harder to breach than anything you could build yourself, and even marauding zombies will struggle to cross it. Why? Because, as everyone know, zombies can’t swim.

Of course, the occasional zombie may still reach an island, and that means you’ll need to have some sort of defensive structure to which you can retreat whenever danger threatens. In my native Scotland, ancient buildings, known as brochs, bare testament to how others have solved this problem in the past, but in the event of a zombie apocalypse, it is unlikely you’d have time to build such structures yourself. Instead, you’d be better off seeking out a structure that’s already there.

Luckily, rocky shorelines and islands are just the place to find a type of building that would be just perfect. What buildings are these? They’re lighthouses. Built to withhold the worst that the sea can throw at them, lighthouses are build to last. They also have a single point of entry, and small windows, often set high above the ground. Add to that a viewing platform at the top from which you can pick off any zombies which make it to your island base, and you can see why they’d make a great place to seek refuge.

So there you have it. If you select just the right location, rocky shorelines can easily meet all your zombie apocalypse needs: Food, shelter and protection, and if one were every to happen, you can bet that’s where I’d be heading. And even if there isn’t a zombie apocalypse, they’re still worth checking out, especially if you have young children. They’ll enjoy the thrill of pulling back the sea weed to see what wonders lie beneath, and while they’re having fun, they’re also learning how to forage for their own food – should the need ever arise.


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

Why the waters’ edge is the perfect place to survive in a zombie apocalypse. Plenty of food (especially on rocky shores highly tidal areas, more than capable to supporting populations – as indicated by ancient shell middens laid down over hundreds of years by hunter gatherers). Can escape out to sea if attacked by zombies (assuming zombies can’t swim!) or other people. Larder opens twice a day, and on top of that fishing as well as setting traps for crabs n lobsters, spear fishing, Can find lots of potentially useful things by beach combing – the detritus of modern society washed up there, offering many useful things – what was once trash is now valuable to survival. Also makes moving around much safer (no ambushes etc) just as in days of old before land was claered and made safe

Psychopomps – A Tale Of Stolen Souls And The Creatures That Consume Them

2 Sep

I can feel it closing in on me, hunting me down; no matter how hard I try to escape, I can’t out-run it, or evade it. I can’t even hide from it. I know that once one of them gets your scent, that’s it. Over. It’s just a matter of time. I don’t know how long it will take before it harvests my soul, but it will, and I’ll never see it coming. No one ever does. That’s what makes the psychs so terrifying. That and what they leave behind once they’ve taken what they are seeking.

***

We’d known about psychs for years, but we’d always thought they were just ancient scare stories which had become codified into mythologies and then faded away as the world developed. Psychs, or to give them their Sunday name, psychopomps, was the term that those who studied long-lost cultures gave to the spirit guides who were said to lead the souls of the dead to whatever hereafter a culture happened to believe in. For the Greeks it was Hermes who took the souls down to the banks of the river Styx and handed them over to the ferryman. For the Roman’s it was Mercury; for the Vikings it was the Valkyries who led men who died in battle to the eternal feasting hall of Valhalla. So many names, yet without fail each and every culture had one. That should have been our first clue that they might actually be real. All those names, they all referred to the same thing. Or maybe that should be things.

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, all those different names from so many different peoples and traditions had been consigned to the history books; few beyond the rarefied air of academia had ever heard of most of them, but we shouldn’t have been so hasty. There was truth in those ancient stories, and it was so terrible that it was no wonder people had chosen to mythologize them rather than admit they were real. It seemed that the psychs needed death and destruction, they needed those souls they took, they feasted on them.
In the past, they’d wait until someone’s body died, and then they’d sweep in and capture the departing soul before it could get away. They didn’t guide the souls they collected to some eternal afterlife, though, they held them captive, living off their fear, their pain, their misery until the soul they’d imprisoned evaporated away to nothing. Simply gone from the collective consciousness of the world, never to re-surface, never to be re-incarnated, never to inhabit another human body and awaken an intelligence within it.

That was before; then they changed. At first, there were just rumours: odd disappearances; tales of empty, soulless bodies, still alive but not human. Then we found out that they were real. The first clue was the empty vessels they left behind. They acted on instinct, fighting, attacking, feeding on any humans they could catch. They were brutal, savage husks that had once been human, but with their souls gone, there was no humanity left within them.

When they made their first appearance, there was talk of a virus, of zombies, of an upcoming apocalypse, but that wasn’t what happened, or what was really going on. Instead, it was the psychs. Hell made real right here on earth. No one ever quite worked out what made them change, why they started taking souls from the living rather than from the dying, but there was one reason which sounded more plausible than the rest. This was the one that said that now, with so many people on the planet and so much suffering, the psychs were becoming confused. Everywhere, there was death and destruction, so many souls being released from their earthly vessels all at once. When a psych was trying to capture a soul, waiting for the exact moment of departure before they’d pounced, they’d be distracted by the possibility of another, then another. With all these souls swirling round in the æther, they found it hard to concentrate on their chosen calling.

So much human suffering, so many dying needlessly each and every day. The psychs couldn’t cope, so instead they switched their attention to the living, harvesting their souls instead. It was easier and there were few distractions. All they had to do was select a victim and then take what they most dearly wanted, what they craved. Why they chose the ones they did was unknown, and unknowable, yet there was something about living souls that was different from dying ones. Their energy was different, it allowed the psychs not just to survive, but to thrive, to multiply until it seemed like they were everywhere, stealing souls and leaving behind the still-living human body to hunt those who still retained their humanity.

In many ways, the reasons the psychs had been released from their past confines was irrelevant. What mattered was that they were here, moving amongst us, unseen and unfelt until they locked onto you. Then you would feel something change deep inside. You’d feel your soul start to tremble within your body, and the closer the psych got, the more terrified your soul became. How it knew the psych was closing in, or what would happen to it once it had been harvested, was beyond me, but when I felt the change within me, I knew what it meant. From that moment on, I knew the fate which awaited me. I just didn’t know when it would happen. And ever since that moment, I’ve been running, trying desperately to escape the inevitable.

***

Suddenly, I feel my soul jolt, as if it has been electrocuted. It somersaults and twists inside me; I can feel the fear which is gripping it expand and take over my body. I know the psych is close. I turn this way and that, but I can find no trace of it, no indication of which direction it’s coming from. My soul starts screaming, the fearful, ungodly sound echoing through my body. Looking around, I wonder why no one else is reacting to the horrifying sound, but then I realise that only I can hear it. I am the only one who can hear my soul screaming, terrified by what is about to happen to it. Then I feel it, like an ice-cold hand on my chest. No, not on my chest: in my chest; thrusting deep within me. My soul wails and then it’s gone. The icy feeling disappears from within me, and with it goes something else. I look round and no longer do I see people. Instead, I see prey, and there are so many of them. I lick my lips with anticipation of what is about to happen. With my soul no longer present to keep my body in check, it does what it has always wanted to do and it attacks.

I watch, unable to resist, unable to stop it. As the blood starts flying, I feel my consciousness, all the things that made me me, start to fade, replaced by new, alien thoughts and unnatural urges. As I bite into my first victim, I feel a sense of elation run through me. Inside, the last of the old me blinks out and all that is left is my body, still living, still recognisable from the outside, but so different on the inside. For everything that was me has gone. The psych that stole my soul has seen to that. My body without my soul is not me, and neither is my soul without my body. I have been torn apart by something that I’d always thought never existed, that I’d thought were just old wives tales, but nonetheless they are real and I am no more.

***

I haven’t written a short story in a while (I’ve been concentrating too much on novels recently), but this mark a bit of a return to that art form. I’ll be the first to admit it is a bit of a weird one. I don’t usually do spiritual stuff, but this one definitely ventures into that realm. It was inspired by an episode of the British comedy panel show, QI, where I first came across the term psychopomp, meaning a spirit guide that lead the souls of the dead to the afterlife. What, I wondered, if such things existed and instead of waiting for people to die, they started targeting the living. And what would they leave behind?



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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.