Archive | October, 2014

The Creature – A Short Horror Story About A Sailor Lost At Sea

24 Oct

The rubber floor of the life raft ripples beneath me. It wasn’t the usual ripple I’d got used to over the last few weeks, caused by the waves, the one that undulates gently up and down as the raft is lifted, in turn, by each wave before being dropped again. This ripple is different: it’s faster, more purposeful, as if something big has just swum beneath the raft. Almost as soon as I feel it, it’s gone and the life raft goes back to conforming to the slow, laborious roll of the ocean waves. Maybe it was just my imagination; maybe I’m starting to hallucinate: after all, I haven’t eaten in more than a week, and the single sip of water I now ration myself to each day is barely enough to keep me alive, let alone sane. Then I feel the ripple again. This time it’s slower, more deliberate and I feel whatever it is pass under my legs as I sit with my back against the inflated rubber ring which forms the side of the life raft. I try to estimate its size by the time it takes to pass under me, but all I can tell is that it’s big: eight feet, ten, maybe fifteen or even twenty, who knows, but something that big and this far from land could only be one of two things: a shark or a whale. I feel around and open the side of the orange tent which forms a roof over the life raft, protecting me from the intense tropical sun during the day, and the rain storms at night, but it’s too dark to see anything. There must be clouds overhead, because I can’t see the stars. In fact, and I know this because I try it, I can’t even see my hand in front of my face. I listen, hoping to hear the tell-tale whoosh and whup of a whale breathing out and then back in again, but the only sound is that of the waves lapping gently against the side of the life raft. I zip the flap closed again, trying to shut out whatever it is that’s outside, and stare down at the floor. It’s as dark in here as it is outside so I know I can’t see anything, but I stare nonetheless, my eyes searching the darkness in the vain hope of seeing something that will tell me what’s underneath me.

I feel the ripple once more, and then I feel the floor of the life raft lift as if something is pushing it up from below. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be losing interest and if anything it’s growing bolder. A few seconds later, something bumps against the side of the life raft, hard enough to make it shudder and throw me sideways onto the floor. I can feel the panic start to rise inside me, but I don’t break out into a cold sweat. At first, I wonder why; then I realise I’m too dehydrated. My body is shutting down all non-essential reactions to save what little water it has left, and that includes sweating, no matter how scared I am.

For a moment there’s silence, then I hear something slap against the rubber. It’s forceful and sends a shiver across the life raft, almost as if the raft itself is shaking with fear. I try to swallow, but I can’t, again because of the dehydration and my body’s response to it. I feel the floor of the life raft lift a second time as whatever it is pushes up from below once more. If it’s doing that with its head, then the creature which is stalking me in the darkness is truly massive, because I can tell by the movement that its several feet across. I clutch to the side of the raft, not knowing if I should try to move out of the way, or remain as still as possible. Eventually, the floor flattens out again and the creature moves away. Only then do I realise I’ve been holding my breath and I let it out with an audible sigh. A second later, the creature hits the life raft again: this time it’s not a gentle, exploratory push, it’s a full on attack, as if the creature is trying to break through the rubber floor. Somehow it must be able to sense my presence within the life raft and it’s determined to get me, but the rubber holds, thwarting its intent.

The seconds slowly tick by, and nothing more happens. They turn into minutes and still the creature hasn’t returned. Maybe it’s given up, maybe it’s realised it’s too difficult to get me and has gone off to seek easier prey. Maybe … My thoughts are interrupted by something ramming the side of the life raft, pushing it through the water as if it were attached to a powerful engine. I cling on for dear life, worried I might be tipped into the water, but thankfully this doesn’t happen. Instead, after what seems like an age, the life raft starts to slow, and then stop. My heart is pounding, but above the noise this is making in my ears, I can hear something else. It takes me a moment to realise that it’s the sound of air leaking from the life raft. Desperately, I feel around in the dark, trying to find the hole, but I can’t. All around me, I can feel the life raft getting softer and softer as it slowly deflates and sinks lower and lower into the water. Again, the creature pushes up from below, causing the rubber floor to bend and deform beneath me. It seems to be searching for me, trying to work out exactly where I am, and how it can get to me.

I cannot see it, but I sense intelligence in its actions. Not human intelligence, but something colder, more analytical and more predatory. This is a creature that’s used to getting its own way. I feel the first wave slop over the side of the life raft; it won’t be long before it sinks and I end up in the water. I unzip the flap in the roof again so that I won’t be trapped inside as the raft continues to collapse around me, but I’m unwilling to abandon it quite yet. It might not offer me much protection, but it’s better than nothing and outside in the inky blackness, it will be just me and the creature. Humans are used to being top dog, but out here, to it, I’m nothing more than prey. It bumps against the side of the life raft again, impatient to get at the tasty morsel it knows is inside. I try to think of something I can do, but my brain has frozen. I know I’m going to die, and my brain can’t cope with it. The creature rams the raft again, and I hear more air hissing out into the night. There’s now so little of it left in the raft that it’s not much more than a flaccid mass of rubber that’s barely keeping itself above the waves. I can hear the creature circling me, splashing the water with its tail as it turns. While I can’t see anything in the dark, it seems to have no trouble knowing exactly where I am. It’s toying with me, and we both know it. All I can do is hope that when the end comes it’s quick, but somehow I know that this isn’t the end the creature has planned for me. Somehow, I know it wants to make me suffer. The very thought of what’s going to happen makes me want to be sick, but I have nothing to bring up, so all I can do is dry heave. The longer the end is drawn out, the more I lose control of my body, the fear of what’s to come is tearing me apart, ripping at my very soul.

I hear myself yelling at the creature, alternating between begging with it to leave me alone and urging it to hurry up and get it over with. Unsurprisingly, the creature doesn’t respond, it just continues to circle. It’s in total control, and I know it’s the one who will decide when I die. All I can do is wait, cowering in the darkness, trembling with fear, until it decides that I am finished. I try to block out what’s going to happen to me, but I can’t. I can hear screaming, and even though I know it must be me, it seems like it’s coming from somewhere other than my own body. I feel the life raft finally start to sink beneath me and I claw my way out just as it disappears into the depths. Instinctively, I find myself treading water, but I don’t know why. The creature brushes against me, and I can feel the roughness of its skin tear at my flesh as it passes, but still I cannot see it. Death is coming for me and yet I’m blind to it. Somehow this makes it worse. If I could see it, I could prepare, but I can’t. I don’t know why, but suddenly a calmness settles over me and I lie back, floating on the surface, arms held out, almost as if I’m offering myself to the creature, giving myself to it as if I’m some sort of sacrifice to a god I don’t believe in. At least this way, death will be on my terms and not its, and I will meet my fate face on, with open arms. I know I won’t survive for long, but at least my death will be my own.

***

This isn’t quite my usual type of short story, particularly as it lacks even the slightest hint of the undead, but it’s an idea that has been floating around in my head for sometime and I finally had time to get it down on paper. I don’t know quite where it came from, but I liked the idea of a lone sailor being stalked by something unseen that’s lurking in the darkness beneath him. It provides an interesting perspective from which to explore the concept of our own mortality. Unseen, it haunts us, just as the creature in the story haunts the lost sailor, lurking in the darkness that is our future. Yet, we shouldn’t necessarily fear it, for a life lived in fear is no life at all. Instead, we should embrace it and use the knowledge that we will, one day, die to ensure that we make the most of whatever time we have left available to us: enjoy life, do good, be nice to others, make sure you leave the world a better place than when you arrived in it, and don’t let the fear of what fate might have in store for you get it the way of living your life the way you wish to live it right now. Happy Friday!



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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.

Creating Good Bad Guys For Zombie Apocalypse Novels

20 Oct

When writing zombie apocalypse novels, the would-be writers often concentrate on their heroes, reluctant or otherwise. They spend hours building them up, crafting their back stories, working out their relationships with the other characters – who they love, but cannot tell, who they get along with, who rubs them up the wrong way and why. This brings the heroes to life in the readers minds and mean that they care about whether they live or die.

However, every good story needs not only heroes, they also need something for the heroes to strive against. In a zombie apocalypse story, you might think that this would be the zombies themselves, but that’s not enough. While the zombies threaten the heroes survival, and create jeopardy, the one thing they don’t do is create conflict – and every good novel needs conflict of some kind. This is where the bad guys come in.

The bad guys are the ones who make life more difficult for the heroes: they get in their way, they ruin their carefully laid plans, they steal their supplies and ruin their defences. At their worst, they try to feed the heroes to the zombies just so that they themselves can escape. They’re the ones which have the readers booing and hissing (if only figuratively rather than literally) whenever they appear.

Now, you might think writing the bad guys would be easy; you just take every worst human characteristic you can think of and bring them together into one single character. The trouble is, if you simply do this, you end up with a two-dimensional stereotype who stands there twiddling the end of their moustache while cackling megalomaniacally, and that just doesn’t work for anyone. This is because unless your bad guys are believable, they will come across as being implausible and that breaks the connection between the story and the reader. Your bad guys need to be human, and to some extent, their actions have to be understandable, or at least consistent with their world view, because even bad guys stick to the rules – they might be a rather twisted set of rules that only applies to them, but they stick to them none-the-less. This, of course, doesn’t mean that they have to be likeable, but it means that they have come across as being real. You need to reader to be thinking, ‘I’ve met people like that, I know just how much trouble they can cause’.

Just as with your heroes, you need to spend time building up your bad guys. You need to flesh them out so that the reader understands what makes them tick, and why they act the way that they do. They also need to have some redeeming qualities, whether that’s occasionally doing the right thing, pitching in to help out when it’s really needed, saving the hero, or even just being nice to children and animals. Yes, these might just be ploys to lull the good guys into a false sense of security, but they still need to be there. They help build up the bad guy and turn them into something real in the reader’s mind. After all, real people are complicated, even the bad ones, and you need to make sure this complexity comes across.

It can be hard to get bad guys just right, and it’s a very thin line between being too dastardly to be believable and coming across as being too nice to do the bad things you, the writer, are making them do. Yet, if you get this careful balancing act just right, you’ll come away with the perfect bad guy – and that’s one who the readers love to hate.

In this respect, it’s worth thinking about The Governor in The Walking Dead. Yes he’s evil, yes he’s manipulative, yes he’s clearly completely bonkers and bordering on the psychopathically insane, but he’s a great character. As a viewer, you really hate him for what he does to Rick and his friends, but there’s part of you that enjoys hating him so much. This is because his character is well enough developed that you can see how his mind is working. You can see why he does what he does and how that fits with the way he sees the world. There’s also the subplot about his daughter that makes him come across as at least partly human and leaves you wondering whether this was what tipped him over the edge, and whether he might have ended up as one of the good guys rather than one of the baddies, if only his daughter had survived and he’d had something to live for. Does this explain the hatred that clearly burns deep within him? Maybe it doesn’t, but it’s an intriguing possibility which is raised by this little hint towards a potentially interesting back story, and this makes him all the more real.

So, when you set out to populate your zombie apocalypse story with characters, remember to put as much effort into building the bad characters as you do into building the good ones. Make sure they come across as three-dimensional characters who retain at least some of their humanity, even when they’re at their worst. Their actions might not be what you would do, but they need to at least be consistent with the way their twisted little minds work. It may take time to get them just right, but all your efforts will be more that repaid by the depth they add to your finished novel.


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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.

New Review for ‘The Outbreak’ – And It’s 4.75 Brains Out Of 5

14 Oct

Last week, Zombiegift.com posted their review of my latest book, The Outbreak. I’d been waiting with great anticipation, and some trepidation, for this review for a few weeks as I have great respect for those over at Zombiegift.com, and I know that they always give very good and honest reviews. So, when I found out the review had finally been posted, I paused, perspiring slightly, before clicking on the link to reveal what they’d thought of it.

Scanning through the first few sentences, it quickly became apparent that they’d loved the book, mostly because they ended the first paragraph with “… this second book is pretty damn good!” Scrolling to the end, I found that the book had scored an impressive 4.75 brains (their version of the ubiquitous star-rating system) out of a possible five. As you can imagine, this made my day.

If you want to read the full review, you can find it here, and if you haven’t already, I’d definitely recommend checking out Zombiegift.com, especially their blog and Facebook page, as they’re a great source of all things zombie, as well as running great zombie-based giveaways on a regular basis (including one at the moment which gives you the chance of winning a signed copy of The Outbreak).



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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.

New Moon – A Flash Fiction Zombie Story

9 Oct

I stare out into the night, but it’s pitch black. While the sky is clear, it’s a new moon, so there’s no light to be had apart from the distance star-shine, and that’s so faint it’s of no help what-so-ever. When the moon is full, or even just a narrow crescent, you can see them as they creep towards you under cover of darkness, the light glinting off their sallow, sagging flesh, making it seem like they’re glowing from within. I know it’s just a trick of the light, but it still sends a shiver down my spine every time I see it. Even though they’re dead, it seems they still have some intelligence. They know we can see them in the daylight and they lie low, hiding in dark, damp places waiting for nightfall before they emerge. When the sun drops below the western horizon, the main sense that keeps us safe, our eyesight, fails us, and we are rendered blind as they are. This levels the playing field and makes it easier for them to catch us by surprise. The darker the night, the more actively they roam, moving amongst the trees and across the open ground, hunting us no matter how hard we try to hide, and nights when the moon is new are the worst. Those are the nights when they swarm through the inky blackness in unimaginable numbers, wearing the night like an invisibility cloak; they attack our defences, trying to overwhelm us, pushing forward, searching for a weak spot where they can break through. They attack in small groups, swiftly and silently. If the defences hold, they disappear back into the darkness to regroup before we have a chance to kill them; if the defences don’t, they make it inside. When they do, they howl with delight as they surge through, drawing more from far and wide. We know we have mere seconds to neutralise them and restore the barricades before we’re overrun, and yet we have to do it without being able to see our hands in front of our faces, let alone each other or those who are attacking us. These are the nights we dread, and yet they come, regular as clockwork, once every twenty-eight and a bit days. We don’t need to mark them off on a calendar, we can just watch the moon expand and contract as the inevitable night of pure darkness approaches yet again, knowing what is coming, knowing that each month we’ll be lucky to make it through that moonless night unharmed. Every time the new moon comes, our numbers shrink. Sometimes we lose only one or two, at other times it’s too many to count. We’re being whittled down, new moon by new moon and it seems there’s nothing we can do to stop it. How many more we will survive, I don’t know, but one thing is certain. Eventually, a new moon will come which sees the last of us wiped out, and when the sun rises the following morning, it will shine on a world where were we are gone, and all that will be left of humanity is them.



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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.