Blog posts needed!

This call is just for female identifying folk.

There was a thread on twitter today, started by the lovely @Odrah, regarding those click baity ’10 things’ lists often associated with women’s magazines. You know, 10 ways to keep him interested, 10 ways to wear a wrap, 10 things women over 40 shouldn’t wear (the skins of our enemies?) etc etc. The initial thread was about alternative types of 10 things articles. I have the go ahead to run with the idea for a blog series.

While we are not in anyway opposed to women’s magazines with their shoes and make up and bikini body tips (how you woman is entirely up to you) we  do think that for balance it would be nice to see ’10 best places to eat cheese’ or ’10 work outfits that have actual proper pockets’, ’10 women in politics worth following on twitter’, ’10 sword techniques you can practice in limited space (living room), ’10 things to ask a tattoo artist before you commit’.

So that is the blog call. £10 token payment per post, no word limits, thought for guidance, 500 – 1,000 usually works well for blogs, short and snappy is fine though! I mean a literal list of 10 hilarious points works. Subjects, I am particularly keen to see representation from HEMA and other marital arts, clothing that has nothing to do with fashion (pockets), food posts that are about pleasure not weight, and frankly anything you wouldn’t expect to see generally. Have fun, that’s the whole point, we aren’t trying to shame people who enjoy women’s mags, I do on occasion, we are just playing with alternative versions of the concept. 

You can tweet me if you want to check the subject before you write @FoxSpiritBooks and articles should be emailed to adele@foxspirit.co.uk along with your paypal address for payment. 

 

 

We Are Seven

Well, I have to say when I agreed to do one book, on split proceeds in 2012 I didn’t expect to be here celebrating our seventh birthday and over 70 titles. I am so proud of what we have accomplished and the stories we have put out, of all our authors and artists and the behind the scenes team of editors and formatter and others who work their tails off to make FS what it is. 

Over on twitter we are doing random giveaways all month and other bits and bobs. We also have, throughout June a 25% discount on the FS ebook store (shop ebooks above) with the voucher code ‘skulkis7’.

I ordered this cake for my birthday a year or two ago, but it seems fitting. 

We will be getting the newsletters going again this weekend, after a brief hiatus (I changed day jobs) and there are even more exclusive short stories on the members page, along with a long term discount on the store and more stuff to come, so please do consider joining the skulk. 

We have loads of amazing titles coming out this summer, so there will be updates coming on those too. 

I would also like to do an update on our authors who are out in the world doing other stuff, so if you have ever written for Fox Spirit and have books recently out or coming soon, award nominations, events, or anything else please let us know. We want to spread the good news this month as we are full of birthday joy.
It’s also Mr Fox’s actual birthday soon so there is so much cake going on at Kettu talo!!

 

Not The Fox News: Batfleck No More

Just under six years ago, I wrote this.

Just under ten hours ago, it was confirmed that the next Batman movie, The Batman, will arrive in 2021 and Ben Affleck will not be the visible chin in the suit.

What a weird six years, that’s somehow only produced three movies he’s actually played the role in, it’s been. I stand by my original column too; Affleck was an excellent choice for the role and one that the studio pretty clearly had absolutely no idea what to do with from the jump off. He was writing, directing and starring in the Batman movie. Then he was starring and writing. Then he was just starring. Now he’s going to be in the audience. In the interim, he turned in a good performance in a film full of occasional brilliance and frequent mystifying stumbles, a visibly weary and yet still weirdly charming turn in a film broken in two by numerous problems at every level and rode on a shiny purple Lamborghini. He deserved better, and after a while, you could kind of see him realizing that. And so did we.

So what now? Or rather who now?

Well, Matt Reeves is a safe pair of hands, that’s a given. I mean, sure, everyone has an Under Siege 2: Dark Territory somewhere but look past that and you’ve got Cloverfield, which is a legit epochal piece of cinema. Hate found footage movies all you want but Cloverfield is never less than visually impressive and changed the grammar of blockbusters in general and monster movies in particular. From there Reeves directed the critically acclaimed remake of Let The Right One In and made the revamped Planet of the Apes trilogy not only his own but a strikingly intelligent, modern and bleak retelling of what could have so easily been a goofy cash in. And he wrote all of them too. Behind the camera is just fine, no worries there.

But in front of the camera, there’s an opportunity. An opportunity to break accepted wisdom and actually do something genuinely new and revolutionary with the character. We know Reeves wants to cast a young Bruce and that the movie is planned as an actual detective story with a large rogue’s gallery as opposed to the yelling nocturnal punch fest that so many other Batman movies end up as.

So here’s how you do it. Or rather, how I’d do it.

David Mazouz

The kid has held Gotham, a series of 42 minute explosions, together for five years. He’s literally grown into the role, on screen and has the exact combination of presence, compassion, gravitas and literal batsarse crazy eyes to sell it. Plus you get instant good will from the Gotham crowd, you reward Mazouz for carrying that show on his back for five years and if we’re really lucky? The greatest version of Alfred Pennyworth ever committed to screen comes with him. ‘Ave iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!

Michael B. Jordan

Oh you know this makes sense. Jordan is a fiercely intelligent performer and uses that intelligence in the service of his roles. He’s arguably the lynchpin of Black Panther and his Shakespearean Killmonger is, hands down, the best villain the Marvel movies have had to date. Imagine that intelligence, that focus, put to cleaning up Gotham City.

Then there’s the physical dimension. Jordan’s extraordinary work in the Creed movies shows he’s ridiculously physically capable too. Plus he’s a legit geek so there’s instant good will from the hard to win over members of the audience and his best performances sit absolutely in the sweet spot Reeves seems to want; a young, driven, slightly impulsive Bruce completely focused on his work but perhaps over-extending himself. It’s Creed in a cowl, and Jordan knows that territory very, very well.

LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 16: Oscar Isaac attends the European Premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in Leicester Square on December 16, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage)

Oscar Isaac

Just let me have this one. I know the age gap probably isn’t big enough and Isaac’s blockbuster dance card is going to be good and full for the next few years anyway. But very few people could be Bruce Wayne better than him. Isaac’s sophisticated without being sleazy, intense without being goggle eyed crazy pants and he can do grounded, mournful decency and swashbuckling charm with equal ease. Often in the same scene. I accept he’s probably out of the range but if we can’t get him as Batman, then surely he’s a Commissioner Gordon in waiting.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 05: Colin Morgan attends the UK Premiere of “Testament of Youth” at Empire Leicester Square on January 5, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

Colin Morgan

Morgan’s two best known performances in the UK are as Merlin in Merlin and Leo in Humans. The two roles are a textbook demonstration of his range and why he’d be a good fit for the cowl. Morgan can do seething intensity, emotional damage and comedic awkwardness effortlessly and all of them with a guiding intelligence. Bruce Wayne as a player of games, as a mask worn by Batman is something Morgan could absolutely ace. Plus he looks good in a tux so there’s that.

 

There’s the temptation to complicate matters of course. To fold in other members of the Bat family, to discuss the correct Robin for the occasion that sort of thing. There’s also the compulsory requirement to point out that Batman is arguably one of the most over-exposed characters to hang a movie off if you’re looking to break new ground. He’s a guilt ridden billionaire trauma victim who sublimates his rage and guilt by punching criminals. That’s slightly facetious sure but it’s also a good chunk of the character and I worry that a younger Bruce would mean we’d have to sit through the second most overplayed origin story in comics for the umpteenth time.

That being said, there are interesting things to still do with Batman and a raft of great Bat characters that are screaming out for a movie of their own. The Reeves movie won’t be that, but it is a new start and that’s something the DCEU has begun to see real success with. Wonder Woman was great. Aquaman, book torturing idiot dude bro lead aside, was great. Shazam looks big fun and if it is it’ll triangulate the idea that DC movies work best when they work alone. So bring on the new Bat, whoever he may be. Batfleck’s era is gone, and that’s for the best for everyone, including him. Let’s see who picks up the cowl next and if their luck is any better. It certainly deserves to be.

Christmas Countdown Day 23

Magic and traditions of Christmas by Penny Jones Part 3

He’s been, he’s been. Can I open my presents now?

My final tradition at Christmas is of course the Christmas book. As a child it was always an annual, and I am stupidly excited that this year “The Sinister Horror Co.” have produced a horror themed Christmas annual, it will be my first present opened on Christmas day, and I’m really excited to read it (during their launch at SledgeLit, I closed my eyes and stuck my fingers in my ears so that none of the wonder would be spoiled for me, before Christmas Day). Usually my Christmas book (one of the many of them) is by Stephen King. The one year he didn’t release a new book in time for Christmas, he ruined Christmas for me (still haven’t forgiven him). Christmas afternoon is usually spent playing games and being social, but the whole family are really just counting down the minutes until we can slope off to bed with our newest tomes, and indulge in the real meaning of Christmas. Books.

So if you are looking for something traditional to read this year, you can’t go wrong with Charles Dickens’s “The Christmas Carol”, John Masefield’s “The Box of Delights”, “The Sinister Horror Co. Annual”, or Stephen King’s “Elevation”.

Merry Christmas everyone, and remember… “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.”

Not The Fox News: There Is Hope

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope recently. Not just the abstract concept, although it is one of my personal favorites along with ‘biscuits’ and ‘Every Brooklyn Nine-Nine cold open ever’. But rather the fact it’s often overlooked in genre fiction and how powerful it can be when it’s there.

My earliest exposure to serial fiction, and hope in science fiction, was the Sector General series by James White. These were a series of novels, novellas and short stories set aboard the Sector
General station, a neutral medical facility designed to cater for aliens of any biology and scale. The problems, the antagonists, were more often the challenge of getting the patient diagnosed or sedated than anything action related (Although there was occasional punching) and the end result was a series of stories that presented as fundamentally benevolent puzzles. One particularly great instalment involved the logistics of operating on an alien the size of a continent.

I took two things away from the Sector General books. The first was a reaffirmation of my profound respect for every stripe of emergency responder and customer facing profession. My dad was a teacher. My mom was a nurse. I have friends and family in emergency response, the Armed Services and political journalism. All of them put themselves between society and harm for a living. All of them, to misquote A Few Good Men, stand on the wall and tell us nothing bad’s going to happen while they’re there. Or at the very least, nothing else bad.

The second was a fondness for stories that were based around that very concept; hope. It’s intoxicating, especially these days, to look at fiction that has at it’s core a belief in the fundamental goodness of people. And the brilliant, tragic thing about that is that ‘these days’ could apply to any period in the stretch of history that humanity has told stories to itself. The world is always ending but never quite does. And there’s always hope.

There’s no more intellectual demonstration of this than Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Sir Patrick
Stewart’s iconic role in Star Trek: The Next Generation remains the star around which decades of
TV, movies, comics and novels orbit. Picard was, and still is, the anti-Kirk. Intellectual where his
predecessor was instinctive, compassionate where his predecessor was impulsive. A warrior when needed. A diplomat by choice. Plus he could throw Shakespearean truth bombs like no one else.

The thing I always particularly loved about Picard was that he was a team player. The best leaders are the ones who listen, and so much of TNG was about just that; a problem being worked by a room full of brilliant people, some of whom were human, all of whom were fallible. There’s one particular episode where everything has gone VERY pear shaped and Picard’s first response is to stand, pull his jacket down (obvs) and address the bridge in that stentorian, France by way of Sheffield voice:

‘SUGGESTIONS’

An instinctive leader, in a tight situation, trusting his people to know things, and see things, that he doesn’t. I think about that a lot, both as a man and as the co-owner of a company.
And now, Captain (later, Admiral and if I remember correctly, Ambassador) Picard is making a
return. Stewart has confirmed that a mini-series focusing on him is in the works. That’s amazing
news, not just because Stewart is a titan but because Picard is the exact sort of lead that 2018
popular culture desperately needs. Intelligent, measured, calm. Doesn’t own a twitter account.
Yes, this could be a Logan situation where we watch Stewart do ‘Samuel Beckett! In! Spaaaaaace!’
But even if that’s the case the character is still fundamentally hopeful, still concerned in his entirety with the best of people. Still someone with intelligence in one hand and compassion in the other, wielding both not as weapons but as tools. Still an icon of hope.

Which brings us to Ant-Man and the Wasp. The sequel to one of the better versions of White Man
Begins that Marvel had us slog through over the last few years is just ridiculously charming from
the get go. Everything that didn’t work last time has been dialled down, everything that did work
has been dialled up and it feels like the Ant-Man movies have now joined the Captain America and Guardians movies as having a distinctive style all their own.

And, fundamentally, the best thing about Ant-Man and the Wasp is that there isn’t a bad guy,
there’s an antagonist.

Hannah John-Kamen is one of those performers whose work has been effortlessly good from the
jump off. She’s incredible in Killjoys, she’s great in Black Mirror, the cameo she has in Tomb Raider
and basically everything else. In Ant-Man and the Wasp, she plays Ghost, a dimensionally
dislocated thief and assassin. She survived the accident that killed her parents, which in turn
damaged her on the quantum level meaning her cells constantly tear apart and reform. She’s
essentially unlocked at the quantum level, leaving a ghostly image of herself when she moves and able to phase through solid objects. Rescued by SHIELD, and turned into an assassin by what’s implied to be Hydra-controlled SHIELD, she lives in constant agony and the relief for her pain is wound up with the very personal rescue mission that drives the A plot of the movie.

She’s also a chronic pain sufferer, albeit one with a science fictional twist. And the moment it becomes apparent that her condition is directly linked to Hank Pym’s research, the movie becomes two rescue missions, one of which is to save her. No science weirdo left behind, not on this watch.

It’s such a brilliant move that it’s passed a lot of people by. Because to be clear, Ghost is a villain
for a good two thirds of the movie. One of the best action sequences is a knockdown drag out
brawl between her and Wasp where her phasing powers and Wasp’s size control basically mean
one shot in three lands and all of them hurt. One of the others is a chase which basically involves
Scott hurling himself around obstacles with acrobatic abandon while Ghost methodically walks
through them. She’s always a threat, but when that threat is contextualised she becomes
something greater, rarer and infinitely more interesting; someone with immense power, in need of immense help. A spy who brought in from the quantum cold by the offer of the one thing no one can resist;
Hope.

There are other examples too. Margaret Stohl’s extraordinary, brave deep dive into the abusive
past of Captain Marvel. The rise of the 20 minute explainer as a program in its own right instead of a news segment. Culture, on every front, in every way is starting to rise to meet the hellscape of the late 10’s with the best possible tool to solve the problem; knowledge and through that, yet
again, hope.

And it needs to. 2018 is a dumpster fire of increasingly 20116ian proportion. But there have been
2016s and 2018s before. The world is always ending, but it never quite does and, like The Crystal Method said, there is hope. And right now, there’s more than there was at the top of the year. That’s not a large victory by any means but you know what? It’s a damn good start.

What is better than werewolves in space?

Only more werewolves in space!!

We are very pleased to announce that Starfang Volume 2 in now live and available, with volume 3, the final book in the trilogy, due very soon and ebooks also out this year. 

Joyce Chng is a Singaporean SFF writer and we are pleased to be able to bring you more of her space adventures with Claw of the Clan

Snippet Sunday : Asian Monsters

Blood Like Water 
by Eve Shi

My friend Budi told me that Pak Eko saw the creature toward midnight. The retiree was watching a dangdut singing competition on TV when a faint thump came from his front porch. The second time he heard the sound, Pak Eko went to wake up his sleeping son. The young man, feeling entitled to a full rest after a day’s work at the sub-district civil office, only grunted.
Armed with a knife, Pak Eko carefully unlatched the front windows. The porch, its tiles dull and cracked under the fifteen-watt lamp bulb, seemed empty. Pak Eko caught a whiff of something rotten, and then it was gone. He was about to close the windows when the creature appeared on the left side of the porch.
Pak Eko’s terrified yell rang out in the cold night. Ten minutes later, his immediate neighbours
arrived at his house in trickles. By then Pak Eko was lying on his bed, eyes closed and taking one slow breath after another. His son, looking mildly embarrassed, sat by the bed and massaged his father’s temples with cajuput oil smeared fingers.
‘It smelled a bit like fish,’ the young man mumbled. ‘Very tall—all my dad could see was
its chest. That’s about it.’
Budi’s uncle had been among the neighbours who gathered outside Pak Eko’s room. Budi passed the story on to me while we were crouching beside a stream, a manila-paper windmill sticking out from its bank. We had been struggling to position the windmill just so, to make the water constantly slap at its sails and rotate them.
‘Sounds like an awesome night,’ I said. Uneven grass separated the stream from the village’s main street, a bumpy, potholed stretch of asphalt. Beyond the street lay fields of unharvested rice, the water glinting with reflections of the five o’clock sun. ‘The kids in my class talked about it all day long.’
‘That creature was a lelepah,’ Budi stated, with the confidence of someone who was well-versed in Central Javanese folktale. As if I, along with the other children in the village, hadn’t absorbed the same stories from our elders. ‘Don’t you agree, Wiya?’
‘Pak Eko must’ve had a pond on his porch, since those creatures only eat fish.’
Budi flapped his hand in a familiar gesture: Clever Wiya, resorting to sarcasm whenever she
can’t come up with a quality response. I briefly considered dunking him into the stream, and
instead kept my thin smile on.
‘Lelepah aren’t even from here,’ I added. ‘They live at Progo River, near Magelang. That’s far to the south.’
‘Maybe one of them got lost. Or, yeah, it could be something else!’
As we continued to fiddle with the windmill, Budi wondered aloud what else the night visitor might have been. A burglar? No, they come in groups and rarely work solo. Pocong, a living corpse? But it wasn’t wrapped from head to toe in a white cloth. Genderuwo, then? No, they usually stalked women and children. And Pak Eko saw no fangs or fur. Finally, Budi concluded that the creature had indeed been a lelepah.

Women in Horror & Making Monsters

Making Monsters

Futurefire.net Publishing and the Institute of Classical Studies are currently working on a mixed fiction and nonfiction anthology titled Making Monsters, with a focus on classical monsters in fantasy, horror or science fiction short stories. They currently have a call for fiction submissions out with deadline February 28th.

 The book will be published in the middle of 2018, and edited by Emma Bridges and Djibril al-Ayad. Our monster editor Margrét Helgadóttir will have an essay in the book about the world’s monsters, based on her experiences with editing the Fox Spirit Books of Monsters. To celebrate the monsters and the coming Making Monsters book, she interviewed Emma Bridges about the background for the book and monsters.

  1. What inspired the book?

In October 2017 we held a public event entitled “Why do we need monsters?” at the Institute of Classical Studies in London, where I am based. At the event four academics who have researched different aspects of monsters shared some of their work. It was attended by a mix of people who were interested in contemporary monster culture (for example in films, novels and art) and those with an interest in the ancient world. There were some great questions from the audience and it also generated a lot of interest on Twitter, with people sharing their favourite monster images and so on via the hashtag #ICSMonsters. Certain themes kept recurring in the discussions we were having – conversations around monsters and gender, or monsters and disability, for example. The idea for Making Monsters came from that – it’s a great way of continuing those conversations and combining creative responses to monsters (poems and short stories) with essays written by those (including some of the speakers at the original event) who have an academic interest in the theme.

  1. What do you hope to achieve with the book?

I’m really keen to find ways in which the work which goes on in universities can be shared with the wider public – this kind of “public engagement” is a key part of my role here at the Institute of Classical Studies, which is a centre for supporting, facilitating and disseminating academic research in classical subjects. I’m hoping that the book reaches those who might be curious about either classical myth or monsters more generally, or who enjoy reading speculative fiction, but who haven’t necessarily read anything academic about any of those things. The fiction/poetry and essays by academics will complement each other well as they will draw together some recent research on the topic with new imaginings of classical monsters produced by creative writers. Along with many other classical scholars I’m particularly interested in the contemporary reception of classical myth – the ways in which ancient texts, themes and ideas have been reinvented in new artistic and cultural contexts by writers, artists and other creative practitioners – and it’s also exciting to think that the call for poems and stories will result in the creation of a series of brand new pieces of creative writing focusing on these characters.

  1. What is a monster in your definition?

I think that monsters are often physical incarnations of humans’ deepest fears – they are imagined creatures, often with exaggerated characteristics (like having huge fangs or multiple heads), or whose bodies are hybrid forms combining the physical features of several different creatures. There’s often a sensory element to the way in which we envisage monsters too – they might be imagined as making terrifying noises, for example, or as being unpleasant to touch.

  1. What is your favourite monster?

Rather than having one favourite monster, I have favourite versions of particular monsters. So at the moment I’ve been thinking a lot about Steven Sherrill’s Minotaur in his novel The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, which takes the Minotaur out of the classical world and relocates him as an awkward, lonely and misunderstood character in contemporary America. It’s a really interesting exercise in what happens when we take a different perspective on a character who was traditionally seen as straightforwardly terrifying – Sherrill helps us to get inside the mind of the Minotaur as a character whose difference from the “norm” makes it hard for him to fit in. In a similar vein I really like the artist Howard Hardiman’s rendering of the Minotaur too – his is a melancholy figure for whom it’s hard not to feel sympathy, and on looking at that image I find myself imagining how terrible it must have been to be confined to a labyrinth, away from contact with the outside world except for the delivery of a consignment of humans for his next meal. For sheer gruesomeness in visual art, though, it has to be Rubens’ Medusa for me – she’s pretty terrifying!

  1. Do you think monsters play a role in our societies and cultures?

Since ancient times, it seems that humans have always imagined monsters in their stories and art – so, for example, in Homer’s epic Odyssey we find characters like the many-headed Scylla, who terrorises sailors by snatching them from their ships and devouring them, or the one-eyed man-eating Cyclops who is cast by the poet as representing the very antithesis of civilised society. I think that monsters like these have a role to play both in showing the extent of the human imagination and also in illustrating the things that people have always found frightening – often that’s about the fear of the unknown (such as the anxiety associated with undertaking a voyage across unfamiliar seas, as in the case of the Scylla), or about the subversion of what is perceived as the “correct” type of behaviour in any given society (as in the case of the Cyclops).

  1. Has this changed in modern times? Is it important to pay attention to modern incarnations and reception of classical mythology and literature?

I think that the continuing appeal of stories and films about, for example, werewolves or vampires, shows that the fascination with supernatural creatures who have the power to inspire terror has never really gone away! Where contemporary receptions of classical mythology are concerned, to me one of the most interesting things is the way in which old stories and characters are continually being revisited and adapted in new contexts. Any new version of a mythical story can influenced by, for example, the artist or writer’s own interests or personal beliefs and experiences, as well as by the contemporary political, social or creative context within which it is produced.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to practitioners for the journal Practitioners’ Voices in Classical Reception Studies and I’ve learned that the motivations for adapting myths in a particular way are as varied as the artists and writers who reinvent them. Looking at these new versions and talking to the people who produce them also helps me and others to understand more deeply some of the ancient texts which I study. By definition myth is fluid, not fixed – there is no one “correct” version of a story – and just as the ancient Greeks and Romans reinvented their own stories in new contexts and using different genres or artistic media, so that remaking of the stories still goes on now.

Thanks for joining us, Emma! Best of luck with the book!

Robin Kaplan, also known as The Gorgonist, has given permission to use her image “The Lonely Gorgon” as cover art for the book.

Read more about the forthcoming book Making Monsters here.

Snippet Sunday : Akane

Akane : Last of the Orions
By G. Clark Hellery
YA novel. 

‘I was chased by the police, then I had a run-in with the Shadows.’ I kick off my shoes and drop my bag as I walk across the room, ignoring the glare from the ever-neat Raulla. She waits a moment, then quickly snatches my shoes and places them by the door before picking up my bag and placing it on the counter. I struggle to hide my eye-roll but Raulla is determined to ignore me. Gon enters and gestures to me, ‘Yes, please, a drink would be great, thanks Gon.’
I flop onto the threadbare couch. Raulla scowls slightly when she sees my dirty clothes rubbing the cloth, but I’m too tired to care. ‘It’s getting more and more difficult to do it. I don’t know how they found me, but I barely got the last of the group through the doorway when I heard the Monodrone. I had to forget the proper closing rites. I just had to run. I’m totally exhausted.’
‘At least those people are now safe from the Shadows,’ says Gon as he hands me a steaming mug and looks around the dilapidated apartment.
‘And you did well to get away,’ adds Raulla, staring at the large locket hanging around my neck. I unconsciously rub the necklace, comforted by its familiarity. I close my eyes and realise how close I had come to losing the necklace and my freedom. An Orion without her necklace, well, it was unthinkable! My mother had given me the silver locket, as her mother had given to her and so on, going back generations. It now hung from a leather cord which was soft from wear, the original chain lost to the generations. The cover was carved with symbols, faded with age, leaving only the vague impression of swirls. Inside the locket was the blood red gem, which continually moved to reflect the mood of the demon contained within.

 

Monster Writing Contest Runner Up : Richard Marpole

Waking Up Underground

by Richard Marpole

“I’ve started making a mental diary of my thoughts and impressions since I clawed my way out of my grave.  It seems like a sane and human thing to do, scientific even; I always liked science.

Day 1.

At first I thought I’d been buried alive.  

Which was ridiculous.  I am an old, old man and the disease that killed me was a serious one, it took no prisoners.  

The people you love have a particular way of looking at you when they know your time is finally running out.  My grand-daughter, my favourite human being in the world, looked at me like that just hours before I slipped away.  She is almost a woman now, but still too young to deal with death.  I reached up out of my chemical-scented hospital bed, held her hand and told her it was ok. 

That was the last lie I ever told.

It wasn’t ok, it hurt to die and it hurt even more to wake up in my grave. 

The impossibility of that awakening was followed by the insanity of my escape.  Even if the disease had left me with a heartbeat, even if the Coroner had somehow not noticed that I was still alive, even if I’d been able to breathe in that airless wooden box; I still shouldn’t have had the strength to smash its solid oak planks and dig through six feet of earth to the surface.  

But I did. 

Human minds are very good at ignoring the obvious.  It was only after I fought free of the earth’s embrace that I noticed the changes in the world, the changes in me.

…..

Day 2.

Night is nearly as bright as day now.  Full daylight is like staring into the sun.  During the day I have to bury myself again or stick to the shadows if I want to see what I’m doing.

I’m definitely dead and I’m definitely still here.  I still can’t breathe but I can walk and see and smell and taste and feel.

Mostly I feel cold.

And hungry. 

I’d like a steak; rare and red and dripping.  That’s a meal fit for a king.

Not that I like kings any more than I like priests.

…..

Day 3.

I’m quite sure that I don’t have a pulse even though I can’t prove it.  I tried pressing fingers to my wrists and neck over and over again, but my nerve endings don’t seem to work properly anymore; all I could feel was the dry rasp of dead skin.  I gave up when I realised that my fingernails, longer and sharper than I remember, were tearing my flesh open whenever my hands slipped, which was often.

Guess I’m lucky that my sense of pain is deader than the rest of me.

…..

Day 4.

I’m losing my memories of life. 

How did I convince the local authorities to let me be buried in the New Forest?  A donation to some charity or other?  A bribe?  Was I buried illegally?

I do remember why I wanted to rest here though.  I didn’t believe in any kind of afterlife but there was something peaceful about the idea of my bones ending up in a place that I’d loved so much in life.

What was my first wife’s name?  I know that she was as cruel as she was beautiful and that as a young man that had seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

Were her teeth sharp; like mine are now?  

Would she have watched the little squeaking creatures of the forest and drooled with suppressed hunger?  

Painted lips opening wide, perfect white teeth snapping closed on a terrified morsel; crunching through fur and flesh and tiny, tiny bones. 

No, that doesn’t fit my other images of her.

Not that I would eat the creatures of this forest.

The little rats are too fast for me.

…..

Day 6.

I lost myself for a bit there.

But it’s ok; I didn’t hurt anyone.

I could’ve.  There are backpackers and hikers and day-trippers in these woods.

They don’t see me.  I’m too clever and too quiet.

I wouldn’t hurt them.  But I don’t want to talk to them either.  What would I say?  

‘Can someone please tell me where I live and who with?  I promise not to bite them.’  

Or.  ‘Hello.  I shouldn’t exist so I’d like to donate my body to medical science.  Don’t worry, I’ll hold nice and still while the scalpels slice through my desiccated flesh.’

No.  Better to wait and watch.  Better to hide in dark corners and listen to the arrogant thrum of their hearts, taste the sting of their sweat in the air.

…..

Day 7.

One of the living bodies likes to watch as much as I do.

He smells awful.  Unwashed and bubbling over with bad thoughts; what my idiot son would have called sinful thoughts.

Usually it’s the young women he watches.  Perhaps he sees them as easier targets.  Wolves are like that; they go for the smaller and younger members of the herd.  Forget the nobility of nature; all predators are opportunists at heart.

…..

Day 9.

I am faster now.  The birds and bugs and other vermin cannot escape my hunger anymore. 

Nor can I.  The emptiness is a live thing, a beast gnawing at my belly.  Nothing satisfies it.

The other watcher is a poor hunter.  He catches nothing.

Perhaps I will catch him.

No; that would be insane.

I am still me.

…..

Day 12.

I heard something today that made me feel almost alive.

A high, pure perfect voice.

I slunk through the trees towards it.

A girl.  Her scent was familiar; her blood called to me and told me her names.

Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh.

Grand-daughter.

She loved the New Forest as much as I did.  Perhaps that was why she was my favourite.

I don’t want her to see me like this.

But I cannot stay away.

I’ll just watch.

…..

Day 17.

In life I demanded reasons for everything.  Why does this happen?  Why should I accept that on faith?

Now I think that I will never know why I rose from the dead.

Maybe I didn’t.  Maybe this is some kind of hell.  

…..

Day 19.

She has come again.  Tripping through the woods with her friends.

There is a hint of sadness to her; she has not forgotten who showed her these paths.  I wish that I’d never brought her here, never shared my love of nature.  Then I would be safe from her and she from me.

…..

Day 24.

I nearly killed an old man today.  I was so hungry.  But he stopped to rub his aching hip the way I used to and some shred of human feeling pulled me out of the leap that would have taken his head.  He never even saw me.

Stupid old man.

…..

Day 26.

Today was different.  She came back but so did the watcher.

The sickness in his mind was so thick that I wanted to chew it right out of his head.

He followed her.

Stalked her.

Waited until her friends had gone ahead.

Jumped out from behind a tree and knocked her down.

He loomed over her and she stared up at him, too stunned to scream.

“It’s ok.”  He told her.  “You want this.  The devil is in you.”

I was on him in the space of a living heartbeat.  We fell together, our limbs tangled.

Such a sweet struggle.  I sank my teeth into his throat and his blood danced across my tongue.  It tasted like steak and champagne and the heat of a woman’s mouth. 

He shook and cried but I held him tight.  I whispered to him between bites.  “It’s ok, it’s ok.”

When he died my hunger died with him.

For that moment I was warm and happy and content; lost in bliss.

When I came back to myself; she was looking at me, face bruised but eyes bright. 

At last everything made sense.  This was why I was brought back.  Some god I didn’t believe in had given me the chance to save the most precious person in the world.    

I almost reached out to her.  

She spoke to me.  “Grandpa?  Is that you?  What’s wrong with your face Grandpa?”

Too many questions.  

Too many hurtful truths.  

I snarled.

She screamed.

I ran from her and she from me.

…..

Did I really come back to save you, Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh?

Then why am I still here?

No matter.

Still dead.

Still cold.

…..

You better not come back here, Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh. 

I’m getting hungry again.”