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.”

 

Website changes

Over the next couple of weeks we will be doing updates and changes to the website. Hyperlinks to pages should remain as they always were but we will be slimming down the menus to make navigation easier, particularly on mobile devices. Please excuse any disruption and if you do link to any of our pages it may be worth checking those links at the end of the month just in case. 

Many thanks for your patience. We suggest a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. 

Waxing Lyrical : Into the Darkness

Waxing Lyrical is an ongoing occasional series where members of the creative industries are invited to contribute posts. If you are interested in participating please contact adele@foxspirit.co.uk.

Please be aware this post tackles difficult issues. 

***

Into the Darkness by Tabatha Stirling

Last night I watched, ‘Amy’, a poignant biopic of the young, troubled jazz singer who died at 27.  As I watched I found myself becoming angry with her parents who saw the signs so early of her mental distress and chose to ignore it.

And then I remembered that my parents had done something very similar.  Not out of malice or even ignorance, just a supreme indifference to me, their massive disappointment.

My darkness comes from a four-decade battle with Bi-Polar Disorder.  It has been an intense, exhilarating, intrusive and at times, quite terrifying ride and I don’t expect it to ever change.

With my mood cycling it was impossible to hold down a job.

I was a junkie, bulimic, anorexic and a cutter.  I was sexually vulnerable, unconventional and, instead of getting a secretarial job after finishing school (yes, really), I chose to get a portfolio together and managed to find a place at Art School.

I was intensely embarrassing for my parents and their colonial backgrounds because I wouldn’t stay silent about my illness.  I was supposed to be humble, to be grateful and to be quiet.

Instead, I wrote about it, had messy breakdowns and several stays in the high profile Priory and Nightingale clinics in London.

In my manic phases I would hitchhike across London at 4.00 am, sleep with countless men and women and became involved in the Kink scene because it was the only arena I felt understood.  Here were the outcasts, the misfits and the beautiful perverts who lived inside a bold and daring carnival, dancing with the freaks, the geeks, tops, bottoms and giving me the best excuse to wear corsets I have ever had.

Unbelievably, my depressive cycles were even more dangerous.  I became almost comatose, staying in the same clothes for days.  I ignored the intrusive phone and the battering at the door by frightened friends or bailiffs seeking payment.  I shunned food, sunlight, and society.  Smoking endless packets of cigarettes until my lungs became raw with the punishment.

My flat was full of dust and sticks and dog fur, I was a low budget Miss Haversham. Books were piled everywhere like colourful Pisa Towers lurching towards the floor.

Sometimes, I would crawl to the bathroom and read the backs of shampoo and bath oil bottles, taking comfort from the nurturing advertising.

I was suicidal on a daily basis, cutting my arms to relieve a terrible pressure that sex, drugs or music were unable to mask.

I couldn’t read, but worse, I couldn’t write.

There were endless years where I just didn’t care.  I was happy for that overdose to come, for my heart to give out, for my body to be violated.  I was in a station waiting room holding on for Death.

The irony is that I am a naturally optimistic woman but the darkness and the ever present struggle to stay sane because of my Bi-Polar, seeps into every aspect of my writing and gives it flavour, colour and I hope, credibility.

I fish in the blue-black depths of my characters – I raise their shadows and make them sing.  Celebrating the murderous, the psychotic, the jealous, the rageful, the black, white and red of them.

But I wonder if darkness can only exist in our work if we have experienced it, either personally or by association.

I put this question to some of the writers’ groups that I am a part of and only one, Elvis P. (a devilish moniker), said he utilized his imagination entirely to write about darkness, because he had no personal experience with it.  Overwhelmingly, the consensus was that, ‘Yes!’ writers used their own darkness to access their character’s flaws and to breathe the bad to life on their pages.

In conclusion, I think I can say that I do access my own darkness quite naturally to nurture the flaws in my characters.  It can be a deeply painful, cathartic and even mischievous experience.  When Amy Winehouse wrote her Black to Black album every lyric, every breath was homage to her emotional and physical decimation.

I can only give thanks for the fact that I am still here, medicated now, healthier, happier and to my great surprise, a devoted and loving mother.

As I accepted my darkness and my illness, my writing improved.  Just as if it was an injured hawk that had been given the gift of flight back, despite its brokenness.

My darkness is profound in its pain but it is also my friend.

***

I am proud to live in Edinburgh, Scotland with my Warrior-Poet husband, two elven children and a depressed Beagle, called The Beagle.

I recently signed with Unbound, the literary crowdfunding publisher, for my book about maid abuse in Singapore called Blood On The Banana Leaf.  Funding stands at a revved up 32 percent so if you felt like pledging for some really excellent rewards and my unfettered love, please click here >>> https://unbound.com/books/blood-on-the-banana-leaf

When I’m not writing or baking cupcakes, I am thinking about writing, reading,  studying for my Mlitt in Creative Writing at Glasgow University, designing book covers, gaming or watching dark, blood-splattered dramas like the Walking Dead, Ray Donavon and Sons of Anarchy. I am totally prepared for a zombie apocalypse!

https://unbound.com/books/blood-on-the-banana-leaf

@volequeen

www.volequeen.com

tabathadesign.tumblr.com

 

 

Not the Fox News: The Other F Word

I had a whole draft of this column which was basically the opening monologue from the grumpiest episode of Last Week Tonight. I talked about just how fucking unbearable of a horror show the last couple of weeks have been for, well, pretty much everybody. I had stuff in there about how US politics is so morally bankrupt they can unperson a hate crime against the LGBT community because selling more guns is more important than saving more lives. I had a whole bit about the collection of feral and rabid children’s TV mascots who are dominating UK politics right now. I described one particularly odious one as ‘Darkest timeline Mr Toad.’ If you know which one I mean, that’s pretty funny. If you don’t, please, seriously, keep it that way. He doesn’t deserve to live in any more people’s heads and you can use the space for something better.

ANYTHING better.

I touched on just how horrific it is to have a British politician murdered for the first time in almost three decades. I talked about just how great an actor Anton Yelchin was and how inconceivably, brutally unfair it is for anyone to die as young as Jo Cox, Yelchin or any of this year’s stream of victims to date.  I talked about how the referendum I’m voting in on Thursday is something no one wants but, because UK politics really is The Thick of It with horror instead of jokes, we have to do it anyway. I talked about how tired, and angry and, at times, how frightened I am of this stuff.

 

You won’t be reading that column.

 

It’s taken three days for me to get the distance I needed to realize something. I wasn’t witing it for publication, I was writing it to get it out of my head. To exert a little control in a year which, at the halfway point, feels like that bit in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where shit starts to get very, very real indeed. It helped me. Reading it back, the only thing it would do for you is add to the foothills of Mount WhiteDude Thinkpiece.

So, instead, let’s talk about joy.

Things are rough right now and things are so generically rough, everywhere that people across the planet will probably read that sentence and go ‘Damn right.’ When things are this bad there are two ways to deal with it, I’ve found, that work.

First off, manage your strength. This week in particular, social media is going to be a dumpster fire. A lot of people are going to want to engage with issues a lot of the time. Sometimes you’ll be one of them. Have at. But, when you can, step away. Time and again, over the catastrophe parade of the last few years, I’ve seen people obsessively parked on social media watching stories develop.

Sometimes that holds you up.

Sometimes it puts you down.

Learn to step away, learn to choose when to engage. Be prepared for that answer to be ‘never’ if you need it to be. But please, at the very least stretch and hydrate once an hour.

Secondly, find some fun. One of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century once said we want fun. And Doctor WK was right, we do. In fact we don’t just want it we need and deserve it. So, please, if you can, enjoy yourself. Want to know the best way I found to do that this week?

Lion Spaceships.

 

Voltron: Legendary Defender on Netflix is SO much fun. Classic Voltron premise; alien battleships shaped like lions that turn into a colossal robot, tetchy crew, space princess, comedy space mice, guy with a big mustache. The whole thing is designed to be accessible for people who’ve never seen any form of the show before and boy does it pay off. The animation, from the Legend of Korra team, is amazing. The voice work, especially Bex Taylor-Klaus as Pidge, is great and the show has a wonderful energy and spark to it. It’s smart and kind and goofy and fun and THERE IS A COLOSSAL ROBOT MADE OUT OF LION SPACESHIPS. Seriously, if you’ve got Netflix, go watch it, it’s great.

Amazon Prime more your speed? Watch The Duff. Mae Whitman is going to win Oscars later in her career. She’s an endlessly gifted and completely open comedic actress with dramatic chops to back it up. Whitman is the lynch pin of a smart, witty comedy that takes the usual teen drama tropes and turns them on their heads. Massively funny, emotionally nuanced and Robbie Ammell takes his shirt off. What more could you want? Aside from Lion Spaceships?

Neither of the above? Go pick up Speed. The greatest action movie of the 1990s. Actually two of the greatest action movies of the 1990s and the third act which is a bit bobbins. Regardless, Keanu Reeves’ hyper intense, and not super bright, SWAT officer remains one of his greatest roles, Sandra Bullock is fantastic and there’s an uncredited Joss Whedon script polish. Which, trust me, you’ll notice. Also, play spot the Richard Schifff cameo! It’s not where you think!

atomic

Not a movie person? Phonogram by Gillen, McKelvie and others is one of the definitive comics of the last three decades. Music as magic and magic as music in the post Britpop years. And if you’ve read the series then you know three things:

1.I’m right.

2.It has taken Herculean levels of self control to not write an entire thing about the issue that panel is from and how much fizzing effervescent joy it brings me.

3.Simply putting that here made me smile

and…

D.Yes, you’re right. You DO need to read it again.

the omnivore's dilemma

Not a comic person? The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. One of the greatest food writers of our time talks about the surreal, Orwellian lunacy of the US food system. And also how to make really good chicken. Also there are jokes.

 

Music rather than books?

Beethoven. All of it.

 

Not a classical fan? The Stones.

Not into classic rock? Try Marian Hill.

Geek: Remixed.

Halsey.

Weird Al.

Johnny Cash. And friends.

 

Watch something. Read something. Listen to something. Play something. COOK something. This year has been full of horrors, it is only halfway done and it’s all too easy to put your back to the fire and watch the tree line for whatever’s next. I know, I’ve lived in that state of mind. I won’t say you shouldn’t do the same.  I will say you don’t have to do it all the time.

It’s okay to be frightened. It’s okay to be angry. It’s pretty mandatory to be exhausted. But it’s absolutely vital you are not just those things. We all deserve to be more than okay and right now, it seems like very few of us are even that. So please, this month, if you can? Stand down. Recharge. Have some fun. And remember; Lion spaceships

The Lonely Dark – Product Recall

If you have already purchased ‘The Lonely Dark’ in paperback you may only receive the first two parts. If that is the case please contact  adele@ foxspirit.co.uk with your address to get a replacement with all four parts of the book. We will get replacements out as a matter of urgency. In the mean time to minimize the interruption to your reading we will be delighted to provide you with the ebook in mobi and epub formats to your email address.

Anyone putting their order through from this weekend (20th December) should be absolutely fine.

Our sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused. We thank you for your understanding and patience while we resolve things.

cover_ld02

 

A Special Christmas Offer

It’s nearly Christmas and Billy’s Monsters are here!

In a moment of Christmas Spirit (no Aunty Fox has not been at the sherry) we have decided that if you have bought or buy the paperback of Billy’s Monsters this December we will give you the ebook and send it to a kindle address of your choice.

All you need to do to claim is send your proof of purchase to adele@(NOSPAM)foxspirit.co.uk (remove the (NOSPAM) along with the kindle address you want the book sending to. Please title your email ‘Billy’s Offer’.

If you or the person you want to gift the ebook to are not kindle owners, not to worry, we can send an epub or mobi file to an email address.

 

billys monsters - front coversmall

 

Stephen Godden

It’s a sad day for the Skulk as I find myself posting to tell you all we lost one of our own. Stephen Godden wasn’t someone I knew well personally, which is a shame. He was a brilliant and unique writer, a pleasure to deal with and unquestionably part of Fox Spirit.

His story Geronimo was one of the three that kickstarted the whole Fox Pockets concept and is available for anyone to read free that doesn’t know his writing yet (you really should). He also appeared in Fox & Fae with ‘They are the dead’ which was another stunning piece of writing. I am proud to have worked with him.

He is such a loss to us, I cannot fathom what a loss he must be to his friends and family.

Stephen will always be a pirate to us here at Fox Spirit, may his spirit sail with fair seas and strong winds.

 

Foxy Forums

The Prof, the Rev and the Captain with Charlie Fox.
The Prof, the Rev and the Captain with Charlie Fox.

In order to aid skulk related discussion and general bookish chatterings we have set up a Foxy Forum. It’s in its early days but it won’t work without you, our skulktastic readers, writers, artists and friends making use of them.

So far we have a welcome post, a ‘book flu’ topic for sharing recommendations and an ‘events’ topic for sharing details of events you are attending or want to let us know about. I have also added an ‘quick questions’ topic so you can ask questions of us or our authors. We will answer what we can.

Add topics, get chatting and have fun.

The Skulk Map

You may have noticed on FB or twitter I have been asking for members of Fox Spirit skulk to tell us their nearest City or Town. These will be added as anonymous markers to our Skulk Map. I am not generally adding people without their giving me the information (with the exception of a few good friends) even though it’s anonymous on the site.

I would really like to see the spread worldwide of writers, artists and reviewers involved in Fox Spirit in someway, even if it’s a single story or a one off amazon review. So tweet us or message us @foxspiritbooks with your nearest town or city and we will add  a marker.

 

 

 

 

Leicester workshops

So I will be doing a couple of sessions aimed at unpublished writers, covering some of the basics at the Leicester Phoenix for Creative Leicestershire.

***

Creative Leicestershire in partnership with Fox Spirit Books are offering ‘A Quick Guide to Your Publishing Options’ over two twilight sessions in October. These sessions are aimed at unpublished writers who want to explore their options with an introductory overview to the world of publishing. Join us for discussion and workshops and bring a layer of thick skin as you will need to be prepared to give and take some feedback.

Session 1 will focus on choosing your route; self, small or traditional big press publishing and the pros and cons of each. It will also cover contacting, querying and dealing with publishers.

Session 2  will explore having an online presence, managing your online identity and interacting publicly with fans and reviewers.

Both sessions will offer a Q&A opportunity.

Adele Wearing ran a book review site and was involved in literary events for a number of years before starting Fox Spirit Books. As a small publisher she works around her day job with a copy editor and book formatter to produce quality genre fiction and occasional non-fiction. Fox Spirit has been running for just over two years and this year was short listed for Best Small Press and Anthology for Tales of Eve by the British Fantasy Society.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-quick-guide-to-your-publishing-options-part-1-tickets-12579588889

http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-quick-guide-to-your-publishing-options-part-2-tickets-12579653081

The sessions are £10 each if you attend only one session or £15 to attend both.  This includes a free glass of wine or juice. Payment via PayPal is to Fox Spirit Books.

Places are limited to 12 per session.