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Winter is just the best time to read a horror story, especially one that will warm you up!
Sima’s room was on the ground floor of the hospital, tucked away from the chaos of the main public areas. French windows gave onto a paved quadrangle with a modern sculpture at its center. The room had been refurbished recently; the smell of paint still clung to the otherwise sterile air. She lay on the bed, propped up at a slight angle, attached to various monitors. A faint hum of passing traffic and the occasional whine of a siren drifted in through the open window. Tom hoped that they would turn on the air conditioning soon.
“Mr. Lupton.” A man of about sixty years with thick black hair, average height and build, sporting a classic Roman nose, and wearing an expensively tailored brown suit was offering his hand. Tom leapt from his chair.
“How’s she doing, Professor?”
“Please, sit down,” said Lombardo, dragging himself a chair. “How’s she doing? That’s a good question, Mr. Lupton. I have carried out a preliminary investigation of the patient and of the records that came down with her. I have to say, I’m puzzled. She demonstrates no injury. All her functions are normal. We ran another test for Bartonella, and there’s not a trace. On that matter, I’m satisfied that Poggio made a simple error.”
Tom sagged. He’d been waiting for hours. Lombardo had received top billing, and now all he could say was that he was puzzled.
“It’s still early, Mr. Lupton. The average time needed to come out of a coma is two to five weeks.”
“But do you know this is actually a coma?”
“No, not actually. As I said, I’m puzzled. Could you shed any light on what might have caused this? The doctor in Poggio del Lago gave me some story about a fall? I’m afraid I don’t buy it.” Lombardo leant toward Tom and looked him in the eye. “Why don’t you tell me what really happened, eh?”
Tom cleared his throat and ran his fingers through his hair. “You won’t believe a word of this, Professor.”
Lombardo remained expressionless throughout Tom’s monologue, occasionally making notes with his Cartier pen on a pad of paper. When Tom finished his story the professor put his pen in his pocket and raised himself out of the chair. He put his hands on Tom’s shoulders.
“Do you believe in God, Mr. Lupton?”
Tom snapped. “No, as a matter of fact I don’t.”
“Well, maybe it’s time you started.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? I thought you were a man of science.” Tom pointed to Sima. “Are you telling me that the best hope you can give her is fucking prayer?”
“No, no, Mr. Lupton, not at all. Please, calm down.”
“I am calm!” His whole body was trembling. He paused and shook his head. “Fuck it. Look…er…I’m sorry.”
“Your reaction is perfectly understandable, Tom. May I call you Tom?”
“Yes, of course. Call me anything you want. I just want you to find out what’s wrong with Sima.”
Lombardo smiled. “Thank you, Tom. And I’m Giovanni. Now, let’s take a walk shall we?” He pushed the French window wide open and, slipping his arm loosely through Tom’s, led out into the quadrangle. The heat was suffocating, and they sauntered along the concrete path that ran around the perimeter.
“Have you ever been religious?”
“No. My mother was, in her own strange way, but I could never buy into it. I was very young when I saw it for what it really is,” said Tom.
“But you had some form of religious education? You are an educated man.”
“Well, school stuff. I know about God and the Holy Trinity and Satan if that’s what you mean. But don’t ask me to name all the saints and quote the Bible.” Tom hesitated and looked directly at Lombardo. “Look, Giovanni, what are you driving at?”
“You told me what happened to Sima, and you said I wouldn’t believe it. You were brave to do so. I could have you committed if I wanted.” The professor smiled. “Don’t worry, I have no intention. I know you are not mad. But now I am going to tell you some things that you won’t believe.”
As they strolled arm in arm, Giovanni spoke softly and steadily, interrupted only by the hum of traffic in the distance and the eerie wail of sirens.
Today sees the publication of Etopia Press author Jasen Quick’s novel, The Significant Deaths of Cage and Constance. I asked Jasen over and shone my floodlight in his face:
Steve: What is your earliest memory?
Jasen: Waving at the dustmen as they drove down our street – then one of them put a scary mask on and scared me so much I ran home.
Steve: When did you first have the urge to write?
Jasen: In 1979 (aged 8) I had a poster book of the film ‘The Black Hole’. I re-wrote the story on paper and cellotaped it together to make a paperback. After that I started to write short stories.
Steve: You once wrote a feature for The Times. What was that about and how did you land that catch?
Jasen: From being in the wrong place, at the right time, with the right story. My second son died as a baby and I wrote personal article about the three days he was alive. The paediatrician at the hospital said that she had been trying to get the hospital to change their policy on ultrasound scanning so I asked whether publishing my account of my son’s short life would help. She thought it would, so I rewrote it for the public to read and submitted it to The Times. They didn’t hesitate in publishing it as a full feature. Apparently, the paediatrician showed the newspaper to the hospital’s board and they immediately changed their policy on ultrasound scanning.
Steve: I’ve only read the blurb for The Significant Deaths of Cage and Constance and I am dying to read the book. The cover is amazing, by the way. Without giving too much away, can you tell us something about the story?
Jasen: Cage Reynolds suffers from depression, lives alone and finds life somewhat boring. Then he meets someone who changes his life in a way that he could never have imagined. It’s hard to say more without giving away too much. He has a history like no one else alive and it catches up with him.
Steve: Your book’s trailer is captivating. Did you do that yourself or did you hire someone?
Jasen: I did it myself using paintshop pro and windows movie maker. I took most of the photos (and video) myself and downloaded some royalty-free music.
Steve: If you had to write a story in a different genre, what would it be?
Jasen: I’m not really sure what my genre is! The Significant Deaths of Cage and Constance is a historical, sci-fi, thriller, paranormal-ish romance. I’ve never written straight horror. I might try that under a psuedonym.
Steve: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Jasen: Yes. Can’t think what else to say about that.
Steve: What do you read for your own pleasure?
Jasen: Mostly thrillers. Dean Koontz, Jeff Lindsay, Thomas Harris, Michael Robotham. I really like Jack Finney because time-travel is a favourite subject of mine. I am currently reading “In the Shadow of Gotham” by Stephanie Pintoff. I’m half way through and recommend it.
Steve: We are hearing more and more about e-publishing. What’s your view on it and how do you see the future for the industry?
Jasen: I tend to be open-minded about things. I think there will be eighteen months of the media telling us how books are going through the same problems that music went through (and still is) and then things will settle and find their own balance. I still buy CDs and I will always buy printed books. I’m hoping my lovely wife will buy me a Kindle so I can fill it with e-books. Those which become favourite reads will find themselves on my bookshelf in hardback form as well. I think bookshops will find it difficult to stay relevant and they will need to offer a service beyond simply selling printed books. Maybe they should start selling e-readers and offer a facility for customers to buy e-books and download them to their e-readers. They could also do what cinemas did – start selling popcorn at £7 a tub. They have to make a profit on something.
Steve: Which single person has most influenced you?
Jasen: With writing, I would say Dean Koontz. Whatever people think about his books, I have always found them fun and enjoyable to read. He is clearly doing something right because he is consistently in the best sellers lists. People are quick to criticise writers like DK but I think there is a place for fun books and serious literary books alike. For general influence, I would say my grandad. He had a real presence about him and I grew up thinking he was the wisest member of our family. I hope people think that of me when I’m a grandparent.
Steve: In the film of your life, who would you want to play you?
Jasen: When I was in my early twenties people used to say that I looked like Kiefer Sutherland. Obviously if you look at my photo now there’s no similarity at all but I would be happy for Kiefer to play me in the film of my life.
Steve: How would you like to be remembered?
Jasen: As that weird guy who wrote stories which made people think about the world around them and showed people that you don’t have to copy everyone else and fill your life with what you’ve been told you should fill it with.
You can find Jasen at his website: www.jasenquick.co.uk
Published By: Etopia Press
Published: Nov 10, 2011
ISBN # 9781936751839
Word Count: 11,947
When Gareth Balaam inherits Harbinger House, he thinks his problems are over. But unfortunately, they’ve only just begun. Harbinger House has a dark past. Shrouded in mystery, what may have occurred within its walls is still a matter of conjecture. The locals at the pub talk about the place in whispers. Gareth’s partner, Tim, thinks the house is haunted.
Gareth doesn’t believe in ghosts, but he does believe Tim is using the house as an excuse to not work on their relationship. Their trip to the country to bring them closer seems to be doing the opposite. Tensions and resentments flare, and through it all, someone is watching…
Luka is lonely and bored. Confined to the shadows of the house for decades, he has driven all the previous occupants insane with lust. Except the last. The one man Luka had loved had broken his heart and had left rather than lose his mind. The house stood empty, and Luka was alone. But not anymore. There’s life in the house again, two delicious lovers, two new humans to seduce. Except one refuses to play…
I’d looked forward to reading Kiran Hunter’s debut release because it’s one of those hard-to-classify cross-genre stories that always intrigue me. A good old ghost story of the M R James variety, coupled – if I can be forgiven for using the word – with a gay relationship (I avoid the use of the word romance intentionally) between two asking-to-be-smacked middle class men from the Alan Hollinghurst school. The result is a wonderfully creepy, emotionally charged, sometimes explicit, short story that positions Hunter ready to take the world of gay/mm/paranormal fiction by storm. Read it or miss out.
“Where the hell are we?”
Gareth braked hard as yet another blind bend approached. Each tight corner had him holding his breath as he anticipated a too-close encounter with a local driver hurtling the other way. He swore at the satnav, then instinctively ducked his head as the trees overshadowing the narrow road suddenly reached down even farther. Low-hanging branches tried to pluck the car from the tarmac, and rampant brambles flailed across the road as if trying to snare foolhardy travelers and drag them into their spiky embrace. For a second he wondered no traffic had actually come this way for years and nature was trying to reclaim the road.
“Not sure it’s the satnav’s fault, Gareth. You kept telling her to shut up. I think we went wrong at the junction back there.” Tim smiled at him. Gareth had bought the damn thing because it was preferable to his partner’s map reading skills, and to save the arguments. Didn’t stop Gareth from arguing with the ever-patient gadget instead, but at least it merely calmly recalculated the journey every time he ignored it, instead of throwing a terminally battered map book into the back seat and sitting in resolute silence as Tim was prone to do.
“Where in God’s name are we?” Gareth repeated through clenched teeth.
“Ask the satnav.”
“According to the satnav, this road doesn’t exist—we’re driving across a wasteland.”
“We are somewhere near Rippington.”
“And you know that how?”
“There was a sign.”
Gareth sighed and braked hard again. The trip wasn’t going well. He had hoped the day would herald a fresh start. Fingers crossed, they’d soon be moving to a new place away from the city and he would be able to spend some time with Tim without distractions. To try to get to know each other again. A new beginning.
But even with the prospect of a change of scenery, they were still bickering.
The tiny hamlet gradually staggered into being. The scattered cottages, almost hidden in the hedgerows on each side of the road, became closer together, merging into the High Street. The small and almost imperceptibly beating heart of the community sat huddled around the small village green. The place was deserted. The only sign of life was a cat wandering, tail up, across the road. No kids playing soccer on the green—no senior citizens leaning on walls and talking about the weather.
It’s almost pretty, Tim thought. Almost, but not quite. A bit isolated. Christ knows where the nearest wine bar is. Maybe that’s a good thing? The idea of moving into the country because Gareth couldn’t keep his dick in his trousers rankled—but better that than climbing into the car in the early hours to retrieve him when he phoned from a club unable to drive or, worse than that, wondering where he was when he didn’t phone and didn’t return home, either. No temptation—and no social life…
“There’s a pub,” Gareth said, as if he’d been reading Tim’s thoughts.
“Well, it says ‘food,’ so maybe it’ll open shortly. It’s turning into a nice evening; we’ll check out the house and maybe take a walk. Kill some time before the pub opens and then get something to eat.”
“Walk where? Around the green? That should take us all of five minutes.”
“For God’s sake, Tim. At least try.”
Gareth slammed the car door shut and activated the central locking system. It was later than he’d hoped; the sun was setting, a flock of birds wheeling up into the sky before turning back on itself and settling in the trees surrounding the village church. Almost pretty, he thought, turning on his heels to take in the rest of the scene. Almost, but not quite… Good God. He cleared his throat. Tim wasn’t going to like this. “Well, there it is, I think. Somewhere in there,” he said.
“What? That?” Tim followed Gareth’s gaze across the road. “No! Look at the place!”
The gate squealed in protest, as if it hadn’t been opened for decades. The sun had almost disappeared, the tops of the trees surrounding the house now brushed with a pink glow and the garden beneath consumed by shadow.
“I suppose it could have been beautiful once upon a time. It’s a little overgrown,” Tim said.
“Adds to its charm.” Gareth hoped he sounded convincing.
“Erm, not sure charm is the word you’re after.”
“Let’s take a look. Reserve judgment until we’ve seen inside the place.”
With Tim a footstep behind, Gareth made his way up the path, negotiating crumbling concrete and easing past rampant shrubs. Beside the front door, a plaque was just visible through the ivy clinging on to the building. He pried the stubborn stems away from the wood to read the carved words beneath.
“Well, that’s reassuring, Gareth. Harbinger of doom, and all that.”
“Curious the place isn’t called that on the deeds…just 20 Willow Green.”
Gareth slid the key into the lock and turned it. There was a moment’s hesitation before the catch clicked and the door eased open an inch, as if the house wasn’t quite ready for them. He smiled at Tim and, with a dramatic flourish, gestured for him to enter first. Tim shook his head.
“After you. The place is yours.”
“Ours, Tim. It’s ours.”
The warning cry from the rusting gate ripped his senses awake, but his mind was slow to follow. All Luka was aware of at first was the agony of sound and the warm trickle of blood from his ears. His muscles stretched as he moved, tendons almost tearing from the bone as he unraveled his body from its fetal position. He wailed with the new pain—a feeble echo of the metal against metal outside. His first intake of breath rasped down his throat and burned into his lungs. He clamped his mouth shut and breathed in deeply through his nose. The house was different—the odor of dust and mold and damp was still there, but something else too. The protesting gate had heralded the arrival of new flesh. He could smell it.
A river of cold air flowed across his pain-wracked body, caressing his arms, his chest, his legs—the outside world finding a way through a crack in his prison and reawakening his nerve endings to remind him of what he had been without for so long.
Touch. Skin against skin. Breath on skin…
Catch up with Kiran here:
Bedevil is also available from:
Published By: Etopia Press
Published: Oct 28, 2011
ISBN # 9781936751778
Word Count: 29,198
For no apparent reason, Nadine, Maggie, Gary, and Nick are invited to dinner at the lavish home of top fashion writer, Erin Dartford. But why has she invited them? Why doesn’t she want her guests to mingle? And just what is it about the mysterious Erin that makes them want to run for their lives? Little do they know that as they prepare to eat their first course, an evil as old as mankind is about to be unleashed. And revenge really is a dish best served cold…
If you look back at my review of Cavendish’s first offering, In My Lady’s Chamber, you will see that I said “Cavendish captures the atmosphere perfectly and demonstrates an ability to chill in the great British tradition”. She proves herself yet again with her novella, Cold Revenge, which is a much more complex and clever tale, brilliantly executed in a manner that will delight lovers of Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected and the old Twilight Zone shows. I loved the fact that there is a message in here, and one frighteningly relevant in present times. It should be compulsory reading in the City of London and Wall Street.
“I wouldn’t mind,” Nadine said in the car as she checked her lip gloss for the third time, “but she’s only been around five minutes and we all dance to her tune. She just appeared from nowhere with a column in Vogue and suddenly she’s the critic you have to impress.”
“She must have paid her dues somewhere,” Paul said. “Maybe she was big on the Internet, although I can’t say I had ever heard of her until a couple of years ago.”
She was thoughtful for a moment, and then snapped her compact shut before replacing it in her purse. “Well, wherever she came from, or whoever she was before, she is certainly someone now. Gilly said if I upset Erin in any way, I could kiss good-bye to the rest of my career. Crazy the power some of these critics have.”
“Your manager knows what she’s talking about. You’d better listen to her.”
“I’m in the car, aren’t I? I’m going to her wretched dinner party, aren’t I?”
“OK, OK, I’m not the bad guy here.” Paul laughed.
“Sorry.” Nadine meant it. She sighed. “Gilly says I should be honored. After all, she’s never met me. Apparently that’s quite unusual. She’ll normally have done a feature on you before you get an invitation to the Hallowed Hall.”
“Hallowed Hall. It’s what people call the mansion where she lives and where we’re going tonight. It’s set in around six acres of one of the most exclusive parts of Surrey and it’s a former abbey. Its real name is St. Saviour’s but everyone just calls it the Hallowed Hall. It’s supposed to be haunted.”
“Isn’t everywhere in Surrey? Everywhere that’s more than fifty years old at any rate.”
“They had that TV program there. You know, the one fronted by the woman with the piercing scream and the parapsychologist with the weird gadgets. They heard a lot of knocking and the furniture moved around quite a bit.”
“Amazing what you can do with a bit of nylon thread and a hammer, isn’t it?”
Nadine smacked his arm. “Oh Paul, you’re such a cynic!”
“You have reached your destination.”
“Thank you, GPS,” Paul said.
Nadine giggled. It always made her laugh when he talked to his SatNav. She peered out of the window. At dusk on this summer evening, the shadows were lengthening, but the dwindling sun still shed enough light to make out the detail of the mythical beasts carved on top of the stone pillars on either side of a tall pair of wrought iron gates. These now slowly opened.
“Must have seen us on CCTV or something,” Paul mused and looked upward, apparently searching for the camera without success.
Nadine also looked up and shivered. Strange how fierce that stone beast looked and how realistic, as if, at any moment, it might leap down and strike. Must be the light. Still, she couldn’t wait to put some distance between them.
Ahead of them was a long drive and, at the end, a large illuminated house that, even from this distance, looked ecclesiastical.
Paul threw the Ferrari in gear. “OK, let’s not keep the lady waiting.”
As they approached, Nadine took in the large sandstone building with its many arched windows. Two flights of stone steps curved upward to a small terrace in front of an imposing entrance flanked by two narrow turrets. Each of these was carved with figures she couldn’t quite make out, silhouetted against the darkening sky.
He parked and, as they stepped onto the gravel, a soft breeze played around Nadine’s hair. She took Paul’s hand, taking care not to trip in her five-inch heels. Then, without warning, her stomach turned over and, for an instant, she thought she was going to be sick. She felt as if her body was telling her to leave now. The nausea was over in a flash but it unnerved her. This is crazy. It’s just a stupid dinner party. But the inexplicable feeling of unease wouldn’t go away.
The door was open, and soft music wafted toward them. They stepped over the threshold, and Nadine looked around at the scene of conspicuous wealth. The abbey showed its ancient heritage in the stone facade and the worn carvings of saints, some of whose faces had long lost their detail through the actions of wind, sun, and rain.
The interior was light and airy. Nadine recognized the entrance hall in which they were now standing, from a feature in Hello magazine some months before. The room was vast, its pale lemon walls hung with old oil paintings depicting, she presumed, former abbots. A giant marble table took pride of place in the center of the black-and-white tiled floor. Three intricately carved cherubs appeared to be holding it up, and its surface was covered in orange roses, which gave off a heady scent that filled the hall. Above them, an enormous crystal chandelier glittered. Its many pendants tinkled gently in the slight breeze from outside.
Two other couples stood at opposite ends of the hall, sipping champagne. That was strange; Nadine was sure she and Paul had arrived on time. Maybe everyone else planned to be fashionably late, although that was somewhat at odds with Erin’s famed insistence on punctuality.
“You must be Nadine Cornwall. How lovely to meet you at last.” Erin looked exactly like her photographs. Tall, thin to the point of emaciation, she was one of those women whose age was impossible to guess. She could have been anywhere between thirty-five and sixty. Her hair was a helmet of black, her eyes heavy lidded, vivid blue, and chilling. Her lips were a slash of scarlet, matched by her long nails, but she was dressed from head to toe in black. Nadine had never seen Erin pictured in anything else.
Erin was waiting to shake Nadine’s hand, so she tore her eyes away from Erin’s compelling gaze. Her hands were covered in opulent rings, the most stunning of which was an enormous ruby that reminded Nadine of a Pope’s ring she had once seen in an old film. Maybe she expects me to kiss the bloody thing.
Apparently not, and Nadine allowed the older woman to take her hand, immediately wishing she hadn’t. Erin’s grasp was dry, and her hands clawlike. Nadine was relieved when it was safe to withdraw her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Dartford.”
“Oh please, call me Erin, everyone does.”
But not because they like you. They fear you. Nadine wished Erin would stop staring.
As if reading Nadine’s mind, Erin now turned her attention to Paul. “And you must be Nadine’s husband?”
“Partner.” He took her hand and kissed it lightly. Nadine flinched involuntarily and hoped that Erin hadn’t noticed, but the thought of Paul’s lips in contact with that dry, dusty hand brought on another wave of nausea. “I’m Paul Kelly.”
“Of course. You made a fortune out of those clever little websites that show us how we can all save money if only we follow your advice.”
Paul smiled and Nadine watched the exchange, fascinated. Erin’s returning smile stayed firmly planted on her lips while, in her eyes…
“You have no idea what is going to happen to you. You came from nothing and you shall return to nothing.”
“Nadine! Are you all right?”
She jumped. Paul was shaking her arm. Erin had moved on to another couple.
“I thought you were going to pass out. You went so pale.”
She stared at him. “I have no idea, Paul. Maybe it’s low blood sugar. I really don’t know. What did I do?”
Paul smiled. “Nothing really. I don’t think Erin noticed. Her attention was diverted by Maggie O’Donnell over there.” He nodded toward the famous crime writer whose latest bestseller Nadine had just enjoyed. “She was talking to me and I caught you swaying slightly. You were staring at Erin and growing paler by the second. I really thought you were going to faint. What was it?”
Nadine searched her brain for an answer but could find none. She’d heard a voice in her head but she couldn’t remember what it had said.
“I don’t know, Paul. All I know is I just want to go home. Now.”
Paul moved closer to her. “Nadine, you can’t. You know that. She would be offended and you would be committing career suicide. Who knows? I might even be affected by the fallout. Come on and pull yourself together. It’s a bit warm in here and you haven’t eaten anything since breakfast.”
“Gilly said I needed to lose a couple of pounds.”
“You do not need to lose a couple of pounds. Hell, you make Victoria Beckham look well nourished.”
A waiter appeared with a tray of champagne and Paul handed her a glass. Nadine’s hands were shaking, but she did her best to steady them and took a large swig, not surprised to find the bubbly was good quality and perfectly chilled. She recalled how, just five years ago, she wouldn’t have known good champagne from a glass of cider. But that was before she became famous. Before… No, I don’t want to remember that. Not now. Not ever.
Paul was looking at her, curiosity in his gaze.
Her stomach heaved again. “I need to find a bathroom,” she said, handing him her empty glass and hurrying away, aware that he was following her every step.
The waiter directed her out of the hall, down a long, arched passageway. Hobbled by her heels, Nadine removed her shoes and, as she sped past the tapestry-covered walls, was vaguely aware of scenes depicting heroic battles between good and evil. She located the door she needed and opened it, then shut and locked it behind her. She leaned against it, sweat beading her brow.
The room contained an old-fashioned toilet and a dressing table with a mirror over it. Ornate gilt wall lights cast a muted glow over dark red wallpaper, giving it a Gothic air. She dropped her shoes on the floor, took a tissue from a box on the table, and gently dabbed her forehead and upper lip, closing her eyes and fanning herself to cool down. Her stomach seemed to be doing somersaults.
She jumped. Her eyes shot open. The voice had been in her ear. “Who is it?” she called.
No one replied.
I’m going mad. Paul’s right. I must eat properly. I’m hallucinating because my blood sugar’s dropped too low.
“Nadine. You know who I am.”
Terror overwhelming her, she grabbed her shoes, unlocked the door, and wrenched it open. In the passageway, she leaned against the wall, panting. That voice. She recognized that voice. But it couldn’t be. She must have imagined it. The hunger. Maybe even the heat. After all, the temperature had soared today.
Maggie O’Donnell went by, a strange expression on her face, but Nadine was barely aware of her. She was slipping away. Gradually the passageway throbbed, and then started to fade as if a mist was descending.
You can find Catherine Cavendish here: