Sunday, 23 November 2014

Horror Bites #12 - "Breaking the Mould"

Laura from Office Mango has thrown another Horror Bite Challenge at me.

For those who are unfamiliar with the challenge: write a bite of flash fiction (200-350 words) inspired by an image supplied by Laura. More info about the challenge can be found on Laura's blogAll she asks is: "Try to scare me, or at the very least create a little bit of darkness".



Breaking the Mould

By Mark Cassell
(350 words)



Blood trickles from the metal rim and creeps through rust, curling around a loose bolt. It drips onto the yellow start button. Overhead the bare bulb flicks shadows across the dented panels—it still swings from when my boss had kicked it.
The stink of metal and oil scratches my throat. I cough.
As though having flexed its muscles, the machine looms between conduits that zigzag into girders. Cracked skylights allow dusk to leak into the factory; a reminder of the time. Beside me, a chain-link conveyor, equally rusted, claws across cracked tiles.
Neglect, such a common disease in this place.
Maria had always been a tight boss, bleeding the equipment dry as well as her employees. She really should’ve been more sympathetic when I told her my car had broken down.
“Get your arse here,” she’d blasted down the phone. “Now!”
I’d made sure to hang up before I called her a bitch.
Three hours late so she’d made me stay three hours past home time. Everyone had left—except me. And her. Not only that, I had no way of getting home.
Until now.
She’d been a lot heavier than I’d expected and thinking back, perhaps I should’ve removed her shoes, her clothes. But that was not something I would’ve relished. Trust me, Maria isn’t—wasn’t—a woman you’d want to see naked.
I punch the start button. The machine hums. Blood smears my fingers and I wipe them down my overalls.
Something clanks, rattles. Echoes.
Where I’d wedged her body into the hopper, triangular panels heave and shake. Rust flakes, floating. More clanking. Steam hisses from vents, and plastic granules mist the air. And blood.
The stink clogs my nostrils.
This batch of crappy garden furniture will be special.
A cream and crimson length of mangled plastic slaps onto the conveyor. It’s like a giant wedge of raspberry and vanilla ice cream. Torn fabric twists with plastic and bone splinters. Jagged, broken, a blended swirl of what I guess is her arm, her hand.
In my own hand is Maria’s car key.
I can go home now.




Did you enjoy the flash fiction?

Here are the opening pages of The Shadow Fabric


Unable to blink, I shot a quick glance around the dining room. My heartbeat stormed my head. I had to get out of there, I had to leave the other men to it. These brothers had a lot of hate to throw around.
       The black fabric draped across the table and chair, tracing every contour. It flowed over the wood like liquid. Hugging tight whatever it touched, it turned everything into a shadow, a silhouette, a featureless dark blot of its former self. The way it moved defied physics.
       My throat clamped around a cry that came out a whimper.
       I had no idea what Stanley intended. The strange fabric didn’t travel far from his hand, and where the material ended, it rippled and pulsed, pulling further away, yet unable to claim more of its surroundings. The more it unfolded, the dimmer the room became. My skin itched as it sapped the light.
       Victor and Stanley stood facing each other: Victor, with his eyebrows pushed together, the ornate blade clenched in a fist, and Stanley, with his jaw tight and a twitch at the edge of his mouth. In Stanley’s grasp the fabric quivered, its material reminding me of the way midday sunlight reflects from the surface of a swimming pool, the ripples a criss-crossing of movement. It was peaceful to behold, hypnotic almost. But this thing was dark and stifling to observe.
       There was nothing remotely tranquil about this.
       I wanted to leave them to whatever absurd game this was…yet my feet refused to move. The familiar ache in my knee rushed through my body, drumming in my skull, telling me I was useless. Since the car accident the knee often was useless. I couldn’t leave Victor, I knew that. The man looked as terrified as I felt.
       “I hate you, Victor.” Stanley’s nose was no more than a thumb’s width from his brother’s.
       “No,” Victor gasped. His hand shook, his knuckles whitening around the knife. “Don’t!”
       I didn’t know who or what Victor spoke to. Was it Stanley? The shadows? The knife?
       In a blur of darkness, shadows coiling his arm, the blade slammed into Stanley’s chest. Blood spread and he staggered back.
       Victor’s eyes widened. Clutching the weapon, he stumbled from the fireplace, away from his brother. The knife slid out, sucking at the wound. A jet of scarlet misted the air, and then oozed.
       I could only see darkness…so much darkness, and my lungs went tight.
       The fabric—the Shadow Fabric—closed around Stanley’s buckling legs.
       The remaining material swept from the table, away from the violin case. Black tentacles whipped and grabbed Stanley. The darkness enfolded him as his eyes glazed over. It dragged his body along the carpet a short distance and tightened its grip.
       My jaw muscles twitched as I clenched my teeth.
       The Fabric began to shrink. Still in its embrace, the last I saw of Stanley was his dead stare.
       “Vic…” I whispered, and gripped the back of the sofa.
       My boss dragged his eyes away from the retreating shadows and stared at the knife. Behind him, the mantel clock hammered out several seconds before the weapon slipped from his hand onto the carpet, where it bounced with a red splash.
       He fell to his knees. “Oh God.”
       The Fabric vanished.
       I dashed across the room as much as my leg would allow and staggered to a halt beside him. Sobs wracked his frame as I grasped his bony shoulder.
       On the table next to where Stanley had been standing was the violin case, still open like a crooked yawn.
       A million thoughts tumbled through my head, but I couldn’t find the words. I’d been Victor’s chauffeur for no more than a day, and already I’d witnessed him stab his own brother. What the hell?
       I don’t know how long I remained like that, holding him, with light creeping reluctantly back into the room. Victor shouldn’t have been surprised that the shadows had taken his brother. After all, those shadows—the darkness—are associated with all that is dead…or should be dead.
       Silence clogged the air like we were buried in a tomb.
       For some of us, there is a moment in our lives where all we’ve believed real is whipped out from under us and we’re left to survive in a world that’s a lie. All the things in life we’ve taken for granted are sheathed in a weak veneer, behind which stands the shadows.
       For me, this was one of those moments.



Mark Cassell's dark fantasy novel is available
from all bookshops and also Amazon.

    

Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.

Twitter: @Mark_Cassell Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorMarkCassell

Monday, 3 November 2014

Invisible Mistakes - A lesson from Rayne Hall

Following the release of her most recent Writer's Craft book, fantasy author and Ten Tales editor Rayne Hall talks about the invisible mistakes that may hinder an indie author's book sales.


INVISIBLE MISTAKES

Glaring errors happen in the worst place – the book title, the series title, the book cover, the blurb. One such mistake is enough to ruin a book's sales. If the title has a typo, most people will avoid that book.

As authors, we don't notice them, because our eyes see what they expect to see.




DOES AN ERROR BLOCK YOUR BOOK SALES?

You probably can't answer this question. If you knew about an error, you would have fixed it already.

The eye sees what it expects to see. That's why we authors are the worst proofreaders of our own works, and why we hire proofreaders to check our manuscripts.

But when we upload our books for indie publication, we need to type the title and product description, and this is where errors creep in and pass unnoticed.

Titles attract gremlins.  When I was assistant editor in charge of a weekly local newspaper, every page was checked by two or more subeditors before it went to print. This should have guaranteed an error-free paper. But every Friday when the freshly-printed papers arrived, a typo glared at me – usually in the biggest headline on Page 1.


SUGGESTED ACTION

Ask two or three other writers to check your book's product page on Amazon and other retail sites.

Instruct them to pay scrupulous attention to the notorious gremlin spots - the book's title, any series title or subtitle, and the first paragraph of the blurb. Offer to do the same for their books.

Be prepared for a cringe-inducing discovery.

With ebooks and print-on-demand books, these errors are quick to fix. Do it at once – but take care that you don't commit new mistakes in your hurry.



MISTAKES I MADE AND LEARNT FROM

I always mean to check my blurbs carefully before publishing them. But after all the tedious formatting, I'm glad that I can publish the book now, so I do it at once. The formatting has depleted my concentration, so typos happen, and I'm too tired to proofread properly, and too impatient to wait for outside proofreaders to check the page.

“Learn to to haunt your readers with powerful, chilling tales.” This was the first sentence of my blurb for Writing Dark Stories. I didn't realise this until a fellow author alerted me.




THE WRITER'S CRAFT LATEST VOLUME

For another 20 tips on getting your book sales soaring, check out:
Why Does My Book Not Sell? 20 Simple Fixes.



ABOUT RAYNE HALL

Rayne Hall has published more than fifty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in several genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Recent books include Storm Dancer (dark epic fantasy novel), 13 British Horror Stories, Six Scary Tales Vol. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5(creepy horror stories), Thirty Scary Tales, Six Historical Tales Vol. 1 and 2 (short stories), Six Quirky Tales (humorous fantasy stories), The Colour of Dishonour: Stories from the Storm Dancer World, Writing Fight Scenes, The World-Loss Diet, Writing About Villains, Writing About Magic, Writing Dark Stories, and Writing Scary Scenes (practical guides for authors).

She holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing. Currently, she edits the Ten Tales series of multi-author short story anthologies: Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts, Scared: Ten Tales of Horror, Cutlass: Ten Tales of Pirates, Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft, Spells: Ten Tales of Magic, Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies, Seers: Ten Tales of Clairvoyance, Dragons: Ten Tales of Fiery Beasts and more.

Rayne has lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal and  has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian grandeur on the south coast of England.


Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.


Twitter: @Mark_Cassell Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorMarkCassell