Inktober 2019 – Pattern

“Please come inside. You’ll get sick.”

I had left my mentor alone with her reading to prepare our lunch, and as was not uncommon, which I returned with the plates I discovered that she had wandered out of her study. She was the grand scholar, after all, and her whims were the guiding force of our lives. I was starting to wonder if she wasn’t going senile, though. I wouldn’t have thought to look outdoors on a day like this if she hadn’t left the door open.

“No, come here, come here, you must see this.” She beckoned to me from the apex of the bridge, sodden sleeve flapping. I went, and when I stood beside her I put the umbrella she had walked past into her hand. Her fingers were ice cold.

“It’s very picturesque,” I said, glancing out over the lake that held her interest. The rain hazed the usual view, throwing a grey veil over all but the nearest houses of the village. None of the fishers had taken to the water today, their boats tied up on the shore, and the windless downpour made the lake into a pale slab, as flat and blank as cutting board. “Why don’t you come and have your lunch? I’ll make up a fire and…”

“Hush.” It was not the harsh tone she usually used when I vexed her. She almost sounded awestruck. Thoughts of senility gained strength, especially when she said, “I could hardly believe it when I heard it.”

I listened, but heard only the patter of raindrops on the umbrellas and the hiss of the broader rain dropping on the lake and surrounding landscape, white noise under random percussion. I put a hand under her nearer elbow, tried to gently get her moving in the direction of our cottage.

“Fool!” There was the tone I was used to. She drew back, furling the umbrella I had pressed upon her. She swung it against the backs of my thighs, the blow sharp if not too hard. “This is why you study. Now, look at the lake.”

I looked again, and when she pointed I followed the gesture. Not far from the bridge, I watched the unremarkable reunion of rain and lake.

“What to you see, youngster?”

I weighed whether I  should try to be clever. Not with her in this odd mood. “Raindrops hitting the lake.”

“Yes.” Again, the low tones, nearly reverential. “A drop makes ripples, yes?” I agreed. “Look again. What do the ripples make.”

Which ones? was at the back of my throat, ready to jump out, but then I started to see what she meant. Each drop had its ripples. The countless impacts sent peaks and troughs across the lake, high and low, light and dark. I knew I wasn’t seeing what she saw, but there was something in the way those tiny waves moved together.

“Close the umbrella and listen.” Hardly even a whisper, right by my ear. I did as I was told. “See and hear.”

The lake ceased to be a uniform flatness before me. Light and dark. Dark and light. High and low. All churning, cooperative and antagonistic in turns, to make the image of a great face, as big as the lake was wide. The sound of the rainfall was a voice, whispering in a language I hadn’t known that I understood until this moment.

I shivered, although the damp had yet to penetrate my clothes. I trembled at the sudden knowledge the world was revealing to me, and before the storm ended I fled to the cottage, leaving my mentor all alone to face that enormous unrepentant confession.

“Inktober 2019 – Pattern” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

March Madness

Good heavens, I let the whole of February slip past without posting a story. It was a rather distracting month on The Regular Job, and when I was thinking about writing, I was either doing it or submitting it to other people. It’s also a short month, despite having lasted a subjective seventeen weeks.

Let me not let another month slide past, though. Like the previous story, this one is about travel– I understand there’s something called March Break for some people, and because I write horror I’m here to spoil it for them with a look at the Screening Process.

Getting Away from Winter

It’s definitely winter. It is, unusually, less winter at the moment here than it is on pretty much the entire east coast of North America, but even here it’s winter enough to make one think of warmer times and places.

This coincides with a little story I ran out in response to a prompt which appeared last week on the Facebook Group which CBC Books keeps to support their Canada Writes program. Let me show it to you:

Clumsily blotted to avoid giving away identity of someone on a closed group.

Now, Canada Writes is aimed primarily at literary fiction, which is not what I do. There are those who argue that any fiction is necessarily speculative, otherwise it’s stuff that happened and thus not fiction, but I bow to the common separation of literary from genre. However, this doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally drop my kind of stuff on the table there, when I don’t think it will cause too much upset.

I was pleased enough with the effect that blatting something directly onto Facebook produced that I’ve decided to polish it a very little and present it here as On a Beach.

 

True Mysterious Tales of Suspenseful Mystery!

The last couple of years, I’ve offered a Hallowe’en treat of true ghost stories.  This year I find I can’t do that, because despite keeping an eye open, I haven’t seen any more ghosts, ghostly activity, or even things that with a bit of a stretch might be interpreted as such.

I was on the edge of telling a story of the worst scare I ever got as a kid (and which I will likely present next year about this time, unless something obligingly rattles a chain at me in the interim) when slowly-collapsing memory a non-ghostly event which still counts as eerie. When I first told it, I would describe it with only some irony as Fortean, and I think that’s still a good broad label for it– some weird junk that happened, for which I have no ready explanation.

It is not hair-raising, alas, but it is unsettling. Might it happen again? What’s behind it? Who can say?

Of course, by now your main question is likely just what is it? Well, turn the page and examine the Hallowe’en mystery of The Fire Over Yonder… if you dare.

I’m sure you dare. Here’s Vincent Price to encourage you:

“Go on! Go on! It’ll be fun!”

The Fruits of Contest Participation

Back at the beginning of a summer, I heard of a contest being run by Owl Canyon Press, for their 2018 Short Story Hackathon. It was open as far as genre went, and had a fairly interesting set up.  The story could only be fifty paragraphs long, but the contestants could only write forty-eight. The first and last were provided, and were not to be amended in any way. To keep people from turning it into a very tall, slender flash fiction, there was also a requirement that paragraph be of a minimum number of words. I imagine that an urge to keep from padding that word count with “umm, well, you see, errr” led to the final restriction, which demanded that there be no directly quoted speech.  One could write He began the opening oration from Shakespeare’s Henry V but He took a deep breath and said, “Oh, for a muse of fire…” would be a disqualification.

The prize was publication, and an invitation to attend a shindig… even in a small town with a somewhat mysterious name. Well, heck, I like shindigs and getting published, and there was no entry fee, so I joined something like nine hundred other writers in offering a story.

Guess what?

I did not win!

Given the size of the field, and the relative infrequency of any given writer impressing any given editor, this is not unexpected. I do not mourn, nor tend a bruised ego. Indeed, I built a silver lining into this whole affair.  Even as I was writing the story, I resolved that if it failed to capture the prize, I would not put it into the submission carousel, but I would directly pass it along to the readers of this enterprise.

So, here we are.  Prolonging the Inevitable is a bit of a frolic in the region of weird that butts up against both fantasy and horror. It is, ironically enough, a bit of contemplation on what the real nature of life’s defeats might be.  Remember the old saying– every time a door closes, the things outside start wriggling down the chimney.

Oh, Me of Little Faith

Yesterday, I was concerned for having gotten people all stirred up about my upcoming story at Pseudopod, as there was apparently a delay.

It turns out the delay could have been, from the time of my posting, measured in minutes without being inconvenient to the measurer.

This morning, then, I sit in a state of radiant giddiness, having just listened to Free Balloons for All Good Children read by a rather good narrator, Rish Outfield.  Not only that, host Alasdair Stuart said some things in the following notes which brought such a state of happiness to me that I can hardly breathe at the mere memory of them.  The words “Lovecraft with all his ridiculous toxic nonsense stripped away” said in conjunction with something I’m responsible for…

Sorry.  Had to go lie down for a moment. I suspect this state I’m in, feet well clear of the floor, will persist for some time.

This also brings about a rather unusual state of affairs in the sidebar; two Current Stories.  I don’t think this will persist beyond the time that “Free Balloons for All Good Children” is the top of Pseudopod’s roll, because even as swollen as it currently is, my ego is still governable.  But, for now, my Current Story is a two-headed freak.

And I love it, in all it’s alien wrongness.

(Not) Alone in the Dark

Alone in the dark?  Oh, heavens, no.  It’s the solstice, and thus dark for everyone in the northern hemisphere… although I guess those below the tropic line will hardly notice.

It being that time of year, I am once again offering a story for Christmas, because it’s something Charles Dickens and M.R. James did; I am weak enough to hope for if not to quite believe in sympathetic magic, and so try to do what they did with an eye to becoming what they were.

…perhaps, now that I think of Dickens’s last days, this is not a great plan.

Anyway, this year’s story is Snowman.  The title is a bit of a giveaway; there is a snowman mentioned in it.  They’re a staple of kids’ songs and Rankin animations, but the snowman is something of a rarity here in the land of the living skies; we get snow, but it’s usually so dessicated that you can’t form it.

I hope you enjoy reading it, and I also hope you have plenty of people of cuddle up with in this season of long nights and chill winds.  The dark is more tolerable when there’s someone to share it with.

What? New Content?

Yes, indeed.  While I am still devoting the largest part of my creative energy and time to the novel, I’ve decided that I’m going to make a serious effort at posting some fresh fiction here more than once every… six(ish) months.  I am motivated in this by reading the work of other authors.

Particularly, by the blog of Chuck Wendig.  He does a regular flash fiction challenge over there, and while spending idle moments at the day job reading through back numbers, I was struck with this thought– a prompted flash fiction is something that I can probably do during these same idle moments, and a prompted flash fiction with a deadline means I might actually put words where people may enjoy them (hopefully) before the projected end of the second draft effort on the novel.  Which may, possibly, be done by early December.

So, today we have I Held Your Heart Once.  The title comes from the challenge, as do the first and last sentences.  I might have been at this sooner, but those three elements were the products of the previous three challenges.  You can, therefore, understand me to be blaming a famous and rather good author for keeping me from posting any new writing here for a month.

You can.  But I think I’d prefer if you didn’t.  I’ve been busy.

Tossin’ and Turnin’

I was listening to a fellow speaking of human sleep arrangements lately, and on the way to his main point, he mentioned some people from the Solomon Islands objecting to what their London hosts thought was lavish treatment, a separate hotel room for each one of their party.  “What,” I’m told they asked, “if one of us has a nightmare?”

Dreams are funny things.  I can see how people can come around to the notion that they present a window on an actual separate reality, since there is sometimes such a wealth of detail in unfamiliar settings that it is very hard to credit the subconscious with such inventive powers.

…but then there are the dreams in which things are so deeply wrong that you really, really hope there’s nothing at all to that notion, because the partitions between the wings of the multiverse are just not thick enough if that stuff is on the far side.

Guess which sort I’m going to recount for you?  I have been battering away at the novel and a story for an anthology I’d quite like to get into, and so haven’t been able to run up stories for this enterprise in a while, but last night’s vision of global, possibly universal, destruction was so affecting, I thought I should at least try to squeeze some of it out of my head for presentation here.  So, if you ever wondered idly to yourself, “What sort of nonsense is running around inside the heads of writers,” I offer a small but vibrant sample.  Be careful to not get any on you, it is almost certain to stain your clothes.

A Traditional Holiday Story

Well… not really.

There is the British tradition of creepy stories at this time of year, as exemplified by most of M.R. James’s output, and I can more or less hang Occasional Lapses of Service on that hook.  I suspect James would probably chastise me slightly for stepping away from one of his very useful guidelines in the writing of ghost stories, one which I generally cling to pretty firmly– but it’s not really a ghost story either, so I will nod my head in admission of the departure without feeling that I’ve actually strayed from the path.

It is also not a traditional Christmas story in most other senses of the that phrase, even though there is a passing reference to carol singing.  It is, however, presented only days ahead of Christmas, and is meant as a gift to the world in general.

And now, as last year, it’s time to get seasonal liver damage through the fat and alcohol content of egg nog, and cuddle my son while we decide if that noise on the roof is a reindeer, a lead-footed squirrel (of which we’ve many in the neighbourhood), or something else entirely.  Wæs hæil, everyone!