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Sunday Times Books LIVE

Maya Fowler

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Going goth

Happy Halloween, everybody! Here’s a story I wrote especially for last week’s Bloody Parchment event at the Book Lounge. I thought I’d follow Sally’s example and put it up here for those of you who couldn’t make it.

It’s my first ever attempt at the horror genre. Let me know what you think! And I’d be interested to hear whether something could be hair-raising and H-rated at the same time.

Duel at midnight
The editor sat in her room alone, the well-thumbed pages by her side. Outside a cloud obscured the slivered moon and the pale stars hid their light. Dry leaves scattered in the breeze and somewhere a mouse took fright. Now zoom in on her bloodshot eyes and see the reflection of the clocks on her wall, rows of clocks all ticking furiously on a different beat, all rushing towards twelve, and time you can’t cheat. The deadline loomed.

She sipped at her tea and clutched the brooch at her neck, straightened the pins in her hair and dipped her pen in the wet. One by one she swept his words aside. As ghostwriter to The memoirs of a ghost rider, this was a point of pride.

Her pen grazed across his letters, strung them up and executed them. “Our market strives for family values,” the words of her publisher rang in her ears. “We don’t do genre fiction.” The ghost remembered how the words had brought him tears.

She licked her lips and attacked a new line. The pen scratched out “blood and guts and gore”. Above it she printed “mud and mutts and more”. The candles flickered, a painting fell to the floor, and before she knew it a spidery hand scrawled across the page, leaving “Blah dee blah dee blah dee snore, what a terrible, frightless bore.”

She gasped, shrunk back and clutched at her throat. Outside the wind howled; she buttoned up her coat. She took a sip of tea and the latch sprang free: wide open flew the window, blowing grips out of her hair and strewing pages everywhere.

He made haste: galloped in on an invisible cloud; “Oh saints, protect me,” she whispered out loud.

Between the hearth and the desk he made himself at home, unbridled his ghoulish steed and fixed his eyes on his tome. He drew breath till the curtains straightened out, she fell upon the window and fixed it with a clout.

She returned to her desk; the clock struck its worst. She steadied her hand and prepared to make her author sound well versed. “The bloodied water,” he said, “The muddied water,” she had in her head.

She revised “The scent of death” to “The sweetest breath”, “a vile stench” became “a lovely young wench”.

All the while the ghost rider sat observing. The exercise, for him, became increasingly unnerving. As his steed stood silently grazing at the thatch, a plan he started to hatch.

Did she notice his long, crooked hand reaching out for the poker? Did she see him grin like an invisible joker?

She soldiered on as the coals did their best; the poker heated up but he wouldn’t give it a rest.

When his “rotting corpses” she made to read “trotting horses” he tightened his grip, held out the glowing rod.

When she read: “Her body writhed and twitched, the blood spurted, still hot,” she couldn’t contain herself, and exclaimed, “What a clot!”

“What a clot?” he hissed, under the sputter of the fire. “You’ve insulted me enough, watch out, you’ll rot!”

Again, she softened his words, turning boiling, frothing blood to sweet butterscotch.

Poker in hand, the ghost crept closer, the woman kept reading, you could say it engrossed her.

“I grabbed at her eyes and popped them like grapes” she changed to
“I dabbed at my eyes and up whipped up some crêpes”.

“I clutched at her throat and ripped the windpipe clean out.” Fatigued, she replaced it with “I walked past a goat and tripped on armsful of trout”. She chewed on her pen, lost her thoughts in the whirring of the clocks, and looked down, to see the page smoking … Her final sentence deleted, and replaced with “Madame, you’re losing the plot here, no doubt”.

She gasped, she jumped, her heart was aflutter, she stumbled, she shrieked, she uttered a stutter. She swooned, she sighed, she made up her mind: she’d light some more candles and fight the good fight. The ghost read her mind and it gave him a terrible fright.

The wind blew a gale as the two of them pressed on, “As God is my witness,” she cried, “I’ll see this smut gone”.

Through the hours she toiled. The ghost fought back: his ectoplasm nearly boiled.

At three a.m. “She let out a blood-curdling scream” became “She dreamt up the world’s sweetest dream”.

By four a.m. “Blood squirted in fountains”. She replaced it with “Suds rose up like mountains”.

At five: the pièce de résistance “I dined on her brains” was switched, without much effort to “I had sweetbread for mains”.

At six, quoth the narrator, he “whisked round and snapped her neck on the double” while the editor whisked round and wrapped it all up without too much trouble.

Through the final hour of darkness they duelled on: ghost writer versus ghost rider, their strength nearly gone.

As All Saints Day dawned rosily the ghost rose in despair. “As God is my witness I’ll have my reveeeee–”

At this the ghost was swept away in a vortex, vowing to return the next year with hair-raising tales of blood, with even more sex.


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