Short Shocktober Day 1: Dark

Content warning: Mention/implied blood, stalking, death, dismemberment.

Prowler

Look at him, strolling carelessly through the barely overlapping pools of streetlight. When his dress shoes tap the damp pavement in the shadows between the yellow cones, he’s close. Close enough to my realm that I can ruffle his wet hair with my talons. Close enough that I can smell the new shampoo. Not his. Too fragrant.

               He’s nervous. I slink along, invisible, in the murk under the parked cars, sniffing the iron tang of blood on his wrist. He missed it. I click a pebble as I pass and his head flicks around, cat like, twitching at unseen assailants. Does he fear the dark or discovery?

               Silly man. His little smile in the half dark says he’s laughing at himself. There’s nothing there! Nothing more scary than he. He thinks his midnight sojourn to the land of death and dismemberment has been an easy one. Now he’ll slither home in his patent leather and tailored trousers and await the circus on the news, revel in his hand made mayhem.

               Foolish man. Nothing scary out here but the nosy eyes of neighbours and cameras, right? So long as he can make it to his apartment without the long arm of the law tapping him on the shoulder, ‘bit late for a stroll, isn’t it, sir?’, he’s won his part of the game. Until next time, until the urge for blood sport and struggle rises deep within him, and compels him once again to the hunt. Until he ‘picks’ and ‘stalks’ and ‘hunts’ his victim; a pale imitation, an amateur at best.

               I can feel his heart beat. Heightened, but steady. It beats the delicious blood around his frame. His smile is constant now; a little upturn at the corner of his thin lips. Does his heart beat faster from fear or a predatory high? He pulls back his suit jacket slightly as he slides his hands into his pockets, his walk nonchalant.

               Watch him watch the shadows. Under the direct light burning overhead, there are almost none, and it occurs to him that someone might be sneak up on him and he wouldn’t be able to tell. His heart runs, but his façade doesn’t flicker, his pace steady, a model of control.

               Arrogant man. There’s nothing to fear in the night. Fear of the dark is the realm of children. Nothing lives in the shadows, teeth slick with anticipation, soft paws padding silently through the fresh night, watching him. He is the night. He is the thing that lurks in the shadows.

               He reaches the end of the street, the last streetlight above him, the short walk across the industrial ground, unlit as the grave before him. All that separates him from home and security.  I coil my steely muscles, my haunches taught.

               His foot leaves the yellow circle at the pavement edge and never meets the ground. There’s a short shriek, and he’s gone, never to be seen again.

               In the dark, I lick my lips.


Prompt: Dark

Word Count: 497

Day one of Short Shocktober done. Needs more polishing, but getting things finished to a short deadline was what this was about, not polishing them to a mirror shine.

Check out the Shocktober link above for the rest of the prompts, if you need some creative sparks for October.

Short Shocktober – 31 horror flash fiction prompts for October ’21

Every year in October, artists gather on the ephemeral planes of the internet to collectively participate in a dark ritual. During that ritual they spill oceans of ink. Besmirch sheet after sheet of snow-white paper. Stab hard at the heart of creativity, to pierce it with pens and pencils and have its black ichor flow forth. An eldritch ritual, known only in the fearful whispers as… Inktober…

Anyway, I love spook-month, and Inktober has always appealed to me, but I’m not much of an artist, so I decided to do my own thing with prose. One of the things that I’m struggling with lately is getting things finished. My current projects are quite long, and I could do with the boost that finishing something regularly gives you. So for that reason, I’m going to use the thirty-one daily prompts, below, to write 500 words of horror flash fiction each day, and post them here. I’m posting the prompts and rules (“more like guidelines than actual rules”, he said, making an ancient reference), because I hope that other people will be interested and join me!

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Panacea >Build 1.0

A dear friend’s book launched today. It’s a young adult, cyberpunk fugitive thriller set in the near future, featuring ground-breaking AI, cybernetic enhancements and band of resilient teenagers with a rebellious spirit.

It’s well worth your time, and I’m not just saying that because I know Charli well; I genuinely enjoyed reading it the first time I got to, and I’ve enjoyed reading it since. Charli’s great at making the characters the centre of the story, making big political themes all about the people that they impact. It’s a diverse story, too, with a multiplicity of viewpoints, including queer and BAME characters.

You can read the first chapter on Charli’s website, and buy the ebook on Amazon. There’s a physical book coming soon, too. I’ve popped the blurb below.

The first in the Panacea Series, the story begins in Panacea >Build 1.0 where, during an arrest over electricity curfew violations, former party animal Taiye’s life is changed forever when she uses violence to prevent an act of police brutality.

Felicity, a rich girl with rebellious ambitions; Russ, a hapless boy with robotic enhancement to his body; Persephone, a ground-breaking artificial intelligence; and Alex, a hotheaded girl who just wants the whole fucking world to burn, all join in to help Taiye escape London to the free-land of Scotland.

Together they all have a role to play in the introduction of The Panacea – a cure for all injury and disease – to the world.

Stolen Found Poetry

We’ve been committing poetry at the Patchwork Mind compound, this Friday morning. I wrote out the first two English verses of The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock and the entirety of Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, cut them into individual words and put them in a hat. A baseball cap, to be precise. Then I pulled out words at random, and wrote them down until a story began to emerge. Then I tweaked and shifted and swapped lines around, until the following emerged, ‘The Rage Song of J. Alfred’, or ‘That Gentle Question…’

I was inspired by my interest in collage; I’ve been trying to ask myself lately how I can apply techniques in one area of my creative activities to other areas. This mention of Tristan Tarza doing similar with newspapers was what gave me the idea.

The bits that are highlighted are ‘straight out of the hat’ – they’re phrases that I pulled out of the hat as-is, unaltered. The others I tweaked, changing a tense or adding a word here or there. I was genuinely surprised by how many of the lines I got I actually liked. I thought they would be far less coherent. There was still loads that I ended up not using, too.

To my mind it tells a distinctive story, but I’m interested if it comes out that way to other poeple.

Maps of Mars

I recently started working on a self-pubbed graphic novel tentatively called Paradise Now. Set long into our future, the story takes place on a Mars terraformed by corporations in order to become an industrial hub. For someone who was obsessed with science fiction when I was a kid, I’m crudely ill informed about our actual solar system, and as a result, I’m in the throes of research and discovery right now. Mars, to my surprise, has been pretty well mapped already, with advances coming quicker and quicker.

It’s going to be a long time before I’m anywhere near publishing Paradise Now, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t share the Mars maps and images that I’ve found with you. Maybe they’ll inspire you, too.

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Turning eleven years of notebooks into a second brain

“A good idea is not of any use if you can’t find it.” – Logan Heftel, (via Austin Kleon)

That’s such a good quote. I’ve taken a leaf out of Austin Kleon’s book (recommended), and stolen it to head this post about finding ideas you’ve already had.

It’s the same quote that Kleon uses to lead his post on ‘Indexing, filing systems, and the art of finding what you have‘ It seems we’ve both got a similar problem; I have a box of notebooks on top of my wardrobe. Eleven years of scribbling and journaling and note taking. Austin Kleon’s got a similar crate, but with about twice as many notebooks for a much shorter period. I’d say ‘poor guy’, but honestly, I can’t imagine he’s that cut up about having such a gold claim, even if he does have to sift it all for nuggets.

Kleon goes on to write about the systems that others have used to corral their unruly ideas, with several great examples from comedians.

Earlier in May, Cory Doctorow wrote an article dealing with the same ideas, from a different perspective. Doctorow has been blogging daily, as well as keeping his notes digitally since before I was born, and it’s created a second brain, generating new ideas through connections. The second brain idea is having a bit of a moment, with the advent of software like Obsidian and Roam Research, and the popularisation of the Zettlekasten method and books like Sonke Ahren’s How to Take Smart Notes, but Doctorow provides some great examples of digital second brains that have been around for years in the form of blogs. Nothing new under the sun etc etc.

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Attempting collage

As you might have guessed from the title, I’ve been attempting collage. It’s not exactly gallery worthy*, but it was a lot of fun, and I thought I would show my work, as well as write about a few things that I would do differently.

The image is made of a few different magazines – mainly health and lifestyle, believe it or not, with a bit of National Geographic thrown in. I think there’s about three or four magazines in there all together. The people climbing over the rocks and the demonic/buddha masks were from the same health/lifestyle magazine; they were what gave me the idea of someone being helped into hell.

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Ghoulish financial practices

In Cory Doctorow’s Pluralistic post from Wednesday morning, I read about Molly McGhee’s surreal experiences with her mother’s creditors, after her mother’s death. Both posts are worth reading. Doctorow presents an analysis of the power structures that work to keep debtors debtors and creditors thriving, despite the human and social cost. McGhee’s post presents the surreal, disempowering feeling of dealing with a horde of relentless creditors, and the ‘double-barreled future of doom and despair’, suddenly trained on her.

In another life, I worked for a charity that dealt with a host of issues, including debt, and McGhee’s experience reminded me of the powerlessness that being a debtor entailed. Part of the role that my colleagues who were debt advisors fulfilled was advocating on behalf of clients because creditors were inherently unwilling to believe their self advocacy. Bailiffs and debt collectors especially, took the basic position that any claim that tried to avoid, delay, or negate their claim was a lie. It’s ghastly that not only is the credit/debt relationship a contract of responsibility, it also primarily seems to be one in which one side of the contract gives up their power to affect the contract in any way, after the initial agreement is made. Despite some advances that are being made for consumer rights, it’s a contract that seems to create responsibilities for the debtors and dissolve their rights, until they can access help from an advocate. This was true for McGhee, too; 90% of the debt was wiped out, after she had to open her own line of credit to pay a lawyer to act on her behalf. Horrible. Ghoulish.

I’m not sure what the laws are like in the US, but generally speaking in England and Wales (I think they’re different in Scotland), a debt is paid from the estate of the deceased. If it was solely in their name and they left no estate, or not enough to cover the debt, the debt doesn’t transfer to their descendants. There are exceptions, but it’s something worth remembering.

Much love from the protest outside the debtor’s prison.

Still here

It’s been a while, huh? Yet another long period without posts. I’m back for as long as life lets me. I want to start blogging more regularly. The plan is:- posts like this, sharing things I’m working on, finding interesting, or useful, with occasionally longer posts when something warrants a bit of research or I have a lot to say. Any how, anonymous readers, are you well? Say hi.

I regularly get distracted online – it’s too easy to type the first few letters of a social media site into the address bar and zoom off, when the browser autocompletes the address. It’s barely conscious at this point – open new tab, type ‘tu’, hit enter and bam, I’m on Tumblr, before I really register what I’m doing. I installed LeechBlock for Firefox a few days ago, created a list of all the sites I was going to impulsively and losing time on, and set it to block them between 0900 and 1800. I highly recommend it – it’s very effective, and keeps me on track. It’s easy to subvert, but to do that I have to actively do it, and I become aware that I’m deliberately procrastinating. LeechBlock’s ‘you’re blocked here, lad’, is like a little Rinzai slap during mediation, keeping you on task, keeping you focused.

Despite having many wonderful books for my birthday this year, and for Christmas last year, I’ve read barely any of them. It’s a trend continued from last year, and I fully blame the pandemic. I’ve broken that streak by reading Show Your Work by Austin Kleon (his blog is pretty great, too, by the way), in April and then last weekend I started reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. I first heard about it in Tim Ferris’s incredibly vulnerable interview with Debbie Millman, disclosing his abuse, and was immediately intrigued by the title. I used to suffer with terrible IBS that seemed intractably linked with anxiety, and a book about the links between the body and trauma sounded very interesting. To be clear; the book is talking about capital T Trauma, and focuses on research about patients with PTSD, or complex PTSD. It can be intense in places; trigger warning for descriptions of pretty much the biggest traumas humans can encounters, including sexual assault, war, violence, natural disasters. This isn’t something I’ve ever been through, but it’s really interesting to see the links between your brain and body that perform in similar ways in anxiety and depression, if on a much more severe scale. I really recommend it if you’ve got any interest in psychology or biology or the links between the two. Van der Kolk is an easy to follow writer and makes the neurology of the mechanisms of psychological trauma easy to follow, and is meticulous in his rigour. He points out and addresses the arguments of detractors and notes where research has yet to be completed that provides empirical explanations for his observations. Well worth a read.

My WIP, Halo of Flies, is going swimmingly. There are only a handful of scenes left to write and then I need to do a fair amount of editing. I’ve written parts of this book an uncountable number of times, and ‘editing’ is going to involve stitching the first draft together from the new stuff and the dismembered parts of the previous drafts. Franken-novel, here I come! Once that’s done, I’ll have a finished first draft, and I can start giving it to close friends and family to read. I’m quite excited, (understatement). It’s been sitting in my head, taking up space for five or six years now, and I really would like to see it finished so I can use that psychic energy for other projects I’m desperate to pursue. I already know what I want to write next.

For years I’ve been searching for the perfect personal knowledge management system/ task management system combination that turns my personal life from a raging whirlwind of chaos into a highly functioning machine, and I think I’ve finally found it; a combination of using Obsidian.md and… a bullet journal. The combination of quite niche, techy solution and a notebook and pen is hilarious to me, but it works.

Obsidian.md is great for storing information and making links between it. The interface is nice and simple, as well as allowing you to open multiple notes at once, in separate adjacent panes. The graph overview shows links between notes – which I love – allows you to include or eliminate tags, and colour code projects based on keyword phrases. Great stuff. A note: it uses Markdown for text formatting; I’m not a Markdown convert, but I don’t hate it as vehemently as I used to. I just don’t think it actually adds anything for the average user. I believe a WYSIWYG editor is on the way for Obsidian, and I’m looking forward to it.

As for the Bullet Journal, I’ve used one on and off for years. I think the first time was around 2015/16, but I’ve never really made it stick. Unlike other management systems, however, it’s the one I always come back to. I have an undying love of notebooks and writing things down (I blame almost all of my education being analogue), and I think that simple fact, that I enjoy doing it, keeps me coming back to it, over and over. This time I’ve just decided not to quit – my pitfall is always that I have a failing somewhere (human beings, failing? My god, how novel), and end up blaming the system, instead of blaming… human nature? The fallibility of man? And begin looking for alternatives. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bad note book, this time, I’ve resolved to work out a BuJo solution to it. I might do separate posts on how I’m using BuJo and Obsidian another time.

Much love from what feels like the rainiest May in years.

Ancient trees and the value of telling the truth

Who is it that drafts the spectacularly tone-deaf responses for the UK Government? Whenever a sentence begins “a spokesperson from X Dept/project/official body said”, you can guarantee the coming response will deliberately miss the point, and instead offer a mealy-mouthed platitude.

My most recent favourite is the one given to the BBC about the ancient woodland being felled for the development of HS2. Here it is:

“Seven million new trees and shrubs will be planted as part of the HS2 programme. The new native woodland will cover over 9 sq km of land.”

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