Tag Archive: Short story


I occasionally get the chance to review early copies of books and magazines, and usually jump at the chance.  This has backfired once or twice – one author sent me a 350-page pile of steaming dung that I gave up on, only to be stuck on his mailing list and receiving endless self promotion despite numerous entreaties and threats – but often I get a real treat.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Morpheus Tales‘ special Apocalypse issue.  There are a number of special issues floating around from this publisher but this one caught my eye, not least because my novel “Half Discovered Wings” was a good stab at my own brand of what I call “apocalypsia” fiction.  I was interested in seeing what other writers came up with.

 

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This fantastically pulpy cover houses 12 stories.  There’s probably a surfeit of material here as there are more than a few uninspiring duds.  Thankfully the rest of the magazine is made up of some crackers which, if they don’t get you thinking, will at the very least give you a good dose of end-of-the-world fun to perfectly suit a dreary March afternoon.

I’ll skip some of the less original flops but, with the good stuff in sight, will open with “Long Cold Night” by Richard Farren Barber.  Apocalypsia relies on a decent concept that will be the foundation of the story.  In Stephen King’s “The Stand”, we can believe that a killer virus wiped out a helluva lot of people.  That’s what viruses do.  In Barber’s story here, we’re led to believe that oil running out sooner than expected causes the end of civilization.  People are roaming the countryside for food.  I don’t quite buy how this is possible and despite some credible writing, the story fails before it really begins.  We’re told that green energies weren’t enough, but aren’t told why.  I’m pretty sure that the governments of the world can figure something out with solar panels and nuclear energy, which currently supplies something like 15% of the world’s electricity.  Are we forgetting that we got by for thousands of years before Edison pinged his first bulb…?

A sad failure, but hopefully one that makes a point.  I get tired of harping on about it, but originality should be the cornerstone of every single story you write.  “Long Cold Night” takes an idea that hasn’t really been closely examined (I seem to remember the inspid sci-fi family fungus that was Matt LeBlanc’s “Lost in Space” mentioning it, but little else since), which is commendable.  But it smacks of lack of research, and worse than this, fails even to take a poor concept and make it believable, if not plausible.

Just keeping things plausible doesn’t mean you’re automatically onto a winner though, nor is the other way around true.  A series of immense sinkholes follows the inexplicable draining of the oceans in the sweet little story “Songs of Goodbye” by Dev Jarrett.  Do I believe that 326 million trillion gallons of water (I’m trusting Google there) can just drain into the Earth’s crust?  Not really.  But did I care when I watched a father and daughter share a moment together?  Nope!  Dev exhibits fine prose and great descriptive talent.  The writer’s similies are flawless and keep the narrative jumping until the characters take over.  This is probably my pick of the stories.

A creepy little number called “Thunder Bay” is another highlight.  This brief tale by Robin Wyatt Dunn gives us a glimpse into the un-life of a cannibalistic reanimated corpse.  It’s like “Omega Man” got X-rated.  First person with snappy narrative, this is writing as opposed to just telling a story, and stands out a mile amidst the the rest of this month’s Morpheus Tales.

Whereas these two personal faves represent the magazine’s total stock of literary goodness, it’s probably fair to say that you don’t pick up an “Apocalypse Special” expecting talent worthy of critical acclaim.  Other writers have done it – I’m thinking “The Road” and “The Drowned World” here – but it’s also a genre for some good old fun…

“Generation Sorrow” by J. B. Ronan.  Either this story is tongue-in-cheek ironic or just plain silly (I prefer to think the former) but this story of porcine genetic modification gone wrong is an enjoyable read, suitably dark and vivid, and has an interesting premise for the decline of modern society.  The special gets another short jolt of dark humour with “My Pretty Pony” by Alan Loewen.  This amusing piece gives readers a little giggle and Hasbro a cause to sue.  A welcome tonic from the dreariness of the rest of the mag.

Even though Matt Brolly’s “Yellow” is yet another take on the “virus ends everything” trope, it still rings truer than many other stories of its type.  The special’s final story is a cracker (even if it does contain the dumb line “the suicides are too dangerous to live”) and is worth special attention with a cup of tea by the window with the wind blowing outside.  His prose isn’t up to J. G. Ballard’s standard but it hums along fine; it’s the moments of insights into his characters that keep this moving along, maybe remind us on the way of “The Happening” or the flashback scenes from “I Am Legend“.

Is the mag worth picking up?  At a temporary special price of £4, I’d say yes, especially as you can have it beamed straight to your smartphone or ebook.  Hunker down, ignore the clouds outside and let the world end.

—db

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I walk through town, I think about things.

I think about how quickly a city can fill with people.  I wonder what it would be like to live in the city centre, with all these people.

I buy freshly baked warm bread and sit on a stone bench.  Although the sun is out, the centre is always in shade except around noon: the buildings have crisscrossing shadows that mean it is always cold in the morning.  Sitting on the stone bench for too long eventually gets painful.

I eat my bread and throw crumbs at the pigeons.  I wonder if it’s really illegal to feed pigeons in Sheffield city centre.  I imagine that this is because some arse at City Hall got fed up of having his car shat on, and for no other reason.  There is a simple pleasure that comes with providing food for another living thing.

I like about fiction.

My story KASHKEI AND THE FIREBIRD, AT PEACE, one of the thirty stories I wrote during my 2010 November Challenge, was this month published by Mirror Dance magazine, a prestigious publication I’ve wanted to get into for a while.

Another story, THE TRANSDIMENTIONALIST, was picked up by Estronomicon to be printed some time this month or next.  This is a kind of successor to BLEACH, printed in Aphelion back in 2008.

Sitting on the bench, I realise that I’ve neglected to update the website with these.  This is now corrected.

I think, ‘What if I had my own fiction magazine?  Could I edit it?  Would I have the time?  Would people want to read it?  Would I be able to get enough people to contribute to it?  What kind of fiction would it showcase?  What kind of writers?  Would it have illustrations?  Would I showcase artists?  Who would make awesome covers for me?  How do you go about publishing an e-zine?  How much would it cost?  Would I be able to advertise so that I could pay my writers?’

I think I’ll give it a go.

If you’re a writer, reviewer of literature or artist, get in touch.

–db

Thirsty

I’ve explained in an earlier post about the chronic spates of creative thirst I suffer from. Non-work (“work” being creative stuff I do at home, rather than the template-driven box-ticking administration of work in the office) is just a period where you don’t realise you haven’t had a glass of water for a fortnight until you’re pretty much dead – and then there is, to destroy the analogy, the sudden desire to write something, immediately and excessively, almost to the extent of recording the minutae of a character’s actions, of his or her thoughts and feelings, of his outward appearance and expressions, that take place in a single minute of his life; and then his interactions with the hundred other characters that must be included, who all inhabit a world with its own minutae to document, fervently.

Clearly I’m saturated by this weird neurosis as I write this (not something I suffered from until maybe three years ago, already in my twenties, and for no apparent reason), being at my wordiest and thoughtlessly speediest – so forgive the redundancies, or denseness, or typing errors, or absurdity of the lot.

But at the edge of the desert where you see the buildings glinting, all you can imagine is the silver plumbing inside and the water it must be full of. You imagine yourself swimming in it and gulping it down. In my desert, this ceaseless focusing on the desired future comes in the form of planning, planning for the next thing to be written, almost always a novel (in the desert, you don’t imagine only an eggcup of water), and all the intricate note-taking and research and frantic scribblings this requires. Sometimes the ideas come so fast your handwriting turns to indecypherable Arabic, and knowing this you draw a picture instead (“X = 1k wds”) because you’ll be damned if you’re going to lose the five other ideas you need to write down just because you were thinking of how best to describe that one cinematic moment you imagined.

I had a similar outbreak, let’s call it, a month ago, inspired by my completion of a dreadful book called “Sandworms of Dune“, being one of two sequels to the great Dune science-fiction series by Frank Herbert. His death left the incredible series apparently unfinished, and his son, being one of those Christopher Tolkein-esque relatives who can’t damn-well resist, ressurected the franchise to write the two ‘finale’ books that have corrupted a near-perfect literary vision.

So disgusted was I by the dilution and contamination of the senior Herbert’s creation, and so badly written it was too, that I acted upon one of my “fuck me if I can’t do a thousand times better than that” moments and decided to end the series myself. Having recently re-read the six originals, I could remember very well the characters and themes and significant events that drove the series. With this bigger picture in mind, I felt that I could faithfully see where Herbert was going and constructed a breakdown of my own version of “Sandworms of Dune”. But it is only when you realise that you’ve scribbed twenty pages of dense notes, reminders and tiny images, all at your desk at work, that you’re suddenly aware of how noticable your fervour must have been to those sitting around you, and, oops, how valuable your job is.

I suppose we should be supremely grateful for these creative trances (“we” being the half of you who, I realise, are also creative types of your own kinds, and hopefully can relate), because they are the combusting coals that we need to then slow-burn our way through that 100,000 word novel, or 30 hour painting, or endless nights of programming. But damn if they aren’t an inconvenience, like an erection on a bus, being probably extremely useful in another time and place, but otherwise utterly inappropriate.

–db              

“The Authentic Donkey Kong”

An Authentic Story by David Brookes

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LOADING PAGE ONE

LOADING PAGE ONE

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The great ape counts to seven: one two three four five six seven.

It is seven storeys high; the wind rips through its coarse brown hair, across the broad leather expanses of his chest and stomach, where the scars remain.  Below is a cacophony of noise that the ape does not understand: clanging metal reverberating from concrete posts and the dull, rough partitions formed between girders.  It is a construction site, a place of creation.

In the creases of the ape’s immense hands, the man-wife’s blood remains.  It encrusts under the ape’s black fingernails.  He picks apart the bloodstuck hairs on his forearms as the man-wife mewls in her torn dress like a baby.

The ape remembers its own baby.  It remembers its mate: slender and dark, sleek-furred and agile.

The whining man-wife had been halfway between asleep and awake during the ascent.  Now her eyes widen to white, frantic globes.  She takes in the grey sky on all sides.  Directly beneath her, the layers and broken beams of the unfinished structure.  And, seven storeys below, the construction site.

She screams.

In agitated response, the great ape bares its yellow fangs.  Its cupped paws beat and beat against its hurting breast.  It slams one fist, then the other, against the brittle girder that supports them both.  The concrete support columns spit out puffs of crumbling mortar with each massive impact: one two three four five six seven.

Enraged, the enormous beast, wrists worn bald by the broken chains it left behind, roars with all the rage and hatred felt throughout its long years of captivity:

[Press the ANGRY APE button on your soundbook now!]

Now turn to p.2 / 7 …

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LOADING PAGE TWO

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The mighty bellow resounds through the hollow, unfinished skyscraper.  It drowns out the shrill cry of the captured man-wife.  She crawls as far away from the animal as possible, frail white limbs sore with the bruises implanted there by the ape’s impossible grip.

Somewhere amidst the clamour of manufacture below, and answering cry rises on the wind from across the bay.  It is the Master.

In the mists of memory, like the coiling vapours of the western lowlands, there arise the distinctive faces of the ape’s troop.  Most vividly – black, smooth, glistening with morning due, eyes bright and beautiful, lips pinching the fresh shoots from a trembling branch – its mate.  In her crooked arm, the ape’s tiny son.

And shattering the memory with a single sharp sound, the crack-crack! of the master’s rifle.

Hey kids, turn to p.3 / 7 …!

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LOADING PAGE THREE

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Rage fills the beast’s scarred body.  The Master.  Always moving, always busy, but for those first days when he and the man-wife lay about by the ape’s cage.  But after that: busy – and the third day: busy – and up until the last day of the cycle: busy and frustrated by a week’s fruitless trade, tired of studying its caged and chained pet, weary of dressing it in human clothes like the strip of red cloth he ties frequently about its throat, like a noose – the Master vents his pent-up frustrations on the widower ape.

The great ape counts the days that make up its cyclical torment: one two three four five six seven, and beats the crooked girders with its already split knuckles.

And below, the Master is beginning his ascent.  Another flimsy non-ape.  Another frame for the ape to crush and mangle in its enraged paws.  It is weak and encumbered by fat, and gaudy layers of inhibitive clothing; not at all like the powerful, muscular frame of the determined gorilla.

The enemy approaches:

[Press the JUMPMAN 1 button on your soundbook now!]

[Press the JUMPMAN 2 button on your soundbook now!]

Uh oh!  Turn to p.4 / 7 if you dare!

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LOADING PAGE FOUR

LOADING PAGE FOUR

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Stiff hairs bristle on the shoulders of Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla.  Its thick lips pull back from its yellow teeth and long fangs; the black tongue curls back in the maw like a twisting slug.  It bellows again, feeling its own hot breath at the corners of its blood-flecked mouth.  In anger at the approaching Master, the ape once again thunders its split knuckles against the riveted girders.

A noise from behind: wood creaking against wood.  The ape sees the curved edge of a barrel, steel chine-hoops glinting orange in the dusklight.  The fit of rage brings the ape’s arms swinging against the heavy barrel, knocking it sideways.  Thick, black fingers grasp the fallen cask.  Lifting it high over its head, the gorilla roars and hurls the object at the warped slope of mangled beams, where it rumbles over the man-wife’s dropped and forgotten possessions: umbrella, bonnet, bag.  It rebounds from a concrete pillar and caroms out of sight, a rolling weapon racing towards the resourceful Master.

Now turn to p.5 / 7 …

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LOADING PAGE FIVE

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YOU’VE REACHED THE BONUS PAGE!

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Donkey Kong Classic

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Smash the Monkey -- For Mother Russia(Image via www.Halolz.com – Original artist unknown)


Turn to p.6 / 7 to continue…!

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LOADING PAGE SIX

LOADING PAGE SIX

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The great ape’s barrage does not stop there.  There is little conscious thought in its destruction of the construction site.  The damage is only a product of its frustration and fear, which builds within its scarred breast like a swelling balloon.

It remembers the unbroken cycle of torment; the gruesome scowls of its wrongful Master, whose gloved hands thrust roughly through the bars of the ape’s prison, grasping at tufts of coarse fur and yanking, yanking, or teasing the animal with sharp tools of his trade.

There can be little room for blame in the ape’s conical skull, and yet it has learned to hate the murderer of its family, this bitter man whose motives and innermost thoughts are forever excluded from the ape’s understanding.  It is a smart beast, but not a man.  It can only recognise its suffering and vent its hatred on the people and objects around it.

From somewhere below, the sound of shattering wood.  It comes like a burst of lightning, hard and brief.  The barrel the ape has thrown is no more – it appreciates that much – and so it heaves another down the slope with all its considerable strength.

This barrel does not hit the concrete pillar.  It is thrust aside by a silvery blur somewhere along the girder’s truncated length.  Wood and thick, black oil splatters the wall.

A figure is climbing onto the girder.  The heavy black head of a hammer swings like a pendulum to and fro in the Master’s grasp.  The man-wife, trapped behind the gorilla’s massive bulk, screams for her saviour, whose brows knit in fury above his bright eyes.  His mouth is a down-turned tear of split lip and tousled moustache.  Blood encrusts the hairs of his upper lip from the frantic moments following the ape’s escape.

The Master hefts the hammer atop his shoulder, and speaks from deep in his powerful chest:

[Press the FURIOUS ENEMY button on your soundbook now!]

Whoa!  Turn to p.7 / 7 for the explosive finale…!

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LOADING PAGE SEVEN

LOADING PAGE SEVEN

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Mortal enemies clash atop the unfinished structure.  The wind tears through the air between and around them, rippling hair and denim, freeze-burning skin of pale white and deep jungle black.  The ape throws down its arms and the Master dodges between them, boots squeaking on the strained iron.  His hammer describes, through the cold evening air, an arc of pain.

The hammer crunches into the ape’s shoulder.  A clavicle splits like a twig and bursts out through the skin.  The shoulder joint becomes a useless pulp of bone and tenderised flesh.  Bellowing resonantly – a bellow heard for miles around – the gorilla is incensed at this act of crippling.  It does not understand how such a small thing can result in such sharp, insistent pain, nor why its limb hangs so heavy and immobilised by its side.

The Master flings his hammer again, causing sparks to ring off the metal platform.  

The ape twists away and hurls all its weight against the sloping platform.  The vibrations throw the Master off his feet; immediately the gorilla takes advantage.  It wraps its great arm around another barrel, the rough pads of its fingertips gripping tightly to the grain of the wood, and heaves it up against its chest.  Its ruined arm dangles pathetically.  Ropes of muscle contort up the length of its body as it hurls the cask–

Splinters of wood and dark splashes of oil, like spilled blood, explode across the wall and gangway.  The Master has avoided the worst of the attack, but spinning shrapnel has caught him against the temple.  Dizzy, he struggles to stand on the inky smears of oil under his boots.  Gloves blackened and slick, he drops his hammer with a whimper.

The ape attacks.  There is enough rage in its tormented body to fuel the ape for days.  The man-wife’s blood tastes fresh on its plump lower lip.  There is precise muscle-memory all through its body: the violent throes of predatory instinct – the chase, the capture, the kill.

With one fist of broken bones, the ape pounds the struggling human body.  The Master’s chest is already a caved-in pulp of red meat and protruding bone.  Life quickly leaves the corpse, but the ape keeps beating, the man-wife’s screams in its ears.  The might fist strikes the grisly bruised face; it strikes him on the ear, on the limbs.  Finally the ape lifts the fresh corpse into the air by its mangled leg and hurls it, dripping and limp, from the seventh floor of the unfinished structure.

Tiny knuckles drum its thigh.  Turning, the ape moves in a position to grab the thrashing frame of the man-wife.  She shrieks in the ape’s ear, a milky white animal squirming amongst the tatters of its bright yet bloody clothing.  The gorilla flings her over the side too, watching her pinkish form disappear into the smog-laced yard far, far below.

There is liberation in revenge.  Even an animal understands this.  There is peace is liberation – but not yet.

With only one working arm, the ape climbs higher.  Step by step, metre by metre by metre:

One two three four five six seven.

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You’ve reached THE END!

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