Halloween Flash: The Stamp Of A Vamp

Alison Day was a mousy woman who had barely been scuffed by the wear and tear of life until the day she met Lulu, the effect of which was like lightning hitting a plane. The Autumn night draped itself over the city, and the moon bit into the sky as Alison rushed home from her usual Wednesday evening yoga class. She felt edgy and fumbled for her keys as she heard the click, click, click of high heels on the wet pavement. She turned. On the corner of the street, beneath a blinking street lamp, a woman was smoking a cigarette. Her silhouette seemed to appear and disappear like warm breath on a cold window pane.

The woman was tall and, like Alison, in her early thirties with wan looking skin, a slash of red lipstick across her full lips and her black hair cut into a Louise Brooks bob. She was wearing a red PVC raincoat and shiny black stiletto heels and Alison suddenly felt very dowdy with her green cagoule, Gap jeans and mousy, unkempt hair.

The woman slowly sauntered towards Alison-and in a muddy foreign accent, said:

‘Keep looking at people like that and you’ll be in for a good tongue lashing.’

And then she collapsed in heap at Alison’s’ feet.

* * *

‘Would you like a cup of tea?” said Alison, “I have …’
‘Something stronger, maybe?’ purred the woman as she sat up from the sofa.
Alison rummaged in a cupboard and found an unopened bottle of absinthe.
‘How about this?’ she said.
The woman smiled and lit a Gauloises cigarette.
‘My name is Lulu,’ she said, filling two shot glasses with absinthe. ‘Drink with me, eh?’
As the night hurtled on, Alison got drunk and in the process told Lulu her life story, such as it was. Lulu seemed fascinated by Alison’s idyllic, picture postcard childhood in Yorkshire and her job at Bermondsey Library. Lulu revealed little about herself, however, except that she had come from Bucharest shortly before the revolution and that she was married to a nightclub owner called Nicholas.

‘You know,’ said Alison ‘I hardly ever drink. My friends say that I can get drunk on the sniff of a barmaid’s apron.’ She giggled. ‘This is the first time I’ve drunk absinthe.’

‘They say it makes the heart grow fonder,’ said Lulu, licking the rim of the glass and holding Alison’s gaze.

***
At some point during the night Alison woke up in bed, in a cold sweat, with no recollection of getting there. Lulu, naked, was smoking and gazing out of the bedroom window. The tip of her cigarette glowed bright red and then faded to black.

***

In the morning, as slivers of sun sliced through the blinds, Alison awoke and saw that Lulu was gone. Memories of the night before fizzed like champagne bubbles as, on the bed, she saw a business card for Vamps Gentleman’s Club in Shoreditch. Written in red lipstick, was a phone number.

***

Vamps was suffocating in black leather and red velvet. It was cluttered with noisy groups of brash City Boys and semi-naked young women who wandered around with beer glasses full of money. The DJ played ‘Goldfinger’ as a statuesque blond, wearing only a pair of angels’ wings, crawled up and down a glistening pole.

Alison sat on a large black sofa next to Lulu, who was dressed in a red leather nun’s habit with a gold pentagram dangling from a chain around her neck. Tearing the label from her beer bottle she moved in close to hear Lulu speak.

‘I suppose marriage to Nicholas was a marriage of convenience.’ Lulu said. ‘I wanted to stay legally in England and he wanted…well, a pet. He promised me a job in a West End nightclub and I ended up here. But the worse thing is, he makes me have sex with other dancers. His business partners.’

She downed her drink in one.

‘Can’t you leave him?’ said Alison, red faced.

‘If I leave him, I’ll be deported and that will be that’, she said. Alison blanched.

As Autumn trudged on into Winter, Alison and Lulu’s meetings became more frequent and murderous thoughts hovered over them like a hawk ready to strike its prey until one night Lulu eventually said, ‘Okay. Let’s kill him.’

***

‘You see, ninety nine percent of the human race are just here to make up the numbers,’ said Nicholas, in a voice stained with nicotine and brimmed with brandy. He was an elegant, handsome man in his sixties. He indifferently smoked a large cigar, the smoke rings floating above his head like a halo or a crown of thorns.

‘They’re just cannon fodder. Don’t you agree?’

Alison couldn’t agree or disagree. She couldn’t say a thing and she couldn’t move.
The plan had been simple enough. She was to go to Vamps on New Years Eve and ask about work as dancer. When the place closed she’d accept Nicholas’s inevitable invitation to go to his office for a night cap with him and Lulu. They were to poison him and dump his body in the Thames along with the drunks who tottered into the river’s dank and dirty water at this time of year.

But after the first couple of drinks she realised that she was paralysed. In the oak and leather armchair she was like an insect trapped in amber. The clock struck twelve and the room was lit up by exploding fireworks. Lulu and Nicholas’ eyes glowed bright red and then faded to black.

‘Happy New Year, my sweet,’ said Lulu. ‘I hope you like your present.’

‘I’m sure I will, darling,’ said Nicholas, ‘I know how difficult it is to find fresh meat in these decadent times’. He chuckled and seemed to float from his chair.

As Nicholas sank his fangs deep into her neck, Alison felt pain greater than she had ever felt before. She wanted to cry, to scream, to tear herself apart but she could do nothing except listen to the sound of fireworks and Lulu’s cruel, cruel laughter.

(c) Paul D. Brazill

Keep It Simple. Keep It Short.

4 picsI think I’ve always liked singles more than LPs. Preferred the short, sharp burst of a 45 rpm vinyl to 33 and 1/3 rpm of a few decent tunes padded out with fillers. And maybe that’s why I was drawn to flash fiction.

I started off my crime writing ‘career’ – arf – submitting yarns to the late lamented Six Sentences website – short stories in just six sentences. Indeed, my first writing to appear in print was in the 6S volume 2 anthology.

Here’s an example of a 6S yarn:

A Cold Day in Helsinki

The January night had long since waned when Mika blasted Aki’s brains over the snow covered street, producing a more than passable Rorschach test. A murder of crows sliced through the whiteness as the purr of the passing motorcycle grew to a roar, masking the sound of the shotgun. When day eventually melted into night, the moon hung fat and gibbous, the bloodstains now black in the moonlight. Mika draped Aki’s cold, dead skin over his own pallid flesh as, shivering, he breathed in the scent of cheap aftershave, cigarettes and booze. Sour memories trampled over his thoughts with bloodstained feet. Together forever he rasped, as tears filled his bloodshot eyes.

Or:

Snap, Crackle & Pop! 

Snap went Larry’s index finger when Mo bent it back. Crackle went the cigar that Mo slammed into Larry’s face. Pop went the pistol that Mo shoved under Larry’s chin. Snap went the paparazzi when Mo was led into court. Crackle went the electric chair when Mo was sent to meet his maker. Pop went the champagne cork in Curly and Shemp’s hotel room.

And I’ve also enjoyed writing a few other forms of flash and micro fiction too, such as 6word stories a la Ernest Hemingway.

Quentin.

Blah blah. Bang bang. Ha ha.

Or there are stories limited to fifty words for magazines such as Blink Ink.

Old Town, midnight.

The moonlight oozed across the dank cobblestones like quicksilver; creeping between the cracks, crawling into the gutters. Howls sliced the silence. Lara shivered, pulling the fur close to her flesh. Each heartbeat was like the tick of a clock. As the limousine growled into view, heavy footsteps shuffled closer.

And flash fiction in 100 words, which is known as Drabble.

Swamplands

Elvis awoke in a cold, dank sweat, hungover from bourbon and bad dreams. The nightmares had consisted of him being hunted through a swamp by the murderous spectre of Jesse, his stillborn twin. His pounding heartbeat seemed to echo through the mansion. He stumbled into the bathroom, splashed cold water on his face and looked in the mirror, only to be confronted by his own ashen reflection and that of his grinning doppelganger. Jesse tightly wrapped the umbilical cord around Elvis’ throat and pulled it until Elvis breathed no more. The king is dead, long live the king, he muttered.

Indeed, if you feel the urge to take the plunge into writing but just want to test the water, there are plenty of flash fiction sites online. Spelk Fiction, for example,’ limit you to 500 words and Shotgun Honey have a 700 word limit.  And it’s a great way for more experienced writers to practice disciplining their writing too.

So why not get flashing!

This post first appeared over at Debbi Mack’s blog.

AJOKORTTI HELVETTIIN

finnish-anthoOut now,  AJOKORTTI HELVETTIIN is a Finnish language crime fiction/ flash fiction anthology  edited by Juri Nummelin, of the acclaimed Pulpetti blog.

Juri says: Ajokortti helvettiin (“License to Hell”, according to the short story the title was taken from), is a collection of flash fiction stories I published in my short-lived Ässä magazine (plus three new stories from Rob Hart, Stephen D. Rogers and Anthony Neil Smith).’

There are also stories from the likes of  Joe R. Lansdale, Patrica Abbott, Ray Banks, Keith Rawson, and even me!

Get it here!

#FRIDAY FLASH: ANGER MANAGEMENT

13 SHOTS OF NOIR BY PAUL D BRAZILLI used to get angry all the time. Especially when I was a teenager. The “difficult years,” doctors used to call it. As if there could ever be any other with a father like mine.

I’d see crimson, burn up like a volcano, rant, rave, spit, scream – the whole deal.

Sometimes I’d even black out and I’d fall through a trapdoor straight down into the deepest well. Darkness all around.

It was after one of those “episodes” that I came to with gigantic hands gripped around my throat, dangling me over the thirteenth-floor balcony of some grimy tower block somewhere in East London. No recollection of getting there.

So that was when I decided to channel my aggression. That’s when I joined The Squad.

First it was just the football; following the team to some hick northern town and screaming abuse at the bumpkins. But that was never enough. I knew there was more. I could smell it; taste it.

And then I met Tubeway, Slammer and Col. The Squad. They were a breakaway group from the mainstream hooligans. They called it “rucking and rolling.” Football hooliganism mixed with mugging. It made sense. This was the nineties and Cool Britannia had no place for the likes of us.

We were the dispossessed, according to Tubeway. He liked to use words like that; flaunt his vocabulary and GCSE in Philosophy. The same Tubeway who used to listen to Hitler’s speeches without understanding a word of German.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew that they were tossers – just looking for excuses for being violent. I didn’t need an excuse, though. I knew that I liked to inflict pain; I needed to hurt. It was just a matter of when and who.

Then they introduced me to Mr Bettis – or Sweaty Betty, as he was known behind his back. He was like a giant pink slug. Col said he looked like Jabba the Hutt. I just nodded. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I didn’t watch films. I didn’t read books – I could barely read – and I didn’t like music. What I liked was violence. Sweaty paid well. He told us to keep our noses clean. Become respectable. Invisible to the law. He’d contact us once a month with a name and a place. Maybe a picture. And we did what he asked. Sometimes we used Stanley knives. Or blowtorches. Or even guns.

I loved it. I was good. The best. I started to develop a sense of professional pride. I distanced myself from the others. They were a liability. Disasters waiting to happen, I thought. And I was right.

Tubeway had his neck broken by a transvestite in Clapham. Col died of a smack overdose in a piss-stained Wandsworth squat. And Slammer got locked up for life, which I found ironic once I’d learned that word at my adult literacy class.

Oh yes, I studied. Learned to read and write. Learned history – enough to put Tubeway in his place without batting an eyelid. I learned aikido and kung fu. I practiced yoga and I got married. And had kids.

I still worked for Sweaty but the jobs were few and far between; he only used me for the “prime cuts,” as he called them.

Everything seemed so right.

And then it all went pear-shaped as quick as spit disappears on hot pavement.

It’s been fifteen years since I joined The Squad and I suppose it’s taken its toll. I expect that I’m a tad jaded.

Which is why, I suppose, the sounds and the yells of the man strapped to the tree in front of me have no impact on me. Don’t even ruffle a feather.

The golf course is empty; it’s dusk and like in the film Alien – yes, I started watching films, too – no one can hear him scream.

Time to continue the interview.

***

It always rains in the dreams. Always. Pours down in sheets. But in reality it was a burning, brandy-brimmed, summer morning.

In the dreams, there are no kids, either. Just a sinister, grinning man who looks like my father, wearing a long black coat and carrying a carving knife.

And when I wake up, I feel released. Free. But then the cold light of day hits me between the eyes. Because there was no man in black. No pounding rain. Just two kids who got in the way of a hail of bullets. My own kids.

It all went black for a long time after that. Until I woke up drowning in sweat, booze, piss and tears. Stinking of shame, guilt and self-loathing.

And then it never went black again. It was an endless cold white.

I’ve heard it said that eighteen months of sleep deprivation can drive you crazy. Well, I was mad after that anyway.

So now there’s a dead man in front of me, dangling from a tree, in an exclusive golf course, in the fresh morning dew. A slug of a man who looks like Jabba the Hutt. And he’s given me the name of the man who ordered the hit. The hit that resulted in the death of my kids.

Oh, I know. It’s just an excuse. A way of avoiding culpability. Just a reason to inflict pain. A reason to hurt. And to kill. And to keep on killing.

The End.

(c) Paul D. Brazill.

( Anger Management is included in 13 Shots Of Noir. Published by Untreed Reads.)

Short, Sharp Interview: Aldo Calcagno

What was the first zine you were involved with and when was that?

Powder Burn Flash was my first experience. It started three years ago when all of a sudden my favorite ezines and websites started to disappear such as Plots With Guns, Demolition and so forth. I wanted to keep alive a forum for writers to practice their craft and get feedback from readers on their stories. So, I started Powder Burn Flash.

Are you surprised by the success of Powder Burn Flash and DBD?

Quite a bit. Here I was just a reader who enjoyed all this writing and I was a neophyte writer trying to work out the kinks in my own writing fielding many queries. If started out in a rush and I learned along the way how to edit and provide feedback, but fortunately, many of the original submissions were near perfect finished pieces that required little or no editing on my part, or so I felt.

After about 6 months, I started getting feedback and requests from a different group of writers who needed more room to flesh out their stories. They wanted to submit something to PBF, but couldn’t shave it down to less than 1,000 words. Who am I to deny a writer a chance at publication, so I decided that I would open Darkest Before the Dawn and accept stories up to 10,000 words in any genre. I was blown away at the quantity and quality of stories.

A year later, I started working with Seth Harwood on producing the very successful CrimeWAV podcast. Out of this partnership, one of Seth’s webmasters contacted me about moving the site away from a blog format and into a ezine website. I owe a great deal of the explosive success to both sites to Jason Andrews who worked with me to develop the current sites. They have a more professional appeal and the quality of the submissions have risen above my expectation.

Doesn’t it sometimes seem like more work than it’s worth?

There are times when the real world gets in the way of doing what I enjoy. This is a true labor of love and my hope is at some point that I can make this a paying market so writers can earn something from their labors. For me, I really enjoy the interaction with the writers and the opportunity to help them develop their craft and have a forum for publishing their work.

It has also been fun working with Patti Abbott and Gerald So to organize and publish stories around Flash Challenges. When we get around to have one, usually quarterly, we generate a buzz that results in 15-25 stories being submitted around the theme. We all have a great deal of fun reading the work of all the participants.

One success that I would like to share is that the sites are generating some interest in the publishing world.

The highlight of the year came in December when Randy Rohn contacted me and said that Otto Penzler had been in contact with him and had selected a story that I published on Darkest for inclusion in the 2009 Best Short Stories.

Since then a few literary agents and major editors have contacted me regarding stories and authors who have been published.

Aldo Calcagno AKA Mystery Dog is the editor of Powder Burn Flash, Darkest Before The Dawn and CrimeWAV.