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Want to read my latest short story? It was JUST published by Short Fiction Break literary magazine. Read it here and let me know what you think in the comments!
You have no idea!
‘I’m not like other men,’ said Dan. ‘I’m not even like other werewolves.’
‘I don’t understand Mr Shaffer,’ the psychiatrist shuffled his papers and coughed. ‘…like other werewolves. There is no such thing as a werewolf or lycanthrope as it’s really called. It exists only in myths and legends. Please explain further.’
‘I can do better than that,’ Dan was slowly sipping a blended cappuccino laced with sugary hazelnut syrup. ‘I can show you.’
He licked some syrup off his designer stubble and bared his teeth. They seemed to be growing as he spoke. His voice was distinctly becoming lower, more like a growl. ‘It’s the sugar in the drinks.’ He was twitching as he spoke. Long black hairs began sprouting from his face and the backs of his hands. ‘No-one believes me you see. And that has a tendency to make me angry.’ He slipped off the couch and squatted on his haunches, still holding on to his coffee with his claws. He took another sip through his elongated fangs. ‘I wouldn’t mind so much if it was triggered by the full moon like in the stories. That at least would be predictable. Once a month and all that. But I have to be so careful. Checking the labels of everything I buy. Looking at the sugar content. Sucrose, fructose, it doesn’t matter. It all has the same effect.’
With which he leapt at the hapless psychiatrist, his teeth bared and jaws slavering.
‘I guess you believe me now,’ he said, leaping through the open window.
For Jan it was a night like any other. A nice dinner of roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, peas and gravy. Followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard. All washed down with a large glass of cola. That was Dan’s version. For Jan it was a low fat sugar free yoghurt instead of the pudding and sparkling water instead of cola. She allowed herself only two tiny roast potatoes and passed on the cauliflower cheese even though it was her favourite. She had to stay in good shape for her job. She worked as a rep selling diet shakes and nutritional supplements and though she didn’t actually use the products, she needed to look as though she did.
Dan had popped out for a walk as he did every night after dinner. He was usually out for a good hour but she didn’t mind as it gave her time to do the washing up, watch EastEnders and get in some practice in front of her Pilates Weight Loss Workout DVD. She would have preferred to exercise on an empty stomach but Dan’s nightly absence gave her some privacy. And the opportunity to create a new menu that would subtly knock a few pounds off her portly partner. She set to work. It was time to start making a few changes. First of all, she would secretly replace the cola with a sugar free version. He wouldn’t notice so long as she poured it into a glass and threw away the can. Then she would start preparing low calorie desserts like fresh fruit with a single cream alternative or a sugar-free lemon sorbet. Just these two changes would make such a difference. Little did she know just what a difference it would really make.
There are three ways to become a werewolf. Be born a werewolf because your parents were both werewolves. Be bitten by one, or be ‘cursed’. So legend would have us believe. Dan on the other hand knew different. He was the exception to the rule. He never really believed that he was the only one but even though he had been told he would instantly recognise another ‘sugar-induced-werewolf’ as he jokingly called himself, he hadn’t so far. At least not in Bromley.
This new ‘shape-shifting’ syndrome he assumed, was the result of decades of sugar rush and over-indulgence in sweet foods and drinks from coffee chains. He was addicted. Cappuccino, latte macchiato, mocha and luxurious hot chocolate, all served with extra syrup and those cute little marshmallows on the top. For most people it resulted in being overweight (he knew he was too) but for him it had an added ‘curse’. Except he found it rather fun. He could induce it at will with little more than a large chocolate bar, but he could also be easily tricked. Hidden sugars in so many things. He had to take a packed lunch to work at Altered States Tailors in Bluewater. He didn’t dare to pop into his local peri peri chicken in case the BBQ sauce made him start howling at the moon-shaped overhead lights in the Build-a-Bear shop. That would frighten the little buggers! How hilarious that would be but he would instantly get the sack. There would be no verbal or written warning for spontaneous lycanthropy. It would be out on your furry butt sunshine or should I say moonshine.
So Dan waited till he got home. He was starving. Maybe it would be sausage and mash tonight or spag bol followed by chocolate pudding and raspberry ripple ice cream (his favourite). Then it was a pint of full-fat cola and out for a walk. The transformation wouldn’t take long if he had enough sweet stuff. He hadn’t decided yet where he would go. Somewhere he could freely howl and chase a few squirrels in the churchyard maybe, or perhaps he would aim a bit higher tonight. A night club was always fun. Most of them too pissed to acknowledge his existence.
Horror of horrors! Tonight’s dinner was a tuna salad (yuk!), light on the mayo and even worse there was no pudding. Only fruit and 0% fat free yoghurt and Jan had already replaced the cola with the sugar-free variety. That’s it, he thought, I’ll take a walk through the churchyard to the One Stop Shop and get myself a bar of chocolate or two. Because I’m hungry. The cola will trigger the ‘other thing’.
He’d been walking for a good 15 minutes before he begun to realise something was wrong. No hair on the back of his hands or all over his face. No elongated fangs. No growing fingernails. Something was up. This couldn’t be happening or not happening in this case. He was standing in the middle of the churchyard shivering. He hadn’t worn a coat because once he was covered in fur he wouldn’t need one. And that’s when he saw him. Another werewolf. Drinking a chocolate mocha cappuccino in a paper cup. He recognised it instantly. He could even see the marshmallows. Dan tried to howl but his throat dried up. He tried to growl and snarl but it came out like a whimper. Then he tried to run but wolves can outrun a human without even trying.
‘But I’m the only one in Bromley,’ he cried as he went down in a mass of teeth and hair and saliva.
When they found him the next day he was lying face down in the churchyard with his neck torn open. In his hand he was clutching an empty cup of chocolate mocha cappuccino. He had tried to grab it and take a swig but he never stood a chance. Jan had thought she was doing him a favour. Little did she know.
In a world where for some people reality is too painful to bear and dreams are as fragile as eggshells, Mia was happy to float between the two. Her world was one of waking dreams.
‘I dream with my eyes open’, she said to the doctor, who was rapidly making notes and tutting a great deal. ‘I walk with fairy folk and elves and creatures from beyond the stars.’
‘I’m sure you do Mia, I’m sure you do.’ The doctor was putting away his notebook and closing his brown leather bag. ‘I’ll give some more sleeping tablets, but only for a few days. They are addictive you know.’
Back at the surgery, Doctor Williams shook his head and spoke to his secretary in a quiet voice so as not be overheard by the usual plethora of sulky kids with buttons up their noses, pensioners who faked illness just so they could have someone to talk to and pregnant women having their blood checked for anaemia.
‘She really believes everything she says, that poor girl. I’d love to get to the bottom of what it is that is keeping her in this floating reality…something traumatic that she won’t face,’ he said.
‘Drugs I expect,’ Julia Fisher replied, ‘She’s on something. Has to be.’
‘Definitely not, I’ve examined her, talked to her, there are no track marks down her arms, I’m sure she doesn’t smoke marijuana, she’s not suicidal. No there’s something else. Something I need to get to the bottom of. Maybe I should regress her….’
‘Then she’ll tell you she was Joan of Arc or Cleopatra in a previous life or some such nonsense.’ Julia was always dismissive of anything slightly spiritual or scientifically doubtful.
‘Not that kind of regression. Not to a ‘previous life’ as you call it. Just to her childhood so we can find out what is hidden there.’
‘A couple of bodies, I expect. She probably murdered her parents and hid them in the cellar.’
‘Now who’s the fantasist?’ Dr Williams laughed.
Mia’s eyes are lightly shut but she is not asleep. ‘They don’t believe in you anymore,’ she says aloud. ‘But it’s no matter. I see you. Like little stars you shine for me and only for me. You sparkle in the night sky and fall to the ground one by one in tiny gossamer droplets of light.’
‘Help us,’ I hear you say. ‘If they stop believing in us, we’ll vanish forever.’
‘I love you,’ she replies. ‘I love you as if you were my own children.’ And the world is shining around her and there are tears in her eyes.
‘I’ll help you, I promise. Trust me.’
‘Everything that has ever happened in your life, Mia, is stored deep in your unconscious mind. Your conscious mind, however, may block these memories because they are too painful. This can give rise to mental illness and emotional disturbances. But I’m here to help you.
‘I am going to take you back to your early childhood.
‘Your eyes are closed and your eyelids are starting to relax. In a few moments, I will count rapidly from ten to one and with each number, your relaxation will increase. 10… 9… 8… Stored deeply in your unconscious mind are memories of other times and other places. 7… 6… 5… Soon you will be able to retrieve those memories and recount them…4… 3… 2… 1.
Then a strange thing happened. He realised that Mia was floating about two feet above the couch. She was surrounded by twinkling lights of silver and gold. They circled her body and then began to circle his head. Round and round they went. They played games like an aerial hide and seek, up and down they flew, now left, now right. They were making him dizzy.
‘Free us,’ they said. ‘Help us….believe…’
He remembered his conversation with Mia only the other day. ‘I walk with fairy folk and elves and creatures from beyond the stars,’ she had told him.
He hadn’t believed her. ‘It’s just a dream, a nightmare or even a hallucination,’ he had told her. But here they were all around him. And he was talking to them.
‘How can I help you?’ he asked them.
‘By believing in Mia,’ they replied.
‘I believe,’ he said and in an instant another believer had been converted and he knew that his life would never be the same.
I’ve been sitting on my story Miss Havisham’s Ghost for over two (or even three) months, unable to go anywhere with it, so I decided the best thing to do was to give up. Not give up on writing the story but on trying to combine the two stories into one.
I have done this – bring in something autobiographical – before in a story and one of my friends thought the real person I was talking about was the grown up version of the child in the story. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would, but I thought if that story was confusing then this one would be even more so! So this morning I split them up.
And now I have two stories – each one almost 4,000 words. One is a traditional (so far) ghost story without a title, while the other is mainly autobiographical. All I need to do is progress the ghost story without the added complication of weaving in the other. The challenges of course, remain the same as ever!
‘Stage of Fools’ is a quote from Shakespeare’s King Lear. However, I used it as the title of a short story in which a theatre director decides to stage a production of The Medea, a Greek tragedy by Euripedes. Peter, the director, is a pretentious fool with ideas well above his station and talent. In the meanime his marriage to his French wife, Justine, is falling apart and while Peter is looking for funding by seducing the daughter of a rich publisher, Justine (like Medea) is plotting her revenge.
I have always had a ‘thing’ about The Medea ever since I studied it in the second year of my OU degree. However, I never imagined it would become the plot of a short story!
Here is an exceprt from Stage of Fools, the last and longest story in An Irrational Fear of Dogs and other short stories.
It was a fascination with Greek tragedy, brought on no doubt by a boy’s experiences of the Classics at public school that led Peter Meadows to follow his childhood ambition and stage a West End production of Medea. Now approaching that milestone age which shall only be spoken in whispers when one is quasi-famous, he believed it to be now or never. Justine preferred never, but then always more pragmatic and less self-indulgent than her husband, she was the one who paid (or frequently didn’t pay when they had no money) the ever increasing bills that fanned themselves out on the floor of the porch like the spreading flare of a peacock’s tail feathers, vying for attention.
‘They’ll take care of themselves,’ Peter would say if she tutted and then throw them over his shoulder to land in a pile on the floor.
‘Non cherie, they will not,’ she replied and picked them up, stuffing them into the sagging pockets of her long brown cardigan, before adding them to the teetering pile that was now becoming a fire hazard in the conservatory.
Thus began the daily ritual of will they won’t they which perfectly demonstrated the widening chasm between two people who had met at university when the whole world stretched out before them, filled with happiness and opportunity. Peter, two years older than Justine, was dashing, attractive and extremely persuasive. The year was 1988 and he was in his third year reading Drama at Reading University when the beautiful exchange student walked into the bar of the Student’s Union and asked for a glass of Chardonnay in perfect, yet broken, English. Slim, chic and better dressed than the average university student, she was obviously French.
‘I’ll get that,’ Peter said to the barmaid (another of his recent conquests but no hard feelings eh), who was pouring Hock out of a wine box, ‘and I’ll have a beer.’
It didn’t take him long to discover that Justine, as her name turned out to be, was in her first year studying the Classics at the Sorbonne and was in England to discover the museums and art galleries.
‘J’adore Oxford, en particulier le musée Ashmolean.’
‘Then we must go there,’ Peter replied, everyone at his school had at least passed basic O level French, ‘I know, let’s go tomorrow and take a picnic and go boating on the river.’
Within a week they were sharing his digs and were head over heels in love.
Ok that sounds like an observation. It’s actually another excerpt from
An Irrational Fear of Dogs and other short stories. This one is called The Sweet Smell of Lilies. So here goes…
Lilies remind me of funerals. Not a very original observation, I hear you thinking. Why not roses or gardenias or boring old Sweet Williams or those plants that everyone loves the smell of except me, stocks, I think they are called. No there is something about lilies, especially white ones, that is associated with death.
The 8.22 from Cheltenham is rumbling past Didcot Power Station. ‘Choo choo,’ it goes. I look for the Fat Controller but he isn’t there. Only a thin man with a gaunt face and a copy of the Guardian and a woman with cheap luggage and cheap shoes. She has poisoned her entire family and fled her home in the country to run away with the thin man with the gaunt face. But her cheap luggage and the Guardian are too mismatched so I give up there and then.
At Paddington there is a crowd thronging around some event of which I have no knowledge. A minor celebrity has stepped down from the train perhaps and collapsed on the floor, having been shot twice in the leg and chest by a crazed fan with a Colt.45. I am sure I can smell sulphur. The police come quickly. Everyone will be arrested. I must flee the crime scene quickly in case they think it was me. The evidence is in my handbag. My fingerprints are all over the gun.
‘Help! Help! It wasn’t me,’ I cry, ‘I am innocent. I was on a train passing Didcot Power Station at the time officer. You can ask the Fat Controller or the thin man…..’
Suddenly a man with a small moustache stands up in the middle of the throng and brushes himself down. He is embarrassed, I can see that.
‘I am so sorry,’ he says, ‘I tripped.’
The crowd moves on, uncaring now. I move with them. I have an appointment with death. I am going to my uncle’s funeral in Willesden. He died in suspicious circumstances. He was poisoned. He was alone at the time you see…