#BlogBattle. “To Be Alive You Have to Die.” January Entry:

“A starving child is a frightful sight. A starving vampire, even worse.”

Anne Rice


 

This is my first attempt at something away from the WIP in many long months. Even so it refused to step away from a core location existing in several manuscripts. I normally avoid the sanguisuge, but recently I’ve rediscovered a yen to have a bash. Possibly inspired by a discussion with a good writing friend Joshua Insole who hinted he might like me to have a go at something darker.

I was aiming at Gothic, whether it’s quite reached that I’m not sure. I leave that to any who might read this to decide.


 

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To Be Alive You Have to Die


Extract from the journal of Father Paul Beechworth, Friday 12 November 1897.

The town is dying. A contagion lurks that is unconventional and beyond any rational intellectual mind. There were three more disappearances last night. A boy of seven, and his parents. That makes thirteen this week alone. All after the sun falls and darkness grows. An ungodly odour permeates everything. Mist blocks everything above, stars and moon sacrificed under a blanket of filth. Last night all my crosses bled.

It tests my faith now. The town has lost theirs, and mine may waiver. It must be so, I am already questioning it. God made the world so everything must bow in His name. Even the demon that now tarnishes this place. But, can it be vanquished if belief in the signs of God are vanquished? Is this what it tries to do? 


“They say just over two percent of people interred are buried alive after being presumed dead.” Jacob touched a bell hanging over a token cross mounted above a tombstone bearing the name Eleanor Carter. “The figure accounts for disinterments where there are signs of coffin damage created within by a poor soul waking and trying to claw their way out.”

Maggie stood to one side clutching a silver cross that hung on a chain around her neck. “Totally macabre dear brother, and not something to dwell upon at this ungodly hour.”

Jacob continued, “Of course that doesn’t account for those who asphyxiate before waking up.” He looked up at the silhouette of his sister backed by a blood moon. An omen, he thought. He flicked the bell and it’s jingle echoed around the graveyard. “The string goes to a finger in the coffin. Any movement and that happens.”

“And if no one is about to hear it?”

“There is always a dead ringer on watch Maggie.”

“Except you just rang that and nobody is coming.”

“No, I offered coin to the watchman to let us in.” He pictured the man in question, dead where he’d found him. The rasping breath drawn through a torn throat until all went silent. This his sister need not know about.

Maggie shuddered. Nights were never this quiet. Owls, insects or wind rustling leaves. Here the atmosphere was thick with, what she could only describe later as tension or fear. Nothing moved lest it’s presence were revealed and whatever lurked unseen turned upon the sounds creator. Perhaps a false hiding place as what they pursued needed neither noise or light to hunt.

“Why this grave Jacob?”

“Because it is empty as you well know. Miss Carter does not rest here at night.”

“Then why are we not here during the day?” Her question barely audible. She already knew the answer. 

Jacob merely took her hand and squeezed it. “Have faith dear sister. If we can prevent her return then she cannot rest by day.”

“And if there are other graves?”

“Then we will find every last one and sanctify them all.”

“Even so, the night is hers to toy with.”

“True faith knows no boundaries. She can be repelled.”

Maggie chose not to answer. Her own had dipped as the sun waned. It was why she clutched the cross. Hoping it would return. She watched as Jacob began to dig.

Minutes passed slowly, each sod of earth piled opposite the makeshift headstone. With each deposit Maggie felt the air grow putrid. Jacobs breath was steaming. Could if be exertion or that the air had drawn colder? It felt like the latter. Closing in and with it drawing the scent of decay to a nauseating level. She shivered and felt her heart pounding. If she could hear it then who, or what, else?

“It’s Maggie isn’t it?” The voice was that of a child.

She looked round, fearful that the missing might also be afflicted. A mist now stole her vision of the yard. The cross bit into her palm, scoring it, drawing blood unnoticed in her growing panic.

The voice again pitched in her mind, an adult this time, “Unwise to bleed here child.”

She spun toward Jacob and her voice became a scream as bells began to ring throughout the darkness.

###

Jacob, meanwhile, had reached the coffin. Not deep, due the dead ringers needing rapid access if a bell did chime when someone not quite deceased found life again. He paused before prising the lid open. To one side a makeshift bucket of tools Father Beechworth had blessed. A cross and holy water for the casket and a thorn sapling to be planted in the backfill.

As it opened his eyes registered shock. Eleanor Carter smiled up at him, her eyes alive with fire, her mouth ajar revealing teeth unnaturally white. Four were honed to points. His heart drew on God, but his mind was already overrun. He had been warned against beguilement. He had failed. She was beauty personified, the grave disappeared and he saw her beckoning from a bed chamber, arms reaching out drawing him in. Her mouth waiting to greet his. How could he refuse? Even as teeth bit into his neck he felt peace. She was in his mind now too.

“You have to die to live Jacob. A long life eternal. Can your God offer that?”

He heard a scream from elsewhere. Maggie, he thought. To Eleanor he opened his mind. “You should not be here witch.”

“My world opens many doors Jacob. Beechworth’s faith failed three nights ago. His mind speaks to mine now. You were betrayed by a man of your God.”

He felt conscious thought ebbing away. The battle lost. “Run Maggie,” was the last utterance Jacob ever issued.

###

Much later Maggie returned to her own journal. She had run, not just from Houghton Fengrave, but also from England. The body of her brother was never found, the grave he died at empty and void. Missing bodies began to turn up, mutilated and bloodless husks deemed the work of a madman. Father Beechworth committed the ultimate sin and hung himself. 

Maggie read the stories. Her chronicle of events hidden under a floorboard lest someone thumbed the pages and declared her insane. At night she went to nightmares clutching the silver cross. They were hunting her now. She knew this to be fact.


 

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43 Comments

  1. Fantastic story, Gary! I love your other works, of course, but it was really great to read some straight up horror from you — you’ve really got a knack for it. It has echoes of the great vampire stories, like Dracula and ‘Salem’s Lot, but with that unique storytelling voice of yours.

    I also really liked the intro from the priest’s journal, it set the mood — dark, misty, hopeless and somehow claustrophobic. The first line after the journal and the very last line were also brilliant — like buckets of cold water in the reader’s face. “They say just over two percent of people interred are buried alive after being presumed dead,” and “They were hunting her now. She knew this to be fact.” Marvelous bookends to the tale. I found the line, “She spun toward Jacob and her voice became a scream as bells began to ring throughout the darkness,” to be wonderfully vivid and also really pretty. I think true horror — that pitch black vein that runs through all the great horror works — can be really beautiful, when distilled down into its purest form.

    It was great to see your own nod to the unlucky number, too! 😉 Very kind of you to reference me in the foreword — I take great pleasure in knowing our conversation yielded such a tale! I’d really like to know more about the story — as is always the case with these short stories, eh? Great writing, as always, Gary! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s been a while since I did any actual horror so that’s down to a conversation we had a while ago and a recent book I read called Dracul by Stokers great grand nephew Dacre Stoker. Elements of that do appear hear such as the bells. Dead ringers I did look up and the same with the stats from that era. Oddly being buried alive featured before here in Dragon Stone too. Not a good way to wake up methinks! The horror to me is knowing back then it wasn’t unusual so some poor souls had a terrible end.

      I’m naturally dark in both reading and writing although writing wise it’s been a while due to a certain Amanuensis and world build occupying thoughts. I have written two books on the horror vein though. The Bequest and Black Marsh. Both are joined together. Clearly they still sit in the procrastination box!

      You have a certain knack of linking concept to books I love too. That is a pretty high accolade so thank you even if I’m not so certain 😳

      Again you pick out lines that I see hear and think “I actually wrote that!” I often fail to see what others do so isolated lines are very positive to see too. I do agree though, great horror is beautiful to read through the delivery mechanism. I’m not a gore fan as such and much prefer psychological approaches. Obviously excesses in the right places can’t really be avoided ha, ha. That said, if a reader feels the tension I like to think they see what I see when writing it.

      Your mention in the foreword is richly deserved too. Without your stories I doubt I’d have tried this one. Now I’m going to have trouble escaping it!

      The first commenter here is my alpha reader too. Mad about vampires and already suggesting this short story should grow. My head already has it expanding too.

      The priests journal came after I was trying to figure out how to set the scene quickly given the word count constraint. That was the point where I also considered it was maybe a scene whose setting could be several chapters earlier. The bookends you refer to are also how I tend to fit around chapters too. Is this subliminal foresight saying step it up? My only reservation is vampires have been done to death…as it were.

      Many thanks for such a fabulous comment too. Really good for the mojo!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Huh, that sounds like my sort of book! I’ll add it to the “to read” pile! (It’s getting out of hand, now — I need to make my way through the books faster! 😂) Yes, that sort of claustrophobic ending utterly terrifies me! Real horror, there. Great way to start the story — really set the tone!

        I can really see this story expanding, too! I’d love to read more of this world — if you’re already thinking about further explorations! As a reader, I could tell you have love of horror. A writer of many genres, Gary!

        I know vampires have been done many times before, but I think a well-told story is what I love to read, rather than a “brand new” idea — I find myself picking up books on the same topic simply because I enjoy that type of story. My WIP is a zombie story — they’ve also been done to death, but I’m so in love with the idea that I really want to do my “take” on it.

        Really pleased to know that I nudged you to dip your toe back into pure horror. It was fantastic to read!

        Liked by 1 person

        • In that case you might well like the starter I did…Dragon Stone. Not giving spoilers away but there is an alert consciousness in a body that’s been given the last rites…

          I find writing what I want to read helps too. You already know I’m a King fan, add in Tolkien, Martin and Lumley and it’s ranging from horror to fantasy world builds. Much of it is multi genre too. Not sure that helps with questions poised by agents about which hole to stick your submission in. Perhaps an out of date question nowadays.

          Good point. Well told stories can usurp done to death. If a reader enjoys it then that’s what really counts and if we enjoy writing them then why the heck not?

          I might even try something along the horror vein next time too…but, as I suggested earlier, the new word might be trickier to voice that way. Perhaps a challenge to rise to… obviously I’ll blame you again too!

          Liked by 1 person

          • I think you’re right — it sounds like something I’d really enjoy! When I have some free time, I’ll definitely have to check it out!

            I am exactly the same — I write the sort of stuff that I’d like to read! I think that’s the best approach, really. I like multigenre, too — like DT. What genre is that? Fantasy, with romance, horror, sci-fi, bits of crime and thriller elements. I think “What genre?” is simultaneously useful and useless. On one hand, it’s good to have vague labels, so that if you’re searching for something to scare you, you know to search for ‘horror’. On the other, finding a right category to pigeonhole a piece in can sometimes be restricting…

            I’m very curious to know what the next word is, now! I look forward to those prompt release days so much. 😀 I do enjoy a good challenge! Haha, I’ll happily take the blame if you keep pulling at the horror thread!

            Liked by 1 person

            • It might be easier if I set up a landing page with a featured post slider. I’ve a few I’d like to put on that from a while ago.

              Personally I can’t think of any other way to write fiction. If it bores you then what the heck will it do to a reader? Labels do have a function too. I agree there, but if an agent asks for just one that’s where I struggle. I’m not writing to a generic template that sits in one box. Might be why I like Kings work.

              As per other reply, Tuesday on BlogBattle and here on Thursday. I’m looking forward to seeing the takes too. Mine included as I’m totally trying to think of a horror angle 😳

              Liked by 1 person

              • Yes, that’s sounds like a marvelous idea! I think that would work very nicely. 🙂

                I agree completely — that’s why I think my previous WIPs are a bit messy. I got bored in places, and pushed on through — like walking through treacle! I’m sure the excitement levels I have when writing are conveyed to the reader — for better and worse…

                Yes, I think I’d struggle to put a single genre on anything, really. My stuff is all ‘horror’, but it varies what kind of horror — there’s so many blends and combos I like to play with. I agree, ticking just one box is tricky. I think of it like food — there’s so many flavours out there. Of course, we all have favourites, but to just stick to one flavour? Or to say you’d never touch a specific flavour? King’s a master of blending these ‘flavours’ to satisfy almost any craving! 😀

                I look forward to reading your horror angle! I really need to think how to use this word… I might take my time on this one. Then again, if I get an idea, I might have a story uploaded quite quickly… We’ll see! 😀

                Liked by 1 person

                • Best get my thinking cap on then! I’m not that au fait with theme changing and setting them up against what I envisage in my head!

                  Did you consider the WIP is interesting, but that the “boring” bits are signalling cuts on the first edit? One thing I tried was skipping if I got bored into another scene then back linking later. It’s rather like NaNo, batter it out then leave it a month or two and hit it hard editing. Worth a thought if things start sticking mojo wise. Let’s face it if you find it boring then maybe those parts are because the direction has been misplaced?

                  Ha, ha…why do you think I named my blog Fiction is Food? Totally agree though. If you write freely as it unfolds then it’s bound to cross genres. I guess they are all shades of grey too rather than simple black or white. King, as you say, is a good example of blending flavours, even in his dedicated horror books. I think they work though because he had a good understanding of how people react in general. From there you can extrapolate how they might react in crises.

                  I might try this one this weekend and see if anything crops up. Fingers crossed it’s horror based, but I do have a certain sorceress that might fit the bill too!

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Yes, I suspect you’re bang on the money, there, Gary! I think that’s a good tip — skip when it becomes a slog. Write the bits you’re excited to write about!

                    Ah, I never even thought of that! Haha, it’s only just clicked for me! Sometimes the pieces slot together after a while. 😀 Fiction is indeed food!

                    I agree, King is first and foremost great at writing real people who are completely and utterly believable. As long as you can manage that, it doesn’t matter how outlandish the terrors are — the reader will believe it.

                    I’ve got to check out the stories for this month! I feel as if I’ve been the slowest for Feb! Looking forward to reading yours (and everyone else’s!). 🙂

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Ha, ha! I wasn’t too sure about my blog title to start with. Even now I think should it be a shade more eloquent!

                      It’s one thing I try to do myself. Write about real people. Well fictional real people as it were. I guess I won’t know if that works until something gets into print!

                      Same here re Feb too. As I said in the last comment, somethings been put together it just needs an image and all good to go.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I’d take truth and honesty over eloquence any day, Gary! Your blog title is perfect! 🙂

                      Yes, I try to do the same! Make real people, based on interactions you’ve had, conversations you’ve heard, behaviour you’ve observed… Make it real. Make it believable. The stories of yours that I’ve read have nailed this aspect brilliantly!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Too kind Joshua. I do try and people watch. Must look quite odd seeing someone sat alone in a cafe just taking everything in. I do suspect writers see more of the world around them too. Sadness, the social atmosphere, neglects architecture, a sense of past presences, the epitaphs on graves sending minds into who were they… I think all that gathers a muse. I once wrote a story that had a garage mechanic in. That had loads of swearing that someone didn’t like. Personally, I’ve never been to a garage where Queens English is spoken. The posed question there is which dialogue stance is real?

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Yes, I think all writers put an element of “truth” in their works. An emotion they’ve felt, the direction of a conversation they’ve had, and so on. No matter how far-fetched our stuff can be, I think there’s always an honesty beneath it all — or there should be, I reckon!

                      Haha, a posh and haughty mechanic would be quite the character, I think! I’m not quite sure whether such a person would actually exist, though. 😂 I try to avoid (too many) swears for the most part in my writing, mostly so that nobody complains to me for putting up vulgar language on the internet! Having said that, if it fits the character, it fits the character — tell the truth, that’s the most important thing, I think!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Therein lies the truth of people watching. Varied language use, dialects, degrees of dull to funny. It’s all there to be drawn on. I agree too, without a real reader attachment to a character then the later fantastical fails to grab. If nobody cares about the protagonist then they are dead in the water without the antagonist having to do anything at all! On reflection that might be a safer option for them though ha,ha!

                      A posh mechanic might fit a comedic scene in some ripping yarn or other. But I’m not convince snagging a finger on rusted stuck engine mounts is going to produce an “Oh blimey that starts a bit” when a short four letter expletive does the job far better. One of my manuscripts…the one ready to go is full of F-words. Not in dialogue, but internal thinking. Then again she’s had a tough life and I’ve tried exorcising it, but it changes her too much. Two nefarious scenes exist too. First and last time for that too, but the story arc drew them in unplanned. Not blog material for sure. Most on here is clean. In fact bar that book everything else is. Bit of an experiment really, writing from a woman’s perspective. Oddly, my proofer and three beta testers (all women) loved it…not sure what that says 😳

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Haha, true! There’s something cathartic about the really harsh words — especially when injuring yourself, such as stubbing a toe on a coffee table! “Oh bother!” vs “You motherf***er!” One is infinitely more satisfying in the moment… Although, I do feel for the poor inanimate objects that are subjected to my profanities…

                      Internal monologues are full of unfiltered thoughts — nasty words, and so on. It would be odd if there weren’t swear words! Did you ever watch ‘Peep Show’? That show nailed the internal thoughts of the characters. If it’s called for based on the personality of the character (and even the “nice” characters are sure to have wayward thoughts), then not doing so would do the story a disservice!

                      Also, that’s quite the compliment! I know there’s lots of jokes about male writers (writing female characters and failing miserably — it’s something I’m always wary about doing badly. I always get my partner to check my stuff, just to make sure I’m not making a blunder! A woman’s opinion is always valued. The fact that three women loved it means you’ve done it perfectly, and thankfully aren’t one of “those” male writers!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I have recently tried to curtail cursing at inanimate objects for two reasons…one is they are unlikely to remedy my foolhardiness and secondly it’s not like it deliberately moves to where my foot is going to be. I have, after many a one sided slanging match, concluded it occurs when my own mindfulness is somewhere else.

                      Interesting observation too. Internal monologues are rich in linguistic variation. Often words thought often remain unspoken in terms of the more dubious content.

                      It was, and remains, an un-evidenced self rationale wrt the male writer failing to write female perspective that does stall this one getting sent out. Oddly though, no males have actually seen it! Now there’s another thing that might cause internal angst. Perhaps a different pen name might work 🤔

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Haha. Now there’s an idea, animate objects that move themselves in order to wage an assault on the toes and shins of the human race. Moving ever so slightly so as to not arouse suspicion, but enough to cause brief moments of pain! I might have to write that one, ha.

                      I often wonder what society would be like if reading thoughts was a skill we all possessed… The obscenities, the swears, the honest truths! I suppose we’d also hear a lot of single lyrics of songs repeated over and over, due to earworms stuck in people’s minds. 😉

                      I suppose it’s striking a balance between being aware of such pitfalls whilst also not feeling too scared to share your work. Given your track record, I reckon you’ve nothing to worry about, Gary — especially if female readers are giving it the thumbs up! I’ve thought about a pen name before too, as something to kinda “hide” behind and just think about the writing and less about me, but in the end I decided to just stick with my old handle!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • What if they already do and it’s not clumsy toe stubs, but deliberate pranks by said objects! Hmm, that could be tailored, on topic with horror, into poltergeist activity too!

                      That’s another writing idea too. A world where psychic ability does just that…no internal privacy at all…trying to combat it. An extension of The Minority Report even.

                      There’s the rub, we already share some writing and do we get phased by hitting publish there? No. Take a step back and think about it. Not just sent to an agent in a one to one potential for rejection. Open to anyone and everyone to lambast or not. In principle that should be worse than submitting it to a publisher!

                      Might be pen names get found out eventually too. Richard Bachman for example…on topic again with a certain King!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Gah, I’m so sorry Gary! It’s all getting a bit crazy with job search coupled with the lockdown here in Tyrol because of Corona! The city feels very apocalyptic right now — my partner and I risked the outside yesterday, and it had a very ’28 Days Later’ atmosphere. Deathly quiet, hardly anyone around, streets empty, no movement. Eerie.

                      Back to what you were saying — that could be a very cool story. Starting out with minor annoyances, possibly even venturing into some comedic territory, before taking and insidious turn for darker territories!

                      It’s interesting to imagine what kind of world we’d have if there was no internal privacy. Would people learn to filter their thoughts before the ideas fully form within their minds? Like a preemptive clamping down? Kind of like Orwellian doublethink, but not allowing the “wrong” ideas to ever appear. Hmm, I may have to think on this some more (and maybe explore it!).

                      Very true, too! We are exposing our vulnerable underbellies on these blogs. It should be frightening… I suppose the friendly community that exists here is much more welcoming than the very business-minded world of publishing. Here, we can make art and appreciate art simply for the passion and enjoyment of it, whereas “out there” it has to be a financial success, to make money.

                      Yes! I love the story that King was so bursting at the creative seams that he had to write under another name — simply to cope with the volume that he was writing. Again, I read that his publisher didn’t want him to release so many books under his own name, for fear of oversaturating the market. Returning to that idea of doing it for the love and the passion, versus the business-minded approach!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • No worries Joshua, it’s getting the same here. Supermarkets looking like something out of Fallout 4… best start collecting bottle caps!

                      Not quite a total lockdown yet, but schools close tomorrow so probably a move towards further action later. I can here my AI leaking from that other BB world…I Am Corona…

                      Always need that turn to appear suddenly dark too. Classic lure reader attachment and then enter something unusual. I fear my creativity is pondering my other foreboding stories on dystopian collapse… somehow it’s unsettling… imagine everything you wrote down actually happening…. Might give one GooseBumps…

                      It’s a friendly community once you enter it yes, but I still remember the first days. Huge world of bloggers and writers already established. How is throwing something out for the very first time better than chucking it at an agent? Hmm, possibly the latter has more ability to mojo crush??

                      Then again it’s a business world like you say. Maybe that throws the ball at self publishing. Often the toss between the two is very rock and hard place. Mind you, doing it for the love and passion outscore infamy for me any day!

                      Like

    • They are all “attempts” Patty! This genre has been untouched since the paranormal brothers escapades. That and a whim to try something more gothic. Not sure if this quite hit that mark though.

      As for publishing… it’s parked behind sorting the blog theme out. I know that’s been sitting for an age too. However New Year is a good time to stop mucking about and start doing yes!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooh, vampires, their kith and kin! Nice touch at the beginning with the father’s journal entry. When Jacob come on the scene I wasn’t certain how long after the entry this story takes place. Then toward the end I discovered it must have been a matter of days. Also at first I wondered why Jacob wasn’t hearing the voices Maggie did, but I presume it was the same ‘telepathy’ Eleanor used on him? Dark and creepy throughout. I enjoyed how Eleanor spoke in a seductive lie like any fiend should. The ending was absolutely chilling!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Abe! The beginning journal was the only way I could set time and location and not wander into more than 1000 words. You’re right too…what I didn’t say was that was the last journal entry he made. I could easily wander off and catalogue his journal with the demise of his faith too. I felt there was more to be said there.

      Yes again, the telepathic mind control usurped Jacob before he realised. It undercut his faith. Obviously a priori he expected the grave empty at night. One might argue he could have turned up during the day and finished her…surely easier! Part of me has worked through that already, but it’s scratching at growing this into something larger. I find prompts like this often spark novel ideas.

      Maggie did hear a different telepathy yes. A distraction while Jacob was being seduced, as it were.

      I’m now debating if the “ending” is really an ending or has more to offer up.

      Many thanks for the considered feedback too. Like I said in the post…bit rusty on this style.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes, this could definitely lead to something more. For one thing, I immediately wondered if Maggie would be hunted for the rest of her (short?) life, or if she would find a way to fight back and maybe even prevail. Lots of potential for character development in a plot with intensive conflict!

        Like

  3. YES! 🙂 You already know, I love this. Once again, Gary, you have a knack for writing. This is right up my street 🙂 Love the tie into all your other stories you’ve got going. I felt the darkness creeping out in this, but you know me…I love to walk on the dark side 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, I knew this was in your reading genre before doing it. Mind you it’s been absolutely ages since Black Marsh was finished and this is dusting off a few cobwebs in this style. Good to know you saw the cross links too. Like I said though, it wasn’t intentional and not even realised until Houghton Fengrave appeared near the end.

      Thanks for the positive mojo 😊

      Like

  4. Pingback: #BlogBattle Stories: Bucket | BlogBattle

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