Friday, October 30, 2009

12 spooky vignettes

Belfast-based author Stuart Neville has been running a contest this month, challenging his readers to produce some ghostly micro-fiction for Halloween, via Twitter. Apparently this means that you're limited to 124 characters (including punctuation and spaces). I suppose I should have given this a shout-out earlier, sorry; but the submission deadline is midnight GMT on the 31st October, so there's still plenty of time for you to have a go, if you feel so inclined. Follow the link above for full details.

Although I was intrigued by the format, I disapprove of Twitter rather violently. Blog-buddy JES very kindly forwarded a couple of my efforts (the first two below) via his own Twitter account, but I didn't want to bother him any further. However, at the start of the month, I found myself knocking out one or two of these a day, in idle moments. As with haiku, once you get the knack of the format, they're relatively easy.

So, here are 12 micro ghost stories, to get you in the mood for Halloween. (I'm not a big fan of the holiday myself, but I don't begrudge others their goosebumpy pleasures.)

[Stuart's debut thriller has recently been published, as The Twelve in the UK, and the rather more self-explanatory The Ghosts of Belfast in the US: an extremely well-written but disturbing tale of an ex-IRA man haunted by the spectres of those he has killed - see JES's review here.]

What drew him to that dreary graveyard day after day, he never knew until at last he found the stone with his name on it.

The perfect man, she thought. He walked her home. They kissed by moonlight. And then he showed her the spot where he died.

He couldn't help himself. Every day he drove down that street, the little girl always waiting to run out in front of him.

I watch myself across the street, under the lamp-post: the man who looks like me, my mirror-self escaped, following me.

Suddenly, the hitch-hiker has vanished, yet the seat beside me is wet with rain.

She stalked him in life, and now too in death, his jilted mistress. Suicide did not end her obsession.

The barman's in a mood: ignores us regulars, chats only to these new guys, says things haven't been the same since the fire.

It puzzles him. He buried his wife in the basement last year, but she still sits there on the sofa every night watching TV.

Vengeance is what he wants. Though the men who killed him are themselves long dead, he still thirsts for vengeance.

Each dawn I see him, the sentry standing down, lighting a cigarette – just as he did a week ago, when the sniper saw him.

We stopped using the departure lounge at Gate 22 after the crash yesterday; but when I walked past just now, it was full.

'One careful owner' the salesman said. He didn't tell me she gassed herself in this car. Now she bitches at my driving.


moonrat said...

this one's my favorite:

Suddenly, the hitch-hiker has vanished, yet the seat beside me is wet with rain.

Froog said...

Nice to have you drop in, Moonie.

I was a bit worried that 'The Vanishing Hitchhiker' is such a cliché that I couldn't really do much with it.

Of course, my approach to the exercise was to try and work through as many of the ghost story archetypes as possible: the vanishing hitchhiker, the domestic murder, the haunted car, the obsessive lover, the doppelganger, the war story, the traffic accident, the ghost who doesn't realise he's dead.

I think The barman's in a mood... and 'One careful owner'... are my favourites.

JES said...

Oh nuts -- I *offered* to post them on Twitter, but promptly stopped using the T-thing and forgot all about it. Off to amend that now, and I'll throw in the barman-in-a-mood and one-careful-owner ones (my faves, too) gratis.

JES said...

P.S. Okay, all four of those are up plus I threw in Moonie's selection. Should be a good test (or not) of her editorial eye. Followed them up with a tweet which said:

#GhostsOfBelfast Those 5 entries all from Froog (who lacks a Twitter acct), not me. See: (I'm out; reviewed The Twelve!)

The thing points to this post of yours.

If you win, I hope Stuart offers to fly to Beijing for you to receive your prize. Preferably bestowed in the Bird's Nest, if that's still standing, to thunderous applause from the entire ex-pat community. Queen's English spanning the globe, all that.

The Weeble said...

My belated submission:

"Parties?" said the disembodied voice. "There are no parties here. Only translation work...FOREVER."

Froog said...

Oh, you love it really, Weebs. Always a language-party in your head!

Froog said...

Thanks a lot, JES. I'm not really that bothered about being 'in competition' - but any little bit of advertising for our humble little blog here is much appreciated.

Interesting question - are there enough expats in Beijing to fill the Bird's Nest now? I suspect it's long been so, if you include all the Asiatic Russians, Koreans, and so on - who are very numerous, and not that easy to distinguish from the Chinese in appearance. However, I rather fear that these days we are reaching a point where there might be 100,000 American teens or early twenty-somethings here "studying Chinese". It certainly seems like it at times.

I can't imagine most of that bunch being interested in a literary prize-giving.