Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Collection

While I procrastinate over the “Lucky Number Seven” blog post, here’s a flashie/short story that I like. If you’re looking for a scapegoat for this experience, then blame Gary Henry who rescued it from obscurity on my ‘short stories’ page and declared it to be good on Twitter.

I’ve always felt that a person who suffers from innate nastiness deserves a break. If that’s not possible, then getting their just desserts seems like an acceptable alternative...

WARNING! This story contains images of a sexually explicit nature.

Jason Crote was surprised to find himself in the library.  It seemed like just moments before that he had been staggering towards his truck, well fired up on bourbon and a stiff line of coke.  But here he was, sitting on the floor, his back against a row of bookshelves in the fiction section, on the very spot where he had picked up that Devlin woman. She of the big tits, tight ass and all-encompassing lips. He shivered at the memory.  She hadn’t liked his rush to get into her panties and had clocked him one with a Jack Daniels bottle.  He’d dumped her at the side of the road with a split lip and an eye that would bloom into something truly spectacular by morning.  Bitch.  But that’s the trouble with women.  Gagging for it one minute, fighting you off the next.

He looked round, easing a crick in his neck as he did so.  Something seemed out of place.  To his left,  he could see desks and computers framed at the end of the aisle of shelves.  Beyond that, dark windows. That figured.  It had been late evening when he headed for his truck. But then what the fuck was the library doing open at this time of night?  He glanced down at his left wrist.  The big diver’s watch that was his constant companion,  even when he was buck naked and in full action, was missing. It had left a pale outline of itself, developed on the film of his skin.  His boots were gone, too.  Spurless but authentic with big heels for height.  His feet looked pale and small, set off against the dark denim of his jeans.

“You okay, Cowboy? Y’all look kinda undressed for a visit to the library.”

The woman was leaning against the opposite shelves. Long-legged, short-skirted, big-breasted, almond-eyed.  Jason took her all in. She was hot.  But black, damn it.  He hated them good-looking colored women.

“Ah’m fine.”

Wasn’t how he felt. He was more jittery than spit on a hot stove-top.  But he wasn’t going to tell her that.

“You in the library often?” she said. “Ain’t seen you before, honey.”

“Yeah, Ah come in here all the time.”

She pushed away from the shelves and stepped towards him.

“You don’t look like no big-time reader to me, Mr Cowboy.”

Jason felt suddenly at a disadvantage sitting on the floor. He got to his feet.  And wished he hadn’t. Without his boots, he was a good half a head shorter than her.  Damnation.

She pursed her lips.  No lipstick, he noticed. She looked him up and down.

“You sure look well muscled, hon. ‘Spect you’re well hung, too?

She raised a finely-plucked eyebrow in gentle enquiry.

“Sure am.” He grinned.  Safer ground.

She said, “There’s a mighty good book just right there, behind your left ear.”

He turned his head before realizing his mistake.  Never let the bitch feel in charge.  That rule had worked for him since he had been old enough to talk.

“’Ulysses,’ she said, “ James Joyce.  Know it?”

Irritation flared. The woman was standing in front of him now, hands on hips, swaying slightly as if testing her poise. 

“I only mention it because I have no doubt that Mr Joyce would appreciate the fact that I came to the library this evening wearing no panties. Judging from his writing, he was a man with a broad mind and all-encompassing tastes.”

The anger guttered and was extinguished, replaced by an equally familiar sensation, this time centered in his groin.  Man, this woman was hot.

But now her midnight, come-to-bed eyes were  sputtering like the free end of a high-tension cable.  She leaned forwards, holding him in her thrall.

“I hear tell you like girls with no panties,  Jason Crote.”

He jerked back, as if she had struck him in the face.

“How the fuck d’you know ma name, bitch!”

She laughed.  A long, rich, rolling laugh.

“If you’re worried about me knowin’ your name, Cowboy,  then wait till you hear what else I know about you.  How about the names of all the women you’ve screwed with, and screwed, in your miserable life.  Especially the ones that you beat, left pregnant and robbed?”

The sexual high that had taken over his body was scythed down before it could climax.  Anger surged in to fill the gap. The feeling was almost as good, maybe even better. The bitch had stepped over the line. She deserved whatever was coming.  He felt the adrenalin, his muscles thrummed, he was almost dancing on the balls of his feet. Then she put her hand on his chest.  Long fingers, carefully placed in an arch over his breastbone.  He felt, as he always did in this kind of situation,  like a coiled spring.  The familiar surge of unfettered pleasure, the climactic of violence.  Except this time, nothing happened.  He couldn’t move.  He looked down at her hand.

“Take yore hand off of me, bitch.  Else Ah’m gonna kill you.”

“Ain’t gonna happen cowboy.  I guess you ain’t strong on irony. In any case, you an’ me, we got some issues to resolve.”

He felt beads of sweat jostling on his forehead, puddling in his eyebrows, running down either side of his nose.

“Fuck them issues.  Nobody messes with Jason Crote. You take yore hand off, then we’ll see who’s in charge here.”

In response, the woman increased the pressure on his chest. He backed up until he could feel the hard line of a shelf biting into his shoulder blades.

“Now here’s the best bit, Cowboy,” she said. “Take a look to your right and tell me what you see.”

Rule or no rule, he had to turn his head.  He peered down the aisle, sweat stinging eyes and blurring vision. He could see the shelves set along the side wall of the building.  In the center of his line of sight, there was a picture in a frame. Big.  Unfamiliar.

“What do you think that is?” She asked

He squinted.

“Fuckin’ picture.  Photograph. Fuck knows. Looks like…looks like, Star Wars or some fuckin’ thing”

“That ain’t no picture, Jason.  That’s a window.”

As he turned his head back towards her face, the world slid away from him.  The library dissolved, became something else.  Metallic, brightly lit. The woman had changed, too. Her almond eyes were still there, but the hair had gone.  And she was green.

He opened his mouth,  but could make no sound.  He felt her hand move on his chest and looked down.  Long, long fingers, sliding down.  As they went, his clothes fell away, like fog in a wind. Down over his six-pack and then sliding to one side.  He felt overbearing sexual pleasure and found himself looking into the single, unseeing eye of that part of his body which was more important to him than any other.

A faint click and high pitched hum made him look up. The woman had something in her free hand. He didn’t care. This was Nirvana.  The ultimate high.  Then she spoke.

“My comrades and I travel the galaxies, Jason, studying life forms.  My task is to record details of courtship and mating rituals.  Mostly, specimens are released unharmed, but every now and then I come across something which I desire to add to my collection.  Our technologies allow us to remove organs and instantly preserve them in their natural form.”

He watched, eyes half closed in ecstasy as her free hand dropped down and vanished between his legs.  Her face came close.

“Don’t worry,” she whispered,  “you won’t feel a thing.”

Unfortunately for Jason, the Shil people (for she was one of these) are renowned, in galaxies near and far, as terrible liars.





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Interview with author Clive Johnson

The Haddon Blog spares no effort when it comes to bringing the very best to your screen. The following interview with master wordsmith Clive Johnson took place in his 18th Century house in Manchester, UK. Clive is author of  Leiyatel’s Embrace which he describes as a ‘Speculative Fiction Mystery’  and which has justifiably drawn excellent reviews. His blog can be found on Goodreads. Clive is working on a sequel novel called Of Weft and Weave.

 Clive stood up when I squelched in through the door. A tall man, slim and fit-looking, dressed in a teal fleece-top and blue jeans.

“Good swim?” he said. “It’s a long haul from Maryland.”

“I guess that’s a problem with being an Indie author,” I said. “No expenses.”

We sat down. Through the window in front of us, the afternoon sun shone proudly on bursting buds and the green haze of emerging leaves. The creeping shadow of the church across the road felt its way towards the end of the day.

“Are those trainers GOLD?” I said.

He looked down.

“’Fraid so. It’s a weakness.”

“I hate to think about the underwear.”

“I’d rather you didn’t.”

My laptop had survived the crossing, wrapped only in a ziploc bag. I fired it up.

“Pretty impressive CV, Mr Johnson. All that IT stuff you work at is only the tip of the iceberg (no Titanic jokes please). It says here that you have an HGV licence. For readers in the US, this means you can drive big trucks. You’re also a biker – Honda Blackbird rather than Raleigh five-speed – and you have a green belt in Judo. The list goes on. Fell running? That’s one of those activities that would kill most of us ordinary mortals. Bonsai growing? Is that not a contradiction in terms? I see you are also very good with your hands, but I shall resist the temptation to sink into double entendre at this point. Instead, why don’t you give me an idea of your favourite activities?”

A ginger cat jumped onto his lap. He stroked it, looked distracted for a moment.

“Other than sex, d’you mean?”

“We’ll take that as read.”

“Actually, I prefer…oh, never mind. Well, let’s see – favourite? I won’t cite writing as I think you mean ‘physical activity’, so I’ll say horse-riding. Particularly collected work on a highly strung Thoroughbred or Arab. As near an ecstatic experience as I can imagine. It’s the kind of empathic and hence sensual feeling (in the strictly non-sexual sense) that comes from giving yourself over so completely to something else, something genuinely potentially highly dangerous. A near second must be cutting-up the bends on a powerful motorbike during a long and engaging ride.”

“Excellent. Almost as good as sex. And what about authors who have most influenced your writing?”

“Umm. Mervyn Peake by a long mile, although last read more than thirty years ago. Tolkien, of course. After that, I’d have to mention Robert Heinlein, Olaf Stapledon, Lewis Carroll, E. R. Eddison, Frank Herbert, Dickens, Laurie Lee, Charlotte Bronte, Tolstoy, Stanislaw Lem, Vladimir Nabokov, Stephen King, William Hope Hodgson, and many, many more.”

“An impressive list, Clive. Olaf’s a new one on me, I must admit. Now, I won’t ask you anything as daft as naming your favourite books, but give me three that pop into your head immediately.”

“Oh – Titus Groan, Gormenghast, Lord of the Rings. How about those?”

I squeezed water from the arm of my fleece into a convenient plant pot.

“Having read ‘Leiyatel’s Embrace’,” I said, “those seem like good choices. Speaking of which, tell me how that wonderful story evolved.”

He lifted the cat from his lap and stood up.

“Would you like a beer?”

“I thought you’d never ask. Maybe a towel might be handy, too.”

Things were looking up. Clive returned with a fluffy bath towel and dried up the worst of the water on the floor. We toasted our mutual health in amber nectar. He settled back into his seat. The cat returned.

“I was about twenty, at university and drunk on excessive spare time and other intoxicants students in those days partook of – I was also naïve! It wasn’t so much an urge to write, nor a story to be told but more the need to commit a ‘feeling’ to paper. That’s the best way I can describe it; a ‘feeling’, for it was more akin to a half-remembered dream or clinging phantom image of somewhere only recently visited. I am an artist at heart, you see, and a good practitioner at that (something I was born with and so didn’t have to work at) and so I think in images, in atmosphere and presence. With hindsight I realise it was the need to record that revelatory place that brought scrawling pen to paper. In a way, I was letting some inner muse take care of the narrative and concentrating almost wholly on creating the feel of Dica. The story hiding in my head went only so far, though, and eventually left me scratching a progressively more rambling and unconvincing tale, as though the muse had recoiled at my poor wordsmith’s skills. The manuscript eventually found its way to the loft of the house we’ve lived in for the last thirty years, before being unearthed in preparation for improving the insulation up there. Somehow, I became gripped by it once more, keen to rediscover the tale it held. Through the naïve, clumsy and shockingly inept prose I re-saw the story but saw it far more fully, as though the muse had lived on in it and had then smiled in recognition of the mature me. It didn’t then take long for transcription to become rewrite and before I knew it, I’d inadvertently become a budding author. The story started out as ‘The Winds of Change’ but an internet check threw up countless volumes with the same name, so I had to rethink. The name Leiyatel, as with just about all the work’s names, came from the story’s initial inspiration, from the muse within, and proved almost unique. Without wanting to give too much away – it is after all a work of ‘mystery’ – the device of Leiyatel’s remit or embrace is key to the tale and so the title wasn’t long in coming.”

“Wonderful. Do you want to explain to readers what ‘Dica’ means?”

Clive took a long pull at his beer, then shook his head.

“I’m happy to let them guess. Or Google it.”

“Okay. No problem. Now tell me what happened next.”

“It took about two years to get the initial manuscript into a Word file. Then I decided that all I needed to do was to make it into one hand-crafted, bound volume. Once that was done, all 425 pages of it, I reasoned that it was time to move on. However, at that point a friend showed an interest and wanted to read it. Her enthusiasm bowled me over. She suggested self-publishing, on the basis that no publisher would touch such a long and novel work from an unknown author. She was sufficiently encouraging, and me belligerent enough, that I then seriously embarked on learning how to write proper! Here, my lifelong, beloved companion Kit became instrumental for she’s proven a fierce but constructive editor and natural and highly able teacher, and it’s largely down to her that the published work is at all readable. Once I’d spent another six months or so knocking it into shape, the ePublishing process through Amazon was pretty straightforward. Mind you, I was a chartered IT professional until relatively recently…”

“So. You sleep with your editor, eh? Me, too. Your description of Kit and her role in your life and writing would also describe the situation with Juli and me almost perfectly. Interesting. Okay, now we’re down to the last few questions. What about marketing?”

“Oh dear! Marketing! What a dirty word, but unfortunately an essential task if you don’t want your hard graft to vanish into obscurity amongst the millions of Amazon titles. We’re actually immensely lucky these days in that there are so many social media products out there, things like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, this last one the medium I most twigged with. I tried various dedicated forums, but the only one I’ve stayed with is Goodreads. I really only use their blogging facility at present, but I intend to take a much more active part when my sequel’s finally released sometime in April. Although Twitter and Facebook let you spam to your heart’s content, almost, it’s not an advisable strategy. I’ve found it’s best to use Twitter for getting to know people and organisations, leaving book promotion as a minor, almost background activity. Suddenly, marketing became socialising and so far more enjoyable, although still hard work and very time consuming. Since I’ve made loads of good friends, acquaintances and connections without having to be in-their-faces with my book, interest in it has really grown of its own accord. If you’re the kind of person people like connecting with, then the chances are they’ll like what you write, and that’s very much the direction my marketing’s taken. It was only when I reckoned that I genuinely knew sufficient people well enough, that I considered using the Amazon KDP Free Book Promotion facility. Making a book free for a period isn’t good enough in itself to lift your exposure, not if nobody actually notices it, so I was lucky in having so many good Twitter followers who quickly and effectively re-tweeted my promo, so helping make it a superb success – 1,004 copies downloaded in three days was pretty impressive, a genuine surprise as well, I can tell you. Right back in the early days, someone said something to me that was most pertinent here, that quality will out. Well, it is true but, however good your book, it still takes effort to get it into hands that see it as such, ones that then start making complementary noises about it on their own accord.”

“Well said, Mr J! I’ve found that strategy works well for me, too. Now, we’re running out of time. If I don’t get going soon, I’ll be late for dinner. Remember, I won’t have the Gulf Stream helping me on the way back. So. What do you most like and least like about writing?”

“Most like? The music! It’s actually the cadence, lilt, rhythm and metre of the sentences, that each word’s notes bring together, that I most enjoy. I think it’s probably the artist in me at play here, for I see the shapes of sentences, paragraphs, story arc and characters almost as musical stanzas, verse and chorus, like refrain, movement and opus. If the text reads back like a piece of music then I just know it’s right, that it’s concise, implicit and absorbing, that it doesn’t jar or sound off-key.  Okay, get the straightjacket if you must, but that’s the way it is.

“Least like? Editing! I love the end result, don’t get me wrong, but the process is just so methodical, time-consuming and deadening. I’d love to be able to write perfectly first time but know it just ain’t like that, so accept the necessary evil. It doesn’t make it any the more enjoyable, though.”

“Terrific answers, Clive. Especially that one about the music. Thanks so much for your time. Thoroughly enjoyed it.”

We stood up, me still dripping, and shook hands.

“Green,” he said, “and three.”

“I know, there just wasn’t enough time for everything.”

And I squelched off into the sunset.


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Distance – a Flashie for Friday

Next up on the Haddon blog is an in interview with amazing author Clive Johnston. In the meantime, here is a flashie from me to keep your appetite whetted.

In the long run, it wasn’t a matter of how far, but how close. The space between them was a canvas they could fill with the watercolor of their feelings.  But it always remained a space.  Not physically, of course.  Further closeness of that kind was not possible without danger of damage to their fabric.

Apart, they craved togetherness:  the circadian rhythms of their lovemaking; the unpredictable bursts of hilarity; the joy of shared familiarity;  the sense of mutual discovery.

But still the space remained: indefinable and yet defining.  They chewed on it, mauled at it, left it alone. It was unmoved.

One day:

— Jim, I’ve been offered a promotion.

— That’s great.  Congratulations. Well deserved.

— I’ll have to move.

— Okay. Far away?

— California.

— What?  Jesus.  California.  Shit.  That’s far.  From Kirkintilloch.

— Want to come?

—  I’d love to, Emm.  But what would I do for a job? California?  In the US of A?  You sure it’s not the one near Falkirk?

But it wasn’t.  And she went,  because the job sounded great and the money was beyond avarice.

Separated by more than six thousand miles,  they e-mailed and Facebooked  and Skyped and phoned.  They made love in any number of imaginative ways without touching.  They shared thoughts, beliefs and passions every day. They talked about getting together.  Emma would fly home for a break; Jim would fly out for a holiday.  But work for both of them was a constant stinger, throwing itself in front of them and threatening to burst their tires.

Months passed.  Longing flowed and never ebbed. E-mails flowered into blooms of extraordinary magnificence,  surpassing imaginings.

Then, one cool, clear Sunday in early Spring,  Jim’s doorbell rang and Emma was standing there,  trailing a single suitcase,  her perfection only marred slightly by the crumpling effects of 6000 miles of air travel.

He tried to speak, but no noise came.

— Aren’t you going to invite me in?

They didn’t notice in that first moment of hugging and kissing and hugging again.  It was only in the days that followed that they realized what the distance had done for them.

The space was gone.


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