fiction

Nano Fiction: Prisoner

The Ontario Writers Conference hosts a monthly blog called Story Starters. It’s 100 words or less and is reflective of the posted artwork. I label 300 words or less as Nano Fiction. Here’s my story “Prisoner” as inspired by Joanna Malcolm’s posted artwork.TwoPointsofViewL

Prisoner

By Darryl Foster

The scent of brine and the essence of freedom sail in through my window. I love to watch the sea, listen to the crash of waves and pretend to feel sand between my toes, but I will not venture out there. The burden in my soul is the weight of my own ship’s anchor, a fear that I carry and can not control. It keeps me here in this tortuous mind, a prisoner, a function of dysfunction, and although I feel my spirit is locked away, it’s my ghost that yearns for freedom beyond this body, my prison without walls.

What Lurks in The Deep? A Book Review of Nick Cutter’s, The Deep

TheDeep TPB frt v2ABOUT THE BOOK: From the acclaimed author of The Troop—which Stephen King raved “scared the hell out of me and I couldn’t put it down.…old-school horror at its best”—comes this utterly terrifying novel where The Abyss meets The Shining.

A strange plague called the ’Gets is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget—small things at first, like where they left their keys…then the not-so-small things like how to drive, or the letters of the alphabet. Then their bodies forget how to function involuntarily…and there is no cure. But now, far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, deep in the Marianas Trench, an heretofore unknown substance hailed as “ambrosia” has been discovered—a universal healer, from initial reports. It may just be the key to a universal cure. In order to study this phenomenon, a special research lab, the Trieste, has been built eight miles under the sea’s surface. But now the station is incommunicado, and it’s up to a brave few to descend through the lightless fathoms in hopes of unraveling the mysteries lurking at those crushing depths…and perhaps to encounter an evil blacker than anything one could possibly imagine.

THE AUTHOR: When I was introduced to Nick Cutter via Twitter in February 2014 I was on a business trip in San Diego. My Twitter feed was on fire with this Nick Cutter fellow whose book came with a Stephen King endorsement “…scared the hell out of me and I couldn’t put it down…” –the King had spoken, and my book-alert siren went off like the Starship Enterprise was under attack. Number-One, set new course for the local book store, engage. Warp drive is a little slow on the San Diego transit system, but soon my cash-energized tractor beam brought The Troop into my hands. The book proved to be an incredible novel of raw horror…and I couldn’t put it down.

Flash forward eight months to October 25, 2015: Creemore, Ontario and the IFOA had come to town. When I first met Nick Cutter (aka Craig Davidson) I thought I could wrestle him for an ARC copy of The Deep, but his tall gait and suspicious armband tattoo told me I was dealing with an Alpha Male, and it kept me civil in my seat. At the end of the author presentations I approached Nick to sign my copy of The Troop, and to my surprise “because it never hurts to ask” he had an ARC copy of The Deep for me. Inside my eyes went puffy, red and teary like a Ren & Stimpy cartoon, oh joy, but on the outside a cool composure, and a modest “thank you” prevailed. Mr. Cutter, you have a fan for life.

Bathyscaphe_TriesteMY REVIEW: How deep is The Deep? Oh, it’s crushingly deep. The Trieste submersible platform (the island of this novel) is deep in the Mariana Trench where life has to evolve to withstand the pressure of 15,750 pounds per square inch (thank you Wikipedia). But as deep as the Trieste is under the Pacific, there is another deep, one that also has crushing depths and it’s found in the fathoms of the human mind: madness.

The Deep has a tagline, “…the Shining meets the Abyss…” and that intersection is both chilling and surprising in the book.

The Deep follows the main character Luke on a thrilling ride to the bottom of the Mariana Trench to the Trieste platform where his brother Clayton, a scientist, is researching a substance called Ambrosia, found on the sea floor. Ambrosia represents a possible cure for a disease called the ‘Gets that plagues the surface, and is the reason why Cutter has us swimming in the deep end of the pool. Before and after we dock with the Trieste, Cutter has us strapped into a narrative-roller-coaster that tunnels deep into the darkest depths of Luke’s consciousness. The novel is both a trip to the bottom of the ocean, as it is a trip through the hollows of a tortured mind. Throughout the book brilliantly written flashbacks pick away at the fears we all carry in ourselves, and those fears are amplified in Luke, escalated by the airtight confines of the seemingly haunted, metal-creaking Trieste.Lurker

Nick Cutter scuttles any chance for a life preserver and holds nothing back in The Deep. He’s a Literary Artist hell-bent on painting grotesque images with nerve-shattering detail, bringing to life scratch-and-sniff scenes that will make you feel like you’re experiencing the book through your senses. The madness, the horror, the tight claustrophobic places intended to strangle your mind are all key in setting the stage for a classic horror novel under the sea with a surprise ending that hits an even deeper note than you can imagine.

The Deep, as was The Troop, are my top horror reads for 2014. Publication date for The Deep is set for January 13, 2015 from Gallery Books. Order here from Amazon.

Darryl Foster

HORROR HAS A RISING TALENT: Book Review of Mark Cassell’s, The Shadow Fabric

ABOUT THE SHADOW FABRIC: Leo remembers little of his past. Desperate for a new life, he snatches up the first job to come along. On his second day, he witnesses a murder and the Shadow Fabric – a malevolent force that controls the darkness – takes the body and vanishes with it. Uncovering secrets long hidden from humankind, Leo’s memory unravels. Not only haunted by the past, a sinister presence within the darkness threatens his existence and he soon doubts everything and everyone…including himself. Now Leo must confront the truth about his past before he can embrace his future. But the future may not exist. THE SHADOW FABRIC is a story revealing the unknown history of witchcraft and the true cause of the Great Fire of London. A supernatural horror novel of sins, shadows, and the reanimated dead.The Shadow Fabric

MY REVIEW: Mark Cassell’s debut novel The Shadow Fabric is an action packed tale of supernatural horror. The book follows the journey of Cassell’s main character Leo. A car accident in Leo’s past had wiped out his memory. In his new life, post-accident, he struggles to recall the memories of his former life. Now, Leo finds himself working for a mysterious man named Victor Jacobs. Victor has secrets, ages old, and Leo quickly finds himself propelled into the secret and deadly world of the twisted Shadow Fabric.

Cassell has written a fast moving novel with a fascinating evil. He navigates us through a mysterious plot, and introduces us to a number of characters, ancient artifacts and legends that are all entwined with the Shadow Fabric. Cassell has effectively created a world at the edge of darkness, and he slaps us consistently with thrills and chills that will make you feel like you’re reading a movie.

Cassell’s marketing and author platform is outstanding, and his imagination is immense, as revealed by the unfolding of the Shadow Fabric mythos in the novel. He is an author with an online presence that clearly demonstrates a dedication to his craft.

I enjoyed reading and discovering the horrors of the Shadow Fabric and all its macabre wonders. If you’re a fan of classic paranormal horror then take the time to read Mark Cassell’s The Shadow Fabric. He has undoubtedly weaved a world by which legends of horror are born. I expect more great works will bleed from this author.

“Praise for Mark Cassell, a rising talent in horror.” ~ Darryl Foster

Nano Fiction: Shattered

The Ontario Writers Conference hosts a monthly blog called Story Starters. It’s 100 words or less and is reflective of the posted artwork. I label 300 words or less as Nano Fiction. Here’s my story “Shattered” as inspired by Christine Kim’s posted artwork.christinekim_reckless_mixedmedia_5x7_2014_1

Shattered

by Darryl Foster

Our homes, our lives: shattered. The earth doesn’t discriminate. The shaking, the crumbling of walls, the crushing weight of rock. Many died. The ruins of our village poured over us like a great wave of despair. The young and strong knocked to their knees. The elders, the ones who’d built the foundations before us, didn’t see ruin like my generation. Hopeless. But to the old, they who’d seen wars and the ravages of time, they saw something different: opportunity. And like a sapling springing up between rocks, its roots stretching for water and nutrients, we began to build again.

Writer Health: A Sitting-Society

First of all, credit where credit is due: thank you to ASAP Science for a vital (signs) reminder! And thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for retweeting this topic, one all writers should take to heart, literally. Puns aside: watch the video from ASAP Science then commit to changing your life with a fitness plan. Do it for you, and for your love of writing.

So, we’ve become a Sitting-Society. Most of us hold down full time jobs at a desk and add more hours to the time we sit by plopping down in front of our writing desks. My survival instinct tells me it’s time for a change. A healthy life will extend your years and the time you have to sow your prose.

I find, during and after, a good 30 minute workout in the gym, my blood is pumping and there’s a surge of energy coursing through my veins that leaves me feeling energized all day. Activity invigorates the mind and creates an emotional bond between your spirit and physical being. For me, that bond translates into discovering my best writing ideas when I’m engaged in exercise. When you workout your body, your gray matter benefits, so does your writing. Exercise is up-time, an opportunity to visualize and plan your writing while staying fit. Developing scenes and story in your mind while sweating on an elliptical machine will keep you on a healthy plot-track, stimulating imagination and motivating your writing.

I encourage you to find 30 minutes a day to exercise. Take the ‘write’ steps now, get up and walk away from the Sitting-Society.

Darryl Foster

Do you Believe in Ghosts? Flash Fiction: “Danny”

“Please don’t leave Dad.”

Sitting in the shadowy room on the edge of my eight year old son’s bed seemed routine lately. I had never seen him so frightened. His face, warmed only by the hallway light, was a pageantry of dread: puppy dog eyes, quivering lips, and tears, all pulled at my heart strings. I sensed fear in his voice, and whatever he was afraid of in the closet seemed real to him.

I remember being a kid and the shadows that moved in my bedroom at night. I remember calling out for my parents—all too often. When no one came I froze. I felt paralyzed with fear, lying stiff in bed under my sheets. I would wish for the morning to come; wanting sunlight to warm between the slits of my window blind, driving the darkness and monsters away. I don’t recall if my terror of the dark was legitimate, but older now, my adult mind seemed stripped of any silly childhood fears. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up; you shed that part of you or repress it. But still, to this day, I wonder what had set my imagination so vividly in motion? What was behind those bumps in the night that sent me into sweats of panic?

Witnessing my son pulling the covers up over his head and writhing under his sheets had reminded me of my own childhood monsters. But that fear of creeping demons slithering in the shadows was what my son felt. What I felt was a much different fear—a primal worry—an instinct every parent feels for a child when danger is present, and it’s my job to protect him.

“Kieran, we’ve gone over this repeatedly for the last few nights, there’s nothing in your closet. Now it’s time to sleep. I have lots of work to do tonight.” I moved to stand, but didn’t get far.

“Dad, please don’t go.” He had reached up and wrapped his tiny arms around me. His fleece pajamas felt soft, cozy and had a fresh baby powder scent that released memories of my baby boy swaddled in my arms. I hugged him firmly—holding onto those sweet thoughts—ready to soothe his fears; that’s what dads do.

“It’ll be okay. You’re safe.”

“But Dad, I hate it when he taps on the closet door.”

The blood in my ears began to pound and a spiralling back-chill rattled my superstitious fears. My son had spoken casually, without hesitation, as if he’d spoken a truth. It was the kind of statement any kid could make, seemingly genuine, spooky, and able to drive a stake of horror into the hearts of adults. Phrases like: what’s that man doing in the mirror, and nothing is there, or why is grandma visiting today, although she’s been dead for weeks. Those expressions mean something. Something adults can’t see or understand. Uneasiness fills me, and the child inside was scared—terrified like my son—but I mentally remind myself, I’m the parent, and so I denied my jitters.

“Kieran, quit being silly,” I said. “There’s no tapping, and there’s nothing in your closet.”

“Can I sleep with you tonight, please Dad?”

“No. You’re a big boy. You sleep in your own bed.” I gently laid him back on his pillow and his arms released me. I tucked the covers up to his chin and kissed him on the forehead. “Now go to sleep. You have school tomorrow.” I rose off his bed and my son had a shocked expression as if I’d thrown him to the wolves. “Good night son.” A whimper and he turned on his side and pulled the covers over his head.

To believe bed sheets are an impenetrable shield from the things that lurk in the dark seemed instinctive for a child—and adults too. I remember hiding beneath my sheets as a child. They were my only defence for keeping the Boogeyman at bay and stopping the monsters under my bed from snatching me—but would it be enough to keep the boy in the closet? A creepy sensation prickled and crawled over my skin like skittering spiders. I walked out of my son’s bedroom; side-glancing the closet. The single white door appeared gray in the dark. It was closed, and I thought the door knob turned slightly, but perhaps my imagination—generating kilowatts of trepidation—fuelled the illusion. I reminded myself, nothing is happening here. There was nothing in his room or that damn closet—despite what the history of this house might allude.

After my wife died I had a hard time stabilizing my finances, and the only way to make ends meet was to buy this house. A house with a disturbed past—priced to sell—because of the skeleton in the closet. We had lived here for a week, and there were only two rooms. I gave myself the master bedroom, and had put my son in this room which fanned flames of guilt in the hearth of my heart, and now he keeps referring to a boy in the closet. It was uncanny. My son had no idea what had happened in this house. I tried to convince myself that boys—kids for that matter—made things up in their heads. They role-played, acted out games, told tales, but sometimes the more you tell a story, the more real it becomes. The truth was Danny used to live in this room. He was a boy almost my son’s age.

I left his bedroom, and reached to turn off the hall light. I held my finger on the switch.

“Dad,” his soft voice grabbed my ears. I turned, and saw him peeking from beneath his covers. “I love you.”

My heart floated in my chest. “I love you too. Now go to sleep please.” I flicked the hallway light off.

I had moved to the living room. I had work to do and deadlines to meet. I sat down at my desk to write. I was finishing a new novel—one that my publisher said would catapult my career—and with the mild success of my last horror book, I felt he was right.

I had typed five hundred words onto the computer screen when it happened again, just like last night. My desk lamp flickered. An instinctive feeling of being watched exploded in my mind. I whipped around in my chair—my son stood in the hall.

“He’s tapping again, Dad.”

My son held a bleak and vacant expression. The darkness of the hallway, behind my son, appeared to slither, bubble and swirl in sheaves of shadow; a black void ready to swallow him. My eyes had to be playing a trick on my mind. A few horror movies crept into my head and my imagination was wild with fear. Images of children creeping in the night, or in cornfields, had always scared the hell out of me, and I cursed Stephen King. I’d had enough.

“What are you talking about?” I said in a flat, irate tone—my attempt at denial.

“I’m talking about the boy in my closet. He’s trying to get out.”

I stared blankly at my son. His pajamas hung off his small bony frame. I wanted this nightmare to end. “Son—please, there’s no boy.”

“But Dad, I can hear him asking me to open the closet door and let him out.”

Jesus—there it was again, a genuine expression. The authenticity was like a sprung trap, inescapable, a snare all parents eventually find themselves caught in—having to believe their kid out of pure faith, trusting they’re telling the truth. But I couldn’t allow myself to believe my son’s claim was true.

“Get to bed.” It came out bluntly.

“But Dad,” his eyes begged me to help him.

“Kieran, go to bed. We’ll talk about this in the morning.” My son stood quiet, unmoved. My voice roared, “I said go to bed now!”

His face sank. All the love between us was drained. Had I been too harsh? My fears seemed to be surfacing as anger, but it was the only reaction I had left. How else—at this point—to make him go to bed other than yell?

My son turned and ran back to his room. I swung around in my chair and faced the computer screen. I rested my elbows on the desk and buried my face in my hands. I felt awful. This boy in the closet business had driven me crazy, and I had a whole night of work ahead. I lifted my head out of my hands, reached for my mouse and clicked on the Google icon in my Internet browser. I typed in Preston house murder, and the abhorrent article appeared.

“Creemore, Ontario – June 6, 2012 – Ontario Provincial Police discover gruesome scene at 16 Brody Drive. The body of six year old Danny Preston was removed from the house after neighbours expressed concern over the wellbeing of Elizabeth Preston, mother to Danny. The single mother had been seen alone and rocking vigorously, on numerous occasions, on the front porch talking nonsense. The odd behaviour alerted neighbour Bill Henderson to call police—”She’d been out on that porch rock’n and cradling air. She kept singing ‘hush little baby, don’t you cry’ over and over again. I hadn’t seen Danny for weeks and felt something was wrong.”—Elizabeth Preston was taken into custody for not providing the necessities of life for her son. The boy’s body was found in his room locked in the closet. The Coroner’s report suggested, by the state of decomposition, the boy had died a week ago. Toxicology tests showed rat poison in small doses had been placed in food delivered under the closet door on paper plates, which the boy had stacked together to make a pillow—”

“Dad, Danny’s scaring me!” My son’s voice bellowed from his bedroom.

My eyes shut. I slid my hands onto my head and gripped tufts of my hair between my fingers—this is not happening. My bottom lip trembled. It was all hauntingly real now, and my heart raced. An intense fear rose within me, my ears were hot, my senses spun. I gathered the courage to get up. I had to protect my son. I shoved off from my desk and jumped up from my chair. My slippers squeaked on the hardwood floor as I charged down the hall. I was determined to prove that nothing was happening. I had planned to fling the closet door open and confirm to my son—to me—that nothing was inside. This was all childhood imagination gone berserk.

I raced into my son’s room. I flicked on the light—light always makes bad things go away—my son was crying. My eyes shot to the closet door. The air felt thick and energized. The door was rattling. I became light-headed, terror stricken, and beneath the door a small hand, fingers stretched, clawing at the carpet, a child’s raspy whisper alive in my head—help me.