The beginning of April saw the birth of a new horror anthology, The Infernal Clock. Here we speak to one of the co-curators and evil mastermind behind the whole project, David Shakes.
What triggered the idea for the Infernal Clock?
I spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter and was tweeting about the resurgence of genre TV and my nostalgia for shows like ‘The Twilight Zone’. I mused that a horror ‘24’ would make a good show. I also thought it would make a pretty good theme for an anthology book…
How did you go about selecting the stories?
That’s a pretty scary story! I didn’t. I tweeted something along the lines of: ‘Who wants to be in a book? Pick your timeslot between 12am and 11pm.’ Within an hour, 24 people had! I then had to worry for 5 months if they were going to write anything or, in some cases, had written anything before. To get such high quality in the end product has been more by luck than judgement.
What was the most difficult part of this project?
Trying to wrangle 24 individual people, who’s only commitment is a throwaway tweet. By the time I’d finalised the line-up and realised the initial time allocations had gone wrong it was getting quite fraught. When another couple of writers had to pull out, I knew it was time to call on the FlashDogs crew. They came through with last minute stories, changes of timeslots and, in the case of my fabulous co-curator Steph Ellis, the time and space to pull together a hefty master document.
How did you feel when you finally saw the finished product?
1) Proud as punch! I know that I am biased, but it’s superb. It’s not just me saying that either – independent reviews of both Kindle and print versions have noted Tamara Rogers’ top artwork, the perfection behind Steph Ellis’ lead in quotes and of course Emily June Street’s faultless production values. A fairly big genre publisher I sent a print version to recently shared how impressed they were with the final product.
2) Relieved. I was floundering towards the end, I missed my own Halloween deadline for the launch and my day job was getting tougher and tougher. I owe it to a lot of other people that we got such a polished anthology out there.
Would you do this again and if so, is there anything you would do differently?
Right after we’d done it, I said ‘never again.’ Now – it’s a maybe. I’d organise things a bit better and involve the right production people from the start. I’m great at the big ideas but need other people to concentrate on the details. I would also get more of my own work in there next time. The Infernal Clock ended up being produced at a time when I wasn’t writing much and what I was producing wasn’t my best. I’ve also learned a lot about marketing and would set aside time and money to promote the work effectively too. It’s a saturated market and you need ways of getting your book noticed.
We were musing about Infernal Clock Publishing the other day…
You contributed a story to the Prologue which seamlessly introduced the rest of the book. If you could've chosen an hour, which one would it have been and why?
Like some of the other writers have said in their own upcoming interviews at The Infernal Clock, I’d choose an unassuming hour – early morning or mid-afternoon. It would be more open to interpretation. Demons by Daylight as the amazing Ramsey Campbell once wrote.
You've show you can write consistently to a high standard - your flash stories online and contributions to the FlashDog anthologies have shown that. Why don't we see more?
Firstly, thanks for the compliment. Secondly, and without irony, it’s all about time. I started writing when I turned 40 and one of my favourite authors, James Herbert, passed away. I even wrote down 3 aims:
1) See if people will read you and like what they’ve read
2) Win a competition and get into a real book
3) Write a novel by the time (I’m) 45
I was really disillusioned with my job at the time and threw myself into writing and photography. Flash, poetry and short stories were a perfect medium for me. The first two aims are complete - FlashDogs became a thing, I’ve an Amazon authors page and have featured in half a dozen books and was once called ‘the author, David Shakes’ uncynically!
In the meantime, my day job (a primary school headteacher) has grown tougher and tougher as I take on greater challenges. I write a lot, but for the job – policies and letters and web content and reports and agendas and minutes and emails…it hasn’t left a lot of time anything else.
In my down time I try to prioritise family and then my broader social circle. I currently have 8 months to get that novel sorted!
Do you have a favourite story of yours we can read here as a sample?
As good an example as any:
They'll tell you that the Mersey is clean, teeming with life, but poison takes on many forms. The dead clog the estuaries, their unclaimed bodies shifting on the tides. They pollute the river with anguish and regret. Their anger swirls amidst the grey waves. Their imploded egos become black holes of emotion, sucking life into the oily mud of its banks. The lost and the wicked. The damned and deranged. They all sink the same.
You can't ordinarily see them, but there are times when the veil is lifted. Thin times.
Rare, stormy nights when the promenades fill with spectres and the river is clogged with sodden souls. On these nights the river may offer up a body, release a soul to move on to whatever may come next.
That's what happened for us; why I'm here on this ferry able to see her this one, final time.
The early morning commuters look right through her. They may glimpse the urn on the salt bleached deck and turn their thoughts to brighter things. They may sense the tragedy and close their minds to it; incongruous as it is to their steaming lattes and Facebook updates.
She stays by the urn.
It's been months since the suicide.
We'd been at a low ebb. Debts were mounting. She'd said she couldn't cope. The pressure grew with every final demand. She'd become withdrawn, secretive. We'd barely spoken, even when I knew she was waking in the night to be sick.
That's been the worst part since it happened. Not being able to talk to her, but now she's here, as hauntingly beautiful as I remember her. I want to hold her so badly but know I can't. The dead have no corporeal being. The tear that makes its silent way down her pale cheek says it all. It's almost time to let go.
As the ferry hits the halfway mark the wind rises in anticipation. There's an offering in the urn; a conclusion. A release.
The body had washed up at New Brighton. Once identified and the coroner's report complete, it had been a short wait for a slot at the crematorium. There were a few friends at the service. Small comfort.
This part was always going to be private. We'd discussed spreading ashes on the Mersey the way the immortal young do, secretly knowing their own death will never come.
Oh, for that time again - before mortgages and redundancies; before drunken rows and suicidal thoughts.
I'm almost standing beside her now. Her eyes gaze out across the water. My hand hovers over the swell of her belly. The heat of the life within too intense for my cold, dead spirit.
I'd been so lost in our money worries, so lost in myself that I hadn't even seen the signs of early pregnancy.
It's a boy. Does she know it's a boy?
I am saddened by the thought of her having to raise my child alone. How could I have been so selfish?
She looks at me - really looks. She speaks, a low whisper:
"It's okay. I forgive you." She puts her hand on her stomach and smiles sadly. "We forgive you."
If it wasn't ashes in the urn my heart would break. Now I know I'm no longer lost.
Maybe the best part of me will live on in my unborn son.
The ageing sound system cranks up and Gerry starts singing 'Ferry Cross The Mersey.'
She takes the lid from the urn and scatters me to the wind.
My soul soars as Gerry sings:
"We don't care what your name is boy, we'll never turn you away."
What genre do you tend to write in and what is about that genre which appeals to you?
Horror of course. I think the fascination began as a child – it was thrilling to be scared and I devoured all the Hammer films and BBC2 creature features. My first adult horror book was Carrie I think. There was no YA genre but that book opened me up to a world beyond The Hobbit. Writers like Clive Barker made the genre an artform and I realised that the best of the genre had as great a depth as the books I was studying in school and later at university.
Who are your darkest influences?
Writers? King, Campbell, Barker, Herbert, Straub, McCammon, Morris, Hutson (not to everyone’s taste but he knows what works!) More recently, Adam Neville and C.J. Lines.
How do you come up with your ideas?
Beginning my writing life as a flash-fictioneer, I’ve become accustomed to prompts and criteria. Most of the rest of the time it’s from daydreaming or following a stream of consciousness. I get visual images in my head or sometimes a phrase or snippet of dialogue. I read a lot of non-fiction too which can spark ideas.
What next for the Shakes?
I am going to attempt that novel. I have procrastinated long enough and it’s time to nail something exclusively Shakes to the world.
I hope to contribute to the newest FlashDogs project which will be an online magazine.
I once threatened to do some rewrites of Enid Blyton tales for David Southwell who is busy mapping Hookland for the masses right now.
The novel comes first.
6 Who do you think are the 6 most evil humans in history?
Hitler, although he’s on a continuum any other leader that would devalue another human being or commit atrocities in the name of something ridiculous.
Elizabeth Bathory who managed to kill almost 666 girls in the mistaken belief that she’d preserve her youth.
I actually believe the most evil people are the ones we don’t know about – the ones who are manipulating from behind the curtains, and there are more than 4 of them…
6 Who do you regard as the 6 most evil villains in literature or film?
Evil is about intent and awareness – so I’m going to say Pennywise / IT (let’s hope the new movie gets it right), Flagg from The Stand and The Dark Tower series, General Woundwort in Watership Down, Damien in The Omen, The demon Pazuzu in The Exorcist and The Trunchbull in Matilda.
6 What do you think are the 6 most disgusting meals or food products ever created?
Wotsits, sheep brains, durian fruit, microwave chips, jellied eels, wotsits again.
And finally ...
The Devil walks up to you in the bar. What drink would you buy him?
Whisky, single malt – aged, dark and peaty. No ice, no water. A double. The Devil doesn’t dick about with cocktails.
Many thanks to David Shakes for taking part in this interview. Want to find out more about the authors of The Infernal Clock? Read more here and even better, grab a copy of the book itself here ... with some excellent reviews you will not be disappointed.
Dreams - Angry Hourglass
“Little pig, little pig, let me come in,” whispered the voice in the dark.
Maisie giggled beneath her duvet, she loved the creepy games Daddy played. Being scared was her favourite thing.
“No, no by the hair of my chinny chin chin,” she laughed in reply.
“Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down,” said the voice and she felt warm air tickle the top of her head. She giggled again. Waited. But when she peeked out Wolf Daddy had gone. Her dreams that night were filled with the sound of squealing swine.
“Sleep well, darling?” asked her father next morning at breakfast.
“Yes, Daddy,” she said, stretching and yawning. “I had a lovely dream.”
He smiled absently at her before returning his attention to the stock market downturn, another late night ahead he thought but at least this time he had got in before dawn. And Daniel was around … somewhere.
When Maisie got home from school she found a note. Daddy would be late. She smiled, not in the least concerned. He was always back in time for her bedtime story. She drank a glass of milk, dreamily gazing out of the window at the sun slowly setting on the horizon … blood-red, her favourite colour. Time for bed it told her. She brushed her teeth carefully, picked up Teddy and snuggled down once more. And waited. She heard a door. Footsteps on the stair. A creak by her bed. Daddy.
“Here comes the candle to light you to bed,” he crooned. “Here comes the chopper to chop off your head.”
A soft kiss and then he was gone. Her dreams that night were filled with the sound of axe on wood.
When she woke in the morning she opened her eyes to a wonderful surprise. Her walls were now crimson! Daddy had re-decorated for her as she slept. Maisie stepped over the body on the floor and made her way to the kitchen. She put down the axe and poured out her cornflakes, thought about her pig brother in the basement. At least she wouldn’t have to share her chocolate milk with him.
Jeremiah’s Birthday - Microcosms HM
(Required elements: disturbed teenager, Sussex village, horror)
His meds had worn off and Josh could only watch helplessly as his hand defied him yet again, ripping at old wounds so he bled anew. The moon averted its gaze from his shame; instead tactfully washing over the silent Weald, Burwash slumbering below, blind, deaf and dumb. Just like Jeremiah Pardon. Even at this distance Josh could see the old man sitting on his porch, his chair rocking back and forth, creaking out an iron rhythm, creating an invisible chain between them. He could swear Jeremiah was looking straight at him. Was he really blind? Suddenly he needed to know. Josh walked back, along the dead lane, into the dead village, past shrouded families coffined by night, drawn by the magnet of Jeremiah.
“Like nails on a board, isn’t it?” whispered a voice in his ear.
He jumped. Could’ve sworn it was Jeremiah but the man still sat in his chair, rocking.
“Like nails in your flesh.” This time on his other side.
“Like nails in your soul.” And finally Jeremiah stood in front of him - even as he still rocked in his chair. “Nails,” he repeated, as Josh tried to turn, to retreat but the chains pulled harder, pulled him closer, until he could see nothing but the ever-widening mouth as it turned from a sneer, to a grin, to a hungry void, snuffing him out like a candle, muffling his screams to a whisper.
The village continued to sleep as the youth turned his deadman’s shoes back towards the hill. Tomorrow it would wake to the annual tragedy that refused to go away. At the same time it would celebrate the longevity of one of its oldest inhabitants, Jeremiah Pardon.
Jeremiah patted his stomach contentedly. Thought of the birthday cake his neighbours would bring him.
In the same week when I managed the Judge's Pick at Microcosms 60, I was also runner up with this poem which included the elements: night manager, remote road and poetry. I wanted to create a sense of place, of nighttime isolation but also a feeling of tranquility and belonging. I like to think I achieved that.
Neon colours my life
Signing my presence
Across the night
On this nowhere road
Occasional gold dazzles briefly
Beams picking out
Before zooming away
Behind me, the jukebox stirs
Plays the blues
A desolate soundtrack
Drowning out the silence
Of my isolation
I stand at the door
Surveying my kingdom
A cool breeze riffling my hair
As I measure the miles of nothing
In either direction
Me and the landscape
Fit together perfectly
Deserted and desolate
In our solitary selves
This little tale was the Judge's Pick for Microcosms 60. The spinner gave me the following elements to include: veterinarian, horse ranch, horror.
Cold metal hit stone. An anxious whicker, then silence. Margaret walked between the stables. She didn’t mind the nightshift, preferring the muffled dark, the sense of calm, of tranquility. Somewhere, an owl hooted and, as she raised her eyes, a silvery ghost flew across the velvet sky.
Margaret walked on.
The call had said the mare was in the end block, a distance now seeming further than it did in the light. The green mile, she thought, suddenly nervous, noticing how the horses became more restless the nearer she got to her goal. And it was no longer just metal on stone. Hooves kicked at wood, splintered timber; wild eyes and rabid mouths hung over rotting gates, the concrete beneath her turned to mud. Margaret looked behind her, saw only a void.
Another whicker at the end of the darkness.
Despite her terror, the sound of animal pain drew her on until she stood before an open stable; inside, a shape her eyes registered as a horse, but her brain denied the classification. Grotesque and swollen, something writhed beneath the animal’s skin.
“Deliver us,” murmured a voice in the darkness. “Deliver me.”
Margaret backed away only for the horse to turn its pitiful eyes on her, its suffering forcing her forward once more. Reluctantly, she probed the birth canal, grasped skin and bone, pulled the creature from its nightmare womb. From nowhere, skeletal hands reached out and ripped the amniotic sac from the newborn. Sick with horror, she watched it struggle to its feet, grow, become fully-formed. Then dark-shadowed Death mounted its pale horse and rode out into the world.
But Margaret didn’t see them go. A dormant blood clot lurking inside suddenly shifted, claimed her with a stroke. Death had been kind, delivering she who had delivered the End.
This was my Runner Up entry for the Angry Hourglass Flash Frenzy Round 127.
Looking at the picture (courtesy Ashwin Rao) on the Saturday I really couldn't think of anything and was considering not entering BUT just as I was about to fall asleep that night, the first lines 'I have a house. It sleeps with one eye open' popped into my head.' I didn't suddenly leap out of bed and start writing but the line stayed with me, disturbing my dreams and waiting for me when I woke up. And when I finally put pen to paper, the house told its own dark story, finishing full circle on the opening lines. They demanded to be repeated. They haunted me then and still haunt me now.
I Have a House
I have a house. It sleeps with one eye open. Watchful in the wilderness, it keeps me safe. I lived there in an isolated childhood, hidden from view, never seen by anyone except the house and its guests. Its jewellery of locks and bolts kept me safe from prying eyes.
Visiting hours admitted strangers with masked faces and the house became a theatre with me as the star of the show. Sometimes I would give a private performance – just myself and one other. The floorboards both my stage and my casting couch.
I remember the wood, cold against bare skin, unyielding, unforgiving in the darkness of this nightmare womb. It was a long labour, contractions of pain lasting hours until I was delivered into silence and a mother’s hands. She would look at me with unfeeling eyes. Food and clothing meant I had passed the test; their absence, failure and another type of reward.
But I was outgrowing my role, becoming an aging star and my performances were fewer and fewer. The laws of supply and demand had struck. I had nothing more to give and everything had been taken.
Eventually, the house wrapped me up in its arms when no one else would, buried me in the cradle of its foundations, became my forever home.
I have a house. It sleeps with one eye open. We haunt each other
The following story was my entry for last week's Flash Frenzy at the Angry Hourglass. It was written in response to the photo prompt (courtesy Sean Igo) prompt below.
The Swing of the Pendulum
The grey-washed dawn rises early and my murder is almost upon me. My old friend Poe couldn’t have set the scene any better: the gloomy solitude, the shadows shifting at the edges of vision, the birds gathered above me in the ghost of trees. Those damned birds. Every single beady eye fixed on me, waiting. At least I know I can only die once, I am no Prometheus. My liver, in this instance, is safe although my doctor has long disagreed with me, warning me of the dangers of my over-indulgence. He has set the clock ticking, bequeathed me a time-frame and I have filled every minute, every hour, every day knowing that each sunrise would bring me to this moment—my last day.
I want no witnesses.
It tickles me to think that I, the one everyone declares to be easily led, a simpleton and – in muttered asides – a cuckold, will leave a mystery behind. One for you, eh Edgar?
My bones ache from the damp, a bodily discomfort I will not have to suffer much longer, so I tolerate it and my jaundiced eye remains fixed on the path ahead.
I listen and Nature listens with me. My feathered friends, those harbingers of doom, cock their heads attentively. A hundred tiny heartbeats and my own telltale heart pounding to the beat of time.
Something has disturbed the silence and I strain my hearing further. The snap of a twig. The crunch of dead leaves. The swish of a skirt. Soft guilty breath eddying towards me.
The swing of the pendulum is getting shorter.
I watch, as I have watched her so often before – although in happier times. Still the birds remain, bearing silent witness until that instance when she sees me … and the blade in my hand. Her screams disturb the watchers and the air vibrates with the thrum of their wings, their own shrieks drowning out her cries for help. And when she falls silent, I lay her down in our new marriage bed taking my rightful place beside her, closing my eyes, allowing the wind that rises to hide us beneath a coverlet of leaves.
Couldn't resist this parody - that's what a long drive up to Wales in the pouring rain does to you ...
’Twas the night before Christmas, in the mansions of Hell
Not a creature was stirring, not even an elf
For the traps had been laid out at the fireside with care
And each little elf had met his end there
The sinners were nestled all snug on their racks
While torturous visions were lashed on their back
And Azazel with his dagger, blade bloodied and sharp
Carved out young brains and dined on their hearts
When in the Stygian marsh there arose such a clatter
The Furies stormed out to see what was the matter
And Cerberus disturbed, appeared in a rage
Tore open, in anger, those he had caged
While the blood moon on the breast of flesh dead and exposed
Gave the lustre of crimson to the tormented below
When, what to my lunatic eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh, pulled in misery and fear
With a comatose driver, no longer lively and quick
I knew in a moment, ’twas our master Old Nick
More rapid than demons, his coursers they came,
And he screamed and abused them in Lucifer’s name
‘Now Nybbus, now Abaddon, now Balaam and Balan
On Charon and Chax, on Kobal and Lilith
To the pit, to the pit, to the bottom of Hell
Dash to the place where the fallen now dwell’
As the matches that kindle a funeral pyre
When they meet with an obstacle, they set it on fire
So down to the pit, the demons they flew
With a sleigh full of torments and Old Nick too
And then in an agony, I heard more abuse
As demons tore skin with each cloven hoof
And I drew in my head, to avoid being found
When behind me, Old Nick, leapt down with a bound
He was cloaked in flayed flesh, from his head to his foot
His nails and his horns were tarnished with soot
A bundle of Harpies, he had flung on his back
The monster he was, now began his attack
His eyes how they glowed, how yellow his teeth
As the Inferno’s fires circled us all like a wreath
He had a goat’s face and a distended belly
That writhed when he laughed, the remnants of many
He was skeletal and clawed, in horrifically good health
And I screamed when I saw him, in spite of myself
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Gave me to know I had so much to dread
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work
And bound me in harness, and turned with a jerk
And smashing his fist across the bridge of my nose
Gave me a nod and of me disposed
He sprang to his sleigh, gave his demons a howl
And away they all flew, the grim and the foul
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere I drew my last breath
’Happy Christmas to me, and to you, a good death.’
A small festive offering from me this week. This was my entry for the Janet Reid, Literary Agent competition which required a story (100 words max) to contain the words: gut, lash, whip, shot and straight. The words can be part of a larger word.
A guttural roar escaped Santa’s lips as the sleigh overshot the landing and catapulted him straightinto the chimney flue; his fall, however, was broken by the whip which he still held tightly. He looked up to see Prancer holding the other end.
“You’re on the naughty list this year, Santa,” the reindeer growled. “Mrs S saw your selfies, the fluffy handcuffs, the tinsel thong …”
Prancer backed away, leaving him dangling.
A flash of light below gave Santa hope until the spark became a flame became a fire. Santa was in for a roasting of a different kind.
This was my entry for the Angry Hourglass Flash Frenzy competition last weekend. It told itself in about 10 minutes which was surprising and when I looked at the result it turned out to have quite a psychotic tone to it. However, I really enjoyed writing it so should I be worried?!
Below is the story written in response to a roadsign bearing the phrase 'From Here to Eternity'.
Composing a Sonnet
Funny how no one ever gets the message. You have to spell it out for them … literally. And even then the illiterate morons don’t get it. Take tonight for instance. They’re at it again. At the entrance to my driveway.
Mine. Mine. Mine.
Have I made that clear?
Yes? Good. Then you’ll know I have a job to do and I’m sorry. But it’s there in black and white. ETERNITY. Now with your obvious educashun, do you know what that word means? Do you, do you? You’re both looking at me as though I’m some sort of madman. Hah, you don’t know the half of it.
Eternity means forever.
And I live at that house. You can keep your Dunroamins and your Bide-a-Wees. My house is ETERNITY. It is FOREVER. So now, and I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else for it, you’re coming with me.
Him, him we can leave behind.
We can leave him HERE.
You, you are coming with me. Now please, please don’t struggle there’s a good girl. You boy, you stay put. I told you, you stay HERE. No? You don’t want to? Well, I can soon put that right. There, there, all done.
Now don’t you fret girl, I’ve got some fresh clothes you can wear, although I must say crimson is a most becoming colour against your skin. But look at you, why you’re a veritable Snow White. A rosy red apple just waiting to be bitten, just waiting …
Hush, don’t you waste your time screaming. No one’ll hear you. Not out here. Nobody ever comes out here. Except young couples like you. P’raps that’s why I opened my little guesthouse in this here vicinity. It’s back up there, off the track. Blink and you miss it. I’m not the sort to advertise. I’m what you might call exclusive. A word of mouth kind of guy. A poet even. And I have so many words for you, words to whisper in your pretty little ear. But I’m getting carried away. Come, Eternity’s waiting for us and for you I will compose a sonnet.
A writer - I think that says it all.