Today, I wanted to shine a spotlight on a fellow author. On the eve of the eve of the book launch for the horror anthology PURGATORIUM, in which my short story DUBIOUS PICKLES AND THE CURIOSITY OF ARBOUR LEVESQUE appears, I bring you British horror author LUKE WALKER. His novel HOMETOWN is celebrating its North American debut.
In the coming days, I will have an interview with Luke…based on the recent ones I carried out with the contributors of Purgatorium. The Proustian Questionnaire seemed to be a success, and I would like to implement it as a semi-regular feature here. So look forward to reading Walker’s responses shortly.
There is one thing that comes through when reading that bio. Having never hefted a bag containing a severed leg, I have not yet truly lived! Mayhaps his tenure in that field has served him well in his writing life.
Inside Stu Brennan’s head, a dead woman screamed his name.
Stu’s hand jerked, his cup flew and smashed against the sink. Coffee splashed the floor. The crash of the breaking cup rang around the little staffroom and the scream filled his head again.
He slammed his hands against his ears, closed his eyes and held his breath. For a beat of a few silent seconds, there was nothing but his own interior voice, desperate to reassure him with simple noises of comfort. Then he heard his name a third time, a horrific bellow behind his eyes.
Stu collapsed; his hand struck the splashes of coffee and a piece of his broken cup.
He knew who was calling his name.
This isn’t happening.
The thought was so solid, so comforting it was easy to think it was true.
This isn’t happening. This is not happening.
Right. He was at work; this was a Tuesday morning; the other shops and the rest of Dalry were all right outside and everything was where it should be so there was no way this was happening.
His legs refused to work properly and he had to move somewhere between a crawl and a shuffle for the short distance towards the toilet. Pulling himself up and using the edge of the sink as leverage, Stu staggered a couple of steps to the toilet door. Breathing much too quickly, he pushed it shut, locked it and dropped onto the lavatory.
The thud of music from below on the shop floor pounded in steady beats. Stu held on to the sound with as much focus as he could. Through his panic and confusion, he tried to picture Rich downstairs, Rich sorting the tills, Rich probably tapping on the counter to the rhythm of the music as he readied the shop for opening.
Stu took a few deep breaths. Doing so helped to bring some small degree of focus and rational thought.
Stand up. Wash hands. Sort out the mess he’d made with his coffee. Make another drink. Sit in front of his computer before anyone else arrived at work. Talk to people. Be normal.
Rational thought spoke again while he remained perfectly still. Sandra was in the cash office and the only reason she wouldn’t have heard the breaking cup was down to her door being shut. There was nothing to stop her from needing the loo or coming out to make her own drink. What would she think if she saw the mess and nobody cleaning it up? How could he explain it?
Sorry, boss. I just heard my name shouted inside my head by someone who can’t be speaking to me and I needed a sit down.
Stu shook and swallowed the ugly taste of vomit. He closed his eyes again. Images swam in front of him and his eyes flew open. The images remained.
He saw a house and his first thought was this was his house. The thought was wrong.
He stood in front of his parents’ house, close to the wide front garden, the low wall bordering his mother’s flowers and the healthy green of the grass. Their car sat on the long drive and that was normal. What wasn’t normal were the broken windows, the black stain of fire damage on the bricks and the spray paint covering the smashed in door.
Stu heard his shout of horrified negation despite being aware of his lips clamped together and his tongue immobile with shock. His feet moved, forcing him to back away, and he tripped on the uneven pavement. He dropped, landed heavily and his hands slapped down on dark stains. Wet stains.
Cold blood covered his fingers and palms. And still the horror arguing against this filled his head, still he couldn’t do a thing but see it all here, all right in front of him: his parents’ house, his childhood home like something out of a horror film, while the moon shone and his breath rose and the rapid thud of running feet drew closer.
Running to him. Dozens of people by the sound of it, their shoes and boots thundering on the ground as they sprinted towards him. Stu lunged upright, panic swallowing him.
The runners were coming from both ends of the road. The only way to go was forward, into the house.
Into the black of the house.
They were coming closer. They were coming and they were coming for him.
His eyes jerked open and strained to focus on the white of the toilet wall. The toilet, the little sink, the window behind him, open to let in the cool air of a normal October day. Everything was as it should be.
Apart from the faraway echo of the final scream in his head and the crash of all the running feet from somewhere else.
Stu did his best to control his panicked thoughts. It was Rich outside. He was at work in his record shop, in the toilet at work, and Rich was outside the door.
‘Stu? You in there?’
Rich’s voice edged close to panic, a ridiculous idea but a fact with which Stu couldn’t argue.
‘Yeah. Out in a sec,’ Stu said, aware of the tremor in his voice. ‘Miles away. Sorry.’
The double meaning of his last few words hit him and he swallowed a mad laugh. He gripped the sink as hard as he could and pulled himself up. His face in the mirror was much too white, much too strained.
What the hell is this?
‘Want me to clear up your mess?’ Rich asked.
‘No. I’ll do it.’
‘All right. Just make sure you open the window if you’ve done a stinker.’
Stu listened to Rich walk from the staffroom to the stockroom and he glanced at his watch. Quarter to nine. Less than two minutes had elapsed since he’d picked up his coffee and heard the first scream.
No scream. There was no fucking scream.
He had to phone Kirsty. Had to tell her.
Tell her what?
He tried to formulate an answer, tried to force one to make sense. The effort was too much and the attempt collapsed into nothing.
Call Kirsty. Of course. And tell her he’d either gone nuts or he was being haunted.
A scent breathed, faint but unmistakeable. Against his will, he inhaled.
The aroma of perfume filled his nostrils before fading. Memory came to life and Stu’s shocked whisper followed it in one breath.
‘Oh my God.’
The perfume shop. Three days before her twentieth birthday. Going into the shop with Will; Will talking to the woman behind the counter, telling her what he wanted and it was a birthday present so he needed a big bottle, needed it in a nice bag.
Stu placed a gentle finger on the bridge of his nose, remembering the smell of the perfume, remembering catching the scent of it three days later when they’d all been in the pub for her birthday. A warm night in September, the lights from traffic outside striking the window they sat opposite and …
‘Poison. She liked Poison. It was her favourite.’
Staring at his reflection, Stu struggled not to weep.
Look for the Luke Walker Proustian Questionnaire in the coming days! Enjoy his work today…