Monday, 31 October 2016

Halloween Horrors (behind the scenes)

Ah, Halloween, when all the ghosts and ghouls come calling (usually for chocolate), when the evenings are dark and the air smells of woodsmoke and the thoughts of us all turn to the idea of watching something scary and creepy.

Me and Dude as zombies, Halloween 2015
As regular readers of the blog will know, I love behind the scenes stuff for movies (you can check out more on this link) and today, of all days, I thought it'd be fun to show what film crews have to do to make the viewer scared.

When I put the post together I realised that all the films I'd chosen came from the 80s, which isn't to say I couldn't have chosen any other decade (and I'm sure there'll be another post, sometime in the future, doing just that).  But I have a special affection for the 80s which might be because it's the decade I came of age - I'll tell you my story about watching Poltergeist in 1983 with friends on a sunny Saturday morning one day - or it might also be because they saw an explosion in horror films with some excellent practical make-up effects.  From the master, Rick Baker, to the young turks of KNB, there was some terrific work created to compliment terrific films and I hope you share my love for the ones I've highlighted here.

Happy Halloween!

An American Werewolf In London (1981, directed by John Landis)
special make-up effects supervised by Rick Baker (for which he won an Oscar)
Rick Baker's effects team (with Steve Johnson second left kneeling) sets up one of the transformation shots (the spine popping up).  Note that the head is just a wig and the hands/paws are on lengths of wood. 
The Howling (1981, directed by Joe Dante)
special make-up effects supervised by Rob Bottin
(1981 was a bumper year for werewolf movies!  Rick Baker assumed, since it had taken so long to get financing, that John Landis' film wouldn't get made and since he'd already worked out the technology, he shared some of it with his apprentice Rob Bottin for "The Howling".  Landis wasn't best pleased...)
Belinda Balaski is attacked by the wolf (Rob Bottin, in white shirt, operates the puppet head and arm)
Scanners (1981, directed by David Cronenberg)
special effects make-up (prosthetics) by Dick Smith, head explosion supervised by Stephen Dupuis
If you've seen the film, you know what this sequence is.  If you haven't - and you're squeamish - it's perhaps best not to watch...

Poltergeist (1982, directed by Tobe Hooper)
special effects make-up supervised by Craig Reardon
For the sequence were Marty (Martin Casella) tears his face-off,  producer (some also say director) Steven Spielberg was chosen to be the 'hands' of the effect
Videodrome (1983, directed by David Cronenberg)
special make-up effects supervised by Rick Baker
Filming the demise of Barry Convex (the fx crew was under the floor)
Gremlins (1984, directed by Joe Dante)
special effects make-up supervised by Chris Walas
It takes a lot of people to make one Mogwai move...
Nightmare On Elm Street (1984, directed by Wes Craven)
special effects make-up supervised by David B. Miller
for the bathtub scene, Heather Langenkamp was sitting on two planks of wood over a tank.  Mechanical Special Effects designer Jim Doyle then sat in front of her wearing the glove - he was chosen to perform the role because he had Scuba experience and needed to be underwater for certain shots
Day Of The Dead (1985, directed by George A. Romero)
special effects make-up supervised by Tom Savini
Seen briefly, but to good effect, in the opening sequence, 'Dr Tongue' is well named.  Tom Savini is operating the arms of the puppet and the man with the creepshow t-shirt is Greg Nicotero, who would go on to co-found KNB Efx and is now one of the leading lights in The Walking Dead crew.
Fright Night (1985, directed by Tom Holland)
special make-up effects supervised by Steve Johnson
The meltdown of Billy Cole
The Fly (1986, directed by David Cronenberg)
special make-up effects by Chris Walas
Brundlefly starts to walk...
Robocop (1987, directed by Paul Verhoeven)
special make-up effects supervised by Rob Bottin
Officer Murphy is shot to pieces by Clarence Boddicker and his gang
Evil Dead 2 (1987, directed by Sam Raimi)
special make-up effects supervised by Mark Shostrom
Greg Nicotero (he got around) operates the Henrietta head to terrorise Ash (Bruce Campbell)
Child's Play (1988, directed by Tom Holland)
special make-up effects supervised by Kevin Yagher
It took a lot of wires to make Chucky move...  Howard Berger, holding the puppet and not looking too happy about it, co-founded KNB Efx and won an Oscar for his work on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Phantasm II (1988, directed by Don Coscarelli)
special make-up effects supervised by Mark Shostrom
The Tall Man puppet stands in for Angus Scrimm as things get sticky towards the end.  At the back of the picture, with the beard, is Robert Kurtzman, who would go on to co-found KNB Efx (he has since left)

Look out for more make-up and behind the scenes posts to come...

Monday, 24 October 2016

Launch of The Christmas Promise

Last Thursday saw the official paperback launch of The Christmas Promise, the latest novel by my fine friend and critiquing buddy Sue Moorcroft.  The ebook was released on the 6th but, since Sue was in Nottingham to run a writing course, her publisher - Avon Books - arranged for Waterstones to have the first of the paperback stock.
I’m a big fan of Sue’s writing (you can read my latest interview with her here) and was happy to help her celebrate the launch of this novel, the first in a two-book deal with Avon that will hopefully see her become much more successful.
Sue with the book (Ava is a miliner, which is why Sue's wearing a specially made fascinator)
I caught the train up (and used the travel time to get into C. L. Taylor’s The Lie, which is excellent), had a wander around the centre and grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to Waterstones on Bridlesmith Gate.  It’s a huge shop and I had a good look around as I worked my way up the stairs (no escalators for me!) to the Events Room on the fifth floor (admiring the rooftop vistas of the city on the way).
Nottingham rooftops
With Mick Arnold (picture by John Jackson)
I arrived at 5.45 and there were already plenty of people milling around.  I said hello to Christina Courtney, who I first met at the Writer/Blogger meet-up in London (see here) and finally met fellow Team Sue Moorcroft member John Jackson in person.  I then saw Mick Arnold, who I first met at the Brum Writer/Blogger meet-up (see here) who also supported (and photographed) mine and Sue’s KettFest talk (which you can read about here).  We chatted for a while then mingled and I finally got to meet Lizzie Lamb, having been Facebook friends for some time.
With Lizzie Lamb (picture by June Kearns)
The events room (picture by John Jackson)
We were told to take to our seats so I went to sit on the front row with Mick and he introduced me to Morton Gray and Alison May, both fellow novelists (Alison & I thought we’d met before and, after a while, realised we had, in Birmingham).  Just before it began, Wayne Parkin (my friend and Con buddy) arrived from work for a fleeting visit and it was good to see him again (FantasyCon feels so long ago).

The launch kicked off at 6.15 and, after Dan the Events manager did his little intro, Sue read a brief passage from the book, featuring Ava (the heroine) and Sam (the hero).  It’s been a while since I read it (I critiqued it back in 2015 - it’s very odd reading a Christmas novel out of season) but listening to Sue made me want to revisit it.  Dan interviewed Sue briefly (the revenge porn aspect of her plot has seen an article she wrote appear on The Huffington Post, before being picked up by The Independent) and then it was thrown open to the floor.  There were several questions (I asked one too) which elicited some great answers, then it was time for photographs and picking up advance copies.  I stood chatting with Wayne and Andrea Crellin (Sue’s friend, who I met at the KettFest event) and by the time I’d got to the book table, they’d all gone (a superb result for Sue, not so good for me!).
Wayne Park & I pose with his copies
After chatting with various folk for a while, Mick & I headed back to the train station and talked writing and reading for the entire journey home.

All in all, it was a great evening for a great writer (and friend) and I hope The Christmas Promise is hugely successful for her.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Old School Horrors 5: Incubus, by Ray Russell

The fifth, in an occasional thread, of blog posts celebrating those cheesy, sleazy old-school pulp paperbacks from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  Yes, we’re not talking great art here but these books have their place - for better or worse - in the genre and I think they deserve to be remembered.

This time around, I'm looking at a novel with a bit of pedigree, though I would take exception to the cover comparisons...
cover scan of my copy - published in 1983 by Sphere
Galen is an ordinary, peaceful small town. Until horrendous terror strikes … and strikes again and again, each time claiming a female victim in a fashion too hideous to contemplate. 

Julian Trask, student of the occult, is used to thinking the unthinkable. As he works towards the solution of the soul-searing mystery, Galen trembles in mortal dread. For no woman is safe from the lethal lust of THE INCUBUS.  

This is unashamedly pulp and all the more fun for it.  Ray Russell is a genre writer with a great pedigree (amongst many other things, he wrote the screenplay for X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes) and this novel (first published in 1976) works a treat so long as you enjoy it for what it is, a quick and cheesy novel (though curiously coy when dealing with sex, which is ironic considering the subject matter).

Characterisation is brisk - Julian Trask, English, handsome and Porsche driving, is drawn back to the town where he once taught briefly; Laura Kincaid was a student he fancied back then, now she edits the paper he subscribes to, which is where he found out about the killings; Dr ‘Doc’ Jenkins is the town physician (I couldn’t tell how old he was supposed to be) who’s well respected and good at his job, even if his alcohol intake is prodigious (and he & Trask make for a fun double-act) and Hank Walden is the town Sheriff, a man at his wits end trying to figure out what’s going on.  There’s a big supporting cast too, with plenty of “it could be him” characters and the attack set pieces are well enough constructed that it could be anyone who turns into the monster - and what a monster the Incubus is, never really seen clearly but identifiable from his extremely large penis (which is what kills his victims - he wants to mate and rapes them to death).

With a decent small-town atmosphere, a great MacGuffin (The Artes Perditae spell book, covered in human skin so that the “i” is dotted by a navel), some great set pieces (though the section in the dormitories could have been better realised I think and the writer missed a big chance for a stalking sequence) and nicely used gore (making up for the coy sexual references), this does exactly as it’s supposed to.  As ever, your enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for (relatively well constructed) pulp, but I enjoyed it a lot and would recommend it for fans of the same.

* * *
Incubus one-sheet, art by Drew Struzan
The Incubus (1982) was directed by John Hough (who had a varied career, including making Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry which, for a long time, I only knew through the opening credits of The Fall Guy), produced by Marc Boyman ('presented by' Stephen J. Friedman, whose solid career started with The Last Picture Show) and written by George Franklin (who only has one other credit to his name according to the imdb, a 1990 telemovie called Personals).

The film was made in Canada on a budget of $5.1m, released by Multicom Entertainment Group Inc. and starred John Cassavetes as Sam (perhaps Julian was too English?), John Ireland as Hank and Kerrie Keane as Laura. It was never released theatrically in the UK (to this day, I’ve never seen it) but features a cameo from Bruce Dickinson (of Iron Maiden fame) performing with his previous band Samson.

As an aside, I like how the film poster goes in a different direction to the tone the book cover aims for (though the Drew Struzan artwork is typically wonderful).

I don't think that's really HD, do you?

As for the VHS version, they just had a field day with the artwork.  I can only assume it was never in a video shop during my teens because I would have snapped this up in moments!

* * *
Ray Russell was born in Chicago on 4th September 1924 and served in the South Pacific as part of the US Air Force from 1943 to 1946.  He married Ada Szczepanski in 1950, they had a son and daughter and he died in Los Angeles on 15th March 1999.

Ray Russell
A peer and close friend of Richard Matheson, he was a prolific short-story writer and an occasional novelist, though his preferred length was the novella.  He recognised the cultural significance of genre fiction and his best-known work, Sardonicus, was a novella that Stephen King called ‘perhaps the finest example of modern gothic ever written’.  It originally appeared in the January 1961 issue of Playboy and Russell subsequently adapted it into a screenplay for the William Castle film, which was called Mr Sardonicus (1961).

An executive editor for Playboy during its formative years in the 1950s, Russell kept a strong link with the company through to the 1970s, editing (anonymously) many of the magazines anthologies, including The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy (1966) and The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural (1967).  Through him, Playboy became a showcase for genre fiction (principally SF and horror) during the 1950s and 1960s, publishing stories by Ray Bradbury, Henry Slesar, Frederic Brown, Kurt Vonnegut, Frederik Pohl, Richard Matheson, Jack Finney, Robert Bloch and Charles Beaumont (with whom Russell co-wrote the screenplay for The Premature Burial in 1962).

His other screenplays were for Zotz! (1962), The Horror of It All (1963), X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) and Chamber Of Horrors (1966).  The superb “X”, which features a manic Ray Milland and one of the best last lines in cinema, won Russell (and his co-screenwriter Robert Dillon) a Silver Globe at the Trieste International Film Festival in 1963.

In 1991 he received the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

When asked why he wrote, he is quoted as saying; “I would say ... ego, guilt, boredom, the need for approval, a love of language, and the desire to entertain myself. I think it was William Saroyan who said he wrote so that he would have something good to read in his old age. That's not a bad reason.

For a few years now, I've been collecting old 70s and 80s paperbacks (mostly horror), picking them up cheaply in secondhand bookshops and at car boot sales and slowly building a collection.  My friend (and fellow collector) Johnny Mains once told me that charity shops sometimes pulp old books like this because the market for them is so small - I understand why but I think it's terrible.  We might not be talking great art here but on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.

To that end, on an irregular basis (too much cheese isn't good for anyone's diet), I'm going to review these "old-school" horrors (and perhaps include some bonus material, if I can find it).

Monday, 10 October 2016

The Christmas Promise - an interview with Sue Moorcroft

Sue Moorcroft & I have known one another for a long time, meeting in 1999 when I joined the Kettering Writers group, of which she was already a member.  Quickly hitting it off (we were the only published writers in the group but because we wrote genre - romance, for her and horror, for me - we were like the naughty little kids at the back), our friendship developed over the years as we shared in various glories (more hers than mine), critiqued each others work and attended various creative events together (she’s a great Con-buddy).  I’ve also interviewed her twice before on the blog, the first time in 2013 and then last November.  Back in 2014, at one of our regular meetings at The Trading Post, she told me the bare bones of what she thought then was going to be a Christmas-themed novella.  As we talked, it became obvious she had more than enough material there and, sure enough, it turned into a novel.  After securing an agent, I was thrilled for Sue when Avon Books signed her up for a two-book deal, the first of which was going to be that Christmas novel.  It was announced in The Bookseller on October 21st 2015 (just before that year’s FantasyCon) and I’ve since read the second book in the deal, which is, in my opinion, even better than the first.
The Christmas Promise was released as an ebook last Thursday (6th October), with the paperback to follow on 1st December.  To help celebrate this tremendous occasion, I thought it’d be a good idea to ask Sue a few questions.

MW:   To some readers, since the Avon Books reach is going to be wide, this might seem like your first appearance in commercial fiction but I believe 2016 marks your 20th anniversary of being published?  What’s the road to this point been like?

SM:   Hi Mark and thanks for inviting me onto your blog again. As you know, I often read it, so it’s great to be featured.

You’re right, my first notice of sale arrived in 1996. It was from The People’s Friend and I received the letter on 1st April so I did wonder if it was a trick. Happily, it wasn’t, and I continued to write magazine fiction to get myself a track record, though my aim was always to be a published novelist. As I also needed to earn money along the way I’ve written serials, novellas, columns, articles, courses, writing ‘how to’, and done a lot of creative writing tutoring and competition judging. I’ve been both agented and unagented (I’m currently with Juliet Pickering of Blake Friedmann, and she is a mega star). I’d published nine novels with Transita, Robert Hale and Choc Lit when I decided I’d waited too long for the contract that would allow me to slough off everything but fiction so I did it the other way around – dropped most of the rest and concentrated on fiction. I was taken on by Juliet and she sold The Christmas Promise and Just for the Holidays at auction. I do still teach a little but I’m in the happy position of being able to accept fantastic engagements such as courses that take place in Dubai and Italy.

MW:   I remember our first discussions about the Twelve Dates Of Christmas novella.  Can you elaborate on how you opened up and expanded the idea to become a novel?

SM:   I began to suspect that there was enough meat on my idea to sustain a novel and Juliet liked my slant. Sam’s conflict was sufficiently high stakes, as his mum, Wendy, is spending Christmas in the elapse between surgery and chemotherapy and he’s trying to make the season special for her. The key to driving a novel was to find a more substantial conflict for Ava as her being skint and not liking Christmas was a bit too ordinary. So I began to search news features for ideas.

Discussing plot points at The Trading Post
MW:   As with most of your work, this is issue-based with the idea of revenge porn.  Where did that plot point come from?

SM:   I wanted an issue that was contemporary and emotive. I happened upon the misery wrought by those who make public intimate images of others, known as ‘revenge porn’ as so much of it concerns ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends trying to humiliate a former lover. The growth of social media and websites that use their content to attract advertising has spawned this horrible practice and I found myself getting incredibly angry with the perpetrators. I decided I wanted to shine a light on it so I gave Ava an ex-boyfriend, Harvey, who has some saucy images of her on his phone from when they were together and is not afraid to use them.

MW:   What made you decide to have Ava Blissham, our heroine, be a milliner and how much research did that involve?

SM:   I love being on the radio and I was lucky enough to have a fellow guest on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire who was a milliner – Abigail Crampton of Abigail Crampton Millinery. Handmaking high quality hats seemed exactly the right career for one of my heroines so I asked Abigail if I could call on her for research. She was amazing, inviting me to her studio on several occasions, answering email questions and reading the whole manuscript twice. She’s also to be involved in the promo. Ava’s business is called Ava Bliss Millinery because who doesn’t like a little bliss?

MW:   What more can you tell us about the novel, without giving everything away?

SM:   Because Sam wants to make this Christmas special for his mum he orders a special gift – a bespoke hat made by Ava. It involves Ava in a promise that she finds harder and harder to keep. As well as hats, revenge porn, Christmas, hard choices and a WAG called Booby Ruby, The Christmas Promise contains a viral marketing campaign of which I’m incredibly proud. Adrienne Vaughan of AVA PR helped me plan it.

MW:   The second novel in the deal, Just For The Holidays, is a great read and very different from The Christmas Promise. Was that a conscious decision, or something that ‘just happened’?

SM:   Just happened. A friend told me a story of her holiday (she said she only got through it by beginning her wine intake by 9.30am each day) and I asked if I could use it as the premise for the book. It’s only the premise that’s the same – that the heroine’s sister’s marriage ends and she’s asked to join her sister and children on holiday to support them. And then the husband goes with them after all! I took the story on its own path from that point, making my heroine, Leah, a happily single woman who’s made the conscious decision not to have children, end up looking after her sister’s husband and children in France. I made the hero a grounded helicopter pilot and, in the best piece of research I’ve done to date, was taken up in a helicopter and given a demonstration of how you land safely when the engine cuts out at 2,000 feet.

Sue & I at our KettFest 2016 event at Kettering library (see here)
MW:   One of the things I find fascinating about you is your ability to concentrate on so many different projects at once.  The Christmas Promise is about to be released, you’re editing Just For The Holidays and you’ve started work on a new novel.

SM:   That’s exactly the situation I’m in as I write this blog post (today I’m giving myself a break from editing specifically to write guest posts and my newsletter). But most jobs mean one has to fulfil more than one role. When I worked in a bank it wasn’t possible to concentrate only on one customer or even one boss at a time. I do find it hard when I’m pulled out of a novel for a significant amount of time, though, and have to read myself back into the story.

MW:   Another fascinating thing is your working practice, in terms of starting a novel off.  Could you elaborate on your process a little?

SM:   I begin with the two main characters and, often, the premise, ie the starting situation or underlying story. I like to plan a novel with pen and paper and I begin with character bios. I like to look at each major character from various angles – let’s take the hero of The Christmas Promise, Sam, as an example. I begin with basic facts about age, employment, appearance, some likes and dislikes. Then I ‘become’ the heroine and see what she thinks of him. Then maybe I’ll look at him from the perspective of someone who works for him, what his mum thinks, why his aunt’s so fond of him, how his best mates view him and I get his thoughts on himself and those around him. I believe that this gives me a multi-faceted character. I like to know character dynamics, too, such as where characters fit in their families, and, most importantly, I like to know something (usually a lot) of their backstory as a) an adult can’t be born on page 1 and b) it helps me know how they’ll react to given situations (a person who has been brought up in poverty might have a different relationship with money to one who had wealthy parents, for example). As there’s always a strong romantic relationship in my books I find it crucial to know what the conflicts, goals and obstacles are for both hero and heroine and how hers might impact on his and vice versa. How am I going to get them together? Or keep them apart? How are they going to solve their conflicts?

MW:   I’m very proud of you, getting the Avon deal and feel it’s very much deserved.  How did getting this make you feel and did it change your ideas of the novels you would write for it?

SM:   Thank you very much! You’ve been incredibly supportive of my career and I deeply appreciate it (and you being a great Con-buddy). I have to admit that getting the Avon deal felt euphoric. A big stride like this had been predicted for me earlier but, for various reasons, some nothing to do with writing, it didn’t happen. I’m very happy to say that the members of the Avon team don’t seem to see a need to ‘make me over’ and they’ve so far liked my ideas. Their support is immense. The Christmas Promise is their lead Christmas title for 2016 and there’s a national PR campaign around it, which makes me very happy.

MW:   So, beyond the novel you’re working on now, what’s next?

SM:   More novels! A few short stories or even serials. Working hard to develop my career.

MW:   Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions Sue.

SM:   You’re very welcome. Thanks for inviting me along.
Award-winning author Sue Moorcroft writes contemporary women’s fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. A past vice chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and editor of its two anthologies, Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a creative writing tutor. She’s won a Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award and the Katie Fforde Bursary.

Sue’s latest book is The Christmas Promise (Avon Books UK, HarperCollins)

I wrote about the launch of The Christmas Promise (and took plenty of pictures), which you can read here

Facebook: sue.moorcroft.3
Facebook author page:
Twitter: @suemoorcroft
Instagram: suemoorcroftauthor
Amazon author page:

Monday, 3 October 2016

Do You Believe In Ghosts?

I'm pleased to announce that Ten Tall Tales, the latest anthology from NewCon Press edited by Ian Whates, was launched at FantasyCon on Saturday 24th September.  Among a truly wonderful collection of writers, it contains my short story Do You Believe In Ghosts?, a quietly bleak tale about grief, love and what lengths the recently bereaved might go to for one last chance to say goodbye.
cover art by Sarah Anne Langton
Ten tall tales of horror, dark fantasy and dark science fiction, commissioned from some of the most twisted imaginations writing today, as part of NewCon Press' 10th anniversary celebrations. Each story is inter-leafed with a wicked limerick from that master of terror, Ramsey Campbell. 

Introduction – Ian Whates

Ten Twisted Limericks – Ramsey Campbell

The Power Of… – Paul Kane

We Know By the Tenth Day Whether They Live or Die – Simon Clark

One Little Mouth to Kiss You Goodnight – Lynda E. Rucker

The Fruit of the Tree – Maura McHugh

9 + 1 – Michael Marshall Smith

The Book of Sleep – Edward Cox

For The Win – James Barclay

Do You Believe in Ghosts? – Mark West

The Loathing of Strangers – Sarah Pinborough

The Marble Orchard – Andrew Hook

The book is available as an A5 paperback and a dust-jacketed special edition hardback, limited to just 100 copies; each copy is individually numbered and signed by 8 of the contributing authors (Ramsey Campbell, Edward Cox, Maura McHugh, Paul Kane, Simon Clark, Lynda E. Rucker, Andrew Hook, and Mark West)

£12.99 (A5 paperback)
£22.99 (Signed Hardback)

Signing the hardbacks at The Grand in Scarborough, picture by Maura McHugh
from left - Andrew Hook, Lynda E. Rucker, Paul Kane, Simon Clark, Ian Whates, me
For some reason, I now only tend to write short stories when editors ask for them (which is a nice situation to be in, don't get me wrong), so I have a theme to aim for.  The days of me getting an idea and being excited enough to write it on spec are rare but this was just one such occasion.  I wanted to do something with photographs (which I love and take lots of) and the idea of somehow revisiting a love affair through them.  I started writing with no end in mind but when I stumbled over the idea of forums for bereaved partners it kind of worked its way through to a logical conclusion (though my pre-readers got to choose between two very different endings).  When it was finished I had a really good feeling about it, put it into my writing group for critiquing and it went down very well (it's perhaps the best-received piece I've ever submitted) and Ian picked it up then.  He also suggested the title change - my original was Losing Carole Duffin which worked but didn't suggest a supernatural story.

Having lost Carole Duffin once before, I was determined it wouldn’t happen again…

* * *

The funeral took place on a wet Thursday afternoon, the mourners huddling under black umbrellas as if repelling an attack.  I stood with a couple of old school friends, listening to the rattle of the drizzle over my head, trying but failing to catch the vicar’s words.
   Although I’d known Carole for over thirty years and we’d been boyfriend and girlfriend in the Sixth Form at Gaffney Tech, our current relationship was only a few months old.  She’d divorced her husband due to his insistence on getting other women pregnant, though I could see him standing beside the open grave, tears and rain water running down his cheeks.  My own marriage had also fallen apart, work pressures tearing into a bond that I once thought unbreakable.   It had been acrimonious and unpleasant, the worst six months of my life and I seriously doubted my ex-wife would have been standing at my graveside crying.
   Three months, two weeks and a handful of days.  A chance encounter on Facebook led to late night messages, an understanding of the emotional landscape and then a tentative meeting, exchanging pleasantries over the clatter of cutlery and crockery at the cafĂ©.  A realisation that we could make this happen and suddenly I was a teenager again, asking if she’d like to go on a date.  A meal at the local Italian, a trip to the cinema, holding hands on the back row and, later, a kiss in the car as I dropped her off.  Things seemed to speed up after that and we spent as much time together as possible, making love as if trying to make up for the lost years. 
   I was the happiest I’d been in years and Carole told me she felt the same.  We’d been brought down by divorce but had found each other again in the process and things were going to be different this time.

* * *

We’d had a lovely evening.  She came to my flat, I cooked spaghetti and made garlic bread, we listened to 80s music and laughed, danced in the kitchen and made love.  Normally she’d have stayed over but as she had an early meeting we dozed in each other’s arms before she got up at 2am and left.  I waved her off from my window - we blew kisses and promised to phone the next day.  I never saw her again.
   I didn’t know anything was wrong until the following midday when she didn’t answer her phone.  I rang, on and off, until the early evening and when I still didn’t get an answer, I went to her flat.  Her friend Annie answered the door, her eyes red and puffy from too many tears.
   “Oh Martin,” she said and began sobbing, pulling me into a hard embrace, “you were on my list to ring, but I didn’t know what to say to you.”
   “About what?  What’s wrong, Annie?”
   “It’s Carole.  Last night, a drunk driver.”
   “She wasn’t drunk, she hadn’t…”  I stopped and prised myself away from Annie, holding her shoulders.  “Where is she?”
   Annie took in a deep, hitching breath and silent tears rolled down her cheeks.  “She’s gone, Martin.”