Authors: personal demons by christopher fowler
Christopher Fowler, one of Britain's most highly regarded horror writers, is the author of eighteen published books, including the bestselling
, as well as numerous screenplays and collections of short stories. He lives and works in London, where he runs The Creative Partnership, a Soho film promotion company.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 97-81169
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library on request
The right of Christopher Fowler to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
Copyright (c) 1998 Christopher Fowler
First published in 1998 by Serpent's Tail, 4 Blackstock Mews, London N4
Phototypeset in 10pt Sabon by Intype London Ltd Printed in Great Britain by
Mackays of Chatham plc, Chatham, Kent
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Spanky's back in town
The man who wound a thousand clocks
Armies of the heart
The Grand Finale Hotel
Looking for Bolivar
Learning to let go
'Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.'
Short stories of the fantastic are cowards' deaths, explorations of what might yet be. They are premonitions written to disturb and ultimately comfort, because they present us with the results of our darkest dreams.
They help us to deal with our fears and realise our fantasies.
Kenneth Tynan said 'when the writer cares more about the audience's reaction than the truth of the character or situation, they are writing for effect, they are writing melodrama.' The problem is, many novels and short stories seem to exist for the sole purpose of producing a series of melodramatic effects. Editors often ask for a showy set-piece to be situated at the start of a novel. Anthologies look for shock-pieces. The
'new lad' school of writing precipitated by Irvine Welsh has nearly kicked everything else off the shelves. Writers of great power and subtlety are treated as creators of specialist literature because they choose to explore strange territory. Television has become the new home of a specialised form ofSF, horror and fantasy, dumbed-down, safe, value-reaffirming.
Not long ago I was told that my material was 'too quirky' for mainstream America. Why didn't I develop a single theme and stick to it in order to build reader loyalty? Stephen King is the most successful author in the world. Didn't all horror and fantasy authors aspire to be like him?
True, some of his books have made terrific films because his stories are admirably rooted in character, and his ideas are simple, clear and strong, even if his prose is as elegant asan orthopaedic boot, but ultimately it's a parochial style peculiar to one area of the USA, and I wanted to write specifically to my own English environment. In the eighties, American concepts of dumbing down horror provided grim new benchmarks, reaching even lower. They constituted a sacrifice of all that disturbed, discomforted or encouraged thought, and the British followed suit. Virginia Woolf said that 'the steps from brain to brain must be cut very shallow if thought is to mount them'. Some writers began providing wheelchair slopes. The genre has still not recovered, although I'm convinced that it will.
The best horror anthologies ever produced were two Panther volumes edited by an experimental psychologist, Dr Christopher Evans. In
he admits that he isprimarily interested in exploring the mind's
'inner space', and that his selected tales are 'tricks to trap the brain into giving up some of its secrets'. In
Mind In Chains
he suggests the reader should use the stories 'to see what they tell him about the structure and the denizens of his own internal landscape'. These are tales that look for contact points between the horrific and the normal, where logical events lurch into alarming disarray, and all the human mind can do is try to cope.
I wonder if such anthologies would be published today.
Certainly, Serpent's Tail would be one of the few publishing houses who could perform the favour. I have to admit, I would write much darker books if I thought the market could take it. One develops a certain amount of pessimism as one grows older, not based on nostalgia for the past so much as disappointment for the future. I rarely write anything as dark as the real lives we lead; the strain, the anger, the sheer dull ache of life is not something I'd wish to catalogue. Instead, I am drawn to the exotic, and I think that is reflected in these stories.
are linked by an interest in a perverse array of subjects, a desire to test out ideas, and a need to wander into unusual territories. I have consciously tried to avoid retreading old ground, and have presented the stories in the order in which they were written, so that you may follow a logical progression of thought, even if some of these processes appear oblique. The final story is unorthodox, but explanatory.
Here you will find horror, fantasy, reality and humour; there's hardly any blood, and only a few deaths. One of the stories is even optimistic. A frequently asked question is 'What scares a horror writer?' My answer is
'the disfiguring blankness of a person with no imagination'. Anyone who has seen TV interviews with murderers and religious fanatics knows the dead-eyed look they share. These stories are in some sense about keeping the death of the imagination at bay.
So long as there is imagination, there is hope.
SPANKY'S BACK IN TOWN
1 THE HISTORY OF RASPUTIN'S CASKET
'Can't we go any faster?' Dmitry turned around in the seat, punching at the driver's fur-clad back. Behind him one of the wolves had almost caught up with the rear-runners of the sleigh and was snapping at the end of his flapping scarf.
'This is new snow over old,' the driver shouted. 'The tracks have hardened and will turn us over.'
The horses were terrified, their heads twisting, their eyes rolling back in fear of the baying creatures behind the sleigh. Scarcely daring to look, Dmitry counted seven - now eight of the wolves, swarming so close that he could feel their hot breath on the icy rushing air. He glanced down at the terrified child in his arms and pulled the bearskin more tightly around her deathly pale face.
'We'll never make it in time,' cried Yusupov, 'it will be dark before we reach Pokrovskoye.'
They could see the black outline of the town on the horizon, but already the sun was dropping below the tops of the trees. The sleigh clattered and crunched its way across deep-frozen cart tracks, swaying perilously, the wolves howling close behind, falling over each other in their efforts to keep up. One of the largest, a fearsome yellow-eyed beast the size of a Great Dane, suddenly threw itself forward and seized Dmitry's scarf-end in its jaws. The wool pulled tight, choking him as he clawed at his throat. Yusupov yanked it away from his brother's neck and pulled hard, feeling the weight of the animal on the other end. 'See, Dmitry,' he cried, 'look in the eyes of our pursuer now!'
He released the scarf sharply and the creature fell back, tumbling over itself. But it had his scent, and would follow the sleigh into the darkness until its jaws were filled. Dmitry cradled the infant in his arms, protecting her from buffets as the sleigh hammered over a ridge of ice. They had taken her hostage to effect their escape from the private apartments of Rasputin himself, but now they no longer had need of her. After all, the casket was now in their possession, and its value was beyond calculation.
He knew that Yusupov was thinking the same thing. Behind them, the wolves were becoming braver, jumping at the rear of the sledge, trying to gain a hold with their forepaws. Thick ribbons of spittle fell along the crimson velvet plush of the seat-back as the animals yelped and barked in frustrated relay.
'They will not stop until they feed,' he shouted. 'We must use the child.
She slows us down.'
'But she is innocent!'
'If we fail in our mission, many thousands of innocents will perish.'
'Then do it and be damned!'
Dmitry slipped the wild-eyed girl from the bear-fur. In one scooping motion he raised her above his head, then threw her over the end of the sleigh. She had only just begun to scream as the wolves imploded over her, seizing her limbs in their muscular jaws. The two young Bolsheviks watched for a moment as the animals swarmed around their meal, the sleigh briefly forgotten. The child's cries were quickly lost beneath the angry snarling of the feed. A sudden splash of blood darkened the evening snow. The driver huddled tighter over his reins, determined not to bear witness to such events. The next time he dared to look back, all he could see was a distant dark stain against the endless whiteness, and the sated wolves slinking away with their heads bowed between their shoulders, ashamed of their own appetites.
Yusupov studied the horizon once more, trying to discern the lights of the approaching town. He was twenty-three, and had already felt the hand of death close over him. He prayed that Casparov would be waiting at the bridge, that he had found a way of evading their pursuer. It was essential for them to find a hiding place for the casket in Pokrovskoye.
'Perhaps we are safe now,' said Dmitry as the sleigh turned toward the smoking chimneys of the town. 'May we have the strength to do what must be done.'
'Our story begins in the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, in the year 1908,' said Dr Harold Masters, studying his disinterested students as they lolled in their seats. 'Starving Bolsheviks fled across Russia with a precious cargo; a jewelled casket fashioned by Karl Fabergé and stolen from Rasputin himself, its contents unknown - and yet the men in the sleigh were willing to die to preserve it. Their flight from Rasputin's secret shrine at St Petersburg was doomed, but before they were brutally murdered in mysterious circumstances, we know that the casket was passed on, to make its way in time to New York.
'In the late 1920s a family of wealthy Franco-Russian emigrants who had escaped to America on the eve of the October revolution sailed on the SS
to Liverpool. The ship's passenger inventory tells us that the jewel-box was in their possession then, listed as inherited family property. But following the tragedy on board their ship...'
The sun had set an hour ago, but the sea was still blacker than the sky.
Alexandrovich Novikov stood watching the churning wake of the ship with his gloved left hand clasping the wooden railing. Powerful turbines throbbed far beneath his feet, and he rode the waves, balancing as the liner crested the rolling swell of the sea. Back in the state room his wife, his brother and his children chattered excitedly about their new life in England, trying to imagine what, for them, was quite unimaginable. They would have new names, he had decided, European names that others would be able to pronounce without difficulty. They were being given a second chance, and this time the family would prosper and grow. There remained but one task for him to accomplish; the removal of the final obstacle to their safety. He reached inside his coat and withdrew the Fabergé casket. The value of the jewelled casing meant nothing to him, for its loss was but a small price to pay for the safe-keeping of his family.
He weighed it in his hand, worried that the rising wind might catch and smash it against the side of the ship. He had drawn back his arm, ready to hurl it into the tumbling foam below, when someone snatched at his coat-tails, spinning him around and causing him to lose balance on the tilting wet deck. Before he could draw breath, the stars filled his vision and he saw the railing pass beneath his legs, then the great black steel side of the ship, as the sound of the monstrous churning propellers pounded up around him.
Sinking into the ocean, Alexandrovich Novikov was dragged under by the great spinning blades and cleft in two, the pieces of his body lost forever in the frothing white foam. On the deck he had left, the unthrown casket slid beneath a stairwell with the rolling of the ship and was retrieved by a passing steward, whereupon the alarm was raised and a frantic search begun for its missing owner.