During our scary night in, I probed my three talented guests (Jenny Twist, Su Halfwerk and Tara Fox Hall) about the writers who had inspired their own imaginations. As you can guess, Stephen King's name (actually, I'm beginning to wonder if, as far as the horror genre is concerned, that shouldn't be King Stephen) cropped up more than twice. Jenny considers his book On Writing to be the Bible of any aspiring horror writer, though she also acknowledges one of my favourite writers, Ray Bradbury for her inspiration along with James Herbert, Stephen Laws and John Wyndham (you know, The Triffids guy).
Of course being an avid reader of these three luminaries here present, I know which stories of theirs I like best, but I was particularly interested to hear which of their stories they rated as their own favourites, and after a couple of glasses of wine (well it was a very hard task requiring a lot of internal - and also a fair bit of external - debate), I persuaded them to tell me.
Su chose The Substitute one of the three stories in the really excellent anthology: Hellbound. She didn't need to elaborate on her reasons - You'll see yourself from the excerpt below. A word of warning: don't read it just before bedtime!
Tara told us: "I favor my Latham’s Landing stories above my other works, probably because the story All That Remains was my very first short horror work years ago." Aww! Pull on the heartstrings, why don't you, Tara? We'll judge for ourselves when we read the excerpt I wrenched from her at great personal cost very soon (hint: she's right of course - when isn't she?).
I'm going to post all three wonderful excerpts during the next week, but am starting with Su's today, so, once again, are you sitting quite comfortably? Then we'll let Su begin:
Stan’s mind churned, working rapidly to come up with a proper response, but the bloody thing froze, unable to produce a single plausible excuse. This wasn't helping his business; it would ruin him. Half of his clientèle came to him through word of mouth.
Then it happened. That damned switch turned inside of him and his lips moved against his will. A raspy ancient voice croaked out of his throat, “Ha! Jas, the macho man. Jas, the bad boy in leather. Jas, the wife beater! Wife killer!”
Jason’s face paled; his lips trembled. Stan couldn't blame him.
“I didn't mean to push you down the stairs,” Jason babbled. “You just fell.”
The thing on the floor snapped her head to the right and then left, making popping sounds in the process. “I always fall. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Clumsy meeee.”
Jason hiccuped a cry and went on his knees in front of the desk. “Please say that you forgive me. I want to hear it one more time. I've cheated on you, beaten you up, and you took it all. Now I see that my ways were wrong, that my unjust actions have damned me for eternity.”
Stan’s mouth moved in an age-old cackle. “You think I minded that you stuck your ding-a-ling in any hole you found? It was a blessing, it meant I was spared the degradation of screwing you. Even the beating was fine. But the killing? No!”
“Remember when I tried to walk out and you cut off my pinky? What a klutz I've been, chopping off my own finger while cutting onion. That’s what I had to say to that chauvinist arrogant doctor.”
“A-a-all I want is your forgiveness.” Sniff. “If I could take it all back, I would.”
“You can. First, dig out my body from our basement and clear my name in front of our kids. I didn't run off with the gardener. Second, take out your .22 and shoot yourself in the groin. Finally, lay down on the ground and enjoy the pain until you die.” She snapped her head around again. “I might forgive you then, but I’ll also be waiting for you.” She flashed those teeth again, her smile no different from her grimace.
Jason fell on the ground, face down, weeping and slapping his hand on the wooden floor.
Stan watched his client and his dead wife in horror. A maggot travelled through one of Patricia’s cheeks to an eye, and she chose that perfect moment to wink at Stan. He almost threw up.