I asked my three scary guests about their own favourite fictional creations and left you last week with an excerpt from Su's preferred story, The Substitute - one of the stories in her outstanding Hellbound anthology. I've kept you waiting a week for the other two, but I hope you'll agree it was worth it.
Jenny (Mrs Go-with-the-flow) is inclined to change her mind about her personal favourite according to what she's working on, which is no bad thing because it shows her total enthusiasm for her work. But she does admit to being a little bit proud of The Man with no Face, the first story in the new Bedtime Shadows anthology. This meets the format of the ideal horror story, starting off quite gently but with a certain intrigue and building up to a powerful crescendo and shock-ending. "I tried to do the literary equivalent of the end of the film Carrie, when the hand comes shooting up out of the grave," Jenny says.
Well, we're not going to reveal the ending, but here is the beginning and I'm delighted to share it because it's one of my favourites too.
The Man with no Face
I read somewhere that most people have no memory before the age of five and that very few indeed can remember anything before the age of two. It's not that babies can't think. It's that they haven't learnt how to save their thoughts as memories.
But I have a memory much earlier than that.
I am sitting in my pram. I know I am in a pram because the hood is up and the view in front of me is framed by the edge of the hood. I can see this very clearly. It has a trim of elasticated material, black with a white pattern. The pattern may be writing. I can't tell because I am too young to read. Through the hood, in front of me, is a garden, bounded by a high brick wall. The wall is covered in a riot of red flowers. I know now the plant is Japonica but in the memory I have no words for anything. In the middle of the garden there are two people locked in a clumsy embrace. Either they are standing very still or the memory is a still picture – a snapshot in time.
I can see the woman very clearly. She is wearing a white cotton frock with a pattern of tiny blue flowers. Her face is turned towards me and it bears an expression of anguish. I think she is my mother.
But I can't see the man clearly at all. I'm not even sure it is a man. But I think it is. He is a shadowy figure, one hand gripping my mother, if she is my mother, the other held over his head. He is holding something aloft, something long and thin – a stick perhaps. I can't see it clearly at all. Everything about the man is out of focus.
I have always believed that if I could just see his face, if I could identify him, I would understand everything.
Now how can you not want to read on after that?
Join me on Monday for Tara's excerpt. I was so thrilled with her choice because it's my personal favourite of all Tara's stories in the wonderful Bedtime Shadows.