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Free Short Story: Devil’s Due by Roger Jackson

Happy Halloween! And welcome to the last of our four, free short stories to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Falling into the Five Senses anthology!

Written by the Five Senses anthology authors, Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke, Reena Dobson and Roger Jackson, these short stories focus on the ‘sixth sense’. The sixth sense theme was the brainchild of Roger Jackson (thank you Roger!) and is the result of the ‘five senses’ theme of the anthology’s launch ‘falling’ into the traditionally other-wordly, spooky moods of October!

If you can’t wait, and you’d like to buy the Five Senses anthology right this very minute, you can do so here.

This week’s offering is–very appropriately given the Halloween timing–by the Remarkable Roger Jackson! Enjoy!

*****

Devil’s Due

by Roger Jackson

It’s never the ones you expect.

I’ve had my ability to see the demons inside people for as long as I can remember, and I learned very quickly that the ones that cultural norms might consider the usual suspects – the serial killers, the warmongers, or the kids with the pentagram tattoos and the metal band tunes in their ears – they’re never the ones with an honest to goodness devil lurking behind their eyes.

No, that’d be too easy. The dull spark of possession or hosting is more likely to be found in the eyes of the pure, or the virtuous, or the pious. It’s more fun for the devils that way, I think. A soul is sweeter if one has the power to corrupt it.

I can see it, feel their presence in the hollows of an innocent heart, smell the infernal dust on their breath, like the biomarkers of some insidious tumour. With a horrible gallows humour, I’ve christened my ability my Six-Six-Sixth Sense.

I know what you’re thinking. There’s going to be a twist. I’m going to be crazy, paranoid, a murderer with a delusional motivation. You’re thinking I’ve killed innocent people, used a gun or a blade to slaughter them.

Nope, I’ve never used weapons like that, and your delusion that I’m crazy would be impossible to maintain if you’d seen one of the possessed erupt into flame when I speak the necessary incantations.

I can’t catch them all, of course, like that phone game the kids play. Some of them are on the other side of the world, or are famous and rich, surrounded by bodyguards, but I always know, even from looking at a photograph, always see the beast inside.

No, I can’t take down every demon I see, but sometimes I’ll see a snapshot of a missing person online or in the newspaper and it’ll be there, that hellish light in the eyes, and I’ll know that they’re missing because someone like me has found them.

It would’ve been easy to let my ability isolate me, unmoor me from the world, but no, I’ve been lucky enough to find a good life, to make the good things happen. I married my childhood sweetheart, a wonderful woman who accepts my seemingly casual interest in the occult as a quirky pastime. I have a nice house, which more importantly feels like a home. I have a good job, regional manager of a moderately successful electronics firm. I’m aging well enough, I think, hitting my late-thirties with a good head of hair and a healthy body. I enjoy a decent beer and a roast dinner and novels about the Old West, and every demon in Hell knows my name.

I always wondered if they’d strike back, always wondered why they didn’t. And now … I know why. Now, I know they were waiting.

They used it against me, you see, twisted my ability to see the demons wherever they might appear, be it in the flesh, or on celluloid, or in the flat planes of a photograph.

My wife is smiling, excited, chattering away as she gets dressed. I am silent, trying to hold back a scream as I stare at the printout, stare at the grainy ultrasound image of our unborn child and see a monster.

THE END

*****

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this creepy gem of a story, you can read the other free sixth sense stories below:

Ghost Writer by Maria Carvalho

Josie & the Golden Goose by Cedrix E. Clarke

Light-Hearted by Reena Dobson

Free Short Story: Light-hearted by Reena Dobson

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Falling into the Five Senses anthology, we are very pleased to share four, fabulous, free short stories with you!

Written by the Five Senses anthology authors, Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke, Reena Dobson and Roger Jackson, these short stories focus on the ‘sixth sense’. The sixth sense theme was the brainchild of Roger Jackson (thank you Roger!) and is the result of the ‘five senses’ theme of the anthology’s launch ‘falling’ into the traditionally other-wordly, spooky moods of October!

We’ll be posting one story each week. If you can’t wait, and you’d like to buy the Five Senses anthology right this minute, you can do so here.

Yours truly has the next story up. Enjoy!

*****

Light-hearted

by Reena Dobson

For as long as she could remember, Lilli-Pilli’s mother’s light had never shone bright. It always gleamed faintly, like a star that was too distant to be seen properly.

People would give her mother all sorts of advice: “you’re doing fine”, “you need to eat more”, “you need to eat less”, “you need to exercise more”, “you need to exercise less”, “you shouldn’t worry so much”, “you should make more of an effort” and round and round and round with the endless words her mother had never asked to hear. Lilli-Pilli didn’t understand why they couldn’t see how their own lights would pulse and spray noisily and try to dominate her mother’s light even more. She wanted to yell at them all to go away, but instead she just clung tightly to her mother and glared at the noisy people with all her might.

Her father’s light was long and strong. When he was there, people didn’t try to encroach onto her mother’s light as much. But still, Lilli-Pilli frowned, she didn’t like them. She reached to her father as she hugged her mother protectively.

One day, they travelled to the beach. Lilli-Pilli was glad to see her mother’s light shining serenely on the trip. It glowed stronger, more sure of itself, the crystal light of a star coming into clear focus.

But the same types of people were at the beach too. Too bossy, too loud and too ready to tread on her mother’s light. Were these people everywhere in the world?! Lilli-Pilli huffed as she resettled herself and went with her mother to the ocean’s edge for a late afternoon walk.

The sky was a big endless archway to the whole universe as it faded slowly from blue to gold-soaked apricots and pineapples. Closer to the water, scatterings of clouds danced from grey to pinks and back to grey. Lilli-Pilli’s mother breathed in the sea as though she had never breathed before, and then she exhaled a single, long breath. They walked and walked, feet pressing softly into wet sand. Lilli-Pilli was pleased to see her mother’s light humming happy and strong, bathed in the rosy colours on the horizon. Behind them, the ocean danced busily forwards and backwards to wash footsteps away.

Lilli-Pilli took in the sight of the wide, grey water, shimmering with kisses of light and the air that her mother was breathing in so deeply. This was what her mother’s light needed. If only she could hold onto great, big handfuls of it for when her mother’s light needed it most.

They rounded a gentle curve in the coastline, and Lilli-Pilli saw a figure standing in the ocean a short distance away. The figure was tall and thin, her silver hair was piled messily on top of her head and she was staring out towards the horizon as the sea waltzed around her calves. Her dress was the colour of the lagoon in the middle of a sunny day—somewhere between a delicious aqua-blue and aqua-green. The skirt of her dress was long and it flowed down to the middle of her calves, where it was skimming the water’s surface, as though trying, teasing but not touching the water’s surface. Lilli-Pilli glanced at her mother and saw that she, too, was watching the woman in the water.

As Lilli-Pilli watched, all the edges of the woman’s skirt dipped into the ocean. Immediately, her dress seemed to change colour and it took on the grey shimmering dance of the ocean. As the sky deepened and softened, Lilli-Pilli watched the silhouette of a fish—a small turquoise dolphin—jump from the ocean into the skirt. A lilac tuna leapt from the skirt back to ocean. Another dolphin followed the first into the skirt. A tiny school of blue-hued fish splashed into the ocean and then back into the skirt.

Lilli-Pilli laughed delightedly and she could feel her mother’s amazement and wonder. The woman turned towards them and smiled, and Lilli-Pilli’s mother smiled back.

“Hello,” said the woman, wading back towards the shore. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

She put her hand gently onto Lilli-Pilli’s mother’s arm and walked with her along the water’s edge and spoke to her in soft words. Lilli-Pilli couldn’t hear what was being said, but her mother’s light glowed gently outwards in the dusk.

The woman finished with, “This is for you and your little one.” At her waist, she untied a layer of the skirt, folded it into a neat square and held it outwards. Lilli-Pilli’s mother accepted it reverentially with both her hands. The skirt fabric was dry; it was back to being somewhere between lagoon-blue and sea green but with whispers of dusk-grey, and as Lilli-Pilli studied it, she thought she could see two dolphins swimming in the water of the fabric.

***

Six moons later, Lilli-Pilli felt herself being wrapped into the lagoon fabric. The dolphins swam around her protectively and she heard her mother’s voice. “Hello my darling.” Lilli-Pilli looked up and saw her mother’s light shining rosy and strong, her eyes bright. She cuddled into her mother, glad to be meeting her at last. Exhausted by her journey to become a newborn in the world, she inhaled the ocean breeze and closed her eyes. She let her light swim joyously with her mother’s, and then she slept.

*****

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this gem of a story, you can browse the other free sixth sense short stories below:

Ghost Writer by Maria Carvalho

Josie & the Golden Goose by Cedrix E. Clarke

Devil’s Due by Roger Jackson

Free Short Story: Josie & the Golden Goose by Cedrix E. Clarke

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Falling into the Five Senses anthology, we are very pleased to share four, fabulous, free short stories with you!

Written by the Five Senses anthology authors, Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke, Reena Dobson and Roger Jackson, these short stories focus on the ‘sixth sense’. The sixth sense theme was the brainchild of Roger Jackson (thank you Roger!) and is the result of the ‘five senses’ theme of the anthology’s launch ‘falling’ into the traditionally other-wordly, spooky moods of October!

We’ll be posting one story each week. If you can’t wait, and you’d like to buy the Five Senses anthology right this minute, you can do so here.

The next story up is by the Superb Cedrix E. Clarke! Enjoy!

*****

Josie & the Golden Goose

by Cedrix E. Clarke

Ed Dickel never wanted to be a writer, but one Saturday morning, he woke early, and before he could finish his first cup of coffee, he had an urge to put down on paper an idea he’d had in the night. He turned on his laptop and began typing at an unforgiveable speed, words coming as if being thrown about in a hurricane, and he didn’t stop until he was done. Twenty-eight hours straight. No food. No water. No sleep. Sixty thousand words. When he typed The End, he celebrated by finishing his cup of coffee from the day before and sleeping twelve hours. The next morning, he printed the novel with the title Josie & the Golden Goose in 28-font all-caps across the top of the page, and he wondered what he should do with it. He knew next to nothing about the book industry but understood he’d have an easier time passing through the eye of a needle than publishing a novel. So, he placed it on the corner of his desk and planned when he got home from work that evening to research where to send an unpublished novel.

But Ed never did the research, partly because of his disbelief that he could be so lucky, but mostly from being spooked by the unnatural process in how the words made it to the page. He didn’t write them. It was as if he were possessed and the only way to exorcise the demon from him was to pound the words out at the keyboard. He didn’t want anything to do with the novel. So, it migrated from the corner of his desk into the bottom drawer.

Three years later, he saw the cover of a hardback in an airport bookstore that reminded him of what he’d imagined the cover of his novel might be. A golden egg with a crack starting at the top on a black background, with Josie written above the egg, and & the Golden Goose below the egg, all in neon green lettering.

When he picked up the hardback, hefted it in his hands, he thought about the storm of words that had washed over him that crazy night, but not once did he believe any of those words would be in the book. The title and the cover were a mere coincidence. But Ed still bought the book.

The plane was almost to Vegas, somewhere over the desolation of Arizona before he cracked it open. He read the first ten pages in a rush, beads of sweat gathering across his brow like birds on a fence ready to take flight. These were his words, and he felt sick about it.

The author photo showed a beady-eyed man with a mustache and a grin that made Ed feel uncomfortable. His name was Tony Cooper, but the bio said his friends called him Coop, and that Coop, a native of Los Angeles, now resided in the mountains of Colorado. This was his first novel.

Ed had never been to LA or Colorado, and he doubted Coop had come to Lexington for a novel buried in the bottom of his desk drawer. But he wondered if Coop had hacked Ed’s laptop. It seemed unlikely.

Ed ordered a second and third martini from the flight attendant, and he considered a lawsuit.

But by the time the plane landed in Vegas, Ed had calmed down, and once he was at the Mirage, up by two grand, he’d put all his concern aside. And when he got back to Lexington, twenty thousand dollars on the plus side, he again forgot about the novel.

Six months later, Ed woke up on a Tuesday with an idea, called in sick, and began typing like a madman. The words flowed like the Mississippi, and he had a new novel in thirty-six hours called The Ball Breaker. He left this novel on the kitchen counter before he fell asleep on the couch.

When he woke on Thursday afternoon, eighteen hours had passed, and Ed went in search for his version of Josie & the Golden Goose. He found it still tucked away in the bottom of the desk drawer. His book and Coop’s were the same. Word for word.

Coop hadn’t broken into Ed’s apartment, and Ed didn’t believe Coop had hacked his laptop. It was too random and improbable.

Ed thought about how he’d written the first novel and now the second, and it seemed aberrant, as if he were conduit for the story, but not the writer. The stories weren’t really his ideas, were they? Yes, he had typed them from an idea that occurred to him in the night, but what if the same idea had occurred to Coop a thousand miles away? Ed had written the first novel in twenty-eight-hours. Had Coop? Or was Josie & the Golden Goose a nine-month labor of love for him? Who had finished it first?

Ed rationalized that Coop won the race to publication, only because Ed was afraid of his novel. But that wasn’t going to happen with The Ball Breaker. He’d do the research he hadn’t done before.

In three months, Ed had an agent, and in nine months, a publisher. The Ball Breaker was in hardback in eighteen months, and after six months of good reviews, the novel eased into all the best sellers’ lists.

The entire time, Ed kept looking over his shoulder, as if he expected Coop to jump him, but Coop was a no show. Ed decided the first novel was a fluke. An accident. And the second novel was all his.

But when The Ball Breaker hit number one, Ed’s agent prodded him about a new novel, and Ed tried to find a story, but he wasn’t a writer. He flailed about and deleted every word he wrote. He lied to his agent, of course.
He’d almost given up, but the heavens opened, and he wrote a hundred-and-fifty-thousand-word magnum opus called A Miscarriage of Justice in seventy-three hours. It was as if he were taking dictation from the writing gods. This time, he emailed the novel to his agent before passing out.

When he woke thirty-six hours later, Ed had three voicemails and ten texts from his agent, which had a common theme: You’re an effing genius! The reviews twelve months later expressed similar sentiments, and there was discussion of a movie. Ed bought a little cottage in the rolling country outside of Lexington and met a nice girl from Cincinnati.

Ed had forgotten Coop, and somewhat believed the accolades about himself, even though he still did not consider himself a writer. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. He didn’t have to work for his words. He waited for inspiration, and he knew it would come.

But it didn’t. Three years passed, and his agent and publisher had stopped sending him emails demanding a new novel. His girlfriend left him for a dental hygienist. The sales of A Miscarriage of Justice wilted, and all the world had started the process of forgetting about Ed Dickel.

He couldn’t stand it any longer.

When Ed knocked on Tony Cooper’s cabin door, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Had Coop read The Ball Breaker and A Miscarriage of Justice? Would he even know who Ed was? He’d flown six hours to Denver, rented a car, and drove into the mountains to ask Coop one simple question.

The Coop that answered the door was half the man in the author photo of Josie & the Golden Goose. He looked like he’d aged twenty years and shriveled into himself. He recognized Ed though. “You!” he said.

Ed held his hand out, and Coop stared at it as if the offer of a handshake was a binding contract, but he finally took it and shook. Ed announced his name, and Coop rolled his eyes to the back of his head.

“I know who you are,” he said. “But why are you here?” Before Ed could answer, Coop took a step back and said, “Come on in.”

Ed followed him into the house, and when the door shut behind him, it was all Ed could do to keep himself from shouting his question. But he knew he’d better creep up on it.

They sat across from one another at the kitchen table, Ed with his arms folded across his chest, and Coop refusing to make eye contact.

“I loved Josie & the Golden Goose,” Ed finally said. He didn’t add before you stole it, but he thought it.

Coop arched his eyebrows. “You liked it? But of course, you did. And I liked The Ball Breaker and A Miscarriage of Justice. Fine books. Really, really fine.” As if I had written them myself, Ed heard Coop say in his mind, but Coop hadn’t really said the words.

The discomfort grew, and neither seemed to want to broach the subject of why Ed was here, but after five minutes of both staring away from the other, Ed asked his question. “Why’d you stop writing?”

Coop sat up straight and seemed ready to jump across the table and choke Ed, but he held firm. “You want to know why I stopped writing?” he asked. But Ed already knew what Coop was going to say. He could read it in his eyes, and Ed felt sorry for him. “Because if I had written another novel, you would have stolen it.”

Ed had his denial ready. “I never,” he said.

You never?” Coop said in disbelief. “Two years, I worked on The Ball Breaker, and I was almost done when I read a review in the LA Times about a book that had my working title and a similar story line. But it couldn’t be. I drove into town, found it at the Barnes & Noble, and I read the first five pages in my car and cried. Big, fat, ugly tears. I felt sick. Your writing was better than mine even. I rationalized that it was a coincidence, because you must have finished your novel before I’d written the first chapter. What did it take? Two years from finishing to have it published?”

Ed nodded.

“But then, I’m not even halfway finished with Miscarriage of Justice when I see an announcement on Amazon that your new novel had a publication date, and when I read the summary, I knew it was my novel. Mine! The one I hadn’t finished. How did you do it? What’s your process for writing?”

Tapping his fingers on the table, Ed felt the truth weighing down on him like a thousand hammers. “I don’t steal your words,” he said, “and I know that because I am finished writing before you even start. How could I be a thief of something not even created yet?”

Coop shook his head.

“But,” Ed continued, “how I write is terribly wrong.” He explained his process, and Coop’s eyes narrowed. When he started to accuse Ed of being a thief, Ed held his hands up to stop him. “I told you, I didn’t steal your words,” he whispered.

“But you stopped writing when I did.”

“So, what?” Ed said.

“Don’t you see. I’m necessary to your process. If I’m not having ideas and writing opening lines, you’re impotent. You can’t get it up. I’ve castrated you, and that makes me happy!”

Ed saw that some brightness had returned to Coop’s eyes, and he was fine with his pain giving Coop some pleasure. He was prepared to walk away from this writing career that had brought him fifteen minutes of fame.

But he had another idea, and Coop agreed, not even reluctantly. Ed told Coop he’d see him soon and left the house for Denver. It took three days for Ed to find inspiration, and he opened the new laptop and he almost couldn’t type fast enough, but in twenty-one hours, he had a ninety-thousand-page novel called Josie & the Ink Well.

He didn’t take it to Coop’s cabin as he had promised. He was too tired, so he emailed it, and told Coop to give him a week to get back to Lexington. He shut off the computer and fell asleep.

When he woke the next day, Coop had sent an email saying that the novel was brilliant, of course, and that he’d already emailed it to his agent. He finished the email by saying that he had some ideas percolating in his mind for Ed’s next novel but would wait until Ed had told him he was ready. The last line was a question: “What do you think: One novel a year for each of us? Or two?”

*****

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this gem of a story, you can browse the other free sixth sense short stories below:

Ghost Writer by Maria Carvalho

Light-hearted by Reena Dobson

Devil’s Due by Roger Jackson

Free Short Story: Ghost Writer by Maria Carvalho

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Falling into the Five Senses anthology, we are very pleased to share four, fabulous, free short stories with you.

Written by the Five Senses anthology authors, Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke, Reena Dobson and Roger Jackson, these short stories focus on the ‘sixth sense’. The sixth sense theme was the brainchild of Roger Jackson (thank you Roger!) and is the result of the ‘five senses’ theme of the anthology’s launch ‘falling’ into the traditionally other-wordly, spooky moods of October!

We’ll be posting one story each week. If you can’t wait, and you’d like to buy the Five Senses anthology right this minute, you can do so here.

First up, the Marvellous Maria Carvalho! Enjoy!

*****

Ghost Writer

By Maria Carvalho

Lydia grinned as she hung her clothes in the expansive walk-in closet. She still couldn’t believe her luck in finding this place: a converted third-floor apartment in a gorgeous Victorian home with a surprisingly affordable rent. She adored everything about it, from the sloping ceilings to the huge bay window overlooking the park across the street. For the first time in what seemed like eons, her heart felt light.

Earlier in the year, she had excitedly moved in with her boyfriend, confident he was The One. But she’d come home unexpectedly early from work one day to discover that her would-be Mr. Right was, in fact, Mr. Cheating Bastard. Devastated, she’d been crashing at her best friend Mary’s tiny condo until she had found her fabulous new apartment. The spacious surroundings felt like a palace by comparison.

As Lydia stood on her tip-toes trying to stuff a long metal box of mementos into one of the closet’s high built-in shelves, it fell forward, bonking her in the forehead. Cursing, she gave it a mighty shove back onto the shelf and then heard a crunch as the box flew from her grip.

“Shit!” she yelled, her voice reverberating off the walls. Taking a step back, she was horrified to discover a sizeable hole in the wall behind the shelf; the box must have punched right through it and fallen behind. Great. She wasn’t even fully unpacked yet and she’d already damaged the place! She could probably kiss her deposit goodbye.

Muttering to herself about what an idiot she was, Lydia grabbed a wooden stool from the kitchenette and carried it into the closet. Climbing atop the stool, she leaned forward and peered through the ragged gash in the wallboard. The outline of the memento box was barely visible a short distance below.

There was no way she was sticking her hands in there without first checking for spiders and other hideous creatures, so she scrambled off the stool to retrieve a small flashlight from her bedroom nightstand. Back atop her perch, she shone the beam down into the alcove, revealing faded flowery wallpaper that must have dated back to the original house. There were no signs of creepy-crawlies, but through the dust swirling in the flashlight beam, she saw that the rogue box was resting on top of something larger. She angled the beam further down, illuminating rows of white keys set in a dark metal base that glinted in the light. A typewriter, Lydia realized.

Reaching in through the torn wall with her right arm, she grabbed hold of the box and pulled it out, then set it down on the closet floor. She wanted to get a proper look at the typewriter, but it was too big to fit through the hole she’d inadvertently made. “Ah, to hell with it,” she said, ripping at the edges of the flimsy wallboard until the opening looked big enough. Clenching the flashlight between her teeth, she reached both arms through the hole and grasped the typewriter’s sides, the metal cool to her touch. It was heavier than she had expected. She awkwardly heaved the device up and navigated it through the space and onto the shelf. Holding it tightly, she slowly eased herself off the stool and carried her discovery into the living room, where she plunked it down on a table in front of the bay window to examine it.

At the top of the black frame, large gold letters that spelled out Remington gleamed in the afternoon light. A bulky roller sat atop a raised platform connected by four legs to the base, which held the keyboard. Long metal rods were visible behind the keys. This was clearly an antique—much larger and more complex than her mother’s compact electric typewriter, which Lydia had played with as a child.

Curious as to whether it still worked, Lydia grabbed a sheet of paper from her printer and pulled a chair over to the table. After some maneuvering, she managed to wind it into the creaky roller. She raised her hands to the keyboard, intending to type a few random words, but—shockingly—her fingers began flying over the keys on their own. What the hell? She yanked her hands away, then gasped as she saw what she had typed:

HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP M

Lydia’s skin turned to gooseflesh as she stared at the words—words she hadn’t intended to type at all. How in the world could that have happened? It was as if her fingers had been moving of their own accord, without her control. But if she wasn’t responsible, who was? She couldn’t seriously think that someone else was behind those words, could she? Someone who was asking for her help? The idea was ludicrous. And yet…

Fear sent her heart into overdrive. Whatever was going on, she should just leave it alone.

But in spite of her uneasiness, she was intensely curious. She wanted to know more. And anyway, it was only a typewriter. If she got too creeped out, she would simply walk away.

She tentatively put her hands back to the keyboard, waiting, but this time her fingers remained still. Feeling rather foolish, she typed:

Who are you?

Lydia kept her fingers resting lightly atop the white keys, her pulse pounding in her ears. A moment later, she found herself typing:

MARGO. I THINK I

The typing stopped. Lydia held her breath. Then she watched herself type:

DIED

Chills rippled along Lydia’s scalp. Oh god. Was this really happening? Could…could she actually be talking to a dead person? Her stomach clenched in fright, and part of her wanted to end the bizarre communication right then and there. But it was so utterly intriguing. Who was this Margo? Was she truly some kind of ghost? She had to find out.

Her hands trembling but back under her control, Lydia typed:

What happened to you?

Without her guidance, Lydia’s fingers again began to move rapidly, and the response appeared:

I GOT TERRIBLY SICK RIGHT AFTER MY SIXTEENTH BIRTHDAY. I REMEMBER THE DOCTOR SAYING SCARLET FEVER AND MY PARENTS CRYING. THEN EVERYTHING WAS GONE AND I WAS HERE BUT NOT HERE FOR SO LONG. I JUST WANT TO BE FREE. PLEASE HELP ME.

As she tried to process the words, Lydia wondered whether all of this could be an elaborate trick. Maybe someone was recording the whole thing so they could post it on YouTube, hoping their prank would go viral. But something deep down made her believe that what was happening was no joke, and her heart went out to Margo.

After taking a few long breaths to steady herself, Lydia typed:

How can I help?

Margo’s answer flowed quickly through Lydia’s fingertips:

I LOVED TO WRITE STORIES. RIGHT BEFORE I GOT SICK I HAD THE MOST AMAZING IDEA FOR A BOOK AND I WAS SO EXCITED TO WRITE IT BUT I NEVER GOT THE CHANCE. I HAVE BEEN THINKING ABOUT IT ALL THIS TIME. I WROTE IT IN MY MIND AND I KNOW EVERY WORD BY HEART. IF YOU HELP ME TYPE IT MAYBE I CAN FINALLY MOVE ON.

Lydia’s eyes brimmed with tears. Poor Margo. It didn’t seem like all that much to ask. Without hesitating, she replied:

Of course.

She grabbed a sheaf of printer paper and settled back into the chair. As soon as she’d rolled a new sheet into the typewriter, her fingers began dancing across the keys with astonishing speed. Margo hadn’t been kidding about memorizing every word of her story. In no time flat, Lydia had reached the bottom of the first page and was replacing it with another. She wanted to read it as she typed, but it was too difficult at such a fast pace. She’d just have to wait until it was finished.

The rest of the afternoon passed that way, the stack of filled pages growing larger and larger. Lydia’s arms and hands ached from the exertion, and she longed to take a break, but she kept on going. She hoped that once Margo finished her story, her soul would be freed from its limbo, allowing her to be at peace.

Finally, the words “THE END” appeared on the page, and Lydia let out a sigh of relief. Then she found herself typing a few more words:

THANK YOU. I AM SORRY.

Sorry? Lydia thought in confusion.

***

Margo stood up and stretched, savoring the feeling with delight. To have form again! To see, and hear, and breathe! It had been unbearably long since she’d experienced such joys, and every sensation was pure magic. Getting another chance at life was a miracle, and she wasn’t going to waste a single moment of it. She would make up for everything she’d been so unfairly robbed of, including the chance to get her novel published. Perhaps she would even become famous! The possibilities were all so delicious.

Her giddiness, however, was tempered by her guilt, which she angrily tried to push away. She hadn’t planned for this to happen, hadn’t known that the connection she had somehow forged with Lydia through the typewriter would keep intensifying as Lydia typed. Margo had felt herself—her soul, her essence, whatever it was that had been trapped for so many years—gaining strength as she guided Lydia’s fingers across the keyboard, and when the final page was finished, she’d realized what she had to do. Using Lydia’s hands as a conduit, Margo had pushed herself into Lydia’s body. Lydia had been forced out; her body unable to contain two souls at once.

Now, Margo knew, Lydia was a captive in the nowhere place that Margo had been stuck in for so long. And just like Margo, Lydia would have no way to communicate—except, quite possibly, through the typewriter that connected them.

Opening one of the side windows, Margo reverently breathed in the cool evening air for a few moments before pulling out the screen. She wavered briefly, then heaved the typewriter out through the window and watched it smash into pieces on the sidewalk below.

*****

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this gem of a story, you can browse the other free sixth sense short stories below:

Josie & the Golden Goose by Cedrix E. Clarke

Light-hearted by Reena Dobson

Devil’s Due by Roger Jackson

The Story Behind My Fave 5Senses Story

It’s subjective, I know. But my most favourite of all my five stories in the Falling into the Five Senses anthology is ‘The Diamond Taster’.

It is, obviously, my story about taste, or rather, the sense of taste. Originally, I was stumbling my way something very different. A much more orthodox story that I can’t even really remember any more. I know it was going to feature my favourite spice cardamom in some way – and I know this because I couldn’t find my jar of cardamom and had to buy another one.

In the end, the new jar of cardamom wasn’t needed for my ‘taste’ story. Because I picked my copy of Neil Gaiman’s View from the Cheap Seats. It is a collection of his non-fiction writings – his introductions, prefaces, reflections, papers presented, thank you speeches and anecdotes – about other authors, about comic books, interviews, writing and other things. I dip into this book frequently. Pick it up, pick up a random page and read. It will always be interesting.

For my ‘taste’ story, it also proved to be inspiring. Again, I can’t remember exactly what I read in View from the Cheap Seats. I honestly don’t think it was anything in particular. I think I was just inspired by the vibe – by how effortlessly and magically Gaiman seems to wield words. I was inspired to turn my back on a plodding idea and to find something magical, bold, different.

I started with the words which are still near the start The Diamond Taster.

Facts, rumours and outright fictions followed Mr Glass like the magnificent tails of sparks and lights attached to the giant clockwork peacocks in Hyde Park – bright, fast and ever-changing.

It was said that he travelled to London on the airship, Regine Roua, (first-class, of course) from Prague (via Berlin and Paris); that he travelled light, with only one carpet bag with a design of tessellated geometric flowers in black and white; that he spoke the languages of the countries he was in; that he carried a cane which held a compass; and that he wore a traveller’s cape the colour of dried blood. These can be accepted as essentially factual statements.

There were other, more colourful reports about his immediate actions upon arrival. He traversed London via an unauthorised single-person gyro-copter. He dined on bowlfuls of eels and artichokes and drank only Astigone’s Absinthe Elixirs. He booked out the entire top floor of Abbess Ermentrude’s Turquoise Salon for days at a time. He garrotted numerous (the number kept increasing) nameless persons in back alleys. These reports remained unconfirmed.

I had no idea what the story was going to be about, or where the story would go. Even my style is different – flippant. It had to be flippant in tone otherwise it would slide into earnestness and that would kill any progress right there.

I don’t know why, but I started slipping in hints of steampunk. A little sliver of magic glowed beneath my fingertips. Grab the magic (but do it flippantly). Did I know much about anything steampunky? Nope. But it felt right. Keep going. I gave Mr Glass, Diamond Taster, hints of a most wonderful back story, that I want to come back to and explore more one day.

I built a moment in time in a story, in a flippant-unlike-me style I loved. Now I just needed to turn it into a story.

I struggled.

I couldn’t just describe the scenes in the moment in the story. I needed something like a climax. Or an ending. I re-wrote the beginning. Several times. I chucked it aside. This was a fun side-writing inspiration-diven thing, and I really liked it, but it wasn’t a story. I re-dipped into View from the Cheap Seats. Again, whatever piece I landed on convinced me to keep going. Magic. Find magic. Make Magic. It wasn’t going anywhere on the screen. I started scribbling on paper. Did I need to include a snippet of his childhood? Ye-es. Did I want to? Ye-es. Was it necessary to building a full story. I don’t know. Did it go at the beginning? I. Don’t. Know. Did it need someone else? Ye-es. Where and when should they come into the story? Dunno. Ooh, I liked this new character. Keep it, but where? And how? Did I need to start with their backstory? OMG, I DON’T KNOW I DON’T KNOW I DON’T KNOW.

I persevered.

I remember when I hit the thing that made the story become a story with an ending. I was in the kitchen perched on the edge of a chair, scribbling on a hard copy on my knees. (No sitting formally at the screen. That would kill the flippancy). I remember how I punched the air with a delighted grin.

I had my ending. I could now re-work the beginning and slip in the bits and moments to get my ending just right. I knew which backstory bits to keep and which ones couldn’t stay. I slipped into attempts at pretty descriptions of the backdrop.

In many ways, the story is the start of a story. But I love that about it too.

It is the one story I will unashamedly say I’m very proud of (modesty be damned!). It started and stayed so far away from my usual way of writing that it could so easily have been left to wither far from home. Instead, I found magic in it!

If you want to read it – and all the other awesome stories in the anthology – you can grab it here.

Uncovering the 5Senses Cover

This is the story behind the Falling into the Five Senses cover. I will unashamedly say that I made this cover, and that I love it and I’m very proud of it.

Falling into the Five Senses jpeg cover_final2

When I very first had the idea for the #5Senses project, I knew I also wanted to do the cover for it. I have … let’s call them aspirations towards doing visual-arty things. And doing the cover sounded fun and absolutely in line with what a DIY collaborative writing project should be about. But, by the time the writing part of the project was being wrapped up, the shoestring budget made a DIY cover a necessity.

The prospect of doing the cover suddenly became a whole lot more daunting. Especially as I began researching DIY cover-makers and advice on eye-catching cover designs. The recurring advice was invariably ‘if you can afford it, do not DIY your cover. Get a professional cover designer’. I have seen some fabulously-wonky and amateurish designs. I knew what the dangers were – including the giant danger of me being an utter beginner at photoshop.

Here is my (long) timeline of steps towards the final cover:

I know I want to have a face on the cover. A face represents the 5Senses more obviously and more eloquently than anything else I can think of. So, a face – and a hand for touch, obviously – are core elements of the design. I visualise a photo collage assembled from different people’s features. Although… there are potentially-messy copyright issues tied up in using other people’s images. Aren’t there? I assume ‘yes’ and sensibly stay well away from that minefield.

Ooooh, it occurs to me that maybe I could use the 5Senses’ collaborators’ faces? But most of the 5Senses collaborators are a bit shy – or very sensible – about sending in photos of themselves to be butchered by a photoshop amateur.

Hmmm, I think to myself (because my visual-arty interests extend to drawing), maybe I should try drawing a face that I then turn into a jagged-edge, photo collagey effect. I have a go… The result?

face2 v3

Yeah, no, try again. Really, really try again. (Actually, the main thing I like about this is how I drew the hand. The hand is pretty good.)

I turn to a lovely cousin of mine, who works in the digital art and photography space. She very generously agrees to help. She does a photoshoot with a friend of hers, Francesca Verga, and then begins composing the cover in photoshop using my vague, not-yet-thought-out guidelines as her only guide. When it becomes clear that I don’t quite know what I want or how I want it to look, she is not the least bit annoyed and gently says she can’t afford to put more time aside on the project and instead offers to send me all the raw photoshop files, including the individual .psd layers, and all the raw photos from the photoshoot just in case I can use them. No, she laughs, she doesn’t want any credit. I abide grudgingly by her no-credit wishes, but I give her all the credit in the world in my Acknowledgements at the end of the book.

So now I have a huge collection of raw photos. And although I still can’t photoshop, I can use PaintShopPro (PSP) without ripping my hair out of my scalp. Now, excrutiatingly slowly, I start to make progress. I find a couple of images that I run filters and effects over until the photos finally, vaguely, begin to resemble the vague idea I have in mind’s eye.

How to compile and layer them? There are ways to do this in PSP, but I’m not an expert. I have no idea if I’m even working with a doc that’s close to the correct size/resolution. I’m playing it safe and using a very large doc, so that the resolution will be high when compressed, but still. I know there are things called cover creators.

Again, more online research. Buy this program, download that, pirouette eleventeen times at dawn while only facing the north, and other awkward options are on offer. Gah. Then I return to canva.com. Apologies for sounding like an ad, but it is a very easy platform to use. Free to sign up, get started, user-friendly and instant results. I start with some of their free book cover templates, just playing with ideas, fonts and colours. The layering bit, which is such a headache in PSP is easy in Canva. I use their templates, footle around with fonts, and play with the positioning of images and backgrounds.

On my second attempt, I get my first prototype of the lady’s-half-face-plus-hand-superimposed-on-water cover. I knock it out in 15 minutes one morning before my Little One has woken up and before I have to get ready for work. My first thought is: ‘it looks professional!‘ It honestly looks like something you might see on a bookshop shelf. This is my first moment of confirmation in the whole cover-attempt process. This hasn’t been a completely nutty idea. I do have an idea and I’m starting to get there and the cover will look professional(-ish).

early cover draft 5senses antho

Then, I over-think the female-half-face-plus-hand on the whole cover approach on the basis it seems like a popular idea that is already well-used. I play around with a polaroid idea. I use Canva to add a couple of extra interesting layers to the face in the polaroid. Then I try arranging several polaroids of varying degrees of transparency into a ‘Falling’ pattern. At this point, I’m hopping between PaintShopPro and Canva and am hoping I’m saving all the different layers and steps separately as I go – it’s a bit hard to keep track.

5senses_polaroid eg

5senses_falling polaroid eg

Then, I over-think using the stock Canva water background of the prototype cover. I don’t own the image of the water. What are the copyright and ownership issues in using a Canva-provided piece of art, especially for use in a piece of work which is commercial/ for-profit? The internet hums and haws and is doubtful. I decide not to risk it. I have my own water and ocean photos, taken with my good camera (i.e., not my camera phone). I decide I will scour through these photos. But… it transpires in a fit of organisational neatness, I removed the photos from my camera’s memory and put them all on my external hard drive. The same external hard drive that has been so carefully packed away since we moved, that I don’t actually know where it is (aaaaarrrgh)!

I set my jaw metaphorically. Very well then. I will make my background. Create one. From scratch. Again, hello, PaintShopPro, my old friend. I try various paintbrush settings. I find one that seems to work. I use the midnight blue colours I’m regularly drawn to. I come up with a slow graduation of midnight blue. I step back to look at the overall effect. There are suggestions of misty canyons near dusk blended in with night skies. Or they could be ideas of ocean songs at night. A few tiny – and lucky – lines of moonlight blue look as though I put them there on purpose.

background blue v1

I layer my face images against this background. Yes, this could work… But the background is a bit too… subdued.

I play with the hue settings. I can’t remember what combination of hue settings I use, but after several attempts (at least twelve attempts, going by various shades I saved), the midnight blue shades transform into the most beautiful, most perfect lagoon-esque shades of aqua, blue and teal. Cue the chorus of angel songs. Save it! Save it! Save it! It doesn’t seem to be a hugely popular colour in the vast stable of book cover colours. And it’s a perfect lagoon and ocean colours to complement the ‘Falling’ title! Plus, you know, I’m an island girl who grew up with lagoons. Background achieved!

background blue v5

Next, I paralyse myself trying to decide which face design option to go with. I’m drawn more towards the larger, half-face-with-hand. But the falling polaroid is more full, it’s more clearly suggestive of the 5Senses and the ‘Falling’. And I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get the falling polaroids to fall just right.

Maria Carvalho, co-collaborator, co-contributor, co-editor, and the primary reason the anthology got finished, does an informal market survey amongst her network. She even switches the images around mid-survey to account for ‘first image bias’ (oh yes, dear reader, I learnt a big lesson there too!). The end result is too close to call. They are both well-received. I follow suit in my network, and again, the feedback is too close to call.

I end my prevaricating and go with the polaroid cover.Fit5S_polaroid cover design1
My head says firmly it’s the best one. Decision done.

Some two weeks before the ebook goes live, I change my mind and I go with my heart. As you do. Decision again. This time, the correct one.

Falling into the Five Senses jpeg cover_final2

And this is the full, long story behind my antho book cover! 

Oh. Obligatory plug on where you can buy the book – you know, if the cover actually makes you curious about the stories inside 😉

Falling into the Five Senses

Falling into the Five Senses jpeg cover_final2

This was the marketing tagline we went with:
Five stories each.
Four authors.
Three continents.
Two editors.
One anthology.

But there were other variations too, which worked just as well:
Five senses
Four authors
Three years
Two editors
One antho

Yes. This collaborative anthology project was three years in the making. Three whole years. Probably a bit longer, to be honest. That’s the same length of time it takes to write a doctoral thesis (apparently).

It took two years to write our stories, beta-read and work and re-work edits, and then the project lay fallow for many moons, while a certain project initiator went off to have a baby and change states and jobs and generally get all distracted. Then, after a few frantic weeks of pushing all the various elements around to get them to fall into place, the anthology launched into the world as an ebook on 31 October 2019 and as a print book on 25 November 2019.

I’ll blog some reflections about the many behind-the-scenes processes of self-publishing the anthology. A sort of Lessons Learnt mixed in with Remembering the Magic along the way.

And if you want to, feel free to grab a copy of the anthology on the way through 🙂