The fabulous Fantastic Books publishers chose Halloween as the launch date of their latest anthology: a collection of 32 horror stories, all of which are exactly 666 words long. It was quite a challenge to write and must have been even more of a challenge to edit! My story is called 'The Number of the Beast', and to get you in the mood, I'm giving you a taster...
The Number of the Beast
We all have a number. Me? I’m one in a hundred, according to psychologists. Those who are born like me have a capacity for extreme violence without conscience. Of course, you can’t tell who I am just by looking at me. I walk unnoticed among all the other statistics: the seven in 100,000 who will suffer a brain tumour, the eight people who will drown in a garden pond this year.
Who shall I be for you? The Grim Reaper, Kali, the Devil? I like to think I’m just a person doing what I was born to do. I know my purpose; there’s not many who can say that. I like to think that I do my job well.
These Auckland summers are something else when the weather is so warm and close, the air just hanging there, making people sticky. That’s how it is this morning. I checked the forecast – there’s an 80 per cent chance of a storm. When it’s so hot and humid, people sleep with their windows open. Even though they heard about me on the evening news; even though they know I strike at night...
If you want to read more of this, plus stories by Michael Brookes, Stuart Aken, Linda Acaster, Nathan Robinson, Regina Puckett, John Scotcher, Chris Chambers and more, then head over to Amazon, where you can pick up a paperback or Kindle edition.
It is a pretty lonely profession, you face rejection after rejection – with the occasional glory. So why do we put ourselves through it? I have heard many writers say something like "I write because i have always written. It is part of me and I think I will always write, whether successful or not." I belong to that camp, too - and yet it doesn't quite answer my question. Perhaps what I'm really asking is not so much why we write, but why we seek publication.
It is easily possible to write and never let anyone see your work. Think of all the people who keep rigorous and extensive daily journals. In an issue of The New Yorker (27 July 2015), there is an article about Joe Gould, an American writer who could not stop writing. He filled hundreds of composition books with handwritten scrawl, documenting "The Oral History of Our Time", as he called it. He would transcribe in minute detail everything anyone ever said to him and everything that ever happened to him (that is, things that happened when he wasn't writing, which can't have been much). He started writing it in 1916 and by 1941, the stack of filled notebooks was said to have reached 7 ft high. Gould kept on writing, reckoning that one day people would read his opus and marvel at it. But he didn't make any attempts to publish it. Friends and supporters sent extracts of it to publishers, but had no luck. When Gould died in 1957 he left a mystery – for no one has been able to find his manuscript in its entirety. And some say the fabled memoire never existed.
On the other side of the fence are those writers, like myself, who do seek publication. We face a rollercoaster ride: there is a brief thirst-quenching glass of success followed by deserts of rejection – often with no feedback to give a clue as to why a particular piece wasn't quite right. Yet we persevere. Eventually, with luck, we make progress and maybe gain a little recognition, which eases the way for future publication. But why do we bother? Is it some ego-driven madness? A desperate desire for fame?
I have asked myself this question many times. Recently I was asking it of myself again, when an answer came in the most unusual – and wonderful – manner. In 2015 a poem of mine, Tempered by the Earth, was accepted for the 2016 WeMoon Datebook. I was, of course, delighted and since it was an international publication, I wondered who would be reading my work. Recently, I received an email from Rev Judith Laxer in Seattle. She told me how she had been asked to make a presentation as part of an inter-faith service for the city's Pride Celebration next Saturday (27 June). In light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, Florida, she was troubled as to how she should address the sorrow and what she would say. Then she turned the page of her WeMoon Datebook to find my poem. Although my poem is about the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, its message is one of finding strength and resilience and trusting in a higher power who heals and holds us, and shows us the way through. So now my poem will be read as part of her presentation. How extraordinary. I never imagined that my words could, in this small way, help in the healing after such an awful event that happened on the other side of the world.
The timing of this has personal synchronicty too – for it answers my question. This is why I write and seek publication. To connect and communicate with others. I could hoard up a pile of notebooks in my cupboard, or I could make the effort to release them to the world, let them find a resting place in publications so that they may be of service. In this way I am honouring the creative spark that is in all of us.
One of my short stories will soon be published in a new Fantastic Books anthology. The challenge was to write a horror story that used exactly 666 words. With 666 on the brain, I started thinking of numbers and so my story, 'The Number of the Beast', contains a lot of numbers and statistics. I ended up with a story told from the viewpoint of a psychopath. It was too long and I had great fun slashing it (ha ha!) to the required length. You can find more details about the winners and the anthology by clicking on Fantastic Books 666-word Horror Fantabble competition.
AIs are already being employed as 'companions'. They remind patients when to take medicines, can raise an emergency alarm and carry out routine tasks. Most of all they offer companionship – company. That set me thinking... what about the future, when companion AIs have been around for a while, what would an AI think about humans? I continue to be fascinated by the human/AI relationship and will probably write more stories exploring that theme. Recently 'Artificial' was accepted by the lively website Fiction on the Web.
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