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Archive for June, 2018

Sneak Peek at a Haunted House, Noir, Lovecraftian Horror mashup by Peter Guy Blacklock – an Exercise in cliché Management

Posted by Harbinger451 on June 2, 2018

The Horror of it All CategorySneak Peek at a Haunted House, Noir and Lovecraftian Horror mashup by Peter Guy Blacklock – an Exercise in cliché Management

I’ve always wanted to write my own version of the classic haunted house mystery/horror trope, one that would bring in elements of hard-boiled Noir and sanity shredding Lovecraftian Horror. I was inspired to finally write it when I happened upon an article on Wikipedia about the often-mocked and parodied first line cliché “It was a dark and stormy night“, which mentions a literary competition that challenges entrants to compose “the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels” – the first bout of which to be published uses the aforementioned opening so often employed by the Snoopy character in the Peanuts comic strip – among others. A good idea, I thought, but a much better and, it has to be said, tougher exercise would have been to write the first paragraph that rescues a clichéd opening by turning it into a potentially good one. I set myself that very task and it led to me writing the following first chapter of what, I hope, will be a novella I can publish. At the very least I will be publishing the subsequent chapters of this novella on my Patreon page as and when I write them.

Of course, these days the sub-genres of haunted house, Noir and Lovecraftian – though original once – have now become bogged down in clichés all there own. Many writers believe that clichés should always be avoided (like the veritable plague in fact) but I tend to disagree. Clichés have their place in fiction like they do in real life. Good fiction, especially genre fiction, will always be an exercise in cliché management, you can choose to never use them or you can learn to play with them – you can subvert them, use them for your own ends or use them to mess with your audience’s expectations… the world is your oyster – to paraphrase Shakespeare.

So, without further dilatoriness, here is my exercise in cliché management (titles are provisional) …

The Hell House on Haunted Hill

[or]

Justifiable Homicide

By Peter Guy Blacklock

Chapter One: There’s A Killer on the Road

It was a dark and stormy night, the cliché goes, and suddenly, as it oft continues, a shot rang out.

Of course nights are invariably dark, but this one was particularly so, and the storm that raged was uncommonly vicious – it was the right sort of night for the wrong kind of outcome. The shot ripped a red hot slug of metal through the rain swept windscreen, then it screamed past Lofty’s head, tearing a chunk of flesh and cartilage from the tip of his right ear. Lofty braked hard and the big Lincoln-Zephyr four door sedan messily skidded to a halt down the sloping muddy lane, veering toward a waterlogged ditch that lurked at the bottom of the incline as the lane took a sharp left. The big automobile only barely stopped short of the ditch.

Lofty could see nothing through the opaque fanning of fractured glass that was the holed windscreen – though the wipers kept up their frenzied metronomic flailing regardless – and the blackness through the rest of the car’s windows was almost complete, like they were mirrors on a murderer’s soul. His hand instinctively rested on the butt of the snub-nosed Colt Detective Special in his shoulder holster as he listened, alarmed and alert, but in that moment the pounding of torrential rain and the gusting wail of the wind was all that he could hear. A sharp flash and flare of lightning split the sky with a monumental crack of thunder and to his left he briefly saw the pale and sodden figure of a young woman stumbling toward him down the backwoods lane.

Winding the window down to his left, Lofty reversed and turned the Lincoln to shine the headlights down the lane and he leaned out, peering into the tempestuous downpour. The bedraggled woman, dressed in a sheer white gown entirely unsuitable for a night such as this, staggered toward the twin beams. Her distress was manifestly evident in her gaunt and distraught face. She stumbled and fell hard to her knees just short of Lofty’s car then stared wide eyed at him, big beautiful eyes pleading, with hands outstretched, begging.

“God damn it!” Lofty exclaimed under his breath. Acutely aware that another shot could come tearing his way at any moment; the big man, lean and muscular, got out of the car and bundled the slight and shivering woman up in his arms. Hunkering low he carried her slim and, he couldn’t help but notice, shapely form and got her into the expansive back seat of the Lincoln, wrapping her in the blanket that was back there.

“Hit a tree!” She said breathlessly between gasps and shivers as he got in beside her and lent forward over the front seat to close the side window there. “Tire blew out, lost control and hit a tree!”

She didn’t look like she had any injuries, except perhaps for a pair of grazed knees.  Lofty pulled a hip flask from his Jacket pocket and offered it to her. “Here, Sister,” he said, “have a snort of sour-mash, it’ll take the edge off.”

She took the flask with a half smile and a rather pouty lick of her lips. “Thanks, Gee,” she said taking a swig, “but my edges were rubbed off a long time ago.” She coolly looked at him then pointed to his bloodied ear, “What happened to you?”

Just as coolly, Lofty pointed to the little round hole at the top of the windscreen through which the wind was now whistling. “Someone took a pot shot at me, coming down that incline.”

“That’s where my tire blew, just managed to get round this bend before careening off the road.” Her forehead furrowed slightly as she raised a concerned eyebrow. “You don’t think someone was trying t’ drill me too, do ya?”

He was pretty damn sure someone was. “We better get out o’ here.” He said as he clambered awkwardly from the back of the car to the front.

“My, but you’re a BIG galoot, aren’t ya?” she said expressively, “All strong arms an’ long legs.”

The V-12 was still loudly purring under the hood as he got back into the driver’s seat and took the hand-brake off; easing the engine on into a growl the Lincoln soon picked up speed. He punched his fist through the shattered windscreen directly in front of him so he could at least have some idea of where he was going. The left wiper finally gave up the ghost and jammed half way up.

“Wait, wait!” the young woman suddenly exclaimed. “My things, in the car… I can’t leave them here.”

He quickly glanced back at her with a steely glare that revealed a slight flash of anger.

“Everything I own is in that crate – I can’t abandon it all, someone might glom the lot and it’s all I have in the world!” she insisted, her own steel matching his.

Lofty caught a glimpse of what looked like a brand-new maroon ‘47 Ford 2-door convertible rammed into a tree and he braked suddenly, sending the blanket wrapped young woman in the back sliding forward, she slipped clean off the seat with a startled yelp.

“What am I getting?” he said tersely but the flicker of anger had entirely vacated his granite chiselled features. He had a cleft chin and high cheekbones with the kind of lazy sad eyes that had seen far too much of the world.

Sitting herself back in the seat she said, “There’s a case and vanity in the foot well on the passenger side and a pocket-book in the glove compartment… oh, and a clutch-purse, a fur stole an’ jacket, and a folio on the passenger seat too.”

He looked back at her, and with a hint of sarcasm said, “Is that all?” He guessed she was about twenty but she could have been a couple of years either side of that. She had a knowing face and an easy air, a self assurance that he liked a lot.

“Yep,” she said pertly, and not short of sass she added with ironic demure, “I’m a simple gal of modest means.”

Lofty backed the Lincoln up a little, and then eased himself over to the passenger side. The convertible’s door was already wide open so when Lofty opened his door full the two doors met. “Open your door too,“ he said to the girl, “an’ I’ll pass all your worldly goods to ya.”

Staying low the big man quickly went to her car, it still had that new-car smell, the thought intruded, and all her luggage looked pretty damn new too, “and not cheap” he mumbled as he started lifting and schlepping them to her.  Case, vanity, pocket-book, clutch, folio and then he threw the stole and jacket – white fox fur, very expensive – right in after them. “Modest means?” he said, then “Quite the doll, aren’t ya.” as he got back in the Lincoln.

“They were a gift… from a friend.” she said, “Not that I need to explain myself to you.”

“No, you’re right – ya don’t.” Doors closed, hand-brake off and they were on their way again. “I apologise.” He said, peering through the fist sized hole and the still pouring rain.

“Apology accepted.” She said. “We’re both a bit nervy that’s all. Got any butts on ya? I’m gasping.”

Three rapid flashes of lightning, accompanied by positively cataclysmic claps of thunder, bleached the whole of Essex County, if not the entire State of Massachusetts, for a brief second or two – it was all stark woods, dank marshes, unwholesome creeks, and small, isolated, barren-looking farmsteads.

“I’ve got almost a full deck in my inside pocket,” he said, negotiating a series of tight bends, “if you can reach round and get ‘em – don’t want to take my hands off the wheel at the moment.”

“Sure thing, Gee.” She said, and she did.

“Flare one up for me too, will ya, Doll?” He glanced at her with a droll but intimate grin.

“Sure thing.” She replied with a coy smile, then lit the two cigarettes simultaneously with a lighter pulled from her purse, and reached forward again to place one of them in Lofty’s mouth. “So what’s your name, Gee?” Her face was level with his now and he felt her warm breath on his cheek as she spoke.

“Robertson,” he said, drawing in on his cigarette, “Mitch Robertson – but most folk call me Lofty.”

“Lofty!” she laughed. “Your friends aren’t the most original are they?”

He laughed too, “Nope,” he said, “but that’s soldiers for ya – I got the name in the army and it stuck.”

“You a G.I.?”

“Was.” He said. “82nd Airborne Division, 505th P.I.R., Sergeant First Class.”

“Sergeant First Class!” She said, seemingly impressed. “What does P.I.R. stand for?”

“Parachute Infantry Regiment.”

“A paratrooper!” Again, she seemed impressed. “You must have been in the thick of it during the war, did you see much action?”

He nodded and said, “Some – Sicily, Italy, Normandy… all the way through to Germany.”

“Damn!” She said, but sensed his demeanour turn; he had visibly tensed up at the close of her question.  She had seen enough young men back from the war in the last two years to understand. Some wanted to talk about it, but most didn’t; she had learned it was best not to push, for many were broken – inside as well as out. She changed the subject, “So, what do you do now… for a living I mean?”

“I’m a gum-shoe, but it’s not much of a living.” He said.

“You’re a Johnny Buttons?” She was a lot less impressed this time and simmered a palpable hostility at the very idea that he might be a police detective.

“A Private Op.” He qualified.

“Oh, a P.I. – you must be a glutton for punishment, couldn’t leave the excitement and danger behind when you were demobbed, is that it?”

Lofty laughed, “Believe me, it’s not that exciting – it’s not like it is in the movies or some dime-novel ya know, it’s cheating husbands an’ wives mostly. What about you, what’s your story?”

“There’s not much to tell,” she said rather defensively, “I was a hostess for a while, I’ve done a bit of modelling, a bit of dancing – chorus line… tried a bit of acting, ya know, this an’ that.”

“Well, you seem to be doing alright for yourself – new car, Chanel bags and Arctic Fox furs – you must have quite the benefactor?”

“Hey!” she said, offended. “What are you implying?”

“I’m not implying anything… hell, we all have to do what we have to do to get by in this world – I’m in no position to judge anyone in those regards – think I can afford a bus like this on twenty-five dollars a day plus expenses?”

“Humph,” she said expressively, “still sounds like you’re implying something to me,” though now she was more feigning offence than taking it.

“There’s a gas station up ahead, we better stop an’ tell ‘em about your wreck back there… may be call the local Clubhouse, tell the cops that there’s some kind o’ lunatic taking pot shots at people.”

Lofty spent all of five minutes out of the car while she bit her thumb inside it. She could see him and the attendant gesticulating to each other, getting directions she presumed, but the raging storm meant she heard none of it. The attendant took his time filling the tank. There were some more gesticulations.

“Damn this godforsaken place!” said Lofty when he got back in the Lincoln, slicking his Brylcreemed black hair down. “Didn’t have a phone – hell, I doubt they even have cops out here anyway… the place is a total back water.” He sat there a moment, thinking, then said, “We’re not too far from my destination… is there any where I can take you – where were you heading? Cause I have to say, there’s not much of anything round here,” he turned to look back at her, “and I can’t figure what a big-city gal like you is doing all the way out here?”

“Ah, well… this big city gal just happens to have been born all the way out here. I was orphaned at age four and sent to distant relatives in Boston,” she said, a hint of bitterness in her soft caramel voice, “at twelve I was sent to even more distant relatives in New York, been a big-city gal ever since.”

“Go figure,” he said, “so was I, born all the way out here that is. Got drafted into the army in 1940, 23 years old and fresh out of M.U., saw the world and opened my eyes… after the war I moved to the big city myself – San Francisco. Really never thought I’d ever come back here.”

“Me neither,” she said, “but I’m here… got an offer I couldn’t refuse. Some great, great uncle I’d never heard of up an’ died and left me some kind of inheritance or bursary.”

“And you’ve gotta attend the reading of the will to receive it?”

“Yes, how’d you know?”

Lofty delved into an inside pocket, “Me too.” He said as he handed her an envelope.

She took it, it was already opened but a letter was still inside, she removed the letter and read it. “This is the same letter I got,” she said, “word for word I think, except my name in place of yours.”

Lofty asked, “Do you still have the letter you received?”

“Sure,” she said and retrieved it, her’s too was still in the envelope, which was now folded in half, she pulled it from her pocket-book then handed it to him with his own letter.

He studied the two envelopes, written in the same hand and with identical post marks indicating they originated from Ipswich, a small town about three or four miles further up the road, and both dated October the 13th, about two weeks ago. Her’s was addressed to Ms. Martha Woodstern, 118a, Rapelye Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York. The letters themselves were indeed identical, except for the names, and they were both typed – probably on the same machine – and the rather shaky signatures matched too, from a William Castle, apparently the last surviving child of the unknown great, great uncle.

“Well, Ms. Woodstern,” he said handing back her letter, “it looks like were related, if somewhat distantly.”

“And this William Castle bird, that were going to meet, if he’s our great-uncle… how old must he be?”

“He’s 87… I looked him up, spent the last couple of days back in Lynn and then Salem, at the Public Libraries and the Records Office; he’s from a rich family that has a long and complicated history, of both Scottish and English descent. How it all relates to my family tree, I have no idea.”

“If he’s 87?” She exclaimed. “How old was great, great Uncle Wilbur when he died?”

“He was 109 by all accounts.”

“Damn, talk about charmed lives.”

“Like I said, they’re rich. Have been for centuries – old Wilbur’s father, in the 1830’s, paid to have an old Scottish baronial castle moved stone by stone across the Atlantic and rebuilt here, on the site of some deserted colonial village with its cemetery and an old abandoned mine that  he’d managed to acquire – caused a hell of a stir… but young William still lives in that castle to this day. That’s where we’re heading now, Castle House.”

Martha laughed dryly, “So William Castle actually lives in a castle, and I was born to humble farm stock who’d worked themselves to death trying to feed me…  where’s the connection?”

“I’m not sure, couldn’t find a connection to me either.” Lofty pondered “It makes me wonder how many more prospective distant relatives are on their way to this Last Will and Testament reading?”

After a moment’s silence Martha asked, “How much further is it?”

“Not far up this road there‘s a turn off to the right, we take that and it loops back through the woods and salt-marshes to where Castle House is, toward the coast. It should take about fifteen or twenty minutes.” Lofty eased the Lincoln’s V12 back into a growl and they set off from the gas station.

Castle House was actually an early 16th century Tower House and courtyard, a particularly big one, with two 17th century towers at alternate corners of the massive keep-like house. It sat at the top of a long low hill with an old graveyard sloping down the right side toward the marshes and a ruined church and village sloping down the left to the woods. Lofty kept getting glimpses of it through the hole in the windscreen as he drove up toward it. After another flash of lightning and burst of thunder, he said.  “Looks like a backdrop from a Universal monster movie; all we need is Bella Lugosi or Boris Karloff and an overly melodramatic musical score.”

“Gives me the creeps!” said Martha in the back, it was not the sort of castle she had imagined; it was all bleak and foreboding and reminded her of nightmares that plagued her in childhood. She suddenly wanted Lofty to turn the car around. “Something doesn’t feel right about this whole setup,” she warned, “the letters… a great, great uncle that neither of us has ever heard of – it has to be a joke or a con, a scam of some sort… or a trap – someone has already tried to kill us!”

Lofty laughed dismissively. “These rubes are rich and I’ve got the jump on them, we both stand to carve a substantial chunk of sugar from inside that pile. I at least want to see how the cards fall before I consider checking out of this particular house game.”

She said no more and he didn’t turn the car around. He thought about telling her what the gas-station attendant had told him, a nervous little man who wasn’t – Lofty suspected – entirely compos mentis. “It be a Hell house,” he had said, “a Hell house on a haunted hill! You don’t wanna go up there – often times people drive up there, but very few of them seem to come back down!”

Of course, he didn’t tell her – that fool of an attendant was speaking nonsense and he figured she was jumpy enough as it was. So they continued following the road, snaking up the hill to the forbidding gatehouse that fronted the walled courtyard of Castle House.

Chapter Two: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, will be coming soon.

As stated earlier, you will be able read forthcoming chapters on my Patreon site (if you subscribe) HERE, or you can wait for it to be published in ebook form when it’s finished. Subscribe to this blog to keep updated on all my articles, stories and publications – or follow me on Twitter HERE.

The Horror of it All… enter HERE all those who delight in horror, death, the macabre, the occult, black humor, weird tales, dark fantasy – and all such nefarious pleasures.

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