So here at Literary Debauchery, I have the great pleasure of presenting a new release called Diaries of the Damned by Alex Laybourne. Alex is a wonderful inspiration to me, not just because he writes great horror but because he manages to write with a full-time job and family. And when I say write, I mean this guy can bang out the words. I stand in awe from across the pond.
So without further ado, let me introduce Diaries of the Damned:
The dead have risen and a desperate struggle for power has begun. The military are evacuating all survivors in passenger planes. With their destination unknown, one group of survivors led by a journalist named Paul Larkin, decide to share their experiences with the hope that when combined, their stories will reveal the answers that the government had not been willing to give themselves.
Nine survivors banded together, yet none of them realized, as they stood to tell their tales that they stood on the brink of discovering a conspiracy the likes of which the world has never seen.
Grab your copy from Amazon today for just $2.99
About Alex Laybourne:
Born and raised in the coastal English town Lowestoft, it should come as no surprise (to those that have the misfortune of knowing this place) that he became a horror writer.
Married with four children; James, Logan, Ashleigh and Damon. His biggest dream for them is that they grow up, and spend their lives doing what makes them happy, whatever that is.
‘Diaries of the Damned’ is his third full-length publication along with numerous short works.
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Alex-Laybourne/e/B00580RB18/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
Chapter 1 – Boarding
Paul Larkin sat in his seat and fastened his seatbelt. His body was caked with sweat and dried blood. His ears rang from the gunshots, and his ankle was swollen again; remnants of an injury he acquired jumping from the first floor window of his suburban home. At least, it used to be suburbia, before everything went to shit.
He sat back and let out a long, deep breath. Shock threatened to take hold of him, so he closed his eyes and waited. The plane filled up and the cries of those refused admittance echoed down the walkway, swiftly followed by the sound of their execution.
Paul spared but the most fleeting of moments thinking about it. He found it strange how killing and death had become such a large part of his life.
“Excuse me,” A fragile sounding voice stirred Paul from the calm place he had just started to settle into. “I believe this is my seat.” An elderly woman, late seventies at best stood before him, her face was smeared with blood, while one eye had been covered by a filthy rag that had been hastily secured to her face with what looked like duct tape.
Last week I posted Part One of The Seated Woman, a piece I wrote many years ago. Here is the final part. Enjoy and share.
The Seated Woman (part two)
He wouldn’t say anything about what made him so jumpy. “Come by my house. I have some poems I want you to listen to that I wrote for Creative Writing class.” He hustled her out of the cemetery and Kayla let herself be hustled, but only for the moment.
The next afternoon Kayla didn’t even bother to go home first. Mrs. Dettering had caught her daydreaming in biology. She had almost fallen out of her seat when old Dragonbreath bellowed in her ear: “Miss Waites, are you with us?” Everyone looked at her, laughing, and she reddened, managing to mumble something.
Once in the cemetery, she stopped to breathe in deeply. Now, she could be at peace. The early December air didn’t bite. It was still early enough in the season for the days to be pleasant. Kayla sat under a large bare oak and tried to capture her dream visions. Marguerite watched from across the clearing. Strangely the images did not come. Her flow was gone and her hand felt like lead on the paper, which shook as she doodled, waiting. Emptiness chilled her.
Finally she gave up. She would go home and forget this place, forget Marguerite and the eyes that beckoned her. Too much sadness. She could not alleviate the pain she saw there. It was carved in marble but might as well been carved into her heart. Maybe Edward was right. Maybe she should get away from this place of mourning.
She was lying to herself. She could not, would not abandon the one who sat there as she must have through all the long seasons. Longing for something, someone she could not have. She tried to bring those eyes alive on the paper, the pleading look that caressed her. She let it all pour forth: the pain and sorrow for her mother, for the life she, Kayla, could have had, even for the woman’s lost ones. For those things gone. She wanted to giver herself over to the woman, let herself be wrapped up in those arms. She remembered her mother holding her. Could she turn stone to flesh? It was a foolish thought but nevertheless, it flittered through her mind.
She lay down, resting her head against the stone base and slowly fell asleep with the whispers of the dead all around her.
Something soft tickled her chin and she opened her eyes. Kayla found herself being cradled by a woman so ethereally beautiful, so otherworldly, she could have claimed descent from angels. Her eyes were a silver violet and she pressed soft lips against Kayla’s cheeks and brows, her warm breath sweet. White-blonde hair glinted in the moonlight that penetrated their secret grove.
“Mother?” Kayla asked and the woman’s soft laugh was like silk. Small animal sounds scuffled in the dark and Kayla realized she must have fallen asleep in the cemetery. She looked up again at the woman holding her and gasped.
Not Kayla’s mother but what did that matter? She nestled into those arms of protection. The woman smelled of orchids and spring breezes and promises. For the first time in many years, Kayla felt content and secure.
Time passed. Fear came with awareness, slow yet inevitable. She slid down from the woman’s lap.
“No, wait,” the woman said, trying to draw her back in but Kayla stood away, just out of reach.
“Who are you?” she asked the woman, her voice full of fear and awe. There was power in the embrace of the dead. It felt as if the outside world no longer existed, that only this tiny corner of a forgotten cemetery held anything living. They faced each other, the woman with sad, wonder-filled eyes and Kayla hugging herself as if to ward off any spells.
“I don’t know, don’t remember,” the woman said, musing. “I was someone once. I must have ate and drank and breathed. I know I must have because I miss it all so much.”
“Are you dead?” Kayla asked, unwilling but unable to stop looking into those eyes that held her in thrall as much in the flesh as in stone.
“I don’t know. Perhaps.”
The woman was evidently perplexed. A vague air had settled around her like a fine mist. Kayla figured it would be a good idea to run yet the eyes even now compelled her to sink herself in them. There was love in those eyes, those arms. A mother’s love. But she also felt other things, dark things she could not explain. If this woman could give her warmth and understanding, then running would ruin everything. It would destroy the dream, break the web of understanding that had been woven between them.
For a long time neither spoke. There was only the wind and the crickets singing. The woman stared all about her, at the trees, the tombstones, the moon above. To Kayla it seemed as if the woman was trying to comprehend who and where she was.
“Come and sit here. Let me hold you again,” the woman said, her arms outstretched just like they were when Kayla had first stumbled upon her. Kayla hesitated, fear and yearning wrapped in her heart like two snakes entwined in a struggle.
Kayla then moved forward. The woman cooed in her ears as Kayla yielded herself up. How much like her own daughter Kayla was, she said. That much she remembered. It was coming back, bits and pieces of a long ago life. Marguerite whispered in her ear of a slower time, when women wore bustles and crinoline. A time of sashes and bows, waltzes and hansoms. “How could I have ever forgotten those sultry summer nights? Ballrooms filled with powdered faces and bosoms, waxed moustaches and light satin slippers dancing on hardwood floors,” she said, her voice faint with memory.
Marguerite told her story with a certain detached horror, holding Kayla close. They had become ballrooms of grinning skeletons. The stench of mass graves filled the air. Dances long forgotten as the fever swept through the towns like a deadly wind whipping past with its foul breath. A touch, a whisper and you were helpless, a wretched and retching thing. The woman shuddered and touched herself, now whole flesh again.
And years and years passed. She had watched the centuries roll by, longing for a way through the wall, past the gauze that kept her prisoner as surely as any bars. As Marguarite told her story, Kayla felt the weight of years descend. At the end, the sat in silence listening to the sounds of night, amplified in the darkness.
“Please, sit here while I stretch my legs. Just for a minute?” Clarissa finally asked.
Oh, it felt so good this smothering. Kayla pressed against the warm fragrant neck, nestling her face in the long hair. Like food to her starved soul. Like when she was five and the world was still open to her and there were no barriers, no sadness.
Kayla slid from the woman’s lap onto the cold, stone seat. The woman rose slowly, unsteadily. She took a few furtive steps, shuffling in the dead leaves. An owl hooted and Kayla looked up. The moon was gone. Surely her parents would be looking for her now.
She watched the woman raise her arms in the air and swing around, her long skirt flaring out, like a pinwheel. She ran her hands up and down her body, kicked out one foot then the other and took a deep breath.
She turned to Kayla, her eyes no longer sad, only regretful. “Thank you. I won’t forget you.”
She walked away, indistinguishable now from any modern women, her old-fashioned clothes gone. Kayla reached out but already her feet and legs had hardened, wrapped in an unfamiliar long, crinoline-lined skirt. She tried to wrench herself free but she was welded to the stone.
“Wait! Come back!” she called just before her throat hardened.
Sometime later, voices echoed through the trees, someone calling her name. She tried to answer but it was useless. They found her sketchbook lying beside a white cemetery statue. She saw her father’s shoulders droop, his eyes fill up. She was reaching out to him, her eyes pleading for him to release her. But he did not recognize the old-fashioned girl sitting there and he walked away with the others.
With the Halloween season upon us, I thought I’d share an older story I wrote with you. This was partly inspired after a re-reading of Interview with the Vampire many years ago. Anne Rice had inspired me a lot when I was younger and the original three books in the Vampire Chronicles were partly why I decided to write beyond just poetry.
The following is Part One of a story called The Seated Woman. I’ve always loved cemetery statues and sculptures and this story deals with the themes of love and loss within that setting. I hope you enjoy it.
The Seated Woman – Part One
Kayla squeezed through the old iron gates of the cemetery. One gate stood ajar, hanging from the hinges like a tired soldier at a long and wearisome guard duty. She paused inside, breathless from running, her face streaked with wind-dried tears. She hated, hated her house. Hated her stepmother. Every fairy tale has its wicked stepmother but what do you do with a nice stepmother, she wondered. Not likely you can throw her in a cauldron of boiling oil.
Picking her way through the knee-high grass, she mused on devious ways to rid herself of this most vexing problem. The crackling, snapping of the weeds that whipped around her legs like sprung traps resounded in the dead quiet surroundings. Not only was she the only living human creature in the old, abandoned cemetery but she felt like she was the only creature in the world. The cemetery was silent, mournful yet peaceful. Its very antiquity soothed her. The autumn trees spread their slowly changing leaves like canopies, their roots upending some of the oldest tombstones. Mausoleums like miniature houses and large, elaborate tombstones dotted the area in decadent disarray and crumbling splendor, earth and granite melding as if nature would soon take back to her rich bosom the bones of stone and iron.
She found the perfect spot in front of a richly carved tombstone, its barely-legible inscription dating back to the eighteenth century. She pulled out her sketchbook, glad to have some quiet away from her stepsisters and stepmother. Such little things always set her off, made her resentful of the intrusion of a second family. Made her miss her mother who had died so many years ago. This time it was the Harvest Dance. The twins, Katie and Amber, freshmen at the same school Kayla was a sophomore, had dates and supreme joy reigned in the house as they talked about dresses and shoes. Finally, Kayla needed to get away and this was the only place where she felt safe.
The day faded fast as she sketched. Last night’s dreams came alive before her. She had dreamed of flying. The sensation of the wind brushing against her face, the stars with their remembered kisses, the love and understanding of her companions, who did not want her to be anything than who she was, were all still with her now.
The sun was casting warm glows against the tombstones and the moon rising in the east, just above the treetops when she looked up again. She stooped over, gathering her things, hoping she would make it back in time for dinner, when something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye. She straightened and looked around. Nothing. She waited for several minutes but still nothing stirred except the occasional branch or leaf ruffled by the wind. Undaunted, she walked toward a dark copse of trees where the shadows grew dense and thick and the ground even more tangled with weeds and fallen, crumbling graves. She hadn’t explored this area yet and she had trouble making her way through the growth. She stopped, suddenly aware of someone there. The setting sun blinded her and Kayla was curious. Since she had started coming to the graveyard, she had seen no one. The graves were so old in this section that there was no family alive to visit and the dead were left to themselves.
The stranger was in white and for a second Kayla thought maybe it was a ghost.
“Hello?” she called, her voice barely carrying, the word caught in her throat.
The figure did not stir. Kayla moved closer until she was in the total darkness of the low-hanging branches herself, the glare of the sinking sun no longer distorting what she saw. It was then she realized what she was seeing: a statue.
Feeling foolish, she walked over. It was a woman reaching out, her torso leaning forward as if she were trying to embrace someone. Long tendrils of hair, carved into the hard stone, fanned back from her face, blown by a gentle wind of the sculptor’s imagination. Her lips were parted as if in a final cry as she was wrenched away from those she loved.
But it was her eyes that riveted Kayla. The eyes seemed to follow her. Etched in agony, the inhuman gaze held her. Kayla could only tear her own stare away reluctantly when she realized that the sun had nearly sunk below the horizon and the smoky purples of dusk were fading to black.
Back home in bed that night, the eyes of the woman still watched her and her dreams were filled with staring creatures. Leathery winged demons, invisible but still present, brooded in the dark corners. Grinning gargoyles rose from their stone perches, chanting in heavy grainy growls. Bright-eyed children with smiles of sunshine danced in rings of fire. These were her dreams that stayed with her, the dreams that came alive on the page for her. She had the uncanny ability not only to remember her dreams but to be able to draw them, interpreting them without losing their bizarre qualities. Sometimes she woke in the night, afraid to open her eyes, turn on a light, in case some fundamental truth about the world had changed or disappeared. Her sad, dark paintings won awards but they meant nothing because in her heart she knew that the world she drew was as real as the one everyone else saw everyday. Who knows? Maybe everyone had their own private real world that existed in their dreams.
The next day Kayla could barely pay attention in class. Her mind kept straying to the statue. For some reason, she reminded Kayla of her own mother who had died in a car accident when Kayla was five. She could barely remember her mother’s face, faded by veils of time, but she did remember how her mother would comb Kayla’s hair before school, gently working through the tangles. She remembered sweet perfume when they would finger-paint together and hot oatmeal on winter mornings. Little fragments of memory she didn’t know she held until they flashed by.
She wondered who made that statue, whether that person had also lost someone dear. What a beautiful memorial, yet so haunting. Her mother had been cremated and the ashes scattered over the ocean. In some ways she had never forgiven her father for doing that, taking away her chance to go and mourn at a grave. He said that every time she visited the ocean she would be with her mother but Kayla knew it was not the same.
She supposed her father thought he was doing the right thing just as had when he married Robyn three years ago. She guessed Robyn was all right. She treated Kayla like one of her own daughters and didn’t play favorites too much yet Kayla couldn’t help feeling cheated. Her dad and Robyn tried to get her to be outgoing like Katie and Amber, who had tons of friends and went to parties. Kayla had one good friend, Edward, and even then spent most of her time alone, painting, sketching, walking around. Brooding, she heard Robyn say to her father. He only said Kayla had a vivid imagination but Kayla noticed him watching her every once in while, his brows furrowed as he studied her.
There were times when she didn’t feel so lonely. When she sketched, she felt the world around her melt away and she was alone. She was on an island without need, without trouble. The truth was, those were the times she didn’t need anybody and she didn’t feel lonely. Her friend Edward sometimes said that he wasn’t sure if she was even part of this world the way she ghosted around the hallways in school.
Autumn faded as the brilliant trees lost their finery and December came knocking with its winter chill. Almost every day she went to the cemetery to visit the statue. Maybe it was a little absurd but she felt comforted leaning up against the base while the woman (Kayla decided to name her Marguerite – it was a suitable, old-fashioned name) watched and kept her company. That morning Robyn had tried to talk to her about the New Year’s party she would be throwing but Kayla dodged her attempts and headed to school secure in the knowledge that she wouldn’t have to endure dress fittings or shoe shopping. At least not yet. The threat wouldn’t go away so easily.
The dismissal bell rang. Within seconds hundreds of teenagers began spilling into the hallways, heading to their cars and the buses in the parking lot. Kayla let herself be swept along, like kelp in the ocean’s tide.
She felt a hand on her arm and Edward was beside her.
“Hey you. Long time no see. Where you been hiding? I came over after school yesterday but you were gone.”
“Yeah, been working on some new stuff. Just busy I guess.”
“Okay sure, too busy for your closest friend. I get it.”
Kayla rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Edward grinned. “So, what say you and me get something to eat at the coffeehouse?”
Kayla hesitated before answering. The crowd surged around them on the sidewalk. She licked her lips trying to think of how to decline. She looked over at Edward, waiting for her to join him. Too many times over the past few weeks she had deliberately avoided him after classes and had stopped going to their favorite spot near the lake behind Kinney’s Woods. How could she explain to him the allure of going to cemetery and sitting at the base of the statue, dreaming? But maybe she wouldn’t have to explain…
“I have a better idea. Come meet me after dinner at King’s Road next to the old ironworks. I have something I want to show you.”
“Is this for real?” he said, slapping the back of his hand against his forehead in mock exaggeration. “Is she really going to spend some time with her oldest, truest friend?”
Kayla punched him on the arm. “Dork.”
“Geek,” he said and turned to get on his bus.
“Be there around seven,” she called after him and he waved as the doors closed after him.
She walked home. Was taking him to her a good idea? He might think she was crazy. Maybe she could just explain it as an artistic obsession. Edward’s writing would make him famous someday but she had been subject to his moodiness when he struggled to get something just right.
When she finally arrived home, Katie and Amber were blasting music in the family room. She went up to her room and put some of her own music on to drown out the dreadful pop songs from below and flipped through the canvases stacked against the far wall. Not satisfied with any of her past work, Kayla went over to her easel and uncovered it then sat down on the stool. In front of her was a half-finished portrait. Only the center was completed. There stood a woman, made flesh at least in paint and her imagination, holding aloft the moon on a hilltop. The bones of buildings surrounded her in the near distance, fires peeking from various windows and only shades of other figures floating among oddly curved streets.
Kayla sighed. Marguerite haunted her dreams and now her art. After studying the statue for so many nights, she had gotten the curves and angles of the face just right. The expression in her painting was one less wrenching, more serene than the one in stone, as if whatever Marguerite longed for, she attained.
Brushes in hand, Kayla worked on the woman’s dress, adding depth with shadow and shading. She had decided against the late eighteenth century period clothing that the sculptor had given the woman in favor of a more classical look, a hybrid between a classical Greek draping and a long, empire-waisted dress in a dark burgundy. Kayla favored simple, elegant dresses although she mostly wore baggy jeans and cargo pants, t-shirts and combat boots. There wasn’t much point in dressing for school. If she didn’t always blend in, then at least she never stuck out. Usually.
She finished the dress. Was it worth it to finish the buildings or just leave the edges and the background blurred? The figures seemed to float on a mist that covered the ground like fine-spun wool. The semi-transparent texture gave them an almost hesitant look, as if they couldn’t decide if they should be there or not.
Her stomach rumbled. Great, she had missed dinner. Sometime during the past hour, she had heard her name being calling but she had pressed on, relegating the voice to the back of her mind. She pulled on her heavy army jacket, picked up her messenger bag and ran down the stairs. Katie and Amber were back in the family room, still playing CDs and each on a phone. She hoped her dad and Robyn were in the front living room, so she could just grab something in the kitchen and head out the back door.
Luck was with her. She found some granola bars and an apple and left.
Edward waited for her outside the gate of the abandoned ironworks building. The town, like many semi-rural towns, used to be a thriving industrial center in the last century and had been a goods hub between Philadelphia and New York. Now, the good times were over and what was left could somehow be summed up in the skeleton of brick and steel that remained as example. Against the star-spiked sky, it seemed to have breathed its last breath decades ago.
“Glad to see you remembered,” he said, pushing his dark eyes out of his eyes. No matter how many times he got it cut, it was always shaggy.
Kayla tossed him a granola bar. “Come on, I’m not that bad. Let’s go. We have a bit of a walk.”
“Where we going?”
“You’ll see.” Kayla smiled but underneath her stomach roiled. Not from hunger but from anticipation mixed with anxiety. Out of everyone she knew, she hoped she could count on Edward to understand.
The cemetery was two miles down the road. They walked without speaking, while gravel crunched underfoot. This was one of the things she liked about Edward; they didn’t need to talk. The silence between them did not hang heavy. Instead it wrapped them up and protected them.
They reached the cemetery and Edward turned on his flashlight to avoid the fallen markers and other detriment as nature reclaimed its own.
“The cemetery?” he asked. “Why not meet me here?”
Kayla rolled her eyes. “Yeah, like you would wait here for me.” She hurried to reach the statue. For some reason she wanted to tell Edward, to show him. He was like a brother. They could all be family together. Edward, Marguerite, and her.
Kayla shook her head. What had she been thinking?
They stopped a few feet away from the gathering of trees where the statue stood. Kayla put on hand on Edward’s arm and gave it a little squeeze.
“This is why I’ve been out all the time. You’ll see.”
She pulled him forward, wondering if he would see what she saw.
Edward stood for many minutes studying the statue, shining his flashlight over it. The beam lingered on the face the longest. Kayla noticed the frown on his face.
“It’s a well-made statue,” he finally said. “Pretty old.”
“Isn’t she beautiful?”
“Well, whoever made this did a wonderful job. She’s solid.”
Edward backed away and turned, shining his flashlight all around at the other statues and markers.
“I wonder if anyone still comes here. It’s been a long time since they buried anyone here I guess,” he said.
“I haven’t seen anyone,” she said, not really caring to make conversation. It was obvious now that he didn’t see what she saw. She moved closer to Marguerite, hoping she wouldn’t feel betrayed. Her hand reached out to touch the stony coldness of Marguerite’s outstretched fingers.
“Kayla, come away from there.”
“Why?” She didn’t move.
“Let’s go. Somewhere. Anywhere. I don’t like it here.”
She turned on him, speaking more harshly than she had intended. “What’s your problem? I’m sharing this with you. See, how she seems to be looking at me. I bet she’s lonely.”
Edward, she noticed, was looking not at the statue, but at her. His head was tilted to one side and his brows drawn down just a shade. A small gesture but she had known him long enough to recognize disapproval.
“Kayla, you’re going to think I’m crazy but I don’t like it here. Not at all.” He glanced from left to right as if looking for someone hiding.
“We’ve gone to some spooky places and you’ve never freaked out on me before.” Kayla gazed up at Marguerite, hoping she wasn’t angry.
“I don’t know. I’m really spooked here and I especially don’t like her,” he said, pointing with his flashlight. The beam bounced off the statue’s bleached face for a second. Edward jumped and shone the light back to the statue.
“What?” Kayla asked.
“Nothing. Nothing at all.” He licked his lips and Kayla didn’t believe for a second that he was just jumpy because they were in a cemetery. The wind gusted, swaying the branches of the trees overhead while the bleached moonlight shone down on the sharp planes of the Marguerite’s face, the slightly parted lips, and the eyes, always the eyes. Kayla stood, transfixed, until Edward wrapped his arm around her waist and moved her away.
-End of Part One-
I was going to write a review of the Collingswood Book festival, which happened this past Saturday in Collingswood, NJ but my friend Sarah Hawkins Miduski did such a fabulous job at her obligatory blog here, complete with pictures and mention of Poehead.com, that I defer to her supreme blogability and submit that you go read her post!!
As an added bonus, I also suggest that you check out the Steampunk Granny herself, Marie Gilbert, and her latest post, Wonderland, or How I Lost a Tooth and Found a Ghost. Seriously. Check it out.
Dust dances on the airless sunbeams
moving from frame to frame against
the panes of the divided window.
Here, the dead years have been frozen;
Corsets and bloomers stacked in the armoire,
dried petals suspended in the air like a snapshot
while roses on teacups bloom forever.
Antiquity wafts from yellowed books,
darted with silverfish, pages silent.
The word has been vanquished,
forgotten voices cursed and choked.
A mannequin poses smoothly.
The room sighs vacant and
solemn like a deserted bride,
a spoiled treasure unopened.
The forgotten years are withering away.
Spiders consummate in the corner.
The groom is consumed and
ghosts hum in the gathering dusk.