From Roger Jackson: The Last War

Roger Jackson returns to VampireNomad with a delicious original short story.  We are thrilled to have him back and normally I'd just let his work stand sans introduction.  But this particular piece is special because Roger accepted a ten word challenge from me just as Nathan did to splendid effect last week.  The words I gave Roger were: armour, divine, extinguish, gaze, interrogate, aardvark, ructious, saboteur, cajole, and tweed.  And my god, he rose to the challenge and then some!  It's glorious. 

 

THE LAST WAR

This is the story of the last war on Earth. It started with a blade of strange crimson lightning that streaked down from a cloudless sky. The lightning cleaved the arid ground, turned trees and wildlife to ash on the wind. When the smoke and the dust unravelled, the largest beast to have touched the surface of the Earth stood on the African plain. Its shadow eclipsed countless villages, miles apart.

Six silvery eyes, the size of swimming pools, regarded the world with a gaze content in the knowledge that the beast's very presence made this land a conquered territory. A thrash of its serpentine tail killed thousands. The jaws of its three snarling, canine heads killed thousands more.

The orbiting satellites took snapshot after snapshot of the creature with programmed efficiency, but the software had been hacked, and instead of the discreet, protected stream of data to certain military installations, the target destination for the images became billions of social networking accounts, billions of phones, the news networks, every TV on the planet. The human race looked on in shock and awe.

Professors of Greek and Roman mythology, resplendent in tweed and pipe-smoke, immediately identified the incursion as Cerberus, the hellhound at the gates of Hades. The less-informed in such matters took the visitation as a hoax, or a viral publicity drive for a sequel to Cloverfield - the mention of Cerberus even caused a brief rush of confusion among the online comic-book community, who for a time believed that Africa had been invaded by a sword- wielding aardvark.

Some interpreted it, with some justification, as the Apocalypse that mankind deserved, a divine retribution for an infinity of sins. The secular thought it a ruse by the Church, a bid to cajole belief from their hearts, but there were no atheists when that sweeping, global satellite signal broadcast the inhuman legions swarming from the fiery craters that were opening up in the centre of Paris, and London, and Washington, and Moscow. They opened in every place on Earth.

To it's credit, the military forces of the planet reacted with an impressive, dizzying speed, almost as if they'd been expecting such an invasion. Every nation deployed its defenders, armies of blessed armour and sanctified bullets, all to no avail. The tanks rolled in, and were swept aside like toys, like the playthings of a ructious poltergeist. The fighter planes never got off the ground, their systems infiltrated by the same virus that had been summoned to retool the satellites. The saboteur, a minor devil with dreams of glory, had poured his black heart into the infernal infection, the demonic download.

But the missiles ... the thermonuclear warheads ... their boards were green, their arming codes still viable, their launch buttons still temptingly lit. And, as is well recorded, temptation has always been one of the strongest cards in the Devil's deck.

World Leaders frantically questioned their military advisers while never pausing to interrogate their own conscience, and when the silos suddenly unlocked and the countdowns reached zero, the accusations about who finally pushed the button flew from nation to nation as fast as the missiles.

In the end, there was no-one left to care. The firestorms consumed everything, and the demons danced amid flames that nothing could extinguish, rejoicing as mankind courteously terraformed the surface of the planet for them.

Now a new civilisation rules that surface, a civilisation of cities sculpted from blackened glass and the music of tortured souls, of canyons filled with lava and a mountain carved into a throne. A civilisation that looks with cold reptilian eyes to the clouds of sulphur and ash, to the stars and worlds beyond, and knows that Hell on Earth was just the beginning.

- Roger Jackson

Roger Jackson can be found on Twitter as @jabe842 and in his online home An Ark Hive.

 

From Roger Jackson: The Torture Chamber

THE TORTURE CHAMBER

Jesus, it's the waiting I can't stand.

I've been telling myself that I can handle the pain, and maybe I can, or maybe I can't, but the waiting is killing me piece by piece. Just sitting here on this hard plastic chair and staring at the four walls around me, listening to the big clock tick away the minutes until it's time for me to go in. It's all just some psychological game, I know. The chairs are all a cheerful orange colour, but the hard edges won't let me relax. The walls are a combination of blue and green that should be soothing but instead is cold, and quietly unsettling. The clock is unnaturally loud, its ticking pushing aside silences, filling in the spaces between the sudden noises that sometimes come from along the corridor to my left.

From the Torture Chamber.

No-one I've ever met who shares my fear calls it that, but that's how we all see it. Believe that.

There's a woman behind the desk several feet in front of me. She's wearing a crisp, white uniform and too much warpaint. I keep trying to catch her eyes, to see if there's anything beyond them and maybe win a smile. But she doesn’t look my way; she busies herself with the documents on her desk, occasionally rising to file away papers in the tall metal cabinet behind her. There's a black telephone on her desk, but it doesn't ring. Not once.

A door to my right opens and another victim walks in. Like me, he has a companion with him to make sure he doesn’t make a run for it. They approach the desk and his name is quietly given. As the woman checks her list our respective guardians nod to each other, acknowledging one another's role. There is no conversation. There doesn’t seem to be enough oxygen in the room for many words. There is only the clock. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Not long to go now.

They sit. The new arrival squirms in his hard plastic seat until his companion places a firm hand upon his arm. The victim tries to keep still and I study him. He's thirty or so, a few years younger than me, and his hands are trembling. I try to imagine what's going through his mind and decide that he's probably glad that I'm here. Not out of any comforting illusion of kinship but rather because there's one more unfortunate soul in the chair before him.

I can understand that. I was glad to see the blonde girl, the one who was sitting and waiting before me. The one in the Torture Chamber right now.

I stare at the newest victim, hoping to provoke some reaction, but it seems as if I'm as invisible to him as I am to the woman behind the desk. His eyes dart between his trembling hands and the empty chairs around us, as though he's hoping to find a magazine to read, something to take his mind of the impending ordeal. And the phone, of course. Time and time again, he looks at the silent black phone.

Suddenly a sound cleaves the silence (Silence! Ha! Rememember the clock!) - a rising, high-pitched whine. The song of an electric drill, some instrument small and precise and terrifying. The other victim stops examining his hands and looks down the corridor, his face the colour of cigarette ash. We can hear the blonde girl making some sound, some strangled moaning, and suddenly I feel inexplicably pleased with myself. I won't scream or weep, I know it. I'm scared enough to project my condemned man's breakfast across the waiting room, but I won't make a sound. I promised myself that.

But then, I've broken promises before.

The drill continues to whine for a minute or ten and then stops. So does the blonde girl. After another minute the door to the Torture Chamber slowly opens and her companion leads her out. She seems a little unsteady on her feet, and the tissue pressed to her mouth looks startlingly red against her paper-white face. They walk down the corridor away from us, towards the exit.

My turn. My turn next.

The Torturer's assistant enters the waiting room. She's tall and pretty but like her deskbound colleague she's overcompensated with the make-up. Her flesh is just a little too flesh-coloured to be believed and her bee-stung lips are as lividly flushed as an open wound.

I stand. My companion and I follow her into the Torture Chamber and it looks much like I had expected, a room carved from my nightmares. White and starkly-lit, with a trolley of highly-polished instruments standing ready beside the big high-backed chair that dominates the room. The chair is shiny and black and somehow fleshy to the touch, and as my companion persuades me to sit in it I can't help but notice how very cold it is, as though it had been unoccupied for years instead of minutes, as though the blonde girl had never existed at all.

The Torturer himself has his back to me, a broad back encased in a white smock. He hums while he washes his hands. Then he turns and I see that his face is not what I was expecting. My dreams had conjured him as sharp- countenanced, vulpine, with cold glittering eyes the colour of permafrost. Instead his wrinkled features are kindly beneath the carefully combed grey hair, and behind the gold-rimmed spectacles, his eyes are brown. So are his teeth.

He greets my companion with a curt nod and smiles into my face. His breath reeks of cigar smoke and decay. He doesn’t speak. My own mind spins with a thousand questions but my mouth refuses to make them into words. My bowels have turned to water.

The Torturer leans over his trolley. His eyes narrow and his fingers flex, itching to enfold polished steel. He licks his lips slowly, as if selecting a dessert. His hand reaches out for a syringe filled with ... anaesthetic? No ... No, I don't think so. Suddenly the hand swoops left, to pick up the drill.

I was right, it seems. The drill is small. And precise. And terrifying.

He squeezes the trigger, twice, eliciting a brace of short squeals from the device. It gleams beneath the powerful lights, but when he returns it to the trolley and picks up the scalpel, somehow I know he's going to start with my eyes.

- Roger Jackson

 

Roger Jackson can be reached on Twitter and at his website An Ark Hive.

 

A Wednesday Surprise: Oh... The Horror!

SURPRISE!  It's Wednesday and we have a post for you.  Isn't that divine?  Don't you love surprises?  It's like a writerly fortune cookie.

You met Roger Jackson yesterday and today he is contributing his first piece to the site.  It's a piece he published earlier on his own site, An Ark Hive, and one that I very much hoped he'd post here.  Which he gladly agreed to do.  It beautifully explains the sort of writing he is interested in and why.  Do enjoy!

 

Throughout 2013, I was fortunate enough to receive a lot of welcome encouragement from many fine, talented people (some of whom I've never even met). I started a blog and had a few pieces accepted for publication. I was more productive and even started to feel like I might be getting the hang of this writing malarkey (publication is wonderful, and desired, but I think that enjoyment and improvement are qualities to be treasured and aspired to even when the rejections are piling up).  More often than not these days, I feel better about my writing, more confident.

One strand of this frankly alien self-belief is that I have talked to people about my work, old friends and new.  The subject of genre comes up, and I tell them that I'm writing Horror stories.  They seem interested.  After all, everyone likes a scary story, don’t they?  Pretty much everyone I know has sampled (and enjoyed) The Walking Dead, or a Stephen King novel, or the latest Hollywood remake of a film that was banned 30 years ago.  One or two people showed enough of an interest that our chat put a smile on my face all day.  People are mostly really positive about my chosen subject matter (although, even after all this time, I'm still not sure if I chose the Horror genre, or if it chose me), but every now and then a strange little question arises in our conversations, most often from folks who know and care about me: Why don’t you write something NICE?

It isn't always phrased that way, of course.  Sometimes, it's something along the lines of, "Well, I liked it but, y'know, it was … disturbing."  Sometimes it's a look that touches their eyes a few moments after they have finished reading a short story or novel excerpt, as though for a second or two they're suspicious of me, wary that the same person that they know so well has all this … bleakness inside of them.

Nobody has really offered such a judgement in a judgemental way, if that makes sense.  A few of them are people with only a passing interest in the Horror genre.  They might not settle down with some beer and Nachos for a hardcore 24-hour Video Nasty marathon but they've seen, for example, a couple of SAW films and gushed with ghoulish glee (Stan Lee alliteration alert!) about "that part at the end where the murderer cuts open the guy's …" etcetera, etcetera.  They have the perfectly reasonable view of an average consumer, recognising the role of such make-believe terrors in a world where every day the real, heartbreaking horror is a time-loop of doom on the rolling news channels.

It's just that they're not too sure about someone they know writing something like that.  Something, y'know … disturbing.

They're not being unkind, by any means.  As I say they're people that care, and sometimes the question has been asked carefully, like an intervention, as though it's unhealthy that I'm wired to imagine such terrible things, rather than simply seek to be entertained by them, as they are.  It's a sickness to create, apparently, but a joy to behold.  Strange.

If the question is "Why don’t you write something NICE?" then the flipside must be, "Why are you writing something so HORRIBLE?".  I think that slight sense of distaste might be to do with a perception of the Horror genre as a gaudy ghost-train ride, nothing but guts and gore, style over substance, axe-cleaved mind over festering matter, and yes, that element exists, just as for every lauded singer/songwriter there's a cookie-cutter boy band, or for every cinematic masterpiece there's a movie that fails on every level except focus.

Nothing wrong with that, in my view.  I collect movies based on comic-books and my geek-gene means that I have to collect everything I can, regardless of quality.  There are some TERRIBLE films on those shelves, but what the Hell … a little junk-food every now and then isn't a bad thing.

The problem isn't that the Horror genre has it's shallower, visceral-thrill side.  The problem is that there seems to be a general perception that that's the ONLY side it has.  Incidentally, it's interesting how often people condemn a film they've watched when it was called something like, "Werewolf Chainsaw Apocalypse" as being "too horrible" … because of all the Werewolves and Chainsaws and stuff.  What did they expect?  Do they vilify comedies because there are too many jokes, or dismantle love stories for having too much romance?  It's Horror … the clue is in the name.

Horror is as valid as any other genre.  It feels like the right path for me because I believe in its flexibility, its welcoming arms, its ability to embrace themes that run deeper than its ravenous undead and its haunted graveyards and its masks both literal and metaphorical.  Horror, often, is a garish jukebox, an eye-catcher of neon and chrome, but look within, and the vinyl can be cut with songs of heartbreak, and joy, tunes to make you weep or dance.  All types of story can employ allegory, of course, but not all while maintaining such purity of genre.  You can have the romantic subplot to a Horror tale, but maybe it's a tougher call to add an out and out Horror element to a romance.  Romeo and Juliet is a wonderful tale of love and loss, but throw a werewolf grenade into Verona town square and that story belongs to the Dark Side.

I suppose I'm proud of the genre I'm wired to write, as all writers of all types of fiction should be.  It's just that, occasionally, the Horror genre seems to need justifying for some.  That's okay.  I can defend its artistic value until the day I die … and come back.

And if "Werewolf Chainsaw Apocalypse" exists, I NEED to see it.

- Roger Jackson

 

In Which I Introduce You To Someone New: An Interview With Roger Jackson

An interview, lovely readers!  Aren't you dying to meet somebody new?  Cue a bastardized 'The Love Boat' theme here: "Writers / exciting and new / come along / there's room for you / on vampirenomad.coooooooom..."

 

VampireNomad:  It's time to meet a new writer! Well, time for me to meet a new writer too. Roger Jackson, it's really lovely of you to sit down and chat with me. First off, tell me where on earth you are!

Roger:  Thank you.  :)  I'm in England; Liverpool to be more precise.

VampireNomad:  Oh, Beatles territory! I'm recalling that correctly, right? Liverpool lads?

Roger:  That's right! It's a big cultural thing here, somewhat before my time, but always a talking point when one mentions the city.

VampireNomad:  Sorry to be cliché.  ;)  You can't help these instant mind associations! Anyway I had to clarify because we've never actually met in real life. (Or as the kids say: IRL.) We met on Twitter. Through Friday Phrases or slightly before?

Roger:  Not a cliché at all, more of a reassuring constant. I think we mutually followed outside of Friday Phrases, but FP was where we started chatting.

VampireNomad:  I think one of our first Twitter conversations was about weird turns of phrase we like to use.

Roger:  Yes! I seem to remember you wanting to return the word “ace” to its rightful popularity! Which we both agreed was “the cat's pyjamas” haha!

VampireNomad:  Ha! Yes! That was it. Ace.
I instantly like anybody with a proper affection for words.

Roger:  As do I ... I think that's one of the intriguing challenges of something like FP; they're great exercises in restraint which means obviously trying to find the words loaded with the most meaning.

VampireNomad:  I absolutely agree. Finding a way to say the most with the least is a great challenge.
That exchange led me to your site, actually, where I discovered your longer-form writing. Your fiction is wonderful! In particular I have to call out ‘Parasite’ which is beautiful and dark.  You do have a dark aesthetic to your writing and I want to talk about that. Can you explain your motivation there?

Roger:  That's really kind of you too say. ‘Parasite’ was actually inspired by the work of the artist Claudette Anne Pearson, who quite wonderfully posted a Halloween Advent Calendar on Twitter. It was the first time my writing has been inspired so directly by the work of another, and something I really enjoyed.

VampireNomad:  It's beautiful, truly.

Roger:   I'm really glad you liked it. The story was a rare example (for me) of the plot emerging more or less intact from the original idea.

VampireNomad:  Don't you love it when that happens?  I find more often than not my characters hijack the story and drive it someplace other than where I thought it was going.

Roger:  Yes, that happens a lot, haha! But hopefully that's a good thing for the writing. I think the best result is when the plot is (more or less) how you envisaged it, but the characters themselves surprise you. If they're a little unpredictable to the writer, then hopefully they will be to the reader, too.

VampireNomad:  How very true.
Foundation question alert! I'm curious, because I always am, on what got you started in writing? Is it just something you've always done or was there an event that sparked interest?

Roger:  I've been interested in stories for as long as I can remember. I suppose my first introduction to the concept of a narrative was through the comics I read as a child (Marvel and DC), but I think if there was any kind of defining moment it was when, again as a child, I saw a TV interview with Stan Lee, and suddenly realised that somebody was making all this stuff up! Stan was just so cool, and passionate about what he was doing, and that's my earliest memory of actually wanting to write.

VampireNomad:  That is fantastic story, I mean it. I love imagining you watching Stan Lee and suddenly having this lightbulb moment of "Oh my god, somebody makes this up! I COULD MAKE THIS UP!".

Roger:  Yes, exactly! It's like you've Quantum Leaped back into my past! I still think Stan rocks, and actually looking back on it the serialized nature of those stories probably led me to understand the ideas of pacing and so on.

VampireNomad:  It's true, to a degree, that you are what you read. By that of course I mean what you ingest influences and instructs what you put out. There can't be a better introductory guide than Stan Lee.  The man is a master.

Roger:  ‘Nuff said

VampireNomad:  So how did you then get into horror and suspense?

Roger:  I actually focussed more on science-fiction when I started out, but I think that they were just horror stories in disguise. It's probably not the most unexpected of answers, but a teenage fixation with Stephen King books was a huge influence.

VampireNomad:  I could probably have guessed that.
I will say this: ‘Christine’ scared the daylights out of me back in the day.

Roger:  For me it was ‘Pet Sematary’!

VampireNomad:  Oh I couldn't even read that one! I should probably rectify that now...
Who else did you read and do you read that is an inspiration?

Roger:  I loved Poppy Z Brite, particularly ‘Exquisite Corpse’. Part of the book is set in England, and the way she described things I saw every day in such a lyrical style really chimed with my own views that the grey and the grim have their own kind of beauty. I don't have as much time right now to read as much as I would like (who does?) but I've just finished ‘Horns’ by Joe Hill and that was amazing!

VampireNomad:  Okay now I have to immediately look those two books up.  Oh and “the grey and grim have their own kind of beauty” is awesome and true, also.

Roger:  I think it's true. The darkness in a horror story is only visible because of the light of the characters.

VampireNomad:  See, this is where I realize we could actually talk for days about things like this. So much to share! You have amazing perspectives that I'm like "Yes, this!" to.  But at some point we do have to tie this up or it will be The Post That Never Ends.
So okay, to wrap up, let me ask this: what is one thing about you that you want people to know?

Roger:  Most. Difficult. Question. Ever! haha!

VampireNomad:  *bows*  Thank you.

Roger:  Ha, okay ... I suppose If I had to say one thing, it would be what is says in my Twitter bio: Geek and Proud.

VampireNomad:  LOVE IT.
Thank you so much for indulging my curiosity and questions.

Roger:  Not at all, thank you! I shall file this mentally under Terrifying but Immense Fun!

VampireNomad:  I'm not sure if I'm more flattered or more amused by the 'terrifying' part of that but either way, I'm glad we did this.


Roger Jackson, a.k.a Jabe842, can be found on Twitter and at his website An Ark Hive.

 

- Corinne Simpson