Some time back—when the edifice of PS Towers was still under haphazard construction of a kind—

I did a stint with then fledgling US publishing house White Wolf, picking up for them what I considered to be high quality literary works to counter the company’s spread of gaming material. I’d like to see some of those books find a niche for today’s genre audience, particularly Nicholas Royle’s remarkable COUNTERPARTS (and it’s worth noting here that Nick’s story ‘Glory’ was the first story I accepted for my debut anthology, NARROW HOUSES circa 1990), SHEEP and VIRGINS AND MARTYRS from Simon Maginn and THE BLOOD OF ANGELS and THE CORMORANT by Stephen Gregory.

Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when I discovered Stephen’s A PLAGUE OF GULLS.

Published quietly (damn near ‘silently’ in fact) some two or three years ago, the book managed to miss me completely. Good grief! So I quickly snagged the reprint rights and the book is now on Nicky’s schedule for the next couple of months. Believe me, it’s worth your attention, touted as it is as “KES meets THE BIRDS.” Here’s a sneak preview.

November in Snowdonia. I'm in the caravan, up at the quarry. The gulls are going crazy, screaming and battering at the windows with their wings. I can hear the slither of their feet on the roof as they land and take off again.
     When I open the door, step outside and fling them a handful of bread and biscuit, they fight and gobble as though they're starving and then they beat away from me, a white and black and grey cloud. I shut the door and walk to the edge of the quarry.
     It's cold, eight o'clock in the morning. There's a silvery drizzle blowing in the air.
     My stump's hurting. The doctor said it'll ache when the winter comes, he said I'll feel the ghost of the missing finger when the days get colder. The ghost is haunting me already, a throbbing pain where the finger used to be. I cup both hands around my mug of tea and peer over the brink of the quarry.
     My quarry. It still seems strange. It belongs to me, the hole, and everything in it. The gulls, all mine.
The birds calm down, once they've woken me and winkled me out of the caravan. And the pain in my hand eases a bit as I press it to the hot mug. Standing on the edge, I look down into the pool, a hundred feet below me. The water's always different, it changes with the time of day and the light on the surface. In the mornings, before the sun's risen over the hillside, it's perfectly black, perfectly smooth, and I can see deeply into it.
     Dad's car. I can make out the humped, rounded shape of it, lying in the pool like a dead whale. Dimly, the headlamps peer up at me. Shivering. Hard to believe, not so long ago it was August, the summer, the carnival in town. November ... the word sends a shiver down my spine.
     I blink away from the round eyes at the bottom of the pool and look about the quarry. It's littered with the rubbish which people bring up from Caernarfon: there's a raggedy kind of avalanche, where people have driven up and slung their bags and boxes and broken machinery, unwanted bits of their homes, their gardens, their lives. A spillage of discarded stuff, snagged on the rocks on its way down to the pool ...
     A strange inheritance. I own a hole a hundred feet deep, and all the air and water in it. I own all the broken, unnecessary things which are thrown into it. And hundreds of gulls, which come to the quarry for the pickings and to wake me in the morning for their breakfast.
     My tea's going cold. I sling the dregs onto the ground. I look up to the top of the hill, the iron fence and rusted barbed wire which are supposed to stop sheep and curious hikers from coming too close. Down to the town, miles below me: the gleam of slate from the rooftops, the towers of the castle no more than a glimmer of grey through the drizzle.
     Cold. I turn away from the quarry, with just a glance at the pool again. A flurry of a breeze picks up a sheet of newspaper. It whirls in the air, folding and turning this way and that, and a few of the gulls dive to the hole, as though they think the flutter of white is a gull from another quarry trespassing on their territory. But then they twist away, and the paper settles on the water. It spreads and darkens and sinks. The outline of the car blurs and disappears.
     I turn back to the caravan. When I open the door, there's a rush of air and some of the gulls drop to the roof and land there. They try to get into the door as I squeeze inside. For a mad moment, there's a brawling of wings and their big rubbery feet and jabbing beaks around my shoulders, as they try to force themselves past me ...
     'No, not you! And not you! And not you!'
     I yell at them, and I beat them off with my hands. They clack on my mug with their horny beaks. And then, when they fall away from me, squalling among themselves, one of them springs forward again ...
     'Yes, you! Get inside!'
     I let the bird come in, between my legs and into the caravan, and I quickly shut the door.
     Outside, the racket gets louder and louder. All the gulls in the quarry are banging at the windows and on the roof to try and get in. I pull the curtains shut and sit on the bed, with my hands around the cooling mug. Minute by minute, the commotion subsides, until my little space and the world outside are quiet again.
     'You,' I say to the bird. 'This is all because of you.' Right now, it's standing on the end of my bed, rearranging a few ruffled feathers with the tip of its beak. At the sound of my voice, it cocks its head on one side and looks at me with a bright black eye. 'Yes, you. What makes you think you're so different from all the others?'
     And you? the bird seems to say to me. What's so special about you?
     Nothing special. No claim to fame. I'm David Kewish, eighteen years old. Five years in a dingy little private school in Bangor and then I do so badly in my exams that not a university in the land will take me in.
     David Kewish, sitting in a caravan in a Welsh quarry, with my gull. It pants into my face. I love that smell. The carpet feels damp, and the rumpled bed I've been sleeping on. I see myself in the wardrobe mirror. Funny, even when I'm tousled and bleary I look alright, a well-made teenage boy with a clear complexion and thick black hair. Nothing special.
     It was a strange summer. Some upsetting things happened. That's why I've come up to the quarry, to let it all blow over. Rumours and whispers and tales about me. About the bird. About me and the bird.
     A strange summer. People got hurt. Was it one or two? Or three? Who's counting?

Folks, you are in for a treat of rare magnitude. And if this novel is received with the excitement it so richly deserves then we’ll see about the other stuff that you may have missed.

0

And, somewhat amazingly . . .

There are some readers out there who have missed one or two volumes in Stephen Jones’s long-running BEST NEW HORROR. So, with volume 29 now well underway and in order to help fans of quality horror fiction to fill in some of those frustrating gaps we’re about to publish volume 25 thereby enabling you to discover such tantalizing delights as these:

  • Who Dares Wins: Anno Dracula 1980 by Kim Newman

  • Click-clack the Rattlebag by Neil Gaiman
  • Dead End by Nicholas Royle
  • Isaac’s Room by Daniel Mills
  • The Burning Circus by Angela Slatter
  • Holes for Faces by Ramsey Campbell
  • By Night He Could Not See by Joel Lane
  • Come Into My Parlour by Reggie Oliver
  • The Middle Park by Michael Chisleet
  • 
Into the Water by Simon Kurt Unsworth
  • The Burned House by Lynda E. Rucker
  • What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Z— by Lavie Tidhar
  • Fishfly Season by Halli Villegas

  • Doll Re Mi by Tanith Lee
  • A Night’s Work by Clive Barker
  • The Sixteenth Step by Robert Shearman
  • Stemming the Tide by Simon Strantzas
  • The Gist by Michael Marshall Smith
  • Guinea Pig Girl by Thana Niveau
  • Miss Baltimore Crabs: Anno Dracula 1990 by Kim Newman

  • Whitstable by Stephen Volk

And hey, dig the funky cover! Go order your copy today, you warrior! And while you’re at it (particularly if you’re new to our BEST NEW HORROR tpbs) give some thought to volumes 1, 2, 3, 26, 27 and 28. Whoo hoo!

0

As William Peter Blatty writes in his introduction to Brian James Freeman’s WALKING WITH GHOSTS . . .

"Freeman's prose is clean and lovely, painting the canvas of the printed page so unobtrusively yet with such pronounced effect. His writing will leave you both chilled and deeply moved."

And he’s right. Brian's first full-length collection, features twenty-nine unforgettable tales including several that are seeing print for the very first time. Intense, eerie, and compelling, the pages within contain characters and creations that will leave a haunting impression on the reader long after the final page is turned.

Here are a few tasters.

No one was supposed to be in the abandoned town. The escorted group of reporters, photographers, and cameramen wore paper masks provided by the U.N.'s media liaison team and they wouldn't be here for more than half an hour. There had been no sign of any civilians when the four CH-47 Chinook helicopters circled the region on the way in and they didn't expect to see anyone on the way out. Only the insane and the sick would still be living here.
     Stephen carried his camera close and he walked alongside Rick McDuff, a reporter whose career dated clear back to Vietnam. Nothing fazed him anymore. Stephen wished he could say the same, but he was merely a self-taught photographer on his first tour of duty outside his hometown and, even after several months of traveling to places like this with Rick, he didn't have the courage or the stomach to process the horrific scenes with a cold, clinical eye the way his much older colleague did.
     They were passing a crumbling house when a hesitant movement in the shadows caught Stephen's attention. There was a young girl in there, wearing a dirty and tattered dress draped over her skeletal frame. Her skin was pale and her eyes were very blue.
     "Rick, look," Stephen whispered, pointing as the girl ducked deeper into the shadows of the interior.
     "The house?"
      "No, the little girl."
    "I don't see anyone," Rick said. He glanced at Stephen for a moment, as if to confirm he wasn't joking, and then back at the ruins. "They searched to make sure the area was clear, you know."

—From ‘An instant eternity’

And this:

Every Saturday, his little boy awakens with the rising sun.
     The middle-aged widower is already awake in his own bedroom down the hall. He has barely slept in the six months since his wife's tragic accident ripped her from their lives, breaking his heart and devastating his little boy, but he remains in bed and waits for the day to begin. What else can he do?
     He hears his son's bedroom door creak open. He closes his eyes and pretends to be asleep. He hopes his son will not speak the words he always speaks on Saturday mornings, but the man's heart knows better.
     "Daddy?" his little boy whispers.
     The man blinks his eyes open, as if he's just waking up, and he forces a big smile for his son who stands in the doorway in his pajamas. The August sunlight sneaks around the curtains, washing across his little boy's angelic face. The father smiles even though he's frozen inside. He smiles and he hopes today won't be like every other Saturday for the last six months.
     "Good morning, Timothy," he says.
     "Mornin', Daddy. Can we go on the Mommy Tour?"
     The father wants to sigh, but he holds his smile. This is what their therapist, Dr. Linda Madison, has advised him to do.
     "Yes, of course. Give me ten minutes to get ready."
     His son's smile widens as the little boy bounds back to his bedroom.
     The father's smile fades into a grimace. He dresses in silence.

—From ‘Where sunlight sleeps.’

Or this:

The young man must be lonely.
     There is something terrible about the look in his eyes, about the way his body slumps over the heavy, black answering machine perched on his lap. He sits on the chair in the middle of the barren room, and he is naked except for his white underwear and his cheap watch. He's drenched in sweat. A single tear hovers on the edge of his pale, trembling lips. He has dark hair and narrow fingers with fingernails chewed to the quick.
The wood floor groans when he shifts his weight. There are no windows, only the door to the hallway and a door to the walk-in closet. A single lamp glows with a yellowed light, but the light does not reach the corners of the room. An extension cord snakes across the floor, powering the lamp and the old, boxy answering machine.
     He pushes the button that was once marked ANNOUNCEMENT before years of contact rubbed the word away. The tape crackles, there is a beep, and a woman's voice speaks: "You've reached the Smith Family, we can't come to the phone right now, but if you leave a message, we'll get right back to you."
     This is the voice of the dead. The sound has deteriorated a bit with age, but when the young man plays this tape, the dead woman lives on, just for a moment. There is a second beep and the woman is dead once again.
     The young man plays the tape one last time, then checks his watch and sighs. He returns the machine to the closet. He wouldn't want to be late for work, and the dead woman isn't going anywhere.

—From ‘Answering the call’

In these days of almost gleeful excess there’s a surprising gentleness to Brian Freeman’s work though, of course, you should also be prepared for the occasional slam-dunk when you least expect it. Otherwise, it’s a veritable oasis of calm in a frenetic world.
     “When I'm between projects,” he says in his Foreword, “I'll often find myself drifting toward my ‘finished stories’ folder -- a poorly selected moniker if there ever was one -- where I'll open manuscripts and tinker here and there until it's time to give up on them again.
     “That's where the title of this volume comes from. It's how I would describe my life with these short stories. In my head, I walked among these events, transcribing them to the best of my ability and then rewriting in an attempt to convey the realness of what I first experienced, but even after I typed The End, they never left me alone. Not really. These characters are still waiting for me to walk with them again. And I do. Often.
     “But it is better to have gotten the stories down on paper as best I can, that much is true. The ghosts aren't nearly as boisterous once the story is written and published. But still, they wait. They often have more to say.
     “Collected here are twenty-nine ghosts that have haunted me at one point or another since I was thirteen years old. I'm ready to visit with them again.”

0

NEW ARRIVAL

Copies arrived just this morning of TO CHARLES FORT WITH LOVE, award-winning fantasist Caitlín R. Kiernan's third collection of short fiction, a haunting parade of the terrible things which may lie beyond the boundaries of science, the minds which may exist beyond psychology, and the forbidden places which will never be located in any orthodox globe.

A deceptively even dozen, this collection includes Kiernan's celebrated stories "Onion" and "Andromeda Among the Stones," as well as a number of more obscure pieces. Though Kiernan was recently praised as "the new Lovecraft," these stories stand as testimony that she will never be merely the "new" anyone, that hers is a unique and demanding voice entirely unlike any other.

0

Okay, that’s about it for this time.

With barely two weeks to go until the longest day—unbelievable but true, folks—today’s sparkling sunshine coupled with a refreshing cooling breeze from the North Sea certainly provided a welcoming lift in spirits when I took time out to have a seafront coffee with my chum and fellow scribbler Gary Armitage (aka Robert Edric). I hope you and yours—friends and soulmates alike—have a wonderful time lying in the grass someplace and watching the clouds drift by. God knows but we all of us deserve it.

Pete

PS Publishing

Grosvenor House, 1 New Road

Hornsea, HU18 1HG

Contact Phone 01964 537575

Website www.pspublishing.co.uk

LIKE TWEET FORWARD