Almost everyone I talk to about phobias has one - an irrational fear, sometimes described as a morbid fear, that affects the way they live their lives, often on a daily basis.
It's the kind of fear that makes people cover up mirrors, sleep with the light on, or use synthetic pillows.
I know phobia.
I just lost my glowing introduction about how I didn't have time to write a blog post this week. I genuinely don't have time to write it again, because, you know: I value sleep too.
So, without further ado, here's a free dark fiction story, Somewhere in the Street, originally published in the British Fantasy Society's "Dick and Jane: A Primer for Adults" back when I was writing as Ed Clayton. If you've been following my ups and downs for some time, you might even remember it.
They wanted stories that showed the world a darkness within the not-so-perfect-really world of Dick and Jane. Here's what I saw and brought back for them.
If you like this, please check the free dark fiction stories page periodically for updates, or add your name to my mailing list so I can send you good stuff.
Somewhere in the Street
By Dean Clayton Edwards
According to the dictionary, it was a ‘mew’. That doesn't do it for me. It was a snarl and a hiss and a wail and nobody wanted to hear it, but nobody could ignore it, no matter how hard they tried. It turned the milk sour and ruffled the newspaper so that you couldn't fold it neatly in half. It lost the car keys and made you late for work. It slept with your wife and dared you to say something, because it knew you didn’t want to make a scene.
The sound resounded in the hearts of those who heard it. It touched a place they would never admit existed; not to you and certainly not to themselves, because it reflected both their desire to escape and the futility of such an idea.
The cat darted back and forth over the grass like something from a Warner Bros cartoon. Somebody somewhere must have had a camcorder as this was the kind of spectacle that regularly made it onto prime time television, although without the blood, and without that sound – screeching, tearing, gurgling - that went on and on.
The dog was as persistent as the cat was desperate. It anticipated the feline's every move. Chased the furball around a tree. Paused a moment. Leapt and snatched an already snaggled leg in its bloody jaws.
Over two minutes the cat's nine lives were strewn recklessly over the grass. Its 'mews' (no, they were screams, like a child might scream if you stabbed her in the throat) shot into the beautiful, blue sky like fireworks. Catherine wheels. They were Catherine wheels.
Eventually, the cat bled to death. It lay on the ground like a bloody hand towel. It had a face, this hand towel, with one eye; glazed and half shut.
The dog crouched a few feet away, growling, as though it believed its prey was playing a cunning trick; playing dead. After a few moments, it eased forward and nosed the cooling carcass.
Somewhere in the street, in one of the houses, a light went off.
Dick released a shuddery breath and shuffled forward, brushing dirt from his shorts with one hand. Jane, who was also hiding behind the hedge, had covered her face with her hands and was blubbering noisily. Dick could hear her snorts and gasps from behind her hands.
“Stop crying,” he said. “I told you Spot would win.”
He adjusted the crotch of his shorts so his erection could stand comfortably and he glanced up at the windows. The few faces that had appeared were gone, because the adults didn’t care what happened in this town as long as you didn’t make too much noise … although, once he had brought a stray dog into the house and when his mother spied the little doggy paw prints all over the kitchen floor she had dislocated his shoulder with a mop handle. Apart from that …
He walked, undaunted now, across the grass.
“Good boy, Spot!” he said; “good boy!” and the dog flinched instinctively.
Dick examined the ragged cat. You could see its stomach and everything.
He picked up a stick.
Jane dragged her feet petulantly, still sobbing gently, as Dick used the stick to raise the cat into the air. A victory flag.
“See?” he said. “You owe me a forfeit.”
“Mother will be mad,” she whined.
“Not if we don’t tell her,” Dick said. “Go and get the shovel. Don’t let anyone see you, or I’ll tell them you did it.”
Later, as they dug a hole for the remains of Little Mew - as Jane would have named her - Dick using the shovel and Jane using her hands, Dick said that one day he was going to kill Mother and Father. If they ever got out of hand, he said, he was going to poison them.
“One day, I’ll tell you not to eat your dinner and I won’t eat mine and they’ll send us to our room and when we come downstairs in the morning, they’ll be dead.”
Jane, who sometimes loved her Father, was distressed at this. Her lip quivered and curled and she pulled that face she always pulled just before she began bawling.
“Don’t kill Father,” she whined.
“I don’t want to kill them,” Dick said. “But one day I might have to. And then I’d have to kill both of them. It’s no good killing one and leaving the other.”
“If you kill Father I’m telling,” Jane said.
Dick brought the shovel down on her fingers.
She let out a glass-shattering scream, which ended abruptly when Dick clamped his hand over her writhing mouth.
“Maybe one day I’ll kill you too,” he whispered quickly. “Maybe I’ll kill you first. Maybe I won’t tell you what day not to eat dinner.”
He could feel her tongue and her lips moving under the palm of his hand. He could feel her trying to say she was sorry.
He looked at the hole they had been digging together and a cloudy idea formed in his mind, ever the opportunist, but no, this was completely the wrong spot to hide a body her size. They’d find her within days.
“Okay,” he said. “Let me finish this hole and I’ll take you to the house.” He looked at her hands. “Mother and Father will have to call you an ambulance.”
Before continuing to dig, he bent to pick something up from the dirt.
“Here,” he said. “Take your fingers.”
And then, as he kicked the cat, Little Mew, into her grave and piled on the dirt:
“Stop crying, Jane. It’s going to be okay.”
After prioritising fiction writing over paid writing, I’ve noticed some immediate changes and learned some very valuable lessons.
Prioritising Writing is Scary as Hell
Genuinely putting writing first has been a journey into the unknown.
The idea of prioritising something you love over the thing that brings in the cash is quite a romantic idea, I think. It creates a warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s life-affirming. It’s noble. It’s courageous.
Doing it, however, is scary as hell. It’s like playing chicken with a juggernaut, only you know that the trucks (deadlines) are blind, they don’t give a damn about your writing, and they are on autopilot.
It’s been difficult to remain committed to putting fiction first. I’m no stranger, however, to doing what feels right, even though it seems insane on paper. Working on stories when clients were waiting for their non-fiction articles felt ludicrous at first, but I persisted in the name of personal experiment. I already knew what I thought would happen. It was time to see if and how that would pan out. Would it really be as bad as I thought?
A Focus on Fiction is Difficult But Worth It
haven’t missed any deadlines since prioritising my fiction writing. In part, that’s because I’ve been working longer hours to get everything done.
Fact: pursuing my fiction is making achieving the paid work more difficult, no doubt.
Getting the work done has not been impossible though.
And most importantly, it’s worth it. Yes, I’ve had to work longer hours. Yes, I’ve had to forsake drumming several days in a row. Yes, I’ve had to cancel some French lessons and some meditation classes. These are minor sacrifices, however, compared to what I’ve given up over the years. And I am now advancing again towards my number one goal.
How much time I spend with my family is not something that I expect to change dramatically as a result of this shift. I could spend more time with all of them, it’s true, but as a husband/dad who works at home, I think I’m getting more family time than many guys. Improving the quality is something to think about, but that’s not anything that has been changed by moving my writing around.
So, putting fiction first hasn’t destroyed my relationships at home or with clients. I have had a few 4am finishes to get everything done. And I’ve asked some people to wait for things longer than usual. In the short-term, this has been just fine.
Minutes Become Hours in Seconds
I’ve committed to writing 25 minutes of fiction per day. Using the Pomodoro technique, I write for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. After 25 minutes of writing my own fiction, however, I feel like I’ve got another stretch in me. I’m constantly tempted to do another pomodoro, and then another, and then perhaps another.
There are far worse temptations to succumb to. Since I’m re-writing tricky bits of my current novel, I am embracing the feeling of wanting to do more than half an hour. The knock-on effect is that my paid work is getting pushed back into a corner.
I’m starting to think that I might try working generally in 2-hour blocks, which is convenient for the Pomodoro technique. As often as possible, I will make at least one of those 2-hour blocks for some aspect of my fiction writing, whether that’s writing, editing, blogging, or promoting.
Paid work has gone from being a ravenous beast that needs feeding to being a job that finances, among other things, my ability to write and pursue my vocation.
Writing Fiction is (Ful)filling
When working for my clients, I feel satisfaction at getting a job done well, but in the end I still feel hungry. After writing fiction, however, even if I’ve not been at it all day as I would love, I feel like I’ve eaten a full meal.
After writing, I’ve got the energy – mental, physical and emotional – to tackle the other demands of the day in good spirits. Life is no longer an opponent that tackles me before I can reach my writing goal. I reach my writing goal and then tackle life.
Writing advice suggests that writers should write every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, eve if writing that day means re-reading. I used to think that was only about keeping up momentum, but it works in more ways than that.
Noting the difference between how I felt before prioritizing fiction and after, I can’t see myself going back.
How do you balance your day job with the work you hope to become your day job?
It's March and I'm a couple of months behind on editing the current dark fiction novel. The book needs much more work than I anticipated, and it's been a slog, because I'm disappointed by the overhaul required, and I've been busy elsewhere too.
As a content writer, I've just written hundreds of words of advice on time management for writers. As I did so, I was aware that I wasn't following my advice of doing a bit every day. Even if it's just reading through what has already been written, staying engaged with a story keeps up some momentum.
There's a lot of talk about how to write a novel fast at the moment. Writing consistently is worth focusing on too.
Adjusting the schedule of my Pacemaker planner to give me more time, I saw that I hardly edited my novel at all during January and February. I did, however, write and edit more than 100,000 words of web content. While my novels and short stories are very important to me - and I hope you'll like them when they're done - I have been prioritising the stuff that makes money now, the words that help keep the gas bottles coming in, wood on the fire, the lights on, and the kids fed.
I think it's time to make a change, though.
It's time to prioritise my writing, as my wife does and is always encouraging me to do. Not prioritising it mentally. There are few things as prominent in my mind as these characters and what they do. Prioritising it as in genuinely moving it up the list of things to do every day.
I've rarely put my fiction over the writing I do for money. Joanna Penn recommends saving 6 months' wages before quitting your day job to write. I'm not talking about quitting my day job, just finding a way to make that day come more quickly. At the current rate, I'll be able to quit my day job when I'm 684.
There are a lot of things that people recommend doing for half an hour a day. If you did them all, you'd never sleep. If I'd spent half an hour a day working on the book, however, I wonder how that would have affected my day job as a content writer/editor and ghostwriter, and all the other stuff I do over the course of the month.
If I'm ever to make the shift from content writing and ghostwriting to writing for myself more of the time, I need to take a risk and make it happen.
So, my Pacemaker planners should be looking more healthy from now on. If not, I shall report why on the blog.
I'll also take this opportunity to commit to blogging at least once a week. There, I've said it.
My first sale was a micro fiction story under 50 words. It was a good grounding in how powerful words can be. You don't need many to make an impression.
"Brevity" is described as a flash fiction handbook. One of my very short stories - something untitled about a giant spider - has been included.
The book covers all sorts of short fiction and will help people think about writing powerfully and concisely. David Galef has done a fantastic job.
His story, "My Date with Neanderthal Woman," will be read on Selected Shorts on 8 February 2017.
Being an academic book, Brevity will set you back a few quid, even second hand, but it's an inspiring and educational read, and imagine that - In a roundabout way, I might end up on a university syllabus.