SHORT STORY: The Interview by Phil Sloman

This is absolutely amazing and I am SO excited about getting to share this with you today. When Phil said he wanted to do the interview this year, but wanted to do it different, I never, in my wildest dreams, could have expected this. After reading it, I had to go out and share it with my mother (my best friend), who I think enjoyed it a little more than I did.

The Interview

He pulled up outside the house and put the car into park. His face was bathed with a dull glow as he turned on his phone. He flicked through a couple of screens, eventually finding the address he was after. The last thing he wanted to do was knock on the door of a random stranger and then stumble through why he was in the neighbourhood so late at night.

It had been a long drive, far longer than he had intended with traffic jams and a blown tire to contend with, but he was here now and that was all that mattered. He’d phoned ahead just to make sure, almost hoping that the answer would be “Don’t worry, grab a motel room and we can do it in the morning,” but she had seemed so enthusiastic, and he wasn’t one to disappoint. It was that eagerness to please which had brought him here in the first place. Normally these things would have been done online or by phone but he’d casually dropped in that he had family not too far away and the suggestion they do this face to face had been slipped in ever so subtly and in a way in which he couldn’t really say no.

Thirty minutes, he told himself, or maybe an hour tops and then he could be on the road to go find somewhere to get his head down for the night. He flipped his phone off and tossed it into the glove box without even thinking and made his way towards the front door.

A lot of effort had gone into decorating the house, the usual Halloween paraphernalia put out ahead of the weekend’s celebrations. Tomorrow the streets would be crawling with goblins and ghouls, witches and warlocks, all carrying plastic pumpkins filled to the brim with candy and treats. It was his favourite part of Halloween watching the children all heading out and having so much fun. Tonight, though, was more subdued. The calm before the storm. Fake cobwebs hung from Styrofoam gravestones, with skeletal hands emerging from the ground among a whole crop of carved pumpkins each filled with flickering lights. He smiled as he noticed the Satan Stop Here sign and imagined just what might happen if that particular red suited man were to turn up. At least he would have no problem working out who was naughty or nice.

He pressed the doorbell and waited. A black and white sign reading “Home Sweet Haunted Home” hung to the side of the door. He was almost too distracted by it to notice as the door swung open.

“Phil!” There was an excitement to the greeting.

“Um, hi, yeah,” he said, bumbling his words. “So sorry that I’m late, Meghan, you know, what with the traffic and the flat and everything. I mean, is it still okay? What time is it anyway? Almost midnight?”

Meghan looked up at him and smiled. One of those reassuring ones which makes you feel as if the world will all be just hunky-dory if you simply went with it.

“Of course it’s fine. You’ve come all this way and I wouldn’t want you to have a wasted journey now, would I. So why don’t you come right on in. We can settle down over a nice iced tea and get down to business. Doesn’t that sound great?”

“Yes, I guess it does.” Except he knew he’d only end up sipping at the drink out of politeness, counting the seconds until he could get his head down for some shut eye.

“Wonderful. Now do follow me. Please.”

He did as he was instructed, walking closely behind his hostess towards the inner sanctum of Chateau Hyden.

“You’ve got a lovely place here,” he said turning left and then right as they weaved through a maze of rooms. He was about to take another left when something skittered across his feet.

“Oh, jeez, what the hell was that?”

Meghan turned to face him. “That was Mia.”

“Mia?”

“My cat. You might get to meet her later. She’s adorable but she does bring me in all kinds of strays. You do like cats, don’t you? I know some folks can get a bit superstitious around them.”

“Cats? Me. Nah, love them. We’ve got a couple of them back home. Only thing I’m really superstitious about is magpies. You know, where you have to salute them if you see one on their own. Otherwise bad shit will happen.”

He laughed, a little less convincingly than he would have liked.

“Oh, bad stuff can happen anyway, magpies or not,” said Meghan, that thousand-watt smile beaming brightly yet seeming ever so less reassuring now.

“Um, yeah, I guess you’re right.” He rubbed the back of his neck, not quite sure where to look.

Meghan simply continued smiling, the pair of them standing in silence, the sound of a carriage clock ticking away in the distance. For a second he thought he could hear something else too. Something muffled. Almost as if someone were shouting from the bottom of a well or a pond. Possible coming from his left. He turned, still listening, seeing a door with a lock, a large black key poking from the keyhole…the sound was definitely coming from the room beyond…he strained to hear…his hand resting on the doorhandle…

“Through here,” said Meghan.

“I’m sorry?”

“We’re through here,” she repeated, taking his arm and guiding him to follow her. Even so, he couldn’t resist one last look back at the door.

The room she led him into was spacious with bookshelves running from floor to ceiling. In the middle of the room was a coffee table with two wicker chairs either side. A tray with a large crystal jug and two tall slim jims, each filled with iced tea, had been placed on the table. Large potted plants added a touch of the exotic to the room.

“Please, do sit.” Meghan pointed to the furthest chair. “Then we can begin.”

He ambled to the chair, pausing to look at the bookshelves. There were so many books; it was wonderful. And here, right here, was the horror section in all its glory. There were the Campbells, Kings, Barkers, Jacksons, and Poes. Oh Poe. He hadn’t realised it was horror when he’d first read those abridged versions in his 1,000 Page Story Book for Children all those years back. How old must he have been? Eight? Nine? He couldn’t really remember. What he did recall was the fascination and atmosphere that those tales by Poe evoked in him. It would be almost a full decade before he properly delved into horror thereafter through Skeleton Crew and the Books of Blood. And here were some of the newer authors. Mauro. Sharma. Linwood Grant. Everington. West. Gardner. Jones. He paused as he recognised some particular books among the works.

“Nice to see a few of my pieces have made it to your shelves.”

“Of course.” That smile again. “We’ve always got a special place for Phil Sloman here. Shall we?”

The chair creaked as he sat down. He made a note to himself to cut down on the late-night cheese binges. Meghan sat opposite and pushed the tray towards him.

“Please, help yourself.”

“Thanks.” He grabbed a glass and took a sip. The taste wasn’t unpleasant but there was a hint of something he couldn’t quite place. “It’s good,” he said, manners kicking in.

“Thank you. My mother made it.”

“Well, do pass on my thanks to her.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll be able to do that yourself. In time.”

Time. He glanced at his watch. It was still the right side of midnight but only just. How long before he could be out of here? Before he could be on the road again.

“So, what did you want to know?” he said, eager to proceed.

“Know?”

“The interview. That’s why I’m here, right?”

“Oh, yes, sure. The interview.”

“And?” He was being snippy. He didn’t mean to be; the long drive, the late hour, but he just wished they could start.

“Right,” said Meghan, rising above his ire. “Let me see. Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?”

“Wow, right in with the big questions. No punches held.”

“I like to be direct.”

“That’s good. I like that. Um, so to your question. I don’t really keep track of unsolved murders. You might think that a bit bizarre given some of my work. Becoming David and The Man Who Fed the Foxes being good examples without giving too much away.” He winked at her then regretted it immediately. He could be such an idiot at times. “But,” he said, recovering himself, “there’s that important divide for me between real life and fiction. You know what I mean?”

“Sure.”

“I mean there’s every likelihood that there’s a dead body somewhere in this street and we wouldn’t know about it.”

Meghan laughed.

“Well, that would certainly be exciting, wouldn’t it!”

“I guess it would.” He took another sip of his drink. “Are you going to take any notes?”

“No, it’s fine. I have a great memory. You just keep on talking.”

“Sure. Well, I guess that was it really.” God, why hadn’t he done this by email. At least then he could have taken the time with his answers. “What’s next?”

Meghan leaned forward in her chair, her eyes widening almost with glee as she popped her next question. “Tell me, who’s your favourite serial killer and why?”

“Favourite serial killer? Hmmm, well I guess that’s a bit like the unsolved murders. A bit too real for me. I mean, Dahmer was someone who intrigued me at the time, as I guess he did for most of us, but there’s that worry for me of celebrity status for something so heinous. It’s almost as if we remember the killer and not the victims. It’s weird because I’m happy to write about that stuff as fiction but the real life stuff…” He pulled a face.

“I know what you mean.”

“And it’s always the people you least expect. Those people who come across as so nice, the next-door neighbour who everyone always had time for, who would go out of their way to get the drinks in.”

“Well, everyone likes a nice drink. How’s the iced tea?”

“It’s good.” He took another sip, then placed the glass on the tray. “Are you having any?”

“In a bit. Now, are you ready for the next question.”

He nodded, tugging at his collar as he did so.

“So, which urban legend scares you?”

“Urban legend. Let me think.” His fingers worked at the top button of his shirt. Air, he needed some air. “Urban legend…urban legend.”

“Are you okay?” There was concern in her voice.

“Yes, it’s just getting a little warm in here.”

“Is it? I hadn’t noticed. So, you were saying?”

“Right, legends. Urban legends. Umm, I guess probably that fear Poe had. You know the one where you’re buried alive. So not really an urban legend. Apparently it happened lots back then. You know folks trapped in their coffins, still breathing, somehow, with no one to hear them. Muffled voices shouting…from…the…grave.”

He could feel the blood drain from his face even as he said the words. Dots joining up slowly in a brain which was barely ticking over.

“Could you open a window?”

“In a bit. More iced tea, perhaps?”

“Sure.”

He went to reach for his glass. Something so simple. All he needed to do was stretch out his arm and pick up the glass. Except he couldn’t. His arm hung limply by his side.

“Is everything okay?”

“Ye..” He tried to form the word. Just three letters. “Ye..” His tongue felt fat in his mouth, his jaw wouldn’t move. “Y…” He watched as Meghan rose from her seat, coming round to check on him, to give him help. Except she wasn’t. He saw the hand rushing open-palmed towards his face. He knew the contact must have happened except where there should have been a sharp pain, residual tingling, there was nothing.

“Mom, come here. He’s ready.”

Slowly his vision faded, the room becoming hazy, the world around him softening. He was aware of someone else entering the room, a woman, muffled voices talking then hands under his arms, being dragged from his chair. His feet skittered across the hardwood floor. Was that Mia playing around his ankles, dashing back and forth under his legs? He couldn’t tell. And then they were somewhere else. The corridor? That hum of voices. A door opening. The voices louder now. Familiar voices. Ones he had heard speak at conventions on panels, and some, the more famous ones, on television and radio.

“Meghan, honey, I think he’s still awake.”

“It doesn’t matter. He shouldn’t feel a thing. Probably.”


He opened his eyes. The first sensation was that he was underwater. The world blurred around him. Except there were some things he could make out. Shelves filled with large jars. The types you had in high school science labs, usually with some dead rat or alien looking creature suspended in formaldehyde.

“Oh, look, he’s finally awake.”

“About time. Now we know why they call him Slow-man!”

“Nice one, Ramsey.”

“My pleasure, Steve.”

“Who, who’s there?” he said, trying to keep the quiver from his voice. Except something was different. Almost as if he was speaking through melted marshmallow.

“Shut up, all of you. I think I can hear her coming.”

“Yes, Clive. Whatever you say, Clive. I mean what is she going to do that she hasn’t done already?”

“Yes, what sights might she have to show us?”

“Ah, fuck you, guys!”

Light flooded the room.

“Okay, what’s going on in here? I told you all before to keep the noise down. The neighbours have been complaining.”

“Yes, Meghan.”

“Sorry, Meghan.”

“Won’t happen again, Meghan.”

“Good. Glad to hear it.” He heard footsteps crossing the room. Then she was there. Her face in front of his. She tapped the glass of the jar, looking at the disembodied head.

“See, I told you we had a special place here for Phil Sloman. Plenty of time for questions. And I do have so many questions. In the meantime, welcome to Meghan’s Haunted House of Books. I hope you enjoy your stay.”

The End


Boo-graphy:
Phil Sloman is a writer of dark psychological fiction. His first story was published in 2014 and he has been writing ever since. In 2017 Phil was shortlisted for British Fantasy Award Best Newcomer for his novella Becoming David, and was part of Imposter Syndrome from Dark Minds Press which was nominated for British Fantasy Award Best Anthology in 2018, and edited the 2020 British Fantasy Award nominated The Woods anthology. Phil regularly appears on several reviewers’ Best of Year lists.

Author website
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Becoming David
Richard leads a simple, uncomplicated life in the suburbs of London where anonymity is a virtue. His life has a routine. His cleaner visits twice a week. He works out in his basement, where he occasionally he kills people. Everything is as Richard wants it until David enters his life. What happens next changes his existence in its entirety and the lives of those around him. Is he able to trust anything to be true? And will he be able to escape David or will David take over Richard’s life completely?

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: Paul M. Feeney

When it comes to deciding what horror movie I am going to watch next (and even when I’m looking for book choices), Paul is my go-to guy. And he has been spot-on every single time. He has given us quite a few below… and I can’t wait to watch the ones I have not seen yet.

Halloween Horror Gems

Halloween is, of course, the spookiest of days and the month of October the spookiest of ‘seasons’ (though there is a valid argument for the Christmas period as an appropriate time for ghost stories, but this is a Halloween article, so…), and as such, it’s absolutely appropriate for the horror fan – or, indeed, anyone – to sit down to any number of horror films (and books) and give themselves a delightful fright. Now, it’s a known fact to those who know it that the horror fan will watch scary and horrific films all year round. But there’s just something extra special about viewing them around Halloween. An added frisson, a more delicious atmosphere.

What I want to do here, is highlight a few films that might have slipped under some people’s radar. They’re not specifically Halloween, and they won’t be completely unknown – especially to the hardened scare seeker – but I think, perhaps, they maybe don’t pop up on other people’s lists as much as I think they should. I also want to look at films that are wholly appropriate for the ‘season’, not just horror films but ones with that Halloween atmosphere; again, not specific to the holiday, just ones that have that certain shiver-inducing tone.

So, let’s dive in…

The Stylist – 2020, Dir: Jill Gevargizian.

I watched this recently – and it’s a recent film – and absolutely loved it. Claire, a talented and highly regarded hair stylist is socially awkward, insecure, alone and lonely, and unsure of her place in the world. She’s also a killer, taking the scalps of her victims to try on whilst quoting them as though trying to take on their personalities, too. When Olivia, a client she’s dealt with many times before asks for an emergency wedding hairdo, Claire reluctantly agrees.

What starts a tentative, budding friendship, inspiring Claire to try and give up her murderous ways, devolves into obsession, rage, and more killings. This film oozes atmosphere and class. Despite showing some rather brutal murders, it’s deeply sympathetic towards Claire’s plight. The horror here is mainly of the human variety, showing how painful and difficult it can be for some to move through spaces others do with ease. It’s sensuous, shocking, and an absolute delight of tension and dread.

Ghost Stories – 2017, Dir: Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson.

Despite being lauded on its release, this British anthology frightener seems to have largely passed many by. A shame because it’s utterly chilling. A debunker of mediums and spiritualists meets his childhood hero, a man who’s been missing, presumed dead, for many years. He challenges Phillip to examine three cases he himself couldn’t explain, cases which made him come to believe in the existence of the supernatural…

With a framing story that becomes more relevant as it goes on, the three tales here are all, in their own ways, completely terrifying. Even if some of the trappings of the original stage play are still evident, it doesn’t matter because this film is dripping with chills, infused with terror. The opening story detailing a night watchman’s last shift in an old, abandoned mental asylum is a masterclass in ratcheting tension and expectation. It’s worth the price alone. But don’t worry – the other two tales are just as affecting. A truly skin-crawling experience for those cosy, dark nights.

The Changeling – 1980, Dir: Peter Mendak.

Now to a classic from 1980, one which many younger horror fans may not be aware of. George C. Scott plays a man grieving the tragic loss of his wife and daughter. He moves to a secluded mansion hoping to find inspiration to compose again and process his bereavement at the same time. Whilst there, he comes to believe the house is haunted, and his investigations open up long buried, dark secrets.

Though made over 40 years ago, this movie is easily the equal of modern chillers such as The Conjuring or Sinister. It oozes dread and atmosphere, and some of the set-pieces are years ahead of their time in execution, creating tension and foreboding. It looks beautiful, makes full use of its setting, and adds an element of the occult detective through Scott’s determination to find the truth. A deserved classic and one that should be perfect for Halloween.

Come True – 2020, Dir: Anthony Scott Burns.

Another recent film and another that seems to have gone mostly unnoticed. Sarah, a teenager – an incredible performance by Julia Sarah Stone – prefers to sleep in local parks, on the street, or on rare occasions at a friend’s, rather than at home. She suffers from awful dreams, and her disturbed rest prompts her to take part in a sleep study that should give her weeks of uninterrupted slumber. But she and the other participants begin to share nightmares of a similar architecture, and of the same figure.

This is a fantastic, low-budget effort from Canada. It manages to make excellent use of its small-scale production, looking like a far more expensive picture. The designs are pleasingly retro at times, recalling some of the interiors of the spaceship from Alien, and both David Cronenberg and George A. Romero are referenced, the former through thematic elements, the latter with names. The dream imagery is stunning, monochrome and darkly beautiful, like an Andrei Tarkovsky SF feature, and the whole thing mounts steady dread till the nerve-shredding end. Slow-burning, artistic, experimental, with no easy answers, but absolutely worth your time.

Kairo (Pulse) – 2001, Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

Ah, now for something truly dread inducing. Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira) takes on the then booming, so-called ‘J-Horror’ phenomenon and both deconstructs and enhances that loose ‘genre’. Various people are dying in strange circumstances, apparent suicides, mysterious disappearances, and these deaths seem to be connected to strange phenomena on the internet or on recorded devices. A theory arises that spirits are returning to the world to be with the living and bringing with them unparalleled despair.

Like much of Kurosawa’s work, this film is baffling on first viewing. It doesn’t follow traditional or established narrative structure, it doesn’t spell out its plot; instead it unfolds in various seemingly unconnected scenes. The tone is also one of almost passivity, much like the characters themselves. Yet this serves to add to the atmosphere rather than distract. From the opening moments to the very end, Kairo is infused with dread, both existential and supernatural. It permeates every moment, making the viewer believe the events unfolding might actually manifest through their own screens, like Sadako in Ringu. No-one does this kind of thing quite like Kurosawa, and the sheer terror of this confounding film is something to behold. Check out Cure and Creepy by the same director for more mind-bending chills.

El Cuerpo (The Body) – 2012, Dir: Oriol Paulo.

Something a little bit different now, and here we have a horror/thriller from Spain, a country which has produced many an exceptional horror film over the years. A police inspector investigates the disappearance of a woman’s body from a morgue after the nightwatchman is found unconscious. Through the course of the investigation, many strange events occur at the morgue that suggest the possible supernatural, but the inspector is bound to pursue his all-too human investigation despite the mounting dread.

This was another film that seemed to fly under the radar for many. Moody, atmospheric, and full of twists and turns, this is a movie worthy of Hitchcock. Though it’s very much in the vein of a police thriller/procedural, there’s more than enough creepiness to push it into the realms of the supernatural – strange noises, unexplained goings-on, the missing corpse giving rise to some thinking the dead woman has come back from the dead or is a ghost. And when it resolves itself at the end, it does so in the most satisfying way. Definitely up there with the best of Spanish horror, such as The Orphanage, Julia’s Eyes, or Sleep Tight.

So there you have it. A bunch of spooky, dread-filled horror films to watch over a few nights in October, or binge on All Saint’s Eve itself. These movies are more about atmosphere and tone rather than out and out blood-fests, though a couple do have their violent moments. They are diverse, original, and dedicated in their intent, which is to unsettle, to scare, to terrify. But one thing binds them together – they are perfect Halloween fodder. Happy watching.


Boo-graphy:
Paul M. Feeney was born in Scotland, has moved all around the UK, and currently lies in Aberdeen. An avid and passionate fiction reader – his first love being horror and all things dark – he started writing in 2011, was first published in 2014, and has a number of short stories in publications or forthcoming. He has also released two novellas so far – The Last Bus (Crowded Quarantine Publications, 2015) and Kids (Dark Minds Press, 2016). In 2020, his novelette, Cursed, was released by Demain Publishing, the second published story featuring his shape-shifting PI Garrison Wake. Under the name Paul Michaels, he writes the occasional review or horror website This Is Horror, as well as writing less genre-oriented stories. He is currently working on his first novel, as well as numerous other short stories and novellas.

The Last Bus
We’ve all been there – the dreaded early morning commute.

The surly driver; the obnoxious teenagers; the guy who just has to invade your personal space; the awkwardness as everyone avoids any kind of social interaction with anyone else; the frustrations of snarled-up traffic and tail-backs.

For most of us, the trip on public transport is about as bad as it gets.

For these passengers, it’s about to get a lot worse.

Jonathon, Justine and Hanna don’t know each other but they’re about to be thrown together as a simple journey to work turns into a race for survival when a mysterious object falls from the sky, initiating an alien invasion. Mutated monsters, trigger-happy soldiers and personality clashes abound on:

The Last Bus.

Kids
Matt and Julie head to her parents’ big, remote house in the country, with their children Kayleigh, Carol and Robert, for a day out with friends and family. They intend spending the warm, summer’s day doing nothing more strenuous than engaging in light, casual conversation, eating lunch and drinking tea, while the kids play in the background.

At least, that’s the plan…

The kids disappear, only to return utterly, fundamentally changed. Something bad has happened to them, something very bad.

The day becomes a pitched battle between the adults and the violent psychopaths their children have become. How can the adults survive against such an enemy, how can they even fight back, when the very thing they have to fight against is their own flesh and blood?

Cursed
Garrison Wake, a shape-shifting PI, exists in a world where all the supernatural and paranormal stuff is real, albeit mostly hidden from humanity. He investigates a case where a woman believes she’s been cursed through a DVD (a la The Ring), but not all is as it seems…

Writing about Garrison Wake, author Paul M. Feeney said: “He lives and works in Detroit, with feet in the worlds of the supernatural, the criminal, and the human, but swearing loyalty to none. He’s kind of an anti-hero, vigilante, who hates injustice but operates outside the law most of the time. He believes himself to be ‘lost’, to be already damned, so doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty…I like his cynical, sardonic approach to things, but also share his sense of justice (though perhaps not the methods, something I touch on in this story and want to explore more in further tales). He’s big, six-and-a-half-foot tall, and looks like a cross between Keanu Reeves and Brandon Lee in The Crow; he also tends to dress like the latter character, though without the clown makeup. He’s older than he looks by a few decades, and has a shady, petty-criminal past (though I’ve yet to fully investigate that myself). And he’s a loner, though people have become almost friends with him over the years, and he has a good circle of close acquaintances…”