Book Review: Slightly Spooky Stories.

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There was a knock at the front door and the dogs went nuts.

They really hate that ‘delivery bloke’.

We had been spending time with a friend the night before. Dinner at an Indian restaurant in Olinda [a beautiful part of the Dandenong Ranges, not far from our home]. A couple of glasses of wine, and unseasonably warm evening, and a couple of ‘slightly spooky stories’ supplied by the owner of the restaurant. When you hang out with Mediums interesting things happen. He told us a few stories about being aware of Spirits and my friends tried to connect him with his grandmother, but the staff were getting restless — it was late and they wanted to go home — fair enough, a conversation for another day.

We went back to our friends house and the conversation flowed well into the morning. Fortunately, I’d stopped imbibing somewhat earlier so my head was in reasonable shape when we heard the knock at the door.

You would think that I would be very pleased to see my latest book in print, and I was, but this moment [six books so far] is always a bit of a letdown.

So much goes into the publishing of a book you probably wouldn’t believe it if you hadn’t been through it. Then the final part of a very long process arrives at your door, and the project is finally complete [well almost, there is always the constant marketing….. like this article].

The idea for this book [anthology] came about while I was writing TRUST: What it feels like to be a medium. I wanted to add a couple of stories that came into being because of the influence of a reading I had given or seen given by others. I then realised that I have written a lot of stories that are vaguely ‘spooky’ [I don’t do horror, it’s not my thing]. I bundled them all together and sure enough, there was more than enough for an anthology. [book two in this series is well under way]

As many of you will know, I often use an illustration or photograph to kickstart a story. Many of these stories happened the other way around and I had to find a suitable illustration to go with each story. This is where my talented son Matthew comes into the story. Matt lets me use lots of his photographs to headline my stories. Naturally, a lot of my inspiration comes from other people’s illustrations and it would not be right to use them in a book without asking permission. This would be a huge task and not viable for a writer who aims to break even and possibly make a bit more to convince his wife that people really do want to read what he writes.

I’ve been a photographer since the early 1970s, but all my early work went missing when we moved house in ’86, and a lot of my early digital work disappeared when I experienced my first hard drive crash, so I’m very happy that I can choose some of Matt’s excellent photos to enhance my stories. Slightly Spooky Stories has several of his photos, but the really important one is the cover shot. I told him about the project I was working on and he sent me this shot and I was blown away. It was taken in the main street of Belgrave which is the next town further up the mountain from mine. Walking distance in fact. It’s a time capsule shot of sorts as the street artwork has deteriorated quite a bit since this shot was taken.

The first story in the collection is a particular favourite of mine and was honoured, a little while ago, by being chosen for inclusion in one of Australia’s premier literary magazines, Southerly [The Long Paddock, their on-line edition]. Naturally, I was very proud and more than a little bit surprised considering the stack of rejection letters I had been collecting up to that point. I don’t submit my stories to Lit’ Mag’s anymore so this might be my last and biggest success [several of my stories have found homes in magazines all over the world and a full list is in the back of SSS]

The stories in the book vary in length with ‘Emily’ being the longest, but ‘An AK47 and a banana’ comes in a close second.

In this modern busy world, this is the perfect book to read on the tram or the train on the way to work.

The longest story takes about 20 minutes to read, but most are much shorter.

If you chose to read the book in bed you will not have nightmares but each story will make you wonder what came before and what happened after.

Naturally, you can purchase this book as an eBook as well as a paperback. It is available from Amazon, Apple, Smashwords [all formats] as well as Kobo and Barnes and Noble.

The paperback is available from me, and if you are in North America you can purchase it from my printers, Blurb [postage makes it a bit more expensive if you are outside of North America].

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This book has traveled a long way and so have I.

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If there is such a thing as a ‘book selfie’ then this is it.

A Bit of the Other.

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The sun was getting low, and its height exactly matched my mood.

When things get bad, I have strategies.

Top of that list is walking.

It occurred to me that I had not walked this way in a long while and I wondered why. With the sun filtering golden light through the tall pine trees I was instantly transported back to a moment in my childhood — some sort of fete or carnival, pine trees, afternoon sun and a feeling that the world was a remarkable place to be.

The tennis courts were cut deeply into the side of the hill, and I wondered why the soft mountain soil had not washed away over the years. Hard timber benches lined the top of the cutting presumably so that people could sit and watch the games — the games being played some twenty feet below.

This high vantage point gave the activity a surreal quality — more like a movie than real-life.

All of the other players had left for the warmth of their homes and their loved ones. For some, it would be a quick shower and out again to enjoy the nightlife. For others, it would be a quiet night in front of the fire with good conversation or the comfort of a well-chosen book.

The following day meant a return to work with only memories of a long weekend to share with those who would stop and listen.

Work did not beckon me.

My life was on hold and only time would tell which way it would go.

I walked to the last of the three courts which also offered the highest vantage point.

A young couple were playing a listless game, and it seemed to me that the man was very patient with the two females on the opposite side of the net.

I supposed that he was playing both of them at once because he considered himself a superior player, but his demeanour did not support my supposition.

The two females were dressed in the same cute, short tennis clothes — the kind that conveniently reveals frilly knickers whenever they bend over to retrieve a ball.

It was an odd convention that a man was allowed to watch a woman play tennis in a short skirt, but under different circumstances, he would be rebuked for staring.

What odd creatures we humans are.

One of the women seemed a little paler than the other, but apart from that, they could have passed for twin sisters, at least from my elevation.

The paler one appeared to be the superior player, but even so, she got distracted from time to time and often retrieved the ball in the slow dawdling manner of a child.

The male remained patient throughout, and I admired his calmness.

I could remember similar occasions when all I wanted was a decent workout, and all I got was a giggling opponent who couldn’t hit a ball to save herself. We had to abandon that game because my partner was afraid of disgracing herself.

“If we hadn’t stopped I was going to pee myself.”

I was mildly amused, but I hadn’t raised much of a sweat. Her tennis dress was driving me crazy, and I remember asking her to keep it on when we got back to her place. The knickers had to go, but I liked the dress, and I got my workout, but there was not a lot of tennis involved.

If I had behaved in an impatient manner my evening might have turned out quite differently, and I wondered if that was what was motivating the patient young man at the far end of the court, but somehow I doubted it — there was something else going on.

The late afternoon light can cause a person to see things that are not there, but in this case, I thought it was causing me to see something that shouldn’t be there.

From my hardwood perch, high above the ‘brick dust’ courts, it seemed to me that the paler of the two women was in fact slightly transparent.

It seemed that I could see her, but I could also see through her.

Not like a pane of glass, for she had form and substance, but more a sensation that I could see her and beyond her, all at the same time.

There wasn’t anyone nearby to ask, ‘Can you see what I can see?’ And in any case, I doubt that I would have asked the question. My world was strange enough as it was and I guess I didn’t want to believe that I might be ‘loosing it’ completely.

Tingles ran up my spine as I watched the three people gather up their belongings and leave the court.

I was left with my thoughts and the fading light.

A few moments later, after the three people had disappeared from view as they walked close to the cliff and past the courts, one of the women and the patient young man walked up the steep path and passed by my seat.

I’d assumed that they would continue down the hill to the carpark or back towards the town.

The young man walked on a few paces and stopped, but avoided my gaze.

The woman stopped next to me and while staring at her tennis shoes, as though she had not seen them before, said, “You were watching our game. Do you often watch strangers enjoying themselves?”

“I watch people all the time,” I heard myself say.

I answered partly because her presence made me feel light and free of concern. I know that sounds a bit strange, but that is how she made me feel. I’m long past the age where I become speechless around a pretty girl, but I was surprised at how quickly I responded.

“I didn’t mind you watching, but I think you made my friend a bit nervous.”

“Your friend looks a lot like you. So much so that I took her for your sister. A twin possibly?”

“I meant my boyfriend,” she said.

She didn’t say anything else for quite some time.

She seemed a little uneasy, and I was keen to know why her mood had changed so suddenly, but I was not going to break the silence.

“Did you see her? she said, with a slight emphasis on the word ‘her’.

“Of course. It’s hard to miss two beautiful women who look so alike. She’s a better player than you are if you don’t mind me saying?”

As I said this, it occurred to me that I should not have. I was enjoying talking to this person, and I was in no hurry for it to end.

The boyfriend was staring at his shoes as well, but I don’t think he was wondering about them. He was quite keen on his tennis shoes propelling him and his girlfriend away from this conversation, but I also had the feeling that he had seen all of this before — maybe even a number of times.

I didn’t feel threatened by either of these people, and although this may sound strange to you, everyone had made me feel uneasy in recent times, but not these two.

Her reply took me by surprise, “You can see her?”

“Not right now,” I said, and I wasn’t trying to be funny, “but down on the court, I could see her clearly. She’s just as beautiful as you, but she has a more confident gait.”

“She’s more confident than me in most things. You might say that she’s the best of me.”

“Now you’ve got me really intrigued. Is she related to you? If not, why do you dress the same? I know enough about women to know that they don’t enjoy it if another woman is wearing the same outfit.”

“We are very closely related, but I’m more interested in why you can see her clearly.”

“Joan, this conversation is starting to bore me, and I think you should leave it alone. It is time for us to be going. We’re going out, remember?”

Until he spoke these words, I thought that I was not going to hear from him at all, but now that he had I sensed a tiredness in his words as well as the resignation that I had seen down on the court.

“My devilishly handsome boyfriend has a point, but I must say that you are the first person to tell me that you can see her clearly, and I want to know why assuming that you have the time to talk?”

“I do have the time, but I’m worried about you catching a cold.”

It’s true that I was looking at her legs and feeling just a tiny bit cheeky. Her long-suffering boyfriend gave me a look that said he was more than capable of being less than patient if the occasion required and I acknowledged his annoyance by looking away as he placed his white tennis jacket around her shoulders. He then retreated back to his original position on the pathway and continued his visual examination of his tennis shoes.

Her boyfriend’s jacket was way too big for her, but she looked cosy with it wrapped around her.

“She’s been with me for as long as I can remember. She ‘comes out’ whenever I have a specialist job to do. I guess she is that part of me which is good at whatever I’m attempting. When the job is done she becomes a part of me again, and that is why she is not with us now — the game is over. When I was little, I thought that everyone had an ‘other’. I called her ‘other Joan’, and I’m ashamed to say that I blamed her whenever things went wrong. Especially if something got broken — ‘other Joan did it, not me.’ Strangely, my ‘other’ never seemed to care — never seemed upset. She always understood. She was ‘the best of me’. I found her presence comforting, especially on those dark days when I doubted my usefulness to the world. In a funny kind of way, I was my own best example,” she said with a smile.

I found myself smiling as well.

Her situation seemed like a very good one, and I found myself wondering ‘why her and not me?’ Then I remembered I was the only person she had come across who could see her ‘better self’. Maybe that meant I had something special in me — because I could see the ‘special’ in her.

This was all starting to sound like I should rush out and hug a tree, but besides that unlikely image, I was feeling good for the first time in a long time.

As you would expect, our conversation continued for some time.

I half expected her to make an excuse and pull away, but she didn’t. She seemed almost as interested in our conversation as I was. I asked her how long she had lived with this ‘extra person’ in her life. Was it something that came on suddenly or had it always been that way?

“I cannot remember a time when it wasn’t so. I thought that everyone experienced an extra self and I reasoned that most people were shy, so the subject didn’t come up — the same way that best friends don’t talk about all their adventures.

I was amazed at how quickly I became comfortable with the idea.

In the end, her boyfriend became impatient again.

“Joan, we have dinner with Trevor and Jackie tonight. We need to get going?”

Despite his growing impatience, he had an easy-going good humour that told me he’d to come to terms with his girlfriend’s friendly nature very early in the relationship.

They both looked quite young, but their demeanour said otherwise.

My best guess was early 20s. He was about 6 feet tall, and she was about 6 inches shorter. They were athletically built and attractive.

It was the woman’s smile that you noticed first.

I was quite sure she could defuse any volatile situation by simply flashing that smile.

When they finally moved away, bags over their shoulders, I watched them go without any feelings of self-consciousness.

I wanted to see if the young woman would turn and look in my direction one more time.

She did, and I saw her lips move before the words registered.

“Your inquisitive self is showing.”

I thought she was just being cute until I caught a glimpse of the second shadow on the ground very close to mine.

“You ask very good questions.”

“Thank you,” was my startled reply.

It’s a strange thing to be complimented by a slightly transparent version of yourself.

It had been a surreal day and the evening was looking decidedly bizarre as well.

“Where are we going for dinner tonight?” said my slightly transparent self.

“Excellent question,” was my reply.

Life Under The Sun.

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This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.

“You know what I like about this job?”

 

“OK, I’ll bite, what do you like about this job?”

 

“The hours…hohohohohahahahah.”

 

“ Didn’t see that coming.”

 

“Did ya get it? The hours. Not bad if I do say so myself.”

 

“Time is irrelevant to us but not to them, got it.

Now, let me ask you.

Why are you in this job?

There was no reason why you couldn’t go back, was there?

You don’t seem like a someone who had reached the end of his evolution, so why are you here?”

 

“They did give me a choice.

They said I could go back, though why anyone would want to is beyond me.

But they said that I would be wasting my time.

I’ve experienced it all and they reckon that it hasn’t made that much difference.”

 

“Yeah, I can hear them saying it. Pompous bunch that lot. No malice in them but pompous just the same. So, you don’t get to go back?”

 

“No, I can go back, but as support crew.

You know what I mean.

If one of my group needs a bit player then I can put my hand up.

To be honest that’s OK by me.

I don’t enjoy being there all that much.

So, doing a ‘walk on’ suits me just fine.”

 

“Who do you get to fill in for you while you’re away?”

 

“I don’t bother.

I just invoke ‘frozen time’ until I get back.

But, I must admit that all that ‘time’ stuff was a bit confusing when I first came home.

It takes a bit of adjusting.

Besides, this part of the job is not as ‘hands on’ as when they are young.

And it isn’t as much fun.

They have trouble hearing you as they get older. That makes it a bit lonely.

I like it when they are young and I get to catch them when they fall off stuff, and I can play with them when they don’t have anyone else to play with, and I can tell them things because the rules are not as strict about that when they’re young.”

 

“Wouldn’t you rather be in the choir?”

 

“Nah, I like getting my hands dirty, so to speak.

Let’s face it, I’ve never been that bright.

Muscle was all I was good for when I was down there and it’s what I’m good for here. I don’t mind, I can go and listen to the choir any time I like.

They make me feel all tingley when I listen to them.”

 

“So how’s ‘yours’ getting on?”

 

“He’s pretty busy.

The missus is driving him crazy.

I had a talk to Ariel about that and she says that his missus is going through a bad patch but she has stopped asking for help so Ariel’s hands are tied.

I asked her to try a little harder because her person is driving my person round the bend and I feel like I should be able to help; at least a bit.

Add to that, the kids are getting into heaps of trouble.

I think that they are taking advantage of the mum being distracted.

I spoke to Barachiel and Cassiel and asked them to have a word.

After all, their persons can still hear them.

But they said they were having trouble getting through.

I asked them to try harder.

They didn’t like that and I thought that we were going to see some feathers flying but they knew I could take ‘em both if I had to so they backed off.

That brings me to another point.

Why does everyone get cool names like Ariel, Barachiel and Cassiel and I get Bob?

Answer me that.”

 

“It’s your name dude.

It’s the one you got right back at the beginning.

I like Bob.

It’s strong, dignified, well maybe not dignified, but it is strong.”

 

“That’s easy for you to say, your name’s Dominions.

I can just see it written down somewhere……. ‘and we sent Dominions to deal with the plague; oh yes, and Bob went too,’ very inspiring.

By the way, how did that plague thing work out?”

 

“Rats mostly.

It took a while but once I managed to get that little bloke to listen, they worked out that if they got the rats under control the whole thing settled down.

We lost a lot of persons along the way though.

Couldn’t be helped but.

There was much screaming and crying and stuff so I guess they couldn’t hear me.

That little bloke was good though.

Once he figured it out, things started to improve very quickly.

I asked to be excused from the next one.

I don’t think I’m right for that sort of thing.

Still, you go where you are sent.”

 

“I thought you did a good job on that one.

It went on a bit but they didn’t have much in the way of medicine back then and they were a superstitious lot so you did well to get through to one who would listen.

By the way, what do you think of that new bloke in the Mediums section?”

 

“He all right.

Friendly enough but he’s so new.

It’s not that long since he finished his last tour.

But I guess that could help him in his work.

Having been one of them so recently has got to help.

I find that the longer it has been since I was one of them the harder it is for me to remember how they think.

I remember that it was particularly annoying having to drag around that body all day and all night.

At least when I feel asleep I could be free again for a few hours.

That was fun, but then I would have to go back and that hurt.

Do you remember ‘hurt’?”

 

“Do I what!

Took all the fun out of it.

Not a big fan of ‘hurt.’

I hate to see my person in pain.

I know that they signed up for it and all that, but still, just the same, I don’t like it.”

 

“You know the bit I like?”

 

“What?”

 

“When they get back here and they start to remember what they have always known.

I never get sick of seeing that look on their face.

Magic.”

 

“Yeah, me too.

Makes it all worthwhile.

I’ve enjoyed talking to you but I better get back to it.

My person is only just holding it together and he needs my strength.

Strength is what I’m good at.”

 

“Good on ya mate.

He’s in good hands.

‘Bob is on the job.’”

 

One of the great arts of conversation.

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“A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.” Truman Capote

It was a very warm day, and the entertainment flowed.

No one was the least bit concerned about the bloke with the camera.

Any other day and these shots would have been very hard to get.

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This was one of the first shots that I got that day. A longish lens helped. They were aware of me, but they did not seem to care. I guess it helped that I was far enough away to not be able to hear.

“Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood.” William Shakespeare

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“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

This lady was listening intently which gave me the opportunity to get in close enough to capture the detail.

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Photo Credit: http://www.jimoneill.net/project_template.php?p=convposter

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Awesome movie.

There are times when, as a photographer, you feel a bit like the Gene Hackman character. You have captured a moment in a person’s life and frozen it for inspection.

If They Didn’t You’d Be Out Of A Job.

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It’s occurred to me before and it occurred to me again when I was out walking my favourite quadrupeds; why do people complain about the behaviour that keeps them in work?

We were walking past the little playground that nestles into the corner of a street that leads up to the forrest. I used to take the boys there when they were little. It’s an unusual site for a playground as it is very steep and required that it be terraced into three parts. During the day mums bring their little ones to play on the swings and slides and at night the local teenagers use it as a meeting place. Mostly the teenagers are just looking for some privacy and hang out harmlessly with their friends. They are always friendly and don’t mind saying hello to the ‘old bloke’ walking his dogs. But every now and then you get one who needs to immortalise himself (do girls need the immortality thing as well?) by ‘tagging’ some part of the equipment.

This morning my entourage and I were approaching the playground when I noticed the council’s ‘anti graffiti truck’ pull up. As we walked by I spoke to one of the workers saying, “You’ve got a job for life there mate”. He agreed but added, “It’s a bit frustrating, but”.

I knew what he meant, you clean it up and a few weeks later some half wit who feels that he will pass through this life unnoticed if he doesn’t scrawl his initials on the side of a piece of playground equipment marks it up and the process starts all over again.

He wouldn’t be human if it didn’t annoy him at least a little bit but equally, he might be out of a job if the little blighters stopped scribbling.

I feel the same way about all those TV cops who constantly complain about crime.

No crime, no job!

Be thankful that there is a never ending supply of neerdowells out there keeping you in work.

I know what you are going to say, I’m confusing TV with real life and frankly even I’m not sure which I prefer, but in my defence I would like to say that I have spoken to ‘real cops’ and they complain just as much as their imaginary colleagues do.

So what’s the story here?

Is it just that people love to complain or are most people just a bit thick?

When I was a teacher I never once complained that the human race kept procreating, as a matter of fact I engaged in a bit of it myself.

When I fixed things for a living it never upset me that people kept breaking things.

I guess you get the idea, as long as people keep doing stuff other people get to earn a living, so seriously; enjoy it, encourage it, but don’t complain about it.