A Christmas tale from the twisted mind of Ash Hartwell.

 

Left Under The Tree.

 

Ash Hartwell.

 

 

 

Bethany crashed to the icy pavement in the pitch-black alley, and immediately wished she had chosen not to wear the shoes with the kick-ass heels. During the office Christmas Eve party, where, incidentally, she had looked every inch the Partner-to-be, they had been the bomb, powerfully provocative yet subtle, blending into her carefully thought out designer outfit. But now in the dark and on freshly fallen snow they gave her the gait of a new born deer.

 

She sat up and took stock. She’d lost the heel on one shoe and torn one of her specially bought Christmas stockings but more importantly she had hurt her knee. It had taken the full force of her fall and she suspected she had cut it but it was impossible to tell how badly in the darkness of the alley.

 

In the distance a brass band was playing Christmas carols, and listening to the faint music as she gingerly climbed to her feet, testing whether her knee would take her weight, Bethany remembered why she hated Christmas. “You had it right first time, Mr. Scrooge. Bah humbug indeed!” She muttered as she hobbled along the alley, conscious of a burning pain in her knee every time her foot struck the ground.

 

With each faltering step she felt the high brick walls closing in, towering above her like the walls of an impenetrable Gothic castle. She cast a nervous glance towards the sky, half expecting to see a vampire-like figure standing on the ramparts, cloak billowing in the wind, large stone gargoyles at his feet, staring down impassively, awaiting their master’s command.

 

She felt like a little girl again, scared of the dark and frightened a monster might be lurking there ready to gobble her up. As a rational, level-headed woman of thirty she knew monsters didn’t exist, that they were the figment of her childhood imagination. But serial killers, now they definitely existed, and were far worse than any childhood monster. Monsters looked scary to make you scream, whereas serial killers looked normal, only revealing their inner monster when it was too late to scream.

 

Bethany reached a bend and saw the relative security of the well-lit car park tantalisingly close. She quickened her pace and almost fell out of the alley, slipping on the wet slush of well-trodden snow. Stood in the light she inspected her knee and was relieved to see only a superficial abrasion. Apart from a few snow-dusted cars scattered around the large Christmas tree in the centre, the car park looked deserted. At the foot of the tree, nestled under the lower branches was Santa’s Grotto; a tiny cabin where during the day children could have visit Santa and, for a small fee, met his reindeer. Beyond that was Bethany’s car.

 

She removed her shoes to relieve pressure on her knee caused by her lopsided walk and started to half walk, half hobble across the car park. At first the snow had a soothing effect on her tired feet but that quickly changed to a dull, numb pain and she was glad her trainers were waiting for her in the car.

 

As she hobbled passed the small hut that served as Santa’s Grotto the door opened and a figure dressed as Santa stepped out. He placed a large plastic sack next to the hut before pulling the door shut. Bethany took a quick look around but couldn’t see anyone else, she was still fifty feet from her car; her feet so numb she was barely to walk.

 

Santa looked up and stepped around the barrier before walking towards her. She tried to walk faster, but the pain seared through her knee with each step. She only had thirty feet to go now.

 

She gave the bearded figure a friendly smile. She hated those white bushy beards. They scared her the way they obscured the features of the person beneath, concealing their intentions.

 

Bethany was barely ten feet from her car but Santa was only ten feet from her, and his thick black boots were eating up the ground far quicker than her frozen, bare feet were. She willed her legs to keep moving and felt like every college-girl victim in every slasher movie ever made. She was helpless and injured; the perfect defenceless victim.

 

Santa was within a few feet now his large red suit threatening to engulf her. She tried to alter course desperate to evade his grasp but her knee burned with pain and she lost her footing. The compacted snow beneath her offering no traction for the manoeuver and once again Bethany sprawled across the snow.

 

Exhausted, Bethany lay still, face down in the snow and awaited the inevitable. Santa’s boots appeared next to her head and a large red knee touched down in the snow a foot or so from her face.

 

“Are you alright, Miss?” Santa’s voice was deep and old. She didn’t reply, the cold snow had numbed her face. Strong hands gripped her and with one swift movement he had spun her onto her back.

 

As he peered down at her Santa had a look of concern in his eyes. Bethany hated the deceit; the mock joviality. Santa hadn’t visited her since she was six. Not since she saw him doing those things to Mummy in her parents’ bedroom. Her father had left before the next Christmas and she blamed Santa for that.

 

Bethany lunged at him and forced the long spiked heel of her shoe into his face, it pierced one of his twinkly blue eyes. Santa barely cried out before falling forward; dead.

 

Bethany loved her kick-ass heels. She pushed Santa away and retrieved her shoe then dragged his limp body to the tree where she left him propped against its thick trunk. She took a bright red Christmas stocking from her car and pulled it over his head, obscuring his features. She didn’t know why but she always did that and this was her seventeenth year of killing Santa. One a year since she was thirteen and realised her dad wasn’t coming back.

 

Oh yes. Bethany believed in serial killers alright, but monsters? No way.

https://www.facebook.com/Ash-Hartwell-221249414606956/

Have a merry and safe Christmas one and all.

 

Do you ever test yourself as a writer?

So you want to write a story. Maybe it’s the next great American novel, and you see yourself as Harper Lee or F Scott Fitzgerald or perhaps it’s a simple short tale of horror for one of those odd little Stitched Smile Publication anthologies everyone is talking about.

Either way, the same general principles of writing apply. We know about spelling, punctuation, and grammar (although we may not always adhere to their rules) but writing is more than spelling a word correctly then placing a comma in the correct place. A good writer will not simply tell a story; they’ll show the reader a world full of characters and allow the story to emerge from the page without the reader being aware of it.

But how do you develop that skill? You can just sit in a darkened room and wait for inspiration to smack you in the face – this may take some time, but you’ll be pleased to know there is a quicker way.

Practice. Years of practice. (I said ‘quicker’ not ‘quick’)

And here’s where the title of this piece comes in…

Do you ever test yourself as a writer? Do you look for projects that take you out of your comfort zone? Or do you just take the low hanging fruit, submitting story after story to the same ‘exposure only’ anthologies from pop up publishers – those guys that never seem to be around long. Or maybe you simply accept the rejections believing it’s simply a matter of time before you’re discovered.

One way to improve your writing is to develop succinctness. Say what needs saying and nothing more. Don’t waffle on, digress or become distracted. Don’t feel the need to preach at the reader using flowery language that just sidetracks the main point of your argument. Above all don’t wander off at a tangent.

Do you get my point?

I was recently asked to write some flash fiction (500 words or less) for a series of anthologies. I needed to produce five which I did. Then, as the editor wanted a few more stories, I wrote 5 stories each exactly 100 words long that followed on from one another. I took a different sense as the basis of each tale but allowed the story to develop with each sense. I used the editor’s brief to test myself, to do something different.

To be succinct.

If you’ve never written flash fiction, I suggest you try it – develop a new skill. It will definitely improve your writing in the longer form.

Here is the series of stories I wrote (Thanks to 13 O’Clock Press who originally published them).

 

First Sense.

The scream woke me. I didn’t know if it was the first scream, but it certainly wasn’t the last. If the first woke me from my slumbers, the second chilled me to the core.

It echoed through the still night air before dying away to leave a silence even more disturbing than the shriek. In the distance, voices rose in anger. Was it a disagreement between drunks? I strained to hear.

Then a woman’s voice, loud and clear. She cajoled and pleaded, her exhortations becoming more frantic.

Running footsteps, then there’s a scuffle.

Then a squeal; cut short.

Then silence.

 

Second Sense.

Stood at the end of the alley, and squinted at the bodies. They lay half-way down the passageway. Their forms dark patches against the slick cobbles.

I cautiously crept forward, sticking to the shadows, letting darkness cloak my advance. Here and there I saw signs of a struggle. An overturned bin, with its rubbish strewn in a line, pointed towards the fleeing victims. A bag, discarded, its contents scattered.

I inched closer.

He laid, head beaten, face-down. She slumped against the wall; terror filled her eyes, a gaping tear for a throat.

The sight bought a smile to my face.

 

Third Sense.

The air hung heavy between the high, brick edifices. The stale, stagnant stench emanating from the bins lining the alley filled my nostrils. But the putrid smell of decaying food and human waste was not strong enough to mask the lighter fragrance of the woman’s perfume.

It was sickly sweet and, in its way, unpleasant, leaving an irritating dryness in my throat.

However, neither fragrance nor garbage could disguise the sweet smell of death. The mouth-watering aroma of freshly slaughtered meat, the delicious bouquet of blood and its metallic tanginess, pricked my taste buds.

I took a luxuriously deep breath.

 

Fourth Sense.

The anticipation had steadily built since I entered the alley. My insides twisted and constricted with the exquisite tension of the moment as I forced myself to savour every second. A shudder passed the length of my naked body, the hairs on the back of my neck bristling.

I crouched next to the woman’s body, impervious to the late night chill, the cobbles rough and uneven beneath my knee.

Reaching out, I ran my finger down her soft, still-warm cheek and through the colder, congealed blood. I gently traced the jagged line of her wound before thrusting my hand deeper.

 

Fifth Sense.

As I crouched next to the dead woman, my clawed hand tearing at her open throat, I knew I’d changed. Was it the thrill of the find; blood lust?

I pulled my hand free…instinctively licking the wet blood from my fingers. It was salty, invigorating. The coppery aftertaste was divine.

An hors d’oeuvre to kill for.

But I wasn’t sated. I plunged my hand into the corpse’s open neck tearing free a lump of fatty flesh, I devoured it feverishly.

Then, unable to contain myself, I ripped the exposed flesh with my teeth before throwing back my head and howling.

 

 

Sleep tight boys and girls.

https://www.facebook.com/Ash-Hartwell-221249414606956/

 

Do You Ever Test Yourself As A Writer?

So you want to write a story. Maybe it’s the next great American novel and you see yourself as Harper Lee or F Scott Fitzgerald or perhaps it’s a simple short tale of horror for one of those odd little Stitched Smile Publication anthologies everyone is talking about.

Either way the same general principles of writing apply. We know about spelling, punctuation and grammar (although we may not always adhere to their rules) but writing is more than spelling a word correctly then placing a comma in the correct place. A good writer will not simply tell a story, they’ll show the reader a world full of characters and allow the story to emerge from the page without the reader being aware of it.

But how do you develop that skill? You can just sit in a darkened room and wait for inspiration to smack you in the face – this may take some time, but you’ll be pleased to know there is a quicker way.

Practice. Years of practice. (I said ‘quicker’ not ‘quick’)

And here’s where the title of this piece comes in…

Do you ever test yourself as a writer? Do you look for projects that take you out of your comfort zone? Or do you just take the low hanging fruit, submitting story after story to the same ‘exposure only’ anthologies from pop up publishers – those guys that never seem to be around long. Or maybe you simply accept the rejections believing it’s simply a matter of time before you’re discovered.

One way to improve your writing is to develop succinctness. Say what needs saying and nothing more. Don’t waffle on, digress or become distracted. Don’t feel the need to preach at the reader using flowery language that just sidetracks the main point of your argument. Above all don’t wander off at a tangent.

Do you get my point?

I was recently asked to write some flash fiction (500 words or less) for a series of anthologies. I needed to produce five which I did. Then, as the editor wanted a few more stories, I wrote 5 stories each exactly 100 words long that followed on from one another. I took a different sense as the basis of each tale but allowed the story to develop with each sense. I used the editor’s brief to test myself, to do something different.

To be succinct.

If you’ve never written flash fiction I suggest you try it – develop a new skill. It will definitely improve your writing in the longer form.

Here is the series of stories I wrote (Thanks to 13 O’Clock Press who originally published them).

 

First Sense.

The scream woke me. I didn’t know if it was the first scream, but it certainly wasn’t the last. If the first woke me from my slumbers, the second chilled me to the core.

It echoed through the still night air before dying away to leave a silence even more disturbing than the shriek. In the distance, voices rose in anger. Was it a disagreement between drunks? I strained to hear.

Then a woman’s voice, loud and clear. She cajoled and pleaded, her exhortations becoming more frantic.

Running footsteps, then there’s a scuffle.

Then a squeal; cut short.

Then silence.

 

Second Sense.

Stood at the end of the alley, and squinted at the bodies. They lay half-way down the passageway. Their forms dark patches against the slick cobbles.

I cautiously crept forward, sticking to the shadows, letting darkness cloak my advance. Here and there I saw signs of a struggle. An overturned bin, with its rubbish strewn in a line, pointed towards the fleeing victims. A bag, discarded, its contents scattered.

I inched closer.

He laid, head beaten, face-down. She slumped against the wall; terror filled her eyes, a gaping tear for a throat.

The sight bought a smile to my face.

 

Third Sense.

The air hung heavy between the high, brick edifices. The stale, stagnant stench emanating from the bins lining the alley filled my nostrils. But the putrid smell of decaying food and human waste was not strong enough to mask the lighter fragrance of the woman’s perfume.

It was sickly sweet and, in its way, unpleasant, leaving an irritating dryness in my throat.

However, neither fragrance nor garbage could disguise the sweet smell of death. The mouth-watering aroma of freshly slaughtered meat, the delicious bouquet of blood and its metallic tanginess, pricked my taste buds.

I took a luxuriously deep breath.

 

Fourth Sense.

The anticipation had steadily built since I entered the alley. My insides twisted and constricted with the exquisite tension of the moment as I forced myself to savour every second. A shudder passed the length of my naked body, the hairs on the back of my neck bristling.

I crouched next to the woman’s body, impervious to the late night chill, the cobbles rough and uneven beneath my knee.

Reaching out, I ran my finger down her soft, still-warm cheek and through the colder, congealed blood. I gently traced the jagged line of her wound before thrusting my hand deeper.

 

Fifth Sense.

As I crouched next to the dead woman, my clawed hand tearing at her open throat, I knew I’d changed. Was it the thrill of the find; blood lust?

I pulled my hand free…instinctively licking the wet blood from my fingers. It was salty, invigorating. The coppery aftertaste was divine.

A hors d’oeuvre to kill for.

But I wasn’t sated. I plunged my hand into the corpse’s open neck tearing free a lump of fatty flesh, I devoured it feverishly.

Then, unable to contain myself, I ripped the exposed flesh with my teeth before throwing back my head and howling.

 

 

Sleep tight boys and girls.

https://www.facebook.com/Ash-Hartwell-221249414606956/