I flew in a plane for the very first time at the age of fifteen.
The very last book I read before taking to the air was Unsafe at Any Height by Ralph Nader. It documented all the most famous commercial airline crashes in history to that point.
So, as I stepped onto the Qantas 747 that brought me to Perth via Bombay, my head spun with stories about the aircraft that went down because the co-pilot was too short and couldn’t fully open the flaps above his head, and the deadly flammability of the JP7 fuel favoured by the world’s air operators of the time – it was basically kerosene.
Right now, I’m reading The Stand.
I was astonished the other day to learn that there are some people who haven’t. It’s Stephen King’s true masterpiece. A viral agent developed by the US military is released accidentally. It kills ninety-nine per cent of the world population and a shapeshifting incarnation of the devil arises intent on getting rid of the rest.
I’m not the only one.
I’ve seen reports that sales of apocalyptic sagas are up around the world. So are sales of escapist stuff like The First Guerrilla or Meet Me at the Hanging Tree. Did you notice the subtle plug for my books?
So, there are two distinct camps, it seems. One deals with imminent disaster by reading something that will take them as far from reality as possible. The other dives into books about people facing a fictional Armageddon – where some get out alive. I think that last bit is the key. I reckon we all identify with the lucky ones. We’re dealing with our fears vicariously.
I am definitely on team ‘we’re all going to die!’ when it comes to real life crisis reading.
So much so that I was thinking about it when I dropped off to sleep the other night. I woke up with one of those really weird skin crawling ‘there’s-a-burglar-in-the-living room’ feelings. It morphed into my first scary story.
Here it is!
A shadow moves on the landing, half-seen over my shoulder. Or does it?
The floorboards creak.
A spider runs up my spine.
No, no, I’ll not look. It’s nothing. I cravenly bury my cheek in my pillow. It’ll go away.
It’s the wind battering our old wooden house, not an intruder, not a burglar intent on relieving us of the meagre valuables concealed under the lace in our bottom drawer. Not a madman who’ll kill us in our bed.
The next creak is closer. I sense a hand reaching for my ankle, my heart’s jamming my throat.
I wake up, bathed in sweat.
So relieved that it’s just a dream. A nightmare born in the tempest lashing our boudoir shutters.
I smile at my foolishness, my cowardice. Aren’t we all children when sleep deprives us of our rational defences?
My darling stirs beside me. “Gerald?” She asks drowsily. “Are you awake?”
“Yes, my love.”
“What was that noise?”
“Nothing dear. Just a dream.”
“A dream.” She says, snuggling tighter under our sheets. “A dream we shared. How odd.”
“Don’t fret, Liza. It’s the storm in the eaves, that’s all.” I stroke her back the way that soothes our babies. “Sleep, my love.”
My own lids are drooping when she stiffens and scratches a Lucifer to light our candle. She sits, smoothing her lovely hair from her face. “Gerald, how … Oh, my God!”
She screams, the soaring shriek of a wild animal at bay, raising her palm desperately to ward off something horrifying behind my supine back.
A mighty force grasps my thigh, a bear’s claw tearing at my skin even through the blanket.
I raise myself, fighting off the bed clothes, determined to protect my poor dear Liza.
A shadowy bulk of monstrous proportions rises over us, but I see only the butcher’s blade flickering in the candlelight as it plunges into my chest.
Are you quaking in your boots?
No, I didn’t think so. Stephen King has nothing to fear. I can’t even take gothic horror seriously.
Back to my new detective story then. It’s up to 45,000 words, first draft.
The final draft of Meet Me Under Brooklyn Bridge is still with the publishers. Only one rejection so far.
And thanks to everyone who on Easter Saturday got The First Guerrilla to #2 in both Military Thriller and Action & Adventure Romance Fiction on both amazon.com.au and amazon.co.uk. Your downloads are most appreciated.
When you’ve read it, please leave a review or at least a rating. 🙂
What will I read next? Perhaps I’ll dust off And the Band Played On for the fifth or sixth time. It’s a history of the US response to HIV. It’s almost as frightening as a Donald Trump news conference.