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Monday 19 December 2011

Creepfest Christmas Story : "Jingle Hell" by Jason McKinney

Jingle Hell

by Jason McKinney

“I hate this time of year,” said Maxwell. He leaned over his drafting board, feverish with hatred for the new year. Santa always kicked things into high gear in January to prepare for the Christmas season that lay eleven months away.
“You wouldn’t hate it so much if you put your mind into your work and not into grumpiness, Maxie.” Jenna Tannenbaum had been his assistant for the last 23 years and was his exact opposite. She loved all things Christmas as much as she loved her job.
“There’s more to the world than this.” Maxwell’s nerves were already frayed from her cheery optimism and it was only two days into the year.
“Maxie, you say that every year. One of these days you’ll change your mind.” While he thought Jenna had a beautiful smile, it did nothing to alleviate his mood.
“Fat chance of that happening,” Maxwell muttered, going back to his design for the sleigh’s new stealth system that any human military would gladly kill for.
His department was Research and Development. They were cutting edge in ways that left the defense and toy industries wallowing in the Bronze Age. The new stealth capability was one-quarter Christmas magic with the rest being hardware and software.
Jenna looked over his shoulder as she placed a cup of peppermint hot chocolate on his pencil table. “When are you going to use a computer to do your designs?”
“Tell you what. When pigs pull the sled, I’ll use a PC.”
“Kirk is using a computer for all his designs. His enamel paint facilitator is expected to go online in March.” Jenna spoke in a dreamy way that edged Maxwell further into gloomy anger.
“It’s a glorified spray paint machine. Geez! What’s the big deal?”
“It’s going to save time when finishing the toys. Come on, Maxie. It uses laser technology, for crying out loud.”
“Well, when you put it that way, you’re right. That’s way more important than making sure some soldier on midnight watch doesn’t launch a tactical something or other up the old man’s ho-ho-ho. Well done that.”
“You’re a jerk.” Jenna turned and stormed out of the workshop.
Maxwell leaned forward, pulled down his right eye’s bottom lid and stuck his tongue out as Jenna slammed the door. He noticed the other fifteen elves staring at him. “Whaddya looking at?”
The others returned to their work and so did Maxwell.
Maxwell Jingle was a fourth generation elf. His father had worked for the fat man as one of the product designers/tinkerers that made sure things went smoothly in the workshop. His grandfather had been a North Pole cobbler, and his great grandfather worked as a deer wrangler. His mother was a seamstress, his grandmother was an assistant on gift distribution and great grandmother was a fact checker in the List Department. To say that being an elf was in his blood was an understatement.
Unlike in the movies though, jobs weren’t passed down from parent to child at Santa’s shop. No, an elf was placed where their aptitude lie. Maxwell or Maxie as the fat man called him was one of the rare few that had inherited his position from his father. Like dear old dad, he was good at thinking up mechanical things, but he hated it.
 By the end of that day he hated it even more. The old man had called him in and lectured him on the Christmas spirit. Maxwell despised being lectured and loathed Santa even more for it. How he longed to go south and live a normal life. Cities like London, New York, and Moscow fascinated him. Even a Podunk town like Marybeth, Louisiana seemed a far cry better than the North Pole.
“Christmas spirit? Who’s he kidding? At least he gets off the reservation once a year.” Maxwell took a drag off his cigarette and bundled himself tighter against the cold wind that blew across the hard packed snow. He exhaled, wishing it had been something other than the Mistletoes he’d bought off the North Pole black market. He didn’t know why he was surprised the cigarettes tasted like candy canes, considering the name branded on them, even though he knew they had tobacco in them.
Smoking, like alcohol was prohibited, but Maxwell wasn’t one to care. “Self righteous rube,” he cursed, stamping the dropped cigarette into the snow.
Maxwell turned to a hydraulic lift that served as one of the entrances to the work areas below. As he pressed a button hidden in a faux snow bank he heard a dull explosion from overhead. “What in the name of the little drummer brat was that?” He turned, searching the sky, not seeing anything until he looked northeast.
A bright flash of light and a whoosh overhead sent Maxwell tumbling. Something crashed into the snow about a kilometer away, showering him with snow and ice. Maxwell stood up, brushing his face and front in bewilderment. “What is that,” he muttered, taking a few steps toward the column of steam.
He tromped his way forward, finally coming to where the object had crashed. The steam was dissipating, showing something that looked like a chunky contorted Raisinet. “Figures,” he thought aloud. “Even the cool stuff that falls from the sky looks like candy.”
Scurrying down the impact crater was tricky at best. The heat from the space debris’ reentry had melted the snow then turned it to ice. As he climbed down, Maxwell was thankful for his hobnail boots.
The object was about nine feet in diameter. As Maxwell circled around it, he wondered what the odd writing on one of the scorched panels meant. He quickly took out his pencil and pad and sketched the sixteen symbols.
“What are you?” He prodded one of the glyphs with his pencil. The heat from the object warped the eraser. Then a six inch octagon hatch sprang open revealing a red and green display. It appeared to be counting down. “Aw, crap. That can’t be good.”
Maxwell tried to scramble up the icy crater, mentally chastising himself for being so stupid as to provoke an alien craft. “Move you tinkerer piece of reindeer dung,” he cursed aloud as his feet refused to gain purchase on the slick sheets.
The beeping from the object reached a shrill crescendo before a deep, distorted alien voice laughed maniacally. It sounded like a malignant Santa and it did little to ease Maxwell’s mind.
He looked over his shoulder as he thrust a foot and a small fist through the ice to gain traction. A greenish red gas burst from the satellite, shrouding him. His mind and stomach flip flopped as the smell of rotten nutmeg filled his nose and then his lungs.
Maxwell fell back into the crater. His vision blurred and his dinner screamed to exit the way it had entered. Slowly he lost consciousness. His mind filled with fevered dreams about Jenna doing things no elf could ever possibly do. It made him wonder if she was a freaky little elf in real life as well. It would have been a good dream if in the fantasy Jenna hadn’t also been hitting him in the head with a tack hammer.
When he awoke he felt even worse. His feet were wobbly and his head throbbed with an unnatural headache. He leaned against the satellite and for a moment couldn’t remember what had happened. He jumped away from the vile machine once his memory returned.
“I’ve had enough of you.” He kicked the dead object in anger. While normally grumpy, he was, at that moment, unusually enraged. He kicked the object again, harder this time, causing the octagon hatch to fall off. He leaned toward the darkened display, confident that the mystery satellite was dead for good. “Serves you right,” he whimpered, though he wasn’t sure if he was talking to the hunk of metal or himself.
Maxwell took the time to visit Gregory Gilder, the Cultural Interpretation and Translation expert for Santa’s operation. Not only was Gregory the language guru, he was the North Pole’s head black marketeer of minty cigarettes and gingerbread whiskey. If anyone could figure out what the symbols meant, it was Gregory.
“Hey there, Greggie boy,” called Maxwell, walking into the translator’s office.
“Where you been, Max? What can I do you for?” asked Gregory, turning from his desk to face Maxwell. “Sweet Christmas pie,” he exclaimed. “Mother fudge lover! What happened to you?”
Maxwell gave Gregory a strange look. “Nothing, I just got back from a smoke break. Hey, can you decipher these symbols?” He held the notepad out to him. Gregory delicately took it from him with the expression of a person wishing he had rubber gloves that went up to his shoulders.
Gregory carefully studied the symbols then cast Maxwell a doubtful glance. “Where’d you get these?”
“Umm. Saw ‘em on a human TV show about crop circles or some such. Just wanted to know if you’d ever seen anything like them before?”
“I’m not really sure, but it looks familiar. Have you seen a doctor recently?’
“What? No, I haven’t seen a doctor. What’s with you?”
Gregory held his hands up, palms out before him, and the sight of his appendages made Maxwell hungry for chicken fingers. “Nothing, brother,” Gregory answered with a hint of fear in his voice. “Just thinking maybe you should. I don’t know, forget I asked. Still, where’ve you… Um, Max? Are you drooling?”
“Hm? What? No, I’m not!” But Maxwell was. He tried to covertly wipe his mouth, but he knew Gregory had seen it already. Maxwell was embarrassed more than anything else. He was also beginning to feel a little hungry and sick again. “Hey, I gotta go. Work on that when you get time.”
Maxwell left the office and made his way to his work station. He passed a few elves that he didn’t know, but they obviously knew him. Most flattened themselves against the wall as he walked by while others stopped, looked at him then fled whispering.
“Waste of elfin magic if you ask me.” He didn’t care if they heard his discontented observation. Their attitudes earned his disdain.
By the time he got back to the R&D Department he was feeling much better. AS he walked to his desk his co-workers stared at him in astounded horror. Normally he would’ve snapped, “What are you looking at”, but he was feeling better than he ever had.
“Good morning, everyone,” he said, sitting down at his drawing board.
Jenna and Kirk cautiously approached him. They both looked frightened as they slowly inched toward him.
Maxwell watched them out of the corner of his eye. They were almost shoulder to shoulder as they got closer, but were soon taking turns trying to push one in front of the other.
“Hey, Maxie,” said Kirk, trying to sound brave. “Where…” Kirk coughed nervously, then continued. “Um, where’ve you been, buddy?”
“Out for a smoke if it’s any of your business.”
“For four days?” Jenna shifted from foot to foot. Her nervousness was showing and that agitated Maxwell greatly. “You’ve been missing for four days, Maxwell. Everyone was searching for you.”
“Four days? No way. I was outside for an hour at most.” He rolled a pencil under his right palm. His irritation was growing and the need to kill something engulfed his heart and mind.
“Buddy, you really need to be kicking that-”
“Aw, what the hay,” said Maxwell, leaning forward. “It’s clichéd but who cares.” He slammed the pencil through Kirk’s left eye. Jenna screamed as Kirk’s body writhed then collapsed to the ground. The pencil, still stuck in Kirk’s eye, broke in Maxwell’s hand.
The screaming flowed through the office like a wave as the rest of the elves began to panic and for the first time Maxwell noticed how shrill Jenna’s voice could be. He went to swing at her but the movement felt clumsy and sent Maxwell to the floor. “Son of a fruitcake eater,” he hissed as he collapsed next to Kirk.
He looked at the cooling body of his nemesis. “You’ve had better days, ain’t ya, lad?” Maxwell mused, using Kirk’s annoying Irish lilt, patting his forehead. His hand brushed against the broken pencil.
Maxwell couldn’t help himself. He tugged on the pencil, at first wanting only to remove it from the destroyed socket. But something compelled him to remove the eye as well.
The thought repulsed him at first then made him hungry that is until the eye popped out. The sound and sight of it made him cringe. He dropped it to the ground all the while still hungering for it.
“What in the name of sugar plums is wrong with me?” He forced himself to stand though it took greater effort than it should have.
“Hit him in the head!” yelled someone from behind him. Maxwell turned in time to see a snow shovel closing with alarming speed toward his cranium.
The blow made him double over, but didn’t knock him down. He was getting angry and the angrier he got, the hungrier he became. He straightened up; stunned by the fact that he didn’t feel any pain from the attack.
Three elves stood watching him. The one with the snow shovel stood in front of an elf armed with a plastic candy cane and another wielding a stirring paddle from the chocolate factory two doors down. The lead elf looked scared but not as much as the other two. They’d wet themselves and Maxwell loved the terrified looks on their faces.
Maxwell spoke, though not in a way the three would’ve liked. “Maxwell is the hungriest there is!” The sad truth was that Maxwell was hungry. He was famished as a matter of fact. He lunged at the snow shovel wielding elf. The other two, seeing Maxwell’s charge, lost their stomach for the fight. They took discretion as the better part of valor and ran away. Maxwell didn’t care about those two though. He figured he’d catch up with them sooner rather than later.
With a new found resolve, Maxwell forced his attacker to the floor, consuming his throat. He’d eaten his way to the spine before he realized what he was doing. He stopped and looked at the dead elf’s face. Maxwell tenderly brushed the blood off the name plate on the elf’s vest. “Bernie,” he murmured. “You look like a Bernie.” Maxwell didn’t blink as he dove back into the neck, eating his way down to Bernie’s sternum. Maxwell was indeed the hungriest there was.
As Maxwell rose from his meal a strange thought occurred to him. We don’t taste like milk or dark chocolate, peppermint or even like mint chocolate chip ice cream. By Odin’s Undead Beard we taste like meat! And we taste so darn delicious. I wonder why that is?
He left the design room, meandering down the hall, whistling It’s Beginning to look a lot like Christmas. His version though went something along the lines of “It’s beginning to look a lot like an apocalypse. Soon the blood will flow. And the prettiest sight to see is the entrails that will be on your own front door.” Maxwell was in very rare form.
He passed a mirror that hung at an intersection and he stopped to admire himself. He didn’t see much to admire, however. His skin was pallid; his eyes were beginning to look sunken and his chin and chest were coated in elf bits. He smiled wide but grimaced at the chunks that clung to the spaces between his teeth. “Oral hygiene is essential to a healthy smile. Eh, I’ll deal with that later. Time to see a fat man about a naughty and nice list.”
Maxwell followed the corridor that led to the Grand Hall, but was soon blocked by sealed silver, gold, scarlet and emerald doors. He was not pleased in the slightest.
He leaned against one of the doors, listening to the frightened voices that resided behind them. He could hear Santa’s shaky but deep voice telling those gathered with in that things were under control. They were scared and that made Maxwell giddy. For him Christmas had come earlier than usual.
Maxwell was about to pound on the door but was stopped by an odd sound behind him. He turned and called “Hello” to what should’ve been and empty hallway. He didn’t know why, but he was afraid. He called out again and was unpleasantly greeted by the sight of Bernie, the elf he’d eaten in the design room.
“Fudge kicker,” he spat. “Whatever happened to me must be infectious.”
“You watch your language, young man,” answered a raspy female voice from further down the curved passage. A few seconds later Mrs. Claus came into view. Her face was mangled, but Maxwell thought it improved her appearance. “I’ll not tolerate-”
“Awww, blow it out your chimney, ya old bat,” sneered Maxwell.
“Should have known you were the cause of this, Maxwell Jingle. You’ve always been a bad elf.” Mrs. Claus’ words were not helping to ease Maxwell’s renewing anger.
“Looks like someone had a little bit of the old lady,” responded Maxwell with a snarl. “And I do mean old. You’re past your shelf life, sweetie.”
“Now you see here-”
What was left of Bernie clicked its teeth together loudly. Maxwell took that as agreement though he didn’t know with whom Bernie was agreeing.
“Shut up,” grunted Maxwell. “And you, too, Mrs. Chunky Bar. From the looks of you, you’ve been at the ole meat trough, too. Who’d you nibble on? It wasn’t the old man. I just heard him in there.” Maxwell hiked his thumb toward the barricaded doors.
“It was that sweet Jenna girl.” Mrs. Claus smacked then licked her lips at the memory. It was clear that she loved the awful pun.
“You…ate…Jenna? You…ate Jenna? You ate Jenna?” Maxwell snatched the snow shovel from Bernie and proceeded to beat Mrs. Claus to her real everlasting death. “You ate my Jenna! You evil, evil woman!”
The hypocrisy was not lost on Maxwell. Here he was, an apparent zombie, beating another apparent zombie to death over eating a non-zombie. He looked at Bernie. “Did you bite her?” He pointed to Mrs. Clause. The zombified elf looked at Maxwell dumbly. “Did you bite Mrs. Claus, yes or no?”
Finally, he nodded yes. Maxwell proceeded to beat Bernie’s head in as well. He found the act just as satisfying as when he’d first feasted at Chez Bernie.
He was finishing up with destroying the bodies even further when screams erupted from the main hall. “Now what,” he said in a surly voice. Maxwell could hear things being moved from in front of the door in a hurry. Then the doors themselves were flung open.
Elves poured into the hallway but most came to a halt at the sight of Maxwell. They didn’t have a clue where to flee after seeing him. The nearest junction in the corridor was behind Maxwell and the only other path open was back into the Grand Hall.
“Well, whaddya running from?” Maxwell stared at them waiting for a response. No one spoke they were too scared to move for fear of provoking the undead elf. He moved toward the frightened crowd causing them to retreat back into the Hall. Elves trampled each other in the mad rush to escape from Maxwell and his grumpy hunger.
The Grand Hall, once vibrant and beautiful had turned into a house of undead delights. Around the room flew what Maxwell knew to be Donner, Prancer, and Comet except they were…like him. The three reindeer were flying low to the ground and corralling elves as they themselves had once been. The most bizarre sight to behold was Jenna riding atop Prancer, acting like a rabid cowgirl. “If grandpappy could see this,” chuckled Maxwell.
Meanwhile, Blitzen, Cupid, and Vixen were on the ground level in the middle of the room, feeding on a group of elves that had been trapped in the rush to get back into the Hall. Dasher and Dancer were on the second floor, butting the giant mahogany doors to Santa’s office with their antlers.
Maxwell was shocked, but not in a bad way. “Wow,” he said in his best Christopher Walken voice. Just then Rudolph floated down to face him. Rudy’s nose was no longer the only thing red on his face and gone were his soft lips and silky facial fur. What took their place were chipped teeth and meat stained mats. “They feeding you, okay, Rudy?”
The zombified reindeer bellowed his approval as he loped toward an elf trying to pry off a ventilation grate in an attempt to escape.
“This is the best Christmas ever!” sang out an elf that was part of a group munching on one of Santa’s shop foremen.
Maxwell laughed and waved to the elf as he strolled up the spiral ramp leading to Santa’s office. He felt some melancholy as he moved toward the two reindeer still pounding on the door. In his unbeating heart he knew it to be the end of the North Pole as the world knew it but the feeling didn’t last long. Whatever had been in that crashed satellite had changed him and the words “Destruction Gospel” rang through his mind.
“Step aside,” he said, pushing his way past Dancer and Dasher. He cleared his throat as quietly as he could and then pounded on the door. “Oh dear God, let me in! Please! Whoever’s inside let me in! They’re going to eat me!” he increased his banging in hopes that someone would answer him.
The two undead reindeer snickered which made Maxwell have to force a laugh back. He’d never realized that reindeer had a sense of humor before. He shushed them and went back to his mock pleading.
Finally, a voice from within answered him. It was Gregory. “How do I know you’re not one of them?”
“Now’s not the time to ask stupid questions!” To Maxwell’s amazement, Gregory opened the door. Maxwell stifled a giggle as he rushed inside. Now’s not the time to make stupid decisions, either.
“What are we going to do,” asked Santa, cowering behind his teak desk. He clutched a fire place poker in his grubby little hands hoping it would protect him the undead Christmas horde. His eyes went wide as he looked at Maxwell’s face and the greedy grin on it. “You’re one of them.”
“Yep, and you’re the high lord and master of stupid fairy tale beings. Did you tell him to let me in?”
Santa didn’t answer.
“Idiot.” Maxwell didn’t ponder the poetic justice in calling Santa an idiot when he had left his back unguarded against Gregory. Gregory brought the full weight of an aluminum baseball bat down on Maxwell’s back.
Maxwell rolled away more out of sheer luck than any fighting prowess. The bat landed on the hardwood floor where his head had been, leaving Gregory to deal with the forceful feedback of the blow.
“That could’ve killed me,” howled Maxwell indignantly. He tackled Gregory before he could recover. Santa watched in horror as Maxwell plucked the bat from Gregory’s hands, threw it aside and then pinned Gregory to the floor.
“Don’t eat me! Don’t eat me! I have the translation of the glyphs you gave me.” It was a stalling tactic and Maxwell knew it. Regardless, he couldn’t help but be curious about what the etchings meant.
“Tell me.”
“You’ll eat me if I do.”
“I won’t eat you if you tell me.” Maxwell couldn’t believe that he was being childish enough to argue with his food.
“Promise?” Gregory looked up at Maxwell with a worried expression.
“Yeah, yeah, I promise.”
“Happy Ke’daki, you long nosed Tarei’hasan pauk-de.”
The words puzzled Maxwell. He was about to relax his grip on Gregory, but decided against it. “Stay where you are, fatty,” he growled at Santa. Santa had been edging away from the desk in an attempt to hit Maxwell from behind, but Maxwell smelled the approaching scent of live meat. “What’s that supposed to mean? How do you even pronounce that mess?”
“Wherever you got the glyphs from was alien. It’s an insulting Christmas card.”
“Ke’daki loosely translates out to Christmas or Spiritual War God Festival and Tari’hasan means foul, weak opponent or enemy. And I can’t even say what pauk-de means. I think it’s the ‘F’ word.”
“That’s it? Merry Christmas, you long nosed, weak enemy blankety-blank? Is this a joke?”
“I swear to Jack Frost it isn’t.” Gregory’s trembling subsided but only for a moment. It resumed once he saw the smiling snarl stretch across Maxwell’s lips. “Where ever this text came from was extra terrestrial in origin! Swear!”
Maxwell lunged for Gregory’s nose. “You promised you wouldn’t eat me,” he whimpered.
Maxwell paused. “You’re right. I didn’t promise not to bite you, though.” He sank his teeth into Gregory’s neck, enjoying the warm gush that followed the bite. He stopped himself from enjoying more than that. He was, after all, an elf of his word.
He moved away from Gregory as the elf thrashed and his screams mingled with the sounds of the dying outside. Maxwell turned to Santa, who hadn’t moved an inch from where Maxwell had told him to stop. “Don’t worry, nothing’s going to happen to you, big guy, but you are going to help spread the Destruction Gospel.”
“Destruction Gospel?” Santa could keep from stammering. He could already tell he was better off being eaten than being left alive.
Gregory stopped thrashing and joined Maxwell where he stood. “Happy New Year, Santa. We’re going to be doing more than rocking around the Christmas tree this year.”
Eleven months later the undead reindeer were being hitched to the sleigh to make the yearly flight. Santa sat nervously inside, dreading what was about to happen. He looked at Vixen, who had once been the gentlest of the team. Decomposition hadn’t been kind to her or her fellows. Flesh was missing from areas of her body but was prominent in her teeth. Maxwell had spent the year snatching children from the Naughty List as a way to keep what he called the Necrotic Pole Crew fed and content.
“Everything loaded up?” Maxwell asked Gregory.
“Yeah, buddy, it is. We’re spreading the news to all the good little boys and girls in the world tonight. By this time tomorrow, everyone will know the true meaning of silent night.”
“You’re not funny, dude. Bad pun.”
“Eh, kill me or replace me, Maxie.”
Maxwell still hated the nickname but he tolerated it from Gregory. There was a demented streak in him that Maxwell had come to love. “See you in 24 hours if somebody’s air force doesn’t shoot us down first that is.”
The ground crew cleared the sled for take off and soon they were well outside the North Pole. Maxwell smiled at Santa. “After tonight I’m willing to bet that soda company will wish they’d never picked you as their holiday mascot.”
Santa groaned. The sleigh was packed with the normal toys but also a bottle of infected soft drink bearing a familiar red and white logo for every good boy and girl in the world.
As the sleigh cut across the night sky headed toward North America, Maxwell whistled Santa Claus is Coming to Town. If he listened closely he could hear the reindeer grunting in tune with him.

Jason Mckinney is the depraved mind behind Dog World (Werewolves = the end of everything) and Memoirs of the Dead (zombies are ex-people too. With feelings. And un-dead sex). He writes heart-stopping horror, crazy humour, and is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.  I've been lucky enough to call him a friend for some time now. 
Follow him on twitter at @jason_mckinney, check out Dog World's facebook page; and get yourself over to his blog for some mind-blowing short fiction and get to know him; and keep an eye peeled for his books on the new Kindle lending  library. 

Saturday 17 December 2011

12 Days of Creepfest Giveaway

Creepfest is upon us, and my fellow blog hoppers are giving away some amazing prizes!

I'm giving away a couple of prizes:

1st prize : An ARC e-copy of Die Laughing, due for release in early 2012,  a Blue Moon Detectives t-shirt, a PDF of Basement Blues, and a PDF of WolfSong.
2nd prize : An ARC e-copy of Die Laughing and a PDF of Basement Blues or WolfSong
3rd prize : A PDF copy of Basement Blues

To enter, post in the comments below and let me know what you'd do if you could be Santa for a night. Would you give everyone their hearts desire - or would you give everyone what they deserve - and why?

While you're thinking about that, skip over to BloodyBookish and have a look at my idea of a Creepfest inspired Christmas village.

And don't forget to visit the other members of the Creepfest Blog hop; there are some brilliant prizes up for grabs, and the chance to discover some great new writers you may not already know about!

Wednesday 14 December 2011

WolfSong Promotions & Amazon Lending Library

WolfSong has now gone onto the Kindle Owners lending library. The prime option means that kindle owners can borrow one book a month and read it free of charge if they own a kindle device. That includes the kindle fire, kindle touch, kindle keyboard and the plain old kindle.

Even better, the e-book will be available as a  free download on December 17 and December 26 of 2011, with a few more dates early in 2012.

Of course, if you want a physical book to love, cherish, and make cooing noises over, WolfSong is now available in that format too. It's the perfect size for swatting werewolves if they stick their nose in your Christmas stocking uninvited, so go on and treat yourself.

If you'd like to spoil yourself a bit more, Zazzle has Basement Blues, WolfSong and Blue Moon Detective Agency coffee mugs, shirts, and other merchandise, including a hooded sweatshirt I'm eyeing for myself.

Keep an eye out over the next couple days for some great give-aways on the 12 Days of Creepfest Blog Tour, which has just kicked off and promises to be a load of fun - I get to torture great folks like Jason McKinney and Mary over at Bloody Bookish. What more could a girl want over the festive season?

Saturday 10 December 2011

Lucky, lucky me

I've never really had intimations of my own immortality; growing up in South Africa tends to squash that myth pretty fast. 
I lost the last possible illusion on that side the day a man with a gun came within a couple of inches of blowing my head off (the bastard shot my hair, something I still sulk about).

So this Thursday morning when I came within a couple of minutes of dying in a very unpleasant way, what went through my head was not so much "I'm too young to die" as "I don't want to go out like this."

I didn't - hence this post - but what really got hammered home for me is just how lucky I am on a number of counts, mainly the people around me.

Let me explain.

I've had a cough since my last epic dose of the cold a couple of weeks ago, and it's gotten steadily worse. The fact that I'm a smoker didn't help for obvious reasons, but you know - I've had coughs before. They tend to pass. Irony alert - I hadn't touched a cigarette the night before because I didn't want to make it worse. Ahem.

At around 05:30 a.m. I woke hacking and coughing worse than ever. There was no pain, just me wheezing in the darkness of my cold room and feeling cranky.
At 05:45 I got up and decided to steam my face to try and loosen things up a bit.

I got as far as running the water and realised that I was no longer struggling to breath; I was pretty close to not breathing at all.

And here comes the first lucky break; I live with my house-mate, who is also my cousin. Because although I'd grabbed my phone to dial 999, I couldn't really talk. I had enough breath left to make a noise like a strangled rooster and get her downstairs, and say "can't breathe", but that was it. She called the ambulance, got me to a chair (I was holding onto the balustrade making ugly strangling noises) and kept talking to me, which probably kept me from passing out. 

By the time the first paramedic got there my vision was going. The world had narrowed down to me gasping through an airway that felt non-existent, Stacey's hand on my shoulder, and gathering clouds of black around my field of vision.
There was still no pain, only a very large awareness that if these guys couldn't do anything this was going to be me, dying on a cold still morning in December. Merry fucking Christmas, folks.

The next two paramedics got there a few minutes later, and this is my second huge stroke of luck: I live in a country with a pretty good public health system. Say what you want about the NHS and its faults - like any organisation it has them - but this is the second time I've needed them, and each time the paramedics, the badly paid guys that step up to the plate when you dial that number - have been bloody amazing.

They got me on oxygen, and here's more irony for you - this is the first time I panicked a bit. Because for what felt like minutes - probably only a few seconds, but it felt like forever - I still couldn't breathe. With that mask on my face and clouds of vapour going everywhere but into my lungs, my vision starting to star-burst, and the last cold rational voice in my mind (the one that told me to call for help because the brown stuff had just hit the moving blades) mournfully ticking off the things I still wanted to do in life.

I finished the tank and still couldn't really catch my breath. They let me get dressed (at least nobody had to cut any clothing off me for this emergency) and it was time for my second ever trip in an ambulance, and another tank of something a bit stronger - no idea what it was, but it gave me one hell of a headache. The details of temperature and blood-pressure are a bit hazy; although my state of mind wasn't helped by the persistent queries about chest pain - I think they were concerned about my heart-rate, which was doing a pretty good impression on a race-horse.

The trip to the hospital is mostly flashes - the guy in the back talking to me and telling me what he was doing and why; the road we went down that felt like one giant pothole, the fire we passed just off the motor way,  Stacey with her hand still on my shoulder.

Another four aspirators in the hospital, multiple blood tests, having to blow into the cardboard tube of doom (and not impressing anyone, including myself with the results). X-rays, an ECG, multiple nurses, multiple doctors, and through it all, my cousin, refusing to budge from my side even when I abandoned her to fall asleep on my bed for an hour.

It turned out I'd had an asthma attack. According to the docs, it was triggered by a hyper-sensitive reaction to a virus, and I now had inflamed tubes and (much later in the day) a minor blood clot. It just happened to reach critical mass and manifested as an attack, although they cannot diagnose me as asthmatic. (Side note: asthma attacks can apparently happen to people who are not and have never been chronically asthmatic. I have a new found respect for anyone who lives with this condition, and anyone who dismisses it as psychosomatic needs a good swift kick to the fundament.)

She texted my boss, to let her know that I was in the hospital and wouldn't be at work. And here comes my third stroke of luck; I work with genuinely good people, including a manager who really does give a damn about her team. All I've heard from my team is good-wishes and hopes for recovery; and if that doesn't make me cursed lucky compared to a lot of folks I know, I don't know what does.

By the time I was on my second or third hospital gas mask (I thought I did a pretty good Darth Vader impression. The nurse didn't get it.) I was okay to text my boss again, get her up to speed, and send a rather badly mangled tweet about a bad start to my morning.

The response just floored me. By 8:30 pm that night I had over 200 tweets back. I pretty much killed Orange's allowance for incoming tweet texts. I never, ever expected that. If you're one of the people that contacted me, all I can say is - you guys helped keep me going through a pretty bleak day. I've tried to respond to everyone, if I missed you consider this me grovelling; because as far as I'm concerned that's my fourth bit of luck: people who care. People from all over the planet who stopped whatever they were doing and sent me a message on a social networking site to wish me well, to get better, to hold on. I love you guys. Terry, Ray, Naomi, Amhairi, Michelle, LJ and Phil, who've been remorseless in checking up on me in particular.

My new Skype buddies, Jason and Tab, who have put up with me yakking at them for a couple of hours the last two days when I was frankly scared to go to sleep, in case I woke up choking again. You guys are simply the best.

So I'm home now; on a bunch of medication that basically turned me into the zombie of your dreams for most of the day; and I'll be on it for couple of days still. Technically not out of the woods yet - Stacey kept sticking her head around my door to make sure I was breathing; if I'm still clicking my heels by Sunday night I reckon we're good to go. Let me tell you folks, I don't do bed-rest well. The fact that I've barely left it tells me just how badly I needed it. Also, there is something inherently creepy about being able to stand in the spot where you nearly died in your own home. Not too sure how to explain it, apart from not wanting to stand there or touch the balustrade I clung to that morning.

I've had to deal with explaining what happened to three terrified people in Australia; which was one of least fun parts of this whole deal for me. (I did explain that I would have been very irate if I'd popped my clogs before seeing them later this month. My response to bad situations is to crack bad jokes, it's my own coping mechanism. Let's just say my mother was not amused. I believe death and a swift ass kicking was included in the response. I did not point out the irony. I do have some survival instincts.)

Last shout-out, to the paramedics that saved my life, and the myriad staff  I dealt with at Whipps Cross Hospital. Thank you. My biggest regret right now is that everything is so patchy I can't remember your names, but thank you. From the grumpy dude who was the first doc I dealt with, to the last ward nurse who supplied  both myself and Stacey with coffee and lunch, and all the people in-between, thank you. 

My smokes hit the trash about twenty seconds of walking back into my room. For the first time in about twenty plus years the thought of lighting up horrifies me. It's on about the same level as thinking about ice-skating again - instant flash-back to broken leg time, except this is instant flash-back to nearly popping my clogs. 
I've ordered an electric cigarette, because I know myself a bit too well to think I've broken the addiction just yet, and having experienced strangling slowly as my airways closed once, I reckon I've pushed my luck in that direction far enough. Although if this was which ever deity runs the show's way of getting me to quit, We Are Going To Have Words when I finally do shuffle off this mortal coil. Just saying.

My last close call changed my life pretty drastically. I'm pretty sure this one will as well; how much remains to be seen. As long as I'm around though, I intend living my life and living it well.

And if you made it to the end of this post and you're mumbling about it being a bit, well, morbid, apologies. That was not my intention.

What I wanted to point out is that I am, right now, the luckiest person I know. I am lucky for all the reasons, and especially the people, I've written about. I'm usually broke, chronically accident-prone, cantankerous without my coffee - and I love my life because of the people in it, in person and on the net.

So if you've read this, and waded through to the end, turn your screen off, find the people you care about, and let them know it.
Life is short, and scary, and gorgeous, and the people you surround yourself with are what really matter at the end, not the shiny pretty gadgets and gewgaws and the bank-balance you scramble for at the end of the month. 
Trust me, those things don't matter a damn when you start to die.


J H Sked is the author of WolfSong & Basement Blues.
You can find WolfSong on Amazon. Basement Blues is on AmazonSmashwordsiTunes  and  Nook 

Sunday 4 December 2011

12 Days of Creepfest Blog Tour

The super awesome Rebecca Treadway has got me onto the Creepfest Blog Tour - keep an eye out for some awesome interviews and prizes across the tour!

I'll be giving away ARC copies of Die Laughing, the follow up to Basement Blues, as well as e-copies of Basement Blues and WolfSong.

Have a look around because there are some seriously awesome writers on the tour - the home page is here.

If I haven't made hysterical screaming fan noises about The Zombie Bible  or R.L. Treadway  yet you can spank me in the comments, and these are just two of the writers on the tour; so you know you're in for a quality ride. 

Ho Ho Ho

A very short post today, but hopefully one you'll like - since it's the holiday season and all, I'm giving away free copies of  Basement Blues. Just call me Santa's lil helper.

Head on over to Smashwords and use voucher code ES96G at checkout for your 100% discount.

This version of the book can be either downloaded to your e-reader or pc or printed off if you'd rather have a hard copy - either way, enjoy and have a great festive season!

Latest reviews :
5.0 out of 5 stars Great collection of spooky stories!31 Oct 2011
By Tabitha's Attic - Published on Amazon U.S.
This review is from: Basement Blues (Kindle Edition)
Basement Blues and Other Stories is a collection of spooky tales by Janet Sked to get you in the scaring mood.

Janet starts us off with Basement Blues a fun noir style story. Only this time instead of ole' Sam Spade our detectives are "monsters". Astrid, a vampire, Ruth, a ghost and Bill, well, you have to read the story to find out what he is, run Blue Moon Detective Agency. They specialize in handling the more unusual cases and they get a doozy of one when Susan, a zombie with a problem, shows up. Susan has a ghost in her basement that is trying to kill her...again. Why, you ask? Now, if I told you that I would give away a wonderful gasping twist in this fun spooky tale about how monsters can make the best of friends.

In her next tale Dim, Janet wrenches your heart out with a story about a man turned child by the horrors of war and how they continue to haunt and terrify him into his innocence. Charlie went to war to serve his country and came back with half a brain, literally, and a fear of the dark. When his convoy was hit by friendly fire he was trapped for two days with his dead comrades under an overturned half buried truck. Now he is being taken care of by his ailing grandmother and ignored by a sister he adores. What is it in the dark that scares him so much? When you find out it will make your skin crawl and want to scream in terror.

And last, but not least is Pushing Janey, a tale about a young man, Phan, and a young woman who catch each others eye in Piccadilly Station. Unfortunately, before Phan can learn the young woman's name she has a terrible accident and is killed. Why is it then that the young man is still seeing her at the Station with a strange star like dark spot on her back? To make things even weirder he starts to see other people that are there one minute and gone the next, each with the same star shaped dark spot. Are these people trying to tell him something? Find out what the dead are saying to Phan in this physiological thriller that will leave your head spinning.

Janet even throws in the first three chapters of her début novel Wolfsong at the end of Basement Blues and Other Stories to tantalize our imaginations and bring us into a world of myth, monsters, and magic that leave us yearning for more.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
4.0 out of 5 stars Two good stories, one amazing story11 July 2011
By Jamie Schultz - Published on Amazon U.S.
This review is from: Basement Blues (Kindle Edition)
This is a short collection of three very different stories. Basement Blues is a humorous paranormal detective story that has a lot of fun playing with the classic vampire, ghost, and zombie tropes. Who do you call when you're a zombie with a psychotic washing machine haunting your basement? Blue Moon Detective Agency! The humor is right on, very much in the vein of Terry Pratchett, and the characters are lovably entertaining. I would have liked the main character to have more agency in the final outcome (no pun intended), but this story was a fun read nonetheless.

The last story, Pushing Janey, was a bleak ghost story that caught me totally by surprise in a couple of ways over just a few pages. This story is *not* funny, but it's very well-executed and it will keep you guessing until the end.

It was the middle story, Dim, that blew my mind. It elevates fear of the dark into something almost tangible--I don't think I've read a story that tackles that particular subject so well, or with such a unique approach. The description and atmosphere are chilling, the characters are fascinating, and the overall story execution is spot-on. This is one story that will get you to get up and turn on all the lights in the house--in the middle of the day.

This collection is worth it for Dim alone, but read the rest and you won't be disappointed!