Today’s Art (9th October 2019)

Well, this mid-2000s style digitally-edited painting was one that I made after having a sudden moment of inspiration the day before.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“And 2004” By C. A. Brown

Three Thoughts About Writing Fiction Set In The Mid-2000s

Well, I ended up thinking about the subject of mid-2000s style fiction after I began re-reading a horror novel from 2005 called “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” by Natasha Rhodes (although, due to a heatwave at the time of writing, it might take me longer to read/review this novel than usual). It could be because of the fact that I first read this novel in 2005/6, but it seemed so wonderfully mid-2000s in a lot of ways.

This then made me think of a horror novel from 2006 that I re-read a while ago called “Dying Words” by Shaun Hutson, which seems to be the perfect distillation of mid-2000s Britain. And, since the mid-2000s is just slightly too recent to really be a part of popular nostalgia at the moment, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to write stories set in the mid-2000s. And for the purposes of this article, I’ll define the mid-2000s as 2004-6 or so.

1) Culture and context: Culturally, the mid-2000s was a different age. Despite all of the lingering post-9/11 fear and angst, culture was a bit more optimistic and interesting than the present day. In part, this was probably because the 2008 financial crash hadn’t happened yet. So, here are a few of the cultural differences between the mid-2000s and the present day.

As for films, horror movies were a lot more popular 🙂 At the time, the psychological horror/jump scare trend of the early-mid 2000s was still going strong (with, for example, a Hollywood remake of “The Grudge” in 2004) but, with the release of the first “Saw” film in 2004, the early beginnings of the grittier and more brutal horror movie trends of the mid-late 2000s were also emerging too. Superhero movies also existed at the time, but were thankfully more of an occasional infrequent novelty rather than a major genre 🙂

Pop and rock music (especially indie rock) were popular genres of music too. Heavy metal music from the time usually tended to be a bit more shoutier and/or angst-filled than it was in previous decades though. There were also some lingering remnants of the awesome pop-punk trend of the mid-1990s/early-mid 2000s in the charts too 🙂 The Emo subculture was also a popular thing too. In terms of fashions, boho chic was one of the most popular trends.

Videogames were a popular thing, but were also still something of a niche hobby too. First-person shooter games were still primarily single-player games (and were all the better for it!) and genres like the 3D platformer genre and the survival horror genre were still reasonably popular too 🙂 Whilst online multiplayer obviously existed back then, there tended to be more of a focus on good, honest local multiplayer for console games. However, the modern renaissance in indie games hadn’t happened yet, so most games were popular “AAA” games made by larger studios.

Politically, this was the age of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Both were mercilessly satirised at the time and for good reason. Still, even though the mid-2000s was a relative utopia compared to the present day, we didn’t know any worse back then. As such, pessimism, angst and gloom about politics were a major thing back then. Whether it was angst about the erosion of civil liberties, worries about terrorism, worries about Blair acting in an authoritarian fashion, worries about the Iraq/Afghanistan wars etc… It was a fairly angst-filled time.

But it was, in Britain at least, a much more hedonistic age too 🙂 For example, this was an age when there were still tabloid moral panics about “binge drinking” (because people still actually went out drinking/clubbing at the weekend 🙂 ).

2) The technology: The thing to remember about the mid-2000s is that, in technological terms, it was mostly a more sensible version of the present day. In other words, whilst things like mobile phones, some types of social media etc.. still existed, they were a little bit more sensible.

In other words, smartphones didn’t really exist. Mobile phones existed (and were very popular), but they were actual phones with numerical keypads. They were primarily used for phone calls and simple text messages. Some phones had low-resolution cameras, limited internet connectivity and colour screens, but that was about it (and adding anything more usually tended to result in commercial failure, see the Nokia N-Gage for an example). They had much longer battery life than modern phones and they couldn’t really access social media in the way they do today 🙂

Social media, of course, being something you accessed via a desktop computer (running Windows 98 or XP 🙂 ). Even then, it was at least slightly different to what it is today. Back then, social media tended to focus slightly more on things like public forums (where people would discuss a topic, instead of themselves), instant messenger programs and – of course- traditional blogs, where people could write at length in an articulate fashion 🙂

Yet, unfortunately, the beginnings of modern-style social media were also starting to emerge too. Myspace was, of course, around at the time. An obscure video-sharing site called Youtube appeared in 2005. In 2006, Twitter began (as a service that allowed you to send SMS text messages to the internet with your phone) and Facebook opened itself to the public too. Yet, in 2004-6, social media was still something of an obscure hobby that had not grown to the ridiculous level of prominence that it has today.

As for portable date storage, re-writable CDs were a popular way of backing up large amounts of data. Whilst USB memory sticks existed during the mid-2000s, they were much smaller (eg: tens or hundreds of megabytes) and people still used floppy disks occasionally. Computers still often had floppy drives installed as standard too 🙂

Likewise, whilst some mobile phones had low-resolution cameras, most people used good, honest stand-alone digital cameras to take photos. However, cheap disposable film-based cameras were still reasonably popular for things like holidays etc…

Plus, the mid-2000s was one of the last time periods where physical media was king 🙂 In other words, when you bought a film, you bought it on DVD (or maybe VHS, if you could find it). Traditional paperback and hardback books were the only way to read fiction 🙂 Music was still primarily sold on CDs too 🙂

Likewise, although things like Steam did exist back then, if you bought a computer or video game, you almost certainly bought a physical disc from a physical shop (as such, things like DLC, loot boxes etc.. weren’t common and most games were actually released in a finished state too 🙂 )

3) The stories aren’t that different: You’ll have probably noticed that I’ve spent most of this article talking about background and contextual stuff, rather than about writing. There’s a good reason for this. The mid-2000s weren’t that long ago.

In other words, stories that would work in the modern day can often also work reasonably well when set during the mid-2000s. Most of what makes a story set during this time period different from a more modern story are the background details and the atmosphere (eg: angst-filled/pessimistic, yet also more innocent and optimistic) more than anything else.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Dying Words” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Shortly after I’d finished reading Shaun Hutson’s “Last Rites“, I wanted to read some more of Hutson’s novels from the 2000s. And, after looking online, I found a cheap second-hand copy of Hutson’s 2006 novel “Dying Words”.

I wasn’t sure if I’d already read this novel back in the day (I probably did), but it intrigued me enough to buy a copy…. which then promptly languished on my “to read” pile for about three months. But, after reading Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up The Bodies“, I wanted to read something a bit more fast-paced. So, yes, this review is long overdue.

So, let’s take a look at “Dying Words”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2007 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “Dying Words” that I read.

The novel begins in London with a high-speed car chase. Detective Inspector David Birch is in pursuit of a serial killer and he’s damned if he’s going to let him go. After leaving a trail of destruction, the killer gets out of his car, draws a knife and flees – cutting down anyone who gets in his way. Birch gives chase. Finally, there is a tense stand-off in an underground station – which ends with Birch gleefully throwing the disarmed killer onto the electrified rails.

Meanwhile, a biographer called Megan Hunter is discussing her latest historical book about a little-known Renaissance thinker called Giacomo Cassano with her editor Frank. Compared to Dante and Caravaggio, no-one has heard of Cassano, and Megan hopes that her book will change this.

Back at the police station, Birch is called to the Commissioner’s office to account for his actions. After giving Birch a scare, the Commissioner eventually decides to turn a blind eye to the serial killer’s suspicious death.

A while later, Birch is called out to investigate a new case. Frank has been brutally murdered, yet there is no evidence of anyone else leaving or entering the locked room that he died in…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really brilliant, but intriguingly different, Shaun Hutson novel. Although it still contains the horror and thriller elements you’d expect from a Shaun Hutson novel, this novel is actually more of a detective novel most of the time. And this works surprisingly well. Likewise, this novel is also an intriguing piece of metafiction, an awesome heavy metal novel and a wonderfully evocative piece of mid-2000s nostalgia too 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s detective elements. Apart from the beginning and the ending, this novel mostly takes a fairly “realistic” attitude towards detection, with large parts of the story involving Birch interviewing people, examining crime scenes, talking to other detectives and following up on leads. In a lot of ways, this novel is kind of like a cross between a drama and a gritty police procedural. And, surprisingly, this works really well – with the “locked room mystery” elements also helping to add some intrigue to the story too.

Likewise, this novel is also a really good horror novel too. Although it isn’t really that scary, there’s a really brilliant mixture of ultra-gruesome splatterpunk horror, creepy implied horror, suspenseful horror, atmospheric horror, criminal horror, medical horror and some paranormal horror … all of which gradually engulf what initially appears to be a fairly “ordinary” detective story 🙂 Seriously, this is one of the best blendings of the detective and horror genres that I’ve seen in a while.

As mentioned earlier, “Dying Words” is also a work of metafiction too – and it works really brilliantly. Although it initially appears to be a rather cynical satire about the publishing business and about critics (of which I now seem to be one), the novel also covers topics like the power of books, the power of authors and the nature of creativity itself too.

In addition to this, one fun element of the story is that one of the characters is a horror author called Paxton. Although I initially thought that this was an author insert, it’s probably more of a self-parody and/or a parody of the popular image of horror authors. Plus, there’s an absolutely brilliant description of one of Paxton’s books being launched, which is wonderfully evocative of the genre’s heyday in the 1970s-90s (which, sadly, I only discovered belatedly via second-hand books during the ’00s).

This novel is also a brilliant piece of mid-2000s nostalgia too 🙂 Everything from the cynical description of a “misery memoir”, to some of the fashions (eg: Megan’s boho chic outfit in one scene), to the general atmosphere of the story, to the vaguely “Silent Hill 3“-style settings in one part of the novel, to the mentions of CDs/DVDs, to the blissful absence of smartphones etc… is gloriously reminiscent of an era of history that popular nostalgia hasn’t quite reached yet.

So, if you miss the mid-2000s (and, back then, I never thought that I’d say those words… Wow, the present day sucks!), then this novel is well worth reading for nostalgia alone.

This novel is also a heavy metal novel too 🙂 In addition to some utterly brilliant Iron Maiden references (especially to this song) that are integrated into the story in a really cool way, there are also possible references to Judas Priest’s “Electric Eye” and Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” too 🙂 Seriously, it’s always brilliant to read a novel by an author with such good taste in music \m/ 🙂 \m/

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good and they all come across as fairly realistic – if somewhat stylised – people. Although, like in Hutson’s “Last Rites”, many of the characters have tragic backstories – this element isn’t emphasised quite as much in this novel, which helps to stop the story’s emotional tone from becoming too bleak or depressing (still, don’t expect a cheerful tale. This is a Shaun Hutson novel, after all).

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is a really interesting mixture of the more descriptive (and slightly formal) style that Hutson used in his classic 1980s horror novels and the faster, grittier and more “matter of fact” style that he used in his 1990s/2000s thriller novels. Still, this novel mostly tends be more like a classic-style Hutson novel in terms of the writing.

Interestingly, this novel only partially includes some of Hutson’s trademark phrases though (eg: the word “cleft” appears, but I didn’t notice the word “liquescent” anywhere). Still, it includes the brilliant description “mucoid snorting” at one point.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 357 pages in length, this novel doesn’t feel that much longer than Hutson’s classic 1980s fiction. The novel’s pacing is handled in a really interesting way too. Both the beginning and ending are as fast-paced as a good thriller novel, whereas the pacing of the rest of the novel is much closer to that of a horror or detective novel. This contrast works really well, since it helps to build suspense and make the thrilling segments of the novel even more fast-paced by comparison 🙂

All in all, this is a brilliantly enjoyable novel 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit different to pretty much every other Shaun Hutson novel, but at the same time it is also very much a Hutson novel. If you want a really interesting mixture of the detective, thriller and horror genres, if you want some intriguing metafiction or if you’re just feeling nostalgic for the mid-2000s, then this novel is definitely worth reading 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Short Story: “Deadline” By C. A. Brown

Against the night sky, the falling snow almost looked like the screensaver on Diane’s computer. Even in the gloom, the snow was as white as the breeze block walls of her halls of residence room. She grinned. It almost looked like something from a dystopian sci-fi movie.

It was harshly beautiful. There were no other words for it. The only thing missing was music. As she jabbed the computer mouse, the screensaver disappeared and her half-finished English Lit essay about Edgar Allen Poe stared back at her. She sighed. The department’s deadline was tomorrow. But, how often does it snow like this?

For all she knew, it could happen every winter. Maybe this small town was famous for snow? The university prospectus had included a few beautiful snowy photos. Maybe she should just finish the damn essay and enjoy the snow next year or tomorrow or whenever? But, she found herself minimising the essay and opening Media Player instead.

A second later, the grimly melodic tones of Cradle Of Filth’s “Nymphetamine” echoed through the room. Diane watched the furious flurries of snow for a few minutes, wishing that she’d brought her DVD of “Gremlins” with her to uni. No, she thought, I’ve got to stay focused. She sighed and rifled through the stack of photocopied pages on her desk.

Even though it was two thousand and six for heaven’s sake, the university still insisted on references to physical books in essays. Given how much photocopies cost at the library, she was sure that it was probably a way of extorting money from poor students. Either that or the beardy old lecturers hadn’t heard of the internet.

Finding the right sheaf of stapled photocopies, Diane flicked through it until she found the passage she had highlighted earlier. No doubt that it was slightly longer than the scary copyright warning posters in the library allowed. Still, if they were charging 10p a page, then the posters were probably just for show. But, given that her halls room looked like something from a dystopian space prison, she wouldn’t have been surprised if there was some kafkaesque network of contradictory rules and goals at play.

Taking a deep breath, she focused and fired out another few paragraphs. Then she checked the word count. 1230 words. She shrugged. After she added a concluding paragraph, it would only be a hundred words shy of the limit. It would lose her a few marks, but she’d probably still pass. Anyway, it was snowing.

Diane got up and walked over to the square window. She gasped and staggered back. The view was different. Instead of snow-capped halls blocks, twenty dilapidated refinery towers stared back at her. The snowy ground below was an uneven moonscape of pits and mounds. She blinked and rubbed her eyes. The view didn’t change.

Common sense told her to stay put. To knock on everyone else’s doors and see if they had noticed it too. But, it was 3am. Everyone else on the floor would be out drinking. If only she’d been sensible enough to join them. Still, the deadline probably didn’t matter any more. And, she thought, how often do you get to explore somewhere like this? If she took a few photos, then no-one would question her sanity either.

Finding her jacket and an old Cradle Of Filth hoodie, she grabbed her bag and digital camera before walking out into the hallway. It was as silent as a tomb. She walked over to the kitchen and checked the windows. The refinery towers stared back at her once again. One of them moved. She took a couple of photos.

When she reached the stairwell, she noticed that the carpet was missing. She took a photo of the cracked grey tiles. Common sense urged her to turn back, but she kept walking down the stairs. Finally, she reached the thick wooden door. Diane took a deep breath and flung it open.

The halls blocks stared back at her. The snow was light on the ground. The towers were nowhere to be seen. She checked her camera. The photos were still there. She blinked. A smile crossed her face. Clutching her bag, she strode out into the snow. The university library would be still be open. Something about H.P. Lovecraft seemed like the perfect thing to fill up the remaining hundred words of her essay.

Short Story: “Grim” By C. A. Brown

The trick is not to flinch. He’s used to people flinching. After all, his job is to catch people by surprise. If the bony bastard could smile, then I’d bet that he has a permanent grin on his face. Or he would if he hadn’t tangled with the wrong person.

But, I’d twigged that he was following me. It isn’t that he cares too much about stealth. After all, he can only be seen by the person he’s going to meet. But, I would bet anything that he enjoys the thrill of surprising people. Unfortunately, there isn’t really that much research data to go on. People don’t exactly submit reports. Still, when I saw a reflection of a scythe in the window and heard rustling robes in the crowd behind me, I knew that the Grim Reaper was near.

Instinctively, I ducked into a tiled alleyway. It was more out of embarrassment than anything else. Sure, the kind of people who still go to run-down semi-abandoned shopping centres are probably used to seeing random people having conversations with people they cannot see, but I didn’t want to test that theory. Not only that, I wanted him to think that I was running.

After walking past a few abandoned cardboard boxes, I ducked behind a spindly plant and waited. For a minute or so, I wondered if I was imagining the whole thing. Strange as it sounds, that scared me more than the idea that I was being hounded by the oldest being in the universe. Sure, no-one would have known. I was careful about that. But, it would just be embarrassing.

So, when I heard a quiet rattling sound behind me and a solemn voice saying: ‘Over here.‘ I actually let out a sigh of relief. Nothing but silence greeted me in reply.

Remembering not to flinch, I slowly got up and turned around. He was taller than I’d expected. Don’t ask me why, but I’d expected a hunched sack of bones. He stood at least six foot tall and, if there had been any meat on those bones, I’d have said that he’d been working out. Then again, people probably run all of the time. It’s probably a good workout.

Nonchalantly, I said: ‘Hey there.

Silently, he stretched a bony hand towards me. Putting a businesslike smile on my face, I shook it firmly. Surprisingly, it was warm. The emotionless hollows in his skull just stared at me. Keeping the smile on my face, I said: ‘So, are you up for a game of chess?

A rattling rasp of derision filled the alleyway. ‘Chess. It is always chess. Years ago, people asked me to play so many different games. But everyone I meet these days wants to play this… chess. If I ever meet the soul that invented that infernal game….

Ah, I’ve got just the thing for you. Follow me.‘ Keeping a stiff upper lip, I walked out of the alleyway and into the crowd. As I heard the tapping footsteps behind me, I looked at the people around me. All of them seemed to be going about their everyday lives, oblivious to the monster in their midst. I felt nothing but jealousy. In that moment, I’d gladly swap places with even the roughest hooligans or the most miserable suits that passed me by.

Finally, the sound of bleeping, trilling and tingling filled the air. A riot of neon and screens flashed at me. We’d reached the amusement arcade. Taking a deep breath, I strode over to the “HOUSE OF THE UNDEAD” machine. Normally, I’d be annoyed by the skiving schoolboys who were hogging the machine, but I was glad for the delay.

With cheers and shouts, they pointed the red plastic guns at the screen and blasted away at the 3D monsters and zombies with practiced ease. I’d expected Grim to be patient. After all, he has all of the time in the world.

But, a second later, his dark robes swept past me and he stood in front of the screen. He must have made himself visible, because the two players suddenly froze with fright. In a low voice, he hissed: ‘Shouldn’t you be sss…studying?

They fled in terror. I almost collapsed with laughter. I hadn’t planned to, but it was just a reflex. Once I caught my breath, I rifled through my pockets and muttered: ‘Damn it. You haven’t got any 20p coins, have you?

I saw a… coin machine… over there.‘ He levelled a bony finger at a squat little machine opposite us. Grumbling to myself, I wandered over to it and fed a few quid into it. When I returned with a paper cup full of coins, Grim rubbed his hands with glee. Sighing, I fed a couple into the machine and picked up the plastic gun.

He was better at it than I’d expected. Ok, he hadn’t realised that if one player wins a co-operative game then both players win – but, he was a natural. As the polygonal zombies lurched towards the screen, he got perfect headshot after perfect headshot. Meanwhile, I was reduced to firing at them wildly.

Then, as we turned the corner of some grotty sewer, a scaly green sea monster leapt out of the water and lurched towards us. Cartoon blood spattered the screen. Grim flinched. I missed. A second later, the screen read “GAME OVER. CONTINUE 10…9…8…

Hissing at the screen, Grim said ‘That wasn’t…. fair. We didn’t even have a chance. No matter what I did, I couldn’t have won. This game is rigged.

I shrugged: ‘Now you know how everyone you meet feels.

His jaw dropped open. He still held the plastic gun. His teeth chattered nervously. He stared at me with haunted, empty eyes. I smiled. It turns out that it was possible for one person to win a co-operative game.

Short Story: “Expo” By C. A. Brown

The thing that Ruby didn’t expect was the smell of plastic. It was almost like the new car smell that some dealerships apparently spray into cars that have been sitting in a shipping container for weeks, but it had a bit more of a toy shop ambience to it. Of course, the hint of new car smell was presumably there to remind people that videogames were not just for kids these days. Ruby tried not to laugh.

Around her, a hundred screens flashed and a thousand sound effects clamoured for attention. Unlike the news desk photos from Tokyo and Los Angeles, at least the crowds didn’t seem to be too dense here in London. And, with the press lanyard around her neck, she wondered if she’d get the first go on some of the new games. Although, of course, with bag upon bag of promotional loot in her arms, she probably just looked like any other tourist.

If she hadn’t been so heavily-laden with gaudily-labelled bags, she’d have probably checked her watch. Instead, she scanned the magnolia walls of the giant hall for a clock. There was something on the telly a couple of weeks ago about how casinos in Las Vegas never include clocks. How gamblers gamble more if they lose track of time. Still, she thought, this is a conference centre, it’ll have a clock. And it did.

To her delight, it was only five past ten. Still, it was worth starting with something in case the queues got too long later in the day. She scanned the hall for the least crowded stall. Her eyes settled on one with bright blue banners. Of course! The Playstation 2. Every gamer that was anyone had already bought an import or at least read a million magazine features about it already. Including, no doubt, a couple that she’d written.

Swinging the loot bags slightly, Ruby strode over to the stall. And, there it was! To say that seeing something that had been lying around the magazine office for the past three weeks being displayed in a glass case on a pedestal, like it was a bronze age Celtic torc, felt surreal would be an understatement. But, as a cheerful twentysomething woman in a blue T-shirt approached her, Ruby made herself smile.

Oh, you must be here for the feature.‘ She flashed Ruby a perfect grin. ‘I thought that there would be a photographer with you or something.

The team’s stuck in traffic. They said they’d be here by twelve.‘ Ruby said. ‘I don’t suppose there’s any new details about the console?

The woman in the blue T-shirt shrugged and said ‘I can’t tell you anything you probably don’t know already. You did get our press kits, right?

Although she nodded and kept smiling, Ruby seethed with jealousy as she remembered that Stevens, Grigg and Booth had won the draw for the tickets to LA. If there were going to be any major announcements, they’d happen there.

After a couple of polite goodbyes, Ruby found herself in the middle of the floor again. She thought about climbing the metal stairs and looking out over the balcony. But, without a camera, the spectacular view would just be a waste of time. Even so, she thought, it must look like a little city – with lots of little streets and avenues. Placing the bag in her left hand on the clean blue carpet, she fumbled for her lanyard.

If this was a game, she’d have just pressed a button and a map would have popped up in front of her eyes. But, she actually had to turn the shiny lanyard over and squint against the glare from the strip lights above. On the tiny map, all of the major developers seemed to be there. But her eyes were drawn to a small square in the corner marked “Over 18s Only

She couldn’t resist a grin. This would make for an interesting featurette. As she picked up the bag and began to make her way through a narrow alleyway of Sega Dreamcast game stalls, she wondered whether to go for a salaciously lurid angle or one of pious moral condemnation. Whatever she chose, the editor would probably insist on adding some immature humour to the article. Although videogames were emphatically not just for kids these days, most of the readership hadn’t got the message.

When she saw the dark canvas walls, the bright red age limit sign and the bald bouncer, another grin crossed her face. However she wrote about it, it was certainly going to be an article that people would notice. Without a flicker of emotion, the bouncer stepped aside and gestured towards the entrance. Taking a deep breath, she stepped inside.

As a loud roar filled the air, a cloud of red pixels sprayed across a video screen and a gravelly voice shouted : “The Chainsawing! The game they tried to ban! Out in June!“, Ruby felt the first twinge of disappointment.

Her eyes flitted to a nearby demo console, which showed a controversial musician standing behind the main menu and raising his middle finger at the player. On another screen, a grim-looking man in an army jacket bludgeoned a ferocious mutant creature to death with a lead pipe.

Ruby let out a groan. So much for games being not just for kids these days!

Short Story: “Culture” By C. A. Brown

Vicky had never seen a real, honest-to-god goth club before. It wasn’t what she’d expected. For starters, there were people who weren’t wearing black. And, the music! It was some kind of strange groaning, droning, mumbling dirge that sounded like it came from an old vinyl record. Even the walls of the club just looked ordinary, they weren’t painted nail varnish black or blood red. They were magnolia. Magnolia!

It wasn’t what she’d prepared for. And, how much fun it had been to prepare! She’d cranked her Evanescence playlist as loud as the computer speakers would go, she’d re-read random passages of her favourite Shaun Hutson novels and chosen the darkest and gnarliest Cradle Of Filth top in her wardrobe. There was a feeling that none of this could be real. Like all of the movies she’d seen over the years actually existed, like there were actually other goths and that she’d finally get to meet them.

Because, dammit, there had to be. In every Hollywood comedy movie she’d seen when she was growing up, there was always a goth or two. Even in Podunk, Arkansas – there would be a goth who wore eyeliner, talked about death and hung out with a few other goths.

On one level, she knew that was Hollywood. In Britain, things were different. She’d never met another goth in all of her two decades. Sure, there had been skaters, nerds, that emo guy with the floppy hair who had run a mile when she asked him if he was a goth and even a few friendly stoners. But, no other goths. Such things, apparently, didn’t exist in towns over here.

So, she’d had to work it out as she went along. She’d bought every gnarly-looking vintage monster, zombie and werewolf-themed horror novel she’d seen in the charity shops – the grislier the cover art, the better. After all, she thought, horror is awesome and therefore I must be a goth.

Ever since she heard “Going Under” on the radio, she’d bought and worn out two copies of Evanescence’s Fallen album. Then, after they were mentioned on TV, she’d picked up more Cradle Of Filth clothing than she could shake a stick at. Their music, she thought, wasn’t bad either. It was angry, it was about death. And the lead singer looked like a zombie from one of her horror novels. She loved it. So, of course, it must be as goth as goth could be.

And, of course, there wasn’t a single episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer that she couldn’t quote from. Every frame of every episode had been imprinted in her mind ever since she’d first seen it on TV and stood there in catatonic amazement until the credits rolled.

And, finally, thanks to an off-hand comment from a guy called Garth who had moved into the flat next door, she’d learnt that there was a goth club in town. Ironically, she’d walked past it more times than she could remember and had always thought that it was some grim old working man’s club or a run-down community centre or something like that.

But, after Garth offered to meet her there and she’d asked around, it was apparently a goth club. It had been there the whole time and she’d never noticed. It was like something from a vampire romance, if she could ever lower herself to read such obviously non-goth things.

And then she’d put on some eyeliner, picked up her leather trenchcoat and got a taxi to the club. And Garth wasn’t there.

Maybe, she thought, it was the wrong club. Maybe it was all an elaborate joke on Garth’s part. More to the point, where the hell was Garth? She checked her phone again, the amber LCD screen showed that she had one new message. She read it. Garth was running late. At least he’d texted.

She stood nervously beside the entrance and watched the people. They almost looked like a crowd from an ordinary pub. No-one else was wearing a trenchcoat. A couple of bearded men were even wearing Indiana Jones hats. The few people who were dancing to the dirge were dancing too slowly. She didn’t recognise anyone.

Remembering a line she’d seen in a comedy on TV, she nervously walked over to the bar and – putting on her most serious voice – asked if they sold absinthe. They didn’t. She bought a bottle of Vodka Tropical instead, and stood near the end of the bar sipping the bright orange liquid and staring out at the club.

Maybe, Vicky thought, she wasn’t a goth. But, that didn’t seem right. She always wore dark clothes. Songs about death were her background music. The horror genre was her genre. But, why did her supposed home look so different? A flush of fury spread through her chest. Where had these people been when she had been growing up? Why was she left to come up with her own version of what a goth was, pieced together from whatever she could find, only to discover that no-one else had had the same ideas?

Vicky felt alienated. And, suddenly, everything around her made a lot more sense. A smile crossed her face. She was, she realised, more of a goth than everyone she saw around her.