The Paradoxes Of “Subjective” Fictional Genres – A Ramble

Although this is an article about the horror genre, a lot of what I will be saying here can be applied to quite a few other genres too (the comedy genre springs to mind for starters…).

Anyway, the horror genre is a genre that is designed to provoke a strong emotional response in the audience. It’s a genre that can gain it’s emotional power through imagined situations, characterisation, suspense, subtle implication and/or vivid imagery. It’s also an incredibly subjective genre too – ten people can read the same horror novel and all have wildly different reactions to it. After all, everyone has their own mixture of phobias, anxieties and attitudes towards the horror genre.

Everyone has their own personal ideas about what is and isn’t “scary”. Some people like stories that gradually build up suspense and some people like stories that go from zero to abject terror as quickly as possible. Some people like their horror to be “serious” and some people like horror that includes some dark comedy. Some people focus entirely on certain sub-genres of horror fiction (eg: the zombie genre, the vampire genre etc..) and some people avoid certain sub-genres because they aren’t scary or interesting enough.

Yet, the people writing horror fiction can only write what they personally consider to be creepy, scary, shocking and/or disturbing. If they want to write truly great horror fiction, they not only need to delve into the darkest depths of their unique imaginations, but they also need to know what types of horror fiction really fascinate them. Then they need to write the kind of horror story that they would want to read. They also need to be scared by what they are writing, because how can they expect like-minded members of the audience to be scared if they are not?

If you stop writing a horror story because you are just too damn disturbed by it to continue writing, then this is both an extremely annoying thing and an extremely brilliant thing at the same time. On the one hand, it’s a testament to the power of the written word. On the other hand, it’s annoying because you’ve left a story unfinished. This is perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes of the horror genre and the perfect example of how it’s an extremely subjective genre.

In other words, a good horror novel often tends to be something that only that particular author could have written. This is, of course both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the horror genre. When you read a horror story by someone else, you are stepping into the unknown territory of another person’s imagination and you have no clue whether it’s somewhere that you’ll feel at home in or not.

Most of the time, you’ll probably feel “slightly” or “mostly” at home with a horror novel. But, although you might have read the blurb or a few reviews first, there’s no real way to know for certain how you will react before you start reading.

Again, this brings up another paradox. On the one hand, a horror novel by a new author is a fascinatingly unknown thing that could scare you senseless. On the other hand, it might be hilariously cheesy, annoyingly boring or just completely off-putting. Even with a horror novel that sounds like it might be cool, there’s no real way to know for certain before you actually read it.

The horror genre is sometimes derided as being a “cheap” genre. A genre that is below the enlightened perspective of respectable critics. A genre that is often only talked about to other fans of the horror genre. Yet, it’s a genre that most people enjoy in some form at least occasionally. But, some people have a bizarre inherent dislike of the entire genre – sometimes with disdainful overtones. It has historically been seen by some as a genre that is a corrupting or dehumanising influence, and has even suffered censorship in the past as a result.

And, yet, the horror genre relies on humanity in order to “work”. It relies on someone expressing their unique imagination in the best way possible, in the hope that other people will find it an interesting place to inhabit for a few hours. It relies on provoking common instinctive emotions that all humans share in one form or another.

The horror genre is a genre that is about as far from “dehumanised” as it is possible to get! And, yet, this is both it’s greatest strength and it’s greatest weakness. On the one hand, it can contain immense emotional power and the potential for strong emotional catharsis. On other hand, you might find that you just don’t get along well with the unique imagination of a particular writer, director etc…

Likewise, paradoxically, the horror genre cannot “corrupt” people. In order for a horror story to disturb, horrify and/or disgust the audience, the audience must have pre-existing moral standards. After all, would anyone be unsettled by or fearful of something that they personally consider to be “good” or “righteous”? The horror genre relies on the audience having moral standards in order to work properly!

In other words, it’s a subjective genre. A genre that is, paradoxically, as much about the reader as it is about the writer.

—————

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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All Ten Of My “Retro Sci-Fi” Halloween 2017 Short Stories :)

Well, in case you missed any of them, I thought that I’d provide a list of links to all ten of my “retro sci-fi” Halloween 2017 short stories 🙂

This series was kind of an interesting one, although I was super-inspired when I started it, I ended up battling writer’s block at several points during the series.

This resulted in the series having slightly less of a consistent atmosphere, style and “world” than I’d orginally planned. Even so, I was still able to include some consistent details (eg: instead of the internet, there is phone-in radio etc..) and a couple of occasionally recurring characters (eg: Oakfield and Chekhov).

Likewise, the quality of the story varies somewhat. The best stories are probably “Procedure“, “Community Spirit“, “Haul” and “Nice Things“.

Another interesting thing about this series is that, for the first time in ages, I actually started using third-person narration occasionally. Although I was still getting used to writing in this style again, it opened up a few new storytelling possibilities for me.

Anyway, here are the stories 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

– “Community Spirit“: A newspaper editor decides that what his paper really needs is some community spirit.

– “Lacunae“: John has found an apartment that isn’t on the city maps and, at five hundred credits, it’s an absolute steal!

– “Details“: On the way home from the pub, a slightly nerdy guy notices something strange about the city’s advertising posters.

– “Procedure“: Detective Prest is a loose cannon, a “shoot first, ask questions later” kind of cop. But, after angering Chief Oakfield and getting reassigned to a fraud case, he’s in for a surprise…

– “Service“: A well-to-do couple are invited to a robot-run restaurant by their friends. What could possibly go wrong?

– “Broadcast“: Gianna is having a boring shift at the freight park terminal, so she decides to pass the time by listening to some public radio…

– “Haul“: Two gangsters have scored big! But, after shooting down a flying cop car, they need a place to lie low. And quick!

– “A Night Out“: Dillhale is a P.I., an old school gumshoe. So, when a glamourous lady arrives at his office and leaves a mysterious envelope, he’s in his element. Of course, it isn’t long before he realises that something isn’t quite right about the case…

– “Another Time“: Emily is worried about her colleage, Dr. Yelport, and the mysterious time travel experiments that she has been conducting…

– “Nice Things“: Accompanied by the rookie Detective Stevens, Chief Oakfield is summoned by the Mayor to personally investigate a bizarre disturbance at a recently-opened shopping centre.

“Nice Things” By C. A. Brown (Halloween 2017 Sci-Fi Stories #10)

This is the final Halloween story, stay tuned for a full series retrospective later tonight 🙂

It’s an honour to have you with me, sir.‘ Detective Stevens banked the ground-car to the left and activated the siren. The sea of headlights ahead barely even moved in acknowledgement.

This isn’t the military, Stevens.‘ Chief Oakfield sighed. ‘Though I have to admit that it has a certain… gravitas.

Sorry, sir. I mean, Chief.‘ Stevens stuttered. ‘It’s still an honour.

Ah, if only they were all like you. But, if you must know, I got called out personally by the Mayor. I thought that I’d dodged the old bastard’s invitation to this shopping centre opening. But, they only bloody have to turn it into a crime scene.‘ Oakfield sighed and leant against the passenger window, watching the neon signs crawl past slowly.

Stevens glared at the headlights ahead ‘Do you want me to turn the siren up, Chief? I mean, they should be clearing a path for us. Section seven of the…

Forget it.‘ Oakfield waved his hand. ‘I’m still in two minds about whether this whole thing is an elaborate ploy on the part of the Mayor. But, for future reference, you don’t crank up the siren. Just keep it on low and, eventually, people get too annoyed by it to get in your way. Works every time.

But, what about emergencies sir? I mean, Chief? For all we know, there could be a hostage situation or a…

Oakfield let out a quiet laugh: ‘If it was an emergency, Stevens, they’d have called for the tactical squad or sky division. Not a rookie and an old man. But, again, for future reference – the bumper of a standard police car generally tends to be tougher than the rear of a civilian car. Just give ’em a gentle tap and they tend to get the message. No! Not now!

A loud mechanical clank and the furious bleeping of a horn echoed through the car. Stevens muttered an apology. Oakfield rubbed his forehead and smiled. The police car began to accelerate slowly.

——–

By the time the Agora Shopping Centre gradually sailed into view, the crowds had already begun to disperse. Whilst Stevens honked the horn at the remaining pedestrians, Oakfield stared at the constellation of flashing red and blue lights ahead.

Gonna be a long night.‘ Oakfield sighed, before picking up the car radio and barking an order for a status update. Stevens almost jumped out of his seat. A second later, nothing but radio static filled the car.

I can check the maintainance logs when we get back, Chief.‘ Stevens stuttered. ‘I thought that the equipment got checked every..

Don’t bother. We’re nearly there anyway. Just pull in over there, and try not to hit anything.‘ Oakfield pointed into the mass of flashing lights.

Whilst Stevens nervously began to park, Oakfield reached for his hat and said: ‘Just leave the talking to me.

————-

Oakfield had braced himself for the worst, but nothing could prepare him for what he saw. The Mayor actually smiled at him. Gaunt and huddled under a blanket, the old man rushed eagerly towards Oakfield: ‘Oh, thank god! I’ve never been more glad to see you.

What… What is going on here?‘ Oakfield said, hiding his trembling hand in his coat pocket.

The Mayor let out a rattling sigh and said: ‘Derren DeVor started acting strangely. We’d hired him to put on a show for the opening. But, after the first song, he started muttering something about the walls.

Stevens smiled enthusiastically: ‘Derren DeVor was here?

Oakfield glared at Stevens, before returning to the Mayor. He was leaning against a wall and had wrapped the blanket even more tightly around his shoulders. For a second, Oakfield could swear that he saw fear in the old man’s steely eyes.

In a trembling voice, he continued: ‘At first, we thought he was just joking. Or crazy. Then he ran off of the stage. A few seconds later, the walls started to crack. Like an earthquake, but without the tremors. There was mass panic, looting, violence. I saw someone literally bludgeon a man to death over a designer radio.

Oakfield nodded silently. Stevens looked dumbfounded. Finally, the Mayor said: ‘I know that your officers have probably started going over the place already, but I’d feel better if you were on the scene. The press are going to get here soon, and it’s only a matter of time before they find a way in. We need to show the public that we’re in control.

Standing up straight, Oakfield said: ‘Yes, sir!

———–

The first thing that Oakfield noticed as he stepped inside the gloomy shopping centre was the smell of burning rubber. The next thing he noticed was the rust-coloured stains and smeared grime that covered every surface. If the shopping centre had been buried underground for a decade, it would still be in better shape.

Stevens followed hesitantly, before suddenly tripping over something. A wet squelch echoed around the cavernous hall. As soon as Stevens got up, a single glance downwards soon filled the hall with tortured retching.

Finally, coughing slightly, Stevens said: ‘What the hell happened here?

Without saying a word, Oakfield walked over to a cracked information stand and pulled out a pamphlet. He handed it to Stevens. Squinting in the gloom, Stevens looked at the pristine photograph on the cover. The immaculate white walls, the sparkling fountains, the verdant palm trees and the shiny storefronts. Stevens looked at the centre, then at the pamphlet again.

Finally, Stevens muttered: ‘Hard to believe it’s the same place.

Not really.‘ Oakfield sighed ‘It’s this city. It just can’t have nice things.

“Another Time” By C. A. Brown (Halloween 2017 Sci-Fi Stories #9)

Stay tuned for the final short story tomorrow night 🙂

Time travel is a one-way trip, or at least that’s what received wisdom tells us. My colleague, Dr.Yelport, had other ideas though.

Although her lab door was always locked, it was pretty obvious that her experiments didn’t involve the near-light speed travel that classical scientists like Einstein had suggested were required for altering the passage of time.

Occasionally, you’d get a sign that something was going on in there. The frosted glass windows in the door would occasionally flicker bright blue or the cleaners would whisper about some kind of mysterious bleeping sound when they were mopping the corridors at night.

Once, the entire building trembled and shook. Our in-house seismologist had been quick to dismiss it as the results of an illegal hydraulic drilling operation somewhere within a three-mile radius. He’d even gone so far as to report it to the police. But, there was nothing in the papers about it, and public radio was oddly silent about the matter.

Over time, Dr.Yelport’s appearances in the staff canteen became less and less frequent. Although she looked more and more dishevelled every time I happened to spot her in the corner, there was no denying that there was something in her eyes. A keen brightness that hadn’t been there when she’d first pulled me to one side and muttered wearily about how the only real funding left was for temporal research.

One day, curiosity got the better of me. Getting an extra cup of tea, I sat at her usual table in the corner and waited. My algae cultures were in a dormant phase, so it wasn’t like I’d have to rush back to the lab or anything like that.

I was halfway through the second cup when she showed up. After filling a metal tray with food, she shambled over to the table like one of the robots on the ground floor. With a flash of her keen eyes and a wonky smile, she said: ‘Emily, your timing is perfect.

Did you travel into the future and see me here?‘ I laughed ‘Am I talking to a version of you from two weeks ago?

Dr. Yelport let out a crackly chuckle: ‘It’s theoretically possible, but no. Still, I wouldn’t rule it out. I’m nearly finished – in fact, I’ll be running the first full test tonight.

Oh, wow. Can I watch?‘ I finished my tea.

Dr.Yelport ate in silence for a few seconds, before sighing: ‘I wish you could. I really do. But, it’s all a bit hush-hush. I’ve probably said too much already.

Military contract?‘ I said.

She sighed lightly: ‘I can’t say. But, you should really apply for a temporal research grant. Your talents are wasted on that algae. Let’s just say that I never have to look at the expiry dates on petri dishes or anything like that.

I’ll think about it. But, good luck with your test… unless, of course, you’ve already done it and I’m talking to you from the future.

Dr. Yelport smiled at me before glancing at her watch. ‘I’m afraid not. Anyway, I should be getting back to the lab. Tempus fugit, and all that. I’ll see you.. in the future.

Leaving her meal unfinished, she got up and waved goodbye. I waved back. She scurried out of the canteen. I looked at my own watch, I was already late for the next status report on culture seven.

When I arrived at the facility the next morning, the doors of Dr.Yelport’s lab were wide open. Nervously, I poked my head inside. The sharp smell of disinfectant caught my nostrils as I stared at the bare shelves and the deserted desks.

Barely even thinking about it, I rushed to the canteen and made a beeline for the table in the corner. Dr. Yelport sat in front of a steaming cup of coffee. The spark had vanished from her eyes. Nervously, I said: ‘I just saw your lab. What… what happened?

With a heavy sigh, she turned to me. ‘I scrapped it. Put my notes in the furnace. Dismantled the equipment and sent it back to stores. Scrubbed all traces from every surface. They aren’t expecting a report for another two days. I’ve still got enough grant money for a ticket out of here. You should go too.

Why? What happened?‘ I stuttered.

Staring blankly into space, she just said: ‘It worked. I saw the future.

“A Night Out” By C. A. Brown (Halloween 2017 Sci-Fi Stories #8)

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow night 🙂

By the time the neon sign opposite the window flickered and sputtered into life, I’d decided to call it a day. Not that it was really much of a day. Business this week had been deader than a dive bar in December. According to the papers, the freak rainstorm wouldn’t even end for another fortnight.

Still, as I drained the dregs from my coffee mug and tipped the contents of the ashtray into the overflowing bin, I heard distant footsteps. A light clicking sound. High heels. Sitting back behind my desk, I straighened my tie and tried to smile. First impressions matter.

What seemed like five minutes later, there was a knock on the door. ‘Come in.

With a quiet creak, the handle turned. I like to think that I can size up a client immediately, but this one was something else. She looked like she’d just stepped out of one of the ritzy clubs on the other side of town.

The fact she wasn’t wearing an overcoat led me to conclude that she’d taken a sky-cab here. No doubt that it had landed on the roof, maybe with a butler to carry the umbrella too. But, there weren’t any wet footprints on the wood panelling by the door.

With a hint of a smile, she said: ‘Mr. Dillhale? I presume I’ve got the right office. I need you to look into something.

Smiling back, I said: ‘Yes, ma’am. My fee is two hundred credits a day, plus expenses. What is it that you want investigating?

Instinctively, I gestured towards the chair opposite my desk. She remained in the doorway. Without a word, she reached into her bag and pulled out a small brown envelope. Placing it on top of a nearby bookshelf, she said: ‘I expect results.

And I hope to deliver them.‘ I smiled again and began to get up. Before I could even get to my feet, she had already closed the door. Raising an eyebrow, I listened to the clicking footsteps get more and more distant. For a second, I thought about running after her. But, some people like to get dramatic when they visit. I blame the pulp novels.

Sighing, I grabbed the envelope and tore it open. There was nothing inside except for a small typewritten card that read ‘Phobos Club. Tonight. Call ahead.‘ Below it, there was a phone number.

After hefting the latest city directory onto my desk, I checked the address listings. There was a Beef Pho place a few streets away and somewhere called Phoebe’s on Dante Avenue, but no Phobos Club. Picking up the phone, I dialled the directory offices. They hadn’t heard of it either.

With nothing else to do, I rang the number on the card. The phone rang for what felt like two minutes, before I heard quiet piano music. A gruff voice said: ‘Phobos club.

Hello, I’m a private investigator. A client came to my office and asked me to visit your club this evening, but I’m having a hard time finding directions. You aren’t listed in the directory.

The voice went silent. For a second, it sounded like even the piano music had stopped. Finally, the gruff voice said: ‘We’ve just opened. Don’t worry about directions Mr. Dillhale, we’ll send a sky-car.

Ah, I see that I’ve been introduced. You wouldn’t by any chance know anything about my client. She’s…‘ Before I could even finish my sentence, the line went dead.

They weren’t giving out names. They weren’t in the directory. Every instinct told me to run. Maybe it was the head of the Griswold Corportation setting a honey-trap? Maybe it was Vincetti plotting revenge? Maybe it was a hundred things. None of them seemed good. With my gun at the repair shop, I’d have to cancel my plans.

Picking up the phone, I dialled the number again. Nobody answered. As much as I hated to be a deadbeat, I’d just have to skip out and hope that I could come up with a good enough excuse before the client got back.

I’d barely even reached for my overcoat when I heard the knock on my door. It was a sharp, quick knock. I glanced over at the door. There were three shadows in the frosted glass window. With a sigh, I said: ‘Sorry, I’m closed. Come back tomorrow.

The handle began to turn. ‘I said, I’m closed. Beat it.

Before I could even reach for my coat, the door flew open. A man in a black dinner jacket leapt across the room. As he grabbed my shoulders with his bony fingers, I smelled cheap cologne and dusty books. Without even thinking, I swung my knee into his groin. He barely seemed to notice. Instead, he pinned me to the wall and glanced nonchalantly over his shoulder.

A second later, the others had joined him. My client stood at the head of the group. Slowly, she opened her mouth. Any beauty she once had evaporated in an instant as my eyes fixed themselves upon her teeth. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that she’d filed them all down to a point.

Beside her, a burly blond man flashed a jagged smile and said: ‘How exciting! You’ve excelled yourself, Marletta.

Marletta giggled: ‘Well, I was getting awfully tired of the club. So, I thought that we’d dine out tonight. If no-one minds, I’ll take the jugular.

The blond man laughed: ‘You’ve earned it! This is the most fun I’ve had in decades!

“Haul” By C. A. Brown (Halloween 2017 Sci-Fi Stories #7)

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow night 🙂

This is gonna get noisy!‘ Rich wound down the sky-car’s window and reached for the antique military rifle. Ignoring the rain hammering his face and the constant rush of neon lights below, he calmly leaned out of the window and braced the rifle against his shoulder.

Get on with it! They’re gaining on us!‘ Steve snarled, barely even taking his eyes off of the altimeter.

Squinting against the elements, Rich took aim at the flashing red and blue lights behind the sky-car. The antique rifle’s circular magazine rattled silently as he tightened his hold on the wooden grips, gritted his teeth and pulled the trigger.

CHATCHATCHATCHATCHAT! Click!

Above the loud ringing in Rich’s ears, he heard a quiet popping. There was a bright orange flash. Rich almost dropped the rifle. A plume of black smoke stood out against a glowing green electric billboard. Rich ducked back into the sky-car.

‘,,,,,’ Steve said with a frantic look in his eyes.

WHAT?‘ Rich shouted, blinking at the flickering array of iridescent afterimages that swam in front of his eyes.

Steve shoved a map towards him, before easing off on the thrusters slightly. As the afterimages began to clear and the ringing became more muffled, he heard Steve shout: ‘Find us somewhere to lay low! The whole bloody city probably saw that! We’ve got five minutes at most.

Turning on the courtesy light, Rich squinted at the map. Being careful not to look at the light, he glanced up at the windscreen. The green safety lights of the Westford Tower flickered to his right and the amber pyramid on top of the FleeceFayre Casino glowed blurrily to his right. His weary eyes scanned the map until he found their location. Quickly, he began to tick off locations in his mind.

Get a move on!‘ Steve barked, as he banked left sharply, narrowly missing a bright yellow sky-cab. A muffled honking sound echoed in the distance.

Got it!‘ Rich muttered ‘Pirate Paul’s Pleasure Palace isn’t too far from here. There was something in the paper last week about them closing down for refurbishment. We can land inside the roof display.

‘If you expect me to land this thing in the mouth of a giant skull, then you’re having a fu…‘ Steve paused for a second. Above the pattering rain and roaring engine, the plaintive wail of sirens echoed in the distance. ‘….that might not be a bad idea. Hold on!

Pushing the stick forwards, the air car descended sharply. Before he could even level out properly, Steve cranked the retros to max. The engine groaned in protest. The bright yellow windows of an office building flickered uncomfortably close to the passenger window. Rich grimaced. Steve took a hard left and started the landing thrusters.

Then, in the blue gloom, the skull came into view. Even without the lighting display, the pearly white teeth seemed to gleam invitingly. Furrowing his brow, Steve gently glided the sky-car towards it. ‘Here goes nothing.‘ He muttered.

It was, Steve thought as he caught his breath, a textbook landing. As long as the plod didn’t notice the thruster burns on the skull’s teeth, they were home free. Beside him, Rich gasped and trembled frantically. Catching his breath, he shouted: ‘We did it?… We did it!

Ssssh!‘ Steve hissed, putting his finger to his lips. The air was thick with silence. Steve let out a sigh of relief: ‘No sirens. We’re in the clear. Let’s get outta here before anyone gets too curious.

As Rich cracked an emergency glow-stick, Steve reached below the seat and pulled out the briefcase. As the stick bathed the car in faint green light, Steve leant forwards and squinted through the windscreen. ‘Is that… sand?‘ He muttered.

Yeah, there was something in the paper about them turning this into a viewing platform. They were importing sand from somewhere exotic. Tortuga Bay, I think. Hey, do you think it’s worth anything?‘ Rich grinned.

We don’t…‘ With a quiet hiss, Steve opened the doors ‘… have the bloody time. Now, get a move on!

The sand crunched quietly underfoot as the two men left the car. Keeping the briefcase close to his chest, Steve followed the glow-stick and listened to Rich’s slow footsteps. A few seconds later, Rich stopped and turned around: ‘There should be a wall here.

What? Don’t tell me we’re going round in circles.‘ Steve sighed.

Below the green light, Rich just shook his head. ‘No. This sculpture can’t be more than a hundred metres… ugh.‘ He spat black fluid and dropped the glow-stick.

Steve leapt back. In the dim light, he could see something shiny poking out of Rich’s chest. A second later, he felt something brush against his spine. The stench of seawater filled the air. A low croaking voice said: ‘Gimme the treasure, lad.‘ Steve dropped the briefcase. With a quiet slop, he saw the point of a rusty cutlass shoot out of his stomach.

As the numbness washed over his body, Steve fell onto the soft sand. Just like sunbathing he thought, as a smile crossed his wet lips. As all of the noises began to fade into peaceful silence, he could have sworn he heard a grumbling voice say: ‘Arrrr! More paper? Ye said there would be gold here! Five hundred years… and not a speck o’ gold!

“Broadcast” By C. A. Brown (Halloween 2017 Sci-Fi Stories #6)

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow night 🙂

The grimy kiosk window glowed cherry red as another freight bus drifted gently into the distant blur of rain, night and safety lights. Inside the dingy kiosk, a green sign blinked quietly. Gianna let out a sigh – even arguing over a late access fee would at least have been a change of pace.

She looked down at the constellation of tiny bulbs on the desk in front of her. They were all green. She glanced at the countdown timer. There were four hours left before Martin would arrive. With the freight park at full capacity and no scheduled departures for a couple of days, it was going to be another quiet night.

Fumbling around in her jacket, Gianna pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes and lit one. The tip glowed volcano orange as she took a deep drag and fumbled through the pile of magazines on the edge of the desk. They hadn’t been replaced in months. There was only one thing left, she thought, public radio.

Sighing out a plume of bluish smoke, she cranked the dial on the battered old radio in the corner. For a second, there was nothing but silence. Clenching her fist, she gave the metal box a sharp tap. Instantly, the air was filled with crackling static as loud as the wash of rain on the tarmac outside. Just for luck, she gave the radio another tap, before turning the dial.

A soft voice filled the room: ‘…and then there’s the grenada sorbet. This is a real treat for the palate. I’m not like a critic or anything, but I’ve gotta love the flavours. There’s cochineal red, tartrazine, citric acid and just a hint of fructose syrup too. It’s a bit cheeky, but…

Gianna cranked the dial again. There was nothing but a dial tone. She cranked it again. An old man’s shrill voice thundered through the air: ‘… But, whatever happened to good old fashioned burlesque? I’ll tell you what happened to it – new puritans! Yes, that’s right! You heard me! It might not be the “correct” opinion, but these maladjusted metropolitan miserabilists…

Stubbing out the cigarette, Gianna cranked the dial once more. There was another dial tone. Was it such a boring night, she thought, that even the public airwaves were dead? Of course, a second later, her eye caught the calendar. Saturday. It was Saturday night. No wonder there were only cranks and weirdos on the radio. Or, at least, more than there usually were. Even the drunk-diallers probably wouldn’t get started for another couple of hours.

Just as she’d started to tune out the rhythmic chirping of the dial tone, a quiet click echoed through the room. A young guy with a northern accent said: ‘Hey there! I’m ten minutes late, but welcome to another episode of Game Report. Now, some of you have been writing to me about the new pinball machine at the Frog & Hounds and have I got a review for you! Think shiny chrome, little pink neon light tubes and a set of paddles to die for! Of course, it’ll cost you a whole credit…

Rolling her eyes, Gianna cranked the dial three times. In a perfectly-regulated voice, a woman said: ‘…Forty-two, fifty-three, twenty-seven, five, five, ninety-six, thirteen, sixty-seven…

Ninth time lucky.‘ Gianna muttered to herself as she gave the dial another twist. The air was filled with anguished howls, counterpointed crudely by the furious buzzing of an industrial saw. Above the cacophony, cackling laughter crackled through the air. Instinctively, Gianna’s arm shot towards the dial. It wouldn’t move.

The buzzing got louder. Then it stopped. Gianna rattled and tweaked the dial. It still wouldn’t move. The spiteful laughter grew louder. Clenching her fist again, she gave the radio a firm clonk. A piercing scream echoed through the room. She flinched. The laughter resumed.

Jumping to her feet, Gianna fumbled around for the electrical cord. By now, the industrial saw had started up again, faster and noisier than ever. Running her fingers along the rough rubber cord, Gianna reached into the darkness and gripped the plug. With a firm yank, she pulled it free. Sweet silence filled the kiosk.

It was only a few seconds later that Gianna realised that she couldn’t even hear the pouring rain outside. Even though she could feel her heart hammering in her chest, it was as quiet as a well-oiled piston rail. Nervously, she tried to hum a tune. Her lips vibrated noiselessly.

Crouching again, she scrabbled for the plug. Gripping it tightly, she slammed it back into the wall. In an instant, the world was noise. The drumbeat of her heart. The ticking clock. The barrage of rain. The buzzing industrial saw, angrier than ever. The cries of agony, as sharp as scalding water. And, behind it all, the laughing voice’s cruel cackling.

——-

When Martin eventually arrived at the freight park, most of the police cars had already left. Beside the remaining car, the supervisor gestured wildly, his yellow mackintosh flickering red and blue. A portly detective shook her head.

As Martin rushed towards the car, he heard the supervisor say: ‘Well, I suppose you’ve got a better explanation! I tried to warn them all, you know. You listen to public radio for long enough and you’re bound to go a little crazy.

The detective just shrugged: ‘That’s as good an explanation as any, I guess.’