A Short Walk – dark short stories

My new book of short stories is available if you like a creepy dark read. You can read one of them here if you find yourself having a spare few moments.

Smart City Alpha.3

And my previous book of dark short stories, if you like that sort of thing.

(c) K Wicks

Reminds me of programs like The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone

Sometimes you hear something that makes you super proud of yourself. This line made my day –

“In many ways these tales remind me of programs like The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, stories with bizarre twists in everyday situations”

The whole review is awesome to be honest, only a snippet of it below, and all the reviews received for my short stories so far have been very complimentary. Working on a second collection at the moment, hopefully they will be as good as the first.

(c) K Wicks

Under the Apple Tree – reviews

Under the Apple Tree and other dark short stories.

I have been very lucky to get some awesome reviews for my first book of short stories, so thought I would share a few with you. They can also be found on Amazon with the book (link at bottom of post) and of course just in case anyone is looking for a creepy read to fill the time 😉

Reviewer 1 – Six creepy stories that are guaranteed to lodge themselves firmly under the skin. Each story invites the reader into a world where you are certain that from the very first word, things are not going to end with a cheery musical number. They are ‘dark’ stories for a reason. A quick read for those looking for a chilling end to the evening, each tale comes with its own twist. Personal favourites include ‘Doctors Visit’ and ‘Clocking Off’.

Reviewer 2 – Thoroughly enjoyed these short stories reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s ‘Tales of the unexpected’. Particular praise for ‘Clocking Off’

Reviewer 3 – All the stories here have their own flavour. Another review mentioned Tales of the Unexpected and I’d say that’s on the money. Imaginative, well-written, I’m looking forward to more from this author.

Reviewer 4 – Although the stories are set in present day, the author’s writing style is reminiscent of classic horror like Stevenson or Shelley, which can feel odd at times but carries the stories well. And, similarly to the classics, there’s not a lot of gore or curse words, which makes this collection enjoyable for fans of all ages. In a way, Under the Apple Tree: And other dark short stories remind me of scary stories you tell around the campfire or are passed around during sleepover parties, and like those stories these tales stay with you for a long time.

The full review for No.4 is much longer and covers each story separately, but this last paragraph made me smile very much.

I can only hope that people get as much enjoyment from reading my stories as I did all those years ago reading every one else’s.

Under the Apple Tree – Going well

It’s been just over a year now since I released my first book of short stories – the second one is half finished, but this year has really hampered creating for me. Under the Apple Tree and other dark short stories came from various ideas I had been mulling over for decades and two of the tales actually are adapted from real life experiences shared with me by someone close. So it was really exciting to receive a good review, then another and now I have six, all of them positive. One review mentions being reminded of The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, and another actually likens my stories to Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl. That in itself is an achievement! I loved reading Roald Dahl growing up, have read my fair share of creepy stories and watched all three of those shows. Some of those horror tales obviously left their mark on me. I can only hope to do the same for someone else.

Part of one review – “Although the stories are set in present day, the author’s writing style is reminiscent of classic horror like Stevenson or Shelley, which can feel odd at times but carries the stories well. And, similarly to the classics, there’s not a lot of gore or curse words, which makes this collection enjoyable for fans of all ages. In a way, Under the Apple Tree: And other dark short stories remind me of scary stories you tell around the campfire or are passed around during sleepover parties, and like those stories these tales stay with you for a long time”

(c) K Wicks

Doctors Visit… (Short Story)

Taken from my book of short stories – Under the Apple Tree and other short dark stories currently available through Amazon.

Enjoy the creepiness.

Doctors Visit

His shoes and coat were in the foyer, a briefcase placed beside them. He had left his notes neatly written out, filed in meticulous order, a detailed account of every visit and diagnosis. The detective read them all.

‘The father it was presumed was harboring a distant mental illness, one that plagued him during the hours of darkness, tormenting his sleep and keeping him awake. Leading to psychosis and hallucinations. Although it seemed to be psychosomatic, as no plausible explanation could be found’

Despite this the doctor stayed overnight on a number of occasions. It should have been an open and shut case, with a prescription of lithium marked in the corner of the page with a question mark.

‘However, his paranoia towards his family does indeed seem a cause for concern. All of his negative energy and ideas were being thrust upon them, directly and indirectly. He believes intermittently that they were the enemy, possibly not even really his family. As his grasp with reality was deteriorating his perception of friend and foe became blurred and some days he would say they were imposters sent to spy on him.’

This was not unusual the doctor had noted in cases of mania and psychosis, and had been documented in a number of other cases.

But it was the other family member’s behaviour that intrigued him so and made him return. It was as if they had all either adapted to accept this new mental state from the head of the house, or they were all suffering from a strange form of mental impairment caused by it.

‘The mother was extremely fragile and pale, almost as if she were made of a fine porcelain, with the darkest hair the doctor had ever seen. The children too had inherited the maternal line of looks, although it was hard to see or imagine what their father may have looked like when fit and healthy.

They were always flitting around the house doing something, making tea, tidying and fussing. They had a fireplace in every room and were constantly stoking them. Never making too much noise though, she said noise would upset her husband. It’s hard to gauge how their relationship was holding up through this, I’ve never seen them in the same room together.’

It was remarked in the notes somewhere around his second week of visits. It was not a surprise that two adults could live in the same vicinity and not make contact on a regular basis. It appeared to be normal in many a household these days. Despite the notes, it was hard to actually tell when he had been here precisely. Each day of the week was catalogued, times of day and interviews, but with no starting date, and in fact, no dates at all. The detective was confused by this case. The house was completely empty save for the doctor’s belongings. Originally a plantation house owned by the Reeder family, who were well known in these parts. It passed down to John F Reeder who took it as a family home with his young wife Emily. They began renovations with John doing most of the work himself.

But that was over 50 years ago. Everyone knew the local story, she had run off with someone else, taking the children. He never recovered and slowly went mad, until he died in the house a number of years later. The house wasn’t left to anyone so by local law it has to be left for 60 years in case any surviving relatives turn up to claim the property. Otherwise the local council had to pay the equivalent value if anyone did turn up, it was cheaper to leave it.

John Reeder had burnt all the possessions in the house during his mad years. The only thing that had remained when he died was a prison like bed, a mattress and one blanket in the top bedroom of the house. The body wasn’t discovered for a number of weeks, so the state ended up burning them too. The mangled bed frame that had been thrown from the top window, and was still evident in the garden now covered in creepers and vines. There had been no funeral, in fact he was cremated at the hospital and the ashes scattered back at the house.

So what had the doc been doing there? From his I.D they had worked out he was a professor of psychiatry from the city and had no business even being down here. No-one had reported him missing and they couldn’t even find an employer or trace of him. He checked himself into a local motel a month ago and from what seems to have transpired in his books, made almost daily visits to the house. Although the motel owner doesn’t remember seeing the doctor leave or return on any day. He paid up front and was never seen again.

The only evidence of his ever existing was the motel owner as witness and his very sparse personal belongings left in the room after check out day. These included a small notebook with the house address and the name John F Reeder. Without that they wouldn’t have ever been up here until it was time to tear the old place down.

The detective went back to the visit notes. The intensity of what the doctor was observing seemed to increase over time. It was like a small window into a family’s descent into a dark tormented madness.

No wonder she ran away with the children the detective thought as he read about the atmosphere in the house. As he did though, a dark haze swept over him and made him drop the book. He steadied himself on the banister closest to him. The room began swirling and his vision swimming. While trying to see through blurry eyes, he could swear that the room suddenly had furniture in it, a lamp in the corner, and curtains over the windows. An almost warm homely feel, just for a moment. Then it was replaced by cold and dark. But a musty dark that also swirled for a moment, slowly clearing to reveal an empty room.

The detective sat down on the bottom of the stairs, his legs suddenly not as stable as they were. He had never been superstitious or a believer in the heebie-jeebies, until now. He picked the book back up and carried on reading.

The doctor had mentioned the basement a number of times, but after looking over every inch of the house he realised it didn’t actually have one. Highly unusual for house of this time not to have one, but there were no doors or traps that could be found.  He went back to reading.

‘The children have become more withdrawn and I fear they will need help to adjust back into the normal world. He has kept them all isolated for such a time that it will do them no good to stay here. Their obsession with the fireplaces troubles me. This is where they are to be found at all hours of the day and night. Often the mother too. Emily becomes frailer by the hour. She has now told me often to not go into the basement. She stares at the door under the stairs with such fear in eyes that I cannot say what is down there. I have respected her wishes so far, but with no explanation for the deterioration I may have to investigate.

John doesn’t even seem to acknowledge me, and he creeps around the house, checking his family are stationed at the fireplaces. Poking the flames and ashes, keeping them lit. I am trying to understand his symptoms and possible causes for them. Emily did say that when they started renovations in the basement, there were secrets down there. Secrets they shouldn’t have awoken.’

The detective stood up from his place on the stairs and looked over his shoulder towards the paneling, very neat and ornate, it almost didn’t look one bit out of place. Except that it looked so well done, it did. Wood slightly newer than all the surrounding finishes, although aged, definitely newer. The height was right for a doorway too.

He could feel his heart begin to race, the room went swirly again and he held onto wall opposite the paneling for support. Through hazy vision he saw the door open to the basement and the shape of a man appear. The shape walked towards the living room and over to the fireplace. There was a dark shape in one hand and a long shape in the other. He squinted trying to see better through the haze. The dark shape was thrown into the fireplace. The man shape turned back towards the basement and towards the detective. His heart pounded as he saw the long shape was an axe, and over his shoulder the dark shape had now caught fire and a face could be seen. With quickly smoldering dark hair.

The vision faded as quickly as it has happened. The room was empty, there was no doorway, and there was nothing in the fireplace. He wondered for a moment if he was going mad. It sounded crazy. Maybe he had killed his family, maybe he had got away with murder?

He walked over to the fireplace in the living room, scuffing his shoes on the floorboard. Wondering what to do next or how to explain this to someone without being sent to the loony bin.  He kicked the ashes out of frustration and possibly still a touch of fear. A flash of the face with black hair startling him back a step. But just enough to see the skull protruding slightly through the ashes.

The local newspaper covered the basics after the house had been searched. Plantation House of Death they had called it. Revealing the grisly details of the decapitated family, heads found in the fireplaces and bodies in the basement. But there had been more down there. Even more horror was uncovered going back to the beginning. To the old times and when the house had been a fully working plantation. The town had to accept a new history of the Reeder family after that day.

Tree Pic

(c) K Wicks

Under the Apple Tree and Other dark short stories

Clocking Off (Short Story)…

Sharing again one of my published short stories taken from – Under the Apple Tree and other dark short stories. Hope you enjoy Clocking Off…

UTAT - paperback clocking off

Clocking Off

It was my first day in a new job. I stood before the old Victorian building looking up from the street. It was so imposing and loomed over me, making me want to lean back as if it would come crashing down on me, like reverse vertigo. But it didn’t. Instead I walked up the steps and opened the door.

It was so different inside, completely modernised and fresh with clean furniture and décor, large bright windows filling the front office with light. A complete contrast from the outside view. It was a publishing company that had been established for over a century, and I had been keen to work for them for quite some time.

With a reputation of quality and a great name, working here meant a lifelong ticket to the industry. There had been rumours of other things occurring here other than success, but I had brushed those from my mind. I was not a superstitious person and didn’t go in for bedtime stories or industry gossip, so paid no heed. I wanted to get on and asking silly questions about legend and history wouldn’t serve me well I decided.

I would be meeting with the owner today Mr. Whittle of Whittle & Schumer Publishing, he was of course not the original, but in fact was the 3rd Mr. Whittle, but nonetheless carried the family business forward carrying the name and responsibility.

Solely it turned out. I did ask one question while I was being shown about the building.

“So is there a Mr. Schumer anymore?”

It seemed a reasonable query. Mr. Whittle gave a very small smile before he spoke.

“Bob pops in upstairs from time to time, but not as a general rule. For quite some years now.”

I wondered how old he was, was he the original Mr. Schumer? They didn’t speak of another so on that I was left to wonder, but did not ask.

“That’s his office down the hallway at the end, currently being used by Jim, in fact, it’s only had 3 occupiers since Bob. They say whoever works in there comes up with publishing gold.”

He nudged me upon saying this and gave me a strange wink.

“You’ve started at the right time, Jim will be retiring next year, give you time to get your feet under the table and see if you can cut it first!”

And with that I received a hearty slap on the back. It was the old ways here and I realised I felt at home already. I made my way to my new office and got down to it. I had to learn all about our authors, new projects, marketing and editing, meet all the people and start contributing.

I had a huge pile of books on my desk that had been stacked and marked up into genres with a note on top.

For Jim

I looked around, wondering why this was on my desk and not in Jim’s office on his. I wasn’t here to be a dogs body but didn’t want to rock the boat on my first day. No-one appeared to be interested in what was on my desk, so I bundled the books into my arms nearly dropping them before I noticed a trolley next to my desk. Obviously for the books! Of course people don’t have to carry around stacks of books. I felt like an idiot, but again no-one noticed what I was doing, or cared.

As I pushed the trolley down the corridor, I glanced at some of the titles of the books, they were all varying genres. I wondered why one publisher would be given so many books, did he have to read them all? It worried me for my future here as a publisher, there was no way I could read that many books. Not this side of the century anyway.

I got to Jim’s office, although it still had the old letters of Robert C Schumer delicately painted on the glass. I knocked and opened the door not leaving much time for reply. To be honest I was still a little miffed at having to deliver his books like a lackey and didn’t feel like being made to wait outside. But to my surprise (and quite possibly his) Jim had been asleep upon my entrance, being promptly awoken and nearly falling from his chair in the process.

I was not amused. Jim looked flustered and gave me a look up and down, confusion on his face over the unfamiliarity of mine.

“Who are you? Why didn’t you knock? Had a rough night you know, I don’t make a habit of sleeping on the job. Ah, new books and submissions, wonderful. Oh, you must be the new chap, Prendle is it?”

He went from flustered and agitated at being caught, to charming and dismissive in one moment. It was astonishing.

“It’s Randle actually, and yes just started today. These were left on my desk for you, do you have to read all of them?”

Getting my name wrong riled me, but I let it go. It could be a simple mistake or simply the man was just being an arse. I couldn’t tell at this stage.

“Er, yes. Of course, as the Head Publisher it’s my job to pick the next big thing, the next bestseller, discover the next star of the literary world. There have been quite a few you know. I’m quite known for it.”

The self-adoration in his description of what he does nearly made me laugh and want to be sick just a little. But despite the arrogance and dislike I held for him now I had met him, he was right. He and each of his predecessors had discovered big names and published extremely popular novels. It’s what made them the best publishers and why I was here.

But I was disappointed that Jim was the man behind the magic, and then glad when I remembered he was retiring next year. Hopefully I could just learn what I needed to from him without having to spend too much time with him.

The next few weeks passed and I learnt more and more, but not from Jim. Every time I tried to pin him down for a meeting or review time, he would make an excuse and disappear for a few hours, claiming to be busy, have an appointment or just had to ‘catch up’. I even caught him napping again a few times and if it had been anyone else in a job, I would have sacked them. But he was the Head Publisher and somehow kept giving us the next great book from the massive pile. In all honesty I don’t think I had ever even see him reading. Sleeping yes, but reading no. It puzzled and perplexed me.

But we got along generally on a professional level and I fell into the office routines like everyone else. Still wanting to impress I was working late one night. Only the cleaners on the ground floor for company and my desk lamp for light. It felt nice and calm and a quiet change to the usual hum and noise of the day. Just as I was getting thoroughly engrossed in the review I was preparing, I heard a clatter at the end of hall near Jim’s office. I immediately went to investigate, the notion of anyone else working late didn’t even enter my mind as I hadn’t yet witnessed it. Upon reaching Jim’s office I could see a dull light on inside and the door slightly ajar. I chuckled to myself, thinking maybe I had mis-judged Jim and he was a worker really, even sometimes working late too to get in the success but didn’t want to admit to anyone he had to try.

I pushed open the door and started to say something about being here past his bed-time, but the room was empty. I was so confused. I had thought I could hear the rustle of pages turning, sure there was a faint shadow over the lamplight through the frosted glass. But there was an empty room with a lone lamp on in the corner. But there was also a manuscript. An open one in the middle of the tidy desk, as if in the process in being read.

I glanced around me, half sure that someone was going to jump out at me, or appear from nowhere suddenly. It was unsettling. Instead of leaving right away, I wanted to see what the book was. I had never seen a manuscript or book on Jim’s desk before so I was intrigued as to what it was actually doing there.

I walked over and sat in the chair. It was a nice office from here, it all looked very antique and so set, not very Jim at all. This room had a bit of class. I sat back in the chair and wondered if this ever would be my office, would I ever be good enough to carry the reputation of Whittle & Schumer. I felt a great sadness then come over me, the lamp seemed to dim and room grew a little darker, a shiver escaped me as a cold draft swept by my ankles.

As I was about to stand and make my way back to my desk, when the pages in front of me started to turn, as if being moved by an invisible reader. Surely that was the draft I told myself, pages often move by themselves. I backed towards the door not taking my eyes off them. I knew pages didn’t move by themselves, these were fairly heavy manuscripts being proofed or reviewed. It seemed to take an age to get to the door, and as I did, another page slowly turned. I left, closed the door and returned to my desk. I wasn’t sure I wanted that office anymore.

Only the very next week we had our next best seller. Apparently Jim had been working tirelessly to find the ‘One’ before he retired and he said he had it. We all eagerly awaited his presentation to know what we would be working on and see what gem he had found us this time. As the worksheet was handed around and Jim held the manuscript up, I could see exactly what it was. The one that had been on his desk that night, the one reading itself. Now I was bewildered. Who was doing Jim’s reading for him?!

I wasn’t going to find out it seemed, at the end of the presentation, Jim announced his retirement. He would be leaving that day. There was a fake sounding speech about how he would miss everyone and lots of insincere gushing, but on the whole a rather quick round up. I could tell he didn’t want to be here anymore, not even for his own leaving party.

As he was on his was out, he came over to me and shook my hand furiously.

“Good luck Randle, sorry I didn’t have any time to show you the ropes and stuff, this retirement thing sort of sneaked up on me you know. But anyway, good luck, and here’s a tip. If you aren’t sure what’s next, try leaving the books on the desk, you might find it comes to you in the morning.”

With that I got a strange wink, my hand released, and he was gone. I really wasn’t sure what he meant at first but it didn’t take me long to work it out. I spotted Mr. Whittle at the back of the room and made my way over to him.

“Sir, I’m not sure I can live up the reputation we have, I just want to be honest now before you make a mistake. I don’t want to let you and Mr. Schumer down.”

“Firstly, Jim was nothing special and he managed to do ok. Secondly, Bob’s been dead for decades now, he didn’t have any children so it was only him. He and grandpa built this business from nothing, we though he deserved to have his name kept on it. But it’s only really Whittle now and I believe you’ve got what it takes.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant.

“Thank you, but what do you mean there is no Mr. Schumer anymore? I though you said he popped in from time to time?”

I really was going to need this clarified I realised.

“I apologise, that is just our office humour here. There have been a few strange occurrences and sightings since he passed away so we try and make light of it. Died at his desk you know, reading, he really was dedicated to the job. And well I guess we figured he just never left. Just seemed to be luck too that whoever got his office, got the golden touch as well.”

He was so matter of fact about it I almost forgot what we were talking about, forgot about my office experience and though hey, that sounds reasonable.

“Oh. OK.”

It was all I had. I thanked him for the opportunity and returned to my desk, it wasn’t quite my office yet and I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be. Now I knew that, it creeped me out just a little bit more to know he died in there. Reading no less. Would that be my fate?

I sat there wondering. Why was he still here, didn’t he trust anyone to take over? Did he haunt the people in his office? No, that couldn’t be right, Jim had sounded very upbeat about his advice and with his regular sleeps, certainly wasn’t afraid. And then it struck me, all these years people had been taking advantage of Robert Schumer’s dedication and situation. They had forged careers from his knowledge and eye for a bestseller, it had been him all along!

And they all knew it. That’s why Jim was never around to explain how he did it, he didn’t know! It shocked and annoyed me all at once. The fear I had first felt was now replaced with disgust, but not towards the idea of a spectre, but of the living. I decided this would end with me. I would either be a great publisher because I was, or I wouldn’t be, because I wasn’t. Not because of Robert Schumer doing my work for me.

The next day I moved into my new office. I actually liked everything where it was and felt no need to change it yet. It was the overhanging sadness I was looking to remove, no-one else seemed to notice it or care, but it was a thick sadness that made the room feel stuffy, even with the window open.

At the end of my first day, I tidied the desk and put one book in the middle and went home. Feeling that my new career was finally here and I could start taking on the world. I wanted to get in early the next day to make a start on the next round of submissions, and to see if my idea had worked.

Saying my good mornings, I made my way to my office. As I got there I noticed the name had been removed from the frosted glass and a pot of paint was on standby ready to paint a new one. I opened the door and entered what could only be said, was a different room. The light streamed through the window blinds, the heavy stuffy atmosphere had been replaced with a calm fresh feeling. It was nice. And on the desk was the book I left, open on the last page on which I had written

Thank you Bob, we can take it from here. You can finally retire

And under that was a reply which simply read

Thank you

(c) K Wicks

Clocking Off (Short Story)…

One of my published short stories taken from – Under the Apple Tree and other dark short stories. Hope you enjoy…

UTAT - paperback clocking off

Clocking Off

It was my first day in a new job. I stood before the old Victorian building looking up from the street. It was so imposing and loomed over me, making me want to lean back as if it would come crashing down on me, like reverse vertigo. But it didn’t. Instead I walked up the steps and opened the door.

It was so different inside, completely modernised and fresh with clean furniture and décor, large bright windows filling the front office with light. A complete contrast from the outside view. It was a publishing company that had been established for over a century, and I had been keen to work for them for quite some time.

With a reputation of quality and a great name, working here meant a lifelong ticket to the industry. There had been rumours of other things occurring here other than success, but I had brushed those from my mind. I was not a superstitious person and didn’t go in for bedtime stories or industry gossip, so paid no heed. I wanted to get on and asking silly questions about legend and history wouldn’t serve me well I decided.

I would be meeting with the owner today Mr. Whittle of Whittle & Schumer Publishing, he was of course not the original, but in fact was the 3rd Mr. Whittle, but nonetheless carried the family business forward carrying the name and responsibility.

Solely it turned out. I did ask one question while I was being shown about the building.

“So is there a Mr. Schumer anymore?”

It seemed a reasonable query. Mr. Whittle gave a very small smile before he spoke.

“Bob pops in upstairs from time to time, but not as a general rule. For quite some years now.”

I wondered how old he was, was he the original Mr. Schumer? They didn’t speak of another so on that I was left to wonder, but did not ask.

“That’s his office down the hallway at the end, currently being used by Jim, in fact, it’s only had 3 occupiers since Bob. They say whoever works in there comes up with publishing gold.”

He nudged me upon saying this and gave me a strange wink.

“You’ve started at the right time, Jim will be retiring next year, give you time to get your feet under the table and see if you can cut it first!”

And with that I received a hearty slap on the back. It was the old ways here and I realised I felt at home already. I made my way to my new office and got down to it. I had to learn all about our authors, new projects, marketing and editing, meet all the people and start contributing.

I had a huge pile of books on my desk that had been stacked and marked up into genres with a note on top.

For Jim

I looked around, wondering why this was on my desk

and not in Jim’s office on his. I wasn’t here to be a dogs body but didn’t want to rock the boat on my first day. No-one appeared to be interested in what was on my desk, so I bundled the books into my arms nearly dropping them before I noticed a trolley next to my desk. Obviously for the books! Of course people don’t have to carry around stacks of books. I felt like an idiot, but again no-one noticed what I was doing, or cared.

As I pushed the trolley down the corridor, I glanced at some of the titles of the books, they were all varying genres. I wondered why one publisher would be given so many books, did he have to read them all? It worried me for my future here as a publisher, there was no way I could read that many books. Not this side of the century anyway.

I got to Jim’s office, although it still had the old letters of Robert C Schumer delicately painted on the glass. I knocked and opened the door not leaving much time for reply. To be honest I was still a little miffed at having to deliver his books like a lackey and didn’t feel like being made to wait outside. But to my surprise (and quite possibly his) Jim had been asleep upon my entrance, being promptly awoken and nearly falling from his chair in the process.

I was not amused. Jim looked flustered and gave me a look up and down, confusion on his face over the unfamiliarity of mine.

“Who are you? Why didn’t you knock? Had a rough night you know, I don’t make a habit of sleeping on the job. Ah, new books and submissions, wonderful. Oh, you must be the new chap, Prendle is it?”

He went from flustered and agitated at being caught, to charming and dismissive in one moment. It was astonishing.

“It’s Randle actually, and yes just started today. These were left on my desk for you, do you have to read all of them?”

Getting my name wrong riled me, but I let it go. It could be a simple mistake or simply the man was just being an arse. I couldn’t tell at this stage.

“Er, yes. Of course, as the Head Publisher it’s my job to pick the next big thing, the next bestseller, discover the next star of the literary world. There have been quite a few you know. I’m quite known for it.”

The self-adoration in his description of what he does nearly made me laugh and want to be sick just a little. But despite the arrogance and dislike I held for him now I had met him, he was right. He and each of his predecessors had discovered big names and published extremely popular novels. It’s what made them the best publishers and why I was here.

But I was disappointed that Jim was the man behind the magic, and then glad when I remembered he was retiring next year. Hopefully I could just learn what I needed to from him without having to spend too much time with him.

The next few weeks passed and I learnt more and more, but not from Jim. Every time I tried to pin him down for a meeting or review time, he would make an excuse and disappear for a few hours, claiming to be busy, have an appointment or just had to ‘catch up’. I

even caught him napping again a few times and if it had been anyone else in a job, I would have sacked them. But he was the Head Publisher and somehow kept giving us the next great book from the massive pile. In all honesty I don’t think I had ever even see him reading. Sleeping yes, but reading no. It puzzled and perplexed me.

But we got along generally on a professional level and I fell into the office routines like everyone else. Still wanting to impress I was working late one night. Only the cleaners on the ground floor for company and my desk lamp for light. It felt nice and calm and a quiet change to the usual hum and noise of the day. Just as I was getting thoroughly engrossed in the review I was preparing, I heard a clatter at the end of hall near Jim’s office. I immediately went to investigate, the notion of anyone else working late didn’t even enter my mind as I hadn’t yet witnessed it. Upon reaching Jim’s office I could see a dull light on inside and the door slightly ajar. I chuckled to myself, thinking maybe I had

mis-judged Jim and he was a worker really, even sometimes working late too to get in the success but didn’t want to admit to anyone he had to try.

I pushed open the door and started to say something about being here past his bed-time, but the room was empty. I was so confused. I had thought I could hear the rustle of pages turning, sure there was a faint shadow over the lamplight through the frosted glass. But there was an empty room with a lone lamp on in the corner. But there was also a manuscript. An open one in the middle of the tidy desk, as if in the process in being read.

I glanced around me, half sure that someone was going to jump out at me, or appear from nowhere suddenly. It was unsettling. Instead of leaving right away, I wanted to see what the book was. I had never seen a manuscript or book on Jim’s desk before so I was intrigued as to what it was actually doing there.

I walked over and sat in the chair. It was a nice office from here, it all looked very antique and so set, not very Jim at all. This room had a bit of class. I sat back in the chair and wondered if this ever would be my office, would I ever be good enough to carry the reputation of Whittle & Schumer. I felt a great sadness then come over me, the lamp seemed to dim and room grew a little darker, a shiver escaped me as a cold draft swept by my ankles.

As I was about to stand and make my way back to my

desk, when the pages in front of me started to turn, as if being moved by an invisible reader. Surely that was the draft I told myself, pages often move by themselves. I backed towards the door not taking my eyes off them. I knew pages didn’t move by themselves, these were fairly heavy manuscripts being proofed or reviewed. It seemed to take an age to get to the door, and as I did, another page slowly turned. I left, closed the door and returned to my desk. I wasn’t sure I wanted that office anymore.

Only the very next week we had our next best seller. Apparently Jim had been working tirelessly to find the ‘One’ before he retired and he said he had it. We all eagerly awaited his presentation to know what we would be working on and see what gem he had found us this time. As the worksheet was handed around and Jim held the manuscript up, I could see exactly what it was. The one that had been on his desk that night, the

one reading itself. Now I was bewildered. Who was doing Jim’s reading for him?!

I wasn’t going to find out it seemed, at the end of the presentation, Jim announced his retirement. He would be leaving that day. There was a fake sounding speech about how he would miss everyone and lots of insincere gushing, but on the whole a rather quick round up. I could tell he didn’t want to be here anymore, not even for his own leaving party.

As he was on his was out, he came over to me and shook my hand furiously.

“Good luck Randle, sorry I didn’t have any time to show you the ropes and stuff, this retirement thing sort of sneaked up on me you know. But anyway, good luck, and here’s a tip. If you aren’t sure what’s next, try leaving the books on the desk, you might find it comes to you in the morning.”

With that I got a strange wink, my hand released, and he was gone. I really wasn’t sure what he meant at first but it didn’t take me long to work it out. I spotted Mr. Whittle at the back of the room and made my way over to him.

“Sir, I’m not sure I can live up the reputation we have, I just want to be honest now before you make a mistake. I don’t want to let you and Mr. Schumer down.”

“Firstly, Jim was nothing special and he managed to do ok. Secondly, Bob’s been dead for decades now, he didn’t have any children so it was only him. He and grandpa built this business from nothing, we though he deserved to have his name kept on it. But it’s only really Whittle now and I believe you’ve got what it takes.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant.

“Thank you, but what do you mean there is no Mr. Schumer anymore? I though you said he popped in from time to time?”

I really was going to need this clarified I realised.

“I apologise, that is just our office humour here. There have been a few strange occurrences and sightings since he passed away so we try and make light of it. Died at his desk you know, reading, he really was dedicated to the job. And well I guess we figured he just never left. Just seemed to be luck too that whoever got his office, got the golden touch as well.”

He was so matter of fact about it I almost forgot what we were talking about, forgot about my office experience and though hey, that sounds reasonable.

“Oh. OK.”

It was all I had. I thanked him for the opportunity and returned to my desk, it wasn’t quite my office yet and I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be. Now I knew that, it creeped me out just a little bit more to know he died in there. Reading no less. Would that be my fate?

I sat there wondering. Why was he still here, didn’t he trust anyone to take over? Did he haunt the people in his office? No, that couldn’t be right, Jim had sounded very upbeat about his advice and with his regular sleeps, certainly wasn’t afraid. And then it struck me, all these years people had been taking advantage of Robert Schumer’s dedication and situation. They had forged careers from his knowledge and eye for a bestseller, it had been him all along!

And they all knew it. That’s why Jim was never around to explain how he did it, he didn’t know! It shocked and annoyed me all at once. The fear I had first felt was now replaced with disgust, but not towards the idea of a spectre, but of the living. I decided this would end with me. I would either be a great publisher because I was, or I wouldn’t be, because I wasn’t. Not because of Robert Schumer doing my work for me.

The next day I moved into my new office. I actually liked everything where it was and felt no need to change it yet. It was the overhanging sadness I was looking to remove, no-one else seemed to notice it or care, but it was a thick sadness that made the room feel stuffy, even with the window open.

At the end of my first day, I tidied the desk and put one book in the middle and went home. Feeling that my new career was finally here and I could start taking on the world. I wanted to get in early the next day to make a start on the next round of submissions, and to see if my idea had worked.

Saying my good mornings, I made my way to my office. As I got there I noticed the name had been removed from the frosted glass and a pot of paint was on standby ready to paint a new one. I opened the door and entered what could only be said, was a different room. The light streamed through the window blinds, the heavy stuffy atmosphere had been replaced with a calm fresh feeling. It was nice. And on the desk was the book I left, open on the last page on which I had written

Thank you Bob, we can take it from here. You can finally retire

And under that was a reply which simply read

Thank you

 

UTAT - blue

(c) K Wicks