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Authors: Simon Clark

Hotel Midnight

Hotel Midnight
 

A collection of short stories

 

SIMON CLARK

 
 
 

For Alex Clark

 
Contents
 
 
INTRODUCTION
 
 

Where do they all go?

That’s a question I often voice. Just ask my wife, Janet, when I can’t find car keys, insurance documents, spare batteries for the remote control – especially when there’s that onscreen message ‘Urgent! Please replace your TV remote batteries in the next ten minutes!’ You name it, I lose it. This is because I’m so often mulling storylines. When my imagination has me in its grip it doesn’t readily let me go. Once I’d forgotten I’d driven the car to the supermarket and walked home without it.

Then some people ask the more philosophical question: ‘Where do they all go?’ And they mean the years of their lives. For me, childhood days seem a long time ago. Fortunately, I haven’t yet mislaid all my memories from when I was a boy, and as
memories
are often the only souvenirs we have of that journey through the world of our early youth they’re worth hanging on to. Even more so if you’re a writer: they help pay the mortgage. When I’m writing a story or a novel it’s not all imagination and invention; I weave plenty of real incidents that happened to me into the fabric of fiction. For example,
The Whitby Experience,
which appears in this volume, was partly inspired by a last minute dash to the East Coast resort of Whitby for the weekend. Janet and I were more than ready to relax after months of intensive work, so I rented a flat at random. When we arrived we found by sheer chance that we’d be sleeping in the same bedroom occupied by Bram Stoker more than a century before when he conceived
Dracula
. This was even more of a coincidence considering I’d just completed the manuscript of
Vampyrrhic
, my first novel containing vampire-like creatures.

Anyway, I’m digressing here, but I think we can allow ourselves that, can’t we? My guess, is if you’re reading this introduction to
Hotel Midnight
then we’ve been this route before together; that you’re familiar with my other books such as
Nailed By The Heart, Darkness Demands, The Night Of The Triffids,
and so on. And that we’re now relaxed in each other’s company as writer and reader. Of course, if this is your first Simon Clark book, welcome aboard.

On my website there are chapters of an imaginary
autobiography
called
Over At Simon’s,
where I keep repeating that the only rule governing that particular autobiography is that There Are No Rules. If anything, it is a hymn to digression. It revels in jumping here and there to various times in my life. In fact, I’ve been
talking
here about keeping a grip on childhood memories, but as I’ve been writing this I’ve just remembered one important memory that slipped my mind. When I was ten I sat with a group of friends round a camp-fire beside a stream. We’d found an old paint tin into which we’d crammed every ingredient we could find in nearby hedge bottoms and fields. To a fine array of ingredients, which included grass, berries, insects, slugs, snails, leaves, and (I have to be candid) dog poop – well, come on, we were ten – we added stream water, then proceeded to boil vigorously for twenty minutes. While waiting for the soup to heat, we got all
philosophical
about chocolate, nuclear war,
Doctor Who
and
Batman,
and the prospect of becoming adults.

One boy seriously declared, ‘When I’m grown up I’m going to keep wearing short trousers.’

‘You’ve got to be kidding! As soon as you’re a teenager all boys wear long trousers. You’ll look daft if you don’t.’

‘I’m going to keep wearing short trousers because it’s good for your health. You’ve got to get the sun on your legs.’ Then he leaned forward to share some valuable information with us. ‘Once there was a boy who never wore shorts. He always wore long trousers. In the end …’ – grim-faced, he looked at each of us in turn – ‘it killed him.’

For a moment we stared at the steaming paint pot as it sat on the camp-fire. This fatal long-trouser syndrome had the ring of truth to it. Could the secret of immortality really be down to the length of one’s trousers? Most of us had been kneeling or
squatting
on the grass around the fire. Quickly, we changed our positions so the life-preserving sun would fall nicely on our
mud-caked
bare knees.

‘It’s going to be weird growing up,’ said another of my friends as he took his turn to use a long stick to stir the dog poop in the boiling water. ‘You can walk along the street smoking and no one can stop you.’

‘And drink beer.’

‘And drive a car.’

‘And get married.’

We all pulled a face at that one. Not one ten year old there around that fire had any intention of marrying.

‘Of course,’ one of them added after a while, ‘we won’t know what each of us’ll be doing then.’

‘How come?’ I asked. Something about this troubled me. Surely we’d all stay in touch with one another?

But a wiser boy put me straight. ‘After we’ve left school we’ll get jobs in offices and stuff, then we’ll go our separate ways.’

Impossible. We were best mates. But, just in case it turned out to be true, I had an idea to soften the blow. ‘I know,’ I told them in all seriousness. ‘We’ll all meet up when we’re forty. Then we can tell each other what we’ve done.’

‘When we’re forty? When’s that then?’

Thirty years hence took some calculating. Eventually, however, we arrived at a year that we all decided was the right one: 2001.

‘Wow, that’s in the future! People will have flying cars and be living in space by then.’


We
might be living in space.’

I didn’t let something like cosmic distance put me off. ‘What we’ll do,’ I declared grandly, ‘is all meet up at three o’clock in the afternoon on the first of August, in the year 2001.’

‘But where?’

‘At the sweet shop in Badsworth.’ A place we all knew
intimately
. ‘OK,’ I added, ‘shake on it. Then everyone promise we’ll be there in 2001.’

We all shook hands as we faithfully promised to make the rendezvous.

Only, I have to make the shameful confession now, that until I started writing this introduction I’d forgotten all about our promise. Damn. I feel bad about it. I mean, my imagination can supply the reunion scene. My friends thirty years on are shaking hands outside Badsworth Village Store (which is no more). They’re smiling happily. They’ve started to develop lines around their eyes, some might have a grey hair or two. All, that is, except the boy who declared he’d continue to wear health-giving short trousers come what may. In my imagination he stands there with tanned, bare legs and an uncannily youthful face. Of course, they’re all asking, ‘Where’s Simon? What happened to him?’

One will reply, ‘Oh, I heard he became a writer.’

‘Yeah, he’s probably living in Hollywood or New York now.’

No. I’m not. In fact I live a ten-minute drive from the rendezvous point. Only I went and forgot, didn’t I? Ooops, sorry Keith, sorry Victor, apologies to the rest, too. These days, I’m early for appointments; back then, however, my grasp on
timekeeping
was always slippery at best.

And what happened, exactly, to that toxic pot of soup we were cooking up all those years ago? We did discuss very carefully how we should use this unique concoction. Tip it over someone’s front doorstep that we didn’t like? Invite other friends to smell it? Trick someone into tasting it? In the end we decided to put the lid back on our impromptu cooking vessel and leave it to mature for a while. I suggested burying it near the stream so it might add a certain
je ne sais quoi
to our creation. Then we’d dig it up in a few weeks and decide all over again how we’d use this precious batch of elixir. Uhm, guess what? I forgot where I buried it. Sorry, mates.

There, I’ve spectacularly digressed in this introduction, too. Some writers would ‘Harrumph!’ and demand more discipline, but I’d reply that writing fiction is a form of digression; some of it controlled, some not. Together with that digression would be the accumulation of other details, many culled from memory – memories just like the one of the discussion round the camp-fire long ago. As a writer I like to be as surprised as the reader by what comes next in one of my stories. It’s a technique I’ve worked hard at to perfect. Jazz and Blues musicians must get the same kind of buzz out of improvization, rather than slavishly remaining glued tight to a score. Anyway …
anyway
… The question I posed at the beginning of this introduction was: Where do they all go? This time the ‘they’ is short stories. Or more specifically, my short stories. Originally, I planned to write a little about the creation of the individual tales, but I can’t see that would add anything to their enjoyment. I wrote them so they’d stand alone – or, heaven forbid, fall alone – without explanations of content, style and context. Most have been published before; however, there’s a good chance you won’t have come across them. Many appeared in limited edition collectors’ volumes or obscure magazines. When I started compiling this collection I knew I had sufficient published material to fill a book, but it struck me that it’s only fair to offer a serving of brand new fiction, too. I intended, therefore, to write two brand new short stories for
Hotel Midnight.
But
The House That Fell Backwards
and
Jack Of Bones
both acquired lives of their own and refused to come in under 5,000 words apiece. Between them, they account for around a third of this volume. As I say, it wasn’t planned, but I’m pleased and proud to offer two brand new novellas along with these stories, the stories that prompted that question, ‘Where do they all go?’

The answer is, generally, that my stories have appeared in magazines, in anthologies, on websites, as bonus booklets in DVD packages, and have been broadcast on the radio. Scientists explain that FM broadcasts aren’t bounced back to Earth by the radio reflecting layers of atmosphere; that, instead, they continue to journey out into space forever at the speed of light. This means my early radio stories are now, at the time of writing this
introduction
, more than twenty-five light years from the Earth and are reaching the planetary systems of alien stars. Every so often, I wonder what shaped ears (on what shaped heads) are listening to my work now. OK, I guess it’s unlikely, though I can see the seeds of a new story here.

Those tales were scattered far and wide, not just globally but on a cosmic scale, so I thought it was time to round up a batch of stories and bring them together under the one roof of this volume. Then I can invite you to come and stay for a while.

After all, there will always be room for you here at
Hotel Midnight,
where every room has a view to die for….

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