The Man at the End of the Bed

A short story by James Dawson

For as long as Lily can remember, there has been a man at the end of her bed. He’s there right now. Although her eyes were closed and her face was buried in the pillow, she knew he was there. Then again, maybe tonight would be different. Each night she allowed herself to believe. She opened one eye, twisting her head around.
No such luck. He’s there. Tonight he was between the brass rails at the end of the bed and the window, swathed in shadow. Unmoving, his hands hanging by his sides. She couldn’t see his face of course, she never has. But as reliable as the tides, she was certain he was watching. He watches every night; she didn’t need to see his eyes to know that.
Sometimes he’s by the bookshelf. Some nights he’s next to the mirror on her wall. Occasionally he crouches next to her wash basket in the darkest corner of her room. He has a fairly average silhouette; not too tall, not too broad, although his figure is disguised by the ill-fitting overcoat he appears to wear. She can’t see any hair, so maybe he’s bald. Lily always noted his big hands though; lumpy and awkward weights at the end of his arms.
Perhaps she should say something. Occasionally she does, although he never replies. It’s worth a try.
“Hello?”
He said nothing.
“I can see you, you know.”
He didn’t reply and he didn’t move. No change there, then.
Lily closed her eyes. She knew that when she fell asleep, no harm was likely to come to her. The man had stood at the end of her bed for years now; every night without fail. In other circumstances, the sensation of eyes on her back could have been comforting. Her mother, trying too hard, had once tried to suggest the possibility of a guardian angel, a protector who looked after her. But the man doesn’t look after her – he simply looks, and that lingering stare burrows under her skin.
The first time was the worst, obviously. Then it had been unexpected – no little girl expects a still, faceless man to materialise in her room. She’d screamed and screamed, and her mum and dad had burst straight in, but what she didn’t know then was, that as soon as there’s anyone else in the room, he goes. That always confuses Lily. She’d never seen him arrive or depart, he’s either there or he isn’t. When anyone else is in her room, he simply isn’t.
Of course, she’d told them about the man at the end of her bed, many, many times. Most of 2004 was spent in the offices of various doctors and child psychologists, and every one of them had told her there was nothing at the end of her bed. “Tell us about your imaginary friend,” they’d say with sugary smiles. “What does he look like? Can you draw us a picture?”
They’d filmed her room and everything. One time, she’d pointed at him, but on film, she was pointing at the shadows in the corner and nothing more. What was worse was that as she’d got older and her visitor persisted, girls her age aren’t meant to be scared of this stuff. She didn’t believe in ghosts or vampires or demons, that was all TV stuff. But she believed in the strange man. If she told anyone about this at school, she’d be a laughing stock. Forever. And so she stopped complaining, pretended there was nothing wrong. Her mum and dad had been so pleased to see her “grow out of it”, she didn’t have the heart to tell them the man still watched every night.
Frustrated, Lily rolled over, knotting herself in her duvet. Maybe the fresh-linen-smell would lull her into an untroubled sleep. Her eyes widened. Even through the gloom she could tell he’d moved. About a metre to his left. “What do you want?” she whispered, close to exhausted tears.
No reply.
Hurling her stuffed rabbit at him, the soft toy bounced off his chest with a light thud and rolled under the bed. She wasn’t scared any longer. More resigned. After her parents had forced her brother to switch bedrooms, and the man had promptly appeared in the new room, she’d given herself over to his presence. He was a grim fact. At least he wasn’t there by day, she had the daylight hours to herself, although Lily sometimes wondered if his vigil continued unnoticed. Like the moon, always there, only occluded by the light.
In a couple of years, she was going to go to university – somewhere far away, maybe even abroad. Perhaps it would be enough, perhaps his watchful eye could only follow her so far. Because one thing concerned her. After all these years, the man at the end of her bed had started to come closer and, although his face was gone to darkness, she could now see the white of his teeth.

The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari

Sometimes you see something so incredible, it inspires you on the spot. You want to go home and steal its genius, rub its gold dust all over your work. I had one such moment recently. Lord knows how, but I’d never seen (or, in truth, heard of) The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari. Well, I say that…in a way we’ve ALL seen this film, as, much like me, film makers have been borrowing from this iconic work for almost a century.

If you haven’t seen it, allow me to fill you in. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a 1920 German silent film. PLEASE DON’T STOP READING. It is “Expressionist Cinema”, although as if I care about labels. More than being “the first horror film”; “the first ‘twist ending'”; and “the first framed narrative in cinema”, it’s brilliant. I mean it. I’m so not an art-house, mumble-core fan (my favourite film is Labyrinth, people), so my insane love for this film came as a big surprise.

The film introduces us to a young man, Francis, in a stark garden one evening, a night he promises to share a story with a stranger. Francis tells of a remote mountain town in Germany and how the sinister Dr. Caligari arrives at the village fairground. Drawing Francis and his friend Alan to his stall, Caligari entices punters to his cabinet, which contains the haunting somnambulist, Cesare. Caligari explains that tonight Cesare will awake for the first time to tell their fortunes. Alan asks when he will die. Cesare answers, “before dawn.”

Before the night ends, a murder occurs, and a mysterious silhouette, not unlike Cesare, roams the town. But how? The sleeper is safely locked in his cabinet. Francis must solve the mystery before his betrothed, Jane falls prey to the murderer.

To say the film is influential would be something of an understatement. This feels and looks like a proper motion picture, from an era when early film closely resembled theatre. The director Robert Wiene (which is NOT pronounced weener – I was told off for giggling) has understood that camera, unlike theatre, allows you to conceal truths from your audience. The murder scene, like so many that followed it, features a shadow oozing across the wall towards the victim, hiding the killer’s identity with no need for a mask.

Special mention has to go to the actor Conrad Veidt, who plays the sleepwalking Cesare. The actor, who fled the Nazi regime to settle in London, moves with the eerie grace of a ballet dancer. Anyone familiar with the terrifying “Judder Man” commercial for the Metz alcopop, will recognise Cesare’s posture. This clearly influenced the likes of David Lynch, The League of Gentlemen crew and even J-horror – his movement isn’t unlike that of Sadako in Ringu, for example.

Filmed shortly after the end of World War 1, it is thought that Caligari is allegorical for Germany at the time. The carnival is meant to represent the chaos Germany found itself in. This fairground motif has become synonymous with the horror genre – The Lost Boys, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Final Destination 3, Beserk, Freaks all use fun fairs as a similar metaphor. The loss of inhibition, a world without rules or order. In each, the fair is a transient being, rolling into town, bringing evil with it.

Visually speaking, there isn’t a straight line to be found in Caligari. Walls loom in at angles above the actors heads and jagged cardboard trees close in around them. I think it would be a fair assumption that Tim Burton has a copy of this at home, within the first 30 seconds the homage is obvious. Cesare IS Edward Scissorhands, there can be no doubt. Even the text cards are presented in a twisted, mind-bending font, like something from a nightmare. Further similarities can be found with this and Shutter Island. So much so in fact, that Martin Scorcese assumed author Dennis Lehane had based his book on the film. Lehane, however, claims to have never heard of Caligari, which is possible given how many of it’s motifs have found their way into subsequent productions.

If you are a fan of the horror genre, you have to see this film. Whether you’re a fan of silent German expressionism or not, watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is like paying respects at the alter of horror. This is where it all began.

Top Ten…Sexiest Vampire Nom

I’ve been working awfully hard on edits for the book, so if you’ll excuse me I’ll save the detailed analysis of silent film until next week (no…really). This week, join me in a purely hollow examination of some hot vampires. This stems from a staffroom conversation in which perfectly rational women of a certain age confessed to slightly inappropriate fantasies about “teen vampires” (as played by men in their mid-to-late twenties).

What is it about vampires? The appeal is enduring, despite what people will tell you about fads. Personally I think it’s a dominance thing. People tend to fantasise about being the victim, not the vampire, so one can only assume this is about submission. I’m not judging, I totally get it.

Anyway, here are ten blood-suckers you wouldn’t kick out of bed for making crumbs.

10. Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost) – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Bringing fierce Gaga realness 15 years before Gaga, the former Mrs Law sizzled as Mina’s saucepot chum. A cautionary tale to “loose girls”, the scene where she succumbs to the beastly Dracula in wolf form is something to remember..

 

 

 

9. The entire cast of The Lair (2007)
A highly unusual low budget spin-off of the equally crap Dante’s Cove. Although there is a thin allusion to a plot (rival vampire gangs on a mysterious island), this is high-camp softcore at best. Still, the actors weren’t selected for their acting talent, so navel-gazing fun to be had.

 

 

 

8.Pam (Kristen Bauer)- True Blood (2008)
Bon Temps would be a much sadder place without Eric’s swedish prostitute lesbian “child”. I have been known to spend up to an hour at a time YouTubing her best one-liners. What could be quite a one dimensional character is fleshed out with her unfailing devotion to Eric and maternal nature towards Jessica.

 

 

 

7.Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) -Blade (1998)
It’s always the bad boys isn’t it? Leather clad scamp Dorff was way sexier than po-faced Wesley Snipes in the macho vampire bloodbath. I can’t believe Blade was 13 years ago! Frost is naughty, seductive and not untasty. Dorff was enough of a Hollywood bad boy to be utterly believeable and spends much of the film shirtless.

 

 

 

6. Lestat (Tom Cruise) – Interview With A Vampire (1994)

Tommy-boy was still vaguely bearable way back in 1994, and has way more fun in the film than dreary Brad Pitt. To say the film has homoerotic undertones is a bit like saying Eurovision has homosexual undertones. Lestat only converts Louis for the “company” and in true Jolie-Pitt style, they then adopt a child. The fact that Lestat isn’t comfortable with his feelings makes for even more hilarity if you think about it. Honorable mention goes to Antonio Banderas as Armand too.

 

5. The Cullens

The great thing with the Cullens is that there’s something for everyone. Into Abercrombie & Fitch? Emmett! Emo? Edward! Carlisle is obviously the thinking woman’s crumpet, while Esme is clearly a MILF. Rosalie is for readers of FHM, while Alice is for readers of Esquire. Jasper, poor lamb, is ever so slightly the Gary Barlow of the act, but hey -he grew into the hottest one in the end.

 

 

4. Camilla (Ingrid Pitt) -The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Ingrid Pitt’s heaving breasts became overnight celebrities in the risque (for 1970) Hammer Horror production, which saw beautiful but deadly Camilla seduce a sequence of doe eyed beauties. The scream queen went on to star in The House that Dripped Blood and Countess Dracula, which saw her frolic naked in a bath of blood. Pitt sadly died in 2010, but is immortal to horror (and Doctor Who) fans.

 

 

3. Angelus (David Boreanaz) – Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel (1997)

I was never a fan of whiny Angel until the second season of Buffy, when we finally learned why he was so whiny -he wasn’t getting any! When he finally did, he became infinitely more fun. Lashings of guyliner and pale lipstick followed and Angelus wasn’t afraid to be camp as Christmas (spawning a whole Internet of slash fic with him and Xander). Taunting Spike through poking Drusilla, or killing the dreadful Jenny Calendar – he was my kinda guy.

 

 

2. The Lost Boys (1987)

They should always show this before screenings of Twilight. Jason Patric is an early Cullen if ever there was one, but the vamps are still very VERY nasty in the rock n’ gore shocker. The brutal gang leader David (Kiefer Sutherland) is so bad, it makes him about ten times sexier than than Patric – I defy anyone not to swoon (despite the bleached mullet). It’s so eighties. So fantastic. “Death by stereo!”

 

 

1. Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard) – True Blood (2008)

And so to our winner. The controller of Louisiana Area Five, landlord of Fangtasia, and lover of Sookie Stackhouse wins hands down (or “cheeks up”). Charlaine Harris correctly spotted early on that Eric was much more interesting than dull old vampire Bill and drip fed the blossoming lust between Eric and Sookie. Eric is arrogant, powerful, devious and deadly. Anyone who wasn’t sold after he bummed Talbot in order to kill him needs to reevaluate their position immediately. Everybody loves a viking man…

 

Thus concludes our lesson. Did I miss any? Yes I know, I didn’t do The Vampire Diaries…but I’ve never watched any. THERE. I SAID IT.

 

Is There Anything Lovelier?

As I approach the finish line for the latest round of edits on Hollow Pike, let’s take time out to appreciate some art. How can anyone fail to be enchanted by these covers? They were such a massive part of my childhood – my Grandma Breen reading me these stories at her house in Bingley. Join me in a moment of book meditation.

How I Got My Deal

I remembered that I promised I’d share all the gory details about the publishing deal with Orion way back when it was first announced. I’ve been so busy working on Hollow Pike, that I sort of forgot. When I was searching for a home for Hollow Pike, these sorts of articles used to both inspire AND depress me, because it seemed like the whole world is landing a 9 billion dollar advance for a 20 book deal when you, by and large, are not.

I don’t think that’s true any more. I think people are quietly making deals the whole time, and only the freakishly big ones make waves in the press. I was lucky in that my acquisition generated a little write up in the Bookseller and a few other outlets, but life very much goes on as normal. I’m almost done on the final edits of Hollow Pike and book 2 is also coming along nicely. The only difference is, I don’t have to sweat the business stuff so much now – odd after months of chasing agents and battling to be published. Now, the fight is over, and I can do what I set out to – write.

So how did it all come about? I’m not going to go divulge names and places, because it’s tacky, but the process went something like this. I already posted on how I found Jo, my agent. To be honest, that’s almost the end of the story. Having an agent opened doors that simply wouldn’t have been opened otherwise. SOME traditional publishers will accept unsolicited manuscripts, but not all that many and, although this is pure speculation, I suspect most wouldn’t get beyond the work experience. This isn’t a slur on publishers at all – the slushpile would absorb all their time, what are they meant to do?

Last autumn Jo started to send out Hollow Pike to publishers, and the initial response was encouraging – praise for “exciting characters” and “some of the best dialogue I’ve read”. There was a real thirst for young British authors too, as much YA is US import. Although no deal came out of the first batch, I got to meet some publishers to discuss the future. EXCITING. All the way through, I tried to remain philosophical as to my chances. I saw each step as a step closer to my goal. The way I saw it, if I met with some publishers and impressed them, they might remember me two years down the line.

A key feature off ALL the feedback was a growing concern over YA supernatural fiction. In a market crowded with vampires, angels, fairies and werewolves, everyone was looking for something new. Hollow Pike, although always a dark thriller, started off with much more emphasis on supernatural powers (think Michael Grant’s Gone series). I agreed with Jo that Hollow Pike would stand a better chance if this element was toned down -I was bored of getting the same feedback! What followed next was incredible.

With the supernatural elements altered, the tone of the book changed – it became darker, more menacing, more mysterious. The old elements were so easily removed, it was apparent the book hadn’t needed them in the first place. I loved it more than ever – still supernatural, but in a much more sinister fashion. Thankfully, publishers agreed. In the space of a couple of weeks, six major publishers bid on my book.

Words cannot express how exciting this time was. I’ve never experienced such head-spinnery before. I hardly slept a wink for those weeks as each day a new offer or new interested party surfaced. The most special day was when the first offer arrived because in one phonecall, my book went from being mine to yours – people would actually get to read Hollow Pike. People had always said you NEVER get your first novel published, and I almost believed them, but I’m so glad I can share the quirky characters of Hollow Pike with you. I think a lot of readers will get where they’re coming from.

I chose Orion/Indigo because I thought they were the best fit. Simple as that really. My agent used to work for them and we both felt they could carry Hollow Pike in the direction we wanted it to go. They’re a class act, and aggressively loved Hollow Pike. What more could an author ask for? When I met the team, I knew immediately I’d made the right choice. So far, I’m having the best time working with Amber, my editor and learning all about PR (and tapas) with the genius Nina. I’m also really lucky in that experienced Indigo author, and Brighton resident, Kate Harrison (whose YA debut, Soul Beach is launched this September) has taken me under her wing!

I’m too new to this to be offering advice, but I hope this is an encouraging story, not one of those that makes emerging writers want to drink bleach. I wanted to write a book that I would have loved when I was 14 and I book that I love now. Having a book deal hasn’t changed those dreams at all, I have no sense of completion – this is the beginning, not the end. Next step? World domination, obviously.