Beneath the Surface…

3 Dec

A GSP release from Author of the Week: Steve Foreman

Beneath the Surface by Steve Foreman

This is a collection of weird tales that scratch the surface of life to reveal both the supernatural and real horrors or unexpected events that can lie beneath.

A photo booth that predicts death, a computer programme with a horrific application, hauntings and ghost stories, morbid vampire humour, a radio that broadcasts momentous events past and yet to come, faint shades of H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, a splash of Ray Bradbury…

Excerpt:

THE PHOTO BOOTH

“Do you have the passport photos with you?” asked the blonde bimbo sitting behind the desk, delicately shuffling Ben’s papers, trying to avoid smearing her recently-applied red nail varnish.

“No,” answered Ben, slightly annoyed, staring down at the top of her head, but trying to get a view of her cleavage, “What passport photos?”

“Well, we need two,” the girl replied, looking up and grinning at him as she spotted the direction of his gaze, “one to clip to the application for our records, and the other to be laminated onto the membership card.”

“So, why the hell didn’t you tell me I needed them when I came in here last week to collect the application form?” Ben demanded. “Do you know how long it has taken for me to get here, and how long it takes to find a parking space in London?”

“I’m very sorry,” the girl said, not looking at all sorry. “I am sure I told you. Anyway, no dramas,” she added brightly, “there is a photo booth inside the railway station, just across the road. You can get some passport-size photos there.”

Ben, turning away, shook his head in silent disdain, pushed open the glass door and went outside. “Bloody woman,” he muttered under his breath, “long on hair and nails—short on skirt and brains!”

His car was in a parking slot about six or seven cars away; a hard-won space that had taken almost two hours to find.

Crossing the busy road to the railway station, he entered the cavernous concourse. People were scurrying about like ants from a disturbed nest. Some were hurrying to the escalators for the main line platforms; others to or from the Underground and still others on their way out to the taxi rank, dragging uncooperative suitcases on wheels too small for their size or weight. A girl with a nose ring, wearing a long blue coverall, was unenthusiastically pushing a ridiculously wide broom around, fighting an endless battle to herd discarded litter. Several brightly lit shop windows—some displaying perfume and cosmetics, others looking more like fairground stalls selling London souvenirs with their displays of plastic Policeman’s helmets, plastic Beefeaters, plastic Black Taxis, and others sweets and magazines—attracted those who had time to linger. Near to this row of shops Ben saw the photo booth; that red and black, free-standing booth one can find in nearly every main railway station in Britain, with the large Photo-You! banner surmounting the glass-fronted display of sample photos. A black, mock-velvet curtain covered the top two-thirds of the open entrance, allowing the lower legs of anyone using the booth to be seen from outside, indicating that it was occupied.

It was occupied now; a woman and child were standing to the left of the curtain, awaiting their turn. Ben sidled up and loitered behind them.

With an exaggerated flourish of the curtain, two teenage girls suddenly erupted from the booth, giggling and joshing each other. They moved to their right, looking with anticipation at the empty Collect Your Photos Here slot. The woman and child stepped into the booth and drew the curtain.

From inside the booth’s fibreglass structure could be heard the whirring of a machine processing the girls’ photos; a ratcheting vibration, a few clicks, the momentary rise-and-fall hum of a blow-dryer, and with a final clunk, the strip of passport-size photos dropped into view in the collection slot.

The girls grabbed excitedly at their photos, scrutinised them, and then, with a moan of disappointment, their happy grins disappeared instantly from their faces.

“Oh! They are awful!” one exclaimed. “What’s wrong with this bloody machine?”

“Christ! What a waste of money!” Cried the other, “We look completely messed up!”

Ben, now standing behind the girls, leaned forward curiously, “Can I see?” he asked politely.

The girl holding the photos, still facing the booth, did not answer or turn around, but in a petulant gesture thrust the strip of six photos back over her shoulder.

“Well, they look a bit odd, for sure, but I cannot compare until I see your faces!” Ben said with a touch of humour.

The girls turned to face him. “Okay, happy now?” one said, wary, but with a hint of sarcasm.

“Hey!” Ben exclaimed, and took a pace backwards, hands held up in submission, “I meant nothing by it . . . just wanted to see what the problem was. And I can see it. You are right; the machine has really messed up!”

The two girls had posed for the photos by squeezing together onto the small, adjustable stool, cheek-to-cheek, pulling faces and making silly teenage gestures for each of the six individual photos. But the developed pictures did not portray the images of two pretty young girls laughing and having fun.

Although recognisable, their faces seemed distorted, stretched, like a couple of Madame Tussaud’s waxworks melting in a fire. Their mouths, and eyes, instead of uplifting and smiling, were turned down at the corners, drawn down as if suffering some terrible grief or physical agony.

“I guess the developer or fixer or whatever it’s called must’ve run or not dried properly,” one girl suggested. “I look like that white-faced ghost mask out of the movie Scream.”

“I guess so,” Ben agreed, and the two girls wandered off dejectedly towards the Underground escalator.

Flashes of bluish light had been popping out from behind the black curtain during this conversation, and now the woman and child reappeared from the booth.

They waited patiently, the woman inanely examining the sample photos while the machine whirred, clicked, dried, and finally clunked. The child, a young boy, lifted the photos from the collection slot and held them up at an angle so his mother could see them. “Look Mum!” the boy said, giggling, “on that one I poked my tongue out, and you didn’t notice!”

“You little tinker!” the mother said, smiling benignly down at her child, “Come on, we have to catch our train!” she crooned, and she steered him away from the booth.

“Excuse me!” said Ben, taking a few steps in their direction, “I hope you don’t mind, but could I have a look at your photos?”

The woman spun around and pushed her child half behind her, like a mother goose protecting her gosling under her wing. “What on earth for?” she asked. “What do you want?”

“Honestly, I just wanted to see the quality, nothing else,” Ben explained hurriedly in an apologetic tone. “Those girls who were in front of you . . . their photos came out very bad.”

“Well, ours are fine,” the woman retorted. She held the strip out at arm’s length for Ben to see, her left wing still clamped protectively across the breast of her gosling, pressing him to her flank.

Ben kept his distance, but leant forward at the waist, peering first at the photos and then at the woman and her half-hidden ward. Sure enough, perfect images. “Thanks, you are right, lovely photos,” said Ben.

The woman snatched the photos away in the air as if she were plucking them from Ben’s hand, turned and walked briskly away, dragging the gosling along beside her. She gave a final stern glance over her shoulder at Ben before ascending the escalator to the main line platforms with her son.

Ben shrugged and turned back to the booth, in time to see the curtain being drawn across the entrance by another customer who, while Ben had been interrogating mother goose, had entered the booth.

“Shit!” Ben exclaimed, almost under his breath. He glanced at his watch; still ten minutes or so to run on the parking meter.

The camera flashed its programmed six times as Ben fidgeted outside, and a few moments later, a man, mid-thirties, wearing a suit and tie, stepped out of the booth and waited for the machine to perform its rituals. Ben was tempted to step inside immediately, but he really wanted to check this guy’s pictures. There was something about the girl’s photos that had disturbed him more than he would like to admit. So, standing right in front of the mock-velvet curtain, so as not to lose his place again, Ben waited for the final clunk and the ejection of the photos.

“Can I have a quick look, see if they’re okay?” Ben asked, before the man in the suit had a chance to collect them. “Just want be sure it’s working!” He smiled disarmingly.

“Sure, hang on.” The man replied breezily, but, as he lifted the strip of pictures, his demeanour changed. “Hey, you were right to check,” he said, frowning, then held out the photos for Ben to see, “These are buggered!”

Ben took the proffered photos. The man in the suit, mid-thirties, fairly handsome, pleasant features, was portrayed on the photos as a tortured soul from the imagination of Hieronymus Bosch; his face a mask of wretched pain, screaming in agony.

“Oh well”, said Ben, nonchalantly, “I guess I’ll not risk it! I’ll go somewhere else!”

“Good idea,” said the man in the suit, somewhat defeated, throwing his photos in the waste bin as he walked off towards the Underground.

Ben looked at his watch. “Shit!” he cursed, “less than a minute to go!” He ran for the station exit. “To hell with the photos; if I get wheel-clamped, it’ll cost me a fortune!”

Later that evening, lounging on the sofa, idly watching TV and trying to wash away with a cold beer the disappointment of nearly a whole day wasted in London, Ben’s full attention was suddenly caught by a local item on Sky News. He sat up straight, nearly spilling his beer as he grabbed the remote control from the coffee table and turned up the volume. The anchor was leading into a story of a fatal accident on a tube station that had occurred that afternoon; the very tube station where Ben had tried unsuccessfully to have his photos taken by a machine. The program switched to a live outside broadcast, where the reporter was speaking to the camera in front of the railway station . . .

“A tragic accident here today, on this busy Underground station. At 2:30 this afternoon, five people were killed as they fell from the platform directly in front of an oncoming tube train. There is no doubt about the cause, the police say; there were plenty of eye witnesses who saw a man weaving and staggering along the platform, apparently drunk, He blundered into a group of people waiting on the yellow line to board the next train. Five of those he stumbled into staggered forward and fell over the edge of the platform, directly in front of the train, and were killed instantly.

Relatives have been informed, say the police. The victims have been identified as Stephen Thompson, aged forty-two, from Putney, Susan Baker, aged eighteen from Windsor, Cheryl Goodson, aged seventeen, also from Windsor, Julian Thorneycroft, aged thirty-five, from Welwyn Garden City, and Mike Pratt, aged fifty, from Birmingham. The drunken man was arrested shortly after the accident, and is likely to be charged with an offence, although police have said it is too early to say what the actual offence will be . . . unconfirmed sources say it is likely to be manslaughter. . . .”

Links:

http://www.gypsyshadow.com/SteveForeman.html#BeneathExc

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Beneath-Surface-Steve-Foreman-ebook/dp/B0090R3678/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386090729&sr=8-1&keywords=beneath+the+surface+steve+foreman

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