The Horror Zine
Ramsey Campbell

The September Special Guest is Ramsey Campbell

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Ramsey Campbell


by Ramsey Campbell

Not this time, oh no. You don’t think I’d be taken in like that now, do you? This time I don’t care whose name you use, not now I can tell what it is. I only wish I’d listened to my mother sooner. “Always stay one step ahead of the rest,” she used to say. “Don’t let them get the better of you.”

Now you’ll pretend you don’t know anything about my mother, but you and me know better, don’t we? Shall I tell everyone about her so you can say it’s the first time you’ve heard? I will tell about her, so everyone knows. She deserves that at least. She was the one who helped me be a writer.

Oh, but I’m not a writer, am I? I can’t be, I haven’t had any of my stories published, that’s what you’d like everyone to think. You and me know whose names were on my stories, and maybe my mother did finally. I don’t believe she could have been taken in by the likes of you. She was the finest person I ever knew, and she had the best mind.

That’s why my father left us, because she made him feel inferior. I never knew him but she told me so. She taught me how to live my life: “Always live as if the most important thing that ever happened to you is just about to happen,” she’d advise, and she would always be cleaning our flat at the top of the house with all her bracelets on when I came home from the printer’s. She’d have laid the table so the mats covered the holes she’d mended in the tablecloth, and she’d put on her tiara before she ladled out the rice with her wooden spoon she’d carved herself. We always had rice because she said we ought to remember the starving peoples and not eat meat that had taken the food out of their mouths. And then we’d just sit quietly and not need to talk because she always knew what I was going to tell her. She always knew what my father was going to say too, but that was what he couldn’t stand. “My dear, he never had an original thought in his head,” she used to affirm. She was one step ahead of everyone, except for just one exception—she never knew what my stories were about until I told her.

Next you’ll pretend you don’t see how that matters, or maybe you really haven’t the intelligence, so I’ll tell you again: my mother who was always a step ahead of everyone because they didn’t know how to think for themselves didn’t know what my ideas for stories were until I told her, she said so. “That’s your best idea yet,” she would always applaud, ever since she used to make me tell her a story at bedtime before she would tell me one. Sometimes I’d lie watching my night light floating away and be thinking of ways to make the story better until I fell asleep. I never remembered the ways in the morning and I never wondered where they went but you and me know, don’t we? I just wish I’d been able to follow them sooner and believe me, you’ll wish that too.

When I left school I went to work for Mr Twist, the only printer in town. I thought I’d enjoy it because I thought it had to do with books. I didn’t mind at first when he didn’t hardly speak to me because I got to be as good as my mother at knowing what he was going to say, then I realised it was because he thought I wasn’t as good as he was the day he told me off for correcting the grammar and spelling on the poster for tours of the old mines. “You’re the apprentice here and don’t you forget it,” he proclaimed with a red face. “Don’t you go trying to be cleverer than the customer. He gets what he asks for, not what you think he wants. Who do you think you are?” he queried.

He was asking so I told him. “I’m a writer,” I stated.

“And I’m the Oxford University Press.”

I laughed because I thought he meant me to. “No you aren’t,” I contradicted.

“That’s right,” he stressed and stuck his red face up against mine. “I’m a second-rate printer in a third-rate town and you’re no better than me. Don’t play at being a writer with me. I’m old enough to know a writer when I see one.”

All I wanted to do was to tell my mother when I got home, but of course she already knew. “You’re a writer, Oscar, and don’t let anyone tell you different,” she warned. “Just try a bit harder to finish your stories. You ought to have been top of your class in English. I expect the teacher was just jealous.”

So I finished some stories to read to her. She was losing her sight by then, and I read her library books every night, but she used to say she’d rather have my stories than any of them. “You ought to get them published,” she counselled. “Show people what real stories are like.”

So I tried to find out how. I joined a writers’ circle because I thought they could and would help. Only most of them weren’t published and tried to put me off trying by telling me that publishing was full of cliques and all about knowing the right people. And when that didn’t work they tried to make me stop believing in myself, by having a competition for the three best stories and none of mine got anywhere. The judges had all been published and they said my ideas weren’t new and the way I told them wasn’t the way you were supposed to tell stories. “Take no notice of them,” my mother countermanded. “They’re the clique, because they want to keep you out. You’re too original for them. I’ll give you the money to send your work to publishers and just you wait and see, they’ll buy it and we can move somewhere you’ll be appreciated,” and I was just going to when you and Mrs Mander destroyed her faith in me.

Of course you don’t know Mrs Mander either, do you? I don’t suppose you do. She lived downstairs and I never liked her and I don’t believe my mother did, only she was sorry for her because she lived on her own. She used to wear old slippers that left bits on the carpet after my mother had spent half the day cleaning up even though she couldn’t see hardly, and she kept picking up ornaments to look at and putting them down somewhere else. I always thought she’d meant to steal them when she’d got my mother confused about where they were. She came up when I wasn’t there to read books to my mother, and now you can guess what she did.

Oh, I’ll tell you, don’t worry,  I want everyone to know. It was the day they told Mr Twist not to print any more posters about the old mines because the tours hadn’t gone well and they’d stopped them, and I was looking forward to telling my mother that the grammar and spelling had put people off, but Mrs Mander was there with a pile of paperbacks you could see other people’s fingermarks on that she’d bought in the market. As soon as I came in she got up. “You’ll be wanting to talk to the boy,” she deduced, and went out with some of her books.

She always called me the boy, which was another reason why I didn’t like her. I was going to say about Mr Twist and then I saw how sad my mother looked. “I’m disappointed in you, Oscar,” she rebuked.

She’d never said that before, never. I felt as if I was someone else. “Why?” I inquired.

“Because you led me to believe your ideas were original and every one of them are in these books.”

She showed me where Mrs Mander had marked pages for her with bits of newspaper, and by the time I’d finished reading I had a headache from all the small print and fingermarks, I was almost as blind as she was. All the books were the number one best seller and soon to be major films, but I’d never read a word of them before, and yet they were all my stories, you know they were. And my mother ought to have, but for the first time ever she didn’t believe me. That’s the first thing you’re going to pay for.

I had to take some aspirins and go to bed and lie there until it was dark and I couldn’t see the small print dancing any more. Then my headache went away and I knew what must have happened. It was being one step ahead, I knew what stories were going to be about before people wrote them, except they were my stories and I had to be quick enough to write them first and get them published. So I went to tell my mother who was still awake because I’d heard her crying, though she tried to make me think it was just her eyes hurting. I told her what I knew and she looked sadder. “It’s a good idea for a story,” she dismissed as if she didn't even want me to write any more.

So I had to prove the true facts to her. I went back to the writers’ circle and asked what to do about stolen ideas. They didn’t seem to believe me, and all they said was I should go and ask the writes to pay me some of their royalties. So I looked the writers of the book up in the Authors and Writers Who’s Who, and most of them lived in England because Mrs Mander liked English books. None of the writers’ circle were listed, so that shows its all a clique.

I couldn’t wait until the weekend and I could tell the writers they were my ideas they’d used, but then I realised I’d have to leave my mother for the first time I ever had and keep the money from my Friday pay packet to pay for the train. She hadn’t hardly been speaking to me since Mrs Mander and her books, she’d just kept looking as if she was waiting for me to say I was sorry, and when I told her where I was going she looked twice as sad. “That’s going too far, Oscar,” she asserted, but she didn’t mean to London, she meant I was trying to trick her again when I hadn’t really even once. Then on Friday evening when I was going she entreated “Please don’t go, Oscar. I believe you,” but I knew she was only pretending that to stop me. I felt as if I was growing out of her and the further I went the more it hurt, but I had to go.

I had to stand all the way on the train because of the football, and I’d have been sick with all the being thrown back and forth except I couldn’t hardly breathe. Then I had to go in the tube to Hampstead. The sun had gone down at last but it was just as hot down there. But being hot meant I could wait outside the writer’s house all night when I found it and I could see he’d gone to bed.

I lay down on what they call the heath for a while and I must have fallen asleep, because when I woke up in the morning I felt like toothache all over and there was another car outside the big white writer’s house. When I could walk I went and rang the bell, and when I couldn’t hear it I banged on the door with my fists to show I didn’t care it was so tall.

A man who looked furious opened the door, but he was too young to be the writer and anyway I wouldn’t have cared if he had been when he’d made my mother lose her faith in me. “What do you want?” he interrogated.

“I’m a writer and I want to talk to him about his book,” I announced.

He was going to shut the door in my face, but just then the writer clamoured, “Who is it?” and his son vociferated back “He says he’s a writer.”

“Let him in then for God’s sake. If I can let you in I might as well let in the rest of the world. You and I have said all we have to say to each other.”

His son tried to shut the door but I wriggled past him and down the big hall to the room where the writer was. I could see he was a famous writer because he could drink whisky at breakfast time and smoke a pipe before getting dressed. He gave me a look that made his face lopsided and I could see he really meant it for his son. “You’re not here for a handout as well, are you?” he denied.

“If that means wanting some of your money I am,” I sued.

He wiped his hand over his face and shook his head with a grin. “Well, that’s honest, I can’t deny that. See if you can make a better case for yourself than he’s been doing.”

His son kept trying to interrupt me and then started punching his thighs as if he wanted to punch me while I told the writer how I’d had his idea first and the story I’d made it into. Then the writer was quiet until he acclaimed “It took me a quarter of a million words and you did it in five minutes.”

His son jumped up and stood in the middle. “You’re just depressed, dad. You know you often get like this. All he did was tell you an anecdote built around your book. He probably hasn’t even the discipline to write it down.”

I caught the writer’s eye and I could see he thought his son was worried about whatever money he’d asked for, so I winked at him. “Get out of the way,” he directed, and shoved his son with his foot. “Who the devil are you to tell us about discipline? Keep a job for a year and maybe I’ll listen to you. And you’ve the gall to tell us about writing,” he enunciated and looked at me. “You and I know better, whatever your name is. Ideas are in the air for whoever grabs them first and gets lucky with them. Nobody owns an idea.”

He went over to his desk as if the house was a ship. “I was about to write a cheque when you appeared, and I’m glad I can do so with some justice,” he relished. “Who do I make it out to?”

“Dad,” his son bleated, “Dad, listen to me,” but both of us writers ignored him, and I told his father to make the cheque out to my mother. He started pleading with his father as I put it in my pocket and ran after me to say his father had only been trying to teach him a lesson and he’d give him it back for me. But he didn’t touch me because he must have seen I’d have burst his eyes if he’d tried to steal my mother’s cheque.

I didn’t want her to apologise for doubting me, I just wanted her to be pleased, but she wasn’t that when I gave her the cheque. First she thought I’d bought it in a joke shop and then she started thinking the joke was on me because the writer would stop the cheque. She had me believing it had been too easy and meaning to go back to make him write another, but when I got round her to pay it into her account where she kept her little savings the bank said it had been honoured. The she was frightened because she’d never seen five hundred pounds before. “He must have taken pity on you,” she fathomed. “Don’t try any more, Oscar. I believe you now.”

I knew she didn’t and I had to carry on until she did, and now there was money involved I knew who to go to, the solicitor who’d got her the divorce. He didn’t believe me until I told him about the cheque and then he was interested. He told me to write down all my ideas I didn’t think anyone had used yet for him to keep in a safe at the bank, though Mr Twist tried to put me off writing in my lunch hour, and then he said we’d have to wait and see if the ideas got written after I’d already written them. That wasn’t soon enough for me and I went off again at the weekends.

You’d been putting your heads together about me though, hadn’t you. The writer in the Isle of Man would only talk to me through a gatepost and wouldn’t let me in. The one in Norfolk lived on a barge where I could hear men sobbing and wouldn’t even talk to me. And the one in Scotland pretended she had no money and I should go to America where the money was. I wasn’t sure if I believed her but I couldn’t hurt a woman, not then. Maybe that’s why you chose her to trick me. She’ll be even sorrier than the rest of you.

So I went to America instead of the seaside with my mother. I told her I was going to sell publishers my stories but she tried to stop me, she didn’t think I could be published any more. “If you go away now you may never see me again,” she predicted, but I thought that was like saying the other time she believed me and I kept on at her until she gave me the money. Mrs Mander promised to look after her, seeing as she wouldn’t go away without me. I only wanted the money for her and to make her believe me.

I got off at New York and went to Long Island. That’s where the number one best seller who stole my best idea lives. Maybe he didn’t know he was stealing it, but if I didn’t know I’d stolen a million pounds I’d still be sent to prison and he stole more than that from me, all of your did. He had a big long house and a private beach with an electric fence all around, and it was so hot all the way there when I tried to talk to the phone at the gate all I could do was cough. The sand was getting in my eyes and making my cough worse when two men came up behind me and carried me through the fence.

They didn’t stop until they were in the house and threw me in a chair where I had to rub my eyes to see, so the writer must have thought I was crying when he came in naked from the beach. “Relax, maybe we won’t have to hurt you,” he prognosticated as if he was my friend. “You’re another reporter, right? Just take a minute to get yourself together and say your piece.”

So I told him about my idea he’d used and tried to ignore the men standing behind me until he nodded at them and they each took hold of one of my ears just lightly as if I’d be able to stand up if I wanted to. “Nothing my friends here like better than a tug-of-war,” the writer heralded, then he leaned at me. “But you know what we don’t like? Bums who try to earn money with cheap tricks.”

I was going to lean at him but I couldn’t move my head after all. My ears felt as if they’d been set on fire but suddenly I knew I could show him it wasn’t a trick, because all at once it was like what my mother did, not just knowing what someone was going to say but knowing which idea of mine he was going to steal next, one I hadn’t even written down. “I can tell you what the book you’re going to write is about,” I prefaced, and I did.

He stared at me, then he nodded but the men mustn’t have understood at first, because I thought they were tearing my head in half before they let me go. “I don’t know who you are or what you want,” the writer gainsaid to me, “but you’d better pray I never hear of you again. Because if you manage to get into print ahead of me I’ll sue you down to your last suit of clothes, and believe me I can do it. And then my friends here,” he nuncupated, “will come visit you and perform a little surgery on your hands absolutely free and with my compliments.”

They marched me out and on a lonely stretch of path where I couldn’t see the house or the bus stop they dragged me over the gravel for a while, then they dusted me off and waited with me until the bus came. There was a curve where you could see the house and when I looked back off the bus I saw the writer talking to them and they jumped into a car. They followed me all the way to New York and either the writer had sent them to find out how I’d known what he was thinking or to get rid of me straight away.

But they couldn’t keep up with the bus in the traffic. I got off into a crowd and wished I could go back to England, only they must have known that’s where I’d go and be watching the airport if they’d read any books. So I hid in New York until my holiday was over because if I’d gone to any more writers they might have given me away. I didn’t hardly go out except to write to my mother every day.

When I got to the airport I hid at the bookstall and pretended to be choosing books until the plane was ready, and that’s how I found out what you’d done to me. I leafed through the best sellers and found all my ideas that were locked in the safe, and the date on all the books was the year before I’d locked my ideas up. You nearly tricked me like you tricked everyone until I realised the whole clique of you’d put your heads together, publishers and writers, and changed the date on the books.

I bought them all and couldn't wait to show them to the solicitor. I was sure he’d help me prove that they’d been written after I’d written them first. I thought about all the things I could buy my mother all the way home on the plane and the train and the bus. But when I got home my mother wasn’t there and there was dust on the furniture and my letters to her on the doormat, and when I went to Mrs Mander she told me my mother was dead.

You killed her. You made me go to America and leave her alone, and she fell downstairs when Mrs Mander was at the market and broke her neck. They couldn’t even get in touch with me to tell me to go to the hospital because you were making me hide in New York. I’d forgive you for stealing my millions before I’d forgive you for taking way my mother. I was so upset I said all this to the newspaper and they published some of it before I realised that now the Long Island men would know who I was and where to find me.

So I’ve been hiding ever since and I’m glad, because it gave me time to learn what I can do, more than my mother could. Maybe her soul’s in me helping, she couldn’t just have gone away. Now I can tell who’s going to steal one of my ideas and which one and when, otherwise how do you think I knew this story was being written? I’ve had time to think it all out down here and I know what to do to make sure I’m published when I think it’s safe. Kill the thieves before they steal from me, that’s what, and don’t think I won’t enjoy it too.

That’s my warning to you thieves in case it makes you think twice about stealing but I don’t believe it will. You think you can get away with it but you’ll see, the way Mrs Mander didn’t get away with not looking after my mother. Because the morning of the day I hid down here I went to say goodbye to Mrs Mander. I told her what I thought of her and when she tried to push me out of her room I shut the door on her mouth then on her head and then on her neck, and leaned on it. Goodbye, Mrs Mander.

And as for the rest of you who’re reading this, don’t go thinking you’re cleverer than me either. Maybe you think you’ve guessed where I’m hiding, but if you do I’ll know. And I’ll come and see you first, before you tell anyone. I mean it. If you think you know, start praying. Pray you’re wrong.

Living in England, Ramsey Campbell is perhaps the world's most decorated author of horror, terror, suspense, dark fantasy, and supernatural fiction.

He has won four World Fantasy Awards, ten
British Fantasy Awards, three Bram Stoker Awards, the Horror Writers’ Association's Lifetime Achievement Award, and has been named a Grand Master of Horror.

Ramsey Campbell’s work is notable for both its focus and its breadth. His novels, short fiction, and even nonfiction always seem to address emotions. Characteristic themes weave throughout Campbell’s works: the uncertain nature of reality, the dangers of repressed fears and desires, and the reactions of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

Douglas E. Winter praises Campbell’s “stylish
sophistication and intensely suggestive vision” and The Horror Zine’s Poet Gary William Crawford writes in Ramsey Campbell (1988) that Campbell's prose “is like no other in supernatural horror fiction.”

S.T. Joshi, in which his book Ramsey Campbell and Modern Horror Fiction (2001) studies the writer, says: “Ramsey Campbell is worthy of study both because of the intrinsic merit of his work and because of the place he occupies in the historical progression of this literary mode.” Joshi went on to say: “Future generations will regard him as the leading horror writer of our generation, every bit the equal of Lovecraft or Blackwood.”

Campbell is always refining his craft. “As far as I’m concerned,” Campbell stated in a 1990 interview by Stanley Wiater, “the whole business of writing is a process of trying to do things you didn’t do last time.”

Ramsey Campbell is the prolific author of thirty novels, twenty books of short stories, two chapbooks, and two non-fiction books.  He has edited fifteen anthologies, and has had one or more of his stories appear in 132 multiple-author collections.

See all of Ramsey's books HERE

The Seven Days of Cain

The Inhabitants of the Lake

The Darkest Part of the Woods






































































































The Darkest Part of the Woods The Seven Days of Cain The Inhabitant of the Lake