The Horror of the Night Service
By John F. Leonard
The ‘Horror of the Night Service’ mostly refers to the difficulty of writing the damn thing. I guess it also doubles up as promo for the book and my feelings about public transport. As an aside, I prefer ‘the last bus you catch’ for the tagline – think that has a nice feel to it.
Anyway, let’s return to the main theme. I’m happy with the finished article, but Night Service was kind of horrible to write.
Back in 2017 I published Bad Pennies. It was the first story of the Scaeth Mythos, a concept that had been taking shape in my head for years. To see something tangible emerge from a shedload of troubled sleep and soul searching is both astonishing and rather weird. If I’m honest, the feeling was closer to relief than achievement.
Paperback proof of Bad Pennies hot off the presses and safely stowed in my suitcase, I went on holiday. Barely had my arse hit the poolside lounger when two new story ideas popped up. Call Drops and Night Service. A bottle of Super Bock stout beading with condensation on the table beside me, I set to work.
Except it wasn’t work, it was an unadulterated pleasure. Almost idyllic. Doing something I love in a place I adore, surrounded by friends and family. Sun shining, the sound of water being splashed and folks having fun. Little lizards scuttling through roof canes, the taste of butterfly prawns and prospect of freshly picked figs.
Call Drops, a short novella about mysterious mobile phones, more or less wrote itself. Right from the get-go, it knew what it was. All I had to do was put it on paper. After a few days, my fingers ached – no longer used to writing longhand. It was a good ache.
Night Service started out the same. At that point, it might have been a follow-up novel to Bad Pennies. Not a sequel, but a story that shared the Scaeth, or at least had his demonic presence shivering the spine of the book. About 5,000 words in and Night Service didn’t feel like a novel anymore. In truth, and unlike Call Drops, it didn’t seem to know what it was or where it was going – somewhat ironic for a story about brutal bus journeys and dark destinations. The bones were there, but they refused to carry flesh.
I moved on to other stories and transferred Night Service to the ‘in progress’ folder. The Haunted (haunting) Hard Drive, as I like (don’t like) to think of it. There’s a helluva lot of stuff goes in there and, so far, not much has found a way out. It isn’t exactly a graveyard, more like a terminal ward. Miracle recoveries are theoretically possible, but the chances are slimmer than Slim Shady’s anorexic cousin.
Life went on. Other books got completed and published. Doggem, A Plague of Pages, The Bledbrooke Works, Congeal. All of which were an absolute blast to write. Not always easy, but always enjoyable. They were good, into the bargain. People whose judgement I value told me so and I’m not going to argue with them.
And while I was working on those stories? Yeah, you guessed.
Night Service kept dragging itself out of the terminal ward. It wasn’t content to lie there and be quiet, slowly sliding into memory. It kept moaning, wanting to climb out of bed. I must have tried to resurrect that bastard eight or ten times and each attempt ended in failure and frustration. I simply couldn’t get along with him/her. Switch to another project and the words flowed free and effortless. It was making me mad. Effed off and beguiled in equal measure. The answer jittered and jived and remained out of reach. And I couldn’t stop trying because it wouldn’t let me.
Sporadically opening the Night Service document became something I felt compelled to do and yet began to dread. It was crazy and messing with my head. I was giving serious consideration to simply deleting the file and consigning it to history when circumstance intervened. Sometimes harsh reality has a way of being kinder than it seems.
My writing shifted focus, away from fiction to more commercial work. Tapping the keyboard for other people rather than for myself. A sad moment, in many ways, but necessary for a number of reasons. Leaving what you love is never easy, even when the leaving is unavoidable and destined to be temporary. It turned out to be a fabulous, refreshing experience.
One evening, Night Service was back in my thoughts. Alive and kicking, it had cured itself and now just needed me to walk it into the waking world. A horror novella. Possibly (possibly not) the first of a trilogy of novellas that share a theme and can take the Scaeth Mythos to interesting and very dark places. Ronald Hodge is itching to make a comeback. Brian McGuire may reopen the Thin Walls club for one last time.
Is it the best thing I’ll write? Probably not. Who knows? I do know it’s a damn good story and a decent read. However well received, Night Service will hold a place in my heart. A reminder of the real truth of writing – any artistic endeavour, for that matter – lots of effort, a thudding in the chest and a pain behind your eyes. If you’re lucky, you end up with something worthwhile. I think Night Service is definitely that.
Oh, yeah. My view of those infrequent buses that operate after the midnight hour?
I pretty much loathe them.
When I was younger, I spent a lot of time standing at stops and waiting. Often cold and wet, and regularly surrounded by aggression. We were far from affluent and a car was a distant dream. If I wanted to go out clubbing and get home afterwards, there were usually two choices. Shanks’s pony or public transport.
So, I became more familiar than I ever wanted to be with the Night Service. Those rare darktime buses that run when the sensible folk have done their business and gone home.
Don’t scream and don’t cuss.
Just get on the bus.
That’s how Screaming Mike Hawkins saw it back in ‘72. He knew the scary streets better than most. My advice is, if you have no other choice, get on and get your head down. You don’t really know where you’ll get off.
It’s entirely possible that you could travel the hidden roads and arrive in a hideous place.
It’s been a great night, but it’s getting late. You need to make tracks and cash isn’t king.
No worries …all aboard the Night Service. It could be the last bus you ever catch.
Every journey is a journey into the unknown, but this trip is an eye-opener, unlike anything that Luke and Jessica have ever experienced. They’re going to learn a few important lessons. Being young and in love doesn’t grant immunity from the everyday awful …or the less ordinary evil that lurks in the shadows.
There’s no inoculation from the horror of the world – it’s real and it’s waiting to touch you.
Public transport tends to divide opinion. Some folks think it’s fantastic. They love rubbing shoulders with strangers, seeing life anew through condensation-clad windows. Others consider buses as nothing short of easy-on-the-pocket cattle trucks that the enviro-friendlies promote and never use.
There are drawbacks, that’s for sure.
A nagging distrust, an under the radar sense of unpredictability.
You never know who’s going to be in the seat next to you. You never know, with absolute certainty, if you’ll arrive where you need to be.
Especially on those rare darktime buses that run when the sensible folk have done their business and gone home. The last dance, last ditch, leftover choice. The get on or get walking option. They’re the worst.
All the night owls out there need to take care, buses after midnight are decidedly dodgy affairs. Unreliable and loaded with the potential for unpleasant.
That said, life doesn’t always leave you with very much choice. Love them or loathe them, sometimes you just have to climb aboard and hope for the best. How bad can it be?
Just jump on and enjoy!
Time to shut up and let someone else drive. You’re not in control when you travel in lowlife style.
No standing, there’s room on top.
No smoking and don’t distract the driver.
Don’t scream and don’t cuss.
Just get on the bus.
Night service is a wild ride. One you’ll never forget. It’s going to take you to places you’ve never been before.
Oh, one thing. Don’t expect to get off alive. And don’t expect to see another sunrise if you do. Happy endings can be elusive little devils.
Definitely a horror story. Part of the Scaeth Mythos and one of a number of sinister tales from the Dead Boxes Archive. Some places, just like some objects, aren’t quite what they seem. Ordinary on the surface, but underneath crawling with incredible.
They’re scary. They hold miracle and mystery. Horror and salvation.
John F. Leonard
John was born in England and grew up in the midlands where he learned to love scrawny cats, the sound of scrapyard dogs and the rattle and clank of passing trains. He studied English, Art and History and has, at different times, been a sculptor, odd-job man and office worker. He enjoys horror, comedy and football (not necessarily together). Married with two astonishing sons, he now lives a few miles from the old Victorian house in which he was born. Scribbling scary stories seems to keep him vaguely sane (accurate at time of writing).
You can follow John on Twitter @john_f_leonard
John’s UK Author Page can be found HERE
John’s US Author Page can be found HERE
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