The heist is cursed from the start. Doug Mulcahy and his gang hijack a mining plane and a fortune in black opals - gemstones with a rep for being unlucky. Following a brutal shootout on a remote airfield, the hijackers flee in the crippled plane only to crash-land soon after. Shaken and battered, they stagger through the outback until they stumble upon a strange little house and an ethereal woman. Taking the woman hostage, the thieves wait for her husband to return with his truck. But it all goes to hell when a rogue gang member forces himself onto the woman. The house is drenched with blood, the husband returns, and the men realise nothing in this place is as it seems. And the horrors are only just beginning...
From the author:
BLOODY HELL: THE TERRIFYING TRUTH ABOUT BEING AN AUSTRALIAN HORROR WRITER
I’m a lazy man and sometimes when I get up I don’t like to put on clothes. There’s a row of windows on one side of the apartment and though I’ve never seen anyone looking in at me it doesn’t mean there isn’t. It’s a built up urban area so chances are there’s one shut-in with a pair of binoculars, a box of tissues and a love for the obscene. I want to make a confession: I’m Australian. It gets worse – I’m an Australian horror novelist. Wait one second... just had to look out the window to see if the sky was falling. Nope. All clear.
I don’t know how it is where you are but in Australia you don’t call yourself a horror novelist. Not in polite company (believe or not we have some of that here). Referring to yourself as a horror novelist is equally as bad – maybe worse – than admitting you’re a lifelong pedophile serial killer with a child currently locked in the trunk of your car and a few more trussed up in the crawlspace for later. It’s that bad. If you’re canny about the uncanny in this Wide Brown Land you call yourself a thriller writer or a crime writer or a dark fantasist – anything but a horror writer. I heard about this gag response to the word “horror” years ago and took good advice to call my novel a “supernatural crime thriller”. It seemed to do the trick. It’s published with a good company. It exists and that is why I now have to come clean. The guilt is unbearable. I... I wrote a horror novel! There I said it. It’s a horror novel from first page to last. It’s meant to terrify and appall – the noble goal of all fine upstanding horror fiction. So what the hell is wrong with this continent? Why the spinelessness? Why the timidity to call a spade a spade? I have some theories.
First of all we’re told constantly horror doesn’t sell. My answer: what does? That’s not a good enough reason to bury an entire genre. To completely demonize it – which should be cool because it has “demon” in it but in this context it’s a bad word. A sizeable part of the problem is Australian writers are an institutionalized bunch, easily led. They want acceptance and love and they receive that in the world of literary fiction (believe it or not we have that here. That’s right – we produce high brow literary fiction in Australia – crazy, right?). Horror, on the other hand, is shunned and actively discouraged by the mainstream industry, likewise sci-fi and fantasy (which deserves it). That’s just how it is but there’s still more to it. Sure, we’re institutionalized and easily influenced – who doesn’t crave acceptance? - but there’s another solid reason writers dodge a lucrative career in horror fiction in Australia. I’ll get to it. But first - I’ve never been to Maine, New England but I’ve googled it. Pretty houses on charming lakes, lobster rolls, gorgeous little harbour towns – but the greatest horror novelist in history lives here and has set many of his tales in the state he was born and raised and first became a publisher writer. Just down the road from Stephen King, 80 years before, another titan of dark fiction was also producing his weird tales, enjoying ice-cream and freaking out about seafood. H.P Lovecraft was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island – a handsome looking town, named America’s “Best Small City”. From an envious scan of google images – Providence and Maine look like fine places to grow up and live your days. Across the pond, in the late 80’s, another one of horror’s rock stars was writing his seminal “Books of Blood” in the Northern English City of Liverpool. I know bugger all about Liverpool except the Beatles had something to do with it. It’s a working class town I believe but I know it would still be pretty. There’s beauty there. The whole of frigging England is one big Hobbiton.
So the question: why have these highly livable places produced the greatest horror fiction of the last century and yet an indescribable hellhole like Australia has coughed up next to nothing. Sure there have been a few enthusiastic acolytes but not one master. Sure there’s only twenty million people in Australia – the population of London - so we can’t expect the place to be crawling with great writers – but why have these picturesque places created horror visionaries when the country that could frighten Satan herself produces not one horror international best seller or genre classic? Is the answer as simple as you write what you lack? Are these Yank and Pommie milksops yearning for adventure and visceral experience that their pretty little towns and neighborhoods don’t offer. Are they getting their fix in fiction? And is that why most Australian writers would rather hobnob at the respectable end of town – pumping out turgid and polite literary fiction – so they can forget for a little while that they live on the most malicious landmass on the planet? Do we have an urge to escape where we come from – at least for a while? There’s that other thing also – aside from the plants, the animals, the people, the landscape is the most terrifying part of Australia – and it’s this key to Australian horror storytelling that is the most difficult to capture in writing. It has to be seen for its full awful power to be felt – and that’s why Australia has produced a couple of genre masters in cinema – Dr George Miller (of the Mad Max quartet) and Greg Mclean (the Wolf Creek movies) – but pure horror fiction struggles. Fatally. Someday an Australian horror novelist might emerge to put us squarely on the horror map but until then a few of us battle on in obscurity and we know the only one who’s watching is that deranged shut-in with the binoculars and love for the obscene. This post is for him. Bless.
Doug Mulcahy always wanted another smoke before he’d finished the last one, more to feel a cigarette between his lips than nicotine in his lungs. An oral fixation, his ex-wife used to call it, usually earning herself a smack. The only oral fixation he ever admitted to suffering was how to shut her smart mouth.
Gripping the wheel with both hands, searching for the turn, he saw a black snake standing on its tail in the distance down the road, swaying like a charmer’s trick in the midday rising heat.
Getting closer, the snake became a pair of black, stretch denim jeans, long blonde hair, a backpack – and the potential for female company. But then sharper focus revealed scrawny shoulders wider than the hips, a lack of arse and an unfeminine stride.
The snake stuck out a thumb.
“Good fucking luck,” growled the man seated beside Doug.
The truck didn’t slow. In the rear-view Doug saw the hitchhiker hawk and spit in their direction, never breaking stride.
Enjoy the walk, smartarse.
A sign ahead showed their destination writ large in faded letters: Mirribindi Aerodrome. As Doug slowed for the turn, an oncoming white Ford Falcon hurtled past back toward town. Sporting an ostentatious bullbar and radio antennas like fishing poles, it was the kind of vehicle endemic in country areas, favoured by the landed gentry. Its tyres kicked up a stone which cracked hard against Doug’s windscreen.
Doug thought he disguised his reaction, but his passenger chuckled.
Both knew he’d never enjoyed the loud, sudden bangs that punctuated their line of work.
About the author:
TJ Park is an Australian novelist and screenwriter. He was raised on a steady diet of Stephen King novels, British science-fiction television, and the cinema of John Carpenter and Sergio Leone. Not much else is known about him. That's just the way he likes it. You can find Mortal Thoughts through the Harper Collins website, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.