By 2007 it was two years since I had published my first novel, The Slave, and if I was to keep up the momentum of my brilliant career, I thought I had better publish again soon. As my next novel, Not Wisely but Too Well, was still brewing, I thought I might pull something together from my other writings. Building on several short stories I had been working on in the previous few years, I came up with twelve for a collection called Suburban Terrors. As each is a stand-alone story, however, I thought they would do well on my website, so here’s the first batch.
The earliest story in the collection began life in 2001. By night I was enrolled in Short Story class. By day I was teaching English to migrants. In one lesson we read a newspaper article in which the police were chasing a stolen car down a suburban street. The car flew over a speed hump, clipped another car that flipped over trapping the two elderly passengers, then crashed into a front fence. The driver leapt out of the car, jumped over a few back fences and tried to hide under a house that was being renovated. Unfortunately for him, he was found by the builder who kept him trapped there until the police came for him. It was a great story full of action, suspense and a satisfying resolution.
In Short Story class soon after that lesson, I was asked to write a horror story. I’m not much of a horror fan, but I do like ghost stories, and I remembered that newspaper article. What if, I thought … and out of those thoughts came, A Hostage Situation.
The success of that story gave me the idea of collecting interesting true stories from my own experience, from stories people told me and from the media. Those true stories provided the seeds for the fictitious stories in the collection. Sometimes seeds from several sources were combined to produce a single fruit. Sometimes the fruit bears very little resemblance to the seed that spawned it. But all of the stories have at least a tiny grain of truth in them. The following stories closely follow real events, but with a twist, of course.
Strangely enough, for a story with absolutely no supernatural elements, Martha and May came out of a Short Story class on Magic Realism. As Magic Realism often revels in the shocking and macabre, we were asked to write about the most bizarre thing we had ever heard of.
Only recently I had seen a documentary about the American conjoined twins Lori and Reba Schappell. What I found bizarre was their absolute ordinariness despite the strangeness of their situation. In their forties at the time, while they were joined at the head and shared part of their brain, in every other way they were like any two sisters with completely different personalities and leading separate lives.
The second true element in this story was another American case which had stayed with me since my youth, that of Karen Ann Quinlan. Karen collapsed into a coma after taking a combination of drugs and alcohol while on an extreme diet. After several months, realising their daughter would never recover, her parents asked the hospital to take her off life-support. The hospital refused and the Quinlans had to drag the matter through the courts. Nonetheless, they could never have anticipated how things would turn out.
The story behind The Day They Came to Earth, comes not only from Australia, but from right here in Melbourne. I heard about it on local talkback radio when a caller rang in to talk about an event which took place when he was a schoolboy at an outer suburban high school. One afternoon he and many others at the school saw a UFO in broad daylight. However, one witness, a science teacher, got a visit from the RAAF and he and the whole school community were forbidden to talk about the incident. My story follows the facts very closely, but speculates about whether those men were really from the RAAF.
Jim-from-next-door is not based on newspaper reports, but my own experience. (Although, admittedly, I have spiced it up a little.) I lived interstate for a few years in the mid-1990s and during that time I rented a granny flat from ‘Nora’, a family friend. ‘Jim’, who lived next door with his family, was the ideal neighbour who regularly mowed Nora’s lawn and was always available to help. On top of that, he was gorgeous, and both Nora and I rather fancied him.
After I moved back to Melbourne, Nora sold her house and moved into a unit, but as she had only gone to the next suburb, she was able to keep up with her old neighbours. After Nora left, Jim befriended another lady a few doors down, but what happened next would traumatise the poor woman and Nora and I would discover that Jim’s shy and friendly demeanour hid a shocking secret. (Names have been changed for obvious reasons.)
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