The Black Museum is a horror novel. In fact, it is a horror pastiche, being set in the state of Maine, in the USA, in the fictional city of Kingstown. The main protagonist of the tale is a middle-aged novelist, who discovers horror and murder unfolding in a town which has always, otherwise, been quiet. As the novel develops everything points towards the Black Museum, and its owner, Mr Gaunt, as being somehow connected with the killings.
Yes, this novel is a ‘pastiche’, but a view it as a tribute, rather than mockery, of my favourite living horror novelist, whose own novels tend to be set in the same area.
Anyway, here is the first chapter:
Chapter One: Always and Forever
I didn’t notice when the Black Museum opened in Kingstown. I’m not sure if anybody did. It wasn’t a case of it not being there one day, and it suddenly being open the next. No, that would have been odd. But not that odd. Places open all the time.
No, the weird thing is that the Black Museum opened without anybody being able to say just when it opened. I know that we didn’t have anything like that when I moved to Kingstown from Bangor thirty years ago. And I know that the place is open now. But I can’t, for the life of me recall just when it opened. Was it open twenty years ago? I don’t have any recollection of it then. I don’t think that it was open then. Was it open ten years ago? Again, I don’t think so. But I can’t rule it out. It somehow sneaked into the consciousness of the town. And Kingstown, as Maine towns go, is pretty small. We’re not even on most maps.
Some people think that the name of the town is Kingston, like in Jamaica. But it is Kingstown with a W in it. Kingstown as in the capital of the island of Saint Vincent. The king our town is named after is King James. So our town is really old. But, despite that, the town has never grown like others of such a venerable vintage. It has remained small.
There are no multiplex cinemas where I live. There are no giant mega-markets, who are so successful that they feel that they must advertise on the television twenty four hours a day. I’m happy enough with our convenience stores. I can get all I need in them.
But we do have a Black Museum, although I have never been in there.
You talk to people on the streets of Kingstown and they will say ‘just around the corner from the Black Museum’; or ‘opposite the Black Museum’. But if you ask people when – exactly when – the Black Museum opened then all that you will get is a blank look, like you’re a crazy person. It’s like the Black Museum has been there forever. But I know that it can’t have.
Today I’m sitting in my car and staring at the closed doors of the Black Museum. I can tell that the place was closed because of the big CLOSED sign on the inside of the doors. It was funny, but I could not recall ever seeing the place open.
The place is sandwiched between the library, on the corner, and Jackson’s Launderette, which closed down a good five years ago and has been empty ever since (another bog CLOSED sign). Jackson’s is one of just a number of businesses which have closed down in the past few years. The printers, Stark and Sons, which had been run by the Stark family since Lincoln was president, went next. Then there was one of the stores. Then the car dealership. The realtors, too. That was the most recent one to close.
Nobody has bothered to clear out the stuff from inside the realtors. If you look through the windows you can still see the little cards with the pictures of local houses on them. I guess that they won’t ever sell now. Nobody wants to move to a place like Kingstown.
I guess Jackson’s Launderette won’t reopen any time soon. Nobody will reopen a launderette, not in the current economic climate. I guess that everybody has got washing machines now.
I hear the phrase ‘the current economic climate’ a lot. It’s one of those sentences which people like to bandy around a lot, to make people think that they know what they’re talking about, when they talk about economics. But nobody knows what they’re talking about, when you talk about economics. The country wouldn’t be in such of a mess if they did.
I’ve never pretended to know anything about money, anyway. I leave that sort of stuff to my accountant in Bangor. Let him handle it. It’s worked, so far. But at the back of my mind are stories of all those famous people who have done that and been ripped off by their accountants, with the money disappearing. The name Leonard Cohen comes to mind.
I’m in town because I need paper. I’m a writer. Well, I stab away at a computer keyboard, and get paid for it, so I guess that qualifies me as an author. I write on my computer, now, everything saved to memory sticks and the like. But I’m old-fashioned: when I began writing it was on an old Underwood typewriter. I say old, when I mean ancient. I reckon that the thing must have been Victorian, or close. It was always having its keys get stuck, or problems with its ribbon. I cursed that typewriter many time. But I did write my first three novels on it.
When I upgraded to a word processor – before my current computer – I retired that typewriter. By which I mean that I took it into the back yard and took a sledgehammer to it, until the keys went fling off it and my neighbours looked out to see what that crazy writer bloke was doing. They kept asking me, for weeks after that, if I was all right. But I was perfectly fine once I had had my revenge.
I’m not a violent man. I’m really not.
Paper. I’ve run out of paper for my printer. That’s why I’ve come into town in the first place. I may do all of my writing on my computer, now, but I still like to have the feeling of what I have written, in my hands, at the end of the day. So I always make sure that I print out everything which I have done.
Then the completed pages get filed away. Some of them never get looked at again. Not by me, anyway.
There’s a store which gets the printer paper which I use. I stop staring at that stupid Black museum and get out of my car and walk along to the general store. They’ve only got two lots of the paper. I buy both. That’s enough to finish off what I’m working on at the moment. I check to make sure that they’re gonna have some more paper in. Then I walk back to the car and put the paper in the boot.
I have everything which I had come into town for. Really, now, I should go back and carry on writing the next Great American Novel. The only problem was that the writing was not going as well as it did when I was a younger man. At the age of fifty I find that the words simply do not flow out of me as they once used to.
Now I try to find whatever excuse I can not to sit at my desk, staring at a computer screen, wondering why the words won’t come. Not that I need to write another novel. I’ve got enough money in the bank to last me the rest of my life, as long as I plan on dying by at least eighty odd. One dark night, rather than try to write, I sat down and worked out how long the money that I’ve got in the bank would last me as long as I was frugal with it. But that is without any more money coming in at all. None of my novels might be in the bestseller lists any more. But they keep ticking over, bringing in what I think of as pocket money.
All the washing up is done. I did it before I came out, even though all that I had to wash up was the plate on which I had my morning toast and my coffee cup.
“Shopping.” I mutter to myself. I don’t really need any shopping. But, then again, it wasn’t vital that I came in today to get the printer paper.
I tell myself that if I do some food shopping today that it will, in fact, save me time, that it will be more ergonomic. It will mean that I don’t have to come back into town again in a few days time. Except that it is a lie, and I know that I will still come into town to do shopping in a few days time, no matter what I purchase today.
I walk down Main Street to one of the food stores which hadn’t closed down. This is the convenience food store, run by a guy called Edberg. He was running the business when I moved into Kingstown. The guy must be eighty now, if he’s a day. Everybody calls him Ed, although that’s not his first name. It’s Karl or Yarl or something odd like that. But he seems happy to be called Ed.
He still looks pretty fit, and not just for an old man. Ed has one of those stocky frames which never seem to wear out, no matter how much labour they see. He’s not that tall, maybe five nine, although I’m no real good judge of things like that. Ed still has a full head of hair, even if it is now a shining silver colour, and not the fading black which it was when I first came to Kingstown.
I go inside and pick up a couple of microwave meals, a bottle of diet cola, and a few snacks. I put them on the counter.
“Is that it today, Mr Boone?” He always calls me Mister Boone, although I have told him several times that he can call me Mike. But he says that I am the only celebrity in Kingstown, and that people should call me by my surname.
“Yeah, that’s it. For today, anyway.”
“Writing another award-winning novel, Mr Boone?”
“I was only nominated for that award.” I say. “I didn’t actually win it. Anyway, that was a quarter of a century ago.”
My second book, The Weakness of Illusion, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. I didn’t win. But just the fact that I was nominated has assured that I have been a successful author – financially, at least. I recall that at the time it jumped up a hundred places, right into the top twenty sales chart. The other ones, following that, didn’t sell quite as well. But they have all sold well enough.
“Ah, but you should have won. You should have won.” Ed says, as he rings up the sale on his old-fashioned cash register. It’s one of those where the drawer jumps out with a ching sound. The sort where you could easily catch your fingers in the drawer, if you don’t know what you’re doing. Once I asked Ed why he didn’t invest in a new cash register, one which was not quite so lethal to the fingertips. But he looked at me as though I had told him to go and indulge in a bit of casual paedophilia.
She has served me well until now he said. Why would I change? I guess that people in Kingstown don’t like change. But change comes to us all, in the end.
“Well, I guess that I had better get back to the writing, Ed.” I say, as I take the change from the old man.
“You do that, Mr Boone.” he says, and smiles. It is one of those genuine, warm smiles as well, not one put on for the customers.
Once I asked Ed if he had read any of my books. But he admitted that he hadn’t read any of them. Then he told me not to feel left out, as he hadn’t read a single book in his life.
Ed puts all of my purchases into a thick, tall, brown paper bag. I thank him, and go and put them into the boot of my car. Then I go and climb into the driver’s seat, intending to go home. But I don’t put the key into the ignition just yet.
I sit in my car. I should go home. But if I was to go home now it would almost be lunchtime. I would not get any writing done before it would be time to get myself something to eat. I guess that I can do my writing all afternoon, anyway.
But it’s such a nice, sunny day that I don’t really want to be stuck inside at my computer desk, anyway. Except that I can’t really take another afternoon off. I’m supposed to be writing. Writers write. That’s what they do.
I get back out of my car and stroll over to the other side of the street, heading for the doors of the Black Museum. I know that the place has not closed down. But I can’t ever recall the sign on the door saying OPEN.
The inside of the windows have been painted black, apart from the windows on the two doors. But it is so dark inside the place that I can’t really see anything inside the place beyond a few feet of black carpet. There is a much smaller sign on the doors saying that the Black Museum welcomes visitors, by appointment only.
What kind of museum is by invitation only? They are never going to make any money that way. I look again at the card in the window, looking for a telephone number. But there’s nothing on the card.
I scratch my head as I stare at the closed doors. Now that I think a little bit more about it, I don’t think that I have ever seen anybody go through those doors. And I don’t know who owns the place. Okay, maybe Kingstown is big enough that I’m not gonna know everybody in the place. But I would have thought that I would have heard the name of somebody who owned a place like a Black Museum.
On an impulse I try the doors. Maybe they are open, after all. But they’re locked. I give them one final rattle, then I go and climb back into my car, and drive home. I’ve got some writing to do, and thinking about black museums isn’t going to get the novel finished.
The Black Museum is currently in search of a publisher.