QSFer Grace Booker has a new bi/gay haunted house tale out: “The Booker.”
One underworld entanglement.
One haunted music venue.
One chance to make it out alive.
When Barry Matthews left his band to become the booker for Melbourne’s hottest music venue, he never expected to find a link to the past buried deep within the rubble from the renovations. And now the new spate of threatening phone calls are becoming as troubling as the disappearing visitors and the malevolent activity in the basement.
Trapped within the hotel with the alluring Simon, or Felicia, depending on his choice of outfit, they must join together to survive the threats from outside, as well as the dangers growing within the walls of the hotel.
But the longer the renovations go on, the stronger the dark forces become. Barry and Simon must uncover the secrets behind the hotel’s sinister history before it’s too late, or risk becoming the hotel’s latest victims.
Barry was used to living with ghosts but tonight, something was different. After all this time, the signs were clear. He was certain it was happening again.
He pulled up into his overgrown parking space just as the sun began to set over the bay, bathing the streets in a pink and golden light. He jiggled the door handle and kicked the side, waiting for the inevitable screech as his eighties shitbox opened its rusty hinge. He leaned against the side, bumping it back into place and left it unlocked, the broken plastic pull locks resting against the dull glass. If someone wanted to break into it, they were welcome to try the esoteric ritual he went through every time he wanted to get it moving. Three pushes on the clutch, turn the key, two more stomps and voilà! By the time a car thief figured it out, he’d be ready to leave again.
Clarence, the resident cat, brushed up against his shin. He purred, the sound somewhere between a whine and a snarl. Clarence glared at him, his thick marmalade tail waving in the air. He wasn’t any kind of expert on cats but he was pretty sure that when a cat wags its tail, it’s not a good thing.
“G’day mate, are you hungry?” It was a stupid question. Clarence was already scratching at the door, waiting to be let in.
“Hold your horses.” He unlocked the door and followed Clarence down the gloomy hallway to his office. The smell of dust and cold brick permeated the place, masked only by the layers of sweat, beer and the kind of “herbal” cigarettes that were generally not permitted in polite public company.
Clarence trotted ahead, his tail brushing the skirting board underneath uneven layers of posters from shows gone by, including a classic shot of his old band The Maggots, circa 1989. He caught a glimpse of his old self, a dyed black shock of hair covering one eye, the tattoo of an owl with the one golden eye peeking out above his scrawny bicep. God, he was skinny back then. Not that he wasn’t slim now, it’s just that his muscles had somehow managed to take another twenty years or so to fully develop. It helped to be able to eat and visit the gym now and then, a luxury not afforded to him in those days. Still, good times.
He elbowed the door to the office, casting his eye around the stacks of Pulse magazines. The message light blinked at him from his ancient commander phone. Whoever it was could wait. He flicked on the coffee machine, waiting for the hiss to disappear before he could dump in some coffee grounds. The machine gurgled and sputtered, wafting the scent of burnt arabica and hard water through the room.
The phone buzzed and he snatched it up, swivelling in his chair.
“Boardwalk View Hotel, Barry Matthews speaking.”
“Baz? You always answer the phone like that?” John’s tinny voice came through the line. Barry nudged his cup in the general direction of the coffee maker.
“Johnno? Why are you calling me here? You want a gig or something?”
“Yeah I do. Except my guitarist thinks he’s some kind of hotshot promoter now. Missed the last six years of rehearsals.”
“Hardly a hotshot. Anyway, I’m not your guitarist, you’re my bass player.” He grinned, wedging the phone against his shoulder as he poured the coffee-flavoured sludge into his trusty black mug. “So what’s up?”
“I need a favour.”
“I knew that. Otherwise you wouldn’t be calling right now.” He grimaced, taking a sip.
John huffed to himself, the sound magnified through the crackling line. “I need you to come over this Sunday and save me from my wife’s sister, Elaine.”
“Why, what’s she done now?” Clarence sat in the doorway, fixing him with a stare. “Yeah, yeah, hang on, I’ll get you some food in a minute. No, not you, Johnno. Go on. I’m listening. That cat, I swear.”
“I need you there for moral support. She hates me, she hates my guitars, and she’s trying to convince Sarah to make my studio into a Balinese entertaining room.”
He shoved the stack of magazines to the side, flipping open his laptop. “So what does that mean? She wants to entertain Balinese people?”
“No, smartarse. She and Sarah just came back from Bali and now everything has to have a straw roof and creepy statues in every corner. My dogs don’t like them. I reckon they move position when I’m not looking.”
Barry pinched the skin between his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “You haven’t explained why you want me there.”
“Because she hates you more than me. It’ll draw her focus from the main game.”
“And here I was thinking I was lovable. What’s in it for me?” He swivelled the chair from side to side, trying to get comfortable.
“I don’t know. Something good. Haven’t thought that far ahead.”
Barry shook his head, powering up his laptop. “Great. So, nothing then. I guess I’ll be there around six?”
Johnno sighed. “Thanks mate. I need the buffer zone. It’s just that when they get together and start talking about renovations… wait. What’s that noise? Is that at your end?”
Barry jolted, nearly dropping the phone. “What the hell?”
Clarence howled, the sound winding up from somewhere between the basement and the kitchen. The sound tore through his skin, the mournful yowl rising in pitch until it tapered off into a whine.
“Don’t know. I have no idea. There’s something up with Clarence.” He tapped the speaker button, peering out the door. Clarence’s wail rose in pitch, punctuated by a rattling growl. “Sorry, mate, I’ve gotta check on him. Sounds like something’s up. Talk to you later.” He bolted out of the room, heading for the basement.
Grace lives by the beach in Melbourne, Australia, land of sun, surf and drop bears!
She spends a lot of time in her writing cave but can be tempted to come out to check social media from time to time.