“Dark Heart Alley (An Urban Fable)”

David Conyers has posted an excerpt and a potted history of his story “Sweet As Decay”, co-written by David Witteveen and published in the landmark anthology Macabre: A Journey through Australia’s Darkest Fears. Inspired by David’s post, I thought I might dissect and share my Macabre story, “Dark Heart Alley (An Urban Fable)“.

Dark Heart Alley, as the subtitle suggests, is a stylised story, a modern day fable, and not something I would normally write. Yet at the same time, the subject matter is gritty. I wanted to explore the dark side of the sex industry and the human heart in general, and Sydney’s Kings Cross in particular, for which ‘The Strip’ in my story is an analogue.

But The Strip is more than an analogue. As with any fable, it’s a stylised exaggeration. The tone of the story is meant to be ethereal yet dirty. The plot is as base as it gets – sex and murder – but told in a high-brow tone. It’s a curious and sometimes contrary mix, which coupled with the subject matter, might make the story unlikeable to some. However, it’s also one of the few dark stories I’ve written that has something of a happy ending (and not in the sexy kind of way!).

The path to this story’s publication was also curious. Because I’ve been involved in some of the background work, I didn’t want to force the editors into a conflict of interest. So I submitted the story under a pseudonym, but being a bit of a fool, I left some incriminating evidence in the header. The editors put two and two together, but fortunately, they liked the story enough for it to be accepted.

So without further preamble, here’s a brief excerpt of “Dark Heart Alley (An Urban Fable)”:

Night swirled across the city, a blanket offering refuge from the ugliness uncovered during the day. The Strip returned to life – a hive of gaudy lights casting long shadows into the Fringe. The garbage thrown into the gutter was hidden, forgotten in the darkness as more pressing questions of flesh and pleasure, of pain and power, threw themselves into the faces of the parasites thronging in the Strip.

Like every other night, Johnny Caballero stood by the door of the Aphrodite, selling heroin by tenths of a gram, wrapped in little origami shapes to make it more appealing to glaze-eyed teenagers. Two doors down, Tiny and Mal, both walls of flesh dressed in black, accepted twenty dollar donations for VIP access to peepshows starring double D cup platinum blondes.

Their line of patrons always snaked past The Tower Bar, where Eugene, the greasy-haired owner, spun a web of deals with local ‘businessman’ Lou Matheris while joking about the perverts lining up outside to wank themselves in a pastel 2×3 booth.

Life had persisted like this in the Strip for generations. The clubs and shows would change name, the personnel would turn over, some moving on to better things, others overdosing or disappearing, but the meanness, the spirit of the Strip, remained much the same. A spirit that had strengthened over the years, building like a blocked sewer – an amalgamated shit-pile of bad karma.

The murders, committed by the psychotic and mysterious Mr X, were bringing this festering heap to a critical mass.

Macabre can be purchased from Brimstone Press or from all good bookstores this month.