Category Archives: Short Stories

Short stories and flash fiction.

Quetzacthulhu (Part One)

QUETZACTHULHU

By Set Sytes

 

 

There are stories, but stories are always forgotten.

It would have been better if we had only laughed at them. I am sure we once did, for ridicule is what lies in-between remembering and forgetting. We bury the horror, pushing it under centuries of soil. And, eventually, it was nothing to us.

The priests must have known. Before me, they were the only ones who had been down here in these violent depths, where the slaughter seeps through from above and paints the walls forever red. The walls littered with engravings that told us of what was to come.

They must have known, but they never told. What was it to them? A children’s tale? Or some mythic secret, the secret to end all secrets, that only they must be privy to? Either way, they hold responsibility for what happened to us, to our empire. Those countless deaths are because of their folly and pride.

No matter. They are all dead now.

I crouch here, with only you as company. You who I took captive, you who I whip and beat in the darkness.

I will tell you the tale now. I will tell it all as best I can, and hope at least some of it gets through to you. It matters more than anything that it does.

Listen, greedy wretch! Or I will show you true brutality. You may have the beetle when I am done. Listen with every part of you, carve it into your very soul, for generations hence depend on it.

I will begin.

 

*

 

I wish I could tell you that it began with dark omens and portends.

The priests, they were gathering frequently, taking themselves off into the depths of the temples with their muttering – but this was not anything unusual. Our sacrifices seemed to be particularly numerous, the blood on the altar given no time to dry, but this too was not a rare thing. We had recently defeated a band of Tlaxcalans, and the torn flesh of our captives was providing a merry feast for the gods.

Even if there had been an omen, I know that we could not have interpreted it. How could one interpret the coming of such a thing? And even if we had interpreted it, still it could not have helped us prepare ourselves. But it would have been something.

I wish I could tell you that it all started with a great pyramid of flame, or a burning temple, or strokes of lightning from the gods. Boiling lakes, shooting stars, ghostly wails, strange visions and monstrous deformities – these are all dire things that could have warned of the apocalyptic end to our people.

But I can only tell you that it started with nothing. Nothing but the shake and shiver of the earth.

 

I was out with a hunting party the day it came. We were talking, laughing, clutching spears in our hands – and then everything became preternaturally quiet around us. We stopped speaking, and looked around us, expecting ambush. The ground then began to tremble.

I had not experienced such a thing before, but I had heard stories. We staggered back but it seemed like there was nowhere to run to. The trembling became a rumble, and at once all around us the silence burst as great flocks of birds rose screeching into the sky.

Cracks appeared around our feet, thickening and lengthening faster than we could move. The earth was opening up. A warrior slipped, and before we could get to him he was swallowed by soil. One moment there, wailing, the next moment gone – spasming fingertips were the last we saw of him.

We continued to run as breaches of earth raced in our wake. Eventually we seemed to reach a point when the cracks were thinner, the ground sustaining us without collapse, and we paused and looked back, just at the moment it rose.

I thought it a mountain at first, a mossy mountain thrusting upwards with a sickening roar from the bowels of the earth. That was the last moment I considered it to have some strange but natural origin.

For as I stared, the fungal hide of the thing began to seem fleshy and pustulous, and it swelled outwards as it continued its ascent. A dreadful bile rose within me.

The vomit died in my throat, not out of relief but pure shock, as the foul skin opened up, and a blazing yellow sun near blinded me. I reflexively shaded my face with my hands, and as my pupils shrank I saw through my fingers that in the centre of this giant sun was a hole, a black hole. It was then that I realised with palpitating horror what it was.

It was an eye.

And that was when the second opened up, beyond cyclopean in its enormity, and as it rose upwards far above me, tentacles like huge snakes writhed and ululated from underneath, each as big as a house.

A giant maw opened, a dripping cavern of night to engulf the world. I would say if I could go the rest of my life without seeing such a sight again I could be happy, but it is not true, for that image and many others are burned within my brain forever.

I do not know how I found my feet. I remember little about that first confrontation. I only remember vague images of my brothers falling to their knees, gibbering in hysterical lunacy and tearing at their eyes. And yet, somehow, I must have made it back to Tenochtitlan.

They tell me I was gabbling in a monstrous language not known to man, not even to the priests. I do not remember this, but I believe them, for I have since heard others speaking in this nameless tongue. It is hideous to listen to, and to watch the speaker’s mouth try to contort around such abhorrence; it spreads madness and despair like it was a contagion.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh . . . That is all I can remember, and much as I try I cannot pronounce it right – perhaps that is a small mercy. I see you shudder at it – good. Now imagine hearing such words and more in their true fell tongue, chanted maniacally at you by family and friends, their eyes rolling back in their heads, their twisting mouths drooling spit to the floor. Then you might have a fraction of the nightmares I will suffer till the day I am released from this world.

 

Quetzacthulhu

Weary Road

WEARY ROAD

By Set Sytes

 

 

We used to call it Weary Road. We never knew its real name. I went back there, I couldn’t tell you just why, and here I am now, driving down its grey lane, and it seems so very long.

We used to go there whenever there seemed too much chaos for one world to hold. We used to go and sleep together – just sleep. Side by side under the trees on the side of the road. I never liked waking up and leaving that place, and neither did you. We liked leaving the road even less than we liked leaving each other.

The engine is purring, a soft rumble lulling my mind. Music is playing on the stereo, but it seems so quiet, drowned out by a thickness in the air. The soft melody playing in my head is louder.

Trees pass on either side. Their leaves so red in the dropping sun.

It is warm in the car. I look in the mirror and see my own eyes looking back at me. They seem so sad and endless. I force my eyes back down to the road.

I wish you are here with me. We used to fight monsters together, but the monsters outgrew us. They grew and grew and we never did.

You said you’d meet me here, back on Weary Road. I keep thinking I’ll see you standing there, waiting. Some vain hope, for you never appear. You’re something lost, something gone.

I haven’t passed a single car. It’s just the road, and now the light is all gone except that of my headlights, lying soft and white on the tarmac. The trees are all dark but as I approach they turn briefly pale and spectral like tall ghosts.

I’m so tired. My eyes are blinking slower and slower. I feel like I’m wading through the world. The clarity of everything is turned down, like the dial on the stereo. Fading away, replaced by a heavy blanket.

I don’t know how long I’ve been driving. Hours, maybe days now. The road goes on a lot longer than I ever remember. But I think I’ll stay. Sometimes I think I like being tired.

When I close my eyes there’s a slow yawning rush of blood to my head, like water filling a tank. Whenever I open my eyes the world seems different, but I can’t tell you how. Only that it’s winding down.

My speed might have slowed to a crawl. I don’t know. I’m not looking at anything but what’s straight in front of me. That black line prefaced with white, dragged out to the horizon and beyond.

Maybe I never reached the end before. It’s hard to see too far ahead, with the dark cluster of forest and these long, languid bends.

I know you found it hard. I think you wanted to come back here, but maybe you stopped believing it could do anything for you. I think all you really wanted to do was sleep. That’s all I want, anyway.

The car drives on. I am just its passenger. My hands on the wheel are only a pretence; I’m not moving it.

In the back of the car are my father’s gun and a rope to tie with. I can feel them there behind me, like patient devils.

I’ll find you, maybe. I miss you.

When I reach the end of the road, I’ll know.

I’ll see you again, I know. We’ll meet again, down at the end of Weary Road.

I close my eyes and let the car drive.

 

Weary Road

All stories free for 3 days! Adult horror, fantasy, dystopian

In advance of WULF imminently becoming an ebook to buy (just waiting on the cover), for 3 days (starting on 13/12/2016) all of my previously published work is free! Click the pictures of the covers below to be taken to the Amazon page to check them out and read samples.

This includes:

Born to be Weird

 

13839740_10153837644783693_366995792_o

A short collection of weird, twisted stories, featuring the gothic science story The School of Necromancy (like Harry Potter meets Frankenstein and Lovecraft!) and the very bloody horror The Gauntlet of Gore, which is like nothing else.

Included are the short stories (also available separately):

The School of Necromancy – Deep below the city of York, below the sewers, below the catacombs, lies the School. It is here, if you are privileged to be selected, that you can study the art of raising the dead.

Keep it Clean – Have you ever been swallowed by a public toilet? No? This man has. A truly grotesque and odious tale.

There’s Only One King – Elvis Shadow walks the world, caught between this life and the next. A world containing other half-creatures, other myths and legends.

The Half-School – A dream-like account of a return to an old school.

The Gauntlet of Gore – “When playing the Gauntlet, there are two options. Either you win, or the whole team dies.
Either you die, or you see every other opposing team member blown to bits. There are no corpses, only giblets.”

January 5th – “It was January the 5th, and everywhere things were dead or dying.”

Faces in the Dark

 

Faces in the Dark coversmaller

A short collection of strange, paranoid horror stories. Featuring the novella The Violet Dark – a hallucinogenic road horror. Read this toxic lovesong to darkness itself, and see what is meant by ‘a beautiful nightmare’.

Also included are the short stories (also available separately):

Her Parents’ Masks: She has never seen her parents’ real faces. They have worn terrifying buffalo masks from the moment she was born . . .

The Watcher – The air is black, and I do not sleep. The hours tick by. I do not sleep because someone is watching me.

Anamia – Assorted entries from the Anamia Diary, found among possesions. Care is advised before reading, especially for those who have or have had an eating disorder.

The Gremlins – Humanity’s days on this earth are numbered. How do you fight an enemy too small to see?

Dead Streets – A sad and haunted tale.

Moral Zero

 

Moral Zero cover

This is rock n roll writing. Its energy reminds me of early Amis, its articulation reminiscent of a Tarantino screenplay… Brilliantly sleazy, scum and filth visibly oozes from between the words on the page. Each paragraph leaves you breathless, each moving with such runaway-train speed you almost expect one to crash into the next. And it’s very funny.” – Paul Davenport, author of Not Like The Other Boys

I read this sitting next to my wife and after the first three paragraphs I said, ‘This guy can write’… In a word, this is uncompromising, brutal and pulls no punches.” – Joe Carter, author of The Corruption of Michael Blake

The voyeur. The pervert. The sadist. Three tormented souls in the grotesquely twisted city of Rule treat morality like a plaything in this dystopian thriller.
The voyeur: Knowledge is lust.
The pervert: The fantasy is everything.
The sadist: The answer to all things lies in death.

Mr White. Kidd Red. Johnny Black. Three deviants in a violent, sickly dystopia where completely opposing laws and moral codes are just a short walk away. Guided by a corrupt sense of moral subjectivism, they form an uneasy friendship. Each tormented by his own grotesque existence. But the greatest danger is making sure they don’t lose track of what is real…

Enter the city of Rule and the world of the moral zeroes.

 

You can also find the individual short stories, also free for 3 days,  if you browse my Amazon author page.

The City of Nowhere

I wrote this short piece based on a dream I had early this morning. I hope you like it. I guess it’s kind of dystopian and post-apocalyptic. But it doesn’t have to be . . .

THE CITY OF NOWHERE

By Set Sytes

 

 

The city was black and burnt around me. There was a leathery smell, together with a not entirely unpleasant scent like factory grease. Hollowed out skulls of buildings grinned and gaped at me as I picked my way through. The crunch under my feet sounded like gravel or bones. The sky was wet. The air was white.

‘It’s just a town now,’ an old woman wrapped up in a big jacket said as I passed. She was talking to a hunched man who was all wrinkles; there wasn’t an inch of smoothness on him. ‘It’ll be a village soon,’ the woman said.

They were talking about my home.

Everything was black and dripping. I found a cluster of people in raincoats milling together, and I joined them. They stood around for a while, mumbling to each other but ignoring me. That was okay, I was ignoring them too. I could see I was the youngest by some measure. Eventually one of them opened a door in the only building that couldn’t be seen through, and one by one they entered and were swallowed up. I followed.

I looked about, suddenly confused and uncertain. It was a classroom. Clean floors and walls, shiny wood and windows with glass in them. A whiteboard, a half-patient teacher.

I followed the others on autopilot and sat down at a desk by the window. There were huge tomes on every one, and they were all titled ScanQuick Learning. I opened mine up and flicked through. Walls of text. It was dense gibberish, entirely meaningless to me.

I stood up and walked back to the door as the others settled in their seats.

‘Excuse me?’

I turned around. The teacher was looking at me and smiling. ‘Were you not wanting to have a walk around the town afterwards?’ The teacher pointed at a man sitting next to the seat I had taken. He had his hand up and facing me, and he was smiling broadly, like an old acquaintance reunited. ‘Mr Farsdale will walk with you,’ the teacher said. ‘He’ll be your partner.’

‘I’ve got the wrong place,’ I answered. ‘I thought this was a, uh, a train. But it doesn’t look like a train at all.’ I said it expecting laughter, but there only a few tired smiles.

‘It’s okay, ‘the teacher said. ‘Why don’t you have a sit back down? There’ll be a test in an hour.’

I saw out the window with surprise that there was a lot of motion, a noiseless blur. ‘Is this a classroom or a train?’ I asked.

‘It’s both,’ the teacher said. ‘Go on, sit down. You’ll be with us for a long while, and we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.’

‘Where is it going?’

‘Somewhere green. Sit down.’ The teacher was no longer smiling.

‘Green?’ I murmured, but I went back to my seat. Mr Farsdale grinned at me and nodded. I nodded back and looked out the window. For a second I thought I saw the green the teacher had spoken of. There were hills and valleys, trees and meadows. They were glowing like they would in a dream, and rushing past at a tremendous speed. Then I blinked and they were gone, and there was only black ruination.

‘Do you know where we’re going?’ I asked Mr Farsdale.

‘Of course,’ he said. ‘I think we all do. Maybe. I think maybe we all do. Don’t you?’

‘No.’

He looked quizzically at me. ‘I know you’re young, but I would’ve thought . . . still . . . surely you’ve been here before?’

‘I may have. I forget things. I have trouble remembering the past.’

Mr Farsdale nodded, understanding. ‘Of course, of course. I think most of us are like that.’

‘So where are we going?’

‘Back to where we got on, of course.’ He pointed out the window. ‘You can’t really tell, but the track’s at a curve. See, it’s a big, big circle.’

I stared at him. ‘But what’s the point in that?’

He sniffed and looked down at his ScanQuick. ‘It’s the journey, not the destination,’ he said.

‘Can I get off? There’s stops, right?’

‘No stops.’ He spread his arms around his huge book and hunched his shoulders, as though to block me out.

I put my face and hands to the window. The glass was so cold, colder than the air outside, colder than the wetness that dripped from everything. In here it was warm and dry. But the glass was still cold.

By the look of the blur of outside, we were approaching full speed, going faster and faster towards Nowhere.

 

JAPAN Tsunami 5

Born to be Weird short story collection

My second short story collection, Born to be Weird: A Short Collection of Demented Fantasy & Horror is now available on Amazon! And it’s free to download for the next 5 days!

A short collection of weird, twisted stories, featuring the gothic science story The School of Necromancy (like Harry Potter meets Frankenstein and Lovecraft!) and the very bloody horror The Gauntlet of Gore, which is like nothing else.

Included are the short stories (also available separately):

The School of Necromancy – Deep below the city of York, below the sewers, below the catacombs, lies the School. It is here, if you are privileged to be selected, that you can study the art of raising the dead.

Keep it Clean – Have you ever been swallowed by a public toilet? No? This man has. A truly grotesque and odious tale.

There’s Only One King – Elvis Shadow walks the world, caught between this life and the next. A world containing other half-creatures, other myths and legends.

The Half-School – A dream-like account of a return to an old school.

The Gauntlet of Gore – “When playing the Gauntlet, there are two options. Either you win, or the whole team dies.
Either you die, or you see every other opposing team member blown to bits. There are no corpses, only giblets.”

January 5th – “It was January the 5th, and everywhere things were dead or dying.”

 

Keep it Clean was originally in my previous collection Faces in the Dark: A Short Collection of Paranoid Horror, but it has been swapped with the most recent short story, Her Parents’ Masks, because it fit that theme better.

Faces in the Dark on Amazon.

Born to be Weird on Amazon.

Check out this great cover of Born to be Weird done by JCD2 Design.

 

13839740_10153837644783693_366995792_o

Her Parents’ Masks

I know I haven’t updated in a long time. I finished The Wulf and the Tiger – now simply called WULF – and have been sending it to agents, as well as working on ideas for its sequel, SLADE. Because of this I haven’t really been writing anything else and haven’t had the motivation to put anything else up, invested in this new series as I am. I also didn’t want to add any more WULF material here, if I still have a thin hope it might be published one day.

That changed today where I wrote a mini story called Her Parents’ Masks, based on something that I was scaring myself visualising last night in bed. I hope you like it and I’m not too out of practice.

 

Her Parents’ Masks

By Set Sytes

 

They were huge and looked like bison heads, if bison had at some point mated with cockroaches and vague dark crustaceans. The thick brown hair obscured the eyes, but she wasn’t allowed to brush it out of the way. She’d known that from the beginning. Seeing the world through curtains was the only way she’d ever seen it. There was a small hole under the long fur of the snout; you had to put the fork or the straw back and up, so even when they fed she couldn’t see her parents’ mouths, and even tipping her head back in the mirror she couldn’t make out her own lips.

At thirteen years old Aran had never, ever seen her real face and she had never, ever seen those of her parents.

The masks stayed on. Always. In the bath. Asleep. There were no doors inside the house, no privacy in which to reveal herself. She struggled to remember clearly what had happened when she had questioned it all when she was younger. She only remembered her parents’ responses as a feeling, that of dread and implied threat. Whispers that circled in her mind, and sometimes words would appear out of the fog, words like cut and pain, but whether these were words that had actually been spoken to her or merely given form in her mind she didn’t know.

Her parents had never spoken above a whisper, and they rarely spoke at all. She thought she’d get used to those silent bison-roach heads looking down at her every day, that there would come a time when they would no longer fill her with fear. She thought it when she was eight and shivering in bed, feeling them out there, downstairs, or on the landing, always listening and watching. She thought it last year, sitting at the dinner table and hearing her father’s head whisper – the only thing said all meal – that she was a good girl.

She thought she’d get used to it. She hoped. But the fear never went.

What did she look like? She only knew human faces from pictures in books. She’d never left the house and its grounds, and as far as the eye could see there were no other houses. There were cars in the drive, and sometimes her parents would drive off, and come back with food. She wondered where they went, and if they took the heads off when they’d left her sight. Did other families wear these masks, or different ones? Did they wear masks at all? Were other children afraid of their parents?

It was a Saturday night in late autumn when she couldn’t take it anymore, and she crept out of the house into the garden while her parents were upstairs and she took the mask off.

The feeling of the wet wind on her face, the coldness. The sight of the undraped world. The stink of the mask she’d never really noticed until it retreated. She was shivering again, but not out of fear this time. She took in deep clean breaths for the first time in her life and shuddered, marvelling at the air and how it bit at her teeth. She reached up slowly and touched her skin. It felt soft and warm and damp. She started to run her hands all over herself, catching her tears on her fingertips.

This is what it’s supposed to be, she thought. We’re not supposed to wear masks.

I need a mirror. I have to have a mirror.

She turned back to the house, and saw the shaggy dark bison heads of her parents watching her from the window.

She cried out and it sounded like the whimper of a small animal shot in the dark. It felt like spiders were marching in formation up her spine. She picked up her mask and shoved it back on her head and ran back to the door, but she knew it was too late. They’d already seen. They saw everything.

Over the next three days, they didn’t leave her alone. They’d stopped speaking entirely, but in every room she was in they were there. They stood at her bedside looking down at her as she tried to sleep. She didn’t know what was worse, keeping her eyes open or closing them and knowing those heads were still there watching. She didn’t sleep.

By the third night she felt like she was going mad. Just moving around the house felt like moving in a nightmare. Everything was hazy and clipped, things jumped out at her. She slipped on the stairs and her parents were there watching until she picked herself up again.

At midnight on the third night her parents were gone from her room. She didn’t know when they’d left, because she’d started to see them in the shadows. She wanted to feel relief that they’d gone, if only for a while, but the truth was it was too late.

She stood up and took off her mask once more, and placed it on the bed. There was a mirror in the bathroom and that was where she was going. She didn’t care anymore. Even the fear couldn’t hold her.

She left her room and met her father in the low light of the landing. He was standing outside the bathroom, at the top of the stairs, facing her. His arms hanging loose at his sides like they always did.

There was silent, frozen dread, for long, far too long, just her and him standing on the landing. And then the words crawled into her ears, like they were the first words ever spoken. ‘You’ve been a bad girl, Aran,’ her father whispered.

She was struck with a new wave of terror, fragile human face confronted with this monstrous beast. He wasn’t moving, but before she knew it she was, moving in a surge of fear and anger and desperation.

Her shove sent him tumbling down the stairs. She heard a crack as he hit the bottom and that huge head lolled.

For a minute she couldn’t move. She’d never been so scared, her hands were all over her face and she couldn’t get air. She wanted to bite her fingertips off. Everything was at once sharp and swaying.

She took the first step down. Then another.

He wasn’t moving. A shard of moonlight from the front door of the house lay cold and blue on his fur.

She felt like she was descending into Hell, some pit of nightmare, of bison beards like wet mud shuffling in the night, of shifting plastic carapaces and twitching antenna. At the bottom of the stairs things swam in the moon-sliced shadows, and in the corners of cabinets and between her father’s legs she glimpsed the shells of crustaceans that clicked their way from out of the void.

There was no sound. The house had been drained of it. Even her own panic had been muted, and she couldn’t know if she was still drawing breath.

She stood at the feet of her father and she bent down and she lifted the bison-roach head off his face.

She screamed and fell back against the stairs. There was a huge staring eye that took up almost the whole face. Stretched lips ran in a split grin from corner to corner. The skin was wet rubber. Inside the gap in the lips there was a very real grin like a wolf.

Her father stood up like he was made of sticks at the same time as her mother joined him out of the darkness of the next room. She too wore that bald and earless rubber mask with the giant eye and stretched smile. She too was grinning under it, the bison head clutched in her arms. They stood next to each other and looked at their daughter as she scrambled backwards up the stairs.

She stopped halfway up, paralysed by those faces as they continued to grin.

‘You’re not an adult yet, Aran,’ her father whispered through his teeth, as he started to climb the stairs.

 

bff3773017571269c9fb4f89552f5984

The Gremlins #2

I apologise for SUCH a long delay. I have been going through some things… Moving house… twice… other things. Anyway, no point saying any of that now. I’ve finally started writing again. Here’s the second part and final part to the short story The Gremlins.

The first part can be found here.

It can be found for kindle here.

 

 

They have been around since before the time of the dinosaurs.

Back then they were kinder, peaceful creatures, living free as individuals, without any hive mind. Then Homo sapiens came and exerted dominance and, with a surety and indomitable force of will that had never before been seen, the gremlins were nearly exterminated.

They do not hate us because we nearly wiped them out.

They hate us because we did it without having ever realised.

Once gremlins lived in the light of the sun and the moon, in the woods and the grasslands and the lakes. Homo sapiens took the environment for themselves, and the gremlins, invisible to the humans who trod with their thoughtless feet, and raked the land with their thoughtless machines, were driven out of their homes, and died in droves.

They were naïve, and they were weak, and they were frightened, and they were unprepared. They did not know where to go, and they did not know in which direction to move. They starved, they were crushed, they drowned, they were wiped out by our diseases by the trillion. They ran into death, and they died quickly.  They were stupid.

The gremlin population sank from a population close to that of ants to around one hundred. Never in history has there been such a genocide. And the perpetrators remained completely oblivious.

They would grow again, now underground.

Gremlins are hermaphrodites and, when they feel like it, when the environment can support them, each one can have a hundred children.

 

Humanity has the arrogance to believe that it can fight anything. We write stories and make movies about fighting against huge monsters, against incredibly destructive alien forces. We are always the underdogs. And just when things look bleak, our greater numbers, our unconquerable spirit and determination for survival, and the combined forces of all our weaponry, take down even the biggest of monsters, and we are victorious.

It is easy to point your guns up and shoot something.

It is much harder to point them down, and shoot something you can barely see. When you are the monster, you are the giant to take down, when you are the one hopelessly, impossibly outnumbered.

We brush off insects, and we often think nothing of them. You might laugh at the idea that we, as an enemy, would be utterly pathetic to them, even if they were only a little bit unified and only half desirous of our destruction. That we could win such a war, whether it would be easy or terribly long and terribly difficult.

It is estimated that there are 170 million insects to each person.

There would be no war. There would be a massacre.

When the time comes, when the gremlins are done playing with us, done stretching our minds, confusing and corrupting our reason, making us doubt ourselves, making mistake after mistake, when humanity is tired and half-broken, pinpricked with holes from ever increasing suicides and murders, when every other human is paranoid and neurotic, trusting nobody, not even themselves – when the gremlins are done torturing and weakening us, when they are so strong and vast that they will roll over us like a wave rolls over pebbles, that is when humanity will have had its last days on this earth.

 

There are the ancient ones. Who knows how many there are. It is not clear if they are gremlins or not, only that they are on the same side. They do not die each year like the others. They know of us just like they knew of the dinosaurs.

They are bigger, much, much bigger than ordinary gremlins. They slumber in enormous subterranean caves, and at the bottom of unexplored ocean trenches, too deep and dark for divers or their machines. Sometimes they come closer to us, watching us, thinking. If you are swimming, perhaps you have had that uneasy feeling of a shadow below you, a shadow that filled the sea.

It is not simple paranoia. Paranoia is the word given because we don’t know about the gremlins.

The ancient ones guide the hive mind. They will not come up when the second stage – SLAUGHTER – begins. They are not stupid. They know they can be harmed when all guns are brought to bear. No, they will come up and walk the streets when humanity is broken, when it is a shadow of a shadow of its strength. When there is no unity, merely those that die as they flee. Then they will crush and they will rend, and they will know that those with the longest patience have the biggest payoffs.

 

The gremlins will rise up, from the floorboards, from the corners, from the shadows and from the sewers, from the cracks in the plaster, the underside of tables and chairs, from behind the pictures on the walls, from between the books on the bookcases, from under your fingernails, and from in your hair.

They will pour in their thousands from your attic and they will swarm onto you.

In one long night, a night that crosses the world, a third of humans will die, most in their houses, most in their beds. A billion will die before anybody knows what is happening, snuffed out, no time to even scream.

You cannot win. They are already here. They’ve always been here.

When you feel that shiver up your spine – that’s them crawling up your back. The itch in your hair, that’s them. The tickle on your bare skin that you slap away: that’s them, but they’ve already moved. Some of the smallest ones nest in your mouth while you sleep, or in the hairs of your nostrils during the day.

You can’t win against an enemy that you can inhale, that can hack you apart from the inside. If you shut your mouth and clamp your nose, they will push through your eardrums, or wriggle under your eyeballs.

The second stage has not yet begun.

But it will.

The gremlins chitter in their thousands, in their millions, in their trillions upon trillions the world over. They all say the same word, ukta.

It means, ‘soon’.

 

url

The Gauntlet of Gore #2

The Gauntlet of Gore is a strange and bloody short story/novella about a competitive school sport where players punch opposing players in the stomach with a powered gauntlet, which makes the person explode.

There is also a pervading supernatural horror element –  and some of the creepiest team captains you may ever encounter…

You can find it on Amazon here.

Here is a second extract to read. This extract does not follow on from the prior one.

 

Extract #2:

 

She ran.

She ran from the battle.

She ran from her team mates.

She ran from Mike.

‘Sarah!’ she heard the cry behind her, but she didn’t look around; she was too busy jumping fallen branches, ducking and dodging, and putting her screaming legs to the limit as she sprinted through the darkness.

Gotta stay alive, she repeated to herself, and even the disembodied voice in her head was panting the words. Can’t win if I’m dead, it shifted to, and she began to convince herself that this was strategy, and not a cowardly, selfish flight.

The trees clustered in closer, and she slowed, eventually coming to a halt when she could no longer hear any signs of pursuit. She walked among the bones of black trees, feeling sick and empty. She snapped off some broad leaves from a plant and tried to wipe some of the muck off her face.

She had lost all sense of direction. She didn’t know if she was heading back to the field, or deeper into the woods.

It was starting to get cold. While it might be daylight outside, in here it might as well be night. She inspected the trees closely, but she couldn’t see a single camera, and she had a chilling feeling that nobody knew where she was, that she was entirely alone.

The noise was like the creak of a door, or a slowly falling tree, except it wasn’t natural, but came from a mouth. It rose in volume, a harpy screech that seemed to come from every nook and pore of the forest.

‘Who’s there?’ Sarah called out, not caring anymore about revealing her position to another player. She wanted to surrender. She wanted to put her arms up, take her gauntlet off and give herself up.

But she knew that you couldn’t surrender. Not in this game. If you put your arms up, you were dead.

Then someone, something came out from behind a tree, a tree so thin it seemed impossible it could have hidden her, it. The woman was completely naked, pale as death and almost skeletal. Her bones gleamed slightly, with an almost sickly wet pallor. There was nearly no light, but the woman’s popping, owl-ish eyes shone black and white, like polished snooker balls.

The creature was the Stonewaters captain, and she was smiling, impossibly wide and stretched, her rubbery lips coming almost up to her eyeballs. The teeth had come out from the gums, and were now as long as fingers, as thin as twigs and as sharp as stakes.

Sarah couldn’t breathe. Her feet were stuck to the ground. She saw the pale monster reach out her spindly arms, holding them outstretched before her. The fingers, like the teeth, were longer than before, and were growing before her eyes. The fingers came out like a network of roots blossoming in fast forward through the earth. They crept through the air towards her, multiplying in crooked joints with every few inches gained. As they grew, they creaked and rasped.

Sarah screamed then, trailing off in a whimper when she saw the huge eyes light up, as though inner delight fed the torch that burned behind those black-white bulbs.

The creature licked its lips with a slimy black tongue.

‘We took care of the cameras, dearie,’ said the creature in a voice like a saw. ‘Nobody sees when we don’t want them to.’

The two other captains appeared from behind poles of bark to either side of the woman, both as naked, like sharp white stick figures animated out from black line trees.

They were smiling too.

Sarah heard the drone, the sound that had replayed in her head since yesterday, since listening to the captains stood tall and grinning on that stage. That flat buzzing sound that now came from everywhere, came from inside her, trembling like worms in her veins and flies in her guts.

She put her hands over her ears, but the droning, the creaking, the screech of the captains was not muffled. The woman’s fingers had reached her now, tickling her chest and neck. The fingertips curled and tried to hook her, to snag her flesh.

The droning was increasing in volume, and Sarah imagined a brush in her mind, a hard thin broom with fingers for bristles, sweeping away the clutter of her thoughts, sweeping away her horror, slowly leaving her mind’s corridors and halls polished and empty, with only the scrape of fingernails to mark them.

The terror faded, and numbness washed through her. The woman’s groaning fingers tickled her mouth, trying to pry her lips open so they could come inside.

The finger-broom in her mind opened the doors to her memories, and advanced.

 

gauntlet4smaller

The Gremlins

Another delay! Perhaps it should be taken for granted now that I can’t keep to the more regular posts of before. In part because of now writing a novel  – my ambitious fantasy/comic/’gritty’/sci-fi/western ‘The Wulf and the Tiger’ – rather than short stories.

Here is an extract – about the first half of the story, to be fair – of a short story I promised I while back, called The Gremlins. It was the last to be written for my Faces in the Dark Compilation.

It can also be got independently here.

 

All around the world, things go missing. Some of the time they inexplicably reappear, hours later, after the whole house has been turned upside down. Then, there they are, in a place you had checked four times over, looking smug.

Some of the time they don’t come back. You know, you know for absolute fact that the item could not have left the house, perhaps not even left the room where you last saw it, maybe only a few minutes ago. Keys, a TV remote, a pair of glasses, a bookmark. They have nowhere to go to, no means of escape, and yet gone they are.

This is not a story about the things that go missing.

This is a story about what takes them.

 

The headphones in your coat pocket. You spent five minutes at the beginning of your last walk into town untangling them. Three days pass. You take them out, and lo and behold, they are tangled again. No, not merely tangled, but tied in knots. Actual knots. How did this happen? It’s almost, you think, with an expression a mixture of annoyance and amusement, as if somebody was, when you were fast asleep, taking the wires out of your pocket, looping and knotting them up with fiendish glee and putting them back. But you shake your head, unscramble the wires again, and go about your day, not for one serious moment entertaining the prospect that your previous flight of fancy might be true.

This is what they want you to think.

 

They vary in size, most of them anywhere from the size of a fingernail or a bogey to the size of a large hand. They have two arms and three or four legs, and they move like spiders.

They are often a muddy, greeny-brown colour, but they have a natural camouflage that turns them into a mere blotch on the environment. They do not have nails, but have long fingers, very thin and sharp as needles. They can climb anything, completely vertical and upside down. They can climb up your plug-hole. They can crawl across the ceiling, above your head while you sleep.

They say that, in the city, you’re never more than six feet away from a rat. Well, you’re never more than six feet away from at least a hundred gremlins. Six feet above and six feet under.

They wait like spiders too. They can stay perfectly immobile. Your eyes cross over them all the time. They’re in the shadows, in the corners of things. They’re clinging to the downside of the desk you sit at. They wait in the cracks in the armchair.

When they move, they’re fast, very fast, like very small things with legs often are. If your eyes detect them at all, they’re nothing but a blur, the idea of motion, the tick in your vision.

If you ever saw one, your brain would not register it. The mind convinces itself too firmly against the existence of countless little undiscovered creatures hiding and sneaking and scampering silently around us. You would simply see a bit of dirt, a ball of hair, a thick stain, a bulb of mould, and your eyes would move on instantly and your mind would not remember.

Maybe you touched one, without thinking. Most of them are slimy, and greasy, like wet frogs. They trail mucous like snails in the hot sun, invisible to the human eye. Some of them have scales, like lizards or fish. Some of them are hairy, not a soft cat-like fur, but hair like tarantulas. It is the kind a hand might touch without looking and instinctively pull back, an immediately recognisable bad touch, and yet when the eye looks for the culprit it finds none.

They are very patient, and when they are not being patient, they are being quick and invisible. The smaller ones do not need to wait for you to leave the room to sow their discord. They can steal things from under your noses. They could re-arrange half the room in the time it would take some old biddy to notice something was wrong.

They live short lives, a year at most, but their ancestral memories run long and deep, right back to the beginning. They are made up of individuals, countless individuals, but they also share a hive mind. They are directed, they are completely unified, and things always go According To Plan.

If you ventured underground, to the places where the very walls are made of them, where they seem infinite in their numbers, you would see the same three words scrawled over and over. They are written in their language, their alphabet, a cluster of sharp points like tally marks scratched on the cave walls. Translated they would read:

 

DISARRAY                                   GATHER

                               RECLAIM

 

In their alphabet, however, a scratch can mean more than one letter, and a word can have more than one meaning. These words could also be read as:

 

MADNESS                                   HARVEST

 

                         SLAUGHTER

 

This is the Plan. The first stage, Disarray/Madness, and Gather/Harvest, is in motion, and has been in motion for thousands of years, always growing in efficiency and strength. Disarray involves the taking and movement of our possessions, and other small, interfering activities, a great host of tricks to play on the unsuspecting humans to slowly, but surely, drive them mad. Each year things are ramped up a little bit more from the year before. And in their malice, they think it hilarious we have not noticed anything amiss, but blame ourselves and each other every time.

You may say it is having little effect. It is not. It is having an ever growing effect, simply one that humans do not recognise. For every murder and suicide, there are the prime reasons, of course, but there are also the little things, the mounting up of endless little annoyances that serve one consolidated purpose: to drive you over the edge.

These little things are the work of gremlins.

Gather works in partnership with Disarray, and involves stealing our things, and keeping them for themselves. Some of them are useful as they are; most of them are made into new things, bigger things, dangerous things. Gremlins are very good at building, at making crude but terribly efficient things out of gizmos, doohickeys and thingamajigs. Things that will make them stronger, things that will come into their own when the time comes to Reclaim.

The second stage has not begun yet.

 

url

The Gauntlet of Gore

The Gauntlet of Gore is one of my longer short stories – a similar length to The School of Necromancy, if you read that. It is also, perhaps, my bloodiest, and one of my strangest.

It is about a competitive school sport where players punch opposing players in the stomach with a powered gauntlet, which makes the person explode.

There is also a pervading supernatural horror element –  and some of the creepiest team captains you may ever encounter…

You can find it on Amazon here.

An extract:

 

The grass were iron blades burnished under the heat of the midday sun. Millions upon millions of little knives, all thirsting, ready to whet their whistles on the redness of humans.

The grounds for play covered the field, the central mud banks where lives were often lost, and the sparse yet dark forests around the fringes, where each team would begin. That’s where they waited, so tense you could cut yourself on their muscles. Some shivering, some breathing deep, some with eyes closed and praying to the gods of slaughter.

In no time at all, each of them would look a horror, team colours almost indistinguishable under slopping coats of mud and blood. Fighting, frenzied and frothing, lost in the berserker hazes of battle lust and battle terror. The tactics drilled into them could never last forever, could never be present when you were staring into the rolling whites of enemy eyes. Then, it was just you and them, and your death hung on a seesaw.

The woods were thin, but most of the trunks were wide. In the later stages of the game, sometimes called the hunt, sometimes called clean-up, they would hide players, players shivering and scared, putting off the inevitable, and players silent in their concealment, waiting to assassinate their hunters. Overhead the canopy was thick and heavy from these trees, filling in the gaps and shutting out the sun. The experienced players stood and crouched like panthers in the darkness, feeling the dirt under them and stroking the bark of the trees with their free hand.

You couldn’t see the cameras unless you were looking for them, but they were there. They had their places. In the field the cameras were long-range, pointing in at the action from the sidelines, but here they sneaked in among the trees, flicking on and off with night vision to the rapt, hungry attention of their audience.

The spectators sat in their stands on the only side of the field not bordered by woods, munching their processed meats and gurgling beer, keeping eyes on the huge screens that showed the choice views from the cameras, field and forest. The audience who watched at home slunk lower in their fat armchairs, or indulged drunken bloodlusts perched on barstools with their chattering, gasping brethren.

No spectators would cross the boundaries and come onto the pitch. There would be no streakers, no attention-seekers. If you passed the boundaries, your life was forfeit. Neither the Organisers or any player were held responsible if you were hurt, or if you died.

The audience stayed put.

This wasn’t as polished a set-up as the Nationals, or the World Titles, but a lot of people preferred the Locals, the inter-school matches. They were amateurs, technically, but the orgy of violence suited them, suited the dirt and roughness of the grounds. There were only a handful of pro stadiums – called Coliseums these days – out there. The players didn’t play on fields and in forests and sliding up and down mud banks, but on laminate flooring. Obstacles were varied, with new ones introduced in each game, keeping a novelty element for the audience and a surprise element for the teams. Regular obstacles included a simulated forest made of branchless, leafless poles to dodge, a waxen floor to slip and slide on, and a crowd favourite, an area of connected trampolines. You hadn’t seen anything until you’d seen two players jumping towards each other, fists connecting in each other’s stomachs, and exploding in mid-air.

Sarah checked her gauntlet for what seemed to be the twentieth time. There was no such thing as over-checking, not when your life depended on it working and staying strapped tight around your hand. She opened the small protective casing, flicked the switch and felt the familiar thrum, the vibrations coursing through her fingers and up her arm. When it hit the spot, a stomach, the vibrations, tuned to the perfect frequency, would multiply over and over, rumbling their way through the gauntlet and rippling the enemy’s (you better hope they were an enemy) stomach. And then they exploded.

She moved to switch it back off, when a siren sounded, sharp and angry, emitting from every camera. Now she could see them, blinking black and sullen in the trees.

‘Switch ‘em on!’ she shouted, and those players that needed telling did so.

She looked over at Mike, who nodded at her, his face hard. She turned to see Joseph, who had his eyes closed and was muttering fast to himself. She was relieved to see his gauntlet was on and working.

A couple of steps before her, Freddy was stretching. You better be good, she thought.

A second noise, higher than the last, and ending faster.

‘Everybody!’ Sarah shouted. ‘You’re here now! If you want to turn back, it’s too late, you’ll just have to fight your way out! Remember your training! Remember your teammates! Fight for your team, fight for your life, fight for William Howard! Give ‘em Hell!’

A cheer, desperate and aggressive, was echoed by some, and was quickly swallowed by the darkness. Some of them were gulping repeatedly and some were shaking their heads, as though wishing the dream away.

The third call.

They ran.

 

gauntlet4smaller