Category Archives: Short Stories

Short stories and flash fiction.

The School of Necromancy #3

Third part to my short story The School of Necromancy. It follows on from this part.

It can be found in full here.

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The Grandmaster is the head of the School of Necromancy, and until you are taking a degree you will probably never see him up close and personal, and even then perhaps not, unless you are of exceptional merit or simply lucky. You can, however, observe him from afar addressing assemblies in the Great Hall, chairing dinners and welcoming each new year. On one wall here is a huge portrait of him: mysterious, cold and elegant, and his personage reflects that. Only absolute fools do not regard him with the utmost respect.

Meet him and you will be forgiven for thinking him a vampire. Rumours get around, too, and first years are often led to believe that he is one. Some impressionable students take to drinking blood and even sharpening their teeth in order to draw his attention. I’ve tasted one of his red drinks. Cranberry juice. I poisoned it anyway, and he drank it: no effects. I saw him looking at me with a small smile on his face . . . I’d never thought much of my chances, but I think I’d have let him down if I hadn’t at least tried. No doubt he’s survived hundreds of assassination attempts without even a scar.

Vampire? Not quite, but the truth isn’t far off. He definitely has vampiric blood, I think perhaps on his mother’s side. You see, these days it’s never a matter of ‘is he a vampire or isn’t he’, more a matter of percentage. I have spoken at length with the Master of Vampire Studies, Edwin Cowl, and he is definite that no pure bloods exist anymore in Britain. There were a couple of them, perhaps, a decade ago, visiting London from their home somewhere in Northern Europe, but they were swallowed up and snuffed out like that city does to so many strange folk.

The modern world does not suit their ancient ways. They are an endangered species. I would not be surprised to learn that there were no true vampires in Europe anymore, merely their diluted descendants. Master Cowl told me that there are a few inbreeding vampire families in the backwoods of southern USA, keeping hidden, a few in Russia, and some in the least developed parts of Africa. Apparently China has a vampire family who are actually quite important and powerful. I wonder how long they will last in the spotlight, before their ways are discovered and understood for what they are.

I am digressing, I apologise. You will, perhaps, fully understand when I say that by writing this I am procrastinating on my latest research paper. But all this should give you a flavour of the environment we surround ourselves in, that is so utterly foreign and mythical to you. We are not wizards and witches – at least, we do not think of ourselves as such, despite the occultism – but are scientists, eagerly involving ourselves with the things of the grave, and beyond the grave.

An outsider would think many of us mad, if not all, but you must understand once you have spent time within these walls, so deep below the surface, you too will become infected by the mania that surrounds you, the frenetic drive that propels us to complete our work, pushing us to do more and more, ever greater scientific feats against nature.

We tell time, if needed, by our many clocks, and by the colour of the lights, that shift from white to yellow, to green, then the blue of dawn, then back to white. Not a cycle goes by where you will not hear somewhere an exultant shouting, a frenzied screaming, desperate rages, pleading, or a cry of ‘It’s ALIVE! – Oh, wait . . . fuck.’

Just remember, whatever you hear and whatever you see, that we’re all insomniacs, we’re all exhausted, and, disregarding some of our creations, we all are at least mostly human.

 

There are three main players to my tale, and each of them are third year students. Third years are usually the ones you have the most trouble with. First years are too awed by everything, too meek, and certainly too ignorant of anything remotely necromantic or necro-scientific. Second years are, by and large, eager for knowledge, grasping at anything that give them a foot up, and getting the most out of the classes that are more interesting than those available to first years. It’s third year, when most of the students are seventeen, that they get cocky, and think they know enough to tackle their ambitious and naïve ideas.

There is Henry Graves. A quiet, pleasant lad, with a mess of dusky hair that falls about his face. He studies with moderate effort, gets average grades, and is tolerable enough that he hasn’t had a single attempt made on his health by another student. He would not, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying, be particularly notable if not for his acquaintance with Arthur Pale, and his subsequent involvement in the events to come.

Arthur is, or should I say was, slightly obnoxious. He was small and reedy-voiced, with a pinched face and short mousy hair, and he was also a know-it-all, who, as is often the case, didn’t actually know as much as he thought he did. Events have certainly demonstrated he lacked wisdom. He was ambitious to a fault, one of those in the School who forewent both sleep and their assignments in order to pursue their own private research. The lack of rest never seemed to exhaust him, although he was a jittery, quick-talking sort, and he put most other students slightly on edge being around him for any length of time. He’d put his hand up in class over and over, or plain interrupt the master, to the point that even a couple of the masters had tried to poison or entrap him, to teach him a lesson if nothing else.

Nevertheless, he had emerged from every attempt by student or master unscathed and unbothered, and he would not deign to even remark on them, annoying people further. He sat by himself in classes until a particular day, mid-year, that he was found lab-partnered with another, and without comment the two stayed at each other’s side every single day.

This man, for it is a grown man, was called Shade. A strong name, if I do say so, although nobody knew his first name, not even the masters, and I expect not even himself. Neither did anyone, except possibly the Grandmaster, know his age, for while he was clearly an older student, he had that kind of face that almost defies age, and he could well be anywhere from twenty to forty.

Shade was an enigma, principally so because he almost never spoke, except possibly in private. He would certainly not speak up in front of a group, and if asked a question in class, as I once did (taking the class when the master was indisposed), he would stare right at you and say nothing until you moved to somebody else. Not that mutes were rare in the School, but there was something singular about Shade. He was very tall, and always wore a dark brown buttoned-up jacket with a wide-knot tie, a bowler hat that hid a bald head, and wire silver spectacles that were tinted a deep, cloudy purple. On the occasions he removed his glasses, such as to put on required goggles, his eyes were large and a piercing light blue.

There was something slightly wolfish about his face, giving rise to ridiculous rumours about him being a werewolf (students in this place can get carried away with it all). But, oddly enough, he was actually rather handsome. I say oddly, because Shade became a permanent laboratory assistant and dogsbody to Arthur Pale, never seeming to want anything more, and while it may be rather stereotypical of me to say, most dyed-in-the-wool lab assistants are ugly, often deformed in some way. Whether they are or not, they are always the less gifted of students, and Mr Shade’s bright blue eyes always did betray to me a calm, yet sharp intelligence that was never spoken.

You may wonder that I have not told you anything about our selection process, how students ever come here when our organisation and practices are so secretive, and when we are not being secretive we are being misunderstood. This is one thing I will not divulge; merely I will tell you that our students are chosen, and those that reject our offer do not end up speaking of it to others.

And now you have some idea to the background, and the principal players at hand, I will not delay you further, and I will begin this story, as has come to my knowledge piece by piece. I hope my penchant for storytelling does not get in the way of the facts.

 

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Quetzacthulhu (Part Two)

I came to clarity an indeterminable amount of time later. The priests had convened several times during my convalescence, deeply troubled by my rantings. If only they had been troubled more. They had not seen what I had seen.

Nobody had made it back with me, and the priests feared we were set upon by Tlaxcalans bearing dark witchery of the gods. They listened to my trembling words of the mountain that had come from under the earth – the living mountain that was only a head – and as I attempted to explain and failed miserably, they tossed aside my words as a continuation of my delirium.

Yes, the threat was taken seriously, but not seriously enough. Still, what could I have done? What could any of us have done? It happened that way. It was always going to happen that way.

There was only one thing spoken in my trance that they had listened to. I had chanted a name – a name that would go on to become legend, a name that sent a chill into the hearts of the bravest and wisest. Quetzacthulhu. I did not know then how the priests could have identified that word among all the others, and assumed it the name of the monster. Now I realise they knew the word all along, for by our torchlight I see it scratched all around me on these walls. These grim and ancient catacombs and primordial caves that lie underneath our ruined Great Temple. These are the recorded myths of this land that they tried to forget.

Moctezuma sent out hundreds of our elite cuauhtlocelotl and cuauhchicqueh warriors, our eagle-jaguars and Shorn Ones, blessed by the priests and given the finest swords and spears, adorned with the finest feathers. Many of our people gathered to look at them as they organised, and were full of pride and triumph. They saw Aztec warriors equal to none, a dread force fit to hunt down our enemies and leave none standing. They saw hope in its entirety, and an end to doubt and fear.

I saw only the walking dead.

Against all my pleading they forced me to come with them. They still thought me mad, but I was the only one who had survived the encounter. If I did not have enough grasp of my senses to know what we would be facing, I at least knew where it had occurred. This was their reasoning. I was threatened with immediate sacrifice if I should not comply. I know now I should have thrown myself at those knives with gladness and joy.

 

On their first sighting – which was long before we drew close – the warriors did not understand what they were seeing. To them, it was as though a gargantuan pillar of earth had thrust itself into the sky. Many believed it was an incredible event of the natural world, perhaps the rising of a new world tree, forming some indecipherable omen. Many others believed it was divine intervention, and we were witnessing the work of a god – that, at least, could be said to be true.

It was only upon drawing closer, upon staring up at the indescribable bulk far above our heads, its various titanic parts half-glimpsed through the trees, that they came to accept what I was trying to tell them.

The pillar was not of the earth. It was the leg of Quetzacthulhu.

He had continued his ascent after I had escaped. After the head had freed itself from the ground – perhaps from the underworld itself – the body had followed. Arms, legs. If the head alone had frightened and disturbed me to my very core, and shaken all belief I had in reason and life and the good will of the gods, then the full colossal scale of the thing was enough to make one die right there on the spot. This is no hyperbole – I saw a cuauhtlocelotl warrior beside me draw out his knife as though in a trance and cut his throat there and then. Few of us even gave him a glance; my thought of him would later be one of jealousy. He may have angered the gods by his cowardly action, and perhaps he would pay for it in the Mictlan underworld, but in all honesty, how could it possibly have gotten any worse than it did? I wonder many times why I did not follow him in such a course. Well, there is still time. Even though the worst is over . . . now we must live with ourselves, live in this new world wrought for us.

It speaks volumes of the bravery and steadfast of our best warriors that bar all but a wretched few – those once proud and fierce and revered – we collected ourselves as much as we could and continued on towards that primeval dread. We were still many in number, after all, and even gods can bleed. I admit to even a thin vein of hope myself – soon dashed beyond measure.

 

Quetzacthulhu can be found in full as part of the fantasy/horror short story collection ‘Born to be Weird‘.

Quetzacthulhu

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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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’.

 

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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.

 

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