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Tales of Black Pine Falls: The Preacher and the Goat

There is a place called Black Pine Falls.

A place where everything looks like a shadow of something else. The trees like tall, stiff men in the dark. A forest of people, hiding in mist. Huge caves like open mouths. Somewhere the rush of water.

You might go looking for it.

It’ll let you get close. Maybe you’ll hear the faint cries of children. The soft thump of an axe into wood. The smells of life and death and the swampblood. And just when you’re almost on top of it all it’ll be gone in smoke, leaving you with nothing but echoes.

The people in the town wipe holes on fogged windowpanes and stare out, at the distant lights of your torches and lanterns. Eventually the lights retreat and go out.

You can look as hard as you like. It’ll let you get as close as a whisper in your ear, before there’s nothing, nothing but fog and the clustering trees.

It simply isn’t there.

 

TALES OF BLACK PINE FALLS

The Preacher and the Goat

 

Zebediah Williams, Preacher Williams to the folk of Black Pine Falls, walked out of the town booze store holding the bottle up and his head high. He knew they were looking at him. All of them, judging him. They always were. He could hear the whispers. Screw them. He’d see them at church. He knew their secrets. Why add one more? The town had enough already.

Let them see. He was their preacher and he was drinking. He’d been drinking for a while. He knew it was getting worse. So what? They’d still come. If the goddamn crows didn’t keep them away.

He’d started when Rosie left him in the summer. He wasn’t sure of the day. She left him after the thing with the goat. Now she probably had eyes for all the men. Oh, he knew the score. Nobody ever thought he was right for her. There were lots of tough men in Black Pine Falls; Zebediah was not one of them. Big gal Rosie could beat him in an arm wrestle without trying; he’d always act like he let her win but they both knew.

He was smart though, and god-fearing. That should have been enough. He used to be level-headed too; he used to be as down to earth as Rosie herself. Scorning the superstitions of the townsfolk and their wild stories about trees and phantoms and creatures of the forest. Never a week would go by where you wouldn’t hear somebody tell about some strange thing that happened to them, big or small. Zebediah would call them out for their pagan blasphemies and command them to go to church. And most of them did. Not as many now, but enough.

The weirdness hadn’t come all at once; it’d crept up on him. Just little things, hardly worth mentioning to anyone, confusing, almost inexplicable things that quietly addled his mind. A missing thing here, a strange sound there. Often it was just a peculiar feeling inside. Zebediah blamed it all on lack of sleep and stress put upon him by Rosie. Until that one event that everything changed.

It was the end of the first week of October today. Everyone who lived in stone’s throw of the black pines had breathed their usual sigh of relief after September had passed, just like they always did. Not too relieved, though. Winter wasn’t long off, and Hallows Eve was right around the corner.

Caleb and his family lived in a bad spot, perhaps the worst. The man wasn’t talkative though; Zebediah wondered if Caleb had seen anything like he had. If he had, he seemed to be keeping sane enough. On the outside, at least.

Well, Caleb wasn’t as smart as Zebediah and so had less to lose.

Caleb. Zebediah spat, then took a swig from his bottle as he continued up the hill out of town towards the church. He’d never liked the man. He knew he made eyes at Rosie, even when they were together.

Well, he was welcome to her. They all were. All the logging crews. Fuck her. Why should he care? Caleb was welcome to take her just like he was welcome to be taken by the bogeymen that lived among the pines, any day now.

The thing that shook his grounded world views forever happened last November. It’d been cold, deathly cold for the month. He was blowing out candles at the altar, his back to the pews. The congregation had long left, but he’d kept the candles lit for a while, just kneeled in front of them. Praying, he told himself, but in truth just eager for the warmth.

He kept the last candle to see himself out through the side door and into his small home that adjoined the church. Ready to cover himself in blankets and shiver away the night. Rosie had been out that night, drinking with her friends.

He’d turned, and past the glow of the candle that blurred the centre of his vision, he saw a man sat down on the front pew, bent forward slightly with his arms over his knees and his hands clasped, as though thinking, or praying.

A lesser man than he would have dropped the candle. Then again, his first assumption was that it was one of the townsfolk come back to see him.

And, in a way, it was.

Zebediah moved closer, lowering the candle. That’s when his heart pulled a frozen one. The man was dead. He was a corpse.

The face was deeply wrinkled and stretched thin; the skin must have been sallow away from the candlelight. The eyes were not there, only black, sunken pits, less like someone had gouged out the man’s eyes and more like two small fists had been thrust all the way into his head. Meteor blasts in his face into which no light penetrated.

Zebediah knew him. It was Old Thomas, and he’d died the previous winter. Lost to the snow.

Zebediah was still a statue, unspeaking, unblinking, when Old Thomas turned his head towards him. The sound was something he’d never forget. It was like the uprooting of a sapling, all knots twisting and popping. Zebediah found himself face to face with that sightless dead man, dead man moving, dead man –

‘Don’t mind me Preacher,’ Old Thomas said, in the most terrible death’s rattle. Oh, it was him. It was him alright. ‘I’m just cleaning my sins away. Getting right with the lord.’

Preacher Zebediah Williams’s heart had kicked into furious overdrive at that point, and he’d run yelling out the church and to the town. He barely remembered anything of that night after the point when Old Thomas had spoken, but he knew the aftermath. Sure, he knew how it would have looked.

If only that had been all.

If that had been all, maybe Zebediah could have recovered. Not enough sleep wasn’t a good enough excuse anymore. It had happened, he knew that, even if nobody else did. But it was just one thing. One big thing. But crazy things had happened to a lot of people here. He was allowed one, right?

The distance from Rosie grew over the following months, as Zebediah lost his scepticism towards all things weird and unnatural. He began listening to other people’s stories. Really listening, quiet and nodding. He started to accept some things, such that there was something deathly wrong with the black pines. That there were many things happening that oughtn’t have happened.

He couldn’t remember when in the summer the goat had showed up. June was it, or early July? He knew it was the final straw, the moment when he lost Rosie for good, but that time was so blurry – he measured it in weirdness, not in days and dates.

Summer was a time when the stranger things of Black Pine Falls weren’t supposed to happen. Summer was a warm, peaceful time when you could walk away from the Timbersea and amongst the black pines without any unease. Providing you stayed out of the forest’s dark hearts of course, where the earth itself was black and cold and strewn with bogs that sucked you down. Swampblood, they called it. There must be gasses underneath, for the mud bubbled and burped at you. Even when Zebediah was at his most rational, there was nothing comforting in those places.

So, the goat had come. Nobody knew from where. It didn’t belong to anybody. Fact was nobody could remember there being goats in Black Pine Falls, but he guessed there must have been. Far as he knew the goat just stepped out from the woods and next thing you knew was grazing around the church, ready to meet Rosie.

When they were sure nobody owned it (and they hadn’t reckoned so; everyone knew everyone pretty much, and nobody could keep something like a goat secret for long) Rosie had quickly decided to keep it as a pet. Against Zebediah’s wishes, of course.

He’d lasted longer than he should have – three or four weeks – before he’d made up his mind. Finding goat shit in the aisles was when Zebediah knew the farce had to end. He’d taken the goat out into the woods. Holding the string in one hand, shotgun in the other.

He took him away from the Timbersea and stopped only when they met the stream. Zebediah didn’t know the place; he wasn’t sure he’d ever gone this far out. But a shotgun blast could carry a long way sometimes, and he wanted to be absolutely sure he wouldn’t be heard. He’d tell Rosie the goat escaped.

There’d been something strange about the water this far upstream. There was a silvery quality to it. A kind of dancing light. The sun, of course. Just the sun.

He’d raised the gun and the goat had looked at him. Everything seemed to fall silent. The birds, the breeze, even the sound of the stream.

His finger paused on the trigger.

The goat kept on looking, right in his eyes.

The world had stopped. It was just the two of them, him and the bastard goat, alone in the blackness, with nothing but the silver glint from the stream. Nothing but the –

The goat opened its mouth. ‘What is it you think you’re doing Preacher?’ it said.

Well, yeah, that was it. He’d run back raving, right into Rosie’s bewildered arms. In his madness he let slip his intent. He could have lied if he’d been in his right mind; after all, he’d dropped the shotgun back at the stream.

Rosie had packed her stuff the same day. It made no sense, it was just a goat! Just a fucking goat. At least that’s what he used to think. Didn’t she owe him any loyalty? She got so attached to things. All but him.

You can let a man be as mad as a jackrabbit, but you can’t ever let him kill your pet.

He should have shot the goat. Why didn’t he shoot it? He knew it was still out there, deep in the forest. Or maybe close by, watching him. He’d lost count of the number of nights he’d wake up sweating, the low croak of the goat’s words still ringing in his ears. What is it you think you’re doing Preacher?

What in the hell is it you think you’re doing.

Zebediah took another drink of his bottle, closing in on the church. He could already see the cluster of crows, and he grimaced. One day he’d get another shotgun and blow the whole lot up, bad luck or not. What more bad luck could he have?

His feet struck a rock and he winced, almost tripping over. Truth was that Rosie would have left him anyway. Everyone knew it.

Well, good luck to her. She’d chewed him out too many times. She’d never respected him. Far as he was concerned the bitch could have them all. All at the same time, why the fuck not?

Zebediah wiped his eyes and gripped the bottle tight. He shoved the church door open.

Old Thomas was in his regular spot, sitting hunched forward in the first pew, his pitted sockets staring into Zebediah.

‘What is it you think you’re doing, Preacher?’ he said.

Zebediah threw the bottle, smashing it a foot away from the corpse. What was left dripped down into the floorboards.

‘You shut the hell up Thomas! I ain’t got time for your shit!’

 

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Tales of Black Pine Falls: The Timbersea

There is a place called Black Pine Falls.

A place where everything looks like a shadow of something else. The trees like tall, stiff men in the dark. A forest of people, hiding in mist. Huge caves like open mouths. Somewhere the rush of water.

You might go looking for it.

It’ll let you get close. Maybe you’ll hear the faint cries of children. The soft thump of an axe into wood. The smells of life and death and the swampblood. And just when you’re almost on top of it all it’ll be gone in smoke, leaving you with nothing but echoes.

The people in the town wipe holes on fogged windowpanes and stare out, at the distant lights of your torches and lanterns. Eventually the lights retreat and go out.

You can look as hard as you like. It’ll let you get as close as a whisper in your ear, before there’s nothing, nothing but fog and the clustering trees.

It simply isn’t there.

 

TALES OF BLACK PINE FALLS

The Timbersea

 

They called it the Timbersea. They talked of it like it was a single, definitive place, and not the sprawling, stretched out and patchwork area of woods that curved like a horseshoe around the town. It was home to half a dozen logging camps, but they were always sprouting up and dissolving. Sometimes, as the black pines crept in, the Timbersea was connected only by threads. In winter the black could cut it up entirely, turning it into mere pockets, islands of dark green and brown fighting the darkness. Last November workers swore that they were marooned in a single day. Few believed them; tree-blindness, they called it. Caleb was one of those that believed.

The Timbersea was the only place the forest would let them cut.

They’d fell an area, and the trunks and roots would loosen and come up, as though eager for their own annihilation, happy to be done with it and cleanse the land of their gelded forms. Two of the men would turn the grinder and chew the roots and the branches and all that detritus into chips. When they’d moved on to a new area, they’d replant the previous. The trees grew fast, unnaturally fast. Nowhere stayed clear here for long, nowhere but the White Circle.

Caleb crunched his way to the logging camp. He crested a rise, and stopped to take a breath at the usual spot. Through the trees and at a little distance you could see the church, standing on its own in the light morning fog. It was small and old, and short of visitors. It was partly the season; Preacher Williams held the services earlier, so everybody had time to get back long before sundown, but that wasn’t always good enough. Williams had taken a fancy to blaming the large red-eyed crows that perched above the doorway and around the spire. They were there now; their number seemed to grow every day. Was that a raven leading them?

Truth was the biggest reason for the church’s emptiness wasn’t the crows or the season. It was the holes in the roof that Williams never got around to mending. The mists poured through them and drifted around the aisles, making the seats damp. Nobody wanted a wet ass.

Caleb hefted his axe back on his shoulder and continued. It was just him and Foreman Miller Jones for a spell, sharpening and moving things about; the others arrived soon after. There were nine men in all on their shift, and one woman, Rosie. Rosie was too tough to take shit from any of them. She’d been married to Preacher Williams before the thing with the goat. Ever since (and maybe before), Caleb reckoned that she had a thing for him. Sometimes he wondered if the others reckoned the same thing for themselves.

They began to cut.

You always cut in the Timbersea. You never strayed further, no matter how much the black pines beckoned you. And beckon you they did. There was a siren call, whispers carried on the wind. If you didn’t keep your head strong and focused on your work, they could talk to you, in their wordless way. They wanted to lure you, tempt you into cutting into their oil-dark wood and hear them moan.

Caleb had heard them moan, sure enough. He’d been there. He’d seen it.

He’d nearly been there. He’d almost seen it. Almost in time.

The legend of the Man of the Woods was birthed twenty-one years ago. The name was Paul Bunyan. Caleb and Foreman Miller Jones were the only ones still logging who remembered him (Jones remembered others lost to the black too, men before Caleb’s time). Paul was a big feller, bigger than Caleb, a seven-footer with a chest like a barrel. One day he’d gone for a piss and not returned.

Caleb had gone looking for him, and he’d heard the moan. It came from the invisible, ever-shifting line where the Timbersea met the black. The black pines. The sound was like a great woman in cold pained ecstasy, a ten-layered breath that trembled through the ground under his boots.

Caleb had hesitated, then stormed forward, roaring Paul’s name. He found the man’s hat, strewn with black needles at the foot of a tree. It held a fresh cut in its trunk, and the sap that was pouring out was thick and bubbling and congealing fast. Soon the cut would disappear.

Of the axe and of Paul Bunyan there was no sign.

The hat blew with the wind as Caleb stooped to grab it. It danced further and further away, always just out of reach, and like a fool he chased it. He’d wised up in time enough, thank god, letting it go and racing back to the safety of the Timbersea.

To this day, whenever they stopped for their lunch break or there was a lull in the work, you might think you hear the far-off sound of one man walking through the woods. A large man, a huge man by the sounds of it. Or a faint noise on the wind of an axe thudding, sinking into oil-dark wood.

The day’s work as done as it could be, Miller Jones let them go with enough time to get back before dark. Caleb stomped his tired way back through the forest. There was a knot of black pines that separated him from his cabin, and he would always grit his teeth and stop himself from quickening his pace.

Something that sounded like a whippoorwill called from behind him, but it could have been anything at all. The kids better be shut in tight, he thought, not looking round.

After all, it was September. And the dark belonged to them.

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

Tales of Black Pine Falls: The Bogeymen

There is a place called Black Pine Falls.

A place where everything looks like a shadow of something else. The trees like tall, stiff men in the dark. A forest of people, hiding in mist. Huge caves like open mouths. Somewhere the rush of water.

You might go looking for it.

It’ll let you get close. Maybe you’ll hear the faint cries of children. The soft thump of an axe into wood. The smells of life and death and the swampblood. And just when you’re almost on top of it all it’ll be gone in smoke, leaving you with nothing but echoes.

The people in the town wipe holes on fogged windowpanes and stare out, at the distant lights of your torches and lanterns. Eventually the lights retreat and go out.

You can look as hard as you like. It’ll let you get as close as a whisper in your ear, before there’s nothing, nothing but fog and the clustering trees.

It simply isn’t there.

 

TALES OF BLACK PINE FALLS

The Bogeymen

 

‘Get away from that window!’ She heard her father bark from behind her. She didn’t react at first; she was intent on the treeline, the line that crept so close to their cabin, closer every day it seemed. Tendrils of mist snuck forward as though to grab at the porch light, wreathing around it. The lamp only glowed brighter in the coming dark, turning the mist to an orange haze and revealing those million dancing, falling things that lived in the air.

Her father didn’t ask twice. His hand grabbed her dress and she was yanked backwards. She would have hit the floor if his huge arms hadn’t been there to fall into.

‘What did I tell you?’ Her father said, and she hung her head and looked at her shoes. ‘You only just got in before dark when I told you to come home earlier. And now you’re at the window again. I don’t want you having nothing to do with the outside come evening times. Especially not now it’s September. Alright?’

‘I’m sorry, father,’ she said.

He pulled the curtains closed. ‘Go and play with your brother.’

Mabel nodded and sat down opposite her brother, who was doing weird things with his hands. He stopped and stared at her, and she opened her eyes as wide as they could go – which was very wide indeed – and stared back. This was a game they played often: whoever blinked first lost. It didn’t matter that she always lost, as she did again. Cain never did blink all that much even outside of the game. I blink when you blink, he told her once. That’s why you don’t see me do it.

Mabel picked up her brush and began to brush her black hair in front of the mirror. She heard her father grunt and walk off with his heavy tread on the floorboards, and she knew he was heading to the back of the cabin, to the adjoining woodshed where he did his wood carvings.

She looked at her reflection. Some people said that with her perfectly round face and perfectly straight hair and her large round eyes she looked like one of her father’s wood carvings. A painted doll, but not perfectly painted. There was a black spot underneath her right eye, like a stray drop of paint had flicked off the end of the brush and onto her cheek.

She didn’t think she was a wood carving, not anymore. She had believed when she was younger, though, and her father had been slow to dismiss her of the idea. She wasn’t allowed in the woodshed, but she’d peeked inside once when he was out felling trees; it was where he kept his creations, all his unpainted dolls and statues, his carved bears and miniature trees and his monsters. She’d seen them looking at her, even though most of them didn’t even have any eyes, and she’d quickly run back into her room. She didn’t want to be like them at all.

‘It’s getting late.’ Her Uncle Samson stretched out his legs in the rocking chair by the fire. He’d been quiet for a long time and she’d thought him asleep. ‘Let me tell you both a story while Caleb’s busy.’

Mabel and Cain sat down at his feet in front of the log fire that kept the outside chill almost at bay. Samson opened a book by Atticus, the writer who lived in the town and wrote almost all the books. Most of them were not very long and seemed very improbable, but Mabel understood that was just how books were.

They sat, clutching their knees while their uncle told them the story about a magic device that some people had that could let you talk from one side of the forest to another, all the way across Black Pine Falls. You spoke into it and it sent the words sailing out, and they bounced off every tree, entirely invisible until they reached the other person’s device, where they became sounds again.

‘What about in the White Circle, where there are no trees?’ Mabel asked.

‘That’s when the words fly up and hit the moon,’ her uncle answered. ‘Then they fall back down to the other person.’

‘I don’t believe in magic like that,’ Mabel said.

‘You don’t need to believe in a story,’ her uncle said, closing the book. ‘Stories just are.’

Their father returned then, wiping his brow, and sent them off to bed. He was tucking Cain in when he realised that the curtains to their room had not been drawn. He stiffened and quickly grabbed the sides, but hesitated. He was staring out, out into the darkness. The lamp outside had gone out.

‘Are they out there, father?’ Mabel asked.

‘They’re out there,’ her father replied.

‘Are they still hiding?’

‘No, they’re not hiding anymore.’ He wrenched the curtains closed.

Mabel stared into the candlelight next to her as her father sat down heavily on her bed. He put a hand on her leg.

‘Sleep tight, sleep true,’ he said, in the same low monotone he did every night. Mabel always thought it sounded strange, like some kind of chant. ‘Don’t let the bogeymen get you.’

‘They won’t get me, will they father?’

‘Not if you’re a good girl,’ he said, and left, closing the door behind him.

Mabel watched the guttering candle. Outside she thought she could hear something, a very faint rustling. But it was probably just the wind and the trees.

 

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Black Pine Falls

 

There is a place called Black Pine Falls.

A place where everything looks like a shadow of something else. The trees like tall, stiff men in the dark. A forest of people, hiding in mist. Huge caves like open mouths. Somewhere the rush of water.

You might go looking for it.

It’ll let you get close. Maybe you’ll hear the faint cries of children. The soft thump of an axe into wood. The smells of life and death and the swampblood. And just when you’re almost on top of it all it’ll be gone in smoke, leaving you with nothing but echoes.

The people in the town wipe holes on fogged windowpanes and stare out, at the distant lights of your torches and lanterns. Eventually the lights retreat and go out.

You can look as hard as you like. It’ll let you get as close as a whisper in your ear, before there’s nothing, nothing but fog and the clustering trees.

It simply isn’t there.

 

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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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Faces in the Dark horror story collection

Good evening!

Four things have come available to download all within short space of each other.  There is the short story The Half School, which I posted earlier on this site, there is the long short story The Gauntlet of Gore, another short story called The Gremlins, and a collection of paranoid horror called Faces in the Dark, which includes The Gremlins.

I’ll focus on Faces in the Dark for this post, and make separate posts in the near future for The Gremlins and The Gauntlet of Gore, and give you something to read of them.

Faces in the Dark primarily features the novella and hallucinogenic road horror The Violet Dark, of which there are a number of consecutive parts to read already up on my site. It also includes all of my ‘paranoid horror’ short stories: The Watcher, Keep it Clean, Anamia, The Gremlins and Dead Streets.

You can find it on Amazon.

Here are the blurbs for each of them, see if I can arouse your interest…

The Violet Dark

When you leave the paths of light, you fall and you fall forever.

A man finds a woman crouched over the body of her murdered father. The man is hallucinating on a liquid drug called violet, and offers it as a promise of escape. The woman, numb with shock and grief, takes it and soon finds herself in a ‘beautiful nightmare’, the shadowy world of the violet dark. They ride the endless roads on motorbikes, lost in the drug and almost lost to reality…

Terrible, grotesque things are hunting them. If only she could convince herself that the danger was all in her head…

The Watcher

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

Keep it Clean

Have you ever been swallowed by a public toilet?

No? This man was.

A scatological horror so odious you’ll be showering non-stop for days.

Anamia

Assorted entries from the Anamia Diary, found among possessions.

Care is advised before reading, especially for those who have or have had an eating disorder.

The Gremlins

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.

Dead Streets

It was between Hallowe’en and the advent of Christmas, that half-haunted and melancholic time of year when spirits and ghasts one by one went to their slumber in the hidden places. I had spent the night drinking and smoking with a friend, and now in the small hours I set off on the pale roads to home.

 

Faces in the Dark coversmaller

 

Keep it Clean

Hallo. Keep it Clean may just be the vilest thing I’ve ever written. Well, I suppose it depends on who you are. It’s certainly a little gross.

It is, to put it bluntly, a short pulp horror story about a man and a public toilet.

Still reading? Good. If you like this extract and want to read the rest, you can find it as an ebook here.

 

Keep it Clean

 

He’d have liked to say that from first look it was just an ordinary toilet, no more homicidal than any other, but he’d have been lying. It was, in fact, the lord of toilets, or its most low-born, its befouled emperor or its most grotesque assassin. Was it cherished, worshipped and obeyed? Did it head the assembly, chair the meetings? Or was it tolerated – barely – by the others, only as needs must; kept in the dark, in the shadows, ugly and deformed even by its own kind. Perhaps it was both, for in such an underworld the forms of power come naturally feculent, a triumph of disgust to the masses that lurked there in their cubicles and private rooms. The gilded and implacable, perfumed and cushioned at the foot, lid closed in deference as much as the fetid sinkholes with their vacant dribbling stares.

Whatever its position among them it was one powerful and feared. Its mouth was wide open in a toothless yawn, beckoning him on. He almost made to turn and leave, to hold it in, but he was desperate. If only the pub’s bathroom hadn’t been out of order. His friends were the ones who had told him to go to the public toilet in Piss Alley – that’s what they called this stretch of lightless cobbles, on account of all the homeless were scared of the toilet too, rather letting their urine run down the street than open that door. They knew better.

He’d had to walk past them, and they’d stretched out their hands to him, trying to tug on his jacket. They weren’t the usual fallen on hard times, but elephant men, leprous deformities huddled in rags untouched by moonlight. This was their Piss Alley and in the small hours he knew they prostrated themselves before the toilet; their whimpers reached him even in his dreams.

Call it a dodgy curry, IBS, or a reaction to the alcohol: a cauldron of vomit mistakenly travelling the wrong way. Either way he couldn’t make the journey anywhere else, and he banged the door shut behind him and closed the latch, a movement it seemed all too eager to make.

He surveyed the squalor, face twisting in nausea and fear. The cracked lid was pulled back like lips drawn back on chimpanzees. The rim was stained all shades of brown, caked on and smeared, and dribbled down to the foot. The floor sodden with tissues of muck, holes in the tiles where fat black slugs curled and roamed up the walls and squirmed, half-dropping off the ceiling, their feelers contemplating the suicidal dive into the pool below that sang songs to them with basement witchery.

A cluster of moths flicked their wings against the bulb that hung like a corpse from the lid of the place, its glass bruised and choked into giving a green light that cast the room in seasickness. Every gnarl of dirt – and was that blood? – given its time, its torture-den glow. The only thing left unfouled was the roll holder, a bowed metal head that made him of think of H.R. Giger as it shone with menace, curling its dry paper intestines and keeping them tight and guarded like a baby in the womb.

He had barely summoned the courage to touch the lid when it clanged down, sending him jumping back. The lid was not as filthy as the rim, but still shit-lined and worn patches of what could be rust, could be faeces, could be dried blood. He reached to the metal holder and snatched a sheet of paper before its jaws could clamp shut on his fingers. It cleaned nothing; all marks long made and resistant to his touch, and he shivered as his fingers felt the bumps in the porcelain scars.

The toilet regarded him as every toilet regarded every human: with cold silence. They endured, they waited. He knew their patience, stretched thin and twisted. They spoke to each other, you see, sometimes whispering along the pipes but only when they meant to scare him, for they had a hive mind, and they always knew. He heard them, not through his ears but in his head, or rather he heard the things left unsaid, the silent things.

 

bathroom