Tag Archives: horror

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 Violet Dark extract

Check out an extract from the hallucinogenic road thriller/horror below. This does not follow on from my previous TVD posts, but is an extract from later on. It can be found in full here.

 

The Second and Third

 

Close Encounters of the Netherkind

 

They were driving slowly along when they saw them. Two shadows coming in from the side, reaching out with clawing hands. Waving in the air like black weeds.

Horror gripped her heart in savage hands. She was frozen by these elongated demons, unable to move, unable to turn her bike or stop or speed past. She proceeded with ghastly inevitability towards their outstretched hunger, and the closer she came the more a sense of terrible decay festered within her.

With the anger of a rising engine he overtook her, and the shadows seemed to shrink, to gabble with sudden uncertainty even as he decelerated. He raised his shotgun and blew through one of them. The other emitted a shriek and contorted, spider-like, ready to spring. The gun span and there was empty space in its chest. The bike growled to a stop.

She stared at him and at the twitching grotesques. Inky clouds seemed to seep from the ground beneath them.

Move,’ he said, revving the bike and taking off, and as her bike rolled past the scene she felt control come back into her body, and with tight fingers she accelerated.

 

Think. Think.

It was no use. Her mind was scattershot and wild. Around her hedgerows and fences were paintings of carnage, of orgiastic horrors gorging themselves on human bones. She saw her face everywhere, plagued and in pain, and she saw her limbs eaten like corn on the cobs. Everything satanic and diseased, everything them, all watching her, ready to jump from the trees, from the sky above; legions of shadows eager to break through the road and pull her down into Hell.

Around bends she sometimes lost him, and then she was a doll of blood-coloured china, petrified and shattered with the smallest push. A minute would feel a lifetime, suspended in perennial shell. She could not even close her eyes, although she knew doing so would only deliver her into a blacker perdition, an abyss of no escape.

When she saw him again, that soft blur streaking through the night air, the relief rained on her in a hot shower. She would tailgate him, bewitched by his presence and his guardianship, and he would look back and through everything she could always see the smile.

The blue lights came up on them from behind. That same colour blue that had flickered through the trees while they were naked and bestial. A supernatural blue, a blue of Reykjavik ice caves, a blue of Roswell experiments on beings with tennis ball eyes.

Whatever was coming drove the lights before them, and when she turned her head to see she could see nothing but the sheen of abduction blue.

Something new. Is there no end? But her thoughts lost themselves to the cerulean haze, as though it were an occult fog designed to bend her mind to dumb wonder. Space. Ocean. I am theirs. Up, up and away. Neptune. Perhaps I am the alien here. Vivisection. Ice. A cold flood. The blue cheeks of death. I must. I must see. I must see the sea.

‘Don’t let them bewitch you. They’re not good.’ Her half-closed eyes opened to see him riding alongside her. She blinked and turned to look at it hard, and saw beyond the lights.

A great cat? Was her first thought, but she couldn’t be sure. Slowed down this seemed something different, though perhaps of the same dimension. Through the fuzz and watercolours and casts of fog she made out the heads and tentacle arms of shadows inside.

So, they have their tricks. They have those that would carry them, those that would shine the beacons.

She clasped the throttle just before he did, and as they raced through the muddy world the shadows and their lights chased them. She did not look back again.

Fear kept her in control, as everything about her turned to a smear. She was leading now, and they crossed onto new roads.

She turned onto a smaller road, then a track, then off the track and through woods. She rode off a bank – her heart was in her mouth – and landed with a thump that tottered the bike and she fell off as the bike curled itself onto the ground.

He came soon after, making the jump and swerving to a stop just before he hit a tree. They pulled the bikes to the rim of the bank and crouched there, knees pulled up, listening.

‘Why are they after us?’ she whispered. If not for the violet’s effect on her night vision she would have been nearly blind.

‘They know we’re a threat.’

‘But why are we? Is it because we killed some of them?’

‘They came after us first.’

‘Then why?’ she pressed.

He sighed. ‘Because we’re not like them. We don’t live in their world.’

‘What world is that?’

But he wouldn’t answer.

 

Light flashed through the wood briefly, and they heard grunts and sunken hoots like netherworld gibbons, but after that no more lights came, no seeking shadows nor the roadbeasts that carried them. They stayed to make sure, and soon their eyelids blinked heavier and heavier, and the abyss clawed up to them and dragged them down with hungry arms.

 

Airborne Dreams

 

Too high to fall

 

She dreamt she was high up, looking down on a rug of white mould. Level with her passed a procession of spirits. They ignored her as any ethereal might do to a mortal.

Leviathans of snow and cold cotton came and went. She heard him, but the murmuring words were indistinct.

She drifted lower and passed through the carpet. Beneath it was the night. A black sea in all directions. The endless, sucking void.

Spider webs of amber lights defied the empty. Breathtaking mosaics spaced as far as the eye could see. Civilisation. The world of man was nought but a Halloween decoration. Man and woman, she corrected herself. This was hers too, and all must be held accountable.

Connecting these lonely outposts were trickles of moving lights that snaked through the ink, fighting through the black swamp that threatened to engulf them from all directions. She knew the trails must also be bridges without supports, balanced or hovering by some magic across the void.

Stay away from the dark, she heard him say. Love it with fear and stay away. When you leave the paths of light you fall and you fall forever.

 

He dreamt of monsters with human faces and the shuffling dead. Of cold blue prisons, and a mantra, murmured through unconscious lips.

The hour is black, I do not sleep. Shadows they are watching me.

Do not answer the door.

He dreamt of a boy traumatised, not by the actions of others but by his own; struck dumb with all that he had seen, with all that had come and not come from his being in the world.

This torture of innocence excited the man he was, and while he dreamt of darker things and his head swam giddy, the boy in the locked cage cried and cried and cried.

 

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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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Moral Zero extract #4

Moral Zero is a dystopian thriller with post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, existential and horror themes. Contains visceral and potentially disturbing sexuality and violence and is not for everyone, certainly not the faint of heart and stomach.

It is currently self-published as an ebook and can be found on Amazon for Kindle here.

Disclaimer: The lack of speech marks and other idiosyncrasies are deliberate.

Here is another extract from it.

 

THE BLACK DREAM

 

Smoke and darkness. Little lights like glowing insects popped into existence and he saw that they were beetles, their carapaces embedded in the walls and their antennae feeling out to brush against him like the hairs of a carpet. They were alive. The feelers tickled his skin as if judging his merit.

It was a tunnel and he moved down it, moving like a phantom, something not really there, perhaps a hallucination or a memory. There was dark at the end of the tunnel and it was this that he was shifting towards. It was this where the smoke was coming from. It billowed like a plume, caught up in the dull beetle light and shining in patches, coming reflective in wisps – and then just a thick, lifeless fog. He could feel the hissing from the end of the tunnel and yet he could not hear it. The tunnel seemed without air and he was not breathing and the smoke as it rolled and writhed seemed at moments as though some creature winding out the netherworlds, and then other moments was a mirror to him, a mirror almost fully gaps and broken shards and the spider-thin fingers of smoke reflected his eyes and nothing more and at one instance a thousand eyes stared at him and then it was just smoke.

He reached the end. The vacuum trembled with the hissing and still all was silent and now he was in darkness.

There was a stretch of time alien and unknowable as he shifted and hovered and drifted as though smoke himself. He felt pulled back and forth as though on currents not his own. His legs remained useless and dangling and his body was pained by the pressures of larger forces upon it. He wanted to speak, to say that he was under his control and his alone, but that which controlled him would not permit this and his mouth stayed shut and sewn.

After the alien time and alien movement there was a flicker of light and he fell to the floor. His legs buckled and jarred and he had to recall the methods of their use. The flicker was growing and the first sound came, that of sizzling meat.

His eyes blinked and there was fire all around him and he was choking. But not from the smoke, which infested him as though part of his being. He choked at the sight of the lumps of meat in the fire, sizzling away, and then great sobs found their way through him and his body racked and heaved and he vomited and drooled and trembled impotently as the flesh bubbled and he traced the contours of the body parts with his fingers as if sketching in the air. The noises of the cooking and blistering meat were now accompanied by screams, even though there was nothing alive to make them and the screams were more like a chorus of echoes.

The stitching around his mouth was gone and he whimpered like a pup and was on all fours as he put his hands over his ears but the screams of the burning woman were still there, now louder and fierce as though the desperation to be saved had reached its point of crescendo and yet any hope of salvation was a lifetime ago and all that resounded within his head was a spirit, accusatory in his not being there and shrill in her anguish.

I couldn’t stop them, he said, all cracked and pathetic like a broken thing. The fires burned brighter and the smoke clogged and almost mercifully began to blind him from the detail.

She wailed as though a banshee and his tears fell so strong that they seemed that they could hold back the fires, and if they did it was only for him, or perhaps the fire just refused itself to touch him, but no amount of tears or buckets or oceans of water could quell its hold on her body.

He fell to the ground and curled up, twisted and unformed, more corpse than babe, some thing almost all dead inside, and even his raging hatred of mankind for its evil deed was at the moment stoppered and empty, ready to fill back up to overflowing whenever some idea of life returned to his body and mind, whatever its guise and whatever black road such an idea might lead him down.

 

Moral Zero cover

Writing update

It’s been a while since my last post, and for that I am sorry. Every revolution on the great ferris wheel of life the doors open – some qualities are gained and some qualities escape me. Qualities like discipline, optimism, motivation etc.

But I’m hardly alone in that.

Perhaps I should give myself space to write about other things, or make shorter posts, so this site keeps on going. I’ve been told a blog should at the least put out something once a week, that two a week is better, and that for some blogs it should be every day (which seems like overkill to me, but no doubt it works). I’ve always preferred quality over quantity, but to keep a blog’s numbers growing perhaps means I should be both more productive (I should always be more productive than I am) and easier on myself with what I put down.

Anyway, there’s more reasons than the unpredictable ferris wheel as to the slow spin of my writing engine. I’m writing a novel again – my first since Moral Zero. Or at least I hope to write it.  That makes it a much bigger – and much more daunting task than writing short stories, or even my novella The Violet Dark. The Violet Dark was supposed to be a novel – until I suddenly found I’d already finished it.

My troubled levels of determination and motivation, discipline and self-structuring will have to really start working out , what with a new (and ambitious) novel to compose, to arrange, to finish.

I also hope for it to be the first in a series. The title, possibly working title, for this first book (my reach exceeds my grasp!) is The Wulf and the Tiger. I don’t really know what it is at the moment; I have ideas, big ideas, but a lot of them are a bit ramshackle, and I don’t have any kind of middle for the book – what takes A to B? I’m not even sure what genre it is – it already seems like it could blend fantasy, high-concept sci-fi, western, horror and even comedy. Hopefully it’ll take on its own form as I write and I’ll understand more what I’ve got as I write it.

It is very early days. Nevertheless, stay tuned for future extracts, and I’ll see how high I can pull my socks up and for how long.

 

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The Gauntlet of Gore

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

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

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

You can find it on Amazon here.

An extract:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The audience stayed put.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The third call.

They ran.

 

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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

 

Ianthine Interviews: Devan Sagliani

It was my pleasure to interview the horror author and zombie prince Devan Sagliani.  You can find him at his website,  where you can check out his works, or by following him on Twitter.

 

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What do you find inspires you most for writing horror? Do you find the real world has more inspiration to offer than your imagination?

The world is so full of mind numbingly awful horrors that the only way to cope with the insecurity of existence is to write about it, to allow the imagination to take the things we fear most and create art from it. In this way I believe we come to terms with our own mortality.

What are your favourite horror movies? Favourite director?

I’m still old school. I love John Carpenter and Wes Craven. A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the best horror movies of all time with one of the greatest villains of all time. It’s hard to top that. Carpenter blew my young mind with The Thing. The remake didn’t come close, with either of those movies. I think Eli Roth has a great handle of all things terror, more so for his movie Hostel than the Saw series even. Brilliantly terrifying. For me though the scariest movie is still Misery. Kathy Bates did an amazing job of capturing an insane fan in that movie. I’m also a big fan of Jacob’s Ladder.

What are your favourite ever books (of any genre)? Favourite author?

I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on then went on to study English Lit in college so it’s hard to pick just a few. Anything by Salman Rushdie. He is amazing. Same for Michael Connelly, Stephen King, and Don Delillo. Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk. That’s an amazing and totally under-rated novel. In the zombie genre I’m a big fan of Jonathan Maberry, Shana Festa, Stephen Kozeniewski, Sharon Stevenson, Stevie Kopias, Frank Tayell, and most recently S.P. Durnin. There are so many awesome indie authors writing in the zompoc genre right now it’s mind blowing.

Do you aim to scare and otherwise provoke yourself with your own writing, or does your own writing not affect you like that? Should a horror author try and scare themselves first if they wish to scare their audience?

It’s not often that I scare myself with an idea but it does happen from time to time. The biggest challenge can be moving that same level of fear from inside of me out onto paper in a way that will translate with readers. Usually I try to focus on creating tension and allowing the reader to slip seamlessly into the world I’m creating. That way the emotions I’m working on evoking will seem like a natural progression of the storyline.

What is your personal favourite of all the stories you’ve written? The one you are most proud of.

I’m very proud of my novel Undead L.A. 1. I wanted to strike a balance between mindless zombie killing fun and literary fiction without alienating readers of course. I think I did a fairly good job. There is plenty hidden in that novel for those who want it but the stories are entertaining enough to hold your attention even if you don’t see the deeper meanings tucked into them.

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I read your Dark Dreams blog post for The Escapist about the popularity of zombies, and it seemed to me to pose the idea that a major pull of apocalyptic zombie horror is that it gives a redemptive arc to humanity, a simple fantasy that gives hope both for personal heroism and solidarity against a common, defeatable enemy. In essence, something uplifting, free of ‘shades of grey’ and ethical confusion.

Would you say this is accurate, and that it perhaps covers more than just zombies, but the popularity of many fantasy horror genres (those without depressing endings!), by giving killable monsters and a humanity to unequivocally root for? I am reminded a little of a quote by G.K. Chesteton: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

A great number of people far smarter than me seem to think that zombies are a vehicle to vent our fears and anxieties, and therefore have an ever shifting meaning dictated by the period of history they are presented in. White Zombie with Bela Lugosi targets the fear of black men using voodoo to control white women. Romero’s Day of the Dead highlights our fears of consumerism and being turned into mindless hordes, poignantly underscored by the fact that it happens at a mall. 28 Days Later was about our fears of a global pandemic while World War Z hit a nerve for showing us an inescapable threat that moves at an unstoppable speed destroying all in its path. There is definitely a strong argument to be made for the idea that the rise in popularity of zombies can be traced back to the feeling that we live in an increasingly unstable and dangerous world where fear drives the nightly news. I wanted to suggest that the idea of being heroic played a role as well. I also suggested that being able to vent our anger at the helplessness most of us find ourselves mired in by killing other people in a justifiable way plays a bigger role than we like to admit. It’s an ugly truth not often mentioned, but I believe it plays a part. If the zombie apocalypse happened tomorrow I get the feeling a lot of people would go looking for their boss or any other number of people who made their shit list. I explore this idea further in Undead L.A. when a police detective uses the chaos of the end of the world as an excuse to hunt down the one killer who got away and ruined his career. The story is called NO ONE IS WATCHING.

When did your obsession with horror start, and what were (and are) your biggest influences for your own writing (whether other authors, films, music, art etc.)? How long have you been writing for? Did you always want to be an author?

I’ve wanted to be a novelist for as long as I can remember. I was obsessed with books and writing as a kid. I wrote my first horror short story when I was in fifth grade. It was about a man stuck on an island with a monster stalking him. Eventually he gets eviscerated. That story earned me a parent teacher conference but the general consensus at the time was that I would grow out of it. Luckily I didn’t.

I was a voracious reader as a kid so the list of authors who influenced me is probably too long for an interview. I can tell you I was obsessed with vampires as a kid. I must have seen The Lost Boys over a hundred times. As a teenager if you told me I could become a vampire I would have jumped at the chance.

A friend is choosing a horror film for you to watch. What’s your preference: slasher, b-movie, comedy-horror, supernatural thriller, gothic horror, classic black-and-white, gorefest or just utterly weird? Or no horror at all!

All of the above! My movie watching habits mirror my book reading habits. I watch just about everything good and bad. Sometimes bad is better to be honest. I can say that I feel horror needs to stop relying so heavily on gore and special effects and get back to story telling. Or maybe just find a better balance. Sometimes the implied threat is more terrifying than seeing someone get their head cut off and tossed around like a volleyball.

What is a passion of yours that has absolutey nothing to do with horror?

Surfing. I grew up in Southern California and have been in love with the ocean all my life. Writing has really cut into my time in the water but I still dream about it a lot. I have surfing in both my young adult novel Zombie Attack Army of the Dead and Undead L.A. I don’t think it will ever be out of my system. I plan on being one of those old dudes on a longboard cutting off kids with fancy Al Merrick boards made out of bamboo. I got it bad man. I wasn’t able to get to the beach as much when I was growing up so I got heavy into skating and street competitions. Now that I’m back near the water it’s on my mind all the time. Some days I just go sit on the sand and watch other people ride.

Do you ever find real world people creeping into your novels in the guise of fictional characters?

I get asked this a lot but the truth is even if a character starts out being based on someone I know they quickly develop their own agenda and become something else. Really great characters take on a life of their own and start telling you what they want to do. It can be a fun surprise that totally blows the plot outline too. Sometimes you just have to trust them and let them take you where they need to go.

Which of your novels or short stories would you most like to be made into movie? Any thoughts as to who would play the main characters?

I’m holding out for my Zombie Attack series to be made into a movie. I think it would be insanely popular if done correctly and if the director sticks to the storyline. Xander is an awesome character but since he is just 16 it’s hard to pick an actor to play him. Even if someone bought the rights today and put it into pre-production it would be over a year before it shot, so the actors would change.

I nearly always write a story while visualising it as a movie. While writing do you visualise the scenes played out as if you were watching a movie?

I do. It like to see it in my mind before I write it down. Usually I’ll give the characters a setting and then let them loose and try to record the dialogue. I often have people tell me that my writing is very visual and that’s why.

Are you disciplined with your writing? Do you make yourself write every day? Or are you a brilliant procrastinator?

I write every single day because I love to write. It’s not always on a book or something for mass consumption. Sometimes it’s just an idea or a letter or a dream. It’s always been this way. It’s important to work on your craft if you want to be a pro.

What is your personal most effective remedy for writer’s block?

I don’t believe in writer’s block. As long as you have a routine you can always get past being stuck, you might just have to push yourself. Take a hot bath. Go for a walk. Write something totally different than what you are working on. Just get yourself moving. Also it’s helpful to remember that no one has to see your work until you are ready to show it to them. So stop blowing it out of proportion. Just write!

Do you think horror can ever go ‘too far’? Whether in movies or books. Do you try and push against boundaries yourself? And have you ever held back?

What’s too far? Too scary? Too obscene? Where is the line? I think it’s important not to censor yourself or stifle your creativity. The market will do that for you. Freddy Krueger was a child molester in movie one. Norman Bates a cross dressing serial killer. Hannibal Lecter ate his victims after screwing with their minds and torturing them to death. It’s not the job of the artist to find the line but the readers and viewers.

If you had to be one of the classic Universal monsters for the rest of your life – The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf-Man etc. – which would you be?

I’d be Dracula. Lugosi made him as sexy as he was scary. Women went nuts for him. But I’d rather have Karloff’s luck. What a wonderful man he was and what an incredible life he lived. I can only pray for a tenth of his success.

Why do you think people like scaring themselves? Guillermo del Toro described horror movies as “roller coasters of the soul”. Would you agree with this when it comes down to scary stories (in whatever medium)?

Stephen King said once that we make up fake horrors to help us deal with the real ones. I agree with that. I also think being able to scare ourselves helps us to cope with our own eventual death and the fear it inspires in us. Whether we like it or not we all have an expiration date. We all want to believe we’re going to live to be old and die peacefully in our sleep but deep down in the places we can’t bring ourselves to look at in our subconscious we know that probably won’t happen for most of us.

Zombie survival situation. You get a ranged weapon and a melee weapon – what do you choose?

My answer keeps evolving to this one. Now I think I want a slingshot, a compound bow, and a machete. Nothing that can jam or needs reloading or worst of all is too loud.

You’re suddenly inside your own stories. Fight or flight?

I don’t run. I’ll tell you that. When I watch The Walking Dead I always laugh at how they spend so much time making their problems worse instead of cleaning them up. If I were at that prison I would have spent all day luring zombies to the fence and putting them down instead of arguing about nonsense. When the zombie apocalypse happens I will still be here in Venice Beach. Again I make reference to it in Undead L.A. 1 in the story DOGTOWN LOCALS UNION.

Heroes or villains?

Heroes. There are too many villains in the world as it is.

Werewolves or vampires?

I love them both but I’m gonna go with vampires. The allure of being immortal is too much to resist but I’m sure it would get lonely over time. I’d have to make a companion.

Finally, what can you tell us about your next book, if there is one planned (or just an idea)?

Right now I’m working on Undead L.A. 2 and 3 at the same time. After that I’m taking a sharp right turn away from zombies to develop several other books I’ve been plotting out. I want to play with the supernatural more and of course serial killers. For now I’ve got to finish what I started.

I’m also involved with Shana Festa in a horror anthology called At Hells Gates. We’ve got two volumes out full of amazing horror writers at present including Mark Tufo, Paul Mannering, and dozens more. All the proceeds from the anthology go to help wounded soldiers and their families through the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. You can learn more about it by visiting http://athellsgates.com

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You can also keep up with me on social media (Twitter = @devansagliani, Facebook http://facebook.com/zombieattackriseofthehorde) and visit my site http://devansagliani.com.

Thanks for taking the time to interview me! Stay scared!
Devan
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Devan Sagliani was born and raised in Southern California and graduated from UCLA. He is the author of the Zombie Attack! series, The Rising Dead, A Thirst For Fire, and the UNDEAD L.A. series. Devan also wrote the original screenplay for the movie HVZ: Humans Versus Zombies. He writes a bimonthly horror column for Escapist Magazine called Dark Dreams.
Devan’s fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Million Writers Award. In 2012 his debut novel Zombie Attack! Rise of the Horde won Best Zombie/Horror E-book on Goodreads. He is also an active member of the Horror Writer’s Association.

He currently lives in Venice Beach, California with his wife.

The Violet Dark #5

Here is the fifth little part of the hallucinogenic road thriller/horror The Violet Dark. You can buy the full novella for mere pennies/cents/whatever on Amazon.

 

No Ordinary Man

 

You cannot share a voice

 

He put his hand on her bare arm, and she shuddered as if struck with some kind of charge. Her flesh seemed to give way before him, and she tried to stiffen, but her body was relaxing, pooling itself. Her skin spongelike as it bathed in darkness.

‘You are not like ordinary men,’ she murmured, and as she saw the crescent grin of bone she thought of men, men in herds, trampling the jungle and raising barrels of dust on old tracks. Men with their trunks and horns of all sizes waving and cutting through the air. And then, her eyes deeply closed, she saw their sight, their destination, and as if some cabaret parody of the reverse she saw the women, the lithe vulpines, twitching their tails and swaying serpentine, ballooned calling cards on their chests and lower backs, and the herds of men and women raised up their voices in song and shouts and screaming and roaring, all notes of chaos, pleasure and pain.

And then her eyes snapped open, the herds of the sexes snapped out of existence, and she knew how wrong it all was.

‘You see that it is wrong,’ he said, as if courtesy to her visions. ‘I am not like ordinary men because there are no ordinary men. There are no men and women. There is just a man. And there is a woman. And another man, another woman. Do you see? We belong no more to these groups than a cast rock belongs to the hillside. Society feels the need to categorise, and especially for the biggest groups of all, splitting the world into a mere two. But nobody is alike. There is nobody, no individuals or committees who can speak for these groups, because they are chaos. The wall of sound gibberish of billions speaking is the same as having no voice at all. There will be no agreement. Never.’

He paused to smoke. ‘I do not understand these gender wars. You look at me and say no ordinary man. I say no ordinary woman and I could say that to any woman anywhere. There is nothing in gender. You have the animal sex of your body. Beyond that two possibilities. No gender at all. Or every gender, an individual gender for every person that ever walked the earth. Either way it is meaningless. Your gender is your personality. You hold no membership cards to these sprawling groups. They are not your team. You cannot win, you cannot lose.

‘These women and men are shapeless, allowed to become a brick in a living, pulsating wall. They defend “their own”’ – he danced his fingers in the air – ‘by attacking the other side. Us and Them . . . the most primitive of human behaviours, so regressive as to be embarrassing. There are no sides! No sides but every side for every one. Too many sides. You are on your own, do not permit someone to speak for you. You are an individual. You are never a group. Anything more put on you is a direct insult.’

Alright, calm down, she thought. Barely talk and then it all at once. Didn’t ask for an essay. And you’re still no ordinary man.

 

He touched the skin of her arm, and felt it ripple. He closed his eyes and saw the throbbing wetness between her thighs. Under her flesh, the pump of hot blood.

He moved his face closer, and she turned her head, shaking.

‘What?’ he said.

‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I’m struggling to keep hold . . . after what’s happened . . . I don’t know you, I don’t understand what’s changing . . .’

‘I don’t know you either.’ He spoke softly, purring the words. ‘You do not need to struggle. Let life wash you away. Nothing has happened. The past has no existence.’

He took her by the face. ‘Look. Look around at the serenity violet gives you. This gothic theatre. A lurid opulence. This is where you are needed.’

‘Needed by who?’

‘By yourself . . . By me.’

She tried to smile and yet turned her head away again. ‘I need time.’

He inclined his head. ‘Of course. I know that. Time to develop, time to grow, to fall away . . . Time to love again. It took me long, too long.’

He moved away from her, closing an imaginary door behind him. He sighed, reaching for a cigarette, and stood smoking in the cool dark. Clad in a shroud of deep sea blues and the side of his vision bleeding garishly from the bright spectre of the moon.

‘Need,’ he whispered. ‘There’s all the time about us, she won’t be needing that. She’ll be needing a lot more soon. She will be needing me.’

The thought didn’t make him smile.

 

The First

 

What is left when all things are empty

 

They saw the first one when they were on their backs. Lying on a quilt of grass in the hole of the night, loomed over by the skulls of houses.

The air was brittle, and from time to time he would reach out with piano hands and snap it. Fingers ivory keys in the blackness. Palms of the dumb. He’d grope up blindly, eyes tweaking like a pink mole rat rising from the earth. Fat raw limpdick. Loin maggot. Wait till you’re out of your infancy. Snuffling round holes laid in the dewy dawn.

His silverback hands rustling the tins hidden in the sheets of the wind, which hugged and poked them relentlessly, attention-seeking. His fingers curling, crab-like, scrabbling at the elements above. Finding a purchase among the nooks.

She felt it snap. A bone of air. She could hear it, like the click of fingers in her earlobe.

She shuddered, as he did it for the fourth time. ‘Please stop.’

He turned his head on daggers of grass, and looked at her, holding a grin. Werewolf-in-tow. ‘Am I breaking it?’

That’s when it came. Slipping from the edge of a wall.

She shot up, the rush of new perspective disorientating her and she staggered. He took her arm.

 

There’s one there looking at us. No sudden movements. Don’t want her to –

He saw her rise to her feet like a pillar birthed from the soil. His eyes hooded and he climbed to his feet slowly, carefully, just in time to catch her stumble.

The shadow listed closer to them, hugging the wall. It was making sounds. Submarine sounds of the unconscious. They had always sounded so far off, incoherent. Drowned whale songs.

‘I’ve got a gun,’ he said.

 

The thing in front of them, a cut-out of the paper maps of the world and all its inanimates. Only oily space beyond.

The thing moved as if it was falling and melting through the landscape. A handpainted nightmare tripping between the pages of a comic book. Moving in slides. Falling apart and gathering in patches in a Rorschach mime.

She shivered in disgust. There was something deathly about it. Something corpuscular and yet without body – an un-thing, a gap in things. Negation in shape.

When she started registering the sounds she took a step back and gave a little helpless cry of fear. The sounds of dull rotting pines banging together in an empty forest. The foghorns of old animals crawling and crashing out the mountain. Booming and braying at the pus of the moon.

‘Stay back,’ he said. She didn’t know if he was talking to her or it.

‘What is it?’ she whispered, and she noticed he was pointing at it with a twisted metal stick, some set-eyed guru shaman holding the demon back with voodoo.

She blinked and looked between them and saw a shotgun aimed at a quivering, crumbling blur. The noises gibbering and sullen.

‘Don’t shoot,’ she said instinctively. He glanced at her, eyebrows furrowed, and his arms lowered.

In an instant so vacuous, so robbed of living moment, the shadow jumped at them. It was a window pane of time that smashed them in the face, the flesh of the world in the shutter frames of a strobelight. It touched her; some greasy black flap waved over her bare skin. Its huge and hideous face garish in ugliness, in its spits of soot, its streaking lines of black blood. A face amorphous. Porcine and canine and that same naked mole rat twitching its eyes.

She fell back and her spine cracked the grass.

All eyes, mouth eyes. All mouth, eyes mouth.

A second had passed, and yet the scene moved in waves, slow laps at the shores of consciousness. The shape was wrestling with the gun, and her man – person, beautiful real person! Her man! – was roaring angry and wretched. He kicked, and the demon fell. Its shifting coal features once more a smudge. No-face, no-body.

 

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The School of Necromancy #2

Good eve to you.

As a further taster, here is the second little part to the short gothic story The School of Necromancy. It seems to be a mite more popular than my other stuff, so thought I’d give it another push. This part is more of a brief background/explanation of the school and its subjects.

You can find it for Kindle here (or, as usual, on your local Amazon, if you are not American).

 

The School of Necromancy

 

The S.O.N. functions as a school and university both. It teaches students aged, with exceptions of mature students and gifted young prodigies, fifteen to twenty-one or twenty-two; a degree, to those staying on past the age of eighteen, being either a three year or four year course.

The subjects we teach are many, but you will, perhaps, sense a common theme. The first couple of years are chiefly theoretical, apart from groundswork, which is, when you rub away the bullshit, gravedigging. Like most schools and universities, nobody takes first years seriously, no matter how lofty their ambitions. You do the work, and you do it well, without complaining, and you just might rise in estimation.

Apart from groundswork, you will study necrochemistry and necrobiology (nec-chem and nec-bio for short), anatomy, mortuary science, embalming, dissection, cremation, history, gothic art, forensic pathology, elementary reanimation, elementary occultism, and so on. Fairly basic stuff, looking back, and some of us, myself included, felt pretty held back. But of course a lot of us had our wild ideas, and without a solid framework to base them on we may have failed later on.

For every year, including the degree years, you will study and take notes from the many-volumed Necronomicon. Not Abdul Alhazred’s book, of course, but the Necronomicon textbook, 7th edition. In its weighty pages contains just about everything, up to a professional level, to do with treating, understanding, raising, and controlling the dead.

If you choose to do a degree (and some of the less gifted or less ambitious students don’t, instead becoming our laboratory assistants or gravediggers), you have a range of subjects to undertake, including: History of the Dead (fusty), History of Necromancy (almost as fusty), Toxicology (poisons), Theoretical Homicide (not strictly theoretical), Demonology (a farce), Black Tarot (don’t get me started), Mortuary Surgery, Reanimation, Experimental Necroscience, Vampiric Studies, the ever-popular Necromancy, and Necromonology (my chosen degree, which involves the study of and establishing control over the dead, the latter being, in my opinion, an ingredient much missing from my peers’ experiments).

The School itself is like an underground castle, or rather network of dungeons, seeing as it is without a top. All work is engaged in underground, with many layers of soil and stone pressing down upon us. Many first years, and some second years, experience what we refer to as ‘the underlows’, as in ‘he can’t come to class, he’s got a bad case of the underlows’. Eventually almost everyone gets used to it, and you get enough night-time fieldwork (mainly in cemeteries) to give you some fresh air. I never had much problem myself – some of the halls are so huge that you may as well be outside, and I never did miss the sunlight.

Allowing for our various racial skin colour differences, we are by and large a pasty bunch, as you might expect. We get what we need from various tonics and pills, but as the food we acquire (don’t ask – you’d be surprised how many associates and graduates of our school are among you) is so excellent, and our scholarly and personal pursuits are so involving (some would say obsessive, and they’d be right), we don’t want for much, beyond what we need for our work.

Roam the stone corridors and halls, the tunnels and staircases, the laboratories and cellars and libraries, the crypts, morgues, test chambers, operating theatres and black chapels, and you will cross many paths with the School’s prowling cats. There are three of them, or three named ones at least, each as dark as the night. The fat, sluggish one with the unfortunate limp, squashed face and mismatched eyes is affectionately named Igor (and I will happily poison any student who picks on him). Then there are the siblings, Minas and Morgul. Minas is the female, quick and sleek; she sees all, hears all, and every intrepid risk-taking student (the majority of them) who wants to last the course should learn who she’s loyal to.

Morgul is the male, and he is really quite huge, more like a panther than a cat, and if you try to kick him you are likely to end up on a dissecting table within the hour.

The students themselves are a mixed bunch. Most of them have black hair, but not as many as used to. In my day it was various shades of black, grey, silver or white, or perhaps, in the case of eccentrics, a very dark brown. These days you’ll often see a student with purple, red, green, blue hair and so on, or only streaks of these colours. Some are undyed, and come as blondes and brunettes. I’m not wholly prejudiced, so don’t treat them too differently, but I will say if you rock up to a forensic pathology class with bright pink hair, don’t be surprised if old Master Scrimpot directs all his most difficult questions to you.

We wear a lot of black, true, but there are also a lot of white lab coats worn out of class (some bloodstained), and brown tweed isn’t out of the question among some of the more mature students and masters. There are coats and cloaks, robes, three piece suits, shirts and jackets, skirts and dresses, corsets and bodices, lace and leather, soft velvet and jangling chains, and even some bare chests here and there, particularly among groundworkers. Styles are all over the place, though usually on the more gothic, formal, or macabre (if you’re trying to be edgy) end of the spectrum. Victorian and Edwardian fashions clash with new pagan which clash with shinobi which clash with new romantic which clash with seventies librarian which clash with thirties suits. And some of us just look like your average Joe/plain Jane. Those are often the ones to watch.

We are generally old-fashioned and semi-traditional, so some of the more radical newer styles are frowned on, and while the dress code is very relaxed, it is there. Cybergoggles will be taken off you in class. All in all though, we all look the same in a lab coat and gloves, up to our elbows in body parts.

 

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