Tag Archives: stephen king

The School of Necromancy #3

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

It can be found in full here.

——————————————–

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TSON cover smaller

The Violet Dark #6

Here is the fifth little part of the hallucinogenic road thriller/horror The Violet Dark, following directly on from Part 5. You can buy the full novella for mere pennies/cents/whatever on Amazon, or as part of the short story collection Faces in the Dark

 

 

He turned, yelling ‘RUN!’ at her, and as he turned like a circus ride the blot in the grass reached up with a scabbed whip and pulled at his ankle. He lurched at the ground like a coffin-body tipped and evicted. It struck his chin and he suddenly, face in grass, felt coddled by a burrow of ant-things, a swarm of nests gathering up the tangles of his facial hair and tying them to posts, them to ensnare him here like some Gulliver.

Pain bruised its way through his chin, carried up the lines of his jaw by a new postal service of ant-things, the old nervous system left hammered and purged. All innocent backs to the wall.

He was spun by a powerful force, and the galaxy of his vision was inflicted by horror, by a famine of good things and a desolation of ugliness laid bare.

He had only come so close to the face – was it their face? Was it one of many? – about seven times. Seven times seen that black grinning, garing maw, that boiled, pustulous sea. Always at night. In the doomy dive-bar depths of the violet dark. Treasury chest of nightmares.

He shoved with all his ancestral might and the stormcloud crouched over him like a lightless wolf alighted, pulled back by the hem of its neck, its soul’s nametag, by a hand from above only ever visible as forceless void.

Its snout vomited some gurlish possessed dribble, then shrunk back into the huddle of features; the draws, cabinets and chairs that sat, circled and silent in the gloom of the gaunt attic-space of the devil. The door open wide, a cold usher to the wordless guests of the dead.

He realised the shadow was crunched, almost doubled. It was hurt.

He looked around, sweeping the treeline over the road with shipdeck vision. He saw her, running off into where his gaze could not follow. The violet dark between the trees.

He followed on foot, as fast as he could. He realised in slow-motion catch-up, an inside runner huffing to the delivery post to give the updated news, that he had left the shotgun.

He turned and saw that right behind him was the shadow, and suddenly the shotgun was in his hand after all, it was part of him all along, and he raised his hand like the fiery finger of God’s wrath and he squeezed the trigger and the head of the thing – was it a head? Was it one of many? – fell off.

 

She loped through the air like a moonwalker, drifting in terror. It was the fastest her body could agree with her on. She could see next to nothing. Clasped in the bosom of the wood. She stopped, a second-guess, a moment’s premeditation. An image of a sawn-off shotgun.

The sound almost raised the graveful bowels of Hell.

 

She crawled through an orchard of thorns. The twisting claws of the undergrowth. She heard thudding all around, and incoherent screams and warcries. Footsteps of the hunter.

The plants bled together, caught up in this passing storm.

Focus

The plants blood blood of the plants my blood

Focus you fucking bitch whore cunt

Your life depends on it. The barrel of thought rolled into her, and things jammered a little clearer.

Quiet now. Remember the cats – move like them.

She stood up and turned right into him.

Him.

 

Her. After a moment of abject panic, the second before the storm, he saw her for who she was. He knew that light in the world.

He gathered her up in his arms.

 

A bear risen out of the swampy darkness and she wrapped in a bear-hug.

Canoes slit through soft, thin bayous on either side of her. In scared, bewildered embrace.

Into the heart of things.

 

‘What was it?’

‘I call them shadows.’

‘You’ve seen one before?!’

‘Oh, yes. All the time.’

 

TVD_01

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!’

 

black-pine-falls-smaller

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.

 

black-pine-falls-smaller

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

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

This includes:

Born to be Weird

 

13839740_10153837644783693_366995792_o

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

Included are the short stories (also available separately):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faces in the Dark

 

Faces in the Dark coversmaller

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Streets – A sad and haunted tale.

Moral Zero

 

Moral Zero cover

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Ianthine Interviews: Isaac Thorne

It was my pleasure to interview the comic horror author and goggled ghoul Isaac Thorne.  You can find him at his website,  where you can check out his works, or by following him on Twitter.

 

You say you write tales of “dark comic horror”. Is this your favourite genre to write in? What do you like most about the genre? Why do you think these  seemingly opposing genres – comedy and horror – go so well together, and are so popular?

Interesting question. Right now, it’s really the only genre I write in. I don’t think comedy and horror are entirely opposites. Comedy is one way people  have learned to cope with real life horror. I grew up in the 1980s, so one of the examples I often cite of how horror and comedy can dovetail as a coping  mechanism is from 1986, when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. It was a horribly tragic event. All the same, when I arrived at school the next day my  classmates were already cracking crude jokes about it.  Is that insensitive? Yes. It’s also an extreme example. I suppose there are limits to how horror and  comedy entwine. Even so, I do generally agree with that old Jimmy Buffett line: “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”

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

I think real-world experiences inform the imagination. Without life experience, you don’t have a frame of reference for telling a story because you don’t  have a true grasp of how the circumstances you’re imagining would realistically unfold.

What piece of writing of yours are you most proud of? What can you tell us about it?

Right now that would be my newest one: DIGGUM. It’s probably the darkest piece I’ve turned out so far. Most of my earlier work was designed with an  approximately equal amount of horror and funny. DIGGUM still has some of my dark humor in it, but the character himself is probably the darkest and least  buffoonish of any I’ve written so far.

Following on from the last question, are there any stories of yours that you are displeased with, that you would like to one day rewrite?

There are some pieces of stories that I would rewrite if I felt okay about rewriting something after release. However, I believe rewrites should be  considered complete once a work is out the door and in the reader’s hands. Unless you’re fixing a punctuation error or misspelling somewhere, changing the  way the story is told after that point is unfair to the audience because you are ultimately changing the original experience.

There are exceptions, of course. I read and loved both versions of Stephen King’s THE STAND. But I was not happy when he went back and rewrote portions of  THE GUNSLINGER to force-fit plot points that occurred much later in THE DARK TOWER series. Not that I want to identify with King’s Annie Wilkes, but to me  that felt like cheating.

Do you most enjoy books and films similar to the genre you write, or do you have a favourite genre that has little to do with horror?

I watch a little of everything, but I primarily read horror. It’s the priority for me in terms of my own personal entertainment. I also like sci-fi,  action, and some westerns on film. I’ll read some fantasy, but a lot of that genre is much too epic for my personal tastes.

What are your favourite movies? Favourite director?

I have many favorites. Among horror movies, that includes FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) and HALLOWEEN (1978). Coincidentally, my favorite directors for many years  were Tom Holland and John Carpenter. I’m also a big fan of Richard Donner’s directorial work. I have tremendous respect for the way Mary Lambert handled PET  SEMATARY (1989) as well. There’s also Stephen Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and John Landis from that decade, of course. Looking back over that list, it looks  like I’m kind of stuck in the late 70s and 80s. There are modern works and directors I like as well, but the ones I just listed usually end up at the top of  my mind. Rob Zombie’s own original stuff is awesome. Also, Gadi Harel’s DEADGIRL disturbed the hell out of me.

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

I’m a huge Stephen King fan, naturally. I think my favorite Stephen King novel is PET SEMATARY. I also really enjoyed the first three books in Anne Rice’s  VAMPIRE CHRONICLES, although that entire series tends to veer more toward fantasy than horror after INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. Other than those, I tend to  enjoy tight, really well choreographed work, like the stuff John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow write. I adored the hell out of SPORE.

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!

In order: B-movie, slasher, comedy-horror, just utterly weird, classic black-and-white, gothic horror. The primary reason I rank them that way is that I’ve  seen most of the classic black-and-white a thousand times over. I also think gothic horror is really difficult to create effectively. I’m not sure I would  trust a friend to reliably pick anything for me except a B-movie or a slasher flick.

Your last published story was Diggum, about a graveyard caretaker. What can you tell us about it, and who should be excited to read it?

unnamed-1


I can tell you that Mr. Diggum is a man who has a grudge. I think it would appeal to anyone who likes to see a person who thinks they’ve been wronged try to  get justice. Diggum is angry at God for allowing his wife and son to burn to death. In his mind and faith, that accidental cremation means that they can’t  be resurrected when judgement arrives. So he decides to get back at God by ensuring that every dead person he can get his hands on is burned up as well.  It’s a bit of a “if I can’t have them, you can’t have them either” tale.

I see you made Diggum into a short movie! That’s brilliant. What was your experience creating this?

The dramatic version of DIGGUM is right now an audio piece in which I play the title character. What I originally wanted to do with that was get an animator  to take that narration and create a black-and-white line-drawn animation as the visual component. While I was recording the audio, I discussed the visual  component with some talented people I know. It turned out that there was a lot standing in the way of getting the visuals done at the time. So I just  decided to go ahead and put the audio for it out there by itself. I don’t know if the visuals will come to fruition, but I’d love to see it happen.

On a more recent note, I was approached a few weeks back by My Little Rascal Film Productions about doing three short films based on other stories. We’re  looking at 2017 for short film adaptations of NOBODY WAS HERE, BECAUSE REASONS, and a work called THE ROAD, which is based on HOPPERS. I’m excited to be  collaborating with them on these projects. They seem to have a real passion for it.

What would you say is the biggest struggle with being a self-published author?

Getting noticed. For good or ill, the self-published market is flooded with authors screaming at readers and other authors to read and review their work. The awesome thing about that is the variety of voices and choices for people who like to read for entertainment. The down side is that those same choices  are overwhelming in volume and readers have financial resource limits. That makes readers more likely to look for big names they recognize than take a  chance on a self-published author they might or might not enjoy. I should point out that I’ll be publishing these stories as long as I can continue writing  them and have the platform to put them out there, even if they aren’t noticed or picked up by hordes of readers.

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

Running. I love my cardio.

What do you think the most important thing to remember is when making comic writing actually funny?

The visual. For me, a line of words on a page can only be funny if it conjures a funny image in my head. You can tell me that a man slips and falls down a  set of stairs, but that by itself isn’t going to make me laugh. Describe the process in a funny way. Have him slip on a roller skate at the top of two  flights of stairs and pinwheel his arms down to the mid-landing. Have him stand up, dust himself off, breath a sigh of relief about not actually being hurt,  and then slip on the skate again as he tries to navigate the next flight. Done properly, I’d laugh at that.

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?

I think pushing boundaries is part of what horror is supposed to be about. I keep that in mind while I’m writing. There’s always some point in a story  that I’ll hover over and think “am I going too far?” I kind of like pushing myself beyond my own comfort zone, though.

That said, yes, anything can go too far. In movies, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is probably the most famous example of that. They actually slaughtered animals for  that one. When your efforts at bloody realism do not stop with what you are able to do with your special effects, you’ve probably gone too far.

I think it’s a bit more difficult to go too far in literature. I should make clear that by “going too far” I do not mean just offending someone or some particular community standard. Going too far in literature would have to be something you write that actually creates a moral black hole, like the gentleman  in Stephen King’s short story WORD PROCESSOR OF THE GODS. He finds he is capable of erasing his wife and kid and changing his own life circumstances by just  writing about it.

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

Definitely Dracula. The Universal version of him is pretty much the James Bond of the classic monsters, forever young and suave. Really, the only down side to being Dracula is that you sunburn too easily and your food source might try to kill you by damaging your heart. Is that much different from sitting on  the beach without sunscreen and living an all-bacon lifestyle?

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 )?

I think it’s an apt description. For me it’s always been a bit of a test. How much can I take? How long can I stand against this without backing down?  Perhaps it’s part of some evolutionary survival mechanism. You won’t fight and defeat the tiger unless you properly fear the tiger.

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

Are grenades range weapons or melee weapons? Grenades. More grenades.

Thanks for the interview Isaac!

Thanks for the opportunity.

———————————————————————————————-

unnamed

Isaac Thorne is a nice man who has, over the course of his life, developed a modest ability to spin a good yarn. Really. He promises. He also avoids public men’s restrooms at all costs. He considers himself a lover of books, music, movies, and other forms of pop culture phenomenon. His philosophy on his life is that it’s all one giant experiment.

Website: https://www.isaacthorne.com
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Isaac-Thorne/e/B00CF4B3UU/
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/isaacrthorne
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/isaacrthorne

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.

 

black-pine-falls-smaller

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.

 

black-pine-falls-smaller

Her Parents’ Masks

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

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

 

Her Parents’ Masks

By Set Sytes

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She took the first step down. Then another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bff3773017571269c9fb4f89552f5984

The 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.

 

TVD_01