Horror Story Archive
Here you will find past Horror Short Stories Of The Week, brand-new stories for a brand-new decade. These stories represent the cutting edge of modern Horror, from all over the world. So be careful, and don’t say you weren’t warned!
February 20, 2010
This week we’re going to Scotland, with horror writer Colin Drewery.
I have no idea what the caption on this picture is supposed to mean.
Colin Drewery lives and works in the West Midlands. He’s been writing for years and plays a major role in the current UK Horror Revival Movement. These writers represent a return to the action-oriented, non-psychological horror stories of the pulp years. While at the same time, maintaining the color and pace of a brand-new decade. 2010 is a very exciting time to be involved in horror.
Colin’s work is vivid and visual. His rhythm is almost poetic, without being flowery, or self-centered. Watch for his trademark cadence.
According to him, he does most of his writing while his three children run screaming around the house. I guess it keeps him on his toes. Whatever, it works. It’s so gratifying to discover a writer with such a distinctive style. I think you’ll agree that Colin Drewery is going somewhere.
Be warned though, if that somewhere is by a lake…Don’t go with him.
This is an actual, Eighteenth-Century Scottish Bothy.
Water Babies, By Colin Drewery
Sunday afternoon, the sun is just starting to give way to evening. A warm breeze is blowing off the surface of Loch Awe.
Danny sits on the loch side beach, legs drawn up to his chest looking out over the expanse of water. From here, the wider end of the lake, the opposite shore barely reveals any of its features. Danny can make out forest pines lining the horizon but everything else, including the bothy he knows is there, is unidentifiable.
No one comes to this side and that’s why Danny picked this spot. Solitude. Solitude and tranquillity that Danny needs by the bucket load. The voices that invade his every waking hour don’t follow him here. They seem to fade anytime he nears the waters’ edge. But even here he isn’t totally alone. Here, on the shale and sand of the loch side a fresh voice has sorted him out, one that is patient. One that is calm and never intrusive. It leaves him be when he wishes, and never follows him from this place.
‘Is that her?’ The voice drifts on the gentle breeze.
‘Yes’ Danny answers and pats the bloodied corpse laid next to him. He withdraws his hand, wipes the blood onto his jeans and stands looking out across the water. ‘What now?’
‘Bring her down to me. Bring her close so I can see her face.’
Danny grips the body’s ankles, his fingers close against bare flesh, and he tries to drag her down to the waters’ edge.
‘I can’t do it. She’s too heavy’ Danny releases his grip and staggers back, dropping to his knees and holding his head in his hands. ‘I’m sorry, I tried but I just can’t do it on my own’
‘Danny, listen to me.’ The voice returns again as though floating on the breeze across the waters’ surface. ‘You can do it. You must. I need to see her. I must see her before I know. Please Danny, you must try.’
Danny stands and once more grasps hold of the ankles, pulling as hard as he can. Slowly the corpse begins to slide over the sand and Danny increases his speed.
Danny pulls harder, his nails digging into ankle flesh and raking bits of
skin away. Just as his fingers threaten to sink further in to the soft tissue, he reaches the waters edge and drops the rigid legs back to the ground.
Danny turns and looks out across the loch, waiting for his next instruction.
‘That’s close enough.’
‘Is it her?’ Danny hopes he’s done well. Hopes he has got it right this time. Prays that this is the last time his newest ‘friend’ needs his help.
‘Patience Danny, I need to see her face.’
Danny looks back toward the corpse. Strands of her long straight black hair lay trapped in her pursed lips and matted to her cheeks with dried blood.
Danny knows the face. Knows every contour, every imperfection of that face but the voice must see to know.
Danny kneels besides the body, draws in a deep lungful of the warm loch side air and begins to peel the hair away from her face. He has forgotten how beautiful she is. Each part of flesh exposed reveals more and more of her beauty. God, when was the last time he had told her? When was the last time he told her how much he loved her? How much he needed her. But she was gone now and Danny had work to do.
The voice had promised to drive the other voices away and return his ‘sanity’. This promise drove him on through all that had come before him. Had given him courage when he had questioned the sacrifices he had made, had kept him strong when each young female was carefully cut up and pushed into the loch. But every last one of them had been wrong.
This is a Bothy by a Scottish loch. I wonder if they know what’s out there.
Danny sometimes wondered what he must do to please the voice. This time had to be right. The size of this sacrifice must surely be the ‘one’. And if it wasn’t, Danny was unsure whether he could carry on.
Danny moves the last piece of her from the face and gazes deeply upon her features.
‘Yes.’ The disembodied voice rises up again. ‘That’s her.’
Danny sits back on his heels, arms hanging limply with his fingers
dragging in the sand. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes. I’m sure’
Danny doesn’t know what he feels. This is the end of his search but he doesn’t want to say goodbye. If he has done the right thing then why does his heart weigh so heavy? Why does it all, now feel so wrong?
‘Danny, move to one side now. I need to get started.’ The voice is more urgent now. It’s calm and gentle tone replaced with a sterner, authoritative edge. Danny stands looks down at the corpse by his feet but doesn’t move away.
‘Is that it then? I’ve done all you asked. Will you make the voices go now?’
‘Yes Danny, now they will go. You have done well for me and I won’t forget my promise’
Danny doesn’t reply, but instead shuffles backwards through the sand his gaze never leaving the dead female form. ‘Thank you’ he mutters under his breath. Not to the voice, but to the sacrifice that lies before him. He would have traded everything to be free of the tormenting voices that invaded his every waking hour. And now he had.
‘You can go now Danny. You have done all I have asked and I thank you. But now you must go.’
Danny scoops up the blood stained cleaver that lies in the sand and turns to leave. But first he must say goodbye to his latest ‘friend’ and to his last sacrifice.
‘I hope to live in peace from now on. I hope that is what you have done for me, because for what I have done here, there is no forgiveness. I just pray that you speak the truth and I have put my trust in your honesty. If I have then I thank you with all my heart, however heavy it may be. And to you,’ Danny looks at the body, tears filling his eyes and running salty rivulets down his cheek. ’I am truly sorry. I don’t want forgiveness but I hope that you of all people would have understood.’ He takes a moment then tucks the cleaver into his waistband and turns his back on his wife.
He walks from the shore back to the tree line, his feet dragging heavily in the sand. All the warmth now gone from the day as evening begins to take hold, readying for night.
Danny, weary and confused stumbles into the forest unsure of the path home. Each tree looks the same. Every turn feels repeated and now he feels truly lost.
After what feels like hours, Danny eventually falls into a clearing and is confronted with the sight of an old, stone walled, building. The door is half open and appears to be hanging from its hinges by goodwill alone.
Its whole appearance looks far from inviting, but he must rest. The day behind has sapped him of all his energy, and he cannot go further. Tonight, this damp looking, decrepit hut must be his refuge and his shelter.
Danny crosses the clearing. He knows this place. He must have traversed the end of the loch and is now on the opposite shore. This is the bothy obscured from the beach, the place called The Watering Hole.
As Danny walks from the beach and out of sight, Loch Awe falls silent. It’s surface as flat as glass with no wind to ripple the perfect water. Below the feet of Danny’s wife the wash becomes agitated as though something is swimming beneath. Two hands, forged from the water of the loch snake onto the shore and reach for the corpse. Watery fingers snake around the ankles and drag the body effortlessly from its resting place. Beneath the surface more hands wait and seek out the female form as it slips into the depths. As each hand grabs out searching for their answer, there is a realisation that this is the one they have been waiting for. A female of child bearing age has at last been given to them as Mother.
More hands of water take hold of the corpse spinning it wildly before holding her still and spreading the legs. Two more hands trace the line of each leg, feeling their way up the inner thigh then pushing forcefully inside her. They know for what they search, as hands each push deeper. They forage into the fallopian tubes, and although dead, Danny’s wife is robbed of her gift to bear children as the hands snatch her ovaries and remove them in one swift movement.
* * * *
The moon is at its zenith and bathes Loch Awe in luminescent white. Waves gently lap the sandy shore dragging tiny particles of grit back and forth. But each time the loch recedes it is leaving something behind. For over five hundred yards, tiny translucent sacs litter the beach. Every one wriggling as something inside craves to be free from it’s plasma prison. Inside these sacs live human foetuses of the loch’s descent. They are born from the water and have been delivered onto the shore, each one as beautiful as the next and all desperate to survive.
Slowly, each of the many hundreds of spawn push through the walls of the sacs and pull free, limbs instantly growing from their tiny stubs, they suck hard on the night air, saturating their lungs with oxygen.
As one they edge towards the tree line, trails of syrupy fluid left in their wake. All rising to their feet and walking as they reach the forest. As they enter, each one has already grown to the size of a five year old, each with a full head of hair and eyes wide in wonderment.
The ’army’ marches on, growing with each step as though racing toward puberty. Muscles twist and stretch, but burn every nerve ending with the rapidity of such growth.
Under the heavy forest canopy, they press on, their goal unspoken but universally known, The Watering Hole. The Loch’s feeding ground for the past five hundred years.
Danny is there and they know it. They can feel it in their water. They can almost taste his sweat as he lies half awake, baking in the stifling heat of the bothy.
Their pace increases with the realisation that they are close, a thousand-strong army of newborns pushing hard. As one, they surge through the thick undergrowth of the forest.
The canopy is gone.
Trees that have barred their way have receded and they find themselves in the clearing. Ahead the moonlight glimmers off the slated bothy roof lighting a pathway to the door.
They stop a couple of yards inside the clearing, shoulder to shoulder, and five rows deep. Sporadic coughs rasp into the night as mucus lined throats are cleared, as they struggle for maturity.
Taught limbs refuse to relax and growing pains are becoming unbearable. They need their first feed but Danny alone will not fulfil each one here. The first born steps forward and moves toward the cabin. As first born, priority is given and always taken. This one will feed and survive. The others will wait; will search for their own nourishment.
Danny lies on the wooden floor of the cabin, half asleep but eyes screwed tight. His body exhausted, but his mind refusing to lay dormant. He hopes that the other ‘voices’ have gone, but this close to the lake he still can’t be sure.
For now though this silence is welcoming. Solitude such as this he could live with. Maybe his ultimate sacrifice has set him free. It had to. Six young females had died by his hand; all at the asking of the Loch. It used him to bring sacrifices, but all before had been wrong.
When first asked, Danny had chosen children and had found how easy they were to subdue and silence. Killing them was easy but when told that the ‘wrong’ ones had to be dismembered, he feared his nerve wouldn’t hold.
Six children, six wrong choices, six bodies pushed limb by bloody limb into the loch. His wife, the last resort, had to be right or Danny felt he would be unable to continue.
Danny slides from his slumber with a palpable sense of fear. He no longer feels alone and fears the voices are returning. He knows something is here, knows that something is here for him. He rubs his eyes furiously but the dark inside the cabin in inescapable.
The gloom brings a claustrophobia he hasn’t felt before and, not for the first time, Danny feels trapped. He moves to the window, too afraid to go outside but too afraid not to see what has come for him.
His guts knot and twist as he leans close to the glass and peers out onto the clearing. His breath fogs the window. Beyond, he sees shapes moving, seemingly without coordination, towards the cabin.
Danny recoils from the window, staggers backwards and crashes in to the back wall of the bothy. The impact drives the wind from his lungs and he slides to the floor, knees drawn up and head buried into his hands. He wants to wake. This has to be a nightmare, the Loch had promised.
‘Please no. Please, you gave your word.’ Danny bangs his fists onto the bare floorboards in anger but is surprised at what he feels. Water splashes up into his face and runs like tears from his face.
‘Shit’ Danny feels his feet slosh about in three inches of water. The whole place is seeping water. Through every crack and fissure the bothy is beginning to flood. It rises past his ankles, then his shins, and is soon at his knees.
Danny can’t move. The water feels like concrete around his legs and the cold is freezing him to his core. Danny fears he must drown, but then the water is gone, rushing out of the now open door and into the night. He looks up and sees the figure standing in the doorway. The shape is unmistakeable. He knows every curve, every line of that body.
Danny’s wife stands swaying at the cabin entrance. Black orbs where her eyes should be stare forward. They see Danny and they know who he is. A blurred memory, but she knows she needs him.
He is her first key to survival. Instinct tells her this but nothing more. She steps forward, arms outstretched, blue lips curling to a smile. Danny stands firm as she approaches and stops barely a foot away. He can see her features now that she’s close.
She is as beautiful in death as she was in life. Her straight black hair still sticks to her face, as it had done when he had left her, and Danny reaches up and again pulls it free of her face. Her skin is icy cold to the touch but Danny cradles her cheek with his hand and strokes her soft flesh.
Danny’s wife circles his waist with her arms and pulls him in tight. Their cheeks brush and Danny rests his chin on her shoulder.
‘I’m so sorry. I really didn’t mean it to come to this, but I had no choice. I had to rid myself of those voices. I had to be free, you must understand.’
She doesn’t reply but instead pulls him even tighter and positions her face directly in front of his. He sees her smile now and for a moment forgets what he has done. All he sees is his wife, alive, happy and returned.
Their lips meet, her tongue darts into Danny’s mouth probing for his. He responds and they kiss deeply, passionately, as though newlyweds.
As Danny begins to lose himself he looks over her shoulder and sees that a new shape now fills the doorway. He tries to break from the kiss but he is held fast. His wife pulls harder still and Danny feels the air being forced from his lungs. Behind the shape has moved into the bothy and is closely followed by several more. Now they fill the small space and Danny can see what they are. Each one is an exact replica of his wife, each perfect in its creation, each with the same single cause, to feed and survive.
Danny’s mind spins with confusion and fear rises in him like bile. He is surrounded and still he can’t break from the embrace. His lungs are being crushed and now he feels a trickle of water run down his throat. Slowly at first, but then more and more as his wife presses her lips harder onto his. Water is spewing from the clone, and filling his lungs as Danny’s windpipe opens, trying to draw as much air as he can. His wife needs him dead. She wants him drowned. She won’t wait.
Danny’s eyes roll back in his head and he slips to the floor as he is released. A pool of water surrounds his corpse forming aura-like around him. His wife kneels and tears at his chest searching for the sodden flesh of his lungs. The others wait patiently as the first born begins her feast. They will hope to feed as well, but they will not interfere until she is finished. If they can’t feed here then they will move on until they can.
The Loch spawned them, but now they are fully grown and survival is their own. They must move from water to water, but soon each and every one of them will be nourished and at full strength.
In terms of evolution, the Loch is successful. It always waits. It is always patient and it knows it will always reproduce.
© Colin Drewery 2010
A Bothy in the rain
February 6, 2010
This week we’re going to Wales, with horror writer Jason Whittle.
This is a 7 year-old boy working in a Welsh coal mine.
Jason Whittle is a hugely versatile writer. Not only does he write horror, he also works in comedy, mystery, sports, politics, poetry, and music. We’re so lucky to have him here this week. He represents the best of the UK horror revival movement.
Jason’s clarity of style and firm sense of place enable him to move beyond traditional horror at times. He’s not afraid to venture to the edge, but his stories and articles always merge impeccable technique with a wry sense of humor.
The story that follows is a historical piece that incorporates a touch of family history. It’s a fine example of his work. So check your light, pull on your boots, and get ready to go down in the mine…way down.
Jason currently makes his home in Southampton, UK. Check out more of him at:
This is a rare picture of the actual Senghenydd Mine, taken before the 1913 tragedy.
Senghenydd, by Jason Whittle
October 14th 1913
It was nearly six o’clock in the morning and still dark when young Wilf said goodbye to his father Alfred and watched him stride out towards his place of work. The Universal Colliery: one of the largest coal mines in South Wales, the only major employer in the vicinity and the heart of the community itself. Some of Wilf’s own friends already worked there. Technically they were too young to be allowed to, but this was a mining town and they knew what was best for them better than some toffs in London. There was no point in staying in school for most boys when the only jobs to be found were down the pit anyway. They might as well start early and learn quicker.
Wilf was still in school though. His Dad was adamant that he didn’t want him to end up in the mines. He thought it was too dangerous. There had been a big accident there back in 1901 when Wilf was just a baby, that had really shaken Alfred up. So many of his friends had died and he’d vowed never to send his son down there. Of course, he’d kept on working in the mine himself. There was nothing else to do around here, and mining was his true profession. So much so, that having grown up in Newcastle and started working in the harsh, unyielding mines of the north-east, he’d packed up his few belongings and walked down to South Wales. He’d heard that the pits there were so bountiful that you could just stroll in and pick up lump after lump of coal without even having to dig for it. After a month of walking and sleeping under the stars he’d arrived at Senghenydd sick and exhausted to discover that this was an exaggeration, but it was still easier pickings than he was used to. And shortly after his arrival he met Rosa, a strong and beautiful Welsh woman, and knew that he’d never leave.
Theirs was almost a fairytale romance of complete devotion and undiminished passion. She was as beautiful now as in the photograph of their wedding day, and his love for her just kept on getting stronger. But passion and love could not feed them or Wilfred, which is why day after day, Alfred dutifully trudged to another day of honest graft. Never once did he bemoan his lot or wish for anything greater, or want more than he already had. He was a father, a husband and a miner, and wholeheartedly committed to all three.
It was repetitive work, with any given day seeming just like any other. Indeed, the first two hours of his shift that day passed by without any incident or hint of what was to come. But Alfred’s life, in fact the life of the town itself, was about to be changed forever.
19th Century Welsh coal miners
Alfred was chuckling to himself at the time, watching a young lad struggling with his newly-issued equipment. He was just offering some advice when a sudden roar drowned out his words, and everything else for miles around. The sound could only have originated from Hell itself. It was so much more than mere noise. It was all around him, inside him as it pounded through his brain and pummeled his body so powerfully that it actually knocked him off his feet. Everything was shaking violently, and Alfred looked around to see that everybody else had fallen over as well. At least he thought so. They were just indistinct shapes moving around in a blurry cloud of dust. Beyond them was a faint light, gradually becoming brighter. And then Alfred realised what it was and started running for his life.
Although the mighty roar and rumble continued behind him, Alfred could make out other sounds too. They were only audible because they were of a higher pitch than the general cacophony, and he couldn’t even be sure that they weren’t just in his head. He hoped they were. For it sounded just like screaming, cries of agony and anguish that should never come from anybody, let alone big, strong, salt-of-the-earth coalminers. He resisted the urge to turn around, not wanting to see what was there, and not wanting to delay his escape by even a second. Besides, his other senses were doing the job for him now; the heat searing into his back confirmed that he was running from fire, and the smell of burning flesh revealed that it had already claimed some other victims. Alfred was determined not to be the next one. He had to make it out of there for Wilf and Rosa.
He ploughed on blindly through the dust and smoke, but he was as surefooted as anyone could be. This pit had been his second home for fifteen years and he knew every inch of it. He didn’t slow down until he saw the way ahead was blocked. There had been a cave-in.
“Hello? Hello!” came a muffled voice from somewhere within the rubble. It sounded vaguely familiar, but Alfred couldn’t be sure. He was just surprised that he could hear anything at all. That’s when it occurred to him; the noise had stopped. At least, the big noise had stopped. The rumble of the aftershock was still there. The low moans of the injured were still there. And it felt like the ringing in his ears would be there forever. But the big noise had stopped. Likewise the heat had subsided now, and the flames weren’t following him any more. So whatever the explosion and fire had been, it was over now.
Alfred breathed out a sigh of relief, but what he breathed back in again brought tears to his eyes and bile to his throat, and all relief was gone. Gas! He frantically began clawing at the mound of rubble, knowing time was short.
“Can you hear me?” hissed Alfred in a clipped staccato as he worked to free his colleague. “Need to get out. Not much air.”
“Can move arm.” came the reply, the trapped man adopting the same economical syntax. “Moving rocks. Need to free son.”
There were a lot of fathers and sons working together in there – in fact Alfred was one of the very few who refused to let their boys into the pit – but he already thought he recognised the voice. A few moments of effort later and he knew for sure; it was Rhys Griffiths and his son Rhodri. He knew them well. Rhys was one of the first friends Alfred made after arriving from Newcastle, and Rhodri had been the star winger for the school rugby team before leaving in the summer. Alfred hoped the fitness levels gained from the sport would stand him in good stead, because it looked like he was badly hurt. He appeared semi-conscious, and blood was running down one side of his face. The way his arm was twisted underneath him meant it must be broken, and he still had rubble piled on top of him from the waist down. Worst of all, his breathing was very unsteady, and with every instinctive pant he was sucking in more poison.
Ben James worked in the mines since he was a young teenager. This picture was taken in 1953.
In spite of all this, Alfred worked to free Rhys first. Doing so took much less effort, and then there were two pairs of hands to help Rhodri. They did not speak; they did not need to because they both knew what to do, and knew that neither time nor air could be wasted. Instead they just dug, doing what they did best faster than ever before to unearth the most precious resource of all.
It still seemed to take forever, and by the time they were done they felt very tired and dizzy, and the rest of the pit had gone eerily quiet. But Rhodri was free. Rhys and Alfred picked him up, one either side linking under each arm, and summoned up all that remained of their strength to walk him to safety.
They’d made it halfway out of there, and were beginning to think their ordeal was nearly over, when another rumble and boom from deep in the pit made the carved out walls and floor vibrate around them. Alfred stumbled first; then as he fell, Rhys and Rhodri staggered forward, the father desperately trying to bear the weight of his son before he lost balance too. As they struggled to get up again, the ceiling of the pit began to cave in around them and two large boulders of earth and coal fell down. One narrowly missed Rhys and Rhodri, but Alfred wasn’t so lucky. He cried out in agony and despair as the heavy object fell on his trailing leg before he could move it out of the way, breaking skin, crunching bone, and pinning him to the rugged ground.
Rhys sat his dazed son down as quickly as he could without hurting him, and then turned to assist his friend. He heaved and grunted as he strained every sinew and tried with all his strength to push, lift or roll it off him. But it was to no avail; he was too tired and the boulder was too heavy. He shook his head gently, tears glistening in his eyes as he confessed “I can’t move it, Alfred.”
Alfred was fully aware of his situation and surroundings. If anything, the shock and pain of his injury cleared away the stupor induced by breathing in the gas. So he knew what had to be done. He knew he had to get back to Wilf and Rosa. And he’d seen that despite their ordeal, Rhys still had one of his trusty tools on his belt.
“Your axe…” sighed Alfred, struggling for breath. Rhys shook his head again
“It won’t break that. And if it makes a spark it’ll set off the gas.”
“Not the boulder.” Alfred said with a rueful smile “My leg.”
“It’s the only way. Quick as you can, then get your boy out of here.”
The use of “pit ponies” was finally outlawed as being cruel. No such luck for the Welshmen down there with them.
Rhys paused a moment. He could see that Alfred was right, but that didn’t make it any easier. “Forgive me.” he whispered, not knowing whether he was talking to his friend or God himself. Then he swung his axe as hard as he could, hitting Alfred’s right leg a few inches below the knee.
Alfred didn’t cry out in pain this time. He was gritting his teeth, tensing every muscle that wasn’t trapped. His suffering was only given away by the manic protrusion of his eyes, the white globes contrasting sharply with his soot and dirt-smeared face. Rhys swung again, and Alfred thought he was going to pass out. Then the third swing severed the leg completely and set Alfred free. Rhys went to pick him up, but was sent on his way. “Get your boy out of here. I can make it.”
Rhys took one brief look back as he hurried out of there, supporting Rhodri as he went. Alfred watched them disappear from view, glad that he’d not allowed Wilf to live this life and run these risks. There was so much more to do than mine this pit, and he wanted his son to make his own way in life. What’s more he wanted to be around to see it happen.
Alfred began to drag himself along, two strong arms propelling him as if he were swimming a front crawl. But the jagged, dirty scree of the tunnel floor was less forgiving than the town lido, and progress was terribly slow. At least his pain was starting to ebb away. His leg had numbed, probably from the shock, and the noxious gas was having an anaesthetic effect now. It was heavier than the air and was settling close to the ground. When he was stood up he’d ingested a little of it with each inhalation, but down here every breath was pure gas.
It wasn’t too bad, though. In fact, he couldn’t even remember why he’d been worried about it before. He could afford to relax here for a few minutes before starting again. Just relax and breathe. Relax and breathe…relax…
Alfred awoke to a slap in the face. “Come on Alf, look lively man!” bellowed Rhys, looking surprisingly fit and strong.
“He’s okay now. He’s outside, and that’s where we’re going.”
The next thing Alfred knew he was upright, his remaining foot dragging along and his friend on the other side of him. They were moving quicker than Alfred thought possible, and he was amazed at Rhys’ strength. It went to show the power of proper Welsh fresh air. A few breaths of it could do wonders for a man. Alfred could smell it for himself now. He could see the daylight ahead. And that’s when he knew that, although a part of him was lost to this pit forever, nothing would come between him and his family ever again.
Although Alfred made it out of the Universal Colliery that day, hundreds of others weren’t so lucky. It was the United Kingdom’s worst ever coalmining disaster, with the Government listing the death toll at 439. However, Alfred suspected the true figure was much higher due to the number of underage children and Italians working there unofficially.
Whilst tragic for the whole community, the disaster changed Alfred’s life for the better. The injury kept him out of the Great War, and his severance pay (sorry!) was enough to set him up quite nicely. He was given a then state-of-the-art wooden leg and learned to walk again, with just a slight limp and a walking stick. He lived to a ripe old age with his wife and her best friend Annie, in an unorthodox domestic arrangement which was apparently compatible with his staunch Welsh Presbyterian values. In his later years he would sit in a large armchair with his leg on the floor in front of him. From there he would take great delight in recounting the tale of his survival to his grandson, who years later would pass the story on to his own son. Me.
© Jason Whittle 2010
This is the Senghenydd Memorial Pithead Gear.
January 30, 2010
Inner Demons, by Anthony Watson
Pain wakes him. Intense, cramping pain that squeezes his abdomen in a vice-like grip, pain the like of which he has never experienced before in his life.
He gasps – the exhalation a result of both the agony he feels and the shock of his sudden awakening.
“Oh God…” he groans, shuffling up the bed to sit upright, “Oh no…” he tilts his upper body so as to lean out the side of his bed as a massive convulsion ripples through his stomach. A wave of anti-peristalsis sweeps up his gullet and he vomits profusely, the sick flying from his mouth in a jet-propelled stream. He hears – mercifully it’s too dark to see – the viscous stream splatter against the bedroom wall. As he retches to cough up the last of it, the foul-tasting slime coats his mouth, the back of his teeth. A warm dampness covers his chin.
And then he’s getting out of bed, driven by the desire to be stood up as if gravity will somehow come to his rescue, preventing further eruptions. His heart hammers in his chest, he gasps for breath. With the back of his hand he wipes his mouth, feels it come away slick. His mouth tastes worryingly of copper.
And then the pain hits him again. It forces another gasp from him, doubles him over. Something has grabbed the muscles of his stomach and is squeezing them, squeezing them so very hard. It squeezes tears from his eyes, so strong is its grip.
He staggers from the bedroom, determined that any more throwing up he has to do will be done in the bathroom but it is as he runs crouching to the waiting ceramic bowl that he realises the efflux will this time be heading in another direction entirely.
Pain notwithstanding, he manages to show remarkable co-ordination and grace, turning on his heels, pulling down pants and reversing onto the toilet seat in one (appropriately, given the circumstances) fluid movement.
For a moment, nothing happens – nothing that is except an intensifying of the pain in his stomach. Whatever had been gripping his guts before is now twisting them in the most extreme of Chinese burns.
He groans, “Owww… what the f…” but his profanity is lost amidst the eruption of a spectacular fart – remarkable both in its volume and duration. The sound is that of air escaping from the pinched neck of a balloon, the accompanying smell that of a creature long dead, decaying in a sewer. Only worse.
He gags – so very scared that a smell like this could possibly emanate from within his own body. What must he have eaten to produce such disgusting flatus? He tries to remember but the events of the previous evening are little more than a blur. Ben had called round, there’d been drink, lots of drink – and then they were skinning up on the back of his Q magazine and then they’d…
“Aaaargh..!” Another wave of pain ties knots in his stomach, followed immediately by another explosion. This time it is more than just gas that is propelled from his fundament. Warm wetness flows from him, spatters into the ceramic bowl beneath him…
…and with its leaving comes relief. The contractions stop, the pain dissipates. He sighs, a long exhalation, and leans forward to cup his head in his hands, and as he does feels the sweat that beads his brow.
He reaches for the toilet paper, glad now that he had paid that little bit more for the extra absorbency. Given what he has just heard – and felt – it has proven a sound investment.
He wipes, immediately feels the paper dampen, withdraws quickly before the weave (extra absorbent though it may be) dissolves and flesh to flesh connection is established…
…and feels the breath catch in his throat, feels the instant release of adrenalin, feels what can only be described as panic as he sees the red – the bright red, the ruby red smear on the disintegrating tissue.
“Oh nonononono..!” He stands quickly, stumbles, falls against the bathroom wall, regains his balance. Slowly, not wanting to but knowing he must, he leans forward to look into the toilet bowl and – even though it shouldn’t be a shock, given the evidence he still clutches in his hand – it is a shock – the most shocking thing he has ever seen, in fact – to see the blood filling the bowl, spattered around the edges, running down the porcelain in small red streams.
He slumps against the wall as his legs give way beneath him. A numbness fills him as thoughts of death fill his head (for surely that is what must happen) – but is it to be a slow, lingering death as the tumour grows within him or a sudden, painful one as whatever has begun to break inside him tonight gives way completely? Tears fill his eyes as he leans forward to drop the tissue paper into the bloody water. They run down his cheeks as he pulls the handle to flush it away – from sight, though never – he knows – from his conscious, or subconscious thoughts.
Musings on his own mortality do battle with desperate, self-preserving optimism as he returns to the bedroom. If the blood is bright red then this can be taken as a good sign – he tells himself – bright is good, bright is benign. Much worse would be dark or even black blood. Dark is bad, dark is very bad…
“Fred!” He shouts as, having flicked on the light, he sees the German Shepherd by the side of his bed, muzzle buried in the puddle of sick on the floor, noisily slurping it down. The dog wags its tail by way of reply but continues eating.
“FRED!” Louder this time, with an edge of disapproval and now the dog does move away, tail between its legs, a sheepish look in its eyes – a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
The pain has subsided but his fear remains. He slumps down onto the bed, sees the digital display of his clock radio glowing a deathly green. 3:30 in the morning. Clarity of thought seems unobtainable. The hospital is fifteen minutes walk away – he knows he has to go. Still, the fresh air might clear his head and, if the pain returns, what better place to be?
Fred pads over to him, settles at his feet with a grunt and a sigh. Muzzle on paws, he looks longingly at the tasty feast beside him.
He pulls the blood-smeared latex gloves from his hands and flings them into the yellow clinical waste bag. “Time of death 4:25am” he says, resignedly, the exhaustion all too apparent in his voice. His work in Accident and Emergency has brought him into contact with Death on many occasions but the constant exposure has never diminished its impact – something he takes as a reassuring sign. Death has come in many forms – the heart attacks, the road accidents, even on occasion the murders but none in his experience has ever been as bizarre as the one he has just failed to prevent.
Everyone had thought the guy was drunk of course, drunk – or off his head on drugs. The way he’d stumbled – no, crashed – through the doors had had them all rolling their eyes, anticipating yet another inevitable barrage of abuse. He’d been drinking alright – that much was evident from his breath – but he hadn’t been drunk. Terrified yes, but not drunk. His fear had been writ large in his eyes along with a pleading, a desperation to be helped. A clarity of thought that would have been impossible under the influence of alcohol.
He’d collapsed onto the floor and blood had sprayed from his mouth. Too much blood to have been as a result of the impact alone. They’d quickly gotten him onto a bed, working as a team, cutting away his clothes…
“Christ..!” Everyone had turned to look at the nurse, holding scissors in one hand, bloody material in the other. “Sorry,” she’d said, blushing.
Rectal bleeding was how he would record it in the notes. Massive rectal bleeding.
His clothes cut away from him, the guy’s abdomen was the next shock. Inflated like a balloon, the skin was stretched across it taut as a drum. And hot! So very hot, like a fire was burning inside him.
Suspected massive (yes, there’s that word again) ascites would be how he would record that finding.
“Any ID yet?” he’d asked, sounding for all the world like a TV medic from ER or Casualty – in actuality stalling for time while he tried to figure out what to do. “Nothing” the reply had come, “no cards, nothing”. And then the bleeding, swollen man had screamed, grabbed his arm, looked into his eyes with a despairing, pleading look…
…which had galvanised him into action. As he’d barked out requests for blood-tests and urgent CT scans he’d readied the syringe and needle, preparing to plunge it into that swollen belly to draw off the fluid collecting inside the poor bastard’s abdomen…
He walks from the bed as the nurses clean up the body ready for the porters. His pager beeps – the on-call radiographer. No need for his services now. It had been simple coincidence that the man had died at the moment he’d pushed the needle into his body.
Coincidence – that’s all.
But what he remembers – and will remember for some time to come – is the unearthly scream from the man that accompanied the procedure, the resistance he’d felt pushing the needle into what felt like a brick wall. Both those things but also the sight – and smell – of the red/black muck that finally exploded into the hub of the syringe.
“Mickey! Open up mate!” Ben raps on the door again but still no response comes from within. Frustrated, he hammers even harder with his fist and, to his surprise, the door snicks off its latch and swings open.
“Okaaay…” Gingerly, he steps into the flat. “Mickey – you okay mate? I’ve been ringing all morning.” Still no response – either from Mickey or, more worryingly, Fred. Normally, the dog would be barking its head off by now, leaping up at him in a frenzy of excitement.
He takes a few steps along the hallway before turning into the living room. “Mickey..? Fred..? Come on, stop messing about!” The room is pretty much the same as he had left it last night. Take-away cartons and empty lager cans are strewn across the floor, the Ouija board still on top of the coffee table, planchette pointing straight at him, accusingly.
Ah yes – the Ouija board – such a good idea at the time, or so it had seemed. Good laugh, especially when you’re pissed, or high (or both – he chuckles). And it had been a laugh, right up until Mickey had gone all weird – rolling eyes, talking gibberish…
Actually, even that had been funny – for a while. Then Mickey had stormed off into the bedroom in a huff. Not so funny now though…
He turns to head for the bedroom – the most likely place to find his friend, no doubt still sleeping off a monster hangover and the bad reaction to last night’s blow – when something catches his eye.
“Fred..?” He has seen the dog’s back legs sticking out from behind the sofa. Not like the old hound to sleep through all the noise he’d been making but then not completely beyond possibility, except…
…except when he sees the dog he realises that it’s not sleeping, that in fact something horrible has happened here.
“Oh Fred…” He covers his mouth with his hand, gagging at the sight.
Fred lies on his side, front legs crossed as if in repose but with eyes wide open. The dog’s belly is ripped open and guts spill out through the ragged wound. “Oh shit… who did this to you?” he says, out loud, but even as he does so he sees the dried blood around the Alsation’s muzzle and knows – with absolute certainty – that the dog has done this to itself.
A noise from the kitchen startles him and he swivels quickly, turning away from the ruined dog. “What… who..?” Another noise – this time from the bedroom. Fear sends a trickle of adrenalin down his spine as a third noise – this time closer, from somewhere in the living room literally makes him jump.
“Mickey? Is that you?” His voice trembles with fear. “Mickey..?”
“What do you mean he’s stuck?”
Jeff sighs, shakes his head. “I mean he’s stuck! I can’t get him out of the bloody fridge!”
Nigel Harrington – Consultant Pathologist of some standing – rolls his eyes, flaps his arms in frustration. “How can he be stuck? I mean, you got him in there all right!”
Jeff takes a moment, counts to ten. Slowly, he turns to face the medic, looks him straight in the eye. “When I put him in,” he says, “he wasn’t that big.” Relishing the puzzled look that crosses the pathologist’s face, he continues. “Now give me a hand – if you pull, I’ll get up on top and squash him down…”
Twenty minutes later and the cadaver known simply as John Doe to Nigel and Jeff – but Mickey to his friends – is laid out on the autopsy table.
“He is a whopper!” says Nigel, preferring on this occasion not to use standard medical terminology, “and you say he’s actually bigger now than when he was brought down here?”
Jeff nods. “A lot.”
“Intriguing. Okay, let’s open him up, see what’s causing all this. Can you lower the table, I can’t reach over that far..?”
“It’s down as far as it’ll go.”
“Oh. Mmmm, think I’ll have to go in from the side then, not much choice really.”
Nigel steps forward to the bloated corpse, places his hand against the side of the distended belly to gain purchase and recoils immediately as he feels movement beneath the skin.
“Something wrong?” Jeff asks.
Nigel composes himself. “No, no… everything’s fine.” Clearing his throat, he steps forward once more, scalpel in hand. This time, to his relief, there is no sensation of movement from the cold flesh. Addressing the microphone which hangs suspended above the table he begins his dictation. “In light of the extreme bloating of the body, I am making a lateral incision starting below the left axilla…”
Holding the scalpel like a pen, he pushes blade into flesh. Taking three steps sideways, he draws the knife through the taut skin…
…and takes three rapid steps backwards as the flesh tears apart along the line of his incision, throws his arms across his face in a vain attempt to protect himself from the flood of malodorous, black and red muck that sprays out of the ever-widening wound.
The stuff continues to fountain from the corpse, spattering onto the tiled floor of the morgue, splashing up against the legs of the two men who slip and slide as they scuttle away from the red and black geyser. As the flow continues, Mickey’s abdomen slowly deflates.
Nigel and Jeff look on in horror as the flow gradually eases to a stop. They glance at each other, eyes wide in shock, both looking for some kind of reassurance, some rationale. None is forthcoming.
“Has it stopped?” Nigel asks, tremulously.
Jeff looks back over at the table. “I think s… – oh what the fuck..? – not…”
Nigel has seen it too and takes a step backwards.
The corpse is moving – rather, something is moving inside it. The now flaccid abdomen ripples in reflection of the activity beneath it. Both men are frozen to the spot as they watch fingers, long, taloned fingers protrude from the ragged gash in the side of the corpse. They look on in horror as the fingers are followed by a hand, an arm, a head – some hybrid amphibian/reptile thing the size of a lap-dog pulls itself through the hole and tumbles from the table to land with a splat in the grue on the floor.
As if this hideous birth were not enough, more movement is now visible beneath the abdominal flap. As Nigel and Jeff turn – as one – to flee, they see more hands and arms thrusting out of the ravaged corpse.
And then the screeching begins, other-worldly, blood-chilling but not so loud as to drown out the slap-slap-slap of the monsters hitting the mortuary floor. For new-borns, they are quick, adapting to their new surroundings with remarkable rapidity. Jeff makes it to the door before the first one catches him, leaping onto his back, sinking needle-sharp teeth into his neck. Nigel – perhaps as a result of his more advanced years – or possibly that arthritic knee he has never gotten round to sorting out – is a good three or four paces behind him when he meets his grisly death.
Quick to adapt and also hungry. The nourishment provided for their gestation was adequate enough but pales into comparison with a fresh kill. Soon this meal will be done and they will have to seek out new prey.
An abundance of prey.
For they are many.
© Anthony Watson 2010
January 23, 2010
The Other Self, By Martha Hicks Leta
Shuffling gum soled shoes across the laboratory floor; Dr. Richard Blinderman massaged stumpy fingers into his oily scalp as he approached his prizedRB X-Utero 4000. The unit, a glorified Crockpot really, consisted of a painstakingly developed, air-tight cylinder that substituted for an actual womb.
Dr. Blinderman had dedicated his entire career to the science of cloning so that he might at last achieve the adoration he so richly deserved and that was, up to this moment, utterly absent in his life. But it wasn’t the adoration of his peers he desired. Rather, the doctor had dedicated himself to the possibility of human replication with the ultimate goal of cloning himself, so that he, or at least a version of himself, might finally experience the love denied him as a child and throughout his life.
His parents, scientists themselves, had been disciples of John B. Watson and his radical Behaviorism Movement which subscribed to the belief that Mother Love was to be regarded as a Dangerous Instrument, one that might inflict a never healing wound upon the developing child. One must be careful, his parents agreed, never to hug, kiss or show affection to a child lest these attentions might undermine the natural drive for success and happiness. A parent must be careful never to tell a child, “I love you.”
Dr. Blindeman slipped surgical gloves over his shaking hands. The thought of it was almost too much to bear. Now, at this very moment, inside the RB X-Utero 4000,cradled in a nest of oxygenated plasma foam, Dr. Blinderman’s very own stem cell had developed from embryo to fetus, facilitated by a continual infusion of highly specialized amniotic solution, a proprietary blend of fluids supplemented with a micro-dose, barely a suggestion really, of albumen from the egg of a Komodo dragon.
In this life, the doctor assured himself, Richard Blinderman 2.0 would not be the forgotten weakling; he would be fierce and confident and he would glide through time and space with the grace and agility of this singularly majestic creature. His personality would be dynamic, his senses keen, his reflexes acute.
He would know Love.
The culmination of Dr. Richard Blinderman’s lifetime of dedication had come at last. He depressurized and unsealed the cylinder, then lifted the mewling infant from the foul smelling goo and cradled it to his chest. He felt the two hearts, both of them his, synchronize to the harmonic rhythms of the Universe. A warm feeling spread through his chest as he looked into a face that was both Self and Other. He licked his lips, for his mouth had gone terribly dry, and prepared to speak words to his infant self, words he had longed to hear his entire life.
He paused as he toweled off the child’s face, a face that was an exact copy of his own as it had been in infancy with the same rheumy and dispassionate eyeballs, the same pinched and disapproving mouth and the same wrinkled, bulbous brow that had remained predominant features well into middle age.
The warm feeling in his chest dissipated, suddenly overtaken by a swell of nausea. He put down the towel and held the child with both arms. With less certainty, he began again. “I lo—”
The word stalled on the tip of his curled tongue, suspended by an abrupt dawning of unassailable clarity. The infant, he now understood in simplest terms, was utterly and completely unlovable. It was plain now that the source of his parents’ ambivalence had nothing to do with radical psychology, but rather the fact that they had birthed a singularly repugnant human being.
No sooner had this thought entered the doctor’s mind than the child’s fist shot forward with reptilian speed, forced itself into his mouth and seized his tongue, still poised in the formation of that life sustaining utterance, and tore it out by its roots.
The word, nevertheless, issued from the doctor’s gullet in a ghastly and enduring shriek that hung in the air even as the child guided the still writhing muscle into its mouth and swallowed it whole.
© Martha Hicks Leta, 2010
January 16, 2010
Sold, By Colin Hersh
Doug felt like a kid on Christmas morning as he cut the lock off the storage shed door. He and his wife Beth had bought the old shed at a charity auction that very afternoon. It was probably full of broken furniture and moth eaten clothes, but you never could tell. Sometimes valuable possessions were left behind by people who had fallen upon hard times.
When the door rolled up into its spool, neither one of them knew what to make of what they saw. There were four tightly rolled carpets leaning against the wall. Next to those was a collection of four containers with badly sculpted animal heads. They looked to be clay and crudely made. The final item was a large, crumbly-looking clay box. The top of the box was covered with etchings that were clearly intended to look like hieroglyphics, but were etched with the same lack of talent that the containers displayed and were in no discernable pattern. All and all, it looked like a seventh grade history or art project that would never win an award.
“Well, this was a waste of five hundred dollars,” Beth said.
“I don’t know, maybe they’re antiques” he replied optimistically.
“Antique crap,” she walked over to one of the carpets and pushed it over.
Doug went over to the odd box. He examined the odd patterns on the top.
“Well this is neat,” he said.
“Not five hundred dollars neat. I’ve seen more believable King Tut stuff at the dollar store.”
“Yea, well… I think it’s neat. Come on, let’s load it up and go home.”
“Home to the dump” she muttered as she bent to lift the containers with a grunt.
After dinner, the two cleared the table and washed their dishes before filling their coffee cups and heading into the garage to have a closer look at their dubious treasure.
Beth went to the carpets and picked one at random while Doug picked out a container that bore the crudely-shaped head of a monkey.
Beth’s rug, once unrolled, bore colors that were so vivid that they may have been dyed only a few months ago. Only the ends that had been exposed while the carpet had been rolled up were faded and rotting. She laid it out on the floor and called Doug over to look. He whistled with surprise when he saw how bright it was.
Hefting the monkey jar, Doug spun it in his hands looking for any manufacturer’s mark. He found none, but he heard something rattle inside. Removing the lid, he found two shriveled balls, like dried and salted prunes.
“Whatever these things are, they’re past rotten. The container is kind of cool though.”
He turned to the large clay box in the corner of the shed. It was obviously the dominant piece, and perhaps the only item of value.
“Let’s see what’s so important that they have to cover it with a billion little pictures.”
The top of the case was firmly attached. He tried prying it off but had no luck. He tried sliding it up, down, and side to side, but it still held fast. Finally, Beth noticed a small separate clay shaft just below the lip. She pushed it down. With a muted clicking sound, the top popped up about an inch. She gave a cry of triumph and opened it the rest of the way.
Inside laid a doll.
The ugliest doll the young couple had ever seen. Slightly larger than a Cabbage Patch Kid, the doll was made out of what looked like paper mache and was too stiff and hideous to give any comfort.
The face was drawn on with the same obvious lack of skill displayed on the jars, black circle eyes under a pair of half moon eyebrows, two dots for the nose. The mouth was nothing more than a thin straight line marked on with little care. Doug reached in, snatched out the doll before Beth could object, and made it dance on the bench in front of her as he sang out in a silly voice;
“Hello, I’m Ugly Dolly! Do you want to be my friend?”
“Stop it! That’s disgusting!” Beth tried to scold as she laughed.
“Oh, come on. Give me a kiss!” With that he brought the doll up to her face and made the doll kiss her cheeks.
“Eww, it smells like… It smells gross! Get it away!” She swatted at it and giggled.
“Sorry babe, it only wanted a kiss. Isn’t that right ugly doll?” With that he pulled the doll up to his mouth to kiss it. “Oh man, it does smell. It’s like… wet leather and garlic breath.” He finished as he wiped his mouth and laid the doll back into its box.
They turned their attention to the other jars. The one with a dog head held a dried tomato, the jar with the bird head held a clumpy mess of God knows what, and the jar with a head looking suspiciously like Elmer Fuddheld a dried fig. Not having the urge to see what the fruit would do to their digestive systems, Doug dumped them into the trash can.
The next morning, they took the items to Beth’s brother’s antique shop for an appraisal. They couldn’t believe his reaction.
“It’s the real deal. These, the carpets and the Canopic jars, are Egyptian, ancient Egyptian.”
Doug stared in dumb silence. “Then that’s not really a doll, is it?”
“Afraid not, it’s a baby. The Canopic jars are used to hold the organs while the rest of the body gets mummified. The Canopic jars, and that sarcophagus, are part of the burial process. The rugs were likely offerings. It’s a lower-class burial, but that doesn’t matter. This stuff is priceless, so why the hell was it in a neglected storage shed?”
“I can’t believe I kissed a dead baby,” Beth whispered to him, “I even dreamed I was breastfeeding that thing last night!”
Doug and Beth packed up and stored their treasure with far greater care than they had before. Jeff told them that it might be worth millions. As soon as he could find an appraiser he would let them know. He seemed shocked, but he kept telling them over and over, how excited he was.
As night fell, they drank, laughed, ate dinner, made love, and went to bed.
Doug was dreaming:
In his dream, He was being hunted through a barren wasteland. He knew it was a dream, but he was feeling very real pain and fear. Soon the pursuers had him trapped at a cliff. It was impossibly steep. Turning, he saw a jackal, a baboon, a falcon, and a man. They were in a semi circle around him and slowly closing in.
“I am Imseti,” said the man, “I travel with my brother; Duamutef the jackal, Qebehsenuef the falcon, and Hapi the baboon. You have stolen what belongs to us.”
Doug turned, jumped off of the cliff, and fell, and fell, and fell.
Beth jumped from a deep black sleep into perfect alertness when Doug screamed.
“What the hell was that? You scared the life out of me!
“It was a nightmare” he explained. “I was being chased by those canithingies that the dried fruit was in. It was horrible. I’ve never been so frazzled from a dream. I don’t think I’ll ever sleep again”
By the time the sun rose, they were on their second cup of coffee. After Doug’s dream, Beth had been suddenly, and violently, sick to her stomach. She threw-up for most of an hour, but the worst seemed to be over, she was already feeling better.
At about ten, Jeff called with good news. They should expect an appraiser named Dennis Hensley to arrive at their home at about five that night.
After hanging up, a loud crash came from the garage. Rushing in to see if everything was OK, they found their trashcan lying neatly on its side. The contents spread all over the floor.
Mr. Hensley arrived right on time. He went meticulously over the Canopic jars, unrolled each carpet, and looked closely at every square inch. Finally, he examined the sarcophocus and the mummy. When he finished, he explained to them that it was likely from fourteen to fifteen hundred BC. It was a baby of course.
The craftsmanship was poor, but that was because of the community social status in the region. The finer work was reserved for the aristocracy. Still, it was immensely valuable. The hieroglyphics interested him most. It appeared to be a form of prayer to keep the mummy away from the afterlife, and away from this life as well.
He assured them they were now very wealthy people.
That night, Doug went to bed a happy man, until his dream:
Doug was once again chased through a barren dessert by unseen objects of terror. This time he found himself trapped by four beautiful women. The four olive-skinned women were identical. All that set them apart were their strange headdresses. One wore a crown shaped like a basket, one a golden scorpion, one a shield crossed with arrows, and the last wore a golden throne.
“We are the mothers of war, health, nature, and magic. We are the guardians of the charge you have stolen.”
“I didn’t steal anything!” Doug cried in a panic.
Now the one with golden basket stepped forward,
“I am Nephthy, goddess of nature. You have stolen our charge, but you have also freed it. For too long we have waited.”
Doug stood silent and unmoving.
The woman wearing the scorpion took a step forward,
“I am Serket, Goddess of Health. You have given me the opportunity to heal the sting of death.”
The woman with the throne headdress stepped forward.
“I am Isis, the mother of mothers. Your charge is my child. Your woman has already consumed his soul and taken him upon her now fertile womb.”
The woman wearing the shield and arrows stepped forward.
“I am Neith, Goddess of War. Failure will not be tolerated. You will not fail us.
He woke to the sound of Beth vomiting.
When the time passed and the baby was due, Doug had a final dream. This time it was he and the Goddess Isis, alone in the desert. Isis spoke;
“Soon my child will be born. This will be a great and terrible time for man. My child will go by the name of Anubis and he will open the gateway to the other side.”
“What’s on other side?”
“Death is on the other side. The dead will be free to walk the earth, and the living will join them in death. Eternity will be achieved and my son will be king. His time is now.”
Beth told him that her water had broken and he needed to get her to the hospital. Twelve hours later, a boy was born that wasn’t a boy. One nurse fled the room making retching sounds when she saw the child’s dog like head. The doctor, despite his shock, cut the fleshy umbilical chord that connected the child-beast to its mother. Once cut, the earth shook and the gates, closed for so long, were once again open.
© Colin Hersh 2010
Illustrations © Kathryn Kappen 2010
January 9-16, 2010
The Rat Catchers Apprentice, By Ross Warren
It was a quiet night in the smoking room of the Carlton club. The stormy winds and heavy rains that had battered London for the best part of three days were keeping all but the most die-hard of patrons in their homes.
So it was that Charles Wentworth found himself sharing a late night tot of whiskey in front of the fire with Punch magazine editor Henry Mayhew. The two men sat either side of the large fireplace in well maintained leather settees of a rich mahogany colour, a pause in their conversation meant the only sound was the crackle and snap as the logs burnt in the hearth.
‘So tell me Henry,’ Charles said, leaning forward. ‘What stories have you to tell from your time studying the poor and suchlike?’
‘Well as you can probably imagine, you see the same things happening amongst the poor and destitute whichever part of London you care to venture into,’ he took a large swallow of whiskey before continuing. ‘Solace is taken in whatever they can find that closest resembles alcohol and violence and thievery are a daily occurrence.’
‘It’s to be expected amongst the lower class I suppose. You must have heard the odd interesting tale though?’
‘Well, by far the most interesting of the characters I came across was a fellow by the name of Jack Black. Have you heard of him?’
‘Ah yes, the Queen’s Rat Catcher! By Jove I bet he was a strange chap indeed.’
‘Quite! I spent several days with him and it was certainly an eye opener. The story I am about to relay to you must go no further than these walls, I have a reputation to uphold and this could be construed as quite a fanciful tale.’ Mayhew reached forward to refill his tumbler and then on settling back began his tale.
I first saw Mr. Black, Rat and Mole destroyer to her majesty Queen Victoria, on the corner of Hart Street. He looked resplendent in his self-made ‘uniform’, comprised of a topcoat of the deepest scarlet, waistcoat, breeches and the most ornate of leather belts inset with cast-iron effigies of rats.
On this occasion he had a cart set up containing cages filled with rats. The cart itself was decorated with pictures of the vermin on the panels and the tailboard. Black was demonstrating to the gathered congregation of street urchins and barrow boys the potency and effects of his poison by placing some in the mouth of a light grey rat he was holding. We spoke briefly and agreed I should meet him the following day at his home in Battersea.
The rat catcher’s parlour was more akin to a shop than a family abode, all about were boxes and cages containing all manner of rats, ferrets and birds. Along one wall was a work bench upon which lay animals at various stages of taxidermy. All around the room hung paper bags and I enquired of my host as to their contents.
‘All of them Sir,’ he said reaching to take one down to show me. ‘Contain cured fish for eating.’
I declined his offer of a taste, but was wholehearted in my acceptance of the offer of a little morning tea before the day’s tasks were to begin in earnest.
Black’s wife produced a pot of strong tea and some rock-like scones with out so much as a grunt of acknowledgment. A heavy-set woman with the disposition of a corpse, I got the distinct impression that simply rising from her chair marked this as an honoured visit. We were joined at the table by a boy of about fourteen who had the unruliest mass of red hair I had laid my gaze upon in many a year. His side of a brief conversation consisted of an assortment of inarticulate grunts and I took that as an indication that he was from Mrs Black’s side of the family.
‘And who might this young fellow be?’ I enquired when their discussion had come to an end.
‘This is my nephew Timothy. His Ma, my wife’s Sister, has sent him to me in the hope that a spell as my apprentice will give him a bit of purpose,’ Jack said with an evident lack of enthusiasm.
‘So, you want to be a rat catcher do you?’
Before the boy could reply, with what I fully expected to be a mono-syllabic grunt, Jack had risen from the table and was readying himself to leave the house. Waistcoat fastened and satchel slung across his chest the Queen’s rat catcher marched out of his house leaving the boy and I to scurry after him like rats following the pied piper.
On the way to the first scheduled appointment of the day Jack explained to me how the actual work he undertook for her majesty only accounted for about ten percent of his annual workload but the prestige ensured he always had other work come his way. The majority of commissions came from the more affluent households of society such as the bankers, barristers and landowners.
So it was that our first stop was to a rat infestation in the wine cellar of a gentleman of some importance at Lloyds of London. As Jack skittered about the darkened cellar, lit as it was by a single gaslight scarcely up to the task, he explained the process to me.
‘It’s very rare to encounter any actual vermin in a location such as this, but there’s plenty of their leavings to show activity.’
Jack seemed positively delighted to have an attentive person taking interest in his job. The so called ‘apprentice’ was showing little interest, preferring instead to pull bottles from the impressive wine racks and study the labels. I had no doubt that he lacked the ability to read what was written upon them.
‘A job such as this is of the easiest sort,’ Jack went on, seemingly oblivious to the abject lack of attention from his protégé.
‘What, may I ask, are the toughest commissions?’ The actions of the lad were beginning to irritate me but I tried not to show it to my amiable host.
‘Any work in the sewers is the worst Sir. Working by a single gas light is tricky enough but then you have the smell and you encounter more of the little beasties.’
I left Jack to continue with his baiting and headed over to give his inattentive lad a stern talking to.
‘Now hear this young man…’ That was as much of my sermon as I was able to orate before a rat the size of a badger launched itself from the opening that Timothy had just extracted a fine cognac from. The creature emitted a high pitched shriek as it leapt upon the boy, fastening itself to his face. A muffled scream sounded from beneath the black hairy mass that covered his face like an animated balaclava.
I stood motionless for what seemed like minutes, but in reality was mere seconds, before making a futile attempt to remove the monstrosity from the boy as he writhed about the floor of the cellar. Just as I was starting to fear that the rat would gnaw Tim to death, Jack arrived on the scene. Using the wooden cudgel from his belt he beat the creature until it released its hold on the boy’s ravaged face and tried to attack the rat catcher. Jack continued to batter the creature until it was little more than a pile of bloody flesh and matted hair.
I took off my tunic and pressed it to the pulped remains of the apprentice’s face in an attempt to staunch the flow of blood. Between us we carried the boy back to Jack’s house, where his wife set about tending the wounds.
Twenty minutes, and the best part of a bottle of medicinal alcohol, later the scale of the damage was apparent for us to see. Most of the boy’s nose had been eaten away, one eye was a sightless gooey mess and there were two deep furrows on either cheek that required some crude stitching from Mrs Black. A multitude of additional bites and scratches covered his face, neck and shoulders with many already bruising yellow and blue around the edges. When Jack and I finished our appraisal of the damage Mrs Black wrapped the boy’s head using a roll of bandage, leaving just the single working eye exposed. Its contracted pupil denoting that the boy remained in a state of shock. No doubt he had a bout of fever to look forward to as well.
At my forceful insistence it was agreed that I would accompany Jack for the remainder of the week. I would be able to garner further information for my articles whilst at the same time providing an extra pair of hands in place of the bed-ridden apprentice. I took Jack up on the offer of the guest room, saving me an early hour commute each day.
I awoke the following morning at, an early for me, seven o’clock and found the rat catcher already at the kitchen table eating a large bowl of porridge. Given his stoic expression I deduced that porridge making was not one of Mrs Black’s skills and decided a cup of tea would suffice for my own breakfast.
‘How’s the boy today? I asked between sips of the scolding brew.
‘The fever has its grip on him, so says the missus. She’s going to change his dressings soon, we’ll be able to asses the damage.’
The rest of our morning sustenance was taken in silence, broken six or seven minutes later by the creaking of a door. I must admit it gave me quite a start.
‘You can see him now,’ Mrs Black said when her head appeared around the edge of the door.
The room we entered was dimly lit as if any increase in illumination might cause the patient distress. From the doorway we could just make out the shape of the boy propped up in bed on two sturdy looking pillows. Mrs Black hovered on the far side of the boy’s bed as if anxious to wrap his wounds and get them hidden from sight as quickly as possible.
When Jack and I made it to the bedside we had gained some adjustment to the darkness and were able to see a face so ravaged it was difficult to reconcile it to the boy I had met the previous morning. I thank providence that my experiences over the two years prior had hardened my constitution; my younger self would have fled the room in search of a secluded place to empty the contents of my stomach post haste.
The deep wounds in each of the boy’s cheeks had already scabbed over, leaving the skin bone white and wrinkled as if lacking moisture. His right eye was a knotted mess of lacerated flesh and sinew, white pus trickled from the ravaged socket and ran a course down his cheek like a canal on a map of Birmingham. I took this to be the fluid of his ruined eyeball and had to be strong-willed to suppress myself from gagging. However, by far the worst damage was centred in the middle of the boy’s face where his nose had previously made its residence.
The pink, freckled flesh of the nose had all but been eaten away, bite marks and claw scratches were in evidence on the cheeks either side of the mess that remained. The cartilage of the nose had been pulled forward which coupled with the extensive swelling to the boy’s mouth and lips gave the impression of a snout. More disturbing than the damage to the boy’s features though was a collection of a dozen or so course ginger hairs that had sprouted up along the unscathed jaw-line. It was this image more than any other that failed to leave my mind during the following day’s activities with Jack.
It was near dark when we returned from a day’s work that had taken us as far as Islington. Any tiredness we might have been feeling was shocked from our system when we set eyes upon the devastation that had been unleashed on Mr Black’s kitchen. The table was overturned, one leg shattered into splinters. The contents of the larder were strewn about the flagstone floor, with many of the items looking half eaten. A block of butter had melted into a yellow pool which spread several feet into a second yellowish puddle that was most definitely not butter.
Amongst this sea of detritus sat Jack’s wife, sobbing uncontrollably into a balled –up handkerchief. Jack crouched beside his wife and spent several minutes consoling her, getting her calm enough to ask her for an account of events.
‘Little Timmy woke about three in the afternoon,’ Mrs Black began before pausing to dab once more at her eyes. ‘He was feverous and began screaming for food. I gave him some bread and pork that I had ready on the bedside table, but that weren’t enough for him. He knocked me over in his hurry to get to the larder.’
‘Where is the boy now dear?’ Jack enquired, rising from his haunches. His distraught wife simply motioned in the direction of the boy’s bedroom before once more burying her tear stained face in her sodden hankie.
We approached the room with trepidation, half expecting the boy to attack us and prepared if necessary to subdue him with physical force. Instead we found him sleeping peacefully with half-eaten, congealing food coating the blankets he slumbered beneath. Large strips of his bandages were mixed amongst the food revealing his hideously disfigured face. The swelling about his mouth and the remains of his nasal appendage had increased giving it an even more pronounced, snout-like appearance. Where there had been the dozen or so thick ginger hairs there was now the beginnings of a small beard giving the impression of fur along the chin. I put this worrying sight down to the poor lighting of the room and followed Jack to the bedside where we cleaned and redressed the sleeping child’s wounds.
With our task satisfactorily completed we retired to the parlour where Jack produced a bottle of malt whiskey with which we settled our nerves in order to have some chance at a peaceful nights slumber when we retired for the evening. It wasn’t the best quality of scotch but it did the trick! When we headed to our respective rooms the bottle was all but empty.
My alcohol assisted sleep was broken by sounds of a commotion coming from the ground floor of the property. I donned a housecoat and ventured to investigate. On exiting my room I came across Jack on the landing dressed in hastily fastened breeches and a half tucked-in nightshirt. We exchanged a brief word about the noise and together descended the stairs to the darkened floor below.
The kitchen was largely undisturbed with just the back door showing signs of damage. The lower panel was busted through from the inside. A closer inspection of the splintered hole in the door revealed a couple of small clumps of ginger fur snagged around the makeshift opening. The door into the boy’s room stood ajar revealing a lit lantern upon the dresser that sat to the right of the door. Jack lit a lantern of his own and we entered the room. To my considerable relief it proved to be unoccupied and I let out an audible sigh. The bed clothes were in disarray and there was a vast pool of urine on the exposed mattress. The vanity mirror of the dresser was shattered and the lacquered surface of the dresser had been scratched with four deep, parallel grooves as if an animal had attacked it instead of a disorientated and scared little boy. The cause of his apparent anger and rage was revealed to us by the pile of soiled bandages that littered the floor.
Henry drained the last of the amber liquid from his tumbler and reclined into his seat.
‘And thus concludes my little tale of mystery. You can see, I’m sure, why such fanciful events must not go beyond this room.’
‘Of course, we all have reputations to maintain, but what became of the boy?’
‘He was never heard from again,’ Mayhew said rising from his chair and walking over to the hat stand that held his coat. ‘Jack, myself and several local men spent the best part of two days searching, but to no avail.’
Mayhew fastened his coat and wandered back across to where Charles remained seated.
‘There have been rumours and sightings of a giant ginger furred creature wandering Battersea at night. You know how these urban legends embellish the facts; Rat Boy at large indeed!’
Mayhew reached out and gave Charles a hearty handshake and bid him goodnight. Charles remained alone, finishing his own glass of whiskey and pondering the weird tale so recently regaled to him. A shiver worked its way through his body as a clap of thunder sounded out and the street visible though the window was illuminated by lightning. In the momentary brightness Charles thought he saw the bandaged face of a boy staring in through the window. Charles shook his head and placed his still half full glass upon the table before him.
‘I think you’ve had quite enough for tonight Charles,’ he said shrugging on his own coat and fastening it in readiness for braving the stormy streets for the two minute walk back to his own warm house.
As the door of the Carlton Club banged closed behind him a second clap of thunder rang out above his head, as it echoed between the houses either side of the street it sounded to him eerily like the pleading of a distraught man.
© Ross Warren 2010
January 2-9, 2010
Sniper’s Night, By Benedict J. Jones
My breath’s short, chest tight, lungs feel like they’re filled with crushed glass. The lactic acid feels like it’s burning through my knee joints. White stars are dancing before my eyes. I just have to take a few more steps and put a little bit more distance between me and my pursuers. I take a quick look back. The street behind me seems empty and devoid of any movement. I squint in the orange glare from the lamppost that I’m leaning against. Just because I can’t see anything doesn’t mean that there aren’t things out there in the shadows; too many shadows, too many places for them to wait. Staring at those dark places makes my stomach twist in on itself and I set off at a quick trot, half hobbling half running. My backpack is filled with the tools of my trade; posters, flyers, free mix CDs and bundles of stickers. It’s weighing me down but I can’t quite bring myself to discard it. I’m a street promoter for some of the small record labels, wherever I go I snipe, that is I put up posters and stickers relating to the artists the labels want to get some exposure for. I’d spent most of the night handing flyers out outside a bar in Deptford and if I hadn’t been so tired I never would have taken that shortcut through the park and I never would have seen those muzzles smeared with blood.
When you’re running scared you begin to notice things you hadn’t seen before. It amazed me how many bushes and shrubs there are in this urban sprawl. I stare at each one and the shadows that they cast hoping that I won’t see any movement or hear a tell tale rustling. I pick up the pace as I skirt the edge of Southwark Park. If I hopped the fence I could be home quicker but there are too many shadows in there, too few lights and no possibility of running into someone who could help me. Trees creak and groan in the breeze and I pick up the pace. A sprint takes me past the roundabout at the Rotherhithe Tunnel, past the Scout House, past the Boatmen pub; doors locked, no lights showing. I haven’t seen a single person since I started running.
London is never truly dark at night, I doubt any big town or city is, and the darkness around me glows in the dirty glare of a thousand lights. As I reach the glow of Jamaica Road Piazza, white lights hanging above make the pavement dazzle, I risk another look back. At first I see nothing and then my eyes pick out movement in the low shadows back up the street. I hear the pitter-patter of claws on concrete, the clickety-clack of small deft paws on the hard pavement. My feet seem to move this time of their own accord as I try to outpace my pursuers.
I finally come to a stop outside of a fortified twenty four mini-market. The door is locked, naturally at this time of night, and the heavy pane of security glass under which the workers pass the customers goods has been fractured into a spider web with a blow from some hard object. The worker inside a dark skinned Asian, perhaps Sri Lankan, stares at me with sullen wariness. In his mind my New Era baseball cap and hooded top automatically make me some kind of knife wielding robber, the kind who has probably made the night shift a misery for him since he started working here. I wish I did have a knife or better yet a revolver or shotgun – then I wouldn’t be running. I start babbling, Help! Phone the Police! I make no mention of what is pursuing me. All the time I’m speaking I’m looking back the way that I came. I see nothing and look back at the shop worker through the thick, fractured, glass. His expression hasn’t changed.
“Go now. Get away. You people always cause trouble. We don’t want any trouble.”
He shakes his head. No he won’t be calling anyone. I can hear the clickety-clack pitter-patter again. I let me backpack slide off my back and onto the pavement. And then I’m off again, running on empty.
I pass the grey steel and polished glass of Bermondseytube station, sprint across the road at the traffic lights and turn into the Dickens housing estate. My pursuers are still nowhere to be seen but I know they are out there behind me, out there caressed in the blanket of half dark. I duck into a stairwell and head upwards hoping that height might give me security.
I duck low against the wall than runs along the second floor walkway and remember what I saw on that shortcut I should never have taken. It was the kind of small green; you really couldn’t glorify it by calling it a park that you see all over London. Nestled between two housing blocks it consisted of a single plot of grass bisected by a tarmac path with a couple of battered benches. It was behind one of those benches that I saw them. A man, only distinguishable as such from a pile of rags by his groans, lay prone on the grass with half a dozen empty super strength lager cans crushed around him. He was surrounded by five foxes which danced and pranced around his prone form like deranged disco-goers. They were the kind of urban foxes that haunted the city. You’d see them cross your path as you came home from a late night out or hear them rummaging around in the bins at the back of Perfect Fried Chicken. Skinny creatures with tight sinewy bodies, rusty fur and thin snapping snouts now smeared with crimson that appeared black in the moonlight. As I took in the scene that I had stumbled upon I simply stopped dead and stared, unable to quite believe or comprehend what I saw before me. A snout popped up and eyes, luminous in the dark night, locked onto my own. My body kicked in before my brain and I did what man has done since time immemorial when faced with sudden, out of the norm, danger – I turned and ran. And now it feels like I have been running forever.
Have you ever seen a fox climbing stairs? Me neither but I reckon that they probably can. At least they can’t swarm me up here. I hope. I stay crouching behind the wall. My T-shirt sticks to me, my body soaked in sweat. I don’t know how much longer I can keep running. My flat is about another half mile, can I make it that far? I risk a quick look over the wall. They’re there; down below me, snouts up, moving around in the space in front of the stairwell. Their eyes catch the light and I feel myself drowning in their luminescence. When they move it is so quick that it takes me a moment to realise that they are heading for the stairs and then I can hear their claws on the concrete of the steps. There’s no time to think. I swing myself bodily over the low wall and hang for a moment at full stretch to lessen the drop, my mind fills with images of me breaking both my ankles on the hard ground below and lying there at their mercy. Then I drop. The impact seems to run all the way up my legs and jars my hips. I fall sideways and for a moment I just want to lie there but I know that there isn’t any time. I’m up and moving, albeit at a hobbled run. Back onto Jamaica Road I make for the tall tower block of Wolf Point, perhaps I can shake my pursuers in the housing estates that surround the mammoth block.
I see the lights first; yellow internal lights and red brake lights. A double-decker bus, the N47 night service, is sitting at a bus stop further up the road. I kick up the pace and sprint towards it, hoping that the driver will see me in his mirror and wait till I reach the stop. I’m within touching distance of the brake lights when I hear the doors closing and the hiss of air brakes as the bus starts off from the stop. The energy seems to drain from me as the bus moves away and I find myself on my knees in the road watching the bus move away towards Tower Bridge. Then I spy a couple moving away from the bus stop. People at last. I must look a state, having run over three miles, my clothes wet with sweat and my eyes wild with fear. From the looks on their faces I reckon I must look worse than I had imagined. The suited male steps in front of his companion as it to shield her from me. I try not to babble but I fail. God knows what I spout forth, I’m just happy to be with people again. To me they are some protection against the loneliness of the night and of more tangible dangers. I take a glance back down the roads and I see them; green circles in the night, the eyes of demons.
A scream erupts from my throat and I turn moving fast. Straight into a right hook. The punch hits me like a ball hammer in the jaw and I go down hard. The woman is pulling the man away as I push myself to my feet. Anger clouds my vision and for a moment I want to kick the man to the floor and beat his face till it’s unrecognisable. But the anger is quickly replaced by fear. If I stop they’ll be on me. So I move away from the couple and start moving.
I limp past more blocks of flats the odd light on here and there. I don’t bother heading for them. It isn’t as if anyone will let me in at this time of night and I’ve had my fill of human kindness. With every step I seem to be moving slower than before but as long as I can put one foot in front of the other then I have a chance to make it home, home to the safety of a bolted front door. To stop will be to suffer the fate of the drunk I saw on the green.
A rusty shade pelts past me. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. My feet tangle and I taste the pavement. Hands and face skinned, I scramble to the side and pull myself from the snapping muzzles. Within its eyes I detect an icy sentience far removed from animal kind. Another fox snaps at my hands. Ducking back I end up in a sitting position against the wall of a building. My hands and lips, torn from hitting the pavement, are slowly numbing as though I had stuck them into a freezer. They are all around me now with a single purpose, the pack dancing as one.
Then, before they move in to finish me off, they are gone – evaporating into the night like smoke blown into the air. I push off the wall and get to my feet. My legs feel like rubber and reaching into the depths I find no reserves of energy left. I stumble straight into waiting arms. Last stand time; punch, spit, kick, gouge – anything to get myself clear. For a second I break clear and I have time to take in the two uniforms that grabbed me. Dark stab vests, loaded utility belts and chattering radios. Cops. They move in at me with their batons drawn. I try and explain. I should have saved my breath. The pain of the impacts on my arms and legs feel dull. The tiredness finally consumes me and I let myself drop. The pain releases my fear and the ground embraces me like an old friend. As I curl into a ball pepper spray fills my face and one of them puts the boot in. Steel handcuffs bite into my wrists at irregular angles. The two officers crowd me. They tell me not to resist and to stay calm. I go limp. Take me to a cell, lock the door, anything that’ll get me off these streets.
And that was the start of how I ended up here under the care of the Southwark Mental Health Trust. So far they’ve offered me a lot of labels but none have stuck. To be honest I like it here. The calm is good, almost like home now. The staff seems to be under the belief that I’m suffering from some form of agoraphobia as well as whatever else ails me. But that isn’t why I won’t go outside. It’s the people with auburn, rusty, hair that I see hanging around the gates, waiting for me. I know what they are now, those rustlings in the bushes late at night, and because of that I’ll probably never leave this. Not alive anyway.
© Benedict J. Jones 2010
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