A Couple of Creepy Stories for Halloween

Happy Short Story News: Estronomicon

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And also the busiest for me, as it turns out, so I’ve been falling behind with all sorts of stuff. Normally I make a bit of a fuss about Halloween on the blog, but the fates have conspired against me this time round. So instead I have a link to last year’s short creepy story, Constance Withers and the Wall, and below is an even shorter short that may hopefully provide a few chills*(even though it’s set in the midst of summer).

*bonus: based on real events! Oooooooo!

 

Outfall

Jen Williams

It was an unreasonably hot day, even for July – and particularly for a day at the beach, when we were more used to grey skies and a set of sturdy windbreaks surrounding our small family outpost. It was so hot I was content to just sit in my deckchair, comic resting on pink knees, letting the heat lull me into a light doze, but as far as my mum was concerned dozing in a deckchair was a job for grown-ups. She gave me a Look.

“Grandad and Uncle Peter will be back from the pub in a minute. They’ll be wanting their chairs back.”

Resigned to my fate I allowed her to slap a fresh layer of sun cream over my shoulders before being gently poked, bucket and spade in hand, back towards the sea.

It was too hot. I wandered instinctively towards the stone outfall. It was the best place to catch crabs, and my older cousins would often spend hours sitting on top of its slippery walls with their orange crab lines, dangling broken mussels into the grey water. Now the tide was out, and the outfall would be a long track of mud caught between tall stone walls. There wouldn’t be any big crabs to catch, but there would be other small curiosities for a bored child with a plastic bucket.

I followed the walls of the outfall down to where they started, glancing up at the big green stones as I went. They were thick with seaweed and pocked with barnacles and mussels and other clinging creatures. When the tide was freshly out the tops of the walls were dangerously slick, but today the sun had dried the seaweed to a fine crispy layer, the scent of which was an alien salt in my nose.

I rounded the final blocks of stone and peered up towards the tunnel. To my surprise, there weren’t any other children around. The walls of the outfall rose to either side of me, green and stinking, leading to the flat square of darkness at the far end. Beyond that, I vaguely understood, would be some sort of drainage system, where waste water would flow down the outfall into the sea. At the time, it never occurred to me that this might not be the best place to play. It apparently never occurred to my parents either, at least not then.

Between the walls the sand turned to mud, never quite dry even in this weather, and it sucked at my feet as I squelched my way in. The breezy salt smell of the beach deepened, laced with a darker scent of rot and ancient fish. Brown and black varieties of seaweed clung to the walls, with great fat blisters that would pop if you squished them between your fingers. There were barnacles too, great grey clusters of them, and I peered closely at this strange strata of life. As much as I enjoyed reading comics in the sun, I could amuse myself for hours with tiny beasts and flora. I forgot about the smell, and the muck oozing between my toes. Seagulls cried overhead and the distant crash and rattle of the sea was a comfort.

I only came back to myself when a faint prickling on the back of my neck let me know that I was no longer alone. I looked back up towards the tunnel and saw a shadowy figure standing under the arch of stones. For a few moments, I was confused. It was hot and I was sleepy, but I was reasonably certain that no one had come past me, and I would have noticed if someone had been foolish enough to jump down from the walls. But there was definitely someone there, standing right back in the shadows. As I watched, they waved at me.

I stood up straight, quickly using one finger to hook my swimming costume back out of my bum crack. The kid waved again.

I felt a flicker of annoyance. With eight older cousins I valued my time alone. Most of them were off down the amusement arcade now, leaving me to my own devices. I wanted to keep my silence and listen to the sea.

Even so, the kid was waving at me frantically now, and seemed reluctant to leave the shadows of the tunnel. I walked up, yanking my feet from the sucking mud, and as I got closer I realised the figure was a boy, perhaps a year older than me. He was wearing dark blue swimming trunks that clung wetly to his thighs, and his skin was fish belly pale.

“Hello,” he said, when I was standing just a few feet away from him. His throat sounded full of sludge. “Hello there.”

His voice was bad – his face was a horror. My bladder felt uncomfortably full.

“There are big crabs back here, and other things. Do you want to see?”

The boy’s lips were blue and his eyes were muddy holes; I thought I could see something moving in those dark sockets, a busy flexing of many tiny legs. His brown hair was plastered flat to his head, and clustered at his ears and at his temple were thick colonies of barnacles, poking right out of his flesh. He reached a hand out to me as if to lead me into the tunnel, and I saw that the skin on his hands was rippled and almost translucent, as though he’d been in the water forever. His shins were scrapped bloody.

“Honestly,” he said, smiling. Clear water ran from his mouth. “The biggest ones only grow in the dark.”

The sun was a hot presence on the top of my head, but I could feel a deep chill blowing out of the outfall, bringing with it a smell like copper pennies – abruptly I remembered the amusement arcade, pushing coins into the tuppeny pushdowns – and a sound that made me think of seawater over shingle. Surely that noise should be coming from behind me? The noise was growing louder as I stood there, as if something large were rushing towards me.

“I’m sorry, no,” I said, finally finding my voice. “I don’t want to.”

An expression of impatience flickered over his face.

“But I need someone to come,” he said. His brows creased over the space where his eyes should be. “Someone has to come back here.”

I looked beyond him to the tunnel. The darkness was like a solid thing and I could see nothing beyond him, but I knew that I was more afraid of it than the boy. The darkness was waiting. It was tired of waiting.

“No,” I said again, and I turned and ran. There was a terrible moment when the mud sucked at my feet and I stumbled, coming terribly close to pitching face down in the wet. I fully expected to feel the boy’s pruney fingers close around my neck then, but there was nothing, and I ran and ran, cutting my feet on stones and broken shells. I didn’t look back.

 

The next day the weather had changed completely, as it has a tendency to do on the coast. It was overcast and cold, with a nip to the air that spoke more of September than July. Nevertheless my family trooped down to the beach again, my granddad carrying the mallet for the windbreaks in one callused fist. I refused point blank to leave the little circle of deckchairs and towels, despite repeated threats from my mum, and instead sat with a blanket over my knees and a small paper bag of lemon sherbets on my lap. The tide was in, and the upper stones of the outfall loomed off to my right, unseen beyond the bright stripes of the windbreak. I was happy to keep it that way.

It happened less than an hour later. There was a flurry of shouts, and a high keening cry. My mum stood up, and then my aunt, and then they both left at a sprint. I had never seen my mum running anywhere. I pulled the blanket up to my shoulders, shivering. Sometime later they returned, both ashen faced.

“Poor little mite,” said my aunt. She was missing one of her flip flops, which I later learnt had been lost as she’d tried to drag the girl out. The pull of the water had sucked it right off her foot. As she spoke, the wail and woop of an ambulance siren trembled up the beach. “Didn’t stand a chance.”

My mum ran a hand over her face. “That place should have been bricked up years ago. I’ve always said it.”

I stood up, letting my sherbet lemons fall to the ground, and looked over the windbreak. There was a pale figure standing on the top of the outfall, his blue trunks a smudge of colour against the grey. I didn’t need to look at his ruined face to know he was smiling.

“Did they take her out?” I said to my mum. My voice was shrill. “Did they take her out of the outfall?”

My mum’s face softened a touch. “Of course they did, love. We got her out and laid her on the sand. She’s not in the outfall.”

I nodded once, fingers brushing against the windbreak’s rough weave. Not in the outfall, no, but I didn’t think that mattered. I didn’t think that mattered at all.

Urban Occult Release Day!

UO

Here it is then, in the moldering flesh! Urban Occult – an anthology from Anachron Press that collects together an unsettling batch of tales from some of the best new horror writers out there. And me. Available now!

It’s a great anthology this, full of weirdness and crawling horror, and it is a source of no small pride that my own piece of crawling strangeness is included within. I thoroughly recommend getting your mitts on a copy!

 

Urban Occult: Pre-Order Your Copy for Infinite Win

Urbanoccultebook-lores

As I may have mentioned before, I am dead chuffed to have a story in Urban Occult, a new anthology of weirdness coming soon from Anachron Press; on the scale of “effed up-ness”, I believe this story, Spider Daughter Spider, has an effed up factor of 11, and I’m very proud of it – not to mention that it’s appearing alongside some absolutely stonking stories by some tremendously talented writers. It’s going to be ace.

The good news is, you can pre-order this little beauty (and I mean really, the cover is a piece of fried gold right there) and the universe will smile upon you for doing so. Here be the deets:

Urban Occult Limited Pre-Order

 

Limited to 50.

 

Behind urban life, weird and horrific things fester. 

The whispers and chills of things long gone… the promise of power from the darkness… the seduction of those that lie in the shadows… the occult is all around us: in town houses, in mansions, and in your very own street.

Editor Colin F. Barnes collected together fifteen stories by a cast of critically acclaimed authors from around the globe who look into the stygian gloom, explore the dark corners of our houses, and peer into the abyss of human temptation.

Featuring stories by: Gary McMahon, Ren Warom, Gary Fry, Mark West, K.T. Davies, Nerine Dorman, Alan Baxter, Adam Millard, Julie Travis, Jason Andrew, James Brogden, A.A Garrison, Jennifer Williams, Sarah Anne Langton, and Chris Barnham.

Special Pre-Order Edition Limited to 50.

This pre-order edition means you will get the book at least a week to two weeks ahead of general release and:

A FREE ebook version (for any eReader)

and A FREE ebook of Day of Demons. (eBooks will be emailed to you on the 4th of March).

Just £9.99 (+£2.99 shipping anywhere in the world).

Pre-Order here: http://www.anachronpress.com/product/anthologies/urban-occult-limited-pre-order/ 

 

Rejections, a New Perspective: Or Developing Your Crusty Carapace

I haven’t mentioned it all that often on this blog, but these days I edit the audio fiction website Dark Fiction Magazine, and over the last year or so reading submissions has given me a new perspective on the short story market.

 

I know what it’s like to get rejections. I even have one from Black Static which I’m quite proud of, just because it came on a slip of paper and this somehow made it seem ancient and special, and I’ve lost track of how many I’ve received by email. It’s a very painful process, and I have ground my teeth and cursed the gods and the demons and all the little goblins in between, but after a while it doesn’t hurt as much. There are those markets, of course, which you’re desperate to break and each “no thanks” email is a kick in the writerly-ball-sack, but eventually you do start to form the beginnings of a crusty carapace that protects you from the worst of the agony.

 

Now, as the editor of DFM I’m the one sending rejection notices, and for a writer that is a very odd experience indeed. I feel bad. I feel conflicted. I occasionally cackle with the power of it all and stroke my evil cat. Mostly though, it’s a sobering process because it demonstrates exactly how complicated a rejection can be. I have, for example, said no to plenty of stories that are actually very good, but not right for DFM, or not a good fit for the upcoming episodes. I struggle with this a lot, because I don’t want to say to these writers, “you are crap”, because even though the email will say this isn’t quite right for us, it always feels like you’re being told “you’re crap”. Often though there simply isn’t room for everything good that hits the slush pile; last year we did five episodes (four stories an episode) and next year we’ll probably do four episodes, and that just doesn’t leave much space. Every story has to be very, very good and every story has to fit the episode – that leads to a lot of rejections.

 

There’s a lot of crap too, of course. For every story I agonize over there’s probably another two that get chucked pretty swiftly. Most of the time someone’s had an idea for a story and hasn’t quite got the craft to tell it yet, or, being a genre magazine, the story falls into common genre patterns, such as “It’s horror! Stick loads of blood and guts and possibly some uncomfortable sex in there!” I do, admittedly, have very high standards for short stories and a lot of submissions will come a cropper, and that’s as it should be; I want DFM to host the best weird fiction, after all. Some stories we receive just aren’t SF, Fantasy or Horror at all (which puzzles me a little – the website banner is a giant green zombie person, so you’d think that would be a big clue) and some are just too long or obscure.

 

If knowing how these things work hasn’t quite made rejections easier for me to stomach, it has at least made them easier to understand, and a year of chomping through the slush pile has taught me an awful lot about editing as well as writing. For 2013 we’re going to announce the themes of the episodes beforehand, giving writers more of a chance to refine their stories for the magazine, and hopefully this will lead to me sending fewer rejection emails. Plus the cat finds all the cackling puts her off her lunch.

Halloween Shorts Part 1: In the Wolf’s Glen by Andrew Reid

Winter

Happy Halloween, everyone! May your pumpkins be bounteous and your skeletons ripe with gore. In celebration of the most wonderful time of the year (shh) we have an excellent creepy story from the marvellous Andrew Reid. A bit later I’ll pop up a story by me, and then this afternoon I will direct you over to Dark Fiction Magazine, where more Halloween treats await. Enjoy!

(You can also go here for an audio version, read by the author!)

InTheWolfsGlenPOST.doc
Download this file

Stories From Another London – One Eye Grey anthology

I’m pleased to report that my short story London Stone has made an appearance in the latest collection from that delightfully ghoulish penny dreadful, One Eye Grey. Details below!

 

Press_Release_stories_from_another_London[1].docx
Download this file

 

Where do you get your ideas? And all that jazz.

Spark

Supposedly one of the most exasperating questions a writer can get is “Where do you get your ideas?” Presumably this is because we’re not allowed to answer with: “My grandfather bequeathed to me an ancient and magical book, and within these goblin-encrusted pages new ideas breed like rutting succubae…” or “I stole them off my mate”. I have to admit I can’t recall ever having been asked (although I do occasionally get: “You enjoy that, do you?” and “Why, Jennifer, why?”)

I think it’s a largely impossible question to answer, because most of the time we just don’t know. I was considering this yesterday when I started writing a short story out of the blue. I haven’t written a short for yonks, and when the initial flurry of activity had died down, I did stop and think: “Where on earth did that come from?”

You’d think there would be something. Was I looking at a particular word at the time, or was it the tinny beat of someone’s MP3 player that triggered it? I don’t know. The thing is, short story writing is like hunting an animal, something lithe and speedy with a twitching nose and twisty little horns. Once you get the scent of this shy creature, you’re off, streaking through the forest after it; you follow it wherever it twists and hops and leaps, and you can’t stop until you’ve got the bugger.

And then when you’re sitting down, picking fresh deer meat from your teeth (or idea meat, see what I did there?), you stop and think: where did that come from? And for that matter, where am I? Because now there’s no following the trail back, and even if you did, there would just be more of the same forest, looking back at you blankly.

That’s why writing can sometimes be so frustrating, because there is no faking that out of the blue moment. Not even if you think really, really hard (I’ve tried). What you do end up doing, I suspect, is building up a set of weapons with which to encourage these reluctant ideas from your flighty subconscious. In the past, I have found the following to be helpful: going for a walk, having a shower, reading a really good book, flicking through a copy of Brewers Phrase and Fable (always worth doing anyway), being somewhere quiet, being somewhere noisy, looking at art, and getting a decent night’s sleep.

I think we all develop our own tools, and you instinctively go with what works. Because really, as long as the ideas do keep on coming, I’m not going to think too closely about where they come from. The tricksy little bastards.

Dark Fiction Magazine Special Edition: Stories of the Smoke

Archie_black_-_uncle_smoke

Just a quick note to point you in the direction of Dark Fiction Magazine, where you can now listen to four stories from the excellent Pandemonium anthology, Stories of the Smoke. The collection is jammed packed with excellent brain fodder so putting this episode together was a genuine pleasure; I strongly recommend reading every single little bit of it.

(big thanks to also to Gary Northfield for letting us use some of his fabulous illustrations)

Two Adventurers Walk into a Tavern…

A short story for you today, featuring Wydrin and Sebastian. It’s short and quite silly, and I hope that it might make the wait for Part 2 a little less annoying (big thanks to everyone on Twitter who wanted to hear more about the Scurvy Lemon). If you’ve not read The Copper Promise and would like to know more about this pair of rogues, you can get a copy here

Horn

scurvy_lemon.doc
Download this file