Fiction

Pieces of original fiction I’ve chosen to post for all to see

Halloween Flash: “Little White Lies”


hand closet horror

Little White Lies

By Matthew S. Dent

“Mummy there’s a monster in the wardrobe.”

Bliss was awake immediately. She could have cried. The first sleep she’d gotten in three days… She could have screamed.

Instead she exhaled slowly, breathing out into the soft warm darkness. Outside the laughter and calls of loitering youths could be heard, dully through the windowpanes.

“Olly?” she asked, propping herself up on her elbows, trying to blink away the nascent headache chewing on her optic nerve.

Read on…

A Post-Apocalyptic Christmas


It started slowly, almost imperceptibly. A slow, fine mist descending from a cloudy sky, barely even noticeable until it reached the ground and settled. It was snowing.

Each tiny flake was invisible insight, except for when a section of the snowfall caught and reflected the light of distant fires in brilliant colours. It looked like a shoal of fish,dancing and darting their erratic journey earthwards.

And for a moment — for the barest and most bittersweet of moments — the burly man in the church clocktower, watching it all through a high-powered scope, could believe that all was right with the world.

Until he spied the lights on the horizon.

One at first, a flickering shimmer that might have been a cluster of snowflakes. But then it was joined by another,and another, swelling to an unmistakable host. Even among the reflective dance of semi-frozen rain they stood out, unmistakable as the dawn. Individually they flickered and stumbled, but their combined might illuminated the blasted landscape and picked out each crater and imperfection.

The man in the clocktower shuffled within his winter clothing, eventually extricating a gloved hand, which squeezed the button on a hand radio.

‘They’re here,’ he said into it, curtly and emotionlessly.

After a moment’s pause came the reply, ‘Roger that. Stand by, and maintain visual observation.

The man didn’t reply, but withdrew back inside his warm cocoon, and adjusted the rifle beneath the blankets. Through the scope he watched the horde approach as he tried to count the falling snowflakes.

They’re here.

The four of them in the church froze, all eying the radio on the altar. Stephens was closest, and he picked it up, but hesitated before responding. His grey sergeant-major’s eyes looked to each of them in turn before he pushed the broadcast button.

‘Roger that. Stand by and maintain visual contact.’

Markus didn’t answer. The dour Frenchman was thrifty with the few words of English that has knew, and wasn’t given to waste them.

‘We’re going with the plan then?’ Lucy asked. They had already discussed this to completion several times. She drummed her fingertips against the pew she sat on in a stacatto and disjointed rhythm.

‘Yep,’ Tim replied, launching himself into action. ‘If you’ve got any prayers left to make, do it now. Ladies and gentlemen, the service is over, it is time to leave the church!’

Stephens — the Colonel — sprung into action immediately, with a career of military discipline behind him. He started loading up their camping equipment, and spreading it evenly between the four packs.

‘Harry, go and see to the generator would you?’ Tim asked. ‘Syphon off the bulk of the petrol, but leave enough to keep everything running for an hour or so yet.’

With a stifled groan, the gangly IT Technician levered himself off the floor. In better times he had worked for the same marketing firm as Tim — albeit in a different department. Lucy had worked behind the bar of a pub on the same street. Markus and Stephens were just lucky survival nuts.

‘I still say we should take the genny with us,’ Harry complained.

‘And carry it with what?’ Lucy asked, before Tim could find the words. ‘The sled is busted, and I really don’t fancy hauling that monstrosity across two hundred miles of wasteland.’

‘Besides,’ Tim added quickly, gently, ‘these savages aren’t going to stop chasing us until we’re dead. The plan is the only way.’

With a resigned nod, Harry headed off to the back room where they’d linked up their small generator to what remained of the church’s electrical system.

‘Huh,’ Lucy exclaimed softly. The other three turned to face her with curious — and worried — expressions. ‘Merry Christmas guys!’

She held up her watch. 00:03. 25 Dec.

‘We always used to spend Christmas Day with my dad and his girlfriend. After he retired, he left my mum for his secretary, and bought a cottage in Cornwall. We’d spend Christmas there and then go to mum’s for new years.’

Lucy rambled on whilst she packed. Tim didn’t mind. She was a nervous girl and talking seemed to keep her mind off the situation.

‘Christ, what I wouldn’t give for a roast turkey with all the trimmings now.’

Tim’s stomach gave a painful — but thankfully inaudible — rumble. They hadn’t had enough food for weeks, and the scant rations which remained were being stretched so thin that it was becoming painful to even think of food.

‘A turkey, a turkey, my generator for a roast turkey, and all the trimmings!’ he muttered sardonically, but it evoked a cackle of laughter from Lucy. In the dank, shadowy surroundings of the church the seemed darkly out of place. Tim couldn’t remember the last time he had laughed or heard laughter.

He realised he was smiling, just as another strange sound broached the air.

‘What the fuck is–‘

‘Music!’ Lucy cut him off with a gleeful cry. She was right, it was definitely music, the tinkling and ethereal opening notes of a piece which tugged at the atrophied threads of his memory. Momentarily he recalled a film, the moment in Apocalypse Now when the helicopters come over the Vietnamese village.

But no, this is different. Gentler, more atmospheric, more…festive?
‘Have…yourself…a very merry Christmas…’

‘Harry, you mad bastard,’ he growled under his breath. But he was smiling. They all were. Lucy was grinning like…well, like a kid on Christmas morning. Even the surly Colonel was not immune to the tugging at the corners of mouths.

‘Well, I thought it fitted the mood,’ Harry said, coming back into the church with a shiver and a mischievous grin.

But the elevated mood didn’t last. From above came the sound of gunfire; heavy, echoing shots from Markus’ rifle. A hail of automatic fire answered, rattling against the stonework of the tower. As Markus issued a loud rebuttal, they all spurred into action.

The Colonel sprayed bullets through the rotten wooden door, showering Tim and Lucy with splinters as they hurriedly finished their packing.

‘Did you get that petrol sorted?’ Tim shouted over the sporadic busting of gun reports.

Harry nodded. ‘Six jerry cans, and enough juice left in the tank to make this madness look convincing.’

‘Good. Whether or not we can get another genny together, petrol’s always good for trade.’

He could see another objection — or a repeat of the same objection — but he never heard it. Two, or maybe three, explosions outside blew the door in, knocking them all to the ground and making their ears pop viciously.

The Colonel was first up, firing more bullets through the smoky orifice. Tim followed, shouting across to the self-appointed quartermaster. ‘Colonel! Gun! Fucking now!’

He plucked the automatic rifle out of the air as he turned to the other two. ‘Time to leave! Is the mistletoe ready for our guests?’

Harry waved a small cylinder topped with a red button, as a few more shots boomed overhead and a cluster of hostile bullets flew through the door.

Tim only noticed he was hit when he was lying on the floor, his friends shouting over him. He noticed idly that it didn’t hurt, and that the song was still playing.

‘Oh fuck Tim!’ Lucy was saying, repeating ‘Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck’ under her breath like a mantra. Her hands were red, and when he looked down he couldn’t make any sense of what he was seeing. But there was a lot of blood.

As he realised that he was dying, that to all intents and purposes he was already dead, the most surprising thing was how calm he felt. It had become so damn normal, death.

‘Time to go kiddies!’ he managed to gasp. ‘Make for the coast. Stick together. And hang onto that petrol! Harry, give me the detonator.’

‘What?’ Harry suddenly looked very young, and very frightened. It was upsetting for Tim to think that he had no idea just how old any of his companions were.

‘Harry, mate,’ he whispered. ‘I’m not walking away from this one. Give me the detonator. I can at least take some of these bastards with me.’

As Harry sheepishly handed it over, Lucy started to sob and wail. Tim saw Markus climbing down from the clocktower, rifle strapped across his back, swinging down off the ladder. he took one look at Tim’s stomach and gave him a sad nod as he carried Lucy away.

‘Go on lad,’ the Colonel said to Harry, kneeling next to Tim’s shattered and dying form. ‘Go on with them. I’ll follow.’

When Harry was gone, Tim tried to speak. He wanted to tell Stephens, to make the old soldier promise to get the other three to the coast, and across to Ireland. But there was too much blood in his throat, and it merely gurgled up with a sound like a blocked plughole.

‘Save your strength lad,’ the Colonel whispered. He pushed something into Tim’s blood-slicked hand, something it took him a moment to identify as a pistol.

‘Set the dead man switch, and leave the party. You’re a brave man Tim, and you don’t deserve to go out like this. I’ll get them to safety, don’t you worry.’

Tim was almost loathe to break the tenderness of the moment and connection with a man he hadn’t thought capable of it.

‘Go!’

Tim lapsed in and out of consciousness over period which could only have been minutes. Each time he awoke clutching the deadman switch with a trembling hand. He wasn’t sure if the smoke was in his fevered mind, or if more grenades had been set off.

The music still played in the background, some long-dead singer crooning about making the Yuletide gay. He chuckled, a spasmodic cascade of blood.

When the first of the savages walked into the church, he looked at Tim with an unmistakable expression of surprise; even through the tattoos and piercings on his face Tim could see it clearly. The dark shapes of the rest of the horde loomed behind the outrider.

The last of his strength ebbing out of him, Tim lifted the gun that the Colonel had given him.

‘Merry fucking Christmas!’

The shot blew clean through the young man’s forehead, and he fell to the ground with that look of surprise still on his face. The retribution was as swift as Tim had known it would be, but between the bullets tearing him apart and the song wishing him a very merry Christmastime he felt the deadman switch slip from his grasp.

Dead or Alive


Dead or Alive

By Matthew S. Dent

He was already sat at the bar when Lucas walked in. A short man in a wide-brimmed hat, tipped low over his face. He periodically raised a glass of whisky beneath its shadow, to his unseen mouth.

It was early, and the bar was mostly empty. Two men played cards, whilst a third lay unconscious, facedown on the table. A gaggle of farmhands chattered like songbirds over their beers. And in a shadowy corner, a bare headed man slept.

“Whiskey,” he told the waiting bartender.

He sat down and waited whilst his drink was poured. With a nod of thanks, and a green banknote, the bartender left the bottle and returned to his sentinel point behind the bar.

“Sure is hot out there,” he said, taking a sip of the whiskey. Cheap stuff, worth half of what he paid. He took another sip anyway, playing with a worn and folded piece of paper.

He offered a hand to his mute neighbour. “Lucas O’Connell.” The man just took another sip of his drink. Lucas looked at his own, and was thinking of what to say next, when there was movement behind him.

The bare-headed man, who he had taken for sleeping, had stood up. He was tall, with thinning hair and a greying moustache squatting over his mouth like some sort of furry insect. Around his waist he wore a faded leather gun belt, from which he pulled a revolver.

“John P. Hammond,” he said in a broad drawl, addressing the man next to Lucas, “Y’ gonna stand yerself up, slowly mind, and turn around, wi’ yer hands where I can see ‘em.”

Hammond sighed, and downed his remaining whiskey in one. Setting the glass on the table, he climbed wearily to his feet. As he turned towards the speaker he lifted the brim of his hat, to reveal a thick beard- grown out of laziness rather than desire- and a strong, square jaw.

“I’m a lucky man. The reward I get for you’ll set me up for life,” the bare-headed man gloated. “So let’s get you along to law house.”

A soft smile spread across Hammond’s lips; a dangerous, humourless smile. A knife had appeared in his hand- Lucas hadn’t seen where it had come from, and judging from his expression neither had the bare-headed man.

“Now now,” he warned, twitching the barrel of his gun threateningly. “Let’s not have any of this bullshit. That’s a mighty fine knife you’ve got there, but it’s not gonna beat my gun, now is it?”

When Hammond spoke, his voice wasn’t how Lucas had expected. It didn’t match his appearance, being higher pitched than it should be, and having a distinct nasal tang. Lucas braced himself with another sip of whiskey.

“You misunderstand, sir,” Hammond said quietly. “This isn’t a matter of your gun versus my knife. It’s all down to how you use your gun, against how I use my knife.”

Lucas had heard weapons fired before- in this part of the world a man could hardly not have- but always outside. Inside, the roar was deafening, accompanied by the sound of smashing glass.

Hammond had moved- only turned to the side really, but it was enough. The bullet, which would have buried itself in his shoulder, had shattered instead one of the bottles behind the bar.

As the card players and farmhands ran, the bare-headed man was already on his back, splayed across the card players’ table. Hammond’s knife was embedded in his forehead, flicked so fast it had escaped notice. The gun slipped from dead fingers, clunked heavily on the floor.

The bartender clucked, angrily shaking his head and muttering to himself as he cleaned up the spilt liquor. Lucas could see him counting lost profits. Hammond’s dark and beady eyes alighted on Lucas. He could feel the intensity of his gaze, as the bearded man looked him over.

“What do you want?”

“Me?” Lucas picked up the whisky bottle, and started pouring a fresh measure into his glass. “Nothing at all.”

Hammond grunted, and downed the drink in one. Lucas went quietly back to his own.

He kept on sipping as Hammond started to choke, gurgling and coughing and clawing at his throat. He pawed at Lucas arm as he slipped off his stool. After a minute, the sounds stopped, and John P. Hammond lay dead on the bar floor.

Lucas finished his drink without hurrying. Then he lay another wad of bills on the counter, and opened out the folded piece of paper he had been playing with.

“Wh…What?” the bartender stammered.

Lucas lay the newly flattened paper on the counter, next to the bills and the whiskey bottle.

“It’s not about what he does with his knife,” he said, standing and waving a vial of clear liquid. “It’s about what I do with my poison.”

The paper was a poster, the corners torn from where it had been ripped down from a wall or noticeboard. A roughly drawn sketch of Hammond’s squat face filled it, heralded by the words “WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE”. The last two words had been struck through.

Picking up the corpse, Lucas swung it onto his shoulders. “Good day to you, barkeep,” he said. “I’ve got a reward to collect.”

And with a tip of his hat, he was gone.

Mushrooms at the End


Mushrooms at the End

By Matthew S. Dent

The car sped along the road, with moonlight streaming in through the windows. Ahead and behind, the long straight road was empty, and on both sides the desert was still.

In the front Mummy and Daddy were arguing. The radio was on. Casey could only hear odd bits of their conversation. It wasn’t very interesting- she would much rather read her book.

Mummy had gotten it out of the library for her. Casey had read it over and over. It was about mushrooms.

‘Damnit Steve, we can’t just…’ Mummy shouted. The singer on the radio cut her off. She sounded angry. Tears prickled Casey’s eyes. She focused even harder on her book, tracing the words with her fingers.

Daddy had cooked her mushrooms for the first time last week. She liked the way they had tasted, all meaty, bursting open as she chewed. She loved mushrooms.

‘Mummy, can we-’

‘Not now sweetie,’ Mummy answered before she had finished her question. She had been going to ask if they could have mushrooms at the end of their journey. Mummy was smiling, but in that way that grown-ups do which isn’t really a smile. ‘Mummy and Daddy are busy. Read your book.’

She turned back to Daddy, who said something Casey couldn’t hear. It made Mummy angry again.

Casey went back to her book. There was a picture of a mushroom- a red one with white spots. Casey couldn’t read its name. She traced the letters with her finger instead. It was poisonous, which meant that it was one of the ones that she mustn’t eat.

‘…had to get out of there! You know what will happen if- Marianne, turn that goddamn thing off!’

Mummy pushed the big round button which turned off the radio, and the song stopped. The man had been singing about how he felt fine. Casey liked that.

Without the radio, everything was too quiet. All she could hear was the car’s engine. There wasn’t any sound outside. She wondered if there were coyotes in the desert. She wondered if cactuses tasted like mushrooms.

She looked out of the window. There were so many stars in the sky. She’d never seen so many stars before. There were hardly any stars back in the city. And now there were so many.

And then they were gone. Without warning, everything was bright and sunny, like it was day. Then there was a giant boom, and the ground shook like an earthquake. Daddy said a naughty word, and the car screeched to a stop.

The light faded, back to night, and the stars came back. Mummy and Daddy both looked back along the road they had come down. They looked scared.

Casey looked over her shoulder and gasped. Right behind them, rising up into the black sky, blocking out the stars, a giant mushroom. It was grey, and red, and orange, and was growing as she watched.

‘Drive!’ Mummy hissed, looking at Daddy. He was still looking at the giant mushroom. Mummy hit him on the arm. ‘Drive, Steve!’

The car sped off down the road again. There were more flashes, more rumbling earthquakes, and then more giant mushrooms blossoming all around them. Casey giggled and clapped, delighted to be racing through a fantastical field of mushrooms.

As Far as the Eye Could See


As Far as the Eye Could See

By Matthew S. Dent

Jimmy and Maria emerged from the warmth of the train carriage and were almost immediately subsumed in a flurry of ivory flakes.

‘Jesus!’ Maria exclaimed. She wrapped her coat tighter around her as a gust of icy wind hit her blowing her plume of brilliant red hair out behind her. She quickly tucked it away in her hood. ‘It’s really picked up.’

Jimmy only grunted. What had been a charming shower of snow when they’d gotten on the train was now a full blown snowstorm. And getting worse.

‘How far is it to your parents’ house?’ Maria asked.

‘Fifteen minutes walk,’ he answered, and buried his chin deeper into his coat. The cold wind bit into his exposed face.

‘Come on.’ He looped his arm through hers as the train pulled away behind them. Its lights were quickly lost in the maelstrom of swirling flakes. ‘The sooner we get out of this, the better.’

Maria pulled her ticket out, squinting to check it was the right one, but putting it away when she saw no barriers.

Leading her through the snow, Jimmy put his shoulder to the wind and pressed onwards. He wore a thick coat, over layers strategically arranged to keep out the cold. They didn’t seem at all effective. The wind found out every flaw in his thermal armour, and stopped it up with snow. He was shivering after only a few paces.

Maria fared no better. Her clothing was designed for aesthetics rather than winter comfort- no more than you could expect from a fashion and design student. Her coat was thin, her shoes unsuited to wading through snow, and her gloves were not waterproof. Only her hood was an advantage.

She hunched shivering in her boyfriend’s shadow as he pushed through the burgeoning blizzard.

‘The road’s too dangerous!’ Jimmy shouted, leading her from the barely visible road. ‘People take the road too fast anyway. In this visibility, we’ll get ourselves killed. It’s quicker to cut across the churchyard!’

The churchyard? Maria couldn’t see a church, but then she couldn’t see much of anything anymore. In the sea of white, Jimmy’s dark silhouette was her anchor and guide; she clung to him.

Jimmy was worrying about the rest of the journey. His family home was still a fair walk away, and he hadn’t told Maria that the walk was fifteen minutes in fair weather. God only knew how long it would take in this mess.

Movement to his left distracted him. Something had darted past him, something not white, not the snow, but dark and very much solid. Maria crashed into his back, and cried out.

‘What’s wrong?’ she asked. The tremor had worked its way into her voice, and he took his soon-to-be-fiancé into his arms, planting a kiss on her forehead.

‘Nothing,’ he said, shaking off his unease. It was just the snow playing tricks on him. What else could it have been? ‘Come on. We need to get home, before you freeze.’

‘I’m going to look a state,’ Maria complained. She drew her white-gloved hand across her cheek, leaving a dirty stain of make-up on the finger. ‘What are your parents going to think of me.’

Despite himself, Jimmy laughed. ‘They’ll think you’re cold, wet and hungry. They’ll make you sit by the fire, give you a towel, and make you some supper. They’ll love you, hun.’

They pushed on, Jimmy leaning into the wind, and Maria clutching close to him. She thought of the promised fire, and of what supper she might be given. The seasonal flavours of mince pies and mulled wine crept into her mouth. She gripped Jimmy’s arm tightly.

Jimmy had lowered his head, and thought only of getting through the storm. His thoughts had turned towards the pub in the village, unsure any longer whether they could make it up the hill. He kept his eyes fixed dead ahead, searching for fences, gateposts, anything solid. He ignored phantom spectres darting at the corners of his vision.

‘Hey!’ Maria exclaimed, and Jimmy felt her pull on his arm as she stopped.

He had to squint through the storm to see her. She was only three feet from him at the most. The storm was getting worse.

‘Something pulled my hood back!’ He stepped closer, and saw that her hood, was indeed down.

‘The wind?’

‘No! Something pulled it down. I felt it.’

‘Maria, there’s nothing out here!’ Jimmy insisted. The cold was biting deep into him, sapping his strength.

‘How do you know? I can’t see shit in this snow. I’m not making this up! Look!’

She turned around, and presented her hood to him. He reached out and touched it, and noted that it seemed torn, almost shredded, before it was snatched out of his hand. And suddenly Maria wasn’t there anymore.

‘What the fuck? Maria?’ He lurched forward, searching for her. He kicked at the snow, thinking she might have tripped and fallen, but there was no one there. The cold bit ever deeper into him, and panic rose through his stomach.

‘Maria!’ he shouted. ‘Maria! Where are you?’ He staggered into the snow, too late realising that he had lost all sense of direction. He had no idea which way led back to the station, and which way on to the village. Everything was just more snow.

The storm rose around him. The merciless white maelstrom of nature brought to bear on him. The snow blinded and confused him, all the while assaulting him with wet, burning cold. And nowhere could he find Maria.

He staggered on, hands reaching, searching for the feel of Maria’s more-money-than-sense coat, for the relieved embrace of his lost lover. But the snow was up to his thighs now. His jeans were soaked- why the hell had he worn jeans, of all things?- and his legs cried out in protest and agony.

He saw the door only a step before he walked into it. A big, wooden thing, which he took a moment to identify as the church. He beat on it with gloved fists. Someone might be inside. Someone who could help him find Maria.

A gust of wind, and perhaps something more solid, hit his side, and knocked him from his feet. He landed in the snow, and gasped from sudden cold and pain of it. Snow flooded into his mouth. He thrashed around, trying to tell up from down, but there no longer seemed any distinction between him and the snow.

As the cold ate into the last warm molecules of him, and darkness closed in over him, his last thoughts were of the flame-haired beauty, lost in the snow.

Maria…

‘Good morning, Mr Kilburn.’

Jimmy was warm. His eyes opened slowly, reluctantly. Had the painful, all-encompassing cold been nothing but a dream?and he wondered whether the lingering memories of painful cold had just been a dream.

When he saw the aged face in front of him, he knew it hadn’t been.

‘Where am I?’ He sat up with a groan.

The old man chuckled. Jimmy saw he was wearing a white dog collar and knew the answer before he said it. ‘St. Mary’s. I found you on the doorstep, freezing to death. You seem well enough for a good night’s sleep, though.’

‘Where’s Maria?’ Jimmy asked, suddenly remembering her disappearance.

The old vicar frowned. ‘There wasn’t anyone else with you.’

‘She’s still out there then!’ Jimmy’s leapt out of the makeshift bed he was lying in, flinching slightly as his bare feet hit the cold floor. There was still some residual dampness in his clothes, but he didn’t care. He dashed towards the door.

‘Wait!’ the vicar shouted after him. ‘You can’t go out there dressed like that!’

Jimmy ignored him. Forcing the door open he threw himself into the outside world. The storm had blown itself out overnight, and everything was bright and clear now- but viciously cold. And there was a blanket of snow covering everything, almost two feet deep.

The snow attacked Jimmy’s legs and bare feet, burning and freezing simultaneously, but he didn’t care. He had to find Maria. The vicar shouted at him from the doorway, but Jimmy could barely even hear him.

There was nothing. No footprints, no bulges, no sign of her. Tears flowed down his cheeks with growing desperation, and his shivering was uncontrollable. He waded like the snow, no longer able to feel his feet, until they gave way beneath him and sent him sprawling facedown.

He surfaced, churning up the fresh snow as he tried to find something with which to lever himself up. And then he stopped.

In the tilled snow before him, something had been unearthed. A lone, white glove, a black smudge sullying one flat finger. And next to it, a soggy rail ticket, its orange edges wilting, even as it declared itself an “OFF-PEAK SINGLE; LONDON TO WARGRAVE”. And one corner of it was coloured with a dark red residue, on perfect snow stretching as far as the eye could see.

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself


 

Happy Halloween to everyone! Have yourselves a very creepy night.

Happy Halloween, to all and sundry.

 

I have plenty of issues with Halloween as a celebratory occasion (Americanisation of the UK, not being genuinely sure what people are celebrating, the fact that it seems to be a free licence from society for little shits to engage in acts of vandalism, etc, etc), I’m not anti-Halloween. Horror as a genre- whether in film, television, literature or wherever else- tends to be much maligned in today’s society, and those of us who really enjoy it are sometimes looked upon as dangerous aberrations.

Except on one day a year, when the TV channels roll out the classic films, costume shops justify their existence, and even the supermarkets deck themselves out for the occasion. So to celebrate, I’m going to have a go at explaining why I’m a horror fan.

It boils down, at its simplest level, to the fact that I enjoy feeling scared. When you get right down to the core of it, that’s what horror is always about. The fear is the core of it, and the very reason why we love it. There’s an excitement in being afraid that very little else matches.

For me, horror films have always been a part of a larger experience. From horror films as a child, sat in my bed or on the sofa in the dark, flinching at every noise, to the present day with the walk back from the cinema in the dark and wet night. A true horror film will have your hackles up until the first light of the new morning. A good horror story will worm its way into your mind, and somehow even dawn won’t bring relief.

But the real power in horror, to me, is to go beyond the obvious. Recently, films such as the Saw franchise and the Paranormal Activity films have relied on gore and shock to scare the audience. Anyone familiar with me will know that I’m not a fan of either. For me, that’s the easy way out. Real horror should be about more than being grotesque or loud. Real horror should about getting into your head and frightening you to your very core.

Now, that’s going to be different for each individual, but often I find it’s the most understated films that really frighten me, in a way that an abundance of splatter and sudden noises don’t. Often, they aren’t even strictly horror films; for example Robin William’s downright creepy photo technician in One Hour Photo.

So if you’re not going trick or treating tonight, or going out somewhere to get drunk (as all holidays these days seem to be celebrated by some people), then why not have yourself a creepy night in? Have a think about what frightens you, what you’re really afraid of. Then hunt down a horror film about it, I’m sure someone has thought to make one.

And then, afterwards, just try to remember that it’s all fictional. There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself. Probably.

Vendetta


Vendetta

By Matthew S. Dent

‘You can shoot me if you like,’ the old man said, sat in his armchair. ‘Or not. The choice is yours. But listen to what I have to say first. That’s not much to ask, is it son?’

‘I’m not your son,’ the young man said. His voice wavered, and he couldn’t quite hold the revolver steady, the tip of its barrel dancing as it pointed at the old man’s chest. ‘I have no father. You killed my father.’

‘Yes…’ the old man said, with a sad sigh. ‘Yes, I did. I’m sorry about that, I really am. I know how hard it must have been for you to find your father’s body in the kitchen, at such a young age.’

‘He was in the dining room,’ the young man growled, trying to wrestle his trembling hand under control.

The old man blinked. ‘Yes. You’re right, my mistake. I was getting our pasts confused.’ He held out both hands palms upfacing. ‘I’m an old man. My faculties aren’t what they used to be.’

‘Our pasts?’ The young man didn’t need this. He’d been planning this for so long. He’d announce who he was, and put a bullet through the forehead of his father’s murder. Then it would be over. But it was getting just too complicated now.

‘Yes. We’re closer than you know.’ The old man smiled, inciting a new wave of rage in his younger counterpart. ‘Do you know why I killed your father?’

No answer was forthcoming, so he continued regardless.

‘I stood in your shoes once, a long time ago. Gun in my hand, ready to be revenged on my father’s killer.’ Still no reply. ‘Do you know how long this has gone on, my boy?’

‘How long what has gone on?’

‘I traced it back as far as the sixteenth century,’ the old man continued. ‘I might have managed to get further back, if I’d had more time.’ He indicated the gun. ‘But we all have to work with what we’re given.’

‘Are you… Are you saying my father killed…your father?’ There was sweat on the younger man’s forehead. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be going. This should be easy, damnit!

The old man nodded. ‘Yes/ I found him in the kitchen. I was only six.’

‘But…why?’

‘Haven’t you been listening?’ The old man shook his head in frustration. ‘Our families are joined back through the ages. Sons avenging fathers, back through a history written in blood.’

The young man didn’t say anything for a long while, as he digested this. The old man obligingly didn’t interrupt . He hadn’t known anything about his family history. How could he? His father had died when he was only six.

‘You’re threatening me,’ he said, after a while.

The old man shook his head. ‘Not at all.’

‘You’re saying that if I kill you now, your son will hunt me down and kill me later on.’

The old man broke out in a smile, a broad grin igniting the young man’s anger. ‘What are you smiling at?’ he demanded.

‘I have no son,’ the old man said, softly. ‘I have no children. This vendetta has to end, and this is the only way.’

The young man paused. The gun barrel fell a few inches. ‘I- I don’t understand,’ he stammered, feeling six years old again. There were tears in his eyes.’

The old man smiled warmly. ‘The choice is yours, my boy,’ he said. ‘I killed your father. I admit it. I am sorrier than you will ever know. But if that isn’t enough, you may shoot me. Either way, this vendetta is over. The choice is yours.’

A gunshot echoed through the house, and a moment later the young man emerged.

He looked older. Tears were running down his face, and his hands were covered in blood. He paused in the garden, to wash them in the water feature. Strands of dark crimson diffused into the pond, and he lifted his hands out, dripping with water, clean of the blood of a hundred generations.

The (Tory)pion and the Fox [Political Flash Fiction]


The (Tory)pion and the Fox

By Matthew S. Dent

The Scorpion (right) and the Fox (left)

There is an ancient fable, told as a warning against excessive foolishness or trust. It tells that there was once a Liberal Democrat fox, called Nick, who lived on the opposition bank, of the river Parliament. One day he heard someone calling his name.

Turning around, he saw a gathering of Tory scorpions. ‘Nick,’ they said. ‘Nick, please help us.’

‘Help you?’ he asked, suspicious. All foxes knew that scorpions were not to be trusted- especially Tory scorpions.

‘We need to get to the other side of the river,’ the lead scorpion, called Dave, explained. ‘We need to get to the government bank, but there aren’t enough of us to get across.’

Nick looked over at the other bank. It was green and fertile, with food a plenty, and many comfortable places to sleep in the sun. Although he had always lived on the opposition bank, he had never stopped dreaming of one day making it to the government bank.

‘But I’m just a fox,’ he said. ‘There are too many obstacles. I could never manage to land on the other side.’

‘We’ll help you,’ one of the scorpions, George, whispered to him. ‘If you take us across, we will let you stay.’

Nick considered this carefully. It was very tempting. No fox had set foot on the government bank in almost a hundred years. But he was still suspicious.

‘You’re scorpions,’ he said. ‘And Tories. Everyone knows what you’re like. You’ll sting me. and cut public services, lower taxes for the rich and neglect the poor.’

‘No!’ Dave said, with a chuckle. ‘Why would we do that? We haven’t been on the other bank for thirteen years, because we did that. If we did it again, we’d drown too. Why would we do that?’

Nick thought on this long and hard. He considered it for several days, talking to the other animals, while the Tory scorpions grew impatient. Eventually he returned to them with the other foxes, to give them an answer.

‘Alright,’ he said. ‘We’ll carry you across on our backs. But we want our pick of the best sleeping spots on the other side.’

‘Certainly!’ Dave agreed, delighted.

So the foxes began swimming across the river, with the Tory scorpions on their backs. The water was cold, and turgid. It took all of the foxes’ efforts to get across. But as they drew away from the opposition bank, and towards the government bank, the scorpions stung the foxes, on whose backs they rode.

‘But why?’ Nick asked. The Tories were slashing public spending, raising VAT, continuing Trident, cancelling essential economic projects, politicising the police and destroying the education system.

As the water over his mouth and nose, he pleaded, ‘Why? You’ve drowned yourself too.’

Next to him, Vince Cable was sinking fast, as George stung him again and again.

‘Why?’ Dave laughed. ‘I’m a Tory. It’s in my nature.’

Is it an ancient fable? Perhaps not. But it might be one day. Wake up, Nick.

Vuvuzelas


Okay, so I promised this would be posted last night (Monday), but clearly it wasn’t . The reason for that is an attack of either perfectionism, or crap writing (depending on your viewpoint).  Basically, I got the damn thing finished in time, but was particularly unhappy with it, something which most writers will be familiar with. After banging my head against the damn thing for several hours, and reminding myself that this was only supposed to be a quick piece and not a contender for the Man Booker prize, I got it to a stage where I’m happy enough to post it, at least.

This piece was, unsurprisingly, inspired by the droning noise that has been haunting the 2010 World Cup with all the controversy of Nick Griffin’s ghost. It’s not intended to be a in favour of or against the vuvuzelas (though I do find them annoying after a few minutes into a game). It’s just an evolution of an idea that occurred to me during the England v US game.

I hope you enjoy it.

Vuvuzelas

By Matthew S. Dent

Everyone remembers where they were when it happened. It was one of those moments. Most people were glued to their televisions, grinning inanely. Or at the pub, still dancing, singing, and getting drunk.

No one had expected that it would happen.

No one expected what would come next.

Those men in white shirts filed past Mandela. They wore their medals proudly. Even they hadn’t thought this was possible. That they could be stood in Soccer City victorious had been only a dream, even up to the final whistle.

But it had happened. And as Nelson Mandela commended the gold statuette into the hands of Steven Gerard, the vuvuzelas reached a triumphant and approving climax. The whole stadium was vibrating, and back home, a nation was rejoicing.

Holding the trophy above his head, no one watching expected the sudden dark shape that darted for his face. The trophy tumbled to the ground, as the entire England team fell under the swarm of gigantic, black-and-yellow insects, descending from above the stadium.

How long had they hidden there? In broad sight, were everyone not focused on the spectacle below. Clear to be heard, were the air not filled with the roar of plastic horns. How long had they been the unnoticed spectators of the tournament, nestled in the rafters through the day? These winged vuvuzelas were unnoticed no longer.

Jubilation turned to terror. Spectators turned to flee. The horn calls had ended, replaced by the screams of those who had sounded them. But that terrible, droning buzzing endured, escalating and drowning out all other sounds, until that terrible sound was all that existed.

Extra-Curricular (Unsuccessful CAMRF Entry)


I wrote and submitted this 500-word piece for the Campaign for Real Fear but unfortunately it didn’t make the final ten. It was hardly a surprise, as some of the best in the genre were entering, but since I’ve written it, I thought I’d at least share it with you lovely people. And do keep an eye out for the winners. The best ten stories will be published in a future issue of Black Static (which, for those who don’t know, is the single best short horror-fiction magazine on the UK market), and it’s gonna be pretty damn interesting to see what comes out.

Anyway, without further ado, I give you the first piece of my original fiction that I’ve posted here (though possibly not the last):

Extra-Curricular

By Matthew S. Dent

They sit there, watching me. Always watching me with those soulless, empty eyes. They sit there, row upon row, eyes leering and their mouths open. I can feel them sapping me. Sucking the life out of me.

It turns my sweat to ice.

These little monsters. These unspeakable things that I am forced to teach. Their grey, otherworldly appearance, those ghostly cloying voices, and those relentless, unyielding stares.

My brow is slick with sweat, my hair soaked. My heart is beating out of control. Do they know? Can they hear it?

A knock at the door. A head pokes around. The Geography teacher from the class next door, I don’t remember his name, but he supports Man United. He’s saying something, but my ears won’t focus on the words.

God, he looks awful. Pale and sallow, like the life and passion has been sucked right out of him. He looks afraid to go back, or to come too far inside. I’m not alone. But what does it help? Both of us are powerless against these little fiends.

He’s finished talking, and I gather he’s asked something. I nod, and that seems to be enough. He looks disappointed, heading back to his own personal hell. As he goes, I can see them drinking his soul. Small, smoke-like wisps, trailing back through the doorway. Then the door closes, their links break, and their attention is back on me.

They are stealing my soul away.

‘Sir?’ one of them says.

The world shifts. Gone are the greyscale waifs. Gone are the soulless eyes and the ravenous mouths. They are children. Just children. Their exercise books open, pens lying idly by as they chatter innocently.

The one with the spiky hair, on the front row, looks at me concerned. He asks, ‘Are you alright sir? You don’t look well…’

For a moment I doubt. Could I be wrong?

But no. The illusion slips, and the cold, terrible reality of those things crashes back. That’s all it ever was, an illusion. But I can’t escape.

They’re still looking at me. They never stopped. Leeches, draining away my lifeforce, those smoky strands running out of me, to them. My own life, ebbing away.

I open the drawer, to distract myself. The usual clutter. The next one is empty. The third has a broken mug, two confiscated phones, a small plastic bag of white powder- MCAT probably- and a flick knife.

It feels cold and heavy. I should have reported it when I confiscated it. I still could. The walk to the headmaster’s office would be a relief. But only temporarily. I’d have to come back after.

I look up. They’re still there. They won’t go. They won’t stop staring, and feeding. Oh, those vacant and hungry faces.

I need a more permanent solution. My hand tightens on the flick knife. Rid the world of these wraiths. Permanently.

I have to stop the staring.