South Texas is hot. Even at night the temperatures can be too stifling for a deep, wakeless slumber. Too poor for air conditioning, imagine trying to sleep with all the windows open and every midnight sound wafting through the house. This is after you’ve been told she is out there, La Lechuza. They say Lechuzas – there are more than one- have the body of an owl and the face of an old witch. Long talons cling to tree branches while sharp eyes that have mastered the dark peer into homes. They keep open ears for crying infants or misbehaving children.
So there I am, a kid thinking it was either La Lechuza or La Llorona that was going to get me for creating a fuss before bedtime. Both heard and saw all. I didn’t want to create a fuss. Yes, living in a small cramped house with extended family was uncomfortable, at best, but it was still a home. My mother didn’t need any more worries placed upon her as a single mother to two children. The food stamps and fried bologna sandwiches got us just by, just.
I would look into the night wondering what terror awaited. What horror wanted to rip away the box fan from the window to snatch me away. All my worry for my mother, our future, bullies that made it clear I didn’t fit in, not knowing where my father was or who he was with; all these nightmares had a face. She was an ugly thing that had no soul or mercy. Crying made her salivate. Pain made her cackle. I had to behave. I had to be a good girl for my mother’s sake because God knows she had cried so many tears since I could remember. But mostly I had to help with my baby sister so the evil things that you don’t see in the dark, but see you, wouldn’t steal her away.
I’m a mother now and I would never tell my children about demons. Taking away an Ipad or no sweets after dinner is enough of a warning. Thankfully, their world is a world without fear or worry. They sleep so soundly I usually call them at least three times to wake them up for school.
I sleep better knowing they dream peacefully instead of dreading the nightmares they can’t control.
V.Castro is the author of Maria The Wanted and the Legacy of The Keepers - her debut vampire novel series and The Erotic Modern Life of Malinalli the Vampire- an erotic novella series. You can also find her horror film reviews on
She is a Mexican American ex-pat living in the UK for the past 12 years. As a full-time mother, she dedicates her time to her family and writing.
Violet can be found on Instagram and Twitter @vlatinalondon or www.vvcastro.com
Maria is a wanted woman. She's wanted by and Aztec trafficker, a cartel boss, the people she fights for, and now the Devil she can't resist.Her journey begins as a would-be immigrant turned vampire in Juarez, Mexico until the injustices of the world turn her into somehting else. She's not just out for blood, she wants answers.Maria spends twenty-two years in motel cleaning purgatory trying to keep her faith and sanity intact. When she feels all hope is lost she meets an ex-boxer that offers her a new job and teaches her to fight. During this time, she becomes an unlikely bad ass enforcer of justice for the community that has embraced her. Is she a saint or an old God from a forgotten past?
Not only does she evolve into the woman she always hoped to be, but she finds her creator – Adam- he is nothing like she imagined. He invites Maria to travel with him to England to join The Keepers, a vampire organization led by the ancient Mordecai and Dr. Elizabeth Appleton.
Learning that the true vampire way isn’t destruction but the safety of humanity, Maria joins The Keepers as they uncover a plot set into motion by Lucifer himself. The Keepers must end his corruption through political manipulation or watch as the world hurtles towards self-destruction.
I grew up in a San Diego suburb, and in my backyard stretched a vast canyon full of coyotes and transients. The kids called it “Dead Man’s Ditch.” Word around my elementary school, which also backed up to the canyon, said that someone we named “The Dead Man,” had made his home in that patch of wilderness. Depending on who you spoke to, he was either a drug-addled war veteran, an undead pizza delivery driver, or the devil. He possessed the ability to move underground, either through a network of caverns or by turning into a large worm, like in Tremors. He had a variety of weapons. Most frequently mentioned were his huge knife and his poison darts. Descriptions of him varied. Some said he wore a red ski mask. Others said he had a large Mohawk. We all agreed on one thing: he fed on children.
While I can’t speak for the other kids, I had no doubt of his existence. Every discarded piece of clothing I found was a clue. Neighborhood dogs barked to ward him off. The coyotes were his minions. Twice, a police helicopter and a whole platoon of patrol officers scoured the canyon for someone. Of course, it was him: The Dead Man. The fire that broke out and filled the canyon full of smoke had been either his doing or someone’s attempt to stop him. On foggy days when I could see nothing beyond my backyard chain link fence, I imagined my nemesis was up to something very bad. I used to hold meetings with my friends, planning out ways to keep ourselves safe. I envisioned that one day, we’d battle him in my backyard. I imagined we’d win, but sometimes I wondered what might happen if we were to lose.
I preached warnings to other kids during recess. Most of the boys believed me. The girls thought I was weird and dumb. I didn’t care either way. I knew what I knew and no one could make me believe otherwise. By day, this lore enthralled me, but by night, when I lay awake in the dark, my window looking out at the canyon, the promise of his existence left me petrified with fear.
I never saw The Dead Man, and instead of some big climatic battle, I fought many small battles with bullies. I was weird and getting under my skin proved all too easy. These problems began to occupy most of my days, but by night, I held fast to my belief in Dead Man’s Ditch and all the imagery those words conjured. The imagery haunted me as I tried to sleep, and slipped their way into my dreams when I finally closed my eyes.
I don’t quite remember when I stopped believing in The Dead Man. All of a sudden, I just stopped thinking of him. I had a crush on a girl. I was about to start middle school. My parents told me to stop spending so much time playing in my imagination, because I needed to make real friends. For some reason I couldn’t quite articulate at the time, these things scared me more than any Dead Man. I know now that something was shifting inside me, that I was growing up. Change was coming, and I didn’t know what that change would look like.
Fear never goes away. It only changes its shape.
ABOUT LUCAS MANGUM
Lucas Mangum is the author of 6 books, most recently We Are the Accused, Engines of Ruin, and the forthcoming Saint Sadist. He lives in Austin, TX with his family, and can be contacted at lucasmangum.com or on Twitter @RealLucasMangum.
We Are The Accused BY LUCAS MANGUM
A mad god lusts for power. Two demon lovers lust for death. An ancient man seeks to devour plagues natural and supernatural.All converge on the small town of Blue Brook, Pennsylvania to wage war unlike any other, yet strangely familiar.Bianca is an Afghanistan war veteran turned police detective whose ex-con high school sweetheart has just come home. Boone is a boy entrusted with immense power and a mother who's struggling to hold their family together. Lafferty is a priest with many secrets.All are caught in the middle of something beyond their understanding. The inner and outer darkness of each doomed soul must be faced. And blood will be shed.
WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH US? GEORGE DANIEL LEA AND KIT POWER DISCUSS EXQUISITE CORPSE BY POPPY Z BRITE
As well as being a first class author, and a member of the Ginger Nuts of Horror family, George Daniel Lea also has a fabulous YouTube channel Exaggerated Elegy, where George post some of the best online reviews/discussions of all aspects of genre works, from insightful reviews of horror fiction to amazing discussions of video games, it really is a must subscribe channel.
As part of our LGBTQ+ Horror month George invited fellow Ginger Nutter Kit Power, who also has a fantastic YouTube channel where he has a brilliant series called Watching Robocop, where he invites guests on to discuss what he believes to be the greatest film of all time. who like George is a damn fine writer, and one of my longest and closet friends and confidants, to discuss what is probably one of the most important books in LGBTQ+ horror history, Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z Brite.
So grab yourself a drink and a snack and sit down and listen to this fantastic discussion a classic novel.
As part of our focus on LGBTQ+ horror authors last month we challenged a number of straight authors to write a short story from an LGBTQ+ viewpoint, or featuring LGBTQ+ characters, in an attempt to show that inclusivity is an important factor on getting more readers willing to explore writers that they wouldn't normally read.
Today we are honoured to have Phil Sloman rise to the challenge with his excellent short story Not Simon.
Jeff’s mind drifted as he relaxed into the mattress, the late morning sun warming the air. Fine particles of dust played in the sunlight, dancing above his head as he watched their movement. Thoughts of last night echoed in his head. The restaurant. The drinks. A bar. More drinks. Dancing. Lips and hands fumbling. Then back here. For the first time. To Simon’s. Kissing. Licking. Fucking. Until…until when? He couldn’t remember but that didn’t matter. And then waking. Greeted by that Hollywood smile. Simon grinning at him. Not in any lovesick sort of way – they were a long way from that – just grinning without a care in the world. And Jeff realised he had never seen Simon in any other way in all the weeks they had known each other.
“Coffee, I’ll get us coffee.” That was the first thing Simon had said before leaving Jeff to himself. And it would be proper coffee too. Jeff could tell that from the bedroom alone; the décor, the bedsheets, and the fresh cut flowers on the windowsill. He suspected the coffee beans would be Peruvian, or Guatemalan or from somewhere similar. Perhaps the ones he’d seen on television where the farmers harvested them from parrot faeces, sold on to the middle classes of the Home Counties; not that the farmers saw the profits. Though Simon would buy Fairtrade. Jeff could tell that too. A perfect guy, with a perfect house, with…with…
Up beyond the dancing dust motes, almost lost in the shade of the ceiling. Jeff sat up to get a better view. What the hell was it? Perhaps if he stood up he might be able to…he adjusted his position, kneeling now, trying to get a closer look. The door to the bedroom creaked ever so slightly – another imperfection, hidden this time – and Jeff became aware of himself, half-standing on the bed, exposed. Caught in the act. But the act of what? Staring? It wasn’t exactly grand larceny. Yet, all the same. He gathered the covers up around his waist to form some kind of protective barrier of innocence as he waited for the door to open.
“You’re still awake then.” The smell of fresh coffee ghosted into the room with Simon. “Thought you might have decided to grab a bit more shut eye.”
“Um, no, yeah.” The words wouldn’t come. Or not the right ones.
“We don’t have to get up just yet.” Simon put the tray he was carrying onto the bedside table. That thousand watt smile of his flashing across his face once more. “Not if you don’t want to.”
Jeff didn’t answer, searching in vain for words to make him sound normal. Or even an action. A smile back or something. Yet he remained kneeling, letting the silence gestate between the two of them. Even now he could feel his cheeks flushing, aware he was grabbing the edges of the sheet higher up around his waist.
“Are you okay?” It was Simon who broke the silence. “Did I do something wrong?” There was concern in the words. Concern and understanding. A cautious hand on Jeff’s shoulder. “Was last night too fast? It was, wasn’t it? I’m sorry, it’s me. I get all caught up in the moment and…”
“No,” blurted Jeff. “No, last night was…”
Perfect, no don’t say perfect, he’ll think you’re a stalker.
“…last night was great. I mean really great…”
“But?” Simon let the word hang in the air.
“But, um, but nothing. There’s…it’s only…look, it really is nothing.”
“Look, there’s no buts” Jeff sighed. “Look, here’s the deal. I was thinking how amazing last night was, how amazing your house is, how amazing you are…”
“This sounds like there is still a ‘but’ but go on.”
That smile was back this time though Jeff couldn’t tell if it was playful or defensive.
“God, look, this will sound stupid. So ridiculously stupid.” Jeff was certain his tongue was turning to cotton wool. “I got embarrassed, okay.”
“Embarrassed? By me?”
“No. God, no! By the patch. I mean my looking at it, like you’d think I was snooping around or something. Which I wasn’t, by the way.”
“At the patch. But I wasn’t. Not really, I…”
Simon chuckled, shifting his hand to cradle Jeff’s face before gently kissing him.
“Christ, you’re adorable. Kooky too, and maybe a little sleep-deprived,” Simon winked, “but adorable all the same. Now, if you’re done being paranoid, how about some coffee?”
Jeff laughed, the tension draining from his body. “Oh God, yes. Coffee would be great. You must think I’m such an idiot.”
“Yes. But a cute idiot.” Simon pushed the plunger down on the cafetiere. “Cute goes a long way.”
“It just seemed so out of place because everything in here is so immaculate.”
“It?” said Simon. Steam rose from the cup as he handed it to Jeff.
“I didn’t even know I owned ‘a patch’. Much less one for anyone to snoop at.”
“See, I knew you’d think I was snooping.” There was a playful tone to Jeff’s voice.
“Naturally. It’s what all my lovers do. They all love a good snoop.”
“All?” Jeff raised an eyebrow.
Simon nudged Jeff in the ribs. “I thought you wanted to talk about this patch.”
“Perhaps.” Jeff put his cup down on the bedside table. “It’s there, in the ceiling. Do you see where the white is a little off-colour? Almost as if someone’s spilt a glass of water.”
Simon sipped at his coffee, following the line of Jeff’s arm.
“Oh, that? That’s what you were getting so worked up about?”
“Worked up’s a bit strong…”
“Says the guy who I caught snooping in my bed.” Simon leant over and kissed Jeff gently on the forehead. “Look, it’s nothing.”
“But what if it’s a leak?”
“It’s not. I’ve told you, it’s nothing. There’s been no rain in weeks and the plumbing up there was removed years ago by my parents.”
“Wait, this was your parent’s house?”
“How on earth do you think I could afford a place round here, gorgeous? Best hand-me-down a boy could ask for.”
“No wonder you’re always so bloody happy. I’d kill for a place like this.”
“Hah! So you do suspect me of a crime!”
“What? I…no! God, you’re incorrigible.”
Simon put his coffee to one side. “I’m also bored talking about mysterious patches and real estate. So,” he stroked Jeff’s chest with his fingertips, walking his hand lower finger over finger, “how about we do something a little bit more exciting.”
Jeff lay back, letting Simon explore him further, and didn’t think about the patch anymore that morning. It was in the afternoon when things went wrong.
The sound of running water came from down the corridor. Jeff didn’t know how much time he had but he knew it wouldn’t be long. He just wanted to check things out more thoroughly. It would be doing Simon a favour after all. Or that’s what he told himself.
Jeff tiptoed to the bedroom door and peered around it. Steam was drifting from bathroom where the door wasn’t quite closed fully. It had been two or three minutes since Simon had gone to shower which meant he probably didn’t have long. Yet.
Curiosity had always gotten the better of him. At school he’d been berated by the teachers for sneaking where he shouldn’t, spying into rooms he had no business being around. He was the same as an adult, always looking over people’s shoulders to read their text messages or newspapers, whatever they were doing being far more fascinating than anything else at the time. And now was no different.
It was the sheer indifference of Simon which made it more enticing, the dismissal of there being anything noteworthy to consider. It would only take a minute or two and Simon would never know any different.
Jeff shut the door and hopped up on to the bed.
Steadying himself, he pulled himself up to his full height, the patch inches from his nose as he looked up. The patch itself was little bigger than a dinner plate. Off-white but smooth with no flaking paint. He put his hand to the patch, feeling for any dampness.
Yet the first thing he noticed wasn’t the texture, it was the smell. There was a peculiar odour he hadn’t noticed before, and one he struggled to place now. He’d expected it to smell damp, the musty scent of dry rot or rain-soaked timber. But it was neither of those. Then it came to him. This was a smell of honeysuckle and summer.
God, that was a name he hadn’t thought of in an age.
Danny bloody Foxton. Danny had been his first love back when he was about fourteen. They’d met at scout camp together, a week away from their parents out in the Sussex countryside. There’d been cautious conversations while the other boys were busy making dens leaving the two of them to forage for wild berries in the hedgerows. It was underneath the honeysuckle where they’d kissed. It had been Jeff’s first, not that he told Danny that, and there had been a magic to it. A realisation. But it was over far too quickly, as was the week itself. They never stayed in contact even though they both promised each other they would. And now Danny was a memory he hadn’t realised he’d forgotten.
“Silly old sod,” he whispered to himself, wiping a tear away from his cheek.
And then the smell was gone.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Jeff collapsed on to the bed, letting his legs give way beneath him to land on the mattress. Simon stood in the doorway to the bedroom, water dripping from his shoulders with a towel around his waist.
“I said, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Jeff hadn’t seen Simon angry before. During all those weeks of flirting, everything had been peaches and cream. The first few dates the same. Someone dented Simon’s car, not a problem. A drink split down his suit, all fine. Simon had a knack for brushing things off, for not sweating the small stuff. Jeff had dated similar guys but no one quite like Simon. The others all had layers of complication which eventually wedeled their way out into the open. All smiles on the outside whilst hiding their secret selves away. Not Simon, though. And now Jeff didn’t know how to react.
“I’m sorry, I just wanted to take a closer look.”
“I thought we’d agreed it was nothing. That there was nothing to look at.”
“We did.” Jeff squirmed on the bed, trying to find a comfortable position. “But I thought maybe there was a problem…”
“The only problem I see is that I can’t trust you.”
“Wait, now hang on a second…”
“I bring you back to my house, take you into my bed and this is what you do. You snoop.”
Jeff watched Simon’s face, looking for the faintest signs of a smile, the hint that this might be some elaborate joke, that he’d be teased for snooping again and no more.
“I said get out. Get yourself dressed and get out of here.”
“Just a minute, don’t you think you’re going a bit far here?”
Simon’s chest rose as he breathed in deeply.
“You just don’t get it do you.” The words were patient now. Calmer.
“Then explain it to me!” Tears were burning hot in Jeff’s eyes.
“I have to be able to trust you.”
“You can trust me. It’s just a fucking patch. Holy shit, Simon, am I that meaningless to you that you’re going to dump me over this.”
“I…” and now it was Simon’s turn to falter. “I…I just don’t know.”
Jeff’s leg were unsteady as he walked from the bed to Simon. Simon was possibly going to be the one, it wasn’t meant to end like this.
“Please,” he said, putting both hands to Simon’s face. “Please.” He kissed Simon on the lips, gently at first, then more forcefully, feeling Simon kiss him back…except.
“I can’t, Jeff. I’m really sorry but I can’t. Not now.”
“But I thought we had something special.”
Simon went to answer then looked away.
Simon looked back, tears in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Jeff. You know what. I think I need some space. I really do.”
Simon’s doorbell sounded hollow and ashen in Jeff’s head. His finger had twice hovered over the button until he plucked up the courage to press it. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all but he hadn’t known what else to do. At least this way he actually got to speak to Simon, to see his face, his smile. Hopefully his smile.
Time stretched as Jeff stood waiting. Seconds felt like hours. He could feel a perspiration building on his forehead which he wasn’t sure whether it was due to nerves or the heat of the sun. Perhaps this was a bad idea and the best thing to do would be for him to turn around and get out of there like any rational person would. But he didn’t feel at all rational. Far from it.
The door gave, pulling back to reveal Simon. Or a different Simon. Dark circles underscored his eyes. His hair was dishevelled rather than sculpted. His body sagged marginally where normally he stood tall.
“Jeff?” Simon looked behind himself back into the house then back again. “What are you doing here? I…I wasn’t expecting to see you again. Not here. Not after last time.”
“I needed to see you.” The phrase was clichéd yet it had stumbled from Jeff’s lips before he even realised what he was saying. He wondered if Simon could tell the lie within the words. Jeff wasn’t even certain what he believed himself at the moment. Yes, he wanted to see Simon. Why wouldn’t he? Except there was more to it than that.
“Look, Jeff. Um…” Another glance back from Simon raising questions Jeff hadn’t considered he might be asking. Was there someone new? Or someone from before? “Now’s not a good time. I meant what I said about some space. I wish things could be different, I really do but…”
“But?” Except Jeff knew there were no more words coming to fill the gap. Everything which needed to be said hung guiltily in the silence between them, words Simon wouldn’t say and Jeff didn’t want to hear.
“Is…” Jeff wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer to the question he was about to ask. “Is there someone else? Are they here, now? Is that who’s hiding back there?”
Simon’s mouth opened to say something only to shut again, his eyes looking to Jeff, then to the floor, then back again. It was all Jeff needed to know.
“So there is someone.” The words were calmer than Jeff intended. He wanted to be angry, to tear into Simon but there was something defeated about him which made him hold back.
“It’s not like that, Jeff.”
“Then what is it like? Tell me. I thought we had something good going on.”
“We do…we did.”
We did. That hurt more than anything else Simon could have said. Jeff tried to swallow. He could feel heat rising up behind his eyes.
“Jeff, look, I’m sorry. God, you’ll never know how sorry I really am, but you need to go.” Then, from within the house, a muffled thud. Another glance back from Simon. “I need to go.”
The front of the door filled Jeff’s vision before he realised Simon had gone. He wanted to bash on the door with both fists, demand Simon come back and explain himself except what more was there to explain? Instead Jeff stood there impotent. Eventually he turned and left, kicking at the gravel of the drive on his way. As he reached the pavement, he looked back one last time, a fool’s glance at something now no longer part of his life. And there in the window at the top of the house was something which stopped him in his tracks.
Jeff had lain in wait out of sight for his chance. It was a full hour before Simon left the house and another ten minutes before Jeff picked up the courage to make good on his plan.
He’d gone to Simon’s shed first, hidden among ivy dangling from towering silver birches surrounding the garden wall. The shed was small, not much bigger than two phone boxes strapped together, and presented little challenge in gaining access. He’d hoped to find a lump hammer or similar, something he could use to force his way into the house but the best he could find was a rusted screwdriver in among some broken plant pots.
It took three attempts before the rear lock to the house gave and Jeff found himself in the kitchen. He was certain one of the neighbours would notice and report him as he entered the house, alerted by the noise at the very least. Except this wasn’t that kind of neighbourhood. Here people very much kept to themselves and he was grateful for it.
Inside, the house was empty. He searched the ground floor, going from room to room, finding nothing to indicate anyone other than Simon had been here. But he knew differently.
It (he?) had been staring out from the uppermost part of the house. Jeff had thought it was Simon at first. The build and features were comparable and there was something about the way he carried himself. Except the skin was different. Darker. More charcoal grey than any skin tone he had seen before. Plus the face was distorted in the way a child might scratch out a drawing of a person though Jeff told himself that was simply the way the sunlight rippled across the window. In fact, he would have dismissed the whole thing for some perverse kind of manikin if it hadn’t placed its hand to the glass.
Mud from Jeff’s shoes formed dark footprints on the cream carpet as he made his way to the first floor. Jeff looked along the landing, orienting himself. There were three doors – bedroom, spare room, and bathroom – only one of which were shut. He headed for the bedroom, pausing outside the closed door before grasping the handle, taking a moment to ready himself. Questions raced through his mind. Questions and images. Images which surprised him. In his mind’s eye he pictured himself with his hands around a charcoal coloured neck, ignoring any cries for mercy. He knew he could stop except he didn’t, squeezing harder until his knuckles whitened and the other man grew silent.
Jeff turned the handle.
Like the rest of the house, the bedroom was empty. No signs of anyone other than Simon existed. No random pieces of clothing strewn on the bed, no scent which wasn’t Jeff’s ex-lover’s. Jeff stepped deeper into the room, desperate to find some clue which proved he hadn’t imagined the other man. Drawers were opened then shut, wardrobes searched to no avail. He even found himself on his knees looking under the bed only to find bare carpet.
Jeff sat on the bed with his head in his hands, questioning what he had missed, ticking off what he had seen or not seen. And there was nothing. There was no one here. Somehow his imagination had gotten the better of him. Perhaps it had been Simon at the window rather than someone else. The glass distorting him more than Jeff had realised. Jeff lay back and let the mattress take his weight.
A wry grin found its way to his face. There it was above him. The patch where all his problems had stemmed from. Jeff chuckled to himself. All this because of a stupid stain. Except it seemed bigger now. The chuckle grew, becoming louder, more full of joy and amusement. He could feel the stresses draining from him in some kind of euphoric cleansing, his worries and neuroses being leached from his body.
Unnoticed, the patch above him grew.
It was only a thud from the ceiling which brought Jeff’s laughter to a halt.
“Hello?” It was a tentative shout, testing his surroundings in the way a fisherman would test the tension of their line. Waiting. Waiting.
“Hello,” he tried again. “Is there anyone there?”
His mind wandered back to when he was outside, looking up at the house. Seeing the face at the window. Three floors up not two.
He stood up on the bed, thumping a fist on the ceiling.
“Hello?” he called once more.
He waited, his ears straining for a reply.
He thumped again, three times in succession…
A thud came back in response, heavy and hollow like a grain sack falling on floorboards.
“Christ!” more to himself than to whoever – whatever – was up above him. But what else had he been expecting? A conversation between the floors?
Jeff stepped down from the bed looking for any point of access to the floor above. Side-stepping, he worked his way across the room, moving out to the hallway.
“What the fuck, Simon?”
The hatch was recessed into the ceiling. Close enough to touch with his fingertips. Close enough to reach out and grab the solid steel padlocks sealing the loft hatch closed. Jeff rushed to find a chair, and the screwdriver he’d left downstairs.
The first padlock gave easily, levered free as the screws holding the connecting bracket in place gave. All the time, Jeff could hear footsteps pacing from the floor above, almost expectantly, as if Simon’s prisoner – what other word was there - could sense what was happening. The second padlock was harder, the chair beneath Jeff tilting wildly as he sought to gain extra purchase. For a moment Jeff thought the chair would tip, forcing him over the nearby bannister, only to steady himself at the last moment. Eventually he felt the bracket give, the padlock acting as a lever point to force the seasoned screws loose. Above him the pacing stopped.
Jeff pushed at the hatch, feeling the give of the catch mechanism hidden within the loft, the square of the hatch falling back. A ladder released from above.
“Hello?” he shouted as the base of the ladder connected with the floor. Above there was nothing but silence and the black empty void within the ceiling where the hatch had been. He shouted again only to get the same non-answer.
The ladder bowed slightly as he tested his weight on the first rung. Slowly he moved one foot after the other up towards the darkness. The screwdriver squirmed in his back pocket with each step. For one brief moment, as he crested the entrance, he was convinced he was going to have his head caved in. That whoever was up here would see their opportunity for freedom and consider him collateral damage. Putting one arm over the edge of the void he hauled himself up.
It was the emptiness which surprised Jeff the most. The complete lack of anything of substance within the space. Normally attics were filled with all kinds of junk people thought to be precious and important but ultimately lay in the darkness, forgotten, only to be disturbed when the Christmas decorations were needed. Here there were just floorboards and shadows where light from a window – the window Jeff had seen from outside – spilled into the space. And beneath the window was the huddled form of Simon.
Or not quite. It was Simon but crudely sketched. A dark toned caricature. A scribbled facsimile which might pass for his former lover at a distance but not here, not now. Jeff took a step forward.
“It’s okay,” Jeff said, hand outstretched as if approaching a wounded dog, expecting it to turn and run at any point. But there was nowhere to run here.
Not-Simon raised his head. Grief was etched into every line of his haggard features; the suffering of a thousand hurtful words, the breaking of hearts, the anguish of loss. This close, Jeff now saw clearly the true colour of the man’s skin. What he had thought was charcoal was, in reality, a mottling of blues and purples and yellows all wrought one over the other. Deep bruises which had never healed. Something told Jeff they hadn’t been caused by fists or clubs or anything else physical.
Not-Simon blinked, tears streaking down his cheeks, his eyes red, the skin surrounding them puffy and raw. A low guttural tone resonated from within him as he opened his mouth to speak. More a drone than any language Jeff knew. Except he did know it. Deep down. One he was fluent in. A language of hurt and sorrow.
“He needed feeding.” The words came from behind Jeff, unexpected and unbidden. Simon’s gentle tone invading the moment. “That’s what I was doing when you knocked.”
“For how long?”
“How long?” Simon took a few steps closer. The circles under his eyes had gone, the slumped posture righted now. “Since forever. He’s always been here. We’ve always been here.” The plumbing up there was removed years ago by my parents. “The two of us. Or for as long as I can remember.”
“You can’t keep him here like this.”
“Don’t you think I haven’t thought the self-same thing? We’ve tried so many times over the years but there’s nowhere else to go.” Simon fell silent, looking over Jeff’s shoulder at years long since lost to memory. “He’ll die without me. And me without him.”
Jeff looked down at Not-Simon, trying to read the turmoil in his face.
“Is that true?”
Not-Simon looked from Simon to Jeff then back again, his mouth flapping open then shut, knowing that he didn’t have the words to explain.
“It’s okay,” said Simon. “You can show him. There’s nothing to hide anymore.”
Not-Simon nodded. He held an expectant hand out to Jeff.
“What…what does he want?”
“He wants you to help him up, Jeff. Please.”
Plubba, Joff. The words came from Not-Simon through a nest of snot and mucus. Bruised fingers were tugging at the hem of Jeff’s trouser leg. Plubba.
And then it was more than fingers plucking at his clothes. The full force of Not-Simon was around his ankles, pulling at him, forcing him off-balance. Dust flashed up as Jeff impacted face first with the floorboards. He tried to kick backwards as Not-Simon clawed his way up his body, the wooden floor rasping his cheek and his nose. He felt hands scurrying around his backside, searching, taking something from his trousers, the length of the screwdriver no longer resting in his pocket.
He needed feeding.
Jeff thought he had understood what that meant. As strange as that had seemed it had made sense to him. But what if now he was wrong? He kicked one more time, half-anticipating cold metal penetrating the small of his back or plunging deep into the inner workings of his ear. The killing blow.
He felt Not-Simon’s weight shift marginally, enough for him to turn and face his assailant but not enough to fight free. The silhouette of Not-Simon towered above him on both knees, the screwdriver grasped firmly in one hand.
“Do it,” said Simon. “Make it quick.”
Not-Simon gave a small nod of his head in affirmation, tears streaking his cheeks. Jeff tried to push himself backwards on the floor, to escape the inevitable but he was stuck fast, only able to watch. Not-Simon raised the screwdriver high before thrusting it down hard.
Jeff cried out.
But the blow never struck.
The weight on top of Jeff vanished. Not-Simon was standing above him now, his right hand empty, the screwdriver no longer there. He lifted his left hand into the light where the metal caught the light. The head of the screwdriver rose proudly from the top of his hand, the rust-covered shaft protruding from the middle of his palm.
Jeff turned at the sound of Simon’s voice, watching as he stepped into the light next to his doppelgänger.
“Here, let me help you,” Simon said taking Not-Simon’s hand in his. Gently he grasped the screwdriver, counting to three before pulling firmly at handle. There was a resistance at first forcing Simon to pull again, harder this time, until the shaft started to move. The screwdriver clattered to the floor as Simon threw it aside.
“Now do you understand?” he said to Jeff.
Jeff squinted as Simon lifted his own left hand into the light from the window. Blood dripped down from his palm to his wrist, flowing freely as it stained the cuff of his shirt. Jeff blinked twice, trying to make sense of what he was seeing, denying the light flashing through the hole gouged into Simon’s palm.
“I told you,” said Simon, “he’ll die without me. And me without him. There really is no other choice.”
He took his other self into his arms, hugging him close.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “But he had to see. He had to believe. He’d destroy us otherwise.”
Not-Simon grunted, hugging Simon back. Simon looked up over his other self’s shoulder with tears in his eyes.
“I think you should go,” he said to Jeff knowing there was to be no argument this time.
Phil Sloman is a writer of dark psychological fiction. In 2017 he was shortlisted for British Fantasy Award Best Newcomer for his novella Becoming David, which also featured in Ginger Nuts of Horror's books of 2016, his latest release Broken on the Inside was also featured in Ginger Nuts of Horror's books of 2018
Occasionally Phil can be found lurking here: http://insearchofperdition.blogspot.co.uk/ or wasting time on Facebook - come say hi.
Richard leads a simple, uncomplicated life in the suburbs of London where anonymity is a virtue. His life has a routine. His cleaner visits twice a week. He works out in his basement, where he occasionally he kills people. Everything is as Richard wants it until David enters his life. What happens next changes his existence in its entirety and the lives of those around him. Is he able to trust anything to be true? And will he be able to escape David or will David take over Richard’s life completely? A Novella from Hersham Horror Books
I have a fear of horror films. Or, to be more precise, horror films terrify me. I’m aware that some people love to watch a horror film and enjoy a good scare. Not me. There’s nothing enjoyable about that pulse pounding sensation I’ve had, knowing that someone is gonna go all yellow-eyed and show a gaping mouth of fangs. Or some demonic entity is gonna curse in an inhuman voice. You get the idea. Even if there’s a trailer for a horror film on TV, I can’t watch. Listen, yes. Watch, no.
I’m aware there might be an irony in a horror writer who’s scared of horror films. FYI, horror books don’t scare me. The only two I’ve found remotely unsettling are Stephen King’s ‘Needful Things’ for one particular scene, and Joe Donnelly’s ‘Incubus' - which still remains one of the best horror books I’ve ever read.
Back to the matter.
I’m the youngest of three sons. No sisters. Our induction into horror started with Hammer Horror films on Saturday nights. Every now and then, our dad would do a fry-up. The kitchen would smell of burgers and hotdogs and onions: the good stuff. And all four of us would sit down under the brightness of the overhead light and watch Dracula AD 1972, Curse Of The Werewolf, or whatever film it’d be. Hell, we even had an old school projector (which is still in the house somewhere). We had a couple of films for that on a projector reel. No sound though, but it didn’t matter. Black and white, but that didn’t matter either. Aside from the infamous ant film Them!, the first horror films I’d ever seen were on projector. One was Night Of The Demon, the other was The Hideous Sun Demon. Neither had any sound but the narrative was enough to draw me in. Even then, I knew the films looked kind of ropey, but they entertained. They certainly didn’t scare me.
Some years later when I was about nine years old or so, and with the advent of the VCR, came a whole wealth of films that were available beyond the realm of terrestrial TV. Our oldest brother – always a horror fan – was a regular customer at Electrobug Video: a nearby shop that would charge a small fee for a two-day rental of a VHS tape. So he used to hire on Friday evening and return on Saturday afternoon. This worked out well enough, since Mama was a nurse who worked nights. Friday was her last night shift of the week, which left us three to watch the likes of Scanners, Rabid, An American Werewolf In London, The Kindred, Poltergeist, etc. And by this point, I’d seen that horror films weren’t such a laughing matter after all. Back then, I could just about stomach watching those films while my brothers were with me: whether it was David Kessler suddenly screaming and ripping his t-shirt open, or the guy in Poltergeist whose reflection tears its face off. Or Ralphie Glick hovering in mist and scratching at a window in the darkness. Even the music for that iteration of Salem’s Lot scared the shit outta me. Horror films had definitely evolved. I need to give a special mention to The Evil Dead, which was another one of those rentals from Electrobug Video from back in the day. Because I’d seen reluctant monsters (such as An American Werewolf In London) or evil monsters (such as Mike Ryerson in the rocking chair in Salem’s Lot), but The Evil Dead was different. Because monsters had evolved again – now they were malicious too. I remember hearing the trailer back then: “dare you see this film alone,” and then the infamous, “we’re gonna get ya…” Legendary.
By this point, I’d seen too much horror, and I used to stay in my room until the film was ended and my brothers would tell me it was safe to come back in. There were exceptions though. John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ was one of them. For me, more of a dark narrative than a horror film. Not necessarily the best horror film I’d see, but a good one. The one thing that stuck with me from watching the film is that when Dr. Loomis arrives in the eleventh hour and shoots Michael, it should all have been a done deal. No. Loomis looks over the balcony, but doesn’t see a body - and that’s one of the horror tropes I love to play with: the monster gets away.
So there’s the conundrum. I liked the dark narrative, but got scared of watching horror films. So my oldest brother would start to tell me what happened. And that was actually entertaining. What this actually impressed on me was the importance of outlining. I’m aware some authors do, some don’t. Outlining, for me, is that tool where if the bare bones entertain, then so should the full story – even more so. Years later, with the likes of Wikipedia, I’d read a plot/synopsis for a horror film, and that kind of outlining simply reinforced my thinking.
When it came to John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’, my brother hadn’t told me the full plot, but had told me enough: the dog’s head splits open, the man’s stomach opens, etc. I remember asking him what the Thing looked like. And him telling me, ‘whatever it wants to look like.’ And me thinking, ‘what kind of stupid answer is that?’ At some point, I’d seen the poster with the Norris-head on the front, and the caption: “Look closely at your neighbour. Trust no one.” And the tagline: Man is the warmest place to hide. So that video, like so many others, made its way into our home – and it blew me away. To date, it’s my favourite film in any genre. As of last October, I finally got to see the film on the big screen. Not only did it still impress, but I also picked up on an additional clue about the film’s ending. For connoisseurs of the film, feel free to hit me up for the answer if you want to know and discuss.
From an author point of view, what I’ve taken away from The Thing primarily is a sense of scene. There are scenes in the film that pan across rooms and corridors. As such, more of my work now has that cinematic approach, where I want you to feel like the camera is guiding you. It doesn’t matter whether I want to show you something or deliberately guide you past something and see if you spot it later when it becomes key. The scenery is as much a character as those that walk and talk.
There’ve been instances in years since where I’ve watched a horror film, which thankfully hasn’t been so horrifying. I couldn’t wait to see 30 Days Of Night when it came out, and it didn’t disappoint. Again, more a dark narrative than a horror film, but no less entertaining. A far cry from walking in on my older brother and his then-girlfriend watching the David Cronenberg version of The Fly. You see, I’d always been able to watch the film just up until when Ronnie goes back to see Seth, and he’s walking with canes. He looked kinda human then. But when I walked in on my brother that time in the dark, Brundlefly was tearing himself out of dead human skin, and his eyes slopped out of his head. I remember the terror was so intense, my legs went weak. And only the fact that I managed to run from the room saved me from passing out.
So, yeah. That’s the kind of disturbing work I want to bring to the table. Engage and entertain you. And maybe scare the shit outta you.
ABOUT c.c. adams
London native C. C. Adams credits his oldest brother with showing him the world of dark fiction and horror through books, TV and film at an early age. On beating his first National Novel Writing Month challenge in 2009, C. C. decided to run with more of his ideas, now in publications such as the Crossroads In The Dark anthologies from Burning Willow Press, Weirdbook Magazine and Turn To Ash.
A member of the Horror Writers Association, he still lives in the capital. This is where he lifts weights, practises kung fu, cooks - and looks for the perfect quote to set off the next dark delicacy.
For more information on C.C. Adams please follow the links below
C.C. ADAMS WEBSITE
BUT WORSE WILL COME BY C.C. ADAMS
Theodore Papakostas lives a normal life. Holds down a day job. Struggles with his weight. With women, he’s more ‘miss’ than ‘hit.’ He’s humble – a far cry from the bullying behaviour of his childhood. Days long forgotten.
Something has caught wind of him. Something that warned Theo long ago that if their paths crossed again, Theo would not survive. And Theo’s world is turned into a waking nightmare: a struggle to stay ahead of the terror. Because all those years ago, sunset was just the beginning …but worse will come.
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