Category Archives: horror

Two opening stories from Book Three in the Creature Tales collection – Six, eight, & Many Legged Tales: A Swarming Mass of Bites and Stings.

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For a short time only until book three goes live sometime next month, here are two of the opening stories from the third and final book of The Creature Tales collection.

 

 

 

 

Mutant Mozzies! 

Mozzie3Clinging to the stem of a leaf, she watched the human from about twenty feet away. It was rare to see one out at night so deep in the woods, but there he was, nestled in position by the river for a spot of night-fishing, probably to supplement his other poaching activities, not that the minuscule hungry predator was to know that.

She flew in a little closer. The distinctive hum produced by the rapid beating of her wings and movement through the air might have alerted the human but for the orchestra of other tiny nightlife sounds that filled the woods. The bigger danger was alerting any of the other innumerable tiny predators that filled the woodland air whatever the time of day or night. Even a flight of two or three feet might expose her to the lightning strike of a reptilian tongue, an airborne attack from a dragonfly, or even being caught in the web of some equally predatory spider. Had such a rival got to her first, the unsuspecting human might have remained undisturbed but it wasn’t to be.

The one stalking the human for her next meal was of course from that deadlier than the male, blood-sucking half of the winged pests, a description that was equally true of most of the insect world, and indeed those larger creatures farther up the tree of evolution. Having avoided being eaten, squashed, or other violent death for the past month, she was a veteran of the swarming army of more than a trillion mosquitoes that patrolled practically every last inch of the planet.

The light touch of her slender elongated body and its three pairs of long hair-like legs were too light and gentle to induce the slightest flicker of response in any of the many nerve endings of her prey’s soft warm skin. It wasn’t the human’s skin she was interested in though, but the nutritious substance it housed just millimetres beneath its surface, the delicious blood she would need to grow her eggs and another generation of her kind.

She had the element of surprise; she was after all a hunter, and a creature immeasurably better adapted and more practised in day-to-day survival than any two-legged giant; humans were little more than embryonic infants on the planet compared to her own species’ two-hundred million years plus.

Once comfortably settled, her feathery antennae hover over the surface of the minute patch of skin she had landed. Although also used for other purposes, they act as the mosquito’s nose to determine the suitability of the food source. The human is a type ‘O’ blood type, and while she, the mosquito, plays no favourites in who she feeds off, type ‘O’ is the mosquitoes’ vintage of choice for nourishing their soon-to-be young. Without further hesitation, she thrusts her two serrated cutting blades to literally saw through the outer layer of the human’s epidermis while two retractors prise open a passageway for the straw-like proboscis through which she will suck out the blood she needs like a drill extracting oil from the ground. To hasten the feeding process and reduce the likelihood of the victim swatting her away or worse, splattering her into little more than an unsightly stain, a sixth and final anatomical needle spikes the skin to inject an anticoagulant to prevent the blood from clotting.

It’s all over in a matter of seconds, though before she flies off to safety, she leaves behind an unpleasant reminder of their encounter, the irritating blotch from the allergic reaction to her saliva; in this case, the human is lucky that he’s not in one of those parts of the world where that same saliva might do something far worse, like infecting him with any number of fatal diseases such as  malaria, Zika, West Nile, dengue or yellow fever. But the danger is not over yet. She is a new and far more dangerous specimen of her species than even she realises, the latest result of the white-coated humans’ meddling in things  …

*

If they’re close enough for you to hear them, then unless you’re drenched in DEET or imprisoned inside several layers of head-to-toe clothing, it’s probably too late. That all too familiar humming buzz of the mosquito is enough to have the potential human meal here in the west and in cooler climes immediately pulling down shirt sleeves, donning long trousers, or reaching for the insect spray, anything to lessen the likelihood of the blotchy red bumps, the days of maddening scratching, and hourly applications of anti-histamine lotions.

In other parts of the world, the consequences were usually a lot worse, often adding to the mosquitoes’ 700,000 annual fatalities

Someone once said that God had a lot to answer for allowing those two bloody mosquitos aboard the ark.  Quite apart from the plague of malaria, every hiker, rambler, or anyone who had ever suffered the maddening irritation of a mosquito bite would probably agree.

Nowadays of course, everyone agreed …

*

Seth Packard was making his way home after another successful night’s poaching. The nearby estate provided him with not only most of his own food needs, but quite a nice income on the side from the adjacent salmon-rich river. The estate gamekeeper and local police were more a minor inconvenience to Seth’s activities than a real obstacle. Having grown up in the countryside, Seth was at home in the woods and forest any wild-born creature, practically immune to the irritating effects of most insect bites. Nonetheless, even he was becoming concerned by the growing number of ticks and mosquitoes, a fact he was reminded of when he felt that immediately recognisable heat and tingling of the after-effects of just such a bite to the back of his neck. It surprised Seth – it wasn’t that he never got bitten or was totally immune to a histamine reaction to the insect toxins or saliva from some tiny six and or however many-legged creatures, but it was rare for him to notice their effects. Perhaps that was why he instinctively brought his hand up to scratch at the inflamed area. In the process though, he had accidentally grazed his hand on either a thorn or the sharp or broken edge of an overhanging branch.

In contrast to the inflammation following most insect bites, Seth was used to such scratches and minor cuts, an inevitable consequence of spending so much time in the wild. This time it was a tad deeper though, and probably needed a proper dressing. Still, Seth had suffered worse in his time and simply wrapped a bit of cloth around it to help clot the blood, for now, not giving it a second thought beyond that.

The makeshift bandage around Seth’s hand didn’t clot the flow of blood though, and the wound it was covering continued to trickle blood throughout the night.

Another effect of the mosquito bite was to make him sweat, but not the sweat of exertion or from being too hot … every pore and orifice of his skin and body was seeping blood, draining it like some water-filled container with multiple holes in it. When they found his body a few days later, it looked like the theatrics department had gone overboard on a Hammer Horror film set.

Despite his naturally acquired immunity and tolerance, Seth Packard’s fate had been sealed on his last night of poaching in the estate forest; he would likely as not have been unaffected by the mosquito bite, but combined with the thorn it was just a matter of time, not that he would have had long to wait.

Perhaps it was a good thing that Seth’s insect immunity and lack of irritation from the mosquito bite had dulled any sense that something might be wrong. Had it not been so, he would have suffered the fear of knowing just how he was going to die long before the full effects of the mosquito bite combined with his minor cut took their toll.

Seth Packard was the first recorded UK victim of what the Press would later call the ‘Blood Sweating’ disease … he was not to be the last.

*

Sumatra Genetics had been tasked with developing a delivery system for the World Health Organisation’s newly developed universal flu vaccine, HN247. There had been a time when conventional methods of vaccination would have done the job. But that was ten years before … things had changed.

As well as more virulent human and avian strains, they were now having to cope with a new one on the block – Rodent flu. Like its avian counterpart, this too had jumped the species barrier, and worse, it didn’t kill its rodent hosts or trouble them in any way.

China alone had suffered near on a hundred million casualties, with India close on its heels. It was only stricter quarantine regulations and more efficient rodent control measures that had lessened the impact on Europe and North America, with their death toll still limited to the low tens of millions. South America, on the other hand, was reaching close to sixty million dead.

Quite apart from the logistical nightmare of trying to vaccinate 8 billion people, and the cost, the death toll and other debilitating health effects on the estimated billion or so already infected made it a race against time. If the current pandemic wasn’t stopped in its tracks, it would soon cripple the world’s ability to react at all.

It was ironic that Sumatra Genetics should be the one the WHO should look to for help given that it was their experiments with rats that had led to Rodent flu in the first place. That little nugget of information was something only Sumatra’s most trusted staff knew about. And since those in the know had all been bought off with substantial share options, that was the way it was likely to stay. It was a further irony that this latest crisis was an opportunity for the shady genetics company to become even more successful if they came up with a solution.

Sumatra already knew there simply weren’t enough doctors, nurses, or similarly trained medical staff, let alone the facilities or resources to manually vaccinate 7 billion around the world. Clearly, a new and radical approach had to be devised, one that took no account of borders, quarantine zones, or any other obstacle to a vaccine delivery system.

They put their Microbiology department to working on the problem, and more specifically, their entomology section. The nanoparticle-based universal flu HN247 vaccine the WHO had developed made it ideal for viral delivery via almost the tiniest of nature’s multicellular life-forms, namely insects.

Unbeknown to the WHO, Sumatra were already ahead of the curve on the problem; they had several years’ worth of research into viral delivery systems, the only difference being that theirs was for weaponised agents, not life-saving ones.

Within a few months they had adapted the vaccine to be carried by insects, any and every insect in the world in fact. By infecting selective insects with a harmless virus carrying HN247, they anticipated that it would take less than a year for some 90% of the human population to be likewise infected. And they were right. Within a matter of months, half the world’s population were now immune to the Rodent flu.

It had been an unqualified success in the more rural and less developed parts of the world, where daily and multiple insect bites were more a plague than a lifesaver. In the developed world, progress was slower; the greater cleanliness of the cities and their population’s obsession with keeping their homes sterile and germ-free was less conducive to an openly thriving insect population.

The public announcements though about Rodent flu immunity being spread by harmless insect bites weren’t popular at first. Fortunately, perhaps, the increasing death toll from Rodent flu was even less popular, inducing, or rather frightening. most of the public to briefly dispense with their insect and pest repellents and take to walking bare-armed through the parks and countryside.

With the third world and countryside largely vaccinated, that left the developed world free to supplement the insect viral delivery system using more conventional methods of vaccination to spread the life-saving infection, free of the international communities’ condemnation of only looking after themselves.

Sumatra Genetics had once again come up smelling of roses to quote the old saying. Unfortunately, the roses, in this case, had nasty and unexpected thorns …

*

In the aftermath of the Rodent flu crisis, the world had breathed a collective sigh of relief at its resolution. It was probably why the first reports of a mosquito problem largely went unnoticed; compared to the death of some 400 million from the Rodent flu, no subsequent crisis seemed to warrant urgent attention.

Mosquito bites had plagued mankind since it first climbed down from the trees. Admittedly, some repellents worked better than others, and a small lucky percentage of the population seemed immune to the annoying winged pests. Still though, mosquitos were high on the list of most people’s pet hates.

Despite the drug companies’ best efforts, there as yet remained no way of preventing most people from being bitten from time to time. Worse still, it was rare to suffer only the one bite when attacked. It was just a case of having to suffer the several days of excruciating itching and inflamed red blotches that invariably followed.

Had people known what was to follow they would have been glad to put up with the maddening but temporary annoyance of a regular mosquito bite.

*

The disease had first hit the poorer parts of the world around the filthy pools of stagnant water where the mosquitos thrived. Just another tropical disease running its course in some backward part of the word nobody cared about had been the original assumption. That had changed.

Only a small number of mosquitos were carrying the new disease as far as anyone could tell given the tiny ratio of deaths to mosquito numbers. It was enough though to finally get the WHO’s attention. It wasn’t so much how many were dying but who that had prompted them to take notice, namely the inclusion now of rich westerners.

Dozens of cases were cropping up all over the world, not that the actual death toll was yet anywhere near high enough yet for the health authorities to start panicking. The public though were another matter – not since the early 80s during the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic had they been so thoroughly gripped by fear.

It was the way people died from it that really had them scared. It started with a single bite, that’s all it took; unlike most insect bites, it was one you actually felt rather being alerted to it by the post-bite irritating blotchy inflammation.

In the beginning it had been thought to be some strange form of advanced haemophilia for want of a better definition given the excessive bleeding. It didn’t take long to determine whatever it might be was being transmitted by insect bites. Narrowing it down to mosquitos had come later. It was bizarre to think the media had been the first to make the connection with their Mutant Mozzies and Sweating Blood hysteria-inducing headlines. Either way, it had come as a relief to the WHO that it had been narrowed down to one specific insect.

Despite assurances from Sumatra Genetics to the contrary, the WHO had originally feared it might be a delayed side-effect of the insect carried viral delivery of the HN247 flu vaccine. Had that been the case and all insects had been carriers of the new disease it5 truly would have been the end of mankind. Nonetheless, they were still investigating along those lines … and so too was Sumatra Genetics.

Something unique in one of the Mosquito’s fourteen thousand different genes had combined with the HN2247 nanoparticle-based vaccine, boosting the naturally occurring anti-coagulant in the mosquitoes’ salivary glands. Instead of the usual maddening but non-fatal effects, victims were dying. It wasn’t that the anti-coagulant was any more effective, it was simply longer-lasting; whereas a normal mosquito bite would only disable the regular clotting ability of the blood for a few minutes in the immediate area of the bite while the mosquito fed, these others were causing the effects of the anticoagulant to spread throughout the body for up to twelve hours.

In the young and elderly, it was even longer. Any significant injury during the active phase of the mosquito bite would see the victim sweating blood from every pore of their body – even a simple cut or a bruise could be fatal for the less robust victim.

“Well, we’ve identified the problem. We just don’t have a solution … or know if there even is one?” Dr Natalie Martins was telling the board.

It wasn’t often any of Sumatra’s research staff were quite so blunt with their bosses. But then of course, it wasn’t often the company’s survival or keeping the Sumatra board of directors from a prison cell depended on one of them either.

“You are aware of the urgency of the matter, aren’t you Dr Martins?” Simon Cadwell asked, one of Sumatra’s vice-presidents.

“I’m aware of the urgency, yes. A lot of lives depend on our coming up with a way of either neutralising whatever it is causing the disease or fighting its effects.” Natalie knew very well the ‘urgency’ being referred to had nothing to do with saving lives.

“We’re all aware of that, Dr Martins. But we also have to provide answers for the medical enquiry board.”

“Probably best I don’t waste any more time here then. I’ll be able to answer your questions a lot quicker if I’m allowed to get on with looking for the answers.” 

Simon Cadwell didn’t bother to reply, instead simply looking down to make a few notes in his sheaf of papers … I’ll remember you, Dr Martins, when this is all over, the Sumatra VP thought to himself, annoyed some little jumpstart of an employee should be in a position to speak to a member of the board in such an insolent manner.

In their desperation to eliminate themselves from any blame for the new disease, the Sumatra Genetics investigatory board had finally allowed Dr Natalie Martins access to their sealed files on their previous failed efforts to find a way of eradicating Malaria.

With the new though still classified information in her hands, she discovered Sumatra’s previous efforts to splice a modified gene into the malaria transmitting Anopheles mosquito, one that would neutralise the plasmodium parasite that causes malaria.

She was not impressed by the shoddy science and shortcuts they had taken in their efforts. Like most of Sumatra’s projects, their eye had been on quick profits rather than being prepared for years of painstaking research and trial to verify their results.

Not only had it not worked, instead of neutralising the malaria-causing parasite it was originally meant to, but this new modified gene had also now found a more compatible receptor in the nanoparticles of the HN247 vaccine. It was now snugly nestled between the same anti-coagulant producing gene in the mosquito salivary gland and another responsible for the mosquito’s tolerance for changes in temperature. This tiny realignment of its DNA was making successive generations of its host mosquitos better able to survive the cooler conditions of the Northern hemisphere.

Once she had reported her findings, Dr Martins was given the task of heading the team Sumatra formed to eradicate the mutated Anopheles mosquito. Of course, every Anopheles mosquito now carried the mutant gene but it was a simple matter for Sumatra to breed and release a variant into the wild with the mutant gene removed. Given that the modified gene was essentially a foreign body in the mosquitos’ DNS, nature was quick to accept the new variant, and the rate at which all insects bred, it quickly became dominant. But nothing was ever quite that simple when it came to meddling in the very building blocks of life. While the gene responsible for the mosquitos’ anti-coagulant had returned to normal, the exposure of all the new generations of mosquitos had migrated north had permanently adapted them to its cooler temperatures. The malaria carrying Anopheles mosquito was there to stay … the wealthy industrialised north had swapped one disease for another, and with a

*

It was Dr Martins’ work that had stopped what the media had coined the ‘Blood Sweating’ disease. Unsurprisingly it was Sumatra Genetics that took the credit. Again, the relief at having averted the latest of the pandemics the world seemed to be lurching between had shielded Sumatra from public condemnation, allowing it once again to bask in the glory of being its saviour.

Yet again, one of Sumatra’s lines of research had almost spelt disaster for the entire human race. The dodgy genetics company had destroyed many of its research archives in response to investigations into their activities over the years. They had so many rogue scientists and laboratories working under the radar, they weren’t even sure themselves just how many ticking time-bombs were waiting to blow up in their face.

In the meantime, the WHO continued their close monitoring of the increasing occurrence of more virulent strains of malaria across the northern hemisphere …

Dr Martins wasn’t the only one to suspect their problems were only just beginning …

***

Night of the Bed Bugs

BdEver since many of the genetically modified crops and insects had started to mutate in ways their god-playing creators had never imagined, instead of adapting the environment as it had always done, mankind was instead having to insulate itself against it.

Mosquitoes the size of small birds, ant colonies so colossal that they thought nothing of descending on human towns and cities, and a host of new and fatal diseases carried by pesticide-resistant insects had made even a stroll in the countryside a dangerous thing of the past in many parts of the world.

*

Rachael Mills had never felt comfortable venturing beyond the city limits, much preferring the hum of an air-conditioning unit to the sound of the wind, and the feel of carpet or wooden flooring beneath her feet rather than insect-ridden grass or earth. Perhaps it was the spider and cockroach-infested slum she had grown up in that had led to her irrational fear of them, and in turn, of what she thought of as the insect-infested countryside; it wasn’t agoraphobia in the strictest sense, more a fear of nature itself. To her, the growing insect problem was a confirmation of all her views, that the buzzing, stinging creatures of the wild were nothing more than a living disease that crept and crawled.

Even in the relative safety of her sterile city apartment, Rachael had all manner of insect repellent devices humming away, periodically releasing bug killing toxins into the air. The smell of DEET clung to every inch of flooring, furniture, and the walls. In her own room, such was her fear that as a last defence against the insect enemy, Rachael slept under the sort of fine-meshed mosquito net more usually found in the tropics, again drenched in extra-strength DEET.

Mozzie2Little Peter Mills was all of six years old, and not nearly as afraid of monsters as he used to be. He was a big boy now, and while he still enjoyed the magical imagination of a child, he was starting to feel more grown-up every day. But that wasn’t to say he didn’t welcome the reassurance of having his mum tuck him up in bed, safe and sound, telling him not to let the bed bugs bite. So why were they biting?

At first it was a just a slight irritation that had Peter tossing and turning in his bed. To anyone looking in, they would have probably just put it down to restless fidgeting or having a bad dream. But the irritation was getting worse; not enough to wake him, not yet, but the pinprick like sensations sweeping over most of his body were turning his bad dream into a nightmare.

The little lad was thrashing about now, so badly that the tucked in ends of the bed covers had come loose and been thrown to the floor. Just for a moment the irritation stopped, only for it to return with a vengeance as Peter’s tiny but entire body become immersed in it. It was no longer just the increasingly painful nipping away at his skin, every inch of his body now felt like it was on fire. Until then he had been shielded from the worst of the pain by the anaesthetising effect of still being in a half sleep-like state, but the continuous assault on his nerve endings was too much …

Earlier in the day, Peter wished they hadn’t squished so many of the little bugs when his mum had taken him to one of the designer parks, enclosed bio-domes professionally designed for maximum aesthetic appeal.

Though a good imitation of the outside and natural world, to anyone who had grown up before the need for such bio-domes, they were more like a landscape painting, but with all the colour, life and imagination sucked out of it first. But never having been to a real park let alone run wild in the countryside, Peter thought it was just great, with birds flying high above, and little squirrels popping out of nowhere to look up and investigate visitors to their enclosed domain. And to maintain such a good imitation of such natural beauty, a computer-generated optimum number of non-modified insects too had been added to encourage more natural behaviours of the equally optimum numbers of birds and mammals.

His mum had led him to the grass verge beside the artificial wild-life pond for them to enjoy their picnic. The sandwiches and sugary goodies she had packed soon attracted ants and other assorted flying bugs to join them too, and so she immediately gave the flying ones a blast with the super-strength insect repellent spray most citizens now carried with them. She also took hold of a napkin and started brushing the ants away, squashing the ones that were crawling about the grass near where they had placed their picnic food and drinks. She encouraged Peter to brush them away too. He had been reluctant at first, fascinated by the animated movements of the creepy-crawly creatures, happy too to peer at them more closely as he held up an ant-covered hand before his eyes, entranced by their scurrying movements up and down his fingers. His mother was having none of it though, Peter’s hand suddenly finding itself engulfed by a squirt of super-strength insect repellent.

Peter thought it cruel to kill them that way, but his mum had made a game of it, laughing and joking as she went about her crushing of the loathsome little creatures …

“There’s another … and another. Gotya!”

Again and again she would bring her hand down on the tiny helpless ants.

Not wanting to upset his mum or make her think he wasn’t happy she had brought him out, Peter half-heartedly joined in the ant-squishing slaughter …

Peter’s mind exploded into consciousness. The almost instantaneous awareness of the pain he was in sent his body into spasms. He tried to scream but no sound escaped his throat and nor would his body respond to the instinctive urge to move away from whatever it was attacking him. Something in the bites must have paralysed his muscles. He had to lie there, unable to fight the pain while thousands of tiny insect mandibles tore away at his flesh, boring under his toe and fingernails, crawling inside his ears and mouth, eating away from the insides, and lastly the eyes.

It was a small mercy that the same mind that amplified his pain with its awakening was now shutting down, separating what little was left of the boy’s sanity from the reality of what was happening.

The following morning, his mother screamed at the sight of her little boy, a half-eaten body with what little remained covered in vicious swollen red blotches from the thousands of tiny bites of the clearly visible huge bed bugs, still feeding on what was left …

“I don’t understand,” she was sobbing over and over.

“I thought we’d be safe here in one of the population concentrates, away from the country and open ground. Is nowhere safe now?” she asked again and again.

The police officers exchanged worried glances with the security detail attached to them while the white-coated medical staff took samples, sealing them in small vials, and the bedding in toxic bio-hazard bags. Having attended at least a dozen more in the past few months, it wasn’t the first insect-related death the police and white-coated investigators had been called to, but it was the first one in a typically sterile domestic home setting, the smell of DEET and other insect repellents hanging thick in the air.

Until now it had mainly been attacks on stray cats and dogs and other relatively small animals such as the city rat and urban fox populations, though in a city of more than five million, these minor incidents had gone relatively unnoticed, even when they increased in frequency. It wasn’t until the victims became bigger, when street patrols started finding the lifeless remains of the city’s homeless that the authorities started to pay more attention. Some had been stung to death in the way one might expect from a swarm of bees, while others had literally had the flesh stripped from their bones, the only clue to their fate being a few dead insect specimens of the victims’ attackers.

Rachael watched as the authorities carried her son out on a stretcher. She had wanted to accompany them to wherever they were going, but she had been politely but firmly restrained from doing so.

It was neither the morgue nor the hospital they were taking Peter’s body, but a government facility set up to investigate the growing insect problem.

Given Rachael’s naturally distraught and hysterical state, they had also insisted on calling an ambulance to take her to hospital to be treated for shock and grief, but more importantly, to also keep news of the latest incident becoming public knowledge while they tried to convince her of some other believable explanation for her son’s death. They hoped that would be possible, otherwise, she faced becoming another statistic in the missing person figures. 

*

In a nearby apartment to Rachael’s, innumerable tiny eyes watched the two giant residents’ return from their Centre-Parks holiday, a bio-dome resort much like the one Rachael and Peter had visited the week before, only bigger.

To the residents’ uninvited guests, it meant they would once again be vulnerable to attack from the death delivering bug sprays their larger enemies drenched them in at the mere sight or sound of anything that crawled or buzzed.

Though once indifferent to the humans’ presence other than as a source to occasionally snack on small quantities of their blood, the watching eyes now regarded them as a dangerous enemy, one to either be avoided at all costs or attacked without mercy rather than merely tolerated for the sugary foods the tiny creatures were so greatly fond of and which the human giants provided in such abundance.

There was a time when they would simply have moved on to a less hazardous feeding environment, but though tiny in comparison, the bugs were getting bigger too. When a million bugs double in size and number in the space of a single generation, so too does their appetite; blood alone was no longer enough to satisfy their nutritional needs, and the sugary treats the humans unwittingly left for them were hardly an adequate substitute – they had acquired a taste and need for protein-rich flesh to satisfy their growing size and numbers, particularly that of a food source that wasn’t protected by fur, scales, or able to retreat to an environment hostile to the tiny predators.

The human residents’ return had been aptly timed for them; the bugs were hungry with a million more young to feed. They were smart though and didn’t attack immediately, waiting instead till it became dark and their intended food sources retired to their nice warm beds, the same beds the bugs were also partial too.

It was almost a week before the human couple’s absence had been noticed, more than long enough for the bed bugs to finish their meal before the police and white-coated investigators discovered the two human skeletons.

The sight that greeted them was a less ghastly one than on their first visit to the bed bug-ridden apartment block, the bugs having had time to feed uninterested this time. They might have been discovered sooner but similar reports had come in, not just about residents of Rachael’s apartment block, but other throughout the city – the skeleton couple’s discovery was just one among thousands in the coming days following what the press was calling the night of the bed bugs.

Bigger, stronger, and in greater numbers, the bees, the ants, the mosquitoes, and as many different types of insects as you could think of, they all needed to feed … there would be many more such nights of a million other species in the future …

*** 

If you enjoyed these two stories, then stay tuned for next month’s publication of Six, Eight, & Many Legged Tales: A Swarming Mass of Bites and Stings, the third and final book in The Creature Tales collection … in the meantime, Books 1 & 2 are also available …

Coming soon …

Zt7cZ

THEM – Horror book review

THEM4

THEM6James Watts is a US/Alabama based horror writer and author.THEM7 In addition to his debut novel, THEM, he has had short stories appear in several horror anthologies while writing for the horror publisher, HellBound Books.

When not writing himself, he is also an Administrator for the highly active and successful horror promotion and discussion group, Realms of The Damned Horror Society, helping to discover and promote new writers, news, and events in the genre. 

Following the success of THEM, James Watts is busy working on his next book, Beast of Sorrows … 

To keep up with and follow the author, see below for his social media:

THEM3

 

Twitter: @James2go34

Author website: www.james2go33.wixsite.com

Facebook page: @Southernhorrorwriter

Goodreads: James Watts

***

THEM

5starssgs (1)

A great debut horror novel that would sit comfortably among the works of Stephen King & James Herbert …

THEM2With ancient malevolent forces occupying human bodies, innocent looking creatures morphing into hungry life-draining parasites, and a history of evil dating back millennia, these ingredients alone are a recipe for an intriguing horror tale. Added to the mix though are family secrets and rivalries, murder, and an emerging horror triggered by the main character’s return to his childhood home and town to attend his mother’s funeral.

I liked the dramatic start to this book i.e. the events and horror that prelude the opening scenes of Ray Sanders’ return and his mother’s funeral as already mentioned. Having said that, once past the dramatic opening, the book adopts a slower pace while it lays the groundwork for the wider story that follows; James Watts does an excellent job of setting the scene, creating the characters and relationships of a small town, and of relating old rivalries, friendships, and family secrets. Even before events start to take a more sinister turn, the author’s impressive descriptive skills have already conjured up the perfect setting and surroundings in which they unfold … one can almost hear the sound of banjos playing on a southern porch while picturing the image of cabins in the woods, and a character out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre lurking behind every corner, though there are horrors here far worse than any human monster

Apart from a well-constructed story and a rich array of characters, the nitty gritty of the writing was also first class, not shying away from explicit and graphic language at times, but not over-doing it either. Although set in the present, in some ways, ‘THEM’ reads much like old-style horror – not in a dated or old-fashioned way, but in the tradition of, say, Dennis Wheatley or H.P. Lovecraft, though with a healthy resemblance to the blood and gore of some classic 70s/80s’ horror too – in terms of more modern writers, ‘THEM’ would sit quite comfortably nestled among the works of Stephen King and James Herbert … a great debut novel and addition to the horror genre, and hints too of more to come …

***

Video trailer for THEM

 

Click HERE for James M. Watts’ Amazon author page:

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Two Different Specimens – ‘Rat Tales’ short story

Two Different Specimens

rat1RS2179 had been given its final injection. Perhaps this would be the one to bring it the peace it craved. It hoped so.

It was a cold and clinical reference for a living creature. That was the intention – experience had shown such impersonal referencing to be an effective means of helping insulate the laboratory staff from any guilt. Many a brutal dictator had used similar victim classification systems as part of their extermination processes, mainly when they were short on the sort of person who enjoyed such work.

The tiny creature was number two thousand, one hundred and seventy-nine in the extensive list of rat specimens used in the secret 101 faculty’s nasty experiments. ‘Secret’ was a good description of the place in more ways than one. It was not listed in any public domain. It was purposely hidden away from peer scrutiny, its very existence kept secret from all but the shadowy upper echelons of its parent company. Given what went on there, it was as much a dirty little secret as it was a location.

The little creature sensed it was coming to the end of its relatively short existence. But that was okay. It had not been a good life and RS2179 would be glad to see it over. From the moment of RS2179’s birth, the only world it had ever known was the chilly sterile one of the laboratory it had been allocated to. It was never to experience the feel of grass under its feet. The joy of finding some tasty morsel for its next meal was unknown to it. All it knew was the hard-smooth Perspex floor and the dry and tasteless mixture the white-coated laboratory technicians would leave in a tiny bowl at the end of its foot-long cage. The only sounds it heard were the deep thunderous voices of the two-legged giants and the hum of the air conditioning unit that kept the experimental environment at a distressingly low temperature. The lack of any other external stimuli seemed to amplify whatever distress the lifeless prison inflicted on those creatures unfortunate to find themselves there.

Within hours of RS2179’s arrival a few months before, the experiments had begun. It was a rare day when it hadn’t been roughly manhandled from its cage for some new horror at the sharp end of the shiny spikes they would plunge into its body. It had tried struggling and even biting its handlers, but the clothing they wore was too thick to penetrate. The shiny spikes though, they were razor sharp, far more so than its own teeth. And oh, how they hurt. It was a blessing when the rat would sometimes be sent into sleeping darkness less than a minute after one of them pierced its skin. Each time it had hoped not to awaken, only to face disappointment when consciousness returned.

Depositphotos_10948446_dsThe last few times that had been the worse. Usually, the skin piercing spikes would be stabbed into some rear part of its body. The latest ones though had been directed towards the areas around its forehead. For some reason, it wasn’t so frightening when the entry point was out of sight, but seeing the sharp, gleaming tip coming into focus distressed RS2179 so much more.

Unbeknown to RS2179, the laboratory staff had been pumping all sorts of cognitive enhancers into its brain, And, equally unbeknown to the laboratory staff, they were working immeasurably better than their maze running tests would suggest. The microscopic chemical and electrical information exchanges between the synapses were now jumping across time and space, reaching farther out with each new injection.

For now, that wasn’t much of a consolation to RS2179. Its use was at an end other than what details might be gleaned from a post-mortem of their effects on its general physiology. That would have been fine were the rat actually dead.

Just as lethal injections were far from being a failsafe procedure with humans, they were even less so with rats. There had been no check on the complete absence of brain activity in the rat, just a rudimentary investigation of its heartbeat and non-response to being gently stabbed at with a pencil. Most of the life had indeed slipped from its body, but deep inside the rat’s brain and mind there was still a dying flicker of life, enough to make it aware of everything going on. It had been robbed of its ability to struggle or resist but sadly, not its feeling and consciousness. It was aware of being lifted and placed in the dissecting tray. Then the cold feel of the Nitrile gloved fingers moving about its body, poking and pulling, feeling about its abdomen and head, contorting its limbs into unnatural positions.

Its enhanced awareness helped limit the confusion and emotional distress it might otherwise have felt, but it was a double-edged sword – it now had a rudimentary understanding of the various instruments it could see in its limited field of vision, and even some of the human sounds they were making. Glad though it was, knowing it would soon be dead, the suffering it was likely to endure beforehand was ample reason to be afraid.

dissecting_tools“I’m ready to proceed,” Lance Nelson told his colleagues. They had already prepared the equipment he would need: a dissecting tray and board, scissors, a scalpel, a variety of probes, and several pins.

RS2179 was again manhandled from the dissecting tray to being placed on its back on a wooden board. Its limbs were stretched out in a spread-eagled position and pins inserted, one through the palms of each of its tiny feet, and three more along its tail. The pins were super sharp and thin, and so the pain of their entry was quite momentary. Still, the rat wished for the darkness and death to overcome it, watching the white-coated two-legged giant reach for a scalpel. Lance hesitated for a moment, imagining he saw a flicker of recognition in the creature’s eyes. He dismissed it as a trick of the light and proceeded to cut along the surface skin and tissue of the abdomen. No sound emerged from its mouth, but inside its head, RS2179 was screaming, its short-lived enhanced awareness now given over to overwhelming fear and blind panic. Another perpendicular slice of the scalpel, this time a fraction deeper, sent its pain receptors into over-drive, flooding its mind with sensations no creature, sentient or otherwise should ever have to purposely endure. A probe was used to prod at its internal organs, moving them this way and that to check for inflammation and discolouring …

“Everything looks normal. Respiratory, heart and other organs all look intact. Now moving onto the muscle and fatty tissues,” the voice was saying. RS2179 didn’t understand the words but realised what was about to happen, watching the scalpel move towards one of its limbs. It was all too much for the suffering creature to willingly endure. Its mind was beginning to shut down, severing itself from the torrent of impulses attacking its pain receptors. The pain was still unimaginable, but it was mostly starting to subside. The end was mercifully close, but there was one more ordeal to come, and the worst.

The scalpel disappeared out of sight. The suffering creature soon became aware of its new location though when it felt the pain inflicting instrument slicing through the back of its skull. Its mind filled with an explosion of light and colour as its brain was literally cut in two. Such trauma came as a blessing. There was no more pain, just the dying of its brain cells and the last remnants of its tortured mind. The last flicker of life passed into darkness.

“Nothing much to be learnt here,” Lance said, “might as well clean up. Dispose of it will you?”

*

Three months later

Lance Nelson felt a buzzing about his head as he got into the car. He wasn’t particularly alarmed by it. There was all manner of wildlife about given the proximity to the nearby extensive forest. The high walls and other barriers kept most of it at bay, but even the faculty’s state of the art security and remote location wasn’t going to keep out the bugs and insects.

TLS1, the first two-legs human specimen of its kind was laid out on the rocky surface of the cave floor. It had amused the rats to choose a classification mocking that of their human counterparts.

TLS1’s mind was now stirring as it returned to consciousness. The first things it saw and felt were the various insects and spiders crawling about its body, biting, and feeding off him – it was a far cry from the clean and gleaming sterile environment of the lab but more than adequate to serve the same purpose. The human specimen was in pain too. That was the first realisation that everything about him was horribly real and not the nightmare he had thought, and indeed hoped it might be. There was a thumping in his head, worse than any hangover he’d ever had, and he was sure of a couple of cracked ribs too. He could just about roll his eyes to look down and along his body; he was bruised and scratched. Another worry was being naked as he was. How had that come about? Had he been kidnapped? Something to do with his work at the lab he speculated. His mind began to clear. He could see rats, lots of them darting back and forth, just out of reach had he indeed been able to move.

Those same creatures he had once experimented on and cut into pieces now inspired in him the same sort of fear they must have felt.

He was briefly reminded of George Orwell’s novel, 1984, and the Room 101 scene where people would be confronted with their own worst fears. The central character’s overwhelming fear had been rats. It dawned on him why the research centre where he worked was often referred to as the 101 Faculty. Someone’s idea of a sick joke?  Whatever the reasoning, it was hardly amusing given his present circumstances.

The insects and other crawling things were minute in comparison, and so the rats were content to allow them some tiny share of their spoils. It would have been ungracious not to, especially given the help they had been in delivering the specimen – rats weren’t the only creatures being experimented on in that place.

Lance wanted to scream, to struggle, to swat and brush them away just like he would if seeing a fly or a spider buzzing or crawling about his home. None of that was an option now. Not a sound escaped his lips, and except for the occasional involuntary shudder, his body made no response to any mental commands to move. He tried thinking back on how it came to be there. The last thing TLS1 remembered was getting into his car. Something had stung or bitten him. It hadn’t been painful, but enough to get his attention. He remembered thinking at the time of being glad he hadn’t been driving and paid it no consideration other than to reopen his car door to shoo whatever it was out of the car. After that he’d set off for home, confident that whatever it was had flown off into the night air. And then … nothing.

Like those laboratory victims, this human one had also been rendered incapable of movement or resistance, though not by the same means. The rats had no access to or even the means or understanding yet to administer muscle relaxants or anaesthetising drugs, not that it mattered. They would not have been inclined to using them regardless if they had. They had other means for now, albeit cruder and somewhat less ‘humane.’

While still unconscious, several of the rats had nibbled deep into TLS1’s naked flesh, not to feed but merely sever vital nerves, paralysing its movement. It was unfortunate for the specimen they hadn’t miscalculated and severed more vital ones, either killing or at least neutralising its pain carrying nerve endings too. They had done neither. The specimen remained conscious and aware of the slightest touch to its skin, right up to the gentle breeze of a nearby mosquito fluttering its wings.

The rats’ purpose in bringing the specimen there was two-fold. Firstly, they wanted to know just how much tissue loss and damage a human could sustain before death quickly followed, and anything else they could learn. The other reason was a more basic one – revenge; they not only knew of RS2179’s ordeal before it died, but they had also felt it too, living every moment of their little cousin’s pain and fear, powerless to help. Their minds had been connected, and along with all the pain they had shared, they had also taken on its cognitive enhancements and had their own synapses super-charged. The new-found intelligence it gave them was as much a curse as it was a gift, or so it seemed at the time. It was an experience that would stay with the thousand plus numbered mischief of rats for as long as they lived. It seemed only fair to share that experience with their current specimen …

A lone rat, the dominant one of the mischief, crawled up onto its abdomen. It started to nibble away just above the belly button. Its teeth and claws were more than sufficient to tear away a few inches of skin and subcutaneous tissue beneath. More of them approached, hesitantly at first. The dominant looked round to them with a nod of acknowledgement. After that, they approached more confidently. The specimen silently shrieked as one it hadn’t seen started to crawl up the back of its head and over the face. Claws scraped along its eyes. It tried to close them, the eyelids being the only part of its body other than the eyes themselves that still responded. It was no use. Another rat had joined it, using its claws to pull back the other eyelid while a third used its teeth to literally slice at the eyeball itself. There are no words to adequately describe the sense of panic and revulsion going through the specimen’s mind at that moment. And that was just the beginning … it was about to get worse … much worse.

Depositphotos_8609426_dsThe slow and meticulous way the rats tore away at the flesh and internal organs had been calculated to cause the most amount of pain for the maximum amount of time. All the time the specimen clung to life, its blood remained warm and tastier to its insect and arachnid feeders. The rats too were feeding off the extremities, but only in small tiny rat-sized bites. They paid particular attention to its genital area, knowing from its mind the additional psychological impact of that.

*

The rats learnt a lot from TLS1: rates of blood loss, pain tolerances, and even some insight into the working of its mind from their synaptic connection – that last aspect hadn’t been as intense or well-defined as with their little cousin, RS2179, but enough for them all to revel in the hated two-legs’ suffering.

Despite their giant size and, for now, superior intelligence, the two-legs were not so nearly adept at coping with the sort of procedures the rats and other creatures had had to contend with for as long as any of them could remember. The two-legs feared death and would fight its inevitability in any way they could.

They would need more such specimens, different ages, sexes, and the like if they were to learn more. They would also need a more efficient means of getting them too; relying on their insect allies stinging them into darkness was not ideal. The one they had just dissected might well have died in the car crash, and it had been no easy task dragging its body back to their underground cave. As it was, it was already bruised and damaged when they got it. The rats still had much to learn in trapping live prey like the two-legs did, but they would learn from them, adapting their methods to suit their own smaller size and different skill sets.

Still, there remained over a hundred more of the two-legs working at the 101 faculty. There would be plenty of time and opportunity for the rats to improve their skills.

rat2Lance Nelson had taken three days to die. It was a death no creature, sentient or otherwise should ever deliberately have to suffer.

That rats had thought otherwise. Not bad for a first specimen, they congratulated themselves. They could, and would do better … Next time.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more rat-related tales, they can all be found in Book One of my Creature Tales collection …

Click title below for universal amazon link …

Rat Tales: A Mischief of Little horrors

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Book Review – Embrace The Darkness

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pj3Peter lives with his wife and four children in a small town in Sussex, England. As well as being a keen cook and wine enthusiast, Peter has been writing poetry and short stories for almost twenty years. It had always been an ambition to complete a novel and, after the success of his debut, The Broken Doll, it has been fantastic to have the opportunity to turn a hobby into a new career. Since the release of The Broken Doll in February 2017, Peter has released the follow-up novel, Shattered Pieces, as well as three collections of short horror stories, and a children’s book. Peter has had work published in a number of anthologies, is the Editor-in-Chief of Indie Writers Review, and is the co-founder of Red Cape Publishing.

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Embrace The Darkness

5starssgs (1)

Dark, full of suspense, and highly original … a great collection of little horrors!

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I’d seen a few reviews of this author’s work, and a couple of mentions on the social media horror circuit so thought I’d give him a try. From the very first story, I knew I was in for a dark treat with the other five stories. Most follow the traditional ‘twist in the tale’ format, but really, they’re more like deadly stings from a scorpion tail … don’t be expecting any nice ‘happy ever after’ endings here!

I loved the dark originality and diversity of all these stories; they do draw on some traditional horror themes such as witchcraft, medical horror, and dreamlike states for their subject matter but were nonetheless, unlike most others I’ve ever read. Although quite brutal and horrific at times, the author manages to create such horror without the need to resort to excessive blood and gore, relying more on suspense and atmosphere. Will definitely be reading/reviewing more of this author’s work in the future … a well-deserved 5-stars!

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P.J. Blakey-Novis’s social media … 

Website: www.redcapepublishing.com

Twitter:  @pjbn_author

Facebook: @pjbnauthor

Email:   –   pjblakey-novis@outlook.com

&

Click HERE for the author’s full catalogue of work & Amazon author page …

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Short story – Blind Devotion

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Another short story taster from my up-coming anthology, Canine Tales: A  Growling Pack of Hungry Horrors, book 2 in my Creature Tales collection (due out the end of March this year).

Blind Devotion

puppy1Lucy first met her master to be as a wee young pup, no bigger than a palm-sized tiny ball of mischievous fur, but with a heart as big as the world. In stark contrast to the gorgeous golden coat of fur starting to emerge, she had the sort of big beautiful brown puppy eyes that made you instantly fall in love with her.

The introduction was to see if she immediately took to the man whose life she would hopefully transform. From the moment she was placed on the couch beside him, Lucy nestled up beside his leg. The man sitting there instinctively reached down to caress and stroke her back. Lucy liked that, turning to lick his hand. It was clear from the start they were going to be a good match when the time came.

Vince Downing had slowly been losing his sight for several years. It was just a matter of time, perhaps a year to eighteen months at most before the last flicker of light disappeared forever. He wasn’t bitter about it, just one of those things, the luck of the draw as he would say. But he already missed his independence and hoped a guide dog would at least help make him less reliant on others. In return, he would love and care for that dog with every fibre of his being; like Lucy, he had the kindest nature you could hope for in a man, or indeed a dog too. Thankfully, Vince still had enough sight left to cope with the 12 months of puppy raising before she went off to the training centre. It practically broke his heart when the time came to wave his faithful companion off after guide dog trainer, Chris Morton, arrived to collect her.

 

puppy2Lucy had been a dream to work with, and Chris Morton would be sorry to see her go, more than he cared to admit even to himself. He’d made the cardinal mistake of any trainer in becoming overly fond of one of his charges. Lucy too had grown to love the man who had patiently taught her all she knew, but even so, Chris was a sighted man, and would never need her in the way she was being trained for. Lucy understood this.

She was a natural for the job; it wasn’t that she was some blindly obedient canine equivalent of a sat-nav, she had a wilful and mischievous playful streak, but when it came to the important stuff, she instinctively knew what was expected. Come ‘playtime’ though, she always enjoyed the rewards of all the hard work she was putting in. But after nearly 9 months of obedience and guidance training, Lucy was ready to fulfil the role she’d been earmarked for when her loveable nature and extraordinary intelligence had first been remarked on.

The timing was fortuitous – Vince had less than 5 per cent of his sight now and had officially registered as fully blind. All that was forgotten though when Chris brought Lucy back. Vince recognised her bark immediately.

 

“Hello, my Lucy, I’ve missed you so sooooo much, girl,” Vince said, kneeling to give her a welcoming stroke of her back. Lucy licked at his hand, just like she used to when he was puppy raising her. Now though, she held her boisterous personality in check – no sudden jumping up at him or quite the same playful nature as before. Lucy had been taught well; she knew her master’s limitations and her role as his guide and protector.

For the next three years, the two of them were very happy together. Lucy was everything Vince could have wanted in a guide dog, and just as importantly, as faithful a friend and companion as ever lived.

With all the modern technology and speech to text software available, Vince was able to continue his career as a successful writer. With several best-sellers to his name, Vince was now a very wealthy man. Such success had attracted a lot of interest of late, though in the most recent case, not from a good source. In a recent interview, the subject of his blindness had come up, something a certain career criminal by the name of Dean Smith had picked up on. Dean was a thief, burglar, and one-time street robber, the last of which he’d given up when one of his victims decided to fight back. Nowadays he was far more selective about his victims, usually picking the elderly or otherwise vulnerable. Vince Downing sounded like a perfect candidate.

Though not the smartest guy in the world, Dean knew his way around a keyboard and the internet and was soon able to discover the well-to-do address where Vince lived. A quick check on StreetView showed it to be an expensive house too, no doubt filled with valuables. He made his plans accordingly …

 

It seemed like the perfect night to put his plans into operation. Months of planning and preparation, and exploiting Vince’s blindness, had allowed him to neutralise the problem of Vince’s burglar alarms and other security measures. His only concern was Vince’s guide dog. Observation had revealed she had free run of the extensive gardens to the back of Vince’s house day and night. Dean figured that throwing  several pieces of drugged meat in them enough to keep her quiet on the night; his first thought had been to simply lace said meat with some fatal poison, but he’d read somewhere that if he used enough to ensure death, a dog’s acute sense of smell might alert it to the danger. On the other hand, if he used less than a significant amount, he’d have no way of knowing how long it would be to take effect. Reluctantly, Dean opted for lacing it with a sleeping draft, harmless in the long-term, but sufficient to knock her out long enough to rob Vince’s house without interference once inside. As it happened, his plan worked better than he could have hoped for. Lucy enthusiastically devoured the bait, quickly succumbing to its effects.

Noticing the increasing lethargy of his beloved companion, Vince wasted no time in calling for a vet, and Lucy’s trainer, Chris Morton. The fact that she simply appeared ill rather than there being any obvious effects of being poisoned, it didn’t arouse the same sort of suspicion that would have followed the latter.

Dean was watching from inside his van at a discreet distance when both the vet and Lucy’s trainer arrived. Shortly afterwards, the dog was taken away in the veterinary ambulance with Chris in attendance. Vince had wanted to go too but had reluctantly accepted Chris’s assurances that he would stay with her until the vets gave the okay to bring her home.

Vince was now in the house alone. It was already getting late and the time Vince usually went to bed. Nonetheless, Dean waited another hour, not being able to rely on the usual turning off of lights to indicate Vince going to bed as he would with a sighted person.  Dean figured though on having several hours at the very least, and more probably until the next day before the dog was likely to be returned home. Still, he was anxious to get in and out asap; the last thing he wanted was to wait too long and risk being interrupted in the middle of a robbery. With the alarms already taken care of and the dog out of the way, Dean made his way through the rear garden, entering the house via one of the back doors. That was the point where things started to go awry. Dean had been wrong to think Vince would simply go to bed, knowing his beloved Lucy might be fighting for her life. Of course, he hadn’t gone to bed. What would be the point given the worry and turmoil raging through his mind? Even so, being worried and anxious wasn’t enough to stop Vince from picking up on the faint noise Dean was making as he rummaged through Vince’s study and other rooms to the rear of the house, assuming the occupant to be asleep upstairs. It was perhaps that same worry and anxiety that prevented Vince from thinking straight; he had a panic button/app on his mobile phone to trigger an alert to the local police station, but he’d left it in the kitchen, and instead. instinctively called out …

“Hello, is someone there?” Dean froze. The voice sounded like it had come from close-by, an adjacent room maybe, but certainly a downstairs one. The sensible thing to do would have been to get the hell out. But not Dean. He had invested a lot of time and effort into this job and wasn’t about to give it up.

In the semi-dark, he worried that Vince might have an advantage in a confrontation and switched a light on to see better. He took an involuntary gasp at seeing Vince standing in an opposite doorway just a few feet away.

“Please, I know someone’s there. Please, just go, I won’t call the authorities or anything,” Vince pleaded. Again, Dean was being given a second chance to cut his losses and run.  Instead of taking it, he instinctively lunged and struck Vince with the flashlight he was still holding. It was a hard blow that sent him crashing to the ground and combined with the force his head hit the polished wooden floor, a fatal one too. It wasn’t how he had planned things, but Dean knew he could dispense with being so quiet now and proceeded to ransack the house for any cash or high-value items.

Chris tried phoning Vince later that night to let him know Lucy had had her stomach pumped and would recover just fine. There was no answer. He guessed Vince must have gone to bed, and so elected to return with Lucy the next morning. Again, there was no answer to the doorbell. Lucy was barking loudly; not the usual enthusiastic barking that you might expect from being reunited with her owner, but a more urgent and agitated sort, so Chris used the key Vince had given him to let himself in. As soon as the door opened, Lucy pulled free of Chris and ran inside to where Vince was lying. Had he simply been unconscious or asleep, Lucy would have licked at his face, nudging him with her nose to try and waken him, but Lucy knew the smell of death, and that her beloved owner wasn’t going to be getting up to stroke and caress her ever again. She slumped beside him, softly whining. Chris joined them a moment later, kneeling to take Vince’s pulse to check for life despite the futility; he could see from Lucy’s body language and lack of interaction with her owner that Vince was surely dead.

 

Chris Morton was not happy with the decision to assign Lucy elsewhere quite so soon after her owner’s death, especially given that Vince had left him his house and a large sum of money for Lucy’s future care and veterinary bills. Ideally, he would have liked to take Lucy himself, allowing her to continue living in the home she had shared with her former master. But guide dogs possessed exceptional qualities and were expensive to train. There simply weren’t enough of them to go around, and not to reassign her would be too much of a waste. Chris understood the reasoning and agreed to introduce her to a prospective new owner.

The man in question had recently been blinded in a street attack, acid thrown in his face according to the file. While feeling sorry for the man, Chris couldn’t help but wonder might have provoked such a vicious attack. It could of course have just been another senseless act of violence, but if not, it worried him then just what sort of man he would be leaving Lucy with? He forced himself to put the thought from his mind as he made his way to the man’s apartment.

There was no garden for her to play in, and the area was in the poorer part of town, not the sort of place he would want for Lucy. But rich and poor alike were deserving of the very best help they could get, and if he was a decent sort, there was no reason to believe Lucy wouldn’t adapt and be just as happy as she had been with Vince.

The meeting was short and perfunctory. The man seemed to have little interest in asking questions about Lucy’s care other than how much it cost to feed a mutt? Lucy for her part didn’t display the usual degree of curiosity and affection either when meeting someone new for the first time. Oddly, she seemed more interested in sniffing about the man’s apartment, in his closets and cupboards like a sniffer dog looking for drugs. After completing a few formalities, Chris reluctantly left Lucy in the man’s care, determined not to allow his misgivings to influence him.

 

Lucy was guiding her new master to some local street corner. To exactly where and what for, Lucy had no way of knowing, her job was to simply ensure he got to wherever he was walking without mishap. It was night, and while that made no difference to the man at the other end of the leash, it was not ideal for Lucy guiding him.

They stopped at a crossing. Despite the late hour, there was a lot of noise and activity, too much for the audible warning to either wait or cross to be heard. Lucy could see and hear the approach of the oncoming bus. A gentle tug on her lead was the cue for her master that it was safe to cross. A split second later he caught the full force of the bus, killing him instantly. Thankfully, Lucy had managed to jump back in the nick of time, her leash immediately dropped from her master’s grasp at the moment of impact, and so she remained safe. The police and an ambulance quickly arrived on the scene, but too late. Lucy had stayed put where she was just as she was trained to do. The emergency service staff arranged for Lucy to be returned to the guide dog training centre as per the information on her dog tag. 

Back at the centre, there was some discussion on how such an accident could have occurred. Lucy was by far the best guide dog they had ever trained, but Chris was able to successfully argue that given the circumstances, Lucy could no longer be relied upon in the role. No one objected to Chris applying for her custody.

 

Epilogue …

Subsequent investigations into the background of Lucy’s second deceased master threw up some interesting results. A search of his apartment revealed several items stolen from Vince Downing’s house along with forensic and DNA evidence linking him to the tragic robbery and murder. It was those same items that had almost certainly prompted Lucy to immediately start sniffing around the apartment when Chris first took her there. Some remnant of Vince’s scent was probably what had alerted her, though Chris was hardly to know that at the time. Speculation immediately arose as to whether Lucy may have deliberately allowed Dean Smith to walk into oncoming traffic, leading to do his death?

There were a few jobsworth officials who tried to insist that Lucy might be a danger to people and since, for obvious reasons, Lucy could not be questioned on the matter, it might be best to have her put down. On the other hand, the consensus was that Dean had got exactly what he deserved. There was little doubt either that the acid attack had most likely been related to his criminal activities, and besides, any suggestion of taking action against Lucy would have outraged every dog and other animal lover in the country. The last thing any Texas judge wanted was to be the first in the world’s execution capital to be the voted out of office by the dog vote.

To this day, Lucy still sleeps on her favourite rug in the exact spot where her former master, Vince, had died.

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For more canine-themed stories – some sad, some savage, and others more subtle – keep tuned for:

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Publication date – 31st March 2019

Flash Fiction story – Bad Review

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Based on an Fb news post that was shared with my ISAD writing group, I decided to apply a little of the ‘Rudders Writing’ touch to it.  Hope you enjoy it …

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Bad Review

typewriter2Sonia Dixon just loved to read. Her favourite genre was crime and murder, the bloodier and gorier the better. She was also a successful author, blogger, and reviewer, and just as she strove to produce the very best in her own writing, she demanded it too in the many books she was sent for review on her blog.

The cover and blurb for ‘Piling up the Bodies’ by Nick Hazelwood had promised much but delivered little. In fact, it was by far the worst book she’d read since she couldn’t remember when. Unfortunately, Nick hadlittlerat1 already been blogging and posting that the famous authoress, Sonia Dixon, was eagerly devouring his debut novel, even before she’d read the first page. In doing so, Nick had made it difficult for her to privately message him with a polite ‘it’s not really my thing, sorry. Good luck with your future writing.’

Well okay, he would get his public review …

 

‘A great idea for a story but poorly handled. The methods of execution and body disposal were too bland for me. Personally, I prefer something a little more imaginative than simple bludgeoning and dismembering and feeding the bodies to the dogs? Sorry, but not my cup of tea.’

 

To say Nick Hazelwood wasn’t pleased with the review of his literary masterpiece would be the mother of all understatements. He imagined all manner of horrible things he would do to the high and mighty Sonia Dixon, ways of killing her far worse than that of any of his literary victims, though not of course before giving her a piece of his mind on how wrong she was about his fantastic book. With the aid of social media, it was a straightforward matter tracking down the address of a high-profile authoress. It was a bit out of the way, some farm in the middle of nowhere in fact. That suited his purposes perfectly …

 

Living in the remote highlands of Scotland, Sonia Dixon wasn’t used to visitors, so was more than a little intrigued at who might be at the door …

 

“Hello, can I help you?” she asked the man standing before her. It wasn’t anyone from one of the neighbouring farms, and yet, he looked familiar, though she couldn’t remember from where

 “Call yourself a writer?” Nick screamed at her, “what’s wrong with feeding body parts to the dogs? All the crap you write is more like the stuff of cheap, second-rate B-movie horror scripts.”

“Uh?” was her first response, not sure of what else to say?

“It’s writers like you who keep readers hooked on a diet of cliched rubbish while real talent goes undiscovered.” Sonia Dixon was confused. Yes, she’d heard the same old drivel a thousand time before, but only online, not on her fucking doorstep. Then the penny dropped, his mention of feeding bodies to the dogs. She remembered where she’d seen him before, well, his blog avatar anyway.

“Don’t you think it would have been more appropriate to say all that in an email rather than travelling hundreds of miles? Or did you just want to be offensive in person?” That wasn’t the response Nick had expected. She was supposed to be scared, terrified even of what was going to happen next, just like his literary victims. Instead, she was mocking him, just like she’d done in her review. He was about to push past her when she invited him in.

“Why don’t we discuss your issues inside? I’ll make you a nice cup of tea while you calm down, and then we can talk about your book and the review.” Nick nodded his agreement. The first thing he noticed were the shelves and shelves of ‘true and unsolved’ crime books lining the walls and every little nook and cranny. Meanwhile, Sonia had made her way to the adjacent kitchen. Nick kept her in his sight, checking she wasn’t using her mobile to call for help. Actually, that was the last thing on her mind. A few minutes later she returned with their tea.

 

Nick was too drowsy from the sleeping pills she’d slipped him to see the blow coming. A solid whack with a poker to the back of his head had put an immediate end to his now slurred droning of how wrong she was about bludgeoning victims to death and feeding them to the dogs.

 

One week later …

block1Nick’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time. ‘Writer’s Block’ had been crippling Sonia Dixon’s creativity, not that that stopped readers from screaming for another blood and gore fest horror from her. Thanks to Nick, she was now several thousand words into what she hoped would be another best-seller. She had to admit, elements of Nick’s story had worked a treat for her. She only had the one dog, ChiChi, a pint-sized sausage dog, and hardly big enough to devour a whole man, but she did have several pigs that fulfilled the role even better.pigs1

She made a note to write more scathing reviews in the future, especially for when the dreaded Writer’s Block hit again.

 

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like this, please stay tuned for:

Scheduled for publication, June/July 2019

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Short Story – A taster from my up-coming anthology, Canine Tales, book2 in The Creature Tales collection …

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Still some final edits to go, but a little preview taster story from Canine Tales, book 2 of my Creature Tales collection – Twenty-four ‘canine-themed’ tales, drawing their inspiration from mythology, folklore, and traditional horror: tales of touching loyalty sit alongside those of throat-ripping savagery, from the modern day all the way back to Biblical times.

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***

Cerebus

df1There aren’t words to accurately portray the sheer viciousness of an organised dog-fight. Think of the most brutal boxing or cage fight you ever saw. Now imagine that fight being fought bare-knuckle instead of gloved, and the fighters wearing sharp protruding rings on their hands to rip at their opponents’ face, eyes, and body. There are no rounds between which wounds or injuries can be attended, no referee to ensure fairness or enforce the rules – there are no rules.

Perhaps not since gladiatorial Rome had such barbarism existed for viewing entertainment, and even then, at least those combatants knew why they were fighting, with the remote possibility of freedom or some reward for putting on a good show. Imagine all this multiplied a thousand times, and still it won’t come close to the bloody spectacle of a dog-fight.

Seven such dog-fights had taken place the night Geoff Richards’ life was to change, quite literally forever.

It had been another profitable show, not even marred by two of the combatants having died from their injuries. Geoff had made a lot of money and was proud it was two of his own Staffordshire Bull Terriers that had been the ones to inflict those fatal outcomes. They had been hard fights though. Every dog that had taken part fought with a savagery to match that of any wild born creature. But Geoff’s dogs, they were something entirely different. If it weren’t that every combatant was checked over before a match, the baying spectators and other dog owners, or ‘dogmen’ as they called themselves, would have sworn Geoff’s hounds were either possessed or infected with some maddening rabid disease, making them fight like the devil. Even so, there was no occult or extraordinary secret to Geoff’s dogs’ extreme savagery other than the dogman’s willingness and determination to use every trick in the book to make them so. He gave no thought of the long-term health problems in using the same anabolic steroids he used in his own bodybuilding to increase their muscle mass and aggressiveness. Like most fighting dogs, Geoff’s were devoid of any social skills from having been raised in isolation, mostly at the end of short heavy chains. But even without the drug-induced ‘roid-rage,’ such a life was practically guaranteed to produce brutalised hate-filled creatures or ‘canine killing machines’ as he liked to call them.

In many ways, Geoff Richards was a man born out of his time. He would have been more in his element amid the Victorian London seedy alehouses, when and where all manner of such barbarous blood sports were at their height of popularity, and more shamefully, were as legal and accepted as placing a bet on the horses is today. A century later though, a more civilised society had moved on; the likes of Geoff and his fellow dog fighting enthusiasts had not.

After the usual night’s drinking, settling of bets lost and won and the swapping of fight and other dog-related stories that followed such an event, Geoff made his excuses and left. He faced a long drive home from the remote farm where this latest dog fighting horror had taken place, one of many such venues where fans of the supposed ‘sport’ could indulge their perverse fascination with such heinous cruelty.

Getting into his car was the last thing Geoff remembered from his life as a dogman.

 

Were it not for the immediate danger, Geoff would have given more thought to where he was and how he came to be there, but such trivial concerns were the last thing on his mind at the moment …

They were getting closer. Never had Geoff seen such a ferocious looking pack of dogs, which for a dogman, was quite something. He counted three, but it was difficult to tell given the darkness and remote location. Still, the roar-like bellowing of distant, angry growls and snarls made him think there might be several more just out of sight. He knew it would be a hopeless task attempting to outrun them if they gave chase, but an instinct for survival compelled him to try.

 

Three-headed dog Cerberus.Mention the name Cerebus and most people if they’ve heard it before would likely tell of some mythical three-headed beast of a dog guarding the gates of Hell. Of course, no one believed such myths now despite the test-tube monstrosities presently being created in rogue laboratories across the world. Nor do most still believe in the concept of Hell, except perhaps ones of their own making.

It was quite a shock then when Geoff Richards found himself confronted with both; the sight standing before him was several orders of magnitude more frightening than the horror he had just run from, only to see it leap and land to his front. It was another shock to realise too it had not been three dogs he had seen, but one enormous three-headed monster, the like of which defied even the darkest imagination. The creature’s teeth would have glistened like finely sharpened ivory tusk-sized fangs but for being coated with copious amounts of foul-smelling drool, mixed with the still warm blood of its last meal. Everything Geoff’s father had ever said about never showing fear to a dog, that they were more afraid of you, suddenly seemed absurd. Only an imbecile wouldn’t have trembled before the monstrous sight towering over him. Geoff doubted that even the Devil himself could induce the slightest fear in this particular dog, wondering if this was indeed the Devil himself in canine form. He was not far off the mark in his speculations …

Cerebus was a great favourite of Satan and was confident the Horned one would let him keep this mortal dross for his own savage amusement. Oh yes, Cerebus had grand plans for the quivering frail man creature.

 

Geoff was past any hope he might soon wake up from his starring role in the bloody nightmare unfolding around him. Cerebus had bellowed another mighty growl, the deafening intensity of which had sent Geoff fleeing for all his worth, headlong into the dark of the surrounding woods. It was only the fire and lightning illuminating patches of the ground and sky that made it possible for Geoff not to hurtle face first into some tree trunk or tumble head over heels. But whatever benefit the flames of the fire provided in the way of light, it took back in other ways. Great wafts of smoke drifted and blew all directions, sometimes obscuring his vision, but mostly filling his lungs to the point of choking. Still, it was a relief there seemed no open space where the creature he had just fled might reappear. Sadly, for Geoff, that relief wasn’t to last.

df2A new pack of growling hounds had appeared. They were immeasurably smaller than Cerebus, and yet, they seemed all the more terrifying for their seemingly normal size up close. This time there were no heavy chains to keep the dogs in check or a weapon with which he could defend himself should a dog go rogue on him. At any other time, he would have felt embarrassed by the slow trickle of urine now escaping his bladder, but given the circumstances, it was quite inconsequential. Geoff knew Cerebus could snuff out his life with a single swipe of a paw, or rend his body into a dozen pieces in the blink of an eye if it chose – either would be a quick and merciful death – but these, they were of a size that made it possible for Geoff to perhaps offer some token resistance, enough to drag out his suffering several more agonising minutes.

They were circling him now, making it impossible for Geoff to know from which direction the first bite or clawing would come. Before he knew it, teeth and nails were ripping through his soiled trousers, simultaneously shredding the flesh from his lower legs even as he felt his body falling to the ground. More bites quickly followed, more rending of flesh by sharp claw-clad paws, but now, all about every part of his body.

And then, quite suddenly, the attack stopped, the dogs’ angry growling silenced by a more thunderous one from God knows where. Just as suddenly, the dogs scampered away into the night. Geoff didn’t know whether to be relieved for the however brief respite or further terrified that instead of a quick death, it would be an excruciatingly slow and painful one from the savage mauling he had suffered. Oddly though, the pain was beginning to subside ever so slightly, and looking down and about his bloodied legs and torso, neither was pouring out blood as he expected. His mind returned to the dogs that had just attacked him. Now that he had a moment to think, he was reminded of the many dogs he had trained to fight, and that same look of wretchedness of their opponents. Those minute details started to haunt his mind: the ripped ears and every old wound and battle scar screaming of a violent and savage past. They were clearly fighting dogs, dogs that had taken part in battles to the death, and evidently the victors in such battles. Even with his own steroid fuelled pit bull like physique, he doubted now if he really could have fended them off for any amount of time had they continued their attack. For now, he was simply glad of the chance to rest. Everything started to go black as lay back on the grass …

*

“It’s an unusual case,” Dr Ronald Marsh was telling his attentive audience, students from the sanatorium’s neural studies department. “Despite the patient’s comatose state, he’s prone to violent thrashing about, hence the use of the restraints while we sedate him. He should remain quiet now for several hours.” Geoff was strapped down on a gurney, like some state prisoner about to be administered a lethal injection. Were such an action able to release him from his nightmare state, Geoff would have gladly accepted it.

“And he’s been like this for how long?” asked one of the students.

“Seventeen years now to the day since he was dragged from the burning car he’d crashed. I can’t imagine the traumas running through his mind to invoke such reaction, even under heavy sedation.”

Though loath to admit it, the sanatorium staff thought it might be a mercy to their comatose patient to ‘gently slip away’ in his sleep one quiet night. They weren’t to know that Geoff’s many years of suffering were just a prelude to his eventual arrival in a realm beyond that of his mortal mind and body. However long he had or was destined to suffer his nightmares, it would seem like a fleeting moment in comparison to the eternity that awaited.

*

Geoff wasn’t sure how long he’d slept but he was sure it had been several hours, maybe longer given how much better he felt. His body no longer hurt or ached. As his mind brushed aside the cobweb strands that briefly tie us between that half-way state between sleep and consciousness, memories of his ordeal with the dogs came flooding back. Hell, that was some nightmare, he thought, judging from the drenching of stale sweat he was lying in. Still, it was over, time to get up. He went to pull back the bedclothes he assumed would be covering him. They weren’t there, and he felt cold – much colder than if he were back in his own bed if that was the case? Nor was he lying on some nice comfortable mattress. Whatever it was, it was stone hard and icy too. Perhaps’ he’d fallen to the floor in his sleep? Geoff raised himself up. All he had to do was turn on a light and this nightmare would be done with. He’d barely taken two steps when a sudden and painful jolt to his ankle stopped him in his tracks. He reached down to feel what it was. He was chained by the ankle to what felt like a rock-like wall, the sort of chain he used to tether his dogs before a match. His eyes were adjusting to the dark and he could see he was in some sort of pit, about 20 or so feet square, much like the pits many a dog fight took place. Coincidence? Geoff thought not. He was still in his nightmare, albeit seemingly recovered from the last part of it, but equally dreading what might be coming next? He didn’t have long to wait to see just what.

Fires sprung up to the sides of the pit, while a rapid succession of lightening sparks lit up the sky. Hideous faces started to appear, peeking over the pit wall with an intense look of curiosity. More startling though was the gradual appearance of dozens of rats, emerging from scores of little cracks in the pit walls. Soon there were far too many to count. Was this to be his next ordeal, to be attacked by rats? For the moment they seemed mildly indifferent to him. Directly opposite to where Geoff was standing, part of the pit wall started to crumble before his eyes. Through the rubble of the crumbled wall, several pit bull dogs scampered over the ruins. They were smaller than the last pack, but what they lacked in size they made up for in numbers, six in total. Geoff recalled reading of such spectacles, of monumental rat baiting battles where some rat killing dog would kill scores of the loathsome creatures in quick succession. Is that what this was about, to be made to witness such horror first hand? But no. Something was wrong. Rats and dogs alike seemed totally at ease with the others’ presence. One by one, their eyes focussed on Geoff. The dogs slowly started their approach while the rats darted back and forth about his feet. This time, the ordeal was to last much longer. There was no outright attack, more a slow wearing down as the rats and dogs intermittently nipped away at him, sapping his strength while the life and blood gradually drained from his body. Geoff knew he wouldn’t die though, at least not from any horror in his nightmares. Memories lingered of countless other such encounters. Once again, he recalled hazy images of hospital staff sticking needles into him, of white-coated doctors and nurses during those brief moments when he would occasionally emerge from his comatose state. Those fleeting memories were enough for him to realise everything that was happening was just in his mind, even if the pain was a real as any he remembered from his previous life. It was made worse knowing too that the current terror could and probably would continue till the levels of sedation from the hospital staff were sufficient to plunge his mind into darkness again. As always, Geoff prayed the level might finally be a fatal one.

 

Such nightmares continued through the years, too long for Geoff to know just how many? They no longer shocked him in the same way, not that that diminished the pain each time. Sometimes it was rats, others it was insects crawling about his body, but mostly it was the biting and clawing of the dogs that was to be his ongoing punishment. His only solace lay in the fact that his body would die someday, and with it his mind too, that he’d one day be free of the nightly creature inflicted torments. It suited Cerebus to allow the comfort of that belief to continue till such time as Geoff did indeed die. But there was never to be the eternal peace the dogman craved so desperately. The three-headed canine lord had promised its growling minions as much, and whatever else, Cerebus was a demon of its word.

 

Such was the vileness of Geoff’s ‘business,’ Satan Himself had taken an interest in the comatose man, initially seeing great promise in him. Such evil depravity in the heart of man might make for another fine minion of Hell, Satan had thought. But the dark one had misjudged the mortal creature he had shown interest. Had Geoff truly revelled in the cruelty and torture he made his living by, been the sort of man who took pride in being an offence to all that was good and decent, then indeed he might have been worthy to sit by Satan’s side. But Geoff Richards was none of these things. Looking into his soul, Satan saw him to be everything he loathed in mankind. Unlike a few of his fellow dogman who were both evil in mind and heart as well as deed, despite appearances, Geoff was a coward of the worst kind; he made a pretence of honest respectability, and while he took no pleasure in the suffering of those poor creatures at the sharp end of his activities, neither was he repulsed. Instead, he was utterly indifferent, his sole motivation being money and the luxurious lifestyle it provided. No, he was just another sick greedy bastard – a worthy inhabitant of Hell by any means, but not one to enjoy the prize of Satan’s favour. Cerebus was welcome to him.

The old saying, that the Devil looks after his own, wasn’t just applicable to the Lord of the underworld. Cerebus’s drool dripping tongues swirled around its three jaws, salivating at the prospect of the dog fighting Geoff’s arrival in Hell, the real Hell, where the three-headed demon would be waiting … they may not have had much of a life in Geoff’s world, but every dog he’d ever trained, or those others that had died fighting his ‘trained canine killers’ would be waiting too, as would every other creature ever to suffer at the hands of a cruel master, waiting their turn with the dogman … . In this one dark corner of Hell, it was the creatures that tortured and tormented man, not the other way round … forever.

For many more stories like the one above, stay tuned for the March publication of:

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National Rat Day – Rat Tales short story collection …

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Rat Tales is Book One of a three-book collection, titled …

The Creature Tales.

Books Two Three, scheduled for publication, early 2019.

Rat Tales    Book Trailer …

 

 

Click HERE for UK Amazon buying link – Click HERE for Amazon.com link

***

Rat Tales

A Mischief of Little Horrors 

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Had your rabies shots yet? The rats are loose!

Rat Tales. Twenty-four ‘rat’ themed short stories, and the first book in a three-book collection, The Creature Tales. 

Many of the stories here are traditional blood and gore filled horror, but several venture slightly into the realms of science fiction and the supernatural.

Within this collection, the reader will find every rat incarnation imaginable, from the super strong and ultra intelligent to bloodthirsty and seemingly immortal. 

While every story has been written to stand alone, several are loosely inter-connected with an ongoing reference to the future. Among the stories are:

A farmer’s imaginative though barbaric attempt to solve his rat problem backfires in the worst possible way.

farm rats

A young boy’s efforts to repay the kindness of his childhood rodent friends has consequences that will change the course of history.

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A vicious ghostly rat falls victim to karma

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A centuries-old rat looks back on how it became the seemingly immortal creature it is ...

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Some escaped convicts realise too late they’ve chosen the wrong couple to terrorise when their rodent pets see their own comfy lives threatened.

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A grim fate awaits those who take shelter in an abandoned house.

RatSwarm

A country squire finds himself on the receiving end of his sporting cruelty.

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These are just some of the stories in this extensive collection, so brace yourselves for … A Mischief of Little Horrors.

***

Amazon Reviews …

24 October 2018

Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase

24 October 2018

        Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase

Deliciously gruesome bitesized morsels to infest your nightmares. There are no holds barred yet many teeth bared in the flesh-rending descriptions. Despite being repulsed, reading the tales from the rat’s point of view had me sympathising with their plight. Love them or hate them, this is a must for horror readers.

***

Short story – Never-Ending Wrong-Turn

Story no: 87 – First draft of another of my little under 1000 words flash fiction tasters –  Just one from one of my upcoming short story collections …

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Never-ending turn-off …

coma5It had been a long drive and Mason Garvey was tired. The rain and poor visibility had meant he had had to concentrate harder on the road than that for his more usual leisurely driving trips, adding even more to the fatigue he was feeling.  He really should have stopped and parked in a lay-by or one of the motorway services. Instead, he thought it better to simply increase his speed and carry on driving through the night; the thought of splashing out on some dingy hotel room or spending an uncomfortable night in his truck in a lay-by didn’t appeal as much as his own nice warm comfy bed. He was especially anxious to get home too for some much-needed sleep. He wanted to enjoy the celebrations on the eve of the end of the millennium the following day.

Just another two hours and he would be home if he didn’t drop below 70 mph. That might have been okay if he was still on the motorway but he wasn’t. He was on a country road with lots of twists and turns and overhanging foliage. The rain was coming down harder, and there was only the glare of his headlights to see by.

The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing. We can learn so much from it, much like experience. Sadly, it wasn’t much use to Mason Garvey or going to change what had happened.

coma6It was just a fraction of second between taking the corner too fast and ploughing into the motor-cyclist whose body and bike were now lying sprawled some twenty feet away from his 4 tonne Bedford lorry. Mason reached for his phone, ready to dial 999 … and then he stopped himself … he needed to think, clear his head.

He’d been driving too fast. He’d been drinking. The motorcyclist had had right of way.  Did he really want to risk a lengthy prison sentence? And for what? For hitting someone he didn’t know during a momentary lapse of concentration, someone stupid enough to be riding a motorbike on the road at night and in the rain? Already Mason was rationalising a decision that suited him best.

coma4He looked around his truck for signs of damage. It was pretty old, already sporting its fair share of bumps and scrapes, ideal camouflage for a few additional bumps and scratches to the paintwork the accident might have caused. He looked too at his road atlas; he was no longer bothered about getting home in any reasonable time, just getting there via a route that avoided for as long as possible any likely CCTV or other monitoring equipment. There appeared to be a turn-off a few miles ahead. He got back in his truck to continue his journey, not even bothering to check on the motorcyclist to see if he might still be alive?

The accident seemed to have given him a second wind fatigue wise. A few minutes later he spotted the turn-off. He’d reached it quicker than expected but didn’t give it much thought. The turn-off looked more like a dis-used track than the ‘B’ road indicated on the map. He wasn’t complaining – it would lessen even more the likelihood of anyone spotting and remembering his truck. He continued down the old road. It was a real test of his driving skills, navigating the meandering stony and uneven single track. The trees and foliage appeared to close in on him the further he went, though never quite enough to halt his progress.

It was over an hour before the road appeared to widen again. He’d feared that he had got himself lost, already sure this wasn’t the ‘B’ road he had meant to take. Seeing the turn-off coming to an end, he increased his speed, anxious to leave the somewhat eerie road he was on …

It was just a fraction of second between taking the corner too fast and ploughing into the motor-cyclist whose body and bike were now lying sprawled some twenty feet away from his 4 tonne Bedford lorry. Mason reached for his phone, ready to dial 999 … and then he stopped himself … he needed to think, clear his head.

Mason Garvey got out of his truck, already regretful of trying to get home in such a hurry. He wished too he hadn’t stayed on for those last few drinks with his mates. There was something familiar about the scene but he was still dazed by the shock of what had happened and put it from his mind. But whatever his state of shock, he had enough of his wits about to know there was no way he going to do a lengthy stretch in prison for some bozo he didn’t know.

coma2He was in luck. According to his map, there was a turn-off just a few miles away that would take him most of the way home without re-joining the motorway. He reached it quicker than he thought … it was an eerie looking road. Mason wondered if it was the same one on the map? He didn’t care. It was leading away from the dead motorcyclist, and that was all he cared about.

The Rhondda Gazette

coma7‘… A motorcyclist was killed in a hit and run collision late last night or possibly the early hours of the morning. The man believed to be the other driver was found unconscious a few miles away having driven his lorry into a tree along a dis-used farm track, presumably in an attempt to avoid discovery and prosecution. Forensics confirmed the unconscious man’s lorry to be the vehicle to have hit and killed the motorcyclist …’

*

Mason Garvey remains in a coma to this day.  He remains trapped in his own mind and body, perpetually reliving the events of that rainy night, each time remembering and interpreting them a little differently … all except the ending, that remains the same. That remains his punishment.

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Book Review – The Darkly Wood series – A Double-Dose of horror from the pen of Max Power …

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FbMaxpowerHaving already read and reviewed Darkly Wood by Max Power (my favourite book back of 2014), along with several other of this author’s books,  I was delighted to see that he had written a sequel, Darkly Wood II.

As well as being an author, Max Power is a prolific book reviewer/blogger, and a valued contributor to the Indie Author Support and Discussion Fb group. Further IASDpicinformation on Max Power and his writing can be found at the following social media below and via other links at the end of this blog post … and speaking of blog sites, when you’ve finished all the author’s novels, and are eagerly awaiting the next (I’ve still one more book to go), his blog site provides an equally entertaining collection of his other writings to fill the gap. 

 

Blog – www.maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com

On YouTube – Max Power

On Fb –  @maxpowerbooks

On Twitter – @maxpowerbooks1

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Darkly Wood II – Available in both eBook & print editions …

Amazon Description:

This chilling sequel to Darkly Wood brings us back to the mysterious wood perched above the sleepy village of Cranby. The mystery returns with love and terror walking hand and hand through the seemingly innocent paths of the place that has generated many fearful tales. This time however, there is an even more sinister presence. Much time has passed since Daisy escaped the terror of the wood and on the surface little has changed. But behind the tree line, a new danger lurks. Fans of the original will be taken to darker depths and first-time readers will discover the true art of storytelling from the mind of the award-winning author Max Power. Heart-stopping, fast paced, unrelenting danger lies waiting for you between the pages. Sometimes love is all you have. Sometimes, love is not enough. Darkness is coming …

*

Darkly Wood II

The woman who never wore shoes

By Max Power

timberwolfamazonA sublime and majestic myriad of horror …

Max2Having read and enjoyed the author’s first book in this series I was looking forward to reading the sequel. I must confess I had some doubts that it simply wouldn’t have the same impact second time around given that some of the mystery of Darkly Wood would already have been revealed to readers of the first book.

I’m happy to say that Darkly Wood II is every bit as creepy and mysterious, and even better than Book One; Max Power doesn’t just write stories, he literally sculptures every word and sentence with the consummate skill of a Michael Angelo, bringing to life the image in the reader’s mind like the subtle brush strokes of the classical artist adding that indefinable something extra that creates a masterpiece.

Like its prequel, Darkly Wood II embodies many different themes i.e. bloody and horrific murder, tragic romance, unrequited love, mysterious disappearances, the paranormal, and a host of others. Likewise, the format is similar to the first book in that it reads much like a book of short stories, all tied together by the central theme of the mysterious Darkly Wood. This time, however, there is more of a central character and story in the form of the ‘evil personified’ Wormhole,  a man (or monster?) every bit as mysterious as Darkly Wood itself, anchoring everything together in a more coherent manner. 

Readers of the first book will immediately see that that events have in their way come full circle, with two new generations of characters following on from Book One. Holly Coppertop, the granddaughter of Daisy May from the first book, having read the mysterious Tales of Darkly Wood finds herself similarly trapped and imperilled by it. Can Daisy May draw on her own experience and nightmares of that place to save her granddaughter and her daughter, Rose? And will she have to sacrifice herself to do so? But apart from this one nod to a chronological timeline, Darkly Wood, its characters and their stories, all appear to exist in their own particular corner of time and space, detached from the real world.

The many twists and turns here are only matched by the equally rich array of fascinating characters. Who could not be intrigued to know the background and stories of the other equally enigmatically named cast? Charlie Callous Colson, Blenerhorn Mastiff Wormhole, Matthew Squelby, and Cathecus Flincher are but a few of the new characters to wet the appetite. And lastly, there’s Darkly Wood’s strange metamorphosis of two of them into the ‘beast boy’ Woody twins? 

Whilst this book is hardly lacking in blood and gore, its strength, readability, and sheer enjoyment stem from the author’s unrivalled ability to weave a complex array of gruesome and creepy tales and folklore into something far greater than the sum of its parts – it’s like the stories of Hansel and Gretel have been given an Edgar Allan Poe make-over to form one super sublime myriad of horror.

A must-read for any fan of the classical and psychological horror genres. Can’t wait to for book three in this captivating series!

***

See also my review below for the first book in the Darkly Wood series …

Darkly Wood

By Max Power

timberwolfamazonSuperbly reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe …

Max1This is a book that embodies horror, romance, and the paranormal in a way I’ve rarely seen. With a good opening narrative, right from the start the author conjures up an atmospheric sense of creepiness and the macabre reminiscent of a latter-day Edgar Allan Poe or Dennis Wheatley, so much so that one can almost imagine Christopher Lee or Vincent Price playing the part of one of the characters, particularly that of Lord Terrence Darkly.

Initially we learn of the mystery and horror of Darkly Wood by way of the central character, Daisy May Coppertop, reading through a copy of a book of tales about Darkly Wood – a book within a book so to speak but at that point that’s all they are, just stories, but certainly nothing to be alarmed about, at least not yet.

What starts off as Daisy and Benjamin, intrigued by the apparent sight of a strange looking boy in the distance, taking a seemingly innocent and pleasant walk along the edge of a nearby woodland soon turns into a dark and fear filled battle not just to escape its clutches but simply to survive. Faced with ever-increasing danger and a sense of time running out for them, the bond between Daisy, and Benjamin, her new found friend from the local village, grows into something much more than simple friendship or first love.

The writing technique is both clever and imaginative, using descriptive narrative to set the tone and atmosphere early on, using the opportunity to inform the reader of many nuggets of information that come into play later in the book, gradually introducing just the right balance of dialogue and action. The numerous but short chapters make for a very readable style of writing, and by way of the different tales of the book within the book, the author keeps the story alive and fresh throughout. In books such as this the author often requires the reader’s implicit consent to suspend their disbelief, but here the reader is left in no doubt whatsoever as to the mystery and horror of the wood; in one of the chapters the author cleverly demonstrates the ‘other worldliness’ of the wood when in one particular tale, someone trying to find their way out of the wood tries using their field craft skills to escape only to find all the laws of nature and physics don’t seem to apply in the heart of Darkly Wood. As the story progresses the seemingly unrelated tales of the wood draw closer to form an intricate pattern; surprises and shocks keep the reader entranced, drawing you in just as Daisy and Benjamin are drawn further and further into Darkly Wood. Filled with twists and turns and new revelations at every juncture, an amazing and diverse array of characters, and a conclusion as eerie and unexpected as anyone could imagine, this is definitely one of my favourite reads of 2014.

***

 Please visit Max Power’s Amazon Author page for more info about all the author’s work …

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Max Power on the IASD … click pic below for link …

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