Two opening stories from Book Three in the Creature Tales collection – Six, eight, & Many Legged Tales: A Swarming Mass of Bites and Stings.
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.
Clinging 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
Ever 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.
Little 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 …
Peter 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.
Embrace The Darkness
Dark, full of suspense, and highly original … a great collection of little horrors!
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!
P.J. Blakey-Novis’s social media …
Email: – firstname.lastname@example.org
Click HERE for the author’s full catalogue of work & Amazon author page …
Another taster story from my upcoming Canine Tales, Book Two in the Creature Tales collection. As can probably be assumed from the cover, many of the stories sit firmly in the blood and gore horror category, but sitting alongside them are several softer and more heart-warming ones. This is one such story …
Billy Marston had been a butcher’s boy before volunteering for France. At only 15 yrs. old, he’d lied about his age to join up, not that the recruiting sergeants inquired too closely when they suspected something amiss about a barely five ft tall youth claiming to be 17. They would inwardly smile at the would-be recruit’s naivety at thinking they had fooled anyone yet admiring their decision to try. It was just the sort of courage that would be needed for what was facing them
Billy wasn’t alone in doing that, so eager were most young men at the time wanting to go fight and for their country. But then, the real fighting had barely started yet, they still had no idea; everyone thought it would all soon be over and they’d be home in time for Christmas.
After a mere twelve weeks’ training in some god-awful cold army camp along the South coast, Billy was passed out as ready and fit for action, a junior Gunner and assigned to an artillery battery.
Mum and dad, his little sister, Ruby, and the family dog, Bobtail, were all there to see him off for his journey to France.
Although the family dog, everyone knew Bobtail was really Billy’s dog. The two had been inseparable before Billy had gone away for his basic training. In fact, Billy’s mum and dad had joked he’d miss that bloody dog more than them.
Whether that was true or not, the little terrier had whined and moped around the whole time Billy had been away and seeing him once more was the first time since the little dog appeared happy. The truth was, Bobtail had no intention of being separated again from the boy who had raised and loved him from the first day he had opened his eyes as a tiny hand-sized puppy.
“Hey, boy, be home before y’know it, Bobtail,” Billy was telling the dog, stooping down on one knee to clasp his arms about him in one last hug before boarding the troop ship. Bobtail was licking at the boy’s face and hands, furiously wagging its tail just like he used to as an excited puppy before reluctantly having to give up his attentions as Billy rose to his feet.
Like countless other parents that day, Billy’s mum and dad watched tearfully as their young son, still more boy than man, proudly marched across the gangplank with the last of his comrades to board the troop ship bound for the war in Europe.
Billy’s parents weren’t the only ones with tear-filled eyes. Bobtail too watched anxiously, seeing the figure of his beloved master disappearing from sight. He’d already spent twelve long weeks absent the boy’s loving hugs and playful belly rubs, determined not to be so any longer…
A sudden and unexpected pull of the leash that Billy’s little sister was holding him by saw the dog break free. Cheering roars of approval accompanied Bobtail’s mad dash across the gangplank just moments before it was pulled away for the ship to set sail.
There was no way the captain or anyone else was going to delay the troop ship’s sailing while they searched it just to return one little dog. For better or worse, master and dog were both now bound for France …
“Well, Gunner Marston, this is a fine fucking mess, ain’t it boy?” the young soldier’s sergeant was bellowing at him, trying to mask his amusement with his sternest face and tone. Billy stood fixed to the spot, sure that he was more afraid of his sergeant than he would ever be of the whole German army.
Bobtail stood beside his master as if to attention too, his sorry ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ soulful brown eyes looking up at the human making all the noise. Despite the shouting, Bobtail could see kindness in the human’s eyes, sensing this was a good human beneath the stern exterior.
Sgt. Rickman looked down at the dog, their eyes meeting. He also had a dog back home and understood the bond that existed between Billy and the sorry looking dog looking back up at him. Still, he had to at least make some show of punishing the young gunner for the dog’s presence aboard the ship …
“Well, Marston, if you think the ship’s crew are gonna look after yer pet mutt y’can think again, laddy!” The sergeant paused for effect …
“I can tell y’now if this were a longer trip, the little fella would be fish food now!” Billy took an involuntary swallow, convinced Sgt. Rickman had some horrible punishment in mind.
“Still, what’s done is done. He’ll be your responsibility. You’ll be the one feeding and cleaning up after him, and sharing your bunk and rations in case yer thought the army was gonna pay for his grub?”
Relief swept over the trembling young gunner, much preferring to keep Bobtail with him than be locked up in some room out of the way. Still, all he could think to say was: “Yes, Sergeant!”
“Okay. Be on yer way then,” the sergeant huffed, and then just as Billy was about to turn away, Sgt Rickman gave him a wink, and a hint of a knowing grin before he left. A beaming smile swept across Billy’s face as he and Bobtail made their way back to the troop quarters.
“Thanks, Sarge,” Billy had answered before closing the door before him, anxious to be away before the sergeant changed his mind.
Sgt. Rickman sighed and shook his head gently from side to side, wondering what would become of the two of them once they got to the front. He wasn’t hopeful about their chances …
They were a bit cramped in their bunks, but the boy soldiers all gave quite a cheer seeing the two of them come in. Little Bobtail had become a firm favourite among the lads, many of whom were no doubt missing their own dogs. Perhaps Bobtail was a little reminder of home for them? Needless to say, they all chipped in with scraps and titbits from their grub for the little dog that had become their unofficial mascot.
Bobtail absolutely loved all the attention and fuss he was getting. Of course, he still loved Billy the best, but this was like a whole new family for him, and he loved them all.
It wasn’t long before the troop ship was docking, and they all were marched off the ship to waiting trucks for the short drive to where their real soldiering would begin.
Bobtail was clearly becoming a little agitated, the sound of guns and artillery already in earshot even before they’d boarded the back of their transport. Billy held him close, and Bobtail seemed to calm down, safely wrapped up in his master’s arms.
“It’s okay boy, nothing’s going to hurt you, you’ll be safe with me, I promise,” Billy said softly, though far from sure he’d be able to keep that promise. Billy had been overjoyed to see Bobtail across the deck, but only now was he beginning to realise how much danger the little dog had put itself in by dashing aboard the ship to be with him. If it had been in his power to do so, Billy would have whisked the little dog right back home that moment. Unfortunately, it wasn’t; whatever the enemy had to throw at them, they would face it together.
Billy doubted the little dog would ever be totally at ease with the sound of the guns and artillery shells, the sirens, or any of the deafening sounds of frontline warfare. He was immensely proud though of the way Bobtail was coping, no longer whining or barking at them now. In fact, Bobtail seemed to be coping a lot better than he was. Until now, Bobtail had pretty much kept out of the way other than to follow behind his master.
No one seemed to mind the extra couple of feet the unofficial battery mascot took up among them in the trenches and had now taken to calling him ‘Battery Bob.’ Even a few of the officers had taken to throwing Bobtail the odd titbit from the scarce rations, grateful for the morale boost he seemed to be giving the men.
After what they’d seen and done in the few days they’d been there, they had long since left their ‘boyhood’ behind them, however much they might have lied about their ages.
“We need a volunteer to run a telegraph wire to our forward battery trench to coordinate our advance,” Sgt. Rickman said as he addressed his troop. It wasn’t the sort of assignment anyone wanted to volunteer for. The trench the sergeant was referring too was some three hundred yards across the field of fire of snipers and the constant bombardment of the Jack Johnson artillery shells, so called for the black billowing smoke that accompanied their detonation.
A man made for too big a target running across the no man’s land, and stealthily crawling made him too slow a one, either way making for an unenviable task. Nonetheless and knowing full well the danger, Billy stepped forward …
“Good lad,” Sgt. Rickman said.
In truth, Billy was the last one he wanted to volunteer. There were older and more seasoned soldiers better suited to the job, but he didn’t have time to argue and wouldn’t have been doing Billy any favourers showing him favouritism.
“Pass me the wire-roll end as soon as I climb up top,” Billy told the sergeant. Unnoticed by anyone, Bobtail trotted after him as Billy edged himself up and out over the top edge of their trench before someone passed him the wooden rod to which the one end of the telegraph wire was attached. Billy’s job would be to keep hold of it while it unfurled from the wire-roll back in the trench as he crawled through the mud-soaked and barbed wire strewed land. No one had any illusions as to Billy’s chances of making it, but equally, he had to try.
“Shoo, get back down, back in the trench, boy” Billy urged the little dog that had followed him up, trying to shoo him away with his hand too. For once, Bobtail ignored his master’s commands. Bobtail had seen others of the ‘family’ he’d grown to love try crawling across the no man’s land with such things … they hardly ever came back.
Bobtail lunged towards him, grabbing the rod and wire between his teeth before scurrying off into the night. Being little, Bobtail was no greyhound, but he could still run and dart in and out of the tiniest holes in the ground way faster and effectively than any human could.
Billy wanted to shout out to the little dog to call him back but knew that would only attract enemy fire in their direction. Sgt. Rickman too had popped his head above the parapet to see what was happening …
“What the f…?” Sgt. Rickman started to say.
“I’m sorry, Sarge, he just grabbed and run off with it before I could stop him.”
“It’s okay, lad, he’s going in the right direction. And honestly, he’s already got a lot farther than I thought you would, Marston,” the sergeant added, giving Billy a gentle nudge of the arm.
Bobtail completed the task like a seasoned professional, darting this way and that, occasionally stopping to take cover in one of the bomb blast craters before continuing. The whole operation took less than five minutes.
Through their field binoculars, Sgt. Rickman and Billy watched Bobtail make it all the way to the forward battery trench. Five minutes later they watched the plucky little pooch start on its return run, this time carrying a letters pouch, probably containing more detailed communications from their forward battery.
“Good, good dog, great job, love you little fella,” was all Billy could blubber over and over again, hugging and stroking Bobtail the moment he landed practically in Billy’s arms from jumping back down into the trench. Sgt Rickman took the letters pouch from around Bobtail’s neck to take them to the officer in command.
From that moment on, Bobtail was regarded as much a part of the artillery battery as any human soldier, a canine combatant that had won the hearts and admiration of its comrades.
Following the latest offensive, Billy had been catapulted headlong into one of the abandoned makeshift trenches by an exploding artillery shell. Knocked unconscious by the blast, Billy just lay there for several hours, assumed to have been killed by the rest of his battery which had been forced to retreat …
Billy had no idea what was washing over his face. He knew it wasn’t the poison gas, he’d either be dead or retching up his insides if it had been.
“Urgh,” Billy exclaimed in mock disgust, yet he really couldn’t have been happier. He would have recognised that wet slobbering tongue anywhere, though he did have a moment of panic, wondering if he was, in fact, dead and now reunited with his beloved Bobtail in heaven? But no, the dog’s scent and smell were that of a breathing flesh and blood creature.
They were both still in the land of the living, though from behind enemy lines, probably not for much longer Billy feared. He may have been alive, but the pain in his leg and blood-stained uniform was a sharp reminder their chances weren’t good. He knew he’d lost a lot of blood, and the effects of that were causing him to drift in and out of consciousness.
Bobtail licked at his face for a few moments. It surprised him when a second later the faithful dog suddenly turned tail to run back in the opposite direction towards their own lines of defence.
Billy was confused, though pleased Bobtail might have a chance of getting back to safety. A moment later, Billy passed out.
By the end of their time at the front, Bobtail had saved dozens, possibly hundreds of lives from his many runs between the trenches and across enemy territory, carrying vital information, and locating wounded soldiers.
Bobtail hadn’t deserted Billy in running back to the battery trench. As he’d done many times before by now, Bobtail had been sent out to use his acute sense of smell to try and find the wounded Billy in case he was still alive. Bobtail hadn’t failed and led Billy’s comrades right to him before their return to the UK to treat Billy’s injuries.
Bobtail had no idea what all the fuss was about, other than he couldn’t remember being happier, having so many lovely people patting him, giving him treats, and smiling.
He wasn’t so impressed with being plonked on a podium and some human he didn’t know placing a ribbon about his neck. Some metal thing was hanging from it too, but Billy seemed okay with it given the beaming smile and look of pride across his face.
If Billy was happy then so was he, though he was tempted to pee over the other human’s arm to show his annoyance. Thankfully he didn’t.
“In honour of the brave actions of Bobtail, also known to his many friend and comrades as Battery Bob.” At that point, there was a spontaneous roar of laughter and approval from many of Billy’s and Bobtails’ comrades from the frontline. Bobtail gave a loud bark too, his tail wagging furiously in sync with his persistent yapping.
This was Bobtail’s moment, and Colonel Smythe who had been giving the speech wisely allowed the crowd their moment …
Smiling and giving a gentle rub and pat of Bobtail’s head before continuing: “I take immense pleasure in having presented our canine hero here with this medal for bravery in having saved innumerable lives and to express how proud and grateful to him we all are.” The villagers and crowd cheered their agreement.
Amid the cheering, Sgt. Rickman shouted in his loudest and most terrifying Drill Sergeant voice, “Three Cheers for Battery Bob.”
After several rounds of ‘Hip Hip Hoorays,’ Colonel Smythe concluded his speech with six simple words …
“Battery ‘Bobtail’ Bob, we salute you.”
Short Story – A taster from my up-coming anthology, Canine Tales, book2 in The Creature Tales collection …
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.
There 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.
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.
A 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:
This latest short story collection is the fifth by John M. W. Smith that it’s been my pleasure to read and review. John M.W. Smith has had many stories published in various women’s weekly magazines and literary journals, and his short story collections are an established favourite among Russian readers where as well as being hugely popular, are also used as an English language teaching aid.
In addition to my review here of ‘More Longer Wacky stories,’ I’ve also included my past reviews of some of his other collections.
See below for John M.W. Smith on social media …
It’s been a few years since I read one of this author’s excellent short story collections, and I must say this latest novella lengthed 13 story anthology is the best so far. As in previous collections, the stories culminate in some unexpected twist in the tale, some quite startling while others are more of Ah-ha moment, though not once did I remotely see what it would be in each case. Mostly the stories stick to just one or two female characters (though not always), allowing the author to develop them more than is usual within the confines of a short story. Some of the tales are truly uplifting and will make the reader smile, but in a bit of a departure from previous books, others are indeed a tad sad, and equally sad, are more reflective of the not so nice side of human nature, as is the case in A Lonely Heart Breaks Easily.
This collection is definitely grittier, and with more of an edge to some of the stories that I’ve seen in previous ones, venturing into more controversial (almost taboo) themes such as in the third offering, It’s So Easy to Fall in Love, where the wronged woman turns out to be far more predatory than the reader is originally led to believe.
Most of the author’s stories centre around female characters, some strong and self-assured while others are often more fragile and vulnerable, so in some respects it’s easy to see why they would enjoy such popularity in women’s magazines/journals, and yet, I maintain, these stories are of a much wider appeal to anyone who enjoys cleverly crafted scenarios, great writing and dialogue, and in every case, an unexpected but totally satisfying conclusion to a story. I really can’t praise these little gems more highly.
MY PREVIOUS REVIEWS OF THE AUTHOR’S WORK …
Wacky Stories with Twist Endings – Volumes 1 to 4
(Available in eBook & print formats via Amazon)
This is a short collection of eight humorous short stories, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. The ‘twist at the end’ in the first four stories are more the sort to make you smile and chuckle rather than gasp in amazement, but every scenario and ending are entirely believable and just the sort of situation that any reader might readily identify with. In the later stories, the twist ending tend to have a bit more ‘punch’ to them, and the stories steadily become a little more intricate.
The author keeps the number of characters to a minimum in each case, and within the obvious confines of a short story, the characters are well-developed with convincing and natural dialogue. Each story is written in an easy to read and follow style, yet despite their apparent simplicity, all are actually very clever and well crafted.
By the author’s own admission, the stories are primarily aimed at a female readership, but the quality of writing and story-telling does I believe give them a much broader appeal. I shall certainly be reading and reviewing the other three volumes in this series.
Another short collection of eight short stories; as in the previous volume of this collection, every story is well crafted and wholly believable. Again, not one of these stories will fail to bring a smile and a chuckle to the face of the reader, but unlike the previous volume, the stories here are a little more involved, with a slightly more adult and mischievous flavour to them.
For such short stories, some of them are quite complex, dealing with issues of romance, family, and work issues. Again the characters are convincing and well-developed. The increased complexity of the stories, as compared to volume one, does require a slightly greater degree of concentration from the reader, but the rewards are more than worth it.
Overall, another great volume of well written and light-hearted stories which fans of the short story genre and women in particular, will really enjoy.
Well, this is the third volume of stories I’ve reviewed in this series and once again, I’ve not been disappointed.
Without reiterating too much of what I’ve said in my previous reviews, each of these delightful short stories has an unexpected, and in this volume more so than in previous ones, a quite often rather `naughty’ and punchier twist in the ending – never more so was the term `naughty but nice’ quite so appropriate. Compared to previous volumes, I think the stories here are, whilst still quite charming, are tending towards slightly more adult orientated themes. Again the reader never really sees what’s coming, and the author is an adept at leading the reader up the garden path so to speak before firmly tugging them back to a really effective punchline and conclusion.
What I’ve also noticed and enjoyed in this third volume is the way author very quickly settles the reader into feeling comfortable and familiar in what they’re reading; although each story is different and unique in its own way, there are often striking similarities in names, places, and the domestic settings in which they occur that you could almost feel that you’re reading another chapter in the lives of the characters in a previous story, much like that sense of familiarity you might encounter in reading the sequel to a novel. By employing such techniques, many of the characters appear much more developed and rounded than they might otherwise, given the limitations of the short and flash fiction genres.
I would agree with the author’s own admission that his stories are indeed aimed at a primarily female readership, and this volume perhaps more than in previous ones, but as your typical Neanderthal male, I too enjoyed them immensely and as such would contend that they still have a much broader appeal that of their intended market. Another great collection, and again, highly recommended …
This is the fourth and last volume of the ‘wacky stories’ series. Like the previous ones, all the stories are well written, and mostly with a deliciously naughty twist in them.
One of the dangers of anthologies such as this is that there can be a tendency for the stories to become repetitive, but here we have a refreshing diversity. Just when you think you’ve got the stories figured out, the author throws in a couple that are as delightfully sentimental and smile-inducing as you can imagine; the first story has quite an adult theme to it, treating the reader to a really sharp and almost shocking twist, whereas in another of the stories, the author leads the reader in a very definite direction, only to delight with a more gentle shock, and of the most touching confirmations of enduring love as I’ve read in a long time.
Yes, the stories are aimed at a female readership, but I think their appeal extends much further. I will certainly be reading some of the author’s differently themed anthologies in the near future. All in all, a great series that I would heartily recommend not only a female readership but anyone who enjoys cleverly written stories of the ‘twist in the tale genre’…
Click HERE for the author’s Amazon author page, and links to all his books …
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 …
A Mischief of Little Horrors
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.
A young boy’s efforts to repay the kindness of his childhood rodent friends has consequences that will change the course of history.
A vicious ghostly rat falls victim to karma
A centuries-old rat looks back on how it became the seemingly immortal creature it is ...
Some escaped convicts realise too late they’ve chosen the wrong couple to terrorise when their rodent pets see their own comfy lives threatened.
A grim fate awaits those who take shelter in an abandoned house.
A country squire finds himself on the receiving end of his sporting cruelty.
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
I first read a story about rats in Mary Danby’s Nightmares 2 collection as a child. One of them, ‘Heads and Tails’ was particularly gruesome, considering the target group was children. In ‘Rat Tales’ the level of gruesome is handled well, from the entertaining but thought provoking Raticide to the comic sounding but unsettling Rats on the Radio. Some of the puns work well, Ratcula for example.
Even the hardest non-rat fan (and there’s a lot of us out there) would find it difficult not to find one story here they might enjoy.
24 October 2018
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
October 22, 2018
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Another of my Welsh Wednesday Writing reviews of Welsh authors, this time a collection of short stories by Welsh author, Stuart Kear, a life-long resident of the Rhondda Valley. I first discovered Stuart’s stories via the Tonypandy Writer’s Group’s multi-author collection of short stories and poetry, which featured two of Stuart’s stories. Having been impressed with both contributions I checked to see if the author had anything published elsewhere, and so discovered this awesome collection of short stories here …
Click on book cover thumbnail below for Amazon purchase link …
Short, Long And Tall Stories
All the stories here have a Welsh theme, and in most cases specific to the Welsh valleys; now when I say a ‘Welsh theme,’ I don’t just mean that the author simply mentions Wales in passing or has perhaps given each story a Welsh character – in most cases, the Welsh setting, being Welsh, or having grown up in the valleys is an integral part of the meaning of each story.
This is quite a substantial body of varied stories, thirteen in total. Among the stories, the author tackles a variety of topics including bereavement and how close relatives deal with loss in their own very different ways, tragedy in the coal mining pits, plots of murder mixed up with irony and poetic justice, and even an incredulously funny flash fiction piece in ‘The Letter,’ – as simple a premise as you could imagine but a guaranteed ear to ear smile for the reader.
Some of the stories are more a reflection of the human condition and are simply satisfying to read for their own sake without the need for any clever or surprise conclusions. Others though are quite definitely of the ‘twist in the tale’ type, often blended with a deliciously wicked element of humour, and I have to say, Stuart Kear has demonstrated a real talent for that type of story.
My favourite story? – I’m torn between ‘The Look, ‘ a brutal tale of murder and poetic justice with a little touch of black humour, and ‘The Departure,’ another relatively simple story but having the impact of being hit right between the eyes with a claw hammer! Others that also caught my particular attention – ‘The Accident’ and the ‘The dig at the Station Hotel.’
If I had but two tiny criticisms it would be that I would have preferred a more ‘Wales’ orientated cover as the one here puts me more in mind of a major city than the Welsh Valleys. Secondly, given how many people like to read on their Kindles, tablets, and phones etc it would be nice if this collection were more widely available as an eBook too as these stories really do merit the widest possible readership! Apart from that, an absolutely superb clever and entertaining collection of stories. No hesitation in rating it a thoroughly well-deserved 5 stars!
About the author …
Born in 1945, Stuart Kear, was born and raised in the Welsh Valleys, having also lived and worked there all his life. With three children and two grandchildren, Stuart Kear was recently widowed and it is to the memory of his late wife of 47 years he dedicated the above short story collection.
In addition to his love of books and language, Stuart Kear’s other interests are photography, walking, quizzes, snooker, and of course, writing.
A truly lovely short story collection from the pen of C.L. Lopez, with three guest stories from Tom Benson, both authors from our very own IASD stable of indie authors, writers, and bloggers. I only discovered this writer by way of reading one of her short stories in Tom Benson’s own short story collections and was sufficiently impressed to seek out others by her. The moral of the story – get your writing featured in as many places as possible!
Amazon blurb: A collection of short stories of various genre, including suspense, thriller, sci-fi, mysteries, and paranormal. These are stories about the resilience of humanity. They are stories of people and their strengths and weaknesses. Stories of life.
I first came across this author when I read one of her short stories as a ‘guest’ story/author in another short story collection, and was impressed enough to see if she had any collections of her own published, hence my finding this one.
Having already read one of C.l. Lopez’s stories in Tom Benson’s anthology of science fiction short stories, even though the description mentions different genres I had slightly been expecting more of these stories to lean towards the sci-fi genre, but no, the stories are spread across a multitude of genres. Despite the variety of genres, the stories here actually have a lot more in common than their differences, more so than many a single-themed collection, each story providing real impact in its telling, using some dramatic scenario to both entertain and portray some aspect of human determination and resilience, what I would call real ‘people’ stories. Some are quite dark but still hinting at hope for the future such as in ‘Alone’ and ‘Cold Case,’ the latter being a story reminiscent of several what I would call typical True Crime stories. Others have a certain ‘feel good factor’ to them i.e. ‘Sulley’ and ‘Moving On.’
This super collection of seven short stories, along with three bonus ones from guest author, Tom Benson, were a truly unexpected delight to read, exceeding all expectations.
If I had to pick out one single story as my favourite it would have to be ‘Moving On’ for its combination of not only its feel-good factor but also a clever and ‘poetic justice’ type ending, and even though the general direction of the story was clear early on, it was still a refreshing twist.
And of Tom Benson’s guest stories here, I particularly liked ‘Bewitched,’ a love story but again with a bit of twist and moral dilemma about it, and the one of the three here that best complemented the other stories in this collection.
Both C.L. Lopez and Tom Benson write across several different genres but in this particular collection they have stuck to writing stories with poignancy and dramatic impact rather than relying on clever endings and/or ‘twist in the tail’ type formats in most cases (though not all).
Any complaints about this book? Only that I was disappointed when I ran out of further stories to read at the end of it so hopefully C.L. Lopez is working on further stories for the future! A very easy and hugely deserved five stars for this one, not a rating I usually find easy for short stories given that it’s rare to read a short story collection where not a single one even slightly disappoints!
Matthew Williams’ The Final Box is the third anthology of short stories I’ve read and reviewed from this author.
Such was my admiration for his short stories, I was delighted to be allowed to include two of them as guest contributions in my own debut anthology of short stories… Not What You Thought? and other surprises
Matthew Williams is a new and aspiring young writer who has been writing ever since he can remember. Like myself, he is a great fan of ‘twist in the tale’ stories, and tries to include them in his own writing. In his spare time he is working on a number new writing projects, including a new children’s book, and a Young Adult (YA) novel.
Further links to Matthew Williams and his writing can be found at:
The Final Box
By Matthew williams
(Available from Amazon Kindle)
This is the third of this author’s short story anthologies I’ve read and reviewed, and once again I’ve not been disappointed in my expectations. Not every story worked for me in quite the same way as in the two previous anthologies but having said that, one of the things that impressed me here was seeing the way the author has taken his stories in different directions rather than relying on a tried and trusted formula in serving more of the same; whereas all of the author’s previous stories were humorously light-hearted with a definite twist at the end, some of the ones here are more abstract and open ended. A couple of the stories did leave me wondering at the end, but never was I failed to be entertained. As always though, I found I had finished the book all too quickly, and especially given the more abstract tone here, felt a longer collection would have been in order. Having said that, every story was well written and equally well crafted, and anyone who has read the author’s previous works will I think see a certain maturing in his writing, and a willingness to venture into new territory. Matthew Williams is a writer who is equally adept at making the reader laugh as he is at pulling the heart strings, and as I’ve seen here, getting the reader thinking, and I enjoyed the new direction he has taken in this latest anthology.
Another very entertaining collection, and one I would highly recommend to flash fiction fans as well as those of the more traditional short story.
Matthew Williams’ previous short story anthologies – click on thumbnails for details:
* Two stories by Matthew Williams also featured in my own debut anthology:
This is a book that came to my attention via my IndieAuthorReviewExchange Fb group. The author, Katerina Sestakova Novotna, was born and raised in the Czech Republic. She lived in New York where she went to college. Currently she is living in Hawaii. She holds a Masters in Philosophy; her specialties are ethics and comparative philosophy. She has written numerous essays on those subjects. Her first collection of short stories “Hawaiian Lei of Shrunken Heads” is the subject of the following book review.
Hawaiian Lei of Shrunken Heads, by Katerina Sestakova Novotna
(Available from Amazon in eBook format)
This debut collection of short stories is the absolute epitome of originality and dark imagination; although there are only five stories here, it’s important to note that they are somewhat longer than the average short story, placing them almost in the mini novella category. Set on the island of Hawaii each story gives the reader an insight into the mythology and traditions of the indigenous population there, mixing it up with all the darker elements of psychology, comparative religion, and vengeful gods, along with the all too human traits and motivations of its modern day characters.
Among these stories there are tales of human and animal sacrifice, the bigotry and bitterness of an old war veteran, the untimely end of foreign prostitute, and the equally strange and horrific conclusion to another foreigner’s stay in Hawaii. Some of the stories are written as a narrative, cleverly imparting information about Hawaiian folklore whilst still driving each story forward. Although each of these stories might well be described as dark with a touch of psychological and mythical horror about them, each one is unique in its presentation and theme, but with the common thread of Hawaiian culture and folklore as the vehicle for each tale. There is some mention in one of the early stories of there being no written text of Hawaiian beliefs as there is for Christianity or Judaism, but rather an oral tradition of such beliefs being passed down from generation to generation; the narrative style is in each case perfectly in keeping with this oral tradition, reading very much as you might imagine a tribal elder telling of the ancient stories and myths to an eager young audience, and in this respect the narrative style works extremely well. In others though, the author switches to very convincing and well written and sometimes explicit dialogue to advance the story, and amid the esoteric names and language associated with Hawaiian culture, the author maintains an authentic credibility with her use of some modern terminology and reference to some of the darker sides of modern culture..
These five stories were highly original and imaginative in the way they used island folklore as the framework for them, yet cleverly interwoven into present day themes and settings, they achieved a real believability that is sometimes missing in similarly themed stories. I would have liked a more definitive ending to some though as I did think in a couple of the stories, the endings were a little too open ended, leaving a tad too many unanswered questions, but overall these were five extremely entertaining and well written stories, well researched, and due to their longer lengths than the average short story, were able to really engage me in a way that that I find quite rare with short story collections. Highly recommended!