Tag Archives: horror

Halloween Update

Hello!

So … a tiny little update to some exciting stuff I mentioned on Twitter a few weeks ago, plus some more recent news.

A little while ago, this became my pinned tweet:

two-contracts

So this was kind of exciting for me for a few reasons. One of the contracts is for a story already written, scheduled originally for publication in an anthology on Halloween this year, but scheduling of one sort or another has pushed that back to early 2017. The theme of the anthology is top-secret but brilliant, and I can’t wait to see the other authors’ spins on such a delicious idea.

The second contract … well, this one is scary, at least to me. It’s scary because it’s for five (yes, FIVE!) stories that haven’t been written yet (though the ideas are percolating), so it’s a different (and thrilling!) type of creative pressure for me. Another reason that it’s scary is that the other authors involved are all these incredible creative powerhouses of whom I’m a little in awe, so yes, I feel like I’ll have to raise my game to earn my place in those pages beside them.

It’s maybe a little too soon to reveal the theme of the anthology *Trademarked Cheeky Geeky Northern Boy Teasing Wink* but … Just. You. Wait.

The more recent stuff I mentioned was this:

booth

This was really exciting, especially given the wonderfully high standard of the competition entries published on the Storgy site over the last week, in the run-up to Halloween. The story in First Place is being announced on the 31st October itself, and I can’t wait to be utterly terrified by the winning entry.

Should you wish to read my story, the link is here, but even if you give mine a miss, I really hope you read the other, excellent tales. They’re perfect Halloween reading!

Anyway, if you made it this far, thanks for reading and Happy Halloween! I’ll be spending it in a bloodstained hockey mask and wielding a machete … nothing to do with Halloween, just what I do on a Monday πŸ˜‰

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dark and Depraved – Sheffield Horror Con 2016

WARNING! CLICK ON THE PICTURES TO ENLARGE … IF YOU DARE!

Hello!

So … On the weekend of 9/10 July 2016, I returned to Sheffield for another Con. The last time I was there was for the Yorkshire Cosplay Con held at the Sheffield Arena, and this one was a little bit different in that while the previous event was largely Comic and Anime themed, the latest was centered around the genre of Horror, and as such had a wonderful focus on the dark and the depraved.

The venue itself was the magnificent Magna Science Adventure Centre, located in a disused steel mill, and as such was the perfect environment for a event celebrating the sinister.


As if the venue wasn’t atmospheric enough, a great effort had been made to add to the Horror ambience. My favourites were probably the corpse outlines on the floor and the body bags suspended above the Information Desk, but of course every way you turned there was something to give you a scare.

There were plenty of activities at the Con, and although I didn’t indulge in the Special Effects Make Up stalls, I did venture forth into a tent to be attacked by a couple of zombies. They were genuinely scary, and they really did seem to be going for it in the struggle. Rather unfortunately, I ended up with a little (presumably fake) blood on my hand from the lady zombie’s boob, but she was immensely gracious about it and allowed me to wipe my hand on her hoodie.

I was thrilled to make friends with Vivienne and her larger relative Willow. They were both lovely, and I got the chance to stroke a tarantula’s belly, even though we were never properly introduced and I didn’t catch her name.

There were some great guests at the convention, including Kane Hodder (the original Jason Vorhees) and Horror Author Shaun Hutson. I managed to catch a talk from Pinhead himself, the wonderful actor Doug Bradley, and even meet Horror-Icon Linnea Quigley, upon whom I had something of a crush back in the day. Weirdly, a little while before I’d even booked my ticket for the Con, I’d posted a picture on Twitter of a sketch I’d done of Linnea, and so when we chatted I showed her the picture on my phone. Her reaction was … interesting, although she did agree to a photograph. See that smile? That’s ME STILL CRUSHING YEARS LATER!!! I should point out that the sketch isn’t just some weird imagining of mine. It’s based on a shot from the movie Night Of The Demons, and is kind of the Horror movie equivalent of the Marilyn Monroe white dress/subway moment.

Speaking of Horror Icon crushes, I also got a snapshot with the beautiful Emily Booth (star of the brilliant Cradle Of Fear and Evil Aliens, among other things). Weirdly, I bumped into her again at Sheffield Station as I waited for my train home, and she very kindly agreed to a quick selfie. I’ve censored my face on both photos because it seems that her superpower is to plant the most giddy fan boy smile in existence on my face, and the world isn’t ready for that. The one taken at the Con has me showing teeth and everything!

Of course, Linnea and Emily weren’t the only swoonsome Horror crushes I met that weekend. The Divas of Dread themselves, CL Raven, had a stall full of scary goodies at the Con, and I was absolutely privileged to spend some time in their company. They’re as charming and funny in person as they are online, and much friendlier than their brilliant and terrifying fiction would suggest. I eagerly snapped up a copy of their book, The Malignant Dead, which they were kind enough to sign. You can find their take on the weekend here.

They also introduced me to another writer I was familiar with from Twitter, Mark Cassell, and he too gave me his autograph on a copy of both his novel The Shadow Fabric and his short story collection, Sinister Stitches. Again, Mark proved the adage about the scarier the work, the nicer the author, and it was great to meet him.

As evidenced by my post about my last trip to Sheffield and also my escapades at MCM Liverpool, one of the most brilliant elements of a Con is the cosplay, and this weekend was no exception. The quality of the costumes was breathtaking, and one thing I noticed was that many of the cosplayers stayed in character for almost the entire event. For example, the zombie in the first photo below had been wandering the corridors of the Magna Centre snarling at passers-by, and the reason we got chatting was because I was the only person she met that actually snarled back. The werewolf in the second picture is actually called Francine, and we’d already run into each other previously at Yorkshire Cosplay Con. She gave me one of the best laughs of the weekend when, out of the dozens of cosplayers I got a snapshot with, she was the only one who asked to see the photo to make sure she looked okay.

One cosplay I wanted to make special mention of was THIS little guy. He’s … what? Five? Six? And dressed as Alex from A Clockwork Orange. I have seen the future of Horror and it’s this kid!

IMG_2876

Of course, even monsters and ghouls have to eat, and it was fun to see discarded masks scattered around the cafeteria …

Over the two days, I really enjoyed taking a look around the many stalls selling tons of Horror stuff, and I wish I could have bought more, but I still came away with a whole bunch of cool stuff. I picked up a copy of CINE by Stuart Keane of Dark Chapter Press, who I kind of know because my story FOUND FOOTAGE was published in their Flashes Of Halloween anthology. I got a Death Note Fob Watch and temporary tattoo. There was actually a tattoo artist working at the Con, and my friend (and it would seem now, official Horror Con Photographer) Louise almost talked me into getting some real ink, but it was either the needle or meeting Linnea Quigley, so the temp ink was as far as I went. This time.

I bought a “stitched flesh” t-shirt that looks MUCH more convincing in real life, and the COOLEST cushion covers ever! TARDISES and Superheroes and Lament Configuration Boxes! Oh My!

One stall that I really wanted to buy something from was the Ginger Zoo, which was kind of cute, knitted chimp-like figures reimagined as Horror Icons. I loved them because the mash-up was so gloriously inappropriate, ESPECIALLY the Human Centipede one!

So, a great weekend, and just because it’s so ace, here’s another pic of the water feature outside Sheffield Station AND the pianos there that are free to use. The next Horror Con I’m planning to visit is in Birmingham in February 2017. There’s probably a few more I’ll be enjoying before then, but if Birmingham is half as good as Sheffield it’ll be brilliant!

Anyway, if you made it this far, thanks for reading!

 


#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 07

Each one of the pieces of microfiction that follows is Horror, in its own way. They might not seem that way, not at first glance, but take a look at them again, out of the corner of your eye. In between their severed body parts and homicidal thoughts, the bread and butter of my genre, there are other horrors, the ones that perhaps aren’t as easy to outrun or outsmart as a Jason Vorhees or a Freddy Krueger. There’s cruelty, and grief, and loss. There’s loneliness and not enough hope.

Horror isn’t just about the blood and guts. I’ve written about this before, but it’s a point worth making again. Fictional Horror doesn’t just exist in the dissolution of the body or mind, it also thrives in the badlands of the commonplace, the unexpected phone call at 2am, or the loved one that doesn’t come home through Fate’s choice or theirs. It lurks in the white noise of the psyche, the knowledge that, physically or emotionally, these are the dying days. It’s there when you realise that every new beginning is an ending waiting to happen.

As an aside, many of these micro fiction pieces were first presented via Twitter’s Friday Phrases hashtag (#FP). Friday Phrases has an e-book in the works (closing date for submissions is 31 August 2015). VisitΒ friday-phrases.com to take a look at the guidelines for more details.

Anyway, on with the show …

The last call was a missed call, and left her with a voicemail more haunting than any ghost.
“Mum? Where are you? It’s getting dark.”

She loved the summer. The games. The lake. The picnics. The days she would torch the anthills and imagine she heard a thousand screams.

I thought the little redhead girl had a spray of freckles upon her nose, until I saw the empty crib & the fine blond hair in her teeth.

“I’ll make you pretty, alright” she said, pulling the barbed wire as tight as she could.

He was still in denial about her death, and as a loving smile began to pop the mortician’s stitches, he realised that so was she.

At night, the tiny lids were lifted & there was laughter & running footsteps between the gravestones. The children still wanted to play.

‘Lose a little weight.’ the director had said.
She traced her xylophone ribs, wondering how long she could eat nothing but thin air.

The man was very handsome, and the roses beautiful.
“Who’s the lucky girl?” she smiled.
His blade glinted within the flowers. “You are.”

She smiled in denial of the fracture in her heart and the tears that flooded from the break, and gave her daughter one last kiss.

The surface tension of his eyeball trembled beneath the razor. “Now,” she said. “Let’s open up those windows to your soul, shall we?”

His childhood was filled with games and stories, but every growing year stole an imaginary friend from him, until he was alone again.

“Oops, you’re coming undone,” he told her. “Let me fix that zip.” Her wide eyes were the last he saw of her as he re-sealed the bodybag.

It was too addictive, the next romance, the new love, the thrilling potential of being alone again. That’s why she kept killing them.

Watching the blade dive between his fingers, again & again, made the dare feel like a wrong decision even before his thumb was severed.

She cried as his hands tightened around her throat. He’d always thought her eyes the perfect pallet for a portrait of tears.

Parchment-thin skin crackled as tiny hands peeled aside withered muscle. The newborn crawled from the ancient wreckage and began to cry.

“The injuries are severe,” the surgeon said. “If the child lives, it’ll spend every day in agonising pain.”
She smiled. “Then save it.”

My pupils dilated first because of the dark, then in shock, and finally as eight spidery legs forced them wide from within.

There are only three things you need to know about me:

1. I’m a psychopath.
2. I’m invisible.
3. I’m behind you.

I took the clothes and the photos from the trash and buried them in the garden.
“Don’t cry, Dad,” I told him. “I’ll grow us a new Mum.”

Thanks for reading – below are links to more of my microfiction, should you feel so inclined … πŸ˜‰

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 1st December – 5th December

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 6th December – 12th December

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 13th December – 19th December

A Love Letter To Friday Phrases

Friday Phrases – I’m In Love

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 01

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 02

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 03

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 04

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 05

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 06


OOPS! We Did It Again!

Hello! Here’s another little shudder of micro fiction inspired by the delightful @ReeDwithaBee and her ear! No, that sounds weird, let me try that again. This one’s inspired by the delightful Ree and her ear for the conversations surrounding her on her commute, as well as her unerring instinct for making an excellent story out of these random prompts. She and I have done this dance before, and the first of her own eavesdropping-inspired stories (as well as a more coherent explanation of what we’re doing) can be found here. My own take on those initial prompts is elsewhere on this blog.

And now, wonderfully, we have a new set of prompt words, and Ree has come up with a acronym for our endeavours, namely OOPS (Occasional Overheard Prompts for Stories). Ree’s newest piece is now on her blog, and excitingly, another player has joined the game, the splendid @whithernow, and you can enjoy her story here.

So … the prompts for our latest 99 word tales (the default length for stories) are, in no particular order:

dead end
cheese
bell
perks
passion

And here we go …

I SCREAM

Selling ice creams at the beach might have been a dead end job, but it had its perks. Pretty girls in bikinis ran to his van as soon as they heard the bell in the summer air. The girl now awaiting her passion fruit swirl idly plucked at a sunburnt shoulder while she waited, and he imagined what he’d do to her when the sedative in the sprinkles took effect, and his blowtorch would tan that skin into something like melted cheese. He watched her walk back to the beach, then sat and waited for the night to come.

Thanks for reading!


Why I Write – Updated

I won’t lie to you – this IS and ISN’T a new post. Last year I was very kindly asked to participate in two blog hops, each of them inviting me to elaborate a little on my writing process. I’m currently doing a little housekeeping at The Ark Hive at the moment, and in reading those posts again I found areas where some of info was outdated. The works in progress or upcoming projects are sights in the rear-view now, so I wanted to post versions with those sections edited out, but if you’re of a mind to read the original posts (and I’d point you in that direction if only to introduce you to the awesome people who very kindly nominated me, and the equally awesome people I subsequently nominated) the originals are available here and here.

So … Why I write …

I know why I started. I think the creative urge is something woven into our DNA, a seed planted in the soil of wherever dreams are born. Sometimes that seed flourishes, nourished by the sunlight and showers of the imagination, and the mind becomes a garden of vision and creativity. Sometimes, the seed grows into something more fragile, little more than a teardrop of colour in the black soil, and the imagination runs to smaller endeavours. Sometimes, heartbreakingly, the seed is ripped viciously from the dirt or trodden underfoot or withered by the unforgiving winters of the real world.

Maybe I’ve been lucky, maybe I’ve been given a modest garden to tend. Yes, it’s often choked with weeds, and there’s the occasional square of disturbed earth between the flower beds where the bodies are buried, but its mine, dash it, and I think there are perhaps two elements from real life that brought it to bloom.

One of them was the thread of solitude when I was growing up. My childhood … Stuff happened. It’s not quite up there with the fate of Thomas and Martha Wayne, but suffice it to say circumstances allowed me the retrospective good fortune of being left alone to my own imaginary devices, unburdened by family influences so that I might tend to that creative seed.

The other element was comics, of course. I like DC, but at heart I’m a Marvel fanboy, and Marvel has always fostered a wonderful warm connection with its readership, breaching the barrier between creator and wide-eyed reader with its letters from the Bullpen (Excelsior!) and its fourth-wall breaking asides (Deadpool’s nods out the frame are the bastard child of these, I think) and its little boxes that namechecked the artists and writers but gave them amiable nicknames (“Marvellous” Marv Wolfman, “Live-It-Up” Len Wein, “Rascally” Roy Thomas). It’s one of the reasons that Stan “The Man” Lee is so beloved today, and why his cameos are such a fun part of the movies. Well, I call them cameos. Either that, or he’s actually playing the same character, a franchise-straddling, ageless immortal whose varied career path has encompassed Army General, a couple of stints as a Security Guard, and a postman. But I digress …

Another comic that showcased its creators in this way was the UK’s own 2000AD, the home of Judge Dredd, referring to its writers and artists as Script Droids or Art Droids, and again it was a glimpse behind the curtain that not only fed my imagination but reminded me that somebody, somewhere, was constructing these worlds. And even better, they were grown ups, and I suppose that was what decided me on the kind of grown up I wanted to be.

I know why I kept going, even when I was heavily discouraged from writing even as a hobby. I think a mantra sadly familiar to a great many aspiring writers is the one where people tell you that you can’t do it, or you shouldn’t do it, or you’ll never make a living out of it, or what will the neighbours think, or your words are no good. Yeah, like we need to hear that, when we’ve all considered these things and cast them aside, again and again? Bah! To hell with the neighbours! They can’t make me wear pants!

For me, being told that I couldn’t do it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me – I have something of a history of being unable to resist a dare (I once snorted an entire bag of Sherbet Flying Saucers!), and so I kept on writing (as we all must do, although I’d advocate avoiding the Flying Saucer thing). When I started to read Stephen King’s work, I found a friendlier, more encouraging voice, not just in the fiction, but in the many notes and intros that King includes in his books, the peeks into his creative processes. Again, it was that crack in the wall, that sense that the words on the page are one person talking to another, no matter the gulf of time and space between the writing and the reading, that reminder that You Are Not Alone.

Why do I still write? Hmm. What drives me to sit at my desk after a long day of dispiriting commutes and workplace politics and try to fill the page with words? Why have there been days when I’ve given myself headaches and heartaches, staring at a screen when I could be outside, enjoying the fleeting breath of an English summer, walking in the park and looking at real gardens instead of the one in my head? The easy (and honest) answer would be that I’m hoping against hope to make even a small living out of writing at some point, if only enough to leave that commute and the politics behind, but that might never happen, and even if that was the reason, then how do I explain the blog posts, or the stories that are written with no intention to publish, or the essays, or the journal entries? (I’ve discounted the #FPs, by the way, because I know why I do them – they’re beyond fun to write)

Certainly, the encouraging voices of fellow creators are still a factor – the writing community on Twitter is wonderful, and it’s fantastic to read the great fiction and inspirational articles of other bloggers, sharing their own sneak peeks into their creative processes.

So yes, of course, I want to make a living with this writing malarkey (and if I ever write for Marvel, I already have my nickname: “Jolly” Roger Jackson? No … no, perhaps not). But that’s not it, not really. I write because all this stuff in me … it has to get out. I wake up with another person’s thoughts in my head, a dream of a kiss or a punch in the face that I never gave or received, another person’s cares and concerns. Sometimes I have to let them take precedence over my own, because to not let the words out, to let the garden die when it’s weathered all those winters and stamping feet, to let those bodies stay buried … that’s not what we’re here for, any of us.

Why do I write? I think my answer is, ultimately, the same as every other writer’s would be.

I don’t have a choice.


My Writing Process – Updated

Another retooled post! Last year I was very kindly asked to participate in two blog hops, each of them inviting me to elaborate a little on my writing process. I’m currently doing a little housekeeping at The Ark Hive at the moment, and in reading those posts again I found areas where some of info was outdated. The works in progress or upcoming projects are sights in the rear-view now, so I wanted to post versions with those sections edited out, but if you’re of a mind to read the original posts (and I’d point you in that direction if only to introduce you to the awesome people who very kindly nominated me, and the equally awesome people I subsequently nominated) the originals are available here and here.

HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?

At first I thought this was quite a tricky question to answer, but ultimately it’s as simple as “It differs because it’s me writing it.”

To me, writing is like seeing shapes in the clouds. You and I might lay back on the warm grass, watching those little crystals of water or ice embrace tiny particles of dust in the blue sky, and, wondrously, this cold and unstoppable physical law will inspire you to see unicorns or angels, cats or dogs, the famous or the infamous, whatever your mind is wired to see.

If your mind is wired like mine, or if you’re meeting me halfway by reading the ink on a page or the pixels I’ve arranged on a screen, all I can hope to do is use my own experiences and emotional view of the world to convince you we’re seeing pretty much the same thing. That’s all any writer does. All our work differs from others in its genre.

WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?

As I say I’m wired to see what I see, and to imagine what I imagine. As a kid, my earliest stories were superficially science-fictional, cherry-picking concepts from my favourite films and TV shows and comic books and mashing them into tales that didn’t so much explore strange new worlds as recycle them … many is the story from that time that saw a Doctor Doom/Darth Vader hybrid commanding an army of “like Cybermen but not really Cybermen” against a brave band of Mutant mercenaries armed with laser swords (definitely NOT lightsabres). Incidentally, I used to draw fake movie posters for these stories, crazy, sprawling artwork crammed with all the elements I’d stolen from my influences. Thankfully, none of these drawings survive, but they tended to be a variation on this:

I have this album ... and it's brilliant!

I have this album … and it’s brilliant!

 

The thing is, if I was writing about a cyborg, say, I started to realise how much more I enjoyed writing about the seeping, decaying remains of his or her flesh than the sleek, mechanical aspects of the cybernetics. Eventually, I came to understand that my science-fiction efforts were Horror stories in disguise, and that if I was going to write, that was the territory in which I could have the most fun.

I’ve written elsewhere about my love for the Horror genre, but the short version is that I honestly believe it’s the most flexible field I could ever work in. I can have my zombies and demons and killers (oh my!), but if I want I can also have comedy or erotica or teen angst or political drama or whatever I need. I don’t think it works the other way. Any of those genres can exist brilliantly on their own, but make the President a vampire or the angst-ridden teens serial killers and the story’s heart begins to blacken, to turn to the Dark Side.

For me, the genre remains honourable and undiluted no matter what other themes and elements it can comfortably incorporate. That’s why the Horror element always comes first when people talk about mashing it up with another genre. Zombie Western, Zombie Romance, never the other way around. Horror defines itself, and the stories it tells, and that’s why I love writing it.

HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?

Unfortunately, my day job doesn’t allow me the luxury of a fixed time to write, or indeed a great deal of free time at all, and so any creativity tends to be left to the end of the week for Friday Phrases, and as much novel-writing as I can manage to fit in over the weekend.

If I have a whole day, I’m at my most creative in the mornings. I’ll aim for around two thousand words of new stuff then, and spend the afternoon checking through what I’ve already written. I usually find this PM editing a relatively painless process, as I’m in the habit of editing the work as I write it. I know many writers might shake their heads at this, considering it a great sin against productivity and creativity. It’s far better, they might argue, to let the prose flow, to let one’s imagination spill unrestrained on to the page, and later to use craft and skill to shape the words into the best they can possibly be.

For the record, those writers are absolutely 100% correct, but generally speaking it’s not how it works for me. There is a reason for this, I think.

A few years ago, I tried my hand at a little stand-up comedy. I’d been writing a few jokes for radio shows and the like and thought it might be interesting to see how my material played to a live crowd. Believe me, though writing is a solitary, sometimes lonely endeavour, it can feel like a party compared to standing alone on stage in front of a cold audience daring you to make them laugh.

The material was a weird stream-of-consciousness thing which wondered what might happen if – and those of you of a sensitive disposition might want to look away now – an adult movie was created by the cast of Sesame Street.

It was strange. I fully suspect anyone still reading can guess the kind of things the beloved Count was so joyfully enumerating, and even deduce what appallingly inappropriate selection of letters and numbers my imagined episode was brought to you by. What role I speculated that the renamed Cookie Monster might play in these sordid events is perhaps best left consigned to history.

The material got a few laughs, but the guy behind the microphone was an idiot, so I stopped. The experience did leave me with a curious learning curve that informs my writing today, though. All those times when I stumbled over a line, or ducked a thrown beer bottle, or misplaced one of the events in my routine and had to backtrack in as naturalistically a fashion as possible … all those things meant that I learned to cut and paste my thoughts, and quickly. To edit and shape as I went along, rewriting “as live”, if you like. It’s one reason why the shoot-from-the-hip nature of writing the Friday Phrases really appeals to me. Many of mine share the same structure as a joke, I think, albeit a joke where the punchline involves a demon or a dismemberment.

So that’s about it for my Writing Process … thanks for reading!


Empathy – Part Five

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

The house that Pierre’s childhood memories had sketched in my mind was structurally similar to the one I was seeing through my windscreen, but the years had redrawn it as lightless and peeling, and overgrown with dying greenery. But this was the place; the sprawling oak tree mentioned so often in Pierre’s reminiscences confirmed it. That, and the vulgar American car standing outside and gleaming silvery red under the night sky.

A gentle breeze sprung up as I got out of my own vehicle, blowing brittle leaves around my shoes as I crossed to the house and stepped onto the porch. Something crumbled gently beneath my foot, and I heard a crunch. Snapping open my petrol lighter, I knelt to get a better look – in the flickering light I saw a clot of damp soil, its middle flattened into the imprint of my shoe, and the smear of broken beetle I had crushed beneath my weight.

Graveyard dirt.

Suddenly, I felt as though thick, hooked fingers were squeezing my innards, sickening me. I stood and tried the door. It was unlocked, and screeched open on horror-movie hinges. That was when the stench hit me, invading my sinuses and filling my eyes with a stinging wetness. I gagged, covering my nose and mouth, but the smell crawled across my tongue. In my future I would smell it again, first on Yvonne’s breath and then later on Pierre’s but even then I knew it for what it was.

And as I entered the house, it grew worse.

‘Pierre?’ I called from behind my hand. ‘Pierre, it’s me, Jacques. Where are you?’

There was no answer. The house seemed silent but for the creak of floorboards beneath my feet and the rising gusts of wind whispering in the gloom.

I raised my lighter to cast a little more radiance and saw more piles of dirt scattered randomly along the hallway – blind things squirmed in some of them. I followed the trail, hardly aware of the tears on my own face. That uniquely noxious stench had settled upon my shoulders like gossamer cobwebs, mingling with my own sour dread. My bladder burned as though it were filled with hot embers.

‘Pierre?’ I was whispering now, though I was sure he could hear me. Suddenly, I could hear him. Beyond an open doorway filled with shadow, I could hear him breathing. Thick, muffled breaths.

I stepped through.

Pierre was sitting in the corner of the room, rocking gently and cradling his brother, poor, ragged Alain. He was holding him close, stroking hair that came away in his fingers. I thought he might be crying.

My numb lips mouthed his name, but no sound emerged. Pierre looked up anyway, and I saw that he was crying; huge, glistening tears rolled down his face and splashed upon his dead twin’s lips, cold lips that some patient undertaker had sewn into a soft, contented smile with tiny, elegant stitches.

Pierre was looking at me, and his smile was identical. Soft, and content.

Sobbing, I fled, and it was the early hours of the morning before I made it home. The journey back seems like a dream to me now, even the crash, hurtling off the road and gashing my forehead on the steering wheel. I looked at my split and bleeding brow in the cracked rear view and laughed. I laughed as though it were the world’s funniest joke; for a time, as Pierre might have pointed out, I too was riding the crazy train.

I told Yvonne I had crashed en route to the Leveque family home. She never believed it, of course; there were too many nights when I woke up crying and she held me, hushing my sobs and kissing away tears. But she never asked any questions. Love kept what happened that night a secret between us.

The next time I saw Pierre Leveque he was on television. And in the newspapers. Being arrested, being led slump-shouldered into court. I expected to be called as a witness, but the call never came. Pierre never mentioned our encounter to the police, and nor did I. The bribed night-watchman testified for the prosecution in return for a more lenient sentence, but they hardly needed him. The police had arrived at the crumbling house perhaps an hour or so after I had left, acting upon an anonymous telephone call. It wasn’t from Yvonne or I, as you may be thinking, and I often wondered if Pierre had arranged it himself, in advance. That secret died with him. According to the tastefully censored articles I saw at the time, the authorities found much the same scene as I had. The public outcry combined with Pierre’s apparent lack of remorse was what truly damned him – he chose never to appeal against the judge’s sentence of life imprisonment.

The bodysnatchers – a man and a woman – were never found.

* * *

Thirty years later, he looked at me from the bed of a prison infirmary where he would die less than an hour later, with his hand in mine. His eyes were ringed with blood.

‘You understand now why I did it, don’t you, Jacques?’ he asked, his words hoarse and reeking. ‘Poor Alain. He was alone, you see, all alone in the dark. He was scared, and he called to me. Please, Jacques. Tell me you understand.’

‘Yes.’ I told him. ‘I understand.’ And then that silence blossomed between us again, only this time, I am glad to say, it was the silence of friends.

* * *

The funeral was a week ago.

God, I wish Pierre was alive now, if only so we could laugh together about how wrong Alain was. It isn’t just sibling empathy that calls us back, you see, for I too long to reclaim wasted time – thirty years of it. Pierre’s body is buried deep, next to his beloved brother, and yes, I wish he were here now, so that I might embrace him for a while and he might stop the screaming in my head.

The tools are all laid neatly in the boot of my car, and though the earth is hard with winter frost and my arthritis seems so much worse this year, I will dig, and dig, and dig.

THE END