Solstice is coming closer, and I can feel it in the air. The day’s are tainted with darkness when I do leave the house, and winter is gaining a momentum. We brace ourselves for contact.
While I haven’t gone for a theme (that would be too much pressure while writing thirty stories) there is a definite thread running through my stories this year. I’ve always leaned toward a moor and leaf mould setting for my stories. For 2016 the folk horror feel is stronger. This is intentional and has a lot to do with the material I’ve absorbed over the last few months. See what you think to the seven latest stories.
And the Bluebells Did Ring
This was inspired by an article on Atlas Obscura. (www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-hidden-signs-that-mark-britains-ghost-forests)
The hikers did not know they were in the ghost forest until they heard bluebells ring out a funeral dirge.
They’d seen the signs of course. Old Ministry of Works plaques, bolted to the side of barns on the walk up. Stamped letters saying “You are now approaching one of England’s Ghost Forests. Walk with care.” The hikers thought them a prank or anachronism.
Once inside the ghost forest the hikers ignored the advice of the long forgotten Ministry of Works. They stumbled over dead trees and half chewed spines that hid in the sunlight. Each step they took crushed petals of flowers not alive for millennia.
Careless in their walking they collapsed dens in the ethereal woodland, though the hikers themselves did not hear the cries of sleeping animals disturbed with their passing.
But the things that made their home in the Ghost Forest heard the hikers, and shadowed their meandering route.
The sun dropped and the Hikers had still not left the ghost forest. Predators with too many teeth, and dried fur sticking to their claws, shuddered from the long dead past. Slowly, over several miles, they unveiled themselves, and when the hikers were little more than meat soaked in fear, the ghost forest had its feast.
Jack Frost Hidden
When Spring came the warmth tore Jack Frost apart, and he hid himself throughout the fields and forests. On the return of winter, memory evaporated by the long hot summer, he searched for his body, carrying a single thread of spider silk to stitch himself together once more.
His breath was hidden deep in the lake, pressed down by stagnant water and rotting carcasses of fish that every so often floated detached scales to the surface.
He found his sight between the sapwood and bark of a dying yew tree. Breathing on his vision he blew away the splinters and insects ambered within.
His limbs were compressed into the mud of four forest paths, each leading in a different direction. The first to drowning, the second to mania. The third and fourth ran to a quarry in the middle of the trees where the only sound was a single echo of fire-cracked stone that had never found its way out of the hollow.
Jack Frost looked at himself in his own skin and though his face was stitched back on, and his legs carved mirrors of ice into the soil, there was still something missing. He held up his arms and stared at the ten rounded stumps, knucklebones exposed to the last of the year’s heat. His fingers! How could he forget his fingers.
They were hidden well, and hidden deep, and it took many nights of searching to find each one. Some hung from the stems of leaves, only veins remaining as a memory of their shape. Others were squeezed between the plates of a fox skull, his fingerskin crushed and misshapen after many long months in their hiding place. His thumbs he’d hidden together in the chest of a single brown robin, deep in the most knotted part of the woodland. With both hands he pressed nails through the feathers and withdrew the small bird’s heart, staining the robin’s breast red as he reclaimed what was his.
Then he used a single pine needle, and his one thread of spider silk, to stitch his fingers back in place. Once he was whole he breathed out his breath of winter killing, carving the gossamer of frost into ferns. A tribute to the deep forest that had hidden him so well through the long summer months.
One Foot In Front Of The Other
Bill’s first mistake was stepping onto the path of fallen blossom.
His second was to not immediately sprinkle powdered ashes of his favourite book around himself.
Underfoot, the path turned to stone, then slate, sand then salt. Around him the scene stayed the same until it didn’t. The faces of people powdered to a dust of skin, bone hollowed and threadbare. Eyes of rosehips.
Bill tried to place even a toe beyond the path. A great sadness pressed out of him and he could not.
Barely more than six foot long, the path led nowhere, yet he felt unseen pedestrians brush against him as they passed.
With no food in his pockets, he harvested bitter nuts from amongst the leaf litter.
No one came to save him. Not the children with skin of shredded ivy, or the commuters with feathers for tongues.
With nowhere else to go, and no way to leave, he put on foot in front of the other, stepping onto where the path became unseen, until he too disappeared from sight.
“And when your teeth drop out, because you’ve eaten too many sweets, then he will come and take them.”
There was always the intake of breath when the child saw the sketch drawing, the tooth covered figure standing in a bedroom doorway.
Mr Fortnum never showed it without the parent’s permission. Only when the mother or father were at the end of their tether. Struggling to get their offspring to take care of themselves. See a future beyond the next foil wrapped sugary treat.
The child shuddered and took the free toothbrush and small tube of paste. He watched her swill and spit the pink liquid, before leaving the room with her smiling mother. Much calmer than when she dragged her daughter into the surgery.
She was the last patient of the day. Now alone, he reached under the trolley, feeling around until he found the small metal tray holding that day’s extracted teeth. Plaque and strands of gum discoloured the enamel. He held each in turn, running a finger over their shattered edges.
Reaching for a scalpel, Mr Fortnum made an incision in his chest and pressed the teeth one after the other into the pocket of skin.They clattered their way across molars already in place, and settled into empty hollows, severed roots knitting into his ribs. His stolen outer skin was starting to feel too tight as his hidden, enamelled, shell grew.
Soon the crowns would show through, then lacerate their way out. Soon he would have to shed his disguise. Soon it would be time to feast.
This story was inspired by a photo of a Channel Zero costume on Buzzfeed (http://boingboing.net/2016/12/06/full-body-costume-made-of-arti.html)
We hid in doorways and listened for the rustle of their paper faces. The beasts only came out on deserted streets. Hidden feet left no spoor for us to track. Just the sound of their skin and their bellows.
Passing under street lamps they became visible, the cone of sulphur burning away any disguise. The spells scratched into their hides glowed with the orange light. We wrote them down in our notebooks, so we knew what we were up against. So afterwards someone would remember.
Getting ahead of the creatures, we ran to the roundabout. Laid out sigils in road grit along the kerb. The beasts stepped in and became solid, the tarmac struggling to bear their weight. We turned away from their Polaroid paper eyes so we would not be trapped in their gaze.
Walking around the circle of lights we burnt effigies papier-mâchéd from free newspapers and rat bones. Their voices drowned out the cries of the beasts circling the grass. We watched smoke rise to settle in the air as clouds. Then the rains came.
The beasts did not scream in pain. We didn’t even know if they could. Over the next twenty four hours their origami hides soddened. Became pulp that clogged the gutters. We scraped it up with our bare hands and we sang laments for the last of their kind.
The Peacock Man
Today’s story was inspired by this display I saw in a Munich shop window. Have a great weekend!
Glitter-faced and brittle-beaked the Peacock Man lurked in the December streets. Drunken singing and clinking glasses had tempted him from his nest of broken champagne flutes and discard bottles. Through frosted windows he watched work parties in full swing, his gibbet of fingers scraping along the wooden sill.
They never saw him, but he saw them, his cheek pressed against the stone. Saw the Prosecco glances that passed between co-workers under cheap paper garlands. Reaching out he stole those shared moments from the air. Let them dangle from his mother-of-pearl fingernails like dying rodents.
He turned the gazes over on his feathered palms then dripped them into his mouth. Tasted the honeyed smiles and bitter laughs. Let the vodka drowned flirtations sit upon the plumage of his tongue.
The party-goers never noticed the Peacock Man had stolen their precious moments from them. They barely registered sharing them with friends and crushes in the first place.
The stolen glances settled into the Peacock Man’s iridescent train as yet more blind blue eyes. Inside the party, the revellers’ skin turned a little greyer. Their laughter a little more hollow.
Sleeping in Splinters
Today’s story was inspired by a display in Cotswold Outdoor Shop
The campers found the head of glass hidden in a crevice between two blocks of millstone grit. Lichen discoloured the dappled surface. Once cleaned with Sam’s shirt, they saw the thin slices of hazel inside.
The stoma in the neck was barely wide enough to slide in a finger. They forced their hands in anyway, stretching the glass edged hole in their eagerness. It pulsed and gripped at their touch.
Each hazel disc was marked with oak gall ink, dragged into lines by sharpened twigs. The campers could not read the writing, but made their choices anyway. Jill took the last and the glass head melted like sugar in rain.
With nothing else to do they each placed the chosen disc against the roof of their mouth and waited.
Splinters tore apart their palates, pressing through cheekbones and sinuses until they spined eyes to eyelids.
Unable to see, the campers stepped cautious, but not cautious enough. Each stumbled into a new world only they occupied, razor thin and a leaf’s breath away from us.
Sometimes a breeze blows through the pocket where they are trapped blind. We smell the moss growing on their skin. We run our tongues over the roofs of our mouths to check for hazel bark, and finding none we weep for our friends sleeping in splinters