After my collection came out last year, 2022 felt like a quieter year writing wise. Moving house in the middle of the year meant that my attention was elsewhere for a lot of the time. However, I did have several stories published over the year.
On the Hills, the Knitters – Bourbon Penn 26
The knitters moved to the elephant five years after the plague ended. Sam and I watched them walk up past the village, carrying their possessions in rucksacks and wheelbarrows.
When the wheels caught on broken limestone, they helped each other, carrying the barrows between them over the rough ground.
The elephant wasn’t ours. We never asked for the three hundred foot knitted effigy to be dumped on the mountainside above the village. We didn’t put it there, but it had been sprawled across the rocks so long, longer than I’ve been alive, we felt it was part of the village. When the wind blew in the right direction, we smelled it in the street, the decay of the wool rotting in the summer sun like dead lambs. Sometimes lengths of orange yarn floated down the slope to catch in the gutters. As kids, we collected the strands and wove them into bracelets, telling ourselves that the elephant would protect us from evil, though we never knew what evil it could defend us against. Exchanging them and wearing them around our wrists as friendship bands.
On the Hills, is one of my knitting cosmic horror stories, inspired by a major landscape artwork in Italy and dealing with grief, loss, outsiders, and crafting.
You can read the full story online at the Bourbon Penn website.
Flowstone in Three Lobed Burning Eye 36
The sensation of damp gravel against his hand is exactly as Dave remembered, sharp and nauseating at the same time. He stands and brushes down his jeans, then looks at the tiny precise stones stuck to his palms by moisture and imprint.
The staircase rises above him like a concrete cascade frozen in a singular moment. His life still feels stuck around such a moment. He looks down at the path again, and is hit by the scent of pennies, but does not know if it is spilt blood or spilt money he is remembering.
The caves have changed since he was a child. Now many colors of bulbs highlight the stone wonders on either side of the walkway, where before there was only darkness and a fading torch. He touches the hardhat loaned to him by the attraction, and finds a safety sticker peeling away from the rim. He plays with the edge as he sits again on the damp floor.
Flowstone is a story inspired by two tourist attractions near my hometown of Harrogate. As with many of my stories it uses the frame of horror to explore grief and loss.
You can read Flowstone at Three Lobed Burning Eye.
The Ercildoun Accord in Lackington’s 25 – Prehistories
Small Finds Nos.034-082
A series of small metal coins, heavily worn through apparent use. Each coin is stamped on the reverse and obverse. Larger than standard coinage and heavier, with a golden appearance. During the preparation to remove the finds from site, the material was identified as: leaves (variously sycamore, elm, and ash), sheep’s wool, and bone dust.
-Extract from Small Find Report Excavations in the Lower Kingdom of the Seven Silken Ghosts
I pour the hot fat into the concentric circles and watch it settle against the stone. The winds across the moor are fresh, cooling the fat white and opaque. In the central hammerstone-chipped cup I pour the whiskey, the alcohol staying golden. For years we did not know what the cup and ring stones were used for until we found the Calkerdale Stone in a peat bog, offerings preserved by the lack of air and death.
The irony of using prehistory as a gateway to study prehistory does not escape me. I place my hand against the rock, feeling the grain shift beneath my touch. The surface softens and flexes against my weight and then I’m reaching through for another place.
For a few moments after I arrive my skin is grey and glittered with feldspar, then fades back to normal flesh. In this place I feel myself ageing as everything around me does not. I can feel myself rotting with life.
This was so much fun to write! How would you carry out commercial archaeology in Faery? With great difficulty it turns out. I love stories about the fae that deal with the complexity of whim, whimsy and obligations, but also deal with the visceral character of the world.
You can read the full version of The Ercildoun Accord in the Prehistories issue of Lackington’s.
The Taste of Sound in Analog Magazine July-August 2022
This is the Autonomous Population Emergency Broadcast System. This country has been disrupted by an unspecified event. We shall bring you further information as soon as possible. Meanwhile, stay calm and stay in your own homes. There is nothing to be gained by trying to get away. By leaving your homes you will be exposing yourself to greater danger. The safest place is indoors. We shall repeat this broadcast at regular intervals. Remain calm.
APEBS 0034 feels the microbes within its gut shift into a new configuration, allowing theflow of chemicals that activates the siren. The sound is intense and it retracts its aural canal, folding over the carbon fibre skin to protect its sensory system from damage. The sound will continue until all the sugar has been metabolised, before the broadcast is repeated.
The Taste of Sound is my second story in Analog and I’m so happy it found a good home. Again, this story came about from two ideas. The first was research for an article I wrote for Fortean Times about Emergency Population Warning Systems (there’s even a YouTube playlist I put together for the article here if you would like to be unsettled by strange sirens. The second inspiration was the living architecture work of Dr Rachel Armstrong (for example here).
You can read a Q&A I did with Analog about the story here.
Pellets in Not One of Us #70
I am scattered. I am fragments. I am separated. Hidden and distant from each other.
Most of me has been digested, even as I rotted, but some morsels survive, scattered in the leaf litter for the dirt to do its work.
Others are enwrapped in sparrow bones and rabbit tendons. Grit and dirt. I hear the bird’s wings against the sky. They rise into the air. I am spread between them, able to hear everything from within, as if my gristle lodged in their gullet becomes part of their vast elegance. Just for a while. Their feathers are a symphony and there are many feathers. Many scavengers feasted upon my corpse. Through their hunger I have become a multitude.
The inspiration for Pellets came from some research into which birds of prey make bone pellets, and the idea of fragmentation after death but awareness and identity remaining.
A copy of Not One of Us can be purchased via the website.
Dawn Caught and Dead in Not One of us #72
Dawn caught and dead, the fish laid in the bottom of the bath, vast below the shallow water. A single distorted eye gazed up at the discoloured paint on the ceiling above. Occasionally my uncle, (the one responsible for dragging the creature from the sea – the one who never ate seafood himself) walked into the small room to stare at the fish, as it lay there too close to the surface. Ash from his cigarette fell into the bath, smudging the scales grey. He continued to stare, taking a lungful of smoke that he looked barely large enough to contain. Dead, the fish continued to ignore him and I continued washing my hands. Smoke rose to turn the ceiling tiles an even richer yellow. He dropped the exhausted cigarette down the toilet and flushed.
This strange little story is based on true events from my childhood. My Dad used to go sea fishing and caught a huge cod. With nowhere else to put it in our small terraced house, the fish stayed in the bath until it could be divided between family members.
Issue 72 of Not One of Us is available at the website.
720° in Mother: Tales of Love and Terror from Weird Little Worlds Publishing
“Dog hair felted every inch of the carpet though the dogs the hair belonged to were long since dead. My mum sat across the room, a magazine folded upon her lap, open at some random story of misery. I did not ask how she was. I did not care.
“You got my message?” she said.
“Doris passed it on.”
She shifted in her chair, letting the magazine topple to the ground as if she still expected me to pick up after her. Behind her an old FM radio played, a barely audible brass band fading in and out so I could not recognise the tune.
“She was always good, Doris. Always did as she was told.”
I’d seen the bruises myself. Worn my own too.
This is another story inspired by local history from where I grew up, as well as personal experiences growing up and difficult family relationships. Again, I want to use horror to explore subjects that can sometimes be difficult to approach directly. The whole anthology is excellent, featuring authors such as Sarah read, Dan Coxon, Hailey Piper, John Langan, and Ai Jiang.
You can grab a copy at the Weird Little Worlds bookshop here.