Best Horror of the Year 11 and Recent Acceptances

This week I had some fantastic news, finding out that Ellen Datlow has accepted not one, but two of my stories for Best Horror of the Year 11.

The Jaws of Ouroboros first appeared in the Nosetouch Press anthology ‘The Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror’, and Split Chain Stitch was published in Mystery Weekly Magazine November. To have two stories selected hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Best Horror of the Year 11 will be published by Night Shade Books in September.

The full TOC is below:

I Remember Nothing by Anne Billson
Monkeys on the Beach by Ralph Robert Moore
Painted Wolves by Ray Cluley
Shit Happens by Michael Marshall Smith
You Know How the Story Goes by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Back Along the Old Track by Sam Hicks
Masks by Peter Sutton
The Donner Party by Dale Bailey
Milkteeth by Kristi DeMeester
Haak by John Langan
Thin Cold Hands by Gemma Files
A Tiny Mirror by Eloise C. C. Shepherd
I Love You Mary-Grace by Amelia Mangan
The Jaws of Ouroboros by Steve Toase
A Brief Moment of Rage by Bill Davidson
Golden Sun by Kristi DeMeester, Richard Thomas, Damien Angelica Walters, and Michael Wehunt
White Mare by Thana Niveau
Girls Without Their Faces On by Laird Barron
Thumbsucker by Robert Shearman
You Are Released by Joe Hill
Red Rain by Adam-Troy Castro
Split Chain Stitch by Steve Toase
No Exit by Orrin Grey
Haunt by Siobhan Carroll
Sleep by Carly Holmes

(Artwork by Audrey Benjaminsen. Designed by Claudia Noble.)

I’ve also recently found out that Mystery Weekly Magazine will be publishing my story Tangerines and Wild Garlic.

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SYNTH is a new dark SciFi anthology series from C.M. Muller, the editor behind Nightscript. My story Flow to the Sea will be in SYNTH 1, out on 15th March, and From My Rotting Body, Flowers Shall Bloom will be in SYNTH 4 out toward the end of the year.

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To finish, Gorgon: Stories of Emergence (DE/UK/US) is now available to buy, including my story Discarded Skins. This fantastic anthology from Pantheon Magazine contains over forty stories from authors such as; Gwendolyn Kiste, Richard Thomas, Maria Haskins, Julia Day, C.M. Muller, Carina Bissett and Beth Cato (and just look at that stunning Daniele Serra cover art). You can pick up a copy from the usual places.

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Flash Fiction Month 2018 Week 4 and a bit

I’m a bit behind on this, because holidays happened, and Christmas, and birthdays.

Here are the last ten stories of my flash fiction month. Thirty one days and thirty one stories. I hope you enjoy this last collection.

 

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 22

On Wings of Fire

Lanterns lined the path through the snow, each glittering with a different colour.

She walked along the lane, bathing in the glow of each one. The multicoloured chrome of Goose Fair on a late autumnal night. Shades of a complete rainbow seen from a Canadian mountain. Sparse sunlight dancing through rain showers high in Nidderdale. The shudder of reflections on bicycle spokes. A single candle in a silent room, hiding wooden elves with its shadows.

Soon she reached an unlit lantern, balanced in a snowdrift, waiting for her to pick it up.

With no matches she ignited her memories. Castles at the meeting of three rivers, and labyrinths low in the grass. Wild boar hunting acorns in the mud, and snowmen with mohicans of sticks. The pride of Einschulung and the joy of poems read in a six year old’s voice. Kirsch Eis in the height of summer, and tiffin in the depths of winter. The clack of needles in the warmth of the night, and the sound of guitars in the dark of a wooden floored hall.

Using her memories she drew flames from last year’s lantern. Danced them through the sky on wings of fire. Sparked the candlewick to life. The final lantern lit, she raised it in the air and used the light of all her past joys to guide her into the coming twelve months.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 23

Dark Hearts

Sarah baked gingerbread hearts, each with a centre of jam covered in thick dark chocolate. In some the filling was the rich crimson of raspberries, though no raspberries were used. In others the dark blue of blackcurrants, though Sarah never harvested the canes outside her window.

Only on special occasions did she serve the soft baked confectionary, and only ever one type at a time.

For some the gift brought them to a new path, leading out of a darkness. To the sun until then only glimpsed through a forest of knives.

For others, who ate the hearts containing something as shadowed as that lurking in their own chest, the treat only led them to a future of dark water and thorns. The clasp of mud and of the choke of silt.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 24

Rising

The men drowned though they were nowhere near the depths of the sea.Their chests filled with salt heavy water. Bloated with ebbing seaweed that swelled in their throats.

The women tried to clear the lungs of the choking. Turned the men on their sides. The recovery position remembered from school. On their fronts. Ribs splintered against cobbles and kerbs.

Still the water came. Torrented past shattered teeth. In desperation the women clogged mouths with towels and torn shirts. Closed them with cotton wool and stitches. They no longer cared to bring the men to breathing. They were past saving. Now they just wanted to stem the flood they knew was coming.

The pressure was too great. Split the skin of the men’s gullets. Overwhelmed the gutters and backed up drains. Rose up the walls of shops and homes alike. Took breath from sleeping children and the women who could not escape until they floated above bones smoothed and polished by seawater far from the sea.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 25

Sun and Moon

The two showmen stood in the middle of the square. Backs to each other, faces turned out to the crowd. One wore makeup to disguise himself as the sun, the other the moon.

The crowds stood at a respectful distance, no barrier needed as the wolves circling the two performers kept them back, the fragrance of their pelts overpowering every other scent.

The people did not know what the entertainment would be, but the excitement was in the air. No shows ever visited their little town.

Once the magic tricks and tumbling were finished the crowd did not want the performance to end. When the two smiling men asked for the children to be sent forward parents pushed their precious quilted bundles toward the middle of the square.

The wolves parted and the two showmen stood aside to reveal a cloth booth that was not there before, the fabric embroidered with pear trees and snow drifts.

One by one the children walked forward, scrabbling past each other to pass between the billowing curtains.

The parents did not forget as soon as the showmen packed away the fragile tent, nor when the two strangers wiped the sun and moon makeup from their faces with cloths soaked in vodka, but once the showmen rode the wolves out of the town all the parents remembered was the sun and moon shining in the marketplace at the same time.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 26

In case you’re wondering, by this point in my annual challenge I have no idea what I’m doing. This was inspired by finding a feather under the radiator.

Pellets

The owls living in Paul’s radiators made their nests from rust. He only found them by the fall of feathers on the tiles. Bleeding the valve, the birds flew out and perched on top of the pipes. Every day he brought them mice and they brought up pellets of bones.

Over time the birds grew and so did the pellets, the ribs syruped together far larger than any rodent Paul laid by the bathroom door. He noticed the window smashed by the owls’ vast wings, letting them out to hunt the skies.

One morning leaving for work he saw the owls returning. Each carried a prone body, talons digging in between hip and spine. He watched them drop into the bathroom, turned down faces of the people scraping on the shattered window.

Going back into the house Paul stood by the closed door, listening to the vast birds chewing their food. Soon there would be more owl pellets and less neighbours. Each room of his house was now filled with undigested bone. The only person in the street not swallowed for food was him.

He did not know why the owls ignored him, and did not know if it was luckier to survive, or better to wish for a quick death at the point of the talon and beak. Going back downstairs he shut the door and walked through the silent town, smashed glass and giant soft feathers underfoot, and when he reached the entrance to his work he kept on walking.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 27

Today’s story was inspired by a photo artist Becca Thorne shared.

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Instructions to Summon the Ancient Dead

1 Sprinkle powdered skull pansies into water collected upon the oldest stone in the circle.

2 Ask your familiar to breathe on the water until the surface cools to the temperature of Judecca. You will know when the right temperature is reached when you can hear souls screech as the ice scrapes the rock.

3 Lacerate the ice with a flint blade. The charms will form where the lines cross without any intent from you.

4 When the skull manifests from the trapped water, count the bubbles. If there are an even number, smash the ice and walk away. Do not return to the place until thirteen months have passed.

5 If there are an odd number take a single length of mildewed straw, ask your question, then pierce the ice allowing the trapped air to sigh out.

6 Listen to the answer. Do not let your bare skin touch the stone or your skull will be below the water and your brain will be encased in ice until the heat of your blood turns it to meltwater.

7 Leave one bubble untouched and one question unanswered.

8 Place your familiar on the ice and let it lap up the ghosts trapped under the surface.

9 Feed your familiar well. If it craves meat bring it the finest cuts. If it wishes for wine, open your finest bottle. If it returns in the early hours with things once living stuck between its teeth, do not question it about its night-time hunts. It may just tell you the truth.

10 Do not return to the site of the ancient dead until thirteen months have passed.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 28

The planet’s atmosphere pressed down like an old sodden blanket smothering everything green and living, the air thin and only caught in gasps.

Spoken words fell to the ground, heavy and unheard. To hold conversations people caught sentences in tree leaves. Held them out like gifts. Gossip collected against kerbs, windblown and rotted. Composted. Dense and pinned under that sodden alien air.

When all the trees were gone, the people wrote their messages on stones. They carried pockets of arguments and small talk down to the marketplace, piling them in cairns against the cross.

Searching for the words of loved ones, broken ribs became as common as reading. Mothers sat around tracing chiselled words with crushed fingers. Workers carried sonnets and proposals from home in shattered hands.

Finally, even the faintest trace of air was gone, their lungs scarred and heavy as if filled with gravel, and there was nothing left to mark their conversations except stone and silence and the splinters of bones.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 29

Melt

Melted snow marks the place the landers came to rest, rock below smoothed to mirrors by the heat.

The vehicles are long gone now, trundling through the town, searching in the wooden buildings for any survivors. Families crouching in basements and behind locked doors.

In the twilight sky the transporter waits for the landing party to return. Monitoring their progress. The crew are hungry. Tonight they will feast.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 30

The Coat of Waves

When Muirreann stripped off her sealskin to walk on land, she wore a coat of waves. Vast teal curls that fell over her shoulder to drape on the pavement and leave seawater pools between with each cautious step.

The coat was vast, wrapping around her, knitted together with fine skeins of coral and krill. Each fibre pitted with shimmering algae that danced in the day and glowed blue at night.

When the cold winds came, because she did feel the cold winds without her sealskin, Muirreann fastened the coat of waves shut with buttons of sailor’s bones, and when she slept the waves within the coat rocked her to sleep in a way no blanket ever could.

Once she tired of walking the land on her unfamiliar feet she returned to the coast, and cast the coat of waves back into the tide. As the fibres fell apart they whispered stories of bright lights and cliffs of clay embedded with sheets of vitrified sands. Stories carried on currents through the oceans, far further than Muirreann would ever swim.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 31

Happy Solstice!

Here’s a cheery* story to celebrate the Solstice.

Pale Sun

At the winter solstice the surface of the sun was cool enough for the dead to enter. They scraped out of the dirt, shuddering free from mats of white roots. Ate worms to sustain them on the journey through the atmosphere.

They said nothing, but sometimes the wind howled through their rot hollowed throats and the crowds gathered below heard words in those sounds. Words that comforted or horrified. The dead did not care. They turned their gnawed eyes to the rising sun and continued to float toward the destination.

All flights were cancelled to allow them to make their journey. The corpses climbed through the sky, though never in columns. Each one took their own path, as they had done in life. As they rose they got smaller and smaller, folding in on themselves until they became like apples of marrow. Compact and hollow.

Of course some of the bereaved tried to stop their lost ones leaving the earth. Chained down their burial plots, or covered them with old ghosts nets. The dead did not care. What compelled them to rise could not be stopped by rusted iron or hemp rope. Minced and diced by the obstructions, the dead floated up toward the sun, the memory of who they were holding them together. The mourning below shattered by the spectacle.

And when the pale sun set on the night of the solstice it absorbed its new congregation into its heart, their thoughts, memories, skin and muscle fuel to brighten the world in the coming year. A sacrifice to bring light and heat to the world once more.

*I lied about the cheery bit.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Week 3

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, but I’m still on course with my flash fiction challenge. Here are the next seven stories.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 15

(Nearly halfway through!)

Two paths led from the lake back to the house, and Rachel knew almost straight away that she had chosen the wrong one.

Concentrating on placing her feet upon the riverbank’s wet grass, she ignored the teeth glistening in the water until there were only rocks and jaws.

Kneeling, she tugged out a lock of hair, draped it across the mud choked shallows and watched the dead grasp at the strands. Become tangled up in the follicles that knotted into rotted gums.

With the other end wrapped around the fingers of her left hand, she dragged their corpses from the water. Scraped them along the path back toward her apartment, ready to render them to paste. There were some advantages to taking the wrong route home.

 Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 16

This was inspired by a place name I recently spotted on a map.

The glitteringstone floated six feet off the ground. Each time geologists approached with their hammers and curiosity it rose further out of reach. With every attempt to rise higher (chair, step ladder, cherry picker), the glitteringstone responded staying beyond human hands.

Feldspar and quartz, caught the sun, reflecting the shine across the marketplace. When someone in a flat let the radio play a bit too loud the glitteringstone began to spin, keeping time with the music.

The parish council turned spotlights on the glitteringstone, and as the light danced so did the people. Local DJs took turns playing tunes, the whole marketplace becoming a dancefloor. They danced until the day faded and until it began once again. They did not stop to eat or drink,
And though the dancer’s legs weakened they could not stop.

Feet swelled and bruised with exhaustion, until one by one the dancers slumped to the floor, legs still twitching.

Then the glitteringstone stopped spinning and descended from the sky.

Hovering along the floor it absorbed each broken dancer one by one, expanding with the addition, faces picked out in feldspar and quartz. Once no more bodies lay on the floor the glitteringstone rose into the sky, the last of the music playing on to an empty town.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 17

The Boat

The boat was river wrecked, timber rust-stained from the steel of his staples and sutures. We dragged it up the bank and shattered the planks with blunted axes, building a fire that sent smoke up through the damp trees above us.

He found us. Sat down on the edge of the circle. Sparks shadowed his skin so we could not see where it slid off in strips.

Greyed flesh underneath came alive in its own way with the twist and flex of those who make their home in the already dead.

He did not eat, though the meat on the spits was fresh.

“I have more in common with them than you,” he said, pointing to the roasting rabbits dripping fat into the glowing ash.

By morning he had left us, the timbers nothing more than charcoal and the rabbits nothing more than bones.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 18

Traces

A single filament of glass draped from the moon, kept soft and pliable by it’s constant movement through the atmosphere . At night it would filter the reflected light from the cratered surface down toward the Earth, sliding across mountains and forests. Each place the filament touched it left a trace of glass.

Simon knew the locations it brushed the land were not random and he set out on an Autumnal night to chase the filament as it marked its orbit upon the ground.

Seeing it approaching he steadied himself. As the narrow thread of slightly molten glass passed by Simon reached out with gloved hands and grasped it in two tight fists.

First the filament slowed, then stretched, and as Simon held on longer it cooled. He tried to let go. Too much lay in his hands. The moon hauled across the night sky, and the filament paused. Stretched. Shattered. Coated Simon in shards of glass.

The filament no longer draped from the moon to leave traces of molten glass upon the earth, and the world was less beautiful for its loss.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 19

Branches from the willows clattered the water, spreading ripples and leaves downstream.

No-one paid them any attention. Didn’t notice the way the buds slicked under the surface, soaked and hungry. Children still swam nearby. Families and dogs.

Each fragment that the trees absorbed was too small for the victim to notice, but over time the swimmers were lessened and the willow grew broad on the souls it sipped.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 20

Carol-Ann sat in her front room and watched the rain rivulet down the window. Erode in channels and deltas. Testimonials of mistakes made a generation earlier.

The glass bubbled and slid down the outside walls, pooling into the gutter. Three days more and the walls would be gone again.

She picked up the phone and rang the repair company once more as rain-drop by rain-drop the house dissolved around her.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 21

I took the photo this morning, and it inspired today’s story.

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Snowscape

Campbell was stood by the window when the ice shifted, giving a glimpse of the world outside. Distant trees were cracks in the sky. Other houses erased by the weather.

The snow had fallen for thirty eight weeks straight, pausing only occasionally as if catching its breath. Coating the house in a silken coat so vast that the world outside was a forgotten shimmer.

Campbell glanced out again. The trees seemed closer now. Each one larger, though it could have been a trick of the light. Perspective. He hadn’t seen anything further away than the other side of the room for months.

Going to the kitchen, he made tea from stale water, then went back to gaze on the outside world once more. One last time before snowfall encased the house and sealed him off.

Whether through weight or pressure, the tap root smashed the window, covering Campbell in splinters of glass, and ice just as sharp. Finding purchase on his legs and arms the tree dragged him out of the house and lay him on the snow. Roots rasped away skin scalded to blisters by spilt tea.

It took time for the trees to force their roots into his arms and legs. Find the minerals hidden in his bones.

By the time they were finished he was powder and skin and covered by the next snowfall.

They still felt the gnawing emptiness the never-winter had brought them, the weakness in their branches, but they were not done for yet. There were still many houses hidden under the snow, and many minerals hidden in the bones of those within.

 

 

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Week 2

Fourteen days and fourteen stories down. Nearly halfway through.

Last year I wrote stories based on images from the 17th century book, A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne by George Wither. (You can see those, and the stories from previous years, by following this link https://stevetoase.wordpress.com/tag/flash-fiction-challenge/ This year I decided to give myself a bit more flexibility and go back to writing about anything that inspired a story.

Here are the next seven.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 8

One by One

Each bee in the hive needed to be exorcised individually. Smoking the colony to drowsing, the priest took worker and drone out one by one. Passed them through the steam of holy water. Placed them to one side and moved onto the next. Minuscule and cold, the 60,000 homeless demons searched for new lodgings.

The priest was so caught up in the half remembered ritual he did not notice the demons crawl through the pores of his skin. Did not feel them scrape out hovels in his marrow. Did not hear all 60,000 screaming obscenities inside his chest, until he could hear nothing else.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 10

My fellow writer Premee Mohamed gave me a title of ‘The Mars Portal’ on Twitter. Here’s the story I wrote in response.

The Mars Portal

Marked with blood and the rust of swords, the door to the Son of Juno was closed with wax the colour of torn muscle. Lighting the lambswool wick Castonadi melted the seal, watching the impressed woodpecker pattern drip to collect on the floor and harden once more.

The door crumbled and Castonadi stepped across the threshold of shattered stone, into the room beyond.

The god sat alone, surrounded by sheaves of corn, his helmet by his side, spear across his lap. Castonadi knew he had to walk slow. Place each foot with care. Above him the woodpeckers circled with no tree to alight in, and somewhere in the distance a wolf shuddered the crop with its howl.

Castonadi had to stop himself from reaching out to touch the god’s face, streaked with corrosion from his rotted armour. Instead he took the spear and held it to the sky. The god raised his gaze.

“I need that.” he said. “In case they arrive with ill intent.”

“No-one’s coming here,” Castonadi said, and drove the spearpoint into the plough furrows. The wood fell away and erupted into a bushel of corn. “Tend your crops and mend your fences. This place is forgotten and the better for it.”

The god nodded, and Castonadi walked toward the door, turning his back on the bringer of war.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 11

Breath

Gaunt and gauze-like, ghosts do not have the purchase to cling to their places of death. Instead they tangle themselves in the breath of those who mourn them the most. Allow themselves to be inhaled by those who loved them, nestling in damp, moist lungs. Until they are exhaled and flutter like pennants of forgetfulness, singing torn memories to those who can no longer hear.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 12

After the Last Song

The King of the City’s Night wore strands of frozen beer in his hair. Shattered bottle glass for fingernails. The glamour of mirrors wedged into cracked eye sockets. When he spoke his voice was not heard but felt in his ribs and lungs.

After the nightclub lights came on and the cloakrooms emptied, he walked the city streets. Ran fingernails of shattered bottle glass down the necks of those sheened with the sweat of others. Sipped memories and love and joy. Took something the revellers didn’t know they had but they would forever miss.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 13

A Charm for the Lost

If you have lost your way home, follow these instructions.

  1. Take from your pocket a single stone with a chalk line running through its heart. Always carry such a stone with you for this purpose, but only one.
  2. Place the stone upon the road in front of you.
  3. Sprinkle the stone with;
    One pinch of salt
    Two crushed flowers from Lane-Wort, found alongside
    corpse-roads. Make sure any stems are completely
    discarded and not used in error.
    A single eyelash plucked from your left eye, while the
    stone is in place.
    Three splinters from a crossroad gallows.
  4. Once this has been carried out cover the stone with moss and ignite. The smoke will bias in the direction you are seeking.

Beware, that this method is fraught with risks.

If the stone used has many veins of chalk then you will become lost on the county’s green lanes until your own bones become dust.

If you drop many stones upon the road, by the end of the year your body will be quartered and displayed on the entrance to four royal towns across the nation.

If the stalk of the Lane-Wort grazes the surface of the stone, the dead of one year and a day will find you wherever you may journey, and scratch their crimes into your skin.

There are many ways to be lost in the world and sometimes it is better to walk further and find the road home than exchange one lost for another.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Day 14

Kulning

Stood in her white cotton dress the girl sang the cattle call across the valley.

The living cows did not know the notes, but the dead heard, and recognised the tune. Shivered themselves from the soil. Stamped their clay marked hoofs across the fields.

When they reached the girl the cattle from the graves and middens tried to get her attention, but they were like so much dust in the air.

Turning her back she walked away, leaving the herd alone in the mist drenched field.

To read the stories each day, you can visit my writer page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stevetoase1/ or come back in week to read the next seven stories.

Flash Fiction Month 2018 Week 1

For the past few years I’ve spent the time between November 21st and December 21st scrabbling for story ideas to post a flash fiction piece every day. Thirty one pieces in thirty one days. This year is no different. Every year I wonder why I do this to myself. This year is no different.

There are a couple of reasons why I keep up this tradition. Firstly, it’s a great way to lock in the writing each day discipline. Daily writing doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m very much a creature of habit, and I’d rather those were good ones like writing. Secondly, over the years Flash Fiction Month has developed a small but loyal audience who come back each year to read the daily stories, and for that I’m very grateful. Thirdly, it’s a way of playing with ideas that may develop into a short story or more. In effect it becomes an incubator for all those ideas I jot down on my phone and never do anything with.

If you’d like to read the stories as they go up, you can follow the link to my Facebook writer page

Here’s the first week of stories. I hope you enjoy them.

Day 1

Remnants

After they chopped down the movie prop, they left wooden stumps to rot in the coastal fret. Splinter and split in the salt air.

Magic isn’t always intentional and the wood remembered what was amputated. The curl and flex of osiers. The friction of willow hurdles against each other. The scent of smoke and charring wool.

Slowly, over a generation, the timber unfurled, knitting itself together out of memory, and when the first people came to wonder at its reincarnation it clasped its door open, ready to welcome them in.

Day 2

Keeping Up Appearances

Pasted on grins were the latest thing. The season’s gimmick. Held in place by a new organic glue, they let Simon get through the holidays, joyful expression intact.

Feasting finished and relatives returned home, he stood in front of the bathroom mirror. Peering at the packet, he followed the instructions to remove the paper thin smile. First he used water, then soap, and finally a mixture of white wine vinegar and salt. Nothing worked.

Late that night he woke to a sensation of creeping across his cheeks. Half asleep he groped around for his phone and used the camera as mirror.

Fibres at the edge of the pasted on smile stretched out, knitting to his skin as if ridged with a thousand tiny needles. Running to the bathroom he tried to wrench the mask free. Ragged paper enveloped his fingers, sewing through the bone and holding his hands in place.

The only way left for Simon to express himself was via his eyes, and they were doing anything but smiling.

Day 3

Flutter

1024 cocoons waited upon the console. Once the upload was complete 1024 butterflies emerged, the data stored in copper designs etched into their wings.

With a shudder of verdigris they took flight, brushing against others to transfer the code along the network.

Some fell, caught by gusts of wind or battered by rain. Others were netted by hackers transfixed by the intricacies of their wings, not noticing the other colours the butterflies still wore. Colours that warned of the brush of hairs still covering the insects abdomens. Hairs that burnt skin and flourished visions of personal hells.

Most of the butterflies made it to their destination. Sipping nectar from the upturned blossoms, they delivered the data to its destination and rested before death, their life’s work done.

Day 4

Gnaw (with apologies to Ray Harryhausen)

Measuring the length of a person, the ancient teeth were too large to lift from the dig. The excavators left them in the trench, smeared with silt and plaster.
Overnight, the rain came down, seeping through the dirt and flooding the vast canines. Found its way through cracks in the dentine.

From inside the teeth, skeletons shattered through the enamel. Birthed to a new world. Rainwater filling empty eye sockets hidden for so long.
In skinless hands the skeletons grasped splinters of tooth. Tore aside the metal fencing. Clattered down the Tarmac.

Reaching the first house the vast figures smashed their way in, finding the sleeping family within. Down the street the pattern was repeated as they opened each building, one by one.

The skeletons lacked stomachs to feast on those they captured, but they still had teeth, teeth that could gnaw and grind, and soon their bare ribs were smeared with a fine paste of skin and bone. Skin and bone that was not their own.

Day 5

Velvet and Wood

In the corner of the courtyard stood an empty chair, across the stone flags three mattresses just as vacant. Carol stood in the doorway for a few moments longer than normal. She knew they were there, watching her. Invisible. Could smell the perfume of coffins on them. Mould stained velvet and wood rotting even through the varnish.

“There’s nothing here,” Mark said wiping his forehead, and she knew that he would not tolerate her “ways” for much longer. She shrugged, let him take her fingers in both hands, and lead her back into the streets of people and cardamom and coriander.

In the courtyard the chair juddered away from the wall then fell back. On the mattresses the sheets lifted a touch, then dropped once more. Many years had passed since anyone had sensed the dead of the city. Now someone knew they waited, they needed to wait no longer.

One by one the sleepless fell in step behind Carol. Their path away from the scent of mould stained velvet and rotten wood. With broken fingernails and shattered bone they traced their names in Carol’s skin so that she would remember them and their lives would be spoken once more.

Day 6

Float

Drowned men sing no songs. They cannot recall the melodies in the salt scoured grasp of the sea.

Instead they grind out the air trapped in their bones and whisper the names of their loved ones. Push the bubbles of words into seaweed to float up to the surface where it might pop upon the waves for the mourning to hear.

The sodden strands of bladderwrack wash up on the beach to be ground against rocks and under the feet of children, where all words are lost in the crush of sand.

Day 7

Litter

The tree grew dogs. All breeds. Some sprouted from amongst the roots with stiff ears of bracket fungus. Others curled upon themselves amongst petals, wet stamen noses pushing out into the world.

One had tangled fur that snagged on low hanging branches, others long backs that unfurled as they grew from puppy to dog.

Soon they reached the time to loosen from their stalks and run through the woodland on coppiced legs.

These dogs were made of timber and thorn, and when they yawned the tree rings that ran through them were visible in the back of their throats.

No matter whether they were filled with oak galls, or shuddered with blossom when they walked, all the dogs knew one thing, and that one thing was this. They all knew that they were very very good boys.

2018 My Year in Fiction

This is my first time writing an eligibility post, so I hope this covers all bases.

2018 has been a good year, with nine stories published, my first pro sales, as well as my collaboration of flash fiction and art with Hazel Ang.

Here you’ll find stories about flowers, knitting, art, and stone circles. All those seem like pleasant ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, but not so much in these stories.

Most are unsettling, some are visceral, and at least one prompted a Charles Payseur at Quick Sip Reviews to say that it ‘creeped me right the fuck out.’ (Sorry Charles!)

I hope if you can find a moment to have a read you find something here you enjoy. 

 

Streuobstwiese

Shimmer Magazine #46

3100 words

Kate’s been out on the roof again. She’s drawn her finger through salt the color of wood ash, the sigils barely holding together on the terracotta slope of the tiles. The gutters are clogged with yellow fat, and dead hares whose eyes are gilded in gold leaf. Across the valley a field of barley whitens with mold and blight.

Streuobstwiese appears in issue 46 that can be bought via the Shimmer website, and will be online to read for free from 4th December.

 

“This is a rather chilling story about Rachel, a woman living on an orchard outside of town with Kate, whose story is perhaps a bit unclear but who definitely has powers. Magic that is dark and dangerous and snares those unwary who get too close to the house. Magic that punishes any who trespass, and punishes Rachel as well for all the small things that Rachel feels. Their relationship is interesting and a little difficult for me to piece together, weaving with that of an artist who is gone now but not before leaving his mark. It’s a story heavy with grief and with fear mixed with love. Rachel is trapped, both by Kate’s powers but also by her own affections. She doesn’t want to leave, but the further the story goes, the more she’s pushed toward a drastic choice.”

(Review by Charles Payseur, Quick Sip Reviews)

Verwelktag

Lackington’s Gothics Issue

3800 words

Sunflower heads drooped as if embarrassed to be so tall. Stalks like sharkskin. Then dahlias. Globes of dead planets reborn in nested florets. She cupped one after another in her hands. Let them settle in her palms. Lowered her face and allowed the fragrance to rise into her. Lost to herself she wandered from row to row to row. Deeper into the centre, far from the road, to the middle of the small field, she spotted something in the worn dirt and her breath caught in her throat.

Sunlight reflected off the metal staples holding the limbs in place, fur flayed back to show yellowed bones. The chest cavity was empty of organs, instead stuffed with petals and seedheads.

 

“And with this story the issue goes full on into horror, with a disturbing take on the trope of people visiting a foreign town and finding themselves on the receiving end of some violent local customs. The follows Angela and her husband Joe as they visit a small German town. One that has some unique plant-based festivals. The piece opens with a trespass, with Angela and Tom not respecting the local laws, and ends with, well, that would be telling. It’s a thrilling read, tense and horrifying, though content warnings ahoy because this story does linger on some rather graphic violence and imagery. And it’s a very visceral and intense take on this horror trope, leaning on the Gothic landscape and darkness, the isolation that comes when you’re in a place where you don’t speak the language, where you’re vulnerable because you’re facing an organized, united threat.”

(Review by Charles Payseur, Quick Sip Reviews)

Verwelktag is Online to read for free at Lackington’s

 

The Jaws of Ouroboros

The Fiends in the Furrows anthology

5015 words

“Four other teams around the edge, and one in the fox covert on the far side of the stone circle,” he said, not bothering to quieten his voice. Over the sound of sandstone grinding against sandstone we barely heard each other speak.

“Are you going for all of them?” I asked, leaning close.

He grinned, rubbing his face to smudge more dirt across his skin, and pulled out the machete from inside his jacket.

“Every single one.”

The Jaws of Ouroboros appears in the anthology The Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror, available from Nosetouch Press.

 

White Lips

/Asymmetry

2050 words

We all had different names for the woman who lived in next door’s garden. My parents called her Mrs Poppyseed, though I never knew if this was what she was called, by marriage or by birth. My sister, older than me by two full years, called her Widow Weeds for the way long hair hung lank down her face, whether the sky was heavy with rain or crackling with sunlight.

Me? I named her White Lips for the way she scrunched her mouth shut until tiny cracks crazed her cheeks.

White Lips is available to read for free at the /Asymmetry website

 

Dirt Upon My Skin

Not One of Us

2915 words

Sally noticed Campbell had gone, and the surveying pole fell from her cramped grip to smash beyond repair upon the kerb. Moments earlier they had been alone together in the disowned housing estate. Now Campbell’s hi-vis jacket was not in sight. Sally and the tripod-legged Level stood at opposite ends of the deserted street.

Dirt Upon My Skin appears in Not One of Us: Animal Days II

 

The Kromlau Gambit

Third Flatiron Anthologies

3000 words

The room was too hot and too small, and the black haired man was coming up fast on the fly agaric he’d ingested in preparation for the meeting. Sand flies crawled across his scalp and over his eyebrows. He let them find the warmth of his mouth, dedicating each small death to a different perished god. Blood sacrifices were still blood sacrifices, no matter how small.

The Kromlau Gambit appears in Third Flatiron Anthology: Galileo’s Theme Park

 

Split Chain Stitch

Mystery Weekly Magazine

2975 words

To cast on make sure you have a slip knot on the left hand needle. Place the point of the right hand needle into the slip knot and make a knit stitch. Whatever you do, do not slip it off the left.

Rachael found small towns had a gravity to them like some dense star lay hidden under the marketplace cobbles. Held people in place. Held time in place. She passed through like a comet. There was a skill to prizing herself away from the weight of these little communities. For now though she needed to collapse into the centre and let it consume her. Burn everything else away. She opened the café door, waiting for her eyes to adjust.

Six women sat around on comfy chairs, each headrest protected by a fine lace antimacassar. The only light came from old lamps balanced on rustic wooden shelves, a small constellation of spotlights above the café’s kitchen and single mobile phone. Under the low hum of conversation the sound of needles sounded like claws clattering on tiles.

Split Chain Stitch appears in Mystery Weekly Magazine November 2018 and is available to purchase from the website.

Our Lady of the Tarpaulin

Not One of Us

1285 words

From the balcony we heard sirens announcing the boat’s arrival. Deep undulating notes echoing against worn stonework lining the river.

The Goddess was toward the stern, sitting or crouching. It was hard to tell. She was wrapped in green tarpaulins, held in place by salt stained ratchet straps.

Our Lady of the Tarpaulin appeared in Not One of Us #60 and is available to purchase via the website.

 

Disruption

BUILT FROM HUMAN PARTS

5945 words

Day 0

Third row, aisle seat, Jack Saunders opened the in-flight magazine. Distraction from the boredom of delay. He read a feature on the best ten cafes in Vienna. Another about the emerging club scene in Budapest. Cities he had no intention of visiting. Next, he picked out the safety advice card, studying pictograms so he was fully versed in case of crisis. No pretty little image to help the current situation.

Available to read online at Medium

Publication News – Shimmer, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Lackington’s, and BUILT FROM HUMAN PARTS

Last week was probably one of my busiest for publications.

Shimmer 46

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Kate’s been out on the roof again. She’s drawn her finger through salt the color of wood ash, the sigils barely holding together on the terracotta slope of the tiles. The gutters are clogged with yellow fat, and dead hares whose eyes are gilded in gold leaf. Across the valley a field of barley whitens with mold and blight.” Streuobstwiese

Shimmer Magazine #46 was published on November 1st, including my story Streuobstwiese.

This felt like a big moment for me. I’ve tried so many times over the past few years to get a story into their pages. To finally succeed meant a lot. This, however, was tempered by the news that issue 46 would be their last issue, so it was a sad day too.

Shimmer stories have always been special. Magical, sometimes melancholy, often unsettling, always beautiful. The magazine is much loved and will be truly missed.

You can pick up a copy of this bump issue (containing twelve stories) at this link  

Mystery Weekly Magazine November 2018

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The latest Mystery Weekly Magazine came out, featuring my story Split, Chain, Stitch. Split, Chain, Stitch is a story about knitting (yes knitting), but also small communities, being an outsider, and gossip. It’s probably many other things, but what it’s not is a nice cosy tale. Here’s the start to whet your appetite. You can pick up a copy here.

To cast on make sure you have a slip knot on the left hand needle. Place the point of the right hand needle into the slip knot and make a knit stitch. Whatever you do, do not slip it off the left.

Rachael found small towns had a gravity to them like some dense star lay hidden under the marketplace cobbles. Held people in place. Held time in place. She passed through like a comet. There was a skill to prizing herself away from the weight of these little communities. For now though she needed to collapse into the centre and let it consume her. Burn everything else away. She opened the café door, waiting for her eyes to adjust.

Six women sat around on comfy chairs, each headrest protected by a fine lace antimacassar. The only light came from old lamps balanced on rustic wooden shelves, a small constellation of spotlights above the café’s kitchen and single mobile phone. Under the low hum of conversation the sound of needles sounded like claws clattering on tiles.

They all looked up, hands still dancing.

“Can we help you?”

The café air reeked of stewed tea and furniture polish. Rachael looked for the woman who had asked the question. She sat close to the door, lap obscured with a half finished cable knit jumper in thick peacock coloured wool.

“I’m here for the Knit and Natter group,” Rachael said, brandishing her sewing bag like a membership card.

“Knit and Natter? Plenty of both here. Apart from Sally. Always on that phone of hers.”

Sally looked up from the screen and scowled, dropping her glasses back around her neck on their purple cord.

“I’m trying to find that pattern I mentioned, but the Internet keeps fading in and out.”

“Get it for next week,” one of the other knitters said, reaching behind her for a cup of tea.

“I wanted to start tonight. Otherwise I’ve got nothing else to work on. I’ll go outside and pick up a signal there.”

Rachael watched her stand up and stride across the room.

“Sorry, can I just get past,” she said.

“Sorry,” Rachael echoed, moving over to let her through, shivering in the draught from the open door.

“Don’t stand there letting the cold in. Some of us have arthritis. Come and get yourself a cup of tea. Sit down. I’m Joan, this is Liz, and this is Mags. Over there is Jan. Charlotte is in the corner. By the radiator. You’ve already met Sally.”

“I’m Rachael,” she said taking a seat next to Joan.

“Hello, Rachael. Now show us what you’re working on.”

Opening her bag, she took out her needles and the ball of wool.

“I’m not really working on anything, but I want to make something with stars on,” she said, putting them down on the chair arm.

Joan smiled.

“Let’s start at the beginning then.”

By the end of the night Rachael knew how to cast on, cast off, how everyone drank their tea, which ring on the cooker took ages to light, whose husband had been seen with the wrong person, whose son had been arrested for fighting, and the exact place in the near deserted café to get a good WiFi signal. At home she opened the door and shut out the town again.

When attaching the sleeve, match the notches as you pin it in place. When starting the round ensure the stitches of the underarm are put on hold.

Joan was making a sweater for her son, though he never really appreciated them. Jan crocheted toys for the local charity shop. Rabbits and mice. That sort of thing. Liz knitted scarves for anyone who sat still long enough. Charlotte owned the café and knitted jumpers for penguins. She’d been making them for years to send out to the Falkland Islands. Mags mainly did cross-stitch, but they let her come along anyway. Sally was always starting the next thing. The next project. The next idea. None of them lasted until the following meeting. And Rachael?

 “I just want to knit a scarf. Maybe a hat?”

“With stars?”

“With stars,” she said.

Joan nodded, and smiled, her hands never stopping. Needles always clacking.”

Lackington’s

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To complete the triumvirate of tales my story Verwelktag (in English), published in the Gothics issue of Lackington’s, was made available for free online. This is my take on a Schauerroman, a German Gothic fiction tradition, which tends to be darker than the English Gothic story. You can read the whole story here.

BUILT FROM HUMAN PARTS

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(Art by Katherine Nurmi)

The previous week wasn’t without publication news. Cameron over at Animal Cracker Death Parade published my story Disruption. Disruption is based on a true story, when a flight was cancelled and we were bumped to one three days later from the other side of England. You can read the full story at this link.

 

HWS Fantasycon Schedule

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Earlier on in the year I attended Follycon in Harrogate, and enjoyed it so much I booked to attend Fantasycon in Chester this coming weekend.

In the intervening period I decided that I wanted to step out of my comfort zone a bit and put myself forward for a couple of panels.

If you’re attending I’ll be on the Micro Fiction/Flash Fiction at 12:30 in Panel Room 3.

“In a changing world where consumption of texts is constant and attention spans appear to be shrinking, is the flash or micro fiction story the way forward for writers looking to attract a new young readership? Our panel discusses the craft of writing the ultra short.”

On Sunday I’ll be in Panel Room 3 on the Dead Bodies panel at 12:30.

“Many good stories involve a mystery. Whether the case at hand has remained unsolved for hundreds of years, or happened in the first chapter of the book, a good puzzle provides the writer with an opportunity to engage the reader’s brain iin finding the answer. Our panelists discuss unsolved conundrums, consider the role of accurate research, and look at a range of tools that are at the writer’s disposal to create intriigue for the curious reader.”

I’ll have some copies of Ruby Red and Snowflake Cold with me, so if you would like one come and have a chat.

Cover reveal

Now we’re not living in the U.K. these events are a great chance to catch up with people, surrounded by books and stories.

See you there!

It’s Been A While

Cover reveal

Hello, (taps mic). Is this thing on?

Well, that summer was long and hot and yet over too quickly. (Time is weird like that).

I’ll be honest I’ve neglected this place a bit. Between settling into life in Munich, writing as much as I can, and writing my fortnightly newsletter (sign up here www.tinyletter.com/stevetoase) I’ve not really given this blog much love. I’m hoping to change that.

So here’s a quick catch up.

It’s been a good year for publications. Since June (when I last posted here), I’ve had stories accepted for;

Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror

Pantheon Magazine: Gorgon-Stories of Emergence

Mad Scientist Journal

Mystery Weekly Magazine

Not One of Us

Shimmer Zine

A couple of publications have happened since I last posted.

Flick Illustration

(Artwork by William Cunningham)

My story The Flick of the Wyvern’s Tale has now published by Cameron Callaghan from ACDP in BUILT FROM HUMAN PARTS

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I’ve also recently had an article in British magazine 100% Biker about the Rustic Racer Ride, a café racer show here in Bavaria.

Last year British Fantasy Society published several of my flash fiction stories in Horizon. Recently I found out Mask made Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 10 Honourable Mentions Longlist, and was also given a shout out in the summation.

I’m busy behind the scenes with several articles, and have just finished the first draft of a novella. More on that later.

I’m heading back to the UK for Fantasycon and will be appearing on a couple of panels. Again, more on that later.

The big news is that I have a collection out with longtime collaborator Hazel Ang.

Ruby Red and Snowflake Cold: tales to warm the heart, is a distillation of my fiction and Hazel’s art into a beautiful booklet that gives a really good overview of the work we’ve done together. If you’re in Munich this weekend we’ll have some copies at Munich Comic Con, and I’m hoping to bring some to Fantasycon.

I think that’s everything for now. Have a good weekend and see you soon.

 

The Kromlau Gambit published in Galileo’s Theme Park

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I’m very happy to have my story The Kromlau Gambit published by Third Flatiron Anthologies in Galileo’s Theme Park.

This is a bit of a milestone in a couple of ways. Firstly, it’s my first professional story sale, something I intended to achieve before the end of 2018. Secondly, it introduces a character who appears in two other, as yet unpublished, stories. He has been one of my favourite people to write, even though he is a somewhat morally compromised character (to say the least).

Here’s the opening paragraph of The Kromlau Gambit. I hope you’ll follow the links and buy a copy. The full table of contents is below. (Buy Galileo’s Theme Park at Amazon UK/US/DE)

“The room was too hot and too small, and the black haired man was coming up fast on the fly agaric he’d ingested in preparation for the meeting. Sand flies crawled across his scalp and over his eyebrows. He let them find the warmth of his mouth, dedicating each small death to a different perished god. Blood sacrifices were still blood sacrifices, no matter how small.”

 

Contents
And Yet They Move by Alex Zalben
For the Love of Money by Ginger Strivelli
The Kromlau Gambit by Steve Toase
Vincenzo, the Starry Messenger by Dr. Jackie Ferris
A Hard-Fought Episode at the TON-1 Black Hole by Eric J. Guignard
Titan Is All the Rage by Jemima Pett
Signals by Erica Ruppert
Night on the High Desert by Connie Vigil Platt
Dispatches from the Eye of the Clown by Justin Short
The Beast and the Orb of Earth Deux by Wendy Nikel
Growing Smaller by Jimmy Huff
Titanrise by Adrik Kemp
New Heaven, New Earth by Neil James Hudson
First, They Came As Gods by G. D. Watry
And the Universe Waited by Jo Miles
The Bright and Hollow Sky by Martin M. Clark

Grins & Gurgles (Flash Humor)
Devouring the Classics: Ten Recipes by Rachel Rodman
No Encore by Ville Nummenpää
Just Right Guy by Art Lasky
Advice for the 2060s Birder by Lisa Timpf