Stories Selected for Best Horror of the Year, and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve received some very good news to start the year.

Firstly, two of my stories have been selected by Ellen Datlow for Best Horror of the Year 14.

‘Dancing Sober in the Dust’ was one of the original stories published in my Undertow Publications collection, To Drown in Dark Water. The story is about Weimar Era dance, and was inspired by the research I did for a Daily Grail article.

The second story Ellen chose for inclusion in the anthology is ‘Chit Chit’, published in Chilling Crime Short Stories from Flame Tree Press. Chit Chit is a rural heist story with a heavy folk horror influence.

The full Table of Contents for Best Horror of the Year 14 is below;

Redwater — Simon Bestwick

Caker’s Man — Matthew Holness

Black Leg — Glen Hirshberg

The Offering — Michael Marshall Smith

Fox Girl — Lee Murray

Shuck — G. V. Anderson

The Hunt at Rotherdam — A. C. Wise

Dancing Sober in the Dust — Steve Toase

The God Bag — Christopher Golden

The Strathantine Imps — Steve Duffy

The Quizmasters — Gerard McKeown

All Those Lost Days — Brian Evenson

“Elephant Subjected to the Predations of a Mentalist” – Dir. B.S. Stockton, 1921

And “Ol’ Will’s Birthday Bash and Dither Family Reunion” – Dir. Various, 1952.

— Jonathan Raab                                                                                

Three Sisters Bog — Eóin Murphy

The Steering Wheel Club — Kaaron Warren                                     

The King of Stones — Simon Strantzas

Stolen Property — Sarah Lamparelli

Shards — Ian Rogers

Chit Chit — Steve Toase

Poor Butcher-Bird — Gemma Files

Trap — Carly Holmes

I’ll Be Gone By Then — Eric LaRocca

Jack-in-the-Box — Robin Furth

Tiptoe — Laird Barron

Then last week I found out that Paula Guran will be reprinting ‘Beneath the Forest’s Wilting Leaves’ in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror vol. 3.

(This is the shelter that inspired Beneath the Forest’s Wilting Leaves)

Beneath the Forest’s Wilting Leaves is inspired by time spent in a local forest finishing a small shelter we found in a clearing, and was another original story from To Drown In Dark Water.

The full Table of Contents is below:

G. V. Anderson, “Shuck” (Deadlands #2)

Seán Padraic Birnie, “Hand-Me -Down” (I Would Haunt You If I Could)

J. S. Breukelaar, “Where We Will Go On Together” (The Dark #70)

Rebecca Campbell, “The Bletted Woman” (F&SF 3-4/21)

Tananarive Due, “The Wishing Pool” (Uncanny #41)

Brian Evenson, “The Sequence” (Conjunctions 77)

Christopher Golden, “The God Bag” (Beyond the Veil, ed. Morris)

Elizabeth Hand, “For Sale By Owner” (When Things Get Dark, ed. Datlow)

Alix E. Harrow, “Mr. Death (Apex #121)

Maria Dahvana Headley, “Wolfsbane” (Nightmare #100)

Glen Hirshberg, “Jetty Sara” (December Tales, ed. Horn)

Stephen Graham Jones. “Refinery Road” (When Things Get Dark, ed. Datlow)

Richard Kadrey, “Across the Dark Water” (Tor.com)

Alison Littlewood, “Jenny Greenteeth” (Mammoth Book of Folk Horror, ed. Jones)

Chimedum Ohaegbu, “And for My Next Trick, I Have Disappeared” (F&SF 7-8/21)

Suzan Palumbo, “Laughter Among the Trees” (The Dark #69)

Sarah Pinsker, “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” (Uncanny #39)

David J. Schow, “Caving” (Weird Doom, ed Scoleri)

Molly Tanzer, “In the Garden of Ibn-Ghazi” (F&SF 3-4/21)

Sheree Renee Thomas, “Barefoot and Midnight” (Apex #122)

Steve Toase, “Beneath the Forest’s Wilting Leaves” (To Drown in Dark Water)

Jade Wilburn, “Blood Ties”(Fiyah #18)

A.C. Wise, “The Nag Bride” (The Ghost Sequences)

I’m immensely grateful to both Ellen and Paula for choosing to include my work in their anthologies, to Flame Tree Press for publishing Chit Chit, and Undertow for all their work on To Drown in Dark Water.

Subside

Although it does deal with grief, a subject I write about a lot, this short piece is very different from my usual style. Because of that I was a little nervous about sharing it. I hope you like it, but beware it does talk about death, suicide, grief and loss.

Subside

You remember that song we used to dance to? Said something about if I leave the world alive the insanity will lessen. Doesn’t though, does it? You went and the insanity intensified. Like a cutting diamond, faceted and precise.

I don’t know if you left the world alive. One day you were there, the next gone. 

There was no pile of clothes carefully folded on a tide strewn beach or note with my name written on the back of the folded paper. 

Sometimes I like to imagine the world cleaved in two and you fell through the fissure to another place where you live on, trying to find a way home. I know this isn’t true. You’re probably beneath some undergrowth, bones greening with lichen as time turns you to forest. Nothing subsides with you gone. Not the madness. Not the memory. Not the guilt. Only the chance that I might see you again. That’s what subsides, and it lessens me every single day.

END

Terminus Post Quem

Something a little different to start the week. Terminus Post Quem is an epistolary short story told using an archaeological report. As with a lot of my experiments it was first published in the much missed Mad Scientist Journal.

Daniel Benlainey BA MSc

Project Manager

Multivallate Archaeology

Unit 4 Sunray Farm

YK94 1SX

D.Benlainey@multivallate.org.uk

Simon Campbell BSc

Senior Archaeologist

Historic Environment Team

Callshire County Council

County Hall

Ostbarnton

YK56 4RF

Dear Simon,

Please find attached the interim site report for the Carrion Knoll Excavation. Hope everything is OK. We’re still waiting on some results from a subcontractor, but I’ll forward them as soon as they arrive.

Yours sincerely

Daniel Benlainey BA MSc

Interim site report of Carrion Knoll Archaeological Excavations 2017 September 8th

Due to the position of the Carrion Knoll housing development in an area of known prehistoric and Roman activity, a planning condition for archaeological evaluation was required ahead of any groundworks.

Between August 1st and August 25th, a five-person team carried out the necessary work. Due to the low-lying nature of the site and anaerobic conditions found in certain areas, the quality of organic preservation was good, with several surprising results.

Three trenches, each 20m by 10m were excavated. These were distributed across the development area to give as wide a spread of results as possible.

Historic Background

Carrion Knoll lies in an area of known Neolithic, Iron Age, Roman, and Anglo-Scandinavian activity, though no known archaeological material has previously been recovered from the exact site location. Since approximately 900AD, there is no evidence of activity in the vicinity.

Trench 3

Context Record

[01] Topsoil. A layer (average 0.4m thick) of black hummic sandy clay silt. Very little evidence of recent agricultural activity. This layer covers the whole site, including all of Trench 3. The topsoil was removed by machine, and the spoil scanned by metal detector. Nothing of significance was found. The only finds recovered were eight clay pipe stems of various lengths and one incomplete clay pipe bowl, the incised decoration indicating a date somewhere in the early 19th century.

[02] Subsoil. A brown silty clay with regular inclusions of small rounded pebbles. This layer contained several residual pottery sherds of all periods, including a non-diagnostic fragment of Roman Nene Valley Colour Coated Ware, and five sherds of Iron Age Black Burnished Ware. All were heavily abraded.

[03] was assigned for the underlying natural geology, though this was not reached during the excavation due to the depth of archaeological deposits.

[04] A thick peaty organic layer only identified in Trench 3. This consisted of a firm dark green organic silt with a very high proportion of plant material, vegetation, and charcoal flecks. Occasional small angular limestone inclusions. This deposit covered all excavated archaeological features.

[05] Cut of large pit identified in Trench 3. This large feature had a steep edge with a base sloping to the centre and measured 1.2m deep and 2m in diameter. When excavated, this pit was found to have cut through an earlier deposit [11] and truncated a Samian bowl. Pit [05] contained several fills. [06], [07], [08], and [09] seem to represent rapid backfilling of the pit. [10] is the primary fill.

[10] was the primary fill of pit [05] and was a friable dark grey organic silt with regular inclusions of vegetation. [10] also included several sherds of the Samian bowl identified in section and located in layer [11]. Whereas the ceramic remains in [11] are in very good condition (see below), the fragments recovered from pit fill [10] are not. The ceramic material has several bones accreted to it, which our osteological specialist (see Appendix Four) has identified as the phalanges from the hand of an adult human. In all cases, the bones press through the sherds and are visible on the other side. In places, the distinctive red slip covers the skeletal material. There is no evidence of burning on the bone, and as our ceramic specialist has pointed out (see Appendix Five), a vessel in such condition would not survive firing.

The ceramic sherds are clearly derived from the same vessel as that recovered from context [11] (see below), and date to sometime in the 2nd century AD. However, carbon 14 dating of the skeletal material has given a date of 850AD±25, which is contemporary with other finds from pit [05], including a broken antler comb (see Appendix Seven) and several well-preserved pieces of fabric (Appendix Eight).

[11] was a thick layer of dark grey organic silty clay extending across most of Trench 3, into which the majority of the other features were cut, including pit [12] and graves [15] and [17]. The presence of a considerable number of Romano-British finds, including the Samian bowl truncated by pit [05] and several incomplete Nene Valley Colour Slip Ware vessels gives this a very secure terminus post quem of the 2nd century AD. The Samian vessel is discussed in more detail in Appendix Five, and the contents in Appendix Six.

The high level of organic preservation has led to the recovery of vegetable material, which has survived to such a degree that examination in the field allowed initial species identification, including hyssop, fennel, and wormwood. All were found in bunches tied together with some form of nettle string, and all had been placed in a circular arrangement around the Samian bowl. It must be assumed that when the vessel was truncated, any herbs placed on the western side were lost.

Cut [12] was a pit located in Trench 3, and to the west of pit [05]. In contrast to pit [05], pit [12] was very shallow in depth (150mm), just deep enough to take the contents. The edges were uneven, with several irregular shovel scoops at the base. Pit [12] contained a single fill [13].

[13] was a loose light grey silty sand with few inclusions. The majority of the pit fill was taken up by a single adult human skull (see Appendix Four).

[15] was recognised as a single isolated grave in Trench 3, cut into layer [11], with vertical sides and rounded corners. This was clearly recognisable as a grave cut in plan, allowing careful excavation to enable the recovery of all human skeletal material.

[16] was the fill of grave [15]. The skeletal remains inside appeared to be of an adult human. The skull and phalanges of the left hand were absent.

Cut [17] was an additional grave identified further in Trench 3. The trench was widened by 2m to allow the full recovery of all skeletal material. The pit was 1m20 deep and contained fill [18].

[18] Very little soil matrix was recovered from fill [18], with most of the volume made up of butchered fragments of bone, including femurs, vertebrae, and ribs. A full discussion can be found in Appendix Four.

~

Appendix Four

Human Skeletal Material

Report by Adrian Anchancy

Several deposits of human skeletal material were recovered from Trench 3 of the Carrion Knoll excavation. Here I will go through them in context order and outline the physical evidence, followed by a discussion of the implication of the results.

[10] In an excavation where a large volume of skeletal material was recovered, the bones found in fill [10] are unique. A group of five phalanges were identified, all of them cemented to sherds of Romano-British Samian pottery. This in itself is not unusual. Post deposition processes, such as iron panning, can lead to the accretion of finds in the ground. However, there are several aspects to the recovered bone that this researcher has not seen before.

The phalanges are not just concreted to the surface of the Samian ware, but actually pass through the pottery. There is no evidence of cracking to the clay or burning to the skeletal material. In at least one example, the characteristic red slip glaze coats the bone.

Having spoken to the ceramic specialist, Diane Bansetten, whose report can be seen in Appendix Five, the presence of such a large intrusion in the body of the vessel during firing would have led to destruction. In addition, exposing human bone to the high temperatures found in a Romano-British kiln would lead to severe discolouration and diagnostic cracking on the bone surface. Therefore, it is the opinion of both myself and my ceramics colleague that the bone must have been introduced post firing. Carbon 14 dating of the skeletal material has given a date of 850AD±25, which is not consistent with the age of the Samian pottery, suggesting it was introduced six to seven centuries later.

There are other issues with the condition of the phalanges. All show evidence of small holes in the outer surface of the bones. At first it was the opinion of this researcher that these were the pathology of some form of disease. On further examination, it was found that each lesion displayed evidence of microscopic tooth marks, consistent with certain types of immature coral larvae. When submitted to x-ray analysis, the tunnels can clearly be seen passing through the bone into the marrow. The sinuous form of the pathways also suggests that this damage was created by the actions of a living organism.

Tree root action was soon discounted, as there is no evidence for that type of activity within the contexts excavated or surrounding area.

[13] The skeletal remains from fill [13] (pit [12]) consisted of a single adult skull. It is not clear if the head was removed from the body pre- or post-mortem. There are several unusual features about the condition of the skull. The eye sockets show damage from a bladed weapon, particularly running from the infraorbital foramen into the supraorbital margin. On the right-hand side socket, there is clear damage to the lacrimal bone, and on the left-hand socket, repeated shallow strikes to inferior orbital fissure, reaching as far back as the sphenoid bone.

The position and nature of the damage allows us to discount any consideration of surgery. The physical evidence suggests that a blade has been repeatedly, and without control, forced into the eye socket. The result of this would be for the soft tissue of the eye to be completely destroyed.

None of the marks have been made to the edges of the eye-sockets, only to the upper and lower bones. The position and angle of the damage allows us to make some more inferences. It is the belief of this researcher that the damage was self inflicted. The size of the cuts suggests the injuries were made with a small eating knife common during the 9th century.

A second unusual feature of the skull is a series of lesions in the styloid process region. This displays similar characteristics as those seen in the phalanges recovered from fill [10], but the lesions are much larger in scale. Here the shape and form of the damage from gnawing is clearly visible to the naked eye, and suggests that the damage was created by a living organism.

[16] As noted above, the skeletal remains recovered from the fill of grave [15] were incomplete, lacking a skull, and phalanges from the left hand. When compared to the skull and phalanges recovered elsewhere during the excavation, and discussed above, it is clear they are from the same individual.

The lesions observed in both previous skeletal finds are also evident here. One of the jobs that became essential post excavation was the mapping of the route these lesions took through the body. This was mainly achieved using x-ray analysis, which allowed the tunnels to be recorded. The preliminary results are published below. It became clear that whatever created the voids within the skeletal material also travelled through the soft tissue, and as it progressed through the body, it increased in diameter.

At several points, the creatures entered the spine of the individual, with several of them following a final channel through the C1 and C2 vertebrae into the skull. It is not possible to confidently identify the maximum number of creatures which this individual may have hosted, but a conservative minimum count is 12.

All the ribs, femurs, radius, humerus, and ulna showed considerable damage. Having examined the wear pattern caused by the invading species’ teeth, it is my personal opinion the pain would have been excruciating for the individual concerned. No remains of the creatures were found within the skeletal material, or within the high organic content soils in the surrounding area.

[18] Fill [18] produced a large amount of human bone (205kg by weight). All types of human skeletal remains were represented, including femurs, ribs, vertebrae, skulls, and illium. All bones showed some form of damage from a bladed weapon. The evidence varied from precise butchery marks, particularly around the tendons of the long bones, to frenzied strikes. The cuts are consistent with the injuries seen on the skull in context [13], and it is my belief that the same blade was used.

In total, around 15 individuals were identified using the presence of diagnostic skull elements. Due to the fragmentary nature of the bones, this is a bare minimum, and the count could be much higher.

None of the skeletal remains from [18] show the same pattern of internal damage as the skull, phalanges and skeleton recovered elsewhere in Trench 3.

~

Appendix Five

Specialist Ceramic Report by Diane Bansetten

The Carrion Knoll Bowl

In many ways, the vessel is typical Samian ware displaying the characteristic high-quality burnished red slip. The bowl has a slightly deeper profile than usual (300m diameter x 200mm deep).

The main difference is in the decoration. While the scenes displayed on Samian vessels are hugely varied, depicting everything from hunting to pornography, I can think of no comparative to the designs on the Carrion Knoll Bowl.

The same panel repeats three times. Each shows a group of humanoid figures. I use the term humanoid advisedly. While they display the proportions typical of 2nd century AD figurative art, the humanoids are fringed with what I first took to be some kind of fur. On closer inspection and following consultation with a colleague (J. Sanders pers. comm.), they have more in common with certain types of coral. It appears to represent a series of cylindrical polyps emerging from every inch of the skin. The segmented form is clearly defined and, using a hand lens, the fan of teeth can be seen at the terminus of each strand.

Only the humanoid faces are clear, which are rendered in such extreme and precise agony that this author assumes the potter drew on something he witnessed first-hand.

I must also comment on the residual fragments of the bowl recovered from fill [10]. In nearly thirty years as a professional Romano-British ceramic specialist, I have never encountered bone and pottery fused together in such a way. During the firing process, the presence of an entire finger bone in the vessel wall would cause the bowl to explode. This would suggest that the finger bone has been introduced later. Yet once the bowl has been fired, any attempt to force the finger tip through the wall would cause considerable damage. The presence of the slip on the bone suggests that the pottery has melted somehow and then reset, trapping the fingers in the clay.

Conclusion

Due to the unique and extremely disturbing nature of the decoration, the Carrion Knoll Bowl is unparalleled, certainly in British archaeology. The presence of the herbs surrounding the vessel, as well as the as yet unidentified contents, suggest that it had a very specific ritual purpose.

NB. A smear of the gel-like substance still adhered to the inside of the vessel when it arrived. During the unpacking this slid out and fell onto a pottery sherd from my reference collection. The glaze and decoration of this other fragment dissolved in front of my eyes. There may still be traces within the Carrion Knoll Bowl, and I would highly recommend that any further work is carried out following Hazmat guidelines.

Further work

In addition to regular consolidation and conservation work, I would recommend approaching a marine biologist to establish the identity of the coral deforming the humanoid figures in the decoration.

~

Appendix Six

Organic material recovered from the Carrion Knoll Samian Bowl

The material in the Samian bowl recovered from layer [11] was recognised in the cut of pit [05].

When the overlying archaeological material was excavated, the substance was visually inspected before removal by staff from Danburn Archaeological Conservation Laboratories.

The substance had the appearance and texture of aspic. Transparent and gelatinous, several inclusions were visible:

1. A fragment of skin and intact fingernail. The whole fingerprint was recognisable. Hopefully when the material is back in the lab, this can be recovered and examined further.

2. Several flower petals and mushrooms. Neither could be identified from a visual inspection and will require specialist study.

3. Clustered around the base appeared to be 20+ sinuous, segmented polyps, none more than 10mm long. Without cutting into the substance, it is difficult to determine whether they are organic or mineralised.

[Handwritten note]

(These observations of the Carrion Knoll Bowl’s contents are from visual examination on site. The material was immediately shipped to the Danburn Archaeological Conservation Laboratory for analysis. In the last two weeks, there has been no further communication. At the time of publication, phone calls and emails have gone unanswered. If we have not received a response after the weekend, we will be in touch with emergency services to gain access.)

Bio of Daniel Benlainy

Daniel Benlainey was born in Fife, Scotland and got his BA in Archaeology from University of Sheffield, before completing an MSc in Archaeological Sciences at University of Bradford.

After working the commercial archaeology circuit for several years, Daniel joined Multivallate Archaeology and has been with them for a decade, starting as a site assistant and working his way up to a project management position. He is especially interested in vitrified forts.

When not working he spends his time seeing bands such as Blyth Power, New Model  Army and Flogging Molly, or playing for his local cricket team.

Short Story Collection On Its Way January 2021

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I’m very happy to announce that my first short story collection ‘To Drown In Dark Water’ will be published by Undertow Publications in early 2021.

Undertow are a fantastic publisher, who are responsible for collections by Priya Sharma, Laura Mauro, Georgina Bruce amongst other wonderful writers.

I can also share the amazing cover for my collection. The artwork is by Austrian artist Stefan Koidl, with design work by Vince Haig.

Michael Kelly has done a wonderful job arranging the cover, and I’m so proud that this will be on the front of my book.

While I’d like to keep this blog updated far more than I do, you can keep up to date about my work by signing up for my newsletter at tinyletter.com/stevetoase. Coming out once a month, it includes bits of news about my work, some art related chatter, a bit on archaeology, and a free flash fiction story.

Flash Fiction Month 2019 Week 2

Hope you enjoyed last week’s stories. Here are the next seven.

Day 8

nasal.buzz.grape 

“I’m afraid you do not get any choice in the decision.”

When the Assessor spoke it was with a nasal whine that made Carla’s head hurt. A buzz in the top of her spine.

She leant over to pick a grape from the fruit bowl, saw the Assessor’s expression and cradled her hands on her lap.

“Do I not get any say in the matter?” She asked, already knowing the answer. He plucked the fruit that she had been going to eat only moments before. Slowly, he used his tongue to pop it against the roof of his mouth. A small amount of juice seeped between his thin lips and down his chin.

“Of course, you could have chosen not to attend this morning,” he said, grinning. She saw bits of skin between his yellowed teeth, but couldn’t tell if they were fruit or flesh.

“And if I hadn’t?”

He smiled wider.

“Please, Miss,” he said, the title spoken like an infection. “The door is open. Your only choice now is whether you go through voluntarily.” There was a moment’s pause. “Or not.”

Carla pushed the chair back, straightened her dress and placed her cloche upon her head, adjusting it until it sat just right. Slowly, she slid her gloves on. With one more look of defiance toward the Assessor she walked toward the open door, already feeling the heat blistering her skin.

Day 9

funky.shadows.snowmen

There was nothing funky about the nightclub any more. Damp had rotted all the cheap cardboard decorations and curled the floorboards like rotten petals.

Hannah wrapped her arms around her knees and tried to keep track of the shadows, but they kept shifting and twisting.

Around her were fifteen heaters, the only noise the diesel generator shuddering in the entrance. Beyond the circle of warmth were pools of water, floating in each one was a scarf, a hat, and blood clots from their victims.

Soon the generator would run out of fuel. Soon the circle would cool. Soon the snowmen would find their form again. Soon there would be nowhere warm left for her to hide.

Day 10

inhales.delighted.bulge 

The Captain stands delighted in the middle of the playground. Above him the moon is full and though he feels the cold he does not choose to acknowledge the way it chills his muscles.

There are scars in the Tarmac below his feet that he put there many years ago. He lets his feet scuff the lines to wake them up. The scent of bitumen rises into the air. He inhales the taste of cough sweets and burnt skin.

The pile of papers barely reaches his knees; old exams and school reports. The breeze flutters the pages and he catches sight of scuffed ink.

Starting quiet he begins to speak the words. Some he learnt in the playground where he stands, others in shadowed temples that smelt of copper and charred bone.

Below his feet the Tarmac glistens the green of compass pricked tattoos. He scuffs the ground again, feeling it start to bulge, reaching out to his words.

Turning his head to the sky, the Captain watches the stars brush the dark as they fall, delighted to hear the words they thought long forgotten. He does not tell the night what he has planned. The night will find out soon enough

Day 11

latter.wept.premises

Council garages always had a feeling of loss to Marty, as if those corrugated steel doors held back grief as well as forgotten engines and mummified rats.

He walked down one side, then back up the other, running his hand over the metal and prefabricated concrete, searching for something that could not be seen or touched, but he felt as a prickle inside his teeth.

At the end of the row there were three units converted into premises for a shadow garage, repairing cars for those who could not afford to pay men in matching overalls. Two ghosts lurked inside. The first was the shadow of something that had hidden here long before people cleared forests from the land, the second a child whose body had turned to yellowed bones between the pebbledash walls and grass bank that rose toward the distant towers.

The latter spirit did not want to be there. There was no vengeance or message to be carried, just confusion and fear. No one had found the body. No one had even noticed the child missing, apart from Marty, looking for one thing and finding something completely different lurking amongst the spilt oil and diesel stains.

Kneeling down on the floor between the two rows of garages, Marty closed his eyes and searched in the shadows for the fear clustered in upon itself, and when he found that bundle of confusion he did what needed to be done; wept and mourned a life lost and a child forgotten until the ghost that still lingered could see the cord and drag itself away from the council garages to somewhere better.

Day 12

reframe.hung.scouted

Faith spent weeks watching the gallery. Scouted out the guards, changing her appearance every day with wigs clothes and padding to alter her body shape. By the end of her preparation she knew where every painting hung, how often it was patrolled and when she could exploit the best window of opportunity to fulfil her client’s order; steal The Condemned Witch, a painting long lost and only recently restored.

On Tuesdays they spent the day on maintenance. Chose one piece of art to reframe. That way there was always a nearly full collection for the visiting public. If she got in before they removed that week’s painting to take it to their workshop, no-one would notice. Administration error would be blamed for long enough that she would be long gone.

On the next Tuesday she lurked around the entrance, Stanley knife hidden in her coat. The painting to be repaired that week wasn’t due to be taken from the wall until after lunch time. She waited and watched.

The opportunity came early, the exact pattern of the curators in the gallery just right to allow her to approach the canvas. She lifted the knife to cut free the painting, reached out, and on the wall the witch’s scarred hand reached out in turn and grabbed Faith’s wrist.

The blade fell from her numb hand, dropping to the floor. With more strength than paper and paint should possess the painting lifted Faith into the air, dragged her over the gold frame and slowly but surely her skin shivered to pigment until there was no sign of Faith expect on unused blade clattering upon the tiles.

Day 13

bubbles.grass.shadows

They caught him by the town ditch, pinning his arms against the crushed grass and thistles.

He tried struggling but there were too many of them, two or three to a limb with far more standing in the shadows.

With bubbles they sealed his eyes, blowing globes of shimmering translucency straight into his sight, then plucked sodden grass from the ground and stitched his mouth to silence.

Reaching into his coat they emptied his pockets until they found proof of his theft, several days clustered against each other, the hours scuffed and barely usable. They stretched them out, laying them on the ground in the hope the heat of the sun would fix them. Return the days to their pristine condition.

After seeing his vandalism compounding his theft, with many hands they carried him into the fields, staked him to the soil using his own bones to hold him in place, and with words first spoken by the now long dead they left him to the crows.

Day 14

pretty.flying.downward

The valley had never been pretty. This was not a place tourists came to take photos, balancing selfie sticks with one hand, their other grasping their loved one’s side. Instead it was a place of concrete and pollution, where any plants that could grow browned and wilted by the effort.

Nathan would try and take any other route into the airport that lay several miles further on, but that morning the choice had not been given to him, the instructions from Air Traffic Control clear, the navigation directions precise.

Flying over the ridge, he dropped the plane down a little, watching plumes rising from grates rusted into the slopes.

An eruption of fumes reached the starboard wing, and instead of just flowing around the engine the gas began to grind its way through the fuselage.

Nathan watched one side of the plane disintegrate, and no matter how much he tried to gain control the plane twisted as it fell downward into the valley where nothing grew.

Recent Publications

Hi. How are you? I’m having a gentle day, easing myself back into work after Worldcon 2019 in Dublin.

This was my first Worldcon, and was enjoyable, inspiring and a lot of fun. Most of this was down to the people, especially the friends I got to spend time with. More of that in a dedicated post.

The past few weeks have been busy for publications.

I wrote an article for Folklore Thursday about how Mad Max within the films can be interpreted as a mythic figure. You can read the piece here and see what you think.

https://folklorethursday.com/creative-corner/mad-max-the-mythic-hero-of-the-wasteland/

Look at this artwork. Isn’t it beautiful?

Earth-Lg

This is the cover for the Earth: Giants, Golems, and Gargoyles anthology, the latest in a series of elemental themed collections from editor Rhonda Parrish. I’m very happy that Earth contains my story Kiln Fired. You can pick it up at the usual outlets, such as Amazon (UK/DE/US)

My first article for Kerrang.com is now available to read, looking at the influence of poetry on the bands lyrics.

(www.kerrang.com/features/the-unsung-influence-of-poetry-on-iron-maiden/)

Once the band shared the article it got a lot of traction (I took the screenshot below when it hit the most appropriate number of shares). What surprised me was seeing it shared by both The Poetry Foundation in the US, and The Poetry Society in the UK.

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My latest published piece is for Daily Grail. A couple of weeks ago I watched Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, and started thinking about the parallels with dance in Weimar Germany. Here’s the article if you’d like to read more about my thoughts on the subject.

www.dailygrail.com/2019/08/dances-of-vice-horror-and-ecstasy-suspiria-and-dance-as-a-magical-act-in-weimar-germany/

And that’s me up to date. I have some stuff coming out soon, but can’t say where just yet. More when I can

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.