Grief in Horror and Weird Fiction

Title from story Green Grows the Grief in the collection TO DROWN IN DARK WATER

Horror is a genre of many themes. Amongst the blood and gore, a vast number of subjects are explored, from consumerism in Dawn of the Dead, to community cohesion in The Wicker Man.

One of the subjects I return to a lot in my own writing is grief. (I’m not subtle about it. One of my stories is called Green Grows the Grief…). This does appear in horror, sometimes explicitly such as in The Monkey’s Paw, and sometimes more subtly.

Grieving a loved one is a horrific country to find oneself in. It’s a place where everything looks normal but is tipped off kilter. It is a strange world to make a home, but it is one we often need to live in for a while until we’re ready to move on. Often, however, we’re not given the time to grieve or the choice of when we leave. Real life intrudes.

In the traditional ensemble horror movie, people watch their friends killed off while not being given time to grieve. They have to run from the chainsaw wielding murderer. The killer (real life) intrudes before they can truly mourn the dead.

One place this forms the core of the story is in Alfred Kubin’s seminal weird fiction novel, The Other Side.

Best known as a printmaker and illustrator, Kubin only wrote the one novel in his life. In The Other Side, the narrator is invited by Patera, an old school friend, to travel to the Dream Kingdom, a realm Patera rules from the city of Pearl. The Dream Kingdom is a place where the citizens live only through their moods, and is a place of strange rites. Other times Pearl changes and reorganises in unpredictable ways. Patera, the creator of this strange land, is always beyond the narrator’s reach. With the arrival of the American Herkules Bell The Dream Kingdom falls apart and Pearl becomes taken over by wildlife.

There are many ways of interpreting The Other Side, but I think one way of approaching this foundational piece of weird fiction is as an exploration of grief. Kubin wrote his only novel following the death of his father, who he had a troubled relationship with. Seen through this lens, The Dream World can be understood as the state of grief where everything is reactive and driven by mood. Herkules Bell is the real world intruding into this dream like state of mourning, disruptive as any killer in a slasher movie. Disruptive as death taxes and probate. Everyday concerns taking attention away from grieving for the dead.

None of this is to say that the portrayal of grief and the intrusion of everyday life and ‘normality’ was in the mind of the creators of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or A Nightmare on Elm Street (though I do think that an argument can be made for The Other Side). This is more an attempt to look at how these stories can be understood in terms of loss and mourning, In horror, and especially in weird horror, death is a constant presence. Possibly, our relationship to grief experienced in the world is there too, if we look close enough.

Cover of book TO DROWN IN DARK WATER

My collection TO DROWN IN DARK WATER, including Green Grows the Grief, is now available to pre-order from Undertow Publications.

To Drown in Dark Water Release Date April 27th

There’s a lot going on this year, from a residency in Luxembourg to getting my first story published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

The big news for me is the release of my first short story collection To Drown in Dark Water, by Undertow Publications. The collection will be published on April 27th, in just over a month.

Since the contracts were signed back in January 2020 there has been a steady process of narrowing down the stories, choosing the artwork, and checking the galleys. A couple of weeks ago the first author copies arrived here in Germany. While I may not always be the most emotional person, I don’t mind admitting I was a bit overwhelmed. The book looks stunning, from Stefan Koidl‘s unsettling artwork on the cover, to the design by Vince Haig and the typesetting within. Editor Michael Kelly has done an amazing job bringing together a book I’m very proud to have my name on.

To Drown in Dark Water contains twenty six stories, with six of them never before published. Three of the republished stories have previously featured in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series, and several of the flash fiction stories have only appeared on my Facebook, so probably went under the radar a bit.

The advance reviews have been better than I could ever hope for;

“Toase’s debut collection confidently announces his uniquely terrifying voice to the world … Hand this volume out with confidence to fans of horror stories that crawl inside the reader and take residence such as those by Stephen Graham Jones, John Langan, and Samanta Schweblin.”

Becky Spratford, Booklist

“There are masters of folk horror and masters of weird horror; there are masters of cosmic horror and masters of psychological horror. But on the Venn diagram where all those intersect, there is only Steve Toase. “To Drown in Dark Water” is a masterpiece debut collection from an author of astounding promise. Everyone is going to be talking about this book.”

Sarah Read, Bram Stoker and This is Horror Award-winning author of The Bone Weaver’s Orchard and Out of Water.

To Drown in Dark Water carries the reader on strange tides to worlds both weird and familiar; to worship ancient folk-gods and terrifying new deities. The stories contained herein are compassionate, elegant, and sharp as a knife. Steve Toase is an immensely skilled storyteller weaving vital new mythologies for a world on the cusp of great and terrifying change.”

Laura Mauro, British Fantasy Award-winning author of Sing Your Sadness Deep

You can pre-order the collection here, ready for its release in April, https://undertowpublications.com/shop/pre-order-to-drown-in-dark-water, or at all the usual places online.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 6

Today’s story is another inspired by a dream. Is anyone else dreaming more at the moment?

River Stone

“Come down to the river bed.”

Mac grasped my wrist and led me across the worn down limestone, not caring whether I struggled to find footing amongst the weed covered rock. I followed best I could, stepping into the water to save myself from falling. Soon we stood at the centre of the shallow river, a small plateau of smoothed stone surrounded by veins of water.

“What are you showing me?” I asked, trying to ignore the chill in my feet and keep the ice from my voice.

“The foundations,” he said. “The Abbey was here.” His arm curved wide, taking in the whole of the channel surrounding us and returning to point to the expanse between us.

I shook my head until he sighed and knelt.

“Look, here, below the fossils. The Abbey once stood here. The monks came here to worship.”

“That’s not the Franciscan site we’re looking for,” I said.

“I know,” he said. “This is much older. The Twisted Church of the Boiling Sea. The Holy Order of the Gasping Dead. The Congregation of the Eroded Eyes.”

I looked once more at his evidence. Between the fossils all I saw were the scratches of his trowel on the stone.

That night I dreamt of the Abbey. Saw the narthex rammed with gasping worshippers, the nave and cloisters carpeted with those barely alive clawing at the bare bone pillars. The ceilings hung with intestine garlands. In my dream I waded through the bodies, stepping in rib cages as I approached the altar. The black volcanic stone block was pinned with a single cover. Approaching, I recognised several tattoos in the preserved skin and woke with my fingers tracing the ink in my own arms.

The next day I’d agreed to meet Mac at the river once more, but when I arrived I was alone. I searched the banks and the channels for any sign of him, worried in case he lost his footing in his fervour. With no sign of him I walked out to the limestone once more. Stood there alone I shuddered at the memory of that cavernous church and knelt down to settle myself. Amongst the fossil shells beneath my feet I saw the shattered ribs that I so recently stepped over. Kneeling down, I brushed a smear of dirt and rubbed the away at the stone.

Even with an expression of agony, even below the compressed shells, I still recognised Mac’s face pinned down and stretched, and as I stared at his trapped distress in the limestone I felt the temperature drop and knew the Abbey would be rebuilt and once more gather worshippers to its halls.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 5

Morning! How are you today? Today’s flash fiction is about music and voices, and beauty. At the start, anyway.

Silvered Voice

The wings fluttered the silvered surface of the pool. Not both wings at once, but each in turn. Feather tips scraped across the metal, tearing through the crust and letting the molten steam rise through the air. The angel drinks it in, and as the silver cooled to line its throat, the creature began to sing.

We watched from a distance, hidden in the undergrowth, the charms we wore at neck and wrist hiding us from its gaze. The angel raised their head to the sky, and we pressed record as their voice erupted once more. Hidden within the modulations were the notes that would free us from this world.

Back in the recording studio we started the ritual at first light, reinforcing the equipment with incantations and invocations, both demonic and angelic, in hopes our preparations would allow the mixing desk to bear the pressure of the voice within.

With dried toads thorn pinned, and rook’s feathers fanned between speakers and floor, we played the recordings.

The distortion was noticeable straightaway, the crackling and deforming of the purity until it become debased and impure.

After the voice came the angel. Not the one we saw singing silver above the pool, but the one shaped by the song erupting from the shattered notes in the amps. We watched as it dragged itself through the fine mesh of the speakers, lacing together torn strands until it stood before us and slowly, piece by piece, dismantled us. We are now one voice. We are the distortion and the signal decay. We are the fade and the interference. We are the singing angel and we do not sing the world silver any more.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 2

Today’s story is inspired by a what3words code. I love using these – finding stories from random words.



crowned.copes.everyone

The day before the King of the Fields was crowned the regent was chosen from the young men of the Dale.

Everyone gathered in the lowest field, crowding around the riverbank. Cans were past between people, and lighters were shared as cigarettes were lit, the glittering coals barely visible in the morning mist.

A large circle was formed in the meadow, the unmarried men stepping forward to wait for the choosing. They all knew each other of course, all went to school together and played computer games together, but on that morning no-one spoke.

A chair was dragged into the centre and, with the help of his assistants, the local priest climbed up. his back to the waiting boys.

“Today is the day of choosing. The day of selection. The day when we crown the royalty of the land for another year.”

Someone passed him the crown of flowers, the petals weighted with the preservative that kept them from rotting year upon year. Eyes closed, the priest threw the crown into the morning air, and the gathered crowds watched it arc to land amongst their clustered children.

None of the boys moved, not wanting to change their position in relation to the ancient flowers. Over the next fifteen minutes the priest and his assistants busied themselves measuring the distance from the various teenagers to the crown, until a decision was made.

Taking his hand, the priest led the boy forward and helped him up onto the chair, the assistants fastening the copes around the boy’s shoulders, the garment made from the cured skin of the last king of the fields. As the sun rose high above the Dale the gathered crowds began to sing.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 1

Hi!

Welcome to Flash Fiction Month. For the past few years I’ve spent the month up to 21st December posting a flash fiction story a day.

With everything going on I thought about giving 2020 a miss. Then I had some ideas and those ideas become stories, and I had enough of them to make it worth doing.

Here’s the first story. Visit every day for a new piece of writing. Some will be unsettling, some will be beautiful. Hopefully you will find something you like.

Room 1

Room 13 is the Dracula of hotel rooms. The demon safe to discuss in public. No one ever talks about Room 1.

In Room 1 of Hotels a corner is always left uncleaned, a hidden altar to several half forgotten deities who feast on dead skin.

In Room 1 the bed leg in the northeast corner is always slightly raised to guide dead residents from the building.

In Room 1 of every hotel a portion of the window is always smudged to capture a minuscule portion of your reflection. While you sleep a transparent child crouches in the bathroom and stitches them into a new face.

The bricks lining Room 1 are stuffed with moss to trap any moorland spirits who wander too far from their sodden home. After a period of time trapped within the walls, the spirits are pressed into service as kitchen hands. Their skin is always green tinged and the whites of their eyes scratched by thousand year old twigs.

The window of Room 1 never opens fully. The enchantment along the gap is weak and will shatter if stretched.

Under the entrance to Room 1 is buried an emptied bleach bottle containing a baby bird, a single hawthorn, a sliver of safety glass, and a rusted ring pull.

In Room 1 every dream contains a crying railway porter, his hands shattered and stained with red paint from an empty fire extinguisher. His eyes are the same coloured red.

Never fall asleep on the bathroom floor of Room 1. Whether the Savoy or the Skid Row Motel. What wears your skin when your body leaves will not be you.

Do not turn to channel 37 in Room 1. This completes an ancient incantation and the Static will arrive at clarity for you.

Short Story Collection On Its Way January 2021

EYI09qjWsAIKr_z

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 4 (and a smidgen)

Here are the final stories of my flash fiction month. As with the previous three weeks each is linked to a location which you can visit via the hyperlink. Hope you enjoy them.

Day 22

marriage.geology.like

The couple decided to hold their wedding outside. Begin their marriage between sky and stone, not wrapped in brick and plumbing. Feel the geology underneath them, the hawthorn wearing the wind like rags.

Every word they said to each other was stitched with love, and time, the time behind them and the time to come. Hands bound with cloth, they sipped honey wine and made honeyed promises, oaths as sweet as anything the bees feasted upon.

Like shimmers from another world they stood upon the outcrop of rock and reached into the future; one year, ten years, twenty and many more.

With hands enwrapped with promises they spoke words that enwrapped them with memories to come and stepped upon their own bonny road toward a world of their own.

 

Day 23

shattered.swimmers.cuts

The swimmers stand on the glittered shore, feet coated in sand sharp as razors. When they swam out to the island, before the sun went down and chilled the land, the sea was soft and warm.

They watch waves erupt to swallow themselves. Soon the ground where they wait will gnaw upon itself. They can already feel it waking to taste the soil beneath them. The sea swirls and shifts, and with arms bare and lungs filled, they dive.

The sea is no longer soft and warm. Now it is brittle and murderous. They try to make progress, but are overwhelmed. The sea of shattered knives cuts the swimmers to the bone and continues slicing, smearing crests of waves with blood and severed tendons. There is no drowning, just muscle trimmed with a thousand cuts until the swimmers are carried beneath the sharpened tide.

Day 24

worksheet.renamed.obstruct

They renamed her in the hope it would rob her of her power. Take the magic from her hair and bones.

Whenever they pinned her identity to a worksheet or receipt, they changed the letters of her name. Misspoke it when gossipping on the street, and whispering before sleeping.

She did not care. While they shuddered at having the syllables of her slide over their lips or brush their tongue, she went to the overgrown ponds and dressed in lilies, swam in reed choked waters, and sat in meadows where the grasses scratched all the names they called her into her back.

Some days, when she lay in her bed as the summer sun scorched the streets, she heard them talk about her. Call her Joanie, or Helena, or bitch (if they were feeling brave), but none of them had the nerve to obstruct her while she knelt in the street collecting gutter herbs or road ash.

None of them had the bravado to misname her when she bought calf hearts from the butchers, and collected blackthorns on the way home. None of them had the guts to criticise her to her face when she fed the stray cats gathered in her garden, that did not quite look like cats.

While they shuddered at her shadow and stayed silent, she spoke kindness to all those who showed it to her, and any chance she got whispered her own name to herself, and smiled.

Day 25

lowest.whiten.comedy

Since starting her comedy career JoJo had bombed many times, but tonight was bad. Really bad. Tonight JoJo had hit her lowest point.

She stood on the stage, staring beyond the dust covered lights to the bored audience. That was the worst. Not the jeering or heckling, but the sheer boredom pressing back from their passive faces, stifling her attempts at jokes. Killing them before they were even born. The corpses of her humour lay around her feet.

She did not need to do anything else. The sacrifice had been made. From the side of the stage the compere tried to get her attention by glances, then sighs, then hands. She shrugged off his interruptions and refocused. Looked for the micro signals amongst those watching. A hand tapping a rhythm here, and an eye twitching in spasm there. Angles made by skin and the cloth of sweat stained shirts. Her words changed from attempts at humour to calls so quiet she barely heard herself speak.

The first portal opened up in the tear duct of a drunk stag sitting by the front of the stage. What came through was dressed in thorns and each one grazed sigils into the dying man’s eyes. The last thing he saw were the words that powdered his muscles, turning him to bone and dust. The second portal started as a single point in the chest of the compere. JoJo watched it grow and whiten, until it was pure light, though that was just the herald for the corruption that followed. What followed that light was tainted with infection and wounds. It paused before JoJo and recognised the names chiseled into her bones, then moved on through the crowd, defusing them cell by cell until they were little more than scrapings of dust on the cheap plastic chairs.

JoJo watched the things clasp together their rewards; the squirming souls of those shattered and eroded. They would not get all the cultural references in her routine, the dwellers from behind the meniscus of the world, but at least they would listen, and wait until she had finished before passing judgement upon her performance.

Day 26

harps.cook.bunny

Constanza sat upon the stage surrounded by instruments with no-one to play them. Even with no other musicians in the room the strings and skins resonated just below hearing as if the ghosts of all those past performances could not stay silent. As if they needed to find a new home in the polished wood and brass that littered the stage.

She tipped her chair back until only balanced on two legs and then back forward, letting her bow find the tune in the cello. Call back all the performances lost over the years in that ancient hall.

Across the room the harps resonated an answer, finding their own voice in the tune she danced from memory.

The animals started to come in as if the tune she played was food. As if it could give them nourishment that they could not find in the desolate world beyond the building. She watched them skitter down the aisles; deer and wild boar. A bunny leading its family over the red velvet chairs.

They came closer as if she was not there at all. As if there was only the music and the music alone would fill their bellies. She knew this was not true, or she would not be near starving herself. Soon her own stomach would be full. There would be plenty to cook tonight.

Day 27

recited.excavated.basecamp

Basecamp was deserted when Sally returned from the trench.
The rest of the team hadn’t had time to become unsettled by the most recent find. She cradled the artefact in her hands, the cuts and cracks in her skin full of clay and grit.

Now excavated, the object was smaller than she expected. She turned it over, watching as the last of the day’s sun caught each facet in turn, glittering with the dust of many deaths.

All the site huts were empty, traces of recent activity everywhere. A cup of tea cooled on top of a pile of paperwork. In another office a cigarette smouldered in a full ashtray.

She caught sight of herself in a murky hut window, just able to see her lips moving, saying the same thing over and over again. The invocation had already been recited, every step from site, like a penitent on pilgrimage. The world had already been changed. She glanced down at the artefact. Now she saw the faces. Now she saw the others. Now she saw the end of the world, and it came from muttered words that she could not stop from repeating over and over and over.

Day 28

amends.dart.frozen

Bill would not make amends for what happened on that night two weeks ago. That walk back from the club at three in the morning.

Seline shuddered at the memory and carried on arranging icewort flowers on the kitchen table. The evening had gone smoothly; good music, good dancing, the floor not too crowded, then it was time to leave. Outside was warm and the moon was high, so rather than get a bus or call a cab they decided to take their time and go on foot.

From the bag by her feet she took out the blood soaked grit and piled it in the middle of the circle of blossoms.

The cat wasn’t doing anything, just being a bit loud. Trying to get some affection. Bill didn’t touch the animal, didn’t even pretend to hit it. Instead he stepped around the other side, cutting off its escape and giving it nowhere else to go when he shouted. The cat shot out in the only direction left, toward the road.

Seline didn’t blame the car driver. He had no time to stop. She had knelt by the side of the cat, but there was nothing she could do except take the collar and hope to track down the owners.

“It’s not my fault. Stupid creature,” Bill had said, showing no remorse. There had been a coldness in his voice. A disregard for death. If he could be so dismissive over that casualty?

From her pocket she took out the five small half moons of fingernails and dropped them on top of the pile of grit.
The words were easy to remember as all good magic was. She felt her mouth go cold and spat into the centre of the circle.

The dart was barely bigger than her hand, frozen, solid and sharp. She picked it up and whispered Bill’s name, his full name, not that it was strictly necessary. The fragments of him would guide the point to its destination, but ritual was ritual.

Opening the window, she watched the ice dart shimmer for a moment then take off in search of a heart to stop. Sat at her kitchen table, Seline remembered a cat no-one else had a chance to mourn.

Day 29

salon.snow.lasts

Cathryn walked into the salon, feeling the blast of heat from above the door. She shook off her coat and let the assistant take it from her shoulders to hang it in the corner with those of the other customers.

“Morning, madam,” the stylist said as Cathryn lowered herself into the chair. The seat was difficult to settle in, but that was her, not anything she could blame on the establishment.
“What would you like today?” The stylist fastened the cape around her neck, smoothing it down.

“Just a trim please,” Cathryn said.

The stylist ran a manicured finger over Cathryn’s antlers, lingering for a moment at the branch of two tines.

“Are you sure? I have some new styles I’d really like to try out on you.”

Cathryn thought about it. She really did only want a trim, but maybe.

“I can do you a discount,” the stylist said quickly. “As long as I can take some photos.”

She had never been tempted by such delicate work before. Maybe a geometric pattern for a special occasion. Her friends who did spend their money on scrimshaw always managed to damage it during rutting of both types.

“Does it last?” She asked, still not certain.

“It lasts,” the stylist said. “I use a special technique that hardens the antler as I work. Am I okay to start?”

Cathryn nodded, the tip of one of her antlers touching the mirror. Beside her a faun laid back in his chair, eyes closed as the junior stylist carefully sculpted his horns, working away with a small saw.

From a small black table the stylist picked up a craft drill and changed the blade. Settling Cathryn’s head in place, she started to work.

The air filled with the smell of burnt hair as the stylist began to sculpt and carve. While she worked it was very hard for Cathryn to see what minuscule changes the stylist made with each cut. Up on the wall were photos of previous work; minotaurs with religious scenes carved into their horns, and minor woodland gods with bonsai forests of their own shaped into their horns.

After several hours the stylist put down their tools and stepped back, moving Cathryn’s head a touch to one side, then holding up a mirror so she could see the entirety of the sculpture; the delicate bridges with willow trees above, a glistening of snow on the branches, below that the figures sat around the campfire that seemed to move as the light caught them, brewing tea in precise teapots balanced in the flames. Further away, a small boat docked against a jetty while two more floated out into the middle of the river.

“Is it OK?” The stylist said, clasping their hands together.

Cathryn couldn’t speak, but as she nodded, the boats seemed to rock upon the carved water, shimmering through the tears in her eyes.

Day 30

after.unburied.magnificence

The trees tasted the power on the air and one by one uprooted themselves from the forest floor.

Unburied taproots became tendrils to drag them down hillsides and across tarmac, onward toward the cities that glistened in the distance. At first no-one noticed, though the ground itself trembled with the magnificence of that shift, that movement of pine and firs down toward where the people still went about their jobs and hobbies as if nothing had changed. After everything was finished, we realised that was the moment we should have paid attention.

The trees arrived at just the right time of year, clustering in toppled piles by the side of the roads, waiting for families to load them into cars and trailers. Waiting for families to take them home.

Once in living rooms the trees were decorated, covered in tinsel and glass baubles in the shape of fruit they would never grow. None of these interested them. Not the red and white candy-canes or the jagged snowmen made by tiny hands. The trees only cared about one thing; the lights and the energy they carried within them.

While the households slept the trees used their branches to cleave the bulbs to their trunks, shattered the fine glass casings, pressed the prongs against their bark, and as the electricity sparked through them they drank the energy directly into their timber, feeling it change them. Outside the streetlights flickered with the drain.

Pine needles smouldering, the trees left their living room perches, and found their way through darkened houses, lighting their own way to silent bedrooms. Twirling in the dark they unfurled the broken strings of lanterns onto the silent figures and watched without remorse as the families twitched and smouldered in their beds. The world had once belonged to the trees and once more the world would be nothing but forests.

Day 31

 yelled.magic.tornado

The stones themselves yelled to cover the screams of the grass and the soil and the earth beneath them. From one side to the other, the circle was crammed with people, their heads turned in worship, no matter what they were worshipping.

Each person carried a little magic, a spark of a spell or curse buried deep in their heart. Not a lot, but enough.

The stones tasted the magic on the air, felt it dragged out of worshippers by the rising sun, held in the sky between the cold and the heat to come.

As the stones screamed and chorused so loud that no one could hear, they spiralled the enchantment into a tornado of devotion that enveloped the sky and the sun and the land and every single shimmer of life between.

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction Month 2019 Week 3

Week 3 already? How time flies!

Day 15

alive.radio.takeover

No-one in the village was left alive. All the buildings were still standing, the streets filled with the unmoving dead.

Gail landed the plane on the football field, and did her post flight checks while the inspection team gathered together their equipment ready to inspect the bodies. She watched them shoulder backpacks full of medical supplies and cameras. She watched them struggle under the weight and disappear amongst the trees.

For three hours there was nothing but silence, and Gail lost herself in the cracked spine book she held on her lap. When the radio creaked she dropped the book and looked through the windscreen.

The trees had gone, and the villagers had returned. They were getting closer, dragging the inspection team between them. Over the sound of a thousand rotten feet grinding themselves to paste, Gail listened to her colleagues whimper.

Soon they would complete their takeover of the football field, the plane. Of her. She glanced behind her. There was nowhere left to go.

Day 16

snapped.sting.dome

Covered in lichen the geodesic dome had long since started to rot, stained polygonal panels sliding free to collapse and shatter on the meadow grass.

Niamh knew what lurked inside. They’d heard the buzzing from across the valley and knew that if they didn’t clear out the nest, the insects would soon outgrow their squatted home and swarm for a new place to occupy.

With practiced hands she snapped the protective clothing in place, waiting a moment for the visor to clear. Walking toward the abandoned structure she wondered if the shape had attracted the creatures. Some echo of a memory deep inside their collective mind.

Sweat ran down her arms and collected in the tips of her gloves. She reached up and held the frame as she lifted first one leg, then the other inside, and walked to the middle.
The noise was overwhelming, shifting shadows against the green filtered light.

Undoing her bag, she primed the device that would bring silence to the hive, and barely noticed the first sting near the base of her back. The next few got her attention and, sensing blood in the soil, the insects swarmed until she was nothing but a blackened mound of shifting pixels on the meadow, tiny jaws tearing her apart to further build their nest.

Day 17

funds.stews.reheat

Sam sheltered in one of the bedrooms, no light to see by and no windows to keep out the cold. His sleeping bag was still wet from a bucket of bleach water chucked in his direction two days earlier, already starting to smell of mildew and mould.

The only heat came from the small stove in front of where he sat cross-legged.

His mum had taught him how to make stews when he was a child, him peeling the veg while she chopped them to chunks. “Always chunks Sammy, not too thin. You’ll lose all the flavour otherwise.”

How to put everything together and how to make the best of what was left over. How to let it simmer for hours until it softened and blended.

He didn’t have that luxury now. Hard to find the fuel for his stove in the city. If he did have the funds, the shopkeepers always thought he was going to settle his stomach with the fumes from the cannisters rather than with food cooked above the flames.

In front of him the pan warmed and the stew inside began to reheat.

He hoped the windowsill where he stashed the tupperware container had been cold enough to keep the food healthy. He still remembered the last dose of food poisoning, and how he’d nearly not made it through the week.

He watched the flames, smelt the warming food and thought of his mother once more.

Day 18

formless.shovels.overjoyed

Emily drove the mattock into the ground, watching spoil spray up as the blade bit into the dirt. When she had finished breaking up the pit’s fill, she stood back and waited while the other diggers climbed in with their shovels, letting them load up the barrow before taking it to the spoil heap.

They’d been on site for two weeks and the pit was the only interesting feature. Everything else was land drain or natural so she was overjoyed to finally have something to show in the trenches.

The pit was broad and deep. For the last couple of days they’d tried in vain to recover any finds but there weren’t any to recover. Then the remains started emerging through the dirt.

The skeleton seemed to be made of human bone, but globular and formless, as if fused together. Once the remains were completely uncovered, Emily taped up a drawing board and started to plan each rib and fingerbone, only getting part of the job done before the lack of light robbed her of the ability to finish the job.

The next day the drawing did not match the feature, and at first Emily thought she’d made an error. After dinner the bones had changed again.

Uncertain how to stop the shifting, she reached out and touched the skeletal material, stroking her fingers down a complex knot of bones.

The scorching sensation started in the tips of her fingers and soon spread up her arm like an infection. She looked down at her limbs. Her tendons were bare, fingers and wrist bones welded, both to each other and the bones in the pit. Slowly but surely, she felt herself dragged under the soil, the last of her skin scraped off against the soil as she became absorbed into the net of bone.

Day 19

simply.expansion.touches

The stones were crumbling. Every day more and more turned to dust to be carried away on the breeze.

Harry stood in the centre and looked around at monuments that had stood for millennia now simply disappearing with the breeze. No need for even the most gentle of touches. This was not the erosion of expansion or contraction, but the air itself stealing them from the world.

“Maybe we don’t deserve them anymore,” he said, sitting on the granite covered grass, his head in his hands, palms now stained with dirt and tears.

Day 20

rust.tests.revealing

Carlo had been investigating the infection for three days, crawling about under the tower block, carrying out tests, though he was not sure what he was looking for when he started. He knew now.

He stared at the screen revealing the results. The infection didn’t sound unusual. A series of holes edged in rust. Not exactly uncommon in steel framed buildings.

For three days he’d crawled around, breathing mask on to protect his lungs from dead pigeon dust and forgotten asbestos. Above the mask his skin bare.

He lifted the mirror and stared once more at the holes in his face, each one edged in rust. Inside there was no bone or muscle, just shuddering darkness as something hidden crawled its way through slowly but surely ready to scrape its way into the light.

Day 21

variation.definite.places

Violet had safe places, places she could manifest without becoming trapped in trees or stone. This was not one of those places.

She was definite the ritual had been correct, the projection exact. The visualisation specific.

Her arms did not move when she tried to change position, and she abandoned any attempt. Normally it was easy for Violet to transition from place to place; concentrate on her memory of where she wanted to go, and picture it in her head, hold that idea in her head and enwrap herself with the solidity of the location.

She tried opening her eyes, but they were as sealed in place as her arms. She felt the crust of corrosion inside her limbs at the point where they extended beyond the statue where she was trapped. The statue that had only recently been erected in the square, the variation that had caught her out. She felt the circulation stop reaching her fingers.

Somewhere people started screaming. One of them was her.

 

 

 

 

Newsletter Giveaway

FOTWT

As some of you know, I also run a newsletter every couple of weeks. The format is pretty simple. It contains updates about my work, a bit of waffle about stuff I’ve found interesting, the occasional bit of archaeology, or art, but mainly it’s a delivery system for free flash fiction. Every newsletter includes a flash fiction story, just long enough to read on the train or while you’re having a coffee.

At the moment I’m having a bit of a membership drive. Anyone who is on the subscriber list on the 9th May will be entered into a draw to win the t-shirt at the top of the page.

The design is by William Cunningham and is from my story Flick of the Wyvern’s Tale in the anthology BUILT FROM HUMAN PARTS edited by Cameron Callahan.

To be in with a chance to win the t-shirt all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter at www.tinyletter.com/stevetoase (remember to check your spam filter for the confirmation email). That’s it. I’ll do the draw on the 9th and in the meantime you’ll get some hopefully enjoyable, definitely unsettling, flash fiction in your inbox.