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 4

Just a little warning that today’s story is a bit graphic, and fairly heavy on the body horror. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy. (The inspiration for this was a dream, so I had this living in my head…)

Salve

We never expected the dead to start religions.

They stood between us and the way out of the city, thousands of them worshipping under ragged carrier bag banners.

When they finished their devotions, the congregation would come in our direction, so hiding was no option. We watched their rituals and tried to come up with a plan.

The priest stood dead centre of the road, torn arms raised to the sky as her damaged throat wheezed words we didn’t understand. Around her, the dead mimicked her invocations.

Some of the gathering still looked human, just at the beginning of their transformation, others little more than sentient pools of muscle, softened bones erupting from the surface. Windblown grass-seeds and corn husks peppered their rotten flesh. Even from a distance we saw where the wounds were tattooed with road dirt and grit.

But the priest? She had been one of the early infected yet still held her shape, and this is what she offered them. Coherence. Identity. The ability to remain whole, even beyond death.

The prayers stopped and she gazed around her flock. When the infections started we thought the dead lost language, but that too was transformed.

“Our calls will be heard by the Lords of the Third Circle,” she said, staring lovingly at a family melted together into a single wall of meat. “We will be delivered to the next world in our true forms. Our brethren who have already succumbed will be returned to us.”

We were so distracted by the proceedings, we did not notice the working party surround us, grasping our hands to our bodies with gloved hands. They walked us down to the centre of the makeshift church. With gasps of joy, the Priest turned toward us.

“Truly the Soured Lords have answered our prayers.”

The gloves should have been the first clue. We expected them to feast upon us, or leave us to be transformed. Instead they kept us alive and healthy, peeling us apart one by one and applying our fat as salves.

While we still held onto rational thought through the pain, we knew it would do no good. The infection did not work that way, but religion was a powerful drug, even amongst the melting dead. We were medicine and cure. Henbane and Belladonna.

We were hallowed and revered, even as they prised us meat from bone, and boiled us down to smear on their skin. We were the most holy of holy and they showed their reverence with each cut of the knife. 

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 3

Meadow Mist

Today’s story was inspired by a photo my friend Lynn Hardaker shared.

Dog in hand, she watched the mist rise from the meadow and confer with the morning sun before transforming into ghosts.

Some were a long time dead, others less than a year lost. She sprinkled desiccated herbs in the air, throwing handfuls into the freezing sky.

The faery scented the hollowed seeds as they fell to the floor, crawling out of the bark and dirt, to gnaw on the boon.

They noticed the woman first, but she had taken precautions, circling her feet with dried mushrooms and blessed bones.

Instead, the faery turned to the ghosts, tasting their confusion and sensing no threat. With twigged hands, they reached up and cradled the fragile tapered dead. Then, with words the woman only vaguely understood, the faery led the lost away until they found a path once 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

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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