Gods can be cruel. For those of you who don’t know the tale of Cassandra, see here. In short, the sun god Apollo gifted Cassandra with the ability to see the future, but when this act of generosity failed to open her legs, he spitefully twisted the gift into a curse. Cassandra was left with the knowledge of future events, but could neither alter these events nor convince others of the validity of her predictions.
Around Halloween, when the shops fill up with plastic fangs and pumpkins, I am led to wonder what the point of it all is nowadays. What is the role of horror in modern life? One aspect of it is, for me, being reminded that no matter how much we feel safe and in control with all our gadgetry and sophistication, the dark is just outside. I find powerful horror stories to be the ones which remind me of just how fragile this sense of control is, by offering up scenarios that believably transform mundane life into a nightmare.
Here is one such scenario that came to me through real life inspiration, with a small added embellishment for effect!
This isn’t a story about me. It’s about a boy, Sam, I knew at school. He was pretty quiet which is why I never really got to know him sooner. I do remember the stuffed dinosaur key-ring attached to his bag though.
The first time I noticed something was amiss was during class. Out of the blue the teacher asked him a maths question. He laughed, held his dinosaur to his ear, nodded as if listening to something, then gave an answer. We all laughed at this farce, but soon fell silent as we realised there was a problem. The teacher, a chubby chap by the name of Mr. Carter had turned to the board, frantically writing. Uncertain, the class whispered and fidgeted. A minute later he finished, paused a moment, then turned to Sam saying “Yes, that’s right.” He started to ask something else, but Sam was saved by the bell and ensuing diaspora. Most likely the others forgot this curious event. I didn’t.
I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett’s ‘Unseen Academicals’ recently, and recalled this particular excerpt where the daunting Patrician – getting a litle tipsy – recounts a personal childhood experience:
The Patrician took a sip of his beer. ‘I have told this to a few people, gentlemen, and I suspect never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.’
This mini-tale called to mind a personal experience when gorge-walking with a group of youths somewhere in Devon. The party came across a sheltered rock pool between turbulant waterfalls, in which we were greeted by a lone duckling. It chirped without fear and swam right up to us. As we passed through the pool it followed us with uncertain paddling and bobbing, the ripples of our passing threatening to drown it at any moment. Then, after we had traversed the pool, and helped one another to clamber up the next obstacle, it watched us leave, spinning in circles and attempting to follow. Of course the water kept throwing it back each time it tried, in vain, to come with us. We stood atop the waterfall, catching our breath, and discussed the situation. The duckling had likely become separated from its mother and been swept downstream to this place where it was effectively trapped. We could not help it for fear of our human scent rendering it alien to its own kind anyway. All in all it was a particularly heartbreaking moment and when asked what was likely to happen to it I was pretty frank about its minimal chance of survival.
As we pass through life our roles change, sometimes we are gods holding powers of life and death in our hands, and sometimes we are victims of forces that threaten to devour us. Some feel trapped in roles they feel compelled to play, through love, fear, notions of duty and myriad other reasons that twist and twine into bonds. I wonder, if those bonds were severed, what kind of god would you make? In whose image would you attempt to craft the world, and according to what principles? The Patrician speaks of becoming the moral superior of a supreme being, but given the status quo I do not feel that is remotely difficult. The difficulty may rest in retaining your notions of morality as you become a god. Power transfigures the best of us, and the result may be scarcely recognisable…
Once upon a time there was a young boy. He was strange, and therefore not particularly popular. Aside from being quiet he had a habit of dancing a lot at odd times. It was a very queer dance, hard to describe: His arms moved like waves, his body twisted, turned and swayed. The dancing had started when he was very young, to the amusement of older relatives and friends, and he never seemed to grow out of it. When asked why he did it, he returned the question, ‘Why don’t you?’
Another story? What naughty mer-children you are! Well, so long as you are ready for sleep, I suppose there is a little time. Listen closely, for this is the tale of the Mermaid’s Lament…
Though it was only a short walk from the resort, it was far enough to seem like a tropical paradise. I had meandered for perhaps twenty minutes, far enough to escape the rest of the tour party huddled around the finest overpriced gewgaws I had ever seen. My mind had been flooded with misgivings and regrets for a long time, and I had hoped the trip would bring some kind of peace. At the very least, some distraction. Sadly the only ones forthcoming had been the drawling accents of fellow passengers and other buzzing pests. I just needed some time to myself.
The word ‘apocalypse’ comes from the ancient Greek for the lifting of the veil – a kind of revelation. This is a story about the angel tasked with the final unmaking.
Like a lot of children, I was convinced that I had psychic powers. If I just concentrated hard enough, for long enough, I would be able to make miraculous things happen. The intently constipated look on my face, growing redder by the second, fixed gaze on the damned pencil that absolutely refused to move. I’m sure Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ had fair responsibility for this fantasy! I even recall this intensity washing over into my dreams, as I acutely recall several occasions where my psychic experimentations actually worked, only to wake up moments later to find I could not actually fly after all.
Accepting that there are things in the world that you cannot achieve with the power of your mind alone seems to spare a great number of strokes and hernias. At least, that’s what they would have you think!
I travel a lot these days. Club to club, I spend most nights on the go. Japan, Europe, America – All over the shop. Money isn’t really an issue thanks to having a sizeable inheritance from my parents. Dad was a lawyer, mum was a pharmaceutical chemist. I’ve spent a great deal of my waking hours partying, and I’m pleased to say that I regret almost none of it. There’s never a lack of friends to offer moral support and help spend your money. This is mostly irrelevant though. What I wanted to tell you about was a very special night. A night that sticks in my mind like a splinter of heated metal. It burns with a tropical energy, and sweat sprouts on my skin at the faintest recollection. And yes, if you must know, there was a girl involved.
Wandering around the supermarket, encountering a pack of bacon stuffed onto the cereal shelf, or a loaf of bread precariously balanced amongst the lemons. I presume the miscreant shopper was so overcome by the special offer in question that they had no time to return the former object of their affections to its proper place. They clearly don’t understand the difference between leaving meat in a refrigerated and non-refrigerated aisle!
Most of us will be familiar with the idea of the Antichrist from popular culture and films. In Monty-Python terms, if Jesus is a very naughty boy, the Antichrist is very naughty indeed! There seems to be some confusion over the nature of the Antichrist however, with some suggesting it is a metaphorical reference to the sin in every man. If we supposed that the Antichrist was indeed a man (or woman), what might he be like? What might motivate him? What makes him fit for the job? Does he ever have doubts? Does he like ice-cream?
Sam simply stared. She lay on her back, spreadeagled, looking at the stars. Her bed was glowing softly in a blue-white light. The rest of her room had gone, leaving just her, her bed, and the vast starlit blackness. No breeze, sound, or heartbeat served to give any indication of time. In fact, the soundless vacuum denied every attempt to cough or speak. If Sam had the slightest interest in astronomy she may have noticed, or failed to notice, the missing constellations regularly adorning the night sky on earth. As it was, it all served to heighten the sense of detachment and strangeness of the moment. Her fingers twined uselessly in her sheets as her mind recoiled from the void stretching like a pit before her. It recalled childhood fantasies of falling upwards into the deep blue sky whilst lying supine on a summer’s day, alone in a grassy field with nothing but dandelions and pebbles for purchase.
This is an observation stemming from some comments overheard years ago by a self-proclaimed ‘black magician’ about how stupid ‘white magicians’ were to believe a ‘protective circle’ of chalk would do anything to protect them.
Fair comment. Here’s a story dealing with that.
This idea is all about spiritual love – specifically, what would happen if a couple of ghosts fell in love? What remains when the body is gone, and how could such love be consummated? How would they even date?
There was a guy called Charlie. That wasn’t his real name, and frankly, he could have been a she for all you know. Suffice to say, not much was certain about Charlie except for two things. Charlie had an imaginary friend, and they didn’t trust each other.
Another subconscious based story idea. Borrows from the H. P. Lovecraft idea of the Great Race of Yith who were capable of transferring their consciousness across time and space to exchange bodies with other lifeforms. In Riders, our heroine discovers that something is sharing her head, communicating with her in coded dream messages, automatic writing, art and other conduits.
This idea was prompted by a wonderful moment years ago in London, at the corner of a playground in Peckham, where I stumbled across a bunch of the most delicious, succulant and flavoursome blackberries in the universe. It made me think of transient moments of amazing coincidence or beauty, brief cloud configurations, moments of extreme passion or sorrow, basketball hoops scored from amazingly improbable positions and so on. Imagine an individual, or even a group of them, with access to advanced space/time travelling technology (or magic – whatever) that spend their time visiting and cataloguing these incidents, recording them for posterity or maybe some curious ‘Museum of Moments’. Dressed innocuously, possibly with flasks of weak lemon drink, hard-core anoraks waiting for hours in all weather conditions and all terrain for that second or two when the thousand-year bloom finally comes to flower, or the last butterfly of an endangered species lays down to die upon a rock.
Silent observers, we take a peek behind the scenes at their lives, and the ethical dilemmas they might face.
Softly, a single feather fell from Mattias’ right wing, and drifted across the room in a light breeze from the doorway. It lay on the floor, glowing faintly. The woman stopped crying, and slowly approached it. Making sure that he was not looking, she bent and palmed the feather. She stood for a moment stroking its warm softness, her face lit by the glow, gazing in wonder at the object of her desires. Then, carefully, she placed the feather in a small chest squatting in the corner of the room, closing the lid firmly.
Before long, a child’s cry emanated from the darkness of the adjacent room. The woman stood, glanced at Mattias as if to assure herself of his captivity, then moved silently towards the girl’s voice. A few hushed words, a soft melody, and silence returned. The woman returned, looking haggard and tired, and went about building up the fire without another glance at him.
This is a story I wrote ages ago, but for what it’s worth here it is in its original form. Winged vampires, witches, but with some interesting twists worthy of a look. Be warned: There is a brief rape scene, but payback comes quickly.
A sword fighter with a mysterious past and memory loss! Not terribly original, but I have a fondness for the conjunction of sword fighting with the sea, ever since the 7 Seas RPG came to my attention. As balance and agility are such an important part of fencing, to have this gentleman on board ship forces him to become skilled at balancing on uncertain surfaces, adapting to situations that life throws his way. His memory loss stems from the day he was dragged from the sea, barely alive, clinging to driftwood.
This is pretty fundamental to the entire ‘Egophage’ project. The idea that the subconscious can be a construct of multiple warring needs and desires – much like the kind of possession by demons seen in the Bible and other stories. In this concept, the person in question acts as an unwilling host for his subconscious assailants, who strut around garbed in his memories and personality despite his best efforts to cope. Here are some trial paragraphs.
This concept arose from my own experience of sleep-talking. What would happen if you could have a conversation with a sleep talker? And what if you fell in love with this ‘other person’? How could you be together?
Nadja grew up in a small hovel by a marsh, alone with her aging mother. She cared for her mother as she died from a slow wasting illness. The emotional stress of the situation led to her developing a fascination with the cycles of life and death, and she learned a great deal from her mother about the flora and fauna of the marsh. After her mother passed away, Nadja gave her body to the scavengers and kept her wisdom locked carefully away.
One day, Nadja was approached by a haggard youth of a similar age as she crouched studying a dying bird, overcome by marsh gas. He was touched by what he took to be her compassion, when in fact she was simply watching its demise. They loved each other for a time, but the relationship soured as their mutual outlooks grew apart. She felt betrayed by him, and resented his special link with nature when he left to become a hermit. Vowing to make him suffer, she went in search of the power she needed to achieve her vengeance.
She sought out a spider demon, and made a pact to marry it. On the wedding day, they exchanged marriage gifts to make the pact binding. She gave him a silver ring, then the demon laughed and insisted she wear a special wedding dress. They kissed, but at his bite a paralyzing venom flooded into her. At this point the demon summoned his arachnid minions to bind her with silk – a ‘special’ dress to fit the occasion – and the demon turned to carry her away to his lair where his other ‘wives’ were entombed. Nadja, succumbing to the venom, mumbled “what is yours is mine” and triggered the enchantment on the rings. Shrieking, the demon was consumed and bound within Nadja’s ring, his power flooding into her, but she knew she would remain a prisoner of the web forever. To free herself would in turn release the demon and the consequences that entailed.
With her new powers, she silently bid the beasts of the marsh to carry her silken coffin to a blasted oak, branches reminiscent of a crescent moon: a natural conduit of magical energies. Borne aloft, she was suspended at the centre of the crescent, and a protective shell of silk woven thick and strong to shelter her. She sent her mind out into the marsh, and the myriad eyes of the spiders, insects and vermin that dwelt there, and so began the reign of Nadja, Vermin Queen.
Once upon a time there was a special boy. God had decided to fill his heart with love, but the world was too scared by the brightness and averted its eyes. In order for the boy to live, he made a mask for himself to hide his love. He made one for every occasion: Feeding the ducks, playing with friends and going to school. Very soon, the boy had a multitude of masks. Each represented part of him, but all were woefully incomplete.
When the boy came of age he started courting. Sadly every person he encountered only saw a flimsy mask and found them lacking. Heartbroken, the boy decided he would show his true love to his future partners. When he did so, they were so terrified and overwhelmed that they fled immediately. The boy slumped to the ground, with despair creasing his beauty and tears pouring down his cheeks.
Isolated from the world, doused with sorrow, his love was finally extinguished. The boy became a hollow husk, filled with ashes. He cast off his masks, went outside into a grey world and lived out his days as a productive and anonymous member of society.