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Messages - Matthew Hughes

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1
Review My Work / The Colony -1996 words
« on: March 09, 2018, 11:16:32 AM »
Hi, This is the first 2000 words of an 8000 word short story I've just finished.

Grateful for any feedback you can give.

Genre is a bit of a mixed bag. Suspense/horror, maybe.

------------

The Chosen will be gathered and the Prophecies will come to pass.
A messenger will come bearing the sign of the Hydra.
And the messenger will be offered to the First Born.
A darkness will fall and day will become night.
The sky will rain with the righteous fire of the first-born.
The Chosen will submit, and be saved.


[The Colony Scroll - translated from the original Latin by Professor William Gershalt, Oxford University, October 2021]

***

Jessica placed the note in her pocket, worrying it between her thumb and index finger. She sat on a lop-sided chair her father had made, an attempt to add comfort to what he referred to as their family ‘lodge’. In truth, it was little more than a damp, wooden shack, offering cursory relief from the elements.

She smiled at the thought of Josiah coming up with a plan.

Despite all the talk of rejecting modern life, the Colony still sent its dirty linen to the laundromat in town. It was Jess’ job to take the delivery from Kelly Wilmslow, a girl she'd known at school.

Non-believers were not allowed inside, so Jessica met her at the gates. When Kelly passed the first set of sheets across, Jess felt the note being pressed into her hand, under the sheets. They held each other's eyes for a moment without saying a word.

In the shack, she read, “Meet me at our place in the woods. Tonight, 7 O’clock. I miss you. Josiah.”

For a moment, the misery of the past month lifted from her shoulders. Her parents' decision to enter the Colony and the privations of life inside were something that Jess wanted no part of. She surveyed the squalor around her and felt the emotion rising in her throat.  Jess closed her eyes.

Touching the note again, she thought of Josiah. She recalled an image of him on the beach, laughing, during their trip to Brighton the previous Autumn. They’d told their parents they would be away with the school, a sixth-form excursion to the seaside. But it had just been them, together and alone for the first time. They visited the arcades, walked on the beach and drank for long-hours in the bars. Josiah booked two separate rooms at the hotel, but by the second night they needed only one.

***

The Preacher entered his cabin and closed the door.

The spacious single room served as a study, kitchen and living quarters. It was basic, in-keeping with their values, but much larger than the other lodges. His Brethren understood his position and responsibilities. There would be no begrudging the inequity.
He sat at his desk and clasped his hands.

For the first time, he sensed doubt among them. The uninvited questions and the diffidence of their manners had been building for a time. Thursday worship, the holiest session of the week, was supposed to be a time of reflection and contemplation. With their insolence, a few had betrayed a lack of true faith. How many did they speak for?

Alice Cuthbert was the worst of them, the leader of the malcontents. Always passive aggressive. “When will the messenger come, Preacher? You say he will be here soon, but when?” A motherly doubter. The children were hungry, she said. They needed more food, more meat, more vegetables. Always more, more, more.

He stood and paced the room. A chair blocked his path. The Preacher picked it up and flung it violently against the wall. When it crashed to the floor intact, he retrieved the chair and swung it against a pillar, over and over again, until each piece had broken away and he was left with a single wooden leg dangling from his hand. Sweating, breathing heavily, he tossed it away and sank to his knees.

They dared to question him?

In the twelve years it had taken to build this place, they had all made sacrifices, but he took the burden of leadership. In the beginning there had been just a handful, but his word had spread and their numbers had grown. With each new arrival, a bargain was struck. Conform to his strictions, and in return, he would ready them for The Reckoning. The Preacher was a man of his word, and he would remind them of their mission here.

He picked himself up and strode towards door. Outside, on the porch of his lodge, he found Greg , a large and forceful man who did not know the meaning of ‘doubt’.

“Fetch Alice Cuthbert and her family. Place them in the pit for three days.”

Hopkins nodded. “The children too, Mr. Preacher, Sir?”

“The children too.” he said.

***

Josiah took care not to be seen leaving the southern end of town on foot. Cars and buses bound for Stratford took that route all the time, but there was no reason to be walking in the area, unless they meant to visit the Colony.

Any driver could see the route from the main road. Beyond a thick copse of trees and a derelict barn lay the banks of the Stour. Cross the footbridge and you arrived at the old Friern Farmstead, a collection of fields broken up and sold off in the 90's. The two largest meadows eventually came under the ownership of Elton Digweed. And the rest, as the people of Shipston-on-Stour were fond of saying, was history.

From a distance, the settlement looked pre-historic. Perhaps twenty wooden huts built in rudimentary fashion, peppering the fields, interspersed with smoking fires and people moving between them. There was no way to tell the Colonists apart from the hill. They all wore the same plain hessian uniform, even the children. At the northern tip of the settlement, built on a raised bank, was a larger, more substantial building. Everyone agreed this must be Digweed’s residence.

Jos knew people gossiped about anyone seen in the general direction of those huts. Children were warned to stay clear by their parents and teachers. Suspicion still lingered over poor Sam Harwood, months after he'd fished the river from the wrong bank.

To avoid such a fate, Josiah rode to the Sports and Social Club and dumped his bike next to the clubhouse. By the time he'd crossed the football pitches, his boots were caked with mud and his hands were frozen. He vaulted the stile and hurried down the pathway dividing Jim Buchan’s land. At the river, the path turned north, tracking the bank towards Long Compton.

He took a full minute to check his surroundings, rolled up his jeans and waded into the ice-cold water. Half way across, a river rat broke the surface and eyed him suspiciously. He swiped his hand against the current and the creature swam away.

In the fading light, the boy climbed the bank and dried himself with a rag from his back-pack. He put on his socks and boots and continued through the woods.

If Jessica had received his message, she would be waiting on the far side of the trees. He pictured her, standing in the clearing, her arms gathered around her with a smile forming at the edge of her lips. Thinking of him, anticipating him. They had not seen each other in almost a month.

The night before, Jos’ father had visited him in his room, awkwardly staging a father-son talk. He was worried about Jos, he said, everyone was. He hardly ate, his school work had dropped off. Even his friends were concerned. It was time, his Father said, to move on from Jessica.

"Move on."

All that experience and still his father used those words. As if Jessica were a bump in the road, an experience to be mused upon in later life. It was difficult to forgive.

Through the trees, beyond the walls, he spotted the flickering glow of their fires. She must be able to slip away, he thought. They couldn't watch each other constantly.

He recalled the warning signs before Jessica and her parents had disappeared. The Preacher’s leaflets on the Rowley's coffee table and the curious questions Jess' mother would ask Josiah when he called. Had he heard the rumours of his strange powers? Did he think there was truth to them?

The Colony held outreach sessions once a week in Shipston’s community hall. Most who attended were out of town, crackpots who'd picked up the story from the media or the internet.

Jessica’s parents had gone along, then things started to spiral out of control.

Josiah should've acted then. He should have told people about Mrs. Rowley or watched the house to make sure nothing happened. Instead, he went on as though everything was fine and a week later, they were gone.

In the woods, he reached the clearing. “Jess.” he said. “Jess, are you there?”

He walked on, wet grass clinging to his ankles. “It’s Jos. I came to get you.”

More silence. He felt foolish now. He’d rehearsed their reunion so many times; it hadn’t occurred that she might not be there. He shuffled around the edge of the clearing, finding only darkness between the trees.

Josiah heard a feint rustling, low to the ground. It could have been an animal, but there was something purposefully furtive in the sound. He approached slowly. “Jess? Is that you?”

Her voice came from behind, soft and inviting, “Josiah.”

He turned. She stood in front of him, dressed in plain, off-white overalls, a crochet blanket draped across her shoulders. Her hair had been cut short and her skin was paler than he remembered.

He took a deep inward breath, steeling himself against his emotions.

“Are you okay?” he said.

She dropped her eyes and covered her face with her hands.

The blow to the back of his head was sudden and heavy, impacting at the base of the skull, sending shockwaves of pain across his shoulders and spine. In the split-second of consciousness before he hit the ground, Josiah heard a male voice growl and heavy footsteps beating towards him.

“Take him.”

***

Consciousness returned in short, painful bursts.

Strong hands gripped his shoulders and legs. Mud and mulch passed beneath as they carried him.

Next, they were turning him over, struggling to get him through the door of a wooden hut. One said,

“The blood makes him slippery.”

Josiah faded again, but for longer this time. When he came to, he was sitting up in a chair. The pain at the back of his head mixed with the sensation of hands tending to his wound. A cloth soaked with cool water dabbed at the cut.

From behind, she whispered into his ear. “Don’t speak.” With the sound of her voice and her breath on his neck, his senses revived. Josiah tried to move his hands, only to find them bound to the arms of the chair.

“Cut these, and we’ll run,” he said.

“Quiet. They have someone on the door.”

Josiah saw that a bearded man stood sentry at the open entrance.

She whispered again, so quietly he could hardly make out the words.

“You shouldn’t have come. They found the note. They think you’re a sign.”

“A sign? A sign for what?”

“You’re in danger. So am I.”

“I can get you out. I can.”

“Stop. I had a way to get out.” He sensed her hands shaking. Was it anger or fear? “Now we’re all in danger.”

The bearded man finally noticed their urgent whispers, and came into the room. Up close, Josiah recognised him as Mr White, his old Maths teacher. People in town said he’d retired and left to live in the city.

There was no sign of recognition for his former pupil, just a blunt instruction for Jess. “Clean him, bandage him and get out.” His voice carried a furious edge.

White remained until Jess finished dressing the wound. As she left, her fingers brushed gently over the back of his hand.

2
Review My Work / Re: Very short... "The Pain of Sleep"
« on: March 09, 2018, 09:57:59 AM »
The writing isn't awful and, in fact, is lyrical in places. The tone is anguished and that comes across strongly, but . . . Nothing really happens here.

The best writing advice I ever heard was this: "get them moving around." The point being that most new writers fall into the trap of describing the finite inner workings of the mind of their central characters. But this does not communicate character, nor does it move along the story. Without either of these you have something that people won't stick around to read. So get this character doing something, talking to someone, take them out on a date, anything but nothing.

I hope that helps. Stick at it and you WILL get there.

3
Review My Work / Re: Rye Hill - 1997 words
« on: December 14, 2017, 03:39:20 PM »
Very helpful comments here.  In particular, I was wondering about the tense already, and you’ve confirmed the issue for me. I’ve taken a pass at it in past tense, which is below. Probably still needs some cuts to zone in on the drama, but I think the change helps.

—�—�—�—�-

Phil sat on the top deck, holding a paperback in his left hand, staring out of the window. The gloom of the evening pressed in on the bus, but he saw only the lights and the faces of the people.
 
Six more stops and he’d be with her. 
 
The mental image of Isla’s face, smiling as she opened the door, was so sharp, so vivid, it had the quality of a premonition. Isla might be coy when he arrived, kissing his cheek and leading him by the hand into her flat. Or she might pounce before the door even closed. Either would be fine with him.
 
The bus pulled into Nigel Road and the thin northernmost tip of Peckham Rye Common appeared outside his window. To the west, above the Dulwich skyline, he saw the orange glow of flames, flickering against the clouds. A house fire, he assumed.
 
As if reading his thoughts, two fire engines and a police car charged past.
 
A large elderly man in a dirty green jacket stumbled up the stairs and dropped into the seat in front. He smelled of booze and sweat, his skin dangerously pale.
 
A young black girl, sitting across the aisle, stood and moved towards the back of the bus. Phil thought about doing the same, but the old guy turned and said to him, “It’s crazy out there. You know?”
 
Phil shook his head and smiled. “Sorry?”
 
The old man’s jaw dropped and Phil wondered if it could be a seizure. Before he could ask if he was okay, the man turned away and slumped across the seats.
 
Phil wanted to give someone a knowing grin. ‘Look at me, dealing with the drunk’, but nobody met his eyes. A middle-aged woman was lost in the screen of her phone. A suited professional nodded along to cordless headphones.
 
Five more stops.
 
The 343 stopped at the traffic lights and Phil gagged from the smell. He nestled his shoulder and nose into the window and breathed in the cold air. The Common was broad now, the green sweep of grass and trees still visible in the descending light. 
 
In the distance, the road to the west of the Common was blocked. Two cars had collided head on, coming to rest across the carriageway. Drivers trapped in the traffic got out to investigate.
 
Phil thought, ‘It is crazy out there.” and took out his phone, snapping ten pictures of the cars with quick-fire taps.
 
A movement outside caught his attention. He leaned closer to the window. It was large, black and irregular, with so many moving parts, he struggled to focus. At first, its speed made Phil think of a converted vehicle, a motorbike perhaps, decorated to look like some hideous insect.  He screwed up his nose and pressed his forehead against the glass.
 
The thing moved in a direct line towards a woman with a buggy. She spotted the black swirl approaching and stood stock still, waiting for it. Even from the bus, Phil saw her tilting her head, trying to understand. 
 
In the last second, the woman grabbed the buggy and tried to pull out of the way. It was too late. At the point of contact, Phil finally discerned its form. The blur of jagged black lines propelling it forward could only be one thing: legs.
 
In the silence of the bus, he got to his feet and pounded on the window. 
 
“Help her!” He shouted, “Somebody help her!”
 
 
***
 
The Tesco security guard said Roger hadn’t paid for two of the beers, but he did, he was sure of it, and what the hell was he supposed to do when the till thing didn’t  beep when it’s supposed to? If they wanted to get all of the money right all of the time, maybe they should do it the old-fashioned way.
 
The security guy kept on shouting at him and he talked too fast, so Roger couldn’t understand a word.
 
He took two of the cans out of the carrier bag and threw them on the floor, then pulled his arm away from the guard, then scurried out of the shop. He heard shouting and laughing behind him, but payed no mind. ‘Keep moving’, he thought.
 
Outside, the cold cut through his cheap coat and he imagined getting into bed with his cans of beer and warming up and making the shakes go, but then his cheeks burned because he knew what Susan would think. He pushed that thought aside, and said the words out loud this time, “Keep moving, Roger.”
 
He had to cross the big junction on Peckham Rye West, but it was easier than usual because all the traffic had stopped. People were blasting their horns and one guy craned his neck out of the window, shouting filthy words. 
 
Roger walked between the cars and hurried onto the path across the Common. Two young women, walking towards him, stared in silence as went by. One of them looked a bit like Susan, but without the kindness in her eyes. As they passed, he turned to look at them. He did that sometimes, and he wished he could help himself. But, instead his attention was taken by a figure swaying in the trees.
 
He laughed because someone must have been playing a joke. The Council, probably, had put a great big, statue in the trees. What was it? A huge bug, a spider? It looked almost alive. If it weren’t for the bus, the 343 he could hear approaching, he might have taken a closer look. 
 
Roger ran for the stop and the wheezing in his chest got worse.  He arrived inside the doors just as they were closing. The driver snarled because Roger didn’t have a card, so he shouted over his shoulder, “I’ll come back down, fella.”
 
The bus pulled off, which was good, because the driver wasn’t going to be an arsehole and call the police. He climbed the stairs and flopped down on an empty seat. Roger wanted to talk to stop himself thinking about the dive he was staying in or his daughter, or any of the other things which brought on the darkness.
 
The guy behind him looked like a good sort, and he was thinking about the big spider thing, so he said, “It’s crazy out there. You know?”
 
But just as he said the words, he looked out of the window and saw the two girls he’d passed, lying on the grass, in the middle of the Common. The big black thing  walked away from them.

Walked on eight long, black legs.
 
The image was too much for Roger. With the drink in his system and the pressure he was under, it overwhelmed him. He slumped into the seat, his head down, hiding from the hideous thing outside.
 
***
The young guy shouted and banged on the window. Alisha thought it strange because it was the well-dressed man raving, and not the stinking bum in front.
 
A decade of travelling on buses in South London had taught Alisha one lesson: Don't engage. Guy hits on you? Don't engage. Someone blasts their music in your ear? Don't engage. And top of the list, crazy guy starts shouting crazy shit? Don’t engage.
 
Yet, this was different. His tone, his appearance, the way he suddenly jumped up, out of nothing. “Help her!” He shouted, “Somebody help her!”
 
Silhouettes of the Rye Hill Park towers loomed against the grey sky ahead. The next stop would be hers, so she stood and walked down the aisle, watching the man, gauging his distress. The lights inside the bus reflected against the glass. She couldn’t see what he was shouting at, but there was something out there, movement where she expected dead space.
 
The guy turned towards her and said, “Don't get off. Whatever you do, don't get off the bus.”
 
In ten seconds, they would reach her stop and she didn’t want to miss it. Alisha had to make dinner tonight and her mum would be wondering where she was.

But this guy wasn’t faking it. Something had spooked him. She stepped into an empty seat and put her face to the glass.
 
And she flew.
 
The sensation of moving through the air came a moment before the smashing, crunching sound from the front of the bus. Her hip caught the seat in front and she knew the pain would be severe even before she landed.
 
She came down on top of the drunk, who was sprawled in front of his seat.

The high pitched ringing in her ears subsided. A scraping and scratching sound came from the lower deck. Glass broke. People were screaming. A recorded voice, loud and insistent, almost drowned out the terror of the people downstairs.  “This is an emergency. Please vacate the bus via the nearest exit. This is an emergency. Please vacate the bus via the near . . ." Abruptly it stopped.
 
She looked up at the ceiling and all was red. She swept her hand across her eyes to clear the blood. The guy underneath her moved and Alisha lifted herself up and shifted onto the seat.  Her head was cut and her hip hurt, but she’s was in one piece.

The people downstairs continued to scream.  A woman’s voice could be heard above all the others. “Get it off me!  Get it off me!”  Alisha had never been in a bus crash, nor any other kind of traffic accident, but she knew this was the wrong soundtrack.  The worst should have been over. People may have been injured, possibly killed.  There might be crying and wailing and movement.  Not screaming, not the pure terror she could hear coming from below.

Around her, the top deck passengers are got to their feet. Ten people stirring themselves, all in various stages of shock.  A guy in a pin-striped suit, with Bose headphones round his neck shouted, “What the fuck happened?”

Alisha ignored him, but noted the silence that followed.  The screaming below had ceased, along with the scratching.

She looked out of the window.  Across the Common, on the roads, in the playground, climbing up the houses and the trees, she saw them.

Monsters. There was no other word she could think of.

Huge black, arachnoids, their thick bodies and heads carried along by impossibly long legs.  She spotted a man with long blonde hair wearing a blue tracksuit, running away from the bus. One of the spiders changed direction and chased, scuttling at twice the man's speed.  A front limb reached out and swept his feet from under him.  He landed heavily on his shoulder and the thing was on him, spearing his body over and over with it’s razor sharp legs.  Then the head descended and pincer fangs gouged at his body. 

All across the Common and the park beyond, they hunted   

Alisha dropped her head, and brought her shaking hands together in prayer.

4
Review My Work / Rye Hill - 1997 words
« on: December 13, 2017, 05:48:38 PM »

Hi

I've started a piece which may end up at around 10k words. It's Horror/Sci-Fi, multiple POV.  Probably alternating between three main characters. Pulpy stuff, but hopefully populated with some realistic characters. The setting is modern day South London. 

I'm looking for reader reaction.  Is this grabbing you?  Would you read on?

Thanks in advance for the feedback.

-------------------

Phil sits on the top deck, holding a paperback in his left hand, staring out of the window. The gloom of the evening presses in on the bus, but he sees only the lights and the faces of the people. 
 
Six more stops and he’ll be with her.  
 
The mental image of Isla’s face, smiling as she opens the door, is so sharp, so vivid, it has the quality of a premonition. Isla might be coy when he arrives, kissing his cheek and leading him by the hand into her flat. Or she might pounce before the door even closes. Either is fine with him. 
 
The bus pulls into Nigel Road and the thin northernmost tip of Peckham Rye Common appears outside his window. To the west, above the Dulwich skyline, he sees the orange glow of flames, flickering against the clouds. A house fire, he assumes.
 
As if though reading his thoughts, two fire engines and a police car charge past. 
 
A large elderly man in a dirty green jacket stumbles up the stairs and drops into the seat in front. He smells of booze and sweat and his skin is dangerously pale.
 
A teenage girl, sitting across the aisle, stands and moves towards the back of the bus. Phil thinks about doing the same, but the drunk turns and speaks to him, “It’s crazy out there. You know?”
 
Phil shakes his head and smiles. “Sorry?”
 
The old man’s jaw drops and Phil wonders if he’s having a seizure. Before he can ask if he’s okay, the man turns and slumps across the seats.
 
Phil wants to give someone a knowing grin. ‘Look at me, dealing with the drunk’, but nobody is making eye contact. A middle-aged woman has her face immersed in a phone. A well-dressed professional nods along to cordless headphones. 
 
Five more stops. 
 
The 343 reaches the traffic lights and Phil is gagging from the smell. He nestles his shoulder and nose into the window and breaths in cold air. The Common is broad now, the green sweep of grass and trees still visible in the descending light.  
 
In the distance, the road to the west of the Common is blocked. Two cars have collided, coming to rest across the carriageway. Drivers trapped in the traffic get out to investigate. To Phil, it looks serious. The front ends of both cars have crumpled inwards. 
 
He thinks, ‘It is crazy out there.” and takes out his phone, snapping pictures of the crashed cars with quick-fire taps. 
 
A movement outside catches his attention. He leans closer and sees something moving across the Common. It is large, black and irregular, with so many moving parts, he finds it hard to focus. At first, its speed makes Phil think of a converted vehicle, a motorbike perhaps, decorated to look like some hideous insect.  He screws up his nose and presses his forehead against the glass.
 
It is making a direct line towards a woman with a buggy. She’s seen the black swirl approaching and is standing stock still, waiting for it. Even from the bus, Phil can see her tilting her head, trying to understand what she is seeing.  
 
In the last second, the woman grabs the buggy and tries to pull out of the way, but it is too late. At the point of contact, Phil finally discerns its form. The blur of jagged black lines propelling it forwards can be only one thing: legs.
 
In the silence of the bus, he stands and pounds on the window.  
 
“Help her!” He shouts, “Somebody help her!”
 
 
*** 
 
The Tesco security guard says Roger didn’t pay for two of the beers, but he did, he’s sure of it, and what the hell is he supposed to do when the till thing doesn’t beep when it’s supposed to? If they want to get all of the money right all of the time, maybe they should do it the old-fashioned way and get someone to do it for him.
 
But now the guy is talking too fast and he’s shouting and Roger can’t understand a word.
 
He takes two of the cans out of the carrier bag and throws them on the floor, then pulls his arm away from the security guard and scurries out of the shop. There is shouting and laughing behind him, but he pays no mind. ‘Keep moving’, he thinks.
 
Outside, he feels the cold through his cheap coat and thinks about getting into bed with his cans of beer and warming up and making the shakes go, but then his cheeks burn because he knows what Susan would think. He pushes that thought aside, and says the words out loud this time, “Keep moving, Roger.” 
 
He has to cross the big junction on Peckham Rye West, but it’s easier than usual because all of the traffic has stopped. People are blasting their horns and one guy is craning his neck out of the window and shouting filthy words.  
 
Roger walks between the cars and hurries onto the path which crosses the Common. Two young women, walking towards him, stare in silence as he goes by. One of them looks a bit like Susan, but without the kindness in her eyes. As they pass, he turns to look at them. He does that sometimes, and he wishes he could help himself. But, instead of looking at them, his attention is taken by a figure swaying in the trees. 
 
He laughs because someone is playing a joke. The Council, probably, has put a great big, black statue in the trees. What is it? A huge bug, a spider? It looks almost alive. If it weren’t for the bus, the 343 he can hear approaching, he might take a closer look.  
 
He runs for the stop and the wheezing in his chest is bad, but Roger gets inside the doors just as they’re closing. The driver snarls because he doesn’t have a card, so he shouts, “I’ll come back down, fella.”
 
The bus pulls off, which is good, because the driver won’t be an arsehole and call the police. He climbs the stairs and flops down on the seat. Roger wants to talk to someone so that he doesn’t start thinking about the dive he’s staying in. 
 
The guy behind him looks like a good sort, and he’s thinking of that big spider thing, so he says “Weird as shit. Don’t go out there.” But just as he does, he looks out of the window and see’s that the two girls are lying on the grass in the middle of the Common and the big black thing is walking away from them. It is walking on eight long, black legs.
 
The image is too much. With the drink in his system and the pressure he's been under, it overwhelm’s him. He slumps his head down onto the seat next to him, hiding from the hideous thing outside.
 
***
The young guy is shouting and banging on the window. Alisha thinks this is strange because it's the well dressed man who is raving and not the stinking bum sat in front. 
 
A decade of travelling on buses in South London has taught Alisha one lesson: Don't engage. Guy hits on you? Don't engage. Someone blasts their music in your ear? Don't engage. And top of the list, crazy guy starts shouting crazy shit? Don’t engage. 
 
But this is different. His tone, his appearance, the way he's suddenly jumped up, out of nothing. “Help her!” He shouts, “Somebody help her!”
 
Silhouettes of the Rye Hill Park towers loom against the grey sky ahead. The next stop is hers, so she stands and walks down the aisle, watching him. The lights inside the bus reflect against the glass. She can't see what he’s shouting at, but there is something out there, movement where there’s usually dead space.
 
The guy turns and sees her. He says, “Don't get off. Whatever you do, don't get off the bus.”
 
In ten seconds, they’ll reach her stop and she doesn't want to miss it. Alisha has to make dinner tonight and her mum will be wondering where she is. But this guy is real. Something has spooked him. She steps into the empty seat behind him and puts her face to the glass. 
 
And she is flying. 
 
The sensation of moving through the air comes a moment before the smashing, crunching sound from the front of the bus. Her hip catches the seat in front and she knows the pain will be severe even before she lands.
 
She comes down on top of the drunk, who is on the floor, in front of his seat. 

The high pitched ringing in her ears subsides and she can hear a scraping and scratching sound coming from the lower deck. Glass is breaking. People are screaming. A recorded voice is loud and insistent, almost drowning out the terror of the people downstairs.  “This is an emergency. Please vacate the bus via the nearest exit. This is an emergency. Please vacate the bus via the near . . ." Abruptly it stops.
 
She looks up at the ceiling and all is red, so she sweeps her hand across her eyes to clear the blood. The guy underneath her is shouting and Alisha lifts herself up and shifts onto the seat.  Her head is cut and her hip hurts, but she’s relived to find she is still in one piece.

The people downstairs continue screaming.  A woman’s voice can be heard above all the others. “Get it off me!  Get it off me!”  Alisha has never been in a bus crash before, nor any other kind of traffic accident, but she knows this is the wrong soundtrack.  The worst should be over. People may be injured, some might even be dead.  There should be crying and wailing and movement.  Not screaming, not the pure terror she can hear coming from below.

Around her, the top deck passengers are getting to their feet. There must be ten people stirring themselves, all in various stages of shock. 

The only exception is the woman from the shop on Cheltenham Road.  Mrs Chopra. Alisha has known her since she was small. She would go with her brother to the corner shop on Sunday, after tea, where they were allowed to buy one sweet, or an ice cream in the summer.  Mrs Chopra was always friendly, always treated them like they mattered.

They’d said ‘Hi’ to each other when Alisha had got on the 343 just half-an-hour ago, but now Mrs Chopra wasn’t moving.  Her forehead has caved in, smashed on the metal bar of the seat in front.

A guy in a pin-striped suit, with Bose headphones round his neck shouts, “What the fuck happened?”

What she hears now is not his words, but the silence that follows.  The screaming below has stopped, so has that scratching sound.

She sees what is making that awful scraping sound is and she knows why the woman downstairs was shouting. Across the Common, on the roads, in the playground, climbing up the houses and the trees, she can see them.

Monsters. There is no other word.

Huge black, arachnoids, their huge bodies and heads carried along by impossibly long legs.  She a sees a man with long blonde hair wearing a blue tracksuit, running away from the bus. One of the spiders changes direction and chases, scuttling at twice the man's speed.  A front limb reaches out and sweeps his feet from under him.  He lands heavily on his shoulder and it it's on him, spearing his body over and over with it’s razor sharp legs.  Then the head descends and pincer fangs gouge at his body. 

All across the Common and the park beyond, they are hunting. 

Alisha drops her head, and brings her shaking hands together in prayer.


5
Review My Work / Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« on: November 11, 2017, 03:46:53 PM »
Not confusing at all. It's intriguing.

I'm not a fan of fantasy, as a rule, but this has a pleasingly savage tone to it. The alternative world is created with subtlety, the writing is very smooth and central idea is interesting. I wonder, is this training to read a more complex, human flock?

I would read more.

6
Review My Work / The Piece - 1637 words
« on: November 10, 2017, 12:11:25 PM »
This is the first part of 6k suspense story. 

Appreciate reader responses and criticism.


—�—�—�—�—�—

David rests his hand on hers. Julia is on the verge of tears and he wants to reach out and hold her. Her head dips and turns away, thick brown curls fall across her eyes.

A month after their split, this is the first meeting. A 'casual' coffee before work, the demands of the office and the bustle of a Monday morning supposedly keeping it short and detached. Practicalities have been addressed. They've arranged a time to pick up his things. The process of selling the flat will begin next week.

"Julia," he says.

She retrieves her hand and stands. The moisture in her eyes is gone. Her voice is low and cold. "You ruined it, David.” She shakes her head, “Idiot."

Two women at the neighbouring table turn and stare.

She speaks again, louder this time. "blocked idiot." She walks out, without looking back.

David holds his head in his hands. Julia. Perfect, beautiful Julia. Did she ever say a harsh word to him in the seven years they were together? Now this.

He knows she's right, that's the worst of it. His 'indiscretion', was nobody's fault but his own. A pointless, reckless kiss with a work colleague at a Christmas party.

Their life together had been good. Loving, mutually supportive. Everyday she gave him advice and everyday he would take it, helping him to over come so many of life's obstacles, big or small. On top of her day job, she studied for her Masters in Economics, taking classes every night of the week. He wanted to see more of her, but the time they did have together should have been enough.

If it weren't for the people at the neighbouring table, still watching whilst they pretend to talk, he would weep. Big boy David Mansfield would blub like a baby, and he’d be worthy of their contempt.

Instead, he stands, takes a breath and sets off down the Euston Road towards his office.

He arrives at his desk via the elevator at the back of the building. Taking the normal route would mean passing the Comms team, which is where Sally Winchester works. A month on from the party and he still receives knowing glances and raised eyebrows from her colleagues.

With the depressed mood of his morning settling over him, David turns on his PC and checks his emails. Among the spam and work related messages is one from the Chief Executive. 

"Dear Colleagues,

It is with great regret than I write to inform you of the sudden passing of our colleague Jocelyn Moore . . ."

David stops for a moment. Something about the name jars.

Jocelyn was a valued colleague in our Information Technology team, working with us for over seven years. Her death has come as a great shock to us all. If and when we receive details of funeral or memorial arrangements from Jocelyn's family, we will share this with you. For now, I'm sure you will join me in passing on our sincere condolences to Jocelyn's friends, family and loved ones at this difficult time." 

David leans back in his chair, tilting his head to one side.

Jocelyn Moore. Jocelyn Moore.

Where has he heard that name? When nothing comes, he gets on with replying to emails and writing a brief on three potential clients. At 11AM, his manager, Gina, takes him into a side office for their regular one to one. As the conversation draws to a close, she mentions that he seems distracted and asks if “everything is okay?" She means the split with Julia, everybody knows about that. He doesn’t have the energy to tell her he’s trying to remember who Jocelyn Moore is, or was.

Back at his desk, he searches on Google, Facebook and Twitter. The few matches he finds mean nothing.

He takes lunch in the canteen with a couple of guys from Finance. Afterwards, instead of going back to his desk, he takes the lift to the sixth floor and finds the suite of desks reserved for the IT team. He knows one of the guys sat there, tapping away on a laptop.

"Hey Bobby, how's it going?"

Bobby stops and looks up. "David."

"Look, I saw the message about Jocelyn Moore."

Bobby closes his eyes and nods. "Total tragedy. Nobody can believe it."

"I never saw her here, in the office. Never came across her."

Bobby said, "Not surprising. She worked on the big software projects, mainly"

"What happened? An illness?" David says.

"Accident. Stepped out in front of a bus, somewhere in Islington last week. We only found out on Friday."

"Jesus." David shuffles on his feet, unsure of how to move to his next question. "So, ever since I got that email this morning, I've been thinking I know her name. I didn't meet Jocelyn here, but I know the name. You don't have a picture of her, do you?

"Don't think so. She had a thing about that. Didn't like photos."

"Oh. Okay."

"Wait, there was one which we teased her about. We took a pic of all of us together when we went out for a curry last year. I've got it saved somewhere."

"You teased her?"

Bobby smiles to himself. "You'll see. She ruined the photo."

David says, "Can you show me?"

"I'll have to hunt it out. I'll email it over.”

Later that day, just as David is thinking of calling Bobby to remind him, an email appears.

Bobby’s message says, “I told her I’d deleted it.”

David opens the attachment and scans the image. 

It’s a group of twelve sat at a restaurant table, all rosy cheeked and toasting the camera with their drinks. The photo is almost perfect, capturing the warmth and camaraderie between its subjects, except for the blonde haired figure in the top right-hand corner. 

She is standing and turning away from the camera. Her hair is mousy and tasseled in the “gypsy” style, fashionable a few years ago. Jocelyn's left hand is pushing back her chair and the other is on the rise towards her face. David can see why they teased her.

Despite her evasive action, the woman has failed to turn away quickly enough and her profile is only slightly blurred. It takes him a few more seconds before landing the answer.

He frowns and whispers, “Jocelyn.” 

***

Seventeen years ago David secured a dead end job working for a PR firm, specialising in Government Relations. Dead end because all those in junior positions were young, ambitious and without the one thing they needed to progress in their chosen industry: contacts. They would do research, set up events, produce reports. Then the Account Executive would sweep in and take the credit.

The only compensating factor was the social side of the job. He was new to the city, fresh from university and living in a dive flat in Brent. Most of his colleagues were living a similar lifestyle. Soon enough, Friday night’s at the pub were being reprised three or four times a week. Formidable, frustrated young people doing their best to obliterate the loneliness of the big city.

They frequented a place called “The Old Cask”, three doors down from the office. It was the kind of pub his Dad would call “an old boozer”. Oak panelling, random sepia objects covering the walls and the (not unpleasant) smell of beer, soaked into wood. The group from the office were installed at their usual table and David had gone to the bar.

As he waited to be served, a figure appeared in his elbow. 

He paid no mind until she said, “Hello David.”

He turned and smiled. She was young and beautiful, with mousy blonde hair, pale white skin and deep red lipstick. He stared at her in silence. 

When he recovered himself, he said, “Sorry. Do we know each other?”

She touched her thick, silken hair. “Aren’t you going to buy us a drink?”

The “us” threw David and he peered over her shoulder. Visibly shrinking behind was a girl of similar age, around twenty, with a pinched expression and lank, jet black hair. She was tiny and painfully thin. 

Her companion continued, “I’m Jocelyn and this is Erika. We see you in here sometimes and we want to talk.”

David furrowed his brow, “Okay. What about?”

She put her hand on his arm and led him to a table on the other side of the pub. She sat next to him, close, and Erika settled opposite. From across the room, Andy, one of David’s friends from work, gave him a quizzical look. 

Jocelyn said, “We’re students. Sociology at UCL. We need case studies for my theses. The behaviour of young men in western metropolitan conurbations. I’ve seen you around a few times. I think you’d give us some useful information.”

It was a strange and unexpected request. David, now recovering his senses after Jocelyn’s initial approach, was about to stand, politely refuse and return to his friends. Then he felt Jocelyn’s hand slide across the inside of his thigh. 

“You will help us, won’t you, David?”

He paused before answering, savouring the intimacy, but ashamed of his weakness. “Of course.” he said. 

She removed her hand and motioned to Erika. Her companion reached into a satchel and took out a pile of paper. 

Jocelyn said, “We need you to complete this questionnaire. Now, tonight.”

David, irritated by the abrupt command, shook his head, “I’ll do it another time,” He pointed to his friends. “I’m enjoying a night out.”

Jocelyn tensed. “We’d like you to do it now. I think you’ll do that for me, won't you David?”

“And what if I don’t?”

She placed her hand over her mouth and giggled. “If you don’t, I won’t sleep with you.”

7
Review My Work / Re: The Bridge (suspensful short story) 650 words
« on: November 10, 2017, 11:56:32 AM »
Here’s my honest response to reading the story.  I didn’t enjoy it, mainly because it didn’t read as though care had been taken with it.  It came across like a very quick first draft that had not been re-read and edited.  There are lots of easily corrected mistakes here.  Missing words and jumbled sentences. I often write in this rushed way when I’m doing a first draft, but then I try to self-edit.  This doesn’t feel like it’s been through that process. Sorry to be negative but I hope this helps in forming the next piece you write. 

And, having read the thread, I think it is best to take the criticism in the spirit in which it’s given.  Positively and constructively.

8
Review My Work / Re: 'The Idea' - 1974 words
« on: August 30, 2017, 06:44:18 PM »
Whilst re-reading the sticky for this thread, I just realised that I can now post on the 'prose workshop' thread.

Couple of quick questions:

Is that a more appropriate place to put the rest of the story? And is the word count limit the same for that thread?

9
Review My Work / Re: 'The Idea' - 1974 words
« on: August 29, 2017, 12:36:51 AM »
Thanks for helpful and encouraging comments.  I know feedback is the whole point, but I don't take it for granted. Before posting this I really wasn't sure if this was worth pursuing. It's appreciated.

The story is nearly done but has swelled to towards the 6k mark. Will post part 2 soon.

10
Review My Work / 'The Idea' - 1974 words
« on: August 26, 2017, 08:35:53 PM »
This is the first half of a short story called 'The Idea'. I'm looking for feedback both on detail and general quality. Genre is suspense.

Just one other thing, I realise the subject matter here is writing and writers.  I've just gone with this because I wanted to write the story. So, no need to let me know that nobody publishes stories about writers!

----------------

Jessica Howard-Peterson shifted into third and put her foot down, propelling her SUV past the car in front. The road was hers. She maintained pressure on the pedal, arrowing down the country road.

She wanted this over as soon as possible. Get there, find out what the hell he wanted and get out.

Was it wrong to think in those terms, about a man who’d suffered such a terrible misfortune? Gerald Stevens was a shit of the highest order, and it would take more than a car crash for her to revise that opinion.

His home loomed into view as the car ascended a hill. A tall and substantial townhouse, incongruously built in the Warwickshire countryside. She’d seen it twice before. Once to attend a party organised by his agent, the second time to confront him over an affair with a much younger author, a friend of Jessica's of whom she was particularly protective. On this latter occasion, she'd changed her mind at the last moment and continued on to Stratford Upon Avon. The affair had ended, but not before Stevens reduced the woman to a shell of her former self.

Perversely, to the outside world, they were considered respectful rivals. Peerless contemporaries, pursuing a creative duel which drove them both to new heights.

She recalled Hodder purchasing her debut novel ‘Devil Season’ all those years ago. They sent advance copies to certain authors to help generate buzz. In response, Stevens wrote her a letter, a handwritten note in which he identified numerous plot holes and weaknesses in her writing style. To receive such a thing from an established author had been a bitter blow. She took weeks to see it for what it was: a spiteful grenade tossed in her direction, intended to shatter her confidence.

‘Devil Season’ became a bestseller, which became a hit film, which promoted a lucrative book deal. The letter was forgotten, but Gerald Stevens would not recede so quietly from her life.

Over the years, a pattern emerged. She did her best to avoid crossing paths with him, whilst he did the opposite. Stevens turned up to the same parties, wrote reviews of her novels in the national press, even dated her friends.

She turned the SUV through the gates and into the long gravel driveway. In the distance she spotted Stevens' daughter waiting at the expansive front door.

Jessica recalled their peculiar phone conversation from the day before.

“He wants to see you. He’s weak. We don’t know how long it will be," Alison Stevens had said.

“I wouldn’t want to disturb him. Not at this time.”

“He can hardly speak at all, but when he does, all he talks about is you.”

After a moment’s thought, Jess had said, “Please don’t think I’m being dismissive. It’s just, Gerald and I have never been close.”

“He says it’s important, crucial somehow.” There had been something in the young woman's tone of voice, a desperation, which hit home. After all, imagine growing up with Gerald Stevens as your father.

By the time she’d parked and stepped out of the car, Alison Stevens was approaching

“Thank you. Thank you so much,” she said.

There were bags under her eyes and her hair was a mess, but beneath the burdens of her father’s accident, Jessica noted Alison Stevens’s delicate good looks. ‘A pretty little thing’ her mother would have said.

Jessica embraced her.

“How is he?” she asked.

Alison shook her head, “He has the best care money can buy. But he’s here, at home, for a reason. The doctors say it’s only a matter of time.”

They walked into the house and up the four flights of stairs.  "He wanted to see the hills," Alison explained, "so we put his bed in the study."

At the top of the stairway they walked down a lengthy corridor and reached a large door, Alison paused and drew herself up with a long inward breath. She opened the door and stood to the side. “He wants to see you alone. Undisturbed. You can tell the nurse to come out.”

Jessica entered the room. Ahead, she could see a large set of glass doors opening onto a balcony. Thick, dark clouds obscured the landscape beyond.

As she went further into the room, it opened out to reveal a four poster bed surrounded with tethered pumps and drips. To the side , a young female nurse sat on a chair, immersed in the screen of her mobile phone.

She looked up, frowned and put her finger to her lips. “Not now. He's sleeping.”

Jessica was about to retreat when a weak but irritated voice rose from the bed.

“Who put you in charge, silly bitch?”

On closer inspection, Jessica detected the bandaged head buried among the pillows and bed linen.

The nurse said “Mr Stevens. I'm responsible for ensuring that that you . . .”

“You're responsible for nothing. Now leave us alone to talk.”

Jessica could see the woman wrestling with her pride, and relenting. Walking past, she said, “You’ve got ten minutes.”

When she was gone, Jessica moved closer and stood over the bed. Her disdain for the man wavered. There was almost nothing left. He was pale, almost blue. Tubes extended from his nose and mouth. On his arms, resting above the sheets, loose skin melted over the bones.

“I haven’t eaten for three weeks.” he said, as if reading her thoughts. “I was crushed. Did you know?”

"I did," she said. "I'm so sorry, Gerald."

“Stomach won’t hold anything but liquid. It’s a mess under here.”

Looking down at the twisted shape under the sheets, she shivered. “I’m so, so sorry.”

“I’m going to die. They aren’t sure when. But soon.”

Not knowing what to say, she dropped her eyes. When the silence became intolerable, she said, “Gerald, why did you ask me . . .”

“Sit down, woman. Sit down.”

She did as instructed. It was odd how such a little thing, an impoliteness, a reminder of his brusque manner, could bring back the enmity.

“I asked you here because we’re friends.” he said.

She mulled this for a moment, “No. I don’t believe we are, Gerald.”

He spluttered and for a moment she thought he was having a seizure. She realised he was laughing.

"That's what I like about you," he said, "honesty. It shines through in your writing.”

She said nothing in response, eager to avoid diversions.

When the spluttering subsided, he continued. “I've always had the sense you look down on my work, Jessica. A lack of respect for my end product. Is that fair?”

“We’re very different writers.”

“That's not what I asked.”

She sighed, “Gerald, I am so sorry. For the pain you are in and the pain this must cause your family. But I do not understand why I’m here. Why I have been . . .” she paused, then said it, “. . . summoned.”

“I'm taking up your time? You must be busy with your next novel.”

He always knew where to sting.

She thought of the email she’d received from her agent that morning. A breezy greeting, an unamusing anecdote about a visit to the gym, followed by the inevitable enquiry: “How's the novel coming along? Anything you can send me?”

“I'm just curious.” Jessica said, “I'd like to help, if I can.”

“You can help me and you can help yourself.” A wide smile stretched across his face.

Jessica shifted in her chair, “How?”

“You’re one of the few people who’ll understand. I’ll do my best to give this some . . . context.”

Whatever his injuries, Stevens was not paralysed. He shifted himself up in the bed so his head could turn towards her.

“You know those moments,” he said, “when an idea comes, when the nuts and bolts of a story form in the mind’s eye?”

She nodded.

Stevens went on, “One minute you're thinking about the weather and the next, it hits you. Wham! And if it’s a good one, a really good one, it's exhilarating, right?”

“Sure. That's happened,” she said.

“Until recently, I never had to work at it. They just came. Some better than others, sure, but they arrived nice and regular.”

This was the first time he’d spoken to her about his craft. It brought him to life, a flickering light behind the eyes.

“That’s the part of the job I love the most. When the ideas come, nothing else seems important. I have to do them justice.”

“You did, Gerald. You can be proud.”

“But they dried up.”

For a terrifying moment, Jessica thought he might burst into tears.

“Did that happen to you?” he went on. “Did they stop coming?”

“No,” she lied.

“Something about me. Something about my lifestyle meant the production line ground to a halt,” he said.

“It can happen.”

“I went two years with nothing useable. I rehashed old set-ups. I went back over my notes from my younger days and found a few things. But I couldn't do it anymore."

“That's tough, Gerald, but where do I come in?”

“Wait, wait. Let me tell you the whole thing. Give me that.”

She raised an apologetic hand.

He continued, “Four weeks ago I was driving home from London. I'd had meetings with my agent and my publisher. I was in a good mood. HBO were enquiring about my Linton James series, more meetings to come, but it looked promising.”

He turned onto his side, grimacing. When he settled, he looked up at her and smiled again. She couldn’t say what troubled her about this, not yet, but she was more certain than ever that Gerald Stevens was not a man to trust.

“I was passing a set of fields in the car. Just pasture. Big green squares with nothing distinctive about them. Something made me turn and look. A tiny movement in the corner of the field. It was a man wearing headphones, wielding a metal detector. In that split second, something clicked. It was the trees, it was the field, it was something my agent had said the day before, but most of all, it was the image of that lone man, searching for something in the middle of the field.

“It all came together, and I mean everything. As if it had built up over the last few years. Water against a dam. When it broke, it was majestic. In the space of a second I had it all. The main character, the terrible people he would ally with, the human motivation at the heart of the story. This wasn't just good. This was the best I'd ever had.”

He was breathless, panting with excitement.

“So I had to get home, it was desperately important for me to get home and write as soon as possible. And you know what happened next?”

She tilted her head. “The accident, on the bridge.”

“Two miles from home. It was all my fault. I was driving too fast, not concentrating.”

“And me? What does this have to do with me?”

“I'm in too much pain. These tubes keep me alive, but it can't go on. I need this to end, but not before the idea is safe. I want this novel written and I want to leave it in safe hands."

“You want me to write it? Gerald, thank you, but I do my own stuff.”

"But you've never done anything this good. Trust me."

"Gerald, I'm going to go now." She stood and turned to walk away.

His voice broke to a higher note, “Just . . . let me tell you the idea. Just hear me out.”

Jess stopped and looked up to the ceiling, knowing she would regret walking out on a dying man. She turned and went back to the chair. “Okay. Tell me Gerald.”

She leaned in, over the bed.

He began in a whisper. “It goes like this . . .”

END OF PART ONE

11
Review My Work / Re: The Opponent (450 words)
« on: August 26, 2017, 08:29:30 PM »
I won't add to the comments here about the audience and context for the piece. 

Two things that stood out and I would change:

". . . it feels perpetual." Feels wrong to me.  I'd go with "It's relentless."

Also, I didn't like "When I strategize against the insurmountable." It came across as messy.  Strategising feels like management speak.  Consider "probing the weaknesses." Although that might fall into the same trap.

Hope this helps.

12
Review My Work / Re: The Callback - 1134 words - adult content
« on: July 25, 2017, 09:39:44 AM »
Thanks January Jam.  I also got some feedback that the ending was too sudden, so this is the new ending:

---------

Steve says, “So you can put it down then?”

I lift my left hand and see what I’m holding. I don’t recall picking up a hammer, but it must be there for a reason. I tilt my head to one side, letting some of it come back to me. Finding them in their homes, bringing them to this place, using the hammer.

I walk slowly around the table, then push it out of the way, giving myself the room to stand directly in front of them. Debbie is trying to pull away, stretching her neck backwards, moving her chair a few inches by shifting her weight. Steve is staring at me, eyes wide, his chest rising and falling with each heavy breath.

Both of them have their arms and legs tied to the chairs. They can't move.

I turn to her. It was Debbie who made the call. "What was it you said? That I might 'struggle with the pressure'? That I should 'consider lower tier roles.'"

I laugh and then stop myself. I lean in close and whisper in her ear. "I was nervous. You bitch, just nervous." She is crying now, sobbing.

Steve starts to speak "Michael, we can work this . . ."

I’m in his face. "Shut the fuck up! Don't say another word."

I stand back. "We don't need to talk anymore."

I raise the hammer high above my head and their screams fill the room.

THE END

13
Review My Work / Re: The Gate - 1381 words. Adult content
« on: July 05, 2017, 08:36:24 AM »
Thanks all. Appreciate the feedback and suggestions. I will make use of them.

Regarding it being 'telly', yes, it's a fair description. The story is an attempt to do something a bit different, targetted at a particular audio/podcast market. They've seem to favour more 'telly' stories, and are less keen on lots of dialogue from multiple characters. The story is also intended to feel rollercoaster-like. Sudden changes in character perception which shock the reader. It needs some work, I think, to keep the reader with me.

14
Review My Work / The Gate - 1381 words. Adult content
« on: July 04, 2017, 04:36:46 PM »
Hi,

Would be grateful for feedback on this horror short story.

---------------------

When I was young, they found out I was different to the other girls.

For the first six months of high school, I did all I could to stay out of the changing rooms. I would be ill or have "girl problems" or feint in the hallway. My fellow pupils gossiped and the teachers shook their heads, but it kept me away from prying eyes.

In the end, the Head of Sports came out to our run-down house and spoke to my Mother. Perhaps I could've begged, told the truth, asked them to make an exception. But I was thirteen years old.
My mother knew the reason for my behaviour, of course. She'd known this would happen from the moment the mid-wife eyed her newborn daughter with such puzzlement. It made no difference, she nodded along to their demands, and agreed to a new approach.

They made me change in the same room as those girls. Worse still, afterwards, they made me walk into the communal showers with only my hands to cover myself. They looked and they saw, and the possibility of friendship or normality in my teenage years was gone.

***

That was thirty two years ago, give or take. My mother is gone now, killed by something akin to nervous exhaustion, when I was seventeen. The doctors were vague about what took her, but I know her precious pills played a part.

I sold the house and used the money to put myself through university. When I graduated I secured a trainee position at the British Library. To my surprise, the move to London was a release, the anonymity of the city suiting my desire for solitude. Colleagues from the Library were polite and kind, rarely prying, and I enjoyed the work. After a couple of years renting, I bought an ex-council flat in the south-east of the city, with a park and Overground station nearby.

I formed friendships with my colleagues and there was one man in particular I became close with. We'd go out on dates, to the cinema or restaurants, always finishing with a friendly embrace on my doorstep. It could only end one way, so when he asked me about our relationship, where it might lead, I had to tell him I was interested only in friendship. We tried to maintain what we had, but soon stopped seeing each other.
Eventually, he married a pretty woman from another department. They have two children now.

***

I read about Daniel Brindley in the newspaper, the free one they hand out at tube stations. I was glancing through on my way home from work, when I stopped at the picture of a middle-aged man with thick black curls and dark green eyes. It was a close-up, a police photo taken at a time when he had every right to be perturbed. Yet the man in the photograph appeared so assured, it was uncanny. His confidence shone out of the page and I found myself sitting there, reading the article three times over, my tube stop passing by, unnoticed.

The paper revealed the superficial facts. Brindley was appealing to the Home Secretary to visit his infirmed mother. She had only months to live. In the 1980's he'd killed seven people over a three year period. Two men and five women. He did so across a wide geographical area, on one occasion travelling from his home in North London to Carmarthenshire in Wales, to kidnap and kill. His modus operandi, the paper said, was always the same. He would connect with his victims through personal ads in magazines, both straight and gay, gain their trust, then kill them with a kitchen knife.

One curious fact stood out above all others: none of the bodies had been found.

***

In that first picture, and all the others, I could feel David Brindley reaching out to me. Once I'd read all the articles and books, I was left with no choice but to write to him.

The reply came within the week. He'd been expecting my letter, he said, and understood why I was confused. He told me to be patient, that it was important not to change any of my daily routines. They would be watching.

His concern was touching, but much of the letter made no sense to me. He wrote of devils, the righteous and a gateway for the rapture. Yet, in the final line he connected with me, made me understand.

“Julia" he wrote, "You have been chosen, and those who are chosen carry the mark. Do you have the mark? I know that you do and it has brought you great anguish.”
 
***

It was the lawyer who delivered the letters from then on, coming to my house once a week, waiting and taking my replies back to the prison. David said there were people reading his mail, spying on him. The lawyer was the only safe way.

It didn't take long before he told me where the bodies were. There was no special seal on the envelope, no extra precautions taken. He just wrote the address and told me where to go.

The lawyer drove me there in his expensive car, saying nothing through the entire journey. When we reached the place, an isolated, derelict farmhouse on the Warwickshire-Gloucestershire border, he handed me a shovel, told me he would be back in a week and drove away.

I found the bones just where David said, in the soil on a small parcel of land behind the barn. They came out of the ground in a muddle, an arm, a leg, half a cranium. I took them out and threw them into a wheelbarrow, just like David had told me to. More and more came. Towards the end of the day, my arms tired and the light fading, I pulled out a complete skull, wispy strands of blonde hair still attached.

It was small. Like a child's.

***

There had been mistakes, David said. He had followers the police knew nothing about. People who started out as honest and true, but turned out to be doubters. They used him as cover, did things they should not have done, indulged dark appetites. He cast them out but it was too late, the police had caught up with David by then. If only he'd had me to rely on back then.

The bones were the important thing. The lawyer bought more letters and David told me what to do. He drew pictures, intricate arrangements of how they should be laid out. In the barn, there was a door in the floor, hidden by dirt. .

I had to clean the room from top to bottom, the bones too. David said that was important. When I was finished

I laid them out on the basement floor, just the ways he'd shown me.

***

It's almost done now, just one more bone to go. It must be placed at a forty five degree angle from the left eye socket of the seventh skull. This will complete the third interlocking ring at the base of the pentagram and the face of the beast.

The shapes I've made match David's drawing perfectly, but I could have done it from memory. All he needed to say was “Follow the mark.”

It stretches from my inner left thigh, twisting around my vagina, ending beneath my right hip. A pentagram above four rings, topped by the hideous face of The Beast.  They called me “Devil Cunt” at school. The whole town knew about it. Even the drunks who hung around the park benches shouted my special name when I passed.

“There she goes. Show us yer Devil cunt love!”

They'll see the Devil now. They’ll see things they never dreamed possible.

I take off all my clothes and place them in a neat pile in the corner. The cold air in the basement is refreshing against my ski, crisp and bracing. I arch my neck and stretch out my arms, savouring the power coursing through me, letting it flow.

I step forwards, pause for a moment, the bone between my thumb and forefinger, bend and place it carefully in the allotted space.

After the silence, slowly it comes, beautiful and rhythmic. Closer and closer. Louder and louder.

The sound of hooves.

THE END


15
Review My Work / Re: Something about alien microbes (850 words)
« on: July 04, 2017, 01:36:06 PM »
Fair play. You've called it yourself.  This is a mess.  Lots of spelling errors and the POV of narration is all over the place.  BUT, it is not without some coherent passages and some of the dialogue is convincing. My conclusion is that you have the raw materials to write better fiction but you need more practice and direction.

My advice would be to get yourself an idea for a plot which has a begginging middle and end.  I think this will focus you more on the story and give you a place to go with your writing.  This story doesn't give you any direction. It s basically just a description of some people becoming ill.  I think that if you have a destination in mind you'll focus more of giving the characters depth and motivation. 

Finally, I think starting a story with "unbeknownst" is a mistake. He need to gain the reader's trust.  By doing this you are head hopping literally from the first word.  It is disorientating for the reader.

Hope some of this helps.

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