book

Bump in the Night (Part One)

Deepest apologies for the hiatus, but I come bearing gifts.“Bump in the Night” is a short horror story I was playing around with during my holiday. Enjoy the first part below. The sinister conclusion will be posted on a special Halloween update.

For best effect: read after dark, just before bed.

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Sarah opened her eyes. Her bedroom was dark. The only source of illumination was the white hue of her phone. Sarah reached blindly, knocking it off her bedside table to the floor. Now the room was pitch black.

She decided it wasn’t worth the effort of leaning out of bed. Text, email, whatever; it could wait until morning. Sarah only hoped she hadn’t damaged the screen. She closed her eyes and found the way back to her slumber.

Sarah’s eyes opened once again. The room was unchanged, it was impossible to know if she had drifted off for just a moment or a for an hour. Why had she woke again?
Downstairs, Sarah heard a bang.

She lay still in her bed, her breathing becoming a little less easy. She was groggy. Had there really been a bang? Even if there had been, it easily could have come from outside—a cat messing around in the garden or something.

There was another bang, and now Sarah was sure it originated from downstairs. Her heart thumped hard and a million thoughts swarmed around her brain.
It was probably too dramatic a move to call the police. She had only moved into the house a few days ago. Surely old houses were meant to have bangs and bumps in the night; it was more likely the noises were being caused by the boiler rather than some sort of intruder. Still…

She would call her Dad. He was a tall man, sturdy like an oak even in his aging years. If he thought it sounded serious he would bring her brother, perhaps. Hopefully, it would turn out to be nothing and they could all have a good laugh at her expense.

She reached for her bedside table but found nothing. A vague, tired memory of her dropping the phone hung somewhere in her mind. Shit.

She leaned up slowly in her bed, willing her eyes to adjust to the dark. Her bedroom door contained glass panels. An unusual decor choice leftover from the previous owner, but it meant she could see the landing and the top half of the stairs. There was nothing. Everything was still. Everything was quiet. As far as she could tell at least.

In her upright position, she reached over the side of the bed and patted the floor, keeping one eye on the stairs, just to be sure. Her hand found nothing.

She stole a quick glance at the floor. Yesterday’s clothes she had strewn about before bed, but no phone that she could see.

The stairs were still empty. She tossed the clothes across the room, expecting her phone to have somehow wormed its way under the mess. But there was still nothing.
Her phone was gone.

‘It can’t be.’ she whispered, double and then triple checking the floor around her bed. She strained her memory, yes, she remembered knocking it to the floor, remembered the hard noise it made as screen struck floor.

She abandoned her careful guard of the stairs and tore her bed apart. The sheets, pillows, the duvet. Each was checked and then discarded in the mad search, her panic rising. There was no question, the phone was gone.

Sarah jumped at the sound of another bump, this time louder than ever.

She slid as silently as she could from the bed, tiptoeing across her bedroom. The cold of the night assaulted her body, covering her in goosebumps. She picked through the mess she had made of her room until she found what she was looking for: her dressing gown. She threw it on and tied it tight.

That was one vulnerability sorted. Now Sarah scanned her bedroom in a vain search for a weapon. All she had was her drinking glass. If there was an attacker downstairs she would probably do more damage to herself with such a tool, but she took it nevertheless.

She tried to open the bedroom door as quietly as she could, but a damning creek from an ill-fitted door rang out for anyone to hear.

Sarah froze. She waited and listened but there was no further development downstairs.

She crept forward onto the landing, and, holding her breath, peered down the stairs.

Everything was still. Everything looked normal. Sarah’s hand holding the glass shook.

Step by step she made her way down the stairs. More and more of her new house came into view. The hallway looked undisturbed, the front door was closed, there was no hint of a light. All good signs.

Sarah walked backwards going further into the hall while still keeping her eye on the front room and the adjoining kitchen to the right. Carefully, she made her way a set of tools she had used the day before. A hammer lay on top. She replaced her drinking glass. The weight of the tool filled her with fresh courage. To her left was a doorway which led to the front door, a quick peek revealed this room to be empty. The front door was locked.

Sarah inched forward back into the hallway. From this angle, she had a clear view of the front room. She raised the hammer high and willed herself forward and into the kitchen.

Not daring to breathe, she sprung into the room, looking all around.
There was nothing there.

The backdoor was also still locked. After a cursory search of the few remaining rooms, finally, she started to relax. She checked the whole house a second time, this time turning on lights as she went until finally she collapsed exhausted on her sofa.

With her house now illuminated she was finally starting to relax. Her fingers crept into the sides of the sofa cushion. The search of her house hadn’t turned up her phone, but Sarah was glad of that—she would have felt pretty silly calling her Dad over nothing. She must have imagined dropping it in the night, she’d searched every inch of her bedroom with no luck. The only conclusion was that she’d misplaced it somewhere else. Wherever it had ended up, Sarah decided it could wait until morning.

***

Outside in the dark something stood perfectly still. The thing breathed in and out with a low rasp. The bright light from the house only helped shroud to make the thing less visible in the shadows of Sarah’s garden. Eventually, the house returned to darkness, and the girl made her way back upstairs to bed.

In its one hand, the thing clutched at a mobile phone with a deep crack down the glass screen. In its other hand, it clutched at something else.

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Need For Read

As of today, I’m on holiday. I’m off to sunny, sunny Scotland. A holiday for me means warm food, cold drinks, and plenty of time for me to catch up on my reading.

“Do lots of reading” has got to be one of the most common pieces of writing advice. Reading should be a basic staple of any writers day, but I have a suspicion it’s often one of the first things that fall by the wayside when time gets tight­­­­. I’m guilty of it, and I know plenty of other writers who are too.

I ran the numbers, and so far this year I’ve definitely read less than ten books, some of those audio-books. Screw you, yes they still count.

I’ve been slacking, and that’s bad.

books 2

I am totally judging these by their covers

One of my favourite Tyrion Lannister quotes from George R.R Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” (better known as Game of Thrones):

‘A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge. That is why I read so much.’

Reading improves your vocabulary, your sentence structure, your pacing, your dialogue. Basically every part of your writing. Reading helps you spot what works and more importantly what doesn’t. The more you read the more refined your own writing “voice” becomes, the end result is something of an unconscious amalgamation of all your favourite subtleties, and that’s pretty cool.

Reading also helps me a lot when I get stuck with writer’s block. When I get trapped too much in my own head reading a book helps ground the writing process and once again make it an attainable thing. I think, this seems easy enough, maybe I can do this.

Hell, there are reading benefits that non-writers need to get in on too. Studies show reading helps your memory and fights against diseases like Alzheimer’s.

More than that, reading is fun. You get the same pleasure as you would from watching TV, but with the added bonus of it being vaguely intellectual, meaning you can lord it over people.

book man

I’ll have you know Sir, I read books

More seriously, it’s been suggested reading increases analytical thinking ability and a person’s empathy, improving a person’s ability to see things from someone else’s perspective. My God does the world seem to need a bit more of both of those things lately.

I know it sounds dramatic but I really do feel like reading is slowly becoming a lost medium. Literary fiction is in decline, and naturally, that scares the hell out of writers. Movies, TV shows, even big video game releases have become these big cultural events. It doesn’t seem to happen for books anymore, not since the Harry Potter frenzy years ago.

I have faith that it’s a temporary blip, despite the decline there are also reports that millennials are reading more than ever—so maybe the next generation is going to help with a resurgence.

I know I need to start getting more consistent with my own reading. In 2019 I’m setting myself the modest goal of reading at least 50 books, which roughly means reading a book a week. I’m going to set some time aside to read before bed, spending less time on my phone, and hopefully benefit from a better nights sleep as well.

How many books have you read this year? Are you on top or could you stand to do better? Why are people reading less and how can we fix that? Maybe you’re freaking out about all this and want to something to read RIGHT NOW.

– H. L.

#2: The Ladder to Inferna

‘Tales From Inferna’ is an ongoing web serial. Part writing exercise, part homage to the pulp-fiction genre. Click here if you’re interested in learning more about the scope and goals of the project. Below you’ll find Issue #2, but be sure to start at the beginning with Issue #1 

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Yura couldn’t climb the ladder any further.

‘Guys,’ he croaked, his arms shaking.

His companions pace quickened.

‘Guys!’ Yura repeated, louder this time.

‘Quiet!’ said the man furthest ahead, climbing ever faster.

They were leaving him. Leaving him to die. He could feel the miles of nothingness below, prickling his back, willing him to fall. He glanced downwards, wondering if he might have enough strength to climb back down. But that path was madness.

‘Mikki, please! I need help!’

The man furthest ahead continued to climb, but there was another behind him who paused.

‘We can’t help you, Yura,’ said Mikki.

‘I can’t climb anymore, Mikki,’ begged Yura. ‘Please don’t leave me behind. You’ve got to–’

‘Shut up!’ shouted the man farthest ahead. He was now out of sight, hidden by the darkness of the tunnel.

‘What our charming leader means is, any energy spent talking is energy not spent climbing. So unless you want to decorate the floor a nice shade of Yura, I suggest you get moving.’ With that, Mikki started climbing again.

Yura found himself all alone.

When Yura was young, he and his friends would play in the tunnels pretending to be hunters. Sometimes they would dare each other to climb the ladder. Yura was the only one who ever made it to the top. Back then the top of the ladder hadn’t been very far; a padlock and a metal grill stopped anyone who shouldn’t be there from climbing too high. To a gang of children though, it was as if Yura had touched Inferna itself.

But this was no longer pretend.

‘Yura!’ came a voice from above. ‘We’ve found the last hatch,’ said the voice again. It came from the leader of the expedition, Koko. ‘Get your arse up here now.’

Yura began to climb, each movement a trial. His body protested in agony, any moment now it would fail and he would plummet to his death.

As his grasp started to waver, two pairs of hands seized him and hoisted him upwards through a narrow opening.

He collapsed. He heard his pulse thumping in his ears, and faintly, the sound of a hatch being closed.

They were so close.

He wished his old friends could see him now: Yura the hunter. It still hadn’t sunk in. He was going to have the adventures they had all imagined, live the life they had dreamed of once upon a time.

‘You still with us, kid?’

Yura opened his eye to see Mikki and Koko standing over him. In the dark, with their identical suits and masks, it was impossible to tell them apart.

‘I’m ok,’ said Yura smiling, holding up a thumbs-up. ‘I am ok.’

Koko shook his head. ‘This isn’t playtime. We’re here to do a serious job.

Yura saw Mikki roll his eyes. ‘I know the circumstances aren’t ideal, but it’s the kids first day. Let him have a little fun.’

‘We’ve got hundreds of miles to walk,’ Koko started. ‘Rough sleeping. Nothing but disgusting liquid nutrients to keep us going. All to find a needle in a haystack. Not my idea of fun.’

‘Come on,’ said Yura, smiling. ‘Any day walking on the surface has got to be better than a day down below.’

Koko was silent, for a moment. It was only now Yura realised how thick the mood had been.

‘Let’s not forget why we’ve been sent up here. Amorak is dead. A man I once considered a very good friend. For some reason it just had to be me they sent to find his remains.’ said Koko. ‘So no, to answer your stupid question. The days up here are not “better”. I, for one, want to get this done and go home. Shape up and take this seriously, or maybe you’ll die up here too.’

All day Yura had worn an excited smirk, only now did he realise how it had been grating on Koko’s patience. The verbal walloping caused his face to yo-yo from a deep shade of red to a sickly pale white.

Koko stormed ahead to the next room, muttering.  

‘He’s moodier than usual today,’ said Mikki, offering a hand to help Yura up.

‘I didn’t mean to upset him.’

‘You haven’t done anything. You’re excited to see the surface, no shame in it. The dead bloke we’re looking for, Amorak, is a sore subject with Koko.’

‘Why?’ asked Yura.

‘It’s a whole thing, let’s just leave it at that. Come on, before he explodes again.’

The followed Koko into the next room. One much larger than the tight tunnels and shafts the three had been navigating for most of the day. At the far end of the room, Yura eyed a giant metal door and did his best not to smile.

Koko was kneeling on the floor, spreading open a map. He patted the edges down as they bounced free and let out a frustrated sigh.

‘This is us,’ Koko said, pointing to a section of the map. ‘We’ll hang about here for a bit. It’ll get cooler when the sun starts to set, meaning the suits don’t have to work quite so hard—meaning we’ll save some fuel.’

‘Are you writing this down?’ said Mikki.

‘I… I didn’t bring a pen.’ said Yura.

‘He’s joking.’ muttered Koko stone-faced. ‘He does that.’

‘Oh crack a smile you moody old git,’ said Mikki.

Koko ignored him. His finger slid across the map, resting on a series of crudely drawn houses. He then traced it back an inch and tapped the spot. ‘This is as far as I’m hoping Amorak got. If he made it any further I doubt we’ll ever find him.’

‘We’ll find him,’ said Yura. ‘His family is counting on us.’

Koko and Mikki exchanged a look.

‘What’s that?’ asked Koko.

‘His family? We’re bringing the body back for them surely?’

‘Oh Yura,’ said Mikki chuckling. ‘You sweet innocent babe.’

Yura frowned, confused.

‘We’ve been sent to get his suit. Not the body.’ said Koko. ‘One of these suits are worth a hundred of me or you. The ugly truth of it is…by this point, with nothing powering the suit…there’s not going to be much left of him. You’ll need to prepare yourself.’

Yura didn’t understand. He’d seen a dead body before. Life below in the Empyrean was cramped and people died all the time. How fragile did Koko think he was?

‘I can cope with a stiff.’

Mikki and Koko exchanged a look which filled Yura with unease.

‘He won’t be stiff.’ said Mikki quietly,

‘Huh?’

Look,’ started Mikki uncomfortably. ‘Sitting out there in that ungodly heat. By now there’s a good chance he would have…liquefied.’

‘Seriously?’

‘Yeah,’ nodded Mikki. ‘What’s more, if we find him we’re going to have to open his suit and, err, tip out what’s left of him…’

‘It won’t look pretty,’ Koko continued, ‘it’ll smell something fierce as well, that filter in your mask isn’t going to do a thing about the stench. I tell you this because if upon seeing the remains you throw up inside your own mask—you will not get an opportunity to take off that mask until we return. That is going to be one shitty walk home for you, lad.’

Yura’s stomach churned. He felt like he was going to throw up right now. Was he even allowed to take his mask off now? He’d been told to put it on before they’d started climbing. Yura swallowed hard and tasted bile slide back down his throat.

‘Paints a picture, doesn’t he?” smiled Mikki.

Koko carried on, explaining the finer details of the journey they were about to embark on, but Yura’s attention was gone. He could hear the surface calling him.

He’d waited so long to see what was left of the earth.

‘Turn your suit on.’ said Koko finally. He approached a control panel on the wall, and the hum of a huge motor roared into action. ‘It’s time.’

Yura’s heart thumped hard. He did his best to feign a grim look of determination.

The doors opened, slowly at first, then suddenly all at once. The dark, grimy room became illuminated.

There was a terrible light, and Yura found himself blind.

Issue #3 due out in October