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Book Review – The Darkly Wood series – A Double-Dose of horror from the pen of Max Power …

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FbMaxpowerHaving already read and reviewed Darkly Wood by Max Power (my favourite book back of 2014), along with several other of this author’s books,  I was delighted to see that he had written a sequel, Darkly Wood II.

As well as being an author, Max Power is a prolific book reviewer/blogger, and a valued contributor to the Indie Author Support and Discussion Fb group. Further IASDpicinformation on Max Power and his writing can be found at the following social media below and via other links at the end of this blog post … and speaking of blog sites, when you’ve finished all the author’s novels, and are eagerly awaiting the next (I’ve still one more book to go), his blog site provides an equally entertaining collection of his other writings to fill the gap. 

 

Blog – www.maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com

On YouTube – Max Power

On Fb –  @maxpowerbooks

On Twitter – @maxpowerbooks1

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Darkly Wood II – Available in both eBook & print editions …

Amazon Description:

This chilling sequel to Darkly Wood brings us back to the mysterious wood perched above the sleepy village of Cranby. The mystery returns with love and terror walking hand and hand through the seemingly innocent paths of the place that has generated many fearful tales. This time however, there is an even more sinister presence. Much time has passed since Daisy escaped the terror of the wood and on the surface little has changed. But behind the tree line, a new danger lurks. Fans of the original will be taken to darker depths and first-time readers will discover the true art of storytelling from the mind of the award-winning author Max Power. Heart-stopping, fast paced, unrelenting danger lies waiting for you between the pages. Sometimes love is all you have. Sometimes, love is not enough. Darkness is coming …

*

Darkly Wood II

The woman who never wore shoes

By Max Power

timberwolfamazonA sublime and majestic myriad of horror …

Max2Having read and enjoyed the author’s first book in this series I was looking forward to reading the sequel. I must confess I had some doubts that it simply wouldn’t have the same impact second time around given that some of the mystery of Darkly Wood would already have been revealed to readers of the first book.

I’m happy to say that Darkly Wood II is every bit as creepy and mysterious, and even better than Book One; Max Power doesn’t just write stories, he literally sculptures every word and sentence with the consummate skill of a Michael Angelo, bringing to life the image in the reader’s mind like the subtle brush strokes of the classical artist adding that indefinable something extra that creates a masterpiece.

Like its prequel, Darkly Wood II embodies many different themes i.e. bloody and horrific murder, tragic romance, unrequited love, mysterious disappearances, the paranormal, and a host of others. Likewise, the format is similar to the first book in that it reads much like a book of short stories, all tied together by the central theme of the mysterious Darkly Wood. This time, however, there is more of a central character and story in the form of the ‘evil personified’ Wormhole,  a man (or monster?) every bit as mysterious as Darkly Wood itself, anchoring everything together in a more coherent manner. 

Readers of the first book will immediately see that that events have in their way come full circle, with two new generations of characters following on from Book One. Holly Coppertop, the granddaughter of Daisy May from the first book, having read the mysterious Tales of Darkly Wood finds herself similarly trapped and imperilled by it. Can Daisy May draw on her own experience and nightmares of that place to save her granddaughter and her daughter, Rose? And will she have to sacrifice herself to do so? But apart from this one nod to a chronological timeline, Darkly Wood, its characters and their stories, all appear to exist in their own particular corner of time and space, detached from the real world.

The many twists and turns here are only matched by the equally rich array of fascinating characters. Who could not be intrigued to know the background and stories of the other equally enigmatically named cast? Charlie Callous Colson, Blenerhorn Mastiff Wormhole, Matthew Squelby, and Cathecus Flincher are but a few of the new characters to wet the appetite. And lastly, there’s Darkly Wood’s strange metamorphosis of two of them into the ‘beast boy’ Woody twins? 

Whilst this book is hardly lacking in blood and gore, its strength, readability, and sheer enjoyment stem from the author’s unrivalled ability to weave a complex array of gruesome and creepy tales and folklore into something far greater than the sum of its parts – it’s like the stories of Hansel and Gretel have been given an Edgar Allan Poe make-over to form one super sublime myriad of horror.

A must-read for any fan of the classical and psychological horror genres. Can’t wait to for book three in this captivating series!

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See also my review below for the first book in the Darkly Wood series …

Darkly Wood

By Max Power

timberwolfamazonSuperbly reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe …

Max1This is a book that embodies horror, romance, and the paranormal in a way I’ve rarely seen. With a good opening narrative, right from the start the author conjures up an atmospheric sense of creepiness and the macabre reminiscent of a latter-day Edgar Allan Poe or Dennis Wheatley, so much so that one can almost imagine Christopher Lee or Vincent Price playing the part of one of the characters, particularly that of Lord Terrence Darkly.

Initially we learn of the mystery and horror of Darkly Wood by way of the central character, Daisy May Coppertop, reading through a copy of a book of tales about Darkly Wood – a book within a book so to speak but at that point that’s all they are, just stories, but certainly nothing to be alarmed about, at least not yet.

What starts off as Daisy and Benjamin, intrigued by the apparent sight of a strange looking boy in the distance, taking a seemingly innocent and pleasant walk along the edge of a nearby woodland soon turns into a dark and fear filled battle not just to escape its clutches but simply to survive. Faced with ever-increasing danger and a sense of time running out for them, the bond between Daisy, and Benjamin, her new found friend from the local village, grows into something much more than simple friendship or first love.

The writing technique is both clever and imaginative, using descriptive narrative to set the tone and atmosphere early on, using the opportunity to inform the reader of many nuggets of information that come into play later in the book, gradually introducing just the right balance of dialogue and action. The numerous but short chapters make for a very readable style of writing, and by way of the different tales of the book within the book, the author keeps the story alive and fresh throughout. In books such as this the author often requires the reader’s implicit consent to suspend their disbelief, but here the reader is left in no doubt whatsoever as to the mystery and horror of the wood; in one of the chapters the author cleverly demonstrates the ‘other worldliness’ of the wood when in one particular tale, someone trying to find their way out of the wood tries using their field craft skills to escape only to find all the laws of nature and physics don’t seem to apply in the heart of Darkly Wood. As the story progresses the seemingly unrelated tales of the wood draw closer to form an intricate pattern; surprises and shocks keep the reader entranced, drawing you in just as Daisy and Benjamin are drawn further and further into Darkly Wood. Filled with twists and turns and new revelations at every juncture, an amazing and diverse array of characters, and a conclusion as eerie and unexpected as anyone could imagine, this is definitely one of my favourite reads of 2014.

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 Please visit Max Power’s Amazon Author page for more info about all the author’s work …

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Max Power on the IASD … click pic below for link …

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Ratcula – short story.

iasdpic1Another addition to my little ‘Mischief’ of tales, but one that draws on some ofa1SSbrender the more traditional elements of the horror genre, even if I have used a slight degree of poetic license with them …  Hopefully the purists will appreciate a few of the liberties I’ve taken with such an iconic theme.

If you enjoy this story, please keep an eye out for my collection of Rat Tales later in the year …

 

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Ratty3   Ratcula   Ratty1

ratcula3It was fascinating to watch so many of you gripped by your own fear and panic, not knowing if or when you or any of your litter might be next. That was nearly 700 years ago, back when even I was young, barely a century past my time as a Ritten. Since then I’ve killed and turned more of your kind than you will ever know, but then, of course, I’ve had time on my side.

You see, I am immortal – an immortal rat to be precise. My mortal kin rarely live more than two or three of your years so imagine if you will how truly old that makes me.

Most humans find it difficult to believe me, most of you so unimaginative to have honestly believed the beasts and demons you fear were exclusively two-legged. Let me tell you, dear humans, we immortal monsters exist in every size, shape, and form.

 I sometimes wonder if the ‘Old One’ of your kind that made me the way I am ever considered what being immortal would mean to a rat? I say ‘your’ kind, but that’s not strictly true, for indeed, he’s more akin to mine now – you may share the same number of legs, but we share the thirst, a thirst for the blood of all your kind.

The Master, the one the turned me, he lived across the great river and then way south across the land to Transylvania. I was little more than a Ritten the first time I saw him, with but the finest covering of wispy black hair and only the tiniest sight of teeth or claw to me. But having few of the weapons I would need to hunt and scavenge for food didn’t mean I didn’t have the hunger for it.

The Master’s manservant was skilled in the training of creatures in the art of hunting and killing my kind. He had more than a dozen ferrets for invading our tunnels and secret spaces or for digging and burrowing into the soft ground where we birthed our Rittens in the lowest reaches of the castle. They would pursue us into whatever recesses in the earth we could find before forcing us out for the dogs to rend us limb from limb.

Ratcula5And both had been doing their job well of late then. It had been by chance alone I had escaped their latest campaign to rid the castle of us, as if they ever could, but it had left me the only survivor of my litter and without food.

The whereabouts of the manservant’s or the Master’s food stores were unknown to me; I wasn’t to know the Master of the castle didn’t eat in the way mortal creatures do. I was still unskilled in the ways of scavenging with only my primordial hunting instinct to rely on. Over the coming weeks, I did as good a job as any of the ferrets at ridding the castle of its remaining population of mice and was soon as skilled a hunter as any of my older kin had been before the dogs got them. And that was to determine my fate – having hunted my little mammalian food source cousins to extinction I was facing starvation again. I still had to stay away from the manservant for fear of his dogs and ferrets nearby, just leaving the living quarters of the Master himself.

It was as well we were both nocturnal creatures for I never saw him during daylight hours when he would disappear for over twelve hours at a time, though he was almost as rare a sight even after the setting of the light from the sky.

I never saw his manservant bring him food nor the Master visit the kitchens so I assumed he must have food in his room. I looked about it as best I could, not having the means or intellect to open locked cabinets or pull open drawers. When I found nothing I gnawed holes in them, such was my hunger, but still I found nothing. I knew he must eat sometime so I decided I would follow him where he went that night before the light of the sky came back.

I was surprised when I found myself following him deep into the cold, damp bowels of the castle, deeper even than I had ventured for I had never thought there might be food there. Again I followed, more out of curiosity than hunger now as I could still not see or smell any food. The Master came to a door at the bottom of some stone steps, each one ground down into a hollow from what I now know to be the weight of his nightly pacing down them over the past thousand years, from long before the castle above had ever been built.

He had closed the door before I could follow him into that room. I searched for and found another entrance, a small narrow tunnel some way along the wall, no doubt dug by others of my kind. I entered it, wondering what I would find on the other side.         There was no sign of the Master, just a large box. It was a grand box, thick solid oak, ornately decorated but still just a box, the sort you humans like to use to bury your dead.

Still being an ordinary mortal rat, I had no concept that that must be where the Master was. Perhaps there was food in the box though? There didn’t appear to be any opening or way of looking inside. It was good the box lay directly on the ground, meaning I could gnaw a hole in it. There was no food in the box, just the Master lying in it – The Master’s body was as cold as the stone floor on which his box lay.

Young though I was I knew the difference between a live and a dead body. My instincts told me this one had not had the warmth of life in it in a long time even though it was but an hour before I had seen the Master walk into the room.

All this was too much for my instinct-driven rat mind to understand fully and once againRat3 my hunger for food became my main focus. The other two-legs had held the Master in awe, and even the dogs and ferrets seemed to recoil in terror in his presence as did I for reasons I didn’t yet understand. Now though he was just a lifeless body, but one that hadn’t rotted and returned to the earth yet, one that could still sustain me for many days and nights. With no other food in sight, I resolved to eat of the Master’s dead body.

I opened my jaws the widest I could and plunged my teeth through the material of his clothing, my teeth sinking deep into his flesh beneath. The softness of the flesh surprised me given it was dead. And even though it was icy cold, blood flowed from it like it would from a live body.

Still being an ordinary mortal rat, I had neither intellect nor understanding, but my primitive instincts were screaming at me just how wrong this was, how wrong it all was. I suddenly became very afraid, again for reasons I still had no understanding. It was only my burning hunger that stopped me from scurrying away faster than if I were being chased by every last one of the manservant’s dogs and ferrets.   Without warning the strangest feeling ran through my body as I swallowed that first morsel of cold dead flesh, the icy cold but still flowing blood wetting the sides of my throat. My stomach seemed to explode from the insides, making me completely forget my hunger.

The dead body I had just started to feast on leapt to its feet, sending the lid of the box hurtling upwards and across the stone dungeon-like room. I would have run, but an indescribable pain was coursing through every part of my body, totally paralysing me.

The Master reached down and grabbed me, his fingers and thumb firmly gripped about the entire girth of my body, his grip breaking my ribs, crushing my insides. It was not just his strength squeezing the breath from me, but his shortly trimmed nails had grown into claws, easily piercing deep beneath my fur and skin. He held me up at almost at arm’s length. It was impossible to believe, but the Master’s teeth were as long and sharp as any of my own kind, or any of the creatures of the woods. How this was made no sense to me; I knew the humans had neither teeth nor claws of the kind to defend or attack, or so I had been taught – but I was wrong – all my kind were wrong.

The Master fully bared his teeth to me.I could see the angry fire in his eyes blazing brighter than the burning logs in the log filled grates that warmed many of the castle rooms.

I knew at that moment my time had come, that I would surely die as the Master brought me towards his face before biting into my body. I was still in pain from the dead flesh and blood I had already swallowed from the Master’s body but the pain that followed, even after near on 700 years, the memory haunts me, my fur and whiskers bristling whenever I think of it.

The wailing squeal my crushed lungs produced grew in intensity till it turned into a roaring scream; were I human, its equivalent would have been that of an exploding volcano.

The Master tossed my limp and almost lifeless body to the stone ground. I felt the dark and nothingness of sleep overwhelming me, probably for the last time, I believed.

*

“Hello, little rat.” I heard a voice saying to me. It was the Master voice I heard. I was still alive, how could that be?

“You’ll be hungry I imagine. There’s food in the bowl for you.” I heard him add.       I didn’t understand, or rather, I did understand.

We had heard the humans speak, of course, understood the tones and loudness of the sounds they made, even recognised a sort of meaning in a few of them. This was different – I truly understood the meaning of the Master’s words; he knew I was hungry and was telling me there was food immediately to hand in the wooden bowl that lay a few feet away to my side. I didn’t know how I knew that, but I knew.

And he was right. I was hungry, hungrier than I had ever been in my life. It was a different sort of hunger though – not the empty stomach kind but more like a cross between an insatiable thirst and a desperate need to breathe.

I turned towards the bowl, descending on it with a speed that surprised me. The smell of the food was overpowering, the unmistakable scent of fresh blood. I plunged my face into it, lapping it up as like it was last to be my last. I continued drinking the red nectar till it was gone, and even when there was no more to be had I licked at the rough wooden bowl, determined to devour every minuscule drop clinging in the grain of the wood.

“Feel better now?” The Master asked. Again I understood. But how to answer?

“You can’t speak, not as I do, little rat,” the Master answered, knowingly:

“But you don’t need words, not with me, not with anyone. Without human vocal chords to make proper sounds, the turning and the thirst has given you the gift of speaking with your mind, what the humans call telepathy, a gift they lost long before even I was first born.”

A whole new world of understanding had opened up to me. 700 hundred years later and I still have no words to describe what it was like awakening that night – not just being blind and waking up sighted but as one never having ever known that others could see.

I understood words, language, meaning. I could look about me and know what things were – a table, a door, a bookcase – things that had been obstacles or just something to scurry and hide behind till now. But I still had questions, many questions …

 

“What’s happened to me? How did this happen, what does it all mean?”

As the Master had said, I couldn’t make the sounds of language like he and the humans could, but I could articulate words in my mind, and I knew he understood. I had already deduced that the Master was not a normal human:

“I don’t know, not exactly. It was when you bit into me and swallowed some of my blood. It did something to you. Not enough to turn you, not completely, but something half-way between.”

“I still don’t understand? Turned? The thirst? Half-way?”

“By drinking of my blood you acquired my immortality and the thirst for fresh living blood to live but without the strength and speed or the telepathy that allows you to communicate. I sensed it in you when I picked you up. I was so angry with you; I was tempted to leave you as were. It would have been a miserable life, possessing the desperate thirst for blood but not the intelligence to understand it, not having the strength to overcome your natural enemies, having to feed off the smallest and vilest of creatures without knowing why.”

“But you did something to me? I do understand. And I feel strong, and … so much more,”

“Yes, I did. I would have been wrong to leave as you were. You weren’t to know what I was; you were just a hungry animal acting on instinct. Instead of biting you it would have been a mercy to have devoured you whole when I grabbed you up from the ground.”

“But you didn’t. Something when you bit me, it made me stronger, made me more – like you?”

“Yes. When I bit you, I only took a small amount of blood while allowing my saliva to enter your bloodstream. That’s what completed the turning, making you what you are now.”

 

We spoke for many hours after that, through the night almost to the rising of the sun, an event he explained I would never see again. But what did I care about sunlight? We rats possess poor eyesight, but since the ‘turning’ my eyesight was now as sharp as my teeth, ideal for a life lived only at night.

In the several years that followed, I would accompany the Master on his nightly jaunts to the surrounding towns and villages to feed. Many times I dined on the same human he had chosen, both of us taking only enough to satisfy our thirst. But I was a rat – a predator used to doing my own hunting and feeding, not some tame pet leeching off its owner. The Master understood, this and when he felt I was ready, left me to hunt my own food.

I had no wish to feed off other rats, though I would if I had to, but feeding with the Master had now given me a taste and thirst for human blood.

It was not to be as easy as I imagined; I had thought with my new awareness, and speed and strength far exceeding that of my mortal brethren, hunting would be easy.

My minuscule size made it impossible to approach and strike directly at the neck of a human the way the Master did. The human preference for wearing shoes or boots and thick clothing on their legs made it equally difficult to strike at ground level most of the time

The females of your kind were easier to feed on, leaving their lower legs and calves more exposed beneath their skirts. It was a pity not more of them were to be found or choose from in the late hunting hours. Fortunately, there was rarely any shortage of males after dark, many falling to the ground after a night in the taverns and alehouses. It was easy for me to sidle up beside one to take my fill from an exposed hand or about the neck. My smaller size made it easy for me to fully satisfy my thirst with a relatively small amount of blood. I had to be careful though – sink my teeth too deep and I would pass on the thirst, a mistake I made several times in those early years. It was not until over a century later I was to discover one of the abominations I had created during one of those early feeding hunts.

With the passing years, I became aware of another thirst, one every bit as strong as the one for blood. I yearned to see more of the world than the tiny one that existed within the walls of the castle and the surrounding countryside. The time was coming for us to go our separate ways …

*

Ratcula2I remember that first day in England when we docked into Plymouth Harbour. I had never dreamed such a place could exist.

It had also been my first time aboard a ship; my Master had brought me aboard to accompany him in his cabin. It was a strange and luxurious way for a rat to travel you might think while most of my kin were scurrying about in the bowls and darkest hidden recesses of the tall sail ship. He claimed it was partly from his guilt for having condemned me to an eternity of bloodthirst as the price of my immortality.

I didn’t understand his guilt and regret at the time. The greater intelligence that came with my transformation hadn’t yet fully manifested itself. I still had no real comprehension what it would mean to live much beyond my natural lifespan let alone the hundreds or possibly thousands of years to follow.

The journey to England was most exciting, exploring the ship and mixing with other albeit mortal rats. I was immediately aware of their deference. They sensed that I was something more and quite different …

*

We finally alighted from the ship later that night after his current manservant released us from the travelling casket aboard the ship.

I had protested the unnecessary cruelty of the previous one in his hunting of my kind. The Master agreed. We both enjoyed several days of fresh warm blood.  

The Master bade me farewell, though not before saying we would meet again someday, and how he looked forward to hearing of my travels. He also warned me never to underestimate the humans’ capacity for cruelty and cunning. It was not a warning I needed. I still remembered all too well the dismembering and bloody deaths of my fellow Rittens

The Master was right; we were to meet again, each time exchanging tales no human could imagine of our lives down through the centuries, even though I was still yet to experience my first real adventure.

 

The master gently placed me upon the stone cobbled streets of Plymouth to begin that first adventure.

The presence of so many humans was already making me thirsty. But I had another thirst that needed satisfying too.

My sibling Rittens had all been bloodily rent by the claws and fangs of the human trainedblackdeath dogs and ferrets. The gift of self-awareness that came with the thirst had made me aware of another concept – revenge … 

 

It was the year 1347, the year and time your kind refers to as the Plague and the Black Death

 

Teething Pains – Flash Fiction short story

IASDpicNumber 10 in my Flash Fiction series (just 90 to go – yayyyy). A hint of horror but with a very small ‘aitch.’ Got a a1FlashFictionbit carried away with this one, but with a bit of ruthless editing, still managed to keep it just under 1000 words (966 for those who are curious lol).

If you’re enjoying these flash fiction stories, for some even shorter 100-word microfiction from different authors, see link below:

IASD Micro-fiction

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Teething Pains

bran1Jack and Mary were a couple of twenty-somethings travelling around Eastern Europe. They made a living from travel writing and blogging about their adventures and way of life. For the past six months, they had settled in Romania, exploring its picturesque views, the historic villages and towns and the imposing stone castles that dotted the countryside. It was a country Jack knew well, being able to trace his ancestry back several generations there.

It was during a stay at one such Gothic fortress, Bran Castle, that Mary fell ill. It didn’t appear serious, but with Mary’s recently discovered pregnancy they were taking no chances.

 

“She’s a touch anaemic I’d say and has a slight fever. A virus would be my best guess until we get her test results back,” Doctor Miereanu of the Bucharest emergency hospital was telling Jack, “but let me assure you, there’s no danger to the baby,” he added, guessing that’s what they wanted to know.

“Thank you. But this virus? I mean, have you any idea how she may have contracted it, doctor?” Jack asked.

“I don’t know at the moment, but if you’re taking her back to Brasov today, I’d ask your local doctor. I’ll give you a letter for him, and I’ll be emailing your local surgery some patient notes.

Despite being widely travelled in some of the most remote and primitive parts of the world, when it came to health matters, particularly someone he cared for, Jack’s mindset was firmly geared to the high-tech facilities of a modern hospital.

Upon their return, Jack took Mary to their local surgery, just like the Bucharest doctor had suggested. Apart from all the usual health and lifestyle questions, Doctor Dragulescu asked how long they’d spent at Bran castle and if they’d done any wild camping in the area during their travels. Jack thought the doctor was merely going through the motions with his questions, at least until about where they’d travelled in Romania.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, we did some hiking through the Carpathian mountains and surrounding forests” Jack answered. The doctor gave a gentle, knowing nod of his head.

“Is that relevant, doctor?” Jack immediately asked, sensing the doctor was holding something back.

“Possibly. I suspect she may have been bitten by something. Some of our local insects transmit a harmless virus that induces temporary fever, but like my colleague in Bucharest told you, it’s nothing serious that might affect the pregnancy.”

 

Within the week, apart from her continuing anaemia, Mary had recovered. Three months later she gave birth to a seemingly healthy baby boy.

The local villagers were happy for them. It was an area where people tended to have large families, and childbirth was celebrated.

Because of her recent fever and anaemia, Mary and Jack had decided against breastfeeding, fearing that traces of the virus she had contracted might still be in her system and be passed to their baby.

 

Little Jack Jnr wasn’t doing well at all. He’d hardly put any weight on since his birth, and cried almost constantly; it was more like screaming, really, the sort you associate with being hungry, yet he refused to eat, bringing up whatever little milk he could be coaxed into taking from his bottle.

bran2Mary and Jack worried at how pale and sickly their baby looked. Their friends and neighbours never commented on it though and continued to make a fuss of the new baby, assuring Mary the lack of appetite and constant crying would soon pass. The doctor had dismissed the young couple’s concerns, explaining the frequent crying as being due to teething pains; Jack Jnr was a rarity being that 1 in 2000 babies born with natal teeth. Even rarer in Jack Jnr’s case was being born with two front upper incisors.

 

Jack Jnr continued to refuse food, and after just a month, Mary decided she was over the virus and tried to breastfeed him. Jack Jnr seemed to quieten when she brought his face closer to her. A moment after putting his mouth to her breast, Mary recoiled in pain when she felt a sharp pain akin to a needle piercing her nipple. Jack Jnr seemed oblivious to her discomfort and appeared to be feeding. Mary instantly forgot the momentary pain, elated at seeing that Jack Jnr was finally feeding and had stopped crying. He suddenly looked a picture of health; even a trace of colour appeared to fill his otherwise deathly pale complexion.

After ten minutes or so, Jack Jnr ceased suckling, and she slowly put him back in his cot, not even noticing at first the trickle of blood around her nipple.

She gasped in horror when Jack Jnr smiled. She saw the two tiny front teeth in his top gum. Jack Jnr may indeed have been ‘a rarity’ as doctor Dragulescy had put it, having been born with some natal teeth, but these seemed much bigger than they should be and were dripping a small amount of blood. She thought it must be his gums, and that the traces of blood around her nipple was from Jack Jnr.

After that first breastfeeding session, Mary felt no more pain when Jack Jnr suckled on her. The traces of blood in each case, the doctor assured her, were down to the premature development of Jack’s front teeth and was nothing to worry about.

 

bran3At just three months old, little Jack Jnr was already sporting two impressive quarter inch front incisors that would protrude over his lower lip whenever he was hungry.

The locals too were delighted at the progress little Jack Jnr was making. It had been several centuries since Bran castle had boasted an aristocratic Count in residence.        

Dracula’s Castle as legend more accurately knew it would once again be restored to its former glory in the coming years, no longer just another tourist attraction.

 

 

My Little Friends … Short story.

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Another taster story from my upcoming anthology of ‘rat’ themed stories … comments/suggestions most welcome.

 

ratcula3

 

Ratty3         My Little Friends …   Ratty1

a1ArenderLittle Terry Stuart couldn’t remember when the man had put him in the room. He was still too young to have any real concept of time the way an adult has. But it had been long ago, long enough for his mum and dad to be really worried about him. He wondered if they still worried, or if they even remembered him now?

Ratty2

Terry could hear a scratching noise coming from somewhere under his bed. His older brother used to tease him about monsters under the bed, in the closet, and anywhere else they might jump out at you from. He wished his brother was there now; even teasing would be better than what the man … no … he tried not to think about that, what the man did to him, made him do, the man who had locked him in the room and did bad things … no, it was best not to think about that …

Ratty2

The little tan coloured rat didn’t understand what the two-legs did either, but he knew the smaller, younger two-legs didn’t like it, that it hurt him, and that it was wrong. It was hard to understand why the two-legs would do things like that to their young. There were lots of things the little tan rat didn’t understand or like about the older two-legs.

The little tan rat continued to gnaw at the hole in the floorboards beneath Terry’s bed to make it easier to squeeze himself through.

The sound of his own sobs when thinking about his family had drowned the scratching sounds the rat’s gnawing made so Terry didn’t notice when they stopped. Hungry and tired though, Terry curled up in a foetal position under the single thin blanket the man had left him, and fell asleep.

The rat climbed up the bed frame at the end of the little boy’s bed. He kept his distance at the far end of the mattress for fear of startling the little two-legs. It was warm and soft so the rat decided to lay in a more comfortable position himself as he looked up at the sleeping two-legs, the moonlight casting a striped shadow across the little boy’s face through the barred window.

 

It was morning and the light and warmth of the sun on his face woke young Terry. The little rat, on the other hand, was still blissfully asleep, also curled up in the rat equivalent of his own foetal position.

Instead of being surprised or shocked at the sight of the little sleeping rat at the end of his bed, Terry smiled. It was the first time he had smiled in a long time.

He needed to pee, and not wanting to disturb the little animal he gently swung his legs over the side of the bed to get up. There was no toilet in the room, just a wash basin on the opposite wall. For number ‘twos’ the man had left him a bucket that was kept in a cupboard over at the far side of the room which he would take away to be emptied whenever he visited the boy to bring him more food and … other things.

When he had finished peeing and washed his hands, Terry looked back round at the rat. It was sitting up, looking back at him, scratching at his nose and whiskers the same way you or I might rub our eyes upon first waking up.

Neither Terry nor the rat felt any fear or revulsion at the sight of the other, just innocent curiosity. Terry reached into the drawer of his bedside table. There were still a couple of biscuits in it from the packet the man had left the last time he came. Terry broke off half a biscuit and held it out to the rat.

 

“Hello.” Terry thought, still holding out half a broken biscuit. The little rat scurried forward on the mattress and started to nibble at the biscuit the little two-legs had placed down for him.

Seeing how much the rat was enjoying his unexpected treat, Terry placed the other half of the biscuit there for him too while he ate the last one himself.

Terry wondered what he should call his new friend, now that he’d decided the rat was a friend, and all friends had to have a name. He was unlikely to say the name out loud, not having uttered a word since the man had used him that first time, but he could still ‘think’ the name.  

He was going to call it Bill, but not knowing much about rats he didn’t know if it was a boy rat or a girl rat so he decided it should be a name for a boy or a girl. He called it Whiskers.

With just his underpants to wear and a sheet he used to wrap himself in for clothes, Terry climbed back on the bed and pulled the blanket back over him.

Now that Whiskers knew the little two-legs was friendly he scurried up and nestled beside him, allowing the little two-legs to stroke the back of his head.

ratty9Over the next few days, Whiskers came to visit the little two-legs every day, and each day Terry would share what little food he had left from what the man had left him, just crackers, some slices of bread and even a few bits of fruit. Terry never knew exactly when the man would visit again so he ate sparingly but Whiskers was only little so he was happy to share what he had, even when Whiskers started to take some of what he gave him back through the hole in the floorboards under the bed.

Several other rats had also taken to visiting the little two-legs. He would smile and even laugh a little while watching the comic antics of his little friends scurrying back and forth before disappearing in and out of the several new holes they had gnawed in the skirting board behind the cupboard.

Street sewerTerry had long run out of biscuits to give the rats but he offered to share the last of his other food. Surprising to him, the rats stopped accepting it after the first few days. He worried maybe it was because he had upset them in some way and would repeatedly hold out bits of bread or fruit to them. He didn’t know the rats knew he had very little food left to feed himself and were busy exploring the rest of the derelict building for other sources of food that they might bring to their little two-legged friend.

 

Terry had lost all track of time over the past few months so he was never sure exactly how long it was between seeing the man but it was probably about a week after meeting Whiskers for the first time when the man made another visit.

Terry could hear the slow thud thud thud of the heavy lumbering bulk of the man climbing the outside stairs leading to his room. He still had the welts and was sore from the man taking his belt him so knew better than to make a fuss or protest at what he knew was going to happen and simply made his way to the far-side of the room, furthest from the door. He knew, of course, the man would just drag him back onto the bed, it was more an instinctive reaction trying to put as much distance between them for however brief a time.

Whiskers and several dozens more of his kind had also been aware of the man’s approach, somewhat before the noise of him climbing the stairs from when he first entered through a disguised side entrance. It had been their plan to attack the man as soon as stepped in the building but not enough of them had amassed in sufficient numbers yet; it also made sense for them to allow the man to first unlock the door to the little two-legs’ room – it was a thick heavy oak door and it was doubtful if the rats could have gnawed a hole tall enough for the boy to escape through.

Terry became a little panicked at seeing so many rats suddenly coming out from the many extra holes they had gnawed in the skirting board and around the room and through the floorboards beneath his bed. It wasn’t the rats he was scared off though, they were all his friends, but despite knowing what the man was likely to do to him he was more worried for their safety and desperately tried to shoo them back. They darted to and fro, totally ignoring their two-legged friend’s attempts to make them return to their hidey-holes; Terry had no way of knowing his fears for them were unfounded, that the only creature to be in danger was now the man, to the rats, the older and bigger two-legs.

Ratty2

Terry stood frozen, listening to sound of the man unlocking the door. It was an old rusty lock so it seemed to take an age for the key to turn, making a grinding noise like the gears of a car crunching before the unlock mechanism finally did its work.

The man entered the room and looked directly at the boy, oblivious to the dozens of rats moving about the floor. His oblivion only lasted a moment. He was about to close the door behind him when Whiskers leapt at him from the bed just two feet away. The rat easily reached him, using its claws to grip the back of the man’s left thigh before stabbing its razor-sharp front incisors through the thin cotton material of his trousers, firmly embedding them in the soft sweaty flesh underneath. The man let out a piercing scream, a combination of intense pain and unexpected shock, no doubt exasperated by the sight and realisation of the black moving carpet of rats about and under his feet.

The man barely had time to catch his breath from the first scream when another rat also leapt at him, this time from the floor but reaching high enough to bite into one of the man’s calves. Again the man screamed, and with pain searing through both legs now, fell to his knees. Dozens more rats swarmed around him, scratching and clawing at his clothing while others leapt at him from all directions and angles – upwards from the floor, down at him from the bed and bedside table, some even headlong off the top of the wardrobe, each finding their target on some part of the man’s increasingly exposed flesh with so many claws and teeth ripping away at the two-legs’ clothing.

Terry still stood frozen in the corner of the room, overwhelmed by what was happening but calmly unafraid, relieved that he was being spared from further pain from the man.

Several of the rats were using their strength and weight of their bodies to push the room door further open. Others were nudging at his feet as if urging him towards it. Terry was still terrified of trying to escape but despite his fear, it was clear the man was in no position to block his escape. More nudging and even nibbling at his toes by the rats convinced Terry it was time to run, and run he did. He ran as fast as he could, down the stairs, and out the side entrance from the derelict building, through side alleys and streets, on and on not knowing or caring where, just anywhere to be as far away from the man as he could get. Eventually he ran headlong into a policeman who stopped the boy.

 

Naturally, the boy was taken into the care of the police to ascertain who he was. They tried to question him but Terry was too traumatised to talk, his young mind finally shutting down for the time it would need to either heal or put up the barriers needed to come to terms with the past few months and the horrific acts he’d been subjected to.

It was several weeks before Terry was able or willing to start to speak. He didn’t know where he’d been held and since he hadn’t said a word the authorities had no idea if he’d been held locally or dropped off in the area.

With no information to go on, for now, the police had no reason to search any of the deserted derelict buildings in the area. It seemed it was now the man’s turn to spend some time in the room he’d held young Terry, subjecting the little boy to such pain and degradation. But he would learn – the rats couldn’t undo the damage the tall two-legs had done to the little two-legs but they would make it seem tame in comparison to what they would do to him …  

*

Three days later …

Whiskers decided to move onto the man’s testicles; they looked soft and succulent, something the rat confirmed as he bit into one of them, enjoying the texture of the soft flesh and the sweet trickle of blood that accompanied it.

The man screamed the sort of scream no other human should ever have to hear. Even Whiskers was momentarily distracted by it, looking up into the man’s eyes. The two-legs was clearly afraid now, maybe even more so than the little two-legged one he’d kept imprisoned in that same room for all those months. It was only a momentary distraction though, and Whiskers returned to nibbling at the testicle … Again the man screamed. This time the little rat paid no attention, more intrigued by the way the little soft balls of flesh were hanging loosely away from the rest of the two-legs’ body. He thought about gnawing through the flesh that attached them and taking one to the newborn beneath the floorboards. They would provide good nourishment for Whiskers’ own young Rittens suckling at their mother’s teats in the space in the walls. Soon though their own tiny teeth and claws would emerge and they would be able to feed off the man too, so best perhaps to leave their food in one piece and in one place – Whiskers was a good father and would be sure to leave the other testicle for them.

There was still a lot of meat left on the man, enough to feed Whiskers and his companions for a long time, enough even for the next litter of newborn Rittens till they were old enough to hunt and scavenge for themselves. But they wouldn’t be greedy or rush their meal.

The little two-legs had been kind to them despite his own hunger and treatment at the hands of the larger two-legs. No, they would keep the man alive for a long time, long enough to feel a lot of pain, long enough to pay for all the suffering he had inflicted. It was good the little two-legs had run, his own kind would take care of him – it would have been too much for his young mind to cope with the screams of the older larger two-legs.

They were careful not to gnaw into any of the major arteries, it wouldn’t have done for the man to bleed to death too quickly. And besides, live flesh and warm fresh flowing blood were so much nicer, the flesh so much softer, not that thousands of tiny front incisors couldn’t have coped with tearing a body apart long after rigor mortis had set in.

The man was now drifting in and out of consciousness, awakened every so often by more tiny bites and scratches eliciting a response from those nerve endings that were still active, so many of them now having already died from over stimulation. The man’s vocal chords too had long given up the battle of producing any kind of sound, the man was now enduring his pain in near silence bar the chattering and gnawing sounds of several dozen rats grinding their teeth, much like having to listen to the excruciating sound of nails being scratched on a blackboard, though one can be sure that would have been a welcome exchange for what was actually happening to him.

Whiskers was pleased that the two-legs had lasted as long as he had. It had screamed almost continuously at the limits of its vocal capacity for nearly seven hours while they gnawed away at his toe and fingernails, exposing the ultra-sensitive areas beneath.

All the two-legs’ blood had long since disappeared along with most of the flesh, and even the congealed stuff after rigor mortis had been devoured too, but that still left a delicious taste and smell residue, an after-taste that clung to the bones, something to be savoured the same way the aroma of a fine wine might be enjoyed by a sommelier or connoisseur.

There was no doubt the two legs had been terrified beyond human or demonic comprehension but that was of no concern to Whiskers or any of the rats – the man hadn’t worried or stopped when Terry Stuart had screamed.  

*

The first police officer on the scene was twenty-four-year-old Lee Palmer, a young man who had been a policeman from eighteen and a half years old. In his six years he’d seen his fair share of shootings, stabbings, and indeed the weeks and months long-dead bodies of those who’d died in their homes only to be discovered when the putrid smell of their rotting remains had alerted the neighbours, so he was certainly no rookie. But nothing in his experience to date had prepared him for the sight that confronted him when he first entered that room, or proved sufficient to enable him not to add to the already unimaginably foul smell by depositing the entire contents of his stomach onto the floor – a man of lesser self-control would probably have added the contents of his bowels and bladder too.  

Lying strewn across the bed were the flesh stripped bones of what was once a human being. Many newborn litters of Rittens had feasted on its flesh and bones since the two-legs’ death.

Old Max – Short story …

IASDpicAnother short story from my upcoming ‘Rat’ themed collection later in the year. This time our little furry rodent shares star billing with one of our canine friends … 

Still early days yet editing wise, so again, just a first draft here … let me know what you think? Thanks … 

***

Old Max …

RatTales1Old Max was as strong and vicious a brute of a dog as no one would ever want to come across; Tom Selby had made sure of that, conditioning the mutt through a sadistic regime of punishment and reward, only in poor Old Max’s case the only reward was whatever the punishment being inflicted at the time coming to a temporary stop. Tom Selby was the meanest and most miserable farmer in the county, and as far as he was concerned, Old Max was a working farm dog, a piece of property to be used in any way he saw fit, and if that included earning a few extra coins on the dog fighting circuit so much the better.

As a pup Old Max had growled and bared his teeth at any and every provocation but there was only so many times a body, and a small young one at that could take the full force of a leather whip cutting through its fur and skin, or a hard leather boot being kicked into its side. Old Max was too smart not to realise strength and ferocity alone wouldn’t ever put an end to his suffering and had long since learned to heel at his Master’s command, to at least play the part of the obedient ‘mans best friend.’

RT8It was inevitable that some of Tom Selby’s cruelty would rub off on Old Max despite him once being the gentlest most adorable looking little pup there ever was, the sort that could melt a stone heart quicker than the morning sun melting a snowflake. But that cute little bundle of furry joy was gone, replaced by a wretched hate-filled creature from hell, the look of which might rival that of Cerberus, the mythical three-headed crazed canine Hound of Hades guarding the gates to the underworld. And just as any man or creature alike approaching his mythical counterpart, anything that still breathed coming near Old Max would be greeted with a snarl, a growl, and flash of rabid drool dripping teeth. Bitter experience had taught Old Max never to show his back to a stranger for fear of what might land across it and to face whatever potential threat head-on, ready to lunge as though his life depended on it as very often it did.

*

Old Max was having a long and lazy snooze in the sun, a rare pleasure he’d been lucky enough to enjoy on account of his Master suffering a bout of influenza; there was no loyal vigil by his Master’s door or bedside, waiting for a yearned or prayed for recovery.

Far from pining for Tom Selby’s return to health, Old Max would gleefully have torn into the man’s throat, ripping fat and muscle from bone and then joyfully bathed in his Master’s blood like a playful puppy splashing and jumping in a mud-filled puddle, not that Old Max had such a happy time to remember.

Still half dazed from his sleep, this was a rare unguarded moment for Old Max. He couldMax3 feel something small and warm beside him, its fur and little whiskers gently tickling his skin, not that it was unpleasant in any way, quite the opposite. But it was equally rare if ever for Old Max to allow another living creature such close proximity except when forced, like when his Master needed extra coin and would pit him against some new opponent in the dog fighting pits.

Looking down he could see a small furry ball-shaped mass clearly asleep and blissfully nestled into his tummy. Old Max’s natural instinct was to spring to his feet and rend the little creature limb from limb to help satisfy his own constant hunger that came from a lack of food other than the few meagre scraps his Master saw fit to throw him from time to time. For whatever reason though, Old Max didn’t stir, content to allow the little furry mass to continue its equally contented slumber.

AMax1 little later he was again awoken by the small bundle of hair beside his tummy only this time it wasn’t the gentle tickling of fur and whiskers that had stirred Old Max from his sleep. The small warm mass, clearly now an infant rat to a fully awake Old Max, was shivering and half starved, obviously trying to snuggle the old dog’s body for extra warmth. Despite his own hunger, Old Max reached for one of the tiny meat scraps lying in his feeding bowl and dropped it near the infant rat’s mouth before starting to lick at its body. The warmth of his tongue and the copious amount of drool soon warmed the little rodent body, even more so when Old Max shifted his position to cosset the rat’s body in a thicker longer part of his fur.

*

They say all good things come to an end, and so it was for Old Max when his Master recovered from his influenza. Those three short weeks had been the happiest time of Old Max’s life, free from the catalogue of abuses or fear of being dragged to the hated dog fighting pits; Old Max knew he wouldn’t survive many more fights – he was still as brave and ferocious as he ever was but the daily beatings and accumulated battle injuries were taking their toll, as was the passage of time, Old Max was indeed becoming ‘Old’ while each new opponent in the pit seemed just a little younger and stronger while Old Max was equally just a little older and not so strong with each additional fight.

*

max2.jpgTom Selby had debts that needed paying. He looked towards Old Max. It had been three months since their last visit to the dog fighting pits, more than long enough for the old mutt to have recovered. He’d heard that a newcomer in one of the neighbouring villages had a couple of angry young Rotties he was desperate to arrange some matches for. He’d also heard they were the most vicious dogs anyone had seen in years with no one that keen to risk their own dogs against them; that might be to his advantage though, he could demand a bigger share of the purse and if Old Max should manage to win one last time it’d make him an even more valuable asset for a few more fights in the future.

Little Whiskers hissed and spat his anger at the huge two-legged creature that was dragging Old Max by some cord around his friend’s neck. Old Max was clearly reluctant to accompany his Master to wherever it was they were going. The tiny rat had never seen a human up close until now. He wasn’t impressed – they smelt and looked funny, and they didn’t appear to have any proper teeth or claws. He wondered why Old Max didn’t simply turn and sink his fangs into the soft exposed flesh of the two-legged creature’s neck, surely it couldn’t be a match for Old Max’s strength and teeth or be able to resist a swipe from one of Old Max’s massive paws with his claw-like nails outstretched. But just as Little Whiskers had never seen a human up close, nor had he yet witnessed the great cruelty and cowardice they were capable of.

Without warning, Tom struck Old Max across the back and side with a riding crop. Little whiskers was startled by the whining yelp that practically exploded from Old Max’s mouth. The force of the blow drained Old Max of his strength, almost causing him to buckle under his own weight.

Again Little whiskers hissed at Tom Selby, and this time several more of his friends emerged from various hidey-holes to dart in and out of Tom Selby’s path. The shock of seeing so many rats at is feet startled him, causing him to drop the leash he was holding Old Max by and stumble back. Seeing the separation between Tom and Old Max, Little Whiskers ran between them, urging Old Max to follow in the direction of the adjacent barn.

max5Together they made their escape from Tom Selby’s sight, disappearing deep inside the barn. It felt good to Old Max being able to slump into the soft warm hay to soothe the still smarting lash of the riding crop. He wondered if he’d done the right thing, following his little friend into the barn. This was the first of his Master’s real cruelty Little Whiskers had yet seen, or that of any human for that matter. He knew his Master wouldn’t let a few rats prevent him from dragging him back on their journey to the dog fighting pits, and upset by the delay would surely take out his anger with further cruelty along the way.

max4Sure enough, Tom Selby appeared in the doorway to the barn, towering over both Little whiskers and Old Max, and all the other rats darting back and forth at his feet. He gave an angry kick with his foot that sent a few of them tumbling away in a rolling motion to the side. He then grabbed hold of Old Max’s leash and tied it to one of the support beams before grabbing the nearest implement, an old heavy manure shovel.

Little Whiskers leapt at Tom Selby’s feet, trying to bite at the ankle area but his leather boots were too high and thick for the little rat’s teeth to penetrate. Tom Selby took a step back and swung out at the creature.

max6The force of the shovel sent the little rat flying several feet into the air before landing in some loose hay at the far end of the barn. Old Max barked and growled his anger at the way Little Whiskers, his only friend had been set upon by the human, straining at the rope around his neck, the hated leash keeping him from springing to the little rat’s defence. He would gladly have endured any amount of pain to tear free from whatever it was he was tied but even Old Max’s great strength and determination weren’t up to breaking the grain of a two-foot thick solid oak support beam. But where brute strength was insufficient, stealth and guile and a thousand little razor sharp max7teeth were sure to do better, the latter busily gnawing away at the individual threads of the rope leash until in its half chewed and weakened state, it gave way to one last determined tug from Old Max, almost catapulting the Old dog towards his hated Master. Tom Selby instinctively raised his arms and hands to protect himself but the sheer weight of Old Max hitting him head on sent Tom crashing to the ground. He tried desperately to shield his face from Old Max’s snapping jaws only to be rewarded with long sharpened fangs lodging themselves firmly in his soft flesh. Old Max was revelling in an inexplicable frenzied joy, at last having the opportunity to indeed tear flesh and muscle from bone, happy indeed for his fur to be soaked in his Master’s blood. It would be no easy task though – Tom Selby was a big man, and a strong one too, strong enough to put up quite a fight against a dog in the twilight of its years. But Old Max wasn’t fighting alone. Little Whiskers and a hundred or so of his kind had amassed round Tom Selby’s body on the ground, each nipping away at the clothing and underlying flesh. Hundreds of vicious bites and scratches stabbed at the farmer’s body from what seemed a thousand different angles and directions, Tom’s high-pitched screams practically assaulting Old Max’s acute canine hearing.

*

max8Living and working alone as he did, no one found what little was left of Tom Selby’s body for the best part of a week. It might have been longer but for a neighbour stopping by to collect some monies owed him. Being a farmer himself, Jim Franklin recognised a farm that had been neglected of its daily tasks for several days at least. At first glance, Jim Franklin thought Tom must have been injured and had discarded some torn clothing among the blood-soaked hay, such was how much was actually left of the body once the rats had had their fill of it. It was true that it was Old Max that had inflicted the injuries that led to Tom Selby bleeding to death more quickly but Little Whiskers and his kind had been just as content feeding on Tom Selby’s dead body as they were feeding on his live one.

max9Like most farmers and other country folks, Jim Franklin was no stranger to seeing the devoured remains of a dead body, just not one almost picked to the bone and even less so a human one. He could see from all the rat droppings nearby that it had been rats that had done this, not that he would have needed such a clue, there was little else that could have stripped a body of every last bit of flesh so effectively.

His attention was distracted by the sight of Old Max appearing in the doorway to the barn but what held his attention was the sight of Little Whiskers by his side. It was a quite a surreal sight, this huge brute of a dog with this tiny rat nestled alongside one of Old Max’s front legs, totally unafraid under the protective wing of his canine friend. Jim smiled. He had a soft spot of Old Max and had always resented Tom Selby’s treatment of him.

Old Max slowly approached him, his teeth discreetly hidden from sight as were Little whiskers’ who was trotting alongside. Both creatures were acutely sensitive to the nature of any given human and decided this particular specimen to be friendly. Jim fell to one knee and held out the remains of a half-eaten sandwich to Old Max before dropping a small part of the offering to the ground for the wee rat. Both accepted the gesture and fed on their unexpected meal.

“Well Old fella, you fancy a new home with me?” Jim asked while gently stroking the back of the ageing dog’s neck. Neither Old Max nor Little whiskers understood the words but the soft kindly tone of his voice was enough to entice Old Max into following Jim to his horse and cart, and to a new home and life in the twilight of his years.

Just before jumping into the back of the cart, Old Max stopped and looked back to where his little rodent friend was still standing. Little whiskers stood on his hind legs and looked back at them. He knew Old Max’s proper place was with a human Master, one that would love and care for him, someone like the man who had just fed them. What he didn’t know was his own place. Rats and humans weren’t exactly natural friends – Would the two legs want him tagging along?

a2RatcoverOld Max looked up at Jim with a tearful glint in those huge brown wide eyes before turning to look back at his little friend, like he was being torn between the two. As well as seeing the warmth and gentleness in Old Max, the first time anyone had seen those qualities since all the time he had been with the now very much deceased Tom Selby, he could see Old Max was loyal too, loyal to the little creature that had obviously befriended him in some way Jim Franklin would probably would never know. Again he fell to one knee and patted the front of his thigh, beckoning the little rat to come and join them.

In the years that followed, Jim Franklin was oddly enough the only farmer for miles around who never had a single problem with rats on his farm.  

***

If you enjoyed this story you may also enjoy a story I posted a while back, Dark Eyes, another short story to be featured in my upcoming collection later in the year …

Click the picture below for the link to it …

Dark Eyes …

 

 

 

IASDpicKeep an eye out too for my upcoming ‘Rat Tales’ collection later in the year – (possible covers)

 

 

Book Review – The Salby series …

It is with great pleasure I present my review of Salby Evolution, the second book in the Salby Eco/Zombie thriller series/trilogy. In addition to this latest review, I’ve also included my review of the first book in the series towards the end of this post for those readers intrigued enough to want to read book 1 first (highly recommended, you won’t be disappointed!). First though, a little about the author himself  …

IanD4

IanpicIan D Moore, as well as being a fellow author, blogger, and book IASDpicreviewer is also an Admin and one of the founding members of the IASD Indie Author Support and Discussion group and website:

www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com

IASD1

As well as this, his second novel in the Salby Eco/Zombie thriller series, Ian D. Youre Not Alone 3d inamge (1)Moore was also the instrumental force in bringing together a multitude of Indie Authors from around the world when back in 2015 he put the call out for submissions for his highly acclaimed anthology ‘You’re Not Alone’ in aid of the Macmillan cancer charity, in which I feel honoured to have had one of my own short stories included, and  to again be contributing a story for the 2018 edition in aid of Macmillan.

Click Here for Amazon link to You’re Not Alone 

 

Prior to embarking on his writing career, Ian D Moore previously served as a soldier and engineer in the British army, worked as a self-employed truck driver, and still works in commercial and domestic transport in addition to running a small online writing services business.

Ian D Moore is a UK based author and family man, and someone I greatly admire and respect both as a writer and as a person.

 

Salby Evolution (Salby Trilogy – Book2)

timberwolfamazon                 A multitude of story-lines that gradually converge to a thrilling conclusion – great sequel!

Although intertwined with the first book of this ongoing series, Salby Evolution reads extremely well as a stand-alone instalment, though in all honesty, personally, I would still highly recommend reading Salby Damned first to enjoy this one to the full.

evo1In book one the story was very much a localised one, concentrating on how the authorities would deal with a combined ecological stroke biological ‘accident.’ In this second instalment, the story naturally expands to the international repercussions of what could easily have escalated into the sort of zombie apocalypse only previously imagined in wild speculation.

The action switches from the UK to Russia, where characters who were central to dealing with the first Salby virus outbreak have been drafted in to help deal with a possible new outbreak.

This new chapter starts with two main storylines, one which quite seamlessly follows on from just a few months after the first book finishes, but with sufficient references to the past to bring new readers up to speed while providing a subtle recap for those who read book 1 first. As the story progresses, the original characters diverge to cover different aspects of the story i.e. determining if the virus has spread, has it changed, tracking down possible new carriers of it, as well as dealing with other parties equally interested in the Salby virus. Secondly, we have what I would regard as the main thrust of the story, an offshoot from the original outbreak but threatening a future one, initially running parallel to the original Salby virus outbreak of the first book but gradually catching up and converging with other threads of the ongoing story here.

I did think a little way into the book that perhaps the author had been slightly over-ambitious in the scope of the sequel with everything that was going on, the switching of perspectives and slightly different timelines but he skillfully drew all the different elements into a complex but extremely well-constructed story.

I was impressed by the way the author handled the varying stories and sub-plots, some featuring several characters from the first book and written from a third person point of view, consistent with the writing style of that book. In another, the reader is introduced to a couple of new characters but from the first-person perspective of leading man Simon, a stark contrast to Nathan, the leading man, and hero of the first book; Simon in comparison is a bit of an anti-hero, older, not the same sort of macho character and having many more flaws and personal demons of his own to contend with but still proving his worth nonetheless.

The switching back and forth between these different threads worked surprisingly well, especially the way in which the different timelines and stories converged in their relevance to the overall picture.

I was pleased that this sequel also paid homage to book 1 in that we were treated to a few more encounters with victims of the virus i.e. the ‘Deadheads’ – they served as a timely reminder of the surreal and terrifying consequences of the Salby outbreak – but the author didn’t try to rehash them for any sort of dramatic effect but instead took the story forward, and in new directions; what started as a surprisingly intelligent and believable zombie outbreak in book 1 (but with a small ‘z’ I’d say),  has moved slightly away from that concept and evolved instead into an equally intelligent but more complex thriller, again throwing together some of the same elements – cutting-edge bio-engineering, viral infection, and a military interest in the virus, but this time adding manevolent scientists, political ambition, and the threat of world threatening consequences – and like any good thriller, some nice twists along the way (particularly relating to Simon but some other good ones too).

Not only does this sequel expand upon the first instalment, the quality of writing itself has evolved and improved too – I gave the first book in this series a five-star rating but with the proviso that I thought it fell just short of that at maybe a 4.7 to 4.8 on account of a slight over-emphasis on military terminology that might slightly confuse a non-military reader. In this book though I think the author has got the balance exactly right.

A first-rate book both in its own right and as a sequel, and indeed as a prequel to some as yet unknown conclusion, a very easy and solid five stars for me!

***

For those of you sufficiently intrigued, my review of Book 1 in this superb series …

Salby Damned (Salby Trilogy – Book1)

timberwolfamazonA chillingly realistic and believable scenario… Enjoyed it!

Although a fan of the film and televised Zombie efforts this is the first time I’ve actually read anything in the genre, having previously been skeptical as to whether it would transfer well to the written word.

Whilst I’ve always had to totally suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the Zombie genre in the past, with Salby Damned I was presented with a chillingly realistic and believable scenario that had me hooked right from the start. This isn’t the story of a world-wide fantastical epidemic but a more likely and localised disaster borne out of the merging of two highly topical issues, namely biological warfare and the more recent and controversial gas shale fracking.

IanD6The book cover put me in mind of the TV series The Walking Dead, but whereas that concentrated on the individual survival of a specific and isolated group of people, Salby Damned, although it largely concentrates on a few individuals, it also deals with how the authorities tackle the problem of a zombie-like plague, and how inevitably the military would play a large part in that. The author pays great attention to military detail, creating a very real and authentic feel to how a military base would house and protect survivors; I don’t just mean in terms of military accuracy, I would expect that from the author given his background, but by the way in which he conveys his expertise to the written word. As anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of the British military will know, it is filled with innumerable acronyms that can be very confusing to civilians, but the author explains and accounts for them very simply in the narrative without resorting to all sorts of contrived dialogue. My only concern here is that there might have been a tad too much emphasis on the military detail for those with no knowledge or real interest in that side of things, but for me personally, it worked very well. Speaking of the military, it was refreshing that the central hero as it were was a just a regular ex-soldier rather than ex-special forces as it made him more believable as a character – far too often, unless being ex-special forces is central to the story, such characters are made to appear almost super-human in their abilities, whereas here, Nathan’s vulnerability and frailties are just as evident as his strengths.

If I had to categorise this book, I’d say it was more a thriller than Science fiction or horror, though there are indeed elements of the latter. The story itself unsurprisingly concerns an apparent accident that results in a zombie-like plague, and then, Nathan an ex-soldier and a beautiful doctor, and the part they play in the search for a cure. Amid the subplots, we have courage and heroism, political and industrial intrigue, a touch of romance, and action wise, plenty of deadly encounters with the undead victims of the plague. In fact, some of the subplots were a real bonus to this story and definitely added to the overall enjoyment rather than simply being there to flesh out the page numbers. What was also refreshing about this book though is that unlike the film and TV ventures, it didn’t rely at all on sensational blood and gore for its impact.

If I had but one small criticism to make, apart from the ‘possible’ over-emphasis of the military and weaponry detail, it would be the lack of any anger and resentment towards those responsible for creating the circumstances in which the plague occurred, but apart from that the story was clever and well written, with a good balance of superficial though very credible science to add authenticity to the wider story. I was also extremely impressed with the way the author concluded the story, i.e. in not leaving lots of annoying loose ends that demand a sequel just for its own sake, but nonetheless surprising the reader with a few unexpected twists that leave the door open to one. If I had to give an exact rating for this debut novel I would say 4.7 to 4.8, but since I don’t I can quite happily give it a five. Would I read a sequel? Absolutely yes!

 

 See Also:

IanDfb

On Fb – OneStopAuthorServices

www.twitter.com/ianstories

www.iandmoore.net

&

See Ian D. Moore’s Amazon Author page for his full catalog of work: 

cropped-headerbooks1

 

Dark Eyes – short story …

It’s been quite awhile since I last posted a short story here. This particular one is likely to be the opening story of a ‘Rat’ themed collection of such stories I’m planning to publish later in the year; only a first draft so still lots of tweaks to do before publication.

Now I must say, horror wouldn’t normally be my first port of call when it comes toRat2 writing. Why then a collection of blood and gore filled rodent horror stories? Well, though not normally a fan of the horror genre I still remember just how impressed and fascinated I was when I first read James Herbert’s Rats trilogy; for me that was horror in its purest form – no demons or recanting spells on some altar in the woods at midnight, but real flesh and blood creatures.

I would say 99% of the population have an irrational but inbuilt revulsion of rats despite most of us rarely being more than a few a hundred feet or so from the nearest one no matter how out of sight we think they might be so what better theme for the budding horror writer?

Now to write a full length rat themed novel, I just don’t think it’s possible to Rat3improve on James Herbert’s original format and nor would I want to try, but short stories, that’s a different matter – the short story genre allows the writer to explore any number of ideas while still sticking to a central theme if they want, which is precisely what I’m planning to do in my upcoming collection … I hope you enjoy this initial ‘taster’ …

 

Dark Eyes

Rat4“Bloody rats!” Jack roared, partly in anger but mostly from a mixture of fear and loathing of the vile vermin, mesmerised almost as one the size of a small cat scurried across his path. Several more darted about in all directions, almost tripping him up in the process before making their escape through the half-open barn door. But the sheer number of them though, perhaps he should be the one making his escape, Jack thought, watching one lone rat turn and just for a moment, stop and look up at him before turning again to run and join his many brothers and sisters. Jack would later swear he could see hate-filled pure evil in those darkened eyes, but for now, his only concern was for his family and the farm.

He’d tried all the usual rodent poisons, legal or otherwise. Sarah, Jack’s wife hadn’t been too happy with the ‘otherwise.’ Being brought up in a town she still had many of the townsfolk views towards animals and nature, that they and it were all just lovely – David Attenborough and the BBC had a lot to answer for!

Jack loved her to bits but had to bite his tongue knowing she still held the belief that those tasty eggs and rashers of bacon they wolfed down most mornings were made and packaged in a supermarket warehouse with not a single animal playing their part in the process.

It was no surprise to Jack when she insisted there must be more humane ways of dealing with their local rat problem, ones that didn’t include poisoning, gas, or any other solution she saw as the farmer’s equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction. In the end of course, Sarah’s objections had been irrelevant given that nothing had worked; either the rats were getting smarter or they were becoming immune to the common over-used over the counter remedies, much like bacteria had become resistant to the over-use of antibiotics. Media reports of mutant strains of giant super rats had been around for years, but the more sensible explanations for such reports didn’t sell newspapers anywhere near as effectively, hence the former becoming the more firmly fixed in the public’s mind.

Rat1Jack’s own efforts trying to kill them in sufficiently large numbers had so far proved useless. It was time to try something different; he remembered having read somewhere that rats were cannibals, or at least prone to it sometimes for reasons he didn’t remember. It was that single memory that had given him the idea: what if he could use that otherwise repugnant trait to reduce the excess number of rats with a few really ravenous cannibalistic ones? Letting the little bastards reduce their own numbers held a certain appeal to him. First though he would have to capture a few, well, about a dozen or so in fact.

Like before when he had tried laying poisoned bait for them, ineffectively as it turnedrat2 out, he left more of the same only this time instead laced with ground-up sleeping pills … Nothing poisonous or fatal or owt that Sarah could reasonably object to, just something he hoped would knock them out long enough to carry out the next phase of his plan. Sure enough the following morning, that part of Jack’s plan had worked – there lying scattered about the barn were about twenty sleeping rats, eight of which he immediately finished off with a pitchfork. The remaining twelve he strung up upside down by their tails from one of the rafters, carefully spaced so that each rat was just within swinging distance of the next. After a few hours they started to regain consciousness. At first they just frantically jerked and swung from side to side, probably due to a combination of fear, confusion, and indeed anger at their mistreatment, and with rats relying mostly on their tails for their sense of balance, being strung up like that would certainly have led to panic and disorientation.

As the hours and then days passed, that anger and panic became something quite different, an almost frenzied need for food and water. With no other source of nourishment to hand it soon became a matter of dog eat dog, or rather ‘rat eat rat in this case – they had no choice but to feed in the only way fate had left them.

Feeding off one’s own kind was nothing unique either in history or to the poor creatures Jack had hanging from the rafters. Rats had often eaten one another to survive but when it occurred naturally it would usually be the old and weak after dying a natural death, and even then only as nature’s way of combating famine or over-crowding.

Three days later just four of the original twelve remained alive, only the strongest and most vicious having survived by swinging and clawing away at the living and then lifeless mutilated bodies of the weaker adjacent ones …

Despite their now thinner and wretched state, Jack was more than a little afraid as he approached them. It was a sight he hoped never to see again yet felt powerless to turn away from, watching the four remaining live ones hiss and spit the closer he got. One was bigger than the other three by quite a margin, and judging from the way it was still thrashing about, much stronger too … then he realised … It was the same one that had looked up at him, the one with the dark hate-filled eyes. Jack shuddered. They knew he was the one responsible for what had been done to them and it was his blood and flesh they could now smell, had a taste for … if fear really did have an odour Jack knew he must have absolutely reeked of it.

He thought for a moment. His gut feeling was it might be best to abandon the scheme, to put the wretched creatures out of their misery there and then … a few whacks with a shovel at their weakened bodies and that would be it. But apart from removing the hissing hate-filled ones in front of him what would that solve? He’d still be left with the original problem, of what to do about the others, the ones still out there?

Jack wanted – no – had to be rid of them if his farm was to survive, he decided, resolving to stick to the original plan. He had to close his eyes first, long enough to break the rats’ hold on his gaze, enabling him to look away before shuffling through the hay to open the barn door in readiness for their escape. On the way back he grabbed hold of a field-scythe.

rat3Standing several feet back from their still hanging bodies he took a lunging swing at the thin wires hanging from the rafters and from which all the rats were still suspended, four of them still hissing and spitting their hatred for their human tormentor – to the rats or anyone who might have been watching, Jack would have cut an impressive image as the grim reaper at that moment.

Each of them fell to the floor with a thud the instant the razor sharp edge of the scythe sliced the space between the rafters and the ends from which the rats’ tails were tied, their impacts cushioned by the hay strewn about the barn. Jack edged back a little, watching them from a dozen or so feet away. He’d expected the live ones to immediately make a lightning dash for the open barn door. They didn’t. Instead, they turned their attention to the bodies of their lifeless companions, immediately embarking on a further feeding frenzy – all except Dark Eyes that was – his attention was clearly focused on Jack, practically standing on its hind legs, watching, defiantly daring him to approach. Jack instinctively strengthened his grip on the wooden length of the scythe, not taking his gaze from Dark Eyes’ direction for fear of attack.

Yes, Jack was afraid. He didn’t know why but he absolutely knew in that one single moment his plan had gone horribly wrong … having had to claw, bite, and slash at the living moving flesh of their siblings, having to watch and listen to their pitiful cries and struggles … it had changed them, turned them into something horribly different.

Jack knew he’d unleashed something in their nature of which nothing good could come out of.

*

Within a few weeks there were definitely a lot fewer rats about the farm as evidenced by the noticeably visible reduction in rat droppings and simply not seeing or hearing much of them. To Jack and Sarah it was becoming a case of out of sight, out of mind, and so Jack had largely forgotten the momentary horror he’d felt when allowing Dark Eyes and his companions to run from the barn. In fact he felt quietly pleased with himself, pleased that his original plan was obviously working, honestly believing the overwhelming fear he’d experienced was a brief irrational moment brought on by the surreal sight of the rats tearing and feeding on the torn flesh of their dead companions.

For most people, such a sight would have been etched in the mind forever. Not for Jack though, he was a farmer and well used to witnessing nature’s brutal cruelty, undeceived by the picture postcard image of tranquillity nature usually showed the town-dwelling tourists.

It was just as well Jack was used to such things for it was a sight he’d be reminded of time and time again over the coming months …

*

Much of the county had enjoyed quite a respite from their rat problem, best part of three months now but for Jack and his immediate neighbours there were signs of its return. Rat droppings around the farm were back to and even higher than their previous levels before the barn incident. The occasional sight of a lone rat darting across a yard had increased to several sightings a day of three or four at a time.

Sarah was again complaining of seeing even more of them scurrying about now – but not like before, they were no longer immediately running for the nearest bolt hole at the sight of a human or one of the dogs. In the coming weeks their numbers continued to increase to the point where they were confident enough in their greater numbers not to run or scurry away at all, slowing their agile stealth to more of an arrogant stroll. Most disturbing though was the sheer variety of rats, all mixing and seemingly friendly, the larger brown rats and the smaller black variety, and every shade of colour in-between roaming together in huge packs, only separating when their respective skills and different instincts made it an advantage to do so.

More of the livestock were being attacked and exhibiting rat bites to their extremities, and worse, their attackers were showing less and less fear of their human predators.

At first Jack tried to rationalise it as blip, some unexplained spike in the rats’ breeding cycle and activities – that’s what his neighbours thought, though in their case they truly believed that, why shouldn’t they? Jack on the other hand, he could easily have answered that last question, he just didn’t want to, didn’t want to admit to himself and especially not to his neighbours that he was probably responsible, not only for the ‘blip’ but for something worse to come … much worse.

 

With his wife and two young children still on the farm despite his urging them to go and stay with relatives in the city, Jack was at his wits’ end. Not even various industrial strength poisons had had the slightest success in stemming the growing rat problem – he’d long since abandoned any pretence of trying to deal with them humanely as his wife had wanted – it was no longer his fear of the worst case scenario being Sarah or one of the kids suffering a single rat bite, the sort of minor incident that were it a nip from an urban fox on the streets of London, would be making headline news, his worries had escalated to fearing for their very lives; already his worst fears from that morning in the barn were coming true – several neighbouring farms were reporting seeing large packs of the vile rodents swarming across their land, and more recently, garbled stories of large-scale attacks on livestock just like the ones on his own animals. Initially, Jack had tried to dismiss them as nothing more than the cider-fuelled wild ramblings of a lot of old codgers …

 

“I tell ya’s all again,” the grizzled old farmer Pete Myers was saying from his usual place at the bar in the village pub, “they’re getting out of control and sommat’s got t’be done I tell ya.”

A few of the other local farmers were listening intently, rolling their eyes and nodding their agreement while Old Pete retold the story of his mutilated half-eaten sheep:

 

“Was like nothing I ever saw I tell ya, torn t’shreds it was but not like how you’d expect it t’look if some dog’d done it. No, it was bloodied all over, like a thousand little claws and teeth had been scratching and biting away at it over a long time … and then there were all them rat droppings around it. What more proof d’yer need than that I ask ya?”

 

Jack had listened as closely as the others to Old Pete’s gory ramblings, still hoping things weren’t as bad as the old boy was making out. He was far from convinced though so chose not to add his own thoughts to the discussion. Jack knew that if he admitted his own secret fears and told them about Dark Eyes and what he’d done it would put him right at the centre of the problem, no doubt making him the scapegoat for every subsequent attack – and since the majority of the nearby farmers owned at least one variety of shotgun the last thing he needed was having to deal with his neighbours’ hostility.

 

Jack didn’t have to wait long before he was again reminded of the urgency and very real danger he’d put his family in. The very next day, Jack was just finishing his midday meal back at the farmhouse when he heard a knock at the door:

 

“Come on in, Jack’s in the kitchen having a bite to eat.” Sarah told Bill, their postman, “go right through.”

“Hello Jack. Is there somewhere we can speak … privately like? Bill asked, lowering his voice so’s not to be overheard by Sarah who was pottering about outside.

“Sure. Come through to the sitting room.”

“I found your dog, Rufus, just off the roadside on my way back to the village, just beyond that far-side field of yours the other side of the stream.”

“Found him? What do you mean, is he hurt or … ?”

“He’s dead, Jack. I can’t describe it but it’s another attack, like the one Old Pete was raving on about in the pub last night … I didn’t have anything I could carry him in, and really, you need to come and see for yourself.”

 

Bill hadn’t exaggerated, Rufus had been attacked aright. Viciously. Little was left of the Bull-Terrier cross’s body apart from some skin and fur hanging off the skeleton. Other than that most of the flesh and innards had been ripped out and stripped to the bone.

It did look as if Rufus had put up one hell of a fight though, Jack thought judging from the twenty or so bodies of torn and battered dead rats scattered within a few feet of where Bill had found Rufus, not that that surprised him, terriers of all sorts had been specially bred as vermin hunters the past couple of hundred years.

Were it not for everything that was going on and the usual rat droppings near what little was left of Rufus’s body Jack would have wondered what could have done such a thing, to have literally torn a strong healthy dog to shreds and either eaten or carried away most of the carcass. But Jack knew already, knew exactly what it was, what had done this.

It had been his intention to quietly bury the dog away from the farm somewhere, and not tell Sarah about Rufus at all. Instead, he brought him back, and once the kids were safely tucked up in bed, threw the mutilated remains across the kitchen table for her to see – perhaps now she would also see sense and take herself and the kids to her sisters as he’d pleaded weeks ago.

In the brief time Sarah was able to stand the sight of the remains of Rufus’s body, she emptied the contents of her stomach onto the kitchen floor.

 

“Do you see now, Sarah? That’s what I’m talking about. You have to take the kids away -before something worse happens!” Jack screamed at her …

“Or would you prefer to wait until it’s John or Lizzie lying there instead of Rufus?” He added just to emphasise the point.

She packed the things they’d need that very night …

*

Many of the local farmers were seriously considering selling up to any of the multi-national commercial farms, a couple already had, and more ‘For Sale’ signs were springing up every day. Jack had already decided he’d be adding his own farm to the list no matter how much of a loss he had to swallow in the process just as soon as the estate agents opened again on the Monday after the weekend.

*

That Monday never came for Jack. Despite his decision to sell up, in his anger and frustration, no doubt amplified by the half bottle of Scotch he’d downed, Jack had started blasting away at any and every rat he saw.

A shotgun is hardly the most practical weapon for killing rats but the ones he hit were blown into a thousand bits, sending their flesh and blood in as many directions.

Dark Eyes himself had nearly fallen victim to the drunken Jack’s alcohol-fuelled rage when one random shot shattered a window frame of one of the out-buildings in which many rats had taken refuge from the harsh weather.

Large splinters of shattered glass and wood had been sent flying, several of which had lodged in many of the rat’s bodies, killing some and injuring several more.

Dark Eyes and all the rats reverted to their natural behaviours, running to whatever hiding places they could find, anywhere away from the blast range of Jack’s shotgun. If Jack had been thinking clearly at the time he would have realised it was his one opportunity to escape the farm while the rats were still in a state of shock and panic from being shot at. Instead, he chose to lock himself inside to sleep off his drunken stupor.

*

Jack awoke with the hangover from hell. He vaguely remembered having blasted away at some of the out-buildings where he knew more of the rats had taken up residence. He was aware the neighbouring farms were having problems of their own but he was anxious to know if any of them had suffered quite the same levels of attack. Perhaps they needed to pool their resources to fight them, even if it meant admitting his own role in creating the current situation? Yes, time to come clean he decided …

 

It looked as though Jack’s new-found honesty had come too late – the land-line had gone dead and with that the internet too. He tried his mobile, desperate to contact someone, anyone who might help, but the bad weather was still interfering with reception.

There had been no TV bulletins of farms being attacked but he guessed such reports would take time to filter through to the local news networks; perhaps the radio might have received some calls, maybe from someone whose land-line or mobile was still working. He hurried to the kitchen where the Roberts Rambler radio had pride of place on one of the worktops. He was grateful now he’d not given in to Sarah’s urging to replace it with a newer DAB model with all the internet radio channels on it, a fat lot of use they’d be now he thought.

He fiddled with the tuner to position the radio station slider to a frequency where he knew one of the local radio stations broadcast from … and to his surprise, and horror, they had received calls, lots of them …

 

“… drivers on the B237 have reported having to slow down or even swerve to avoid large swarms of rats … yes, that’s right, that’s the word people are using to describe their numbers… so far there’s been no reports of any accidents as such but the Highways Authority have said they’ll despatch patrols to the area to look into it …”

 

Swarming across fields was enough of a worry but for the rats to have the numbers and confidence to be openly crossing major roads, that was bad. So far their spread and hence the number of attacks had partly been contained within the boundaries of a few major roads and fast flowing streams though that still provided a damned large area and number of potential targets for their attacks. Such was the swiftness of their spread across the local area no one had yet spotted the attacks had originated and seemed to radiate out from Jack’s farm, partly due to Jack having kept mostly quiet about his own troubles, reporting just enough to be consistent with the experiences of the immediate neighbours. All that was irrelevant though, the battle for his farm had been lost, it was just a question if he could win the battle for his life now.

Jack gazed out of one of the living room windows, assessing whether he could make a run for it. Not a chance, he realised, hundreds, maybe thousands of the little bastards had swamped the farm, like a guerilla army abandoning its hit and run tactics to attack openly

Ideally it would have been best for Jack to jump in his Land Rover and drive as quickly and far away as possible. It was a tempting idea and he would have done too – it was in clear sight, tantalisingly close not more than twenty yards away out in the yard – perhaps if he donned his wellington boots, put on several thick layers of clothing, and ran to the car at full pelt he might just have been able to get to it and drive off without being dragged to the ground or too many of the little buggers entering the car with him. But no, he could see they had already used their razor-like teeth and claws to shred the heavy duty off road tyres into so many scraps of rubber, leaving the metal rims of the wheels supporting the three-tonne vehicle digging firmly into the soft ground.

Seeing his only possible means of escape completely sabotaged he knew he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

 

They were all around now, biting, scratching, clawing at every barricade designed to keep them out, and not just from the outside … He could hear them under the floorboards in those few parts of the house where wood and other more modern building methods and materials had been used instead of the more traditional stone for the area.

Jack was sure they were following his every move and footstep, inside the partitioned walls of the interior of the stone built farmhouse, and the cellars too had already fallen to their onslaught, now filled with dozens, if not hundreds of them – perhaps thousands more were waiting in reserve in the surrounding countryside for all Jack knew, unable not to imagine every worst case scenario his mind could conjure.

Listening to the sound of the rats in the basement and foundations getting louder and louder, it would have been natural for Jack to take refuge upstairs in a desperate attempt to put some distance between himself and the noise of the onslaught below but those same scratching noises that filled the air downstairs could also be heard above; a violent thunder storm had been raging for the past hour, pelting the farmhouse with heavy rain, driving ever more rats to seek refuge inside the farm buildings, including the farmhouse in which Jack was now trapped, a prisoner in his own home.

The sound of the rain hitting the roof had effectively masked the noise of their activities but the smaller black rats, or roof rats as they were often called, had returned and made themselves a cosy home in the roof and attic area immediately above. Most of them had disappeared from the main living areas following their temporary reduction in numbers a few months back. That had been a real bonus, especially for Sarah who despite a more tolerant attitude was still loath to sharing a home with them.  But now they were back, having multiplied at least ten-fold since the beginning of the storm, way more than had ever lived there before Jack’s unfortunate idea to try setting the rats against each other, with more and more climbing into the attic and roof spaces with each passing minute now.

The slightly larger brown rats, of which Dark Eyes was a particularly vile and gruesome prime specimen, were natural burrowers, easily digging their way beneath and into the foundations of most buildings, particularly rural farms like Jack’s, and were making frightening progress. Had it not been for most of the main body of the farmhouse being built of stone, the rats would almost certainly have broken through the weaker parts of the farmhouse defenses and barricades

He was thankful that at least Sarah and the kids were now far away in the city. It was ironic thinking that they were safer there amid all the inner city crime and violence that drove most people to leave the cities in favour of the perceived safety and tranquillity of the countryside. Right now he would gladly have swapped his current situation for something as relatively normal and mundane as the drugs and gun swamped streets of a London or Los Angeles.

The electric lights flickered and then went out. It was still early evening but being February the daylight was already fading, and with the thick storm clouds overhead, Jack knew he’d soon be in near darkness. He hoped, prayed even that it was nothing more than some domestic miniature circuit breaker tripping despite knowing how unlikely that was having had the family quarters of the farm completely rewired recently. It was an irrelevancy though, the fuse box was located in the basement, deep in the heart of what was very much enemy territory now. All he could do was wait for the inevitable …

*

From those first initial litters, the new Dark Eyed strain quickly dominated their less aggressive cousins, feeding off the flesh of the weaker ones while infecting the rest with their own flesh cravings. Any sign of inter-species rivalry and fighting among the many different types of rat had gone; they were almost hive-like in their unity, and it would only be a matter of months before every new littler would have a preference for flesh – alive or dead – rather than scavenging among the discarded left-overs of the human two-legs.

That would have suited Jack just fine had it only been rat flesh they craved like the ones in the barn but he had miscalculated – this new strain was different. It wasn’t each other’s flesh these rats craved, it was the flesh of completely different species altogether, particularly the soft succulent type to be found on the two-legs, the ones reeking of fear with neither claws, teeth or talons to defend themselves.

The Dark Eyed ones would only feed on other rats that didn’t share their same appetites for human and other species’ flesh, and with each new litter, the dominance of the flesh-hungry Dark Eyes was spreading exponentially … Jack’s and the neighbouring farms and villages would be just the beginning …

*

                                                                                                                                                                    No sooner had the first one managed to gnaw through one of the small areas of floorboards and the heavy wooden planks Jack had nailed down over them he knew it was over, that they’d soon be swarming through whatever little opening they could find.

Already some were coming through the toilet bowl upstairs having swum through the sewers, and even as he watched those first few appearing up through the floor, more were now literally dropping down through holes they had gnawed through the upstairs flooring and soft plasterboard ceilings. Within minutes hundreds more were dragging him to the floor. He made a token effort to fight them off but he knew it to be in vain. Surprisingly though once he was down they paused in their biting and attack. He lay there motionless, that his until he saw Dark Eyes crawl up onto his chest. Not so surprisingly it was then that he lost control of his bowels and bladder. The rats barely seemed to notice.

Dark Eyes wasn’t inclined to showing the two-legs mercy, remembering what it had done to them in the barn, forcing him and his siblings to tear the flesh from each other in order to eat and live – he wasn’t to know they had Jack to thank for their newly developed hunger and success, that without Jack’s cruel and nasty little plan for decimating their numbers the new aggressive strain of flesh-eaters might never have risen to ascendency, not that it would made a difference; the two-legs were as repulsive and alien to Dark Eyes as he and all his kind were to all the two-legged hairless ones, creatures that apart from their larger size looked like the pink and wrinkly hairless newborns of his kind, weak and helpless till the emergence of their first infant teeth and claws. He looked again into the two-legs’ eyes. Jack looked back only this time he was the one having to look up. Dark Eyes was again standing on its hind legs from his position on Jack’s bloodied chest. There was a time when Dark Eyes’ instinct would have compelled him to strike immediately at his now helpless prey but Dark Eyes was intelligent, more so than most others of his kind. He took a moment to savour his imminent revenge on the human tormentor, knowing this was to be the first of many such victories over the hated two-legs. With a twitch of his tail, it was the sign to Dark Eyes’ rat soldier army to resume their feast of the-legs flesh. It was fortunate Jack was the only human on the farm, the scream that briefly escaped his mouth before a thousand rat bites tore the flesh from his throat was a sound no human being would ever be able to forget

*

A month later, Dark Eyes looked up from his position in the drain beside the abandoned farmhouse, his attention caught by the sight and smell of the bare skin of all the new humans going about their business. Many two-legs in their moving metal boxes had turned up for reasons beyond the rat’s understanding.

A local state of emergency had been declared and the army called in. But Dark Eyes welcomed their arrival. The warm blood and soft tender flesh of the many new two-legs would nourish all the new and future little ones in the days, months, and indeed years to come …

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A Triple Treat for Halloween …

IASDpicWell okay, I know we’re another nine months off from Halloween but hey, give it another couple of months and we’ll be seeing all the usual adverts for Christmas and whatnot. It’s with great pleasure I present my review of IASD member Lacey Lane’s 2nd book in her Halloween Pumpkin Horror short story series and another of her short story collections, The Little Book of Horrors (and for those of you that missed the first one of the Pumpkin series I’ve included my review of Book One of that as well).

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The Revenge of the Pumpkins  – Amazon Blurb:

It’s Halloween and the Smith family are having fun carving pumpkins. As the witching hour arrives and the pumpkins come to life will the Smith family live to regret the monsters they created?
Find out what happens when the pumpkins come to life and take their revenge…

 

The Revenge of the Pumpkins

timberwolfamazonA tiny tale of sheer horror genius!

Lacey5Anyone looking for a gory Halloween story for kids, say twelve or thirteen upwards need look no further than Lacey Lane’s The Revenge of the Pumpkins; we all know what happens on Halloween, or at least we think we do, when little boys and girls dress up for trick or treating, or carve shapes and faces in to unsuspecting pumpkins, and in that respect the story here is no different, or at least to begin with – what starts off as a fun filled day for the Smith family, dressing up, and indeed, carving their pumpkins in preparation for Halloween night, quickly descends into a scene right out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

What Lacey Lane has done with a seemingly harmless tradition, but which actually has its origins in ancient Celtic tradition when spirits and ghouls supposedly come back to haunt and cause mischief, is nothing less than sheer genius. The start of the story could easily be that of any traditional children’s story or perhaps a Roald Dahl tale, but it very soon takes a giant step into the much darker world of bloody and psychological horror – this is most definitely not a ‘young’ child’s bedtime story. Within this tiny tale of horror and revenge, and I say tiny because this really is little more than a ten-minute read, the author has managed to take a traditional story format and turn it on its head; the combination of seeming innocence and normality with incredulous horror is done to perfection. Without giving any of the plot away, all I would say is never underestimate or take for granted the power of a child’s imagination.

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The Return of the PumpkinsAmazon Blurb:

Peter Smith is a patient at West Hills hospital. He has been there for nearly a decade. At the age of thirteen, his parents were brutally murdered and Peter was tortured to near death by his Halloween pumpkins. Killer pumpkins haunt his dreams and his doctor thinks he’s delusional. Determined to turn his life around, he has eventually decided to join in with the Halloween festivities in the hospital and carves his first pumpkin. Will Peter survive the tenth anniversary of his parents’ death? Or will his pumpkin be the death of him?

 

The Return of the Pumpkins

timberwolfamazonAnother delicious slice of horror filled pumpkin flavoured terror

Lacey4A dramatic and scary flashback to the first book provides the perfect springboard opening for Return of the Pumpkins. This sequel is much longer and is more of a psychological horror story than its predecessor; set ten years after his first bloody encounter with the demonic knife-wielding pumpkins, Peter is now a patient in a psychiatric ward being treated for the trauma he suffered many years before. Needless to say, the doctors believe Peter’s stories about killer pumpkins being responsible for the brutal murder of his parents and he himself nearly dying in a fire to be his mind’s way of dealing with whatever happened – Peter’s far from sure of that though and still harbours very real fears of Halloween and any thought of pumpkins.

The hospital setting alone conjures up a mental image of an asylum and helps add to the increasingly sinister tone of the story, the classic scenario of being normal while everyone around you are the insane ones; added to the mix we have some less than sympathetic hospital staff and a downright creepy doctor. Fortunately for Peter, he finds an ally in fellow patient Sue, who seems determined to befriend and help him deal with  his traumatic past. With her help, Peter develops a new sense of confidence and hope for the future, but as in any good story, events take a different direction, placing the two of them in the gravest danger, leading Peter to believe the murderous knife-wielding pumpkins are indeed real and not just the delusional creations of his imagination. How Peter and Sue face that danger provides a clever and frightening climax whilst leaving sufficient scope for another instalment to the series should the author decide to write one, which I hope she does.

With just a couple of characters it would have been easy for the author to write this story from a first-person point of view to really get inside the main character’s mind but somehow manages to achieve the same result with a third person perspective, an excellent balance between narrative and just the right level of dialogue and action.

As a psychological short horror story, this (and its predecessor) really is as good as they come, a story that would stand out as a classic Hammer House of Horror episode if it were ever adapted for film/tv – impossible for me to praise this story more highly!

 

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The Little Book of HorrorsAmazon Blurb:

A deliciously wicked treat, no holds barred horror served up bloody with a side dish of sex. The Little Book of Horrors is macabre, disturbing, viciously satisfying and definitely not for the squeamish.

 

The Little Book of Horrors

WPscreenshotAdult horror in every sense of the word, three bite-sized helpings of horror. 

Lacey3Another quick read from this extremely talented horror author, this time a trilogy of blood and gore filled tales encompassing a mix of karmic justice for someone most deserving of it, a blood and lust fuelled sexy vamp encounter that you probably wouldn’t want to have, depending which side of the encounter you were on of course, and finally a mix of all three in the last tale of poetic justice.

The author has blended horror and a touch of erotica to produce three entertaining horror tales. I must admit to finding the first story a tad obvious but still enjoyable to read nonetheless. The two remaining stories were definitely more to my taste and in each case held my attention from beginning to end. I enjoyed the way the author combined an erotic setting and situation with a violent and bloody conclusion, and then in the final tale, my favourite I might add, again it was a relatively simple story and a tad predictable in where it was headed but it was told in such a way to keep you guessing just how it would actually unfold. Once again, enough horror here to keep any devoted fan of the genre more than happy.

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More about the author:

Lacey Lane was born in the UK and as a child loved writing stories. At the age of 31 she decided to rekindle her passion for writing.

Her debut ebook The Revenge of the Pumpkins was first published in October 2014. Since then she has published five more books. With the current exception of Revenge of the Pumpkins, all Lacey Lane’s books are available in both Ebook and paperback formats.

Lacey’s other passions include reading and gardening along with being an avid reader and book reviewer. For further info please links below:

@LaceyLaneAuthor
www.facebook.com/laceylaneauthor

Lacey Lane IASD entry

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&

Lacey Lane’s Amazon Author page for all the author’s books …

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2 Short Story Reviews – The Consuming & Survival by Rhonda Hopkins

 

 

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IASDpicHere are my reviews of two short stories written by Rhonda Hopkins, an avid reader and prolific reviewer as well as being a valued IASD member and contributor. Having already read and enjoyed ‘The Consuming’ I knew  I was on safe ground taking advantage of the free download of ‘Survival’ (though it has now reverted to its original price. Having said that, both are free to read if you have Kindle Unlimited).

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Amazon Description: Survival: Survival Series Prequel

When Sarah escapes from her brutal abductors, she promises to return to rescue her twin sister, but with the walking dead invading Fort Worth, TX, she is forced to rely on a competitive coworker who made her work life hell for years. With her coworker weakened by cancer treatments, her sister still imprisoned, and zombies looking for an easy meal, Sarah’s only plan, if she can pull it off, is Survival.

SURVIVAL is a 14,000 word (approx. 45 pages) short story and was originally published in the Let’s Scare Cancer to Death anthology.

 

Survival: survival series prequel

timberwolfamazonA great start to what could well develop into a gripping ongoing series …

Rhonda2I haven’t read all that much in the Zombie genre so I can’t say how this compares with similarly themed stories but it certainly sets off at a cracking pace with the fight for survival starting right from the opening sentence almost; it was a nice touch that the initial ‘survival’ efforts were quite unrelated to the Zombie apocalypse occurring. It’s probably premature to make comparisons but the opening scene could easily be one straight out of the hit tv series ‘The Walking Dead,’ though the cover does invite such comparisons, which given its current popularity, I’m not sure is such a good thing.

Although it would read quite well as a stand-alone story, I’m glad the author indicates there will be future instalments thus hopefully allowing the reader to explore the characters in greater depth. It’s impossible to tell what direction the story will take in the future but the story has been written in such a way as to leave open all manner of possibilities and a yearning to know the hows and whys of the current situation the characters have found themselves plunged into.

 

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Amazon Description: The Consuming

Serena knows her late uncle wasn’t crazy. So when she inherits his sprawling Carolina mansion and leaves the big city to restore both his home and his name, she uncovers a mystery that could cost much more than her sanity. As the house slowly reveals its dark secrets, and the extent of her peril becomes evident, she’ll settle for escaping with her life—if it isn’t already too late.

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The Consuming: A short story

WPscreenshotA classic ‘haunted house’ tale of long-dead restless family spirits … 

Rhonda1A supposedly haunted dilapidated old house you’ve just inherited, the sudden death of an uncle you haven’t seen since childhood, rumours of madness, the locals refusing to go near the place, and a psychic best friend who warns you not to go near the place … It’s hard to say too much about a short story without giving too much away but here we have all the ingredients of a spooky little ghost story, the sort that would make for a great episode of Hammer’s House of Horror. I liked the author’s style of writing, hints of a modern Edgar Allen Poe but obviously more current and without overdoing the gothic atmosphere, striking just the right balance at the beginning between outward normality while feeling and knowing something’s not quite right. Sometimes a short story will leave too many unanswered questions but in one such as this, a bit of mystery left to the imagination just adds to its enjoyment.

Taking just under an hour to read, this is the perfect story if you like a little mystery and the supernatural in your reading but aren’t in the mood to take on the challenge of a full-length novel. Personally, I would have preferred this to be a little longer, perhaps with more involvement of the psychic friend but overall a fine short story that horror fans will appreciate.

Peer reviews: 

 “The Consuming by Rhonda Hopkins is the literary version of what films like Paranormal Activity tried to be. This has the bumps in the night flying off the page.”  ~~  TW Brown, Author of the Dead, and the Zomblog series.

“The Consuming is a wonderful, chilling tale that leaves you listening too hard in the quiet of a dark night, and jumping at shadows in mirrors. Definitely looking forward to more from Ms. Hopkins.” ~~ Stacey Joy Netzel, USA Today Bestselling author of Beneath Still Waters and Lost in Italy.

“The Consuming by Rhonda Hopkins is the perfect example of gothic horror…” ~~ Jennette Marie Powell, Author of Hangar 18: Legacy and the Saturn Society series.

“…Rhonda Hopkins’ The Consuming had me turning on all the lights in the house and checking behind doors.” ~~ Stacy Green, Author of Into the Dark and Tin God (A Delta Crossroads Mystery).

“…This tale will give you shivers up your spine, make you take second glances in mirrors…Superb!” ~~ Penelope Anne Bartotto, The Library at the End of the Universe.

More about the author:

Rhonda4Award-winning romantic suspense and horror author, Rhonda Hopkins, has learned firsthand that truth is stranger than fiction. Her two decades of experience as an investigator for her state and family courts give her characters a depth and realism that gives truth a run for its money. In addition to stories published under her own name, Rhonda Hopkins has also contributed stories to a number of other multi-author IASDpicanthologies. You can find out more about Rhonda at:

www.rhondahopkins.com.

@Rhonda_Hopkins

On Fb – Author page

 

 

See also Rhonds Hopkins’ Amazon Author page for all the author’s books

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Salby Evolution – Ian D. Moore’s soon to be released new novel

IanpicFollowing on from the success of his debut novel, this post is to introduce Ian D. Moore’s forthcoming book, Salby Evolution. First though, a little about Ian himself: Ex-soldier in the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers, internet entrepreneur, and truck driver, Ian D. Moore has a vast and varied array of life experience to draw on in his writing. Regular readers of my blog and book reviews will remember my first mention of him when I reviewed Salby Damned back in August 2015. Since then he has become an established and well-respected figure in the world of Indie writing and publishing, having been the driving force behind You’re Not Alone, an anthology of short stories by Indie Authors from around the world who graciously and freely contributed stories in aid of the cancer support charity Macmillan Nurses. In addition to the Salby series of books, Ian D. Moore has had a short story featured in Eric Lahti’s Holes: An Indie author Anthology. He is also an avid reader and book reviewer, an admin for a popular Fb author group and a founding member and admin of its accompanying website at: www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com

cropped-headerbooks1holes-anthology-iasd  IASDpic

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Salby Evolution is the eagerly awaited soon to be published sequel to Salby Damned. Salby Damned was a fresh and innovative take on the Zombie genre, combining elements of science fiction, big business, and the controversial topic of ‘fracking’ to produce an intelligently written eco-thriller with a zombie (with a small ‘z’) themed backdrop. It has been well received, accumulating impressive reviews on both sides of the atlantic, and on Goodreads …

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In Salby Evolution, the second book in the Salby series, the devastating virus that gave rise to the zombie deadheads of the first book is once again sweeping the country… In the author’s own words…

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One man holds the key to our future. One man holds the key to our extinction.

The merciless Salby viral strain, sweeping across the country, spawns a new breed of predator.

Simon Lloyd, borderline alcoholic, must vanquish the demons of his past and change his single-minded ways.

Filled with resentment, he enters a world far removed from his own. He must choose to take a stand or risk losing his estranged wife and children forever.

Against overwhelming odds, unethical science and the prospect of eternal exile, the decisions he makes will shape the future of mankind.

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Intrigued so far? If so then read further the exclusive preview …

Available August 1st(kindle) / (paperback TBA ): for pre-order at: Click here:

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Chapter 1 – Rude Awakening

Salby, North Yorkshire, 0100 hours, three hours before the viral outbreak.

The medicinal bottle, positioned in the middle of the table, beckoned me once more. The glass, my favourite crystal tumbler, specifically set aside for such occurrences, called to me. I couldn’t though, not before work. I wiped the back of my hand across two days of growth—satisfying the itch—removed my glasses and pinched the bridge of my nose. My routine, unchanged since the split, trudged onwards in an endless cycle of work, eat, drink, and sleep. The sorrows simply refused to drown, no matter how deep the liquid I immersed them in. After five years, you’d think I’d have snapped out of it by now, and yet as I sat here contemplating those very thoughts, the burden remained.

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My bag contained an unappetising sandwich, a limp, soggy ham and cheese, a flask of tea that usually carried an undertone of the contents before it mingled with plastic, and a book for the long nights spent waiting.

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For the last few years, I’d done little but walk the moors, aimlessly looking for something, only to return ‘home’ empty-handed. This wasn’t home, at least, not the home I recalled.

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In effect, my sentence was to serve the mundane, the flame inside me thwarted, extinguished to monotony with only the barest glimmer of hope in retirement for the future.

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This would do no good—it never did. I hauled my self-pitying bones from the chair, pushed it neatly back under the table and grabbed the workbag. I winked at the bottle.

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“I’ll be back for you, later.” I muttered.

*****

My day started normally—as mundane as the rest of the week, really. It wasn’t until the early hours that things began to get a little strange. I worked the graveyard shift as a railway junction box operator and signalman for a major rail freight company. While a lot of the signal boxes and crossings were being made electronic, controlled by computers and machines, the company still had certain places that required the presence of an actual body. Me.

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I was on shift at a rural, local signal box, one I’d done many, many times before, one that was usually just a two-operation night. The 2159 from Salby came out of the power station, across the junction heading south for more coal, and then it returned from Leeds railhead at 0509 the following morning with a full load. That would pretty much be it as far as the actual traffic was concerned.

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Last night, it hadn’t happened that way—at least not entirely. Sure, the 2159 rumbled through with a honked horn from the driver as it passed. The locomotive ambled its way from the power station terminus to pick up the mainline route south, pulling the usual fifty behind it.

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I counted each and every one, just as I always do.

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The phone rang five minutes before; the railhead operator at Leeds Central let me know the train was on the way through, a safety procedure just in case any of the mainline trains had been diverted for any reason. That would allow me time to stop the train until I was given the all clear. There were no such concerns last night, and the train passed as usual, without incident.

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After it had gone, I settled back down in the worn, threadbare easy chair to watch a little TV. I’d maybe finish another chapter of the current book I was into, an indie author novel from an unknown writer, werewolves of all things. To be fair though, the book was very good.

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As usual, my mind wandered back to the break-up of my marriage. This ritual became my nightly, futile attempt to figure out what went wrong, who was to blame, and what the future held. There hadn’t been much contact with my ex-wife since the split; what dialogue there had been, usually ended in bitter arguments. The filing of divorce papers hadn’t helped matters much either, let alone what I thought were vastly over-calculated maintenance payments for our two children.

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Although I visited my son when he was little a few times, lately there hadn’t been much in the way of quality time with either him, or his sister, whom I had yet to meet. This was something I planned to resolve, and I’d reached a point where rationality dawned. It told me that no matter what, it could never be the fault of the children for the break-up. I was, and would always be, their father.

*****

Now, marginally calmer having reached this conclusion, I pulled the plug on the TV and turned on the small radio to listen to the news bulletin. It was usually all doom and gloom, but there were some uplifting stories, sometimes. The music they played was a little more to my taste, too, given the hour. I sipped at the tepid tea from the stainless wrapped plastic of the flask lid.

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At 0400, the radio presenter announced that an additional “breaking news flash” would interrupt the usual programming. I turned up the volume a little, listening intently as the newsreader reported an explosion, close to my home on the outskirts of the town. It wasn’t a million miles away from where my wife—stupid—ex-wife and children still lived.

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I thought nothing of it. The report was pretty vague: people missing, presumed dead at some sort of gas drilling site. From the beginning, it was vehemently opposed by the residents of Salby anyway. Hell, I signed the petition against it myself.

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When the 0509 to Salby failed to arrive, that was breaking news, at least as far as my job was concerned. It never failed to turn up, nor, if I remembered correctly, had there never been a phone call from the main rail office to let me know that it wasn’t coming. Very strange. The procedure was simple from here on in. Dial the number to the rail office, which was only a small control centre on the tracks that passed Salby town, inform the controller, and log the call. No response. The phone rang and then rang some more. I dialled again, this time, the central rail control office in Leeds.

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The fact that the train hadn’t been seen would have to be reported; then it could be left in the hands of people who got paid a whole heap more than I did to worry about such things. Today, of all days, this had to happen. Why, oh why can’t people do their jobs properly?

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If there’s one thing that really gets on my nerves, it’s slackers.

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The merciless, nicotine-stained clock on the wall jeered on— it must have been there for years, the same uncaring, unknowing regulatory professor of time. Tick, tick, tick, tick!

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At 0600, I would be turning the points back over to remote control at Leeds. The power station line only operated during the night hours, due to the length of the trains. I began to pack my night bag ready for the sedate ride home.

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It was only a few miles, usually no more than twenty minutes. All of the roads were national speed limit, 60 mph stretches, and at that hour, I usually missed the first of the early commuters heading in. Despite trying to call for half an hour without response, I transferred the signal box back to the main signalling offices at Leeds.

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With a last look to the grimy interior, I closed the door to the raised cabin and locked it with the master key—just in case there should be any curious kids playing near the lines later in the day.

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Once the proud owner of a shiny 4×4 with a whopping 2.8 litre V6 in the front, I found its days were numbered after the separation. It had cost me a pretty penny to get new furniture, not to mention the sizeable deposit on the rented house, now called home. The badass, gas-guzzling monster had to go, replaced with a more efficient, but slightly-the-worse-for-wear Vauxhall.

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That was another of the niggling grievances in my mind. Every time I drove it, I always felt that it wasn’t supposed to be like this, that it wasn’t fair, and more to the point, that it wasn’t my fault.

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I got behind the wheel and slammed the driver’s door a little too hard, forcing the ignition and revving the engine a little too much as the car rattled into life. The dust and gravel track road leading to the points’ office proved no match for the tyres as they kicked up plumes of chippings. I vented my angst on the accelerator, and took out my frustrations on the car itself, before mounting the blacktop main road with a distinct squeal as the traction changed.

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“Screw it, and screw you for leaving me!” I snarled at the windscreen. The stressed, furrowed face glared back without compromise. I fumbled in my jacket for the crushed pack of smokes. With a well-rehearsed tap on the centre console, the filter rose just enough for me to get a hold with my lips and pull the cigarette clear. I dropped the pack as the car lighter clicked its indication of readiness, pulled out the glowing red-hot implement, and seared the tip of my fix.

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That first long, slow, deep drag was always the best one, and it calmed me down a little. The familiar tingle as the toxins hit the back of my throat, despite the constant angel at my shoulder, which waggled an ethereal finger along with the words: ‘You really should quit,’ felt comforting. The wisps of smoke curled up around my face as I blew out through my nose, slowly, revelling in the moment and in utter defiance of my impromptu celestial saviour.

*****

There were some nasty turns as you got out towards Salby—if you didn’t know they were there, they could take you by surprise. With a certain sense of ‘I told you so’, I noticed a car at the side of the road, the front end embedded in the drainage ditch. Skyward tail lights created a luminescent beacon in the surrounding mist. The driver, not used to the road, must have lost control. I slowed the car to a crawl as I passed the stranded vehicle, which didn’t look like it had been there for very long. Curled smoke from the tailpipe suggested that it had only recently come to an abrupt stop. No sign of the driver; perhaps they had gone for help to the small-holding nearby, in the hope that the farmer might tow them out to continue their journey.

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Given the weird night I’d had and the dark mood I was in, I decided to carry on home and pushed down on the accelerator once more. The front end of the car rose slightly as the power surged through the front wheels.

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My focus shifted back to the road, just in time to round a sweeping bend, but too late to avoid the sickening thump as something bounced off the bonnet. In my wing mirror, I saw it catapulted to the roadside by the impact of my car, nudging 60 mph. Unsure of what I’d hit, I slowed and pulled over, the engine still running as I sat for a few seconds just staring into the rear-view mirror, hoping it was just an animal that had run out of luck.

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The undulating mist obscured my vision as I peered into the murky half-light. The sun began to warm the morning dew from the grassy fields on both sides of the main drag, which sent ethereal, spectral formations floating up and over the hedges. I looked back over my shoulder towards the car, the gesture more to reassure myself it was still there, rather than anything else. An odd, uneasy, churning sensation in the pit of my stomach urged me to turn tail, return to the car, and flee—but I couldn’t though, it wouldn’t be right would it? I mean, what if they, or it, were still alive, lying there injured? I had to know. I had to find out. I popped the door and walked back towards the location of the body.

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“Uh—hello, is anyone there?” I called out sheepishly. I prayed for a clear window through the rising vapour or any chance of an unhindered view.

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“H—hello. Are you hurt? I have a phone. Do you need an ambulance?” I was conscious of the waver to my voice.

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A shape forming in the swirling maelstrom just up ahead made me stare first in disbelief, and then in horror, as a gap in the mist shifted between us. No more than thirty feet in front of me, the grey, boiler-suited form of a man, but that wasn’t what made me tremble.
The impact of the car had caught the victim at his right knee-joint, literally spinning the man’s leg and foot around 180 degrees. His left foot faced forwards, and his right foot faced directly behind him, yet the man still attempted to stand and miraculously, made it to his feet. He began to limp towards me. His twisted leg dragged behind him as he drew closer.

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I could see the expression on his face, which sent a cold chill running through my whole body. It pushed the boundaries of my resistance to the fear welling inside me to the absolute limit.

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“Jesus Christ! Your leg, mate! How can you possibly stand?”

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The wounded man staggered towards me. His face appeared distorted by a grimace that I could only put down to the agonising pain of his injury, enhanced by a low, guttural growl that came from between his tightly clenched teeth. When he was less than ten feet away, the piece of wood protruding from his chest registered in my brain. It was all I could do not to double over, instead gasping in a lungful of air in amazement as my gaze locked onto it, clearly able to see that it passed right through his body.

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When my car hit him, he must have been flung into the air and landed upon the wooden fencing which ran alongside the fields, shrouded by the hedgerows. I deduced that the impact must have sheared off part of the fence which he had become impaled by, piercing him a fraction below the breastbone, which surely must have missed his heart by mere millimetres. Yet here he is, limping ever closer.

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“Stop! Get away from me, dammit. How the hell are you still alive?” The question, I knew, was utterly ludicrous.

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No response from the approaching figure, no cries of pain, and no visible blood trail either despite the horrific wounds to his chest and leg. His right foot dragged uselessly across the ground every time he moved forwards, the sound chilling me to the core.

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He struggled to maintain balance, which caused him to veer off farther into the centre of the wet, misty road. I kept my eyes fixed upon him, unable to break my compulsive stare towards the fence stake, which rose and fell as he advanced. I had the good sense to take slow and measured steps backwards and to the side, in an attempt to get to the relative safety of the grass verge. This road had a reputation for high-speed at the best of times, an accident blackspot, in fact.

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I heard the rumbling diesel engine a matter of seconds before two bright, white eyes pierced the mire. The bulk grain wagon ploughed through the swirling mist. It hit the staggering, overall-covered man full on. The impact caused his body to fly past my position, held by the inertia of the truck before the driver punched the brakes. In a surreal moment, my head instinctively turned to follow as the truck screeched past me, missing my car by a hair’s breadth. My eyes followed the grain wagon; I cringed when I saw the sickening sway of the chassis as the wheels passed over the body. The truck lurched forwards as the brakes finally brought it to rest. Several haunting hisses, followed by one long exhale, saw the truck roll no farther.

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The driver’s door opened and I could just make out the figure of a burly looking trucker. He rubbed his eyes and forehead with a bit of rag in disbelief at what had just happened, stuffing the torn piece of cloth into his back pocket, where it dangled as he walked. Both of us stared at the crumpled pile in the wake of the truck, the mangled mess almost indistinguishable as ever being human.

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The embedded fence post stood vertical, akin to a stunted flagpole, which marked the spot where the body lay. Roadkill.

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The truck belched hot steam from its punctured radiator, merely adding to the swirling mist.

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“Don’t go any closer if you know what’s good for you. Just get back in your cab and drive. I’m out of here! There’s some weird shit going on,” I barked, as the man began to edge closer.

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“I had no chance to avoid him, did you see? He was in the middle of the road, I had no chance to miss him. You … you must have seen,” the flustered trucker babbled.

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“I saw everything, graphically. Get back in your truck, light a cigarette to calm yourself, and then get the hell out of here. I gotta go, this is some freaky shit,” I reiterated, already moving towards the car and fishing in my empty pockets for my cigarettes.

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“Here, buddy, take one of mine,” the trucker offered—his hand shaking as he held the pack. “What the hell should I do? I mean, I killed him, right? He’s gotta be dead. I need to call someone, the police, ambulance—someone.”

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“Just hold on there—um—” I began.

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“Oh, Jack—the name’s Jack.”

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“Well, Jack, just hold on there before you do that. You see, I hit him first. Just like you, he came from nowhere, in the middle of the road. He should have been dead, his leg was—and he’d been impaled through the chest, a piece of wood musta gone clean through him.”

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It poured out of me, to this trucker I’d only just met, in as big a mess as I was. I took a deep breath in, matched Jack’s earlier brow wiping pose and offered up a solution. “Okay, we need to see if he’s still alive, though I don’t know how he could possibly be. I thought I was having a bad day but—I’ll get my phone from the car first,” I resolved, as my senses began to return.

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I flopped into the driver’s seat. What made me check the rear-view mirror just then, I’ll never know, but I did. The mist began to rise slightly, and I could see the crumpled pile just behind and to the side of the large truck. I noticed the fence post, which should have been vertical, was now horizontal. The impact had pushed the post back through the body of the man, so it stuck out even farther from the front of him.

.

“Shit, no way, man. No way! Screw that, it can’t be—there’s no way.”

.

The sight sent me into panic overload. My hands fumbled with the ignition keys as I yelled over my shoulder through the open window.

.
“Jack, get in your truck and drive—now!”

.

I didn’t hang around to witness more as the car spluttered into life. I rammed it into first before I popped the handbrake, revving the engine enough to make the tyres deposit a layer of burnt rubber as they fought for traction. I slammed the car into second and my foot to the floor. I was heading for the centre of town. I had to pass through it to get home.

*****

I came across only one other vehicle for the remainder of the journey, a sporty-looking Ford parked up in the lay-by, opposite Salby’s one and only pub on the main drag. It wasn’t easy to see in the early morning light as I approached. The hazy, halo hue faded to reveal the car more clearly. My gaze on the road ahead faltered, drawn to the vehicle, and I peered through the driver’s window. Empty.

.
“Stuff stopping again. Wherever you are, you’re on your own.” I stated, resolutely.

.
The town centre, eerily quiet as I drove through and minus the usual steady trickle of cars city-bound, was also a little strange. Was it a national holiday? Did I miss something? I didn’t know and couldn’t focus. My mind raced over the imprinted images, trying to figure out what could possibly have allowed that man, that thing, to live after so much damage. He/it was either very lucky, or very unlucky, whichever way the coin landed. I drew too hard on the fresh fix. The hot ash fell from the tip, landed between my legs, and onto the seat. My eyes followed the rolling ember as it disappeared under my crotch, and I frantically tried to get to it before it could burn a nice, round hole in the cloth covering.

.
The first thing to hit me was a pungent, singed material smell; the next was the bee-sting pain on the inside of my leg. In what can only be described as borderline panic and unable to see clearly, I anchored on, pushed open the driver’s door, and practically fell from the vehicle. As a matter of instinct, my hands shot to my burnt inner thigh, swatting and patting even though the heat had gone. Anyone watching would have thought I’d finally flipped out. Content that I wasn’t actually on fire, annoyed, and in shock, I resumed my journey, cursing the tobacco angel.

*****

I pulled up outside my rented property, scanned through the windows, and half-expected to see the mashed body of the man crawling towards me as I surveyed the street. I could almost hear the scrape of the wooden fence post on the ground as he moved closer—but there was no such thing, only my mind playing more vivid tricks.

.
Could it have been a weird dream? I’d been doing a lot of overtime hours lately; could I have imagined the whole thing? Being a thinker didn’t help matters. That was a personality trait of mine—as well as being analytical, logical, and direct, just like my father was. He was a draughtsman in his day, precise and reasoned.

.
‘Everything in its place, a place for everything,’ he’d said.

.
I remember his forefinger, stressing the importance of his imparted wisdom, waggled inches from my adolescent, acne-rife face.

.
I locked the car before walking around to the front. The shallow dent to the corner of the wing provided visual confirmation. On balance, I resolved to deal with it after some sleep. It was just too much to think about right now, and the prospect of trying to explain it to a desk sergeant at the police station didn’t seem too appealing. Besides, I had twenty-four hours to report an accident and I wasn’t the last person to run over the guy.

.
After a good few minutes of mental debate on my way into my second-floor apartment, I’d argued myself into a plausible plan, and finally, at 0730 as the sun broke through the veil, I pulled the blinds and fell to my bed.

.
It took over an hour of tossing and turning before my mind committed to rest, and then only for a couple of hours of short, fitful sleep.

***

For further links to Ian D. Moore and his writing see:

Blog: The Quill Pen Writes

Blog: IndieAuthorsupportanddiscussion

Amazon: Author profile

Goodreads: Author profile

Twitter: @ianstories

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