Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Story: Let the Jack-O'-Lanterns Light Your Way Home

Hello and welcome to The Jonathan Hatfull Halloween Special! Sorry about that. Best to just get it out of the way. Ahem. So, without further ado, please enjoy the following story...


Bobby was hungry. Starving, in fact. He knew that Baby Lauren was hungry too. She’d been crying for the last forty five minutes. He’d been going in to check on her and had noticed with alarm how her face was growing more and more alarming shades of red as her shrieking increased in volume. His own stomach was also rumbling.

Bobby was an upbeat little eight-year-old, with a lanky frame that belied his appetite, but despite his sunny disposition he was worried. His parents had said that they wouldn’t be long. They had said that they were only going down the street to get more candy for the trick or treaters. They had said that they would be back before Bobby knew it. They had said all this quite a long time ago. Too long. The costume-shop-bought fake blood that his dad had helped to smear around his mouth had long since dried and cracked, and the too-tightly-fitting vampire fangs had been removed and left on the arm of the couch. Baby Lauren’s crying worried him. She cried a lot, and he understood that this was because she was a baby, but his mom would always do something to make it better. Bobby understood that Baby Lauren needed something that only his mother could offer her.

Bobby knew what he had to do. He walked over to the crib and picked up Baby Lauren. He was careful to get his hands in the right places; he knew that support was very important. He also knew that it was very important to keep her head warm. He picked up the little witch’s hat that his mom had spent so long creating and pulled it down tight over his little sister’s ears. It would have to be enough. He grabbed the emergency house keys from the kitchen table. Then he stepped out of the front door.

The sun had gone down about two hours ago. The wide street was lined with parked cars, illuminated by infrequent electric lamps and more frequent jack-o’-lanterns, and covered with crisp autumn leaves that crunched underfoot as Bobby walked down the front steps and out into the night. As they took the first few steps away from the house Baby Lauren stopped crying. He appreciated the confidence shown in him but he had to admit that he didn’t know where he was going. The house next door was empty. Bobby knew this to be true as he had stood at his bedroom window and watched the neighbours pile their belongings into their station wagon and drive away without a look back that very morning. But the next house had their lights on.

Bobby looked down to inspect the jack-o’-lantern that sat by a withered pot plant by the front door. At first glance it didn’t appear to be anything special but closer inspection showed the careful craftsmanship that had gone into creating the perfect edges of the pumpkin’s toothy grin. He took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. It hadn’t even stopped sounding when the door was opened by a man and a woman about Bobby’s parents’ age dressed in matching costumes. Their black hair was immaculately neat. Their dark clothes were beautifully presented, with ornate jewellery that didn’t look like anything that Bobby had seen in any costume store. The blood on their mouths looked fresh. Bobby thought about asking how they managed to keep it from flaking, but he didn’t want to waste a question.

“Excuse me,” he said, “I’m looking for my parents.”

The woman looked down at him and smiled.

“Love your costume, honey. Excellent choice. But I’m sorry, where are my manners? Why don’t you come in here for a few minutes and we’ll talk about it?”

The way she spoke sounded like something out of a movie to Bobby. Somehow he didn’t think people talked like that, it felt like she was putting it on. Something about her accent didn’t quite seem right either. But before he could worry about it too much the man coughed and the woman looked at him.

“Really, Barbara, that’s inappropriate. Look at this young man; he’s being responsible, looking out for his sister. We shouldn’t delay him. Tell me, son, what do your parents look like?”

Bobby described his parents as best he could. He told them that his father was tall, skinny, with thick-rimmed glasses, and wiry black hair and that his mother was shorter than his father and had long blonde hair and was wearing a black dress.

“She said she was going for Blondie dressed as Elvira, or the other way around,” said Bobby. Barbara smiled.

“Well isn’t that just a picture. Give me a moment, please.”

She gave Bobby a little bow and disappeared into the dark house. Bobby could have sworn that it looked like there were more lights on from outside.

“I like your jack-o’-lantern,” said Bobby. The man nodded and cracked his knuckles. “How do you get your blood like that?” he asked, gesturing to the peeling brown mess around his own mouth. The man shrugged.

“Make sure it’s good and keep it fresh,” he said. Bobby thought that made sense. "But are you sure you want to keep looking?" Bobby nodded. Barbara reappeared and smiled apologetically.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, “I did look. But there’s no one of that description here.”

Bobby thanked them for their time and turned to go. He shifted Baby Lauren’s weight a bit and patted her back. She smiled at him, and he remembered that he was doing the right thing even though it was scary.

“If you can’t find your parents, do come back here,” said Barbara. “My husband and I always welcome strangers.”

Bobby turned and saw that both of them were smiling at him. They looked so pale, the two of them standing there, but Bobby felt like they were the warmest smiles he had ever seen. It took a lot for him to turn and leave. But he needed to find his parents.

He moved a little way away and stood still for a moment, looking around for another house to try. The night was cold and he regretted leaving the house wearing just a cape instead of a coat. There was a house across the street that had the downstairs lights on. Bobby could see shadows moving behind the curtains. He set out across the street. As he approached he could hear singing. It looked like a party. Maybe that was where his parents had got to. Maybe they’d lost track of time. By this house’s mailbox there were three pumpkins: one grinning, one frowning, and one scared. The craftsmanship was nothing special, but three pumpkins were three pumpkins, and he admired the commitment to the season. He climbed the front steps and rang the doorbell. The door was opened by a woman with shoulder-length curly brown hair, older than his mom, and two skeletal-thin red-headed younger women who Bobby saw were identical twins stood behind her.

“Can I help you?” asked the woman in a tone of voice that suggested she hoped the answer was no. Bobby realised that he was unwelcome, and from the smell he’d arrived just as dinner was about to hit the table, but he knew he had to press on.

“I’m looking for my parents...” he began, but he was interrupted when the young woman on the left saw Baby Lauren.

“Oh, look at her! She’s adorable! Emily, look!” she cried, nudging her sister, who nodded and patted her sister’s hand but looked like she was waiting for her elder’s reaction before she committed to a reply. The elder did seem to soften a little as she looked Bobby up and down.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” said Bobby. He meant to go on and repeat himself, but the woman waved her hand and Bobby found himself quite unwilling to say anything.

“You are interrupting,” she said. “But don’t worry too much. I understand. You’re being responsible. You’re a good brother, aren’t you? You are, there’s no need to answer me. And I can tell you that we have not seen your parents. But, if you want, I can tell you who might know. I can point you in the right direction. But you need to be sure that it’s what you want.”

The two younger women’s mouths dropped open and each clasped at the older woman’s shoulders.

“You can’t send him over there!”

“He’s just a child!”

“You can’t send him to...”

The woman held up her hands and her companions stopped. She looked back down at Bobby.

“You can see what Emily and Katharine think. They think I shouldn’t tell you. It’s certainly dangerous. Now, do you want to know?”

Bobby was scared. But he knew what he had to do.

“I do,” he said. “I need to find them.”

The woman nodded, and her two friends looked down at the floor.

“Very well,” she said, “Turn left and go three doors down the street. The house on the right won’t have its lights on but someone will be home. Ring the doorbell, someone will answer. Tell them, and this is very important, that Rebecca is waiting for you.”

Bobby nodded. He may have been only eight years old, but he was savvy enough to know that this woman’s instructions needed to be followed. He thanked her and turned to go.

“You’re welcome to come back here,” he heard the woman say.

“Or you can leave her here,” said Katharine, followed by shushing.

Bobby felt his nerve start to waver as he walked further down the street. There were no more carved pumpkins. The leaves seemed to no longer be crisp, instead they were damp clusters. He gripped Baby Lauren a little tighter and tried to keep his pace brisk. He was aware that he and his sister were being watched as he walked, but he didn’t dare look. He could have almost sworn he heard voices, their words incomprehensible but urgent. But Bobby didn’t listen. All he did was keep count of the houses as he went. One. Two. Three.

The woman had been right. The lights weren’t on. The house looked as though nobody had lived there for years. The screen door stood slightly ajar. The glass of the downstairs windows was cracked in the corners. An old pumpkin sat by the junk-filled mailbox, the candle long since burnt out. Bobby stood for a moment at the foot of the steps. It was so quiet, the only thing that he could hear was the wind. He thought of leaving, of going home and waiting. But something in him propelled him up to the front porch, and brought his hand to the doorbell.

The sound of the doorbell was loud and harsh. There was a moment’s silence before Bobby heard footsteps approaching. The door opened.

A strange man stood looking down at him. That was what Bobby thought. A strange man with straggly hair, dirty hair, staring eyes. There was a stink of sweat and something that Bobby didn’t quite recognise.

Rebecca is waiting for me,” he said, almost without thinking. The man took a step backwards and a woman appeared from behind the door. She looked familiar. He recognised the costume but just couldn’t place it.

“Hello, honey, what are you doing here?” she asked. She sounded like she knew him, but Bobby was sure that he’d never seen her in his life.

“I’m looking for my parents,” he said.

“Of course you are, baby,” she nodded, “Why don’t you come in?”

Bobby shook his head. She smiled, and patted the man on the shoulder.

“Do you think we can tell him? I mean, he found his way here, didn’t he?” she asked. Bobby felt his stomach sink. They were here, then. Rebecca had been right. But what were they doing here? Then the man grinned and Bobby knew who he was looking at.

“Sure we can. Hi, sport. So glad you’re here,” said Bobby’s father.

“What’s going on?” asked Bobby. The woman put her hands on Bobby’s shoulders and her black hair fell away, revealing the matted blonde hair underneath

“We tried so hard to be good,” said Bobby’s mom. “We tried to run away. But this is where we belong, Bobby. This is where you belong. Baby Lauren too.”

Bobby could feel Baby Lauren’s stomach gurgling, but when looked at her she was smiling happily. Mom gave her a little wave.

“Do you want to see what Mommy and Daddy do to feel better?” she asked. Bobby didn’t. But he felt a firm hand on his back and he found himself in the kitchen. There were two bodies lying on the linoleum floor by the table. One, a man, was face down, dressed in the red-and-white striped uniform of the nearest diner. The other, a teenage girl, was face up, her eyes wide open. It was impossible to tell where her open mouth ended and the red mess that was now her throat began. She had been dressed as a fairy godmother.

“This is who we are, you see?” said Mom. Bobby felt faint.

Rebecca knows where I am,” he said. His parents looked hurt.

“But you’re safe. You’re where you’re supposed to be,” said his Dad. He sounded like he meant it, and Bobby almost believed it. But he saw the blood on the floor and knew that he’d never find that in any costume store.

The rusty screen door screeched, followed by a knock. Mom looked at Dad, who shrugged. After they turned off the light in the kitchen they went to answer it together. Bobby stood frozen to the spot.

“We saw your adorable little boy and that sweetheart of a baby a little while ago. We told him to come here” Bobby recognised Barbara’s unconvincing twang carrying through the house

“Thank you for putting him on his way,” said Mom. Suddenly the kitchen light went on again and he saw Barbara and her husband stood with the three ladies from the party all gathered around his parents. Here, under better lighting, Bobby realised he couldn’t see a join between the plastic vampire teeth and the couple’s gums. The twins weren’t smiling any more, while Rebecca wore an unpleasant grin.

“If there’s anything we can offer you...” began Dad, but Rebecca held up her hand and Bobby saw his father’s mouth swing shut.

“We’ve discussed it. We thought you’d fit in,” she said.

“But the way you do things, it’s really not appropriate,” said Barbara.

“There are monsters and there are monsters,” the twins said in unison.

“There are ways to do things properly,” said the man with the fangs. “And we’ve decided that we’ll take it from here.”

Barbara grinned and put an arm around her man's shoulders. Rebecca held her hands out to her side, and Emily and Katharine took them.

"Trick or treat, trick or treat. Give us something good to eat."

And at that moment, because he was a young boy who tended to do the right thing, Bobby took Baby Lauren out of the room and out of the back door. He took a seat on the steps leading down to the yard as the screaming started. A couple of minutes passed before the grown-ups joined him on the porch and invited him and Baby Lauren to join their Halloween celebration. He would never be alone on a front porch again.

Trick or treat.



Hope you enjoyed this. I'm actually rather pleased with it. I hope the narrating voice works, I was aiming for an English voice telling an American story, which is what I am, and what I was doing. Hopefully it's not too distracting, but I wanted to tell an American Halloween story.

This went through a few different endings. One had Bobby realising that his family were werewolves and finding out that he'd inherited the trait as the story ended. I also toyed with the idea of Bobby finding his parents had been murdered by werewolves who were wearing their skins but I was wary of ripping off Angela Carter too much. I say this, I probably will rip off Angela Carter in a future story. I'm also a very big fan of the idea that Halloween is when the real-world monsters suddenly find themselves sharing the same space as the stuff of fiction and nightmares. I should mention that this story is quite heavily influenced by Michael Dougherty's splendidly nostalgic and nasty Halloween anthology horror film Trick 'r Treat, in which several unpleasant people find out what happens on the 31st.

I was unsure of whether or not to include the "Trick or treat, trick or treat. Give us something good to eat" line, but if you're not going to go over the top on Halloween, when will you? It's very me, this story. I didn't really want to try anything different or anything experimental. I just wanted to write a story for Halloween.

Well the project continues apace. I'm getting quite excited about it again, which is nice. It's still very early days but I've got a good feeling about where we're headed. And on that note, I'll leave you alone.

Hope you enjoyed the story.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Story: She Knows What She Did.

A brief preface: This is following on from an earlier story called Crisp Afternoon. It's not essential to read that story first but it might be fun.

It's also had one line changed since it went up on Tuesday night following a suggestion in the comments section. OK. Here we go.


They sat staring into the enormous, mutually-decided-upon pudding that sat on the table in front of them. As far as they could tell it had all the forms of chocolate involved at some point in its construction. If there had been a birthday it might have had candles. Maybe even sparklers. But maybe sparklers only happened in America. Neither of them was sure if they really wanted sparklers. They probably would have been inappropriate.

The pudding had seemed like a really good idea to her at the time. It had been spontaneous and silly when the waitress had asked if they wanted anything else. It had been something to get his mind off what she’d done.

It scarcely seemed plausible. Looking back, she still wasn’t quite sure of the mechanics of what had happened. It was the kind of thing that shouldn’t happen. Ridiculous, really. She’d gone round to meet him before they went out. He’d shown her into the kitchen and she’d noticed the cage on the small table in the corner. He’d explained that it housed an elderly gerbil that had survived a good few years longer than expected. She’d asked if she could pick it up, he’d said yes. She’d opened the flap at the top of the cage, had reached inside, and picked up the little furry animal. It had seemed willing enough. It just twitched a little bit, but all those small animals did that.

He’d turned his back to get some mugs for the tea when the gerbil had lunged forward, contorting its tiny face to bare its fangs, and had bitten her sharply on the finger. She’d cried out as the small sharp teeth embedded themselves in the flesh around her nail. As she moved her hand sharply downwards in a (perfectly natural) reflex action, trying to shake the thing loose, the gerbil had connected with the top of the microwave and its spine had broken with a sharp, horribly audible crack.

He’d turned around and seen her holding her hand up to her face, with the gerbil hanging off it at an angle that could only be described as unnatural. It hadn’t let go.

“You should eat some of this,” she told him. “It’ll cheer you up. Chocolate does that, I think. Right? Anyway, look at all that!”

He smiled agreeably, picked up his spoon, and took a bite.

“There’s my man!” She paused. “Sorry. Not about that. You are my man, and, y’know, there you are. But about the gerbil. I didn’t mean to. Kill it.”

“I think you’re the first girlfriend I’ve had who’s murdered one of my pets,” he said through a mouthful of ice cream and chocolate chunks. There was a cheeky little grin though, framing the mess between his teeth. She felt better. It hadn’t been her fault. She knew that. But it was important to her that he knew it too.

“Murder?” she cried, loud enough for the waitress to drop her notebook and look over. She leaned across the table. “Murder?” she whispered theatrically. “How dare you? I never murdered anything in my life.”

“You murdered that animal in cold blood. I saw it. And a jury of twelve will see that you hang for it.”

She arched her eyebrows and played with her watch. “I’ll have you know that the animal you’re talking about was psychotic. I don’t like to cast aspersions on character, or to talk ill of the dead, but that gerbil was crazy. How are you going to prove it didn’t just off itself? Take the easy way out?”

There was a moment when she thought that she might have overstepped the mark. He looked at her and it was clear that he was making up his mind about what to say next. He straightened his back and dusted crumbs off his jacket.

“That gerbil had everything to live for. He had a wife waiting for him at home, not to mention three little gerb-lets who are going to have to grow up without a father. He had a job. A mortgage. You’re telling me that he threw all that away?”

She grinned and he couldn’t help grinning back.

"It doesn't matter anyway. Even if they try to pin that trumped-up charge on me, they'll have to catch me first. I've got a flight booked to Morocco that leaves in twenty-five minutes"

He snorted and looked down at the pudding. The ice cream was melting and the whole thing was starting to look unappealing.

“I really am sorry, you know.”

“I know. Thank you.”

He reached a hand across the table. She took it and gave it a squeeze.

“You know you still have to come to dinner with my parents,” he told her. She grimaced.

“Are you going to tell them that I murdered your gerbil?”

“I am going to tell them that you murdered my gerbil.”

“They’re going to love me so much.”

“So much.”



Right, so. Hope you enjoyed it. This is actually a follow-up story. Yep, a sequel. I believe back when I wrote a story that was entirely dedicated to being disgusting that I promised a nice, pleasant story would soon follow. Well, here it is, dead gerbil and all. The two characters are in fact the two characters from my previous attempt at a nice pleasant story, Crisp Afternoon. It wasn't my plan initially, but as I came up with the idea for a couple dealing with a murdered pet I thought why not bring them back. It was going to be a story about a couple staying together through it, because I wanted to write something nice and vaguely romantic (And I do think it's a little romantic). It's not as if they really did very much apart from meet in the earlier story. So my plan at the moment is to come back to them periodically. I like the idea of giving them these situations that they have to deal with. They will get more difficult. But I wanted to write something funny so I settled for this awkward but not insurmountable issue. I'm planning on switching between their perspectives as well, so the next one, whenever it may be, will be from his point of view. They're called Francis and Sophie, by the way. I'll probably drop their names in the next one.

Initially my idea was for Sophie to have killed a bigger animal, like a dog or a cat. She was going to either let it out, or run it over, but it was going to be nasty. Thoroughly unpleasant. But I wanted to keep this fairly light, so that would have been trickier. And I think you'd judge him for letting that go as quickly as he does here. I certainly would. I think a gerbil is forgivable. Sad, but forgivable. He's more upset about it than he's letting on, but he is upset.

As for their film noir riffing, I became aware as I was writing it that it was essentially a not-as-funny version of a series of scenes in the brilliant American sitcom Parks and Recreation. If you've not seen it, do so and see that I'm so much less funny than they are. Seriously.

The next story will be Halloween based. I'll aim for something fun and spooky. Until then, hope you enjoyed this.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Time, time, time.

Just a short blog post this week, I'm afraid. I've become quite busy for the moment so the time I have to do fun things like this has been cut down.

I was planning to write something about the book that I'm currently reading. However, given that I've not had a lot of time to read it and it's this big:

I decided to do that another time. It's Stephen King's Under the Dome by the way. Just in case you couldn't tell by the fact that it could crush a man. I've been putting off reading it for ages because of its daunting length, but it's very good so far.

However, just a quick little note. This time it's about time.

I don't know how it works with others, but I write more efficiently when I have a deadline. If I'm given a short space of time to fit some writing in, I tend to get it done (except in the case of this blog post, which I am writing on Tuesday night but will more than likely go up on Wednesday at some point). So, in a sense, this sudden disappearance of my lovely afternoon writing time may mean that I actually get more done. In another sense, it probably won't but it might mean that the writing that actually gets done will be better. Or maybe not.

If what you're writing is worth doing, it's worth doing when you're knackered, when all you feel like doing is going to sleep. Unless you actually, physically need to sleep, in which case I would say that you should. I've seen the writing I've done when I'm exhausted and it makes absolutely no sense. There's a similar issue with ideas that I have when I'm falling asleep. When I forget them, they are always a truly inspired piece of genius that is forever lost. When I actually write them down, I can't understand what I've scribbled and why on earth I've scribbled it. But my point is that I'm being reminded that you need to find time to get the writing done. If what you're working on is worth the time, it'll keep poking your conscience until you write it down, or until you forget about it. The first one is the much better option.

So, the work! Yes, the work. Well, the novel follow-up has re-emerged with some fresh ideas. I'm getting quite excited about the chance to have a few different characters with diverging story-lines. I think I may even buy a pin board to keep track of their relationships and stories. That may just be because I've been rewatching The Wire. That pin board looked really helpful.

There's also the more pressing matter of the project I'm working on with Benjamin Sheppard. There are two developments with that. One: I'll be asking collaborator Martin Parsons to take a look at what's been done so far (I haven't told him that yet). Two: We have some sample music from the talented Iain McGibbon. The title (not the project title, but the music title) is either "Do you still love your dead girlfriend now that she's alive again?" or "Do you still love your girlfriend now that she's dead again?" I think I prefer the second but both are lovely. I don't think we're actually talking about the project yet but I got very excited when I heard the music!

So there are fun things going on. In progress, at least anyway. The last few weeks have felt like some inspiration was needed. So let's see what we can do.

If all goes according to plan there should be a story up next week. I will try for a non-horror just to keep things fresh. Thanks for reading.

Oh, I managed to get it posted on Tuesday night! Win.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Story: Splatter

Just a quick note: I've called this short story SPLATTER because it is gory. It's a gory little horror story. If you're thinking "I'd rather not, thanks" then feel free to skip it and come back next week. No worries. They won't all be like this. Promise.


Eve was tired. She was tired and the flat was a mess. She appreciated that her brother was doing her a massive favour by giving her a place to stay for a week. She was even earning a bit of cash. All she had to do was be on call. If any of the tenants had a problem, her phone would ring and she would do her best to fix the problem. Jeff had assured her that the phone rang about once a day and that if there were any serious problems, she could call a plumber or an electrician.

But after a day spent running up and down the seven flights of stairs and dealing with tenants who were apparently set on being as difficult as possible, Eve was wondering whether this had been worth it. She could have stayed on Lucy’s sofa for another week. Lucy had even offered. But the chance for a flat to herself had been impossible to resist. And she was here now. There was no one to worry about. She cleared last week’s Sunday paper off the sofa and settled in to watch the telly.

She hadn’t meant to fall asleep. But the heavy thud from downstairs made her open her eyes, and she realised how quiet it was. No music, no one out having a fag, nothing. It was late. Then she wondered about that thud. As she desperately tried to rationalise, her heart did a little turn as she realised that the noise came from downstairs. Nobody should be downstairs. Jeff had shown her the basement; it was a storage space that no one used because of the terrible damp. She told herself to relax, that it was just an animal that had found its way in. A cat. Maybe a fox.

But there it was again. A thump. But this time it was followed by a woman’s voice, raised in alarm. She stood up and looked around for something she could take down there with her. She grabbed a torch that looked like it meant business. But what else? She looked around for something sturdy to defend herself with. She didn’t want to take a knife. She’d read that more people hurt themselves than other people when they take a knife. She had a sudden brainwave and walked over to Jeff’s drinks cabinet (the one he’d inherited from their aunt Barbara) and took a shelf out. Not exactly the most effective weapon, but she could at least brain someone with it.

She stepped out into the hallway and was relieved that no one was there to see her, still startled at being woken up and brandishing a varnished piece of wood. She found the right key on Jeff’s absurdly overcrowded key-ring and opened the door to the basement, took a deep breath, and turned on the light. She heard the sound of cheap strip lighting sparking into life through the different sections of the basement, that slightly muffled ping. Then she unmistakeably heard someone say “Shhhh!”


There was no answer. She went down the almost-even stone steps. The basement was divided into three sections, the first visible from the stairs. The other two were further in. She knew that was where whoever had made that noise was waiting.

“If you don’t leave right now, I’ll call the police.”

No answer. The first room was empty, nothing but a few ancient boxes belonging to a deceased tenant that no one had figure out what to do with yet.

“I know there’s someone there. I’ve got my phone out now, I’m dialling.”

She wondered if she should have said that. Would it be better to make them think that she’d already called the police? Then a man’s voice rang through the basement.


Eve didn’t think. She ran towards the sound. As she entered the next room a smell like sour meat made her gag. Two people had a tenant she recognised, Mr. Blamire, pushed up against the wall. He was a polite man in his late fifties with pomaded hair and a slightly-too-long moustache. As he saw Eve enter he opened his mouth. She thought he was going to scream. Then two things happened quite suddenly.

The first figure turned around to face her. It was a man, slightly heavy-set, in his forties. The second figure, which Eve could see was a woman, raised a small axe and cut Mr. Blamire’s head off. The severed head tumbled over the woman’s arm and thudded to the floor as the two figures stepped back and let go of his body. Blood sprayed from the stump. The tenant fell to the ground and Eve opened her mouth to scream.

“Please don’t,” said the woman. She held up her hands and Eve saw she was roughly the same age as the man. “It’s not what it looks like.”

Eve didn’t know whether to laugh or run.

“Not what...not what it looks like?” she asked. She realised that she had dropped the shelf from the cabinet. She wasn’t sure when that had happened.

“It’s...Look, it’s complicated,” began the man but the woman interrupted him.

“Michael, his eyes are moving,” she said. The man span around.

“Julia, get the knives out,” he said. Julia nodded and grabbed a green cloth bag from a backpack on the floor.

“I’m going to call the police,” said Eve. It was the only thing to do. That, at least, made sense. It got their attention.

“Don’t do that,” said Michael. “It’s really not what it looks like, I promise.”

But Eve wasn’t looking at him. She was looking at the head of Mr. Blamire. She thought it had landed further away from his body. Those eyes were roving, scanning the room. They saw her. She thought she saw a smile. Then the eyes rolled back. She looked over to where his body lay. The dark red stump of his neck began to pulsate. Before she could open her mouth to say anything, three crimson tendrils shot across the gap between the torso and the head. They somehow fixed, they found a hold, and they flexed. Eve watched as the head inched along the floor, pulled back towards the body.

“Julia, for fuck’s sake, separate him!” shouted Michael. Julia picked up the axe and hacked at the tendrils. They severed easily but they flailed wildly in the air, spraying thick black fluid. The smell of rotten meat somehow redoubled as the fluid spread across the dusty floor. Mr. Blamire’s mouth opened and closed. “I’ll make a start on him, check the back room, see if there’s any still breathing.” Julia nodded and moved off quickly. Eve watched as the man opened the cloth bag and took out a beautiful, ornate silver knife. Somehow she couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Michael...” Julia came back into the room, and the man looked up. Julia’s face was white. Eve didn’t know why she did, but she found herself walking over to where the woman stood and looking past her into the third section.

The harsh overhead lighting showed a red, wet pile of pieces, chunks, in the corner. There were bits that Eve could identify as belonging to a person, a hand, a jaw, but the dripping slabs of flesh and shards of startlingly white bone had been piled into a heap. They looked fresh. There was no skin on any of it. Eve gagged and felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Could you help us over here, please?” Julia asked, and ushered her over to where Mr. Blamire lay on the ground. His torso was shivering. Michael ripped open his white shirt. Something beneath the man’s skin was moving, pushing up against the surface like a hundred needle points. The chest was slick with a clear fluid. Eve hoped it was sweat.

“He knows what’s coming,” said Michael.

“Heart first,” said Julia. Michael raised the knife and plunged it down. Eve had taken a step back, expecting another explosion of gore, but instead Mr. Blamire’s chest seemed to try to swallow the knife. Michael worked hard to cut through the flesh as it moved and gripped its way around the blade, but finally he sunk his hand into the cavity and pulled out the heart. He raised it up and Julia leant in, hacking away at the veins until it was free.

They both took a step back as more tendrils emerged from the open wound, writhing, searching for Mr. Blamire’s lost heart. Two small hooks were visible on the end of each appendage. As Julia put it on the ground Eve saw that the heart was still beating, and smaller versions of the tendrils were slowly emerging from what Eve guessed was the aorta. Jack leaned down and drove the knife into its side. The effect was instantaneous. Mr. Blamire’s heart exploded like a broken water balloon, spraying black, rancid fluid out of every opening. The torso, about a foot away, stopped moving.

“You, what’s your name?” asked Michael. Before Eve could answer, Michael pointed to the head. “Pick that up and face it up. Julia, empty the torso.”

She turned the head so that its eyes faced the ceiling and tried not to listen to the wet sound of Julia pulling out ropes of intestines. She gritted her teeth as Michael pushed the knife into the stump of the neck. The mouth opened, filled with broken teeth. The eyes that had been rolling so wildly quivered for a moment before bursting, oozing viscous white and red fluid over the ears and Eve’s hands. Finally the skull caved inwards as a soggy mass fell out over Michael’s knife and onto the floor. Eve dropped the head and it landed with a splat.

“Thank you,” said Julia. Eve turned to look at her and saw her making small piles of innards. She finally lost control of her stomach and vomited onto the gory mess at her feet. As she wiped her mouth she felt compelled to apologise. “Oh that’s no problem,” smiled Julia. “We’ve got to tidy that up anyway. Michael, have you got the bin bags?”



So yes. A gory story. Actually you can blame my good friend Max Dorey for this. He posed a question on Twitter asking what the best, most disgusting movie monster we could think of was. And there's only really one right answer to that. John Carpenter's The Thing. Though I did also mention Brundelfly from David Cronenberg's The Fly. Now, Max is not a fan of horror but recently watched The Thing and came out of it very impressed. And revolted. If you've seen The Thing, you've probably realised that I stole a lot.

If you're wondering why I wrote this, it's because I wanted to see if I could. Surprisingly, given that I mostly write unpleasant stories, I don't write a lot of gore. Generally I find that my approach is less is more. I just get a bit uncomfortable if the blood and guts gets too elaborate and I worry that I'm going down the Garth Marenghi route. (If you don't get that reference, get yourself to 4od now and thank me later). So, thinking about disgusting monsters, I thought I'd try to write something disgusting. Not disturbing, just gory. No plot, no memorable characters, just internal organs and bodily fluids. And if I'm honest, I still don't think that this is that gory. I've failed in my task to create something truly disgusting. I don't think I'm good at lingering on the disgusting. I remember a distinguished visiting tutor on my MA telling me not to worry about going over the top and remembering to put details about things like the smell into The Novel That Nobody Wanted, which I just about managed to do. But this is my gore experiment, for better or worse.

It takes quite a lot for gore to get to me, but Clive Barker is one of those people that can put me off my food. I remember working in a DVD rental place and someone asked me what I thought of Hellraiser. I described it as a "wet" film, and I didn't mean that it was sappy. It's just that everything is dripping, everything is oozing, things are slippery and sharp at the same time. I've not read enough of his fiction but his Books of Blood are well worth a read, and Weaveworld is great.

So next week there'll be some more writing about writing. And the week after that will feature (if all goes according to plan) a non-experimental story with no bursting eyeballs. Sorry if this week's story wasn''t your cup of tea. It's also a little inspired by the amazing web comic Achewood, in which a lying robot tells an adorable young otter a horrifying bed time story and ends it with "No moral! The end!"

Finally, if I ever get to the stage where I have writing published, or have professional people read my writing out loud, I hope to at some stage repeat this one line: "Julia, empty the torso."