Saturday, 29 September 2012

Witch's Bile Part 8: Empty Chests and Flat Feet

Welcome to the part 8 of my Witch's Bile series which is building towards the last two instalments, so if you haven't read any yet I'd advise you to head here and go back to the beginning! Previously, Eliza and Jo met the monster with the penchant for cutting men's faces off their heads and made the sensible choice of running away as he began work right in front of them.


I don’t have a lot of dealings with the police, as you can imagine. Actually, you might be surprised to hear that I get away with what I do, but I think they’re scared of me. They would never admit it but I’ve packed up and left countless towns leaving a bloody mess behind me and I’ve not been pulled over once. But this was different. The teenagers killed last night hadn’t died by my hand, and there was a witness who had hopefully told the police that. Because they knew I hadn’t been in a bloodthirsty rage, I had a feeling that the police would be round sooner or later. I went to bed knowing that I might be woken up by cautious knocking on the front door.

Instead I woke up of my own accord around ten. Jo was still in her room so I made coffee and went down to the basement to get my old books and notes out. I disturbed a few spiders that were starting to build a home on the box marked “witch shit”, dragged the box up to the living room, and had a look through my records and the old books to see if anything matched the description of what I saw last night. It would probably surprise you, Émilie, to learn that I’ve still got all my things, all my notes, everything a proper witch should have. But you never know when you might need them. Especially when you can’t consult with anyone. The only witch I know in the whole country is Jo and she’s essentially still a student, so useless. I’ve kept away from American ones. I’m sure they’re fine but I’ve got no interest in being sociable.

Anyway, I didn’t find anything. Not a sausage. There were plenty of monsters that had some similar attributes. Obviously we’re familiar with many difficult-to-kill ones, as this fucker had proved to be by being run over twice, including once with a bus if Jo is to be believed. So that was too vague to help much. I thought the ritualistic removal of the victim’s face might prove to be a goer but it turns out that there are three species of monsters that regularly do that in America alone, not including Canada, and all those freaks have a full set of internal organs. Which was what stumped me.

This psychotic Romeo who’s got his eye on Jo had no heart. I told you I tried to make it explode, which is normally not that difficult as long as there is a heart to make explode, and in this case there wasn’t. I don’t think there was anything. The thing was just an empty shell. He was, or had been, a man, that was obvious. The basic energy he was giving off was human. There was none of the frazzled, haywire brainwaves of Patchworks. He clearly wasn’t a zombie as he was forming coherent sentences and didn’t smell like he was rotting. He was simply hollow.

While I wasn’t too surprised that I had never come across this, I was shocked to find that there was nothing in my books about it. Obviously we witches like to know as much as possible about the monsters of the world so we can either defend ourselves against them or, preferably, use them to our advantage. Something like this clearly had value, as anything that’s tough to kill does. Monsters like that are usually working for somebody. Too useful not to be. But it’s difficult to imagine who he would have been working for, going specifically after Jo like that. Or rather, going after people he thinks are after her, in a romantic way.

But as I was working it through I heard the doorbell ring. There was the sound of Jo stirring upstairs as I got up to answer it. I walked past the clock on the wall and saw it was nearly two in the afternoon. It had taken the police all night and more than half the day to get round to seeing me.

Two men in uniform stood on my front porch. They both had their cold weather police coats on, the ones with the slightly fluffy collars, and the standard issue cold weather police hats. I’ve always found this get-up quite adorable, despite feeling somewhat differently about the people inside it. One was younger and was anxiously alternating his stare between two inches over my shoulder and the floor in front of him. The other was older and had greying brown hair tufting out from under his hat to match the greying brown beard. He was the one with the Sheriff’s badge.

“Afternoon, Miss,” he said after a short pause. “I’m Sheriff Larch, this is Deputy Brigley. Would it be alright if we came in?”

“By all means, Sheriff,” I told him, and ushered them inside. I didn’t want to waste any time. Apparently neither did he. I’d barely sat them down in the kitchen before he put his hands on the table and looked me in the eye.

“So, we know you were there last night, Miss Belmont. And everyone in town knows what you are. You asked us to leave you alone and I decided that it was the best course of action. But the problem is that people in town aren’t just scared of you now. They’re scared of whoever did this. And we can’t very well leave him alone.”

I nodded. I appreciated that he had to make his position clear. He was doing well, all things considered.

“Do you know who did this?” he asked hopefully.

“No,” I told him. “But I can assure you I’m doing my best to find out.”

“This guy…I’ve never seen anything like him. When I tried to talk to him…”

“Wait.” I was surprised. “Sorry, you tried to talk to him? So you…did you have him in custody?”

Larch ran his finger around the brim of his hat and looked at the table. “We found him in the parking lot. He looked like he’d been beat to hell.”

“I ran him over,” I interrupted, but he didn’t seem to hear me.

“He was…he was taking the face of the second boy when we got there. The first one, he’d already finished him. We told him to stop what he was doing, put his hands up. He didn’t seem to hear us at first but then he yanked his left hand up and just tore the skin straight off that boy’s head. Then he turned to look at us and…Miss, I’m scared of you but there was an emptiness behind that man’s eyes that just terrified me.”

He paused. I took this opportunity to look at his deputy, who was apparently examining the floral pattern of my tablecloth like it might yield some clue.

“He did what we asked,” Larch continued. “He got in the car. I told my boys to drive him to the station, take his prints, get him in a cell while we cleaned up the victims. Now, the rest is only what I’ve been told, I wasn’t there. But they got him to the station and someone thought they should have him checked out, apparently they saw one of his ribs was starting to stick out of his shirt. Anyway, the doc got there and…she couldn’t find a pulse. He was dead. But…he wasn’t, I don’t know if I’m explaining this well…”

With this final sentence he looked up at me, like he was begging for an explanation, or at least some kind of reaction. I nodded. I mean, of course he didn’t have a pulse. He had no fucking heart. But this was clearly a big shock to the Sheriff so I let him have his little meltdown.

“Miss, we’ve got a man sitting in our cell who is clinically dead. I was hoping…you could tell me just what he is.”

I took a deep breath. Jo coughed from the doorway and I turned to look at her. She’d clearly just woken up and was still in her pyjamas. I don’t know how long she’d been standing there but she looked as anxious for my answer as the Sheriff did. To me, the course of action was clear.

“Well, Sheriff, the first thing you should do is let him go.”

Larch looked as though I’d reached under the table and grabbed his privates. “Let him go?” he repeated. Before he had the chance to reel off all the reasons why it was a bad idea I butted in.

“I’m not exactly sure why he agreed to come quietly. But I do think that at some point he’s going to get bored and he’ll wonder what Jo’s doing and then he will want to leave. And I say this with all due respect but I don’t think that you’ll be able to stop him. So, in my opinion, what you should do is save yourself a lot of bloodshed. Let him go, point him in the direction of this house, and let Jo and myself deal with him.”

He had let me talk, to his credit. It was more than I thought he might do. “And you think you’ll be able to deal with him?” he asked.

“Again, with all due respect, we’ll be able to deal with him a lot better than you could.”

Larch took a moment or two to think about it then gave me a little nod and stood up, followed by his deputy. We agreed that he would discuss a handsome young man looking after Jo at the house in front of the monster in the cells, then turn him loose. Obviously, he would call ahead to let us know exactly when he was being set free.

Once they had left Jo grabbed my arm.

“How exactly are we going to deal with him?” she hissed.

“Don’t worry,” I told her, “I have a plan.

And that’s what I’m saying to you, Émilie. I have a plan. If you hear from me again, you’ll know it worked. Here’s hoping, eh?


Hello there, I hope you enjoyed this. It's a bit longer than usual but I'm trying to get things set up for the final two parts. I know I said that the blog would be updated more frequently but I'm currently quite busy with London Film Festival press screenings, which I'm covering for Cinetalk. However, the final two parts should be up soon so keep an eye out for them. Will update soon! Thanks for reading, 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Witch's Bile Part 7: A Night Out

Welcome to part 7 of the Witch's Bile series. You can find the previous parts here, I recommend that you read them first as there's not really a lot of explanation as to what's been going on otherwise. I hope you enjoy this instalment!


Well, Émilie, I told you in the last report I sent that Jo was going to have to make some friends, with the admittedly risky aim of getting her murderous admirer out in the open. If she’s seen speaking to friends of the victim, I reasoned, then we might be able to draw him out. Get him jealous, get him visible. Charlie Kitson had been kind enough to give us the name of the bar his murdered underage son used to go to, so I made sure Jo had put some nice clothes on and a bit of slap and we drove over there.

Jo was a bit nervous in the car, I could tell. She was scratching at her nails and tugging at her bangs. I told her that she looked fine and she glared at me. OK, I thought. We hadn’t talked much before leaving the house. That was OK too. I assumed she knew what she had to do.

It was the first time I’d been around town at night, really. I only moved here a few weeks ago and since then I’ve made a point of leaving the house as little as possible. The last time I’d been out at night was the town meeting I organised at which I told everyone that I was a witch and that they should leave me alone. That didn’t really work out. It never does. Anyway, they all look the same to me, these small towns. There are the nice quiet streets with the big houses, big cars, big front porches, and the big back gardens and then you take a left and you’re sharing the road with people with completely different circumstances. But people are all the same to me. Wherever you go and wherever they come from. Everyone’s the same no matter how much money you have or how big your house is. Which is why I want them to leave me alone.

I took a right and saw the petrol station Kitson had told me about and the bar just behind it. We were close to the edge of town here, I suppose the kids thought the chances of law enforcement or their parents bothering to come and find them was pretty slim. A fluorescent red sign above the door told customers where they were: The Alhambra. There didn’t seem to be anything particularly Spanish from the outside. Still, I wouldn’t see the inside for myself.

“So what’s the plan then?” asked Jo, like she didn’t already know. I turned to face her.

“You go in, you ask around for the names on that list, and then you talk to them. Use your English accent to charm them. Well, that and your face. Offer them a cigarette and get them outside. Then we’ll see if the mystery man shows up.”

“How do you know they smoke?” she asked, and I sniffed.

“They’re underage. Of course they smoke.”

She took my pack of Gitanes and got out in a huff. I watched her cross the car park, her heels clattering on the tarmac. I’d nearly forgotten that she’d only been in America for a couple of days. I hadn’t even asked about jetlag or anything. Which probably meant she was fine, I mean, if I hadn’t noticed it. Probably. I found a new pack of cigarettes in the glove compartment and waited for Jo to make friends.

It was about five minutes before she emerged with three teenage boys and one girl. Even from across the car park I could tell that they’d all made an effort to look older than they were. All the boys were wearing shirts and long coats while the girl’s make up was visible from the car. Only one of them took a cigarette from her. There you go, I thought. I can be wrong sometimes. I let them talk for a little while, about ten minutes. There was still no sign of anyone suspicious. Frankly, I was getting bored.

Finally I struck on a way to find out if anyone was paying attention. I got out of the car, slammed the door, and ran over to where Jo was standing. She looked up as I approached, as did the teens, a little slower, admittedly.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I shouted. Jo looked shocked and unsure of herself. “What do you think you’re doing here? I leave the house for five minutes and you go straight to a bloody pub and start drinking! I thought we had agreed that you wouldn’t do this anymore!”

Jo stared, trying to understand what I was doing. I threw her a bone, as they say.

“I am your mother and you will do what I say! Is one of these that boy you’ve been seeing?” I practically screamed.

“Whoa, calm down, lady!” exclaimed one of the boys. His right eye was covered by a lank fringe of brown hair that he shifted with a movement that I couldn’t tell if it was deliberate or some sort of twitch.

“Yeah, you don’t need to shout at her like that!” said the tallest of the boys. He was wearing a blazer that actually fit him and you could tell he was the confident one of the group because he wasn’t attempting to hide any part of his face. Instead his black hair was greased back and there was a single ring in his right ear. The shorter, rounder boy behind him nodded in agreement but didn’t seem brave enough to say anything. Only the girl, a skinny little redhead in a leather jacket and short black skirt, seemed frozen stiff. Until she opened her mouth.

“I know who you are,” she told me. I stopped huffing and puffing and turned to face her.

“Do you now?” I asked, putting as much ice in my voice as possible.

“You’re the witch. You’re Eliza Belmont.”

The boys didn’t know my face but they certainly knew my name. They all took a small step back and stared a little harder. The tall one jutted his chin at me. “That true? You a witch?” I nodded at him. He turned to Jo, who looked like she wasn’t sure where she was supposed to go at this point. “And, what, she’s your mom?”

Jo took a step over to me and turned to face them. “She’s not my mother but you’ll answer any questions she has.” I was impressed and didn’t bother trying to hide a smile. So she hadn’t asked them anything. Not exactly according to plan, but at least she got out of the house.

“Where did your accent go?” asked the short one before figuring it out for himself and looking at the floor.

“Now,” I said, ignoring the little man’s question. “Last night, did you see Clyde talk to anyone?”

“We already told the police that we didn’t,” said the girl. “Clyde left early last night. He said he needed to go home and study.”

“Well it’s nice to see you’re honouring his memory,” I prodded. Her face dropped and the tall one spoke up again.

“We’re honouring his memory,” he said with all the sincerity he could muster. I grinned.

“So you didn’t see him talking to a guy you didn’t know, with straggly dark hair, beard, long coat? No?”

The short one cleared his throat and pointed.

“There’s a guy like that behind you.”

Jo turned first and grabbed my sleeve. I saw a man who fit the description I’d just given. He stared at us, looking us over one by one. There was a moment of silence. Even the tall kid couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Did you get my present, Josephine?” asked the man finally. Jo whimpered. “I left it where you could find it. Who are these people?”

I tried something risky at this point. Obviously you’re not supposed to attack without gauging your enemy. But I thought I could get the drop on him and I didn’t want to hang around in the open any longer than necessary. So I tried to make his heart explode. It’s a nice trick if you get it right, there’s relatively little mess, at least that you can see. So I focused hard. Tried to find his heartbeat.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing happened. He just stared at me, unblinking. I knew what to do. I grabbed Jo and ran. You don’t get to my age without learning how to run away from things. Well, not really running, if you look very closely you can see our feet weren’t touching the ground and we were going faster than a fifty year old woman and a young lady in high heels really should have been but we made it to the car and bundled ourselves in.

As I turned the key in the ignition the headlights came on. The man was walking over to us. In his right hand he held the tall boy by his skinny neck. Behind him I could see the two other boys crumpled on top of each other in a heap. The girl ran screaming back to the bar and slammed the door behind her.

The man stopped about six feet from us. As I was about to put my foot down he took out a knife and pointed it at Jo.

“I know you understand,” he said, and plunged the knife into the boy’s face, just under the hairline. He twisted the blade and began to move it downward, peeling the skin from the boy’s head as he went.

I put my foot down and drove straight at him. He didn’t try to move out of the way. He just fell under the car and I felt the bump as we ran him over. I didn’t bother looking behind us. I knew he wouldn’t stay down.

“It won’t have made any difference,” muttered Jo.

“It made me feel better,” I said.

We got home without any further incidents. Jo’s up in her room and the lights are flickering so I can tell she’s upset. I know we’re going to have a lot to deal with tomorrow when the police realise we were there and work up the nerve to ask us why, so I’m going to sign off now and get some sleep. And try to think about what kind of a monster actually doesn’t have a heart.


I hope you enjoyed part 7. We're getting towards the end of the Witch's Bile series now and I'm going to try and post the final few parts a bit more frequently than I have been. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the series so far. 

I'm still planning to update the blog with more non-fiction posts so keep your eyes peeled for that. I'm also going to a post asking for title suggestions for short stories as I will be starting that up again soon!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Witch's Bile Part 6: House Call

Hello there. So, after last week's short story (Mindquack) we're back to Eliza the misanthropic witch with part six of the Witch's Bile series. Parts 1-5 are here and I do recommend reading them first. Each part is only about 1000 words so it won't take long to get up to speed. So, let's get to it.


Where were we, Émilie? Oh that’s right. I’d just told you to go fuck yourself. You’ll have to forgive me for that little outburst. But I was quite upset. Because it seemed like you’d knowingly sent me a protégé who is being stalked by a murderous psychopath who is apparently very difficult to kill. Still, at least I now have some idea of who the person who left a dead boy’s face in my kitchen is. Well, not a name. Or a face. But Jo will recognise him when she sees him, and it’s my intention to flush this bastard out as soon as possible. I didn’t move to America to bring serial killers over. There are plenty of them here already.

I gave Jo a bit of time to calm down after she’d told me about this lunatic and how he seems to target boys she likes, or boys he thinks she likes. She went up to her room and I thought I heard her crying before a couple of our light bulbs blew. I may have to get used to these temper tantrums if she continues living with me for much longer. Stock up on bulbs. Anyway, I made a cup of tea and had a think and after about an hour or so she was back downstairs and ready to talk again.

“So, what’s the plan?” she asked.

It was a fair question. “Well,” I said, “given that you don’t know anything about this person except what he looks like and the fact that he survived a double decker bus rolling over him, we don’t really have a lot to go on. So the obvious thing to do is go and talk to the dead boy’s dad.”

 “Is he going to want to talk to us? When he came to ask for help this morning you weren’t exactly helpful.”

In case you’ve forgotten, the dead boy’s father came round first thing to ask if I could help him find his son’s killer. You know my rules about helping people. I don’t. Which is what I told him. He didn’t leave in the best mood.

I smiled at her. Sometimes I forget what it’s like when people don’t know who you are, don’t know what you can do. You’re scared of people finding out, of what would happen if they knew. When you open up to everybody and you make sure they’re scared of you, then you realise that people are very easy to deal with indeed. “Trust me.” I said. “He’s going to be dying for our help.”

So I was a little bit surprised when, after we wrapped up and hurried down the street to the Kitson residence, we had the door slammed in our face shortly after it was opened by the tall, grieving man who had asked for my assistance only a couple of hours ago. He didn’t say anything. He just slammed it. But I knew better than to take it personally. Jo and I waited on their doorstep for a moment or two, listening to raised voices inside, before his wife opened the door.

“Please, come in.” she stammered. “I’m very sorry about Charlie, he’s…we’re both very…”

“I understand perfectly, Mrs Kitson,” I told her. “If we could just take a few minutes of your time we’d be very grateful.” She ushered us through her hallway and into her living room. The white carpet was covered in dirty boot prints, a clear sign that the police had been and gone. Charles was sat in the armchair and stared at us as we came in. I gave him my best smile.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“Just to talk about your son, Mr Kitson. We want to help.”

“Oh yeah?” he sneered. “What’s changed? I came to ask for your help, I practically begged you, and you told me to go fuck myself.”

I took a seat in the chair opposite him and was aware of Jo drifting to stand behind me. She’s got good instincts, that one. I thought about telling him I didn’t use those words but decided against it.

“The thing is, Mr Kitson, the thing is that my position hasn’t changed. We can’t just help everyone who asks. And I believe you and your wife both attended the town meeting I organised specifically to tell you all that I must be left alone or you would face the consequences, and I think you’ll agree that I allowed you to speak your piece, consequence-free.” I could see this last part upset him; it was probably a mistake to bring it up but too bad. He was raising his enormous hand to make a point I continued before he could interrupt me. “But while my position hasn’t changed, the situation has. I was too hasty in telling you I couldn’t help you. Obviously I can’t give you your boy back, but I can find whoever killed him and make sure that he is punished in ways that the police can only have nightmares about.”

There was a sound rather like a small bird clearing its throat and I looked over to wear Mrs Kitson nervously hovered by the kitchen door. “How has the situation changed?” she asked. I was impressed. This Mrs clearly had more backbone than I thought.

“The situation has changed because it affects me. And my friend here.”

“I thought you said she was your niece,” said Kitson. Ah. Caught on a lie. Still, a relatively minor one. No real damage. Safe to admit to.

“I lied. You know what I am. My friend is one too. What happened to your boy affects us. We would like him to stop.”

Charles Kitson got to his feet. He nearly filled the space from floor to ceiling and he had the anger of a grieving man. “Are you saying that whoever did this has an axe to grind with you? Was Clyde some sort of message?”

Clearly it was best to lie at this point. So I made something up.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that whoever did this will do it again and he has certainly done it before. One of his previous victims was someone we cared about a great deal.”

“Did he kill a witch?” asked Mrs Kitson. I laughed loudly to make sure she knew how ridiculous her question was.

“No, the chances of a witch being killed by someone like we’re dealing with her are miniscule. No, it was Jo’s…brother. Which is why we couldn’t talk to you earlier. We had to be sure it was the same person before we got involved. And now we can.”

The last lie seemed like it might have been a stretch to far but you should never underestimate the gullibility of the grieving. Especially when they think that someone might be able to castrate the ones responsible. Charles looked at his wife and they seemed to reach some kind of agreement as they stared at each other.

“What do you want to know?” he asked. I smiled like a happy saint.

“Well, it would help if you told me where he…hung out. And, more importantly, who he hung out with.”

Twenty minutes later we were back in my kitchen with a list of names and the address of a local bar that didn’t look at ID’s too closely. Jo hovered over my shoulder as I went through the list and tried to remember if I’d seen any of these boys before.

“What are we going to do with this?” she asked.

“Well, clearly he thinks you’re attracted to boys your age,” I told her. “So you’re going to go and make some friends and we’ll see what happens.”

I don’t know if you were with Jo long enough to see this, Émilie, but there’s this look she gives that’s about half-judgmental and half trying to understand whether she should be judgmental or not. It’s quite special. So that’s the plan, Émilie. We’re going to have a nap and then Jo’s going out to make some friends. And I’ll be there to see if her man shows up.


Thanks for reading. I'm interested to hear feedback on the Witch's Bile series. The instalments are intentionally a lot shorter than my short stories but I do worry that they're less fun. Anyway, I'm aiming for about 10 instalments in total for this round. Eliza and Jo will probably be back at some point anyway.

I hope you enjoyed part 6. I'm trying to update the blog more often so there may well be another non-fiction post of me rambling soon so, you know, get excited for that. Here's Distracted, a song from Sean Spillane's soundtrack to Lucky McKee's excellent The Woman

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Story: Mindquack

Hi there. We're taking a short break from the Witch's Bile series for this short story. I had every intention of continuing with Eliza and Jo until the series was finished but I was talking to my friend Tom who said he had come up with a word but wasn't sure what he wanted it to mean. I suggested an idea, and very soon afterwards I wanted to write that story. So, here is Mindquack. Please bear in mind, what I know about science of any kind could fill a thimble, so please don't judge me too harshly on what is clearly nonsense! Other than that, I hope you enjoy it!


Wiltshire. 1982.

David was dreaming of breaking glass when the telephone rang. As he opened his eyes and reached across the bed to answer it he saw the time: 2:12am. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and felt his heart begin to beat a little faster. This would be the call he had been waiting for.

“Case,” he said as he pressed the phone to his ear.

“David, this is Doctor Hill. How soon can you be at Paisley Fields?”

David flicked the light on and looked around the almost-bare room for where he’d left his car keys. “Twenty minutes, sir,” he guessed.

“Try to make it sooner,” answered Hill before hanging up.

David made the drive in just under fifteen, secure in the knowledge that if he was stopped he would only have to state his destination to be waved on. Despite only having been established nine weeks ago, the Paisley Fields research facility had the kind of reputation that comes from no one knowing exactly what went on inside. David himself had arrived in the area three weeks ago as a standby and had yet to step through its doors.

The call meant that Doctor Crossley was no longer able to perform his duties. Either he’d been taken ill, called away, or something much worse. This eventuality had been explained to him when he’d arrived. He’d been met at a cottage that had been arranged for him by a red-haired, skinny man in plain clothes who’d introduced himself as Sergeant Betcher.

“People in the village will guess why you’re here,” he’d been told. “Don’t feel the need to disillusion them, but don’t confirm it either, you understand.” He had answered in the affirmative but wasn’t entirely sure that he did.

The facility was unremarkable from the outside. A grey three storey building that looked more like a school than anything else. He was waved through at the checkpoint and told to drive straight up to the front. Sergeant Betcher stood waiting for him in full military uniform under a spotlight at the main entrance, and marched down the front steps to open the car door for him.

“Dr Case, it’s a pleasure to see you again. Please follow me, we’re rather against the clock, I’m afraid.”

David followed Betcher as he led the way inside. Having passed through the front door, David paused for a moment.

“This was a school,” he muttered. Betcher turned and nodded impatiently.

“Best we could do in a pinch. We’ve converted what we could for our requirements; it’s served us well enough over the last month or two. Please, Case, we do need to get going. Doctor Hill insisted I take you to him as soon as you arrived.”

Betcher led David up two flights of stairs, the sound of his boots clattering through the empty space. Apart from a woman in a lab coat walking past with a soldier, he didn’t see another soul. He was not surprised to be shown into the headmaster’s office and be told that he was looking at his employer, Dr. Anthony Hill.

“David Case, what a pleasure to finally meet you,” said the old man, rising from his chair and stretching out his hand. Hill was in his late 60s and looked like he hadn’t slept in days, but his grip on David’s hand was strong enough to make him flinch. “You came very highly recommended, I’m so sorry you’ve been stuck twiddling your thumbs for so long. But there is much to do tonight, I can assure you.”

Hill gestured for David to take a seat as Betcher wheeled in a large television on a squeaky trolley.

“Thank you, Sergeant. Now, David. You are aware that you were brought here as a standby for Doctor Crossley. I believe he mentioned that you and he worked together on several projects together.” David nodded. Crossley had been a mentor and a friend to him for the last ten years, although a recent disagreement had set them on different paths. “Did Crossley tell you anything about his work here?”

“No, sir. I knew I would be his understudy but I haven’t heard from him since he started last month. In fact, I don’t know anything about anyone’s work here.”

Hill smiled. “That’s reassuring. We obviously do our best to keep our business private but we had assumed some information might slip through our nets. But you must have a theory. You and Crossley both worked on manipulating the brain’s activity in coma patients. What do you think we’re doing here?”

David did have one theory. He had several, in fact, ranging from the simple to the ridiculous. He shrugged and offered one that he thought was fairly plausible. “Are you working on a new interrogation technique? Keep the subject comatose while keeping the brain active, maybe even responsive?”

Hill’s smile spread into a grin, showing a row of yellow teeth. “A good guess, David, but no. What I’m going to tell you is totally unbelievable but we have precious little time, as I believe Betcher has already made clear. So we’re just going to have to show you.” Hill pushed a button and the monitor flickered into life. The screen showed a room with a single occupied bed with an array of wires and tubes leading to the machines that surrounded it. Every few seconds the screen flickered and the view switched to an almost identical room. Only the occupants changed.

“Five weeks ago we had word of nine separate incidents in this region. We dispatched rapid response teams, contained the subjects, and brought them here. We induced coma-like states in all nine and started trying to understand exactly how what had happened had happened.”

David glanced from the monitor to Hill’s face. He swore he could see traces of a smile, like he was enjoying waiting for the obvious question. He asked it.

“Sorry, sir, you said ‘incidents’. Incidents of what?”

“Telekinesis,” said Hill. David glanced at Betcher, whose face betrayed nothing.

“Telekinesis? I’m sorry, that’s…that’s not possible.” While David struggled to express himself, Hill nodded at Betcher, who inserted a cassette into the machine. The screen flickered to show a single room. A man stood over the bed with his back turned.

“That’s Dr. Crossley,” said Hill. “And that’s our alpha patient. Lucas Reid. And I’m very sorry to have to show you this, Thomas, but we are against the clock and there’s no easy way to explain it.”

There was a loud cracking sound and a shape rushed from the bottom of the screen towards Crossley. He turned and David could just make out his friend’s face as the object severed his head from his body. David cried out. Hill hit a button and the view returned to the its previous view.

“The observation window behind him was broken into three pieces,” said Hill. “The biggest piece moved across the room and cut cleanly through Doctor Crossley’s neck. When it had passed through the other side it dropped to the floor like a stone. During these five seconds there was a massive spike in the Reid boy’s brain activity. Crossley had devised a system for measuring these spikes, he told us they never went above 0.2. Once we had cleaned up the mess we went back and looked at the readings. This was a 1.

Now, these spikes have been happening with each of the subjects semi-regularly since we first put them to bed. In terms of what days, what time they occur, they’re unpredictable. At first we thought it was completely random. One of the doctors even called them ‘mindquacks’, an unimportant fluctuation, and I’m afraid the name stuck. We thought they might have been dreaming. We’d see some light levitation. Perhaps an object would shift an inch or two, nothing harmful. Nothing dangerous. But they started getting worse. They became more frequent. More powerful. Which is why we brought Crossley on board to try and eliminate them.”

“And what was Crossley’s suggestion?” asked David. The image of his friend at the moment of his death was still very much in his mind but he was aware that Hill was not the sort of man who would repeat himself. It was essential that he keep up. Hill seemed surprised that he hadn’t guessed the answer for himself.

“Remove the dreaming. I was told that you worked with him on this scenario for children with severe nightmares. Well, he thought he could apply it here and…”

“We never perfected it,” interrupted David. “We never found a safe way to get rid of them. I mean, we could eliminate the dreams but never without side-effects.”

“That’s what he told us,” continued Hill, and stood up. “He also told us that this was when you went your separate ways. But we didn’t have a choice, as far as we could see. It took him three weeks to have the treatment ready.”

“When did it start?” asked David.

“At five o’clock this evening. Each of our nine subjects was given the treatment and we waited to see what happened. Just before midnight we had yet to see a single mindquack, so Crossley went to get a closer look at Reid and, well, you saw what happened. However, his death is not the reason we’re so pressed for time.”

“And what is?”

“They synchronised. Each of the mindquacks happened within milliseconds of each other, starting with Reid on the stroke of midnight and spreading throughout the facility. A five-second mindquack that ended as soon as Crossley’s head hit the floor. They’re not dreaming anymore, Dr Case. We think they’re communicating. Crossley may have removed the only barrier between their minds.”

Hill had walked around the table to join David, who suddenly realised he should stand up and shakily did so.

“Betcher will take you to the team observing Reid. We don’t know how long we have before the next mindquack, so work quickly.” He held out his hand, and David took it. “It’s good to have you on board, Dr Case. I’m sure you’ll do your predecessor proud.”

David followed Betcher out of the office, slightly dazed. He held tightly to the handrail as they walked down the steps. He hoped that the team would help him understand what on earth he was supposed to do. If those barriers had been removed, how was he supposed to replace them?

“We should just shoot all of them,” muttered Betcher. As David turned to stare at him, he continued. “Your man Crossley wasn’t the only fatality. One of my men had a hypodermic needle pushed through his eye all the way to the back of his skull. A doctor had a feeding tube wrapped so tightly around her throat her neck snapped. Several of the carers are being treated for severe cuts from broken glass. Some of them won’t see again. We should just put a bullet in each of these freaks' heads and be done with it.”

“They’re children,” said David. “Children who were taken from their homes and now they can’t wake up. They’re scared, Sergeant.”

“Well, it’s interesting you should say that, Doctor,” said Betcher, and stopped by a classroom door. “I was just about to tell you not to be scared. They can sense it. You can see it on the scanner. Crossley was scared and look what happened to him.”

He opened the door and ushered David inside. The room stretched out to his left. At the halfway point a sheet of clear plastic had been hung from the ceiling. He stepped into a basic observation area, some broken glass still crunching underfoot, occupied by a man and woman approaching middle age. The woman was hunched over a monitor but the man turned to greet David with an outstretched hand. His blonde hair was scruffy and unkempt, and he hadn’t shaved in days. When he started to speak his breath reeked of old coffee.

“Dr Case, is it? I’m sorry we have to meet under such unpleasant circumstances; I’m told that Doctor Crossley was a good friend of yours. Janet and I were here when it happened, such a shock. Sorry about this plastic as well, not very professional but apparently it’s difficult to find soundproof glass at this time of night. My name’s Patrick, by the way, sorry.”

Betcher patted Patrick on the shoulder. “Patrick and Janet will answer any questions you have; I’m off to do my rounds. Remember, Case. Don’t be scared.”

As Betcher left, Patrick nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, that’s right, sorry, that’s very important. We think Lucas sensed it, you see, and thought he could get away with what he did. Which is why we have a sheet of plastic instead of glass, as I mentioned.”

David muttered something about keeping his emotions in check and walked over to where Janet was standing. Through the plastic he could see the boy lying in his bed. Tubes and wires poured out of him and stretched across the room to various machines, some of which he recognised. He peered through. Just a child. Kept in a comatose state for nearly two months.

A klaxon sound made him jump out of his skin, and Janet wheeled around from her monitor. “.7,” she shouted and grabbed a walkie-talkie from the desk. “Betcher, did you get that?”

“Affirmative,” came the crackling reply. “.7 throughout. Tell the good doctor to hurry it up.”

“They’ve synchronised,” said Patrick by way of explanation. “Very bad news. It started tonight, Lucas started it, they said.”

“Of course he did,” muttered Janet. “He’s the only one who could.”

David watched as Patrick walked over to Janet, put a hand on her shoulder. “I know. So much strength.”

David was slightly thrown by their apparent closeness but decided that their personal life was none of his business.

“Hill said that Lucas was the alpha. What can you tell me about him? Have there been any other significant manifestations of his abilities? Are there any, I don’t know, warning signs before these…mindquacks?”

Patrick shrugged, while Janet seemed to ignore his question entirely. After an awkward pause Patrick started to speak. “We always thought that Lucas was special. From a very early age it was clear that he wasn’t like the other boys. But significant manifestations? Well, I think it was only the one time, wasn’t it, Janet?”

“I’m sorry,” asked David, with a creeping sense of horror growing in his gut, “But who exactly are you? I mean, what do you do here? You’re not Lucas’…are you?”

Patrick and Janet looked up at him, surprise. “What are you talking about?” asked Patrick.

“He’s our son.” said Janet. As David stared, feeling his eyes grow wider, she stared back at him. “You don’t think we’d let them do all this without proper supervision, do you? We love our boy and we’d never let him be separated from us, if that’s what you’re implying”

“One moment he was sitting on the sofa, watching television, the next moment…everything just lifted clear off the ground,” muttered Patrick. “I saw my mother’s grandfather clock touch the ceiling. Then everything dropped. And he didn’t move an inch. Just sat there like nothing had happened. Didn’t look at us. Ten minutes later there was a knock on the door and we were told we were being taken away.”

“We were told we could bring Lucas or they could take him,” said Janet. “What would any rational parent have done?” The klaxon sounded again and she spun back to the monitor. “0.9. Last time it hit 1, Crossley lost his head. If you have any bright ideas, Doctor Case, now would be the time.”

David walked over to the plastic sheet and looked through. The child in the bed was perfectly still. He could feel Patrick breathing down the back of his neck and turned to face him.

“Wake him up,” he said. Patrick turned to look at Janet, who was looking at him like he had lost his mind.

“Wake him up? You know what they can do when they’re asleep. What do you think they’ll be capable of once they’re awake?”

David grabbed the walkie-talkie from Janet. “Betcher, do you hear me? Get Hill down here now. I have your solution.”

It didn’t take long for Betcher to march into the room. “Right, the boss is on his way down, so why don’t you run it by me first?” he instructed David. 

“It's very simple. We simply wake them up. We explain what's happened. We tell them that they've been ill, that we're sorry that they've been so scared. We make it better.”

“No,” said Betcher, and waited for David to try to speak before continuing. “These children are never waking up again. They’re far too dangerous. They’re staying like this, or we’re putting them down. Those are the only two options they have.”

“Sergeant, have you considered your position?” asked David. Betcher looked at him quizzically.

“I’m sorry, do you want to tell me what my position is?” he asked, and began to square up to him. David held his hands up.

“Sorry, I only mean to say you’re talking about executing a child when the only thing separating you from him isn’t soundproof glass, it’s a sheet of clear plastic. And judging from those readings, he doesn’t need to be awake to hear you.”

The klaxon sounded. Betcher spun round and barked at Janet to report. She turned to him, quaking. 

“Two. Lucas is reading two.”

David took a step back as Betcher was lifted screaming into the air. He started to gurgle as if something was obstructing his breathing before his spine arched backwards and he was propelled into the wall with a crack. But instead of dropping him the pressure remained, and Betcher’s head was pushed crunching into the wall until it became a thick bloody slab. As the body fell to the floor David pushed through the plastic sheet to where Lucas lay.

The boy was deathly pale and beyond thin. David gazed helplessly at the tubes and wires emerging from his body, trying desperately to understand which would be the one to wake him up. Finally he grabbed Lucas by the shoulders and shook him, shouting his name, only to be pulled backwards. Patrick and Janet were hauling him away.

“Leave him alone!” screamed Janet, scratching at his face. Patrick landed a punch in David’s gut that was hard enough to leave him doubled over and out of breath.

“Stay away from our son, you don’t know what’s best for him!” the father muttered, staring at the floor. David held out his hand, trying to grab hold of him.

“You don’t understand, if you don’t wake him he won’t stop now, none of them will. They’ve connected…” David gave up trying to convince them, and snatched at a pair of wires leading back into the observation area, trying to pull them free. Janet pushed him and he fell to the floor.

“Don’t understand? What are you talking about? That’s our boy lying there,” she spat. David looked up and saw her draw closer to her husband, who put his arm around her. David wanted to tell them how wrong they were but they weren’t looking at him anymore. Instead they were looking at each other, pulling each other closer together. Their eyes grew wider and Janet’s mouth opened, a gasp forcing its way out of her throat. David heard something crunch. They turned to look at Lucas, they were trying to speak. David heard a ripping noise, and the plastic sheet flew across the room and wrapped itself around the parents as their bones cracked and their bodies were forced against each other. Red spattered against the sheet, and David ran.

As he left the room he became aware of the klaxon sounding throughout the school. He raced along the linoleum corridors, past the lockers and trophy cabinets, before finding the stairs. A weeping man in army uniform clung to the handrail. David did not slow down. As he careered into the front hall he skidded on something wet and fell hard onto his back. The fluorescent lights flickered once and exploded. Getting to his feet, he heard a crash from above him as screaming started and stopped just as suddenly. The front doors slammed open and he took the hint. He picked himself up and hurried outside. A few feet from the building, he turned and looked back as the roof exploded outwards.

Nine figures dressed in white hovered above the school, holding hands, illuminated from below by a raging fire. He could just make out Hill hanging horizontally above them. He was too far away to tell what all the objects sticking out of him were, but he could see that many of them were moving. Hill let out one last howl as he hung for a moment before being dropped back into the fire. The figures turned to look down at David. Their eyes shone brightly, burning white and there was a moment of searing pain, like the worst migraine he’d ever had. And he heard nine voices in unison, with one young boy’s voice loudest of all.

“Are we dreaming now?”


As I mentioned, the word Mindquack is entirely the property of Tom Roberts, who can be found on Twitter @Tom_Wookiee or at his excellent blog here, and much of the credit should go to him. 

Originally I was going to write this as more of Garth Marenghi type thing as it seemed unavoidable with the whole telekinesis thing, but I tend to just end up writing horror anyway. So any Garth-esque moments are mostly a product of my own bad writing, rather than deliberate pastiche, apart from the initial idea, which was always intended to be a bit silly. I really liked the idea of a secret military experiment taking place in a deserted school for some reason. I thought about making the ending longer with David Case running through empty classrooms and the gym and so on, but I think it's already a bit long as it is, and I think the set-up's more fun than the denouement anyway.

There will be a couple more instalments of Witch's Bile on the way as I'm keen to get that finished. I hope you enjoyed the story, please let me know what you think.

Oh, just a random bit of housekeeping. Things on the fiction front have been a bit slow lately as I've been a bit busy. Part of my business has been covering FrightFest for Cinetalk, and you can find my coverage there, as well as my reviews for films such as V/H/S, American Mary, and Dredd 3D. I'm really hoping to have Lovely Creatures ready to self-publish soon, so please keep an eye out for that and let me know if you're interested. I'm dreading the self-publicising part of it so I will have to try and come up with the best and most fun way to do that. Then I can get back to Lovely Creatures 2, which at the moment has the working title of All The Lovely Creatures. There's also much editing and other ideas flitting around, and trying to think about all of them gets me nowhere, so I need to come up with a plan. Anyway, I am hoping to keep the blog updated more frequently. So, thanks for reading.