Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Slide Left

“Slide left.”

His father’s voice. It didn’t belong here and it didn’t hang around.

The door to the basement slammed and Michael opened his eyes. Whatever was down there with him shifted its weight and sighed. Michael pushed himself across the wet dirt floor back towards the cellar steps. The door would be locked. He knew it. He'd heard the metal screech of a dead-bolt. He was trapped down here. In the dark, with this rotten smell and with whatever this thing was.

He found a wall and pressed himself against it. Some impulse told him to set about looking for a weapon but what would be down here? Where would he find something to protect him from whatever had made his captors cackle as they pushed him down the steps? He tried desperately to make sense of what had happened.

His car had broken down in the rain. That was it. That was how it had started. The battery had died and he was looking for a phone so he could get some help because his bloody phone battery was as dead as the one in his car. He was only looking for help. He should have known. He should have guessed by the smiles on these people’s faces that they weren’t quite right. The house had looked normal from the outside. The man and the woman, both tall, she had lots of blonde hair and he had hardly any. They invited him in. Said they knew the number for the services. It all looked…normal. He could smell their dinner cooking in the oven. Heard some crooner on the radio. It had all been fine.

Then he had seen through to the living room. There was a girl lying on the floor, not moving, a pool of blood circling her head. He’d rushed over to help. He’d been trying to help. He’d had a hand on her shoulder and was shouting and then he'd heard laughter. And a scream. And everything had gone black.

“Hello,” said a woman’s voice. “You shouldn’t be down here.”

Michael looked up with a start, his heart pounding deafening blood, peering into the darkness. Whoever had spoken was hidden but the voice didn’t sound unkind. It sounded apologetic.

“I know,” he said stupidly, “I don’t know what happened…I think...something hit me on the head and I fell down. There was a girl. What…who are these people?”

The sigh again. It was less sinister now, sadder. Michael leaned forward.

“Don’t you know? They’re killers. They take people like you and me and they put us down here and then they wait.”

“Wait for what?” asked Michael. He knew he didn’t want an answer but he couldn’t help himself. He didn't have to wait long for it.

“They wait for us to stop. They wait for us to stop fighting, to stop trying, to stop hoping. Then we stop breathing.”

A hammering sound from upstairs. Fists on the door, a mocking wailing, and finally laughter. Michael closed his eyes.

“How long have you been down here?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I was seventeen when I first woke up. How old do I sound?”

Michael thought the voice coming from the darkness was that of a young woman. He inched along the wall towards her. If only he could see who he was talking to. If they could work together, they could find a way out, and he told her so.

“You can’t get out of here. There’s not an out.” The girl was resigned.

Michael was not going to listen to this. There was a way out. There had to be. There was a way in so there was a way out. The two freaks upstairs couldn’t keep him locked down here for ever. And this girl, the one down here, she needed his help. No matter how scared he was, he had responsibilities. So he took a deep breath. And he told her about what his father used to tell him about bad situations.

“He used to tell me that when the worst thing in the world is coming towards you like a fucking lorry, just slide left. That’s all you need to do. No matter how hopeless, how inevitable it seems, there’s always another way out, another way around. You don’t need the perfect solution, it doesn’t have to be a work of genius, but that’s all you need sometimes. To just…slide left. To get out of the way.”

“It’s not always as simple as that,” the voice came back. There was less sorrow, more determination. How long had she been down here? Maybe she really believed there was no way out.

“It can be. There’s always a way.”

Then a thought made him stop cold.

“Wait…you said ‘us’. Have there been others?”

“Of course,” returned the voice. “Some have gone. One or two are still here.”

Michael stopped cold. If there was a group, why had they not mounted an escape? Even teenagers like this girl should surely be capable of taking on the two upstairs. He blinked again and was relieved that his vision was starting to improve.

“Who else is here? Why aren’t they talking?”

“Patrick can’t. Millie’s shy.”

He looked around the room, willing his eyes to adjust to the darkness even faster. Why couldn’t he see further than a few inches?

“Tell them not to worry. I’m going to get us out of here.” He needed to believe it. Because he could do this. He could get out. He could get them all out, whoever the hell was down here. They’d all get out together.
The sigh again.

“We’re not worried. Millie says thank you for trying to help. She appreciated the gesture but you should never have come. The rest of us feel the same. We don't like you coming down here and talking about a way out. Like it was easy. Like it was something we hadn't thought of. Patrick can’t talk to you because they took his tongue. There’s a boy called Dominic around here somewhere but he doesn’t like anyone to see him since they took his skin.”

Michael couldn’t breathe. He could barely speak. But he had to.

“What did they take from you?”

“Everything. They took everything from me, Michael. And then they took my heart.

A face thrust in front of him, skin a torn mass of white and red, blood running down from her mouth over shattered teeth, sickly eyes rolled up towards the ceiling and a guttural voice coming from a bottomless well of agony.

“Do you want to see my way out, Michael? Are you ready to escape, you arrogant piece of shit?”

Michael opened his mouth to scream.

“If only I'd tried sliding left, you stupid fucking moron.”


Hi there.

First of all, sorry about the delay in getting new fiction up. I've ended up being very busy with non-fictional things, some of which have been good, some of which have been bad, all of which have taken time. Anyway. Here's a short story. Kind of a companion piece to This Bitter Family Tree, except I couldn't do it in 500 words so I had to settle for 1000. The title comes from @Daanando and it's not quite what I had in mind for it originally, but I couldn't quite figure out what to do with that story. It was also going to be a lot more mournful but suddenly she was angry and I liked that a lot more.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

This Bitter Family Tree

Michael Thurlston trudged through the dark woods towards the house. The howling wind masked the crunching of his boots on the snow. In his bag he carried only what he needed to survive the journey there. There would be no journey back.

The house looked out over a small lake. His family had once owned all the surrounding land but it had been sold off, piece by piece, until only the house remained. The house was all that was required.

He climbed the frosted wooden steps and took the key from his bag. The key was an ancient thing but the lock offered no resistance. The moonlight streaming through the windows made the candles Michael had brought with him unnecessary. He lit them anyway. He’d been told that ceremony was important.

The walls were lined with dusty portraits. Generations of Thurlston men stared out at the skinny, bearded 30 year-old who lay his coat carefully by the door. Michael took a moment to examine his forefathers. The resemblance was clear, occasionally uncanny. A proud line dating back hundreds of years. A family with a strict tradition. Not one of them was smiling. Michael understood.

Several feet above him, close to the ceiling, the long-dead men in the photographs had gathered to watch the ceremony below them unfold. The spirits chattered away, safe in the knowledge that they could not be heard. The tone was one of approval. “It’s time. He’s come of his own accord, as he should.” Murmurs of agreement echoed in their private realm ten feet in the air.

One spirit stood apart from the others. Matthew Thurlston watched, weeping, as Michael went to his bag, took out a small package and began to unwrap it. As his fingers wrapped around the shiny pistol it was all too much for Matthew. He snapped and howled for Michael to stop.

Below him, Michael looked up. He could have sworn he heard a man’s voice. One that was strangely familiar. But that was impossible. There was no one here to distract him from what had to be done.

Matthew was quickly surrounded by angry spirits, Thurlston men with their dark eyes, Roman noses and widow’s peaks, speaking in unison. “You cannot interfere. He must take his life. From generation to generation it comes to pass. We all did it, you did it. Now it is his turn.”

Matthew begged, pleaded for his son’s life. Finally he asked the question each had once asked. “Why can’t we let him go? Why tell him to do this?”

“Spite” said the assembled voices. “Inherited bitterness. One went first. Then the next. Now we go on. Thirty years to start a family, produce an heir, then his time is done.”

“Not my boy,” cried Matthew, and raced down through the air. He hovered next to Michael and screamed a warning in his ear. Just in time for the bullet to pass through it. Shaking, Matthew dried his eyes and waited to greet his son.


Hello there. 

You may have noticed that this title is not in the list of suggested titles. You may have also noticed that this story is a good 2,500 words shorter than the ones I usually put up on here. Well, the story behind this was that I forgot to write a story for a short story competition. The word count was 500 words, and once I realised that I'd missed the deadline I thought I'd try to write the story in 500 words anyway, and not let myself go over even by 1 word. It was a fun little challenge, actually. Resisting the urge to introduce the patriarch who instigated the tradition who would gravely intone the Thurlston rules, I just had them recited in en masse. Rather than give Michael any character of his own, you just assume he has a son because of the rules. I had two ideas for stories, the other one would hopefully be a lot scarier and I will try and get that written this week too.

It might not work at all. I wrote it quite quickly but I did a lot of fiddling with it, making sure the wording was just right. I'm glad I wrote it as it was a nice reminder about how important the words are. Which is an obvious point, really, but when you get used to waffling on it's easy to forget. With a story this short there's no room for skimming. It has to be precise, which is a style I went for in my novel (and the in-progress follow-up, which is moving forward slowly). And I like that. I hope you enjoyed it.