The Ghastly Glittergrieve – A Christmas Cautionary Tale

At the same precise time every year,
come dark on Christmas Eve,
A blighted spirit springs to life,
the ghastly GLITTERGRIEVE.

As children try to fall asleep,
it’s scurrying ‘cross your ceiling,
A shadowy nook it’ll find itself,
(one prime for self-concealing).

No bigger than a walnut yet,
this nasty little shade.
Observing from his darkened perch,
to watch festive tables laid.

Invisible at first, he is,
for his acts of misfeasance.
But before the day’s events are done,
you’ll feel his Christmas presence.

He’s there for every opened gift,
for all wrapping ripped away,
for every garish Cracker pulled
each fateful Christmas day.

He’s watching, in the shadows hid,
for each present you reveal.
(This is a task he undertakes
with fervor and with zeal).

In small black claws, he holds his book
with your name etched within.
A black mark will be noted down
for every spotted sin.

For every time you grimace
at your gift of aftershave,
the demons sat there thinking,
“That is no way to behave.”

With each half-hearted “Thank you”
that trickles from your lips,
Against your name, he’s sad to see,
Another black mark slips.

Each cardigan you toss aside,
each pair of socks rejected –
To the scrutiny of the Glittergrieve,
you’re silently subjected.

The demon’s purpose is laid bare,
once revelries have ceased.
For every black mark in the book,
The beasts size has increased.

It’s midnight now, on Christmas day.
And everybody’s resting.
But you’re awake from too much wine,
stomach noisily protesting.

The tap’s turned on, to wash your hands –
your bladder now relieved.
But in the mirror, there it stands,
the ghastly GLITTERGRIEVE.

Dark eyes poke out through masks of skin,
all evil, black and hateful.
The faces from which it peers behind
peeled away from the ungrateful.

Atop his face of ruined flesh,
a faded paper crown.
A tinsel wreath hangs round his neck,
cracked baubles draped around.

It rises up, towering o’er you now,
a weird and twisted shape.
Red, Green and Gold and shimmering,
its crude wrapping-paper cape.

With practiced claws it steals your soul,
Your watcher’s now your killer.
In one fell swoop, you’re doomed to be
A demons stocking filler.

The lesson here? Be thankful for
your gifts, which are meant well.
And if you’re good, you will receive
Good tidings and no Hell.


meDavid Court was born and resides in Coventry, UK with his patient wife and his three less patient cats. A few years back David achieved minor internet notoriety under the pseudonym FoldsFive for his animated GIFs telling the entirety of the Star Wars Trilogy, a fact that he’s still jolly well proud of and insists on telling anyone at any opportunity. When not reading, blogging angrily on http://www.foldsfive.co.uk or http://www.davidjcourt.co.uk, drinking real ale, being immune to explosions, writing software for a living or practicing his poorly developed telekinetic skills, he can be found writing fiction.

Fear the Reaper – with Briana Robertson

reaperteaser2

I love Halloween. No, even more than that. I bloody love Halloween.

Not only does it mean that we’re properly into Autumn (or “Fall” for all of you lovely colonial types), but to a horror writer and fan of horror in general, it’s the perfect time of the year. For one thing, the evenings drawing in and it getting dark sooner makes for greater productivity.  It’s difficult to write anything particular sinister and atmospheric when you’re in your shorts and sweating like Donald Trump at a W.I. meeting because you’re baking at abnormally high temperatures and having to drink the best part of four gallons of water every hour.

So, in the great spooky spirit of the season, I’m bigging up one of my excellent fellow Authors who has a pre-release of her latest book this coming Halloween.

Briana Robertson is a fellow indie author and a writer for Stitched Smile Publications (who I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with in their recent “Unleashing the voices within” anthology). Her latest book is “Reaper”, a horror anthology.

screedbot

Reaper

A tattoo come to life with ominous intentions. Life-threatening panic attacks. A harmless bedroom accident. Predator turned prey.

The Reaper has arrived.

In this new anthology, Briana Robertson presents a selection of chilling tales where Death doesn’t discriminate, leaving readers in fear for their own mortality. Fatality lurks between every turn of the page, threatening all—from a daughter who’s made a deal she can’t afford, to an innocent child left unobserved.

Told exclusively from a female’s perspective, “Reaper” highlights the underlying, everyday terror of facing life’s end and bestows a grim reminder: Death comes for us all.

quadruplesizeI took the opportunity to ask Briana a couple of questions for an insight into her writing.

What motivated you to become an indie author?

I guess you could say both my family and my mental disorders. Though I’ve played at writing since I was a child, it wasn’t until after a car accident in 2011 left me with fibromyalgia, and resulting clinical depression and anxiety that I decided to tackle writing as a career. Writing, more than my medication, is how I exorcise all the demons that seem to be constant companions. In writing darker works, I can pour all my negative emotions out on the page and leave them behind, which allows me to be a better wife and mother to my family.

 How did I come up with the idea for Reaper?

Well, I was offered the chance to participate in an event called “31 Days of Hell,” which is meant to help promote horror authors and their work during the month of October. I wanted to have something that was strictly my own to promote, but knew I wouldn’t have time to do justice to a novel. I had several darker short stories that hadn’t found a home yet; some needed some expanding, others simply a good editor. But with the amount of work I already had available, I knew I could write a few more and have enough material to support an anthology. When I looked at what I had, and the ideas I’d come up with for new stories, I realized that the overarching theme among them was death; and so Death became the main character in the anthology, and he can be found in every story, even if he’s not specifically mentioned by name.

 When you develop your characters, do you already know who they are or do they develop as you write?

I don’t know that I “let” them develop, but that’s what usually ends up happening. I tend to think I know my characters when I start writing, but they usually surprise me in one way or another, because they always end up doing something I hadn’t originally planned. I do try to be true to my characters, always, so if they end up developing in a way I hadn’t intended, I will change my original story if that’s what needs to happen for the characters to remain true to themselves.

Out of all of the protagonists you’ve written and created so far, to which do you relate the most?

Reyna, the protagonist from “Phobia.” And I say that because I based Reyna so closely on myself. Her fears are my fears. Her panic attacks are my panic attacks. Her insecurities are those I’ve battled all my life. So even though the story is fiction, not an autobiography, and there are aspects of Reyna that are distinctly her own—she is a character after all—I relate to her because I know her and understand her the best.

Tell me about your writing process and how you brainstorm ideas.

My ideas usually stem from real life events and personal emotions/reactions. As I mentioned above, writing is how I exorcise the negativity that accompanies my depression and anxiety. So I write about the things that depress me, the things that make me anxious, the things that scare me. I put my own worst nightmares on the page, but allow them to happen to someone else. (My characters probably find that terribly unfair.) I find inspiration in images as well, prompts and the like, but the core story ideas, even when they’re adapted to fit a specific inspirational image, are those that are real and relevant to me.

As to my writing process, I tend to write from beginning to end. I don’t like to jump around; I find it hard to remain consistent that way. If I know where I want the story to go, or if I have a sentence jump into my head that I find especially brilliant, I’ll pause and jot it down, but I don’t jump scenes or write the end before the beginning (though I often know the end of the story before I know the beginning). And I’m more of a “pantster” than an outliner. And that is strictly because my characters never follow the outline anyway.

Thanks very much, Briana!  As part of the Halloween festivities, come join the Halloween pre-release party fun on the Stitched Smile Groupies facebook page and the launch party page which can be found here  And watch this space for the details closer to the release of Reaper!

screedbot2

authorpicBriana Robertson is an emerging speculative fiction author, working primarily within the genres of fantasy and horror. Her love of authors such as Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Patrick Rothfuss, and J.K. Rowling has developed her own need to put pen to paper. Her short stories have been published in several anthologies, and broadcast on online podcasts. Her debut novel is in the works, set to release in 2017. She currently lives in the Midwest, with her husband, three daughters, and their Maine Coon, Bagheera. Find out more about Briana on her facebook or twitter pages.

 

 

 


meDavid Court was born and resides in Coventry, UK with his patient wife and his three less patient cats. A few years back David achieved minor internet notoriety under the pseudonym FoldsFive for his animated GIFs telling the entirety of the Star Wars Trilogy, a fact that he’s still jolly well proud of and insists on telling anyone at any opportunity. When not reading, blogging angrily on www.foldsfive.co.uk or www.davidjcourt.co.uk, drinking real ale, being immune to explosions, writing software for a living or practicing his poorly developed telekinetic skills, he can be found writing fiction.

 

 

 

 

Do Fear The Reaper – with Briana Robertson

reaperteaser2

I love Halloween. No, even more than that. I bloody love Halloween.

Not only does it mean that we’re properly into Autumn (or “Fall” for all of you lovely colonial types), but to a horror writer and fan of horror in general, it’s the perfect time of the year. For one thing, the evenings drawing in and it getting dark sooner makes for greater productivity.  It’s difficult to write anything particular sinister and atmospheric when you’re in your shorts and sweating like Donald Trump at a W.I. meeting because you’re baking at abnormally high temperatures and having to drink the best part of four gallons of water every hour.

So, in the great spooky spirit of the season, I’m bigging up one of my excellent fellow Authors who has a pre-release of her latest book this coming Halloween.

screedbot

Briana Robertson is a fellow indie author and a writer for Stitched Smile Publications (who I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with in their recent “Unleashing the voices within” anthology). Her latest book is “Reaper”, a horror anthology.

quadruplesizeReaper

A tattoo come to life with ominous intentions. Life-threatening panic attacks. A harmless bedroom accident. Predator turned prey.

The Reaper has arrived.

In this new anthology, Briana Robertson presents a selection of chilling tales where Death doesn’t discriminate, leaving readers in fear for their own mortality. Fatality lurks between every turn of the page, threatening all—from a daughter who’s made a deal she can’t afford, to an innocent child left unobserved.

Told exclusively from a female’s perspective, “Reaper” highlights the underlying, everyday terror of facing life’s end and bestows a grim reminder: Death comes for us all.

I took the opportunity to ask Briana a couple of questions for an insight into her writing.

What motivated you to become an indie author?

I guess you could say both my family and my mental disorders. Though I’ve played at writing since I was a child, it wasn’t until after a car accident in 2011 left me with fibromyalgia, and resulting clinical depression and anxiety that I decided to tackle writing as a career. Writing, more than my medication, is how I exorcise all the demons that seem to be constant companions. In writing darker works, I can pour all my negative emotions out on the page and leave them behind, which allows me to be a better wife and mother to my family.

How did I come up with the idea for Reaper?

Well, I was offered the chance to participate in an event called “31 Days of Hell,” which is meant to help promote horror authors and their work during the month of October. I wanted to have something that was strictly my own to promote, but knew I wouldn’t have time to do justice to a novel. I had several darker short stories that hadn’t found a home yet; some needed some expanding, others simply a good editor. But with the amount of work I already had available, I knew I could write a few more and have enough material to support an anthology. When I looked at what I had, and the ideas I’d come up with for new stories, I realized that the overarching theme among them was death; and so Death became the main character in the anthology, and he can be found in every story, even if he’s not specifically mentioned by name.

 When you develop your characters, do you already know who they are or do they develop as you write?

I don’t know that I “let” them develop, but that’s what usually ends up happening. I tend to think I know my characters when I start writing, but they usually surprise me in one way or another, because they always end up doing something I hadn’t originally planned. I do try to be true to my characters, always, so if they end up developing in a way I hadn’t intended, I will change my original story if that’s what needs to happen for the characters to remain true to themselves.

 Out of all of the protagonists you’ve written and created so far, to which do you relate the most?

 Reyna, the protagonist from “Phobia.” And I say that because I based Reyna so closely on myself. Her fears are my fears. Her panic attacks are my panic attacks. Her insecurities are those I’ve battled all my life. So even though the story is fiction, not an autobiography, and there are aspects of Reyna that are distinctly her own—she is a character after all—I relate to her because I know her and understand her the best.

Tell me about your writing process and how you brainstorm ideas.

My ideas usually stem from real life events and personal emotions/reactions. As I mentioned above, writing is how I exorcise the negativity that accompanies my depression and anxiety. So I write about the things that depress me, the things that make me anxious, the things that scare me. I put my own worst nightmares on the page, but allow them to happen to someone else. (My characters probably find that terribly unfair.) I find inspiration in images as well, prompts and the like, but the core story ideas, even when they’re adapted to fit a specific inspirational image, are those that are real and relevant to me.

As to my writing process, I tend to write from beginning to end. I don’t like to jump around; I find it hard to remain consistent that way. If I know where I want the story to go, or if I have a sentence jump into my head that I find especially brilliant, I’ll pause and jot it down, but I don’t jump scenes or write the end before the beginning (though I often know the end of the story before I know the beginning). And I’m more of a “pantster” than an outliner. And that is strictly because my characters never follow the outline anyway.

Thanks very much, Briana!  As part of the Halloween festivities, come join the Halloween pre-release party fun on the Stitched Smile Groupies facebook page here and be sure to join the Facebook Groupies page here.  And watch this space for the details closer to the release of Reaper!

screedbot

authorpicBriana Robertson is an emerging speculative fiction author, working primarily within the genres of fantasy and horror. Her love of authors such as Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Patrick Rothfuss, and J.K. Rowling has developed her own need to put pen to paper. Her short stories have been published in several anthologies, and broadcast on online podcasts. Her debut novel is in the works, set to release in 2017. She currently lives in the Midwest, with her husband, three daughters, and their Maine Coon, Bagheera.

Find out more about Briana on her facebook or twitter pages.


 

 

 

 

 

meDavid Court was born and resides in Coventry, UK with his patient wife and his three less patient cats. A few years back David achieved minor internet notoriety under the pseudonym FoldsFive for his animated GIFs telling the entirety of the Star Wars Trilogy, a fact that he’s still jolly well proud of and insists on telling anyone at any opportunity. When not reading, blogging angrily on www.foldsfive.co.uk or www.davidjcourt.co.uk, drinking real ale, being immune to explosions, writing software for a living or practicing his poorly developed telekinetic skills, he can be found writing fiction.

 

Let it Cry by David Court

“The rules aren’t there for punishment,” they were all constantly told, each reminder delivered with a complete lack of sincerity, “but as a deterrent. To hide the plague-ridden threatens us all.”

Go tell that poor mother that this isn’t a punishment, thought Turlough Hylle.  Try as he might, even with a third slug of poitín burning its way through his innards; he couldn’t shake the last image he’d had of those poor unfortunate souls. The last thing he’d seen as he’d lifted the hammer to nail the last plank across the window were the bright matching blue eyes of Ciara and her infant Bradan staring helplessly back at him.  Not the pleading eyes of a mother begging for both their lives, just the blank and tired expression of somebody resigned to their fate. That somehow made it that much worse.

Turlough placed the small pottery beaker down on the table and looked around the inn, his heart aching. There was not a person in here that had not lost a friend or a family member in this latest visitation of the plague, and the mood in here was a sombre one. As little as ten days ago the inn would have been filled with both people and music – somebody would be playing a harp or beating on a bodhrán, and there’d always be someone who’d had a little too much of the strong stuff merrily singing along. Now the only music was that of a broken voice singing a haunted and mournful lament to the dead. The few occupants stared down at their drinks so as not to meet each other’s gaze, and a fog of thick pipe smoke clung to the rafters like a rain cloud.

There was a constant air of unease, the fear that any one of them could be carrying the accursed plague, hiding the tokens from God beneath their clothes – those foul black blisters that were a visible sign of the pestilence.

As Rowland’s Chief Enforcer, it was not wise for Turlough to be seen drinking this late at night – especially some illegal concoction from a hidden still that his employer was trying to either close down or tax – but the mood he was in, he was passed caring.

He’d spent the evening trying to remind himself that he’d only been doing his job but it did little to assuage his guilt he felt. Everybody knew the rules – if you knew of anybody in your family who had contracted the plague, you had a day to report it to the necessary authorities – which in this case would have been Turlough or one of his men.

A few months earlier – in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of the plague– Dublin had held a general assembly of council members, landowners of adjacent ground, sheriffs and wealthy residents in which they’d determined that the concealment of the plague-stricken was largely responsible for the countries failure to contain the disease. They had all mutually agreed on a decree whereby failure to alert the authorities would be punished.

It was ultimately up to the sheriff – in this case their Protestant landowner Rowland Gibbs – to determine the punishment of any found breaking this law. A certain leniency could be given in that the afflicted could be sent to a “plague house” and their family exiled, but as the Abbeylands had no such building, no such compassion could be granted.

Muttering a tiny curse towards Rowland, Turlough looked to the ceiling before taking another sip of poitín. He winced at the strong peppery taste as the familiar warmth slid down his throat and into his food-starved belly.

It’s said that one day when the Devil scratched his arse and picked his nose, Rowland Gibbs fell out – the townsfolk just hadn’t figured out which end he’d emerged from yet.

It wasn’t uncommon for a town as small as theirs to have no provision to hold the plague-stricken, but in the case of the Abbeylands, the absence of such a building was down to Rowland’s greed. Gibbs had inherited the deeds to the Abbeylands and some of the surrounding land barely a year ago – won in a drunken card game, it was rumoured – and since then had seemed insistent on making everybody’s life as miserable as possible.

Taxes had risen twice times under Gibbs in just that short period, and an already poor populace were suffering. Their only church – traditionally the heart of their community – had fallen into disrepair, the usual funds for its upkeep diverted into adding yet another room or outbuilding to Gibb’s already oversized house at the top of the hill. He had also refused to contribute towards converting one of the many vacant properties into a building to house the plague-sick. The townsfolk had even begun to organise to do the work themselves, even with their own limited funds, but Gibbs had outright forbid it.

“We’ll have no nest of filthy plague-bearers in my town. God looks after his own – the cleanest of us.” he had insisted. Yet despite this, the plague still came.

Gibbs had furthermore dictated – as was his right, however, unworthy he might be of it – that there’d be only one kind of punishment for those who’d secreted the plague-sick, and it was the cruellest punishment of all.

Today was the fifth time that Turlough had carried out the act, and the very thought of it sickened him.

They called it “The Sealing.”

The plague-sufferer and their entire household (whether showing signs of infection or not) would be taken to their place of residence. The contents of the house – all furniture, personal belongings and food – would be removed and burned. Turlough and his enforcers would then begin the unpleasant process of fetching thick pieces of timber from the stores and nailing them over all the windows and doors, sealing the occupants within.

For the first day and night, you’d hear nothing but the sounds of scraping from inside with the occasional thumping as the occupants tried to scratch or push the planks away. There would be swearing and the occasional cry for help, the calling of their neighbours’ names – usually seeking food, water or assistance – and despondent sobbing.

From Turlough’s experience, the activity from within those dark light-shunned rooms would peak around a day after the initial incarceration. The cries would become more desperate, the attempts to break the wood stronger and more determined. It’d be around then that a number of things invariably happened.

The first was that realisation would finally dawn on all of the building’s occupants that nobody was going to help them and that there was no means of escape. By this stage, it was also very likely that the sufferer that they had been trying to hide had succumbed to the plague and died.

The second was that the disease that had been trapped in there with them would now start to take effect – if it had not already – on the other occupants.

The Black Plague is a cruel and painful way to die. It starts with weakness, trembling and the sweats, but over time, the visible signs appear. “Buboes” appear on the body, typically under the armpit and around the groin – sensitive and painful blue-black swellings. Turlough had noticed that people had started to nickname these “God’s tokens” because God would soon take the sufferer once they appeared. He’d heard tell that sufferers would begin to reek of death, a foulness indicating that the poor soul with the blight was rotting from within.

People were forbidden to assist them, lest they be subject to the same punishment. They weren’t even allowed to acknowledge that the occupants of the house even existed, prohibited from speaking to them to even offer words of comfort.

The next day or two would be considerably quieter. The stronger of the afflicted might be still trying to find a means of escape, but the only sound was usually the noise of the sick vomiting or coughing up blood. At this stage, any movement by the affected would be utter agony, so they’d invariably die where they were slumped. The occasional prayer might be cried out in desperation. This wouldn’t be a plea to be healed – the time for that had long gone – but a heartfelt prayer for a quick and painless death.

By the end of the third day, all would be quiet.

Eighty days later Turlough and his men would pry the planks of wood away from the windows and doors and place them back onto the cart, where they’d be taken away for the next time. The victims would usually be found huddled together in the same room, shrivelled corpses sprawled and lying in scattered black patches of dried blood. Their corpses would be burned on the same patch of blackened grass that once served as the pyre for all their worldly goods.

Many of his colleagues protected themselves with prayers at both the beginning and the end of the incarceration process. People had even taken to burning aromatic woods around these charnel houses – anything to prevent breathing in the sick miasma. Turlough, however, was a practical man and, although possessed of a great faith, preferred to rely on a good old-fashioned cloth around his nose and mouth to avoid breathing in the sickness.

With Ciara and Bradan, this had been the fifth sealing he had done in as many weeks. The boy was badly infected – the boil on his neck so outsized that it tilted his tiny head – and it looked as though the mother hadn’t eaten in days through worry. Turlough suspected that neither mother nor new-born would last through nightfall.

Turlough looked down at his empty beaker and considering topping it up again from the earthenware jug at his side. It was rumoured that if you drank too much of the stuff, you could go blind. Turlough wondered, considering the things he’d seen, whether that would a small mercy. When God was taking innocent babies through The Great Mortality, what chance did any of them stand?

Regardless of whether he stayed for another or not, he vowed he’d walk the long way back to his home – he didn’t think that his heart could stand the pain of risking hearing a sound from the imprisoned mother or child.

***

Turlough stared at his shaking hands in the illumination of a single shaft of sunlight; the tips of his fingers reduced to stumps, fragmented and shattered fingernails glistening with blood. The thick black plank that blocked his way had barely been touched; narrow, uneven scoring flecked with red dots traced across a narrow patch of it.

He staggered backwards, wracked with pain. His breathing increasing in pace, he looked down at his body – now a mass of black and blue boils, rubbing painfully across each other with every movement he made. The sunlight glinted off the pearlescent surface of each one and Turlough could do nothing but watch in revulsion as they began to swell and inflate.

The foul and viscous liquid contents of the largest, an obsidian sphere the size of his head, yearned for escape. The membranous skin strained until it could be stretched no further, and Turlough shrieked a gargled cry.

Turlough sat up with a start knocking the now empty earthenware jug from his lap and onto the ground, where it fell in two pieces with a single crack. The scent of the vile potato whisky filled his senses but no liquid spilled forth, having all been drunk by Turlough the evening before. The soreness in his head and the hollowness behind his eyes was a testament to that.

Groggily, he looked about himself. He was inside his barn and slumped back against the far wall, so he’d at least managed to stagger home in the state he’d drunk himself into. The door lay ajar, and his bed remained untouched. Steadying himself with one hand on the floor and another on the wall, he slowly stood up and swayed unevenly on unsteady feet. With two unbalanced lurches forward, Turlough collapsed both face-first onto his bed and into a deep sleep.

***

He woke from a mercifully dreamless sleep to the sound of a loud shouting voice and a hand shaking him by the shoulders. By the time the clarity of the outside world had reached a certain stage, he could make out that the voice was insistently shouting his name. The blurred face he’d turned over to stare at was Feidhlim, one of his fellow enforcers, who was looking down at Turlough with a concerned expression of urgency, all the time silently mouthing at him to stand up.

It took a few moments for Turlough’s addled brain to work out that the shouted voice was coming from elsewhere and not from Feidhlim at all, and with a sobering horror, the truth dawned on him. He sat bolt upright.

Sheriff Gibbs was pacing up and down the floor of Turlough’s tiny home, his ordinarily ruddy face now beetroot purple with rage. Upon seeing Turlough was awake, he stormed over and glowered down at him.

“Another useless bloody drunken Taig!” he spat, flecks of spit raining over the semi-conscious Turlough. “I needed you hours ago, and yet here you are, asleep in your damned pit.”

Turlough raised a weak arm in protest, but Rowland pushed it away.

“If it’s booze that’s keeping your from your work, I’ll keep your coin for this week. If you’ve money for drink, I’m paying you plenty too much.”

He stood up and turned away from Turlough.

“And just be glad I don’t keep your coin for the month. Get yourself cleaned up, and I want to see you at the house for…”

He stopped abruptly, and without another word quick-marched to the doorway of the house where Turlough had been slumped for most of the morning. He turned back to him holding one-half of the cracked earthenware jug, a self-satisfied smirk on his red pig-like features.

He held it up to his nose, a knowing look in his eyes, and sniffed it deeply before turning away from it in mock disgust, eyebrows raised.

“Poitín!” he snarled, “Damned gut-rot!  Begone with your blasted moonshine!”

He threw the jug onto the floor where it shattered into a dozen or so more pieces. Apoplectic with anger now, he marched back to where Turlough sat. If Gibbs wasn’t quite so powerful, the sight of this purple faced fat man might almost have been comical. If the Lord God had any mercy, he’d have made the evil squat fellers heart pop right there and then.

“You’ll tell me where you got this damnable poison from if you know what’s good for you, so help me God!”

“Found it,” came the reply from Turlough, the words slightly slurred. He couldn’t look Gibbs squarely in the eye.

He’d never seen Gibbs looking quite so angry – a few of the veins in his forehead were now protruding so much it looked like he was smuggling twigs in there. He breathed deeply before leaning in, their faces now almost touching, and Gibbs’ voice reduced to a menacing snarl.

“You’ll tell me where you got it from, by God,” he said, prodding a finger into the top of Turlough’s chest, “or I’ll turn over every home in Abbeylands until I find that still and exile every uncivilised Taig bogtrotter that I find there.”

Turlough knew that, for all of Gibbs pretence, the oaf didn’t want to know where the poitín came from so he could ban it. He knew that Rowland would be well within his rights to levy a tax on the sale of it – a nice little earner for the vile little money-grabber. The still belonged to an old fella who distilled the stuff in his basement – if Gibbs decided to search out for it, he’d find it in no time, and the elderly Padraig Kavanagh and his wife wouldn’t survive a single night of being exiled.

Almost on cue, Gibbs changed his tone, and his grimace turned into a smile. Looking at that row of yellowing teeth, Turlough didn’t know which expression he hated more.

“Of course,” said Gibbs, straightening the collars on Turlough’s filthy shirt, “I don’t want to have to do that. If you tell me where you got it from, I can come to an arrangement with them, and there’s no reason you can’t still have your poitín. Do I make myself clear?”

Turlough nodded, and his face fell. Gibbs stood back up, rubbing his hands together, one eyebrow raised in anticipation. Turlough glanced over to Feidhlim, who was glaring back angrily, fearful of what he would say next.

“I…I was wrong, Mr. Gibbs,” said Turlough, mournfully, “I was wrong to try and hide it from you. Of course, I’ll tell you where I got the poitín from.”

Gibbs placed his hands on his hips and glared at Turlough.

“Truth be told, Mr. Gibbs,” he said, bringing himself up to his feet. Turlough was a stocky and well-built man, as taller than Rowland as Rowland was wider than he was. He hadn’t been given the role of Chief Enforcer for his charm with the women or his ability to hold a drink, after all.

“Truth be told, Mr. Gibbs,” he repeated, looking his taskmaster square in the eye. “I got it from a pal visiting from Kenmare.”

Gibbs glared back at him. His mouth opened as though to say something but he merely stood there for a few moments incredulous, looking to all the world like a landed fish straight from the brook.

“If you want,” smirked Turlough, “I could ask him where he got it from. You know, if he passes through again.”

“Tomorrow morning!” barked Gibbs, turning on his heel, “I want you at my house as soon as the sun rises, and not a moment later!”  Feidhlim looked over at Turlough with a gleam in his eyes, struggling to keep a straight face. The two of them exchanged a wink, and he hurried back after Gibbs, closing the door carefully behind him with a final smile.

“FEIDHLIM!” screamed Gibbs, the sound of his shouting vanishing into the distance.

Turlough rolled his eyes and fell backwards onto the bed, breathing a huge sigh of relief.

***

Gibbs was as petty as he was cruel, and the sunrise saw Turlough tasked with the unpleasant job of cleaning the latrine pits from his master’s estate. “For a man living here alone,” thought Turlough, “he certainly produces a fair lot of shite.”

It was nearly noon when he saw Feidhlim leave the house, no doubt given another petty task from the Sheriff. The two nodded at each other, and Turlough stepped closer, his hand outstretched.

“I’ll stand me distance if it’s okay with you, Turlough” chirped Feidhlim as he backed up, “I think you’ve inadvertently found a way to spare yoursel’ from the plague. The Grim Reaper himself wouldn’t dare go near you smelling like that.”

“Did you go near Ciara’s house today?” asked Turlough.

“I did, yes.”

“Did you hear anything?”

“Aw Jesus, Turlough. You don’t want to be asking questions like that.”

“I need to know, Feidhlim.”

Feidhlim looked at the ground and then back at his old friend. There was sorrow in his eyes.

“I.. I heard nothing from Ciara. But the baby, Turlough, the baby is still crying.”

Turlough put his hands over his mouth and held back a sob. By some cruel twist of fate, Bradan had outlived his mother. Now lay there, dying in the dark, crying for succour that’d never come.

“Oh, Jesus save us” he muttered under his breath, “Jesus save us all.”

Turlough marched towards the door of the house, only prevented from barging in by Feidhlim placing a hand on his shoulder.

“What are you doing, Turl?” he asked.

“This is wrong,” said Turlough, his voice wracked through bitter tears, “I’m away to your man to get this sorted.”

Feidhlim had seen this look on his friend before and knew that nothing he said would change his mind. He nodded and took a step back.

***

Gibbs was counting coins when Turlough walked into his office. He looked up at his Chief Enforcer and feigned a look of disgust.

“Away with you to get a wash, man. I asked you to clean my latrine, not bring half of the contents in with you.”

“A word, Mister Gibbs.”

“Begone. Will that do?” Gibbs smirked to himself, pleased as punch with his little witticism.

“The baby Bradan. His mother is gone, but he still lives.”

Gibbs shrugged his shoulders and glanced about the room, as though registering his lack of concern to an imaginary audience.

“And this concerns me in what way?”

“This is cruel, Mister Gibbs. We shouldn’t be punishing an infant like this.”

“Punishment, Mister Hylle? The infant has the plague! He’ll be in the arms of the Lord soon enough.”

“Even now isn’t soon enough, Mister Gibbs. Something should be done.”

“And what do you recommend? Cure the child with prayers?”

“We put the baby out of its misery, Mister Gibbs. To let it live another moment is torture.”

“Suffer the little children – Isn’t that what the good book says? Let the child suffer.”

Gibbs was as ignorant as he was cruel.

“Suffer means ‘allow’, Mister Gibbs.”

“And who do you propose we send into that charnel house, Mister Hylle?  That festering plague pit?”

A moment of silence.

“I would.”

Gibbs opened a drawer in his desk and slid the pile of coins back into it using his forearm, as though taking his eyes off his wealth for one moment would see it stolen. He closed the drawer and stood up, wandering slowly towards the window.

From here, on top of the hill, they could see the whole of the town. Gibbs had had it built here for exactly that reason – so he could see that which he ruled over. Ordinarily there’d have been a church built here, but Gibbs was having none of that. The church was a squalid dilapidated building hidden in the town itself, the funding it should have received from taxes diverted into increasing the luxury to which Gibbs had become accustomed. It didn’t look like much from up here – an array of featureless ramshackle buildings with black smoke rising from it into the equally grey sky.

“Do you know why we lock them up in their houses, Mister Hylle?”

Turlough knew the actual answer but dare not say it aloud. People were locked up in their houses because Gibbs wasn’t willing to spend a single coin on caring for them – to make their last days on this miserable world tolerable. He remained silent.

“I’ll tell you why. We lock them up in their houses to act as a deterrent, Mister Hylle. The plague comes back time and time again to Abbeylands because they deserve it.”

He turned back to face Turlough, leaning against his desk.

“If a lonely infant crying in the dead of night is enough to remind people that they shouldn’t hide those with the plague, then I welcome it.”

“Let it cry.”

***

Bradan, burning with a fierce strength that none had expected from someone so young, bawled for his dead mother for not only for that night but also throughout the next day and night as well. The sound echoed around the town, and nary a soul who heard it – save Gibbs – didn’t wince with every new cry or cross themselves with every fresh wail.

It was only in the early hours of the next morning that the noise finally ceased. The nerves of all were on edge until the sun rose, but the house had now fallen silent.

For the next few weeks, the sound of any baby crying – or even the hungry gulls that swept overhead – reminded everybody of that time. With no fresh outbreaks of the plague, it seemed that even Death was sated with his prize of an infant.

Time went on. Winter was upon them when Turlough and his colleagues prised the black timber from the windows and doors. Turlough, as his insistence, was the first inside. In the bare room there they lay together propped against a wall, the nigh-on skeletal gaunt form of a baby grasped in the tight leather skinned arms of Ciara’s corpse. The mother looked at peace, but the mouth of the child was wide open – as though it had finally perished mid-cry.

The remains were burned on the pyre, and Turlough mouthed a special prayer that night as he watched the flames burn down to ember.

***

Of course, Death is never satiated. It has an endless hunger, and can only be held at bay and never truly repelled. A rumour of a black mark, only partially hidden by clothing. A family who linger in their homes too long, shunning their neighbours. A raid by enforcers that revealed two of a family of five had the curse, God’s tokens already fully formed.

The final judgement against the family, given by the bastard Gibbs and no other, was no surprise. The enforcers didn’t say a word to each other as familiar black plank by blank plank was carried from the cart, and nail after nail after nail sealed the walls and the final fate of the buildings occupants.

Turlough – once through accident, but now through the order of Gibbs – nailed the last plank into place and stared at the man within, already two days gone with the boils. There was no begging or pleading, no sobbing for mercy, just a glance between the two as though there were some unspoken agreement that had taken place.

With the last plank nailed into place, Turlough went back to his home, lay on his bed and lost himself in thought.

He thought about the scathing smirk on the face of Gibbs when the final judgement was decreed, and how – even despite a last ditch attempt by Turlough for leniency – the house was declared to be sealed.

He thought about how easy it had been for the Chief Enforcer to conspire with all the other enforcers, most of whom had lost family and friends. He thought about how easy it was to knock Gibbs unconscious,  how heavy he was to drag to the house.

He thought about how easy it had been to sneak Gibbs into the house with all the other enforcers keeping everybody away, and remembered the panicked look on the Sheriff’s face when he realised where he was.

He remembered seeing the family to be interned within, all confined to their house before the deed was done – and more to the point remembered the understanding look in the father’s face.

He remembered hearing the muffled – almost silent – cries for help from Gibbs that were dulled through several layers of folded bedsheet wrapped around his mouth. He remembered him struggling to struggle free from the tight bonds that Turlough had placed him in.

In addition, the most delicious memory of all, he remembered leaning in close to Gibbs and saying three words that caused the Sheriff to sob uncontrollably, his final fate now known to him.

“Let it cry.”

***

The plague never came to the Abbeylands again. The disappearance of the missing Sheriff was never solved, and the deeds of the land reverted into the hands of another. To say the new owner was kind would be exaggerating, but to his credit, he never exhibited the level of coldness that Gibbs ever had.

Turlough Hylle lived to a ripe old age. Not a great one by today’s standards, but a grand enough one for then. After a certain amount of time after the deed had passed, he’d tell any fella who brought him a drink, and they’d all listen attentively to him. A cynical man would say that the Irish are known for telling their tall tales, but there wasn’t a soul for whom a shiver wouldn’t run down their spine and who wouldn’t be utterly convinced by every word that came out of that old man’s mouth when he came to the end of the story.

“For eighty days and eighty nights I wondered how God would take him. Whether it’d be the hunger or the plague that dragged him off to the hell he richly deserved. I remember it was a cold morning, and the snows had just started to fall when we prised away the black planks and I – as I always did – went into the house first.”

“I knew something wasn’t right when I stepped in there. Where I’d expected to see a pile of corpses, there was something else there. Something thin and blackened, layers of sodden red bedsheets clinging to it like a shroud. An animal that once was once a man that looked up at me with the eyes of Rowland Gibbs sprawling across a pile of the picked shining bones of the plague-dead. A thing covered with the scars of burst plague boils that stretched out an accusing finger towards me before dying. Something that should have died a long time before, that had waited for me, out of sheer spite.”

The Architects of Fear (with apologies to Meyer Dolinsky)

Matthew wanders through an occupied San Francisco, watching impassively as dozens of oblivious happy children are being ushered into a cinema. He’s wandering towards City Hall when Nancy spots him, barely able to conceal her relief. As she wanders towards him, desperate for an ally in these familiar yet alien surroundings, Matthew opens his mouth and points at her, emitting an inhuman cry.  Nancy, the only human, left in the city, helplessly screams…

The last meal before hyper-sleep with their seemingly healthy and recovered Executive Officer takes a horrific turn when he develops a sudden coughing fit and the crew suddenly discover – in the bloodiest way imaginable – that there’s a Banquo at their banquet…

As Mark Petrie stares at the gathering night-time outside his bedroom window, a white-eyed and fang-toothed Danny Glick suddenly drifts into view, tapping on the pane and urging his friend to let him in.  Mark starts to slowly step towards the closed window and his deceased friend…

Vera Webster tries to escape the control room, but a blue glowing tractor beam from the Ultimate Computer pulls her into its electronic mass. As she screams and struggles to escape, wires and cables bind her into place as metal plates and circuitry are welded onto her face and arms.  Her eyes open, metallic and blank, the transformation complete…

Not all of my childhood (and teen) memories are related to being afraid (I can still remember being six years old watching breathlessly and wide-eyed as Luke Skywalker – his colleagues lost – counted down the distance between him and the Death Star exhaust port), but they’re some of the strongest memories I’ve carried through life with me.  There are other ones, of course – having been prescribed glasses for the first time, first, kiss, that gravity-defying moment when the stabilizers were taken off my first bicycle… but that might have been some other kid.  It was a long time ago…

Is this why I write horror?  Because of the visceral strength of these memories?

I fell into writing by accident. From being introduced to roleplaying games back in the early eighties (Dungeons & Dragons and Traveler), I always enjoyed the role of referee, the Games-master, the Storyteller.  Creating worlds and settings for adventurers to play in, be they Knights and Wizards, Street Judges from Mega City One, or Vampires, werewolves and ghosts.

I’d end up writing journals for the characters or stories about those characters – never intended for the rest of the world, just for the players or, in certain cases, just me.  Writing for writings sake.  Later on, without role-playing as an outlet (friends move on, and jobs and kids put paid to any attempt at regular gaming – damn you to hell, real world!) the frustrated writer in me then got into blogging.

I tried my hand at a few short stories, and people – being the incredibly unpredictable lot they are – only went and bloody liked them. I tried to be as eclectic as possible – a bit of satire or social commentary, a bit of science fiction, a bit of horror…

From falling into writing by accident, falling into horror writing followed suit.  It wasn’t that the horror tales got a better reaction from readers, it was just that I found myself preferring to write stuff for that genre.  It was easier and, most importantly, more fun.  Horror elements started to appear in the science fiction and the satire.

Is this why I write horror, then? Because it’s easier?

I write horror because I like to be scared, and it’s a great thing as a writer to see that feedback from others. The wince, the gasp, the look of disbelief… Horror is like pornography in that they both provoke a definitive physical reaction.

(“Why not write porn, then?”, you might ask. I’d have at least hoped you’d bought me a drink before launching into such a question, though.  I’ll readily admit that there’s a fair amount of crossover – both genres relish the concept of things thrusting into other moist things, for example –  but I’m quite simply not of the right mind-set.  I’d struggle to think of enough metaphors for an erection, for one. Oh, and I find the word ‘ejaculate’ too amusing to take seriously. I’m giggling just typing it. Honestly.)

Primarily I’ve found myself writing about the things that scare me. I haven’t worked out yet whether this is to exorcise or exaggerate my existing fears…

Despite being a regular church-goer as a child, adulthood saw the scientific part of my brain rationalize the non-existence of God. As an atheist, I envy those with faith because they have the comforting knowledge that there, after death, there’s something waiting there for them. I sometimes lie awake at night terrified by the prospect of nothingness.  I’m really rather fond of being me, and I’d like that to go on indefinitely.  An equal (but infinitely more unrealistic) and slightly related terror is that of being trapped somewhere for eternity.  (One of my very few poems – “The Lantern” is a piss-take of that very fear – I’ll let you see it if you ask me nicely).

A health scare nearly a decade ago caused me to develop an unhealthy level of anxiety and hypochondria that remains to this day – one that’s given me a much deeper understanding of the body horror of Cronenberg and Barker. A recurring motif in my stories is that of cancer and disease.

I’m aware that the previous two paragraphs make me sound like some kind of terrified neurotic, but that couldn’t be further from the case. I’m a functioning terrified neurotic, at the very least. I think we all are, in some way. It’s what defines us a species.

We all have fears – it’s just that as horror writers we’re given the rare opportunity to channel something out of them, and we’re sometimes lucky in that we encounter others who find the same things scary.

I’m glad to be a part of Stitched Smile, and I relish the opportunity of scaring you somewhere along the way.

(And the no-prize quiz for the names of the films that made such an impact on my impressionable young mind?  The remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien, Salem’s Lot and – not even a horror film – Superman III)