LIFE AFTER DEATH

I’ve been working on a new batch of short stories for a second collection book to be released next year, and with Halloween just around the corner, it seems like the perfect time to unveil the first offering.

This story tries to look into the existence of Death.

The hulk twisted through the unending nothing of deep space. Occasionally there was a flash of an isolated light to signify that the pulse reactors deep in the heart of the once mighty ship were still producing flickers of power, but there was no consistent drive and it was clear to anyone who would have happened to look in the direction of the ‘Laputa’ that this ship was already as good as dead.

The black clad figure stood on the outer surface of the ship, in line with what would have been the largest loading bay if it had still been intact, and just gazed out longingly at the emptiness of the universe and the few far off stars that were visible.

For the so very many years that Death had travelled all existence, carrying out the ultimate task of reaping the life from every being there had ever been, she’d never ever considered what beauty there was all around her. She clasped tightly to the shaft of the implement that had gone with her all of these years she’d travelled, her skeletal fingers creaking more than the scythe despite the lack of atmosphere. Over the ages, she’d used so very many different versions of this tool to claim the lives of everything she’d come across. Guns of all manner of design, all possible kind of bladed weapon and even as far as constructs of other living creatures to fit within a given food chain, but at this point she felt, and didn’t really understand why, that the scythe, the classic implement, was the way to go.

She was brought crashing from the considerations of her mind when the ship lurched under her feet.

Peering over the ruined edge of the blast crater that had been the loading bay, she saw what she had been drawn here for.

The tiniest flare of fire blossomed deep within the ship, behind one of the many sealed emergency doors which had slammed shut when the original accident had taken place, but even that barest push had been enough. Decades of exposure to space had taken its toll on the ‘Laputa’ and that gentle nudge had been enough to blow out the pressure seal of the door and expel what small volume of trapped gases there had been behind.

That in turn had been enough to dislodge some mangled debris and send it floating free of the ship along with a handful of other crates and boxes, and crucially, the very last functioning cryo-chamber on the ship, containing the very last human in the universe.

Death strode out into the nothing as if walking on a smooth, rigid surface and made her way to intercept the chamber.

She began wondering about the details of what she was going to do and let her mind wander around the specifics. ‘Why was she here now?’ ‘The chamber was leaving the hulk behind as it floated free but there was nothing about her that was likely to destroy it, and therefore the creature inside so it was odd she’d been drawn here’. ‘Pre-emptive strike?’

She arrived next to the chamber and just stared at it trying to work it out but didn’t have to wait long. One of the other crates from the ship was nudged ever so slightly from the cloud of debris and just grazed the chamber before heading off on its own way to oblivion. That graze had been enough to hit just the right pads on the chamber and Death could see the outcome clearly.

First there had been a flash of golden light and then an expulsion of gases and finally, the chamber cracked in half as it opened.

Onboard any ship, when this process had taken place, there had been an atmosphere surrounding the contents of the chamber as it was released. Out here now, there was nothing so the result was going to be clear.

The man inside wasn’t even conscious.

It had been a miracle that life had remained for so long despite all of the horrors which had befallen the others on the ship. A miracle that the power had remained for this long. A miracle that the chamber hadn’t been destroyed before now. A miracle that the ship was just floating derelict with this one survivor for all these years.

But time had run out for this poor man.

Death reverted to her role.

With a mighty backswing, although not strictly required, she felt this lonely person deserved the full treatment from her, she whipped her scythe through him from head to toe, traversing a path directly through all of his body. The stroke left no physical clues as to its passing, it never did, but as Death held up the blade to inspect it, glinting within, producing a light source of its own, was the very life energy of the man. But he wasn’t alone. There was also the bacteria which had been in his gut, what looked like some kind of fungus and something she could only assume was some kind of virus. Add to that some other things that she’d never really taken the time to understand and it was clear that all of the life that had been within the cryo-chamber was now gone.

The man just looked the same. He was still sleeping.

Stopping her momentum, she just stood in the emptiness and watched the open chamber drift away from her.

“I wonder if I should just follow him as he falls through space?” she spoke aloud.

“That won’t be necessary,” said a deep male voice from behind her.

It’s fair to say that Death hadn’t been expecting a response so she felt her reply of screeching a dry cry and whirling with the scythe towards the voice was perfectly justified.

The owner of the voice didn’t react in the slightest as the mighty blade slashed through him. Not past him, through him in the same way that it had for the man in the chamber. This time, though, there was no further movement and no light was taken from the person to build within the blade. If Death had had features she would have been frowning. No-one had ever been immune to the power of her scythe.

She quickly re-gathered her composure, but still held herself ready for the unexpected.

The other figure was robed in exactly the same way as she was and carried with him, a scythe just like hers, though she could see clearly that the blade on the scythe was pristine to the point of having never been used.

He nodded slowly in what could have been a greeting before speaking.

“I give you my most humble salutation, Death. I have waited so very long to meet you.”

“And you are?” Death didn’t stand on ceremony at the best of times so having someone jump out on her wasn’t going to change her way of doing something.

“I am Death,” said the hooded man and gripped the wooden shaft of his scythe with a skeletal hand that, despite being the same as hers, made her feel slightly on edge.

“You can’t be Death, I am. I am, and always have been, the reaper of the life of all things in this universe. So who are you really?”

“If you are Death, my lady, then I am Death, too.”

His voice was hypnotic and despite the confusion that his presence was causing, she was feeling more comfortable with each second.

There was a second Death.

“And you’re here to help me in my task of taking the lives?”

Death too took a stride closer to Death before answering.

“No, my lady.”

“So you do the same but we’ve never met before? I find that hard to believe.”

“We do indeed do the same thing, my lady and it is indeed true that we have never met before.” Again his voice was just so calming.

Death considered this.

“So were you meant to reap that man and all of the other life in him? Did I beat you to it?”

“Oh no, my lady. The task of claiming the contents of that, container,” he beckoned to the cryo-chamber as it continued away from them. “You were always meant to be here to claim that which you did.”

“OK,” said Death and felt confused.

“So are you supposed to be claiming more life from the ship? Is there other life you have to reap?”

“No the ship is quite devoid of anything resembling life. I am here for you, my lady.”

“You’re here for me? What does that mean? You said that you weren’t here to help me?” This was ridiculous.

Death too dropped back his hood to reveal the same skull head as Death but this time, Death felt terror coming from that bone visage. Death too was causing her to feel terror.

“If you’re not here to help me, are you replacing me? Do I get to put my burden down after all these years?”

Death too dropped his head very slightly, as if looking at the ground that wasn’t beneath their feet.

“No, my lady,” he began while still looking down. “You have completed the work you had been charged with.”

Death didn’t understand.

“With the action of claiming the contents of that chamber, you have reaped the final examples of any form of life in the universe. There is now nothing left that is alive, so there will never be anything that dies. As such, Death is no longer needed in this universe, so I am here to claim the life that is you.”

Death swung the scythe again, and again it passed harmlessly through the robes of Death too, having no more effect than if it had been passing through a cloud of smoke. Death too remained still as Death swiped again and again, each time hoping for a different reaction.

Eventually, Death stopped swinging. Breathlessly, despite the utter lack of so many of the things needed to breathe, she spoke.

“I am Death. I cannot die. I am eternal through all of the ages that are and shall be. What makes you think that I will allow you to try to claim me?”

Death too raised his gaze from the floor and fixed it on Death.

“Firstly my lady, if you have nothing more to reap as all life is gone, what are you for? What should you do now?” Death listened on, preparing to respond. “Secondly, how can you feel such fear from simply being gazed upon by me? You are eternal and unending yet you grip to the fear of what your own death would represent in the same way as some of the creatures you have claimed. Death should elicit no fear in those who cannot die.” Death didn’t like the soothing tone anymore. “But thirdly, it is what I am here to do.”

They both stopped at those words.

“Since you existed,” Death too continued, “have you ever known a time before doing what you do now? Have you a memory of a time before you were Death?”

Silence in response.

“Can you recall when it was that you were asked to complete the task of Death? Did you take up the reaping because you saw it as virtuous or needed?”

Death opened her skinless, lipless mouth to answer but no words came. She couldn’t.

“In the same way that you’ve always been, always followed the same path, as have I. I ‘know’ that my task is to claim Death as that is all I’ve known since the very beginning of me. If you’ve continued with your work for as long as you have because you knew you had to, doesn’t that mean that I have the same level of conviction to my ‘known’?”

Death stepped back but wasn’t feeling like giving up just yet.

“But if I had such conviction to complete what I have to, why would I just drop my guard to anyone. You’re not the first person who said they were going to end Death you know?”

Death too seemed to smile.

“But I am the first to say that, not only with the power to do it but also the knowledge of life, or indeed the lack thereof, in the universe. You’re finished. Your life’s work is complete. With the action behind you,” he gestured again at the man in the cryo-chamber, “you have reaped the final life anywhere, thereby making your role in the tapestry of existence, superfluous.”

Death considered his words and attempted to construct a response but there was nothing to say.

Until.

“But life could reappear, couldn’t it?” She stood taller and made an unconscious step forwards, almost as a challenge. “I can feel the absence of life, likely in the same way you can, but I also recognise the fact that abiogenesis could happen at any time. Life springing from non-life has happened before, you know that, so why wouldn’t it happen again? And if it could, surely there would still be the need for Death to oversee the growth of that life?” She felt triumphant and could hold close to her chest the relative certainty that she’d undone all of the twine Death too had been wrapping around her.

In response to the clear defeat, Death too just maintained a fixed focus on her, looking into her eyes and driving a fear into her that she’d been doing her best to push aside but that resisted every effort.

As he spoke, his voice sounded sad.

“It may indeed. Life is an agile quarry and as such it’s one that we’ve all got to be vigilant for, but without life in the universe, you represent an imbalance between the forces of life and death. It still holds that if there is nothing which is alive, how can there be a need for Death? Until a time that there is life, Death is nothing more than an empty threat. Could you reap a star? Would you appear to claim the life force of a rock? Could our scythe claim the life of space?”

He looked back at where the floor should have been.

Death ground her teeth as she did her best to build a response but no matter what she tried, there wasn’t one. She’d thought that she’d be able to see a way out but she just couldn’t.

Now her voice was sad.

“So death is gone from the universe, reaped by you,” she sighed with a resolution. “So, to me, there are two questions that come from that. If I’m gone and life returns to the universe, who will reap that life? The other is, if you claim me, doesn’t that mean that you then have no purpose? Wouldn’t that mean that you would need to be reaped, and then so on for eternity?”

Death too stood still and, deep within the nothingness that was the farthest reaches of deep space from anywhere, seemed to consider the questions. There wasn’t the ready response which had been in place for the other questions, instead, he just considered the words.

After a silence which lasted for an age, he responded.

“Do you recognise the passage of time?”

Well that made no sense.

Death, again despite the lack of a mobile face, frowned.

Death too continued.

“Do you comprehend the grip that time has on all things? I ask because the time we’ve spent here discussing this point has been slightly more than it would have appeared had we been just linear beings.”

Death snorted but looked around her and only now noticed that the ‘Laputa’ was gone from behind Death too. Looking around quickly she could make out a very different star field surrounding her and there was no sign at all of any proof that the ship had ever been near her. Death too noticed the apparent confusion.

“We are beings that are controlled by the nature of the passing of time, are we not? Indeed, it could be argued that we are the very servants of time, tolling the bell that signals the end for all life, but without that life, as you can see,” he didn’t move but his voice just drew her eye-line around the darkness, “we are cut loose of the effects of the universe, with no way to anchor ourselves. Ultimately, the reaping becomes a mercy to the creature who would be lost to the whims of time itself.”

Death examined the stars around her and panic enveloped her. She could see that there had been millions of years pass by as the two of them had spoken. Stars had been born and others had died, all within the scope of a conversation. Was he telling the truth? She had reaped the final life but would that mean that she too, needed to die?

Death too continued.

“Death is a response to the arrival of life and as such is a creation that comes from the universe itself. With no life to control, there is no need for Death. Should Life appear, so too will Death. The universe will create the balance as it always has and should Life appear, our position will be fulfilled but without life, there needs to be a ‘without Death’.”

Death released her grip on the wooden shaft of her scythe and, rather than falling to the same floor she and Death too were standing on, it instead drifted away from them and into the darkness of the void.

Death too walked closer to Death until they were skeletal face to skeletal face, and took her in an embrace which gave a feeling of utter calm and warmth.

“My lady. I have existed only since you took the final life in the universe. Before that moment, you were all that there was but the universe has created that need for balance. The universe needs there to be equilibrium in all things. In a universe with no life but only Death, life will never appear. Life could never overcome the force that is Death so I am the need of the universe to restore that balance.

Death hugged in closer and there was an oddly comforting warmth coming from Death too. The embrace that they were both enfolded within wasn’t one of darkness and fear. It was of a welcoming release that made it clear that there was nothing left to do.

“My lady,” Death too spoke in hushed whispers, just above her head. “I am here to maintain the balance but that means that I have to reap both of us. I came to be for that singular purpose, nothing more. I need to bring a balance to what the universe is.”

He lifted her face to his and, in those unmoving and cold features, conveyed more love and understanding than Death had ever seen in all of time.

“I just wish I could have seen beyond just this one life of yours. You must have seen so very much more. Until the next time my lady.”

When his scythe swung, there was no hint of missing. Instead the life of those two creatures vanished and there was no trace of them left for anyone to find. Death had left the universe.

And on some far off planet, amino acids lined up in just the correct way to welcome life again.

And far off in the emptiness of the void, a newly formed skeletal hand reached out for the shaft of a falling scythe.

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HOW MANY?

It has often been said that us men are incapable of multitasking. Everyone knows that us lads just focus on one thing at a time and the fairer sex are the ones who can juggle all of the various different balls that can get thrown at them during the every day life we all experience.

Now aside from any scientific question marks which are raised from the idea, when I write, I find myself actually enjoying the challenge of doing many things at once.

Now it’s not a question of me having a different computer under each hand and a pen grasped in my toes, rather it’s me having lots of projects going at once.

I’m working on the third book in the Circle series but also on a second collection of short stories so I’ve found myself working on four different short stories and the novel all at the same time.

On any given day I could be writing about almost anything and I bounce around between the topics and just go where the various stories take me. Now it could be easy to say that I should be focusing on a single project at a time and not spreading my creative juices about but for me, being able to move where my imagination takes me, where I have the ‘oomph’ on any given day gives me a great deal more flexibility to be able to aim my creativity at the topic that I feel most drawn to means that I can keep the wheels of writing turning regularly even if I don’t ‘feel’ a particular story on any given day.

Oddly, I find it helps that I put a particular set of characters and situations away to allow me to work on another, by giving me the chance to relax about them. If I’d only ever worked on a single topic at a time, and I have in the past, when you have a dip in creativity, you’re stuck with nowhere to go and aside from the lack of words, the feelings of frustration just make things worse. You can try to force the point but that just pushes you further away from where you want to be. With just the one topic, a bad day can turn into a bad week and a bad month and all of a sudden there’s been an age where you’ve done nothing at all.

By keeping lots of irons in the fire I’m able to change the focus as and when I need to so not only will there be something that I can work on on whatever day, but by removing the risk of getting stuck in the barren wasteland of no inspiration, I’m able to stay away from frustration. I can maintain a pace in my writing even when a particular idea needs to be left fallow for a while.

We all need to have focus on the important things in life but it’s important to make sure that don’t become too cycloptic and risk getting stuck in the creative mud.

HERE WE GO AGAIN

I’ve been working on my latest book recently and can present you with the cover for my soon to be released anthology of short stories.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the cover for “Tall Tales for Dark Nights”.

cover

I’m really pleased with the book and I’m looking forward eagerly to the release.

Watch this space for the date.

SHORT STORIES

Just a quick post this week but as we close in on the anthology of short stories, I remind you all of one of the previous efforts to give you an idea of what to expect in the new book.

It’s been said that being a parent of a child who is going through the ‘terrible two’s’ is akin to attempting to placate and cajole a hurricane. Parents the world over have been swept aside by the battering they receive of constant howling screams, prized possessions being hurled around with absolute abandon and the constant knowledge that at any time, it could get even worse. But why are the two’s so terrible?

Walking backwards, very slowly and deliberately, from her son’s bedroom, Sam could practically feel the rain water from the latest appearance of ‘Hurricane George’ dripping from her hair. Step by step, inch by inch, she made her way away from the now dormant form of her son and towards the relative safety of the world beyond those four walls. She managed to avoid all of the scattered toys which had threatened to impede her path and even steered clear of the now infamous, ‘squeaky floorboard by the door’. Both Sam and her husband Jeff had been caught out by the floorboard in the past. Just when they had started to feel they were in the clear, they hit the board by the door and George was awake and looking for trouble, his angelic looking golden curls mussed in such a way as to cover completely the devil horns he must have sprouted by now.

Step by gingerly placed step, she eased out of the room and slowly pulled the door closed, running through the same deliberate movements to make absolutely sure there was no way George could be disturbed. Finally, with the barest hint of a click, the door was closed and she could breathe a silent sigh of relief.

Letting her shoulders sag at the sudden release of tension she had been holding in every muscle and sinew of her body, she padded slowly down the hallway and headed back down stairs to curl back up with Jeff. As Sam walked hurriedly back into the living room, keen to settle back down to gentle relaxation, Jeff looked up from scrolling through the TV guide.

“I don’t know how you keep so calm?” he shook his head slowly and patted the sofa next to him, raising his arm in a gesture of beckoning. Sam settled back into the nook of his arm and felt great swathes of tension wash away.

“I had to get out before I started screaming myself.” Jeff continued and kissed the top of her head.

“Don’t panic Jeff. Just save your energy, you’re going in on your own next time.” Sam looked up at her husband and could feel the almost primal dread shoot through him. She giggled and nudged him in the side. She knew she could never do that to him. She’d definitely leave him in there on his own but they would always start out as a team.

Turning the TV back on, at a very low volume of course, she took one look at the baby monitor which was stood on the coffee table, the modern day equivalent of the master ringing a bell to attract the attention of a servant. Crossing her fingers that George would sleep for at least ten hours, she could make out the gentle rhythmic breathing sounds her son was making. Everything was settling down again, and Sam closed her eyes and allowed herself to drift with the sounds of her sleeping son.

The noise from the baby monitor made her frown.

It wasn’t enough to really draw her full attention but, it was there none the less. Then it happened again, but this time, just a little louder.

“Did you hear that Jeff?” she asked, opening her eyes to look at the monitor.

“Hear what?” replied Jeff, not taking his eyes from the TV.

The sound came again and this time Sam sat up and lent forwards towards the small device. George could still be heard, snoring a little now, but she was certain there was more than just his slumber being transmitted to the unit. Sam tugged Jeff forwards with her and muted the TV.

“On the monitor. It sounded like a giggle.” She was straining to strip away every other sound which was adding to what was taking place above her in her son’s bedroom, piece by piece ruling out noise after noise.

“He’s probably having a funny dream,” added Jeff in way of explanation, quickly adding, “He’s probably laughing at us. Thinking about how much trouble he seems to be causing and having a good laugh at our expense.” Sam elbowed Jeff but smiled to herself. George always did find the frazzled expressions on his parent’s faces to be the funniest thing in the world, like he was being egged on by them feeling worse.

Sam started to relax back into the sofa; wrapping one leg over Jeff’s to get comfortable for the night. The calm didn’t last.

The monitor crackled and popped gently and the sound of rushing air could be heard spitting from the speaker. Then the giggle came again, but this time much louder and accompanied by a hissing, breathing call of “Georgie”.

Sam and Jeff were out of the sofa and surging up the stairs in seconds. Gone was any pretence of not waking the baby as they rushed towards the baby’s room and the source of the strange sounds.

Throwing the door open they turned the light on and were stopped still in the centre of the room by the sight that greeted them.

George was stood in his cot with a broad smile on his face, clapping his hands as he jumped up and down and shrieked with laughter. On the floor of his bedroom, less than two feet from the triumphant toddler, was the broken casing of the baby monitor, its innards spilling out like a macabre electronic murder scene amongst the other scattered toys.

Sam rushed forwards and scooped up their son while Jeff checked that the window was still closed and there wasn’t anyone under, behind, on top of or in any of the furniture. As Sam watched him track through the room and find nothing at all out of the ordinary, she felt more at ease. George continued to howl with laughter the whole time this search took place.

When Jeff started to look inside the drawers of the table and chairs play set they’d bought George last Christmas, Sam couldn’t help herself and she started to smile. Jeff noticed and realised what he was doing was probably a little excessive. He straightened himself up and looked at Sam, to report his findings.

“All clear in here. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

That almost felt worse. Looking at their son who was now calming down but who still had a huge, open-mouthed grin, the couple began to run through the facts as they could see them.

George was still in his cot when they entered the room. As far as they were aware, there was no way he was able to climb out of the bed let alone return to it after having made his way out. The smashed baby monitor was not only on the other side of the room from the cot, it was also on top of a five foot high chest of drawers, well out of the reach of their sons tiny grasping hands. The unit was battery operated so there was no trailing wire to be reached for and there was no object that could have been pushed into place and used as a boost for their son to reach up from.

Sam looked at Jeff but there was no answer coming from either of them. George hadn’t smashed the monitor because he couldn’t get to it. There was no-one else in the room who could have done the deed, they would have been seen, yet they had both heard that voice saying their sons name, George giggling away to himself about something and then the wrecked monitor.

“What about the voice on the monitor?” Sam wanted to know where that odd voice had come from.

“Probably picking up something from a TV or radio around here. God knows what the range of that thing really is.” Jeff was very matter of fact about the whole situation.

“But it said Georgie, Jeff.”

“It sounded like Georgie. It could have been any number of things. We haven’t got to worry about an evil ghost coming to play with our son; your mother’s still alive.”

Sam snorted a laugh of her own but her unease remained.

“He’s coming back downstairs with us and he’s sleeping with us tonight.” Sam’s tone told Jeff not to argue, this was a statement of fact. Decision made, they both turned and headed out of the door, Sam with George bundled up in her arms with his head rested on her shoulder, Jeff picking up a few stuffed toys for George to play with.

Just as Jeff switched off the light, George let out a short laugh and waved back into the room, “Bye bye Mimp”.

The two adults looked each other, wondering what he was on about but thought he must be talking about a toy that he had seen but hadn’t made it through the selection process for the journey downstairs. The walked on and George continued to wave over his mothers shoulder, repeating over and over again, “Mimp, Mimp, Mimp, Mimp”.

Back downstairs, Sam and Jeff struggled to get their son to settle down and go back to sleep. They each took turns waiving different toys at him but he wasn’t even remotely interested in anything that was presented. They tried different DVD’s. Time after time, the colourful cartoons or dancing men in silly animal suits failed to draw his attention. Time and again, he turned away from the options presented to him and all he could be heard saying was, again, “Mimp, Mimp, Mimp.”

“I’ll go and find this bloody ‘Mimp’ toy of his. He may not be getting tired but I’m knackered,” said a haggard Jeff.

“Do you even know which one is Mimp?” asked an equally exhausted Sam, dropping her head back to stretch her neck as George wriggled in her lap. They both looked down at George and tried to think. Which toy did George call Mimp?

It didn’t sound like a real name of a toy they had bought him so it must be one he had given himself. They both mulled over the multitude of options, trying to work out who Mimp was.

“MIMP!” shouted George with a delighted smile on his face. He cranked up his wriggling and started to moan.

Sam had had enough by now so let him go. They both watched as he toddled his way towards the doorway and happily sat down in front of it. The door opened into the room, next to the sofa they were both sat on. Looking down on their son he finally seemed happy to stare into the hallway beyond and gurgle and giggle to himself.

“Finally!” said Jeff and relaxed back into the sofa.

“George, you OK?” Sam wanted to make sure before she even dared relax. George nodded back at her, grinning all of the time.

“Finally!” Sam agreed.

George spent the next twenty minutes staring out into the hallway, jabbering to himself. He would occasionally wander towards his toys and take one back with him but other than that he was content to amuse himself. The DVD’s of all the kids programmes were put away and Sam and Jeff started to watch a film which was more to their taste. Gradually, the mood of the evening started to calm down as everyone in the house could relax and enjoy what was going on. Sam was always keeping one eye on George but he seemed content so all was fine.

Then it moved at the edge of her vision.

Snapping her head to focus fully at he son, Sam watched in shocked disbelief as a small, jet black, leathery hand reached out and touched her sons face. Her blood froze and all the sound of horror and fear were jammed solid in her throat. What was sat on the other side of the door?

She tried to move but before the impulse had passed to her muscles, the hand gripped Georgies romper suit and dragged him forward, behind the open door and into the darkened hallway beyond.

George screamed.

That sound was enough to shatter the spell of fear which had been gripping Sam. She burst to her feet and steamed out of the room, Jeff not far behind.

Flicking the switch, the hallway was bathed in the diffuse light from the overhead fittings. George stood still in the centre of the hallway, holding hands with, something. Their once angelic son was different. On his face was an expression which he had never had before. It could only be described as being malevolent. His brow was furrowed and his eyes were full of anger. All this on top of his wide smile created a vision to be truly unnerved by.

And both he and the something were holding very large kitchen knives.

Sam skidded to a stop and tried to take in the detail of what she was seeing. It was only now that she really looked at who was holding her sons hand. It was small; roughly the same height as George, but it was black skinned. It wasn’t wearing any clothes and had no hair anywhere on its body. It stood with a hunched back and its spindly limbs jutted out, almost painfully, from an emaciated body.

As Sam took in more and more of the detail, it slowly tightened its grip on Georges hand with its own taloned appendage and a wide, serrated toothed grin spread across its face under its sparkling blood red eyes.

Jeff leaned over Sam’s shoulder, also piecing the details together. He gripped tightly to her arms as the situation settled on him.

Sam spoke first.

“Who’s your friend George?” She tried her best to keep the fear out of her voice and raised her hands in a gesture of non-aggression.

George didn’t move, but hissed, “Mimp.”

Mimp shook his head and turned his head to face George. Its voice was like broken glass.

“Mummy. Daddy. Just like all little children, Georgie included, I want to play. Do you want to play with us?”

The final ‘s’ was elongated into the sound a snake might make if it had been granted the power of speech.

“Georgie. Are you OK honey?” was all Sam could think to ask. She tried to put the little thing holding his hand out of her mind as being something she was making up but she still had to get the knife out of his grasp. George nodded at her and his smile seemed to grow wider as he started to chant the name Mimp over and over again, his head bobbing around excitedly as he did.

Mimp spoke again. “We should play a game. Let’s play doctors and nurses.” Again, the final syllable was stretched out as the thing spoke and caused the wave of icy fear to roll over Sam.

Mimp slowly turned towards Georgie and started to raise the almost comically over-sized kitchen knife in a gesture of slow attack. Jeff was fast to move.

Sam was only able to utter a sound rather than a word as her husband took two quick, reaching strides across the space between the two pairs and made a sweeping grab at the knife being wielded by the ‘it’.

Without there seeming to have been any movement at all from the two smaller bodies, light glinted from the whirling blades of the pair and Jeff let out a startled yelp of pain and slid past his intended target, collapsing into a pile on the floor behind them, breathing hard. Blood was starting to spread out across the fabric he wore around the now multiple slash marks where the knives had casually, and far too swiftly, sliced through both material and flesh.

Jeff scrambled himself round so he was facing the two but just lay, still grimacing through the pain.

“Doctor. Daddy is hurt. How do we make the pain stop?” Mimp’s voice held a small giggle under all of the shards of speech it was capable of. Georgie kept grinning as he looked round at his father and slowly lifted the knife.

“That’s right Georgie. Let’s make all of daddy’s pain go away.”

“Wait,” was all Sam could think to shout. She had to stop her son doing something to her husband, while stopping the thing doing anything to either of them, all the while trying to protect herself as well.

Georgie kept his eyes intently on his father as Mimp turned back to face Sam.

“Does Mummy want her pain taken away first? Does Mummy hurt?” The red eyes narrowed in its inky face and it tilted its head to regard her in a way that paralysed Sam to the spot. That fear was so primal that it had managed to rush straight past the rational parts of her mind and hit her in the unguarded sections of her psyche, rooting her to the spot.

She had to move fast or this little horror was going to be more than able to hurt them all, or worse.

“I want to play a new game. Don’t you?” she stammered.

Mimp considered that for a brief second and then its own smile started to widen in pleasure.

“Yes, yes, yes. What game?” It started to bob around much like Georgie did when he got excited, obviously eager to start a new playtime. Georgie even turned back to his mother and started to smile. He looked more like himself now, humour replacing threat.

“What games do you like?” Sam asked with a quivering voice. “How do I know what games you like the most to make it the most fun it can be?”

“All games are fun. All games are fun. I do love musical statues,” it spoke excitedly and in a blur, streaked back towards Jeff. Jeff screamed out in hot pain as Mimp plunged the kitchen knife deeply into his flank. He dropped the heavy ornamental dragon he had been easing towards the monster with and slumped back down on the floor, now with much more blood seeping from him. Before Sam could do or say anything, Mimp was back across the gap to Georgie and was taking his hand again.

“I love it when people are still in games. Moving is cheating.” Mimps eyes bored into Sam.

“What games don’t you like to play?” She had to keep her composure. Looking up briefly at Jeff she could see that he was placing as much pressure on the latest wound as possible.

“I love all games. All games are fun.” Mimp was jumping up and down at this point clapping his hands at the sheer delight of new play mates. Georgie, though, wasn’t. Instead her son was now standing looking a little confused. The smile was still there but he looked a little lost. The knife had also dropped from a ready position to now having the tip on the floor.

Then it dropped from his hand and Georgie started to toddle towards his mother, arms outstretched and the smile slowly receding.

Mimp was quick to notice and swiftly grabbed Georgies hand again. The action immediately stopped the childs forward motion and in the passing of a handful of heartbeats, the wicked smile had returned to Georgies face and he had started to reach back for the knife he had dropped.

Sam was quick to register the significance of the action. All she needed to do to break the spell of the creature was break its physical contact with Georgie and he would likely return to being the little boy she knew and loved.

Just, how to do that.

Sam settled herself as much as possible and tried to regain what little composure she had worked together.

“Who are you Mimp? What do you want? To play?” She had to keep it focussed on her and try to engineer the release of its grip on her son.

Both Mimp and Georgie adjusted their respective grips on their weapons as Mimp spoke.

“I am an Imp. We all like to play games, make jokes, have fun. Georgie likes to have fun too that’s why I’m here.” That made Sam think.

“How did you know that Georgie likes to play games?” The more focus the Imp had on her the better and she was starting to get more information about the creature.

“I watched him. I spoke with him and we played together. He likes to play tricks doesn’t he?” With the last word of the sentence the imp tilted its head and hardened its gaze, almost challenging Sam to disagree with it. She was running out of time and she knew the creature was aware of it.

“How did you speak to him? Why didn’t you speak to me? I like to play games.” Sam continued without giving the imp the chance to move from the conversation.

“Mummies and Daddies don’t listen to us. We have to speak to kiddies. They’re the only ones who really want to play so we come in to rooms through mirrors and talk to them. Georgie and I are going back so we can keep playing.” Sam could feel the immediate rise of an overwhelming panic at the last comment.

“Why would you want to take my son?” asked Sam and she knew that her terror had come leaking through as she had spoken.

The imp smiled back and narrowed his eyes even further. “He’s mine now.”

The attack that followed was swifter than anything Sam could have thought possible and hit with the strength of a car crash. Jeff had continued his slow, shuffling progress towards the imp and had brought the ornate piece of sculpted stone down on the head of the imp.

The shock and undoubted pain of the attack slammed through the imp and it dropped the knife it had been brandishing and relinquished the grip it had had on Georgie. It had been given no opportunity to respond in any way and was hammered to the floor.

Jeff continued to swing and bash at the little monster, mashing more and more of it across the floor of the hallway in a gore filled paste. Thick grey blood and chunks of black flesh were split and spilt everywhere as Jeff yelled his own defiance.

Thunderous blow after thunderous blow landed and pulverised the target. What little movement had come from the imp soon stopped and there was soon very little to show that it had ever been anything other than a revolting pile of parts in an awful puddle.

Sam rushed forwards and scooped Georgie up into her arms, knocking the knife away as far as she could. Running quickly away from what Jeff was doing, she could see that Georgie’s face was turning back from the mask of anger to a startled, fearful expression of someone who wasn’t sure what was going on around him. He started to grizzle and Sam bathed in the relief that brought.

“It’s dead,” called Jeff from the hallway. Sam rocked Georgie, attempting to calm him. She shushed him as gently as she could and slowly edged back towards the hall, making sure to keep her son facing away.

The hallway had now been coated in the entrails of the imp. Jeff was slumped back on the floor clutching tightly to his side where he had been stabbed by the imp. The blood was free flowing again and by the almost empty pallor on his face he needed medical attention and he needed it quickly.

Looking at the mess Jeff had made of the imp, Sam let out the tension of the ordeal and set about bundling her family into the car before heading off to the hospital at break neck speed.

Jeff was quickly seen to by the nurses who rushed him through for surgery. Sam was asked on more than one occasion how he had been injured but each time she trotted out the story she had concocted. He had fallen down stairs in the garden at home while they had been moving a collection of old tools they were going to throw away. Every person she told the story to had the same expression on their face when they left but there was no further argument.

Eventually she was left alone in a small waiting room with Georgie bundled up in a blanket sleeping on the sofa next to her. He was breathing smoothly and snored just a little bit. Sam looked down on her son and felt that she could relax. Closing her eyes she let herself drift slowly and slip into a warm sleep, one hand resting gently on her sons back.

Here mind was filled with flashback images of the encounter they had all had. Dreams of flashing knives, scarlet glowing eyes, black leathery skin and that inhuman voice rebounded around her mental landscape, until,

“We liked the game, playing dead. That was fun, oh yessssssssss.”

She snapped awake with a renewed sense of terror churning in her stomach. Her hand was still resting on the blanket but now Georgie was no longer in it.

“Georgie,” she called into the small room, pleading that he had just climbed down to toddle around but there was no answer. She frantically searched the few spaces in the room that her son could have hidden behind and again found nothing. She was just about to leave the room and scream for the nurses, porters, doctors, anyone who could have seen Georgie when her eyes fell across the mirror which was looking back at her. The mirror and the two shapes which were staring back at her from behind her in the room.

The imps red eyes beamed back at her and she could see that it was holding hands with Georgie again.

Sam turned to reach for the boy from his position on the back of the sofa but was greeted by nothing as she turned. They weren’t there. Looking back to the mirror, they hadn’t moved so she checked again but there was nothing.

Then she looked into the mirror and saw the truth.

“We come in through mirrors,” screamed in her head in the same broken glass voice the imp had used at the house and a terrible realisation hit her. They were in the mirror.

“We’re going to play now. Bye bye mummy,” creaked the imp and beckoned to Georgie.

Sam thrust her hands out to the mirror but they slapped uselessly against the cold surface. She stared deeply at her sons face which was again contorted into a rictus grin but the eyes looking back at her were now a deep red.

“Bye bye mummy,” slithered out of Georgie’s mouth and Sam started screaming, beating her hands against the mirror until it fell to the floor and smashed into hundreds of irregular shards. Lifting each piece in turn Sam checked for the reflection image of her son and the imp but in each there was nothing but the room around her.

The imp was gone now but it had taken a new friend.

Remember, parents, when you think that your child is becoming more mischievous and is turning into a little monster, there may be something whispering into their ear that they should really be playing a game.

Always check under the beds and behind the cupboards. Never underestimate what could be lurking in the shadows and, always, always watch out for the mirrors.

COMPETITION WINNER

And the winner is ………………..

 

Following on from last week’s competition to win the chance to name my up coming anthology of short stories I’ve been able to whittle all the entries down to the best overall.

A huge thank you has to go to everyone who added something to the list of possibilities helping me find the correct title. An honourable mention has to go to one particular idea which just made me smile. Although not the winning entry, ‘The Good, The Bad and The Elgie’ surely should be a book title.

 

So finally, I give you the winning suggestion and the title of my up coming collection of short stores.

“Tall Tales for Dark Nights.”

A late entry but overall I think it fits the bill perfectly. I’ve also now got a perfect title for another book thanks to the pool of suggestions.

Thank you all for the help. There have been some amazing ideas which are so much more interesting than what I’d been kicking about.

Watch this space for more information on the release.

 

 

COMPETITION TIME

I know it’s not too long since I released The Circle of Duty but I’ve been kicking about loads of ideas for short stories over the years which, you know what, I’m going to release later this year in an anthology.

Stories about the supernatural, horror and lots of other juicy topics will be stitched together to be presented at the end of October, just in time for the excitement of Halloween.

I’ve almost finished the final story for the book, I’ve got a few creepy ideas for the cover design but there’s, as always, one thing I don’t yet have.

The title.

So I turn to you brave followers.

I’m asking for suggestions for the upcoming collection of short stories but it’s more than just a call for help.

If you are the creative mind who is responsible for the selected title, not only will you receive a signed copy of the book but you’ll also become one of the characters in one of the stories.

You’ll become a vital part of the world of my short stories and surely the bragging rights for that are worth a suggestion.

To enter your suggestions (you can make more than one you know) either leave a comment with your ideas on here or visit my Facebook page and comment on there. If you haven’t ‘Liked’ the page yet, don’t be shy, I don’t bite. Honest.

The winning suggestion will be announced on here next week at 9pm GMT.

Good luck all.

NEVER FORGET BANANA

Now this isn’t going to be about fruit nor is it about one of my previous posts on here. Instead I want to look at the importance of the little guy, the usually nameless bods that exist on the fringes of the stories, the minions.

We had a major power cut a couple of weeks ago and the expected problems which come with an interruption to the electricity all unfolded. The biggest point I took out of the experience though didn’t come from introspection in the dark despite it making up a chunk of a previous post. Instead it came from the work of the power company as they battled to repair all of the issues.

I called them on the day of the power cut to let them know that there was a problem and they dispatched a team to work on it immediately. Within the hour there were workmen in the road doing whatever they were doing ( I’m clueless to the details but it looked the part) before it was identified that the problem was MUCH bigger than originally expected. A few more hours and the diggers arrived and over the next day or two, a trench running along about one hundred yards of our road was opened up so cables et al could be played about with.

Now watching how all these men went about their business and more importantly, dealt with the people on the street who were being inconvenienced, was just wonderful. Every single one of them was diligent in their work but were more than happy to have a conversation with anyone who wanted to know what the prognosis was, despite no doubt having to repeat the exact same spiel each time after they’d been there all through the night.

Now the company involved have made sure that any break in power was kept to a minimum and they’ve made sure that everything has happened as fast as possible. But it’s not ‘the company’ that did the deed. It was the people. At each stage in the process it was someone who could be described as being nothing more than a minion in the company as a whole who was given the task of being the one to complete a very specific task which would be a part of the whole operation. Take any of these links out of the chain and everything could have fallen apart.

It’s certainly something that I’ve had to keep in mind when I’m writing, the task of looking smaller. It’s all too easy to be content with just the very top line of the situation when in reality, it’s all the little people that actually go into a story are what gives it the real heart.

Never forget ‘BANANA’.