Stories

Stories – here you will discover an ongoing collection of disturbing tales – please enjoy but don’t have nightmares!

RUNNING THE GAUNTLET

The imaciated corpse grabbed wildly at him in the narrow confines of the alleyway, it’s glassy white eyes with pinhead pupils stared unblinking and emotionless as the auto-mechanical action of it’s jaws snapped savagely in his direction.

It’s clearly defined singular thought process was to bite or tear a chunk of flesh from any living being that had the misfortune to cross it’s path.

Alan managed to grab a flailing arm and manoeuvre himself out of it’s direct biting range, securing his grip on the bony limb with his other hand, he used his bodyweight to hurl the thing face first into a brick wall. It seemed momentarily disoriented rather than injured, in spite of the watery black blood and broken teeth that tumbled out of the rotting hollow of it’s mouth.

Seizing the few seconds that the opportunity had afforded him, he snatched up the claw hammer that the attack had made him drop less than a minute ago.

Swinging the heavy tool high above his head, he reigned a succession of shattering blows down upon the things worm ridden crown which promptly brought it to a final standstill. It’s fragile skull exploded like a coconut sending a fountain of black fermented fluid spewing into the air.

Heart pounding in his chest and breathing heavily, adrenalin fuelled fear surged through his veins. Collecting his thoughts he prepared to resume what at any other time would have been the most mundane of journeys.

Hearing movement, he glanced up to see several more shuffling corpses rounding a corner ahead. Realising there were more than he could easily bypass in this small space, he turned to backtrack his route and bumped headlong into the frail figure of an old woman sending her flying.

She landed face down on the path and he paused for a moment unsure if she had been one of the undead creatures. Turning her waxen face toward him as she slowly began to rise again , he saw the tell tale marble like eyes look vacantly in his direction, the only cue he needed to hasten his escape.

By now the slow moving group of corpses were less than twenty five feet away from him as they continued to groan and lumber towards him. Without pausing for thought he sprang at a wall opposite gripping the top and hoisting himself up but dropping his hammer in the process. As he straddled the top of the wall he felt the spindely fingers of the old lady clawing frantically at his leg, striking blindly outward his foot made contact and sent her reeling backward into the arriving creatures making them topple like skeletised human dominoes.

Jumping down into the temporary safe haven of an enclosed back garden he considered his next move. Inside the double glazed patio doors of the house ahead of him, he could see the silent cadaver of a woman swiping frantically around the door frame. Appearing like a macabre mime artist she hungrily searched in vane for a way to get to him.

From his observations he knew these creatures had little intelligence appearing only to act upon primal instinct. Their hearing was by far their best sense, The smallest of noises seemed to bring them staggering jerkily toward the sound source, and so in turn attract yet more of the things eager for any opportunity to satiate their ravenous appetite for the living.

Noticing a shed in the garden, he cautiously opened the door and entered, knowing he would be safe in here for the time being, he could take a breather and wait for the agitated creatures to move on.

It was approaching three weeks ago when the virus first hit his area, he simply couldn’t believe it was happening. He had of course like many people seen the odd Zombie movie, the Romero ‘dead’ trilogy of films were part of classic cinematic history but were ultimately just horror fiction. Until now, he never believed it could or would ever become a nightmarish reality.

For some reason Alan had not been affected by the contagion, When it was still broadcasting the radio had talked of a few people having natural immunity, however the only other figures Alan had seen in the last three weeks had been those of undead corpses lurching past his house and on occasion scratching at his ground floor door and windows like rabid starving wolves attempting to gain entry.

His food supplies had almost run out, and having plundered the empty homes of absent neighbours under cover of darkness, he concluded that he must run the gauntlet to the local shop at the end of his estate to gather new provisions.

After looting through the shed’s contents, he exited twenty minutes later clutching half a can of petrol and a metal pitchfork ready to resume his quest.
leaving by a side gate, he scanned the street for signs of movement, all seemed quiet as he strode purposely forward, slowing at any upcoming junctions to check for signs of danger.

A handful of crows squabbled over the upturned ribcage of a fallen victim. It’s gender now undefinable as the squawking birds fought and gorged themselves on the decomposing carrion.

He approached a blue hatchback car that had ploughed into a street lamp, the bonnet was crumpled into an inverted ‘v’ shape that revealed the force of it’s impact. Ironically the drivers life would most likely have been saved by the seat belt it was wearing, however it was the virus that had claimed it’s life and the decomposing cadaver now rocked back and forth as it struggled to free itself of the restraints of the belt. It’s contorted palsied face snarled and gnashed it’s putrid jaws at Alan as he passed quickly by.

Zipping his jacket against the chill, a cool breeze picked up swirling discarded litter around the deserted streets. Alan started as a coke can clattered noisily against the kerbside, A crisp packet scuttled by, these abandoned remnants symbolic of a consumer society now populated by the undead, and whose idea of a tasty snack was now something far darker.

As he neared the final leg of his journey, he slowed and kept close to the shrubbery that lined the pavement. The store was located around fifty metres beyond, across an open car park.

There were around forty cars in orderly rows, with various other vehicles strewn haphazardly around surrounding roads and paths. Prowling and bumping clumsily among the cars like drunken marinates were more than twenty of the ferral creatures

Alan realised that navigating this deadly maze to reach his target would be difficult, the risk of being seen and heard was high, he needed to create a diversion to draw the attention of the bodies away from the car park and store entrance.

Keeping low he crept along the periphery of the car park until he reached a side street to the left of the shop. He came to an abandoned white delivery van, left askew in the road with it’s driver’s door wide open. Alan pondered the whereabouts of the driver as he unscrewed the cap of the petrol can.

He soaked the inside carpets and ran a liquid trail from the tyres to a point where he could safely ignite the fuel. Bending down he Fumbled in his pocket for his lighter, thumbing the flywheel, the small flame flickered and was immediately extinguished by the wind. He shook the lighter in frustration and tried again.

Distracted by the task in hand, he didn’t see or hear the former driver lurch towards him from behind. Wearing grubby blue work overalls he had been a burly man of indeterminate age, his white eyes now rolled skyward and the head now flopped uncontrollably to one side, whilst his gaping jaw hung slackly open displaying a maggot ridden tongue lolling lifelessly from the infested mouth.

The corpse tripped at the last moment and landed squarely on the back of Alan’s crouching figure.

In Shock Alan dropped his lighter, as he struggled to defend himself from the undead being that now clung menacingly to his clothing with gnarled dead hands. Inch by deadly inch the thing ferociously scrabbled it’s way towards Alan’s face, he could smell it’s fetid breath as it growled and prepared to bite.

There was little he could do it’s grip was such that he couldn’t raise his hands enough to push the thing off, he closed his eyes in finality as it lunged towards him, and then felt it’s body slacken suddenly into dormancy at the same instant as he felt the cold splatter of stinking cerebral fluid drench his face and hair.

Wiping his face and daring to unclench his eyes he saw the handle of a wooden axe protruding from the back of it’s greasy head which now lay nuzzled against his chest. Beyond that the form of a dark haired woman stood over them both. ‘You looked as if you could use some help’ she said with a wry smile. ‘Thanks’ he sighed in reply, the singularity of the response offered no measure of his gratitude and seemed wholly inadequate for the relief he was feeling for surviving the encounter.

Staring beyond him she declared ‘looks like we’re attracting some attention’, the noise of the scuffle had created interest by several creatures. Although spread sparsely and some distance away they were nonetheless making their way toward them. Alan rose to his feet, quickly explaining what he had been about to do, and picked up his lighter once again.

‘Sounds like a plan, I’m Jo by the way’ she announced by way of simultaneous agreement and introduction. With that he smiled at her and lit the trail of fuel as they both retreated behind the shield of a low garden wall. The fire wasn’t as instantly spectacular as Alan had envisaged, taking a couple of minutes to engulf the cab, but finally the van was ablaze with a bright orange flame that looked vibrant against the grey skies and fading light.

The pair sprinted from their hiding place, as the vehicles petrol tank finally exploded omitting a boom loud enough to attract the undead from a wide area. They reached the already open doors of the shop, standing to one side they watched cautiously as a handful of cadavers exited and lumbered toward the flames like mesmerised moths.

They both grabbed trolleys and began ransacking the aisles of the gloomy unlit store, as if they had been contestants on some bizarre version of supermarket sweep. Thankfully the building had been relatively free of walking corpses,and any stragglers were quickly despatched with the axe and pitchfork they carried as weapons.

A surreal line of putrefying uniformed checkout assistants gazed captive from the gated enclosures of their workstations. hands outstretched grasping the air hungrily in their direction. Pathetically unable to escape the prison of their tills,a cruel irony that perhaps may also have blighted their human lives.

It had taken them just over 15 minutes, but already their trolleys were bulging with bottled water, dried pasta and rice, tinned vegetables and general provisions that would keep them fed for a couple more weeks, or ideally long enough for some form of help to arrive.

It was now almost dusk as they exited the store, the flames from the van had diminished from the bright light of a fuel fed fire to just the smouldering remains of the van itself. The creatures were beginning to lose interest and stagger away from the scene. The pair realised their increased vulnerability and that they needed to move swiftly and make the most of the now very limited distraction that the decoy provided.

‘Are you coming with me?’ Alan asked her, ‘Are you kidding, you’re the only living thing I’ve seen in three weeks’, taking her comment as an affirmation of approval, he nodded the direction they needed to take.

Despite the obvious gravity of the situation, the mutual coupling with another living human in an otherwise dead world, offered a rush of positive adrenalin for them both. They could see the black humour in how they must have appeared dashing and weaving across a car park littered with the reanimated bodies of the dead.

This day might have been the end of a chapter, but the book of life would continue page by page alongside the book of the dead, their challenge to survive was only just beginning, but they both knew which story they wanted to be a part of.

WAR CRIMES – REWRITE (for TV Show)

It was inky blackness that greeted the overly curious young woman as she cautiously opened the creaking door and felt for a light switch. Flicking it on, A florescent light below blinked into life, as she teetered tipsily at the top of the cellar steps. Her eyes focused downward onto the contents of the room below. At the same moment a hard and intentional shove in the centre of her back sent her tumbling uncontrollably forward down the sixteen steps to the cellar below.

These would certainly have been the last conscious thoughts of her life, for although not dead the injuries she sustained in her descent had left her broken and semi-conscious body moaning and gurgling incomprehensively in a crumpled heap at the foot of the steps. She had left a trail of blood behind with every bone crunching impact, which culminated in the biting and partial severance of her own tongue as her jaw smashed against the floor leaving it twisted out at an impossible angle.

Richard had immediately followed her route down the steps, realising she was still alive, he placed his foot on her upper back, bent down and grabbing her head with both hands wrenched it sharply back and exerted such a considerable force until he heard the sickening crack of her neck. He gave a heavy sigh and let her now lifeless body slump back to it’s resting place on the hard cold floor.

Acting quickly he secured grey steel chains to her ankles, and hoisted her limp corpse into the air with practised ease. Sliding a pulley along the ceiling mounted rail until the woman hung directly over a pristine white enamel bath, ensuring the plug was in place, Richard grabbed a knife from the nearby marble countertop and deftly slit her throat in order to hasten the bleed out process. He whistled nonchalently as he then got to work with mop, bucket and bleach to remove the gory trail she had left behind in her fall.

Richard was a gaunt wiry man with sharp features, pale in complexion with black slicked black hair that had tinges of greyness at the temple. Of late forties in appearance, His eyes were his most distinguishing feature, though not in a handsome manner, his were so dark and almost black, that other than the reflection from the strip light above they revealed no trace of warmth or humanity, looking cold and lifeless like those of a predatory shark.

This was indeed an apt comparison, for although being human instinctively this was precisely what he was.
Richard’s cellar was set-up to combine the killing efficiency of a meat processing plant with the clinical sterility of an operating theatre and the work environment of a science lab. White tiled walls and biscuit coloured floor tiles made for regular quick and easy cleaning with no possibility of tell tale blood stains. Aside from the bath and a small hand basin, there was a metal bench that accomadated test tubes and bunson burner, and above this a wall rack that held various bottles and jars of chemicals.

still whistling, Richard pushed the metal bucket to one side with his foot, leant the mop against the wall and walked over to a large chest freezer that hummed quietly in an alcove under the steps. Lifting the lid he smiled down upon the half dozen human heads that stared grimly back at him from their methodically labelled frosted polythene bags.
The freezer also played host to many other dismembered and frozen body parts, each meticulously kept in their own section. There were the heads lobotomised with accompanying brains in a wire rack below. Hands, forearms, upper arms, shins, feet, thighs, rumps and torsos were all cleanly and expertly butchered in a manner and wrapped befitting any modern supermarket. He pondered the choice of cuts momentarily before removing a female brain and male upper arm, along with a plastic container of frozen blood.

Richard wasn’t a big eater, indeed in recent years his metabolism had slowed to an almost reptilian rate. Just one main meat meal with his specially prepared enzymes per week was now quite sufficient for his sluggish digestive system. He placed more emphasis on quality rather than quantity. As a former doctor and one time scientist he supplemented this cannibalistic diet with organic vegetables and was vehement that , no processed food ever entered his system.

Reading the date on the label for the arm joint reminded him of the fate that befell it’s donor some six months earlier.
Walking home late one windswept and rainy night, the man had approached Richard requesting and then begging for a place to stay. Initially declining his pleas Richard eventually yielded when the homeless man became vocally abusive and not wishing to draw any unwelcome attention whilst out in public, he conceded and allowed him to sleep on his sofa for the night.

The nameless man regained consciousness at around 3.30am, dizzy and concussed from the two blows Richard had dealt him with a baseball bat whilst he slumbered.

The man naturally began screaming for help, upon finding himself bound and stripped naked, hanging upside down above the tub in the cellar. He flailed wildly like a soon to be slaughtered pig in an abattoir. Grasping him tightly by the hair to prevent him swinging, Richard sliced deftly and deeply across his throat and the blood pumped rapidly out of his body sending him spiralling back into unconsciousness once again and soon after into the oblivion of death. His reminiscence faded to reality once more as he Placed the items on his kitchen worktop to thaw. A thin smile played across his lips as he contemplated the falsity of the old adage of ‘there never being such a thing as a free meal’ and of how he would enjoy the food later that day.

Richard’s life by choice was one of almost complete solitude, he had no financial concerns owing to some astute cast iron investments he had made many years ago. He kept his wealth distributed amongst several Swiss bank accounts and was able to easily access and transfer funds as needed via the internet to his UK bank which paid for his meagre lifestyle.
This financial self sufficiency enabled him to avoid any intrusive contact with prying authorities, other than completing a census every decade with an ever growing string of aliases and stolen identities. He was careful to keep himself to himself having no social circles and only a nodding relationship with neighbours, and that’s just the way he wanted things to stay, along with his secretive nocturnal activities.

Richard now sat in his lounge, a somewhat austere room that leant more towards the formality of education than relaxation, an indicator of how he spent much of his time. The walls were lined from floor to ceiling with dark wooden bookcases. Of the little wall space actually visible it was decorated in a bland floral wallpaper so pale and faded that it belied the flowery subject matter.

From his stout upright brown leather armchair he flicked on a modern flatscreen TV that looked totally alien in it’s surroundings. Scanning through the many channels he came across a CNN news report of a man arrested in Wisconsin, America for a string of cannibalistic serial killings. For an individual usually devoid of emotion Richard now wiped away a tear from his dark eyes upon his recognition of the handcuffed man he was seeing onscreen.

During the second world war, under the name of Joseph Gregor he had worked with a handful of elite research scientists, all of which, himself included were experts in the field of genetics. assembled by the Nazi regime they were charged with creating and developing the longevity of the master race.
At the end of the war the team had hurriedly disbanded and scattered to various locations around the globe, anxious to dis-associate themselves with the atrocities of war and avoid prosecution for their unwitting involvement in these crimes against humanity, they had all adopted lives of anonymity and taken the secrets of their research with them.

Pressing the remote, the TV once again fell silent , and he returned to his unfinished task down in the cellar.

The crimson fluid had by now stopped dripping, and the bath contained almost all of the woman’s blood. Donning a plastic disposable overall, he slid the body further along the rail until it was above the marble worktop. Unchaining the ankles he eased her corpse gently down onto the slab.
Pushing his nostalgic thoughts to the back of his mind, he whistled the inane and repetitive melody once again and set about deboning and filletting the cadaver. The task was without question one of skill, the cutting, removing and bagging of organs and offal, the insertion of his knife point at precise joint positions and reverse bending back and snapping back of limbs, bore all the hallmarks and expertise of a master butcher. To Richard however this straightforward meal preparation process had become almost as mundane as vacuuming or mowing the lawn.

His mind wandered back to the first time he consumed human flesh, along with a colleague in late 1943. The team had been researching the area of telomere and chromosome regeneration using human enzymes. The theory had worked on paper, and then in practice when the lives of laboratory mice had been prolonged indefinitely after being cannibalistically fed on the body parts of younger mice. The human test trials would be the final proof that their superiors had been demanding that they prove.

The flesh taken from the bodies of fallen German soldiers, had to be consumed raw in conjunction with specific laboratory created enzymes. The diet at that time was exclusively of human flesh with only water to aid digestion. His stomach lurched in rejection of the human food he bit into, chewed and swallowed. He initially felt total revulsion as he crunched through the sinewy veins, arteries and tendons. If it hadn’t have been for the strict cognitive mind training he had received in tandem, there would have been no way he could have completed the first year of trials.

By late 1944 the evidence was conclusive, Richard and three other colleagues had barely shown any signs of aging on a molecular level, the results were kept strictly among the eleven members of the research team and never shared with their superiors. They had all been conscripted against their wills purely for their scientific expertise rather than their political allegiance to the Nazi regime. They knew with the ending of the war that this sinister knowledge of immortality had to remain a guarded secret.

By now he had almost finished the macabre process of bagging the body parts, they needed to cool completely before freezing to avoid ice particles through condensation. In a large plastic bin beside the counter were the inedible waste that he would need to dispose of with his grinding machine, mostly bone and cartilage, but also the hair would need to be burnt separately.
Placing the female head finally into a bag, he snipped off the partially hanging tongue, and popped it into his mouth and savoured the small snacks chewy consistency.

He congratulated himself that he had done well to evade capture so far for the first 114 years of his life. The man in the news story earlier had been the latest to be brought to justice. He had seen a half dozen more of his former colleagues caught and imprisoned, from various corners of the globe. Once in prison and forced to abandon their human diet they would inevitably resume the aging process, die and take their secret to the grave.

Richard knew that it might only be a matter of time before state of the art crime detection saw he himself caught and put behind bars. Given his apparent youth, it was now unlikely that he would be associated with Nazi war crimes, it would be his unsavoury eating habits that may prove his downfall.

Swallowing the last morsel of his grisly titbit, he remembered the black humour of the teams mantra… ‘In life, you are what you eat’.

WAR CRIMES

He had managed to remain completely anonymous for more than 70 years,. In early 1940’s Germany he was Joseph Gregor a scientist in one of the many Nazi concentration camps researching genetics and the human development of ‘The Master Race’ as the fuhrer himself once elequently put it, if such a noble sounding vocation could have a place within the realms of a death camp.

He was not proud by any means of his association with that particular blot on humanities scarred landscape. His name however was undeniably linked to this era and this had meant that he had needed to effectively disappear. If he should ever be caught, tried, convicted and imprisoned for his crimes he knew THAT the repercussions for humankind would be far more disturbing than those they would prosecute him for.

Now living in England, currently he was known as Richard Stevens, ten years ago at the time of the last national census he was Tony Stark, before that Ralph Connor and prior to that a myriad of other assumed identities which dated back to his arrival at the end of the war.

He disliked the British governments apparent insistance of knowing everything about everybody. The bureaucracy was intrusive and seemed to be getting worse with the advent of computerisation, but that’s progress he thought to himself, and he’d seen enough of it in his time.

He was at least fortunate in that financially he was totally self sufficient and secure, thanks to some cast iron investment choices he had made in what seemed like a lifetime ago. he was now in the enviable position of owing nothing to anyBODY, and similarly expected nothing from anyONE in return. This kept him clear of the need for any kind of state pension or benefit and as such any unnecessary contact with authority. Tax and national insurance were something only other people had to worry about. If he had to credit TECHNOLOGY with anything it would be the ability to handle his affairs, such as transferring funds from an alias identity held at a Swiss bank into his British account for everyday living expenses, which were meagre by most people’s standards.

With the benefit of hindsight he occasionally reflected and wished that he had fled to Argentina with others of his kind. Although the climate wasn’t to his liking, the remoteness of the location and ‘the blind eye’ policy of the then government, would at least have afforded him total privacy without outside interferance.

He had deliberately chosen a house in England that would enable him to go unnoticed, a two bedroom terrace built in a bland late Victorian style in a Brighton backstreet, complete with cellar. This type of house meant that people and in particular potentially prying neighbours didn’t tend to stay in these houses for life, being too small to offere enough space for expanding families.

Richard liked the fact that no-one knew his history or how long he had lived there. He could quite easily adjust his story in order to defend against any unwelcome intrusiveness, whilst being careful not to raise attention by being rude or objectionable in any way. Indeed being bland and anonymous was quite an artfor someone of his violent past, however his violence had always been completely measured and controlled, something which he was acutely aware, but which was also the symptomatic behaviour of a psychopath, not good should he ever find himself the subject of a diagnosis, which would certainly be the case if he was ever apprehended

He scoffed at this thought, he knew he had to stay hidden, but why should he pay for the insanity of Adolf Hitler. It was only coincidence he had assumed a German identity and was working in a particular area of research when the spectre of war had loomed over Berlin and he had been conscripted by the Nazi’s.

As a man of science he had made real progress as a pioneer in his field. The results of which others were now reaping and taking credit for, whilst he remained unrecognised, languishing as a figure of hate by association for merely being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time in history.

Dispite his sense of injustice, his intellect allowed him to deal with and compartmentalise any negative thoughts that could lead to his downfall. As a solitary figure he relied upon his calm intelligence to act as his guide, knowledge and life long learning had never failed him at any time of his life, and as such he regarded them as his best friends.

Those that tried to get close to him , either personnlly or in the course of officialdom had frequently paid the price with their lives. Killing was second nature to richard, being almost as routine as putting out the dustbins or tidying the garden, something he needed to do on occasion if only to dispose of remains.

The last had been a man in his early twenties, Richard didn’t even know his name, names were irrelevent. He had approached Richard as he walked home late one windswept and rainy night, clearly homeless, he asked and then begged for a place to stay for the night. When Richard declined his pleas he became vocally abusive and not wishing to draw attention to himself whilst out in public, Richard yielded and conceded to allow him to have the sofa to sleep on.

That was the nameless man’s fatal error not Richard’s, he certainly screamed for help when he awoke dizzy, naked and concussed in Richard’s cellar, hung upside down and flailing like an animal about to be slaughtered in an abattoir. A swift and deep slice across the throat with a knife silenced his cries as he bled rapidly back into unconciousness and then finally death.

The cellar was adequately equipped to cater for the process of breaking down and rendering that would always follow each slaughter. The blood was completely drained from the cadaver after hanging for a 12 hour period, after which Richard’s well-honed butchery skills were put to work stripping the bones of flesh, muscle and offal until all that remained was the skeleton. The bones were crushed by a heavy duty garden grinder to small and easily disposable chunks, the bones in fact were the only by-product that were of no use to Richard.

Eighteen months prior to this, it was a former neighbour that was the focus of Richard’s attention. Rebecca had lived next door for 3 years and was now moving back to her native Australia. Rebecca commuted daily to London, and Richard had on occasion brought her washing in, she was appreciative of this as she seldom got home before 8.00pm and had few acquaintances locally due to her long work hours.

The farewell drink had been at her insistance, and despite trying to avoid the event his reluctant acceptance had almost been a monumental error of judgement on Richard’s part.

She had teetered tipsily on top of the cellar steps after nosily opening the door whilst Richard had been in the kitchen uncorking another bottle of wine. Upon discovering her snooping around, he pushed her silently from behind, she tumbled heavily down the hard concrete steps, but not quite to an instant death. Her gurgling, moaning and broken body was promptly dispatched by Richard with a sharp wrench back of her head. The crack of her neck although sickening had meant her suffering had been as minimal as possible. The fall had however resulted in the need for extensive cleaning of the cellar, due to spatters of blood being left behind by the injuries sustained in her descent.

Following her disappearance two police officers had called and interviewed Richard, and then searched his house as a matter of routine. He hadn’t been a suspect as someone else had reported seeing her later that night, clearly acase of mistaken identity that Richard had been thankful for, and it had fortunately thrown the authorities off of the scent. Richard had also managed to influence the outcome of the written report by use of a coercive mind technique that he had mastered, although until this point, he had never applied it to more than one person at a time.

There had been many killings over the years, well over forty since Richard had moved to britain in 1946. British crime history was littered with cold case one-off murders, and whilst richard couldn’t claim to be the purpetraitor of them all, certainly a good many were his, he regretted the need to kill in this manner. During the war years given his position human life had always been readily available and by nature of war unaccountably disposable too.

he was now at times beginning to feel jaded, tiring of the chase, the need for obscurity, the meticulous need for attention to detail in the coverage of tracks and evidence.

However he still needed to feed and nourish his body. He never wanted to be like others of his kind that had turned their back on what was necessary, feasting only on animals wasn’t enough it took it’s toll on the body, and his scavaging counterparts looked every bit like mere scrawny shadows of their former selves.

In contrast Richard’s scientific approach and knowledge had helped him to find a workable solution to his affliction, whilst at the same time avoiding being gluttonous or spreading his cursed infection to others.

As he aged his metabolism had slowed to an almost reptillian rate, and daily food consumption was no longer needed. He was able to sustain his helth, and make a processed and stored human body feed him for almost two years by use of a careful combination of rendered liquidised human meat, which contained a rich source of all the proteins he needed when combined with diluted blood.

in a few years he would reach his 200th birthday, he had certainly seen many changes since being born in Budapest in 1820. He wistfully pondered what the coming centuries had to offer him.

At least the period of hiding for his part in Nazi war crimes would soon be over, most human offenders were at the very least in their nineties by now. Even the most convincing DNA evidence held on record could possibly be a match for a man that was visibly only in his late forties.

He promised himself he would move on to pastures new, perhaps look up some old friends. He smiled to himself, time afterall is something you have plenty of when you are… a vampire!

By Chris Ankin
01/03/14

OBJET D’ ART

The silver Range Rover Discovery rounded the final corner of the gated gravel drive and squealed to a halt outside of the house.
Simon the 40 something executive exited and slammed the heavy car door. He wore a tweed sports jacket and plain brown trousers coupled with expensive yet practical matching leather shoes. For a man of his age his style was clearly not defined by fashion but rather class expectation, and the clothes he wore in this rural setting were a far cry from those that he donned for his job in the city.

His father dressed in a similar way, was upper middle class and a combination of strong principles, discipline and good schooling had produced near clones in his two sons, Simon being the youngest by two years. It was with this background and a combination of education, confidence and good fortune that had yielded the affluence that he now enjoyed.

The house was his, a newly acquired country retreat for him and his younger wife Helen. Eventually the large 19th century property would become the long-term and permanent residence for them both to enjoy once Simon had retired from his lucrative career in the city.

Things had been going well, very well in fact, so much so that if things continued on track Simon would be able to sell the London flat, cash in his many investments and retire early in about 7 years and adopt his desire to be a country squire permanently, not bad for a man of his relatively young age.
Currently Simon and Helen were on two weeks leave from their alternate city lifestyles, having picked up the keys from the local estate agent late on Wednesday afternoon. They now had a full fortnight in which to relax, acclimatise and become familiar with their new partly furnished mansion.

The house was in good condition given it’s age and that it had been standing empty for the past five years following the death of the previous owner. Originally built in the early 19th century it was large enough to impress the eye of those who saw it, yet modest enough in size to make it still affordable for those with a good income to comfortably maintain it.

Tall and imposing with a height that belied it’s mere two storeys. Constructed from sturdy brownish grey granite blocks with leaded charismatic windows and dark grey slate roof, it was solid and built to last clearly a task it had achieved with ease over the years.

Downstairs consisted of a large parquet floored entrance hall which incorporated a wide staircase. To the left was a very large lounge which spanned the entire length of the left side of the house. To the right was a study and library room which Simon had commandeered as his right from the first time they had viewed the property.

At the rear of the hall was the entrance to the kitchen, which had a door on the left leading to a dining room. Another door to the right led to utility rooms and a rear lobby. Outside at the back were several conjoined outbuildings, only one of which being a former stable was built at the same time as the house. The entire dwelling was surrounded by four acres of lush grass and tall leafy woodland giving it both an enviable sense of space and seclusion.

Simon had left Helen cleaning and uncovering the dust sheet shrouded furniture, whilst he had been into the village. He needed to finalise some paperwork at the solicitors, pick up some groceries, call in at the local pub (requisite but not essential) and take a peek into the local antique shop, a hobby of his that had now been fuelled by the new ‘old’ house and his desire to fill it with appropriate artefacts.

Two trips to the car and the fruits of his expedition were unpacked, he was in a jubilant mood, perhaps enhanced by the small glass of wine and friendly banter he had enjoyed in the local pub, but by the underlying fact that everything was finally going right for him and Helen.

Finally, because Helen had not had an easy time for the past six months. She had lost her mother, her only remaining parent, something that she had found particularly stressful as being an only child she had singularly dealt with all the necessary arrangements associated with her death albeit with Simon’s steadfast support.

On top of this she and Simon finally had to face the fact that they were unable to have children of their own. The tests they had undergone were a process of elimination, at first it was thought that Simon had a low sperm count, however it had eventually emerged after months of extensive tests that Helen had a rare and untreatable gynalogical condition that would prevent her from ever conceiving.

This had been a bitter disappointment, with not having any siblings, she had always wanted to have at least two children to continue her family line, and Simon had been right with her and fully supportive in the matter.

The whole experience coupled with a hectic work life had almost resulted in her having a breakdown, she had been on anti-depressants for six weeks now and still felt drained, hollow and emotional. The new house and this two weeks leave had come just at the right time for her to relax, refocus and take her mind off of the tragedies that had engulfed her life of late.

‘Did you get all the groceries’ Helen called downstairs to Simon as he finally kicked the front door closed whilst lugging a large and heavy cardboard box with both hands.
‘er yeah, all but the bread, have to be there before 11.00am apparently otherwise it all gets snapped up’ he called in reply, ‘I’ll pop back first thing in the morning, we still have some of the supermarket stuff that will last until then’.
by now she was downstairs and entering the kitchen behind Simon as he was placing the box onto the large farmhouse style oak table.

Helen was a slim dark haired woman of average height in her mid thirties,attractive without being glamourous, and whilst today saw her dressed in faded jeans and pink sweat top, without much effort she had the ability to easily transform herself into an immaculate and sexy lady which is one of the things Simon loved about her.

‘Gosh what have you got there, that’s not all food surely?’ she nodded at the box whilst struggling to remove rubber gloves from her cleaning work. ‘No, the groceries are over there on the worktop’ he pointed, straightening his back in relief of putting the box down.

‘These’ he proclaimed with a pause as if half expecting a small fanfare to sound, ‘are the first antiques for our little country mansion’. Helen had strolled over curiously as Simon eagerly sliced through a strip of brown packing tape with his pocket knife.
Delving into the box he fained a melodic trumpet ‘Da da!’ he pulled out a metal boot scraper, ‘exciting’ Helen responded rolling her eyes with joking sarcasm ‘Practical’ he responded defensively, ‘it can get really muddy around here, and you don’t want all your cleaning efforts to be wasted with muddy footprints do you?’. ‘True’ she sighed in agreement, ‘Speaking of waste, what else have you wasted money on?’

‘Invested not wasted’ he parried, ‘Antiques are never a waste always remember that’, dipping both hands once again into the box he removed an ornate wood inlayed Ouija board. ‘Voila’ he muse,d ‘it’s Victorian, look great in my study’ he blurted as if trying to defend the purchase before she had even thought of the words to criticise it. ‘Mmmm bit creepy’ she eventually declared. ‘anything else’ she asked with a sigh sounding unimpressed with anything he had produced from the box so far

Simon rummaged once again, this time bringing out a brass fireplace set with matching poker, brush and tongs, all had weighty, solid and decorative handles. ‘Now THEY are nice!’ she exclaimed sounding much more engaged this time. ‘They’ll look fantastic by the hearth, and by the way the chimney sweep is coming on Tuesday so we’ll be able to use them for real after that’, ‘when you’ve chopped some logs of course’ she added with a wink.

‘Great’ he smiled pleased that he’d won her approval on something, ‘just one more thing left’, he plunged both hands back deep into the slightly battered box and struggling a little pulled out the final item which swept both flaps of the box open as it came into view.

‘What on earth is that supposed to be?’ Helen asked. It was about 18 inches in length and 12″ high, made from what at first glance appeared to be stone due to it’s grey colour, but upon closer inspection it had apparently been fired in a kiln having a slight glaze coating to it’s surface. As to what it was, best described as some representation of a gargoyle or cherub-like creature, it lay face down on all four of it’s appendages, human rather than animalistic it’s legs were folded under, whilst it’s elbows and arms were bent in an upward pose, and small claw-like hands were cupped open supporting the head, semi-demonic or impish the facial expression was hard to read seeming somewhere in-between mischievously cute and overtly evil, it was certainly a creature Helen had never witnessed the likes of before

‘The chap in the shop wasn’t quite sure of it’s origins’, Simon said, still uncertain as to whether Helen liked or loathed the thing. ‘He wasn’t even really sure what it was supposed to be, possibly some kind of floor based gargoyle, or even just a garden ornament’.
‘I really don’t know what to say about that’ Helen stated, Simon continued ‘It’s not as old as an authentic gothic gargoyle, 164 years old to be precise’. ‘Hold on, if he didn’t know much about it how come you’re so sure of it’s age?’ she asked quizzically.

‘Well that’s the one part we do know’, turning the solid figure carefully onto it’s back, he pointed to the writing etched onto the base of the thing. Helen stooped down to read the words, ‘Welton Hall 1850’ she read aloud.
‘That’s where it gets interesting’ he said excitedly, ‘When I was sorting out the final paperwork at the solicitors, I was reading through the deeds of the house’ he explained. ‘This house used to be called Welton Hall before it was renamed Muirbridge Hall in 1855, while it was Welton it used to produce pottery, small amounts of Objet d’art pieces mostly’, ‘Which would explain that rusty old kiln in what later became the stable block at the back’
‘So when I saw the name on the bottom in the antique shop it was still fresh in my mind, I thought it was a bit of a good omen really so I had to get it’. ‘Kind of returning it to it’s birthplace really and it’s a great story, it belongs here, part of the furniture don’t you think?’. he searched her eyes for some sign of approval still unsure of her feelings despite his obvious enthusiasm for the piece and the story that accompanied it.

‘I suppose so’ She smiled , it’s certainly an amazing coincidence, but next time you go to that shop make sure you take me with you, you’re going to end up buying everything the owner wants to get rid of if you’re not careful’. smiling in relief at what he deemed to be her half approval he turned the ornament back over, ‘just have to decide where to put the little chap now’ he said patting the creature’s head. ‘ ‘What makes you think it’s male?’ she asked him, ‘what with an ugly mug like that, it has to be’ he argued playfully. Helen frowned and not really knowing why countered that she felt it was female, even though she knew in her mind that it looked male.

It had been a long day, the combination of physical work, coupled with the excitement of being in their new home had taken it’s toll and after eating they both found themselves yawning sleepily. Simon locked the front door and went upstairs ahead to take a bath. Helen tidied the kitchen , finally wiping crumbs from the worktop and placing a cloth back on the drainer and made for the kitchen door. She glanced at the table where the ornament still sat ‘we’ll find a place for you tomorrow’ she said softly aloud as she clicked the room into darkness and went upstairs to bed.

Despite her fatigue, Helen couldn’t get to sleep, Simon had drifted off seemingly hours ago or perhaps it was his light yet constantly reliable snoring that made it seem like hours.
The troubles of the past month’s played on her mind, losing her mother and the news that she would be childless cycled endlessly within her mind. She did eventually fall asleep but for how long she wasn’t sure, the restless states between slumber and consciousness had been interlaced with thoughts or dreams of a woman that she took to be her mother walking away from her down a long corridor, the sound of a young baby crying, the surreal and almost comical imagery of Simon driving and unloading a huge lorry filled with antiques. She woke just after 7.00am feeling more tired than she had before climbing into bed, at least the Sun was shining outside, and Simon had placed a welcome cup of tea on the cabinet at her side, she sighed heavily before taking a sip and recounted the vivid imagery of her restless night.

Simon had already been up for an hour, and had prepared breakfast which was already on the table when she came down. Helen recounted the restless night to Simon who sympathised and said that he’d woken briefly at around 3.00am and heard a cat outside wailing.

‘I see you found a home for the gargoyle before you came up last night’ Simon said ‘You should have waited though, that thing’s quite heavy’. Helen frowned and looked at him puzzled, ‘What do you mean? I didn’t touch it’ she replied concerned.
‘er well it’s just out there by the front door’ he answered ‘I wasn’t sure if that’s where you wanted it, or you’d put it there meaning for it to go outside this morning’.

‘Simon I never moved it’ she protested, uncertain as to whether Simon was joking, or of rather more concern that she had no recollection of moving it, surely she wouldn’t forget something like that.

Hearing the obvious distress in his wife’s voice, and not wanting her to dwell further on her concerns, Simon decided to difuse the situation by taking the blame himself. ‘Your face!’ he said jestfully feigning a laugh and pointing at her ‘No it was me, thought it would be ok there or even just on the doorstep, not sure if it’d be very frost proof after all those years’.

Being a decisive and practical man Simon could only conclude that Helen in a state of absentmindednes, tiredness and hopefully soon to be gone mental exhaustion, had moved the gargoyle before coming to bed last night. He was more than happy to shoulder the blame where his wife’s well being was concerned, he only hoped that she hadn’t suspected his white lie and was still worrying about the incident.

As if not to give her opportunity to ponder further, he quickly added that he was going into the village once again, this time to secure that loaf of freshly baked bread, ‘do you want to come with me, the fresh air will do you good’ he suggested.
Helen reflected upon his prescription for a moment, ‘No it’s fine’ she said, ‘I’ve still got things to do around here, but do the bank manager a favour and don’t go into that junk..’ she corrected herself deliberately with a smile ‘I mean antique shop’.

‘Yes ma’am’ he saluted sarcastically, ‘I have got a couple of things to do though, should be back around lunchtime’. Simon pulled his jacket from the hat stand in the hall, picked up his keys and headed toward the door, calling back to the kitchen he said ‘don’t go doing too much, try and have a nap if you feel like it’, ‘Will do’ she replied as she gathered the breakfast things and took them to the sink.

Simon glanced down at the gargoyle as he left, reminded of his white lie, he frowned as he gave the ornament a look of puzzlement, still half perplexed as to how Helen could possibly have forgotten moving it. The thought was dismissed and mentally filed as efficiently as an office document by the time he pressed his electronic key fob and unlocked his range rover.

Helen got to work and polished the tarnished fire stand set, she eventually smiled with satisfaction at how brightly they now shone, she carried and placed the set to the left of the impressive hearth. She was picturing in her mind and looking forward to seeing and feeling the warmth and roar from a real log fire, something that was out of the question in their London flat.
She walked from the lounge to the study, passing through the hall she noticed that Simon had turned the gargoyle around, it was now facing toward the bottom of the stairs rather than the front door, muttering under her breath at his lack of feng shui awareness, she slid it back to it’s original position.

Simon’s first stop was at a small agricultural and building supplies merchant he had noticed on the outskirts of the village. It was still early and he concluded correctly that whereas the shops in the village would only just be opening, a business such as this would have opened earlier to accommodate trade workers. His supposition was indeed correct as there were several four wheel drive vehicle’s and a tractor in the small car park as he arrived. He needed to pick up a bag of cement to fix the new boot scraper into place on the doorstep, and with what was left over there were one or two minor repairs to be done in the yard and old stable building at the back of the house.

Helen was now in the study tidying and dusting. The room had several magnificent floor to ceiling bookcases which rather than freestanding items of furniture, had been constructed to specifically fit the rooms alcoves. Whilst both Simon and Helen had more books than most people, their joint collection would barely fill one of these bookcases. She noticed that Simon had placed the Ouija board onto a small mahogany occasional table near to the window, she also notice how dusty it was, and went to the kitchen to get a clean cloth with which to wipe it clean.
Passing through the hall once more she looked again at the gargoyle, she stopped dead in her tracks, the thing was once again facing the stairway. She stood staring as a shiver ran down her spine, a myriad of thoughts ran simultaneously through her mind, did I really turn it around earlier?, how could it have turned 360 degrees on it’s own? Already on edge at her apparent amnesia regarding the things movement from the kitchen overnight, what other rational explanation could there be that would convince her that she wasn’t losing her mind?

The merchant’s was clearly no match for the huge DIY superstore’s he was used to shopping in at the city Simon thought to himself as he stood waiting to be served. For one thing they would have more than one person serving, and they would certainly be more respectful of the amount of time a customer was kept waiting. Unfortunately neither the man at the counter nor any of the other customers seemingly shared his point of view. This was clearly a bit of a meeting place for local tradesmen, time was apparently not high on any of their list of priorities as they chatted amongst themselves the progression to the front of the queue was painfully slow.

The elderly man who stood behind Simon noticed his frustration as he sighed for the umpteenth time. ‘You’ll find the way of life a bit slower round here’ the man said with a friendly smile. ‘Sorry’ Simon said, ‘I’m just used to a bit faster pace, but I shouldn’t complain really, it’s actually quite refreshing’. ‘You’ve just taken on the old manor house haven’t you?’ the man stated seeking confirmation.
‘Why yes, how did you know?’, ‘ah it’s a small village, doesn’t take long for news to travel’, besides he winked ‘I was in the pub yesterday just as you left and Alan the landlord told me’ he chuckled. Simon smiled back, he liked the old chaps good humour, ‘So have you lived around here long yourself’ he asked, ‘All my life’ the old man confirmed, ‘In fact my ol’mum used to work up in your house as a young’un’. Genuinely interested in the coincidence and at the same time grateful to have his queuing boredom relieved the pair continued their conversation.

Helen had collected her thoughts, and decided that she needed a coffee, hastily retreating to the kitchen and busying herself in an attempt to dismiss her obvious concern about the incident. She closed the kitchen door as if to block out the thoughts whilst the kettle came to the boil. She sat down and clasped the mug with both hands drawing comfort from the warmth of the drink, she closed her eyes and gave a long sigh an exhalement that she hoped would carry away her fears.

CRASH!, her momentary solitude was abruptly interupted by the loud sound outside and beyond the security of the kitchen door. Was there an intruder? her first thought, although undesirable the rational explanation of a burglar seemed a preferable alternative to that of the inexplicable incident with the gargoyle.

Placing the mug on the table she cautiously went to investigate, pausing in the hall and frantically glancing around for the source of the disturbance, she was horrified to see that the gargoyle had moved again and was now about 5 feet away from the study door and facing toward her. ‘keep calm keep calm’ she urged herself, her breathing quickened until she finally had to audibly gasp for air as her heart pounded and her lungs begged for oxygen. With forced composure and once more thinking logically again she decided to arm herself before going any further. She backed into the lounge whilst keeping both eyes firmly on the gargoyle, turning quickly she collected the brass poker from the fire stand and brushed her fringe from her face.

finding renewed courage in the weightiness of the solid brass implement, she wielded it in front of her with both hands and crept cautiously forward back through the hall toward the study where she had perceived the sound to have come from. Darting quickly past the gargoyle as if half expecting it to bite her ankle as she passed, she entered the room.

‘Mum was 15 in 1922 when she worked as a domestic there’ the man told Simon, ‘it had settled down again by then, ‘Settled down’ Simon repeated his words quizzically, ‘There were still plenty of stories and rumours mind, some of the other staff had been working there for the best part of 50 years, and other folk before them of course’, Simon was completely intrigued by now, and it was his turn to be served, his original errand now seemed of little importance as his order was swiftly dealt with.

He waited for the old man to buy his goods, and walked with him to the car park, noticing his apparent lack of transport he offered him a lift back to the village. ‘That’s good of you young fella’ the man gratefully accepted, and once back on the road Simon keenly reinstigated the conversation.

‘So you were saying’ he prompted, ‘um, oh yes, well it was the chap Welton that owned it in the 1840’s that it concerns’ he regained his thread and continued. ‘bit of a bastard by all accounts, his wife was away looking after a sick relative for a whole year, and in this time he had a fling with one of the domestic staff, wel ended up getting her in the family way, none of those pills or condoms in those days; he half laughed, ‘so anyway, she was near to giving birth, when he got word that his missis would be back within a couple of weeks, so you could say the chap was under a bit of pressure as to how he’d explain this girl’s circumstance to his wife’, Simon thought and then said ‘couldn’t he just have said she got pregnant by someone in the village’, ‘ah well, the problem was the young lass, she weren’t having any of that, started threatening him, and rightly so by today’s standards, but in them days servants were supposed to know their place, there was a class divide y’see, and servants didn’t dare cross it’ the old man answered. ‘So anyway she ended up having this little baby girl, and he told her he knew someone who would adopt it, but she’d need to keep stumm, and as long as she did, he’d keep her on and pay her’.

Simon had now reached the village and parked near the green, ‘so what happened then’ he asked eager to get to the end of the story before the man departed.

‘well he gave the baby away, the girl kept quiet for a while, but kept telling him she wanted the baby back, she got so depressed about it, ended up committing suicide,’ the man said in finality.

‘if that weren’t enough though, the chap’s wife died in what you’d call suspicious circumstances’, he continued. ‘Fell down the stairs and broke her neck, some say it was him that pushed her down, there were rumours that she’d found out about the affair and the baby as the young girl had left her a suicide note telling her about Welton as a way of getting her revenge on him, ‘ ‘The wife read the note, had a big row with Welton and he pushed her down the stairs.’ The old man had opened the car door and was clambering out, he concluded ‘trouble is in them days they didn’t have any of this DNA malarkey, the chap had influence locally with his money, so nothing got proven, all that’s left was the rumours’, ‘he changed the name of the place from Welton Hall to Muirbridge a year later, some say so he didn’t have to remember what happened, anyway didn’t help him in the long run, he became a recluse, just shut himself away, shrivelled up and died about 10 years later, took it all to the grave with him, he’s in the churchyard along with his wife, and the poor girl got buried outside the churchyard wall’.Looking slightly sad now ‘all because she took her own life, if you ask me it should be him outside instead, but there you go in the eyes of the church that’s justice for you.’

Helen stood in the study, she rapidly scanned the room for a person, or failing that the source of the disturbance… but nothing. Wait the Ouija board that was on the table was now on the floor. The table lay on it’s side inexplicably toppled. Staring numbly at the board which had oddly landed face up, she noticed two marks had been scratched in the dust, under the letters K and A. At that same instant the temperature in the house plummeted dramatically and an icy breeze picked up within, almost as if two doors had been left open, sucking a moving ribbon of cold air right through the building.

Simon exited the bakery with a cheery wave, the freshly baked and still warm loaf tucked firmly under his arm in it’s white paper bag as he pocketed the loose change. The story which the old man had told him was still playing on his mind as he reached his car, he’d just clicked the remote on his key fob and unlocked the door when he heard the bell chime from the nearby church.
Looking up the road he could see the steeple peaking above the tops of the trees that surrounded it. Curiosity got the better of him, and after placing the loaf on the passenger seat he re-locked the car and strolled along the road to the church gates.
It wasn’t too long through a process of date and location elimination, that he found the area where graves from the mid to late 19th century were situated, then sure enough he found first the headstone of the squire Bernard Welton, a not particularly grand affair given his wealth, perhaps he’d fallen upon hard times towards the end. A little more searching and he came across the memorial for what was his wife Emily Welton, curious that their graves weren’t next to each other, but given the controversy maybe there was good reason for this

Looking up he realised that he was only about 50 feet from the periphery of the churchyard, and wandered over to a small gate partly broken and completely discoloured by a mixture of algae, rot and the march of time. Lifting the gate as it wouldn’t open freely it creaked outward into a small and overgrown meadow flanked at it’s edges by dense shrubs and then woodland.

In the study the chilled silence was broken by the shrill wail of a baby’s cry, the sound was unmistakeable, it had been the same cry Helen had heard in her dreams last night!
The cry was constant, piercing, barely broken by intakes of breath and greatly amplified by the ambience of the hall – ‘the hall’?, Helen turned and stood to face the open study door, the hallway was clearly visible beyond it, and so in full view was the gargoyle, no longer merely a static object with peculiar roaming tendencies, the thing was now sliding very slowly yet undeniably toward her.

He walked slowly through the almost thigh high straw like grass and spotted the first of three neglected headstones, the first was a man aged 33 years from 1892, the second was a woman aged 41 from 1832 and the final another woman aged just 19 from 1948 a Kathryn Alsop which rattified the story the old man had told him.

He’d taken snapshots on his phone of each of the headstones to show to Helen when he got back, he knew she’d be fascinated by the tale, being somewhat of a history lover, and this story being pertinent to their own property would be sure to astound her, he smiled to himself.

As the wailing gargoyle inched across the smooth parquet flooring Helen was dumbstruck at what she was seeing before her, if she was losing her mind then this incident would surely see her dragged from the house and sectioned.

Rooted to the spot, the continuing eerie breeze tousled her hair. Her heart thumped until she thought it would burst from her chest, the tension and indecision were intolerable, yet clearly defined as a choice between fight or flight. When it happened It was as instant as a synaptic reflex that saw her select one of the two courses of action to take, disregarding the first one of running and leaping over the gargoyle and fleeing the house screaming.

She opted for the second and holding the brass poker above her head stepped forward and dealt several massive blows to the ceramic ornament which at first had little effect other than chipping off a handful of small stone fragments which splintered and flew across the hall.
She continued a successive reign of blows until suddenly the thing fractured and crumbled into dozens of ceramic dusty pieces.

Helen now found herself
sobbing with a mixture of exhaustion and relief as she fell to her knees in front of the now silent, dormant and broken creature.
Looking up and through the doorway of the lounge through tear filled eyes she then saw the translucent image of a young woman dressed in Victorian servant clothing. The woman met her gaze before wavering for a moment, and then disappeared into nothingness.

Looking down once more at the broken shards of pottery, she gasped in horror as she realised that amongst the pieces and mostly embedded within, was the tiny skeletal remains of a human baby which shockingly must have been encased within the clay before the ornament had been shaped and moulded into an artwork prior to being baked within a kiln.

Shortly afterwards Simon’s car drew up to the house, eager to share his story he hurried to the front door and entered. ‘Helen you won’t believe’ his words were cut short by the scene that greeted him, Helen was still shaking with emotion and adrenalin as she knelt on the floor in front of the shattered cherub that had revealed it’s macabre and sad content.
Simon comforted her until finally composed and able to converse, they exchanged stories, the gruesome jigsaw connected perfectly, unbelievably, fate had brought the remains of the entombed infant back to it’s birthplace and death, that had acted as a trigger to the supernatural events that ensued. Finally the secret had been released, the girl whose tragic suicide had been the subject of local rumour for decades could now rest in peace, and the broken remains of her tragically short lived daughter would be reunited and lay with her for eternity.

Chris Ankin (c) 03/02/14

CHARLIE (c) 2014 Chris Ankin (Written for ‘Fragments of Fear’ TV show)

Rob missed her like crazy now, he admitted that freely to himself on a daily basis, perhaps even more frequently than that.

Six months ago he hated her, when he’d found out about the affair with a work colleague his rage was incandescent, he’d suspected for several weeks that something was going on, before a mutual friend had confirmed his suspicions having seen them together in the pub ‘looking rather cosy’ as he’d put it.

At first he found it hard to believe, but all the pieces of her lie-fractured jigsaw had now fallen neatly into place.

The overtime at the office due to a new important project that could lead to a promotion, the new gym membership and concern about her appearance, the new clothes, two weekend work training courses. Well she had denied it all of course, she said that all those events were inter-related, she had even quit her job on the spur of the moment in a last resort attempt to convince him of her innocence and start afresh, but he knew differently, quitting her job was a futile gesture that wouldn’t fool him, he knew she wasn’t telling him the truth and gradually over the period of a month the relationship of 3 years broke down, culminating in a blazing row one Friday evening and by the Sunday night she had packed her belongings and left him for good.

From his perspective there was no chance of a reconciliation the door had been firmly closed, or rather slammed shut by him.

He returned to work himself trance like on the Monday in a state of mixed emotions, anger and rage were still very much at the forefront, naturally he felt cheated and resentful of what she had done to him. There was of course also the incredible sense of loss, all those things they had planned together were now nothing more than that, plans.. hollow plans, no more holidays, no more sailing (a mutual hobby which had instigated their first meeting), no moving house, this was Rob’s house she had moved in with him a year after they first met as her landlord had decided that buy to let wasn’t the lucrative investment he’d hoped it would be, so decided to sell-up, and as a result gave her notice to leave. And finally although only a future dream,there would certainly now be no wedding plans – it was all gone, and it was all her fault!

The bitch hadn’t even left a forwarding address, he held her mail for a while before destroying it. He’d asked amongst friends if they knew where she’d moved to, but they only said that they had hoped he might have known himself as they would like to have stayed in touch. She had no siblings and her parents had both been tragically killed in a road traffic accident together when Charlie was in her early twenties. He’d felt sorry for her certainly, but she was a survivor and seemingly whatever bad things happened to her in life, she always managed to find a way to comeback fighting, one of the traits that he admired and he’d found attractive about her, he recalled.

Those initial lonely and dark days turned to weeks, and eventually to months. He had reconciled within his own mind the cacophony of thoughts that had at first bombarded his mind, he’d thought on many occasion that he was losing his marbles. He had vivid dreams about Charlie and the great times they used to share.  He had woken on numerous occasions expecting and believing she was still laying in bed next to him, he’d even smelt the soft fragrance of her favourite perfume and heard her shallow regular breathing, just like a soft summer breeze through treetops as he would tell her, and she would reply jokingly in a distinctly non-romantic retort that ‘you snore like a pig at feeding time’, something that would inevitably result in a pillow fight, play wrestling and ultimately passionate lovemaking.

The lovemaking, ah he did miss that he smiled warmly to himself, on balmy summer nights they would sometimes if feeling mutually horny, walk hand in hand apace up to the local woods, giggling like teenagers whilst trying to remain quiet, they would wind their way to their favourite spot, a clearing some 10 yards from the well trodden public path via thick undergrowth, here they would spread a blanket and make love beneath the stars.  If they didn’t look like they had been dragged through a hedge backwards enroute to their leaf carpeted love nest, they most certainly did on the way back after a midnight steamy escapade!, all by stealth and undercover of darkness, well who cared what they looked like anyway?, there eyes were only for eachother at that point he mused.

Rob found himself revisiting the woods more regularly again now, he felt he was over the worst of the heartache and was able to remember more of the good times rather than dwelling on those terrible few weeks before she went away.

He was thinking about her more and more, minus the hurt, perhaps a little too much he told himself, as odd little things happened that reminded him of the Charlie he once loved.

She would leave the cap off of the toothpaste, a somewhat cliché living together niggle that he constantly picked her up on, but lately had found himself apparently starting to do the very same thing. Leaving lights on was another gripe, he thinks he had inherited this intolerance from his own father who had berated him as a teenager for doing this, however he was never as bad as Charlie, it was still his house and he was still paying the bills so surely he had a valid reason to complain, but he now found that he kept coming home from work only to discover that he himself had left his landing light on, such a waste of electricity he told himself.

So it was that on a beautiful summers day, he found himself once more up at the woods, with a small packed lunch and copy of his favourite sailing magazine, he sat on a bench, closed his eyes and breathed in the flora. Heather, summer flowers and natural woody smells and….. CHARLIE?!

His eyes snapped open and turning abruptly to his left she was there, standing about 15 feet from the bench, ‘Charlie, what, how did you’? he tripped over his own astonished words, meaning to ask how she had crept up on him so quietly.

‘Must have been all the practice from the nights we used to come up here’ she smiled. Gathering his composure he blurted a question to mask his obvious stunned surprise. ‘I hadn’t heard from you, I assume you’re still with’, ‘him’ she interjected with disdain cutting off his question. ‘Yes him’ he replied more sternly than her . He was feeling a flood of emotions, her sudden arrival had been like waking from a dream and being whipped with the senses of reality once more, confusion, anger. love, jealousy and wanting were all in a bubbling melting pot of feelings, all vying for attention. ‘

‘Rob’ she replied, using his name to assert her voice for the coming statement, ‘I told you before, there never was a him, in the way you believed’. ‘You’ she affirmed ‘decided to believe what a friend had told you he’d seen, put two and two together and let’s face it Rob maths were never your strongpoint!’, a trace of a smile played on her pale lips as she finished the sentence.

For some reason Rob now believed her words wholeheartedly, he felt no compulsion to argue back, whether it was the beauty of the summer day, her temperate manner or the healing nature of time, he only knew that he didn’t have an ounce of argument in him, there was no vitriolic ammo, no bullets with explosive-tipped words, only the senses of forgiveness, wanting and desire that was all he was able to reflect back to her beguiling presence.

There was something unspoken and spellbinding between them now, she stepped slowly closer to him, and he rose from the bench to meet her. The look between them was intense and  electric she fixed his gaze as they drew together for a long lingering kiss, his head swirled with desire as he noted the coolness of her lips against his which contrasted with the all enveloping warmth of the summer day that surrounded them. Breaking after what seemed to be a blissful eternity the silence between them continued and they walked hand in hand along the path, pausing only momentarily near a large Oak tree which they mutually knew marked the entrance to their old love haunt.

Breaking out of the undergrowth and into the familiar small Sun dappled clearing, Rob immediately saw the 2 metre mound of disturbed soft woodland soil before him, and at this point the spell was broken, once again the emotions began to churn within him and rise to the surface.

Confused and feeling scared now, he turned to look at Charlie by way of an explanation, ‘Charlie… I’ he began before once again his words faded into a scrambled nonsense.

‘Rob’ she proclaimed, ‘if you can see the truth now, you will know that you really , REALLY shouldn’t have murdered me!’

The words echoed in his head and then hit him like an invisible knockout blow from a heavyweight boxer and he crumpled sobbing to his knees, ‘Charlie – I’m so sorry’ he repeated several times, and through tear filled eyes he saw Charlie momentarily shimmer and then fade into nothingness.

Still sprawled on the woodland floor, he gasped for breath through his choked Adam’s apple, glancing at the shallow grave, he was horrified to see that the soil had been disturbed and partially dug away, probably by a scavenging fox, revealing the decomposed and mostly skeletal arm of Charlie, which had become exposed apparently as the creature had hungrily attempted to yank the rotting corpse from it’s makeshift grave.

Rob wretched and then vomited uncontrollably before crawling over and shakily holding the hand of his dead girlfriend, as if in the meagre hope of giving comfort to the bony gristled fingers.

That was how Rob was found, by some unsuspecting dog walkers enjoying a leisurely afternoon stroll, they had entered the clearing whilst attempting to retrieve Pixie their 18 month old Terrier, a breed well recognised for it’s hunting and retrieving instincts.  Pixie had perhapsbeen  instinctively attracted by the odour of putrid flesh, Pixie’s owners were more than a little shocked at stumbling across the grim sight of Rob’s quivering frame holding the skeletal hand of his murdered ex-partner.

The police took Rob away, he came quietly it was apparent that he had suffered a catastrophic  mental breakdown, clearly the murder of his partner six months ago had weighed heavily on his mind, compelled to return to the scene of his crime as murderers often do, finally he had shattered into a thousand emotional fragments.

He had completely compartmentalised the killing and convinced himself that Charlie had merely left him, and had repeatedly told the police psychologist that he had met Charlie in the woods only a short time before his arrest, however DNA material subsequently recovered from Rob’s house, the scene of the murder, provided conclusive evidence of his crime.

Poor Rob!…

Chris Ankin (c) 2014

A CHANGE OF HEART

December 3rd, 1967, Cape Town, South Africa
Dr. Christian Barnard

‘It is infinitely better to transplant a heart, than to bury it to be devoured by worms’

He had been left alone in the locked interview room for a mere 3 minutes when it began.  Actually the initial signs of acute pins and needles in his hands and arms had started just prior to the interview being paused for a ‘comfort break’. The legally polite terminology used on the recording to enable the interviewing officer to go and take a piss.  It was a breach of protocol to leave a suspect on his own he knew, but as the toilet was literally right next door the detective had decided the action to be of minimal risk and took the chance.

Those were the last spoken words the man would ever hear, as he soon after began to experience shortness of breath and lightheadedness, followed by acute stabbing pains in his chest.  These symptoms were in no way alien to him, although never as intense as this he had suffered them twice before in what he fondly referred to as ‘his former life’ prior to his transplant operation 18 months ago.  The stress and confusion of the situation that he had suddenly found himself in, coupled with the seemingly wild accusations thrown at him had brought this on. He was having a heart attack.

The CCTV in the secured room was not turned on, a human error rather than a deliberate breach of procedure, and thus it failed to capture the moments that followed when blood ejected violently from the man’s mouth and nostrils, splattering heavily onto the cold and slightly grubby grey tiled floor.  It certainly wasn’t the first time the sparsely furnished room had been subjected to an involuntary delivery of bodily fluid, but this had generally been confined to the vomit and urine expelled by worse for wear weekend drunkards, temporally held there before being allocated a ‘sleep it off’ cell for the night, and without doubt it had never witnessed an occurrence as fatal as this.

Only moments later he slumped to the floor and was laying face down amongst pools of his own warm blood. He continued to cough, choke and vomit the dark thick red liquid for a further 74 seconds as he made a futile attempt to drag himself to the door.  Leaving a glistening crimson snail trail behind him that looked like a macabre playschool art session.  One of a set of two fluorescent strip lights in the room began flickering, and now the man was as dead as the half a dozen flies and two wasps that lay dried and shrivelled inside it’s cracked and yellowing plastic casing.

The ensuing coroners report that followed his autopsy revealed his cause of death to be a massive pulnonary embolism to the heart’s left ventrical resulting in a fatal heart attack.  Linked to this was a Pulmonary edema in the lungs which lead to Hemoptysis the coughing up of blood

The returning officers initial words were ‘oh shit’, spoken largely out of concern for his own well being and ability to explain this death in custody, rather than concern for the welfare of the man, especially as he’d only been detained for just under two hours, but more critically the fact that he was almost certainly a serial killer.

A gentile man, who occupied an equally gentile some may say mundane position within the local council.  Educated to degree level, he had never sought to further exploit the financial rewards that his university qualifications could have brought him.

He was comfortable in safe in the confines of his mind, knowing that his degree had landed him the job, and the ’job for life’ culture that still existed within the council when it had all but disappeared elsewhere was all he required to live his sedentary lifestyle, and quash any need for ambition.

This steady and assured income, brought with it slothfulness, he never had to work particularly hard in his job, and this attitude commuted over to his private life.  Lack of physical exercise and excesses in unhealthy yet irresistible food and good quality affordable wine made him unfit.  Not that he was particularly obese, however he began to suffer from ill health in only his mid-forties.  Shortness of breath was soon accompanied by Angina.

Ignoring his doctor’s advice, his constant excesses culminated in his first minor heart attack at the age of only 46.  A more serious subsequent attack less than a year later left him bed ridden initially for over two months such was the magnitude of his condition.

Several visits to a heart specialist concluded that the destruction was irreversible, and he now found himself surrounded by ‘get well’ cards, full of personal regret, and on the list for a heart transplant.

Almost a year spent all but immobile and on long-term sick leave from his work, gave him plenty of time for contemplation and reflection on his life.  He found God, not that he had any great sins to confess or rescind, he had never married, had only ever had 3 girlfriends, never so much as walked on the cracks in the pavement, let alone the grass in the park, in fact his only recorded brush with the law was a parking ticket received for the inappropriate parking of his car, ironically issued whilst he was engaged in some charity ‘can-shaking’ for his sister-in-laws playgroup.

His heavenly reward came just over a year later, when he was blessed with the heart from a donor who had been killed in a traffic accident.  Perhaps not an act of God, but nonetheless very fortunate that he had been a high priority due to his relatively young age, the real miracle was that the donor was a match and was local, originating from the same city, meaning that both he and the donor were speedily united at the hospital which specialised in advanced coronary surgery.

Following a 9 hour operation and further 8 hours induced sleep, he awoke feeling tired bruised and somewhat numb.  His unconscious mind had been filled with strange dreams, feelings of anxiousness, tension and pain.

‘All very normal’ his consultant told him, two weeks after the surgery, when he had his pre-discharge meeting.  Relieved to hear that he was ‘normal’, he exited the glinting mirrored automatic doors of the hospital.  Breathing in the cool air of a sunny March morning, with the aid of a nurse and a porter, climbed into his waiting taxi and began his short journey home, ready to start his new born again life.

His convalescence was slow but sure, not unlike his career in the council.  Passing the time with progressively longer walks, or tending the red roses in his greenhouse, quite where this hobby had come from he didn’t know, he’d never been at all interested in gardening in any shape or form before, aside from the browning spider-plant in his kitchen that he continually forgot to water, all he knew was that he found it relaxing, rewarding and it gave him immense satisfaction.

He was so pleased when he returned to work 8 weeks later.  His ordeal had kept him from the workplace for over a year in total, something employers in the private sector would have found difficult to support he reflected.  His old chair and desk were just as they were when he left, ‘it’s like it’s all been a dream’ he joked with a colleague one lunchtime, as he sipped from a polystyrene cup of water and nibbled at a wholemeal salad sandwich. A stark contrast to the large mug of coffee and accompanying half dozen chocolate biscuits fout of his private stash from his desk drawer that he would have once consumed.

The dreams, he pondered were continuing to bother him, he could never recall what they were about, only the emotions, he would always wake feeling physically exhausted, the bed looking ‘like a bomb had hit it’ as his mother used to describe his teenage bedroom. Heck, last night somehow he even managed to scratch and draw blood from his forearm.  Pushing his concerns to the back of his mind as he munched on a shiny red apple and became engrossed in the newspaper headline about the discovery of a woman’s strangled body on some waste ground at the perimeter of the city.  A horrific case he concluded, and the police were not ruling out possible connections to 3 previous murders over the last two years.

Perhaps because the media seemed to be covering little else of late, the topic of the killings was on everyone’s lips.  Women were warned not to travel alone at night, and to always tell someone where they were going.  Little surprise then he consoled himself, that the subject had also invaded his dreams.  Although not enough to wake him, he did remember having a series of graphic images in his thoughts upon waking, of 3 different women, and their violent deaths.

Sitting in the sunlight and absorbing the warmth of a late spring sun, he felt good as he ate his sandwich and browsed the local newspaper.  Four pages into the paper, he noticed an article on the unsolved case.  There hadn’t been a killing since the last one two months ago, and perhaps short of other news, the newspaper had decided to churn up and reprint pictures of the most recent and three earlier murders giving them an unofficial link.  His body froze as he scanned the photos.  He recognised the three earliest victims from his dream.  How could this be? He asked himself, the killings they were talking about were over two years ago now, and as far as his memory served, the link between the recent murder and previous ones had been so tenuous that the police hadn’t wanted the papers to link them.  Unnerved by the experience he concluded that he must have recalled them from when it all first happened a couple of year’s back.  After all, the human brain was an amazing sponge of memories and capable of throwing things back into the conscious mind that were considered long forgotten.  Like recently having discovered one of his precious rose blooms had been plucked from a plant in his greenhouse. ‘Kids’ he’d immediately concluded and prevented it’s repetition by fitting a padlock to the side gate of his house.  Still the occurance had reminded him of the time as a child when he was wrongly accused by a neighbour, and subsequently punished by his mother for picking flowers from a garden.

Two weeks passed, and he started to relax, last night was the only dream that he’d had in that time.  In fact he wasn’t even sure it was a dream, as he had no recollection of visions or images, only that once again he’d woken up half out of his bed, dishevelled and exhausted.  Turning on the TV, his appetite for his usual muesli and yoghurt instantly vanished. The headline story was of another victim, a young woman in her mid-twenties, as if this wasn’t tragic enough, his empty stomach churned as they newscast revealed the name and flashed her image onto the screen.  To his horror it was someone he knew from work, only vaguely, but sure enough it was one of the clerks from the council’s finance department.  He wandered numbly into the garden to water the red roses in his greenhouse before leaving for work, his preoccupation broken only by annoyance with himself for leaving it’s door wide open the evening before. ‘Middle aged memory loss’ he decided, and forced a smile..

There was a stunned and sombre silence hovering over the open-plan offices for that day and at least a week after the event.  Police had been systematically interviewing staff individually, although they had centred their enquiries on those that knew her best, trying to build a picture of her life, he himself had not been missed in the interviews.  At times tempted to mention the dreams he’d had, he decided they were so vague and irrelevant in their content, that all it would achieve was to have him branded as a fruitcake, and so he decided against it.  Having such saintly references meant the police interest in him was minimal, although with his consent he willingly gave a DNA sample, after all he had nothing to hide.

The police hunt for the killer was to put it mildly a complete enigma.  Unable to make connections between the two recent murders and the three previous because collected scene of crime DNA evidence simply didn’t match.  Yet other aspects of the killings were identical.  This point was especially puzzling as certain details had been withheld from the media and consequently the public, therefore it was unlikely to be the work of a copycat killer. ‘Not unless the two men had known one another, met up, and passed the baton’, the detective leading the investigation had mused with a hint of sarcasm in response to one of his officers questions at an update briefing.

‘I’ll be frank with you’, he then added, as if feeling guilty about his dismissiveness.  ‘We’re working in the dark quite literally, other than increasing our men on the ground in the hope they happen to stumble across this bastard’, ‘our only other hope is that we can come up with a DNA match from our existing records, and from those recently collected’. But that takes time, time we don’t have’.

It was three weeks later when a police patrol car responding to a report of a woman heard screaming somewhere on a small industrial area that linked two housing estates picked up the man as he stooped over the woman’s body.

The arresting officer’s statement recorded that the man appeared to be in ‘a trance like state’, and unintelligible in his response to questioning at the scene.  The murdered woman had been stalked and then strangled whilst taking a shortcut home from a friends house.  in common with the two most recent killings, and three earlier murders, the  victim had a blossoming red rose crammed into her mouth.  This being the element that had never before been disclosed to the public.

A disciplinary hearing ruled that a detective in attendance at the police station immediately following the man’s arrest and taking into custody had been negligent but not responsible for his failure to attend to the suspect’s fatal death in custody.  Indeed given that the man had undergone a heart transplant comparatively recently, it was deemed not unlikely that such an event should have occurred. Given the severity of the suspects trauma any medical intervention however timely would have proved fruitless.  The case was closed following conclusively incriminating DNA and forensic evidence which included fibre-matching, skin tissue from a victim’s fingernails and unusually the matching of red rose species to plants found in the suspects greenhouse. Put simply there was no question of his guilt.

A month later, the three first murders were also solved using DNA matched to  yet another deceased man.  The subject, also resident of the city, had no criminal record in this country, however had a rape conviction quoshed on appeal in his native Belgium 10 years prior to his death in a road traffic accident.  Little was known of the man, other than the contents of his wallet, which included minimal identification, cash, florist receipts for red roses and an organ donor card.

By Chris Ankin (c) 03/12/10

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