Title: Hekla's Children
Author: James Brogden
Publisher: Titan Books Ltd
Synopsis from the book: A decade ago, teacher Nathan Brookes saw four of his students walk up a hill and vanish. Only one returned - Olivia - starved, terrified, and with no memory of where she'd been. After a body is found in the same woodland where they disappeared, it is first believed to be one of the missing children, but is soon identified as a Bronze Age warrior, nothing more than an archaeological curiosity. Yet Nathan starts to have terrifying visions of the students. Then Olivia reappears, half-mad and willing to go to any lengths to return the corpse to the earth. For he is the only thing keeping a terrible evil at bay...
Review: A thoroughly enjoyable tale which I would describe as a dark fantasy rather than horror. As I read, it brought to mind the stories of Alan Garner – particularly the Weirdstone of Brisinghamen – which I had loved as a child. It took me a while to work out what it was about the book that brought this back but eventually figured it out to be the tone and atmosphere and the tantalising sense of the ‘otherworld’ in the present or only just beyond the veil. The story focuses very much on Nathan Brookes and his attempts to make sense of what happened in the past and, in a way, his redemption. I felt truly sorry for him when he was left behind in Un as Scattie took on the role of saviour. It was a bit of a pity that her character was not as rounded out as Nathan’s as her story is told as a straightforward recount. This makes her seem somewhat lacking in emotion and prevented me from engaging with her more, for example when she describes leaving her child or refers to her daughter, there is a strange distance I would not have expected. However that was the only downside (perhaps to be addressed in a future story?) and overall this was well-crafted and original escapism.
This book was received free in return for an honest review from Crystal Lake Publishing.
Initially when I looked at the cover and read the blurb I wasn’t too sure that I would like it. The cover itself would’ve put me off and the blurb which talks about a ‘perky blonde’ added to that feeling; I pretty much share Sarah Killian’s views on the type, although I doubt I would kill. BUT. Once I started to read, I was completely drawn into the book. The chatty, friendly tone of the book, of Sarah herself, meant that I could not but help warm to her. I cared about a serial killer, regardless of who her intended victims were, and the killings were actually secondary. It didn't matter that it the prospective victims were young people - and I am a parent with a horror of school violence and the mindless massacres that crop up in the US. I should care about the youngsters but in the end their possible demise faded into the background. It became all about Sarah and whether she survived the attentions of a former colleague who wanted her to join him in a new organisation set up in opposition to that which she worked for, or, if she refused, he would have killed her. A very easy read, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to further adventures with Ms Killian.
Zeroflash is a monthly competition which I have only occasionally entered - something which I really should rectify as it's a good place to exercise those old flash muscles. This particular story was my first entry here for some time, probably because they chose a genre dear to my heart ... horror, naturally.
Zeroflash 2nd Place
Mary held out her hands, palms up. Blood dripped on the floor.
“The stigmata of the damned,” said the priest. She moaned at his words, a bleeding Madonna. His tableau was coming along nicely. “Mother Mary,” continued the minister kneeling down beside her. “Mother, giver of life, but that’s not you … is it?” He nodded at the body lying next to her, still and silent. “Your only begotten son,” he said. “That too is a lie though … isn’t it? For our sins God gave his only begotten son. Would you do the same?”
She shook her head, whimpered in pain.
“No? Another lie,” he said. “You’ve done it before.”
Did she remember? Was that shameful memory buried so deep she’d forgotten? Her sin. A baby left to die. He watched carefully for that light of awareness to reach her eyes, was gratified when he saw it. Now she knew who he was, this preacher she had welcomed so unquestioningly into her home.
“But I didn’t die, did I mother? So here we are—a holy family, a trinity—remembering the message of Easter, the power of the Crucifixion.”
The empty cross he had fashioned stood ready against the wall. Hammer and nails lying at its feet. Metal already bloodied from Mary’s own martyrdom. Now it was Adam’s turn. The priest dragged him across and raised him up onto the wood, ropes holding him whilst iron pierced flesh. When he’d finished, the minister kissed his brother on the cheek. “They named me Judas,” he said, ripping the dog-collar from his neck. “Pretty apt, don’t you think?” Then he turned and walked away, leaving behind a Madonna and Son waiting for a resurrection that would not come.
The Angry Hourglass
He stroked the skull. The last film of skin clinging determinedly to bone, defying the man whose hands now caressed its surface so possessively. A flesh mask serving no purpose. Noah suddenly felt lonely; longed to see a smiling face again. It had been an age since anyone had smiled at him. Normally they turned away in revulsion, even this one, his latest visitor. But such things could be rectified. His scalpel delicately traced the outline of a grin up from the corner of the man’s mouth towards his cheek. That was better. A smile never hurt anyone.
The man groaned in response. Cursing, Noah realised he would have to work quickly before the drugs wore off completely. He picked up the blade again only to be disturbed by something rubbing against his leg. It was Kitty waiting expectantly for her tea. He cut swiftly, dropped the tongue onto the floor. He loved his pets. They just took a bit of house-training. This new one though, did he have the patience? He gazed down at Kitty, the faceless creature had devoured her treat and had turned her blind eyes expectantly back in his direction.
“Shall we keep him?” asked Noah, looking across at the other members of his little menagerie. “Time for new blood?”
They stirred restlessly at the sound of his voice, chains shifting, clanking against the side of their cages whilst Kitty, tired of waiting, crawled back to her basket. Noah noticed the goosebumps on her arms, went over and tucked a blanket around her, stroked the blonde hair, feeling her shrink back from his touch as he did so. Out of all of them, she knew who was master. The others, sensing his nearness, had sat up, fingers gripping the bars of their prison.
“You’d like company, wouldn’t you,” he said.
Unable to stand, they shuffled back and forth on all fours, knuckles dragging on the ground, just like their ancestors had done. And he had space. There was one more cage to be filled. Nor was food a problem, there was plenty in the basement … and there was always the occasional visitor.
Hell on Earth
Microcosms 68 HM
Stained glass made the rain look purple, a Boschian nightmare of a landscape, the garden of earthly delights turning into the last judgement. Luke savoured the violence of the storm outside, defied the lightning as it knifed its reflection down the aisle to sink its blade into the hanging man. He looked up at the carved figure, quickly pulling off his hat in a long-buried act of enforced respect, the beret twisting easily between his fingers as they too remembered.
“Luke?” Lightning flashed again, revealing the face of his priest. “It’s been a long time. I’d heard you’d been released. I prayed for your recovery, your restoration to our community.”
Luke knelt … gestured towards the altar.
The priest followed his gaze. “Ah, you have brought an offering. Come. Let us give thanks.”
Luke allowed himself to be led to the foot of the altar where the priest raised a cup, made the sign of his cross above it, offered it to Luke. Then the body too was offered and received.
“He looks cold,” said Luke, eyes once more on the crucifixion.
“Flesh of your flesh, blood of your blood,” said the priest, handing Luke a box of matches. “Let him burn.”
“Let them all burn,” said Luke as the storm continued to rage. He struck a match.
“Tonight He is with us,” said the priest.
“And will be tomorrow,” said Luke, visions of other fires, other fathers, other meat, burning in his head. It felt good to be free, unmedicated, blessed.
The minister watched him go, dark eyes turning red, a jagged-tooth grin spreading across his face. The night was still young and there were so many more madmen already dancing to his tune. It was hell on earth but he was in heaven.
The beginning of April saw the birth of a new horror anthology, The Infernal Clock. Here we speak to one of the co-curators and evil mastermind behind the whole project, David Shakes.
What triggered the idea for the Infernal Clock?
I spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter and was tweeting about the resurgence of genre TV and my nostalgia for shows like ‘The Twilight Zone’. I mused that a horror ‘24’ would make a good show. I also thought it would make a pretty good theme for an anthology book…
How did you go about selecting the stories?
That’s a pretty scary story! I didn’t. I tweeted something along the lines of: ‘Who wants to be in a book? Pick your timeslot between 12am and 11pm.’ Within an hour, 24 people had! I then had to worry for 5 months if they were going to write anything or, in some cases, had written anything before. To get such high quality in the end product has been more by luck than judgement.
What was the most difficult part of this project?
Trying to wrangle 24 individual people, who’s only commitment is a throwaway tweet. By the time I’d finalised the line-up and realised the initial time allocations had gone wrong it was getting quite fraught. When another couple of writers had to pull out, I knew it was time to call on the FlashDogs crew. They came through with last minute stories, changes of timeslots and, in the case of my fabulous co-curator Steph Ellis, the time and space to pull together a hefty master document.
How did you feel when you finally saw the finished product?
1) Proud as punch! I know that I am biased, but it’s superb. It’s not just me saying that either – independent reviews of both Kindle and print versions have noted Tamara Rogers’ top artwork, the perfection behind Steph Ellis’ lead in quotes and of course Emily June Street’s faultless production values. A fairly big genre publisher I sent a print version to recently shared how impressed they were with the final product.
2) Relieved. I was floundering towards the end, I missed my own Halloween deadline for the launch and my day job was getting tougher and tougher. I owe it to a lot of other people that we got such a polished anthology out there.
Would you do this again and if so, is there anything you would do differently?
Right after we’d done it, I said ‘never again.’ Now – it’s a maybe. I’d organise things a bit better and involve the right production people from the start. I’m great at the big ideas but need other people to concentrate on the details. I would also get more of my own work in there next time. The Infernal Clock ended up being produced at a time when I wasn’t writing much and what I was producing wasn’t my best. I’ve also learned a lot about marketing and would set aside time and money to promote the work effectively too. It’s a saturated market and you need ways of getting your book noticed.
We were musing about Infernal Clock Publishing the other day…
You contributed a story to the Prologue which seamlessly introduced the rest of the book. If you could've chosen an hour, which one would it have been and why?
Like some of the other writers have said in their own upcoming interviews at The Infernal Clock, I’d choose an unassuming hour – early morning or mid-afternoon. It would be more open to interpretation. Demons by Daylight as the amazing Ramsey Campbell once wrote.
You've show you can write consistently to a high standard - your flash stories online and contributions to the FlashDog anthologies have shown that. Why don't we see more?
Firstly, thanks for the compliment. Secondly, and without irony, it’s all about time. I started writing when I turned 40 and one of my favourite authors, James Herbert, passed away. I even wrote down 3 aims:
1) See if people will read you and like what they’ve read
2) Win a competition and get into a real book
3) Write a novel by the time (I’m) 45
I was really disillusioned with my job at the time and threw myself into writing and photography. Flash, poetry and short stories were a perfect medium for me. The first two aims are complete - FlashDogs became a thing, I’ve an Amazon authors page and have featured in half a dozen books and was once called ‘the author, David Shakes’ uncynically!
In the meantime, my day job (a primary school headteacher) has grown tougher and tougher as I take on greater challenges. I write a lot, but for the job – policies and letters and web content and reports and agendas and minutes and emails…it hasn’t left a lot of time anything else.
In my down time I try to prioritise family and then my broader social circle. I currently have 8 months to get that novel sorted!
Do you have a favourite story of yours we can read here as a sample?
As good an example as any:
They'll tell you that the Mersey is clean, teeming with life, but poison takes on many forms. The dead clog the estuaries, their unclaimed bodies shifting on the tides. They pollute the river with anguish and regret. Their anger swirls amidst the grey waves. Their imploded egos become black holes of emotion, sucking life into the oily mud of its banks. The lost and the wicked. The damned and deranged. They all sink the same.
You can't ordinarily see them, but there are times when the veil is lifted. Thin times.
Rare, stormy nights when the promenades fill with spectres and the river is clogged with sodden souls. On these nights the river may offer up a body, release a soul to move on to whatever may come next.
That's what happened for us; why I'm here on this ferry able to see her this one, final time.
The early morning commuters look right through her. They may glimpse the urn on the salt bleached deck and turn their thoughts to brighter things. They may sense the tragedy and close their minds to it; incongruous as it is to their steaming lattes and Facebook updates.
She stays by the urn.
It's been months since the suicide.
We'd been at a low ebb. Debts were mounting. She'd said she couldn't cope. The pressure grew with every final demand. She'd become withdrawn, secretive. We'd barely spoken, even when I knew she was waking in the night to be sick.
That's been the worst part since it happened. Not being able to talk to her, but now she's here, as hauntingly beautiful as I remember her. I want to hold her so badly but know I can't. The dead have no corporeal being. The tear that makes its silent way down her pale cheek says it all. It's almost time to let go.
As the ferry hits the halfway mark the wind rises in anticipation. There's an offering in the urn; a conclusion. A release.
The body had washed up at New Brighton. Once identified and the coroner's report complete, it had been a short wait for a slot at the crematorium. There were a few friends at the service. Small comfort.
This part was always going to be private. We'd discussed spreading ashes on the Mersey the way the immortal young do, secretly knowing their own death will never come.
Oh, for that time again - before mortgages and redundancies; before drunken rows and suicidal thoughts.
I'm almost standing beside her now. Her eyes gaze out across the water. My hand hovers over the swell of her belly. The heat of the life within too intense for my cold, dead spirit.
I'd been so lost in our money worries, so lost in myself that I hadn't even seen the signs of early pregnancy.
It's a boy. Does she know it's a boy?
I am saddened by the thought of her having to raise my child alone. How could I have been so selfish?
She looks at me - really looks. She speaks, a low whisper:
"It's okay. I forgive you." She puts her hand on her stomach and smiles sadly. "We forgive you."
If it wasn't ashes in the urn my heart would break. Now I know I'm no longer lost.
Maybe the best part of me will live on in my unborn son.
The ageing sound system cranks up and Gerry starts singing 'Ferry Cross The Mersey.'
She takes the lid from the urn and scatters me to the wind.
My soul soars as Gerry sings:
"We don't care what your name is boy, we'll never turn you away."
What genre do you tend to write in and what is about that genre which appeals to you?
Horror of course. I think the fascination began as a child – it was thrilling to be scared and I devoured all the Hammer films and BBC2 creature features. My first adult horror book was Carrie I think. There was no YA genre but that book opened me up to a world beyond The Hobbit. Writers like Clive Barker made the genre an artform and I realised that the best of the genre had as great a depth as the books I was studying in school and later at university.
Who are your darkest influences?
Writers? King, Campbell, Barker, Herbert, Straub, McCammon, Morris, Hutson (not to everyone’s taste but he knows what works!) More recently, Adam Neville and C.J. Lines.
How do you come up with your ideas?
Beginning my writing life as a flash-fictioneer, I’ve become accustomed to prompts and criteria. Most of the rest of the time it’s from daydreaming or following a stream of consciousness. I get visual images in my head or sometimes a phrase or snippet of dialogue. I read a lot of non-fiction too which can spark ideas.
What next for the Shakes?
I am going to attempt that novel. I have procrastinated long enough and it’s time to nail something exclusively Shakes to the world.
I hope to contribute to the newest FlashDogs project which will be an online magazine.
I once threatened to do some rewrites of Enid Blyton tales for David Southwell who is busy mapping Hookland for the masses right now.
The novel comes first.
6 Who do you think are the 6 most evil humans in history?
Hitler, although he’s on a continuum any other leader that would devalue another human being or commit atrocities in the name of something ridiculous.
Elizabeth Bathory who managed to kill almost 666 girls in the mistaken belief that she’d preserve her youth.
I actually believe the most evil people are the ones we don’t know about – the ones who are manipulating from behind the curtains, and there are more than 4 of them…
6 Who do you regard as the 6 most evil villains in literature or film?
Evil is about intent and awareness – so I’m going to say Pennywise / IT (let’s hope the new movie gets it right), Flagg from The Stand and The Dark Tower series, General Woundwort in Watership Down, Damien in The Omen, The demon Pazuzu in The Exorcist and The Trunchbull in Matilda.
6 What do you think are the 6 most disgusting meals or food products ever created?
Wotsits, sheep brains, durian fruit, microwave chips, jellied eels, wotsits again.
And finally ...
The Devil walks up to you in the bar. What drink would you buy him?
Whisky, single malt – aged, dark and peaty. No ice, no water. A double. The Devil doesn’t dick about with cocktails.
Many thanks to David Shakes for taking part in this interview. Want to find out more about the authors of The Infernal Clock? Read more here and even better, grab a copy of the book itself here ... with some excellent reviews you will not be disappointed.
Dreams - Angry Hourglass
“Little pig, little pig, let me come in,” whispered the voice in the dark.
Maisie giggled beneath her duvet, she loved the creepy games Daddy played. Being scared was her favourite thing.
“No, no by the hair of my chinny chin chin,” she laughed in reply.
“Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down,” said the voice and she felt warm air tickle the top of her head. She giggled again. Waited. But when she peeked out Wolf Daddy had gone. Her dreams that night were filled with the sound of squealing swine.
“Sleep well, darling?” asked her father next morning at breakfast.
“Yes, Daddy,” she said, stretching and yawning. “I had a lovely dream.”
He smiled absently at her before returning his attention to the stock market downturn, another late night ahead he thought but at least this time he had got in before dawn. And Daniel was around … somewhere.
When Maisie got home from school she found a note. Daddy would be late. She smiled, not in the least concerned. He was always back in time for her bedtime story. She drank a glass of milk, dreamily gazing out of the window at the sun slowly setting on the horizon … blood-red, her favourite colour. Time for bed it told her. She brushed her teeth carefully, picked up Teddy and snuggled down once more. And waited. She heard a door. Footsteps on the stair. A creak by her bed. Daddy.
“Here comes the candle to light you to bed,” he crooned. “Here comes the chopper to chop off your head.”
A soft kiss and then he was gone. Her dreams that night were filled with the sound of axe on wood.
When she woke in the morning she opened her eyes to a wonderful surprise. Her walls were now crimson! Daddy had re-decorated for her as she slept. Maisie stepped over the body on the floor and made her way to the kitchen. She put down the axe and poured out her cornflakes, thought about her pig brother in the basement. At least she wouldn’t have to share her chocolate milk with him.
Jeremiah’s Birthday - Microcosms HM
(Required elements: disturbed teenager, Sussex village, horror)
His meds had worn off and Josh could only watch helplessly as his hand defied him yet again, ripping at old wounds so he bled anew. The moon averted its gaze from his shame; instead tactfully washing over the silent Weald, Burwash slumbering below, blind, deaf and dumb. Just like Jeremiah Pardon. Even at this distance Josh could see the old man sitting on his porch, his chair rocking back and forth, creaking out an iron rhythm, creating an invisible chain between them. He could swear Jeremiah was looking straight at him. Was he really blind? Suddenly he needed to know. Josh walked back, along the dead lane, into the dead village, past shrouded families coffined by night, drawn by the magnet of Jeremiah.
“Like nails on a board, isn’t it?” whispered a voice in his ear.
He jumped. Could’ve sworn it was Jeremiah but the man still sat in his chair, rocking.
“Like nails in your flesh.” This time on his other side.
“Like nails in your soul.” And finally Jeremiah stood in front of him - even as he still rocked in his chair. “Nails,” he repeated, as Josh tried to turn, to retreat but the chains pulled harder, pulled him closer, until he could see nothing but the ever-widening mouth as it turned from a sneer, to a grin, to a hungry void, snuffing him out like a candle, muffling his screams to a whisper.
The village continued to sleep as the youth turned his deadman’s shoes back towards the hill. Tomorrow it would wake to the annual tragedy that refused to go away. At the same time it would celebrate the longevity of one of its oldest inhabitants, Jeremiah Pardon.
Jeremiah patted his stomach contentedly. Thought of the birthday cake his neighbours would bring him.
In the same week when I managed the Judge's Pick at Microcosms 60, I was also runner up with this poem which included the elements: night manager, remote road and poetry. I wanted to create a sense of place, of nighttime isolation but also a feeling of tranquility and belonging. I like to think I achieved that.
Neon colours my life
Signing my presence
Across the night
On this nowhere road
Occasional gold dazzles briefly
Beams picking out
Before zooming away
Behind me, the jukebox stirs
Plays the blues
A desolate soundtrack
Drowning out the silence
Of my isolation
I stand at the door
Surveying my kingdom
A cool breeze riffling my hair
As I measure the miles of nothing
In either direction
Me and the landscape
Fit together perfectly
Deserted and desolate
In our solitary selves
This little tale was the Judge's Pick for Microcosms 60. The spinner gave me the following elements to include: veterinarian, horse ranch, horror.
Cold metal hit stone. An anxious whicker, then silence. Margaret walked between the stables. She didn’t mind the nightshift, preferring the muffled dark, the sense of calm, of tranquility. Somewhere, an owl hooted and, as she raised her eyes, a silvery ghost flew across the velvet sky.
Margaret walked on.
The call had said the mare was in the end block, a distance now seeming further than it did in the light. The green mile, she thought, suddenly nervous, noticing how the horses became more restless the nearer she got to her goal. And it was no longer just metal on stone. Hooves kicked at wood, splintered timber; wild eyes and rabid mouths hung over rotting gates, the concrete beneath her turned to mud. Margaret looked behind her, saw only a void.
Another whicker at the end of the darkness.
Despite her terror, the sound of animal pain drew her on until she stood before an open stable; inside, a shape her eyes registered as a horse, but her brain denied the classification. Grotesque and swollen, something writhed beneath the animal’s skin.
“Deliver us,” murmured a voice in the darkness. “Deliver me.”
Margaret backed away only for the horse to turn its pitiful eyes on her, its suffering forcing her forward once more. Reluctantly, she probed the birth canal, grasped skin and bone, pulled the creature from its nightmare womb. From nowhere, skeletal hands reached out and ripped the amniotic sac from the newborn. Sick with horror, she watched it struggle to its feet, grow, become fully-formed. Then dark-shadowed Death mounted its pale horse and rode out into the world.
But Margaret didn’t see them go. A dormant blood clot lurking inside suddenly shifted, claimed her with a stroke. Death had been kind, delivering she who had delivered the End.
This was my Runner Up entry for the Angry Hourglass Flash Frenzy Round 127.
Looking at the picture (courtesy Ashwin Rao) on the Saturday I really couldn't think of anything and was considering not entering BUT just as I was about to fall asleep that night, the first lines 'I have a house. It sleeps with one eye open' popped into my head.' I didn't suddenly leap out of bed and start writing but the line stayed with me, disturbing my dreams and waiting for me when I woke up. And when I finally put pen to paper, the house told its own dark story, finishing full circle on the opening lines. They demanded to be repeated. They haunted me then and still haunt me now.
I Have a House
I have a house. It sleeps with one eye open. Watchful in the wilderness, it keeps me safe. I lived there in an isolated childhood, hidden from view, never seen by anyone except the house and its guests. Its jewellery of locks and bolts kept me safe from prying eyes.
Visiting hours admitted strangers with masked faces and the house became a theatre with me as the star of the show. Sometimes I would give a private performance – just myself and one other. The floorboards both my stage and my casting couch.
I remember the wood, cold against bare skin, unyielding, unforgiving in the darkness of this nightmare womb. It was a long labour, contractions of pain lasting hours until I was delivered into silence and a mother’s hands. She would look at me with unfeeling eyes. Food and clothing meant I had passed the test; their absence, failure and another type of reward.
But I was outgrowing my role, becoming an aging star and my performances were fewer and fewer. The laws of supply and demand had struck. I had nothing more to give and everything had been taken.
Eventually, the house wrapped me up in its arms when no one else would, buried me in the cradle of its foundations, became my forever home.
I have a house. It sleeps with one eye open. We haunt each other
A writer - I think that says it all.