Halloween Fiction Competition Winner

 

1st Prize: £250.00 – Adam Ford

2nd Prize: £150.00 – Katy Young

3rd Prize: £75.00 – Richard Thompson

The Graves End Pact

By Adam Ford

As the moon glinted through the darkening clouds, two figures began their journey through the murky undergrowth of Porters Wood, their hesitant footsteps heralding the difficulties in the overgrown trail ahead of them.

“Do you think they will come?” Alex asked, his breath frosted in the cold winter air

“We made a pact didn’t we?” Carter demanded, “Don’t a pact mean anything to you?”

“Yes, yes of course it does, just that it might be difficult….” Alex’s voice trailed off as he caught sight of the house at Graves End, even from this great distance, he could make out the glow of pumpkins that blazed a welcoming trail down the long drive to the porch.

“Oh my God,” Alex breathed, “they really have come”.

Carter swallowed hard, it was everything that he had hoped for but hadn’t been able to completely believe. This was going to be one hell of a Halloween party.

“C’mon,” he ushered Alex forward, taking a swig of his beer before clambering on through the brambles that sprawled like evil tendrils across the path. The beer burned his throat with a bitter taste but unaccustomed to alcohol; he liked the immediate hit as the alcohol surged through his brawny frame. When the bottle was empty, he threw it into the undergrowth, as a heady rush made him feel suddenly dizzy.

Finally, the house loomed in front of them, foreboding in its architectural design and with no electricity, it had an eerie atmosphere with windows gaping like widened eyes and the massive porch, becoming an extended giant mouth about to swallow them up.

“The pumpkins are awesome” Alex murmured, “Wow”. Alex spun around on the spot, fantasizing that the grotesquely carved pumpkins were emitting a life-force of their own as the power of the flame forced the shadows back across the path and surrounded him with an ethereal glow.

‘This would have taken a lot of work’ Carter thought watching Alex lost in the moment, how could their two mates have done all of this on their own? Suddenly he was filled with self-doubts, what if they were gate-crashing another party and they would find themselves surrounded by hoards of stupid girls from that posh girls’ only school up the road? He hoped that he was wrong, this place was theirs. It had to be theirs alone for tonight.

Suddenly Carter flinched and clasped his left wrist, as pain surged through the jagged scar. Even through the overwhelming pain, he was aware that Alex was clutching his arm too and tears were rolling down his cheeks as he grimaced. As quickly as the pain arrived, it was gone and both straightened up, wiping their own tear stained faces, shaken to the core. They looked at their wrists, the scars both glowed from a light surfacing underneath the jagged edges.

“Do you think..?” Alex began.

“It means they are here and we should go in” Carter put his arm around Alex “It will be ok-honest” he whispered, knowing that there was no way back anyway. He felt for Alex, he was so young to have gone through all this in his meager twelve years.

United they walked into the porch way, flinching as unseen cobwebs brushed against their faces. More pumpkins lit their way down the darkened, derelict corridor as roaches scuttled across the floor in front of them. “There is no music” Alex complained, “It’s so quiet”

“We will make our own don’t worry” Carter smiled, trepidation and anticipation rising up within him threatening to choke him.

He reached out to push the door to the old sitting room open. It creaked on its hinges and sent a shiver down his spine. He could see his breath frosted on the cool breeze that swept in from the open porch, his skin felt chilled to the bone and the hairs on the back of his neck had frozen erect. The room looked empty, ears straining for the slightest sound but there were none, apart from the sound of his own labored breathing, Carter acknowledged, as fear threatened to strangle him.

Walking in to the room, Alex spotted them first…”Lance…you made it buddy” he ran forward and clutched the hand of his friend. From behind Lance, a tall geeky lad hidden in the half shadows moved forward, his smile wide.

Carter reached forward with arms outstretched and hugged Regan, “God man, it’s so good to see ya…it’s been…”

“Ages!” Regan extracted himself from Carter’s eager embrace “Beer?”

The four boys sat huddled in the corner of the room for warmth enjoying the feast of snacks that Lance and Regan had managed to bring with them. Carter felt himself relax, the beer warming his body. It was all going to be ok, their friendship and the blood pack had brought them back together and they had honored their vow to meet up here every Halloween. Carter breathed in sharply, his memories were so alive at this minute that they felt like a physical ache threatening to tear him apart, but may be it would always be like this.

“We really wanted to get here for tonight but it wasn’t easy” Regan began “Lance and I had to creep out of our house, it’s a ten mile trek to get here but we were lucky and stowed away in Ol’ Man Pasco’s truck and it took us most of the way”.

“I wish you had never moved away” Carter said bitterly, “it’s not been the same since you left..”

“We’re glad you made it anyway, “Alex interjected, “not sure if we could have stayed here on our own” he mumbled, his mouth stuffed full of chocolate.

“Didn’t get much choice really” Lance sighed, “My scar started to burn like hell and only eased off as we got here, Regan’s scar did the same. Bloody hurt”

The four looked at each other, aware now of the true strength of their blood bond, only one of their group missing and yet, the one they all wanted to see.

“It’s nearly midnight,” Carter cried, “ do you think……?” his voice trailed off as the pumpkin candles around the room began to flicker and an icy wind filled the room. Huddled together they started calling out a name, united in desire and intent, their voices resonating around the empty room, shattering the eerie silence.

From out of the darkness, a shape began to materialize, Glenn, their childhood friend who had been stolen from them only 12 months before. This eerie, long forgotten house had become his resting place as they had enjoyed their Halloween party, just the five of them and a pact so strong that it would bring Glenn back from beyond the grave. Glenn had always been the most vivacious of them, so full of life that it seemed unthinkable that his life force could be extinguished by the fall through rotten floorboards on that Halloween night. Death had claimed him in seconds.

For a few seconds only, Glenn’s materialized form drifted forward and became enveloped in the circle of friendship that would last a lifetime.
“Happy Halloween Glenn – we will never forget..” and as their voices trailed off, Glenn disappeared from their midst and the boys were left alone once more and strangely bereft.

“I miss him” Alex cried, choking back his tears.

“We all do, but we’ll be back…next year and we will see him again.” Another pact formed as the boys placed their scarred wrists on top of each others. United once more, the boys began to blow out the pumpkin candles and made their way out of the house.

“Nice work with the pumpkins by the way” Carter said, wiping the tears from his eyes and taking a deep breath to steady himself.

“We didn’t do anything, could never have carried pumpkins with us” Lance admitted and laughed emotionally “I’m guessing that somehow buddy Glenn had something to do with it, he knew we would be back after all and I guess, he wanted to welcome us.”

As they all turned back to look at the house, one final light in the window was extinguished as if a ghostly breath had erased the flickering flame and the house sank back into darkness and peace once more as the boys turned and walked out into the night.

The Perfects

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perfects have risen from the earth to save the planet from total destruction.

It is 12/12/2012; the end of the Mayan calendar. The world leaders, through their greed and lust for power, have triggered their arsenal of nuclear weapons.

As the final hour approaches, the Perfect’s chosen ones; the pure of heart, called the ‘Kudos’, must find the underground world of Avalon, so that they may survive, when life as we know it is wiped out

once and for all.

 

The Perfects

by Wendy Reakes

Chapter 1

Thomas Stone was a photographer; freelance, with a contact in every paper in New York City. He told them he was twenty-five when he went touting for work, but the truth was he had only just turned seventeen and he still lived at home; living with his mother and her boring boyfriend who were trying for a baby of their own to seal the deal of their alleged love for one another. Or so they said.

Tom didn’t see it that way. The walls were thin, and the grunting and groaning that came from the room next to his was the reason he left at night, climbing through his window to the city below their apartment; their home on the lower-east side. And wherever he went, his camera went with him, like a conjoined twin, never leaving his side, working with him as he ate and slept and even when he peed. As far as Tom was concerned, his camera was his lifeline, a perpetual rope-ladder to drop out of his window so that he never had to go back; so that he could afford to stay on the streets where he dreamed and flourished.

Now tonight, as Tom left the apartment, going down the rusted fire-escape to the stench and the sirens and the sin of his favorite city, he wondered if this would be the night he caught the Perfects on film. The night when he would at last record their entities for prosperity, spreading the word of their magnificence and their power to defend us against evil, forever and ever.

 They called Melissa Lake, Mia, but on the Internet she was known as Lakey, a picture of Loch Ness her avatar.

“I’m so goddamn fed-up,” she typed, shaking her head as the words formed on the screen.

“LOL. ‘Goddamn’! That’s not very English!” he responded.

“I wish I was American, like you. Live in NY and see you each day.”“Instead you have the English countryside…poor old you.”“Stoney, have you any idea how boring it is living here, surrounded by goddamn trees?”“Whoa, there’s that word again.”“LOL” Mia chuckled. He always made her laugh.

“Well…Anything?”“Nope. Not last night.”“Don’t worry you’ll see them. It’s just a matter of time. I’m going out soon. I’m waiting for the parents to go off. Not hard when you live in the country. There’s nothing else to goddamn do, but sleep.”“Right” “Look, I’ll let you know if I see anything, but if not I’ll IMS you at our usual time tomorrow.”“Gotcha. Be careful, Mia.”“Hey, you know me…I’m goddamn cool!”Mia turned off the message box and checked her emails. Not much happening there either. She went into Firefox and checked the news. There had been a sighting. ‘Perfects out of hiding’ the headline screamed. Last week a man reported a sighting….’

“Whatever!” Mia muttered, shutting down her net-book.

 It was then, that night, the Perfects came.

“Hey, Mia.”

Mia turned and saw two of her friends across the road standing near the entrance to the park, next to the post-office, closed and barred with metal shutters.

“Hiya” she called back, crossing the road, looking left to right dodging the cars that were passing.

“Anything happening?”

“Nah, it’s quiet.”

“What about number nine?” Mia strained her neck to see over the railings.

The two girls laughed. “Yeah, they’re at it again.”

Mia raised herself on her toes. The York’s house was over the other side of the park. She could just make out a light through the trees coming from their bedroom. The curtains were closed but the glow allowed the silhouettes inside to dance within its folds. She could imagine him, with his fists flaying, knocking old Doris to the floor.

“Why don’t you come?” Mia whispered. “Why don’t you come?”

She had driven here every night for the past ten days. It was a town called Devizes, in the South-West county of Wiltshire, where the countryside presented itself over rolling meadows and pockets of villages sitting between folds of fields. Mia lived in the nearby village of Avebury, accessible only by car from where she lived in a large house surrounded by grass and trees and cows chewing the cud over rickety crumbling walls of stone.

“Shush!” Anna said.  She, Charlotte and Mia hushed, as they gazed over the fence of the locked park to the house where the York’s lived.

“Something’s happening,” Mia said. “I can feel it.” She stood for two more seconds pausing for a noise to fire into the night. Then, as if no longer able to wait for what she knew would inevitably come, she charged towards the gate of the park and climbed over it.

“Mia!”

“I’m not waiting here. They’re close. I just know it.”

She ran stealth-like, across bordered flower beds and neatly mowed grass, past trees reaching to the stars in the blackened sky to the fence on the other side, directly opposite the house where the York’s lived.

Mia stood near a tree just inside the park. She jumped when she heard the sound of old Doris, suddenly wailing inside her house. He was starting again, regardless of the damage he must surely be inflicting upon her.  Why don’t they come? Mia pondered. It must be time.

It was.

Suddenly as if a draught had blown past her, she saw a figure in front pacing towards the York’s house. Then another stepped out from behind the tree next to her.  She saw another and then another until finally five Perfects were watching the house where Doris York’s audible whimpering broke into the night.

They were men with no skin. Not ‘visible’ skin; only an impenetrable translucent film, covering muscle, fibre, sinew, arteries, and cartilage. Their veins were molded within the landscape of muscle, pumping the blood and making it look as if the blackness of it was racing around their forms, like charges firing through live wires. The sinews in their necks were taut, synchronizing with the strains of their movements, liaising with their brains and the workings of their bodies, pulling it all together; collaborating with it.

At six-feet-six tall, their limbs were long and powerful; calves and forearms like a giant’s fingers, working and laboring over a task of precision and accuracy. Their hands and feet were weapons, so powerful and manipulative that to confront them would be perilous. Their shoulders, like great mounds, held a protruding chest, breathing as if a thunderous storm was about to offload onto a daisy swaying peacefully in the breeze.

Their backs were like rods of steel, unyielding with no arch to take away their erectness.  Their buttocks, tight and pert were rounded above thighs of bulging magnitude. And their manhood’s were tucked into a pouch of skin, protecting it from the day.

And above it all, their heads were their guides. 

A visage of grey, white coloured bone, covered their delicate brains and the flesh of their faces like a gladiator’s helmet. From the skull there branched protrusions, protecting the cartilage of the nose, covering the brow and the cheeks and the chin that pointed outwards, as if to go up against its authority would be to face certain death. Two round holes perforated the molded bone, enabling them to see with their penetrating blackened gaze. And the only flesh, pink and human-like, was the flesh of their ears, like ours, listening and twitching as they responded to cries of distress and torture.

Mia couldn’t take her eyes off them. She had heard all the myths, but she knew it was speculation, since no one who had actually them had lived to tell the tale. Now, she was processing the vision in front of her as if she watching a movie for the first time, wondering about how much of the legend was true.

It was said they worked in groups of five and they were standing before her now like the five points of a star. They were tall and formidable; all the same height and the same build. On the backs of their whitened skulls she could see random markings carved there, distinguishing one Perfect from the other, like fingerprints etched on bone.

One turned and looked at her. She took a step back, but somehow she wasn’t afraid. She was fascinated by his gaze, even though his face was covered in that skull-like structure, she could still see his expression. It must have been his eyes and she could have sworn he was telling her to follow them.

Then he tilted his head. ‘Come,’ he said without speaking. ‘Come and see.’

 His name was Varquis. He was the overlord of the perfects, the one who ruled them all on England’s soil. But instead of remaining aloof, separate as a leader should, he had his own unit; four perfects, who were his sons.

This night they were grouped outside a house where pain and suffering happened each day. They had been alerted to it many nights before but they could not come. Too many other issues needed attending, matters of extreme importance; matters which, had they not descended upon, disaster would have surely resulted.

Varquis was now waiting for Urigon, his youngest son, to focus into the group so that they may begin.  ‘Uri,’ he said, his words connecting with the others through their souls.

‘She is still here. She is not afraid.’ Urigon turned his head towards his father.

‘Very well.”Urigon turned back to the girl standing behind them, next to the tree where he had once been hiding. He tilted his head. ‘Come,” he said without speaking, ‘Come and see.’ Mia watched them move forward. The gate on that side of the park was open. They went through it and crossed the narrow side-road, moving towards the house where the York’s lived.

Mia followed them, keeping her distance. She watched them walk with sure strides and climb the steps. She saw the door open, just as she fell against a thick hedge protruding above a low brick wall. She could feel her heart racing and her pulse throbbing in her neck.

She gasped when she saw Mr. York. He had opened the door as if he was responding to a gentle knock, as if he was expecting friends for tea.  And as he stepped forward, Mia saw his face as a light from inside the house illuminated it. He seemed so startled by the vision he saw there, that he was transfixed as he watched one of the Perfects step forward.  It reached out and took him by the throat. Then raising him into the air, as if he was weightless, the Perfect held him with his powerful arm outstretched as old Mr. York’s legs flayed beneath the bulge of his large sagging belly.

He was dropped to the ground as he cried in shame. He knew his time had come, as all the perpetrators knew when the Perfects came. He stepped forward and he sobbed as he walked inside the group of five, down the steps to the road where Mia was hiding next to the hedge.

She watched as they crossed the road, heading for the park and then she heard a scream coming from the open doorway to the house. Old Doris was leaning against the frame, panting from tearing down the stairs. She was covered in marks over her swollen face. “Alfie,” she screamed. “Alfieeee.”

Mia, no longer interested in the tribulation of old Doris York, scampered across the road in the Perfects wake.

 Varquis could feel her following and he could feel Urigon sensing her presence, like a dog sniffing for sustenance for his empty stomach. She was right behind them, moving from tree to tree, disguising herself from the light spilling into the darkness.

The man in their midst; the creature in the void, was muttering as he stumbled along with them. He was praying to a god he had never worshipped before that night, praying for him to be rescued from certain death. He didn’t deserve it, he assured his god. He was provoked. She deserved his wrath. She was always getting things wrong.

Varquis instructed his unit to halt. They stilled and they turned to the creature in the void. They were in position, like the five points of a star, joining forces with their strength and their souls, closing in, moving slowly forward as the man in the middle screamed for his life.

They were touching him now. Their chests were bulging forth and the veins in their necks were throbbing as the power of their being, surged through them like water breaking through a dam, rushing over new soil. Their feet were shuffling against the hardness of the ground and their insteps were arched allowing more weight to be funneled into their torsos so that the strength there was unrivalled. Their arms were at their sides and their hands were almost touching, but as they moved in, they lifted them, and locked them around each other’s shoulders like comrades discussing strategy.

But here, there was no discussion. No intent other than to destroy. As their bodies touched the man in the void and as he screamed his last strangled breath, he was expelled of life, crushed to oblivion, his parts turning to ashes as the force of the cage of flesh obliterated all traces of him, other than the remnants of his sorry, miserable life.

The Perfects parted. They took a single step back and the ashes of the creature in the void fluttered to the ground like powder from a shaker, falling into a pile of dust.

Varqis banged the earth with his heel to dig a shallow hole and then he spread the ashes into the soil, crushing them like a pestle would crush peppercorns in a mortar. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, the man in the void was sent back to the earth from whence he came.

Wendy is 49 and lives in Bristol. She began writing over five years ago, when she lived in France. ‘It’s hard not to write when you live in France,’ Wendy says. ‘Especially, when it’s a two-hundred-year-old farmhouse surrounded by acres of vines.’ The Perfect’s is Wendy’s second novel and she is currently working on her third, ‘The Song of the Undergound’, about a lost subterranean city, beneath London. Wendy has written several prize-winning short stories, and many of them have been published in various anthologies: more recently with Little Acorn Press; to be published in July this year. She has recently delved into script-writing, when she wrote a four part drama for TV and whilst she is working on her new novel, she is developing her web site, where she offers a not-so-serious daily blog about that elusive road to publication. You can find more about Wendy and her work here.
 Http://wendyreakes.weebly.com/
 
Wendy says, ‘Writing for me is like having a fire in my belly, sometimes the flame dies but most of the time it rages and I am startlingly bright.’

A Broken Banquet

by Thomas Brown

‘A thin, delicate figure, with wings like glass and wide black eyes, Gluttony is the youngest of the Seven Sins. Her Court and she drift languidly through the forests of the world, accompanied by mellifluous music and the intoxicating scent of spring. Yet they are not to be underestimated, for when night falls, a feverish hunger descends on the Sin and they erupt, irresistible as the tide, through the undergrowth with their bows and spears and bloody, nail-bitten claws. They slash and maul, searching out the beasts of the forest to devour, with bare hands gorging themselves, sating their yearning hunger with raw flesh and slurping down still-warm blood.’

From The Book of Sin

 They were starving. The cold had come early this winter, creeping across the ground and stealing the warmth from everything it touched. Frost had spread from the mossy earth right up to the highest boughs of the trees, covering everything in an icy layer of glittering hardness from which there was no escape. The rabbits had cowered in their burrows, the birds settled tight into their nests and everything that had been green was hard and crisp and cold.

   Were it not for their plentiful pantry, his wife, his grandchild and he would surely have perished, their bodies as stiff and thin as the branches on the trees around him.

   The hunter shook his head, as though to clear it of the morbid thoughts, and strode deeper into the forest. The pantry was almost bare now, but winter was nearing its end and that meant he could hunt again. Hunt and forage and gather. After a long season of impotence against the iron grip of winter, he was needed again. His family would be provided for.

   There was a coldness about the air, a chill that strengthened and became more bitter with every minute that passed. It was getting late. The sun died overhead, bathing the forest in the blood-red glow of dusk, and beneath the twisting trees, shadows lengthened. They reached out with their branch-like claws, devouring the last remnants of sunlight, growing blacker and more bloated. The man continued heedless. He knew these paths like the wrinkles of his own face; he had walked their ways for many decades now and did not need the light of day to see by.

   The ground crunched beneath his boots and a wind sighed through the trees, rustling the few leaves and testing the branches. Their creaks carried on the air, a hundred, hundred groans that brought the forest to life. They were weary of the winter. He could hear it in those creaks as readily as he could feel in it his own bones. The old man stepped round a bend in the path, emerging into a small clearing.       

   There had been a rabbit, two weeks ago. He had found the poor thing not far from here, frozen still as stone. Even its ears were stiff and it was hard to believe that it could ever have lived. Ribs pressed visibly against its thin underbelly and its dead, black eyes were trapped behind a layer of frost. In a very horrible way, he thought guiltily, it had reminded him of his granddaughter.

   The cold was merciless, devouring the warmth of everything it touched, insatiable and indiscriminate. The rabbit, the trees, his family and he. If he had learned anything over his long years, it was that there was no satisfying it.

   The ground was sparse, save a carpet of thin, brown roots that wound their way into the earth. He made his way to the edge of the clearing, where the barren undergrowth made something of a return, and began to rummage around. He had collected the root countless times from here before and it was hardy, even against the bitter frost. He slipped a knife from his long overcoat pocket and began to scrape at the soil, chipping away at the thin layer of cold that encased it. His fingers were white, or blue. It was hard to tell in the fading light.

   It was important to him that he found the root. The little one, waiting, starving at home, she loved them. They were her favourite of all the assorted plants that he gathered from the forest and he would not disappoint her. Besides, they were nice. Nothing in all the forest tasted as sweet.

   For several minutes he went on, his efforts fruitless. His breath came fast between his lips, visible as a cloud of white against the air. He would find the root and return home, before the coldness truly set in. His wife was cooking for him and he had not seen his little granddaughter since yesterday, when he had tucked her in for bed. It had pained him inside to see her small, pale figure vanish ghost-like beneath the covers. She’d grown so terribly thin over winter. So terribly, terribly thin.

   A flash of white against the earthy brown. His hopes leaped, only to be dashed when the thing squirmed violently away from his touch. The fat, tuber-like worm lingered for a moment and then was gone, his hopes vanishing along with the corpulent bug. The encroaching cold nipped at his flesh and, wrapping his overcoat tight around him, the old man strode back off into the darkness. He’d return tomorrow, with daylight, and dig properly. It was too late now.

   The chatter of teeth and a pale breath, his own starved soul coalescing in the air.

   Only the foolish or ignorant travelled the forest by night.

 *

 The old woman glanced longingly out of the small window. Her breath clung frostily to the glass and she fancied it was snowflakes she breathed out; a soft, delicate whiteness that clung to the windows and turned them foggy. Her eyes creased tight, crow’s feet crawling across her skin, then softened as a shadow at the forest’s edge stepped out from the rest and towards her cottage. Its confident stride bore it purposefully closer. She could picture his face, the soft warmth of his brown eyes, the furry greyness of his hair and his delicate lips, offset against that proud jaw.

   The wind howled, the trees shivered and the man was but a shadow again.

   ‘Grandmother! Grandmother!’ cried an insistent voice, and the old woman span from the window, for the voice was laden with fear. Her granddaughter rushed into her arms.

   ‘What is it, Bianca? I sent you off to bed over an hour ago! And you are shivering like I have never seen! Let’s get you some blankets to wrap up in, and keep you warm.’

   ‘I do not tremble from the cold, Grandmother!’

   She found that hard to believe. The girl was as cold as ice. Bones protruded where there should have been soft flesh, the child’s body shaking awkwardly against her own, and the woman felt a surge of guilt. She knelt slowly down, swept the hair from her granddaughter’s wide eyes.

   ‘Why else then, little one?’

   ‘I had a terrible nightmare!’

   ‘Do not be afraid, nightmares are not real. You are safe,’ she said, leading the child over to the glowing fireplace, ‘and your grandfather will be back soon. He will protect you from anything. Remember how strong he is?’ The girl’s parents had died the year past, victims of the terrible wasting sickness that had swept through the forest, and her husband and she had cared for the little girl ever since.

   ‘But it was so real, Grandmother, like I was there.’ The fire smouldered within the hearth, golden and orange like rich honey. Chunks of charcoal baked in its embers. ‘There were monsters. They rushed out of the forest to get me!’ Her eyes shone, reflecting the uncertainty of her grandmother’s own eyes.

   ‘What did these monsters look like?’

   ‘They were gangly, like the spiders you sweep from beneath my bed! All arms and legs and they were covered in blood! And they had the sharpest teeth you ever did see! Sharper than Grandfather’s best knife –’ 

   ‘Forget them all, little one, they were just nightmares. They are not real. Now run off back to bed, I will be along in a minute to tuck you in tight.’

   The girl smiled, a reluctant expression that tugged gently at her cheeks, and kissing her earnest grandmother, she trudged off back to their room.

   Not until the bedroom door creaked shut did the old woman move, returning from the crackling fireplace to her previous post at the window. Snow had started to fall, blanketing the night-time forest in a crisp white cape and though she had stood at the window a hundred times over the course of her long life, the frosty forest looked different this night. A thought went out to her husband, out there somewhere in the ravenous cold, alone and weary from a long day’s hunting. She wished he would hurry up. The food didn’t matter anymore; there were other days to hunt and it would not do him well to linger in this weather.    Her stomach rumbled, and with a final glance through the window, she drew the curtains and moved off towards the stove.

 *

  A fox flashed before the hunter’s eyes, dashing across the path and into a thicket of brambles. He peered hurriedly after it but the creature moved impossibly fast and it was far too dark to see by. The forest was full of hunters tonight, he thought grimly. The cold metal of his knife pressed against the flesh of his thigh.

   He would be home soon, if he picked up his pace. There was less than a mile left to go before he’d find himself looking across at a hot bowl of steaming stew, a large mug of ale, and his wife’s soft face.

   Devoured by time, until it was creased with wrinkles and age spots, it was no less beautiful than the first day they’d met and, tired, hungry and alone in the cold, he had never missed it more. The wind whined through the tree-tops, carrying with it a flurry of snow and ice, and the old man increased his stride. The snow had been relentless this winter, an endless stream of harsh cold that built up, day after day, until it was all anyone could remember. He was sick of it.

   Movement made the old man jump, and he turned in time to see a pair of owls soar gracefully overhead. He bit his cold, chapped lip and watched as the creatures were devoured by the darkness. They looked pale and ghostly as his own frail granddaughter, their creamy white feathers standing out against the blackness of the night sky. He sighed, his hand reaching to his racing heart, and turned to resume his trek home. Owls were a rarity in these part of the woods. Perhaps the cold had driven them here, he thought, drawing his coat tighter still around his chest and hurrying on.

   An arrow flashed through the air, impaling one of the birds. It stumbled mid-flight, losing grace with each drop of blood that fell to the snowy ground below. Its scream pierced the woods.

   A mass of shadows erupted with a shriek from the undergrowth. Limbs flailed like leafless branches, skeletal and pale in the moonlight. Moans of relief rose over gasps of desperation.

   The old man faltered.

   Blood-red lips parted in exultation. Ivory flesh glinted under the moon, flecked with ruby stains. Translucent wings rustled ravenously.

   ‘What –’ 

   A spear stabbed forward. It sunk smoothly into the old man’s stomach and he crumpled to the earth, his body already blanketed by a frenzy of feverish activity.

 *

 Something scuttled overhead and the woman shrieked. The pan she had been heating hit the floor with a clang. Hot water spilled out, running quickly into the cracks in the floorboards, but the old woman’s attention was firmly fixed on the ceiling.

   Movement in the attic.

   A definite scrabbling, as though something small sought to get down into the house. She cursed. If the rats were back again, it would be the end of them. Winter had taken its toll on their pantry and if the vermin ate what little was left they would all three of them starve. She waited, and listened.

   The pan had made such a sound when it hit the ground, but it did not seem to have woken Bianca. She offered a silent prayer of thanks. It would do her childish imagination no good to hear the unnerving noises that petered down from the dark, dusty attic.

   After a minute of silence the old woman stirred, stepping tacitly toward the cupboard by their bedroom. She reached slowly but steadily in and her grip tightened around a heavy broom handle. It felt good in her grasp.

   Taking a deep breath, she banged at the trapdoor in the ceiling with the base of the broom. Three thuds reverberated throughout the cottage before the trapdoor fell open and a long, thin ladder slid out. She peered up, placed a foot on the first rung. It groaned beneath her weight, the sound terribly loud within the otherwise silent cottage. Her teeth were gritted with determination.

   She had killed more rats than she could remember over the years and had become very efficient at it.

   With a bang, the door blew inwards. The window shattered, sending shards of glass across the room and the old woman tumbled to the floor. The ceiling span and her heart hammered in her frail chest.

   A dozen figures darted into the house, their lithe legs and wasp-like wings bearing them swiftly over the threshold. They were no larger than her own granddaughter, with lustrous white skin and large, black eyes that swam like shimmering oil. Thickets of tangled hair hung from their heads and the stench of spoiled flesh that hung over them was near-overwhelming. She had smelled it before, when their dog had crawled beneath the cottage to die, three years ago.

   In an instant, she knew what they were.

   She had heard tales of Gluttony, had been warned about her ever since she was little, but compared to the tales of the other Sinful Courts, she had not seemed worth the worry. A myth, a forest legend, something to scare the little ones into coming home before nightfall. 

   Witnessing the stark truth of those bony limbs, ivory fangs and blood-stained chins, she knew she had been wrong. Her heart leaped in her chest, sending stabbing pains throughout every nerve of her body.

   ‘Run, Bianca, run into the woods!’

   Even as Gluttony’s famished Court tore into the house, licking their lips, their breath shuddering with desperate desire, even as they pounced on the woman’s prone form with their fierce fangs and filled the house with their horrific presence, she could not tear her eyes away from the monsters. The last thing she heard was a single scream from the bedroom, before even that was swallowed by the savage cries of Gluttony and her offspring.

 *

 The wave of starving Sin flooded out of the forest just as the first light of dawn peered over the horizon. They collapsed to the sodden snow, reveling in the refreshing chill that soaked their bodies.

   Behind them, a path of ruin ran like a bleeding wound into the forest. Trees that had stood for decades lay broken, stripped of their branches. Gone were the squirrels, the mice, the foxes. Gone was the chorus of birdsong that usually heralded dawn. Only snow remained. Snow and the desolation of the trees, marked out by a few gleaming skeletons. The forest was in ruins.

   Descending like a delicate snowflake, Gluttony fell to the earth. She was gasping grievously from the night’s excitements and though the hunger was fast diminishing, as it always did with the rising of the sun, it would return when the moon next shone. And when it did, there would be no stopping them. Not until her offspring and she had eaten everything in their path and there was nothing left to devour could they stop. She looked up, expectant, excitement quivering at her stained lips.

   Fields. Acre after of acre of pure, white snow stretched out before her, as far as even her sharp eyes could see. Not a soul moved or breathed, save a single crow, which fled into the distance. She snarled, revealing rows of thin, needle-like teeth. Where would they turn to, when night fell? They had exhausted the forest for miles around. Wrath herself could not have caused more havoc, more destruction, in such a short space of time. What would they eat?

   Then, as her Court lolled in the weak winter sun, cleaning their bloodied bodies and sinking into a deep, gratuitous sleep, Gluttony bit into an idea, and it was the sweetest, most succulent thing she had tasted in months.

Bio: Thomas Brown – A twenty-two year old English graduate with a less-than-healthy penchant for horror! Reading it, watching and, of course, writing it, I can’t get enough of the stuff that scares. Am currently employed as a walking, talking cliche, serving over-priced coffees to (generally) under-appreciative customers and writing wherever and whenever I can find the time. Saving to do an MA in Creative Writing at Southampton, where I originally studied.
Inspiration: Gluttony equates to over-eating, yes, but it is so much more than that; it is excess, it is the hungry cold, the deep-set conditioning for overindulgence, and from the very beginning it was this manic, frantic, desperate hunger that struck me. Not an obese monster but impossibly thin, all bone and rib and overexposed tooth. This, as far as I was concerned, was how the truly famished should look; the binge-eater of the Seven Sins, ravenously devouring anyone and anything she could get her claws on (and all the more monstrous for her absent femininity). Think Christian Bale, in The Machinist, and you are somewhere along the skeletal paths my mind wandered down.
Brian Froud’s fantastically original artwork, coupled with those creatures depicted in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, were the final touches that completed my vision of this voracious monster and ‘A Broken Banquet’ was born. It is, at its delicious roots, a story of hunger. Whether the old man and his family’s, the insatiable bite of the cold, the hungry shadows or Gluttony and her Court itself, it doesn’t matter. If Gluttony is anything, it is all-consuming.
Website Link: www.tbrownonline.com

Writing a fantasy story? Free your inner child

I don’t know about you but the thought of writing a fantasy story is quite appealing, it isn’t a genre that I have dabbled in much but I can imagine that it conjures up a sense of freedom in a creative sense.

After all, there are so many rules and techniques associated with any type of writing that it must be good to allow your imagination to have free rein and to explore areas of creativity that previously may have never been utilised. Fantasy stories means conjuring up not just the basic storyline but being able to create, expand and build a fantastical world around the central characters.

For a writer, it is like an explosion of creative colour as you paint a descriptive picture of the environment you have dreamed up and you can hook your reader by stretching their imaginations to new bounds.
Gone are the usual limitations of reality.

As adults, we strive to do things the right way, to live by the rules, to abide by laws. How exciting then that a whole new world may be awaiting borne out of our own imaginations and accessed simply by flicking that creative switch so that we can step right into this new realm in the blink of an eye.

I believe that even when writing a fantasy story, there must be elements of realism in place –think of the success of the Harry Potter books. The main characters experience every range of emotion possible throughout the myriad of danger and evil and the reader experiences those emotions too . Whatever characters you decide to create, allow the reader to connect with them even if on a subtle level and they will hang on to every word.

If writing a fantasy story is on your to-do list, then enjoy releasing your inner child and create a world that is magical, mystical and inspiring, I know I’m going to….