Archive for the ‘Short stories’ Category

Short story: The Angel Hunter

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

The Angel Hunter

The Broken Wing has wooden slats nailed across its windows and a paint job that flakes from the walls in brittle scales. The only sign it’s not abandoned is the rectangle of yellow light outlining the door.

It’s where the angel hunters drink.

What a lonely, desperate job angel hunting is. The work is too repulsive for society’s palate, its participants too ruthless for friendly bonding. They don’t come to the Wing for conversation or company. There’s no jovial gossip here. No swapping tricks of the trade. Miserable nights are wasted staring into the dregs at bottoms of mugs. They come here because… where else?

Angel conservationists — those pale papery types who hand out leaflets on street corners far away from the Wing — estimate there are fewer than a hundred angels left. Maybe much fewer. That’s one reason hunters don’t talk among themselves. You can’t turn a profit selling a dead angel’s feathers if your rivals snare them before you do.

Grimy silence hugs the Wing’s interior. Trains rumble past across the street. The fan’s blades whirr through thick smoke. The barman’s name is Eddie Staunch and he’s the offspring of a side of ham and a row of knuckles. You never have to tell Eddie what you want to drink. He always knows.

The Wing’s door croaks open. No one looks up. It’s always just some loser hunched in the doorway, fresh off another failure.

But this time…

Even Eddie Staunch puts down the glass he’s wiping. (more…)

Short story: Tuned In

Thursday, March 24th, 2011
Horror Filming, *samuel123

Horror Filming, by Samuel123

It took months for my sons to convince me to subscribe to a pay television service, which I’ve always maintained is a dreadful waste of money, though I must admit that when they finally bought me a subscription I was rather looking forward to all those additional channels on my television set.

A large carton containing the set-top box was delivered to my home. Installation was simple enough. Though the set-top box came with a thick instruction book it was really just a matter of plugging a slender white cable into the back of the set, then switching it all on. I eased back into my cracked-leather sofa, the remote control that had come in the box held aloft in readiness.

The electronic program guide flickered into life on my TV screen. More than 100 channels to choose from – where to start! I decided to partake in the news, but even the selection of news channels was vast. I chose one at random. Sky News.

“… the attack by Ablahelzareth the Thousand Eyed Spawn continues into its third day,” intoned the reporter, who seemed to be standing somewhere around Circular Quay, “with the eldritch abomination continuing its assault on the Sydney Harbour Bridge…”

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Behind the reporter was the bridge, but it was being attacked by something… huge, by some behemoth rising up out of the harbour, tremendous streams of water sluicing off its swathes of horny toad skin. Thick long tentacles twisted up around the bent struts of the bridge, slathers of dripping viscous goo bubbling on to the surface of the road, barbed hooks scoring jagged cuts in the metal struts. Scores of pustulant eyeballs the size of cars protruded on stalks from all of the monster’s asymmetrical body, swivelling and blinking redly in the sun.

Parts of the creature’s massive bulk hung impossibly in the air. Several naval ships were positioned in the water around the beast, though none of them seemed to be doing anything. There appeared to be birds circling the creature, but as I squinted at them – my television set is very high-definition – I realised they were huge bat-like creations, squawking and swooping and spattering filthy dung over the sleek grey boats.

The entire image sucked and dragged at my eye, almost seeming to distort the edges of my TV set. Just looking at colossal monstrosity piqued vulgar flavours in my mouth, sent images of warped geometric shapes spiralling through the dark recesses of my mind.

I had caught the train over the Harbour Bridge not an hour earlier coming home from work. There was certainly not… some enormous monster hanging from it then.

I blinked. Gritted my teeth. The supposed reporter continued to yammer on in clipped tones, as if the horrific beast were no more consequential than a bad traffic jam. What was this horrible program? The abomination had to be some kind of ghastly computer effect, clearly, probably promoting one of those terrible new movies Hollywood makes, but what was it doing on a so-called news channel?

With a shaking finger I switched to CNN. Some kind of panel show, featuring perfectly coiffed Americans ensconced in a bright studio, came to life on the set.

“The Democrats are in crisis,” said one lady with a rock-hard blonde bob and an especially hard-curled accent. “Even if no one wants to admit it President Obama has ca-learly been driven to insanity since he laid eyes upon Yog-Sggauthnth the Great Goat-Headed Ruler of the Frozen Yonic Void -”

“Oh, please,” snorted a weaselly looking man in an ill-fitting suit. “Obama is very experienced with multi-dimensional eldritch abominations -”

“Yes, but -” the woman tried to interrupt, but the man pressed on.

“- and staring into Stygian waters seething with the trillion offspring of cruel dimensional abnormalities is a sight… is a sight he is well equipped to handle!” he said, by the end shouting to the heard over the blonde woman.

Another woman leapt into argue – something about the inability of any human mind to comprehend the sheer spectacle of the old ones from beyond the stars, regardless of its party affiliations – but what she said made not a lick of sense to me. I must confess that while I’m not as up on American politics as I ought to be, I’m not a complete dunce, and I couldn’t follow a word of this.

“1000-Eyed-Spawn continues Sydney assault,” read one of the headlines crawling along the bottom of the screen.

Annoyed, I brought up the electronic program guide again. A home renovation program would do the trick. Not that I’d be able to do much with their advice – what with my apartment being so small, lacking even a garden or second bedroom to do up – though I counted the genre among my favourites nevertheless.

An episode had only just begun. A strapping young lad holding a hammer was surrounded by the other presenters, explaining this episode’s project. By the look of all the tools and materials stacked behind them – vast sheets of corrugated iron and mounds of severe grey cinderblocks – I guessed it to be a big one.

“… fortifying your home against the plagues of horror that burst forth from the dark side of the moon is something you and your family can do in a weekend,” said the man with a grin.

“We’re gonna tell you how to build the home of your dreams,” added the woman standing next to the man, who had her hair pulled back in a ponytail, “that’s safe from the creatures of your nightmares.”

And she winked at the camera.

Hmmm. This was not at all promising. I lifted the remote again and circled through the channels to land on The Simpsons. Not my favourite television program, I admit, but my sons have watched it for years and I must admit to having enjoyed some of the episodes.

It was an older one, judging from the cruder look of the animation – the family had a strange bug-eyed look. They sat in their brightly coloured home watching television.

“Beer. Need beer,” Homer said.

“The Outer Gods took all the beer,” Marge said glumly.

“D’oh! Stupid Outer Gods,” said Homer. Suddenly a tentacle snapped through the window – sending the dog and cat fleeing – and wrapped itself around his neck! “I mean,” Homer managed, turning purple, eyes bulging comically, “woo hoo…” And the tentacle released him.

And it wasn’t even one of those Halloween episodes! Furious, and sick of tentacles, I switched off the television. Something had clearly gone terribly wrong. This… silliness was certainly not what I had signed up for.

I marched to the phone and dialled the pay television hotline.

“I would like to complain!” I announced, once I was through the maze of automated voices.

“Certainly, sir,” trilled the girl on the other end. “What seems to be the issue?”

I explained, sternly and clearly, that all my pay television channels were infested with tentacles and monsters and certainly not the informative and entertaining programming I expected, and given the price I had paid (I didn’t deem it necessary to mention that my sons had actually paid) I demanded a higher standard.

“I absolutely understand your complaint,” said the girl politely, once I’d finished. “Fortunately your problem is quite common among the newer set-top boxes, and very easy to fix.”

“Common? So the boxes are defective?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “Some of the boxes are shipped from the factory in China with incorrect default settings, that’s all. All you need to do to receive programming from our universe is reset the -”

“Pardon me? Our universe?”

“That’s correct,” said the girl, who at least sounded like she was born in this country. “Some of the set-top boxes, such as yours, are inadvertently tuned in to parallel universes when they’re manufactured. Those are realities that sit alongside our own, but are different in subtle and -”

“I know what a parallel universe is,” I snapped. “I wasn’t aware it was possible to receive programming from one.”

“Oh, yes, the technology in our set-top boxes is very advanced!” she said. “For example, would you like me to explain how you can record up to five programs at once to watch at your convenience, using -”

I interrupted her to explain I was perfectly capable of learning how to record programs on my own in due course, and that in the meantime I would very much like to set the box to tune into my universe.

So I followed her instructions: I switched off the box, flipped a switch on its backside, waited five minutes – filling the time by boiling the kettle – then fired it up again. The television set leapt into life. I scrolled through several of the channels: past an old British sitcom, a black-and-white movie, a soccer match. It all looked normal enough, but I kept my finger on the redial button of my phone in case I needed to complain again. Finally, I settled back on one of the news channels.

A reporter stood across the water from Manhattan, the skyscrapers of the city rising up behind him.

Above the skyscrapers hovered an enormous ship, low enough to almost brush the tops of the buildings. It was almost as wide as the island and stretched nearly half its length, rising hundreds of metres into the air and casting a shadow across perhaps the whole of New York City.

An alien spacecraft.

I leaned forward in my chair.

“… a seventh Araxerxian starship entered Earth’s orbit today and set a course for Tokyo, though ambassadors for the alien visitors still refuse to explain the purpose of the starships, or whether any more are to be dispatched from the mothership in the Kuiper Belt.”

The reporter stopped, straightened hair whipped by the wind, glanced momentarily back at the huge ship over Manhattan. He looked suspiciously similar to the reporter I’d watched earlier, though I supposed they all had a certain sameness about them.

“President Obama will meet will Araxerxi from the New York ship on Monday, with hopes of continuing talks that stalled after China’s attempted nuclear attack on the Beijing ship…”

I leaned back in my chair and sipped my tea. Yes, that was better.

*

The image I stole borrowed from *samuel123; you can see the high-res version at deviantART.

Creative Commons Licence
Tuned In by Sam Downing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Short story: On a Windblasted Day Through the Door Came the Queen

Saturday, November 20th, 2010
The Captive Robin

The Captive Robin, by John Anster Fitzgerald

It began on a day that was wet and was cold,
just my sister and I in a house that was old.

“While we’re out, you be quiet!” our parents had scolded,
so we sat at the window, hands quietly folded,

watching the storm give our garden a lashing.
And then! From upstairs! Such a thunderous crashing!

Had the roof blown away? Then the crash crashed again!
My sister cried out, but I leapt up and then

dashed straight up the steps to the source of the sound.
On the landing I stopped, stunned by what I had found:

‘Tween two flights of stairs, in the wall, was a door.
Though we’d lived here for months, I’d not seen it before.

It was green, very tall, but remarkably thin -
and something was knocking so hard from within.

I reached for the knob. “Don’t touch it!” Grace cried.
Her green eyes flashed, fearful, as I pulled the door wide… (more…)

Short story: The Midnight Game

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

She’s home alone – parents away for the weekend, brother sleeping over with one of the boys up the street, only the dog and the cat left for company.

She invited friends to stay but everyone’s busy, no one’s texting her back. She’s watched a movie, then another, and now she’s bored, restless. She paces back and forth, silhouetted against the bright windows, the cat trying to squirm out of her grasp. Behind her, film credits scroll up the television screen.

The cat leaps away and curls up in the middle of the dog’s sleeping cushion. She pulls a face, picks her mobile phone, throws it back down on the couch. She trudges into the study, slouches into the chair at her father’s computer. No messages, no emails. The screen’s soft glow outlines her hair.

The dog yelps and scratches at the kitchen door. She lets it out. She stands in the open doorway, beautifully backlit by white light emanating from the house, and an idea comes to her. It spreads across her face, hidden in shadow. She’s remembering: a sleepover with her friends, several months ago. Laughing and shrieking through hackneyed horror stories, pretending the decades-old slasher movies they’re watching are scary, whispering names at bathroom mirrors and waiting for poltergeists that never appeared.

A girl at the party – a friend of a friend of the host, someone nobody else had met before nor seen again – suggested a game. The Midnight Game, she called it, gleefully explaining it was an old punishment ritual the pagans invented. (more…)

Short story: Dear J…

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Cthulhu
Dear J,

So I have no idea what my parents are doing in the basement but they are making so much noise down there. I am trying to study but all I hear all night are bangs and crashes.

Don’t you dare even suggest they’re “making love” or something, because that’s gross. Besides, it doesn’t sound like… that. Not that I know what “that” sounds like, har har. But you know what I mean.

And last week I heard a scream coming from down there. It didn’t sound like Mum or Dad. Remember that time we went camping by Arkham Lake with your mum and step-dad, and when we tried to go to sleep the wind howling through the trees was so loud we thought it must’ve been two huge cats having a fight or something? It sounded like that.

So anyway I rushed down to the basement to see if they were okay but they wouldn’t let me in. Mum came out and told me I didn’t need to worry, but she was really pale and didn’t stop shaking till I made her a cup of tea. Then she made me go to bed without even telling me what’d happened. And the next morning Dad apparently left for some interstate anthropology convention before I even woke up, and he hasn’t come back yet and he’s too busy to even bother calling, so I haven’t had the chance to ask him about it either.

A few nights later Mum fell asleep in the living room (with all the lights on! And she’s always on at me about wasting power) so I snuck into the basement to see what’s going on. The door was deadlocked but everyone in the world knows where they “hide” the key in their study. And you know what I found down there?

Nothing. Not even any of the usual dusty relics they’re always bringing home from the university.

The basement was so dark, because for some reason the only light on down there seemed to be one of those weird ultraviolet ones, like they had at that lame dance we went to last winter, though I couldn’t see where it was coming from. The whole basement was all purpley-black and hurt my eyes. And it reeked of fish like you wouldn’t believe. Like they’d bought every single thing at the fishmarket and just let it rot for a month.

So I poked around for a bit but pretty much the only thing down there was this enormous book propped open on the desk. I guess it must’ve been valuable or something because it was chained down. I couldn’t really make out the writing but it was all Latin anyway.

Last night Mum was back in the basement again for hours, I guess messing around with the power because it made my alarm cut out and I was late to school. But the worst part? When I got home this afternoon, Mum had dyed her hair totally white. WHITE. She looks like a grandma. I asked why on earth she would embarrass me by doing that, but she refused to tell me and slammed the basement door in my face.

I’m really worried! This girl at school said her mum got an extreme makeover right before her parents divorced. Except her mum apparently got a boob job instead of wrecking her hair. I hope my parents aren’t getting a divorce! Then when I asked Mum when Dad’s getting back from his so-called “business trip”, she started crying and locked herself in the basement again.

So I hope it all works out okay.

Anyway. How are you? Did you win your netball final?

Love, S

*

Click here to read more of my short stories.

Author’s note: I wrote this for a short-story contest held by Nathan Bransford, in which the criteria was to “Write the most compelling (fictional) teen diary entry [or] unsent letter” in a teen’s voice. SHOCKINGLY, I didn’t win. Possibly because none of the other entries were written by anyone who’s been overdosing on Lovecraft-inspired fiction lately…?

Creative Commons Licence
Dear J by Sam Downing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.