Posts Tagged horror

Ace of Diamonds: Swan Song (or: The Listeners)

singschwan“I need to relax,” said Bob to the boy behind the counter. He couldn’t have been older than than eighteen, but Bob was almost taken in by his efforts to appear more world-weary than Bob was. Spiked black hair, pale face, make-up embellishing a permanent scowl. He removed one of his earphones.


“I need some music to help me relax. Can you recommend anything?”

“Nature sounds,” said the boy, twitching his scowl toward the back of the shop, and replacing the earphone.

“Thanks,” Bob replied, already heading in the direction indicated.

He flipped through the CDs. Whalesong, birdsong, swansong… that seemed interesting. He took the swansong CD back to the counter. The boy raised an eyebrow.

Not sure how to interpret the gesture, Bob asked, “It’s relaxing, isn’t it?”

“Given a lot of people peace, yeah.” The boy gave a chortle just short enough to avoid looking happy.

Bob completed the purchase and went home, glad to finally have a weekend off. He made a cup of tea and put the CD in his computer to rip.

The moment he heard the first chord, his fingers slackened and dropped his tea into his lap. He ignored his scalded scrotum and listened intently. The music was beautiful beyond all physical pleasure or pain. The end of the piece gave him a deeper understanding of the expression la petite mort.

While he was still recovering, the next track began. Some were songs, some were instrumental, some were spoken word, some were animal sounds. All were astounding.

One, ‘Call of the Baiji’ was at the same time so joyous and so sorrowful that the opposing emotions flattened his soul into a single thread, a single thread taking its place in the centre of the universe, searching vainly for another. And before he could tie it to anything, it shrank away with the music, only to be rebuilt by the next track.

When the playback finished, Bob felt the acute pain of loss; a pain not just emotional, but physical. The renewed awareness of his burns was at first a welcome distraction from the pain of losing the music, but soon became an excruciating addition to it. He took painkillers and attempted some first aid, but the whole time he knew that he was only treating the smallest of his injuries. He needed to hear more swan song. He yanked some dry pants on and went back to the shop.


Bob almost collided with the music counter in his panicked run. “Hi,” he said, breathlessly.

“You want more?” said the boy.

“Yeah. Do you know where I can get some?”

“Come with me. I think I have some in the back.”

They entered a storage room at the back of the shop. Shelves of CDs and music equipment lined the walls. The boy riffled through a disordered box of CDs, pulling out not an album of swan song but a digital audio recorder.

“Do you sing?” he asked.

“Are you kidding me? I sound like a strangled labrador.”

The boy looked puzzled. “No you don’t. So what do you do? Write, play, dance…”

“Oh, I’m a computer programmer. But I write in my spare time, and I can… sort of almost play the ukulele.”

The boy put down his recorder and pressed a button.

“Tell me a story,” he said.

“What, now?”

“Yeah. You know that CD? I record them myself. I think you could be on the next one.”

“Oh, I don’t know… my writing’s not that good. I mean that stuff was…” Bob searched for words to describe his experience.

“Everyone has it in them. You just need the right circumstances.”

“The right…”

Bob was interrupted by the boy’s sudden movement, in which he deftly unsheathed a knife from his pocket and cut a gash in Bob’s shirt.

“Tell me a story.”

“You don’t mean… you don’t want… what do…” Bob blubbered. But the soulless gaze of the boy told him there was no point in arguing. He tried to think of a story idea.

His mind went blank. Every time he tried to advance he would hit that familiar invisible wall which his ideas were not sharp enough to push through.

The boy came closer, and held the knife teasingly against Bob’s sweating skin. Bob tried as hard as he could to remember what triggered those late night spurts of insistent inspiration. He found nothing, but kept pushing anyway.

As the knife pierced his skin, the wall smashed and let escape a thousand ideas; the ideas which he had rejected almost subconsciously before they had properly formed. His subconscious mind had nurtured these ideas into a thousand polished gems; he needed only pick the brightest. The light of inspiration chased away his fear, and he began to recite the story in a loud, confident voice.

His excitement over the story took over, and almost made him forget his situation. Despite his impatience to relate the brilliant ending, he somehow found the strength to continue telling the story at an even pace, with just the right amount of emotion in his voice, just the right pauses to enhance the drama. This was surely his finest work.

The buzz of revealing the final plot twist was so intense that he barely felt the knife plunging into his heart.


Bob nonchalantly fingered the bloodless hole in his chest. “Am I dead?” he asked the boy, pushing his index finger into the hole and probing the smooth, motionless chambers of his heart.

“You’re a listener now. Go listen.”

Bob understood. A world of swan song was his to liberate.

The boy took a digital audio recorder from the shelf and handed it to him. “We can trade recordings,” he said. “No need to waste’em.”

With that, he led Bob back into the shop, and went through the charade of selling Bob the recorder.

Bob went by his ex-wife’s house on the way home. He couldn’t remember why they had decided to have children, why he had taught his seven-year-old son to play ukulele. But the reason seemed obvious enough.

“Heya, Tam,” he said as she answered the door.

“Oh, hi, Bob. I wasn’t expecting you,” she said, adding awkwardly, “Is everything okay? You look ill.”

“I thought I’d take Jason out.”

Jason ran to the door, excited, but stopped and clung to his mother’s leg when he saw his father’s face.

“Mum, what’s wrong with Dad?”

Bob tried to remember how to smile. “Nothing’s wrong, Jase! Wanna come have ice cream? I’ll teach you another song on the uke.”

Jason perked up at this, and fetched his ukulele. He followed Bob to the car, looking back questioningly at his mother a few times.

Bob drove home, and led Jason into the living room.

“How about you play something for me?” he asked his son.

“Already? You said we’d have ice cream!”

“Sit there,” Bob said, gesturing to an armchair. He headed into the kitchen.

He came back a few seconds later and set up his recorder on the coffee table. “Play something.”

“What should I play? Do I get ice cream afterwards?”

“Just make something up. Do your best.”

“I don’t feel like playing!” Jason whimpered.

Bob stood behind Jason and put a hand on his shoulder. With his other hand, he held a carving knife at his son’s neck.


Jason hesitantly began to play. He took a while to find the right notes, but eventually found something he liked. He played it louder, and began to sing. It was a song about unmet expectations, a song about desire, but most of all, it was a song about ice cream. Bob could not remember the taste of ice cream, but he lapped up the emotions in the song. The song’s end was unbearable; slitting his son’s throat wasn’t.

Jason’s head lolled forward when Bob dropped it. There was no lust for swan song to keep it moving.

Bob’s appetite was stronger than ever. He headed back to the music store to exchange his recording.


“What is this rubbish? This stuff is weak. He can barely play.”

“It sounded great to me.”

“Maybe if you’re still a little warm in the liver. Real listeners won’t get any nourishment from this. There must’ve been ninety years left in him, squeezed out in these two minutes, but it’s useless if he hasn’t learnt what to do with it. This is waste heat.”

Bob soon began to understand what the boy meant. As his body threatened to decay, mediocre swan song no longer filled him the way it had. He became an expert at picking performers. Old enough to have the technical skill to express their talents, but not so old that the execution was hampered by an ageing body. Old enough to appreciate life, but not so old that there was not much left of it to lose.

Humans had more appealing swan songs than animals, but there was nothing more satisfying than hearing the swan song of the last of a species. It was not easy to send a species to extinction by himself, but Bob soon came to recognise the listeners threaded throughout society, manipulating humans into destroying habitats or directly killing key animals. It was a silent teamwork; each working selfishly towards the same goal.

He experimented with more visual swan songs, but found that the buzz from a fine painting was too concentrated in the short time after the piece was completed; a sharp peak of pleasure painfully piercing him, and leaving him even more desperate. Listeners were better off listening.

Eventually he could not obtain fresh swan song often enough to satisfy his cravings. He listened to other listeners’ recordings almost constantly. They were not quite as fulfilling as live death; even on video, many subtleties could not be captured. But they kept him going.

His appetite gradually outgrew the steady stream of swan song fed into his ears. It became more and more difficult to concentrate on the steps needed to record new material. After one session, he realised that he had neglected to stock up on recordings to listen to. He sped to the music store with his recorder, not even stopping to listen to the pedestrians he hit on the way.


“There’s nothing on here,” said the boy. Bob heard the recording he was listening to come to an end. He had no more.

“I recorded a successful blues guitarist.”

“There’s nothing on here. Did you press record?”

If he had had any of his own emotions left to feel, Bob would have been dismayed by his oversight. Instead, he answered tonelessly, “I need more. Lend me some until I get you a proper recording.”

The boy stared at him while his need for swan song accumulated.

“I have something,” he said. He brought a single CD from the storeroom.

Bob took it without comment, and raced home.


Bob fumbled as he put the CD into the slot. It was getting harder to fight the postmortem spasms. Finally he managed to press play, and he lay back in his armchair to enjoy his fix.

His own voice tickled him through his earphones. Muscles galvanised by the shock, he sat up straight and quivered at the opening lines.

The story faded into the background. He remembered feeling his heart pounding in his intact chest. He remembered feeling the cold knife on the cool skin of his still-warm body. He remembered breathing, and how hard he had had to fight to breathe slowly enough to speak. He remembered the fear, not evaporated but transformed into an intense enjoyment of his remaining minutes. He remembered the moment the last of his heart went into the story, and the moment the knife went into his heart.

After that there were no more moments, just time, in steady, emotionless motion. Only borrowed moments distinguished it from complete stop. He had become nothing more than a leaking human-shaped balloon, inflated with the fading remains of others’ lives. As the CD finished playing, he punctured his hollow being and slumped forward. His story was over.

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Four of Clubs: The Devil’s Bedpost

devilsbedpostA cellphone vibrates ineffectually against unfeeling skin. One last rivulet of blood slowly oozes down the wall as it dries. The rest of the room is still.

The floor is littered with toiletries. Slivers of soap fissured by scratches. A quarter-full bottle of shampoo, open, ending a trail of shampoo drips. A toothpaste tube sliced open, with smears of blood over an almost invisibly thin layer of blue gel. A pool of cough syrup and blood surrounds a smashed bottle. A toothbrush tipped in blood lies next to the toilet.

A man lies back awkwardly on the toilet, head wedged between the cistern and the wall. His eyes do not see the gruesome manuscript scrawled over the white wall.

The writing starts in neat ridges of blue toothpaste:

I woke up in a winning mood. My birthday… and why not celebrate it? Getting old is a victory against death. I had no deadlines to meet, no reason to stay hunched over my keyboard, pouring my blood and sweat into a new story. I went for a walk by the lake to relax.

As I let my mind wander, pieces of a dream came back to me. The devil was at my bedside. Just a much darker shadow in the dark room. I knew it was him in the way you sometimes know things in dreams, a mixture of switching perspective and intuition. He told me that he would give me all the best cards. I remember thinking of all the movies I’d seen where people make deals with the devil. Somehow I knew before I asked that I would not have to give my soul in return… just sacrifice other souls somehow. That must have been when I woke up, or went into a deeper sleep.

It was just a dream, but it was a good enough excuse to ask some friends around for poker. I called Jack and we got together a posse. “Good to see you’ve decided to celebrate your birthday, you old bugger,” he said.

The evening started off badly, but soon I was wiping the floor with them. I knew they’d never let me win just because it was my birthday. It was all luck.

“Hey, you know it’s funny, I had a dream last night that the devil would give me good cards.”

“Well, you never had much of a soul to begin with,” Jack teased. “Speaking of souls, when are you going to write the world’s greatest horror novel?”

I smirked. “You know how I feel about horror.”

At this point, the narrative is obscured by soapy smudges, with smears of faeces. It continues in blood.

I felt suddenly very tired, so I took my winnings and went to bed, leaving my friends to finish their beers and let themselves out.

A loud thump woke me in the middle of the night, kick-starting a thumping headache. I was contemplating getting up to see what it was when I heard a voice.

“I hope you enjoyed your luck tonight,” it croaked.

“Who are you?” I demanded. “Is that you, Jack?”

“You know who I am.”

A chill went through me, followed by a wave of nausea. I thought I could see shadows shifting against the darkness.

“What do you want?”

“Do you remember the deeeeal?” said the voice in a permanent death rattle.

“There was no deal. That was a dream. I was just lu…”

I jumped as the voice interrupted me loudly. “I am not in the business of making dreams! We made a deal.”

“Okay, okay, whatever you want. You want my soul? I warn you, it’s not in tip-top shape.”

“Your pitiful soul already belongs to me, and I’m growing weary of keeping it alive. It’s time to put it to use.”

I tried to respond, but my mind and body were paralysed.

“You will win more souls over to the side of evil. Enough with your inspirational human interest stories,” He drew out human as though it were an insult. “You will write a horror story that will draw your readers to me through the one thing that truly interests them. Fear.”

“But th…” I cut off my own babbling when I found my mind had not caught up with my quivering lips. Far away, the church bells started to chime.

“It’s midnight,” said the voice, “You have until next midnight to write it, or else you die.” He was gone before the last chime was silent.

I lay still for a few minutes, unable to make my hand move to the light switch. Every slight noise made my body spasm with fear.

Eventually I managed to turn on the light. The shadows dispersed, and I was briefly reassured by the normality of my bedroom. I searched for evidence of the intruder. My relief was shattered when I saw his calling card. The four of clubs: the devil’s bedpost. Bad luck was in store.

I couldn’t sleep after that. But there was no use worrying. ‘I’m a professional writer,’ I told myself. ‘I can write whatever I’m assigned to write, for the right price.’ And this price was the ultimate. So I put my clothes back on, went to my desk and turned on my computer.

Nothing. No startup chime, no fidgeting hard disk. I riffled through my drawer for a pen. Found a red pen and scratched away at a scrap of paper, embossing without writing. I found five more pens; all were out of ink. A broken pencil and no sharpener. Finally, I found a marker which worked, and sat back down to begin writing.

The only ideas that came were more horribly clichéd than horrific. I’d not read much horror, but what I’d read was mostly a thick coating of gore over a flimsy excuse for a story… like pornography, but with gore instead of sex. I idly wondered whether I could replace one character in a porn film with a zombie and make a passable horror, but decided it would probably still be porn.

A sharp pain in my stomach brought back the real horror of the day. I dashed to the toilet, slammed the door shut and got to the toilet just in time to release a horrifying eruption of shit.

I felt a lot better after that. After waiting twenty minutes or so for aftershocks, I pulled my pants up and went to the door, realising what I’d done as I reached toward it. The inside handle had come off a few days before, and until I got around to replacing it, I had been leaving the door slightly ajar. Now it was firmly closed, and would not open without a handle. I poked around at the mechanism and managed to get a razor handle stuck in there.

There isn’t much room for a run-up in this bathroom, but I ran as fast as I could into the door. At the last moment I repositioned myself to avoid being jabbed by the razor, and my head smashed into the door instead.

I regained consciousness some time later, head and shoulders throbbing. It took me a few minutes to remember where I was, and another to gather the sense to observe that the door was still firmly closed. I sat there, dazed, for I don’t know how long, until I was roused by the sound of Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. I hate that song, and that’s why I configured my cellphone to wake me up to it. There was no way I’d stay comfortably in bed with it playing.

8:30 already. I had to get out of this bathroom and start writing this damned horror story. And the solution was in my hand. I’d call Jack. He had a key to the house, so he could just come in and open the toilet door.

I dialled his number and waited for the ringback tone. Click. “Your call can not be connected, because you have insufficient prepay credit. To recharge your…” I hung up and threw the phone at the floor in frustration, then stuffed it back in my pocket with a twinge of guilt. Surely Jack or somebody else would call me eventually. I sat there trying not to think about my predicament.

I almost dozed off, and the voice of the devil came back to menace me in my semi-lucid state. I may be trapped in a bathroom, but things would be much worse if I didn’t write a horror story by midnight.

It occurred to me that I was living as bad a horror as I could come up with, so I resolved to write the story of the last few days. Easy enough. But what with? I’d left the marker outside. I pillaged the medicine cabinet, and was close to giving up when I saw the half-full toothpaste tube by the sink. I swear I heard an angel’s chorus when I saw that toothpaste. I was saved. If I applied it carefully with a toothbrush handle, I could write fairly well on the wall.

All went well for a while. I even found myself giggling at the thought of my eventual rescuer seeing a wall covered in pasty horror. But the toothpaste ran out much sooner than I’d hoped. Why couldn’t I have written a shorter story?

Again I ransacked the cupboards. I tried to write with shampoo, but it was useless, too liquid and too transparent against the wall. I only managed to clean off some of what I’d already written. I threw it at the door, half hoping that it would miraculously punch a hole in it.

Next I tried scraping into the soap with a razor. It could barely stick to the wall, and didn’t show up against the white. I needed something darker. Suddenly I wished that I hadn’t flushed all that perfectly good shit down the drain. Fighting a sudden nausea, I dipped my toothbrush into the trails on the side of the bowl and tried writing on the wall with it. This was too much. I coughed up some very un-inklike bile and flushed it all down.

After some more contemplation, I turned my attention back to the toothpaste tube. There was surely still some toothpaste in there, wedged near the top where it couldn’t quite be pushed to the opening. I tried slicing it open with a razor, but sliced open my thumb instead.

The shock of the pain was soon followed by the thrill of seeing a dark liquid. I could write with this. Ridiculously macabre, but how else does one write for the devil? It’s not as if I’d have to bleed to death. The cut was already starting to heal. I cleaned the end of my toothbrush as well as I could and dipped it into the cut. It didn’t take much blood to write a few letters. I felt a strange delight in writing those first few words in blood. I was in the mind of a killer. I could write horror like this.

My phone bleeped midday. I still had twelve hours. Surely somebody would rescue me in that time, but I had to continue just in case. The devil is not to be played with… another reason why I don’t usually write horror.

Whenever I stopped too long to think, my thumb would heal over and I’d have to tear it apart again. Eventually I had done it so much that the pain was unbearable. I was feeling a little lightheaded, but I convinced myself it was from pain and lack of sleep rather than blood loss. It didn’t seem like any more blood than I gave to the blood bank every time there was a donation drive. I bandaged the poor thumb and rested a little before making a clean cut in my forearm. I continued like this for hours, periodically bandaging a wound and opening a new one.

It’s 11:30 now, and I’m afraid that this story is not horrific enough for its audience. I’m worried that nobody has called me all day. I’m afraid that even if I succeed, I’ll stay trapped staring at this ghoulish wallpaper until I die of hunger.

I’m afraid that my latest cut won’t stop bleeding.

FUCK… I have to fix my wrist up. THE END. Happy now, Luci

“Hi, this is Ned Stokes. I’m probably writing or taking a bath. Leave a message.”

“Hey, Ned, it’s Jack. Written any horror stories lately?” Laughter. “Guess you’ve figured out it was me by now. Hope it didn’t freak you out too much. Nah, who am I kidding? You have to be freaked out to write horror. Anyway, I know you hate horror, but I reckon you’d be good at it. If you wrote something, send it to me, I promise I won’t tease.”

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Three of Hearts: Chpamnorbosg Eiurnyngillyng

Three of hearts showing the ALICE TPC, with tentacle monster and the word \'Prévisible\'. A spectacular view of the interior of the ALICE Time Projection Chamber (TPC) - the world\'s largest. It measures the trajectories of the thousands of particles emitted in heavy ion collisions with sub-millimetre precision.A lad at a fair who was lacking directions,
found a booth which was offering temp’ral projections.
“We’ll show you the future, we’ll show you the past,
you’ll gape at the first and you’ll gasp at the last.”
Being fond of projections, and not short of time,
he sat in the chamber and paid in the dime.
There were buttons for films of both pre- and post-diction
in all sorts of genres; he chose science fiction.

Way out behind the shroud of night,
beyond the Milky Way
the sothnax live in perfect time,
not slaves of night or day.

They see the world through two stalked eyes
one each of time and space.
What humans see as future time
is just a further place.

In such a world it’s rather hard
to pull off any capers,
a fresh-made scheme is by that time
already in the papers.

But one mad sothnax killed and fled
without the slightest plan
without the slightest thought that time
flew faster than he ran.

For since a lengthy moment he
was blinded in one eye,
the police approached, and just in time,
the killer found out why.

For all the speed a photon has,
it’s far outpaced by souls.
For all their pow’rs to see through time,
they can’t see through black holes.

And so the killer’s soul escaped
and made its way toward Earth,
to steal a dying egg in time
to steer it back toward birth.

Their unforeseen collision forced
the dying human soul
to think it was not yet its time.
They fused to make a whole.

But enough with this fiction of tempo-transmography,
Our fact-hungry viewer went next to biography.

Chpamnorbosg Eiurnyngillyng
Lived a life of greed and killing
then he got in a mother
and started another.

And with that our young lad was left thirsting for more
so he pressed on the button that said ‘film d’amour’.

roses are red,
sothnax xanthose.
One soul mates a sothnax,
two soulmates arose.

Such soulful emotion was too strong a homily,
So to lighten things up he selected a comedy

An alien thought he was winning
till he got into trouble for sinning
So he came down to Earth
underwent a new birth
and completely forgot his beginning.

Just for fun our lad moved to the edge of his chair
then selected a horror and braced for a scare.

She screamed bloody murder
as the monster interred her
and without an escape route
she was juiced like a grapefruit
but the killer’s black soul
sped to make a black hole
to escape being observed
an escape undeserved.

And he grew as a boy
with no thoughts of the ploy
till the day he was found
by a bloodless bloodhound

And our hero could see that in fact it was he,

and they came in the stall
and forced his downfall
he screamed a waul
lost the brawl
lost all

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