Unveiling the cover to my anthology collection…

I am feeling brave enough to release the cover to my new anthology collection of dark fiction and horror, “Of the Night.” The artist is none other than . . . myself.

I will have around twenty-five short stories and flash fiction that I’ve written in the last three years. There will also be at least three brand new stories and a few that have been out of publication for some time.

In the back of the book, I am also including a note section that details the development of each story and where the idea came from.

Tentatively, the goal for publication is September something. It will be available through Amazon and other retailers, as well as Kindle.

13 Days of Horror: Paul D. Brazill – The Friend Catcher

WELCOME TO THE 13 DAYS OF HORROR

Next on the 13 Days of Horror is a writer gifted at penning gritty, dark humor and suspenseful haunts. He has a stack of fiction published on Thrillers, Killers, ‘n’ Chillers, A Twist of Noir, Six Sentences, Powder Burn Flash, and many more. The potency of his details, heightened by the sharpness of his characters, always coalesce into riveting and memorable stories and this piece is one of my favorites, now published at Out of Ruins.

Please welcome my next guest to the 13 Days of Horror, Paul David Brazill and his excellent story, The Friend Catcher.

The Friend Catcher

by Paul David Brazill

The morning after Charlotte killed her father, the air tasted like lead and the sky was gun metal grey. She stared out of the window of her East London flat, barely focusing on the rows of concrete blocks being smudged by the Autumn rain.

The ensuing days of gloom collided with weeks and the weeks crashed into months.

And then it was Spring.

*

Charlotte put on her make-up, rubbed talcum powder on her thighs and pulled on her XL pink shell suit before heading off to cash her mother’s pension at the post office. As per usual, she slammed the door of the flat behind her and, as loud as possible , shouted:

‘Won’t be long, mum !’

Then, she took a deep breath and headed down the emergency staircase.

Charlotte had always been blessed – or maybe cursed – with an over ripe imagination and, as she rushed down the stairs, she imagined all sorts of spectres, smack-heads and psychos lurking in the stairwell’s darkened nooks and crannies. Still, it was preferable to using the rickety lift which broke down more often than not.

Sweating and wheezing, she reached the bottom floor and realised that she’d left her medication– her security blanket – at home. Not feeling able to climb the stairs to the twelfth floor, she reluctantly stepped into the lift. Just as the doors rattled to a close, The Friend Catcher pushed his way in.

*

Charlotte was finding it almost impossible to tear her eyes away from the pulsating boil on the side of The Friend Catcher’s neck since, despite its size and repulsive condition, it was a far preferable sight to the one dangling like a gigantic dewdrop from the end of the old man’s crooked nose.

Given the choice, of course, she would more than happily have looked at something more edifying but, unfortunately for her, there wasn’t much else to gaze upon in the piss smelling, graffiti stained, syringe strewn lift where she and The Friend Catcher had found themselves trapped between floors.

The Friend Catcher didn’t seem perturbed at all . He just sighed and scrutinised the lewd and lurid graffiti that littered the wall.

*

The Friend Catcher had moved in to a flat on the same floor as Charlotte’s parents in the 1980’s, at the time when all sorts of waifs and strays and odds and ends of society were being scattered across the capital as part of Mrs Thatcher’s misbegotten Care In The Community campaign.

The strange looking new neighbour – with his stoop, hawked nose, black fedora and greatcoat, looking like a long black shadow – quickly fed the imagination of the local children -Charlotte in particular – a situation that was heightened by the fact that, in archetypal serial killer fashion, the man kept himself to himself.

According to some of the kids he was a vampire – although the fact that he was regularly seen in daylight pretty much scuppered that idea – while others speculated that he was, in fact, Jack The Ripper, although even if his advanced age wasn’t quite advanced enough to support that theory.

However, it was his resemblance to a scary character in the film ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ that earned him the nickname The Friend Catcher which, like most nicknames, stuck for years to come.

*

Eventually, he spoke.

‘Like flies in a web,’ he said, in what sounded like an Eastern European accent.

‘What?’ said , Charlotte whose legs were starting to ache.

‘We’re trapped like flies in a spiderweb,’ said The Friend Catcher as he rooted in one of his Iceland shopping bags.

Charlotte nodded. She was starting to sweat now and really wished she had the diazapam with her. She tried the deep breathing that the psychiatric nurse at the Mausley Hospital had taught her.

‘Here,’ said The Friend Catcher and he held out a bottle of some clear liquid with a label that Charlotte didn’t recognise.

Charlotte quickly remembered the stories that had circulated of how he was actually a psychotic taxidermist who would snatch children from the street, drag them back to his flat and stuff them. She had visions of being drugged, filled with formaldehyde and being stuffed.

‘Relax,’ said the old man. ‘Polish vodka.’

Charlotte looked at the label and almost laughed with relief. She twisted off the cap and took a long gulp.

‘Your father used to drink it in the The Aversham Arms. I used to see your father in that pub a lot. Before his accident.’

*

Charlotte had a flashback to the night that Walter Hill had come home drunk from The Aversham Arms and, as usual, had started an an argument. An argument that had once again erupted into violence. Walter was an oak of a man who had no problems over powering his sick, stumpy wife and indeed this would have been the case had Charlotte not been there. She ran at her father, sobbing, and, with all of her weight, she slammed him against the wall. Falling on top of him she held him down until he stopped breathing. The police accepted that he’d had a heart attack while drunk and left her to take care of her mother.

*

‘Yes, I was a pilot in the 303 Squadron. I flew in your Battle of Britain.’ said The Friend Catcher pointing to a fading photograph on the wall of his musty smelling flat.

‘Amazing,’said Charlotte who was admiring a picture of the then handsome and young Tadeusz Koc as he stood beside a Spitfire Mk.Vb with Misia, the squadrons mascot. She was more than a little tipsy. Her mother had always said that she could get drunk on the sniff of a barmaids apron but she was so relieved to get out of the lift that she couldn’t resist the offer of a sit down and a drink in Tadeusz’s flat.

‘My wife and I lived near Borough market, on the High Street, for almost forty years until your government decided to gentrify the area and sell it off to yuppies.’ Said Tadeusz.

‘When they sent us the official letter the ….’

‘Compulsory Purchase Order?’ said Charlotte.

‘Exactly! Well, my wife soon became depressed. She died on the night before we were to move out.’ Tadeusz swayed a little.

Charlotte could feel herself becoming tearful and small red dots started to appear before her eyes and her head ached.

‘But ….that is the past and we have to be strong, eh? We Poles are strong people. And you are a strong woman taking care of your mother for so long.’

And then Charlotte started to sob.

*

The words tumbled out of Charlotte’s mouth like a gang of drunks staggering out of a pub at closing time; disorderly and unruly. She told of how her mother’s cancer had spread and she had become more and more ill. Again and again she had begged for Charlotte to stop the pain and so, one cold dawn, as she saw the red splashes spreading in front of her eyes and the dull headache become a sharper pain in her forehead, she smothered her mother to death between her breast.

Tadeusz sighed and nodded.

‘An unhappy life is a vice with a powerful grip,’ he said.‘I am alone now. And each day I feel more and more pain .. emptiness. Just…just waiting for … release ’

And then, breathing heavily, Charlotte saw the red splashes spreading like a Rorschach test and she felt the sharp pain in her forehead, as if a stiletto heel had been slammed between her eyes and so she rose to her feet and hugged The Friend Catcher with all her strength. She hugged him until his life faded away, just like hot breath on a cold window pane.

End.

(c)opyright Paul D. Brazill 2009.

Paul D. Brazill blogs here: You Would Say That, Wouldn’t You?

13 Days of Horror: Paul Phillips – Branded

WELCOME TO THE 13 DAYS OF HORROR

My next Halloween guest write is from a writer whose horrors I enjoy, abound with the insanities of a darker existence, sometimes bold and sharp, and other times the message poignantly smooth. His savor for horror is commendable, adeptly expressed in his work, and I imagine he feels right at home here.

It is a great pleasure to introduce to you, Paul Phillips and his sinister story, Branded.

Branded

by Paul Phillips

Before
Damianos waited for the end. He knew it was coming and he was prepared. The Council of Arabart had persecuted him, denouncing him as a daemon, and as such, had branded him, on both forearms, with the symbol of Purgatory. This was to be his fate. But he knew that this was not the end. He would be back…

*****

Now
Richard and his wife Emily had decided that for something completely innovative this year, they would invite five other couples to their two-storey, fourteen room home for a Halloween with a difference. After a delightful day together, followed by a perfect meal of pumpkin and black bean chili, the couples had parted company for the evening, the men taking their leave to the upstairs rooms and the ladies remaining in the downstairs section of the house to engage in their own entertainments.

*****

“Gentlemen, your attention please.” Richard Smithers stood tall in the middle of the rumpus room where he and five of his dearest friends had just finished dessert and were talking animatedly about the upcoming challenge.

“Gentlemen, it is now time for us to retire to your designated rooms and transform yourselves, with the help of your chosen Halloween costumes, for the Who Am I challenge. You all know the rules; no peeking and no talking until we all assemble back here in ten minutes. When the first person arrives back, place your blindfold on, and knock three times on the table so the next person may come out.”

Richard grinned his cheekiest grin and then opened his arms wide and gestured to the awaiting rooms. Go now, and prepare.”

*****

Emily, however, had had a few unsettling moments during the evening’s festivities. Whilst bobbing for apples, her friend Mary had nearly choked, gasping for air, until Lilith had come to her rescue.

Emily had become quite fond of Lilith during the day. Lilith and Damien were new to the area – they had only moved in to the neighborhood the week previously – and Emily had made a point of making them feel as welcome as they could. Richard had suggested that they invite Lilith and Damien at the last moment (the invitations had gone out weeks before) and, much to their surprise, they had agreed immediately.

Lilith had come across as an extremely intelligent and independent woman, knowledgeable in all sorts of fascinating topics – from history to politics, religion to literature and so much more. Emily was so very glad that they had invited them. It certainly wouldn’t be dull with them both in attendance.

*****

The men upstairs had reappeared in the rumpus room, one by one, in their clandestine shrouds of deception for the final undertaking of their evening. The guidelines were straightforward: by altering their speech as much as possible, they were required to ask and answer questions about each other and attempt to decipher the secret identity of each of the assembled guests.

The questions were easily handled to begin with but, as it became apparent that identifying of each person was more demanding than they assumed initially, the questioning turned, bordering on an interrogation. Finally, after more than forty five minutes, they were able to identify five of the six men at the table.

*****

“Ladies, can we have a moment of quiet, please?” Emily announced to the room full of gossiping and giggling women. “Could someone be neighborly and help me with the pumpkin, please, so we can set in motion the final activity of the night?”

Richard had proposed a game he remembered from his childhood, whereby the women would pull a piece of paper out of a hollow pumpkin and on each piece was a letter. This letter was, hypothetically, the initial of the man she was to marry.

“Obviously,” Richard had said, “some of the women are already married, but, it would be good, clean fun. Maybe even a little provocative.” Emily had agreed and, the morning of the party, had made all the necessary preparations. Lilith had volunteered to assist with readying the integral pieces for the finale and was more than eager to get started.

“Gee, that wind is really starting to pick up out there,” called Mary from the living room. “Sounds like it is starting to rain, too.”

*****

“Alright, we seem to have come to the conclusion of the evening. There is still one John Doe unnamed so, I would like to announce the winner of the evening is…” – Richard deliberately lingered on that final word for effect, trying to add a dash of mystery and suspense, even at this late stage – “Damien!”

The other guests at the table offered praise in acknowledgement to the winner on his most cunning masquerade. “You can remove the mask now, Damien, you have been declared the victor.”

Richard made his way to the other side of the table, grinning the whole way but his smile soon turned to a frown as he tried to separate the mask from Damien’s face. It didn’t seem as if there was any indication where the disguise stopped and Damien’s skin began.

“Hey, Damo, are you okay under there? This mask seems to be stuck. Can you take it off?” The silence from Damien was beginning to concern Richard deeply and he glanced urgently back to the fellow guests who all looked anxious for the welfare of their new neighbor.

“Damien, are you ok…?”

*****

Lilith was the last of the women to participate in the final activity of the evening. She was standing near the paper-filled pumpkin, listening to the ever-increasing wind batter against the window of the living room.

Mary and Emily let out an involuntary gasp as the window immediately behind them shattered from the force of a tree branch crashing through it. Massive gusts of wind surged in through the broken window and buffeted the ladies as they sat in complete shock. Lilith was caught off-balance and in desperation, struggled to reach the table to steady herself but only succeeded in knocking the pumpkin to the floor and collapsing next to it.

*****

“Damien, are you ok…?”

It was Richard asking once again, concern clearly painted in his features.

“Damien, can you…”

*****

Emily could make out a bizarre piercing wail, even through the howling gale. She dragged herself to where she could see Lilith hunched over on the floor, hugging herself tightly, rocking back and forth. It was then that Emily realised that the wailing was, in fact, emanating from Lilith herself.

She reached a hand out to her, trying to comfort Lilith when the cyclone-like winds ceased abruptly. She raised her head and noticed that the other women had become aware of it too. She also became aware of the mess that had been created. The pumpkin had split and pieces of paper had scattered around the room.

Another wail, this time in a higher pitch and Emily saw Lilith now sitting cross-legged on the floor, her hands held up before her, almost in supplication, before the despair-filled lamentations stopped and the most god-awful sound she had ever heard emitted from Lilith’s mouth.

To Emily, it sounded like a stifled laugh of demonic heritage. Emily’s eyes found her friends on the couches, catching their eyes, seeing the fear, the horror, the look of hopelessness etched in their expressions. She followed their line of sight and, finally, rested on the disarray strewn on the floor brought home a message, in little scraps of paper, which scared her even more…

“HE HAS ARISEN ONCE MORE”

*****

Damien’s right hand flew out from beside him, seized Richard by the throat, hoisting him into the air. The other men around the table weren’t totally sure if this was a trick that had been arranged beforehand but their doubts were put to rest when Damien, still holding Richard in the air, grabbed the iron poker from beside the wood-fire oven and impaled Richard on the chimney – through brick and mortar.

Damien slowly turned to face the others who had seen the scar tissue on Damien’s forearm and, not understanding what it meant, were convinced they didn’t need to know.

Consumed with fear, they madly tried to disentangle their legs from beneath the table. The four men bolted down the stairs, not even glancing back, not even noticing the women in the downstairs room and headed straight out the front door.
Upstairs, Damien unfurled his full-length leather coat, closed his eyes and hissed….

“You can run…”

THE END

Paul Phillips blogs here: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better

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