Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Horror Bites Challenge #5 - "Death's Ahead" (a story in the Shadow Fabric mythos)

As I plot my demon tale, working title "Unholy", for editor Rayne Hall, I've gone off on a tangent...and so decided to write a flash fiction piece for the Horror Bites Challenge. I simply could not resist (here's my other bite - remember the one about Auntie?).

Similar to before, the challenge is simple: write a 300-500 word flash piece inspired by the image below. More info can be found on Laura Jamez's Office Mango blog, but she asks, "Try to scare me, or at the very least create a little bit of darkness".

Just as intended for Rayne's demon story, the following tale delves into the world of my novel, The Shadow Fabric. So there is darkness. And shadows. Without realising as I wrote it, this gives an insight into how it feels to look through the eyes of a necromeleon. More about those in the novel...

Death's Ahead

(A story in the world of The Shadow Fabric)

By Mark Cassell
(490 words)

The branch had punched through the windscreen and speared Tracy into the seat.
         Silence. No pain, just warmth. Even her heartbeat’s thunder had diluted into the silence. All she felt was the blood pumping from her chest, drenching her clothes. Her hands failed to respond, her legs just as dead. It was as though it was Death’s hand that had snatched the car from the road and slammed it into the tree.
         Her vision came in flashes of light and dark, and somewhere amid those trailing shadows came the swoop of black and yellow wings. A moth, floating in a gloom she assumed to be night’s approach. Its legs thumped the dashboard. Each leg didn’t just titter, they crashed into the plastic, stinging her ears. Sharp, penetrating. She winced.
         The moth skittered closer—the thing had to be at least the size of her hand. With antennae twitching, its proboscis swayed and reached out. A black goo dripped from the end and blistered the dashboard. A curl of smoke drifted upwards, the smouldering stink burning her nostrils. This winged creature leapt towards her, clutching at her face. Pinching, scratching…and the proboscis stabbed her skin. A needle of lancing agony. In. Out. In and out. In-out-in-out-in-out. In.
         A fire raged beneath her flesh.
         Out, and in again...
         Shadows clogged her periphery, this time more a liquid darkness rather than the promise of night. Her heart smashed against her ribcage and her stomach churned. She coughed and blood spattered the steering wheel.
         Out… In.
         The moth detached itself, wings whipping the air as it hovered near the shattered windscreen.
         And the flames raged through her every pore, spreading, sinking deeper, seething upwards, downwards, filling her body. An energy pulsed and slammed where her heart thrashed out its final rush of life.
         Silence. Dark. A quiet nothingness.
         Her fingers twitched. And a hot darkness raced through her veins, powering her fluttery movements. Her muscles flexed. Life? Her arms jittered, rose higher and her fingers curled around the branch, one at a time. This un-life surged. The bark split beneath her fingertips as she squeezed. Her nails splintered with the wood. She yanked the branch from her chest. Slurp. Gush. Blood—and darkness—spewed from her torso. Glass cracked, metal wrenched; these sounds shrill to her ears.
         She tore her seat belt off, shredding the fabric, and kicked the door. Metal screeched. It echoed through the woods.
         Charged with this fierce energy, she clambered from the wreckage, her life force drained…now replaced by a welcome blackness.
         The moth drifted with the shadows, just ahead. Tendrils of that peculiar darkness teased its abdomen, seeming to beckon her, taunt her, promising an existence beneath the veneer of her past life. Beneath…
         Faint curls toyed with its antennae, and on its thorax she saw Death's own mark.
         And Tracy followed the winged creature where a true Darkness embraced her.

Did you enjoy the flash fiction?

Here are the opening pages of The Shadow Fabric

Unable to blink, I shot a quick glance around the dining room. My heartbeat stormed my head. I had to get out of there, I had to leave the other men to it. These brothers had a lot of hate to throw around.
       The black fabric draped across the table and chair, tracing every contour. It flowed over the wood like liquid. Hugging tight whatever it touched, it turned everything into a shadow, a silhouette, a featureless dark blot of its former self. The way it moved defied physics.
       My throat clamped around a cry that came out a whimper.
       I had no idea what Stanley intended. The strange fabric didn’t travel far from his hand, and where the material ended, it rippled and pulsed, pulling further away, yet unable to claim more of its surroundings. The more it unfolded, the dimmer the room became. My skin itched as it sapped the light.
       Victor and Stanley stood facing each other: Victor, with his eyebrows pushed together, the ornate blade clenched in a fist, and Stanley, with his jaw tight and a twitch at the edge of his mouth. In Stanley’s grasp the fabric quivered, its material reminding me of the way midday sunlight reflects from the surface of a swimming pool, the ripples a criss-crossing of movement. It was peaceful to behold, hypnotic almost. But this thing was dark and stifling to observe.
       There was nothing remotely tranquil about this.
       I wanted to leave them to whatever absurd game this was…yet my feet refused to move. The familiar ache in my knee rushed through my body, drumming in my skull, telling me I was useless. Since the car accident the knee often was useless. I couldn’t leave Victor, I knew that. The man looked as terrified as I felt.
       “I hate you, Victor.” Stanley’s nose was no more than a thumb’s width from his brother’s.
       “No,” Victor gasped. His hand shook, his knuckles whitening around the knife. “Don’t!”
       I didn’t know who or what Victor spoke to. Was it Stanley? The shadows? The knife?
       In a blur of darkness, shadows coiling his arm, the blade slammed into Stanley’s chest. Blood spread and he staggered back.
       Victor’s eyes widened. Clutching the weapon, he stumbled from the fireplace, away from his brother. The knife slid out, sucking at the wound. A jet of scarlet misted the air, and then oozed.
       I could only see darkness…so much darkness, and my lungs went tight.
       The fabric—the Shadow Fabric—closed around Stanley’s buckling legs.
       The remaining material swept from the table, away from the violin case. Black tentacles whipped and grabbed Stanley. The darkness enfolded him as his eyes glazed over. It dragged his body along the carpet a short distance and tightened its grip.
       My jaw muscles twitched as I clenched my teeth.
       The Fabric began to shrink. Still in its embrace, the last I saw of Stanley was his dead stare.
       “Vic…” I whispered, and gripped the back of the sofa.
       My boss dragged his eyes away from the retreating shadows and stared at the knife. Behind him, the mantel clock hammered out several seconds before the weapon slipped from his hand onto the carpet, where it bounced with a red splash.
       He fell to his knees. “Oh God.”
       The Fabric vanished.
       I dashed across the room as much as my leg would allow and staggered to a halt beside him. Sobs wracked his frame as I grasped his bony shoulder.
       On the table next to where Stanley had been standing was the violin case, still open like a crooked yawn.
       A million thoughts tumbled through my head, but I couldn’t find the words. I’d been Victor’s chauffeur for no more than a day, and already I’d witnessed him stab his own brother. What the hell?
       I don’t know how long I remained like that, holding him, with light creeping reluctantly back into the room. Victor shouldn’t have been surprised that the shadows had taken his brother. After all, those shadows—the darkness—are associated with all that is dead…or should be dead.
       Silence clogged the air like we were buried in a tomb.
       For some of us, there is a moment in our lives where all we’ve believed real is whipped out from under us and we’re left to survive in a world that’s a lie. All the things in life we’ve taken for granted are sheathed in a weak veneer, behind which stands the shadows.
       For me, this was one of those moments.

Mark Cassell's dark fantasy novel is available
from all bookshops and also Amazon.


Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.

Twitter: @Mark_Cassell Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorMarkCassell