Saturday, 19 July 2014

Horror Bites Challenge #8 - "Face to Face"

I'm starting to find these Horror Bite challenges addictive. Here's the eighth Bite, but this is my fourth contribution.

The challenge is a simple one: write a bite of flash fiction (200-350 words) inspired by the image above. More info can be found on Laura Jamez's Office Mango blog. All she asks is: "Try to scare me, or at the very least create a little bit of darkness".

Face to Face

By Mark Cassell
(280 words)

         “Annabel?” The name dribbled over his lips.
         Bernard’s wife lay on the sunlounger. She couldn’t reply because she didn’t have a mouth, nor could she look at him as her eyes had also vanished. Midday sun speared through the parasol and bleached her flesh. Sweaty, it glistened, taut like it had been pulled over a balloon. Traceries of purple veins throbbed beneath.
         Her head tilted and although faceless, begged for help.
         His breath snatched on the hot air and he dropped the margaritas. Someone’s heartbeat—his own—smashed between his ears, louder than the shattering glass, louder than the buzz of other holidaymakers.
         The ground shook and he staggered on jellied legs. His brain floated; all he saw was that faceless head staring without eyes. Someone screamed…and the swimming pool exploded in a torrent. A geyser corkscrewed into the air. Waves crashed, soaking everyone. More screams, shouts. Children cried.
         Bernard fell and jagged glass sliced his hands. Agony lanced through him. Spitting, he gaped at the pool as something heaved up through the frothing water. Some giant fish or squid or…what the hell was going on? The stink of sewer and wet vegetables washed over him. His stomach churned.
         Water slid from the thing’s mottled bulk. Limbs flopped and it spread outwards. Too many arms, legs, tentacles, whatever they were, thrashed. Tiles and paving cracked, and parasols flew. Loungers and sunburnt bodies spun through the air. Screams echoed.
         Looming on a swaying neck, a head arched downwards. Bloated, pulsing, ugly.
         Wiping his eyes, Bernard stared into the face. His wife’s lidless eyes shone. Her mouth twisted into a too-wide smile.
         “Join me for a swim, darling?”

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:


  1. Last line was a killer, great descriptions too. Knew my holiday snaps would get your mind going :)

  2. I can hear Bernard's answer to the last line - "That's okay - I'm good." - before running off screaming. Great story and title.

  3. Great story, although thrown as she didn't have a mouth in the beginning, but did at the end! Very gruesome...pure terror!

  4. Dude. Shiver my timbers. That was weird as balls, that it left me nervously chuckling it off by the end. Go for a swim? Yeah, right, that's likely. It's a great little bite you have here. I love it.