Sunday, 7 December 2014

Horror Bites #13 - "Red"

A number of us regular Horror Bite attendees ganged up on Laura and demanded number 13.

For those who are unfamiliar with the challenge: write a bite of flash fiction (200-350 words) inspired by an image supplied by Laura from Office Mango. More info about the challenge can be found on Laura's blogAll she asks is: "Try to scare me, or at the very least create a little bit of darkness".

Recently, I've filled my notebook with scribbles of steampunk...so this isn't an aeroplane's wing you see here.



Red

By Mark Cassell
(350 words)


Vinston, his teddy bear clutched to a hammering heartbeat, squinted at the inferno beyond the window. Engines rumbled and vibrated his seat. His teeth chattered and he swallowed tears. The airship lurched then pulled away from the chaos. A blade of red lightning—with a life of its own?—reached from the flames. In a blinding wave, that peculiar energy tore through more buildings.
        The other children, some wedged in seats, most standing, clutched one another. Vinston pressed a hand to the glass. His throat burned like the town below.
        Higher, and the view widened. Fire raged through streets and devoured buildings. Swift, unnatural—that red lightning was unnatural. Steambikes smashed to the cobbles, riders sprawling; coaches and engines tore apart. Flames snaked through the zoo, mechanical animals fled, stitched fur smouldering. The clock tower and neighbouring structures collapsed in smoky plumes. People ran, fell…and jagged lightning snatched them. Bodies, limbs flailing, discarded like defunct automatons.
        Not long ago, when the ship arrived and emptied soldiers in a splay of weaponry, his father squeezed him—fire had already taken mother. In a bustling crowd desperate for evacuation, and overshadowed by the airship’s hull, Vinston clung to him.
        The pilot approached, her goggles mirroring fire.
        “Children only,” she said.
        Father shouted, “I’m going, too!”
        Her voice sliced through the cacophony. “Adults on the second ship.”
        The crowd yanked Vinston from his father’s arms.
        Now, as the airship rose and the town shrank, a darkness spread from where the clock tower once stood. Black swirls, churning with flames, formed a fiery whirlpool. Lightning spat, reaching up and out from the vortex.
        The energies shot towards their vehicle and clamped the wing. Traceries of red and orange licked the panels. Flames roared. In a screech of tortured metal, the wing buckled. The airship tilted. Severed cables whipped the fuselage, and the window cracked. Vinston recoiled from the glass. Something overhead exploded. Deafening. The balloon?
        The weight of bodies rushed him. His head smacked the glass, and…
        Beyond the window, that chasm of swirling black and red and fire, yawned wider.



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.

4 comments:

  1. so vivid, this was great. I sense a much bigger story here however, you should continue this.

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    1. I won't lie - this story is a snippet from a much larger steampunk story I'm currently developing.

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  2. Wow, what a sad tale! Poor Vinston - love the name! I felt a sense of War of the Worlds in there too. So much to digest. Great tale, as Laura said, indicating something so much bigger.

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    1. Thanks, Miranda. I guess it does have that WOTW feeling. :-)

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