Friday, 20 March 2015

Horror Bites #16: "Of Earth and Fire" (a story in the Shadow Fabric mythos)


The Shadow Fabric has received some glowing five-star reviews, and the East Midlands SF & Fantasy convention proved successful where I sold a stack of copies. So in all, life is grand.

Today's blog is for the Horror Bites Challenge. It's a piece of flash fiction in the Shadow Fabric mythos, as were a couple of previous submissions: Death's Ahead and Claimed.

For those who are unfamiliar with the challenge: write a bite of flash fiction inspired by an image (below) supplied by Laura of Office Mango. All she asks is: "Try to scare me, or at the very least create a little bit of darkness".

Darkness is, after all, at the core of The Shadow Fabric.


Of Earth and Fire

A story in the Shadow Fabric mythos

By Mark Cassell
(350 words)


The shrooms glisten in the afternoon sun, bulging from the wheelbarrow. I stand back and wipe dark streaks down my overalls. That cloying stink thickens in my lungs like the time I’d discovered a dead fox beneath the shed, maggots seething, all rot and grey meat. These shrooms are like that; grey and black, festering, pulsing. Who’d ever seen such a thing?
        Indoors to clean up. There’s TV to watch and a meal to be had. Shepherd’s pie. Much later, I’ve a toothbrush in my gob as noises, a roar and crackling, yank me to the bathroom window: a blinding light, white and yellow, in the garden. The wheelbarrow’s on fire. What on Earth?
        My bare feet pound the stairs two at a time.
        The backdoor swings wide and crashes against the wall. Kitchen shelves rattle. I lurch into the garden, the cold paving biting my feet. I grip my toothbrush and squint into the blazing wheelbarrow; those bloody shrooms.
        My eyes dart around. Where’s the hosepipe? There, coiled like a snake beside the tomato plants. But my feet fail me, root me to the ground.
        This strange fire rages.
        Helpless.
        In the flames, the burning mass shifts. Not the shrooms, something else. Toying with my vision to create shadowy phantoms. Churning within the fire…is a face? Black and narrow eyes, a sharp nose, and mouth wide with needle teeth. Squirming, teasing. First it’s there, then it’s not.
        My feet twitch and I shuffle forward. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to. My head is heavy and a presence of…of what—evil?—leaks into my periphery, clamps my mind. Another step closer, closer to the blazing wheelbarrow. Smoke slides down my throat. I cough. Heat prickles my skin.
        And still I walk.
        Tendrils of fire reach for me, just as I reach it.
        The plastic of the toothbrush melts in my hand. Agony roars.
        I slip, arse down on the dew-soaked grass. The fire wraps around my hand, my wrist. Up my arm. Lancing pain, yet strangely detached. Like the pain is someone else’s.
        The patchy shadows twist with the flames to embrace me. Warm, soothing. The darkness bleeds as the fire bursts around me. I crawl, slither, reaching across the grass—green singed to black, my flesh no more. I clutch with burning fingers, yet I have no hands.
        Body, nothing more than fire.
        As liquid flame, I reach the garden perimeter. Fire crackles as I spread outwards. I slip between foliage, scale the fence, up and over, burning, and out into the street, reaching for Mankind beyond…
        Once again, here on Earth.
        I am.
        Fire.




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



Sunday, 1 March 2015

Steampunk Flash Fiction: "Vanished"

The East Midlands Fantasy and Science Fiction convention is fast approaching, and I'm collaborating with John Burrell Photography and the zine, Future Chronicles, on more exciting projects. From this collaboration, my steampunk universe has expanded since previous fiction posts. 

As a result, here's another slice of flash fiction.



Vanished

By Mark Cassell
(600 words)


Of the thousand or so witnesses at the dock, Mister Fletcher reacted very differently. People go missing every day, a sad fact in this troubled society, but it was how his wife Alanis went missing, the way her entire crew and the airship itself, the Vestigo, vanished.
        A red haze stained the blue sky in the space where, only moments before, that great ship awaited its maiden voyage.
        Fletcher’s legs weakened and he fell against the railing. One hand gripped the cold metal, the other still clutched the wooden box Alanis had given him. “Open it when I’ve gone,” she had said. The screams from the crowd drifted into a muffled cacophony as her words echoed from little more than five minutes ago.
        “You will know when,” she added.
        When the Vestigo still hugged the dock, sunshine glaring from bronze panels and elegant contours, Fletcher raised his chin and looked at Alanis, Captain of the Vestigo. His love, his pride, pushed an aching grin across his face. The last decade had taken them to this moment. While he became chief contraptor, she had climbed the ranks to captain the very ship he designed.
        She left him with a kiss. And that box.
        From a platform beside the control tower, he watched her walk along the gangplank. Impossible from that distance, but it was as though he heard her boots stamp the metal boards. With brown skirts flowing, she waved at the applauding crowd below. She paused at the gondola hatch, beneath the curved hull which cradled the balloon envelope. With one hand pressed against the gleaming panels, she glanced back towards the tower, towards Fletcher. With a final lingering wave she disappeared into the belly of the fleet’s most impressive airship.
        Within seconds the engines thrummed, propellers spun, and the mooring lines pulled taut. Fletcher pictured Alanis at the helm, already shouting orders.
        The crowd roared.
        A loud crack—like cannon fire—echoed.
        Fletcher shot a glance through the control room window. The men and women inside were animated, some leaping to their feet. The commander yelled something.
        The Vestigo jerked and a mooring line snapped. It lashed the air, hissing like a snake.
        The crowd hushed and began screaming.
        Something flashed. Bright light, red and yellow from a cloudless sky, splayed behind the vessel. At first it was like the sky bled, a spiral cloud of colours twisting, churning. Jagged lightning spat from the roiling mass of strange energy. Red bolts struck the hull in blinding flares. Like a widening jaw with electric teeth it clamped the rudders and the engines. Sparks crackled around the curved panels, along the wings, and around the gondola. The engines whined and shrieked. Another two mooring lines snapped.
        Bright, burning, lightning everywhere and…
        The Vestigo disappeared.
        Red swirls and stuttering electricity drifted into the space where once the airship was. The mooring lines coiled and slapped the dock. Several whipped the crowd. More screams.
        Chaos.
        Now, as the cloud of red blemishes faded and the lightning ceased, Fletcher’s heart pulsed in his throat. A stink of ozone stung his nostrils. He lifted up the box and squinted at it. His hands shook. He thumbed the tiny clasp, paused, and opened the lid.
        Sunlight lanced from the brass contraption inside: a navigation device. Round in shape and magnificently crafted, with a detailed sundial around the perimeter of where usually there would be a compass. Instead, a red crystal glinted between three copper coils. Tucked underneath this peculiar device was a piece of paper. Written upon it, in Alanis’s delicate handwriting, were the words: Find me.





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.