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.
        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.

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. Very nicely done, very creepy. I love the concise, simple, effective, descriptive way you write.

  2. love how you can make me 'feel' your characters experiances. Another great Horror Bites