Note: Thanks to Miranda Kate for the nudge to write this flash fiction piece, inspired by the photo above (taken by Tien-Chien Chen). While I struggled for a title, Spotify answered via my headphones with Celldweller’s The Great Divide (from the 2017 album Offworld). Its definition: “The boundary between life and death.” So an extra thanks goes to Klayton for his timing.
THE GREAT DIVIDE
Something echoed up ahead: a rhythmic clank. Hannah eyed the mountainside trail. The overgrown path narrowed, replaced by railway tracks. Rows of wooden sleepers hid beneath moss and creeping foliage, their vibrancy glowing in spite of the mist that pressed in from the gorge beside her.
At 2000 metres above sea level, inhaling the sweet aroma of the mountain woodland, her head was indeed in the clouds. She slowed her pace to avoid tripping over the sleepers and rusted tracks. Ferns slapped her trousers.
The insistent – perhaps even frantic – clanking sounds made her picture someone with a hammer. She’d not seen anyone for a couple of hours, and a sense of vulnerability pushed down on her as thick as the surrounding clouds.
It reminded her of a blacksmith portrayed in movies set in medieval times, where a topless man glistened with sweat, forging a sword. Or axe.
She was being silly. Why not think of him hammering a horse shoe?
The clanks stopped.
Wind howled. Yet the trees that reached into the mist remained still. A rumble made her come to a total standstill. A heaviness filled her gut. Perhaps it was an earthquake – yet it was a far off sound rather than a sensation beneath her feet.
She removed a drinking bottle from her rucksack, twisted the lid and gulped water. Some trickled down her chin. Although warm, it was refreshing. Wiping her mouth with the back of a hand, she listened intently. Nothing. The silence squeezed her. The mist thickened.
No more wind, no more rumbles.
No more imagination, dammit. Yet she had heard the clanking sounds. Most definitely. Taking a lungful of mountainside air, she put away the bottle and began walking again.
And again: clank … clank … clank …
Finally, as she rounded a curve of the railway as it cut alongside the mountain, she saw someone sitting between the rails, facing up the track. Their grey hair was cut short, making her unable to determine gender. Dressed in the familiar garments of the Taiwanese older generation – definitely the poorer end of society – they held a rock, bringing it up high and then crashing it down between their legs.
“Hello?” She was about fifteen paces away.
They didn’t acknowledge her.
She came up beside them. It was a man, possibly in his late-fifties or early sixties. He sat with his legs spread wide. A stink of body odour and piss wafted from him. She recoiled but held her ground. He hammered at one of two chained manacles that bound his ankles to the rails that flanked him. His bare feet were slick with both congealed and fresh blood.
Still he didn’t look up.
Clank … Clank.
“Let me help!”
The manacles reflected the green and white of their surroundings. Unfortunately it seemed his efforts had failed to even dent them.
He stopped hammering, his breaths rasping, and glared up at her. In rapid Taiwanese, he spoke. Having travelled through Asia, visiting countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, China, The Philippines, and now Taiwan, Hannah never got to learn much of any language. By the time she trod foreign soil, learning basic words so as not to come across as an ignorant Westerner, she’d set off for the next country.
The man snapped his mouth shut, his teeth clacking. He went back to smashing at the manacles.
“Please.” Hannah crouched beside him. “Let me help.”
The rumbling started up, just as before. This time closer.
Up ahead, the mist billowed. As though it breathed out, giving way to the silhouette of a narrow locomotive. Black smoke belched. It broke through the mist. Hannah lurched upright, stumbled backwards, and tripped over the rail. She crashed to the hard ground, her head smacking rock. She cried out. The train thundered towards them, phasing in and out of focus; a shimmering phantom, transparent and unreal. The trees and ferns remained eerily still, only the mist parting.
The man hammered at the manacles with desperation. Clank. Clank.
She tucked her legs away from the tracks, shrank against the rock, and screamed. Hot wind blasted into her face and whipped hair into her eyes as it hurtled past.
The clanks stopped and the locomotive vanished. Along with the man.
With breath tight in her lungs, Hannah watched the mist drift along the rails. It teased the rusted manacles. And there, half-buried in the hardened earth, several bones, each pitted and yellowed, lay scattered between the sleepers.
(c)2019 Mark Cassell
If you liked the story, please share or leave a comment. Or both … Actually, if you didn’t like it then feel free to tell me why.
"Don't these talking monkeys know that Eden has enough to go around?" - Right in Two, Tool
I have a serious question.
What is it about us humans that you find is stupid?
Yes, that's it. That's my question. I'm sharpening the dialogue in my novel-in-progress, PARASITE CROP, and one of the main characters has issues with the human race. In particular, in the way they treat each other, the planet, and animals. So that's why I'm asking you what makes us so dumb?
It could be anything. Perhaps it's our attitude towards something, or the way we insist in queuing for everything. Is it our obsessions or possessions? Could it be about your selfish neighbour who comes home late and always slams their frontdoor? Or is it that we don't have thick hair around our necks and so must grab a scarf come winter? Are there any additions to the human anatomy you think could be a credible evolutionary step? Do you think technology has stolen common sense and we rely too heavily on the calculator in our pocket or the reversing sensors on our vehicles? How about that some of us need glasses, and others kidney transplants? Tell me anything. Tell me a story. Give me some fuel with which my characters can throw on the flames...
I've said this before: I'll be sure to mention you in the acknowledgments when the book is complete. And that's a promise.
By the way, I must thank you for the spike in TERROR THREADS sales - after my last email about short stories, some of you grabbed a paperback or an ebook. Nice one, guys! Also, a big shout to all who sent birthday wishes. Seriously, you ALL rock!
As always, thanks for your time in reading this, and I look forward to hearing why you think us humans, us talking monkeys, are dumb.
"What a hell of a feeling, it is dark all day. But there is something in the sky that glows." - Dark All Day, Gunship
Shorts and Heroes.
Hey, how you doing? I've been playing this writer's game since 2013. Absurdly I never took note of where any published short story landed. I know, right? What's all that about?
Several of you guys, including a close friend of mine (Matt!), have admitted being unable to keep track. Well, me too. And so after a labourious task I've compiled a list, and you can find it below. Aside the magazines and ezines, they're available via my Amazon page: author.to/MarkCassell.
What are your favourite short stories from other authors? One of mine is “The Thief Immortal” by Brian Lumley. It tells the life story of a man named Klaus August Scharme with the unusual gift of stealing the years from any living thing and adding them to his own. I read it something like 25 years ago and it remains with me to this day.
Can you recommend any short story I should read?
Here's a review snippet for one my shorts featured in 100 Word Horrors Pt.2, published by KJK:
'...Some of these [stories] had some rather haunting lines, like “No Such Thing” by Shaun Hutson, while others were just down right disturbing or scary like “Beachcombing” by Mark Cassell or “The Gurgle” from Michael A. Arnzen.'
I'm proud of that one, especially given that I grew up on Shaun Hutson's novels. I've also had work published alongside other literary heroes of mine: Clive Barker, Brian Lumley, Joe R. Lansdale, Guy N Smith, Graham Masterton, Jack Ketchum, and Ramsey Campbell. Those are the guys who inspired me to begin playing this game.
I'll shut up now. Here's that list:
“Seeing is Believing” Sirens Call #12 ezine (SC Publications, December 2013)
“Alone with the Bones” Dragon: Ten Tales of Fiery Beasts anthology (Scimitar Press, January 2014)
“Ten Minutes Till Deadtime” Hell’s Garden anthology (Lafcadio Press, January 2014)
“Hole in the Sky” Cogwheels: Ten Tales of Steampunk anthology (Scimitar Press, July 2014)
“Pumpkin Patch” Sirens Call #17 ezine (SC Publications, October 2014)
“Death’s Ahead” Sirens Call #18 ezine (SC Publications, December 2014)
“The Xenonog” Sirens Call #22 ezine (SC Publications, August 2015)
“Next on the List” “Midnight Clay” “A Demon’s Thread” “On the Vine” “The Artist and the Crone” “Due South” “Red, White and Black” “Intensive Scare” “Meeting Mum” “Seeing is Believing” “Disturbed” “Welcome Home” Sinister Stitches collection (Herbs House, October 2015)
“Disturbed” Fiends: Ten Tales of Demons anthology (Scimitar Press, November 2015)
“The Artist and the Crone” Hell’s Grannies anthology (Lafcadio Press, December 2015)
“Salamandrine Fires” Future Chronicles #3 ezine (FC Publications, January 2016)
“A Sunset Companion” Hell’s Kitties anthology (Lafcadio Press, October 2016)
“Naked Wings” “The Donation” “Pieces of Cake” Burger Van anthology (Severed Press, November 2016)
“Away in a Mangler” Bah! Humbug! anthology (Matt Shaw Publications, November 2016)
“Speed” Sirens Call #30 ezine (SC Publications, December 2016)
“The Commission” Shadows at the Door anthology (Shadows at the Door Publishing, December 2016)
“The Rebirth” Collected Easter Horror anthology (KJK Publishing, April 2017)
“All in the Eyes” Trapped Withinanthology (EyeCue Productions, June 2017)
“A Story of Amber” Collected Halloween Horror anthology (KJK Publishing, October 2017)
“Demon Alcohol” Afterlife anthology (JA Press, October 2017)
“In Loving Memory” Sparks anthology (Burdizzo Books, October 2017)
“Dust Devils” Tales from the Lake 4 anthology (Crystal Lake Publishing, October 2017)
“Trust Issues” Masters of Horror anthology (Matt Shaw Publications, November 2017)
“The Rebirth” “The Commission” “Demon Alcohol” “Away in a Mangler” Sussex Horrors anthology (Herbs House, January 2018)
“A Song for Them” “Over the Edge” 100 Word Horrors Pt.1 anthology (KJK Publishing, January 2018)
“Alone with the Bones” “In Loving Memory” “Alpha Beta Gamma Kill” “The Rebirth” “Vanished” Five Doses collection (Herbs House, April 2018)
“Demon Alcohol” Night of the Living Cure anthology (Wolfgang Anthologies, June 2018)
“Ho Ho Hollow” Collected Christmas Horror Vol.2 anthology (KJK Publishing, September 2018)
“Reanimation Channel” The Black Room Manuscripts Vol.4anthology (Sinister Horror Company, October 2018)
“In Skin” Dark Places, Evil Faces Vol.2 anthology (Dark Terror Publications, October 2018)
“Naked Wings” Sinister Horror Company annual (SHC, October 2018)
“Dust Devils” “A Story of Amber” “Claimed” “The Rebirth” “Pile of Dirt” “Dead Lines” “The Commission” “Diagonal Dead” “Demon Alcohol” “A Sunset Companion” Terror Threads collection (Herbs House, November 2018)
“Beachcombing” “Feed the Crop” “On the Second Date” 100 Word Horrors Pt.2 anthology (KJK Publishing, March 2018)
“Ollie Visits Grandma” Shallow Waters Vol.2 anthology (Crystal Lake Publishing, July 2019)
“River of Nine Tails” In Darkness, Delight: Creatures of the Night anthology (Corpus Press, August 2019)
"A start, an end, a rise and fall, no system eternal and no one immortal." - End of an Empire, Celldweller
Please tell me I'm not alone ...
How the devil are you? It's been a while since I threw you an email, so here I am. I do hope January is being kind to you.
There's still an Amazon box hanging around our house left over from Christmas. And Isabelle has claimed it. I can't be alone here, surely? Do you have any pets? And what kind of madness did they get up to during the festivities?
By the way, a HUGE thanks if you snatched up SUSSEX HORRORS because you helped it reach No.1 bestseller on two (yes, two!) of Amazon's anthology charts. Also, TERROR THREADS is still doing well, the collection of short tales taking the Shadow Fabric Mythos along a different path which, I admit, was unintended. But it's certainly building the background to another book which is on my to-write list.
Speaking of short stories, I'm not touching any for a while, and instead concentrating on my next book, PARASITE CROP. Remember that question about immortality? Thanks again for the bombardment of answers, you have helped build the plot for me. And for that, I'll be sure to give you all a shout in the acknowledgements when published.
Another question, this time regarding food because the main character of PARASITE CROP is a chef (yeah, if you're a chef or work in a restaurant, please shout!): Do you have any tales you'd like to share about having dinner at your house or someone else's, or perhaps dining/serving/cooking/washing up at a restaurant?
You get the idea. Tell me. The weirder the better.
Don't forget, gimme that answer and I promise to add you in the acknowledgements.
As always, I thank you for being here, and may I take the time to wish you a great rest of January? Cool, because I just did.