Old Eyes

Old Eyes

Many weathered faces look down on the passerby, some of them almost human. Gargoyles, green men, Venus reclining on a shell, and a dragon carved into the wood of the only remaining half-timbered building on the High Street, the oldest face of all.

When Peter was new to the town, a year or so ago, he noticed all these architectural flights of fancy with interest. Then he forgot they existed and only saw the shopfronts and the people walking, and on some days nothing but his own thoughts or the messages on his phone.

The dragon was carved just above head height. It was about a metre long and appeared to be crawling down the facade. When Peter first saw it he took a photo, thinking it looked more like a bored iguana. He shared the photo on Instagram, had a laugh, moved on.

Walking to the pub one evening, just at twilight, the street lights only beginning to warm up, the sky was deep blue, darkening by the minute. There was no-one else around, which was unusual, but Peter did not notice because he was absorbed in the music piped into his ears from his phone, and his own internal obsessions. Then the music stopped, and so did he.

His phone was dead. He stared down into its blank black face and saw only his own reflection. This was a mystery. Half an hour ago the phone was fully charged. He shook it, banged it against the palm of his left hand, swore. None of that made any difference. He swore some more, pulled out his earbuds, then swore again.

That was when he noticed that there was no-one else in the street, not even a passing car. For a fleeting moment he wondered if the Apocalypse had happened and he’d missed it.

A street light flickered into almost full brightness a few metres further along and he dismissed the fancy. He shook his phone again, though he knew it would do no good.

Behind him there was a loud creak like a ship’s timbers flexing in a heavy sea. Startled, he turned towards the sound and saw the carved dragon looking directly at him. He flinched, and was glad there was no-one to see his reaction. He laughed, but then it seemed to him that the dragon’s head used to look downwards, not to the left as it did now. He thought of the photo on his phone and went to check it, but of course —

The creaking sound came again and he looked up quickly to see the carved dragon actually shifting on its front legs the better to stare him in the eye.

He yelped and backed off. Automatically, he held up his phone to try to film what he was seeing, but of course —

Above him there was now the sound of stone grinding on stone. He looked up to see that all along the street every bit of architectural decoration that had a face was turning to look at him. Gargoyles, green men, some weird snake things that he’d previously thought were vines, even Venus, every one of them turned to look at him. Then, slowly, they began to creep across the facades of the buildings in his direction.

He yelped again and started to run, convinced that he heard the clatter of stony feet hitting the ground behind him. If only he could record any of it, but of course —

The sun finally dropped below the horizon and all the street lights came on. Peter cannoned into someone waiting to cross the road. There were cars going by and the normal number of people everywhere. After he apologised at length to the offended person, Peter looked back along the street. Illuminated by the mercury lights, each and every one of the statues and carvings was frozen in its usual place and attitude, although the body of one of the snakes did seem to droop a bit further down than the other.

He stared for a while, wondering if he had been dreaming while awake.

The phone buzzed in his hand and he almost dropped it. Just a notification, but the screen was lit up, and when he put his earbuds back in, the music was playing where it left off.

Afterwards, he never failed to look at the populace of the building fronts, to nod to the dragon, smile at Venus, recognise that they were there, and hope that they would never move again.

The Sleeper Underground

The Sleeper Underground

Lori hammered at the door of the dark house of dubious reputation. Even in her anxiety, she managed to admire the dragon’s head door knocker she was using to make the door vibrate in tune to the sense of urgency she felt.

The door opened and a person dressed all in black peered out.

‘Do you have an appointment?’ they asked.

‘No, but I need your help.’

‘You must make an appointment.’

‘I don’t have time for that. This is urgent.’

‘Everyone thinks that, but, very well, you may come in.’

They stopped in the hall, and Lori sensed that it would take some persuasion to get any further, but she was ready for that.

‘What is the nature of your request?’

‘Well — oh, I don’t know your name?’

There was a long pause before Lori got a reply.


Really? Lori thought, but made no comment.

‘I’m Lori. I have lost one of my friends.’

‘Missing or deceased?’

‘Er, just missing, I hope.’

‘There is a very good dowser in town who would be able to help you. Our services are very specialised.’

‘Ken, yes, I know him — but he wouldn’t be much help in this case. You see, my friend, the missing one, he’s an urban explorer—.’

‘What is that?’

Lamia’s confusion was obvious.

‘He likes to look around abandoned houses, factories and so on—and tunnels.’


‘Yes, and he was telling me all about how the whole of Shuckleigh is riddled with underground tunnels. Very old, no-one knows who built them, and so on. Well, he told me that there is an entrance to the tunnels below this house.’

‘Why did he think that?’

‘He’s been researching it all for a long time. Well, obviously you weren’t going to let him access the tunnels from here.’

‘No,’ said Lamia, with the finality of a door slamming shut.

‘That’s what he thought. So there was no way of getting down there or of proving that they actually exist.’

‘They don’t exist.’

‘Don’t be silly. Of course they do, and a few days ago he told me that he’d found a new way in and he was going to go down there and try to map them out.’

‘Where is this other way in?’ asked Lamia, narrowing their eyes in suspicion.

‘If I knew that, I wouldn’t be bothering you, would I? Anyway, two days ago, he set off to do his exploration. I haven’t seen him since.’

Lamia stood quite still for at least thirty seconds, then abruptly turned and took the stairs two at a time, leaving Lori standing alone in the creepy dark hallway, but Lori was used to creepy so she waited patiently.

Above her, a door slammed on the first floor, and there was the sound of somebody running further upstairs. Lamia came down again and stood with Lori in silence while they waited. A little while later a thin man in a tweed suit, followed by a tall woman with flowing dark hair and a green velvet gown, came down to join them. Lamia introduced them as the Professor and Madame Nina.

‘Go home,’ said the Professor. ‘We’ll deal with this.’

‘No,’ said Lori. ‘I’m staying.’

There was a short silence, an exchange of glances, and no more was said on the matter.

‘Fetch Brindle,’ said the Professor, and Lamia walked into the gloom of the far hallway, through a door, returning a while later with a yellow-eyed creature that looked like a cross between a wolf and a bear. Fortunately it was on a leash.

All of them went through a second door, leading to stairs down to the basement, through some poorly-lit passages, and though another door with stairs going down into pitch darkness. A strong musty odour flew up towards them, borne on disturbingly warm air.

‘Lamia, take the rearguard,’ said Madame Nina, taking Brindle’s leash.

‘You,’ she said to Lori, ‘stay behind me and do not be tempted to look around. Don’t speak, either.’

Lori nodded, and touched the back of her neck under her hair, where there was a small tattoo, still fresh and sore, the only tattoo on her body.

Madame Nina and Lamia had electric torches, even though this felt like the place for flaming brands, held high.

Lori did look around, but there was little to see in the tunnels — rough-cut earthen walls held up by sturdy wooden beams. As they went down, the walls became rock, moist and musty. Sometimes a shadow flitted by. Behind her, the Professor kept up a steady chant, which she did not understand.

Whenever the tunnels branched, and they did often, Brindle pulled at his leash one way or the other, and Lori wondered how and what he was tracking, since he had not been given any scent to follow. She did not ask, though.

Suddenly, the atmosphere changed. There was no wind blowing but it felt as though they were at the centre of a maelstrom. Lori sensed a multitude of invisible beings swirling about her. The Professor’s chant grew in volume, though not in comprehensibility.

Brindle growled. Both Madame Nina and Lamia joined in with the chant. Lori felt the maelstrom enter her head. She touched the tattoo again and the swirling storm receded from her mind, but still there was the feeling of a screaming force all around.

What is this place? What are these tunnels? How will we ever be able to find our way out again? These questions tumbled around in her mind, chased by a fear that Lori wanted to say was irrational, engendered by the darkness, but which she really felt was perfectly reasonable.

She strained her eyes to see into the darkness beyond Madame Nina, and at last, there in the light of the torch, was a pale figure, frozen still with one arm reaching out.

Madame Nina stopped.

‘Is that him?’ she asked.

Lori stepped forward.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘yes.’ She tried to go to him, but Nina grasped her arm. They advanced together and as they did, Lori thought she saw a shadow, like a giant maggot, retreat from the oncoming light and Nina’s chanting.

Gabriel was covered in flimsy stuff like white cobwebs. Lori pulled it away from his face and spoke to him, but he did not respond.

‘Professor,’ said Nina, and the Professor came forward and picked Gabriel up in a fireman’s lift. Lori would not have thought he had the strength.

They went back the way they came, Madame Nina in the rear and Lamia leading the way with Brindle. All the time they were in the tunnels, something scuttled behind them, following.

Back in the house, the Professor deposited Gabriel on a chaise-longue in the hall and Lamia called for an ambulance. Madame Nina brought a glass of water and tried to coax Gabriel to drink. He took one swallow and she seemed satisfied.

She offered Lori brandy, which Lori tried to decline, but it was pressed on her so insistently that she took it. The others watched, even Brindle, as she raised the glass to her lips and pretended to swallow some. A tiny drop did seep between her lips, and it tasted rather unusual. She touched the protective sigil on the back of her neck and her mind cleared, with only a bit of fuzziness left at the edges of her consciousness.

The door knocker sounded. Lamia went to answer it and the others withdrew out of sight.

As they came in, Lamia told the paramedics that Gabriel had been found wandering and confused after being missing for two days, and that Lori was his friend.

She went with him to the hospital. After a day in bed on a saline drip to rehydrate him, Gabriel returned to himself, but remembered nothing of the past three days. Whenever Lori tried to talk to him about the tunnels he would just look at her blankly and begin to talk about something else.

Lori remembered, though she knew that she was not supposed to. She decided that she would try to find out as much about the tunnels as she could, short of actually going back down there. She did not want to find out first hand just what followed them all the way back through the tunnels, always beyond the reach of the light.

Midnight Memorandum

Midnight Memorandum

Aidan went to bed unblemished and woke in the morning branded.

After a less than restful night’s sleep he got out of bed too early and bad-tempered. Also, his belly itched. He scratched through his t-shirt, thinking he’d been bitten by something. Pulling off the t-shirt, he looked down to see a word written across his stomach.

Upside-down from the world’s point of view, and scrawled in shaky handwriting as if it was written with a quill pen in iron-gall ink, was the word ‘Liar’ inscribed on his flesh. If it had been felt-tip he would have been less disturbed. He fled to the shower, pausing only to take a photo with his phone, for evidence. Lathering himself thoroughly, he rubbed and scrubbed at the word, but could not erase it.

At the office, the discomfort gnawed at him, he thought of reporting the incident to the police — it was an assault, after all — but feared they might laugh at him. Or worse, ask who thought he was a liar.

‘What’s the matter with you?’ Will asked, not disguising the resentment he felt. ‘Feeling the stress of your promotion?’

‘I had a bad night,’ Aidan replied coldly.

You see, he thought, I tell the truth, even to Will. Will, who openly told everyone in the office how little Aidan deserved his promotion.

At lunchtime he went to the Gents toilet, into a cubicle, and pulled up his shirt. His stomach was perfectly clean and word-free, but rather pink still from the early-morning scrubbing. Even so, for the rest of the day every time he might usually have lied, he was unable to. Instead his colleagues were greeted with an uncharacteristic awkward silence. They were used to a more aggressive style of bossing from him, especially since he took over from Al Matthews.

Matthews used to have a way of shredding people to dust if they failed to meet his exacting standards, which unfortunately tended to change from day to day, so there was no way to win.

Aidan made it to the end of the working day, and by then he had shaken off his reaction to the ‘dream thing’ as he was now thinking of it, and returned to his normal self.

The next morning he was again woken by a ferocious itching across his stomach. He did not want to look, but he had to.

Liar, liar.

This time he didn’t try to wash it off. He tried to ignore it, but he was again pushed into a bad mood, and he caught himself starting to talk to people just like Matthews used to. Apologising, he claimed illness and took the rest of the day off.

On his way to the lift, he passed the door to the stairs and was, as usual, treated to a vivid memory.

Matthews yelling at him.

‘Why isn’t this report done yet?’

‘I need more time—‘

‘You need a kick up the arse.’

‘if you want it done properly—‘

‘If I wanted it done properly, I’d hire someone else. So I will. You’re fired. Pack up your stuff and get out.’

‘You can’t— ‘

But Matthews had stormed off. Aidan followed him through the main office, trying to get him to listen, but with no success. There was no-one around to witness his humiliation. Everyone except him had gone home, while he stayed to finish that bloody report.

Matthews went to the stairs. He claimed that using the stairs instead of lazing in the lift helped to give him his drive. Aidan followed through the door. At the top of the stairs, Matthews turned to face him at last, but only to say, ‘Give it up Aidan. The sight of you begging is making me sick.’

Aidan gave the miserable bastard a forceful shove in the chest, and watched the result in strange slow time.

The look of astonishment on Matthews’ face as he fell backwards, the sound of him rolling out of control down two flights of stairs, the crack as his skull hit hard concrete. The expanding pool of blood around his crumpled, motionless form.

‘I didn’t mean to kill him,’ Aidan thought.


To every question the police asked — liar, liar. Verdict of accidental death, all lies. In the memorial speech he gave at Matthews’ funeral — liar, liar, liar. And the next morning, written on his body, liar in triplicate.

He realised that it would be like this for the rest of his life. Soon enough he would wake up every morning scrawled all over with his guilt, no clean spot of skin anywhere.

Now he stood at the top of the stairs, looking down at the concrete, scrubbed clean, but which should have a single word scrawled on it in blood.

He hardly heard the door open behind him, but he felt two hands thrust hard against his back. He flew, and turning in his flight he saw Will with a look of furious triumph on his face.

Did I look like that? he wondered, just before his skull shattered and all the wondering was over.

Swallowed by Night

Swallowed by Night

Out go the lights. At one pm all the side streets of the town are flicked into darkness. Few people are about, and fewer still as the night bears down. Even the town’s homeless population take refuge in the shelter which closes its doors at midnight. All the town’s doors are closed by midnight.

An occasional car drives by. No-one else is out except for the shadows.

On this particular night a woman was walking alone in the dark streets, head down, shoulders hunched, footsteps firm and rapid. She seemed wrapped about in something darker than the night, and not concerned with whatever might be watching her. And there was something watching her.

As she walked, movement sensitive porch lights flashed on here and there. The follower avoided these pools of light. He stalked her through the streets, getting closer as they walked. She was so small a morsel, so slight, and so tempting.

The follower made no sound. He wondered where this woman was going at this hour of the night. The night folded around them. A cat crossed the pavement in front of the woman, froze, then fled.

A certain familiar shadow cast across the woman’s path but, like the cat, it did not stay to trouble her.

The follower lost patience with his curiosity. Hunger overrode his interest in the destination of his prey and he became less cautious in his pursuit, speeding up and not concerning himself about the few intermittent light sources.

She heard him. He saw that she did by the slight stiffening of her shoulders and the way that she, too, quickened her pace. Feeling his own power and the greater length of his stride, he easily closed the distance between them. Now he could tell that she was wearing a dark hooded garment.

He was almost on her when she stopped and turned halfway towards him. This was unexpected. Prey usually tried to run for it, that was half the pleasure. He stopped too, hesitating.

‘Go away,’ she said.

Her voice was clear, but small, almost as if it came from very far away — perhaps from the other end of a long, silent tunnel.

He laughed, and took a step closer.

‘I am warning you, go away,’ she said.

‘You’re warning me are you?’ I am so scared,’ he hissed.

She should have started to run, then he would be on her in a moment, but instead she began to turn slowly all the way towards him. He felt an unaccustomed sense of unease. Her face was invisible in the cover of the dark hood.

Against the urging of a primal fear, he stood his ground, sure that he was the one to be feared. He laughed again, and came on towards her.

He was far too close when he realised that she had no face, that she was not a woman at all.

Beneath the hood there was a pit of the most profound darkness. If he had shone a torch into it, all the light would have been swallowed up, never to escape.

Now it was too late. He stretched like a string of melted cheese, pulled long and taut, sucked forward into that inexorable darkness. There was a screech, then silence.

The woman pulled the hood closer about her, turned, and walked on, resuming her endless journey, always ahead of the dawn.

Services Rendered

Services Rendered

At the top of the hill there is a dark house. Visitors come to the front door, and while they wait to be admitted they glance about, not wanting to be seen.

Deliveries are made to the back of the property, occasionally a goat, often large oblong boxes, and various other peculiar things in unusually-shaped boxes. Post is taken in at the front door, but Haroun, the regular postman, does not like to have to ring the bell. It is always answered by an androgynous person, dressed all in black and with glittering coal-black eyes. They never smile or offer a pleasantry about the dreadful/wonderful weather. A short, chilling, ‘thanks’ is all he ever gets.

When Eli came to the front door the same person answered his knock and allowed him in, as he was expected.

‘What services do you require?’ they asked him.

‘I’ve done something really stupid,’ he said, ‘and I need it erased. I heard that you could arrange that.’

‘Not I,’ said the dark-eyed one, ‘but it may be possible. You will have to make your request to the Professor.’

The Professor was a short, thin and insignificant looking man in a tweed suit, whose domain was a small office on the first floor of the dark house.

‘First, I have to outline some conditions,’ he said. ‘This establishment does not involve itself in cases of murder or resurrection, no matter what you may have heard.’

‘No problem,’ said Eli. ‘I haven’t murdered anyone.’

‘I am pleased to hear it. Your request was for an erasure?’

‘Not of a person.’

‘Of the memory of some act, or of its consequences?’

‘Both would be nice.’

‘Both would be very expensive.’

‘Oh, well, the memory then. I suppose if no-one remembers what I did, they won’t know the consequences are my fault, will they?’

The Professor gave Eli look he did not quite understand, but it made him feel uncomfortable all the same.

‘How many?’

‘How many what?’

‘How many people’s memories would need to be adjusted?’

‘Oh. Two.’

‘Only two?’

Eli nodded.

‘Write down a detailed account of your error, including details of the two…subjects.’

The Professor handed Eli a pad of paper and a biro, then he left the room. Eli spent an uncomfortable half-hour recounting and reliving one of the most excruciating episodes of his life. As soon as he placed the final full stop, the Professor came back in. He took the pad from Eli and scanned through the account, sighed and curled his lip. Eli felt a deep sense of shame, and wanted to take it all back, but it was too late.

‘We will send you a bill,’ said the Professor. ‘You should understand that late payment is inadvisable.’

‘Er, yes, sure. How long will it take?’

‘The bill?’

‘No the … procedure.’

‘Our specialist should have a free spot this evening, around midnight. I assume you would prefer not to wait longer?’

‘Maybe,’ said Eli, ‘my memories of the whole thing ought to be erased as well. Would that cost much more?’

‘I don’t advise that. How would you know to avoid such a banal mistake in the future?’

Eli signed a contract, not in blood, thankfully, and left the house as fast as he could. All he had to do now was to stay away from home until the early hours of the morning.

He crept in at four o’clock and slipped into bed next to Sarah. She turned over and seemed to half wake, but she did not scream at him, so that was good.

In the morning he got up and made coffee. When she came downstairs, Sarah gave him a confused look.

‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, innocently.

‘i feel like, I don’t know, I feel like I’ve forgotten something important.’

‘If it was important, it’ll come back to you,’ he said cheerfully. ‘Have a coffee, that might help.’

That afternoon, the big test, they went to the pub and met up with Gaby and Andy. Gaby and Sarah were best friends, but today they were very ill at ease with each other.

Afterwards Sarah was quiet and withdrawn. Eli asked what was wrong.

‘I don’t want to see Gaby again. I can’t stand the sight of her.’


‘I don’t know, I just can’t.’

A few days later, a plain white envelope came through the post. Financially speaking it was a kick in the groin, and Eli was glad he had gone for the cheaper option, but there was also a subsidiary element, which he was afraid would turn out to be even more costly.

“Your services will be called on at some future date, and you may not refuse.”

Eli, who had been feeling very relieved and comfortable, suffered a flashback to the forgotten thing — Gaby’s soft thighs, Sarah walking in on them at just the wrong moment, his marriage and his life torn to shreds for a piece of stupid weakness. The Professor was right, his mistake had been banal. It was bad, but this bill he held was worse. Up there in the dark house they still knew what had happened. He had written it all down for them, after all, and then he had failed to read the contract.

At some ‘future date’ he was going to have to pay. Too late now, he realised that there might have been a better way, and that perhaps the easy way did not exist.