Writing an article takes time – no, it’s true – and time’s not been on my side recently. I forget what we argued about but ever since then my work days have dragged along like a heavy-set Alsatian with no legs in need of some fresh air and a game of "chew the frisbee" and my recreational evenings have skipped by like a flat stone bouncing off the surface of a calm lake before plopping beneath the surface of sleep. That’s a dreadful analogy; I tend to fall asleep with a ping rather than a plop. Oh well.
Writer’s block is an awful thing to suffer from if the action you’re trying to perform is writing. Mud wrestlers can survive day-to-day with acute writer’s block and still live a full and meaningful, dirty thong-wearing, slippery, slidy life. But for a writer it’s Purgatory with the promise of Hell to come. And there’s something even worse than the block; realising fractionally too late that some current event would have been perfect to write about. Would have been. If only you’d remembered it was scheduled to happen. I quite often pass a landmark occasion and think "Buggering shite! I could have prepared a damning indictment of that particular event if my memory wasn’t so full of holes! A pox on it!"
So, to make sure I’m not caught out this year I’m presenting the 2005 Halloween Update Special in August. Wrap up warm, grab some hot chocolate, and ignore the rustling behind you as you read these Horrific Stories Of Unbridled Terror!
The Locked Door
Sharon needed a place to stay and she needed a place to stay quick. That was why she bought the old house without looking it over fully. The estate agent had seemed nice enough but had insisted on guiding her around the place rather than letting her wander. That had been an inconvenience but had seemed nothing more at the time. So it was that she found herself standing in her newly-purchased home without even having checked out all the rooms less than a week later. Damn the local council for finding rare woodworm in the house she grew up in and designating it a national park.
It was dusty but Sharon’s asthma had been cured by a brick in a sock years ago in a fortuitous mugging-gone-wrong so that didn’t bother her. She didn’t even mind the cobwebs so much. Sure, she didn’t like spiders but so long as they didn’t bother her she didn’t bother them. Besides they kept the flies away. Flies. She hated flies. The old house – her new home, she had to remind herself – was large by modern standards, built back from the main road through the village on the outskirts of the forest bordering the town in which she had lived most of her thirty years of life. It was set in an overgrown garden and surrounded by a wall just over head-height, ideal for keeping casual onlookers looking on somewhere else. Sharon liked solitude. She needed solitude for her research. She wanted to find the cure for blinking.
The first day was spent unpacking and that evening she ran a hot bath to unwind. As she lay there gently soaking she tried not to think how the perfumed soap bubbles irritated the surface of her eyes and made her blink all the time. As she stared at the foamy water mostly covering her submerged curves she suddenly heard a noise from the attic. Just a creak? Was the house settling? No! There it was again, only now it was a knock. And another. It was probably just a reindeer climbed in under the tiles, she thought to herself. She’d never been told they didn’t really fly; her parents had died in a car crash before they’d had a chance to tell her the truth about Christmas. Sharon had always blamed herself for their deaths and wished she could turn back time through staring and stop herself from cutting the brake cable on their Ford Capri. Sharon finished bathing and wrapped a towel around her wet body, one ear listening out for any more sounds from above. She was certain – absolutely certain – it was nothing. Still …
Sharon stepped out onto the landing and looked up the narrow staircase that led to the attic. She climbed quietly and reached the door at the top. There’s nothing to be scared about, she thought to herself, and pushed. The door remained where it was. Sharon pressed her ear to the wood. There was something, definitely something. It sounded like breathing. She tried listening harder. Suddenly there was click. In the silence of the house it sounded thunderous. Sharon couldn’t help herself and fled down the stairs trying to stifle a scream with her fist in her mouth. On the landing she slipped over, her feet unable to gain purchase on the wooden flooring damp from where she’d been standing before drying herself properly. She crashed to the floor and knocked herself out.
Sharon came round to the sound of birdsong outside. It was morning and she was laying prone on the landing. Her fist was wedged into her mouth and took some wriggling to remove. Her nostrils – enlarged through plastic surgery by a psychotic ex-boyfriend – had probably saved her from suffocating. She looked up the staircase to the door and took a deep breath. There was nothing in the attic, she told herself. There was nothing in the attic that would have any power during the day, she added. Sharon started up the stairs again. At the top she paused, trembling despite her best efforts. She placed her hands on the door, as much for support than for anything else, then pushed with all her might. For a second nothing happened and then, suddenly and shockingly, the door flew open under her exertions. A draught blew through the house whipping the towel from her body but Sharon stood stock-still, uncaring of her nudity.
The attic space was empty save a table atop which sat a telephone and a lamp. There was a small window set in the roof, open, and a fair amount of bird droppings underneath. The room had obviously been used as an office of some kind in the past and was currently merely the occasional home of small birds, squirrels, or reindeer. Importantly, as far as Sharon was concerned, there were no flies, and no Star Wars action figurines. Oh yes, she had a morbid fear of Star Wars action figurines too. Sharon’s tensed muscles begain to relax and she stepped in the attic to look around. The floor was filthy but she didn’t care. She stepped over to the desk to see if there was anything there when the phone suddenly rang. Sharon jumped then laughed at herself. I’ll be jumping at my shadow next, she thought. Sharon picked the phone up. It was the estate agent saying he’d send over the rest of the paperwork by the weekend and to be careful of the attic door as it was prone to sticking.
After getting dressed and having breakfast Sharon decided to measure up the rooms; one would need to be a laboratory after all. She was considering whether the attic was perhaps a little too small for her needs when the local newspaper fell through the letterbox. Distracted she picked it up and read the headlines: Local Estate Agent Killed In Car Crash! Brake Cable Severed! Sharon dropped the paper. But she’d just spoken to the estate agent!
Sharon dropped to the floor clutching her heart. After flies and Star Wars action figurines, phone conversations with ghosts were the one thing guaranteed to kill her. The life ebbed out of her body and Sharon stared upwards, finally achieving the unblinking state she’d always sought.
That weekend the estate agent turned up with the remaining paperwork. He was happy that he’d been promoted now that his supervisor had died and ecstatic that the police hadn’t connected him to the murder but less than pleased when nobody answered the door. He fumed inwardly and the stress compounded a genetic disorder which led to him suffering a debilitating stroke twenty years later.
The Phantom No. 22 Bus
Ever since he’d been a young boy growing up in Maine and had seen An American Werewolf In London on late-night TV Brandon Chubbe III had wanted to trek across the moors of England in the hope of being bitten and acquiring the ability of lycanthropy. Now he was older, rich through punting for the Baltimore Ravens, and a little more realistic. He just wanted to trek across the moors during post-season and ride one of the giant wildcats, and he was happy that he was finally living out the first part of his dream.
The moors were bleak – far bleaker than he thought they’d be – and the weather was awful – far worse than everyone had said it would be – but he was enjoying himself. He’d only been lost for three days and figured that if he just kept following the direction of the sun each day he’d reach a coast long before his week’s provisions ran out. It was a small country after all. During what passed for daylight he walked and whistled and took photos of the soil and checked to see if there was a phone signal. During the nights he settled into his sleeping bag, resting his head on his backpack and thinking back over the various shades of soil he’d seen and photographed during the day.
On the fourth evening, still full of good spirit, Brandon suddenly saw lights over a nearby hillock. He’d been fooled once before when some marsh gas had lured him into a rabbit warren and he’d been set upon by the fanged beasts – one had gotten through his boots and left a nasty gash on his big toe but he’d kicked the rest off and escaped, blissfully happy with the story he’d have to tell afterwards – but this looked different. Brandon ran and found the most glorious sight: a road – well, what they called a road around here – and a bus making its way slowly towards him. Brandon leapt for joy and ran towards it. The number 22 bus slowed and Brandon climbed aboard.
"Hey I’m an American!" shouted Brandon with joy. "Yokel bus driver dude, you’re going to be famous on my Livejournal when I get home; The Yokel Bus Driver Who Saved My Life! Ha ha! How does that sound?" The camera was whipped out and shot after shot ensued.
The bus driver waved away the flashes from the camera and growled. He was dishevelled, certainly not in line for any best employee awards in the near future, and there was a long scar running down one cheek. "No standing!" he grumbled and pointed to the back. Brandon smiled at the charm and started to head the way the driver was pointing when he felt his arm grabbed. The driver was staring at Brandon’s foot. "My God" he heard his untidy angel mutter. "You’ve been bitten by … a moor rabbit!"
"Hey, it’s okay", said Brandon. "I fought the good fight and was victorious. I’m an American! I was once attacked by a groundhog and had to have my left testicle surgically reattached so this is nothing!"
"Sit down you fool!" shouted the driver, pushing Brandon backwards as he himself turned. Suddenly the bus leapt forward and Brandon found himself staggering towards the back of the bus with the acceleration. The force pushed him into a seat and he was forced to see the moors at a speed right at the limit of the bus’ capability. Rolling mounds of soil blurred past and Brandon’s eyes kept losing focus in the dwindling light of the day. The sharp turns and squeals of the tyres as they rounded them started to play havoc with the tourist’s stomach too. The heater in the bus was on full and the nausea started to get to him. Before he passed out Brandon’s last view was of the madly-staring eyes of the driver reflected in the rearview mirror.
He awoke in a hospital and instantly knew something was wrong. His leg! His leg was gone! His job as punter was gone too, he knew. A doctor entered the room.
"You’re awake! That’s jolly good. Thought you were a goner there for a while. You’ve been a jolly lucky little blighter. Another hour and we’d have had to amputate everything below the neck. You’d be like one of those heads in the jars in Futurama. Do you like Futurama? I fancy Leela. The name’s Doctor Zoidberg by the way. No, just joshing with you old chap! Doctor Henry. How are we feeling?"
Brandon sobbed for a while and Doctor Henry went off on his rounds. Later he checked in on the American again and was marginally more pleased to see that Brandon had collected his thoughts by this time.
"I’m going to survive this Doc, and I’m going to be stronger than ever", he said. "I’m going to get me the best prosthetic leg money can buy and I’m going to be the best damn punter the NFL has ever seen!"
Doctor Henry smiled and pointed out that the drugs Brandon would need to take for the rest of his life to fend off the pain would disqualify him from the sport and that he’d need to rub anti-gangrene gel into his stump twice a day to avoid rot. He made to leave but Brandon, depressed and teary-eyed once more, realised that the amount of content for his Livejournal was going to be astronomical. "Doc", he asked. "What about the bus driver who brought me in and saved me? Who drives the number 22 through the moors?"
The doctor looked thoughtful and then confused and told Brandon that there was no number 22 bus service though the moors and there never had been!
"A phantom bus! Oh God! A phantom bus!" gasped Brandon. It was too much for him and he whipped off the bedsheets. With two swift hops he bounded across the room and hurtled through the open window, plummeting fifty feet onto the railings below. He died instantly.
The doctor looked aghast at the crumpled, one-legged foreigner bleeding all over his new Honda Accord. He shook his head and whispered to himself: "It was probably the number 223 driven by old Jimmy Scarface you blithering moron. The sign on the bus has needed fixing for ages."