Christmas Takeover 1: David A. Riley: Lock-In

Lock-In

A Story by David A. Riley
9,300 words

“Nobody expects anything really dramatic to happen at Christmas.”

“There was Ceausescu. He got toppled at Christmas. That was pretty dramatic.”

“And they shot him. Which was even more dramatic.”

“Along with his wife!”

“Then we had the Tsunami on Boxing Day.”

“I know that, I know. But – and it’s a big but – it’s still true that no one expects anything to happen at Christmas. When it does, it takes us by surprise.”

“But you could say that about any day of the year. You could say no one expects anything really dramatic to happen on the twenty-fifth of July. Now there’s a boring date for you.”

“And if you said this to the vicar he’d soon tell you that the most dramatic event in the history of mankind happened at Christmas.”

“Oh, put a sock in it! You’ll have us singing carols next. For God’s sake…”

“Anyway, Bob, what exactly are you getting at? Why does it matter whether, rightly or wrongly – depending on your point of view – you think no one expects anything really dramatic to happen at Christmas? Apart for the usual domestic break-ups and rows and everything else you might expect when most of the population over indulges in alcohol.”

“Never mind all that. Whose round is it next? I’m drinking without.” Arthur Renshaw banged his empty beer glass on the table between them, emphasising his point. The four old men, the Grudgers they called themselves (after the district of town they were all born in, Grudge End), burst out laughing, while Bob Beesley fished in his wallet for a ten-pound note.

“Barman,” he called out. “Another four of your best, please!”

They were a distinctive group, even in the Potter’s Wheel, one of the few unrefurbished, unremodernised pubs in the district. Its dark wallpaper first saw the light of day – such as ever penetrated this far – over thirty years ago, much about the same time the paint dried on its woodwork. There was a luxurious atmosphere of dilapidation about the place, with its damp beer mats that often stuck tenaciously to the scarred wooden tables and the old fashioned, barrel-shaped glasses.

Bob Beesley heaved himself up off his stool and waddled to the bar, where he picked up their next round of drinks and passed them, one by one, to eager hands held stretched from the nearby alcove that was literally their own reserve spot in the pub. “And a bag of pork scratchings,” Bob added. “I’m feelin’ a bit peckish.”

By the time he’d sat down again, panting from the effort, the others had taken at least two or three gulps of their beers and were busily arguing once more. Bob pushed his thick, horn-rimmed spectacles back up the broad bridge of his nose and glanced at the darkening sky outside the nearest window as he nimbly unfastened his pork scratchings. It looked as if there was a storm brewing, which probably meant he’d have to hurry home later to avoid getting soaked; he’d left his raincoat hung behind his front door, along with his brolly. Typical the weather should change like this, he thought. Just his luck.

“Anyway,” Tom Atkins said to him; his sallow cheeks had gained a faint, almost healthy flush from the two pints he’d drunk, “what’s all this about Christmas? It’s not November till tomorrow. It’s only friggin’ Halloween tonight. It’s bad enough all the shops start putting up their blasted decorations as soon as we’ve seen the back of Bonfire Night, without you going on about it.”

“You old humbug,” Arthur scolded him. “You get more miserable by the year.”

“So would you if you’d thirteen grandchilder to buy presents for – and none of ‘em cheap.”

“As if you didn’t really love it,” Bob told him. “I’ve seen you, hiking off to Eddison’s Toy Shop on Market Street. You’re like a child yourself when you get in there. And I’ll bet you make sure you help some of those grandchilder of yours to play with their toys!”

The others laughed, including Tom, who had to admit that he did, sometimes, have to help them out. “But only when they’re not sure how to play with them properly,” he added. “Some of these modern toys are very complicated to use, you know.”

Paddy Morgan, his brick-red cheeks like very old slabs of beef, shook his head sadly. “You never grew up, Tom. I’ve always said it.”

“Some of us grow up too fast,” Tom told him. “I envy my grandchilder. They’ve some wonderful toys these days. Far better than we’d to make do with when we were kiddies.”

There was a rumbled chorus of agreements to this. Then Tom said: “I’d better get in another round. I see Arthur’s about to be drinking without again.”

“Drinks too fast. Always has. Like a bottomless drain,” Bob grumbled good-naturedly. He glanced at the clock, hidden above the bar amidst a line of almost empty optics. Nine thirty and he felt tired already. Getting old, he thought. Getting far too old. Not like the old days when the four of them would paint the town red. A long, long time ago now, he added to himself, sadly.

“What’s going on out there?”

On his way to the bar, Tom glanced at the speaker, a terse old farmer who drove down to the pub at night in his battered Land Rover for a pint or two by himself before going home to bed.

“What is it, Jim?” Tom asked as he leant against the bar and nodded to the landlord for another four pints.

“Outside. Looks like some sort of commotion. Might be some damned idiots out celebrating Halloween.” Jim Bartlet slammed down his beer and sidled over to the frosted glass door. Frowning, he placed a hand on the doorknob to pull it open.

As he watched him, Tom felt a faint premonition that something was wrong, something worse than just a commotion outside. And for an instant he had an urge to tell Jim to ignore it, to let go of the door and go back to the bar. But it was an urge he ignored. Not only would Jim think he was being absurd, but he would take no notice of him. In fact, he’d be even more likely to go ahead with whatever he was going to do if he said anything to him. And quite rightly so. If someone told Tom something as ridiculous as that he’d ignore them as well. Tom shuddered, though, as the irascible old farmer pulled the door open and stepped outside. There was a brief hint of fog and a noise like someone snapping twigs. Less than a minute later the door burst open and Jim Bartlet fell back into the pub, blood streaming from his face. He made a half turn, as if to steady himself against the bar, then slithered to the ground. Tom reached for him, but his reflexes were slow these days and he missed. Sam Sowerby, though, for all his own weight, was round the public side of the bar within seconds and knelt beside the farmer, cradling his head. Jim’s face was unrecognisable. A red, raw ruin of sinews and veins and stripped, naked meat. It was as if the skin had been sliced from his face, cut away from deep into the flesh and muscles and down into the bone. On instinct Tom went to the heavy, wooden outer door, hurriedly closed it with a solid thud, then snapped the locks shut, top and bottom, though it seemed a feeble enough defence against whatever had attacked Jim Bartlet.

The rest of the Grudgers had scrambled to their feet, even Bill, though he trailed behind the others as they gathered about the body on the floor.

“I’ll phone for the police,” Arthur said. He hurried to the phone behind the bar. A moment later he looked at the others, a crestfallen expression on his long, thin, lugubrious face. “It’s dead,” he told them.

Bob frowned at him. “What d’you mean dead?”

“It’s dead,” Arthur repeated. “The phone’s dead.”

Sam laid the farmer’s mutilated head back on the floor. “Let me try,” he told him. He hurried behind the bar and stabbed energetically at the buttons on the phone, as if force alone could make it work. In the end he slammed it back on its cradle. He looked over at the locked outer door. The others, watching him, looked over too.

“I ain’t going out there. Not till there’s at least a vanful of police outside. Preferably a SWAT team,” Bob muttered.

“I don’t think there’s much chance of a SWAT team in Edgebottom,” Tom told him. “Not for hours anyway. They’d have to send to Manchester for one – and that’s more than fifteen mile frae here.”

Paddy nodded at the dead body of Jim Bartlet. “What the ‘ell did that to him? We can’t just stand here while there’s someone out there who killed poor Jim like that. It’s horrible. Horrible. We’ve got to contact the police. Somehow.”

“Barring smoke signals – which no one would see at this time of night anyway – what would you suggest, Paddy?” Sam asked, shaken; he looked down at his bloodstained hands, then went to the sink behind the bar to wash them clean. “What would you suggest?” he muttered to himself as he vigorously tried to wipe them dry on a wet bar towel.

“There’s a lunatic out there,” Bob said. “A lunatic with a butcher’s cleaver. What else could have done that to Jim Bartlet’s face?”

They all, reluctantly, looked down at the farmer’s head, laid in a spreading pool of blood. The only other customer left in the pub beside the Grudgers was Harold Sillitoe, a retired schoolmaster with literary pretensions. But he seemed speechless, sat on his barstool with his eyes closed against the horror only three yards from him, his single malt whisky untouched on the bar in front of him.

“What did he hear that made him go outside?” Paddy wondered out loud.

“Whatever it was I couldn’t hear it.” Tom shook his head. “But I did feel something was wrong. I almost said that to him. That he’d be better off ignoring whatever he’d heard and stay here. I don’t even know why I felt that. Though I wish I’d said something now.”

“And do you think Jim would’ve listened?” Bob asked. “He’ld’ve told you to stop being soft. And gone out.”

“At least I would’ve tried. I feel guilty somehow.”

“Bollocks! Only the bastard as did that to him is guilty of anything. How were you to know someone would chop off his friggin’ face?” Bob reached for his pint off the table behind them and took a long swallow.

“We’ve still got to do something,” Paddy insisted. “We can’t just stay here while whoever attacked him is still out there, roaming about.”

The landlord shook his head. “And what would you suggest? I’ve tried the phone. And that’s dead. What else is there?”

“You’ve got a mobile, haven’t you?” Paddy asked.

Sam swore, then hurried to the stairs. He came back again only a minute later, mobile in one hand. “No signal. No bloody signal.”

A tense silence settled on the men. Then Bob asked if Sam had the remote for the TV. There was an old, eighteen-inch set in the games room, usually used by some of the locals to watch horse racing on Saturday afternoons, though none of the Grudgers had ever watched it.

Sam disappeared behind the bar, then came out with the remote and went into the games room, with its pool table and darts board. They heard him cursing to himself. The old men exchanged worried looks, then Sam strode slowly back into the lounge, his broad face even paler than usual.

“You aren’t going to believe this,” he said to them.

“But you can’t get any channels,” Bob answered. “The TV’s dead as well.”

“No reception on any of its channels.” Sam flung the remote onto the bar. “It’s as if we’re cut off from everything.”

“But how?” Bob asked.

“And why?” Tom put in with a shudder. “Why?”

Bob wandered slowly to the window and peered outside, the others watching him intently. He moved his head cautiously from side to side, but the darkness looked impenetrable. He couldn’t even see any streetlights down the road. Not far away should have been the illuminated clock tower on St Paul’s Junior School. He couldn’t see that either. Nor the traffic lights at the end of the block. Nor any traffic. No traffic at all. As if the world outside had ceased to exist.

Shuddering, Bob backed away from the window. He looked at the others, unsure what to say.

“This is freakin’ surreal,” Sillitoe suddenly said, reaching for his whisky. “Freakin’, freakin’ surreal.”

“Calm down, Harold,” the landlord told him. “No need to panic.”

The others eyed him in disbelief.

“If this isn’t cause enough to panic, what is?” Bob asked.

The rest added their agreement.

“I’m just about ready to panic myself,” Tom said. “And that’s without even knowing what ‘freaking surreal’ even means.”

Perhaps in an effort to show some kind of moral control, Sam slowly walked towards the front door.

“Are you sure what you’re doing?” Tom asked.

“We can’t just stay here, can we?” Sam said, uncertainly.

“But if you go out, the same might happen to you as happened to Jim Bartlet. I wouldn’t risk it.”

“Nor me,” added Bob.

Sam looked round at them, seeing the concern in their faces. The fear.

“We can’t just wait around for something to happen,” Sam told them, insistently.

With less resolution than he allowed himself to show, Sam took a firm hold of the upper lock of the front door, then clicked it open. Bending his knees, he reached for the lower lock and clicked that open too. Licking his lips, Sam paused for a moment to rebuild his determination, before reaching for the door handle, his palm damp with sweat as he tried to grip it as firmly as he could.

The door opened with ease. Outside all was black, the solid, impenetrable black of absolute nothingness. No streetlights, no traffic, no hint of the stars or the moon or the pavement or the rest of the town or anything of the outside world at all. Just an endless, eternal black, like everlasting night, that went on and on till his eyes ached from the strain of staring into it.

Even so, Sam stood at the pub doorway for a long, long moment. He wanted to reach out into the darkness, but something warned him not to do it, that not only would it be wrong but dangerous. Perhaps Jim Bartlet had felt the same urge and leant out to peer into the darkness too, and in doing so lost his face. Sam shuddered, unable to cope with the bizarre ideas that rushed in at him about what he was looking at, then he stepped back into the warmth and light and shabby cosiness of the pub; he slammed the front door shut behind him and returned to the lounge.

“What did you see?” Bob asked, a tremor in his voice.

“Come on,” Tom added. “Say something. You’re worrying me.”

Sam stepped behind the bar and poured himself a stiff whisky from the optics. He drank it in one gulp, then poured himself another. He drank this too in one gulp.

“Sam!” Bob rapped on the bar to catch his attention. “What the hell did you see?”

“See?” Sam shut his eyes for a moment, his plump face blank. “I wish there had been something to see. But I couldn’t see nothing more than you could see through the window. There’s nothing. Nothing out there. Nothing at all.”

“Stop talking nonsense,” Paddy snapped at him. “What d’you mean, nothing? D’you mean you couldn’t see anything because we’ve had a power cut?”

“A power cut that’s affected everywhere apart from the Potter’s Wheel?” Sam laughed humourlessly. “You’re a genius, Paddy. How come I couldn’t think of that!”

“Then what?” Bob asked. Feeling queasy with fear, he sat down on one of the old bar stools and leant against the bar. He felt in need of his pint of beer again.

“There’s no ‘what’ about it. Not so far as I can see – so far as I can reckon,” Sam said, almost to himself. “I looked out of the door and there was nothing there. Just a deep black void that went on and on forever.”

“Steady, Sam,” Tom told him.

“Steady? You should take a look out there yourself,” Sam said. “But be careful, ‘cause I reckon it’s a blackness you shouldn’t even try to touch. Not unless you want to end up like Jim.”

“I thought some madman did that to him. Hacked him with a knife or an axe,” Paddy said, as they looked down at the farmer’s body by the bar.

Sam shook his head. “I don’t think so. There’s nothing human, mad or otherwise, out there, Paddy. Whatever did that to him wasn’t human. More likely it was just the blackness that did it. How, I don’t know.”

The six men sat round the bar for some minutes in silence as each of them tried to digest what had happened.

Suddenly, his face white with fear, Harold Sillitoe knocked over his whisky and rushed for the door. “I don’t care what rubbish any of you say, I’m not staying here,” he shouted at them. “I’m not staying here to be trapped.”

Sam tried to grab his arm, but the schoolteacher was too fast. The next moment he reached the door, snapped its locks and flung it open. Arthur Renshaw was the nearest to him; he tried to pull him back, but Sillitoe was too determined to get out of the pub and slipped past his fingers. The moment he reached beyond the doorway into the darkness, though, he screamed. At that instant Arthur managed to grasp hold of the collar of his coat, then grunted with the effort as he tugged him back. Together they fell into the lounge, tumbling across the floor, as Sillitoe writhed in abject agony, the stumps of his arms jetting blood over the two of them. Tom moved in and pulled Arthur free, then stood back as the schoolteacher’s body spasmed, then stilled, and the blood ceased pumping from the severed ends of his arms.

A look of horror on his face, Arthur said: “What the hell did that to him?”

“I told you,” Sam answered. “The darkness. He touched it. He put his arms into it. And, somehow, in some way, it destroyed them.”

“Like acid?”

“Or worse.”

“Much worse,” Bob added sombrely. “I saw what acid can do when I worked at Watson’s Chemical Works in Thrushington and that’s nothing like as bad as this, believe me. Nor anything like so fast.” He shuddered and sat down again on his stool. Then reached for his beer.

Meanwhile, Sam knelt beside Sillitoe. “He’s dead,” he told them, though they knew this by now. The schoolteacher’s body had jerked only once and become so still there was no room for doubt in any of them that he had died – that and the stemming of the outpouring of blood from what was left of his arms.

Sam nodded to Arthur, and the two of them dragged Sillitoe’s body away to one wall. They then dragged Jim Bartlet’s next to it, away from the bar.

“Place is beginning to look like a friggin’ morgue,” Tom muttered.

“Aye, and it’s us who are creatin’ it,” Bob added.

Sam went behind the bar, filled five glasses of whisky, then passed them out to the four Grudgers, before sitting down himself and taking a deep gulp of his drink. “I hope that’s the last attempt any of us make to get out through that door.”

With an exchange of glances, the four men nodded their heads as they raised the whiskies to their lips.

“What are we going to do?” Bob asked. “We can’t just sit here, pleasant though it is, forever.”

“Well, I’m just glad my wife decided to leave me last month,” Sam said. “Otherwise the nagging bitch’d be going at us relentlessly by now.”

“What d’you reckon it is?” Paddy asked.

Sam shrugged. “I’ve no more idea than any of you. I doubt our schoolteacher friend, for all his learning and degrees and suchlike, had any more himself. Which is, perhaps, why he panicked.”

As the hours passed the five men slowly relapsed into silence. It was only when it passed eleven o’clock, when he would normally lock the front door and call last orders, that Sam remembered his lodger. Ever since his wife left him, he had supplemented his dwindling income in the pub by letting out one of the spare bedrooms upstairs. An odd old bugger, his current lodger called himself Albert Durer, though Sam was sure this wasn’t his real name somehow. Still, the money was welcome each week – and he paid it on time every Friday.

“Have any of you seen Albert?” Sam asked, though none of the men remembered catching sight of the lodger all evening.

“Perhaps he couldn’t get in ‘cause of that stuff,” Paddy suggested, with a vague gesture at the door.

“I’ll go take a look in his room,” Sam said.

It was less than a minute later that he shouted down to the rest of them to “come up here! For Christ’s sake, take a look at this!”

As the four men gathered about the open doorway upstairs, panting for breath, Sam stood at the far end of the room in front of the curtained window. Between them the threadbare carpet had been rolled back to uncover the floorboards. On these there was a large, painted circle in white and a five-pointed star. All around the edges were peculiar symbols and the burnt-out stubs of candles, their melted wax lying in off-white ridges on the floorboards. In the centre of the star was what horrified them all the most: it was a nailed-down body of a rat, its ribs and stomach sliced open.

“The dirty bastard,” Bob muttered, wiping sweat from his forehead. “The dirty, dirty bastard!”

“Filthy pervert, more like,” Tom put in. “Who’d do a thing like that?”

“Albert Durer, that’s who,” Sam said. “And here’s me, cookin’ his breakfast for him every morning, and the bastard does that in my own home.”

“What is it?” Paddy asked. “Satanism?”

“I don’t know,” Sam said. “It’s something horrible, I know that. Whether it’s Satanism or not, I haven’t a clue. Ask me something I know something about, and I’ll answer you. This…this is just friggin’ disgustin’, whatever you call it.”

“There’s some kind of old book over there on the dresser,” Tom said, pointing.

They followed his finger, and Sam stepped over to the dresser, gingerly keeping his feet outside the painted circle. He touched the open book, its pages crackling beneath his fingers like very old parchment. He stared at it hard for several moments, his brows puckering with concentration.

“Can’t make out a blessed thing that’s written in it,” he told them eventually. “It’s all in some kind of foreign language.”

“Like French?” Paddy asked, to whom foreign meant Calais, which was the furthest he’d ever travelled.

“Or Latin?” Bob asked, who’d done four years of it at Grammar School a long time ago and could just about remember Amo, Amas, Amat.

“Take a look,” Sam told him, but when Bob sidled over to peer at the book, he shook his head. “I don’t think it is Latin,” he said finally. “Or if it is, it’s in some kind of code.”

The men shook their heads in consternation.

“D’you think this has anything to do with what’s happened tonight?” Tom asked.

Sam stared at him. “That blackness?” he asked.

“I know it sounds mad,” Tom went on. “But before what happened to Jim and Harold that would have sounded mad too. And it is Halloween. When better to do something queer like this?”

“But why?” Bob asked. “And how?”

Tom shrugged. “You’d have to ask Sam’s absent lodger that, if we ever get chance to meet him again.”

“I’d like just one chance to meet that bastard again,” Sam muttered as he gazed at the mutilated remains of the rat nailed to the floorboards. “He’d not forget it if we did.”

While they were upstairs, they checked the rest of the bedrooms and Sam’s living room, but the sheer solid blackness outside never changed. By the early hours of the morning they had all gone to sleep in the two other bedrooms besides Durer’s, though none of them felt secure enough to undress. Whatever was happening to them, they were sure there were more surprises in store. And none of them, probably, good.

Sam was the first up. By half eight he had prepared breakfast for them all of fried eggs and bacon.

“There’s plenty of food in the freezer, but I can’t promise many more days of bacon and egg,” he told them as they sat about the table in the kitchen.

“Do you think we’ll be stuck here that long?” Tom asked, his sallow complexion now grey, with dark shadows under his eyes.

“Who knows?” Sam said. “We’re still stuck now, aren’t we? Which makes it nearly twelve hours already. Who knows how much longer this’ll go on?”

“Much longer and I think I’ll go stir crazy,” Tom muttered. “We might’ve joked sometimes about how grand it’d be to get locked inside a pub, but the reality’s not quite the same.”

“The lock-in from Hell,” Bob said. Like Tom, his plump face showed signs of strain.

“I never thought the Potter’s Wheel Paradise, but I never reckoned to compare it to Hell,” Sam said with an attempt at levity, trying to put out of his mind what they saw in Albert Durer’s bedroom.

Levity, though, had come into short supply by mid-afternoon and the view through the windows was still pitch black. There was a creeping atmosphere of fear in the pub. And claustrophobia.

There were strange anomalies. Though they could neither send nor receive telephone calls, and the TV and radio were dead, there were still supplies of electricity and water. Arthur Renshaw said it was a pity the water pipes weren’t big enough to crawl along, otherwise they might have been able to get out that way, till Bob pointed out that, however big the pipes might be, they would drown in them anyway because of the water – and still get nowhere. Sam organised for the two bodies in the lounge to be wrapped and taped inside bin bags, then he and Tom dragged them into the cellar, where it was cold enough to keep them preserved – and where, more importantly, they weren’t in constant view.

By evening there was real fear.

“We should have heard something from someone by now,” Tom insisted. “Surely somebody knows we’re stuck here, that something’s wrong.”

Sam shrugged. “Who knows what it’s like on the outside? Perhaps it’s as dangerous to get into the Potter’s Wheel as it is to get out.”

They drank slowly and steadily that night. Talk petered out long before ten; after that they sat around the bar in desultory groups, each consumed by their own gloomy thoughts for the future. Before they knew it, it was midnight, they all felt slightly drunk, and went to bed grumbling about the bloody absurdity of it all.

Five days passed and the situation hardly changed, though the bacon and eggs for breakfast had long since run out and Sam was beginning to look increasingly more worried whenever he went to the freezer. His initial optimism about what it held hadn’t taken into account that it would have to cater for five grown men, with no additional food coming in from any other source. Now it was beginning to empty with ominous speed. Two days later the freezer was down to an already opened bag of peas, three fish fingers, some ice cream in a battered tub and a very old packet of boil-in-the-bag spinach.

Within the next few days they were all beginning to feel hungry and beginning to realise that they were facing the grim prospect of starvation. If being imprisoned within the pub had been enough to make them feel afraid to start with, their food running out increased this till there was hardly a moment when they weren’t aware of it. It dominated their thoughts. But there was nothing they could do about it. They had long since searched the pub for every possible scrap of food, from half eaten packets of biscuits to the snacks hung on cards behind the bar. Even dusty jars of out of date cherries for cocktails that had never been popular in the Potter’s Wheel had all been consumed. Their ill-assorted diet led them to feeling queasy as well as hungry, depressing their spirits even more and making all of them irritable.

By the end of the second week tempers, as well as hunger, were at breaking point…

“This is bloody ridiculous,” Bob said eventually as the five of them sat around a table in the lounge. With empty stomachs, they had stopped drinking alcohol till later at night; and each of them now held a bottle of fruit juice from behind the bar. “We’ve got to do something. If we don’t, we’re going to starve to death within the next couple of weeks, unless we turn to cannibalism.”

“And with only five of us that wouldn’t last long,” Sam put in with a rueful smile, though his attempt at humour met with little response from the drawn faces of the four old men, who stared at him in silence

“We’ve got to try something,” Tom said. “Even if it means risking what happened to the others. If we don’t…”

“If we don’t, we’re doomed,” Bob said flatly.

Sam went behind the bar and poured them five beers. “If we’re to plan getting out of here we need something stronger than orange juice,” he told them.

Their first plans, though, were vague impracticalities that were soon dissected and tossed to one side. It was Tom who came up with the first and only practical suggestion.

“Have you ever wondered why we’ve still got water and electricity?” he asked.

“Good job we have them,” Arthur said. “We’d have been well buggered if we hadn’t.”

“I agree with you there. But why have we still got them,” Tom went on insistently. “That’s the important thing. That’s what I’ve been wondering. After all, we’ve no TV or radio signals.”

They sat there watching him, waiting.

“And?” Bob asked. “What answer have you come up with? Or is this going to be twenty friggin’ questions?”

“Two things,” Tom said, and, despite the hunger that was aching in his stomach, he managed a smile of monumental smugness. “Electrical cable and lead pipes – or whatever they make water pipes from these days.”

“It ain’t lead, I know that,” Sam said. “But I get your point. Electricity and water get through because they’re protected in some kind of casing.”

“And?” Bob asked. “Am I being a bit thick, but how does that help us. We can’t get out of here through either of them, can we?”

“But we might be able to make some kind of casing through the darkness,” Tom said. “Something that’ll protect us inside. It’s just a matter of finding something that’ll stretch out into the darkness that we would be safe inside.”

“It’s more than just worth a try,” Sam said. “Better than sitting here, starving to death.”

Putting aside their beers, they set out foraging about the pub for materials they could use to construct a tunnel.

“I hope that darkness doesn’t stretch too far,” Tom confided in Sam, but the landlord shrugged. “We’ve got to try, Tom. It’s the best idea so far, and if we don’t make a stab at it we’re doomed anyway.”

It was in the beer cellar they came up with the solution. At one time, during the late eighties, a previous landlord had made an attempt at building up the catering side of the pub, and with that purpose in mind had started work on a proper professional kitchen. Things had gone well, till he was told he would have to construct a ventilation system. Spiralling costs, at each new demand from the local council, had resulted in him eventually abandoning the project. In the cellar, though, were the aluminium panels for an unconstructed ventilation system, ready to be connected together to form a two-foot square metal shaft.

“If we could connect these together, we could lead them from the front door out into the darkness. Hopefully they’ll make a shaft long enough to let us crawl out of here,” Sam said, as they relayed the open-ended boxes up the cellar steps to the bar.

Opening the front door was a ticklish operation as no one wanted to risk suffering any of the mutilations that struck those who had already tried to get out that way. The deep, almost cosmic darkness that confronted them, with its cold, black depths, had become no less awesome – or frightening. Gingerly, they pushed the ventilation shaft, a twelve-foot length of aluminium squares, inch by inch out across the doorstep into what should have been the street. Their first attempt, though, was a dismal failure. As they shone a torch into it, they could see that the inexplicable darkness had entered it from the far end, filling it till it was in line with the darkness at the doorstep.

“We’ll need to seal the far end off,” Sam said as they pulled the shaft back into the pub. “Perhaps that’ll keep it out.”

They found some sheets of aluminium in the cellar which fitted on the end of the shaft. With a soldering iron, it did not take long before they had it in place.

“Make sure you seal in every gap, otherwise the darkness might seep through,” Tom suggested while Sam worked on it. “But not too strongly. It has to break off.”

This time, as they slowly, carefully pushed the delicate shaft into the darkness, the inside remained clear. Even when most of it stretched out from the pub, its outside swallowed by the darkness around it, as if it no longer existed, its interior remained bright, unsullied by even the slightest hint of darkness.

The five men exchanged cheers of jubilation. They sat back and admired their work for a moment.

“Do you think the far end’s reached the other side of the darkness?” Arthur asked, dampening their spirits. None of them knew how far the darkness reached. For all they knew it might have stretched only inches from the pub – or gone on for eternity. There was no way they could tell from staring into it. It was black and impenetrable to their gaze.

“There’s only one way to tell,” Sam said. “One of us is going to have to creep along that shaft and batter the end off with a hammer. Then, either the darkness will flood in, or there’ll be the real world again.”

“You make it sound so simple,” Bob said. “But you do realise, don’t you, that if the shaft doesn’t reach safety and the darkness does coming flooding in, whoever’s in there will be swallowed by it?”

“And be dissolved like poor old Jim Bartlett’s face or Harold Sillitoe’s arms,” Tom said, unable to hide the horror in his voice as he said it.

“Thanks, Tom,” Sam told him. “I was trying to forget that alternative.”

“Well, one of us will have to try it, whatever the risks. Otherwise we’ve just wasted our time.” Bob wiped his hands on his knees. He looked down at his stomach, which still loomed large despite their enforced diet. “Though I don’t suppose I’ll be able to volunteer. I might manage to squeeze down that shaft, but I don’t think I’d be able to move my arms enough to use a hammer to force the end off.”

“I think we’ll need someone somewhat slimmer, I agree.” Sam looked at the others, conscious that, even though he was youngest here, he was not much slimmer than Bob, and would have a problem in the tunnel too. “Well?” he asked. “Who is it going to be?”

There was a long moment of silence. The others knew the dangers involved, that whoever crawled along the shaft and knocked off the end would be risking his life.

“One of us’ll have to do it,” Arthur said. “Perhaps we should toss for it or pick a short straw or something like that.”

The only ones slim enough to make it, Paddy, Arthur and Tom, exchanged glances.

Sam nipped behind the bar. He returned a minute later with a pack of playing cards.

“Lowest card wins – or loses, depending on your point of view,” he said, shuffling the cards. “Aces low.”

One by one, the three Grudgers reached for the cards and selected one.

“Looks like I’m the one,” Arthur said, flatly as he gazed at the three of spades in his hands. Tom had the five of hearts and Paddy the king of clubs.

“Would you like to do best out of three?” Tom asked.

Arthur shook his head. “Only putting off the inevitable. It’s got to be one of us. Anyway, if it doesn’t work, perhaps I’m the lucky one, eh? At least I wouldn’t have to starve to death. Or end up eating one of you lardy arsed buggers.”

“When do you want to try it?” Sam asked.

“I doubt if I could sleep tonight knowing I was going to have to crawl along that friggin’ tunnel in the morning, so I might as well do it now,” Arthur said, his face deadpan. “What have I got to lose – apart from my nerve?”

“Here,” Sam said to him. He went to the bar and handed him a large whisky. “Just to steady you a bit, eh?”

“Many thanks.” Arthur smiled, thinly, and took a long swallow of the whisky. “Good stuff too, for once.”

He looked at the galvanised tunnel, squared his shoulders, then stepped towards it. Sam handed him a heavy hammer. “A couple of hard bangs should be enough to snap the solder. If someone will help me, two of us will take a firm grip of this end of the shaft to make sure it doesn’t slide forward.”

“Take a bloody firm grip,” Arthur said as he stooped and stretched his hands into the tunnel, then began gingerly to crawl on all fours along it. He could feel the cold metal beneath the palms of his hands. There was an intensity to the coldness which he supposed was because the blackness surrounding it was drawing out any heat into whatever voids of nothingness there were outside.

“Are you okay?” Sam called as the old man shifted his knees into the shaft.

“Feels cold but firm,” Arthur told him; he looked back with difficulty over his shoulders. “Feels as if it’s resting on something solid.”

“Take care,” Bob told him, as he crouched down to watch him crawl foot by foot down the shaft.

Sam gritted his teeth as he and Bob held onto the shaft to make sure it didn’t move. Arthur moved only slowly, not daring to jar the shaft from their fingers, conscious at every move he made of the terrifying blackness surrounding him beyond the thin metal sheets. The shaft felt so fragile he half expected it to come apart every time he moved. Even though the shaft was only twelve feet long, it took him at least five minutes to inch his way to the end. Eventually, though, he was close enough to reach out and touch it.

He pulled the hammer from under his belt.

“Two sharp blows should snap off most of the solder,” Sam called to remind him.

Arthur nodded, though he knew that if the shaft wasn’t long enough, if the blackness extended even further than its end, it would rush in and kill him. The thought of it made the hair prickle along his arms and neck, while his stomach tightened with apprehension into a small, icy nugget of fear.

“Two sharp blows,” Arthur muttered to himself beneath his breath as he manoeuvred the hammer so that he could grip it properly and swing it far enough back in the cramped space inside the shaft to hit the plate at the end.

“Hold onto the shaft for me,” Arthur shouted to Sam and Bob. “I’m going to hit it now.”

He closed his eyes, tightened his grip on the hammer, made a swift, uncharacteristically sincere prayer, then swung with as much force as he could muster.

There was a dull metallic thud.

Nothing.

He gritted his teeth and swung again. Even harder this time.

One corner of the aluminium sheet pinged free and a thin shaft of light shone through the gap.

For a second Arthur stared into it, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, till he realised he was looking at light, however dim, not darkness.

Light!

He could barely take his eyes away from it.

“What’s wrong? What’s the matter?” Sam called out to him, alarmed at his stillness.

Arthur took a deep breath as relief flooded through him.

“There’s light,” he shouted down the shaft. “Light!”

Buoyed up by the cheers of encouragement that broke out madly behind him. Arthur swung at the metal again with determination. A couple of good, strong blows and he’d have it off. Just a couple, that was all, he thought to himself. The first blow parted the sheet from one side, and the light grew brighter. He aimed a blow at the opposite edge. Just one, he thought. Just one more blow. Make it good and hard and he’d be out of here. Out of here for good.

Back inside the pub, Sam looked at Bob as he tightened his grip on the edge of the shaft before Arthur could strike his next blow. “Nearly there,” he whispered. Bob grinned, then looked down the shaft as Arthur wriggled into position, before bringing the hammer down with a resounding, echoing thud against the metal.

A dim grey light shone down the shaft as the metal fell free. It was a cold light, almost shadowy in substance. Carefully, Arthur crawled further along the shaft, till his head and shoulders were free of it. If he had expected to see any sign of the streets or houses that lay beyond the front of the pub, there was no sign of them now as he craned his neck to see as much as he could , though everything seemed to be little more than dimly-seen differing shades of grey. There was an impression of vast stone walls somewhere in the distance and high above him, as if he was in an enormous cavern. He screwed up his eyes, wishing that he had brought his glasses with him when he came to the pub, but none of his friends had ever seen him wearing them – none of them even knew that his eyesight had worsened over recent years. Out there, though, he felt sure that something moved. Something large and dark.

“Are you okay, Arthur,” he heard Sam call to him as he wriggled free of the shaft and crawled onto the hard, cold surface of the stone outside. He turned around and looked back down the shaft. “It seems okay here,” he called back. “But I’ve no idea where I am. It’s not Edgebottom.”

“Not Edgebottom? But how do you know?” Sam asked.

Arthur saw his face disappear for a moment as Sam discussed things with the others. He reappeared again shortly. “Hold on to your end of the shaft,” Sam told him. “We’re coming through.”

Arthur glanced around the darkness uncertainly. “I don’t know whether it’s all that safe,” he told him. “I keep seeing something move in the distance. Something large. I’ve no idea what it is, though.”

“But we can’t just stay here,” Sam insisted.

Arthur sighed. “Okay. I’ll take a hold of the shaft.”

The shaft stood out a few feet from a dark, glistening mass of blackness like that surrounding the pub. He would have called it a pool, but it rose in front of him up against the side of a wall of rock. He flinched as the shaft tugged his fingers; Sam had squeezed himself into the far end of it, his pale face almost filling it as he stared at Arthur.

“Take it slow,” Arthur told him. “Don’t risk damaging the joins. They’re not all that strong.”

One by one the rest of them slowly made their way along the shaft, till all five of them eventually stood on the rough stone at the end of it. Bob shivered theatrically. “It’s a damn sight colder here than in the pub,” he grumbled.

“You can always go back if you like,” Sam said.

“I’m not sure yet whether that wouldn’t be a good idea,” Bob retorted. “I thought this might lead outside the pub, but God knows where it is. It doesn’t ring a bell with me. It’s like nowhere round Edgebottom that I’ve ever seen.”

“Nor me,” Tom said, his voice quiet, as if he felt intimidated by the vastness of the gloomy depths around them. “Oh, my gawd,” he mumbled.

The rest of them followed his gaze as he stared with a look of horror into the distance.

“What is it?” Arthur asked, though he felt sure that he knew. It was that thing – that large, dark shape he had seen move when he first climbed out of the shaft. He screwed his eyes in an effort to make out what it was. It was large in the distance. Immense. Too large to be real.

The rest of them saw the creature at once, though none could have even started to describe what they saw. It was impossible for them to fix it in their gaze, as if it did not even fully exist within reality, but partially slid between dimensions even as they stared up at it. It was a Leviathan of Biblical size, perhaps octopoid, perhaps insectile, perhaps neither, or both, or many other forms of life simultaneously – or beyond all forms of life, something the like of which none of them had ever heard of or seen or imagined.

They felt fear deprive them of thought as they gazed up at it.

An impossibly long tendril reached towards them from the creature, dark, bristly, covered in rows upon rows of millions of tiny, moving suckers. Arthur shrank back against the rest of the men as it moved towards him. Sam pushed him to one side, then mindlessly scrabbled to get back as far as he could from it. Panic infected them all as they ran about against the rock face in an effort to elude the nearing limb. Paddy was the first to scream. It was a pitifully pathetic, terror-filled scream of gut-wrenching horror. The rest of them were halted for an instant as the tiny suckers transfixed themselves to Paddy’s face. His arms and legs flailed in agony as he tried to tear himself free, as his face seemed to be drawn into all the suckers simultaneously, followed by the rest of his head, then shoulders. Sam felt sickened as blood erupted from all the tears that were ripped about the old man’s body as it was wrenched apart into the hundreds of suckers consuming him. Sam grabbed at one of Paddy’s arms, though he knew he was too late to save him. He tugged at the arm, but there was no give. The immense tendril that was drawing him violently into it was far too strong for his efforts to have any effect upon it.

More of the tendrils or octopoid limbs were emerging from the distant creature. Sam saw Tom trip as one of them soared down at him, attaching itself to his back. His screams rose in a terrible falsetto.

Bob made a bolt for the ventilation shaft to get back to the pub. But the old man was too fat and too slow to make it in time, and another tendril grasped him with its carnivorous suckers.

Was this why they had been trapped in the pub? Sam wondered. Had all this been part of some terrible plan, created by that bastard Durer?

Sam pushed Bob’s writhing body to one side, then dived down the shaft. The brighter light of the pub was ahead of him, and he moved with reckless speed down the shaft towards it, conscious of the possibility that one of the tendrils and its deadly suckers might only be inches away behind him.

He slithered out of the end into the pub, scrabbling at the ground to tug himself as fast as he could from the shaft. The metallic structure was moving behind him, and he knew that something else was inside it. A scream was stuck in the back of his throat as he stared at the exit, his fists clenched in a useless gesture of defence, when Arthur thrust himself out of the shaft.

“Help me!” the old man shouted. And Sam saw the thick tip of the tendril that had attached itself to one of his feet emerge from the shaft as Arthur crawled across the floor into the pub. Blood burst from his leg as the suckers commenced their terrible, relentless, irresistible work on him, consuming him even as he struggled to get as far as he could from the shaft. “HELP ME!”

Sam pushed himself to his feet and ran behind the bar into the kitchen. He tugged out the cutlery drawer by the sink. Then ran back into the pub, a carving knife clenched in one fist.

Without hesitation he hacked at the tendril, but the thing was so tough it was like trying to cut through seasoned mahogany. Sharp though the blade was, it barely scratched the surface of the tendril.

“Sam!” Arthur screamed at him, the foot and ankle of his left leg a ruin. “Do something, for Christ’s sake!”

Sam threw the knife to one side.

“What can I do?” he asked him, agitated and frightened. He kicked at the end of the shaft, then on an impulse he reached down and tugged it. He felt it come free as he pulled the far end that was still in the cavern back into the darkness. The tendril, still trapped inside it, disappeared in an instant as darkness filled it. The rest of the tendril flopped onto the floor, falling away from Arthur’s ruptured foot, its severed end oozing thick black fluids that hissed and bubbled on the floor of the pub.

Sam dragged Arthur away from the tendril and up onto a chair near the bar. He wrapped a towel round his injured foot. The old man moaned, but he was still conscious.

“What’s happening to us, Sam?” the old man asked.

“I don’t know for sure,” Sam said. “But I intend to find out.” He looked towards the stairs.

“What’re you going to do?”

“Something I should have thought of days ago,” Sam muttered.

Clenching his fists, Sam strode up the stairs till he stood in the doorway to Albert Durer’s bedroom. He stared in at the painted pentacle and circle and the dead rat nailed in the centre of them. He stepped into the pentacle and kicked the stiffened carcass from the nails pinning it to the floorboards. He then kicked at the painted lines and curves and obscure symbols, scuffing them with the hard leather soles of his boots. He went out into the upstairs kitchen and found a knife. Back in Durer’s bedroom he set to work scraping and slicing as much as he could of the pentacle away. Then he went to the sash window, pulled back its curtains and pushed up the bottom of the window frame. Outside, the ominous, threatening blackness loomed before him. He reached for the book on the dresser. For a second he looked down at its stained, old pages, with their obscure, thickly printed lines of writing and strange drawings. Then he raised the book and threw it with as much force as he could muster out into the darkness.

He sank to his knees. There was nothing else he could think of to do. After this, all there was left was to return to the bar and give what help he could to Arthur. A feeling of helplessness seeped through him as he raised his head and looked at the window – through which the first rays of dawn were starting to emerge from above the dark grey roofs to the east.

No one amongst all the scores of police and local and regional government officials who had gathered about the outside of the pub over the last few days was able to give Sam any reason for the “Strange Anomaly” (as they termed it) that had isolated the Potter’s Wheel from the rest of the normal world. Nevertheless, it was only a matter of minutes before Arthur was whisked away in an ambulance to the nearest hospital to have his injuries treated, while Sam showed a small group of the most senior investigators about the pub.

In the months that followed the reality of what happened became blurred through layers of “official” explanations, denials, claims that the whole thing was some kind of hoax, and an inability of the two survivors from inside the pub to grasp just what had happened to them, as it began to seem, as they looked back on it, as a strange kind of dream or nightmare or, as some experts suggested to them, mass hallucination.

Of his late lodger, Albert Durer, Sam never heard anything more. The odd man appeared to have disappeared completely as if he had never existed. That he had almost certainly used a false name was soon pointed out, when someone mentioned that he must have taken it from the German painter Albrecht Durer, dead for over four hundred years.

“He’d wish he’d been dead that long too if I ever get my hands on him,” Sam would mutter to himself when well in his cups. But he knew there was little chance of that. If he was still alive, “Durer” would be well away from here by now, his mischief done. Though whether he would do what he’d tried to do in the Potter’s Wheel elsewhere… Sam shuddered at the thought. Especially when Arthur hobbled into the pub at night for enough drinks to help him sleep. Then the two of them would talk into the early hours of the morning of those terrible events and marvel that even two of them had survived.

David A. Riley writes horror, fantasy and SF stories. In 1995, along with his wife, Linden, he edited and published a fantasy/SF magazine, Beyond. His first professionally published story was in The 11th Pan Book of Horror in 1970. This was reprinted in 2012 in The Century’s Best Horror Fiction edited by John Pelan for Cemetery Dance. He has had numerous stories published by Doubleday, DAW, Corgi, Sphere, Roc, Playboy Paperbacks, Robinsons, etc., and in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, Fantasy Tales. His first collection of stories (4 long stories and a novelette) was published by Hazardous Press in 2012, His Own Mad Demons. A Lovecraftian novel, The Return, was published by Blood Bound Books in the States in 2013. A second collection of his stories, all of which were professionally published prior to 2000, The Lurkers in the Abyss & Other Tales of Terror, was launched at the World Fantasy Convention in 2013. His fantasy novel, Goblin Mire, was published by Parallel Universe Publications in 2015. Their Cramped Dark World is his third collection of short stories. With his wife, Linden, he runs a small press called Parallel Universe Publications, which has so far published ten books. His stories have been translated into Italian, German, Spanish and Russian.

Halloween Extravaganza: David A. Riley: STORY: Their Cramped Dark World

Their Cramped Dark World

It was obvious that something was wrong the moment they entered the empty house.

For a start off, it felt far from empty.

There were sounds everywhere.

“If those’re rats, I’m out of here,” Lenny muttered, his enthusiasm dampened suddenly by the scutterings that seemed to cascade all around them as they walked across the bare floorboards in their trainers. Lenny, the younger of the two boys by barely a month, was tall and gangly, with a livid rash of acne across both cheeks. His dark eyes glanced suspiciously about the ballroom-sized entrance hall as they paused inside it, listening.

Pete grinned. It was a broad, unmistakably roguish grin that somehow made him look older than his fifteen years, as if he’d been born before and could still remember far too much of a disreputably colourful past life.

“Rats are the last things you should be worried about here, Lenny.” He made a long, haunting moan that echoed eerily through the house.

“Bollocks,” Lenny retorted, anger mixed with the stirrings of doubt he had begun to feel as soon as they approached the old, abandoned house. Making plans was one thing. Carrying them out was something else, especially after dusk had darkened the two acres of woodland around the house into a motion-filled blackness of half-seen, menacing shapes. “We should have set out earlier,” he grumbled as he switched on his torch. “Besides, I bet none of the others turn up.”

“They’d better,” Pete said. “This lot cost me a fortune. Especially since I had to pay that old wino, Karl Ott, to buy them for me.” He lugged the rucksack he’d been carrying off his shoulders and lowered it to the floorboards. There was a clink of glass: two half bottles of vodka and a bottle of rum, with a mixture of cokes, Sprite and orangeade. On top was a box of candles in case the electricity in the house wasn’t working.

Lenny tried the light switch and the two boys were surprised when the electric chandelier above their heads came on, though half its bulbs were dead or missing.

“The rest of the gang should be here in another half hour,” Pete said. “I told them half five.”

In late October, though, it was dark not long after four. Now, with heavy clouds covering what little there was of the moon, it was all but black outside.

“It would have been better if we’d all come together,” Lenny grumbled.

“What, and miss out on getting into the party mood beforehand?” Pete brought out one of the bottles of vodka and a couple of glasses. “Coke or Sprite?”

Lenny grinned. “Coke.”

He accepted the brimming glass and sipped the dark, fizzy liquid inside it. “I can’t taste anything but coke,” he complained. “Did you pour in some vodka?”

“You saw me, dummy. Fifty-fifty. My dad says you can’t taste vodka anyway. Only what you mix with it.”

“Then what’s the point?”

“You’ll see the point when you’ve drunk it. When was the last time you got a buzz off cola?”

Dubious, Lenny drank some more. “I think I see what you mean,” he said a moment later.

“Here’s to Halloween,” Pete announced, raising his glass.

“Shouldn’t we wait for the others?”

“What for? We can have another toast then. There’s no law to say you can only toast something once. Come on, hurry up. We’ve time for a few more drinks before they get here.”

Draining his glass, Lenny handed it back to Pete for a refill. Somehow the creaks and scratchings inside the walls and in the ceiling didn’t quite seem so menacing anymore. He felt a mild glow start to grow inside him.

“It’s not hard to believe what happened here, is it?” Lenny said a few minutes and a third glass of vodka and coke later. The warm glow had now spread throughout most of his diaphragm.

“Did you ever doubt it?”

“Naw. But sometimes you wonder whether your parents enjoy embroidering it all a bit just to get you frightened. It’s kind of sick, isn’t it? A whole family slaughtered, one by one.”

“It was worse than that, Lenny.” The two boys were sat on the floor in the hallway, the surrounding doors into the other rooms still closed, sealed with festoons of dark grey cobwebs. Most of Pete’s face was in shadow as he leaned forward over his glass of coke.

“What d’you mean, worse? What could be worse than that?”

“Worse, ‘cause they weren’t just slaughtered. They were sacrificed, Lenny, one by one. Whoever killed them, tied them up first so they couldn’t move, then taped their mouths so none of them could cry for help. Or hear their screams as he worked on them.”

“Worked on them?”

“They were tortured to death, Lenny. It took hours. All night long it went on. There was blood everywhere. That’s why there are no carpets. They were drenched in it. Ruined. Even the floors were awash. If you look hard enough they say you can still see some of the stains.”

Lenny squirmed uncomfortably on the wooden floor, as if he could feel the old dried blood beneath his buttocks on the dark floorboards.

“You’re joshing me, aren’t you?”

“Why should I do that? It’s all for real. You could check it yourself if you wanted to. It’s there in the papers. Every last word. Twenty-five years ago to this night. On Halloween. And no one has ever been arrested for it.”

Lenny reached for another drink from his glass.

“Whoever did it must be getting on now. If he was only in his twenties then, he’d fifty now. Sheesh!”

“Fifty’s not old,” Pete said.

“My grandparents are fifty – and they’re old.”

Pete laughed. “Bet they’d be pleased if you told them that.”

“But it’s true,” Lenny insisted. “It’s too old for a murderer. Isn’t it?”

“You’re a scream, Lenny. A real scream. Did you know that?”

Lenny grunted.

“Anyway, it’s a long time ago.”

“And this house is still empty.”

“Not always,” Lenny said. “I remember people living here.”

“Maybe, but none of them ever stayed for long. That’s what I mean. None of them,” Pete added with an air of significance.

“Are you telling me this place is haunted?”

“Don’t you think so? Isn’t that why we’re here?”

Lenny shivered; his hand reached out instinctively for the vodka and coke. “Where are the others? They should be here by now.”

“They’ll be here. There’s plenty of time yet.”

“But it’s nearly six.”

“And so?”

Lenny shrugged. “It’s nearly six. That’s all I said. I thought at least one of them would’ve been here by now.”

“Perhaps they’ve chickened out? Perhaps they know too much about what happened all those years ago and are frightened to come here tonight.”

Lenny stared at him. “You’re joking, aren’t you?”

“Maybe.” Pete grinned, that same roguish, all-knowing grin he always used.

Lenny drank some more vodka and coke. He felt a little light-headed now.

“What’ll we do if they don’t come?” he asked.

“We’ll have a party of our own.”

“That’d be fun,” Lenny said, sarcastically.

Pete merely grinned.

“You did tell them all, didn’t you?” Lenny asked a few minutes later. The noises within the walls were still rustling disconcertingly all about them and he was beginning to feel nervous again despite the effects of the vodka.

“Of course I did.”

Lenny peered at his Timex. “It’s ten past now. Why aren’t they here?”

“Perhaps they’ve chickened out, like I said. Perhaps there’s only you and me with the balls to come here.”

Lenny reached for his glass. He wished he felt as tough about being in this place as Pete. But the non-stop sounds of hidden movement made him think too vividly of nasty, vicious swarms of rats inside the walls, of scores, perhaps hundreds of the verminous creatures hidden behind the dark wallpaper and wafer-thin, damp-riddled plaster, only feet away from them. With sharp teeth and sharper claws.

“You feeling a bit jittery?” Pete asked.

“Naw…” Even to his own ears, though, Lenny’s reply sounded weak. Unsure.

Pete laughed, quietly.

His laughter was beginning to get on Lenny’s nerves. He wondered if Pete had really invited the rest of them here. But why would he have lied about this? It didn’t make sense.

Unless, Lenny wondered, Pete had some secret reason for wanting to be alone with him here tonight which Lenny would never have agreed to if he had known about it. Unless, Lenny thought, with a sudden shock of insight that left him feeling nauseated, Pete fancied him in some way.

Lenny looked at his friend. Was it possible that Pete was secretly queer?

He didn’t look that way. But could he be sure? He knew so little about that kind of thing, and what he did know was probably a load of nonsense. He was only too aware how talk about stuff like that got distorted, with all sorts of myths and rumours and misinformation. Perhaps Pete was gay. He’d a bloody strange grin, that was for sure. And he didn’t seem at all concerned that none of the others had turned up tonight– as if he had known all along there would only be the two of them here.

Lenny reached again for his vodka and coke, though he wasn’t sure if drinking any more of the stuff was a good idea.

“Are you worried?” Pete asked.

“About what?”

“About this place. About its history. About what went on here twenty-five years ago. What else did you think I meant?” Pete narrowed his eyes.

“Nothing,” Lenny said. “Just what you said. What happened here. The murders.”

“Bloody gruesome, eh?” Pete laughed. The sound echoed through the empty house and for the briefest of instants Lenny was sure the rustling ceased, as if whatever was making the sounds had heard him and paused – to listen.

“I think I’ve had enough of it here,” Lenny said suddenly. “If the rest aren’t coming, it’s going to be a bloody bore. We might as well go home and watch TV.”

“You chickening out too?”

“I’m here, aren’t I? I wasn’t scared to come here. I’d have stayed here too if there was any point. But two of us doesn’t make a party, whatever you say. And now it’s getting cold and there’s nowhere to sit except on the floor. And I don’t care much for those rats.”

“What rats?”

“Those fucking rats scuttering inside the walls, for God’s sake. Can’t you hear them too?”

Pete shrugged. “To be honest, Lenny, I’d forgotten about them. Got used to the sounds, I suppose. Just background noise. White noise, don’t they call it? Anyway, they’re harmless. Have you ever heard of anyone you know being attacked by rats? They’re only aggressive if they’re cornered. Everyone knows that. Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. It’s as simple as that.”

“So you’re an expert on rats now?”

Pete frowned; his grin gone. “Have I upset you, Lenny? Have I said something to annoy you? To piss you off?”

“No.”

“Sounds to me like I have. Sounds to me like that’s why you want to leave. We’ve not even been here an hour yet. There’s still plenty of time for the others to arrive.”

“Bollocks. None of them are coming. They’d have been here by now if they were. At least one of them would have turned up.”

“You trying to imply something?”

Lenny shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Like what?”

“Just leave it. I’m fed up with this place. And that vodka’s making me feel sick.”

“Like what, I said, Lenny?”

“Fuck it.” Lenny got to his feet. “I’m off.”

“Like fuck you are.” Pete stood up too, his aggression obvious to Lenny. What good humour he’d had before had gone. There was a dangerous tautness about his face, which disconcerted Lenny. He had never seen anything like this about his friend before. It was almost as if he had found himself alone with a stranger.

“What’s up with you, Pete?”

“Up with me?” The teenager smiled. It was a tense smile, as unlike anything he would have normally given as a grimace. There was no humour in the expression. There was no humour in it at all.

Feeling suddenly afraid, Lenny abruptly made for the outside door, but Pete moved even more quickly, cutting him off, as if he had half expected him to do what he did.

“Not so fucking quick,” Pete snarled. He swung a fist at Lenny’s face. It was so unexpected that Lenny could barely react before he felt Pete’s knuckles crack like a heavy mallet against his jaw. The next thing he knew he was falling, dizzy with shock, nausea and a sudden sense of unreality, as the floorboards loomed against the side of his face. Almost at once Pete was astride him. The weight of his body forced Lenny down onto the hard floorboards, winding him. Still dazed, Lenny felt his hands being pulled in front of him. Something thin was tugged tight around his wrists, forcing them together. He struggled to sit up when he saw that a narrow strip of plastic, like the kind his father used for tying up plants in their yard, was being pulled around his wrists, then locked into place. He tried to push it apart, but the plastic tie was far too strong and cut his skin.

“Pete! What are you doing?”

His friend reached into one of the pockets of his jacket and pulled out a roll of gaffer tape. He tore off a six-inch strip of it, held it for a second above Lenny’s face, as if gauging his target, then tugged it tight across his mouth. Lenny tried to scream, but his lips couldn’t move beneath the vile-smelling tape.

“That’s better,” Pete said, finally. He eased himself up, then stepped back, grabbed a hold of Lenny’s feet and forced them together. Before Lenny could do anything to resist him, another, heavier plastic tie had been secured around his ankles. It was so tight it hurt as it bit into him.

“Had enough?” Pete asked.

Lenny tried to say something, but his lips were squashed beneath the unyielding tape gummed across them. The skin around them felt as if it would tear if he tried to force them open.

“Resistance is futile,” Pete said, grinning once more, his voice familiar to both of them as a Borg from Star Trek. The sudden humour sounded misplaced and false to Lenny as he uselessly struggled against the plastic ties around his wrists and ankles and realised just how painful it was to try to snap them.

“Do you think our unknown, unscrupulous friend, all those years ago, used plastic ties and gaffer tape to immobilise his victims?” Pete asked. “He might have had gaffer tape, I suppose. It could have been around then. I don’t know. I don’t suppose plastic ties were, though. Do you?”

Pete turned, retraced his steps to the pack he’d brought their drinks in and squatted down to search inside it till he found what he wanted, then slowly rose to his feet once more, a look of triumph on his face. Lenny squirmed on the floor to watch him, his heart thumping so loud in his ears it almost blotted out the rat-like scratchings inside the walls. Deep grunts of panic came from inside his throat when he saw the knife Pete held in his hands. He fondled it almost like he would a pet as he stared at Lenny over it. It gleamed like very expensive steel. And its edge looked sharp.

“Bet he’d have given his high teeth for something like this,” Pete said. “Cost an arm and a leg. Paid for it with my dad’s credit card on the internet. But he buys so much expensive crud using it he’ll never notice one more item he never bought himself.”

Pete pointed the knife at Lenny’s face, clearly enjoying the sight as his friend’s eyes opened wide in abject terror, staring back at it, unable to look away.

“You know, Lenny, I often think I’ve been here before. Somehow I’ve always felt like that. My mother told me that when my gran first saw me as a newborn baby, she said, “He’s been here before, this one. He’s been here before.” D’you know that, Lenny? Even my gran recognised this wasn’t my first life. It’s not my second, either. I’ve been here lots of times before. Lots and lots of times.” He took a step nearer. “And every time I’ve been here, I’ve had this task, this very important task to do, to ensure I’ll be able to come back again. I’ve done it so often over the years it comes to me in my dreams, time and time again, as clear as I can see you now, to make sure I can’t ignore it.” He hunkered down beside Lenny’s head. “But I’d never ignore it. That’s why there’s only you and me, why no one else was told about us coming to this place tonight. No one knows we’re here, Lenny. It’s a secret. A secret between you and me. And you’ll never tell, will you, Lenny?” Pete snickered. “That’s a bit of a no brainer, if ever there was one, I know, but I couldn’t resist it.” His hand flicked out and the point of the hunting knife sliced a line across Lenny’s forehead. Lenny would have screamed at the sudden, intense pain, as a trickle of blood pulsed out of the cut and dripped into one eye, but the gaffer tape kept his straining lips gummed together.

“Shush, shush,” Pete whispered. “I’ve not begun yet. There’s someone here you’ve yet to meet before the real thing starts.” He cocked his head to one side. “You’ve heard it, though. That scuttering.” Pete stood up. Behind him, from the wall, Lenny saw something move where the old wallpaper seemed to hang open now like a dislodged curtain. From beyond it, something large and grey, like a huge, misshapen rat moved out into the light of the room. There were others, smaller, huddled behind it. Their dark eyes, gleaming like soiled rubies, stared at Lenny.

“They like the blood,” Pete said as he crouched beside him again. “Especially Him. He’s old. So old you couldn’t imagine it. He was brought to this place so long ago, too, when I was in a different body, with a different name. So long ago even I can’t remember what name I had, there’ve been so many in between. But it doesn’t matter. What does is His power. That’s old as well. As old as the world. Perhaps older. When others like Him were plentiful. When they ruled. As one day, if Mankind has its suicidal way and we destroy what we have of this world, He’ll rule again.”

Lenny struggled to scream as he watched the creature move across the floorboards, as large as a pig, its ugly, scaly rat-like face etched with countless sores and wrinkles. Most of the thick grey hair had fallen away from its corpulent body, baring the glistening skin beneath. If he had not been gagged, he would have shouted at Pete that he was mad, that this ugly creature wasn’t what he seemed to think it was, but some insane monster that had fooled him. It wasn’t godlike. It wasn’t godlike at all. Just some pathetic old demon. How he sensed or knew this, he wasn’t sure. Instinct, perhaps. Some old race memory from a time when things like this had flourished. He didn’t know. All he knew with certainty was that Pete had been taken in by it. That it needed him to provide it with the worship it craved – it and its hideous, ugly children.

Though rat-like in shape, as it moved out into the light, Lenny realised the thing had no mouth as such, just tubular, fleshy tendrils. Each, though, ended in what looked like a mouth – mouths that opened and closed as it slowly, furtively moved towards him.

Again, Pete sliced at Lenny with his knife, cutting deep into one of his hands. Blood pulsed from the wound. And the rat-like creature moved in, its tendrils dipping into the blood as it spread across the floorboards. Lenny’s body tensed with horror and disgust as he heard the hideous slurping sounds from the tendrils as they sucked at the pool of blood. And the other, smaller, rat-like creatures scuttled forwards, drawn by it.

In sheer desperation Lenny struggled to free his lips from the gaffer tape, chewing at what snippets he could draw between his teeth. He fought against the pain as Pete sliced away his jacket and t-shirt so he could make further gashes in his body.

“Part of it is your pain,” Pete told him, as if this expiated him. “He needs to feel that – that and your fear. He feeds off them both.”

Several times during the next few hours Lenny blacked out, either from nausea or pain or both. Each time Pete waited till he was conscious again, then started once more, cut after cut, till the floor surrounding them was thick with blood. The other creatures had moved in on the pool as it spread across the room and had begun to feed from it.

Almost too weak from blood loss to feel much pain anymore, it was only then that Lenny was able to force his mouth open. The gaffer tape was sodden with spit and weakened where he had gnawed at it.

But by then he could barely talk, let alone scream for help, and Pete merely glanced at him as he carved more cuts in his chest.

“Pete…” Lenny’s voice was a ragged croak, barely intelligible. “Pete…”

“Too late to plead for your life, Lenny. Far too late for that, I’m afraid. He must feed. And so must they. I’m held to do it. I always have been. And always will.”

“Twenty five years ago,” Lenny whispered. “You did it twenty-five years ago.”

Pete glanced down at him, smiled, then moved the knife speculatively across his friend’s abdomen.

“You’re fifteen now. How long did your old self live after what he did here?”

Pete shrugged. “How long is a piece of string, Lenny?”

Midnight had come and gone, and still Pete worked, his face lost in the intensity of it. Lenny died not long afterwards. And as he died, so the blood flowed slowly, then stopped.

Pete looked around at the creatures. His creatures. His Gods.

The large one stared up at him from the blood it had been drinking.

“I’ve served you well,” Pete said. “Again.” He smiled, roguishly.

Something heavy moved across his foot. He looked down and saw one of the smaller creatures climb across it. Others milled around his ankles. And for a moment he felt uneasy. But it was always like this. They were thanking him for what he had done for them.

The large one, his God, stared up at him, though, its dark red eyes unwavering as it moved towards him. There was more to be done. Just what, he was unsure. But there was more, he was certain. He felt himself being pushed by the others; their bodies as big as well fed cats. Then he remembered. This was his moment of rebirth – the moment he would enter the darkness of the void. The moment he would leave this shallow husk till the time was right to return. Ten years he had hung in the void before till he entered this body. His time to let go of this body was now.

Was now.

Pete screamed as his God lunged at him. It claws dug deep into his chest, as it dragged him back towards the gap within the wall. The others scrabbled about his feet, biting and nipping and scratching him.

“No!” Pete screamed as he remembered it all, all those times in the past. He had to go with them now, into their cramped dark world. But he didn’t want to go into that void again where they would feed off his flesh and blood, revived and hungry.

His final act of sacrifice.

“Till next time,” he heard himself scream in despair.

As his eyes stared in horror at the grim darkness between the walls where they were dragging him.

Where he would feed and sustain them and make them fat for years to come.

David A. Riley writes horror, fantasy and SF stories. In 1995, along with his wife, Linden, he edited and published a fantasy/SF magazine, Beyond. His first professionally published story was in The 11th Pan Book of Horror in 1970. This was reprinted in 2012 in The Century’s Best Horror Fiction edited by John Pelan for Cemetery Dance. He has had numerous stories published by Doubleday, DAW, Corgi, Sphere, Roc, Playboy Paperbacks, Robinsons, etc., and in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, Fantasy Tales. His first collection of stories (4 long stories and a novelette) was published by Hazardous Press in 2012, His Own Mad Demons. A Lovecraftian novel, The Return, was published by Blood Bound Books in the States in 2013. A second collection of his stories, all of which were professionally published prior to 2000, The Lurkers in the Abyss & Other Tales of Terror, was launched at the World Fantasy Convention in 2013. His fantasy novel, Goblin Mire, was published by Parallel Universe Publications in 2015. Their Cramped Dark World is his third collection of short stories. With his wife, Linden, he runs a small press called Parallel Universe Publications, which has so far published ten books. His stories have been translated into Italian, German, Spanish and Russian.

The Return

It was never going to be easy to return for one last look at the streets where he spent his childhood years. Even knowing this, Gary still felt he had to make the effort, just this once, to see if they were really as bad as he remembered. In a few months demolition was due to start on Grudge End… When Gary Morgan travels north to lie low after a gangland shooting in London, a childhood friend is violently maimed within hours of his arrival. Decades after escaping the blight of his hometown, he finds himself ensnared in a place he hates more than any other.Feuding families, bloodthirsty syndicates, and hostile forces older than mankind all play a role in the escalating chaos surrounding Gary Morgan. Now he must unravel the mysteries of Grudge End and his own past or meet his doom in the grip of an ancient, unimaginable evil.

Moloch’s Children

Elm Tree House had a sinister history but few realised the true demonic power that lurked within its forbidding depths till it was taken over by a cult determined to make use of its horrendous secret.

Goblin Mire

Many years have passed since Elves defeated and killed the last Goblin king. Now the Goblins are growing stronger in their mire, and Mickle Gorestab, one of the few remaining veterans of that war, is determined they will fight once more, this time aided by a renegade Elf who has delved into forbidden sorcery and hates his kind even more than his Goblin allies. Murder, treachery and the darkest of all magics follow in a maelstrom of blood, violence and unexpected alliances. Facing up to the cold cruelty of the Elves, Mickle Gorestab stands out as the epitome of grim, barbaric heroism, determined to see the wrongs of his race avenged and a restoration of the Goblin King.

Into the Dark

There’s a serial killer at loose in London. Janice, who has a chronic fear of the dark, stumbles into a relationship with the man who may secretly be the murderer. Neither know that in the North of England, in a place previously owned by his dead mother, activities are taking place that may unleash a horror that could spell the end of civilisation in Britain – an ancient evil that would make the activities of any serial killer look like child’s play by comparison. Could a psychotic killer be the only man capable of ending this? Andrew Jennings is also known as David A. Riley.

The Lurkers in the Abyss & Other Tales of Terror

David A. Riley began writing horror stories while still at school and had his first professional sale to Pan Books in 1969, which was The Lurkers in the Abyss, published in The Eleventh Pan Book of Horror Stories. This story was chosen for inclusion in The Century’s Best Horror Fiction in 2012. Over the years he has had numerous stories published in Britain and the United States plus translations into German, Spanish, Italian and Russian. His fiction has appeared in World of Horror, Fear, Whispers, Fantasy Tales, Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries and Lovecraft e-Zine. His first collection, His Own Mad Demons was published by Hazardous Press in 2012. The Return, a Lovecraftian horror novel was published by Blood Bound Books in 2013. This second collection brings together under one cover seventeen of the author’s best blood-curdling stories.

Their Cramped Dark World & Other Tales

Their Cramped Dark World and Other Tales is David A. Riley’s third collection of short fiction, spanning 40 years of publication, from appearances in New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural #1 in 1971, to the Ninth Black Book of Horror in 2012.He has had numerous stories published by Doubleday, DAW, Corgi, Sphere, Roc, Playboy Paperbacks, Robinsons, etc., and in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, and Fantasy Tales. His stories have been translated into Italian, German, Spanish and Russian. His Lovecraftian crime noir horror novel, The Return, was published by Blood Bound Books in 2013. His fantasy novel, Goblin Mire, was published by Parallel Universe Publications in 2015.Table of Contents Hoody (first published in When Graveyards Yawn, Crowswing Books, 2006) A Bottle of Spirits (first published in New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural 2, 1972) No Sense in Being Hungry, She Thought (first published in Peeping Tom #20, 1996) Now and Forever More (first published in The Second Black Book of Horror, 2008) Romero’s Children (first published in The Seventh Black Book of Horror, 2010) Swan Song (first published in the Ninth Black Book of Horror, 2012) The Farmhouse (first published in New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural 1, 1971) The Last Coach Trip (first published in The Eighth Black Book of Horror, 2011) The Satyr’s Head (first published in The Satyr’s Head & Other Tales of Terror, 1975) Their Cramped Dark World (first published in The Sixth Black Book of Horror, 2010).

His Own Mad Demons

David A. Riley’s first professionally published story was in the 11th Pan Book of Horror in 1970. Since then he has been published in numerous anthologies from ROC Books, DAW Books, Robinson Books, Corgi Books, Doubleday, Playboy Paperbacks, and Sphere. Two recent notable anthologies in which he has appeared are The Century’s Best Horror Fiction from Cemetery Dance, and Otto Pensler’s Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! from Vintage Books.In 1995, David and his wife Linden edited and published Beyond, a fantasy/SF magazine. His stories have been published in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, Fantasy Tales and World of Horror.His Own Mad Demons contains his stories “Lock-In”, “The Worst of All Possible Places”, “The Fragile Mask on His Face”, “Their Own Mad Demons”, and “The True Spirit”.

Halloween Extravagana: INTERVIEW: David A. Riley

Meghan: Hi, David! Welcome to the new blog… and welcome back to the Halloween Extravaganza. It’s been awhile since we sat down together. What’s been going on since we last spoke?

David A. Riley: Not so much writing, though I have turned to it once more in the last few months. I have concentrated on publishing books by other people through Parallel Universe Publications, and spent a lot of time working on one particular project, which was a large art book for my friend Jim Pitts. The Fantastical Art of Jim Pitts, which is available as a limited-edition hardback and, more recently, as a two-volume soft cover. This was a major project for me, involving an investment in a new, more powerful computer to handle all the graphics and some rather expensive software. It was very time consuming too as each page had to be designed individually. I also branched out into publishing hardcover book collections, including Fishhead: The Darker Tales of Irvin S. Cobb, which was another labour of love, involving a lot of research and copying out a great many stories.

Meghan: Who are you outside of writing?

David A. Riley: Gardener, cook, reader, film and theatre-goer. I now have three grandchildren, which is fantastic.

Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

David A. Riley: I love it, though I don’t go out of my way looking for favourable comments about it, as I know it’s unlikely I’ll get a completely honest appraisal – except from my wife, who is totally honest and whose judgement I know I can rely on.

Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

David A. Riley: I don’t regard it as either, except when I am struggling with a particular story – then it’s definitely a curse, especially if I become convinced that whatever skills I might have once had have deserted me! I think that’s a not uncommon feeling, though.

Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?

David A. Riley: Though I don’t write specifically about this in everything I turn my hand to, there are quite a few things I have written that reflect my upbringing in Lancashire, in an industrial town. On the other hand, I have written a number of stories set in the United States, including New York, which I am assured read convincingly even though I have never visited the States. It’s good to have your roots as an influence, but a mistake to be shackled to them all the time. A writer should be able to use their imagination and what they have learned, either through travel, reading, films and TV, to branch out.

Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?

David A. Riley: Strange for the UK: guns, as handguns are illegal here. I did quite a bit of research into the handguns used by the Mossad, as one of my characters always used one in his role as a gangland enforcer in London. I first learned of them from a friend who had a genuine but deactivated Beretta .22.

Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

David A. Riley: The beginning. That has to grab me first of all or I find I very quickly lose the incentive to go on. I must have characters from the outset I can believe in and with whom have some empathy. If they’re just cardboard cutouts I can’t go on. They bore me. And if I’m bored, what can I expect from any potential readers?

Meghan: Do you outline? Do you start with characters or plot? Do you just sit down and start writing? What works best for you?

David A. Riley: I don’t outline. I do work from the characters to start with, and I prefer to have some sort of vague plot in mind, but I find the best ideas come while I’m writing, which sometimes veers off quite a lot from what I intended. The characters and their predicaments do have a tendency to take over, which in my view is as it should be.

Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?

David A. Riley: Hope I can maneuver things towards a proper story in the end. That doesn’t always happen – and that story will remain on my computer, unresolved. Sometimes I can take a look at it again some time later and things suddenly start to work out. Sometimes, though, they don’t.

Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?

David A. Riley: Feel in the mood to start with. I don’t think I can force myself. That doesn’t work for me. I wish it did. I would probably write a lot more if that happened.

Meghan: Are you an avid reader?

David A. Riley: I read every day, though not as much as I would like. I used to read a lot more when I was younger. On the other hand, we have a holiday home in the country where we have only limited internet and even more limited TV where I spend a lot of time reading. I was there last week and got through three rather hefty novels. And loved them.

Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?

David A. Riley: Novels in particular. Though I mainly write short stories, I am not as big a reader of these as I used to be. I have also found that my tastes have altered over the years and I must admit I don’t like a lot of new short stories. I now love crime fiction and historical novels, particularly writers like Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and Simon Scarrow. I also like crime novels that veer towards supernatural horror, like John Connolly, who is one of the best writers in horror today. I have also started to reread a lot of books I first came across many years ago, like Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, and Robert Bloch.

Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?

David A. Riley: I am particularly keen to see more movies based on books, if only because that will take us away from the obsession with remaking old movies with inferior ones. On the other hand, it is saddening to see some great books rendered into poor movies because someone thought that making major changes would improve on the original – something that rarely ever happens. A lot of film makers seem to have a poor idea of storytelling and it’s disheartening to see a great book butchered by someone who wrongly thought they knew better than the original writer.

Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?

David A. Riley: Frequently. That’s a common fate in my short stories especially. In my novels not so much so, though I did have one main character who at the end commits suicide because that was really the only option left open to him.

Meghan: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

David A. Riley: Not particularly, and often I do feel sad about this – which I hope the reader feels too! If they do, I have at least made them feel some empathy towards the character in question, which means I also managed to make that character believable.

Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?

David A. Riley: A heroic but nevertheless barbaric goblin – the main character of my only fantasy novel, Goblin Mire. Mickle Gorestab is old, irascible but unflinchingly courageous – and stoutly convinced of the rightness of his cause: the reestablishment of a Goblin Empire. I really loved this character for all his faults.

Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?

David A. Riley: The best was from Otto Penzler. When interviewed about his anthology Zombies! Zombies! Zombies, he was asked “If a reader has an opportunity to read only one story from Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!, which one would you recommend?” He would recommend two: “…the stories that jump to mind are Seabrook’s “Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields” because it’s such a comprehensive introduction in the genre, and David A. Riley’s “After Nightfall” because it is, holy moley, so damned scary.”

The worst is a review of my only fantasy novel, Goblin Mire, which simply stated: “Terrible. Everything about this[sic] book is terrible. I’d write more but I’d be wasting both of ours’ time…”

Meghan: If you could steal one character from another author and make them yours, who would it be and why?

David A. Riley: John Connolly’s Charlie Parker. He is such a great character. But he would be wasted on me. I couldn’t use him anything like as well as Connolly.

Meghan: If you could write the next book in a series, which one would it be, and what would you make the book about?

David A. Riley: I am not sure. I have never been keen on retreading the same ground and have only once (after much badgering by a friend) written to sequel to any of my stories, so the idea of doing a series doesn’t necessarily appeal to me. The nearest I have come is in using the same settings, as in Grudge End, where I have set a few of my stories and also my novel The Return. It’s my English version of Arkham or Dunwich.

Meghan: If you could write a collaboration with another author, who would it be and what would you write about?

David A. Riley: I have tried a couple of times to write a collaboration with another writer, but it didn’t work out. I don’t think I would ever be tempted quite honestly.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

David A. Riley: Hard to say. I hope to get at least one more novel finished. I have several which are part written, one with about 60k words, another with 40k. I would like to get a few more science fiction stories completed. I have always felt I should have written more SF. My first love when I first started writing was SF and I actually did complete a SF novel, now lost completely. I kind of stumbled into writing horror because I found SF more difficult. Then again, I started writing about the same time that the New Wave started in the late sixties under Moorcock and New Worlds, and I didn’t really gel with all that. I was overjoyed when I had a science fiction story published some years ago in Aboriginal Science Fiction.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

David A. Riley: Parallel Universe Publications for my publishing activities and my website for my writing and everything else

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview or the last?

David A. Riley: The most important thing is to support writing and writers. And to try and give your favourite writers some kind of positive feedback, especially those who have never been fortunate enough to have achieved best selling status, as this is the only kind of thing to give them a boost and encourage them to write more. I am a great believer in the written word and, though there is far more fame and glory these days in TV and films, a well-written book or story still has far, far more to offer. If films and TV disappeared tomorrow, I could live with it. If books did, I couldn’t.

David A. Riley writes horror, fantasy and SF stories. In 1995, along with his wife, Linden, he edited and published a fantasy/SF magazine, Beyond. His first professionally published story was in The 11th Pan Book of Horror in 1970. This was reprinted in 2012 in The Century’s Best Horror Fiction edited by John Pelan for Cemetery Dance. He has had numerous stories published by Doubleday, DAW, Corgi, Sphere, Roc, Playboy Paperbacks, Robinsons, etc., and in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, Fantasy Tales. His first collection of stories (4 long stories and a novelette) was published by Hazardous Press in 2012, His Own Mad Demons. A Lovecraftian novel, The Return, was published by Blood Bound Books in the States in 2013. A second collection of his stories, all of which were professionally published prior to 2000, The Lurkers in the Abyss & Other Tales of Terror, was launched at the World Fantasy Convention in 2013. His fantasy novel, Goblin Mire, was published by Parallel Universe Publications in 2015. Their Cramped Dark World is his third collection of short stories. With his wife, Linden, he runs a small press called Parallel Universe Publications, which has so far published ten books. His stories have been translated into Italian, German, Spanish and Russian.

The Return

It was never going to be easy to return for one last look at the streets where he spent his childhood years. Even knowing this, Gary still felt he had to make the effort, just this once, to see if they were really as bad as he remembered. In a few months demolition was due to start on Grudge End… When Gary Morgan travels north to lie low after a gangland shooting in London, a childhood friend is violently maimed within hours of his arrival. Decades after escaping the blight of his hometown, he finds himself ensnared in a place he hates more than any other.Feuding families, bloodthirsty syndicates, and hostile forces older than mankind all play a role in the escalating chaos surrounding Gary Morgan. Now he must unravel the mysteries of Grudge End and his own past or meet his doom in the grip of an ancient, unimaginable evil.

Moloch’s Children

Elm Tree House had a sinister history but few realised the true demonic power that lurked within its forbidding depths till it was taken over by a cult determined to make use of its horrendous secret.

Goblin Mire

Many years have passed since Elves defeated and killed the last Goblin king. Now the Goblins are growing stronger in their mire, and Mickle Gorestab, one of the few remaining veterans of that war, is determined they will fight once more, this time aided by a renegade Elf who has delved into forbidden sorcery and hates his kind even more than his Goblin allies. Murder, treachery and the darkest of all magics follow in a maelstrom of blood, violence and unexpected alliances. Facing up to the cold cruelty of the Elves, Mickle Gorestab stands out as the epitome of grim, barbaric heroism, determined to see the wrongs of his race avenged and a restoration of the Goblin King.

Into the Dark

There’s a serial killer at loose in London. Janice, who has a chronic fear of the dark, stumbles into a relationship with the man who may secretly be the murderer. Neither know that in the North of England, in a place previously owned by his dead mother, activities are taking place that may unleash a horror that could spell the end of civilisation in Britain – an ancient evil that would make the activities of any serial killer look like child’s play by comparison. Could a psychotic killer be the only man capable of ending this? Andrew Jennings is also known as David A. Riley.

The Lurkers in the Abyss & Other Tales of Terror

David A. Riley began writing horror stories while still at school and had his first professional sale to Pan Books in 1969, which was The Lurkers in the Abyss, published in The Eleventh Pan Book of Horror Stories. This story was chosen for inclusion in The Century’s Best Horror Fiction in 2012. Over the years he has had numerous stories published in Britain and the United States plus translations into German, Spanish, Italian and Russian. His fiction has appeared in World of Horror, Fear, Whispers, Fantasy Tales, Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries and Lovecraft e-Zine. His first collection, His Own Mad Demons was published by Hazardous Press in 2012. The Return, a Lovecraftian horror novel was published by Blood Bound Books in 2013. This second collection brings together under one cover seventeen of the author’s best blood-curdling stories.

Their Cramped Dark World & Other Tales

Their Cramped Dark World and Other Tales is David A. Riley’s third collection of short fiction, spanning 40 years of publication, from appearances in New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural #1 in 1971, to the Ninth Black Book of Horror in 2012.He has had numerous stories published by Doubleday, DAW, Corgi, Sphere, Roc, Playboy Paperbacks, Robinsons, etc., and in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, and Fantasy Tales. His stories have been translated into Italian, German, Spanish and Russian. His Lovecraftian crime noir horror novel, The Return, was published by Blood Bound Books in 2013. His fantasy novel, Goblin Mire, was published by Parallel Universe Publications in 2015.Table of Contents Hoody (first published in When Graveyards Yawn, Crowswing Books, 2006) A Bottle of Spirits (first published in New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural 2, 1972) No Sense in Being Hungry, She Thought (first published in Peeping Tom #20, 1996) Now and Forever More (first published in The Second Black Book of Horror, 2008) Romero’s Children (first published in The Seventh Black Book of Horror, 2010) Swan Song (first published in the Ninth Black Book of Horror, 2012) The Farmhouse (first published in New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural 1, 1971) The Last Coach Trip (first published in The Eighth Black Book of Horror, 2011) The Satyr’s Head (first published in The Satyr’s Head & Other Tales of Terror, 1975) Their Cramped Dark World (first published in The Sixth Black Book of Horror, 2010).

His Own Mad Demons

David A. Riley’s first professionally published story was in the 11th Pan Book of Horror in 1970. Since then he has been published in numerous anthologies from ROC Books, DAW Books, Robinson Books, Corgi Books, Doubleday, Playboy Paperbacks, and Sphere. Two recent notable anthologies in which he has appeared are The Century’s Best Horror Fiction from Cemetery Dance, and Otto Pensler’s Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! from Vintage Books.In 1995, David and his wife Linden edited and published Beyond, a fantasy/SF magazine. His stories have been published in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, Fantasy Tales and World of Horror.His Own Mad Demons contains his stories “Lock-In”, “The Worst of All Possible Places”, “The Fragile Mask on His Face”, “Their Own Mad Demons”, and “The True Spirit”.