SHORT STORY: Powdered Creamer Campfires by Chris Garrett

Powdered Creamer Campfires:
An Are You Afraid of the Dark Fan Fiction Short Story

She doesn’t understand anything that has happened in the last 24 hours. Meghan was in Florida when the day started. But now in the late hours of the night, she is tied up and blindfolded somewhere in the great white north. For what seemed to be hours of walking, she was asked to sit down. Terrified, she began to blindly feel for the ground and came across a bolder or some sort of stone by the feel on her finger tips. The mysterious strangers helped her to her seat.

While she rested in the dark, the smell of pine trees surrounded her along with whistling of the wind. She had a gut feeling that she was somewhere deep in the wilderness . “Why me ?” She kept asking herself. “I never meant harm to anyone.” While Meghan was trying to find answers to why she is in the middle of no where , her kid nappers were prepping for a bond fire.

She could here the snapping of sticks and the striking of matches. As the flames begin to grow and the heat began to intensify, Meghan began to panic and beg. “Oh my god! They are going to burn me alive! Please don’t kill me!!”

Her plea had defused the tension in the Cool Canadian air. Within seconds, the blindfold was taken off. “Relax! Not planning on it.” Meghan couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Writers from across the country sitting around a bond fire. It took a moment to recognize most of them, but as her eyes adjusted to the dark, she realized she knew all culprits in her taking. She’s at least read one published piece of work from everyone in her visual. They were all casually dressed and sitting on stone made benches and thrones. Except one. “Is this some kind of joke? None of you live in this country. What are you doing here? What am I doing here?” Meghan questioned the group surrounding her. “We were chosen. You were chosen.” A man’s voice answered from behind her seat.

“Chosen for what?” As he made his way to the empty stoned throne across from her, she couldn’t help but to recognize his voice.

He stopped at his seat. Still facing away from her as he answered “ Chosen to give others nightmares unlike any they ever had.” He turned towards her with a smile. Meghan’s heart skipped a beat due to the shock of knowing who the ring leader was of the night. It was Chris Garrett. “Welcome to the club, Mrs. Hyden.”

“You’re in for quite a night.” At this point she was speechless. Instead of asking anymore questions, she was curious to see if Chris was going to volunteer the answers as if he already knew what she was going to ask. “This group is famous for being infamous. For years, former members find others to take their place to tell tales of horror and suspense . Tonight, we carry the tradition.” Chris sat down and put his hands over the fire. “Tonight’s tale is about sacrificing everything for what you love.”

He looked around to catch a glimpse of everyone’s reaction. Especially Meghan’s for this was so new to her. He reached into a pouch beside him and scooped up a hand full of powdered creamer. “Submitted for the approval of the midnight society, I call this story…” Before he finished his sentence he launched the powder into the fire causing an uprising in the flames. “The Tale Of The Restless Rockstar.”

“I got in! I got in!” Patrick pushed himself away from his laptop and and crawled onto his bed. He got in the face of his best friend Jack. “I got the job!” Jack still swiping through his phone, never took his eyes off the screen. “Great, what job?” Now Patrick was on all two feet jumping on the bed breaking Jack’s concentration. “You know what job!” “What? The roadie thing?”

For years, Patrick followed his idol. The internationally known recording artist, Drago. He was obsessed. Only a few were selected to be his stage hands. Rumors were that Drago’s stage hands were payed very well and given the rockstar treatment like himself. After months of waiting, the good news had arrived. He would be working for Drago.

A few weeks later, The guys went to Drago’s show in town. This was Patrick’s first show on the tour. Jack wasn’t sure what he would do without his best friend but he was happy for him.

“Look at this place” Patrick was in awe as he approached the stage. The show was not supposed to start for a few hours but the front was set up early so the concert would go on at the time planed. ”You haven’t seen nothing yet!” Drago’s tour manager chimed in. “Hey Chad! It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. This is my best friend, Jack.” Chad smiled and shook his hand. “Hello.” Chad stepped back to speak. “So, here’s the plan, I got you guys 2 all access tour passes. We’ll party a little then we got to get some rest before we hit the next town.” “Sounds like a plan.” “And Jack, Patrick can give you a good recommendation if you’re interested in joining the team. We can have you ready to roll with us by the end of the night.”

Jack took a second to think about his offer. But he was a home body. Patrick loved adventuring and traveling. He just didn’t feel the same. ”I’m good, but thank you for the offer and the passes for tonight.” “Hey! It’s no problem at all. You guys enjoy the show. Patrick, I’ll find you when we’re ready to go.” As the boys roamed around back stage. Patrick found it odd that there was only a handful of backstage crew members present.. maybe everyone is resting up for tonight.They passed a tour bus with all the windows covered up by duct tape and cardboard. The bus was rocking from left to right. “Looks like someone is having fun.” Jack joked.

The boys had a great night watching Drago on stage. His face was covered in black and white paint and has been for years. He looked exactly the same as he did in 1986. He had no shirt on, but only some black denim jeans and an old pair of boots from what they could make out. Drago’s music was so mesmerizing. As if he was the pied piper of metal. Jack had a gut feeling that Drago was more than a musician.

After that night, they went their separate ways. Patrick promised his best friend that he will stay in touch. But Jack had lost almost all contact with him. His social media post went from daily to monthly, to nothing. He would frequent Drago’s social media groups in hopes to find post from Patrick or at least about him. It Seemed like a dead end. Until one day someone replied to a post.

Rick Steady: Hey man! I was in a band that toured with Drago back in the 90’s.

Rick Steady: We need to talk.

Jack pulled up to a beautiful 3 story house. Surrounded by an iron gate. When he knocked on the door, a man in his mid forties had answered. He was medium height chubby gentleman, he was wearing a blue Bandanna on his head and a plethora of necklaces around his neck which dangled around his Iron Maiden tank top that could barely fit him.

Jack looked at him with curiosity. “ Rick?” “Rickey! Who’s at the door?” Rick leaned back to yell. “Don’t worry about it, Mom!. It’s just a friend!” Then he re directed his focus back to his guest. “Are you Jack?” “Um….. yeah.” He responded . “Great, let’s walk.” Jack had shut the door behind Rick and followed as he charged out of the house and into the back yard.

“So, Long story short, Your best friends boss is a 200 year old vampire that uses the rock n roll life style as a front for his identity and feeding time.” Still following behind, Jack tries to make sense of what he just heard. “Wow, how long have you been sitting on that one. “Since people stopped believing my story. I literally saw the guy drain the life out of my band mates.”” How did you escape?”” I agreed to do his bidding for a few years. I became his familiar.” Rick busted open the door to his garage. A combination of Heavy Metal band merch and hunting weapons hung on the wall and covered counter tops.

“What’s a familiar?” “A familiar is a human servant he works for the vamps during the day while they sleep. For example, you’re pal Pat could possibly be one.” “Ok, so what do we do. How can we save him?” Jack asked as he stared at Rick from across his work desk.

Rick begins pulling out tools of the trade for a vampire hunter. He lays out crucifixes, sharp wooden stakes ,etc. Jack inspects the items. “Where did you get all of this?” These tools and relics have been handed down by my family from generation to generation.” Jack was not amused . “Ok! Ok! Some of it came from Amazon and the rest was from EBay. But my point here is that we are going to have to kill Drago.”That’s your great plan?” Rick crossed his arms and nodded.”Great!! Not only is Patrick going to die, we are too!”

For weeks, the two would meet at Rick’s house to plan the slaying of Drago. They studied and practiced using the tools of the trade. They planned a trip to catch an upcoming show. Jack was nervous, but was willing to do anything to save his best friend.

After a four hour drive and a good nights sleep, they arrived at the Toriadora Amphitheater at the peak of the afternoon. With different variations of garlic on their clothing , holy water and crucifixes by their side, they began their search for Drago.

They made their way through the parking lot and into the stage area. They were not prepared for what they were walking into. Rick got in a fighting stance. “It looks like someone beat us here.” The two made their way to stage that was covered with dead bodies of crew members. Some on the stage floor and others hung on the props in the air like puppets on strings. The floor was showered with blood from above. Jack went to the stage in search of Patrick while Rick stood guard with a wooden stake in hand. His heart raced while searching for his best friend but slowed down when he realized that he was no where to be found.

“Help me.” Jack and Rick heard someone in the amphitheater standing room floor. They took the stage staircase down to find Drago’s manager on the floor propped up against the stage.

They rushed to his aid. “What happed here, Chad?” He leaned over to spit up some blood. “ I don’t know, but we got to find Patrick and the others. Can you guys help me up?” Before Rick and Jack helped him to his feet, Chad pulled out two syringes from each pocket. While the men helped him along with an arm wrapped around each of his , Chad injected them with Midazolem . The guys moved quickly from Chad, holding their necks. But not quick enough for they had lost their balance and hit the cement . “Oh come on guys! We knew you were coming”.

Jack had awakened face up in a pitch black room with the sound of paranormal winds howling around him. In the corner of his left eye, he noticed light. He turned his head to find a low wattage lamp with no shade. The soft glow was enough to show a few feet off its surroundings.

What was once some soft scattering and thumping in the room, became louder as he came to his senses, Jack was terrified of what he saw. A few feet above the the lamp, was a body. He watched in horror as the person’s legs would kick and tense up as if they were trying to kick out of submission in mid air.

He quickly began frisking his pockets for protection but soon realized Chad had dis armed him while he was unconscious. He scurried across the floor to grab the lamp. Not knowing his next move, he raised the lamp to get a glance of what he was up against.

Rick Steady’s upper torso was pinned against the ceiling by something or someone. Their legs were wrapped around his waste. Rick looked at Jack with lifeless eyes. As the creature was jerking and pulling at his neck. He could hear the consuming and digesting of meat. Every time Rick would gain consciousness he would begin kicking fiercely, trying to break free. The beast like being with its webbed hands would grab Rick’s head and firmly smash into the ceiling and kept feeding. It was obvious that Rick was not leaving this room alive.

Aggravated by the lamp light, the creature pulled away from his meal. It was Drago, his face covered in blood and faded white paint. He gave Jack an ice cold look. “Eat!” he yelled. “Eat!” Confused and scared, Jack began looking for a way out. But before he could turn around he felt something sharp and cold in his back. He was stabbed.

Someone whispered to him from behind as the knife went deeper into his mid spine area and then shifted towards his upper body. “I’m sorry dude.” Jack hit the ground. Still breathing but could not move, he was paralyzed.

Face down, Jack was able to move his head from a face forwarding position to the side . He saw someone coming from around the corner but couldn’t see a face. “I loved you like a brother. But understand, this is I wanted and I’m great full for all your support now and in the afterlife.” A wild Hyena like laugh came from the person staring down at him. It was his best friend Patrick , but not the Patrick he grew up with. His face was ghoulish grey, his eyes were black and yellow, and his teeth were sharp like a wolf. He got on his knees and began to pat his best friends back.

“I tried my best to disappear, I ignored your calls, stopped all communication. But you just couldn’t leave it alone. And for that I will always appreciate you.” Patrick’s eyes grew wide and he began to foam at the mouth. “ But you have to understand, it’s hard to eat well on the road.” He grabbed Jack by the hair and violently sunk his teeth into the lifeless body of his best friend.

The End

Chris looked up from the fire to catch everyone’s reactions. “In the end Patrick lost everything normal about his life, and Jack lost his life to better his best friend. And if asked, I’m sure he would voluntarily do it again.

Everyone nodded and applauded. Meghan gave a standing ovation. “That was fantastic!” “I’m so glad we brought you here.” Chris went in to continue. “We haven’t had a late night snack in a while.” Meghan was confused. As she began to question Chris’s statement another writer had slit her throat. They grabbed a wine glass and held close to her slit neck blood poured out, and began filling it. Like fine wine, he took a sip, swished it around his mouth and spit it out.

He looked at Meghan as she bled out on twigs and dirt. “Well guys, order up!” He and the other writers retracted their fangs and began to feast upon Mrs Hyden like a vampire all you can eat buffet.

He smiled at his group as he put the fire out. “Meeting adjourned .”

SHORT STORY: Mister-Man by Eric Butler


Debbie’s jaw clenched in anger as she stared at her son’s tear-streaked face. Another meltdown in public, another long embarrassing walk back to the car while strangers’ stares burrowed into the back of her skull as she did all she could to calm him down. After they arrived home, she locked herself in her bathroom, waiting for his tantrum to stop before facing him again. Her stomach twisted in knots as she struggled to keep her anger in check. Eventually, he quieted down. Debbie waited, taking deep breaths while thinking happy thoughts that did nothing more than remind her she was anything but.

When she opened the door, she wasn’t sure what to expect. Jon lay on the floor, curled under his favourite blanket, holding onto the cause of all this misery. Mister-Man, the stuffed monkey, glared at her with its one good glass eye. A gift from her late husband, and the only thing Jon would speak to.

The doctors suggested replacing it might encourage Jon to branch out. All it encouraged was another epic tantrum. Would it be too much for one direct word? Instead, every conversation had to go through Mister-Man … just like when his father was alive.


Just one word, but she was suddenly energized. Debbie rushed forward and snatched Mister-Man. She hurried to the living room; afraid she’d lose her nerve. At the fireplace she paused, staring at the toy one last time. God, I hate you. A smile crossed her face as she remembered saying those exact words to Jon’s father at the end. She tossed Mister-Man into the flames, imagining its tiny screams.

Stopping in the kitchen to pour a glass of wine, Debbie decided to take a nice hot bath. She danced through the house, skipping and twirling to an imagined beat. She turned on the faucets, splashed in some bubble bath, and slipped out of her clothes. Frowning, Debbie swore a scraping noise echoed down the hall. Leaning closer, she strained to hear over the water splashing.

A sudden bang against the door startled Debbie causing her to stumble back, wine sloshing over her hand. Furious, Debbie jerked the door open.

“Enough,” she shouted, ready to reprimand Jon for his newest outburst.

Her eyes widened as she gasped. Mister-Man stood in the hall, hugging a butcher knife to stay upright. Its faux fur was singed, exposing angry pink skin underneath. A grotesque smile split the monkey’s face, exposing two rows of human teeth.

“I won’t be as easy to remove this time,” Mister-Man said, a perfect mimic of her late husband’s voice.

Debbie blinked back at the doll. This can’t be. The monkey used the knife to drag itself closer. Debbie shrieked as she stumbled back, slipping in the spilled wine. Her neck struck the tub and after an initial burst of pain, Debbie went numb.

She blinked at the stuffed monkey as it inched closer, a wide smile on its face.

“Don’t worry … my dear. You won’t feel a thing.”

-The End-

Boo-graphy: Eric Butler is an indie horror writer who lives deep in the heart of Texas. When he’s not writing novels and stories for anthologies, he’s doing the bidding of two adorable huskies. He’s been married for over 20 years and has a teenager in the house, so he won’t be running out of horror material for quite some time.

Christmas Takeover 2022: Dani Brown

Sugarplum Roaches

Shifting grey mist filled the darkened corner until the shape of a hunched over man appeared. Cockroaches exhaled stale air while a woman slept alone in her bed.

Tendrils of decay spread from Leon’s insides, seeping into her dreams as he stepped closer to snoring heap. A trail of muddy footprints followed. A modem flashed signal in the opposite corner of her rented bedroom. The pink and fluffy evidence suggested she tried to make it feel like home.

But pink and fluffy could only hide the mould lurking underneath. It couldn’t silence the rats or disguise the smell of their bodies rotting beneath the floor and above the ceiling.

His chest rose and fell with cockroach breath. Ribs creaked wrapped in putrid gore and laced together in old rags and sticky honey. Her nearest neighbour – the girl next door, called out in her sleep through the thin walls. Leon’s neck creaked turning around to look. The sound was enough to stir dead rats until they started scratching in the ceiling and beneath the floor.

Cockroaches fell out of his mouth and ceased to pretend to be tobacco-stained teeth once he grinned. Honey filled muddy footprints left behind on the floor. The puddles caught a sliver of silver moonlight and refused to let go.

It is a common misconception that every Christmas Eve there’s a Full Moon. One calendar month is longer than one Lunar month. But Leon gave up arguing the point around the same time the cockroaches took the last of his tobacco-stained teeth.

A plastic tree hung with pound-shop baubles in a desperate attempt at Christmas cheer. Mould climbed in from the shadows and traced the plastic trunk. Mist crept in every night while the woman slept in her bed.

Mould wrapped the cheap pink baubles in long green and black fingers. The faint attempt at Christmas cheer was tainted, but that was nothing a social media filter couldn’t fix.

Leon’s patched trench coat knocked the cheap plastic branches. He held his hand out to stop it from falling to the floor. A habit he held onto from long ago. His insides splashed against his bones with the sudden movement.

Sad and alone in the single room with plastic branches that drooped and cried mouldy tears (but only when the cameras weren’t around). A fly landed on the plastic angel with her painted eyes and hair.

Worms ate Leon’s tear ducts long ago. But even if they hadn’t, he wouldn’t have a tear to shed for the likes of the woman sleeping in the bed.

The only presents underneath her sad pound shop tree were the empty boxes she wrapped herself. But, still, she told herself she had friends. So many friends. They liked so many of her social media posts.

Empty boxes didn’t make any sound when they fell to the floor. They looked great beneath a filter on social media. And earned comments from so many of her so-called friends.

An old plastic music/jewellery box leftover from childhood opened on its own. The plastic ballerina twirled into life. Forever pirouetting to music distorted in the cold mist. A few photo-filters cleaned it up for the online audience approval the woman sleeping in bed craved (needed to survive and feel alive, if only for a few seconds of happy brain chemicals celebrating before the emptiness spread).

He hovered over her bed, fresh out of Christmas cheer. Fresh out of breath, until he pounded his chest with his fist and the remaining internal cockroaches started to hiss again.

Social media influencer was a tough-sell. But, still, it didn’t hurt to dream. To brown nose and lick online boots for likes and laughs. Her blonde hair fell over her pillow. That was mouldy too, with fuzzy farms growing in between the creases. Those filters, again, concealed such despair.

Leon came for the lonely, the lost, the trapped. It was long before her time, but where he planned to take her, she wouldn’t even notice. They never did as long as their phones still chimed online approval and email signatures and newsletters wished them a Happy goddamn Holiday.

Honey dripped from the plastic ballerina trapped in a forever pirouette. Two black dots in a white circle served as eyes. The paint started to peel long before phantom bees built a hive.

Rats gnawed on the corpses of their recently fallen brothers in the ceiling, even as Leon’s presence brought them back from the brink of the void. His head rolled all the way back when he tried to look up. A mouldy scarf stolen from the woman’s floor secured it back to his neck and hid the loose flaps of skin.

Four plastic pillars tried to create the illusion of a four-poster bed. Pink feathers strung together for a princess-effect. But the feathers were plastic too. LED fairy lights twinkled in the dullness of a dying battery. Mould climbed down from the ceiling and wrapped around the fake four-poster bed. She forgot to put curtains around it to keep out the Christmas chill.

Cockroaches flew landing on the walls until Leon called for them again. The plastic ballerina’s painted lips melted into a scream. Honey dripped onto old plastic bracelets and smudged high school love letters.

Shouldn’t that have been sent via text, my dear? Leon chortled, dislodging a sleeping rat from deep inside his bowels. It scratched at his insides, searching for the way out. Only to end up like its distant cousins in the ceiling and floor.

Leon looked at the sleeping woman. She kept meaningless letters through the years. Not like there were many, but Leon liked the little touches of sentiment kept by the desperate and lonely. Some old thing from the past to remind them of their humanity beneath the fake filters designed to make them look like a Barbie.

He looked around. She forgot to string up plastic mistletoe to lure her plastic man into a meaningless kiss before they fell into the single bed for one night of meaningless sex. He’d be the one doing the walk of shame in the morning. Or, maybe he’d stick around all winter?

There wouldn’t be the opportunity now. Leon doubted she’d notice. They never did.

All relationship-style transactions were now carried out by mobile phones and laptop computers with specialised USB attachments and controls for the other party. It didn’t matter if the more specialised attention came from a pay-per-click website.

Honey weighed heavy on the cheap plastic baubles hanging from the pound shop Christmas tree. It couldn’t wash away the mould. Phantom bees buzzed inside Leon’s head. Honey filled the cavity that used to house his heart.

Long fingernails sharpened into claws curled into Qs and scarped against her temples. They took a little sampling of her skin and a single strand of her blonde hair.

But it wasn’t enough to satisfy the phantom bees buzzing in Leon’s head. They should all be dead now, except for the hibernating queen.

The modem’s lights declared their full-strength in green. Dreamwaves twirled into Leon’s decaying brain landing in an arabesque to disturb the phantom bees and force them into stinging his skull.

That’s where they stuck. Tormenting him forever. But there was a way out, once his auditorium was full.

She didn’t have a name beyond that of Principle Dancer (and occasionally princess for the right online Daddy with all the proper credit cards – American Express isn’t accepted here). Principle Dancer that was her online handle too.

Mist traced pink flower wallpaper patterns in an outline of black mould. His toothless smile widened letting old cockroaches fall out. A cheap plastic Father Christmas wall decoration mirrored Leon’s smile, but it couldn’t imitate his laugh.

Fits of laughter sent Leon’s breathing roaches into coughing fits and woke another internal rat. The rats above and the rats below searched for holes to crawl out of and plant poison for the occupants of the HMO.

A pimple burst on the sleeping woman’s chin. Pus called cockroaches over for midnight lunch. A filter could erase any imperfections and make her look just like everyone else in the social media feeds. And that’s what they were, feeds for the lonely, the desperate and the lost.

Hours spent in front of the mirror. Her dance instructor held a riding crop. Bare thighs no longer felt the sting until she craved it at night and begged for it on her knees at some back street private members club. She wasn’t allowed her phone while on her knees begging to feel. So, no photos existed, but the PD in bed believed it was real.

The dance started again. She smiled through it all in the way she was trained to do. Big pearly whites, expensive Veneers covered up the screaming from the void.

Yellow-tinted curly-Q fingernails swallowed silver moonlight poking through the grey mist. Long strands of greasy hair fell over Leon’s face. His fingernails traced her lips. She recoiled from her dance instructor’s whip.

Cockroaches hissed. The audience cheered. A bit too rowdy for the ballet but every Christmas, every single person played pretend at airs and graces for the approval of their social media feeds.

Social media notifications, a cruel dancer instructor and BDSM silenced the Principle Dancer’s childhood friends. They leered somewhere out in the crowd. Drunk on cheap imported beer.

But she was too wrapped up in the social media approval of eating a burger dripping with grease while wearing a tutu and leg warmers to notice.

Leon’s fingers burst their black stitching on her face. The cockroaches paused their breath. If he dissolves, they cease to exist and become part of the creeping mist.  

Mist seeped behind the cracks and the wallpaper started to peel. The audience determined to show social media that they too had some class. Phones flashed despite the signs that said NO.  

That reminded him. Leon reached into his pocket, grateful for the upgrade to the new waterproof model just one week before his death. A little gift from his grandchildren that found him to be oh-so unkewl.

Even in death, followers demanded a near-constant stream of meaningless content. It kept them fed.

He snapped a selfie of himself with the sleeping woman. The camera focused on grave fluids seeping through his burst stitches and his fingers clutching a few strands of her blonde hair.

Young cockroaches exhaled in Leon’s decaying lungs. The sleeping woman twitched. Dreamwaves paused; Leon urged continuation with as much force as he could muster from some deep cavern where his heart used to sit.  

He put all the right hashtags on his photo and waited for the likes. Likes gave him some sort of weird half-life with rats chewing through the rags that held his body together. And the cockroaches that would cease to exist if he didn’t fill his damned quota.

The woman’s moans looked for a wall to bounce. Basic backwards borrées made her trip. A rat became lost in Leon’s decayed intestines and started to eat. It too needed to be fed. The audience were too wrapped up in whatever else they saw up there on that very same stage.

Cockroaches dropped from the walls. The mould traced the pink flower pattern they left behind and tried to pull the wallpaper back to the wall. The rat fell out of what remained of Leon’s butthole. Phantom bees buzzed in his head. The rat scratched at his muddy boots before it ran off to join its cousins and friends somewhere in the ceilings or floors.

Her ankle twisted with a threatening break. The end of her career. Only then did her smile falter. Leon leant over her lips as if searching for a dream-kiss.

He tasted her sour breath intermingled with her sour soul. Phantom bees dropped dead. They finally felt a Christmas chill.

Strands of greasy hair clumped together in long, dirty rats’ tails and fell over his face. He couldn’t push them away with the phone still in his hand. Every moment recorded and uploaded for instant shallow approval.

Tendrils of black mist pregnant with rats and cockroaches seeped in from stage left. The P.D didn’t notice spotting too many chaîné turns for the audience to count until they slowed down their recorded footage. Leon kept the phantom bees for himself.

Leon breathed in exhaled moans for the baby cockroaches creating a sense of warm breath. The ballerina on stage glowed even as she realised she couldn’t draw another breath. Cold mist traced her ankles. Her pink ballet shoes were damp and covered in pink worms fat on the feast found in fresh graves.

Auditorium lights buzzed on just as she reached into a breathless arabesque. Cockroaches twitched their brown wings. Leon’s lips covered her sleeping mouth. Mould sped up its race down her fake four-poster bed.

The audience didn’t clap as they normally did. Hollow eyes stared. Relevé then bourée all while what remained in her lungs caught on fire.

A bulb burst and wires sparked somewhere above the audience. They sat watching a series of dizzying chaîné turns with their hollow eyes.

Party-eyes makeup couldn’t hide the creeping hollowness inside. Cameras paused the dizzying display from the stage for the pleasure of the online audience. No one existed beyond their social media profiles and filters.

The tendrils of decay only just started to climb Leon’s fingers. Mist circled his legs and dropped worms onto the luxury carpet. The dance started again. Forever on repeat.

A ballerina twirled landing in an arabesque with her leg to the audience and a cheeky grin thrown over her shoulder. Tendrils of decay waited at stage left, strangling the corpse de ballet. Tentacles caressed their throats and pried apart their lips for the most tender of a kiss.

One final leap and the Principle Dancer would belong to Leon. The corpse de ballet was nothing more than her dream rehashing old memories. But the audience were as real as the mist.

His excitement sped the rot seeping in from his insides. His knuckle brushed against the dreamer’s cheek. Soon, he’d be free.

Cockroaches fell from every mouth watching the girl on stage. Leon couldn’t breathe and neither could the audience in the women’s dreams. The cockroaches created an illusion of sour breath though. They, at least, were alive.

The Principle Dancer watched herself piqué from her dusty seat.  Leon left behind muddy footprints in the rented bedroom. The cheap plastic Christmas tree fell to the floor. The plastic ballerina continued her twirl slowly drowning in the honey left behind.

Cockroaches ate the Principle Dancer’s eyes. But she could still see and watch herself repeat the same steps on stage. The woman sat next to her saw something else up there and documented it all. If it didn’t get posted online, she’d cease to exist.

It took years before the last of the milky-white orbs were nothing more than hollows sat in a grinning skull. But the same phone she had when Leon took her in the night captured the entire ballet. The approval of followers gave whatever remained, trapped and screaming somewhere inside her skull, a little glimmer of hope and the pretence of life.

A man towards the back started to break the spell when he heard jingle bells. The rags wore thin and couldn’t support his neck. His head rolled off and hit the floor.

His nearest neighbours turned from watching themselves on stage and snapped some photos, adding a few filters for their social media accounts. An extra filter of Christmas tree tinsel made the decapitated skull that bit festive for a bit of Christmas cheer. Rats chewed out of his stomach and spilled onto the floor in a puddle of gore to increase his nearest neighbour’s social media popularity.

Leon flexed his fingers, listening for the pop. The auditorium was nearly full. He was nearly through. Jingle bells sounded outside somewhere. Christmas always filled the lonely with extra despair. Their existence ready to fizzle out if the Wi-Fi and 5G goes down.

<Pose and wait for social media approval and online cheers>

Boo-graphy: Suitably labelled “The Queen of Filth”, extremist author Dani Brown’s style of dark and twisted writing and deeply disturbing stories has amassed a worrying sized cult following featuring horrifying tales such as “Ghetto Super Skank”, “Becoming,” “56 Seconds”, “Sparky the Spunky Robot” and the hugely popular “Ketamine Addicted Pandas”. Merging eroticism with horror, torture and other areas that most authors wouldn’t dare, each of Dani’s titles will crawl under your skin, burrow inside you, and make you question why you are coming back for more.

For more information and online approval


Meant to Be

Outside, the waves crash against the bank. The seagulls caw.

I take a deep breath, the smell of pine fills my nose, and sit up. I scratch the dry marks on my neck, and stare idly at the evergreen tree standing in the corner. The dark green bulbs distort the reflection of the living room. Strings of pine cones, holly, yew, and mistletoe are dimly illuminated by the yellow-white lights.

Underneath sits a present, wrapped in green, bound in red. A tag protrudes from the top. To My Love

I laugh and snatch the card from the table by my side. Read it again.

I can’t do this anymore, Rebecca…

The words blur. I wipe my eyes. Skip ahead.

I won’t be coming on break, or ever…

…My parents found out… 

…I’m sorry.

I fling the card away, sit back and run my hands over my face. The waves crashing on the bank are louder now. Calling. The seagulls, if they still remain, are quiet.

I stand and pick up the present, quickly undo its wrappings. The box is opened and inside, sitting on a green silk cushion, is a snorkel and a rolled wet-suit.

Removing the wet-suit, I drop the box to the floor. Running a thumb over the slick surface it feels almost life-like, but not quite. Would’ve been good enough for her. 

I move from the tree, through the living room, into the kitchen to the backdoor. A faint, frigid breeze leaks through the cracks. The scent of salt and brine replace pine. I shiver. Goosebumps stand on pale skin. Not from the cold. From anticipation, excitement.

The door is opened and I step down from the house onto the craggy rise. Take the icy, worn path down to the bank. Seagulls watch from white splattered, dark boulders. 

Gray-blue water laps over my bare feet, soaking the bottom of my jeans. The cold bites at first, but soon is welcome.

I let the wetsuit fall where it may, push the thought of her into the recesses of my mind. I tear off my clothes until I’m nude. I walk into the tide and my body sings. It yearns for more. The marks on my neck are now damp, slick, and open, shut, open. Winter air fills my lungs, and I dive into the Sea. Pale flesh tears like wrapping paper from oily cerulean muscle. Once brown eyes now onyx. Transparent membrane webs in-between fingers and toes. Chitin seals my sex and breasts, becoming nothing more than slick bare mounds. 

I am meant to be with the one I love during the holiday.

And now I am.

Boo-graphy: Micah Castle is a weird fiction and horror writer. His stories have appeared in various magazines, websites, and anthologies. Currently, he has a novelette out through D&T Publishing, and three collections.

While away from the keyboard, he enjoys spending time with his wife, spending hours in the woods, playing with his animals, and can typically be found reading a book somewhere in his Pennsylvania home.

CHRISTMAS TAKEOVER 2023: David Quantick

Driving Home for Christmas

I can hear her.

 “Can we have the radio on?” my daughter said. 18 years old, Sandi with an “I”, coming home from college for the first time and she likes rock music – real rock music like Deep Purple and Biffy Clyro and Black Sabbath. I didn’t think kids liked rock music any more, but it seems they do. They also like covering their arms with tattoos and colouring their hair weird shades of urgh. (I can cope with the tattoos and the dye – I’ve been there too and at least it’s not drugs – but why is the dye always such a horrible colour? What’s wrong with bright colours? These kids colour their hair in pastel shades and it’s just wrong).

I shook my head.

“It’s broken,” I lied.

It wasn’t broken. I just couldn’t take it anymore. The voices, howling in the static. The voices of the dead.

I can hear her voice.

The dead, it turns out, have their own stories to tell, and no-one to tell them to. Elvis, his voice echoing in the dark. John Lennon, telling me how he feels for ever and ever. Kurt Cobain, Freddie Mercury, Ian Curtis, all wanting me to hear their stories. They don’t know that I’ve already heard them – how can they, where they are there’s no rock press, no ultimate guides to the music of – and they probably don’t care. They just want to talk. And I drive, and I listen, and sometimes I tune out.

“ – I still love her, even after what she did – ”

Elvis was the first, I think. I had the radio on, some gooey oldies station playing Misty or something like that, and I was about to press the button, put on another station, when I heard the voice. It sounded like a drowning man, but who drowns on the radio? The voice was familiar too, the deep Southern drawl, and at first I thought it was the idiot DJ, trying to sound like Elvis. But what he was saying was wrong.

“ – if you see her, tell her how I feel. There never was anyone else, she needs to know that – ”

That sort of thing, over and over. I pictured him, tumbling into a well, lost in a tunnel, wondering what the darkness all around was, kept going only by the need to talk to someone, to tell his story.

“It’s broken,” I told Sandi.

“No it’s not,” she replied, with the directness of youth, and turned the radio on. Immediately the car filled with the sound of stadium metal.

“Yeah!” Sandi shouted. “Ozzie!” And she made a devil sign.

“Don’t do that,” I said.

“Why not?” she asked, giving it full-on devil sign jazz hands, and I didn’t say anything, because I couldn’t think of a reply. Or rather I could, and it was ‘because you’re four years old and it’s weird’, but she wasn’t four, she was eighteen and she was coming home from college for Christmas.

Elvis was the first, but he wasn’t alone for long. The next voice came soon after, though it was hardly a voice at all, more of a shiver in the dark.

The stereo was playing an oldies playlist I’d made, soul and doowop and r’n’b, and the song playing at that moment was Why Must I Be A Teenager In Love?, a goofy gallop of a song that I’d always loved. The singer was Frankie Lymon, a real teen idol who’d lost his life to heroin, and now Frankie was fighting against his own voice on the stereo. As his 13 year old self whooped and soared and bemoaned the trials of love, another Frankie – older, emptied of all excitement – tried to fight his way in.

“ – it’s cold, why is it so cold, why am I here, they said they’d come for me, they said it would be OK, it’s cold, they should be here by now, why am I so cold – ”

Frankie’s voices mingled and twisted together like a whirlpool until it was hard to tell who was singing and who was crying out. Even before the song ended, I had to turn the iPod off, and drove the rest of the way in silence.

The song Ozzie was singing was called Crazy Train, and it wasn’t bad if you like that sort of thing, which I don’t but Sandi definitely did. She was doing air guitar to the solo now, and head-banging, which was quite an achievement in the passenger seat of a small family car.

“ – no – we’re out of control – help us – ”

Ozzie wasn’t dead, but – I suddenly remembered – his guitarist was. Randy Rhoads, died in a plane crash. As Sandi rocked out, Rhoads’ thin, panicked voice began to scream.

“ – no – shit – we’re going to – ”

I changed stations.

“I was listening to that,” Sandi said, slumping into her seat for a sulk.

The next day I went to the Christmas tree farm outside town, and it was not a good drive. The radio had started playing itself, as though the backlog of voices wanted to be heard had burst a dam inside the transmitter, and there was a constant stream of songs overlaid with voices.

Buddy Holly, killed in a plane crash with Richie Valens and the Big Bopper.

Otis Redding, killed when the plane he was on crashed into a lake.

Sam Cooke, killed by a jealous lover.

Bobby Fuller, famous for one song – I Fought The Law – murdered by gangsters.

Eddie Cochran, killed in a car crash.

They kept on coming. Sometimes I didn’t know who they were – they might be a drummer or a bass player, or even a backing singer, it didn’t matter, if they were dead, they wanted to be heard.

The Christmas before, we’d bought Sandi a home studio. Not a literal studio, but a plug-in or something for her laptop which apparently was just as good as a real studio. She even looked pleased, so maybe it actually was a home studio.

I used to look in on Sandi, working out how to multi-track guitars or add drums. One day she caught me standing outside.

“Don’t listen!” she shouted.

“I wasn’t,” I lied. “I just wanted to see how it works.”

 She sighed.

“OK,” she said, and for the next ten minutes showed me how to move faders and add tracks. It all seemed a bit difficult and she must have seen my confused look, because she reached under her desk – her childhood desk, which I’d bought from Argos and assembled myself – and brought out, of all things, a tambourine.

I tried to pull the radio out of its housing, but it was welded or glued in. I tried to pull the wires out, but nothing happened. And then while I was hitting the stereo, perhaps, or rummaging through the glove compartment for a manual  – when I was distracted, anyway – I looked up to see the front of a truck hurtling towards me.

Sandi pressed a letter on the keyboard, and a click track began to play.

“Hit this in time,” she said.

 “In time to what?” I asked.

“To the clicky noise, Dad,” she said, almost as sarcastically as possible.

 I don’t know if it was my fault or the truck’s fault, but it really doesn’t matter anymore.

 For the next four minutes, I hit the tambourine as close to the beat as I could.

 “Now what?” I asked.

 She gave me a look.

 “Do not say anything,” she said. “Do not laugh, or say it’s not as good as the Beatles, or anything.”

 She pressed a key and suddenly my tambourine was one of ten other instruments – drums, guitar, bass, piano, synthesiser, and vocals. Her vocals. Sandi, singing a song I’d never heard before.

She sang beautifully, and the song was good too.

“Did you – ”

“I said be quiet.”

She stopped the track, saved it to her hard drive and looked at me defiantly.

I mimed zipping my lips together.

She gave me the finger, but she was smiling.

I am in air.  All around me is movement, and light.

There are voices. Some of them I’ve heard before, and some are new.

I can hear her voice.

She is singing.

Sandi has her own car now. She likes to play metal stations but sometimes, when she’s coming back from a gig, she takes out her mp3 player and she puts on her demos, the songs she made with the home studio plug in. She sings along to her songs, with her own guitar and her own keyboards. She listens for improvements that she could make, better basslines or melodies or drums.

 I think that when she plays one of the songs, she listens out for the tambourine. It’s not exactly session musician quality, but it’s there. And I think that one day, she’ll hear me.

I don’t know what she’ll say when she does.

Boo-graphy: “David Quantick is one of the best kept secrets in the world of writing. He’s smart, funny and unique. You should let yourself in on the secret.” ~Neil Gaiman

David Quantick is an Emmy-winning writer who has written for Veep, The Thick of It, Avenue 5 and many other shows. Night Train is his second novel for Titan.

Links to his work, including free downloadable short stories, can be found on his website.