SHORT STORY: Hanuman by David A Riley

By David A Riley

(First published in Phantasmagoria Magazine #16, 2020)

“Did you know the mothers run off into the jungle and hide any males they have because the fathers’ll kill ’em? It’s not till they’re strong enough to stand up for themselves they’re brought back. Then the little buggers’ll have a go at their own fathers if necessary in a duel for leadership.” The stone walls of the distant Hindu temple they were staring at across the muddy river seemed to throb in the heat of the midday sun. Adrian Wilkes drained his gin and tonic before speaking once more, his throat parched. He coughed dryly, then said: “Of course, it’s typical they should have a god named after them – Hanuman. It’s even more typical they should let the creatures roam free to rob and pillage.”

The ironic sarcasm in Wilkes’s nasal Birmingham twang droned through Harper’s oversensitive skull. Stuart David Harper – S. D. Harper as he styled himself in his novels – wiped sweat from his forehead with a sodden handkerchief, crossed his legs on the insidiously uncomfortable restaurant chair, and sighed. It had been a long night that hadn’t ended till six in the morning, a night that had started pleasantly enough with rounds of over-expensive Indian beer, to end chaotically – and not too clearly – hours later with even more expensive drugs. Somewhere along the way there may have been a few women, but he wasn’t sure. It could have been a dream. Harper wrinkled his forehead for concentration, instantly regretting it, and wondered whether he should have stayed in bed.

His fellow guest was pointing beyond the hotel to a large sand-coloured monkey, its naked face staring at them with large, queerly intelligent eyes. “There’s one of the bastards now,” Wilkes said.

Harper sat up in his chair. The monkey was staring at them with disconcerting intensity, motionless – significantly motionless maybe. He grinned back at it, then reached for his glass. The monkey did not move. It even ignored the flies that swarmed across its face.

“You’d almost believe they could think, wouldn’t you?” Wilkes said in a drone. He tipped an ice-cube from his glass, held it between two nicotine-stained fingers, before flicking it at the monkey. The cube skidded across the floor tiles, rebounded off a table leg and missed the monkey by a foot. The animal ignored it. Its eyes, curiously deep, stared at the Europeans as if it were assessing them.

Harper felt drawn to stare back at it as if some kind of empathy had built between them. In a way he felt honoured, which was strange as animals normally left him cold. Even when he was a child, he never had any interest in them, like the shaggy Old English sheepdog his father had given him when he was eight, which he ignored completely. A flea-bitten monkey was the last thing with which he would have expected to empathize.

On an impulse Harper reached into his glass for an ice-cube too, rolled it for a moment between his fingers, then threw it as hard as he could at the monkey. It glittered through the air.

Wilkes howled with laughter as the ice-cube hit the beast hard between its eyes. “Good shot!” he shouted, slapping his thighs.

The monkey shook its head, then chattered something between yellow fangs, before loping away between the table legs.

Harper avoided Wilkes’s eyes as the man gabbled his praise. “If you could aim that well with a gun, you’d be a great hunter.”

Harper stood up, suddenly ashamed of himself. He watched the monkey as it waddled out of the restaurant before lowering itself to the sparsely grassed embankment that sloped down at a steep gradient to the river. “I’ll be back in a moment,” he said. He strolled between the tables after the monkey. He felt through his pockets to see if he had any food he could offer in appeasement, though all he could find was a boiled sweet the airline stewardess had given him during his flight to India five days ago. He peeled off the wrapping paper as he approached the restaurant wall. Leaning over, he saw the monkey sat by the river, scooping its paws into the clay-coloured water. Harper whistled to catch its attention, then threw the sweet towards it. The monkey watched the humbug land on the grass a couple of yards from its feet, then gazed at Harper. Curiously, he felt as if the creature was again assessing him, before it returned its attention to the sweet, climbing to its feet and loping through the grass with a kind of simian dignity, as if reaching for the sweet was beneath it. Almost… but not quite, Harper thought with a silent chuckle, wishing he had something better to throw for it. He turned to Wilkes. “Have you anything to eat on you?”

Wilkes guffawed, before jabbering some lingua franca – some very gross, pidgin lingua franca – to one of the Indian waiters.

“I’ve asked for a dish of peanuts,” he said. “Monkey nuts might be more appropriate if you’re feeding that bugger.”

Harper scowled. He turned to the monkey and their eyes met. He snapped his fingers encouragingly, coaxing it to him with clucking sounds. Behind him Wilkes’s laughter subsided into his glass.

The air-conditioning in Harper’s bedroom was so efficient it made him shiver when he stepped into it late that night after too many hours in the bar. Not bothering to switch on the light, he stripped off and went into the shower. Moonlight shone through the window. A gecko, hunting for insects in the gloom, zipped up the wall in a burst of speed, making him sway as he caught sight of it in the corner of his eye. Involuntarily he followed its path till it disappeared into the shadows.

Then a muffled noise drew his attention.

Leaving the shower, he strode towards the suitcases propped on a small table in the corner. Their dark shapes loomed beside the wardrobe. One of them slid sideways, bouncing with a crash on the floor as the monkey launched itself in the opposite direction.

“Hanuman!” Harper snapped, his reflexes making him reach for the creature as it headed for the door. “Here!” The animal stopped in its tracks and stared back at him. With a sudden, mirthless laugh, Harper reached into his jacket and pulled out a handful of nuts, scattering them across the floor in front of him. “Come on – eat!” He laughed again as the creature picked at the nuts with infinite caution, chewing them slowly one by one, its eyes barely leaving Harper’s face. Despite the monkey’s subservience, there was something about its eyes that disturbed him. He could feel a prickling creep across his shoulders. There was nothing subservient about the animal’s eyes. In fact, little about those eyes seemed right, however intelligent it might be.

“Dumb beast,” Harper muttered. He strode to a pile of hardbound books on a table by the window. Each spine showed his name in large, stylistic letters next to the smaller title of the novel. S.D. Harper. A name that sold, so his publisher said – so his publisher knew! “D’you see this, you dumb little beast?” he said, pivoting on his heel to face the creature again. “This,” he said, “is me.” He raised the book. “This is my soul,” he said slowly, drunkenly, “you sorry-looking animal.”

Their eyes met, and Harper felt stupid, not only for talking to the monkey, but for the pretentiousness of what he’d said. It must be the drink, he thought, watching the monkey as it sidled towards him.

“What do you think you’re up to now?” he asked. Drink always made him aggressive – as two ex-wives had found to their cost. He stared at the monkey. “Piss off,” he muttered, unable to remember why he had ever felt interested in the creature – or why he had encouraged it back to his room. Though had he encouraged it? What happened seemed like a dream to him now. How had the filthy creature got here? He seemed to recall some raucous jokes from Wilkes after he managed to entice it back to the restaurant, where they had played with it for a while, throwing nuts for the monkey to catch while they drank more gin. He remembered Wilkes saying something about the Hindus’ belief in reincarnation, that if there was anything in it what had the monkey been in its previous life – a thief, a murderer, or a priest? All three, Harper remembered joking after he’d looked into its eyes. “What d’yer mean?” Wilkes asked, tears of drunken laughter in his. Harper told him it had probably been the soul of a priest from one of those murderous cults that haunted India’s distant past. He felt clever when he said it, knowing Wilkes, the bumbling salesman, was falling for it hook, line and sinker. “No such thing,” Wilkes retorted. Then Harper told him about the cult of the Thuggees whose followers committed wholesale murder on hapless travellers.

Why he’d said it – why he’d ever connected it with the monkey, he didn’t know. It was odd, because somehow he’d meant it. There was a look deep down inside the creature’s eyes that suggested this to him, instinctively perhaps, or intuitively, or some such nonsensical thing.

“Piss off,” he muttered.

The monkey stopped and stared at him.

“Hanuman,” Harper said, “you’re a filthy, murderous, nasty little thief. You probably killed your own father – and your children – which would be the kind of thing a Thuggee would do, isn’t it?” He chuckled, though he did not know why. “Now piss off and leave me alone!”

Perhaps because of the alcohol he’d drunk he had bad dreams that night, dreams in which he found himself lost in a moonlit jungle. Nearby was a dirt track, grooves worn into it from thousands of carts that had trundled down it over the years. He wasn’t alone. Others were with him. Waiting. One of them gloated that a band of travellers, who set out late from the nearest town, were planning to pass this way before settling down for the night. Some of their comrades had already managed to infiltrate the travellers, he added, masquerading as pilgrims.

Soon, as expected, the travellers appeared, with armed guards amongst them, hired as protection against the Thugs. What none of them knew was that most of their guards were Thuggees themselves!

Harper hunkered down, feeling the familiar excitement building inside him. Soon the travellers would settle for the night, lulled by a false sense of security. At a signal they would be attacked from within and without as their guards turned on them and he and the rest of the gang swarmed in. He held a yellow scarf between his fingers. He would use it to strangle his victims for Kali, Goddess of Destruction. His hands itched with the urge to do it. He could barely wait for the killing to begin. He loved that even more than the spoils they would take, before burying the bodies. It was what he lived for, to feel his victim struggle beneath him, unable to escape from the ritualistic noose that was strangling the life from them.

Hours passed as they followed the caravan before they stopped for the night. Time passed while food was eaten, then the travellers settled down to sleep, relying on their hired guards to keep them safe.

Moonlight shone through leaves overhead on their huddled bodies.

Someone whistled.

It was the signal.

Silently, Harper crept towards the caravan, his scarf clenched ready to be drawn around the neck of his first victim, his first sacrifice to the Goddess, when a gunshot rang out and he realised they had been fooled.

More gunshots followed. In the muzzle flashes he saw men, white men. Soldiers, he realised. British soldiers.

Panicking, he fled between the trees, hoping to find somewhere to hide in the jungle, when a searing pain slammed hard between his shoulder blades, hurling him onto the ground. He realised he had been shot. Air wheezed from his lungs as blood bubbled, choking him, up his windpipe into his mouth, filling it. Frightened, he knew he was dying.

Darkness fell across his eyes.

Darkness such as he had never experienced before, a darkness that seemed eternal.
But wasn’t.

Disorientated, Harper opened his eyes, unable to remember who or where he was. He couldn’t even remember when he was. The only thing he could remember was hiding in a jungle, waiting to kill. Wanting to kill, he thought with a chill. He had wanted it so much it scared him now. That he had wanted to murder someone as much as he had sickened him. He could feel the cloth he clenched between his fingers as a garrotte. He could remember what it felt to wrap it around someone’s neck, drawing it tighter and tighter till it bit into their flesh and strangled them.

Sweating, Harper sat on the edge of his bed, sure he was going to be sick.

Across the room, staring at him, sat the monkey. Had it been there all night? Harper felt impatient at its presence but wary of it too.

Forcing himself to his feet he opened the window. Hot air blew in at him. It was already late morning and the sun was shining with a painful brilliance across the gardens outside.

Grabbing a towel from the bathroom, he shooed the monkey towards the window.

“Get out, you little bastard,” he rasped at it, his throat so dry it hurt to speak. He flicked the towel at the animal as it passed.

With a silent stare, the monkey leapt away from the towel and landed on the windowsill before dropping outside. He watched it lope across the paving stones alongside the garden, before squatting down to gaze back at him.

Grunting his annoyance, Harper shut the window and drew the curtains, blocking out the view. He knew the creature would still be staring, sure it would sit there for hours if need be, though he had no idea why. There was something odd, disturbing, frightening about the monkey, as if a human intelligence lurked somewhere inside its brain.

Harper grunted derisively. He knew he was being ridiculous, allowing his overactive imagination to get the better of him. Too much time on his hands and too much booze (definitely too much booze), that was the problem – the real problem. It was time to return home and put this exotic nonsense behind him.

After talking with Wilkes yesterday about the Thuggees, he knew the subject had preyed on his mind, which was why he dreamt about them. And that was all it had been, a meaningless, stupid dream.

Though that didn’t explain the monkey.

He wished he had never set eyes on it – or, when he did, had behaved like Wilkes, who treated the creature with contempt.

He lay down again, feeling tired, out of synch, as if he had not properly woken up and was still dreaming. That bloody, bloody monkey…

This time he was aware where he was. Luxuriant trees grew all around him and he knew he was in a jungle again. Was it the same as before? He could remember being shot. Hadn’t he died afterwards? Or had he blacked out and been rescued? He tried to look around, but his neck felt stiff and it was painful to move. Even so he could see there were other people nearby. A few feet from him a man moaned in pain. Another man sobbed. There was the smell of blood, and something worse. Was it gangrene? It snagged at his throat and he felt an urge to vomit but managed to control his reflexes as he pushed himself up high enough on the heap of straw he was lying on so he could look around. He realised he was in an encampment of some kind. There were others here, most of them injured. The injured were lying on the ground like him. There were a handful of men walking between them, old men mainly in dirty robes stained with blood.

Suddenly he realised how thirsty he was and called for water. The word came out as “Pani!” which he somehow knew was the same in whatever language these people spoke.

One of the old men, his beard streaked more grey than black, crept towards him with a pail of water. Using a wooden ladle, he dribbled it onto his lips. “Ahista,” the man whispered. Slow.

Harper nodded as he let the water trickle between his lips.

Later he learned what had happened. The fight had been fierce, with the soldiers’ rifles taking out many of their men before the rain started, coming down so hard it was impossible to see, let alone fight. In the confusion, many of the wounded, like him, were dragged into the jungle.

“You were lucky,” he was told. The musket shot that hit him must have either been fired with not enough powder or had ricocheted and lost most of its force. Though it had winded him and bruised his back, it had not penetrated the skin. “You will live to fight another day.”

Or kill, he thought, feeling weirdly caught up between his twentieth century self that was asleep and dreaming and the Thuggee who lived all those years ago, as if somehow he was unsure which was real, though the thought of strangling innocent men, women, and children to that disgustingly barbaric god, Kali, revolted Harper, even as the Thuggee spoke ecstatically about it.

Time passed quickly as if he sometimes blanked out. His injury was soon just an occasional twinge. Having left the encampment his group now moved cautiously through the jungle; aware they were being hunted by British soldiers. There were too many to fight head on, especially with their modern rifles. The Thuggees had to be cunning instead, scouting any caravan they were going to attack until they were certain it was safe to do so. At the same time, they had to make sure no one passed any information on to the British about where they were. Traitors were suspected. The rewards being offered were temptingly high, especially for people as poor as most of them were. Eyes, therefore, were everywhere, and you had to be careful what you said, which added to the atmosphere of paranoia.

When the Monsoon started he began to suffer. The injury to his back worsened again, so that often he could barely stand upright without groaning. Carrying anything heavier than a canteen of water was agony. But their leaders were deaf to his complaints. Kali did not recognise weakness, neither did her chief acolytes. And he knew he would be left to fend for himself if he became a burden. Or maybe worse, he would be sacrificed to their god.

He had to be strong!

Harper sensed the desperation.

He had to be strong!

Weeks passed, though to Harper they streamed by in seconds. He would close his eyes and open them again and days had gone, sometimes weeks. In a way this was a relief from the insufferable boredom and the pain in his back, but it was alarming as well as he could sense the deterioration of his Thuggee self. The injury to his back must have been worse than originally thought because he was hobbling now, doubled up in pain. He could barely imagine the man being capable of murdering anyone now, especially with a noose. That required strength, determination, and a strong back.

Harper felt no pity for the man though. In a way he was looking forward to all of them being caught and paying for their crimes, either by being shot dead or hanged. He wondered what the Thuggee’s fate would be: the bullet or the noose. Though it seemed more likely he would succumb to disease first. He had already developed a nasty cough and spat blood. Thick globules too large to bode anything but bad news.

His Thuggee self was aware how sick he was, and he could sense his wish to leave the cult and find a village where he could live out his days in peace.

It was only days before the Thuggee straggled behind the rest of the gang. Mostly this was because of the state of his health but there was connivance there too. He was looking for an opportunity. And soon it came.

A British patrol, including a mounted officer were heading for one of the small villages on the outskirts of the jungle. As soon as he saw them he hid, watching them as they questioned the villagers. The patrol had a native guide with them who carried out the interrogations. He was a tall man dressed in a uniform like the soldiers except for a turban which showed he was a Sikh.

The Thuggee buried his incriminating yellow scarf beneath a bush, then hobbled into plain sight of the soldiers, several of whom instantly trained their rifles on him.

Spreading his arms to show he had no weapons, he limped towards them. Over the next few hours, he told a rambling tale of being kidnapped by a gang of Thuggees who were marauding through the jungle. He gave them an even more rambling and vaguer story about his escape. When pressed by the Sikh he promised to lead them to where the gang was heading. Within hours a scout was dispatched to the main body of British troops and plans were made to trap the Thuggees and wipe them out or take them to be tried.

Thus it was that the gang was routed, and most were shot. The Thuggee was taken to identify those who had been captured, which was when he met his end. He had hardly finished walking down a line of Thugs when one of them leapt at him with a concealed knife, ignored the bullets that pounded his body to slam the dagger in his chest.

Harper awoke instantly.

He could see the killer’s face even now, filled with hatred.

“Kali will eat your heart, you damned traitor!” the man cried as they died, one on top of the other.

How odd to curse a man you were already killing, Harper thought. You would think the one would cancel the other! He shook his head, puzzled, though relieved that his dream had broken.

He went into the bathroom to wash and get dressed, deciding he needed company. It was another brilliantly sunny day and he knew he would find Wilkes in the bar when he’d eaten his breakfast. The man’s down-to-earth humour was what he needed now.

“No wonder you’re a novelist,” Wilkes said when Harper told him his dreams. though Harper seemed preoccupied, and was hardly listening to what Wilkes said, before he added as an afterthought: “Your imagination must be running on all pistons.”

“Too much sometimes,” Harper said finally.

“I’ll drink to that.” Wilkes laughed.

Harper laughed, but bitterly, then frowned, sitting up. “That damned monkey’s back again!” There was anger in his voice. “I wish the hotel would get rid of the filthy blighters.”

Wilkes turned and looked, feeling a cold riff going up his spine.

“I don’t suppose there’s much the hotel could do. It wouldn’t be politic to send someone out to shoot them. There’d be an uproar from the locals.”

“Shooting their little gods, eh? Ha ha, you’re right, of course. I forgot about that. Bloody idiots.”

Still… Harper thought. He stared at the monkey as it glared back at him, remembering that the Indian god Hanuman was associated with Kali, whose aspects could vary between good and evil, and was always at her worst amongst her Thuggee adherents, brandishing a severed head in one of her four hands and a necklace of skulls hung around her neck.

For one chill moment Harper was sure the monkey bore an uncanny resemblance to the face of the man who stabbed him to death in his dream. Then he laughed. Of course, it was. It was the monkey that inspired it. No wonder there were aspects of his attacker’s face in its. His imagination had used the monkey as a template, as simple as that.

Or was it?

Harper looked up.

“For all of that, they’re a bloody nuisance.”

Wilkes glanced at him, looking surprised at the rage that was consuming the man’s face as if he had gone mad and would gladly tear the monkey to pieces if he could lay his hands on it.

“Are you okay?” Wilkes asked, which seemed to irritate Harper even more, who ignored his question, his lips moving as if he was talking to himself.

Which was what he was doing, Wilkes realised with a shudder, making out the occasional words. Words that weren’t even English but might have been Urdu.

Suddenly Harper launched himself forwards, running towards the monkey, his gin and tonic smashing to the floor. He ran past Wilkes as if he weren’t there, bowling him over as one of his feet entangled itself under one of the legs of Wilkes’s chair, knocking him sideways. It was over in a second. Rolling across the floor, Harper grabbed at the monkey, which leapt beyond his reach, only for Harper to lash out with his fist, catching the creature on its chest. It was a hard blow, for all it was awkwardly delivered, bouncing the monkey into the restaurant wall where, scrabbling on his hands and knees, Harper pursued it with an aggression more animalistic than human. Again, he snatched at the creature, managing to grasp an arm in his hand, encircling its narrow bicep and tightening. The monkey bit at his fingers, tearing out lumps of flesh as it frantically tried to free itself, but Harper was oblivious to pain, his other hand circling the monkey’s throat and choking it.

The doctor was puzzled at his condition, that much Harper could tell, though he was quick enough to give his diagnosis.

“Heat stroke.”

Harper stared at him. He wondered what the man was talking about and why they were in the manager’s office. He was puzzled why the doctor, an overweight Indian in dirty white jacket and dusty trousers, was watching him through horn-rimmed spectacles with a quizzical frown on his face. Two waiters were stood beside him, their expressions wary, as if they were worried what Harper might do.

“You have been suffering from heat stroke,” the doctor repeated, emphasising his words as if to a child.

It was only then that Harper realised he was wearing handcuffs. He stared down at them, trying to remember why and when this happened, then realised the men beside the doctor weren’t waiters but policemen.

“Where’s the monkey?” he asked suddenly, feeling alarmed.

The doctor turned to one of the policemen and shook his head. Images, though, were already returning to Harper. He could see the monkey’s face as he leaned over it, his hand at its throat.

“I did it, didn’t I”?

The doctor nodded, absently. “It was a sacrilege. Many locals are already outside the hotel. They are very upset.”

Harper was sure the gently spoken words were an understatement. He could imagine the uproar that had been stirred by what he did.

But why did he do it?

One of the policemen turned to the doctor and whispered to him.

“He is obsessed with this monkey, yes?”

“It would seem so, Inspector. He thinks it has been haunting him.”

“A ghost?” The inspector uttered a nasal laugh.

“Very much like a ghost.”

“Too much sun and gin,” the inspector said, shaking his head at the handcuffed man.

“Too much sun and gin and too much imagination. A dangerous combination.”

Somewhere nearby Harper could hear chanting. On and on and on… While at the feet of the doctor and the two policeman the monkey squatted, staring at him.

“What’s it doing here?” Harper croaked in alarm, nodding at the creature to draw their attention.

“What is what doing here, Mr Harper?” the inspector asked.

“That monkey! That damned monkey in front of you.”

The men automatically looked at their feet. The inspector shook his head sadly.

“There is nothing there, Mr Harper.”

Even more clearly than before Harper recognised the assassin’s face in the monkey’s features. Why had he come back to plague him? Wasn’t killing him once all those years ago enough?

But he knew. He had known the answer all the time. He had betrayed his brethren to the soldiers. He had sold them out for coins and his freedom. In the end he had neither, just a dagger in the heart – and damnation on his soul.

Harper knew he should never have come to this place. He hardly knew why he had. An impulse? A whim?

Or a centuries old curse that drew him here to this fate?

“There are charges to be faced. Not serious legally,” the inspector added with emphasis, “but serious in the eyes of the locals. And possibly others across our great nation, who hold Hanuman in high esteem. Blasphemies mean more here than in your country. We are a religious nation. What you did is not regarded lightly.”

Harper could imagine. He would be a pariah if that were the right word for what he’d done.

“Tomorrow you will be taken to the magistrates, where you will be charged and sentenced, probably with a fine. I am sure you can afford it,” the inspector said.

“Then?” Harper asked, dry-mouthed.

“Then I suggest you go straight to the airport and return to England. And not come back to India again. For your own safety.”

Harper nodded. He had no wish to stay anyway. He was done with this country. Though he was certain India had done with him too. He had abused its hospitality and outlasted his welcome.

“You are sure his condition is stable?” the inspector asked the doctor, who nodded. “As sure as I can be.”

Harper was released from his handcuffs then accompanied upstairs to his room.

“One of my men will be stationed outside your door overnight,” the inspector said. “To ensure your safety, you understand,” he added.

And to make sure I don’t try to escape, Harper thought, though where to and why he had no idea.

He went for a shower. Sweat had formed a sticky layer on his skin and he felt lightheaded. Had he drunk too much gin and had too much sun, he wondered. He had drunk more than usual, he knew. He blamed Wilkes for that. The man was a veritable sponge, though he never seemed the worse for it.

When he’d finished, Harper returned to his bedroom. Which was when he saw it squatting in the middle of the floor, its dark eyes staring straight at his. The eyes of the assassin.

Police Constable Manjooran, who had been stationed outside Harper’s door, was the first to see him the following day when he unlocked it to tell him it was time to go to the magistrates’ court. Afterwards, to Manjooran’s eternal shame he was unable to convince his superiors he never left his post during the night, letting someone sneak into the author’s room, though he knew that he hadn’t, that no one could have entered, no one at all.

Though how the Englishman came to have been strangled in a room with all its windows locked and no other way in than the door he had been guarding, he could not explain. But strangled Harper was, with an ancient rag of yellow silk knotted around his throat.

David A Riley writes horror, fantasy and SF stories. His first story was in the 11th Pan Book of Horror in 1970. He has had stories published by Doubleday, DAW, Corgi, Sphere, Roc, Playboy Paperbacks, Robinsons, etc, and in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, Whispers, Savage Realms Monthly and Fantasy Tales. His first collection of stories was published by Hazardous Press in 2012, His Old Man Demons. A Lovecraftian novel, The Return, was published by Blood Bound Books in 2013. A 2nd collection of stories, The Lurkers in the Abyss & Other Tales of Terror, was launched at the World Fantasy Convention in 2013 by Shadow Publishing. Hazardous Press published his 3rd collection, Their Cramped Dark World & Other Tales, in 2016. Both Hazardous Press collections have been reprinted by Parallel Universe Publications, plus two new collections After Nightfall & Other Weird Tales (illustrated by Jim Pitts) and A Grim God’s Revenge. A fantasy novel, Goblin Mire, and a horror novel, Moloch’s Children, were published in 2015. He and his wife Linden recently relaunched Parallel Universe Publications, which originally published Beyond magazine in 1995, and have now published around 50 books, including two art books.

Along with the award-winning artist Jim Pitts he edits a twice-yearly anthology of swords and sorcery stories: Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy. The fifth volume will be published as a paperback and ebook in November. Recent publications containing his stories are: Savage Realms Monthly #12 “The Carpetmaker of Arana”; Summer of Sci-Fi & Fantasy “The Storyteller of Koss”; Sword & Sorcery Magazine #118 “The God in the Keep”; Mythic #17 “Baal the Necromancer.” I also have a novelette due in the next issue of Lovecraftiana “The Psychic Investigator.”

Fourteen dark tales of fantasy and horror ranging from 1971 to 2020.

Dead Ronnie and I was first published in Sanitarium issue 44, 2016
Corpse-Maker was first published in Weird Window issue 2, 1971
The Urn was first published in Whispers issue 1, 1972
Gwargens was first published in Beyond issue 3, 1995
Retribution was first published in Peeping Tom issue 3, 1991
The Bequest was first published in Dark Horizons, 2008
They Pissed on My Sofa was first published in Malicious Deviance, 2011
Old Grudge Ender was first published in The Screaming Book of Horror, 2012
A Girl, a Toad and a Cask was first published in The Unspoken, 2013
Scrap was first published in Dark Visions 1, 2013
Lem was first published in The Eleventh Black Book of Horror, 2015
A Grim God’s Revenge was first published in Mythic issue 4, 2017
Grudge End Cloggers was first published in Scare Me, 2020
Hanuman was first published in Phantasmagoria issue 16, 2020


Meghan: Hey, David! Welcome back. It’s always a pleasure to have you here on Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

David: Until recent years Halloween wasn’t really regarded by most people here in the UK as a holiday as such. It’s only been in the last few decades, for instance, that trick or treating has followed in the footsteps of the United States, influenced by films such as ET. Even now I don’t think we make as much fuss of it as in the US. I must admit I don’t do much to celebrate it myself, other than watch a few favourite horror movies.

Meghan: Do you get scared easily?

David: Not at all. Which possibly helps when it comes to writing horror stories.

Meghan: What is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen and why?

David: On first viewing, probably the original Night of the Living Dead which I viewed for the first time at a British Fantasy Convention sometime in the late 70’s. I had never before watched a more relentlessly nihilistic movie in which everyone is doomed to face a violent death. It’s bleakness was possibly even more disturbing than the image of the marauding zombies.

Meghan: Which horror movie murder did you find the most disturbing?

David: Martyrs. I found the whole film highly disturbing, especially the addiction the main character gradually developed for being tortured. It’s not a film I would ever willingly watch again. Once was more than enough.

Meghan: Is there a horror movie you refused to watch because the commercials scared you too much?

David: I can’t say I have. Commercials have sometimes put me off watching certain movies, but not because they looked too scary.

Meghan: If you got trapped in one scary movie, which would you choose?

David: Well, definitely not a slasher movie! It would have to be one where there was a reasonable chance of surviving till the end. Not that the survival rate in most scary movies is particularly high. They wouldn’t be scary if there was. Ghostbusters would seem to be the obvious choice.

Meghan: If you were stuck as the protagonist in any horror movie, which would you choose?

David: Any with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, probably the Horror of Dracula.

Meghan: What is your all-time favorite scary monster or creature of the night?

David: That’s a difficult one as there are so many great ones, but probably Dracula as portrayed by Christopher Lee. At least there are several films to follow him through.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

David: I’m afraid I don’t have one other than try and watch a few appropriate movies. As I mentioned above, Halloween has never been much of a celebration here in the UK, possibly because it comes only a few days before Bonfire Night on the 5th of November which has always been a big festivity here, with fireworks and a huge roaring fire made up of piles of wood on top of which we burn Guy Fawkes, added to which we have treacle toffee and jacket potatoes cooked in the embers of the fire.

Meghan: What is your favorite horror or Halloween-themed song?

David: That would have to be the theme from The Rocky Horror Show. That gets in so many horror and science fiction references, it’s amazing.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

David: The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley with its satanists and the Devil himself, plus the Angel of Death. It’s a great adventure story too.

Meghan: What is the creepiest thing that’s ever happened while you were alone?

David: Hearing footsteps running along the landing outside my bedroom when I knew there was no one there. This has only happened the once in thirty years, but this is a very old house (over two centuries old). I must admit, though, I was more intrigued than frightened. Indeed, I wasn’t frightened at all, even when the footsteps stopped at my bedroom door.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

David: The Yeti ever since I watched that old Hammer movie The Abominable Snowman.

Meghan: What is the spookiest ghost story that you have ever heard?

David: A View from a Hill by M.R. James, which is my all-time favourite Jamesian story. The image of the man being carried away through the streets by invisible spirits of the dead he’d used in his alchemical experiments is uniquely vivid.

Meghan: In a zombie apocalypse, what is your weapon of choice?

David: An axe. I’ve always thought the ease with which everyone in The Walking Dead manage to pierce zombie skulls with their knives and daggers particularly unrealistic, as if their skull bones had turned to cardboard. You need something with a bit more weight to reach their brains.

Meghan: Let’s have some fun… Would you rather get bitten by a vampire or a werewolf?

David: A vampire – at least that usually still has a mind of its own, whereas a werewolf is just a ravening beast.

Meghan: Would you rather fight a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion?

David: Neither is appealing, of course, but an alien invasion is probably the one I would choose, as for zombies to exist in reality would be a bit too much to absorb. Reanimated dead bodies just do not make sense.

Meghan: Would you rather drink zombie juice or eat dead bodies from the graveyard?

David: Lovely choice! I think both would result in almost immediate vomiting! I suppose the zombie juice. At least you could drink that down quickly with your eyes shut. Yuck!

Meghan: Would you rather stay at the Poltergeist house or the Amityville house for a week?

David: As I do not believe in all the razzamatazz about the Amityville house that would easily be my choice. Of course, if you mean the one as portrayed in the movies then maybe the Poltergeist house.

Meghan: Would you rather chew on a bitter melon with chilies or maggot-infested cheese?

David: The melon any day, though there are some connoisseurs who would go for some rare but special cheeses which are actually infested with maggots. Those are definitely not for me.

Meghan: Would you rather drink from a witch’s cauldron or lick cotton candy made of spider webs?

David: Am I partial to “eye of newt” and all the other icky stuff that goes in it? Possibly. I’m definitely not partial to cotton candy in its usual form so I think I would try my luck with the cauldron. I must admit these are some of the worst alternative foodstuffs I have ever come across!

David A Riley writes horror, fantasy and SF stories. His first story was in the 11th Pan Book of Horror in 1970. He has had stories published by Doubleday, DAW, Corgi, Sphere, Roc, Playboy Paperbacks, Robinsons, etc, and in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, Whispers, Savage Realms Monthly and Fantasy Tales. His first collection of stories was published by Hazardous Press in 2012, His Old Man Demons. A Lovecraftian novel, The Return, was published by Blood Bound Books in 2013. A 2nd collection of stories, The Lurkers in the Abyss & Other Tales of Terror, was launched at the World Fantasy Convention in 2013 by Shadow Publishing. Hazardous Press published his 3rd collection, Their Cramped Dark World & Other Tales, in 2016. Both Hazardous Press collections have been reprinted by Parallel Universe Publications, plus two new collections After Nightfall & Other Weird Tales (illustrated by Jim Pitts) and A Grim God’s Revenge. A fantasy novel, Goblin Mire, and a horror novel, Moloch’s Children, were published in 2015. He and his wife Linden recently relaunched Parallel Universe Publications, which originally published Beyond magazine in 1995, and have now published around 50 books, including two art books.

Along with the award-winning artist Jim Pitts he edits a twice-yearly anthology of swords and sorcery stories: Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy. The fifth volume will be published as a paperback and ebook in November. Recent publications containing his stories are: Savage Realms Monthly #12 “The Carpetmaker of Arana”; Summer of Sci-Fi & Fantasy “The Storyteller of Koss”; Sword & Sorcery Magazine #118 “The God in the Keep”; Mythic #17 “Baal the Necromancer.” I also have a novelette due in the next issue of Lovecraftiana “The Psychic Investigator.”

Fourteen dark tales of fantasy and horror ranging from 1971 to 2020.

Dead Ronnie and I was first published in Sanitarium issue 44, 2016
Corpse-Maker was first published in Weird Window issue 2, 1971
The Urn was first published in Whispers issue 1, 1972
Gwargens was first published in Beyond issue 3, 1995
Retribution was first published in Peeping Tom issue 3, 1991
The Bequest was first published in Dark Horizons, 2008
They Pissed on My Sofa was first published in Malicious Deviance, 2011
Old Grudge Ender was first published in The Screaming Book of Horror, 2012
A Girl, a Toad and a Cask was first published in The Unspoken, 2013
Scrap was first published in Dark Visions 1, 2013
Lem was first published in The Eleventh Black Book of Horror, 2015
A Grim God’s Revenge was first published in Mythic issue 4, 2017
Grudge End Cloggers was first published in Scare Me, 2020
Hanuman was first published in Phantasmagoria issue 16, 2020

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?”


“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”.