The Shadow Of A Dream IV

Chapter IV: Vaults Of Delirium

Chapter I:
Chapter II:
Chapter III:

As my senses revived themselves, I found myself flat on my back, pinned down by dozens of claws. I could hear Ant sobbing, somewhere nearby. A figure loomed above me, a stooped shadow like those which had callously slaughtered my brothers so long ago, in a different lifetime. The figure spoke that same, strange yet somehow familiar language. As he rhapsodied in that shrill voice, I began to recognise some of his words, although their form and delivery was so alien to my ears. I realised, through the fog of terror that he was speaking in some bastardisation, some parody of the English language, albeit in a dialect with which I was unfamiliar.

“Glowlanders,” the thing shrieked, “Bring death. Glowland man kill brother, so Ungers kill Glowlanders, no?”

A piercing screech went up from the mob that surrounded me unseen. I recognised the assent in their accumulated chorus, and knew with a surprising clarity of thought, a startling calmness, that I would die there in that subterranean chamber of horrors.

Then, a woman’s voice piped up. “Smanta speak. Glowlander kill brothers, so he killed. This end. Glowlanders friends, could bring much bites. Keep keep keep.”

After much debate, some compromise was reached over our lives, and Ant and I were carried on a sea of claws, away from the stone plinth, away from the chamber, deeper still into the earth.

The mob deposited us in a dark place far beneath the ground. It was blacker than the grave, no light gave any indication as to where we were. I was hauled roughly to my feet, and shoved through some narrow stone archway. I heard a metal door clang shut behind me. The rats of terror began gnawing at my intestines, and as I slumped to the ground, my thoughts were overwhelmed by the certainty of my impending demise.

I heard a gentle whimper close beside me. “Ant,” I called out, “Is that you?”

“We’re going to die in here,” he whispered, his words almost swallowed by poorly concealed sobs, “Here in the darkness.”

Somehow, the hefty man’s despair lent me strength and courage that I had thought extinguished forever. I had failed to save my brothers or my parents, and had led Walker to his grisly demise; perhaps I could redeem my failures by saving this blobsome, wimpering wreck?

I pulled myself cautiously to my feet. The roof of this cave- if there was a roof- must have been far above, for I found that I could extend myself to my full height. I scrabbled around in the darkness until my hand fell upon Ant’s head. Startled, he pulled away.

“Come,” I said, my voice far stronger and more certain than my mind, “There must be a way out. Let’s find it together.”

I knew that the doorway through which we had been cast was directly behind me. I backed up until I felt its cold permanence press against my searching fingers; then, with one hand on Ant’s shoulder and the other against the damp stone, I followed the wall around. Sure enough, inch by inch, I circled round the perimeter of the cell until I realised that it was, in fact, some kind of passageway. Deprived of sight by the unspeakable blackness, I was surprised and, indeed, a little proud of my ingenuity and clarity of thought.

Our progress along this passage was painfully slow; however, progress it was. The tunnel seemed to have a gentle downward inclination. We were travelling further still below the ground, away from the sun and air and everything we knew; however, we had no choice but to continue. Should I panic, should I lose my touch on the stone walls, we would be lost forever to the blackness.

We followed the walls at that pace for hours, days, or even weeks, before I felt a gentle tickle of a breeze wash past my cheek. Whatever lay ahead, perhaps it truly was the way to our freedom? Could this tunnel lead to some opening through which we could make our escape? After all, that breeze had to come from somewhere! Perhaps some long-forgotten Victorian sewer system, or some unknown breach in the earth?

We followed that subtle suggestion of a draft, always staying in touch of the wall, until, some way ahead, I thought I saw a dull glow. This had to be it! I quickened my pace somewhat, and made my way in the direction of the light, the breeze, and liberty! The light grew larger, brighter, until I was close enough to realise with dismay that it glowed in some enormous yet entombed cave. The cave was far larger than the chamber where Walker had met his fate; it was so long and so wide that my eyes could scarcely discern its perimeter. The roof of this cave was a hundred metres or more above my head, and its concave walls seemed unassailable even if there were any hope of escape from above. I could not discern the source of the subtle light that burnt my eyes; it seemed to be some unearthly luminescence that pulsated through the very air before us.

A bizarre rattling noise forced me to stop. I tried to search for its cause, however my eyes failed me as they struggled to acclimatise from the unspeakable darkness of that interminable tunnel.

Then, I saw movement somewhere way above, on the opposite wall of the cave. I fell to my knees in terror as I made out the detail. The creature was enormous, with its strange body the size of a bus. It had dozens of legs thick as tree trunks, but with the locomotion of a monstrous spider as it scuttled down the wall in our direction. Atop its long neck was a head unlike anything I have seen before or since. It was a big, sturdy head like that of a bull mastiff or a hippopotamus. In place of a mouth were two dozen long, pink tentacles, each curling and flexing; these awful tentacles enframed a gaping maw filled with a hundred translucent grey, razor-sharp shards, like fangs hacked from flint.

The monstrous spider-thing dashed towards us with alarming speed. I panicked and, to my eternal shame, I reached out for Ant and threw him in the way of the beast as it rushed at us. I saw his body tense as the creature seized him with its betentacled mouth, and slice him into chunks with those flint-like teeth. It crunched him feet-first into slivers half a foot thick, before sucking them into its terrible mouth. It took Ant whole minutes to die; his screaming and death throes did not cease until the creature had bitten off to his chest.

Finally, the paralysis of fear deserted me and I fled back into the intolerable blackness of the tunnel Ant and I had traversed. This time, I did not use the walls to navigate by. I just ran and ran until I could run no more, and I crashed into the metal door that had once condemned me, but now became my saviour.

The days or hours that followed this terrible experience, I knew not whether I was asleep or awake. The dreams that have always plagued my sleeping hours now filtered into my waking mind. I saw visions before me; I saw the prison cells in which I had been ensconced as a troubled younger man. I saw Ant, persecuting me for my treachery, rightfully condemning me for my part in his demise. I saw my father’s joyous face as he held my mother and I close, and I saw his desiccated corpse lying bundled on the floor. I saw Mr and Mrs Dalton, weeping over their lost sons, and their accusatory grimaces as they inspected me afterwards. Most of all, though, I saw that terrible spider-thing, its razor-sharp flint teeth slicing me to pieces as I laughed the maniacal laugh of the doomed madman.

Then, my salvation came. What I am about to tell you may have been yet another cruel hallucination. Perhaps this is all part of a dream induced by the darkness of that subterranean cell; perhaps I am still there now, and have dreamed you up. I can never know. I will never be free of this uncertainty. My whole life could be some sadistic vision for all I can be sure. However, what I am about to recant to you is what I heard and saw. Its veracity, I can only leave to you to decide- if, indeed, you have any corporeal existence beyond my feverish, dying dreams.

I heard footfall from beyond that metal door. All I could think of in that moment was the terrible crime I had committed in pushing poor, frightened Ant to his death. I hoped, in my shattered mind, I prayed that the stooped monsters with the scorched faces had decided to slaughter me, to put me out of my misery. All hope of freedom had deserted me- now, all I wanted was to sleep and never awaken.

The door creaked open, and a voice I half-recognised whispered shrilly into the blackness. “Mans?” came the whisper, “Mans?”

I found that I could not speak. Instead, with what little strength I had left, I tapped the hard floor thrice. That reply was enough for the interloper. “This one Smanta.” The high-pitched voice sounded terrible to my ears, which had become accustomed only to the voices of the dead. That word- Smanta. I had heard it before. Where had I heard that word? Had I dreamed it? Yes, I must’ve dreamed it.

Finally, all of the terrible psychic strain I had endured overcame me, and I passed into an interminably black unconsciousness. No dreams, no visions- just the blackness of sleep akin to death.

I awoke in a hospital bed. The nurse tells me I was found passed out at the side of the motorway, half-in and half-out of a drain. Could it be that my weeks of torment beneath Leland House were nothing but a delusion? I scoured the local newspapers, social media, every source I could think of, for some clue, some missing piece that could solve the mystery. There was nothing. No news of strange happenings at Leland House, nothing about two missing ex-cons, no remains found; nothing. It was as if Walker and Ant had never existed.

I no longer know where reality ends and delusion begins. That terrible subterranean world populated by the stooped, scarred faces and terrible betentacled spider-things might exist, or it might not. This hospital bed could be just another delusion conjured by my mind as I slowly rot in that black cell; or the black cell could be the delusion, or both, or neither. I can never know.

That is why I have decided to do what I am about to do- to kill myself. There is only one way to escape from this waking nightmare, from the morass network of ever-darkening tunnels that have been riven through my mind. A bullet through the brain- one tunnel to end them all.

The Shadow Of A Dream III

(Chapter I: )
(Chapter II: )

Chapter III: Return To Leland House

The moon hung full in the pitchy, starless sky, casting a strange lustre over the mists that enwreathed Leland House. In the intervening years since my last visit, the house had become more dilapidated, and felt more ancient even than it had in my lost youth.

As we clambered one at a time through that same old window broken by my brother so many years before, I heard a whisper emanating from the dusty old box room. Just a breeze, I told myself, yet still my heart pounded in my chest.

“I don’t like this,” Ant muttered from behind me, “This place gives me the creeps.” I silenced him with a stern look. He was a brutish mound of a man, corpulent yet sturdy. The window, which was quite narrow, posed something of a problem for a man of his size, and so Walker and I had to pull him through the small space with considerable force.

Once inside, I led my expedition of ne’erdowells through that myriad, complex series of granite hallways, past those ancient statues that seemed to have grown more menacing in the thirteen years since last I padded these halls. In crimson-tainted grey marble, there was a muscle-bound man captured mid-scream, his beard a morass of worms, his eyes pecked by crows. A sculpted gaggle of cats in aggressive poses, arched backs, hissing into the void at some unseen threat. A voluptuous woman, hair swirling in some terrible gale, her face contorted into a howl- her face, however, was not human. It was the face of a rat, and her limbs were those of some terrible, anthropomorphic spider.

On regarding this last statue, Walker turned to Ant with a grin. “Looks like your mum,” he sneered. Ant did not reply, enraptured as he was with fear at the terrible images that surrounded him.

We made our way up the worn stone steps at a slow yet steady pace, as Ant struggled hefting his weight upwards in a battle with gravity. Finally, after what seemed an age, we made it to the uppermost floor.

I found the room with some ease. The room that claimed my brothers. Ant carefully inspected the macabre paintings that still hung on the walls. “I don’t like these,” he grumbled, “They make me feel nervous. What happened in here?”

“Nothing,” I lied. No sense worrying him with the truth. As far as he and Walker knew, we were on a treasure hunt. Little did they realise that the loot we were hunting for was so monstrous, so deathly. If they had known, they would never have agreed to come with me.

“Shut up, Ant,” Walker snorted derisively, “Everything makes you feel nervous.” Then, turning to me, “They worth anything?”

Ant, offended by Walker’s tone, fell into a sullen, merciful silence and sat himself down on the hard floor. In the ensuing quiet, I could hear the scrabble of rats beneath the floorboards and behind the walls, hear the anxious twitterings of the birds in the rafters somewhere above us; but those terrible stooped shadows did not come. We sat in silent vigil for maybe an hour before Walker broke the silence: “There’s nothing here except for a bunch of paintings. Sitting around ain’t gonna find us our loot. We need to go down.”

That room, which had housed such horror, was bereft of life, devoid of danger. I began to wonder if the murders I had been sole witness to had been nought but some fever dream, some delusion created by my febrile imagination. Could it have been so? I began to feel the rat of panic, troubling at the pit of my stomach. Was I losing my mind? Had I lost it that night, drifted into some murderous somnambulence and slaughtered those dear boys?

I had to alleviate my suffering, and maintain the pretence of hidden swag with which I had duped these men into joining me. I rose to my feet, and gestured to my companions to follow.

We returned back down those ancient stairs to the ground floor, where we began to search- I know not what for. Wielding torches, we perused the winding corridors and grand hallways, each clandestine in avoiding picking out those gruesome statues that lined the way.

Ant gave a cry of surprise. Walker and I raced to his side. His face expressed a curiously mingled expression of excitement, inquisitiveness and dread. I looked to where his torchlight picked out a strange grille in the ground. The wrought iron grille covered some kind of hole, just wide enough even for a man the size of Ant to scramble through.

Ant stammered, “Why would they have a drain on the inside?”

Walker suddenly sprang forward and, muscles straining, wrenched the heavy grille open. “They wouldn’t,” he cried gleefully, “This must be where they hid their wealth!”

As the leader of the ragtag group, I was the first to lower myself into the hole. I felt my feet land on solid rock several feet beneath the floorboards of Leland House. Shining my torch before me, I found myself in the mouth of a long, narrow tunnel that stretched farther than even the beam of my torch. The tunnel was roughly the same width as the grille above, and the walls were an impossibly dark black, blacker than anything I had ever seen before.

I pulled myself along the tunnel on hands and knees, with the blessed torch gripped tightly between my teeth. Behind me, I could hear the scratching and grunting of my companions as they followed me into the bowels of the earth. The tunnel had a gentle downward inclination, and seemed to go on forever.

In the years since the loss of my brothers, I had developed a subtle claustrophobia. This narrow tunnel only exacerbated that feeling, and I had to bite down my panic. It would serve me ill down here. Should I lose grip of myself, I realised in that moment, then I will be lost forever. Creeping madness was trying to steal me, and I must not allow it. So I kept on crawling through that interminable burrow.

I became aware that, some way ahead, the tunnel seemed to terminate in some subterranean sandstone cavern. The panic overtook me, and I scrambled desperately for the safety of that hole in the ground. Fear caused my vision to swim, and I felt blood soaking into my trousers from my bashed and grazed knees.

Finally, I was there. I fell headlong into some dark, dank pit. The air was thick with mould and ancient moistures, and yet I did not care. I lay on the hard, cold ground, sucking in the air and relishing every gasp.

Walker deftly swung his frame down from the tunnel and landed beside me, poised like some great cat ready to strike. He was followed by the cumbersome Ant, who panted and wheezed in exhaustion.

“I should’ve never come here,” the hefty man rasped as he hacked up phlegm, “This is a horrible place.”

Walker thumped Ant round the back of the head to silence him, before carefully wielding the arc of his light around the peculiar subterranean pit we now found ourselves in. It had all the bearings of a box room, not unlike the one through which we had bought our entry to Leland House. This bizarre room, however, had been hewn from solid rock. In those stone walls were macabre carvings- images of spiders and earthworms and strange little people, hunched forms, their bodies bent at almost right angles at the waist. I recognised them immediately. We had found the lair of the monsters that killed my brothers.

In the solid wall before us was an intricately carved archway riddled with likenesses of snakes intertwining, and beyond it a long, dark hallway. This corridor was larger than the tunnel through which we had just wriggled like strange worms, yet still we were forced to stoop to traverse it. And, at the far end of the mercifully short passageway, we wished that we hadn’t; for the sight that greeted us was more horrible than any I had seen before. Greater terrors awaited me, yet this image is the one that still haunts me now. It nestles in the ruins of my mind alongside the shades of my brothers Leo and Billy, alongside the carved and mutilated forms of my birth parents.

The passageway opened out upon a huge chamber, a hall as wide and long as a church yet with a ceiling as low as that stooped corridor. The chamber, like everything else we had encountered on our underground exploration, had been carved from the rocks. In the middle of this chamber was a huge flat boulder almost like a strange platform, grey and ancient, its top splattered with suspicious stains in crimson and brown. Along the walls, brushes and branches hung aflame, casting their primordial flickering light across the multitudes of stooped, half-formed creatures that swarmed through the chamber.

There must have been hundreds of these monstrous entities in that chamber. In the lambent light of the burning torches, I noticed with increasing horror that each of these things bore a red mark on their left cheek- a scorched pentagram.

As I held tightly to my terror, desperately trying to conceal our presence amongst these fiends, I became aware of a high-pitched squeal emanating from beside me. Ant had been overcome by fear, and was screaming. The creatures all stopped as one, and slowly turned to face us. Hundreds of pale, wan faces, hundreds of glistening, murderous eyes, all fixed on us, interlopers into their subterranean nest.

Walker yelled a battle cry, and plunged himself into the thick of the living morass, throwing punches all around him. I saw him reach for his pistol. A series of gunshots- I know not how many- echoed through the chamber before my companion fell beneath the swarm. They gathered him up and he was swept, still fighting, across a wave of twisted hands which cast him onto that tainted platform at the heart of the chamber.

I watched on in terror as the creatures pinned Walker down, his body writhing like a trapped snake as their claw-like hands bit into his flesh.

One of the creatures, taller than the rest and clad in a crimson cloak, stood tall upon the platform beside my friend. He spoke in a horrible, shrill squeal in some obscure language. Whilst his tongue was alien, utterly bizarre, to my ears it still somehow felt achingly familiar.

Once this monster had finished his curious ritualistic speech, he pulled a large, jagged knife from his cloak, and plunged it deep into my friend’s chest. Walker’s writhing ceased and his entire body arched in agony, before he finally fell still. The monstrous leader of the legion then thrust one claw into Walker’s chest, and, in one swift movement, plucked out the dead man’s heart.

Once this terrible sacrifice had been made, the swarm returned their gaze upon Ant and I. My body frozen in horror, I found myself unable to flee as the stooped creatures with the scalded faces mobbed me and my surviving companion, and dragged us, too, into the heart of that terrible chamber. I felt my head spin as a dozen claws pinched into my flesh, and I lost consciousness.


The Shadow Of A Dream: II

(Chapter I here: )

Chapter II: Haunted

In a way, I never really escaped from Leland House. The events of that night have followed me into adulthood. They stalk me through sleepless nights and tormented days. Those strange, twisted shadows, the primal creatures that killed my foster brothers so cruelly. The terrifying portraits on the walls of the death room, so hauntingly monstrous. The echo of our footsteps clicking on the granite floors and reverberating through eternity.

I spent the next few years shunted from care home to care home, never settling, never adjusting. The Daltons could not accept me after the awful fate that befell their trueborn sons. They held me responsible- as do I- and so I found myself back in the care system. After that, I was in and out of prison for petty crimes, like stealing food from shops, or fighting outside nightclubs.

All that time, I was haunted. I was plagued by memories- the sight of the two boys I had loved more than any other, torn to shreds by some unknown assailants; and by an ancient, half-submerged memory of my birth parents. Whilst I could never see their faces- oh, why can I not see their faces even now!- I could see the forms that their bodies took in death. My mother, nailed to a wooden floor by her hands and feet, the skin of her abdomen peeled like some strange fruit; my father, his once strong body discombobulated into shreds and shards, a pulpy pile of flesh and bone oozing thick syrupy blood into the floorboards.

I tried to hide myself away from such hideous recollections by abusing drugs and abusing my body, by living in the direction of death; however, the other ghosts that haunted me were ones I could not protect myself from.

They came to me whenever the moon was full, the shades of my brothers. Little Leo, moaning in an unearthly warble, pleading with me not to drag him to Leland House. His formless, obfuscated face enwreathed with tears, and a gaping maw where his delicate little mouth had once been. Behind him, silent and stolid, Billy lurked in the shadows. He was flat and featureless, just a hushed silhouette, but I knew it was him. It could only be him.

I started researching the history of Leland House, reading every book and dusty old document, searching every forgotten internet forum and blog post, asking locals old and young.

Through my quest, I found many confusing and contradictory legends. Some said the asylum had housed a satanic cult in the 17th century, who summoned a demon that haunts the place to this very day. Others claimed an even more ancient pagan society performed human sacrifices there around the time of the Wars of the Roses. One source claimed that a freed or escaped incumbent of the asylum, an architect, had hewn a network of tunnels and caverns from the rock beneath the building. Another alleged that each beleaguered denizen of the asylum was branded, a large pentagram scorched onto their faces with a white hot brand. This practice is said to have continued well into the twentieth century.

Historical documentation showed the building as we know it first appearing in the 12th century, for use as a gaol. Over the centuries the construction was added to, embellished, refitted; however, its core- those long, granite corridors and worn stone steps- had remained essentially unchanged for nine hundred years. Even then, there was some supposition that this iteration of the asylum was a mere historical continuity. Anglo Saxon texts mention a prison of some sort on the site three hundred years earlier, one that was ancient even to them. Indeed, it is possible that the space that now contains Leland House has borne witness to some kind of penury since the Roman conquest or before.

As interesting as I found this speculative history, it contained nothing to still my mind or the restive spirits of my dead brothers. This was not to be my path to the redemption I had craved so long. I gradually came to the conclusion that there was only one way to solve the riddle of Leland House. I would have to go back.

I assembled a collective, a new brotherhood, to join me on my quest. Two of the biggest, strongest, hardiest men I knew. I had met them on various prison stints; they had both been incarcerated for acts of hideous violence. Whilst they might not be pleasant gentlemen or even particularly good company, these burly brutes are sure to protect me from the brutes within.

Now, we wait. When next the moon is full, my two fellow travellers and I will return to Leland House to unravel the mysteries of that ancient, sinister asylum, or die trying.

Chapter III:

The Shadow Of A Dream: I

Chapter I: Terror At Leland House

It wasn’t supposed to happen the way it did. It wasn’t supposed to happen at all. We were just stupid kids looking for hijinks, looking for adventure. It should’ve been the best summer of my life, but instead it was a time of death, and blame, and horror. Thirteen years have passed since that awful night, and I have never been able to move on. I am trapped inside an ancient memory, and can never escape except on the edge of a razor blade.

My youngest foster brother, Leo Dalton, had just turned thirteen. I was a year and a half older, about the same age as Billy. I had been taken in by their parents six months before, my first proper home since losing my own parents as an infant. Mr and Mrs Dalton were planning to adopt me in time for Christmas- I know this now, although back then I had no inkling of their wonderful plan.

I could’ve had a family all my own.

My two foster brothers took to me immediately. I became the third part of their sibling trinity, a part they had never known was missing. In my previous life, I had been an only child, and then the only survivor of my birth family. The Daltons had shown me new possibilities I could only have dreamed of before.

Oh, what an idiot I was to throw it all away! It was my suggestion. It was my fault; the police said as much.

I first heard of it in school. Leland House, an ancient, crumbling old building in the north of our home town. Leland House, the source of all the torments I have endured over the last thirteen years! The place my second family met its demise, and all of my hopes for the future with it.

Leland House was a vast, gothic building always cast in gloom. According to local legend, it had been a gaol and insane asylum for nearly a thousand years, built on the site of an even more ancient prison. The building had been derelict since the 1960s, and since then had been shrouded in mystery, shrouded in speculation and legendry, shrouded in an impenetrably dense fog. No matter the season or the weather, the old asylum was perpetually nestled at the heart of a sinister mist.

That summer night at the end of August, we decided to explore the ancient building that had intrigued our tiny minds so long. I suggested it, to my eternal chagrin! Leo was reluctant. He trembled in fear, and whined that he didn’t want to go. Why did I not listen to him? Billy and I jostled and teased the boy until he finally relinquished, a vain effort to prove his masculinity.

The moon was full and round in the sky as we approached Leland House, casting a strange glow over those perennial mists that enshrouded the ancient building. The gargoyles and grotesqueries that mottled its walls took on monstrous dimensions, their shadows seeming to reach out through the mists, grasping for us. We walked the perimeter until we found a cracked window that would allow us entrance; that would admit us to untold adventure or to the fate that beckoned us.

We older boys send little Leo in first. He, suppressing the trembling of his hands and quavering of his voice, declared that beyond the window lay a small, dusty room- perhaps a storage space of some kind. The light of the moon however, filtered through the fog, did not allow him much of a view. Billy and I followed him in. Across from the window, we could make out a doorway, the wooden door itself long since rotted to shards.

I had the torch. I pointed its light beyond the door, out into a long corridor hewn of granite, with strange sculptures of some marble-like stone with grey and brown swirls like the swirls of the fog we had fought through outside. We ignored those intimidating statues in forms our minds could not then process, cautiously stepped out into this endless corridor, and set about exploring.

The old building was truly enormous in size. We three explored all five storeys that night, poking our heads through rotted wood doorways, racing down those labyrinthine stone corridors, carefully clambering up worn stone steps. Our footsteps echoed through those ancient halls, perhaps the first footfall in that building in half a century. Clouds of dust thrown up by our frolics danced in the light of the torch, and somewhere far above, in the rafters, we heard the shifting of anxious birds in their nests.

We decided to settle for the night in a large room on the uppermost floor. The room was long and narrow, with damp wooden panels on the walls decorated with strange portraits. As my new brothers slept, I found myself examining those paintings closer. A man with half his skull torn away, his pulsing brain riven with a writhing multitude of worms. A screaming woman, a crazed axeman reflected in her eyes. A hideous, smirking crone, her skin riddled with cracks through which a mysterious and unnatural light seemed to glow.

I settled between my new brothers, and fell into an uneasy sleep.

I was awoken by a curious thumping noise, and the sensation of warmth on my cheek. I sat up and, to my horror, found myself in the midst of a swarm of monstrous shadows. These terrible, primal beings seemed half-human; stooped and short, as if they were in the act of unfurling, or fresh-hatched. I screamed in terror, and reached out for Billy and Leo, to either side of me.

I seized Billy’s hand in mine, and found it still and stiff. I tried to pull him up, to awaken him to the horrors that surrounded us, but his hand came away.

At the sound of my scream, the monstrous demons shrouded in darkness disappeared. I reached for the torch, yet, as its nourishing light glowed, I wished that I hadn’t. My brothers were dead. Leo’s body had been torn apart by monstrous claws, his viscera and gizzards strung about the room like macabre tinsel. His face, mottled with fresh blood, was contorted into a look of unspeakable and unspoken horror. Billy had likewise been dissected, his limbs torn asunder and spread about the room in disarray.

I remember little of what followed. Those wicked shadows now gone, I ran from the room, down those myriad stone passageways, and out into the obfuscating mists beyond.


Chapter II here:

The Strange Tale Of Justin Magnitt


Justin Magnitt had always been shy. The kids in his class avoided him with the same fervour he avoided them. His worst enemy, however, was the mirror. Whenever he glanced at it, he was repulsed by what he saw- the flame red curls atop his head, the long, hooked nose, the awful birthmark splashed across his left cheek. He had tried on several occasions to explain his mirror anxiety to his mother; she would blithely disregard him with a wave of her hand, before returning her attentions to Coronation Street. This anxiety grew into a full phobia. Justin would cower when confronted by a mirror, his dread rooting him to the spot, unable to break the reflective hex. He would only visit the bathroom under cover of darkness, and even then he could feel the creature in the mirror somewhere in the gloom, watching him. Always watching him.

When old Mr Feltcher from down the road came to see him one evening, Justin was mortified. He never had visitors of his own age, so to find a crusty old man in his front room asking after him deeply disturbed the boy. Feltcher’s hunched figure caught in silhouette put Justin in mind of some strange swamp monster, oozing fetid algae and putrescence from his every pore. The old man’s ancient, deeply crevassed face spoke of a lifetime of anguish unspoken, of a billion paper cuts and a withered, leathery heart.

“I’m going on holiday,” the old man grumbled in a voice that reminded Justin of the time he fell from his scooter and his face grinded into the gravel. “I want you to house sit for me.”

Justin had been too shy to decline, and so now he found himself sitting in the old man’s draughty, damp house just off Flint Mount Drive, reading a list of instructions that had been left behind for him.

The list mainly contained obvious things. No parties. Justin was only twelve, and still thought of parties as fancy dress affairs with cakes and fizzy drinks and friends. He had no friends, so there was no chance of his throwing a party. Remove your shoes before entering the house. Justin’s mother imposed a similar rule in his own house.

The final item on the list, however, intrigued young Justin. “Under no circumstances,” it read, “May you enter the cellar. This area is strictly out of bounds.”

Every day, after school, Justin would come to Mr Feltcher’s house and sit there until the sun went down. The ancient, bestained couch in the front room was ragged and uncomfortable and stank of mould, but he made it his home. He would sit there in silence for hours, just existing. There was no television, no radio, no tablet or console. Just Justin, and that threadbare sofa, and the infinite silence. The boy was adept at quieting his own thoughts, so they never crept in to disturb the peace either.

On the third day of his watch, as Justin trudged down the hallway on his way to the couch, he heard an unexpected noise. A wobble, like a rocking vase knocked but remaining upright. It was coming from behind a locked door in the hall that Justin had not noticed before. Intrigued, the boy rifled through the bureau drawers until he found a key. He tried it in the lock and, to his surprise, it worked. The door creaked open.

The space beyond was dark. It took Justin’s eyes a few moments to adjust to the gloom and, when they did, he saw a set of concrete steps that led down into the darkness. This, he realised, was the forbidden cellar. Immediately, a rush of thought overtook the boy; thoughts he had spent much of his short life suppressing or ignoring. A rebellious streak he never knew existed urged him to push past the cobwebs and explore this mysterious underground chamber. He tried to fend off this mischievous impulse, but found that he could not. For the first time in his life, Justin Magnitt was going to do something naughty.

Cautiously, Justin set a bare foot on the top step. The concrete was cold against his foot, and felt moist, almost slimy. He felt a shudder spurt up his spine, a mingling of terror, repulsion and a strange, impish glee. He paused for a moment to allow the sensation to pass, before taking in the second step, and then the third.

The steps ended in a deep, wide room with a low ceiling. There was no light switch, no window, no source of light other than the dull glow of the bulb in the hallway behind and above him, which seemed a million miles away. In the gloom, Justin could make out shelves splayed across the walls, covered with pots and tins, brushes and drills and tools.

But these were not what interested Justin the most. In the centre of the room sat a giant egg, nearly as big as he was. The egg swayed gently from side to side on its carven pine plinth, almost imperceptibly.

Justin found a torch and picked out the top of the egg with its beam. The egg was beautiful: a pale blue, mottled with light brown spots which reminded him of the liver spots on old Mr Feltcher’s hands. Justin pounced back in surprise as a crack appeared in the top of the egg, right in the centre of the torchlight. His heart raced, and his body trembled. He wanted to turn and run, to slam the door behind him and flee from that awful place; his body would not allow him, and so Justin stood rooted to the spot, unable to move, scarcely able to breathe. The crack grew and grew, until suddenly the egg burst into a cascade of shell shards and albumin. A creature fell to the floor, as big as Justin himself. The boy watched on in horror as the thing rose to two feet and unfurled its body.

Justin slowly raised the light of the torch to the hatchling’s face, and then let out a scream. The creature screamed, too, and raised fleshy pink fingers to its face.

The hatchling was Justin. It had the same nest of red hair, the same hooked nose, the same hideous wine stain on its cheek. New Justin and old Justin stared at each other, both screaming.