Saturday 24 March 2012

SHADES OF GREY by Darren Sant

Daz Sant is one of the nicest guys on the Brit Grit scene. But don't be fooled by this because his fiction is gritty and hard-hitting, as you'll find in...

Shades of Grey

He yanked at his bonds in quiet desperation and cold icy fear. Berl tried to stretch his arms. No good. Tied fast behind his back. Agonising cramps twitched in his forearms. He tried to shout out but a gag muffled the sound. 

He looked around the grim little room. A lone cockroach roamed around on the oily and dusty ground before him. Its feelers scanning the air for tasty morsels. There was a constant drip, drip from the ceiling onto the top of his head. 

As the endless hours stretched by he was slowly getting soaked to the skin. Outside a storm raged and buffeted the corrugated tin sides of the building. The loud roar of the wind whistled through the vents and holes in the building. A loud clatter and muffled curse reached Berl's sharp ears. The cold was starting to gnaw at his bones like a hungry grizzly. He yanked at his bonds in quiet desperation.

A constant hammering from the next room heightened his fear. The Sheriff wondered how much more of this he could take. His ticker wasn't what it used to be.

What should have been a quick drive to the seven eleven had turned into a terrifying ordeal. Someone had hollered his name in the parking lot, then pain, a fall and darkness. He awoke bound and gagged to a chair in a dark room.

The room was windowless and unremarkable except for one small detail. A perfectly square metal clad hole several inches wide and several deep from what he could make out. Berl shuddered as he wondered at its purpose in. 

What sounded like a power drill started up in the next room. Berl felt a sharp stab of fear and his heart started to pound. What did they have planned for him? The drill stopped and a harsh laugh punctured the silence.

A loud grunt and then the sound of something heavy being dragged along the floor. The door was suddenly kicked open. Two large black men struggled with the weight of a heavy wooden frame that resembled, no it was, a cross. They lay the cross on the floor. The taller of the two men eyeballed Berl before leaving the room. They left the cross on the floor. 

Several hours passed and despite his fear Berl drifted into an uneasy dream-filled sleep.

His slumber was disturbed by the slamming of the door. He looked up blearily from the gloom. The two large black men entered the room and this time they were pushing another black man in a wheelchair. Berl stared at the man in the wheelchair. His eyes were vacant and there was a bare patch and scar on his head.  A puddle of drool had collected at the top of the T-shirt he wore.

"You remember us boy?" Asked the larger man looming over Berl. He waited for any sign of recognition in Berl's eyes. When he saw none he snorted. "We just two more niggers to you eh Sheriff?"

Berl struggled and tried to talk as the two men untied him. The larger man knocked him down with a vicious hook to the jaw. The darkness once more called to him.

When Berl came around he found that he couldn't move at all. His legs were tied and his arms were outstretched. He was raised off the ground and staring down at the three men.  Berl saw that the cross had been placed in the hole in the floor. He was bound to it.  The pain hit as he realised that his hands were actually nailed to the cross. Gravity pulled mercilessly.

"You awake just in time boy. Before you die we want you to know why. We was jus' kids when you and your clansmen caught us. Walking along minding our own business. Except our little brother Jonah knew no better. He gave you lip. You and your clansmen with your hoods and billy clubs."  At this he spat on the floor and stared up at Berl on the cross.

"He’s been in this wheelchair since that day. His expression’s the same one you see now. It don’t change. If you'd known better you'd have kept your hood on Sheriff."

The large black man pulled a Zippo from his pocket.  "We gonna have us a barbecue. Our own cross burning if you will."

Berl’s eyes widened in terror as he smelled the gasoline. Jonah’s frozen lips creased into the first smile that had graced them for years.

Originally from Stoke-on-Trent, Daz now lives in Hull.  His short fiction is on various ezines and in anthologies, including, Radgepacket: Tales from the Inner Cities 6.  
Daz is proud to be a part of the Byker Books stable and is the creator of Tales from the Longcroft Estate. Check out his eBooks on Amazon.
Daz also reviews here.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Submissions Request for Action anthology

Please excuse the intrusion on the usual flow of excellent fiction here at TKnC, but I just thought some of our contributors might be interested in this project that I (A.K.A Editor/Thriller Dude Matt Hilton) am working on at the moment.

Basically I'm looking to publish an eBook celebrating action adventure style stories in the style of Mack Bolan, Remo Williams, and even my own Joe Hunter books.

Full details of the submission process etc can be found here. Please don't send your submissions to TKnC, but directly to me via the email address provided in the post.

Ta! And good luck.

Matt Hilton

Monday 19 March 2012


Crime Editor, Col, first met talented new writer, Phil Martin at a Mandasue Heller book launch in 2011, at Waterstones in Manchester city centre. Phil's enthusiasm about writing was infectious, as he proudly clutched a fledgling manuscript.  We chewed the fat about our hopes and aspirations, and have kept in touch ever since.  The manuscript he held was Child Number 3. Read his story below and you, too, will realise why he's so enthusiastic... 

The Long Kiss Goodbye

Even through the haze of her sleeping pill, Amy Walker knew exactly why the police had come calling. 

She kicked off her tangled duvet and sighed heavily as the all-consuming nightmare engulfed her again.  The last few weeks had savaged her life; the holiday had done nothing to refresh her.  If anything it had just cast further doubt on every aspect of her life.   

 “Amy, you need to get down here, it’s the police,” Joanna shouted again.  

Amy glanced in the mirror, not to admire her holiday tan or run a brush through her tangled, dark hair, but to look at the lesion on her bottom lip.  It stared back, throbbing in time with her heartbeat.  

She knew it was about her test results.  Her GP had said they’d investigate.  It looked for all the world like a cold sore, yet Amy had never had one in her whole life. 

Grabbing her dressing gown as her only necessity, she flung open her bedroom door.  

“Amy, it’s the fucking police.”  Joanna stood startled blocking her way. 

“I know Jo, I heard you.”  Amy prayed it had nothing to do with Morocco, but deep down she knew.  The man’s death had nothing to do with her though.  The police had said it was a freak accident when they’d cleared her to come home. 

Amy strode past Joanna to see two plain clothed officers waiting at the bottom of the stairs with her other bewildered housemate, Carolyn.   

 “Miss Walker,” the male officer greeted as Amy walked down the stairs.  “My name’s DC Foulkes. We were hoping you could spare some time to assist us in an investigation.”  

“Are you arresting me for something?” Amy greeted, only half joking.   

“Not at all, but you might prefer this to be discussed in private.”

“Actually I kind of know why you’re here,” Amy said, wincing apprehensively.  “But I’ve not told my housemates, yet maybe I should...”  She glanced at the concerned faces in front of her.  “I’ve not done anything wrong. It’s about the test results isn’t it?”

The nods from both detectives were weighted with concern.  

“So the results have come back?” Carolyn asked.  “It’s herpes isn’t it… a cold sore?”

Amy shrugged painfully. 

“They’re not sure what it is, Caz. My doctor said it’s an infection, but it falls into a pretty unique category and doesn’t actually have a medical name.”

As Amy paused, the female detective took over.     

“I’m DC Mills,” she said, shaking Amy’s hand.  “Girls, am I right in thinking that you’ve all recently qualified as doctors?”   

“Yeah, only three weeks ago,” Carolyn replied.  “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Well, there’s no easy way of asking this, but have you come into contact with many dead bodies during your course?”

“Occasionally,” Carolyn replied belligerently.  “We try not to, but unfortunately it does kind of come with the territory.  ”
“And have you all been working in the morgues at all recently?” Mills asked.  “It’s just that you all might need to come in for test too.” 

Carolyn’s eyes widened at the scope of the questioning.  “What?” she questioned.  “I’ve been down to the morgues, we all have, but we’ve only just qualified. We’re taking six months off before we start working in A an' E properly. Look, we’ve just got back from a holiday. What the hell’s going on?”

The mention of the holiday resonated with Amy.  She couldn’t force her own theory from her lips, not yet. 
The male officer took over the reins again, more assertive this time.      

“We’re investigating a potential outbreak at the hospital. Amy’s infection is unusual, not at all life threatening, but very unusual. It displays certain characteristics. There’s no easy way of explaining this. I’m afraid it’s shown up bacteria consistent with that found on decomposing bodies, the recently deceased... if you will.”  

The full absurdity of the suggestion slowly dawned on Amy’s housemates.  Amy slumped down to sit on the stairs, but stayed quiet to let their own realisation hit home.    

“That’s ridiculous,” Carolyn suddenly snapped.  “The lesion’s on her lip. What exactly are you suggesting? That Amy’s been kissing dead people in the morgue?”

“That’s not what we’re suggesting at all,” the female officer assured.  “Though her GP has raised the topic of necrophilia as a potential line of inquiry.”

The word alone threw a veiled silence over the hallway.

Amy paused for a second to review her possibilities, glancing again at the anxiety etched into her housemates’ faces, but she knew she’d made the connection.

“Look,” she began tentatively, “it might not be the morgues at all. Something happened on holiday.”
Every face in the hallway turned her way.  Amy looked at her feet and then again at her friends for support.     

“In Morocco,” she continued, “a local man tried to kiss me. I met him for a meal and he got me drunk then he threw himself at me. There was a struggle and I pushed him off, but I remember him slobbering all over me as I fought him off. He bit my lip as he tried to kiss me, but I got away. He chased me but I got away. When the infection started, I thought it was a cold sore. We all thought the same.”

“Are you saying someone tried to abduct you?” the female detective asked.  

“I think she’d remember that,” Joanne interrupted. 

“I’m not sure, maybe,” Amy answered as a tear welled heavily in her eye.  “He seemed pretty keen on getting me back to his place, but everything’s hazy. I wasn’t sure if he drugged me.”   

“You’re not sure if he drugged you?” Foulkes quizzed. 

“Well, he hardly advertised the fact,” Amy snapped back. 

An uneasy silence shrouded the hallway again, this time left to the female officer to break.    

“And did you report this?”

“No,” Amy said cagily.  “We just wanted to come home and forget about it. I’ve had so much going on recently and couldn’t deal with it, and I’ve not been thinking straight. I just accepted I’d somehow caught a cold sore virus...from him.”

“We cut our holiday short because of what happened,” Carolyn piped up as an offer of support.  “Jesus, do you think it could be related? Oh my God, do you think it could be him kissing dead people? Do you think he’s infected you?”

The girls looked at each other as the colour drained from Amy’s cheeks. 

“Well, whatever’s happened, it sounds like you’ve had a very lucky escape,” Mills offered in support.
“From what?” Joanna questioned unable to take the suggestion on board.  “Are you saying Amy was kissed by some crazed, serial killer, someone who keeps his victims’ bodies afterwards?”
“All we’re saying is this bacteria is very, very peculiar. But it does sounds like you could have been next on his list. Amy, we’re going to need you to make a statement about this.”   

The detective’s words were wasted.  Amy’s mind was elsewhere, floating away in a cloud of confusion.  Instinct told her the encounter was threatening.  There was no doubt the man was creepy, but next on the hit list of some sexual deviant?  Her world slowly collapsed inwards as the shock and adrenaline nullified her defences, but deep down she already knew.  The next piece in a terrifying jigsaw had just slotted into place.  However, the puzzle was more horrifying than anyone could have imagined; a lot more horrifying.
She kept the thought to herself, but if Amy was right, she hadn’t just been next on his list; she’d been the first, over two decades ago.    

Phil Martin is a Manchester lad.  The Long Kiss Goodbye is the prologue of Phil Martin's debut novel, Child Number Three. Martin has also written The Attached, Killing Doves and Stripped Bare.

For more chapters visit:

To buy Child Number Three go here.

Tuesday 13 March 2012


TKnC is always happy to welcome back old friends. This time we get double the pleasure with Graham Smith and a character from his previously published 'Shooting Stars' in...

Star Struck Shooter

   She’d escaped the bullet I’d fired at her. Now my moral code wouldn’t let me kill her myself. I allowed myself one bullet per target and I’d missed when I shot at her. I’d killed a bystander, which further breached my professional ethics. An assassin shouldn’t feel remorse but I hated that I’d killed an innocent. At least it was one of those bloody mime artists.
   I had a solution though. I’d merely stepped up my apprentice’s training and passed the job to him. I’d broken my code over that bitch once. I’d sooner die than break my code a second time for the same target.
   Jessica wouldn’t escape this time. We’d make sure of that. We’d followed her to the beach house where she was relaxing between movies.
   I knew her routine very well after the idyllic month we’d shared here. There were no bodyguards, assistants or staff. She went native in every respect. Cooked her own food, did her own laundry and refused contact with anyone who wasn’t invited onto her island.
   We’d arrived late the night before, rowing the last mile to be sure of silence. Out here sound didn’t just carry over the water it amplified. A cough became a gunshot, a gunshot a thunderclap and all because of the night air’s papal purity.

   Soon she’d be going for her morning jog. Twice round the two mile perimeter, running at the waters edge where the sand was firmer.
   The plan was simple, the apprentice would wait until she was nearly finished her second lap. She would be breathless, sweaty and low on energy as she always drove herself to near exhaustion when exercising.
   Then he would sprint out from the mango grove, grab her and then drown her in the shallow breakers rolling in from the east. Her body would be left at the high tide mark to be found by the locals who brought her daily provisions at noon.
   As she rounded the southerly point for the second time I reached across to the apprentice and gently tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention without startling him.
   I pointed out a pleasure yacht which had just hove into view from behind the neighbouring island.
   The younger man relaxed back from his sprinters crouch and lifted his thumb from his fist to show his understanding. We would fall back to the first of our reserve plans.
   I’d been on enough missions to know never to rely on just one plan. The second plan was almost as straightforward although there was more risk to it. We would wait on her reaching the house. I knew she would go straight for a shower and that would be his chance to pounce.
   OK so it couldn’t be passed off as an accident like drowning but she would still die and that was all I cared about.
   She ran past us. Dressed in baggy shorts and t-shirt, hair matted to her head, face and clothes drenched in sweat as she puffed her way, red faced past our hiding place among the trees. No wonder she was the highest paid actress in the world, even in the bedraggled state she had presented as she ran by, she was still eye wateringly beautiful.
  Giving her a hundred yards head start, we jogged through the woods until she entered the house. The yacht had passed the island and was arrowing its way through the calm seas.
   I entered the house via the sliding windows which fronted the beach. My apprentice was hot on my heels with the knife ready in his gloved hand. I led him through the house to the bathroom which adjoined the master bedroom. We could hear running water. I signalled to my apprentice to go in.
   After adjusting his grip on the knife he burst through the door and slashed and stabbed at the figure in the open shower cubicle. In my mind I could hear the screeching wheek from the classic Hitchcock film. I kicked my attention back towards what was happening in the bathroom only to see a female body fall to the floor.

   We made our getaway that night. Our dingy easily covered the five miles to the nearby island where we’d set up our base. After cleaning everything down which may have held a trace of us we boarded the plane back to Miami.
   I was on cloud nine. I‘d hated her ever since she’d told an entire table in a crowded L.A. restaurant of my erectile dysfunction.
   It had taken years for me to perfect my assassins’ craft, and make enough money to stalk her around the globe until I finally had my chance. Now however, she was dead.  My apprentice came good and killed for me. I would always remember him favourably for the way he unquestioningly settled the score my code wouldn’t allow me to.
   As we exited Miami International Airport I bought a newspaper to see if her death had yet been discovered.
   Right there on the front page was her picture, underneath the chastising headline “Movie Star’s Twin Found Slain”.

© Graham Smith 2012

Graham Smith is married with a young son. A time served joiner he has built bridges, houses, dug drains and slated roofs to make ends meet. For the last eleven years he has been manager of a busy hotel and wedding venue near Gretna GreenScotland.

An avid fan of crime fiction since being given one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books at the age of eight, he has also been a regular reviewer for the well respected review site for over two years.
As well as reviewing for Graham has also interviewed such stellar names as David Baldacci, Jeffrey Deaver, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Matt Hilton, current CWA Chair Peter James, Mark Billingham and many others.

When not working, his time is spent reading, writing and playing games with his son. He enjoys socialising and spending time with friends and family.

Sunday 11 March 2012

ASKING PRICE by Neil Ballard

Neil returns with a moving tale of hope... or is it?

Asking Price

The house was up in the hills. The road wound around in such a way that the front of the house faced away from the lake, and a porch wrapped around the back on the second story. The master bedroom, the office, and the games room all opened out onto this porch. The view of the lake from up there was superb.

It was probably the best house in the whole county, built in 1929 from the lumber of just two trees - giant sequoias felled by a San Francisco businessman who desired a rustic setting for his twilight years. The basement foundation and chimney addition were equally attractive, being constructed of granite from the Kelseyville quarry.

The listing price was positively criminal - truly a theft- compared to that property value. But Lake County folk were never what you’d call prosperous, especially in these troubled recent times, so the price of the house compared favorably to something you’d find down South.

They parked their van in the gravel drive. The estate agent, Mr. Kilton, had parked just ahead of them. He hopped out of his Olds and climbed the steps to the front door, jiggling the keys while he waited for mom to get her kids out of the car.

‘I’m not going in,’ Chelsea said, her arms crossed and her seatbelt still on.

‘Come on, we’re not going through this again,’ her mother said. Her father was standing with a grimace on his face and his hands on his hips.

‘No. If I don’t go in, then you can’t see the house, and we can’t live here. I hate it here. People are disgusting here.’

‘If you don’t get out of the car right now-’

Chelsea’s brother Jordan was waddling up to the house, his arms spinning in helicopter fashion.

‘Just look at the real estate guy, mom. He’s a total creep. All tall and skinny, with that gross little moustache. He looks like a skeleton.’

The estate agent plucked his trouser-pleats and settled down on his haunches when Jordan began clambering over the steps. He stretched out his arms, bracelets glinting in the sun, reaching for the toddler-

‘Jesus,’ Chelsea said, unbuckling her seatbelt and rushing over to scoop Jordan up herself.

‘Ohp,’ Mr. Kilton said with a chuckle. ‘Well, shall we go inside?’

Chelsea rolled her eyes and began talking to Jordan. Mom and dad smiled at Mr. Kilton and asked for the full tour.

‘Wow, look at this kitchen, honey, look at this old stove.’

‘Yep,’ Mr. Kilton said to mom, ‘that’s been here since the late‘forties, I believe. It adds to the whole old-fashioned charm of the residence, I think…’

‘Oh my god,’ Chelsea said from the back of the downstairs. ‘In the laundry room, come look.’

Mom and dad obeyed her summons, and Mr. Kilton followed. Chelsea, gently bouncing Jordan in one arm, pointed to the corner of the ceiling. A large, thick web held a wriggling moth.

‘Chelsea, that’s not so -’ her mother began, but the spider showed itself, rattling its giant web like a trampoline as it ate.

‘This house is a fixer-upper,’ dad said, ‘we knew that going in. Some new wallpaper here and there, maybe replace some of this old flooring. C’mon, Chels, you can’t be a squeamish homeowner, remember that.’

‘Oh my god! Aren’t you thinking of Jordan? What if he gets bitten by-’

‘C’mon, Chels,’ dad said, tugging on one of her piercings until she yielded. Mr. Kilton chuckled and led the way upstairs.

‘Mom,’ Chelsea said, ‘I’m serious, I don’t want to be here.’

‘You’re being a pain in the ass again, Chelsea. I’m serious. You just love to get in the way, don’t you?’

‘Well, tell you what, why don’t Chelsea explore downstairs a while, while I give you two the upstairs tour?’ Mr. Kilton said from the top of the stairs. He was crouched to avoid bumping his head on the overhang.

‘Oh, okay,’ mom said, ‘I think that’s a real good idea.’

There was plenty to see in the upstairs. There was more natural lighting than downstairs, what with all the skylights and French doors, and having the kids out of the way gave Mr. Kilton the opportunity to go over the boring details of the inspection, and the small matter of the septic tank (entirely corroded on account of previous owner neglect), the particulars of the deck refinishing, local amenities, so on and so forth.

Downstairs, Chelsea was afforded an opportunity to inspect the areas of peeling wallpaper and colonies of rot. The living room seemed very much to be alive, with several strains and species recognizable, especially in the area surrounding an ancient liver-hued couch.

Chelsea did not want to let Jordan squirm away for fear of spiders, so she soothed him with a song as they moved through the rooms. It was a sad pop song they always played at the laundromat, and she sang it because she too needed soothing. She hated Lake County, hated the way that guy at the deli back in town had licked his lips when she ordered a sandwich. He had bad tattoos up and down his arms, and there was a woman behind the counter with a drawn face and straw hair, sitting on a stool and swatting invisible flies. Not that visible flies were in short supply in Lake County, either.

There was a staircase leading down. The stairs were carpeted and it was dark at the bottom, Chelsea guessed that it led to the basement. She took Jordan to the kitchen, and they looked out the window. She had run out of lyrics to her song but Jordan was happy holding onto her, and the silence was nice. Clear Lake was really pretty, she had to admit. And it wasn’t like this would be any worse than the other places they’d lived.

‘Do you like it here?’ she asked Jordan. He had fallen asleep.

It wasn’t as though she had a choice in the matter. She remembered the self-help book she’d read at her aunt’s house, and remembered that the only thing a person can control is their own emotions and responses to situations.

‘Let’s check out the downstairs, maybe we could find a playroom for you,’ she said to Jordan. So they walked down the stairs towards the basement.

The steps were carpeted, and the walls were paneled with fake wood. Funny, given the redwood construction of the house. There wasn’t a light switch at the top of the stairs, and Chelsea struggled to find one at the bottom. There were two doors to her left and right. What she did see, where the switch should have been, was an odd symbol painted in a dark color. She decided to open the left door first, and they found a room with no windows. Fortunately there was a lightswitch in this room.

The room was cluttered with boxes and old junk from a few past decades. Ski sets and fondue pots and exercise videos, standard house junk. Chelsea was about to turn, to try the other door, when she noticed something. There seemed to be some bone thing in the back, behind the boxes. Like an antler or something. Chelsea was always fascinated by antlers, she used them all the time in her pencil sketches and watercolors. She wanted to get an antler tattoo of some kind as soon as she got to be old enough. She moved toward it.

It was a full elk skull, in perfect condition.

‘Cool,’ she said. She took another step into the room.

It seemed to be attached to the face of a clothed mannequin, but something more lifelike than a mannequin, six-five or taller, dressed in a corduroy shirt, leather apron and dungarees. There was a long knife in his belt.

Chelsea backed out of the room. In the corner, another moth flapped noisily in a dusty web. She tried to slam the door but it was made of flimsy plywood. Closing it in a quick motion just made it more air resistant, and in the added moment, she saw the man stand up. She started scrambling up the stairs, still holding Jordan. The man busted the door and stepped through, taking care not to catch the antlers of his mask-helmet on the jamb.

Chelsea threw Jordan up and he landed on the hardwood floor, crying loudly. It dawned on Chelsea too late that she should have been screaming. A hand clamped over her mouth and she was led down forcibly, through the other door, to the darkened basement.

Jordan was slow to start walking, but he had never evinced trouble around stairs, and that ability did not fail him now. He came to the top, wailing without words, running over to his mother, who took one last hit on the pipe before reluctantly offering it, the globe still half-swirling with the precious vapors of some prime crystals, to her husband’s outstretched hand. Mom picked up her child.

‘I already got some bedding for you,’ Kilton said, pointing to a couple of camping rolls and dirty sleeping bags, right next to the slashed and piss-stained pool table. ‘So you don’t have to worry about mattresses or nothing. And you saw the kitchen was kitted out, that stove don’t work but there’s a hot plate, and some paper plates. I think there’s a fork, somewhere…’

‘Appreciate that.’

‘So like I said, the price is right,’ Kilton said, ‘we just don’t get a lot of buyers who are willing to negotiate seriously.’

Dad gave Kilton his pipe and said, ‘Well, Kilton, looks like you boys have yourself a deal.’

‘Delighted to hear it. Shake on it?’

‘Sure thing. And let’s set the move-in date for early next week, is that enough time?’

‘I believe that’ll do nicely,’ Kilton said, giggling. He gave the still-shrieking Jordan a rustle on the head and escorted the good folks out to their van. They had some trouble getting the little one into his car-seat, but soon they were off, with the whole afternoon ahead of them to enjoy the sights of Lake County.

Kilton admired the view of the lake for a moment. He knelt to tie his shoe, but he had never really learned how. After a few minutes of that fruitless pursuit he turned and walked back into the house.


BIO: Neil Ballard, a young crime writer living in Northern California, has a smattering of publications not worthy of mention, for the roiling and nebulous internet gestalt has moved on. He hopes for a more profound success with a novel that he wrote in 2009 and is currently editing. It is about a witch.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

SHIPWRECKED by Phil Ambler

Grab your travel sickness tabs and take to the waves with Phil Ambler's latest chiller...


Waves lapped lazily against the 'island', three hundred square feet of barren sand and rock in the middle of the Pacific. A herring gull hopped cautiously onto the outstretched leg of one of the sandbank's new inhabitants, snapping at insects before flying off with indifference.

The three men lay prostrate in the sand, battered and bruised, their clothes ragged, a circle of stones filled with ash in the centre of the group. They had been stranded for days, the only survivors of the SS Valiant, a frigate bound for the latest jewel in the Empirical crown; Australia. They slowly began to move as the sun rose above the horizon.

The first to stir was Mitchell, a mountain of a man, clothed in a dark jacket with two white stripes hanging by threads from the tattered sleeve; his barrel of a chest was bare underneath, his missing shirt wrapped round his balding head. He had been one of the ship's guards, and a vicious one at that, overseeing the prisoners sentenced to start a new life at the request of the Crown. He sported a handlebar moustache on a face which had seen a lot in its time; little of it pleasant. His great bulk inhibited him as he struggled to stand, his feet slipping as he tried to find purchase in the yielding sands. He stretched and looked at the others. Beside him lay a rake of a man, scrawny and barely old enough to shave; of the three, he had fared the worst. Blake was his name and he had been amongst Mitchell's charges; arrested for stealing bread. What clothes he had, rags to begin with, were now ripped to shreds and he had suffered a big gash down his leg which had been bandaged as best as possible. Even so, flies buzzed around the wound, burrowing in its warmth and laying eggs waiting to be hatched. The third castaway lay slightly away from the others. A portly fellow in a shredded suit which had come from one of the finest shops on Saville Row, ruined forever, not that it mattered on this Godforsaken rock. The back of his head was bald and peeling, burnt red raw by the unforgiving sun over the days spent without any shelter or shade. Bored of his life in Harley Street, Roberts had decided to seek adventure and to take his skills to the new lands. Now both aspirations were dead and buried as all their lives looked set to end out here with no human civilisation for thousands of miles.

Mitchell turned and scanned the horizon, looking for ships, hoping for a miracle.

"Good morning," piped up Roberts, rousing himself from his sleep.

"If you say so," grouched Mitchell.

"Still with the attitude I take it. I'd hoped a night's rest would make you more reasonable."

"Well what the hell do you expect? We've been stuck here for days in the middle of nowhere with no food, no water, and no way off this hell hole! You said that we would be rescued by now, you said that God would provide for us, so yes, I'd say I still have some attitude!"

"I am not one of your charges Mitchell. You mind your tongue when you speak to me!"

"I think I'll talk to you however I see fit doctor."

Mitchell menaced towards the physician, his hand reaching into his jacket pocket, grasping for…..


"The cripple's awake then," snorted Mitchell, taking his empty hand from his pocket.

Roberts turned to Blake, relieved at the distraction. Mitchell was more erratic with each passing day and all three were quite aware of what he carried in his pocket.

"Damn, you man, he has a fever. Just do your own thing and leave me to tend him."

"Glad to. Maybe I'll see if the fish will oblige today. Perhaps God will make some jump into my hands as they ain't been co-operating so far."

Mitchell stormed off to the far side of the island, eager to be away from the both of them. With Blake's constant groaning and Roberts' unrelenting optimism he didn't know who he despised the most.

Roberts gazed after him. He hoped God would show them the way soon. Mitchell was right, things were looking futile. They'd not eaten for days, most of the wreckage that washed up with them had been burnt to stave off the cold nights and the only water came from the sky. He didn't think it would take much more to push Mitchell over the edge.


"It's ok, Blake, I'm here."

Roberts wasn't sure what more he could do for the man. He'd changed his bandages, strips made from their limited clothing, although Mitchell had refused to share his, yet without proper medical supplies he'd been unable to stop the infection. Now the fever had taken hold and he needed a preacher more than a physician.

Roberts tore more cloth from his ragged trousers and headed to the shoreline. He dipped the fabric in the salt water, tempted to put it to his parched lips but knowing it would do more harm than good. How did it go, 'Water, water everywhere yet not a drop to drink'. He'd always found that such a pleasant piece. He laughed at the tragedy of it all.

He could see Mitchell splashing about in the waters in the distance as he made his way back to Blake. Kneeling, he placed the damp cloth on his patient's forehead. Blake grasped his arm as a spasm seized his body, gritting his teeth as he arched his body, and then lay back down limply, his breathing shallow.

A screech sounded out from across the sands mingled with splashing water. Roberts looked up to see the leering face of Mitchell as he lumbered across the ground, his arm outstretched before him with something shining in his hand.

"I did it. I bloody well went and did it," shouted Mitchell, jumping around like an excitable child eager for their parent's attention, "but don't think I'm sharing any with you. You can go sort your own."

Roberts stared at Mitchell, anger seething in him, knowing there was nothing he could do against this brute of a man, staring at the fish wriggling in his hand, the fish with Mitchell's knife shoved through its gut.


Mitchell ate alone that day and, true to his word, shared none of the fish with the others. He dragged himself off to the other side of the island, for what little difference that made, and spent the time shouting obscenities at the birds circling overhead.

Whilst Mitchell bellowed, Roberts plotted, devising plans to escape the island. It was clear now that Mitchell was out for himself and nothing would change that. Blake would be of no help, maggots were spilling from his wound now and he was getting weaker by the hour. The final plan that came to Roberts surprised him and he discounted it at first as the lunacy of a fear stoked mind. It was only when Blake died later that day that he realised he had no other choice.


When night fell Roberts bedded down, lying next to Blake's partially covered corpse, keeping a watch across the island to Mitchell. He waited until he heard the droning sounds of snoring echoing across the sand before he made his move. The moonlight shone down, giving an eerie feel to the place, the sands silver whilst the water surrounding them looked like a black mirror reflecting the celestial light above them. Roberts moved as stealthily as he could manage, his body more used to the rigours of medical practice and fine restaurants than furtive ventures, as he made his way to Mitchell's slumbering form.

Even asleep the man looked menacing; his face still grimaced whilst dreaming. It was a mystery how he had been assigned warder and not inmate with an attitude like his. Roberts gathered himself and knelt beside the brute. Steeling himself he felt along Mitchell's body until he found the jacket pocket. Hands shaking, he searched inside for the knife, feeling for the smoothness of its ivory handle. A sigh escaped his peeling lips as he grasped the handle, pulling the knife tentatively from the jacket.

The blade gleamed in the moonlight, cold and clinical, waiting to be used. Roberts looked down at the man in front of him. He'd taken it this far, one more step and then…..he tried not to think of what next, this was hard enough but it was clear this was the path he had to take if he were to survive. He raised the knife high over his head. He held it there for what seemed an eternity, the waves lapping behind him as he paused, convincing himself of his course of action as he looked down at Mitchell's face. Mitchell's eyes opened, bleary at first then widening in terror as he saw the silhouette above him. The knife drove down into Mitchell's chest, over and over again as Roberts panicked, a stabbing frenzy, carrying on long after he was dead. It might cause complications later but at least the first stage was complete.


Roberts slept fitfully that night; sharing the island with the corpses which were to be his salvation. He tried not to think about his next task but couldn't help himself. In principal it seemed quite logical. He needed a boat off the island and needed away from Mitchell one way or another and his solution resolved both problems quite neatly. To escape he would construct a boat and the only materials he had were his clothing, a modicum of wood from the wreckage, Mitchell and Blake.

Roberts set to his task in the morning. His mind drifted back to his student days; the lessons when they were taught to dissect a human body. He hoped his surgeon's skills had not left him. The human body contains 206 bones, as any medical student could tell you, and these would be his materials for the boat's frame, mixed with what little wreckage was not already ash. Sinew and tendons would be used to lash everything together. To make the hull he would have to skin his comrades, stitching their hides with fibres from their clothing. There was sufficient 'canvas' for his needs from the two bodies and their garments; especially given Mitchell's size.  He regretted having stabbed Mitchell so many times but that couldn't be helped now.

It took days to accomplish his gruesome task and he paused often to compose himself. At least food was no longer a problem and he was graced with rains on the second day. Truly God was looking over him.

On the eighth day since he had killed Mitchell the vessel was complete. A rather makeshift raft but it would be sufficient for his needs. He piled it with dried meat, enough to sustain him for a week if he was careful, and launched it into the sea. For one dreadful moment he thought it would just sink into the seabed but even now his luck held. With relief he clambered onto the macabre boat and picked up his oar, a construction of Mitchell's shin bones and Blake's cranium. He set sail towards his salvation.

Three days out at sea he cursed his rashness. In the distance, barely two miles away he could see land, a small island with palm trees lining the shore, surely somewhere he could live for months if necessary until rescue came. In spite of this it was the visitors circling his vessel which held his attention. Their numbers had been building for the past hour, there were at least seven of them now; drawn by the scent of his ghastly craft. They had been inquisitive initially; just content to lazily swim beneath him, but now the sharks were getting restless, nudging the base of the raft. Roberts held Mitchell's knife in his hands and prayed.


Bio: Phil Ambler is a writer from the South East of England who prefers to write on the darker side of life. Phil has been published by Pill Hill Press and twice previously on Thrillers, Killers n Chillers. He currently has several finished shorts he is trying to find a home for and can often be found carrying out acts of darkness on flash fiction sites. Follow Phil on Twitter @phlambler.

Friday 2 March 2012

THE GOOD BOY by Anthony Cowin

Tony's back with a delicious little horror...

The Good Boy

I sat there eating my steamed fish like a good boy. No butter, a little Lo-Salt and some cracked black pepper. Then little green mound of vegetables sat on the side to finish it off.  I even had a huge Spanish orange waiting on the table for desert instead of cake. By the time I’d squeezed the quarter lemon over the turbot’s back I had forgotten all about the head in the box on the chair next to mine.

Dear Sophie didn’t make for a great dinner guest. She wasn’t much of a talker for a start, just being a head in a box and all. Though her presence did make me feel at ease. I wasn’t very good when left alone you see. I do things when nobody is around to see what I’m really capable of. Especially in this huge empty house mother left me.

But I was a good boy with Sophie sitting there in that cardboard box, stained a little, deep patches of red on the corners. She knew all the tricks to make me behave. Like the healthy eating. If Sophie wasn’t there I’d have had it all, the fish sweating with fatty butter and stinging with sea salt.

The turbot’s eyes were staring at me. I needed to cut them out. I don’t like things looking at me when I eat them. Never have. You could ask Sophie that, she’d tell you. Well I guess she can’t anymore.

I was glad I’d chosen a proper silver fish knife from the cutlery. They have little points on the end, a sharp curve that lets you flick out the eyes. The flat fish that resembled a torn off human face made me feel nervous looking up at me like that. Like a judge or God or my dear dead mother. There was something different about this particular fish however. It wanted to keep hold of those hardened liquid pupils.

I gouged right in there, feeding the silver curve into the socket trying to gain purchase, twisting as it plunged. I had the knife on a thirty degree angle when I felt the eye resist. I knew then it was the right time, the perfect time. I’ve had experience with knives and eyes. I jerked the blade up.

Then the strangest thing happened. The eye sucked itself back into the socket throwing the knife from my hand. It was a tough fish alright and eating it was going to be as torturous as Santiago’s ordeal with his infamous marlin.

I ducked my head under the dining table, the pale blue lace tablecloth falling around my neck like the Madonna’s veil. I saw it there, gleaming and sharp sitting on the floorboard. It was tempting me. Knives always do that to me, it’s not my fault.

“Can’t even eat a fish without screwing it up.”

My head banged against the underneath of the oak table sending a kaleidoscope of stars spinning behind my eyes.

“Come on boy, come finish the job.”

I peered over the edge of the table, the lace like an ocean horizon in my vision, my orange a burning Mediterranean sun behind palm trees of steamed broccoli. I half expected the turbot to lift its head and talk to me like those novelty singing wall plaques. It didn’t. Much to my relief. Then the other question did raise a head, a very ugly head indeed. If it wasn’t my dinner that addressed me then who or what did?

“It was me idiot.”

Again startled though less so than the initial shock, like the second turn on a roller-coaster, I looked down at the blood stained box sitting next to me. It couldn’t be though, not my Sophie. I mean she was dead. I know she persuaded me to be good but she never spoke the words, just made me feel what I should do somehow.

“Such a good boy aren’t we.”

“Sophie, is that really you?”

“Who the fuck else is it going to be, Billy the Bass over there?”

I looked at the plate and pushed it away. Dare say I was over steamed fish forever now.

“Come on good boy open up it’s getting claustrophobic in here.”

So I did. I leant over and carefully pulled back the cardboard flaps. I never used tape; I find it too permanent. I prefer to tuck the flaps beneath each other. And there she was, my dear Sophie in her box. She smelt bad and beautiful all at once. Like the smell that made me want to fuck girls and kill them at the same time. This wasn’t a sweet smell though; this was the odour of decay.

“Are you…alive?”

“Yeah I’m so alive I’m fucking dancing in here.”

I did see a movement though. Something throbbing and bulging at the top of her head. I spread the hairs, snapping some that were too matted to move and looked inside. There was a wound, deep red and covered with a thick film of blood. It was pumping like the pulse of a heart. I sliced the tissue with the nail of my middle finger and pushed it in up to my second knuckle. I hoped to feel her beating. But as soon as the clot broke open a huge black bug flew out snapping its wings between my fingers. One after another they came. Possibly a dozen winged insects crawled and flew from the gash in the top of her head.

“You wanna stop playing around up there?”

“Sorry Sophie I didn’t think.”

“No you never do. You never did.”

“I’ve been a good boy Sophie, a very good boy indeed.”

“I know,” She said taming her voice. “I know you try hard to be good.”

“I didn’t have butter. Or salt, not real salt.”

“Okay I know you’re a champion. If I had hands I’d stick a great big gold star on your chest. Top of the class for you.”

I smiled not knowing if she was being factitious or gracious. I never could work her out.

“Do you need anything? I mean can you eat or drink maybe?”

“I’m dead. You killed me. How do you suppose I can eat or drink?”

Her voice was angry again and the smell from the soggy box made my head spin. I wanted to touch her, to slide my finger back inside that hole, to search for more insects in her brain with my brown nail. To scrape away her memories, dig them right out of there.

“I’m sorry. Yes you have been a good boy. You didn’t try to fuck my head once you cut it off. That’s something I guess.”

“Yes that is something.” I agreed not really connecting with her words.

“You didn’t mind using the torso though.”

I felt the red flush to my cheeks then. I didn’t know that she would be aware of that. I’m not sure how she could be. I stuttered searching for words before she interrupted.

“Don’t worry I didn’t feel anything. No matter where you stuck it.

I ducked my head back under the table again, not to search for silver fish knives but to throw up. The taste of lemon turbot clung to my lips like a greasy sin. I dare not come out from that hiding place.

“Come on I forgive you. I know you can’t help yourself.”

She was right that sister of mine. I couldn’t stop myself from doing those things. I tried, oh how I tried but the smell, that sweet honey and earth. That sea salt, that lemon, that fish.

 I threw up again.

“Look if it’s any comfort I died with peace.”

“How could you? I mean the things I did. The violence, the rage, the tearing of things.”

“I gave myself up long before you could do your worst. I learnt from watching the others not to struggle, to pour ice on the anger.”

“So why are you back now?”

“I’m not dear brother. You haven’t let me go.”


I scraped away the remains of my dinner into the compost bin in the kitchen. The lemon slices fell on her fingers, the fish eye stabbed by a nipple buried in a half full baked beans can. I decided to sort it out in the morning, I was too tired, exhausted from the whole damn mess of it. I drew a glass of water and drank until it was empty. I did this again two more times before taking another glass to my bed. I was confident I’d wake up wet in one way or another that night.

I set the alarm on my watch. The one Sophie had bought for my eighteenth birthday five years ago. That beautiful twin sister of mine. I switched off the lamp and watched the glowing green hands ticking for a while before turning over.  My pillow was cool and refreshing. I looked across the bed into her eyes. They were dead, glazed over and white. Yet she looked straight at me, through me. The wound from the top of her head stained the Egyptian cotton pillow.

“So I guess you’ll let me go then?

“I guess so.” I said watching to see if there was any movement of skin or muscle as she spoke. “First thing in the morning. I promise”

“Well that’s good. For both of us I mean. You can’t live like this and I can’t stick around forever. Neighbours will start complaining about the smell.”

“I know.”

 But her words only served to remind me. I took in a deep breath and filled my lungs with her. The decay, the lemon, the honey, the earth and the death. The death most of all. It swam through my veins riding on my blood cells, filling my body with the stuff.

“Yes the smell. “ I said. “It makes me want to fuck or kill. I never do know which to choose”

I lifted the head from the pillow astonished how heavy it suddenly felt. Yet all I could think of was that wound full of hard blood and insects.

“As you’re already dead I don’t have to make a choice, not this time.”

I lowered my dear dead sister under the fresh white cotton cover.

I let her go the next morning.  She was compost for my allotment along with the rest of them. I sat in my shed after digging and turning. I drank a mug of hot tea to cool me down as the sweat dried on my skin.

All the time I was thinking about my dear Sophie and the smell. I suddenly felt very hungry, hungrier that I had in a long time.

“Steamed fish tonight,” I said standing. “No today I’ll have fried fish with plenty of butter and chips on the side instead of vegetables. And cake for desert, with thick whipped cream.”

I pulled on my coat and walked out across the allotment, only stopping to dig out some potatoes with my hands. The smell lifted with them. I saw an eye peeking through the soil so I pushed it in with the toe of my boot and walked off home to my empty house for dinner.

“And I’ll have lots and lots of salt.” I said taking in the air around me. “I’ll start being a good boy again tomorrow. I promise.”


Anthony has plenty of stories published online and in print anthologies. He's currently working on a urban horror novel and a themed anthology of short stories for Kindle due later this year. You can find out more by visiting his blog at Or follow him on Twitter on @TonyCowin.