#ShortStory: Firelight

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

It’s Friday!

So … Here’s a short story for you.

Firelight

The dead leaves danced in the icy wind. The old Nun stumbled. Her left arm tingled. The shock of what she’d seen quickened her heartbeat and shattered everything she’d believed in. The crumpled and tarnished silver cross fell from her hand and landed in a pile of brown leaves. The light from the windows of the pub beckoned her. There she would be warm and safe. It wouldn’t be able to follow her inside. The Firelight would keep it at bay. She hoped.

The Nun and Dragon, the village pub, was just a few steps away. Sister Mary Margaret had never set foot inside it or any other pub. Pubs were not the sort of places that good Christian women frequented, especially not Nuns or women in their eighties. The irony that the pub was called The Nun and Dragon did not escape her. She knew the village Vicar, Father Peter, often crossed its threshold and threw back a few pints with some of the parishioners. She hoped that tonight was one of the nights he could be found building bridges between the church and the villagers. Sister Mary Margaret needed him to tell her that she wasn’t cursed, that everything they’d been taught to believe hadn’t all been a lie, that her faith wasn’t just a foolish superstition.

She was panting from exhaustion when she reached the door. It took all her strength to push it open. Warm air enveloped her as she fell to her arthritic knees. She heard a collective gasp coming from the shocked patrons. She must have looked quite the fright on her knees, with her habit half falling off. She didn’t even want to think about what her face looked like. Getting up off her knees without the aid of a bench or a pew was difficult, to say the least. She shouldn’t have left her walking stick at the convent. Father Peter and Gregory, the bartender, were the first to reach her and help her to her feet.

Gregory set one of his more comfortable chairs in front of the fire and brought her a pint of his homebrew. It seemed to be the only beverage they served in the establishment. She’d never been a beer drinker; she was more of a red wine person. She’d always felt that if wine was good enough for Jesus, then it was good enough for her, but she had to admit the Nun and Dragon’s homebrew was soothing on her palate and went down easily enough. It tasted of honey and cinnamon and something else, something she couldn’t quite identify. She smacked her lips together in satisfaction and sighed. Her heart rate slowed down as the beer and the fire did their work. Life returned to her limbs and the tingling sensation in her left arm ebbed away.

“What happened to you?” Father Peter asked as he pulled a chair closer to her.

“Oh Father,” she said. “It was just so frightening.”

The memory of her encounter caused her heart rate to jump once more. Her hands shook and tears threatened at the corners of her eyes and her breath caught in her lungs. Taking another glug of beer with shaky hands, she tried to compose herself.

“Are you alright,” Father Peter asked.

She could only manage a shake of her head and then the dam wall of her emotions burst. Tears flooded down her cheeks. Father Peter handed her his blue and white checked hanky. He always had one in his pocket. During confessions the hanky was often used to stem the tide of tears.

“When you’re ready,” Father Peter said. “Take your time. There’s no hurry.”

The fire cast a warm, protective glow around them. She felt safe. The fear she’d felt for the last few hours started to fall away. Her clenched jaw relaxed. She knew she could tell Father Peter the story without worry. He wouldn’t judge her. Taking a deep breath, she prepared herself for the tale. Once she started talking she couldn’t stop. It burst out of her.

“I was walking home from Ashley Morgan’s home. She’s been very ill. I took her some soup and a few groceries. I think her husband’s been having a rough time keeping up with things. So I thought if I took them some food, it would be at least one night where the poor man wouldn’t have to try and cook. The little ones were very grateful that they didn’t have to have a microwave meal again.”

“That was very kind of you,” Father Peter said. “Very Christian”.

“Thank you! Anyway … I left just after five. It was already getting dark. I’ve never been afraid of walking in the dark, but tonight … I don’t know why, but the moment I left the Morgan’s I felt like I was being watched. I’ve never felt my hair prickle at the back of my neck. I’ve heard other people talk about it, but I’ve never actually felt it, until tonight.” She took a deep breath and breathed out slowly. The beer made her head feel a little fuzzy and also a little nauseous. The room started to spin slowly. Father Peter covered her hand with his big flat hand which would have suited a labourer better than a priest. The room stopped spinning. She drank some more beer and her stomach stopped churning.

“Where was I?” She asked Father Peter, a look of confusion haunted her eyes.

“You felt that you were being watched …” Father Peter’s voice was anxious.

“Oh yes … The Morgan’s live on the outskirts of the Village, as you know, and there’s a short cut through the forest to get to the convent. I’ve walked that footpath on many an occasion over the years. When I was a young girl I’d imagine I was Red Riding Hood walking along that path. Silly, I know. I never imagined that, like her, I’d meet an evil creature along the way.” She shivered. Father Peter patted her hand.

“It’s alright. You’re safe now,” he said.

A gust of wind smacked against the windows, making them shudder in their antique wooden frames. Another sip of beer and she was ready to continue with her story.

“I didn’t hear him approach. He was so quiet. I walked right past him. It was only when he called to me that I noticed him leaning against a tree. It was one of the old oak trees. The protected ones … Anyway … He just stood there leering at me with his jaundiced, yellow eyes. And then he smiled. Oh God preserve me. That smile. I’ll never forget it.” Her hands shook as she took another sip. “His teeth were pointy. They looked like they’d all been filed into razor sharp points. His smile, well, it was more of an evil grin, made me believe that he would tear me limb from limb and he would just keep on smiling.” Another sip. “But the strange thing was the way he was dressed. His clothes were immaculate, but his suit looked to date back to the seventeen hundreds. He even wore those ridiculous white stockings that men wore in those days. My heart raced at the sight of him, much like it is now. I’ve never been the sort of woman who was easily frightened, but I was afraid, more afraid than I’ve ever been in my life. And then he spoke. His voice sent shivers down my spine.” Mary Margaret paused to take another sip but her glass was empty. She gestured to Gregory that she needed a refill.

“What did he say?” Father Peter leaned forward in his seat.

“I can’t repeat it. It’s too vulgar,” She said looking around to see where Gregory was with her beer.

“Please tell me,” Father Peter said. “What did he say?”

“He said that he’d always wanted to … I can’t say the word he used … that he’d always wanted to fornicate with a Nun.” Her cheeks turned scarlet. “That he wanted a holy … a holy … fu … fu … fuck,” she choked the word out and instantly clamped a hand over her mouth, shocked that she’d uttered it. The word felt dirty on her tongue. Thankfully Gregory brought her another glass of beer and she could wash the word away. The beer travelled down to her toes and made them feel warm and fuzzy. Stretching out in her seat, she placed her feet closer to the fire and wiggled her toes inside her shoes. The fire warmed the tip of her cold nose, turning it pink. A contented sigh escaped her mouth.

“Sister Mary Margaret.” Father Peter’s indignant voice reminded her that she’d just said that word. “I’m shocked and appalled.”

“I’m so sorry Father, but you did ask me what he said and that was the word he used,” she said, taking another sip of the delicious brew.

“I did, didn’t I? My apologies. What happened next?” Father Peter asked.

“I froze. I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. I was shocked. No one has ever said something so disgusting to me before and coupled with his horrendous appearance I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to run, but my legs haven’t been equipped for speed for quite some time now. And then he was right in front of me. I didn’t even see him move. His breath reeked of blood and sulphur. The most abhorrent stench that’s ever wafted up my nostrils. He smelt worse than mother superiors rude noises after bean soup. I brandished my crucifix as though it were King George’s sword. He simply laughed in my face. His spittle smacked my left eye. It stung like the devil, which is probably what he was. Can you see if my eye is still red?” She blinked her left eye a couple times.

“It looks a little red, but I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“I hope you’re right. It really is rather scratchy.” She sniffed, and rubbed her eye.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. What happened next?”

“He yanked the crucifix from around my neck and dangled it in front of my nose. And then he had the audacity to tell me that my God has no power here. Dropping the cross in the palm of his large claw like hand, he crumpled my crucifix as though it were made of tinfoil. My mother gave me that crucifix the day I took my vows.” A tear trickled down her cheek as she remembered her mother fastening the chain around her neck on that special day. Using the hanky she dabbed her eyes and then had another sip of beer. “Then as though that wasn’t bad enough, he breathes on it and set’s it on fire! I couldn’t believe it. After he blew the fire out he handed it back to me as though it were the most normal thing in the world. I tell you, if I’d had my umbrella or my walking stick with me, I’d have bludgeoned him over the head with it. I was so angry. Humph.” She stomped her foot.

“I’m so sorry,” Father Peter said and patted her hand. “It must have been a terrible ordeal.”

“That wasn’t the end of it,” Sister Mary Margaret said. “He slowly walked around me, circling me with his stench. He trailed his hot fingers along my back. His hands were so hot; I thought he would scorch me dress and that my skin would blister. Grabbing my hair, he yanked my head back and thrust his forked tongue into my mouth. His tongue slithered down my throat. I gagged on it and his foul breath almost made me faint. And then he just disappeared. His laughter and his stench hung in the air after he’d left. His laughter followed me all the way here. I’m sure he’s still out there waiting, lulling me into a false sense of security. I know he’s out there waiting for me. He wants to do bad things to me.”

The old wooden doors to the pub flew open and Sister Mary Margaret’s devil waltzed in.

“Hello Greg,” he greeted the barman. “How about a pint of that magic ale of yours for a weary traveller?”

Gregory stared; slack jawed, at the new comer. The beer glass tap tapped against the metal arm of the beer tap as he poured the drink. A hush fell over the busy pub, and twenty pairs of eyes watched as Sister Mary Margaret’s devil picked up his glass and sauntered over to the fire, where Sister Mary Margaret sat in shocked silence.

“Oh that does feel good,” He said as he stood with his back to the fire and warmed his backside.  “’Ello Ducks. Fancy another kiss?” The devil winked and Sister Mary Margaret fainted.

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This story was originally published in Tales of The Nun and Dragon

thanks-for-reading-puppy

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How to survive a zombie apocalypse – SA style

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Today I have a very special treat for you. We have Lily Herne, the author of Deadlands, paying us a visit. Here’s her guide to surviving a zombie apocolypse – SA style:

I think we’re in all in agreement that one day there will be a zombie apocalypse.

And while there are countless websites dedicated to helping you survive this eventuality, there aren’t any specifically designed for your average urban South African. Fortunately, as someone with way too much time her hands, I’ve compiled a list of handy tips that should, if followed to the letter, help you survive a zombie apocalypse SA style.

1: Don’t panic.

The suburbs are crawling with shambling brain-dead idiots, people are dying in unimaginably horrible ways up and down the country and it’s only a matter of days before the electricity shuts off for good.

It’s life as we know it, but what are you going to do when our overcrowded morgues start emptying – of their own accord?

Don’t be tempted to take advantage of the situation and race to Incredible Connection to loot an HD decoder – if you want to get through this without losing your brain, you need to keep cool.

2: Do not go to the Karoo

The first thing you’re probably tempted to do is steal a minibus taxi, flee to the Karoo, stake a place on a self-sufficient smallholding run by a paranoid eco-warrior, and wait it out. After all, it’s the most under-populated area of the country, right?

Wrong.

Do not go to the Karoo.

Everyone from Khayelitsha to Kimberley will have the same idea and within hours of the city morgues’ inhabitants coming to life, Nieu Bethesda will resemble the parking lot after the U2 concert (albeit with less self-righteousness.) It’s zombie mayhem waiting to happen.

If you live in the Karoo, get the hell out.

3: Sentiment is your enemy

Unless you own an AK47, leave all your personal belongings behind, and if you have to take your friends or family members with you, choose wisely; take only the ones you absolutely cannot do without.

4: Head straight to the mall

Put Dawn of the Dead out of your mind (that’s just a movie, this is REAL LIFE) and head for your nearest shopping mall. It doesn’t matter if you live in a mansion in Bishopscourt or an informal settlement – you’ll know the shortest route there. If you’re in Durbs head for the Gateway; if you’re a Joburg resident, lucky you, you’re probably at the mall already and reading this on your iPhone; if you live in Cape Town, your best bet is Canal Walk or Cavendish. If you’re in Bloemfontein, you probably haven’t noticed the apocalypse has even happened, so as you were.

But why the mall? Why not just take over one of those gated communities with razor wire, mercenaries and a whirlpool? Think about it, once behind the fibrecrete walls of a faux-Tuscan monolith you’ll be trapped, and when your undead host’s supply of cashew nuts and margarita mix has run dry, you’ll be forced to eat their genetically engineered pets, and no one wants that. Your local mall’s hypermarket has an endless supply of irradiated fruit that will never deteriorate, not to mention towering stacks of box wine and biltong-flavoured Pringles.

Electricity is another reason to ditch the suburbs in favour of the mall. Thanks to Eskom, every mall is super-equipped for a power outage with generators for every occasion. However, you will be facing a lot of long nights ahead where the only thing between you and terminal boredom is playing Guitar Hero at the Game store, and the last thing you want to do is run out of fuel. En route to your mall of choice, hijack a petrol tanker, crash it through the barriers and park it in the underground parking lot.

5: Secure the exits

You’ve made it to the mall. Now you have to secure the exits. Get other people to do this for you. That way if there are any leaks, it’s not your fault. Plus, it’s dangerous and you probably forgot to bring your AK.

6: Weed out the whingers

Ubuntu is all very well, but you don’t want to be stuck for months with whinging companions as this can make for an irritating apocalypse experience. After all, one of the benefits of an undead society is the lack of small talk you’ll have to endure.

But as appearances can be deceptive, how do you know which of your fellow survivors will end up being the equivalent of the rugby fanatic at a braai?

Easy. Set up a meet ‘n greet cocktail party or launch-style situation in the food court, possibly at the Spur Steak Ranch or Simply Asia restaurant. Mingle and eavesdrop. Isolate anyone who looks over your shoulder scoping for someone more interesting to talk to, and try and identify and corral the following:

Writers

Poets

Critics

Academics

Environmentalists

Right wing fundamentalists of any religion

Anyone involved in the film industry

Politicians

Celebrities

Builders

Plumbers

Hairdressers

Bikini waxers

Reiki practitioners

Bankers

Anyone who looks like they might be tempted to organise a sing-a-long

Zef rappers

Investors

Insurance and medical aid salespeople

Lawyers and accountants

Bigots, sexists and racists

Anyone in middle management.

Anyone who uses the word ‘paradigm’.

Anyone who has a Facebook or Twitter profile

Bribe the other survivors with Jägermeister shots and get them to herd the above to the McDonalds play area. Lock the whingers into the ball pit with a year’s supply of Amarula and Pringles. Problem solved. They’re happy, you’re happy.

7: There’s always one, isn’t there?

Like the idiot who always has twenty items in their basket in the 10 Items Only supermarket queue, there’s always one moron in the crowd. And in any apocalypse situation that someone will be concealing a zombie bite, a ticking clock of zombie infectedness that will put a total downer on everyone else’s looting.

Keep a close eye out for anyone showing signs of drooling, moaning, lurching, incontinence or pedantry (if you haven’t yet weeded out the celebs, this could cause confusion).

8: Patience is your friend.

Congratulations! You’re secure, you’ve staked a comfy spot in Dial a Bed and you’ve stashed a month’s personal supply of Lindt chocolate in a place no one will ever find it (the African books section at your mall’s bookstore). Now’s the time to do what you’ve been putting off for years – watching The Wire box set – while you wait for rescue. But what if it never comes? What if the emergency services are also holed up in their own malls?

Don’t be tempted to leave just yet. Move onto Mad Men and The Sopranos. Re-watch Buffy, Spaced, Firefly and Fringe. Read all those books you’ve always pretended you’ve actually read: the Russian classics, Disgrace. Learn another indigenous language. Take up bridge and stick fighting. There’s lots of fun stuff to do in malls when you don’t have to pay for it. Especially if there’s a Game store, Liquorland or Clicks pharmaceutical outlet.

9: Head to the Karoo

Months have passed. Your fellow survivors have turned into gibbering stir-crazy idiots who mooch around the aisles dressed in HipHop corsets, waving Carrol Boyes cutlery and yelling Jack Parow lyrics; you’ve read your way through the Exclusive Books sale table; you never want to see another sliver of shrink-wrapped kudu biltong and you’ve even resorted to repeat viewings of Sex and the City 2.

It’s time to leave.

Jumpstart the tanker you cleverly parked in the underground parking lot and get moving. Using the back roads, head for the platteland.

I know this is a contradiction to earlier advice, but think about it. While you’ve been safely holed up in Canal Walk or Highgate Mall, everyone who initially fled to the Karoo has been stuck in a ten-kilometre pile-up on the N1 – providing a free-for-all brain braai for the undead.

10: Look on the bright side

I know it’s hard. You’ve missed the finale of American Idol and you’ve had to use every ‘look-the-other-way-and-pretend-it-isn’t-happening’ resource to survive. (If you’re a wealthy suburbanite you’ve had plenty of practice). But look on the bright side: For once, SA is the place you want to be – there’s no other country in the world more equipped to handle a zombie apocalypse. After all, we’ve got an overabundance of generators, biltong, illegal Russian weapons and a super climate.

So sit back and enjoy several years of carefree alpaca or cannabis farming, while enjoying the cheering thought of the golf estates being taken over by legions of meerkats.

And, best of all, you’ll never have to watch Survivor: South Africa ever again.

Thanks Lily for joining us and for that very useful “how-to” lesson.

If you’d like to get your hands on a copy of Deadlands, you can get it at Kalahari.net, Exclusive Books, and Take2.

Here’s a fantastic review of Deadlands by Dave Brandon.

I hope you enjoyed that, I know I did. Misbehave horribly!

New Editors at Morrigan Books

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Here’s a bit of news hot of the press from Morrigan Books:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MORRIGAN BOOKS announces new editors

Morrigan Books can today reveal the names of several editors who have been taken on by the company in readiness for its new e-book series. Some are established, whereas others are new to the field, further strengthening the vision of Morrigan Books that it wishes to promote new talent at the company, as well as maintaining its level of excellence in the field of dark fiction.

We are very pleased to welcome the following to Morrigan Books:

RJ Barker
Karen Newman
Richard Palmer
Amanda Rutter
KV Taylor

All our editors can be found at the Morrigan Books site.