Just a quick note to say that Masters of Horror: A Horror Anthology is out now from Amazon (here’s the UK link). This is a collection of horror short stories by some great authors, including Matt Shaw, Brian Lumley, Sam West and far too many others to mention. I’m also in there, with a short story titled Checkout.
I have a new book out today, titled The Ash House. I usually write pretty fast, averaging between 10,000 and 12,500 words per day, but this time something different happened. This time, I ended up writing the entire novel in a week.
I don’t usually talk about how I write, but a few people have asked lately so I thought I’d take a shot.
Warning: mild spoilers ahead regarding the plot of the book.
The basic idea for The Ash House came last Friday (May 5th) while I was walking the dog near the ruins of Sandown Castle. 99% of my ideas come while I’m out with the dog; he should really get a co-writing credit. Anyway, I was wondering what would motivate somebody to return to a haunted house, and somehow that thought led to me thinking about a woman who’s dying, and who wants to go to such a house because she needs to know whether ghosts are real.
As usual, I put the idea on the backburner, thinking I’d get around to it later. But then on Friday evening I had some spare time while I was waiting for a phone call, so I wrote the first 3,500 words. Then for various reasons my plans for the weekend were cancelled at the last minute, so I figured I’d just try writing a little more.
By the end of Saturday I had 16,000 words. I got busy on Sunday too, and by the evening I had 25,000, which for me represents two good, full work days. The book was coming along pretty fast, and I started to wonder whether I could get an entire first draft done by the end of Tuesday. I’d already figured out that the book was going to be around 50,000 words, which is the same kind of length as Annie’s Room and a little shorter than The Cabin. Those books took about two weeks each, but I thought maybe (just maybe) I could work faster this time.
I was lucky that I basically had no other commitments for those few days. I was able to work from 6am to midday, then again from 2pm to 6pm. Apart from writing, all I had to do was look after the dog, which meant regular short breaks for walking and playing. And by Tuesday evening, somehow I had 50,000 words done.
I was also starting to think that if I really knuckled down on Wednesday and Thursday, I might be able to get the entire book finished within a week. Although the idea sounded crazy, I was keen to see if I could achieve that, so I put all my other projects aside and focused.
(For reference, sometimes I finish a novel in about 10 days, whereas sometimes I work on and off for much longer. The Gravest Girl of All (Grave Girl 3) is well into its third year of tinkering, and I’m STILL not happy with that one.)
By Wednesday morning, I was starting to send out copies of The Ash House to a couple of people, to get some other eyes on it, and I was also working on a cover. I spent Wednesday going through the text, making changes where necessary, and then I spent Thursday making a few more revisions. I was quite keen to get the book out by Friday evening, so I could say that I’d completed the entire project in a week, but it was touch and go for a while.
Fortunately, the basic storyline came pretty easily, as did the characters. The biggest change from the first draft to the finished version is the ending, which underwent two big rewrites on Thursday.
The Ash House isn’t the most complex novel I’ve ever written, although there’s some funny business going on with the timelines. At first I wasn’t happy with the ending, but I realized that was simply because the ending wasn’t the real ending at all. So if you read the book, you’ll maybe notice that there’s a kind of fake-out ending, followed by a little extra action.
So for reference, the timeline was:
Friday lunchtime: Came up with the idea.
Friday evening: Wrote the first 3,500 words.
Saturday: Wrote the next 12,500 words (up to 16,000 now)
Sunday: Wrote the next 9,000 words (up to 25,000)
Monday: Another 12,500 words (up to 37,500)
Tuesday: The final 12,500 words (up to 50,000)
Wednesday: Editing, making corrections, expanding a few scenes
Thursday: More editing, proofing etc., rewrote the ending twice
Friday: More editing in the morning, then uploaded
I don’t think I’ll ever try writing a book quite so quickly again, but it was a fun experiment. And I don’t think the novel suffered from the way it was written, although others might disagree. Tomorrow (Saturday, May 13th) I’ll be getting back to the book I was working on before, which is about halfway done, and also working on finishing the sequel to The Devil, the Witch and the Whore.
BTW, I’m not necessarily recommending this as a way of working, and I’m not saying the book is somehow better because of how fast it was written. I’m just saying how I wrote this particular novel. And now I have to go and do a lot of washing and ironing that seems to have piled up over the past week…
The Ash House is out now from Amazon (US), Amazon (UK) and the various other Amazon stores. The usual price is 99 cents (or 99p), but it’s also free to read in Kindle Unlimited. Also, over this weekend (May 13th and 14th) it should be free to download!
I posted this short story on Facebook the other day, but I figured I should post it here too, since it might be easier to read on an actual website. The Ghost of Craine Abbey is a story I wrote a while ago, but it never found a home anywhere so I thought I’d put it online rather than letting it languish in a folder. So without further ado, here’s the story of two boys who decide to check out a creepy building late one night…
THE GHOST OF CRAINE ABBEY
“Wait! I thought you said we were going ghost-hunting tonight?”
“Then what are we doing here?”
Stopping at the bottom of the slope, I look at the ruined abbey as it stands silhouetted against a backdrop of stars. We’re more than ten miles from town, so there’s not a street-light in sight; instead the huge, partially-collapsed Craine Abbey stands in complete darkness, visible only due to the patches of starlight its crumbling walls block from view. There appear to be five main sections of stonework rising high against the night sky, like fingers of a giant hand that might at any moment close around us if we dare get too close.
“I thought we were going to the abandoned church in Deilham, or to that old asylum at Crafter’s End.” I pause for a moment to zip my coat shut as a strong breeze blows across the valley. “You know, places that are actually supposed to be haunted. There are no ghost stories about Craine Abbey.”
A few paces ahead of me, Dylan stops and turns, holding his phone up so that I can see the pinprick light on the front.
“If you listen to the stories,” he continues, “the abandoned church in Deilham is supposed to be haunted by a gray lady who chases people. It’s said that if you dare cross the threshold at night, she comes shrieking from the basement, trying to drag people down so she can do all kinds of terrible things to them.”
“I know the legend of Deilham church,” I reply. “Everyone knows it.”
“And at the old asylum, it’s said that dead inmates still walk the corridors at night, waiting to kill anyone who’s foolish enough to go exploring. It’s said that the moans of the dead can still be heard at night sometimes. There are even rumors of a mad, dead doctor who’s after fresh patients for his experiments. He takes people to his lab and does awful things to them.”
Reaching into my pocket, I take out the print-outs I brought along tonight. I thought we were going to the asylum, so I printed out information from tons of websites. That way, we don’t have to worry about paying for data on our phones. I’m good at thinking ahead.
“Exactly,” I say, holding the print-outs up for him to see. “So shouldn’t we be ghost-hunting at one of those places tonight? At the asylum, maybe?”
He sighs. “Use your head, Jake. If there’s really a gray lady at Deilham, then how come people escape and tell stories about her? Either she’s a rubbish chaser, or it’s just a load of baloney. The same goes for that asylum. If the insane dead doctor drags people down into his laboratory to continues his work, then where do the stories come from? If something like that were real, nobody’d ever escape to tell anyone. And if they did, the cops’d be all over that place.”
“So what you’re saying is…”
“There are no ghost stories about Craine Abbey,” he continues, turning and looking up at the ruined walls that rise high above us, blocking out hundreds of stars. “Not one. So the way I see it, that means one of two things. Either there’s just nothing here, or…”
His voice trails off for a moment.
“Or,” I continue, as I start to understand his reasoning, “maybe whatever’s here, nobody ever gets to leave and tell stories about it.”
He turns to me with a glint in his eye. “Bingo!”
“Craine Abbey used to be a proper monastery,” Dylan explains a few minutes later, once we’ve made our way through the arched entrance and into what I guess must have been the main part of the building. “The place was filled with monks. Loads of ’em, living out here way past the edge of town and getting on with, I dunno, whatever monks do with their time. Minding their own business, I suppose. Until the place burned down in 1750, killing everyone who lived here.”
“You’ve done your research,” I mutter, turning and shining my flashlight over toward what remains of a nearby wall. Looking up, I see the stars high above. I guess the fire must have destroyed the roof.
“It was rumored at the time that one of the monks had lost his mind and started worshiping Satan,or something like that. Obviously the other monks wouldn’t have liked that, so I guess there was a bit of an argument. They probably thought he was a heretic, they were probably gonna throw him out. And then boosh, one night people in town saw flames on the horizon, and by the time they got here the whole place was just an inferno. They reckon they pulled twenty or thirty charred bodies from the ruins.”
“Didn’t anyone try to rebuild?” I ask. “Or maybe -”
Suddenly I stumble against some stones on the ground. I almost fall, but I just about manage to stay on my feet. There’s so much junk scattered about the place, mostly hidden by the long grass that has been left untended. It’s definitely not hard to believe that Craine Abbey has been left completely abandoned for decades, perhaps even centuries.
“Who’d want to rebuild a place like this?” Dylan asks, turning and looking around, using the night-vision app on his phone to get a better view of the ruins. “If you think about it, it’s a perfect haunting location. You’ve got creepy monks, you’ve got a madman who worshiped Satan, you’ve got a fire that killed everyone. I mean, seriously, it’d be a miracle if there weren’t ghosts here.” He turns to me, aiming the phone’s camera straight at my face. “Except there aren’t. Or at least, there are no ghost stories about the place.”
“So why are we here?”
“What’s wrong? Still sour that we’re not at the abandoned asylum?”
“Donna Murphy said she went to the asylum with her friends last year and they heard a mysterious coughing sound.” Reaching into my pocket, I take out the printed pages again. “I know the exact spot where you’re supposed to stand if you want to hear the cries of the dead victims. The exact spot, Dylan! We could be there right now!”
He starts laughing.
“It’s all true!” I continue. “Donna said that when they went there one night, they heard someone coughing in one of the rooms, but they couldn’t find who it was. Then later they felt like they were being watched, and then they heard footsteps and they ran. Donna swears it was the mad doctor, come to drag them down to his laboratory and perform experiments. I mean, she really swears. On her life and everything!”
“That’s such a weak story.”
“They heard someone chasing them! They’re not the only ones, either. If you go online, you can read about loads of people who reckon they’ve been to Crafter’s End and were chased away by ghosts.”
“Well, you can go to the asylum if you want,” he replies, “but I’m staying at Craine Abbey for the night.” He turns and holds his phone up, and I can just about make out the screen’s green glow. “Sure, maybe there’s nothing here. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s something here and no-one has ever lived to tell about it. I don’t know about you, but I’m more interested in that, than in a ghost that apparently chases people but never catches them.”
Stepping up behind him, I squint as I peer at his phone’s screen. The night-vision app shows a glowing green image of the farthest wall, where there’s what looks like an open doorway set into the stone. Dylan’s hands aren’t very steady, so the picture’s jumping all the time, but I can just about make out what looks like a stone altar near the doorway, and I’ve got to admit that the sight gives me the creeps. Not that I’m going to tell that to Dylan, of course. He’d love it if he knew I was scared, and I refuse to give him that satisfaction. Just because he’s fifteen and I’m only fourteen, that doesn’t mean he’s more grown-up than me.
“Come on,” he says suddenly, setting off toward the doorway. “I wanna go in there.”
“Why do you think? We came here to search for ghosts, didn’t we?”
“Yeah, but -”
“So let’s search for ghosts.”
“Yeah, but it’s cold!”
“Are you scared?”
“Yeah, you are. You’re such a little kid, Jake.”
“I’m not a little kid! I’m only a year younger than you!”
“Yeah, and it shows. It’s okay, if you want to wait outside like a scared little wuss, that’s fine. I’ll be out when I’ve taken a look around.”
Sighing, I realize he’s already too far ahead. There’s no way he’s going to turn back, so I hesitate for a moment before carefully making my way after him, taking care not to trip over any more stones. I can’t walk nearly as fast as he’s managing, so by the time I reach the old stone altar Dylan is already all the way over at the doorway. Stopping for a moment, I shine my flashlight at the top of the altar, but all I see is a bare stone surface with several cracks and some kind of dark stain. Reaching out, I run a hand across the stain, which turns out to be dry. There’s a lot of dust on the altar, and when I look at my hand I see a fine layer of powder covering my palm and fingers.
“Gross,” I mutter, wiping my hand clean on the side of my jeans.
“Over here!” Dylan calls out.
I turn and shine my flashlight toward him, just in time to see him ducking down and making his way through the crumbled arch.
“Hey!” I yell. “Wait up! You don’t know if it’s safe in there!”
I wait for a reply, but all I hear is the sound of his tramping footsteps getting further and further away, echoing now that he’s in some kind of passage.
I wait again, before realizing that I’ve got no choice. Even though I’m cold and tired, and despite the fact that I’m starting to think we should have stayed in town and played video games, I start picking my way carefully across the grass. I don’t get how Dylan can go storming about with no trouble and never seems to stumble, whereas I almost trip with each step. Even now, with the flashlight pointed at the ground, I have trouble avoiding chunks of old stone that have been left in the long grass. I feel totally feeble, and by the time I reach the arch I can already hear that Dylan is way ahead. He hasn’t even waited for me.
I lean down and shine my flashlight through the crumbled arch, and I quickly realize that we’ve found a part of the abbey that’s still covered by the remains of a roof. It’s basically a tunnel, and the last thing I want is to go blundering about in a pitch-black tunnel.
“Hey!” I call out, immediately hearing my own voice echoing back at me. “Are you crazy? You don’t know if it’s safe in there!”
I wait, but all I can hear is the sound of his footsteps far away. This is typical of Dylan. He always goes storming off into places, always expecting me to blindly follow. And to be fair, I do always follow.
“You don’t know if it’s safe,” I mutter under my breath, before setting off after him. “We so shouldn’t be here.”
I have to crouch down a little to get through the archway, although once I’m inside there’s a little more room and I’m able to stand up straight. The top of my head brushes against the uneven ceiling, however, and I swear my claustrophobia is going to kick in at any moment.
“Dylan?” I call out. “Can we please not go any further into this place?”
Never mind ghost monks. There could be hobos living here, and there could be unsafe floors, and rabid badgers or foxes or bats or even killer rats. That’s probably the real reason no-one ever told ghost stories about Craine Abbey: everyone who came here ended up tripping and breaking their neck, or getting chased down by drug-crazed homeless people, or eaten by feral wildlife. In fact, as I continue to make my way along the pitch-black passage, with only the thin beam of my flashlight to help me see ahead, I’m starting to feel increasingly as if I’m the smart, rational person here, whereas Dylan’s the impetuous thrill-seeker who’s going to get us both killed. A moment later, bumping my head slightly against a particularly low-hanging piece of rock, I can’t help thinking that if this passage narrows any more, I’m going to have to stop.
And then suddenly I stop and listen to the silence, and I realize that I can no longer hear Dylan’s footsteps in the distance. I wait, convinced that he must be close and that he’s simply hesitated for a few seconds, but finally I realize that there’s no sound of him at all.
“Dylan?” I call out. “Where are you?”
He’s trying to scare me. This is so typical of Dylan, and it’s hard to believe that he thinks it could actually work. After all, we’ve been friends for long enough now that he should know me, and he should know that I know him, and he should realize that this is never going to work. Standing in the low-ceilinged corridor that seems to run deeper into the abandoned abbey, I keep my flashlight aimed forward and watch for some hint that Dylan’s coming back this way. As the seconds tick past, however, I realize that he’s definitely trying to trick me, but I swear I don’t feel scared at all.
I just feel bored and tired and annoyed.
“I’m so not falling for this!” I call out, hearing a faint echo of my own voice. “Are you coming out, or am I gonna have to leave you here?”
I wait, hoping against hope that he might cut it out and stop playing games. Deep down, I already know that I can’t possibly leave him here. For one thing, it’d be the wrong thing to do. For another, his mum’d kill me and my nan’d be furious too.
“There’s blatantly nothing here!” I continue. “Listen, I’m tired and I just wanna go home. Can we go home? This is a colossal waste of time.”
Again I wait, and again there’s no reply.
“Okay, then,” I add loudly, “I’ll be off now. Seeya, loser!”
With that, I start walking on the spot, trying to make each step seem a little less loud so that Dylan’ll think I’m getting further away. Finally I stop and stay completely still, listening for the first sign of Dylan surrendering and coming out. He’ll feel so dumb when he realizes I tricked him and then he’ll run after me, but that’ll just serve him right for playing games.
And yet, as I wait and wait, and as I realize that there’s no sound at all of Dylan coming after me, I can’t help feeling a flicker of worry in my chest. I mean, I know he’s fine, and that there’s no ghost monk here that might have grabbed him, but I’m also starting to wonder about the other dangers, and whether something more ordinary and mundane might have happened to him.
The loose floors.
The murderous hobo.
If there’s something dangerous here, Dylan’s totally the kind of person who’d be able to find it. 100% without fail.
“Dylan!” I call out finally. “This time I really will leave! I’m not joking now! It’s late and cold and we should be going home! Dylan!”
“You’re being an idiot!” I continue. “You know that, right? You’re being an idiot and it’s not fair, and I know you think you’re being funny but you’re not! We have to go home right now or…”
What can I possibly threaten Dylan with?
I know he’s doing this to wind me up, but I also know that I can’t just leave him here. He knows that too, which is why it’s extra unfair that he’s acting this way, because he knows that I’m too loyal to run away and leave him behind. I swear, if he makes me go fumbling about in this place trying to find him, I’ll never, ever agree to go anywhere with him again. And this time, I’ll stick to my decision. In fact, I’ve already made my mind up.
This is the last time I’m ever going ghost-hunting with Dylan.
I wait another half-minute or so, before realizing that I have no choice. I crouch down and start making my way forward. Aiming the flashlight’s beam ahead, I mutter a few curses under my breath and a moment later I reach a junction, which is great since I don’t have any idea which way Dylan might have gone. Standing up straight, I bump my head against the low rocky ceiling. I shine the flashlight in each direction, hoping that maybe I’ll spot some kind of clue, but I guess I’m going to have to pick one at random.
“Can you not at least give me a clue?” I call out. “Just one clue? Come on, it’s not fair if you don’t give me a clue! How can that be fun for you?”
I wait again, listening for some hint as to which way Dylan might have gone. Even an involuntary giggle would be enough to give him away, but I guess he’s really doubling down on this stupid prank. That’s the problem with Dylan. He always takes things way too far.
“Shut up!” a voice hisses suddenly, from maybe just a few meters away. “Get down here!”
I turn and look over my shoulder.
“Keep your voice down!” he continues, and a moment later I see a faint light waving frantically. “Get over here right now!”
Filled with relief, I stomp toward the light and aim my flashlight down, and finally I see that Dylan is crouching down on the ground, having backed into a small alcove set into the stone wall.
“Stop shouting!” he whispers frantically. “Are you insane? Didn’t you hear him?”
“There’s someone here!”
I roll my eyes. “Dylan -”
He grabs my sleeve and pulls me closer, and I reluctantly duck down and scramble into the alcove with him. I swear, I don’t know why I let Dylan get me into these dumb situations.
“There’s someone else here with us,” he continues, keeping his voice low as he holds his phone up and aims the camera along the next corridor. At the same time, he forcibly lowers my flashlight, as if he’s worried that it might give our position away. A moment later, he flicks the switch on the side, and now the only light is coming from his phone’s screen. “I was going to come back for you, but I think he was blocking the way. And then you were yelling my name, so thanks for that! You were gonna lead him right to me.”
“There’s no-one else here,” I say with a sigh. “Come on, let’s get going.”
“I heard him!”
“No, you didn’t. You’re trying to freak me out.”
“It was like these shuffling footsteps,” he continues. “Exactly the way a monk’d walk.”
“The way a monk would walk?” I raise a skeptical eyebrow. “What does that even mean?”
“Not really. It sounds like you’re making this up as you go along.”
“Okay, then listen for one minute,” he continues. “I swear on my mum’s life, there’s someone else here.”
I open my mouth to tell him I’m not falling for this, but then I figure I might as well just give him one minute. That way, I can prove to him that we’re alone. Then again, knowing my luck, a mad badger’ll probably come running along one of the corridors. In fact, as we sit in silence, I use the time to try to work out exactly how I’d defend myself if a rabid badger came at me. They’re quite low creatures, so I guess I could try kicking it in the face, but what if it jumped at me? Can badgers jump? The idea seems stupid, but then again –
Suddenly I hear footsteps in the distance.
Dylan grips my arm tight.
“There!” he hisses.
I want to tell him that he’s wrong, to call him out on all his BS, but as I look along the corridor I can’t deny that I’m hearing a set of calm, steady footsteps. I try to tell myself that the sound must be some kind of trick, or a set-up, but my heart is already pounding and I can feel pinpricks of cold sweat breaking out all across my face and over my shoulders.
“If this is a joke,” I whisper to Dylan, unable to keep my voice from trembling slightly, “I swear I will beat you mercilessly when we get out of here.”
I pause for a moment, still listening to the footsteps.
“Please,” I continue, “tell me it’s a joke.”
“We have to run,” he replies breathlessly. “We have to wait until the footsteps are far enough away, and then we have to run straight back the way we came. No stopping, no looking back. Just run.”
“Yeah, but it’s not a ghost, is it?” I ask. “It can’t be a ghost. It’s probably some kind of murderer.”
“I don’t care what it is,” he continues. “We can figure that out later. We just have to wait until it sounds like it’s far enough away.”
We sit in silence for a moment longer, listening as the footsteps continue. If anything, they sound slightly closer than before, echoing along the stone corridor. Just as I’m about to ask Dylan if he’s sure he’s not trying to trick me, I see him raise his phone, and I look at the image on the screen. It’s difficult to see much, since his hands are trembling so much, so I reach out and hold the phone steady. The night-vision app shows a view of the bare stone corridor, but there’s no sign of anything moving.
“It’s somewhere down there,” he whispers. “Isn’t it?”
“I think so. Should we run now?”
“Just let it get a bit further away.”
“What if it comes closer instead?”
“I don’t see it so far.”
“But what is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“But what -”
“I don’t know!” he hisses. “Alright? Whatever it is, alive or dead, I don’t want to meet it. Do you?”
I swallow hard. “No.”
“Just wait for my word,” he continues, with his phone still trained on the corridor’s far end, “and then run. You remember the way, don’t you?”
“I think so.”
“No, you have to really know the way. You have to be ready to run for your…”
He hesitates for a moment.
“For your life,” he continues finally.
“I’m sure. Should we go now?”
“Wait.” He pauses, still watching the screen as the footsteps continue. “They’re coming closer,” he says suddenly, his voice sounding much more panicked than before. “Aren’t they? It almost sounds like they’re in this corridor, like we should be able to see the person by now. Why can’t we see anyone?”
I want to tell him that he’s wrong, but deep down I feel that maybe, just maybe, he’s got a point. The footsteps are still very calm and steady, but I feel as if they’re close enough now that we should definitely be able to see whoever’s coming. Dylan turns and briefly aims the phone back the other way, before focusing it along the corridor again. He’s usually calm and steady as a rock, so the fact that he seems to be panicking is – in turn – making me feel even worse.
Meanwhile the footsteps are so close now, it’s hard to believe that we can’t see whoever’s causing them. It sounds as if the steps are coming from only about ten or twenty meters away, and getting closer all the time, but the fuzzy green view on Dylan’s phone still shows nothing but an empty corridor.
“It’s probably an echo,” I suggest cautiously. “Like, it sounds closer than it is.”
I wait for him to agree with me, but he doesn’t say anything. Instead he’s slowly moving his phone, as if he’s trying to keep the viewfinder focused on the exact spot where he thinks the steps are coming from. The image is slightly pixelated and grainy, with thousands of green and white dots dancing all over the screen, but there’s still nothing to see except the walls of the corridor. Dylan slowly pans with the phone, trying to follow the source of the sound, until finally he’s aiming his phone directly up in front of us.
“Or maybe it’s above us,” I whisper. “Like, there’s an upstairs and someone’s in a corridor above this one. Should I use my flashlight?”
“But if -”
“You might give us away,” he continues, keeping his voice low. “Just hold tight.”
Figuring that he’s probably right, I switch my flashlight off and slip it back into my pocket.
“This is nuts,” I whisper. “We should -”
Suddenly the footsteps stop.
Dylan keeps his phone pointed up at the corridor’s opposite wall, as if he expects to see someone towering over us, but the screen shows nothing more than the rough stone surface with grainy green and white pixels dancing everywhere. I can’t stop staring at the wall, terrified in case suddenly a figure steps into view. As the seconds pass, I try to tell myself that I’m overreacting, that the sound of steps might in fact have been caused by the wind, or by the old abbey settling in cold night air. More than anything, I want Dylan to suddenly start laughing and admit that this has all been another one of his wind-ups.
And then, slowly, I start to realize that I can see the faintest hint of a face in the night-vision’s static.
I watch the screen, telling myself that I’m wrong, but I can just about make out the face of a shape and two dark patches where there should be eyes. It’s as if something is standing right in front of us, looking straight down toward us from the darkness, but the face is barely visible and I try to tell myself that I’m imagining the whole thing, that it’s just a weird product of the static and the rocky wall. Still, as the grainy pixels continue to dance all over the screen like green-and-white snow, the shape of the face remains constant, staring through the noise but never quite becoming too solid. Instead, it seems to be hovering between two states: too distinct to ignore, but not clear enough to be sure that it’s really there.
“Dylan?” I whisper.
“Can you see it?”
I wait for an answer, but he doesn’t say anything.
“Dylan? Can you see it?”
He still doesn’t reply.
“There’s nothing, right?” I continue, unable to stop watching the screen. “You don’t see anything, do you? There isn’t anything there, it’s all in my -”
Before I can finish, the face seems to move slightly, as if it’s leaning toward us.
I open my mouth to ask once more whether Dylan sees anything, but now my throat feels impossibly dry.
And then, slowly, something else moves into the shot from the lower edge. It’s very faint, as faint as the face, but it looks like a human hand, reaching this way.
“Run!” Dylan screams suddenly, pushing me forward out of the alcove and scrambling to his feet. “Get out of here! Move!”
I hurry after him, following the light of his phone as he races along the corridor. I’ve already lost track of exactly where we are, but a moment later we reach the junction and I watch as Dylan charges off in the wrong direction.
“This way!” I yell, frantically running back the way we came earlier as I take my flashlight back out and switch it on. The beam swings wildly, just about picking out my path ahead, and a moment later I glance over my shoulder and see that Dylan is running after me.
“Keep going!” he screams, pushing against my back. “Jake, move!”
Almost tripping over rocks and stones that have been left scattered across the ground, I slam against the wall but somehow keep running. Just as I’m starting to worry that I picked the wrong passage, I see the partially-crumbled arch up ahead. I duck down and spill out into the main part of the abbey, bumping against the altar and then half-stumbling a couple of times as I race across the grass. I’m running so fast, every step sends a jolt through my body and I can hear my own breathlessness in my ears, but I keep going until I reach the main arch and finally I stumble out onto the grass at the far end of the abbey. I run for a few more paces, still filled with panic, before finally daring to stop and look back the way I just came.
I aim the flashlight, but there’s no sign of anyone chasing me.
And there’s no sign of Dylan, either.
“Dylan!” I yell, trying not to panic as the flashlight’s beam picks out the mottled stone wall of the abbey. “Dylan, where are you? Dylan, over here!”
I can hear my heartbeat thumping in my ears as I wait, but I can’t see Dylan anywhere. He was right behind me in the passage, I even felt him pushing against my back, but now he’s disappeared and I don’t get where he could have gone. As I take a step back toward the abbey, I shine the flashlight all around, desperately hoping that I’ll spot him nearby, but all I hear is my own labored breath.
“Dylan!” I hiss. “Come on, no messing about! We have to get out of here!”
“Dylan!” I shout. “Run!”
Again I wait.
Standing all alone on the grass outside the front of the abbey, with a blanket of stars filling the sky above, I aim my flashlight at the abbey’s ruined entrance. Every atom in my body is screaming at me to keep running, telling me to get help, but it’d take me at least a couple of hours to reach town and then probably as long again before I could persuade anyone to come out here. In that time, anything could have happened to Dylan. No matter how scared I feel, I know that I can’t leave without him. He’s my best friend in the whole world.
And anyway, he’s probably hiding somewhere and filming this whole thing, ready to put it on YouTube.
Please, let that be what he’s doing.
“Dylan!” I yell, close to tears now. “Seriously, man, if you’re out here, you have to say something! You’ve taken this way beyond a joke, okay? If that was some kind of trick app on your phone, making that face, it’s not funny!”
I aim the flashlight at the grass, just in case he fell and knocked himself out as we ran out of the abbey, but there’s still no sign of him. After a moment I aim the flashlight back toward the abbey’s archway, and I know deep down what I’m going to have to do. Maybe this is all a prank, or maybe something really just chased us out of that place, but either way I have to go back for my friend.
“There’s no ghost,” I whisper, taking a step forward. “There’s nothing. We just panicked, that’s all. We’re just dumb kids. Craine Abbey isn’t even haunted. It’s not on any of the lists of haunted buildings.”
I keep telling reminding myself of that fact as I get closer to the archway. If Craine Abbey was haunted, then there’d be reports about it online. There’d be ghost-hunt videos on YouTube, and people would’ve blogged about it. There are hundreds of sites about places like the Crafter’s End asylum and the church at Deilham and the headless man of Barrington Hall. There are even guided ghost tours to those places. Nobody has ever written about visiting Craine Abbey and getting chased by a ghost.
And that’s when my own words come back to me. My words from just twenty minutes ago:
“Or maybe,” I hear my voice whispering, “whatever’s here, nobody ever gets to leave and tell about it.”
I swallow hard.
The ruins of the abbey rise high and dark against the sky. As I step forward, making my way back into the darkness, I look up at the ruins’ top and see the jagged edges reaching proudly into the night air, and I still feel as if they might close finger-like at any moment and draw me deeper into the void that blocks out all the stars. Every step feels wrong and unnatural, as if by going closer I’m pushing against my most primal and basic instincts, and I have tears in my eyes. At the same time, I could never live with myself if I ran away like a scared little child and left Dylan in trouble. For all I know, in the midst of our childishness, he might have fallen and hit his head. I have to find him.
After all, when Dylan and I explored Barrington Hall like this a few months ago, we were convinced we saw a headless ghost standing in one of the rooms. We ran like children, and it was only the next day that we dared return, and that’s when we realized that the so-called ghost was just an old curtain that had fallen onto a pillar. We felt so stupid. We were stupid. And now, even if this is all a giant prank, I have to grow up and do the right thing.
Dylan was wrong.
I’m not a little baby.
I’m a man. In fact, I reckon I’m more grown up than he’ll ever be.
Ducking down, I step through a section of the broken outer wall, making my way into the roofless space with the altar at the far end.
“Dylan!” I call out, shining my flashlight all around as I step forward. “Dylan, what -”
Suddenly the flashlight’s beam catches the stone altar ahead, and I freeze as I see that there’s a figure on there, flat on its back with its arms and legs hanging over the sides. As soon as I spot the Rainingham Athletic logo on one of the shoulders, I know that it’s Dylan, although I have no idea why he’d be up there on the altar like that. Either he climbed up himself as part of some elaborate joke, or someone put him there.
I cast the beam around, making sure that there’s no sign of anyone, and then I start edging closer to the altar.
“Dylan!” I hiss. “Come on! Stop messing about and let’s go!”
He doesn’t respond.
“Dylan, you’re taking this too far!”
I’m just a few feet from the altar now and I can see that Dylan’s eyes are wide open, staring up toward the ruined ceiling and at the stars above. I watch his face, hoping for some hint of a response, but after a moment I realize that he doesn’t seem to be blinking. At the same time, above the sound of my own heartbeat and the noise of my feet in the grass, I can hear a faint dribbling sound, as if some kind of liquid is hitting metal.
“Dylan,” I continue, finally reaching out and touching his leg, giving the fabric of his trousers a tug. “Come on, man. A joke’s a joke and you’re going too far with this one. I know you think you’re being all grown-up, but actually you’re just being childish.”
“Totally childish,” I add under my breath.
His face still seems frozen, still staring up at the stars, and there looks to be some kind of water in his eyes. Tears, maybe. But why would he be crying? And how would he be crying without making a sound, unless the tears were earlier and now he’s…
“Dylan! Get up!”
When he still doesn’t reply, I realize the dribbling sound seems louder. I glance over my shoulder again, just to make absolutely sure that there’s no sign of anyone, and then I start making my way around to the altar’s other side. As I do so, my left foot bumps against a stone, sending it bumping down against the ground. The sound is surprisingly loud and I freeze for a moment, terrified that I might have drawn attention to myself. I shine the flashlight back the way I just came, just in case there’s any sign of someone, and then I continue to make my way around the altar.
I can tell I’m getting closer to the source of the dribbling sound, and finally the beam from my flashlight picks out an old, dented metal bowl resting on the stone floor.
A shudder runs up my spine.
Some kind of dark liquid is dribbling into the bowl, splashing against the sides. I aim the flashlight, casting the beam up the side of the altar, and then I feel a tightening sense of dread in my chest as I see that a sharp metal pipe has been driven into Dylan’s neck. Blood is running freely from the pipe, splattering into the bowl below, although as I stare in horror the blood slows to a trickle and then stops, leaving only a few drips, as if Dylan is suddenly empty. Looking down, I see that while the bowl is full to the brim, the grass all around is soaked with blood.
“No no no,” I whisper, too shocked to move. “Please, this is a joke, it has to be a -”
Suddenly I realize that the shirt fabric on my right shoulder is moving slightly, crumpling against my skin. Frozen by fear, I tell myself that I’m wrong, that I’m just imagining the movement or that it’s caused by the wind. A moment later, however, I feel five gentle points of pressure pushing down against my shoulder, like the tips of five fingers. Still too scared to turn and look, I clench my teeth and tell myself that I’m letting my imagination run wild. And then, slowly, the fingers are joined by something flatter pressing against my shoulder just a couple of inches lower down. And as the palm settles and the fingers tighten their grip, I realize I can no longer deny what’s happening.
A cold and bony hand is reaching out to me from the darkness behind.
Six weeks later
“What’s that?” I ask, looking out the car’s back window as we speed along another country road. “Hey Lucy, what’s that place over there?”
She glances over briefly from the driver’s seat, before turning her attention back to the road.
“That’s just Craine Abbey,” she explains. “There’s nothing going on there.”
I watch the distant ruins for a moment, before they’re obscured by a bank of trees on the roadside. A moment later the ruins come back into view, and I can’t help thinking that the tumbledown old place looks pretty spooky out there all alone on the moor, even in the middle of a dull and gray morning.
“Can we stop and take a look?” I ask.
“Because it looks cool.”
“We’re on a ghost-hunt, not a ramble,” she points out. “We have to be at the Crafter’s End asylum by six to meet the others. We don’t have time to stop and look at every bunch of old bricks.”
“Yeah, but -”
“Did you read the links I sent you?”
I turn to her. “Sure, but -”
“Crafter’s End is supposed to be one of the most haunted locations in the whole of England,” she continues, with glee in her voice. “There are, like, five separate ghosts there. Loads of people have blogged about getting chased away by demonic laughs and cackling voices, and that’s before you even get to the mad doctor who’s said to haunt the old lab rooms. Seriously, not many people last a whole night there. Sounds wicked, eh?”
“Sure,” I reply, before looking back out and seeing the ruined old abbey getting further and further behind us. “But that place looks kind of freaky too.”
“Craine Abbey?” She laughs. “Nah, there’s nothing going on there.”
“How do you know?”
“If there was anything haunting that place, someone would’ve written about it, wouldn’t they? Look it up online if you don’t believe me. There are no stories about it at all. Craine Abbey’s just a ruin, not like the Crafter’s End asylum. Did you hear about those two boys who went missing a couple of months back?”
“At Craine Abbey?”
“Nah, at Crafter’s End. That’s what the cops think, anyway. One of ’em had been printing out loads of info about the place just before he and his friend disappeared, so the cops reckon they went to Crafter’s End and someone nabbed ’em. Of course, they’re not big on the theory that maybe one of the asylum’s ghosts took the two boys. It’s sad, though. They were, like, fourteen and fifteen years old.”
“That’s awful,” I reply, watching as the abbey recedes into the distance. “I guess…”
For a moment, I consider asking again if we can go check the place out, but I suppose Lucy knows best. After all, she’s the expert on local ghosts and she’s been planning this night at Crafter’s End for months. If she says Craine Abbey’s just a bunch of ruins, then I certainly have no right to disagree, even if I felt a faint sense of discontent just now as we were driving past, almost as if there was a presence out there on the moor, waiting in the abbey and wanting us to go inside. And for a moment, I thought I saw two little boys standing in the ruins, watching us.
“Okay then,” I mutter, forcing myself to focus on our plans for the day. “Tell me more about this haunted asylum.”
Lamb to Slaughter is the story of a girl who has to face her destiny one Easter. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but let’s just say that she has to take a walk through the forest, where she meets something or someone that might be willing to offer her another chance.
You can find a full list of contributors on the product page, but by my count there are 22 different stories in the book. And now I’m off to read them all! P.S. I’ve also set up a page here that lists shorts stories I’ve written that appear in various other places.
Christmas Market is the story of a girl who agrees to tag along on a visit to a market, only to discover a strange, dark stall hidden in the corner. This particular stall hides some dark secrets, and Emma isn’t the only person who left her Christmas shopping until the last minute…
B&B is out now from Amazon!
It’s the story of a girl with a secret, who makes the mistake one night of checking into a very strange B&B. She soon realizes that the B&B’s other guests are a little on the strange side, but leaving might not be an option. Not with a serial killer, known only as the Snowman, on the loose outside.
The Horror of Devil’s Root Lake is out now from Amazon!
This is the story of a woman who wants to know the truth about her son’s death. Everyone else thinks that Charlie simply wandered into the water and died, but Emily is convinced that there’s another explanation. Is a mysterious creature haunting the world’s children, luring them to their deaths?