Been playing around with Twine some more and made another Choose Your Own Adventure game. This one is a bit better than my first one, more choices that link together. Give it a go and let me know what you think either on the Facebook or Twitter
A few days back I decided that I wanted to get another tattoo. I already had two tattoos, both on my chest, both of imagery I had designed, and both deeply personal. It had been a while since I last got a tattoo, and when I had got my other tattoos there was a lot of time between designing and getting the tattoo. This time was different though. Instead of waiting and debating, I rushed through it all. The act of taking a risk and potentially facing future regret was important, because life is for making mistakes. I’ve often held myself hostage through over-thinking, sacrificing my own enjoyment by doubting my impulsion. Impulsiveness can be great, it’s how I ended up travelling from Scotland to New Zealand on a working holiday.
The tattoo is a mark of my own freedom and impulsiveness, but why The Babadook? Firstly, it’s horror. Over the years of thinking about hypothetical tattoos to get, I’ve always wanted to express my love of the horror genre and everything spooky with a tattoo. Yet I’ve never been a fan of tattoos of band logos, and the concept of favourite films is flawed. Any time I’ve chosen a favourite film, I rarely watch that film again and I’ll move onto another film that could be my favourite film. That being said, I love The Babadook.
With the sting of a fresh tattoo, I watched The Babadook again with my girlfriend who had only seen part of it before. Watching films you love with people you love is one of the most anxiety-inducing things I can think of. I’m just waiting for them to hate it. Usually. Watching The Babadook, I’m confident in it’s strength. One of the best indie horror films in recent years, and one with such a powerful message. One I can live with on my skin.
So I’m justifying my Babadook tattoo because:
a) I love the horror genre and The Babadook is a horror film
b) The Babadook is a really, really good horror film.
But that’s not all.
One thing I really love about the horror genre is that it’s one genre that female directors thrive. Film directing is still a male dominated job, and while I have no issue with male directors, I really appreciate diversity in the people making the films I watch, because I like diversity in the films I watch. Horror is a genre that often gets overlooked, considered to be low brow. There is no Best Horror Film category at The Oscars. Regardless of it’s lack of recognition, it is a powerful genre and one of the most inclusive. Low budget, DIY films thrive. Crazy concepts and deep messages flourish in the horror genre. The Babadook represents both independent horror, and female directed horror, helmed by Jennifer Kent.
The Babadook is more than just a Boogie-Man horror film, it’s a metaphor for mental illness. Amelia, a single mother of a troubled child, is living with so much trauma, denying her emotions, and lashing out at her child. The monster of The Babadook, doesn’t represent one particular mental disorder (although having lived through the tragic car crash, it’s understandable if Amelia has some PTSD), instead representing the denial of her problems. The Babadook is the violent behaviour of her illness lashing out at those around her. For a large part of the film, Amelia is seen rubbing the side of her cheek, suffering from a bad tooth, yet refusing to get it looked at by a dentist. It doesn’t actually say that she’s refusing the dentist, but with the way her life is, you can get the idea that she sees it as the sort of suffering she will put up with. That bad tooth eventually gets ripped out by Amelia, an act of self-harm. That bad tooth is such a fantastic way of seeing how Amelia denies herself self-care, and sucumbs to self-destructive behaviour, the same as how she’s refusing to face up to her grief and mental illness. In the darkest moments of the film, when Amelia is at her most violent, it’s kindness that breaks her out of it, and it’s only when she’s kind to herself (and The Babadook side of herself) that she escapes the horror. I’ve had my own problems with anxiety, and feelings of guilt for wanting to look after myself. Another reason for the tattoo.
If you google The Babadook, a lot of the more recent content is focused on LGBT. A while back Netflix categorised The Babadook as an LGBT film, an act that resulted in some confusion and then memes. The LGBT community ran with it, of course The Babadook is gay, he’s fabulous. You better prepare to be BABASHOOK. The B in LGBT is for Babadook… (It’s actually Bisexual, no Bi-Erasure here). I’m not going to say that The Babadook isn’t gay, or that the film isn’t a LGBT film. If you can watch the film and find your own experience in that film, then who I am to tell you what it is and isn’t. One of the biggest themes in the film’s subtext is denial of self. Amelia refuses to acknowledge that she isn’t the same as everyone else, she’s not like all the other mums. It’s only once she finally faces up to her problems, her demon, that she’s happy. If anyone can relate to denying an aspect of themselves to fit into society, but that denial leading to their own unhappiness, it’s the LGBT community. I’m not LGBT, I would say I’m pretty hetero. The reason I bring up this aspect of The Babadook while talking about the tattoo, is because I accept that aspect. The Babadook is a LGBT meme, an icon, and I support that. Just like I support my LGBT friends.
So I got a Babadook tattoo. It’s a great film from a great genre, and also it gave me an excuse to write a thought piece on horror, tattoos, and The Babadook.
A couple weeks back I performed one of my short stories to a live audience for the first time. It was great getting such mass feedback. I’m not really a performer (As you can tell from the delivery of my story, thankfully I’ve supplied sub-titles for those who don’t understand Scottish Mumbling) but it’s fantastic to see that the humour and the story shines through.
So apart from my comic book recommendation post, it’s been ages since I posted anything. However I have been working on some things.
First: Please follow the new Christopher Stewart/Horror Every Day Facebook page. It’s easier to know when I’ve made new posts on here if it shows up on your Facebook feed. Also I’m trying to be more active on Twitter (@Horror365) so follow me there too please.
Second: Zines! I’ve been submitting to some horror zines and I’m now a collaborating member of two zines. The first one is the Spill Yr Guts horror zine (Available to buy here), and the second is Frisson Comics’ Knock Knock zine, which I believe is available through the Frisson Comics Patreon.
Third: This burst of motivation is due to the zine submission success and the result of a live reading I did of my story Post Exorcism Drinks, which I performed at a local Talent Soiree here in Auckland. I’m going to post the video of this performance shortly.
Finally: I’m looking into more publications and anthologies, more opportunities to get my writing out there. I’ve done more writing since The Office Party, but I’ve been hording it a bit in case I want to self-publish (Can’t just put up all my writing for free). There will still be the occasional free short story, and when the time comes that my work is available to buy, I’d appreciate the support.
I am a self-proclaimed horror nerd but it’s not the only kind of nerd I claim to be. I’m pretty multifaceted in my nerdhood, but one particular thing that rivals my love of horror films is my love of comics. I’ve been reading them since childhood and the love has only grown deeper while working in a comic book shop. Thankfully I don’t have to choose between horror or comics because there are many, many cool horror stories in comic book form. Some big screen baddies like Freddy, Jason, and Pinhead, have all had their appearances in the funny books (including the fantastic Freddy vs Jason vs Ash), and great comics have become movies like 30 Days of Night. But this article isn’t about those. My goal for this article is to pair horror films (and TV) to horror comics, like a fine wine and cheese, to help bridge the gap for film fans to jump to the page or vice-versa, and find some horror stories they might not have heard of before.
Night of the Living Dead / Afterlife with Archie
Where better place to start than with the King of Zombies, George A. Romero (RIP), the birth of the modern zombie film, and Archie comics. While most people either know Archie from the squeaky clean comics or the Riverdale TV show, Afterlife with Archie is a criminally underrated comic. Not too long ago Archie Comics rebooted their brand, bringing Archie and friends to more modern settings with great creators behind them such as Mark Waid (Daredevil), Fiona Staples (Saga), and Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals). None of that would have happened without this book, which takes the idyllic town of Riverdale and turns it into a bleak, zombie apocalypse that rivals The Walking Dead. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa knocked it out of the park with this one, so much so that he became Chief Creative Officer of Archie comics. His writing along with the phenominal art of Francesco Francavilla make this a must read zombie comic. If there’s any horror comic that can hold a place next to the original zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, it’s this.
Hannibal / Nailbiter
I love Hannibal. I grew up watching the films (probably way too young), and the television show remains one of my favourites long after cancellation. I do admit that I did find the second half of the third season a little weak (the Red Dragon storyline is great but Hannibal is much less entertaining when he’s stuck in a prison cell). The first season particularly was fantastic, starting each episode with another messed up crime scene with human mushroom gardens, corpse totem poles, and man-made angels with flesh wings. If you like those episodes with their cast of creative killers, you’ll love Nailbiter. I can’t shut up about this comic and have shouted at people to read it. Nailbiter (Written by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson) takes place in Buckaroo, Oregon. Buckaroo has a unique problem, it keeps creating serial killers. Sixteen of the worst serial killers in the US. The FBI has been sent in to figure out the mystery, sometimes seeking the help of the Nailbiter, Edward Charles Warren. Warren is the Hannibal of this series and he’s just as charming. Nailbiter recently finished, so it won’t take long to consume all six graphic novels.
Teeth / Insexts
Out of all the horror films I could pair with a comic, I doubt you would have guessed I’d pair something with Teeth. The 2007 horror comedy about the girl with Vagina Dentata seems like a pretty unique premise that would not be replicated, and that’s true. Insexts from indie publisher Aftershock is also a comic with a unique premise. A lesbian romance in Victorian England, the couple have become more than human. Insectoid, fairy creatures that take on a vigilante role against both those that seek to destroy them, and a Jack The Ripper style villain stalking the streets. I’d pair these two together for their shared themes of women reborn as powerful killers, as well as weird body horror.
The Witch / Harrow County
It’s interesting to see witches coming back in vogue as horror villains, both in films and in comics. What was once just green skinned women with big noses and boils, has now become something much darker and more interesting. The Witch, the 2015 film by Robert Eggers, is definitely one that has brought the sub-genre back into the light (although some would say films like The Lords of Salem, and Blair Witch also helped), and specifically the period-set horror witch. The Witch is a moody, isolated film that for the most part focuses on the paranoia of an exiled-family, afraid they have been cursed by the witch in the woods. The film is mostly ambiguous about the reality of the witch, and for the most part it could be thought that there is no witch and this family are creating a supernatural scapegoat (sorry Black Philip) for their suffering. Harrow County is another period-set witch story, although in this case there definitely is a witch, there definitely are monsters and demons, and it all comes together for a fantastic story. Emmy is a young girl, born of the witch who once terrorised Harrow County. Her powers manifest on her 18th birthday and Emmy just wants to make things right between the town folk and the creatures that lurk in the woods. The writing by Cullen Bunn is great but it also includes the artwork of Tyler Crook, artwork that manages to be skin-crawlingly creepy and also charming. Alternatively, check out The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the horror reinvention of Sabrina the Teenage Witch from Archie comics, which also includes mind-blowing art from Robert Hack.
These are just a few comic/film combos that I recommend, although while writing this I realised there’s much more. Well I guess you’ll just have to wait for the sequel “Return of the thing from the Comic Book Shop”.
It’s a new year and here’s a new short story. I intend to write more fiction on Horror Every Day, with more of my articles and reviews are going up on UK Horror Scene. This is another of my Dice stories. Dice stories are randomised, a list of 20 starting emotions and 20 horror sub-genres, decided upon by rolling two D20s. This story is “Drunk” and “Monster”.
The Office Party
It has become a bit of a tradition to get recklessly drunk around the holidays. I’m not sure if it’s just because everyone else uses the same excuse, or that I’d rather be drunk when dealing with all the damn social obligations, but I still ended up wasted. I was on the spirits, a vodka here, a whiskey there, and not a care to be found. It’s so much easier getting fucked up when you don’t have to pay for your drinks so the company party wasn’t as hellish as I thought it might be. They had booked out the function room of a moderately fancy hotel, and we were getting reimbursed for our rooms, they were expecting things to get a little wild. My double vision glared around the room, the office drama unfolding. Petty squabbles slowly boiling over into booze-fuelled feuds. Unrequited love becoming less the subtle hand movements under the tables. I had stationed myself by the bar, knocking them back, content with watching my co-workers like the animals at the zoo. My solitude was in danger as my drunken anthropology was being noticed. Janice, a girl I vaguely remembered from reception, had staggered over to me. Her glazed eyes were similar to my own, but there was something else. She wanted something.
“You’re looking lonely Dan” she mumbled. I felt her hand on my arm. She gripped at my bicep a little too tightly. I assumed she was trying to be seductive but I felt more trapped than seduced. “I know how that feels…”
“I’m okay, really. Just getting my buzz on. Tis the season, right?” I looked around to see if there was anyone I could pawn her off on but the crowd was getting sparse. People were sneaking off to hotel rooms or heading outside to air their grievances with their fists.
“How about you buy me a drink and we can get a buzz on together?” Janice tried to punctuate this proposal with a wink but it was more of an awkward blink. I weighed my options in my head. Janice is attractive but I wasn’t drunk enough to ignore the fact that there would be repercussions. The workplace gossip, the discussions of what the night really meant between us. It would be a hassle I just didn’t want.
“Let me just go to the bathroom for a sec, and I’ll be back for that drink.” I prayed that she would buy this little white lie.
“I think I’d get lonely here by the bar, how about I come with you?” She attempted the wink again. I forced a smile but I worried about encouraging her.
“I’ll be right back…” I edged away from the bar and walked towards the door of the function room, grabbing my suit jacket from the table I’d been sat at earlier in the night. Time to call it a night. I headed for the elevator but looking at the lights, it was at the top floor and the stair well seemed more suited for a quick escape. My room was on the fourth floor and it didn’t seem that far at first, but I was wobbly on my feet. I swayed a little, gripping the hand rail tight in case I fell backwards. I had reached the second floor when I heard the door to the stair well creak open on the ground floor.
“Daaaaaaaan…” I had been sussed out. I heard the clicking of her heels as she entered the stair well. I quickened my pace. Janice’s flirting wasn’t too bad but I had no intention of feeling her drunken wrath for ditching her. I stumbled up the stairs up to third, trying to take two steps at a time, occasionally missing. I exited into the hall on the third floor. I thought there might be another stair well at the end of the hall that I might be able to use to get to my room on the fourth. I staggered down the hall. I followed it down to the end but it came to a corner, no stair well in sight. I turned the corner to continue my search. I heard Janice calling again back the way I came. “Hold on big boy!” She slurred her words.
The hall was just door after door, but no escape. I felt eyes peering at me through spy holes. I was no longer the watcher. It made my skin itch to feel like a spectacle. I just wanted the safety of my room. That’s when I heard a loud thud from behind. I turned round to look back. Janice lay there in a heap. She must have tripped, The way she landed looked painful and while I had been trying to avoid her I couldn’t help but feel pity. She just wanted a little fun and I felt kind of selfish. I went back to help her up, to get her back to her own room before she hurt herself more. I offered my hand to her. She grabbed my wrist, that too tight grip again. Way too tight. It felt like my hand was falling asleep, the circulation cut off entirely. I tried to shake her off but she clenched on with obscene strength. I panicked and kicked her in the chest, knocking her back to the floor. I looked at my wrist where she had gripped me and there was a large circular welt. A suction mark where her palm had been. My fingers were still numb. I looked back at Janice slumped on the ground, she looked broken.
My brain was working over-time. I was drunk, too drunk and this whole thing was getting too weird to comprehend. I wanted to help her, she was just this flirty women from reception. I couldn’t compel myself to get near her, my fight or flight instincts kicking in. The audience of eyes from behind the spy holes were burning into me. Had I just got drunk and hit some girl? Was I going to get fired? Was she going to sue me? My head spun. Janice got back to her feet, her joints clicking as she stood. It wasn’t her though.
Janice’s skin hung loose, sagging from her arms and legs. Her head was tilted towards the ground and her face followed gravity. Her eyes peered out from the sagging skin, hidden in shadow but still piercing.
“Janice… I’m so sorry…” I stammered. I turned on my heels and ran down the hallway, around the corner. It lead to more and more rooms but still no stair well in sight. I didn’t dare look behind me but I could hear her chasing me, the slap of sagging skin against the floor with every step. The hallway lead to another corner. As I followed it I thought that maybe it would at least loop around and I could get back to where I was before and get up to the fourth floor from there. The slapping foot steps behind me were getting a little fainter so I hoped that I was creating a big enough gap that I could escape up the stairs to safety. The hall was long but even with my blurry vision I was sure I could see the next corner. My breathing was heavy and my legs were burning but I pushed myself harder, the end was in sight. As I rounded the corner I could see the elevator, and the door to the stair well. As the distance between me and the door shortened, that sickly slapping noise grew louder. Sweat was pouring from me as I swung the door open. I tried to keep my composure as I took the first step but I was going too fast, I was way too drunk, my foot slipped. I tumbled in slow motion, my head hurtling towards the concrete steps and the slapping steps just behind me. There was a crunch as my head collided with the steps and the room went black.
I woke up to the sound of bubbling water. The room was dark, the curtains drawn. The hotel room kettle boiled by the TV. I could see my pale skin reflected in the blackness of the TV screen. Naked in a hotel room bed, definitely not the way I planned to end the night. I had vague memories of the party, I expected to hear the worst of it on Monday. I looked towards the door, following the trail of clothes that led towards the bed. A dress, my trousers, some underwear… Some skin. Memories flooded back to me as the bathroom door creaked open.
Last night I finally watched Spring, a film that I’ve heard nothing but positive ravings about. “One of the best horror films of the year so far” and I’m not here to say that I disagree, it’s a beautiful film both in plot and cinematography. However I do struggle with the idea that it is a horror film, in the sense that it is not a scary movie (Although a film doesn’t need to scare me for it to be considered a horror film) but it is a monster movie, a romantic monster movie. That in itself is not groundbreaking. Yet I feel like the response, or the response that I’m aware of, is. Why is Spring getting such praise when films like the Twilight series have been heralded as the horror-genre end of days?
I feel like I should admit at this point that I have never watched a Twilight movie or read any of the books so any points that I make on them should be taken from the point of view that I’m not well educated on the series. What I do know is the vague plot that a teenage girl falls in love with a vampire and that there’s a werewolf who also loves the girl. There’s also something about vampire baseball but I’ll stop before I embarrass myself with my lack of knowledge. Girl loves monster. Monster loves girl. Forbidden love is abound. Spring, as much as I can say without spoilers, also features forbidden love between a human and a monster. After watching it, I must admit that I feel pretty hypocritical about any shit I gave Twilight when it first arrived on the scene. I wasn’t as bad as some but I had strong enough opinions to reject seeing those films.
Twilight has received harsh criticism in the past due to the nature of the relationship between Edward and Bella, that it is sexist and abusive. Edward is controlling, manipulative and generally a threat to Bella’s safety. These are the sort of criticisms I can understand why people would respond negatively to the Twilight movies. Spring’s romantic elements don’t seem to have these problems, but the relationship between Evan and Louise doesn’t get to that a relationship status where that might become a problem. It’s more of the chase up to the commitment that is seen in Spring and any danger that Evan is in because of Louise, it’s his choice.
So Spring doesn’t focus on an abusive relationship, which is a step up from Twilight. I have to ask the next question though, do the audience take Spring more seriously because it’s a man romantically involved with a monster rather than a girl? Does having Evan, a young man in his 20s, as the main protagonist rather than a teenage girl like Bella make it harder to dismiss his romantic intentions as foolish? He’s choosing to get into a potentially dangerous relationship with a creature who could easily kill him. Some might consider him brave and romantic, but he’s in a vulnerable state. He’s drifting in the world. He’s lost and this girl/monster is something he has chosen to love and commit to. If he was a teenage girl I’m sure there would be plenty people willing to point out there are plenty of potential partners out there who won’t accidentally monster-out and eat her. I can understand that a 20 year old has more life experience than a teenager when it comes to making romantic decisions but I don’t think that Evan is making any less risky a decision than Bella when it comes to settling down with a supernatural partner.
Another reason that the choice of a male protagonist effects the audience response to this film is that there seems to be less of an obvious target demographic. Twilight was definitely marketed towards a female audience, mainly teenagers. I wouldn’t say I’m far off when I say that teenage girls are often stereotyped as being vapid, and that the films that marketed towards them are inconsequential and shallow. It’s an unfair generalisation that is based more on badly written characters written by men than actual teen girls. The marketing for Spring is much more focused on suspense and danger based on the tone of the trailer rather than the romantic story that dominates most of the plot. It’s like they were trying to avoid the romance in fears that it might discredit them in the eyes of a male audience.
Lastly, I think the loudest argument I heard against Twilight, particularly after the first film came out was that it was ruining vampire movies. That the image of a vampire that sparkled was the most repulsively stupid addition to vampire mythology ever conceived. Okay the sparkling was a bit much but it was a minor thing, Sunlight still kills them (right?) but it’s just a bit of imagery that people who dislike the general idea of romantic monsters have latched onto as their major criticism of Twilight. Vampires have been seducing people forever so I don’t know why it’s such a big deal here. Sure some of those vampires seduced their prey, drank them and moved on, but it’s still part of the mythos. Spring is a lot more vague when it comes to it’s monster of choice. Louise isn’t a particular monster, she’s some kind of shape-shifter. She isn’t a reinvention of some classic movie monster. It’s her ambiguity that makes her a new kind of creature so there isn’t some backlash of monster fans screaming that her sappy romantic sentiments are ruining shape-shifters.
Overall I think that Spring is a great film, and if you haven’t seen it already you should go check it out. It’s a romantic creature feature that shows that supernatural inter-species romance isn’t dead. The monster imagery may just be metaphor for Louise’s baggage, be that emotional baggage or living with illness, and that everyone deserves love regardless of what life has thrown at them. Whether you choose to enjoy this film literally or metaphorically, I hope that you think twice about monsters in love.
You don’t have to think long about the genre of horror before thinking of murdering madmen, I’m sure plenty horror fans have been accused of being one more than once just for loving the genre. The idea of a madman, a person unable to control their mental compulsions to kill, is one that has been prevalent in the genre and popularised by films like Hitchcock’s Psycho. Obviously that film didn’t set out to demonise anyone with a mental illness but it didn’t try to defend those people either. With a topic as sensitive as mental illness, how should horror films handle the subject matter.
The film that I watched recently that inspired me to write this piece was The Taking of Deborah Logan, a found footage possession film that came out fairly recently. The film starts off as a documentary focusing on the horror of living with Alzheimer’s, but the woman they are filming becomes stranger and it becomes apparent that there’s something else going on here. And it’s that plot development that irritated me. Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease and for the filmmakers to come along and more-or-less say “yeah that’s pretty bad but what if it was ghosts/demons/monsters” makes it’s feel exploitative in my mind. It’s downplaying that seriousness of Alzheimer’s and I just don’t think that’s cool.
Another film that came out recently was The Babadook, which has subtext about mental illness and the following will contain spoilers if you haven’t already seen the film. So in The Babadook a single mother is suffering while raising her problem child and his boogie-man manifests in all manner of terrible ways. However the implications of what happens to the two is that the mother has some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The film has an unusually upbeat ending in which the mother has accepted the death of her husband and she has the monster, The Babadook, locked away in the basement. She feeds the Babadook and the son asks if he’ll ever see it again, which the mother replies “when you’re older”. She’s living with mental issues. This kind of film takes the emotions that someone living with a mental illness, the terror and anxiety, and uses imagery to inflict it upon it’s viewers. It doesn’t belittle any victims, it helps us empathise.
As I said before, horror films have always had maniacs and madmen, some of them have used mental illness in less than tasteful ways. The problem of representation comes to mind again, that perhaps if more functional people with mental illnesses were to be shown in the genre they might not feel like the genre was demonising them. I’m not saying to boycott any films with negative representations in them, but encouraging anyone who’s writing or producing to give it a thought.
This story is one of a number of stories I wrote as part of a writing experiment over on my other blog. The rules of the experiment was that I wrote a list of 20 “Starting Emotions” and 20 “Horror Sub-genres” and attempted to write a story based on the combination. This was the combo of Drunk and Animals.
Feathers in the Night
I felt fine before I left the bar. More than fine, fantastic. When I left the bar, not so fantastic. Overwhelmed. The evening air made my head spin and my guts churn violently. I didn’t think I’d feel this bad until the morning at least. Maybe that last vodka was one too many. Odd numbers aren’t good, especially nine. At least I think it was nine. My stomach growled, demanding some greasy late-night food. I thought maybe that will settle my stomach, or at least provide some interesting texture when I see it again, hunched over a toilet bowl. I staggered down the street, glancing in the doorways of chip shops and kebab shops, looking for the perfect one. Perfection being the low bar of 1) Can I get served quickly? and 2) Is it free of drunken nutters who will knife me if I look at their girlfriend?
I finally settled on a chip shop with just a couple customers who were already served, slumped over a table, picking haphazardly at a portion of chips, cheese and gravy. I made my way over to the counter with as straight a b-line as I could muster and with a heavy slur, made my best efforts to order a burger. There were some follow up questions which I answered with a quick series of affirmations before taking a seat at the nearest table. I slumped into a comfortable pose, face pressed against the cold window, arms crossed tightly against my chest. My head was spinning so I closed my eyes to find some reprieve. Opening them again I had the feeling I was being watched, and glancing over at the other two customers I found that I was correct. A young lady was staring at me, face peeking over her boyfriend’s slumped body. I gave her a “what are you looking at?” glare. Apparently it didn’t register because her facial expression, as much as I could see of it, hadn’t changed. I was about to get up and see what her problem was when I heard a noise coming from the other side of the window.
Outside the window there was a good view of the road populated by all the drunken revellers, on their way home, or to the next stage of their inebriated adventure. Not far from where I was sitting there was a guy being hassled by seagulls. Odd but not unheard of, the seagulls were aggressive at this time of night. The number of people staggering about, dropping food, meant the seagulls were out in force. The guy was lashing out at them, swinging his arms, trying to kick any that came near enough. He didn’t seem to be having much luck though, in fact he seemed to be attracting more. Maybe his violent movements were causing him to drop more food. I couldn’t get a good look. What I did see was a big, mean bastard of a seagull swoop down and hit the drunk straight in the face. He stumbled back and lost his footing. He hit the ground hard. The girl behind me gasped loudly. I turned to look at her. She was no longer hidden behind her passed out boyfriend, but was almost right next to my table. She wasn’t alone, One of the chip shop workers was also watching the spectacle.
When I looked back at the scene, there was two other men trying to help but they were being pecked too and the guy on the ground wasn’t moving. Maybe the fall had knocked him out. The big gull was standing on his chest and smaller gulls were moving in too. I could see blue police lights flashing in the distance, but they didn’t seem to be getting closer. It was a late booze-fuelled Saturday night, the police were probably busy breaking up fights, gull attacks far from their main priority. Trying to look further down the street, towards the flashing police lights, I could see the shape of more flailing people and small swooping figures. I squinted my bleary eyes in a vain attempt to make out more detail and jumped at the sudden sound of a scraping chair. The girl had her boyfriend slumped against her, his arm around her shoulder. They swayed and stumbled as she dragged her lad from the shop. I followed them as far as the door, accompanied by the chip shop guy. We watched as they got maybe 20 feet down the street before the gulls set upon them too. She tried to fight them off, before dropping her boyfriend and making a run for it. His head bounce off the concrete and she didn’t make it much further before the gulls took her down.
I rushed back over to the window. The vantage point was better from there. The flash of blue lights in the distance seemed to have increased but the distance looked about the same. If there was help for this situation, it was too far away to be helpful. I pulled my phone out. There was no way I could walk home with this anarchy going on. I scrolled through my contacts and dialled the number of a taxi company. An engaged tone beep loudly. Thinking little of it, I scrolled to the next one only to be surprised that it was busy. A third and a fourth proved to be equally fruitless. I thought for a minute that I could possibly phone my dad for a lift but I assumed waking him at this hour might result in some grumpiness that I couldn’t deal with in my drunken state. Looking down the street I could see that the rooftops were lined with seagulls. Crows too. I wasn’t much of a bird watcher but I could see a few recognisable birds, magpies, pigeons, blue tits… I giggled to myself at the thought of “tits” and then scolded myself internally for letting my mind go off track.
I only lived a few streets away, it wasn’t that far if I ran. That girl ran and it didn’t seem to go that well for her. I pondered for a second and the thought that I was still waiting for that burger shot through my head. I was going to complain but I reconsidered, there was more pressing matters at hand and there was a bag of frozen nuggets in the fridge that seemed pretty appealing at the moment. I thought that if I was going to make a run for it, I’d need a weapon. Looking around the chip shop there were some potential weapons but I was pretty sure they wouldn’t let me take any of their knives or chairs. My eyes caught sight of something under one of the tables. I staggered over to the table and ducked down, there was an umbrella lying on the floor. It seemed like a good plan, the umbrella would protect my face and I could swing it at any birds that got too close.
With umbrella in hand, I made for the door. I popped open the umbrella and it made a loud clunk as it sprung open. I made it a couple yards up the street when I felt the first bird bounce off the umbrella’s canopy. It’s little talons scratched across the fabric and I heard it squawk as it landed on the ground behind me. There was two more bumps as I made it further up the street. A gull on the ground pecked at my ankles as I passed and while trying to kick it away, I almost stumbled on the boyfriend from earlier. He was motionless and there was a lot of blood coming from a nasty looking head wound. I couldn’t stop to check if he was alright, I couldn’t let my guard down for a second. I ducked and dodged down the street. The umbrella was less practical than I previously assumed. It was catching the wind, slowing me down and after a few more aerial assaults, the birds were making some bad tears in it. I spied a small lane that would take me to the next street over. I tripped on the kerb a little as I ducked into the lane.
It was quieter away from the panic on the street but I could hear various bird calls coming from the rooftops above me. A crow cawed loudly, like it was alerting it’s allies to my location. I crouched as I ran down the lane. I retracted the umbrella as I ran, the lane was too narrow to have it out properly. When I got to the next street over, it was just as manic as the one I had left behind. The flashing blue lights were closer, I could see a police van not too far away. The van seemed deserted, maybe the police had fled. Truncheons didn’t seem too helpful right now. A gull swooped down at me and pecked my ear as it flew passed. I clasped my hand to it and was surprised that the attack had drawn blood. I tried to pop open the umbrella again but the rips in the canopy had got tangled in the mechanism. I clubbed another swooping bird with the ruined umbrella before tossing it and making a mad dash for another lane. I wheezed as I entered the lane, another momentary safe haven from the bird-on-human violence.
My flat was on the next street, about 30 feet from where the lane let out. I was so tired. My head was still spinning and my guts were still making threats of vomiting all over my nice shoes. Whatever buzz I had had was gone and all I had was a hangover and the murderous attention of several hundred birds. I looked round for another weapon to replace my lost umbrella but the most I could find was an empty bottle from a recycling bin. I gripped it tight as I got close to the end of the lane.
I stepped out onto the street, ready to run. Unlike the last two streets however, this one was quiet. There was birds on every lamp post, post box and all around the roof tops. They were all over the street too, some perched on still bodies. My eyes moved between the birds and the glowing sign of a 24 hour shop that was right next to the front door of my flat. I considered running but the eerie calmness of the birds made me think that the worst thing to do at this moment was to startle them. I moved slowly and carefully on tip-toes. The glowing sign gradually growing closer as feathers ruffled around my ankles. I was just inches away from my door. I looked back across the street at the distance I had covered when I felt something under foot. I had stepped on one of them. It called out and the others squawked and cawed. The sound was tremendous and only got louder as they flapped and fluttered. Pecking beaks jabbed at my legs as I bounded towards the door. Wings slapped at the back of my head and I slapped back at them. I pushed my way inside the door and slammed it behind me, falling onto my ass in the process. I lay down on the cold floor of the corridor, listening to the birds scratching and bumping the door. The night was over, and so was the nightmare. I just wanted to go straight to bed, I wasn’t in the mood for nuggets anymore.
This story is one of a number of stories I wrote as part of a writing experiment over on my other blog. The rules of the experiment was that I wrote a list of 20 “Starting Emotions” and 20 “Horror Sub-genres” and attempted to write a story based on the combination. This was the combo of Comfortable and Home Invasion.
The warmth enveloped me as I lowered myself into the bath, easing into the hot water. It had been a long, excruciating day in at the office. I could already feel the hot water soothing the tension in my back. This was exactly what I needed. The bathroom was lit by two large vanilla scented candles and the flickering light danced to the chill out playlist that was playing on my phone, which lay on the counter by the sink. I felt like I had escaped to a zone of pure relaxation. My phone chirped, momentarily disrupting the music, the rest of the world reminding me that it still exists, pulled me away from the relaxation zone a little bit. I resented that but let it slide. This was my time and I was in no rush to read messages from the outside world. I was much too comfortable to even consider the idea.
Soon the water began to cool, one of the candles had went out and my playlist began to loop. It was time to get out of the relaxation zone. The bath water drained in a quiet roaring slurp as I dried myself with a towel, warm from the radiator. As I dried one of my feet I heard the unexpected sound of keys turning in the front door. I almost lost my balance in my surprise. My flat mate had been away a few days and wasn’t due to be home for another two hours but I assumed that they had been allowed to leave early. I wrapped a towel around myself and peeked my head around the door. “Kate? I didn’t think you’d be home so soon.” I shouted out. There was no response but I heard a shuffling noise in the kitchen. I tried to think rational thoughts. Maybe she had her headphones in, she often listened to music when she was travelling. I quickly moved through to my bedroom to throw on some clothes before going to see Kate. I put on some jeans and an old t-shirt and I could feel the moisture soaking in from the bits I missed drying.
I flicked on the hall light as I walked through on my way to the kitchen. I flung the door open, a smile ready on my face to welcome Kate home. My smile shrank a little as there was no sign of Kate in the kitchen. I was sure that I heard her. The pile of letters I had arranged carefully on the counter top had been left undisturbed, including a couple parcels from Amazon which I was sure she’d be eager to open. Perplexed I thought she might have gone into the living room. I closed the kitchen door behind me and absent-mindedly walked a few steps down the dingy hall and into the living room. The TV was on but still no sign of Kate. The TV was on the menu for all the shows we had recorded. One of Kate’s documentaries was highlighted and ready to play. If Kate was here, why hadn’t she come to say hi first? I figured she must have gone to get something from her room or maybe I had just missed her and she had went to see me in mine. It wasn’t a big flat but it wouldn’t be the first time we had walked around without seeing each other.
As I turned back into the corridor, I noticed how dark it was, except for the sliver of street light coming through a crack in the front door. I moved quickly and confirmed that the door was open, Kate’s keys still in the lock. Was she drunk? It was a bit early for that, but it would explain why she was acting so strangely. I pulled her keys from the lock, closed the door and locked it from the inside. I flicked on the hall light. Turning away from the front door I noticed that there was something lying in the middle of the hall. It was small. I was hoping that the neighbours’ cat hadn’t slipped in and left us a little dead thing as a present. I winced as I edged closer. I sighed and smiled as the little dead thing was actually a small teddy bear. Grabbing it, I noticed a small tag. It had a note, ‘Just wanted to see you’ scribbled in marker. A bit cutesy for Kate but it was nice. I went to put it in my bedroom when I heard my phone chirp again from the bathroom. The harsh light of the phone screen contrasted with the soft light of the candles as I grabbed the phone. I blew out the candles and checked my phone as I walked to my room. Two messages from Kate. The one from two seconds ago read “Train’s delayed. I don’t want to keep you up. Gonna crash at my sisters. Cya tomorrow :D” The other “Can you see if my keys are in my room? I’m sure I had them. Brainfart. Keep the door unlocked for me? I’ll be home soon x.”
I looked down at the Teddy bear in my other hand as I heard the kitchen door creak open.