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The Gravedigger's Tale
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Simon Clark

The April First Special Guest is Simon Clark

You can visit Simon at: http://www.bbr-online.com/nailed/

Simon Clark

THE PASS
by Simon Clark 

They came as they always did.

From the West, when the evening mist spilled down from the mountains into the pass.

Perhaps their pig brains told them they could not been seen. But we saw them all right. We saw their humped, monstrous forms; we heard the scrape of hooves across rock; we saw the outline of their hairless porcine heads; we heard their swinish grunts as they moved toward us with all the loathsome horror of a disease spreading across a human face.

“Every night,” the boy whispered, marveling. “They come every night. Don’t they ever learn?”

“No.” The man drew back the bolt of his rifle.

“But there are so many of them. Where do they come from?”

“Out of the mountains.”

“But you’d think they’d realize. They must see what happens to the others when they try and get through the pass.”

“They’ve got no brains. At least none like you or I.”

“I can’t smell them. I thought you said they reeked like a sty?”

“When they get close enough, you’ll get a nose full.”

“And they’ve done this every night for the last five years?”

“You’ve got a lot of questions, lad.”

“But there are—”

“Best check that rifle, lad. If we can’t stop them they’ll be all over us. Then what’s going to prevent them tearing our village to pieces? Our folk with it as well.”

“They’ve never gotten through?”

“No, thank God. But they’ve managed to get into other villages.”

“What happened?”

“What do you think happened, soft lad?”

“Oh.”

A girl, feeding a belt of ammunition into a machine gun, spat. “What you’d do is, take a pen to the map; then you scratch out the name of the village. Once those monsters have finished there’s nothing left. I heard they even rooted bodies out of their graves and ate them, too. They’ll eat anything. I heard how they fought each other over a baby’s arm. Their tusks can rip open your belly like—”

“That’s enough,” said the man. “The lad knows as well as anyone what they’re like.”

“We’ve told him often enough,” I said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” The man gave me a cold look as if he could read some secret meaning in my words.

I shrugged. “Like I say, we’ve told him often enough. He should know by now.”

“Enough to stop asking silly questions.” The girl cocked the machine gun.

“Exactly,” I said, hoping I’d diverted the man’s suspicion from my remark.  But then these were tough days. A disbelieving look or even a badly timed sneeze could seem like treachery. People were frightened. That’s a fact. We’d hardly enough to feed ourselves. The crops were poor nowadays. Even if those things now shuffling down from the mountain paths were to tear up even a single field of potatoes we’d be hungry by January.

The man called out to a bunch of men hunkered down over a coffeepot, taking turns to warm their hands on it. “Okay. Get to your positions and mark your targets.” He coughed and spat. “But don’t shoot until you get the signal. Bullets are worth their weight in gold, remember.”

Coughing, stretching, muttering, they climbed to their feet. One man farted. No one commented.

The truth is, at times like this my own bowels got hot and began to churn over and over. I’d taken my place on the barricade for the past eighteen months or more but it still got me every time. Belly rumbles. Cramps. A supper that felt like a balled fist in my guts. I wouldn’t begin to digest that lump of bread until this was over for the night.

The new boy, the one with all the questions, must have knots for guts by this time.

He even asked to go relieve himself.

“You should have thought of that earlier.”

“But—”

“But nothing, lad. It takes every single one of us to stop those things from breaking through. It might be your bullet that makes the difference between us going to our beds tonight or us running for our lives.”

The boy began to sweat. He stared with wide frightened eyes at the humped shapes coming through the mist. I heard swinish grunts echo from the rock. If you craned your head a bit higher you would see the bones of all the creatures we’d shot in the last five years on the chasm floor. But still they flooded through the pass.

“They’re coming from the West. . . ” I heard the boy’s puzzled mutter. “Where from in the West?”

“Take your time,” called the man. “Choose your targets. . . and carefully. Head shots preferred.”

All along the wall I heard the sound of rifles being cocked. Then we leaned forward resting the barrels on top of the coping stones. Every shot had to count.
The girl brought the muzzle of the heavy machine gun to bear on the pig-like creatures swarming through what remained of the border crossing and into the main body of the pass itself. She’d fire in short bursts. That heavy machine gun had a gluttonous appetite for ammunition.

Night after night we’d poured a torrent of ammo into the beasts. If we ever ran out of bullets we’d be hog-meat in a twinkling. And that’s the truth.

“Steady. . . ” sang out the man. “Aim for heads. Aim for a beast at your side of the pass. No cross shooting. If you wound your target move onto the next. Don’t waste shots. . . that’s what the axes are for.”

And so on. I’d heard this chapter and verse month in, month out.

Through the mist the shapes came. Blurred humped things at first with massive skulls. But as they emerged from the grey murk I saw the glint of their tusks that could rip your belly wide open; and there were the massive jaws, all dripping and slobbering with hell-born hunger. I’ve heard it said those mouths could take a child’s head whole.

I thought of my two, sleeping down in their cots, and I knew I’d make every bullet hit its target good and square tonight.

The creatures moved like a tide along the pass. Soon I couldn’t see an inch of the track, only a mass of bodies. As they emerged from the mist I chose my first target. Its torso was as thick as a sow’s. The skin of its face made me think of a rubber mask. Here and there a reddish hair bristled, while the pig-like eyes burned with equal measures of hunger and hatred.

“Steady. . . steady,” the man called out to us. “Take your time. Choose your target. . . don’t pull the trigger. Squeeze.”

I allowed the monster to move into the cross-hairs of the telescopic sight. Now the head was a great bloated ball of muscle and bone. The mouth dripped. The tongue, a pink writhing tentacle as thick as a baby’s arm.

Easy does it. . . another five seconds then squeeze the trigger as—

“Stop!”

It was the boy’s voice. He’d moved back from the wall as if it had suddenly burnt him. “Stop!” he shouted again. “Don’t anyone shoot. There’s been a mistake!”

“No mistake, boy,” boomed the man. “Pick your target.”

“Wait. . . just wait. Can’t you see?”

“Cut the larking, boy. Everyone else, keep your sights on your target.”

“No!” The boy had dropped the rifle and was shaking his head as if he couldn’t believe his own eyes. “What’s wrong with you all?”

“Come back and take your position at the wall, boy,” the man spoke calmly. “Don’t make a fool of yourself.” To everyone else he called, “Right, they’re pretty thick on the ground tonight. Fire on my command.”

The boy was still shaking his head. “What are you all doing?” he cried. “Those aren’t monsters. They’re people!

“Shut up now, boy. Everyone got a target?”

“Don’t! They’re people like us.”

The girl at the machine gun spat. “Shut your stupid mouth.”

Others joined in, snapping viciously at the boy.

“You blind or something?”

“Your mother’ll be ashamed when she finds out how you carried on.”

“They’re monsters. . .”

“Filthy monsters.”

“Monster lover.”

“He must be short sighted.”

“Or stupid.”

“He’s better left down in the village shoveling horse shit.”

“Moron.”

“It’s you who are morons!” The boy’s face flared red. “Can’t you see? They’re not monsters. They don’t look anything like pigs. They haven’t got snouts! They haven’t got tusks. Look! They’re people just like us!”

“Pay no attention to the boy,” called the man. “Keep your eye on your target. Okay, on the count of three. One. . .”

The boy screeched. “They’re people! They’re men and women. Look, they’ve got children. For God’s sake, just look at them. . . ”

“Two.”

“There’s a little girl wrapped in a blanket!”

I looked through my telescopic sigh.

Girl in a blanket.

No.

I see pig eyes.

I see a wet snout. Silvery with mucous. . .

“Don’t shoot!” The boy tugged at my arm. “It’s a woman. She’s holding up her baby to show you. It’s just a little baby. . . those are starving people. . . not monsters. Listen to me! She’s holding up her baby!”

I fixed my eye on the target.

I see tusks.

I see a monster. . .

I do. . . believe me. I see a monster.

Through the rifle’s sight I saw the hog-like creature raise a boulder high above it’s head, ready to hurl it at me.

“Three. . . ” The man’s voice bellowed. “FIRE!”

“No!” The boy screamed. “It’s a mother and baby!”

I fired at the monster. They boy must have jolted my arm.

Because the bullet smacked into the boulder.

Fragments of it splashed down onto the ground.

And I saw the fragments were red.

The Horror Zine asks: So is The Pass a story about pigs or is it a story about prejudice against immigrants? You decide.

Simon Clark lives in Doncaster, England with his family. When his first novel, Nailed by the Heart, made it through the slush pile in 1994, he banked the advance and embarked upon his dream of becoming a full-time writer. Many dreams and nightmares later he wrote the cult zombie classics Blood Crazy, Darkness Demands, This Rage of Echoes  and The Night of the Triffids, which continues the story of Wyndham’s classic The Day of the Triffids. His revival of the wickedly ambulatory plants won the British Fantasy Society’s award for best novel.

Simon also experiments in short film, one of which, Dear Simon, Where Do You Get Your Ideas From? has been featured in the UK’s Channel 4 ShortDoc series, and earned the accolade ‘the ultimate in TV documentary.’ He also created Winter Chills for BBC TV. More films, with tips on writing horror fiction, plus articles, stories, and Simon Clark news can be accessed at his website HERE.

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER:

Peter Coleborn has edited various publications for the British Fantasy Society including Chills and Dark Horizons. He has held several posts on the society's committee including chair and organiser of the annual British Fantasy Convention -- when he can be seen carrying around his various SLR cameras. He also ran the small press Alchemy Press, publishing a number of titles including the award-winning Where the Bodies are Buried by Kim Newman. The Alchemy Press has just launched a new online magazine, Wild Stacks (see our List of Zines Page). His photos have appeared in Locus and Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman (by Wagner, Golden & Bissette) amongst other titles. Examples of his work can be found HERE.

The Gravedigger's Tale

ABOUT THE GRAVEDIGGER'S TALE:

Every gravedigger has a story to tell. Some are humorous, some poignant. But most gravediggers' tales have to be placed firmly in the category of Horror. When a young man is called upon to visit a cemetery, the old gravedigger's yarns chill his blood and invoke the darkest of nightmares, especially when the gravedigger hints at the terrible circumstances of Rose Burswick's death six decades ago. Her tale is so shocking and so terrifying that it cannot be fully revealed. But the gravedigger still can't resist giving this impressionable youth the scare of his life...Little does he know that the biggest scare is still to come. For Rose Burswick has become the most terrifying example of...ah, but the gravedigger must tell his own tale. He does it so well. "The Gravedigger's Tale" is the first journey into this volume's heart of darkness. Join award-winning writer Simon Clark as he presents an array of ghosts, eerie encounters and haunted landscapes to astonish the imagination - and invoke shivers aplenty...

Find The Gravedigger's Tale HERE.

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Vampyrrhic

Simon in California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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