The Horror Zine
Geoff Nelder

The January Editor's Pick Story is by Geoff Nelder

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Geoff Nelder

by Geoff Nelder

Serena Stables was a good sleeper; an expert in unconsciousness for all of her twenty-five years. That, in spite of killing pervert Doctor Wareing last week.

She was thinking about it behind her yet-to-open green eyes, when she shivered and reached to pull up the quilt. She often slept with just a sheet in August but damn, she felt cold. She’d have to get up and close the window.

A fraction before her eyes opened, she knew she wasn’t in her bedroom. It’d happened before, more than once. She squeezed her eyes tight and tested her other senses.

Her bed was gritty and hard. Her nose twitched to the sour odor of bird droppings. She heard an inquiring seagull. On her back, knees steepled and wearing satin pajamas, she rubbed against solid walls, so she knew there was no immediate danger.

She thought of some of her odd awakenings in the past. Once on holiday in Snowdonia, she’d somnambled—so to spea—ko the top of Eve, next to Adam, on the summit of Tryfan. On that occasion when she woke, she had rolled and fell a few feet to a ledge. Cracked a rib. Stitches in her head meant that her ruby red hair had to be shorn. Another, even stranger awakening had been on the roof of Harrods; strange because she abhorred shopping. Perhaps she was dreaming of planting an anti-retail banner.

So, where was she now? Serena shivered again, so she opened her eyes. She saw a blue sky with white wisps of mare’s-tail clouds directly above. A circling Herring Gull pointed its yellow beak at her.

She needed to figure out where she was. She straightened her legs. Umm, her feet dangled in mid-air with no sign of rooftops around her cold toes. She examined the rocks around her. It was almost like she was the filling in an upright pita bread sandwich. Perhaps she’d sleepwalked up to the roof of a kebab emporium on Oxford Street. Serena rolled onto her stomach to grab a different view. Whoa...her empty stomach tightened as she saw London’s skyline off to the northwest.

A grey mist tinged with amber obscured the far horizon. In the foreground she could see office blocks and a few taller cranes. She dared herself to inch forward for a better look. Hyde Park greened its way into view. She saw her own apartment block on Bayswater Road. It would have a soft bed, a kitchen to breakfast in, and now, an open front door to allow in opportunist looters.

And suddenly she knew where she was. She was on top of Nelson’s Column.

Serena’s head swam when she looked down at the scaled-down people feeding or chasing pigeons, visitors grouped for photographs, while others queued for snacks. In the past, while rock climbing, she had no problem looking down from a precipice. Now, with a dizzying sensation, she had the urge to do a forward roll over the edge of the hat.

She closed her eyes and counted to ten. Opening them again, she focussed on just the statue. Nelson’s shoulder was immediately below, a drop of just about her height. She withdrew to the relative safety of Nelson’s hat while her queasy stomach settled. She used to inwardly laugh at hikers with vertigo, never again.

She could shout but she doubted her voice would reach through the traffic noise below. She needed her wake-up pee but maybe she should wait.

What she really needed was a mobile phone. Any more of these vertiginous sleep-walking episodes and she’d have to wear one around her neck at bedtime. On the other hand, what would an emergency call produce? She was sure the tallest fireman’s ladder wouldn’t reach her. She was higher now than Big Ben. On a Trivial Pursuit game, she recalled Nelson’s Column being fourteen double-decker buses tall.

A mountaineer’s rope would be handy but even if she stripped off her pajamas and twisted them into a knotted rope, it would probably not be long enough to go around the column to aid her descent in tree-climbing fashion. All she had was her lithe body, and a bit of practice on a few mountains and sessions with that drop-dead gorgeous instructor, Steve, at the Bermondsey Sports climbing wall. She should have focussed more on the wall.

That shrink Doctor Wareing had pretty much asked to die. Fight your demons, he said, don’t bury them.

No doubt once she climbed down Nelson’s torso and her cerise pajamas were spotted from the ground, the fire-brigade would be along with people-catching blankets and their tallest cherry-picker. Then what? Under arrest for illegally climbing a public monument? That’s a point. She must have climbed this pinnacle—trying to avoid the word phallic thanks to Doctor quack Wareing. He blamed her sleepwalking up pinnacles on penis envy. Well, she showed him.

Shivering didn’t make her warmer. She peeked to the east at the sun fighting through the mist like a watery fried egg. Umm, breakfast. An empty popcorn packet flew overhead, red and blue overlapping circles on its side as it twisted. Surprising to find debris so high up, but then not as shocking to discover herself at such a dizzy elevation. No point waiting for her muscles to warm up like a butterfly at dawn. Patience was not her strong point, breaking necks was...other people’s. 

Nelson faced south, so at least his left side would receive what sunshine broke through. Face down on the sandstone and guano, at which her nose pinched again, she inched her feet over the edge. Her pajamas were dirtied as her stomach rubbed over the edge and now her palms sweated. She needed climbing chalk.

Held up by her elbows, she rubbed her hands on the gritty rock hoping to roughen her skin. What a time to exfoliate. Moments later she pointed her toes down as much as a ballet dancer en pointe. She waved them around a little, then lowered herself from her elbows to her hands. Ah, her toes found the admiral’s epaulet. A moment’s hesitation...then release.

She fell onto Nelson’s upturned collar, slipped and then grabbed one of the many finger holds. Her toes curled around his shoulders then she sat astride them hugging stone. What the hell was she thinking? A few climbs here and there didn’t qualify for this suicidal mission.

Perhaps she should wave to any gawkers below, but she couldn’t bring herself to look straight down to Trafalgar Square. Bad enough being able to see the tops of nearby high buildings. That head doctor showed her what gravity could do when he tumbled out of her fifth-floor window—except he had already been dead before he fell. He shouldn’t have made an unscheduled house call.

Ah, she should have scrambled out on the right side of Nelson’s bi-cornered hat, then she’d have had his sling to make descending to his trousers easier. Now she examined her options, she realized she’d inadvertently made the right choice. She straddled the top of his left arm and slowly slid down it to where his hand held his sword.

When she reached the sword, she saw the thick stone coil of rope around Nelson’s rear. Out of reach now, but with her teeth clenched, she stepped down the steep angle of his bronze sword while slip-sliding down his left leg. It was a short drop to the statue’s platform. Only then did she have to work out how to get over the edge and down a smooth pillar with no crampons, pitons, hexes, carabiners or nice long rope. The bad doctor had landed on a Dutch flower lorry. She was afraid he’d fall right through the roof, but he didn’t, and his castrated body was probably now enjoying a long journey back to the Netherlands.

Her stomach on the granite platform above the pillar sloped downwards. She could see people quite clearly but no one pointed at her. A flapping sound startled her but it was the seagull returning to the hat.

The pulse in her neck threatened to burst. In spite of the cool wind, perspiration gathered on her brow. She knew people had scaled Nelson’s pillar in political protests and they seemed to descend it still alive. She’d hate to be the first of Nelson’s climbers to be mincemeat for her return journey. If only she knew the real reason why she did these unconscious excursions.

The platform had four corners. No good unless she wanted to test her overhang skills. Directly under Nelson’s gaze, the platform curved inward, giving access to the supporting bronze structure. Like other Corinthian columns, large leaves writhed, offering generous hand and footholds. She rolled on to her stomach and allowed her toes to lead the way down.

Aargh, the metal was much colder than the stone. Don’t be stupid. It had to be the same ambient temperature as the stone. Maybe around ten degrees less before the sun really got going, but the metal was sneakier at taking her body heat. No choice. Her fluffy mauve slippers were back at her bedside. A moment’s thought of how clean her bath now was. Even after the Doctor’s heart stopped, there was so much blood when you use a sharp kitchen knife to hack off a member—now in a jar in the fridge, next to her gherkins.

Another minute or two and her toes found the top of the stone pillar. The granite was being sun-warmed now. She had no idea of the time. Her watch was in that same bathroom. She inched around to get the sun full on her back. She didn’t want it in her eyes. There, now she glanced due South, the clock face of Big Ben less than a mile away, smiling at her. Ten past ten. She must have overslept. Serena laughed at that but stopped herself. Focus.

Her toes found purchase at a join. The whole column was like vertebrae. More tentative fly-crawling down proved the individual segments to be around five feet apart, just enough for her to ladder down to the base. A grey feather tickled her nose as a pigeon flew too close. Her fingers and toes curled with extra effort to combat an incipient sneeze but she fought it off. Where was that seagull to deter these damn pigeons? Her mad witch of a mother hated pigeons, but used their feet in her evil potions.

Close up, the column wasn’t as smooth as she dreaded. Nearly two hundred years of wind, rain and frost along with bat guano projectiles had pitted the surface. Not enough to grip; she needed the segment gaps for those although some thoughtless builder had re-pointed what might have been more useful gaps. Another five feet. How many segments were there? Twenty, thirty? If that Doctor fuckwit Wareing had been right about an obsession with phallic symbols, and conquering them in her sleep, what would her mother have said?

She glanced down. It looked no closer but at least there didn’t seem to be a gathering mob. Flashing blues and reds continued their perpetual waltz around Trafalgar Square without stopping for her.

Her fingers became numb. Her toes cramped with the constant effort, forcing her to be an unnatural tree frog. She rested on a weeny-bit wider gap on the next segment down, although she still needed to hug the column as if it were a sacred tree. She tensed her fingers then lowered her left leg.

Squawk! Damned seagull. Oh’s going for my fingers! Must think they’re worms, or still protecting its domain. “Fuck off!” she screamed, and it did. For a while.

Expunge the phallus to be rid of the bane. The solution beamed into her head from her mage mother, deceased.

Another vertebra, another breather. A clump of moss bristled an inch from her nose, its roots nourished by a pigeon deposit bringing forth life. A couple of crimson mites climbed in and around the spikes of the moss; their own versions of Nelson’s column. What thoughts travel in your minds, little spiders? Dew drops for breakfast. Her stomach growled but she didn’t eat the meat and salad in front of her.

Lower again, and again, or it would be dark before she achieved her goals. Two of them, now: one to be safe on the ground, the other to solve her etiological quandary. A descent, and her mind resolved by the perfect murder and a ceremonial riddance. Her neighbor’s dog loved gherkins.

Sirens became louder as they closed in a few more segments down. She didn’t want to look. The frequency of pigeons was in proportion to the distance from the top, and more worrisome. Nevertheless she concentrated and made better progress until cramp in the arch of her soles forced a stop. She couldn’t jump. She knew the base of the column rested on a plinth itself too high for an easy descent. Another minute and with the warming sunshine she’d go down again.

Cramps returned to her feet and now her whole body shook. She feared she might convulse with this reaction to her trauma and fall. It took another minute to calm down. Her stomach tightened with fear when the sun was blocked behind her. Too big for a pigeon. Something gently pressed into her back.

A male cockney voice right into her ear. “You’ll be all right, love.”


And she was. Thank the gods for firemen, and a gullible health practitioner that enabled her to walk out of hospital the same day with a full stomach, an all clear on physical and even better, mental health. Even so, she’d shivered in the hospital foyer, wondering how to get to her flat. She’d borrowed hospital slippers and clothes, a tattered blue Adidas tracksuit over her pajamas. No money for the bus. She could have jogged to her flat from Nelson’s Column but the damned ambulance took her south across The Thames to Guy’s. A bespectacled youth with a Sony camera approached her.

“Are you the column climber?”

About to deny it, she thought of her lack of funds. “Yes, you can have my story for a hundred quid.”

Pitiful. Where were the crowds, the throng of paparazzi and offers of representation from PR moguls? But then she needed anonymity.

“I’ve got thirty.” He gave it to her and took a few snaps even though she refused to reveal her pajamas. He continued to aim while using the cam as an audio notebook. “Name, age and address please?”

“Carol, um, Vodacell,” she lied. “Twenty three, Portabello Road. I dunno how. Just woke up there. I’m not feeling well. Bye.”

The taxi used up most of her money, which reminded her to phone work right away and give herself the day off. More lies but this time to the Science Museum personnel manager. Food poisoning and working behind the café counter doesn’t blend well.

Back in her flat, she showered and after donning a long satin nightgown, lay in her soft bed. No danger of sleep-walking now. The room was dark from the still-closed blinds but streaks of sunlight scattered through dangling crystals onto her lilac walls. Fractals of rainbows danced to Ravel’s Bolero while Serena breathed in Sandalwood from joss sticks.

She smiled at her survival. Yet it wasn’t over.

Once Ravel completed his ballet, she retrieved the offensive jar with the Doc’s remains from the fridge, added a couple of real gherkins and walked out onto her balcony. Sure enough, the Scottie was on the adjoining veranda half-asleep but his tail soon wagged in response to his nose twitching.

Five minutes later and her problem was solved. She leaned on the railing, bathed in the mid-afternoon sun and spotted the top of Nelson’s Column. 

“Up yours, Horatio, and Doctor RIP Wareing.”

That night, she relaxed into the best sleep she’d ever had. No nightmares of climbing cold mountains or buildings. She’d cancelled her membership to the mountaineering club. It was a shame in a way, but it helped with closure. Perhaps she should feel a pang of guilt over the psychiatrist but she’d saved hundreds of others from being made worse. After all, it was his misinterpretations that led to his own death. It was his fault, not hers.

A lump at her back woke her. She was cold and damp. Oh no! Not again. She had gotten rid of the last of the Doctor. It should have worked!

She sprang her eyes open, expecting to see dawn but could only see a small circle of light directly above. She was at the bottom of a well. She wondered if the good Doctor would have told her that this meant she was closer to Hell.







Geoff Nelder has a wife, two grown-up kids, an increasing number of grandkids, and lives in rural England within an easy cycle ride of the Welsh mountains. He taught Geography and Information Technology for years until writing took over his life. Geoff is a competition short-fiction judge, and a freelance editor.

Publications include several non-fiction books on climate reflecting his other persona as a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society; over 50 published short stories in various magazines and anthologies; thriller, humor, science fiction, and fantasy novels.

His published works include:

2005: Humorous thriller Escaping Reality. Republished 2012.
2008: Award-winning science fiction mystery with hot-blooded heroine, Exit, Pursued by a Bee.
2010: Another thriller received an Award d’Or from an Arts Academy in the Netherlands, Hot Air.
2012: ARIA: Left Luggage isa science fiction apocalypse. It has the unique concept of infectious amnesia. Ebook and HERE

NELSON'S COLUMN (Below. Photograph by Catherine Edmunds.)

Nelson's Column

See a review for ARIA: Left Luggage HERE

Aria Left Luggage









































































ARIA: Left Luggage