October 2009 Featured Writer
The October 2009 Featured Story is by Anna Taborska
Feel free to email Anna at: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Anna Taborska
Where am I? The dark road, the bushes and trees on either side, shrouded in mist, all look the same. I strain my eyes, searching the night for something familiar – something I can grasp. Then the road bends slightly, dips a little, and that’s when I see the light. It has a warm, orange glow and I know that I must reach it. If I reach the light, everything will be fine.
I stagger through the mist, trying to remember what happened. A cold wind tugs at the branches of the trees and scatters the autumn leaves. I sense movement behind me and spin round, but see nothing. I hurry towards the light, confused as it fragments into a thousand glimmering specks, dancing on the horizon.
How long have I been walking? The leaves crunch beneath my feet as I hasten along the side of the road. Then a twig snaps behind me. I stop abruptly and hear a leaf rustle before silence falls. I look round. Is that a shadow, a darker shade of black against the night? I step up my pace, desperate now to reach the light.
Walking, I hear sounds behind me. When I stop, they stop. When I move forward, they start up again. I hurry forward, sure I feel eyes burning into my back.
I break into a run, not slowing until I reach the edge of town. As I head towards the houses, I see the source of the points of light. Not what I expected. They shimmer in a hundred carved pumpkins, orange teeth casting strange dark shapes on the wood of porches and the grey wetness of paving-stone.
I cringe as a shriek pierces the night and footsteps grow and echo in my ears. Excited voices are coming closer. I cower behind a tree, uncertain. The trick-or-treaters pass and I breathe easy.
I move on and hear that crunch of trampled leaves behind me. The shadow – how could I have forgotten the shadow? I scour the street and think I see movement in the bushes to the right. I move off fast.
More youths approach. I look for somewhere to hide, but it’s too late. They’re upon me, laughing and shouting, “Nice costume!” I lower my eyes and keep moving. They pass by, staring.
From all around, the twinkling lights distract me once more and my mind wanders. I can’t remember how I got here. I recall walking along the side of the road, with trees and bushes on either side. I close my eyes for a moment and try to see with my mind’s eye. Glimpses of road, of trees and bushes, but they rush by so quickly – I’m not walking, I’m driving. Of course – my car. The 69 Chevy convertible that I lovingly restored with my own hands, smoothing every screw, every piece of metal into its rightful place. It took me five years of weekends to turn the rusted hulk into a thing of beauty. Its Cerulean blue and white is more worthy of an angel than of an ungainly, un-special man like me.
Where is my car? Now I remember: I’d had to leave my car behind. So that’s what I’m doing – I’m looking for a phone to get some help for my car. My mobile is gone; I must have lost it getting out of the Chevy. I can’t remember. I must focus. I can’t be standing here in the middle of the road.
A scream brings me out of my reverie and I look down at a whimpering child dressed as a ghost, its face as pale as the sheet that’s draped over its body. The little ghost drops the plastic jack o' lantern it is carrying and wails at me, its body trembling. I reach down to comfort it, but its mother pulls it away, cursing me loudly.
Two teenage boys and a girl run past. The girl is wearing small, red devil’s horns. She reminds me of someone – someone I loved or love still, someone I should remember. Broken images of a woman’s smile form in my mind; of bright green eyes and a wisp of dark blonde hair blowing in the wind as fields and trees stream by behind her. I struggle to put the shattered pieces together, but the boys’ shouting dispels the fledgling vision and plastic severed limbs are waved in front of my face before the teens disappear down a side street.
What am I doing? A cat hisses at me from across the street and I move on. Where am I going? Ah yes, I am going to find a house – so many to choose from – and ring a doorbell. And then what? I am ringing a doorbell, but the sound of movement inside makes me panic. I can’t remember what it was that I wanted.
I run behind the house and listen as the homeowner looks up and down the street and says, “Hello?... Anybody there?” before going back in and locking the door. I grasp desperately at bits of thoughts; I search my mind for what I’m meant to be doing, for where I’m meant to be, but all around me the lights flicker and purr, and pumpkin eyes are mesmerizing, disorientating. Where am I?
I remember – my car. I need to call a garage to get my Chevy off the side of the road and get it fixed so that I can drive to the girl with the dark blonde hair and the green eyes... Alice. Alice is waiting for me at her parents’ house. We are supposed to see a double bill at the local cinema: Halloween and Friday the Thirteenth. Or is it The Evil Dead and The Fog?
I struggle with the mist that’s rising before me, getting into my eyes and obscuring the lights. What am I doing? Focus...oh yes. I need to find a house and ring a doorbell. I need to phone a garage and get the Chevy fixed so I can take Alice to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Or is it The Exorcist?
I concentrate hard and push the mist away. I walk to the house with the largest number of pumpkins lining the steps. Here the mist is weakest – the lights are fighting it, keeping it at bay. I ring the doorbell.
The woman’s smile fades; she looks startled. But then she smiles again. “Your costume,” she tells me, “it’s very... gruesome... And aren’t you a little old to be trick or treating?”
I open my mouth to speak, but I forget what it is that I want to say. I rack my brain... Alice... Alice... the woman turns away. A tear runs down my cheek.
The woman returns, holding a box of chocolates. I can’t recall. I raise my hand, pleading for patience, pleading for her to wait while I remember, pleading for help.
The woman’s face changes. “What’s that smell?” A distressed grimace distorts her mouth. The box slips from her hand and chocolates fall in all directions. She is staring at my extended hand. And then she starts to scream.
I follow the woman’s gaze. My hand has burst into flames - orange and yellow - licking up my arm. I look down at my body. I am a mass of open wounds and charred flesh. Still I burn.
The mist thickens before my eyes until I no longer see the screaming woman. A wind starts to blow, whipping the mist into a spinning, howling vortex. Cold arms envelop me, holding me steady, strangely soothing against my burning skin. The shadow is whispering in my ear, telling me not to scream, telling me that nerve endings have burnt away and it doesn’t really hurt. “Hush now. It won’t be much longer.”
I hurtle through the mist. The wind howls a crescendo and stops suddenly. There is a jolt. My muscles spasm – like that second between sleeping and waking, when you think you’ve been falling, but when you finally crash it’s into your own soft, familiar bed, and you never really fell at all. The mist clears. For the briefest moment all is still, and then the burning begins again.
I’m in my Chevy, speared to my seat by blackened metal. My hand burns on the steering-wheel, my body burns in my seat. My world is flame. I open my mouth to scream, but the shadow’s words resound in my ears. I look up and see it watching me through the windscreen. Behind it there is light. Not the distracting orange glow that led me astray, but brilliant white light. Light that I long for more than anything in the world... anything except perhaps... Alice...
Anna was born in London, England. She was first caught reading horror at age ten, when a teacher, impressed that Anna was sitting at her desk during lunch break and reading rather than playing with other children in the school playground, found that Anna’s science book was actually hiding Guy N. Smith’s Night of the Crabs.
Brainwashing at a posh girls’ school didn’t succeed in suppressing Anna’s horror obsession, and, alongside William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, Anna avidly studied such classic authors as James Herbert and Stephen King.
Following a misguided attempt to wean herself off horror by studying Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, Anna went on to gainful employment in public relations, journalism and advertising, before throwing everything over to become a filmmaker and horror writer.
Anna still lives in London, where she has given up all attempts at sensible occupations, and has devoted herself fully to writing horror stories and screenplays, and attempting to raise the money to make horror movies.
Anna's films include: The Rain Has Stopped, The Sin, Ela, My Uprising, and A Fragment of Being.
Feature length screenplays include: Chainsaw, The Camp, and Pizzaman.
Short stories include: Schrödinger’s Human (pending publication in the Fifth Black Book of Horror), Little Pig, Teatime, A Song for Barnaby Jones, Arthur’s Cellar, The Gatehouse, Bagpuss, Underbelly, and Buy a Goat for Christmas.