The Horror Zine
Henry VIII
Diane Smith and A. J. Brown

The August First Selected Writers are Diane Smith and A. J. Brown

You can email Diane at:

Diane Smith


by Diane Smith and A. J. Brown

The waning crescent of the oyster moon faded and flared through drifting clouds, as though an angel’s holy hand had parted lacey curtains for a peak. King Henry felt a shroud of mourning draped against the sky. His eyes fell from the heavens to the victim standing by the block.

Several minutes passed. He wanted at least a scream. Only silence filled the air. A year of torture in the tower had been unsuccessful. The doomed man refused to recognize the King’s authority as head of the English Church in spite of the rack and the boot. He held fast, giving his sole allegiance to the Pope. The King decided he would be cheated of this cry for mercy, this final victory. But, he hadn’t expected the treasonous man to kneel down with such grace and dignity, placing his neck on the block. The King gave a slight nod to his royal executioner.

The executioner’s black hood and tunic was still spattered from the last execution. A few red whiskers brushed below the hood as he fingered the knife tucked in his belt. He raised the axe high, wielding it fast, clean and crisp. Blood spurted wildly from the head as it hit the ground with a soft thud, rolling to a stop a few inches away. Dangling vocal chords released no screams.

Sir Thomas More, England’s friend and scholar, was gone. The executioner, with the help of someone in the crowd, threw the body in the river. He picked up the slippery head and impaled it on a pike. It was dipped in hot tar and stuck on the gate. Raindrops started falling from dusk's gray eye. Another rain cloud parted and a soft moonbeam circled More’s peaceful face.

Hundreds of mourners jostled by the Stone Gate, trying to catch a glimpse of the halo emanating from the decapitated head, his blue eyes reaching to the heavens. A chant of prayers rose high above the tower, over the bridge and down the Thames, the cadence rising with the cobblestone patter of the rain, then falling with the bloody waves. And the King’s subjects prayed unrelentingly, loudly, piercing the King’s good ear.

Thomas Cromwell; the King’s secretary leaned close to him whispering, “We need to mark another day for executions, your highness. Praying for More,” as Cromwell shook his head with a furrowed brow trying to memorize faces in the crowd.

“Clear them from the gate,” Henry ordered.

Royal guards clopped through on mares, snarling, “Off to your homes, ya filthy runts! Not to see you here, lest you want to join the old bastard on a pike. Eh? Get off! GO ON – Off with the lot of you!” They held staves and clubs high, bludgeoning heads and bodies below them, back and forth. Caught by surprise, the mourners screamed, scattering as though a dragon's flaming nostrils were singeing their hair, nipping their backs. Several cowered as blood dripped into their eyes and ears, nursing broken limbs. The guards served fatal blows to those with mortal wounds, no longer able to run or hide.

Two brave burly men pulled one of the guards off his horse. Several kicked him until he no longer moved. Rioting broke out raging for an hour or two. Victory finally rested with the staves and clubs. The horses slowed and the guards parted carefully around William, the executioner, still wearing his blood soaked hood standing by the chopping block. Peace finally reigned.

King Henry smiled as he mounted his steed surrounded by his guards, Cromwell to his right. What a perfect end to a grand execution. A fly buzzed around his head. It perched first by his left ear as he swatted at it, then his right, coming to rest on his cheek. He shooed it away and started the ride back to Windsor.

In the quiet of his castle, Henry bellows echoed against stone walls. "Close the windows and leave me alone! Leave me now!"

Cromwell stood close, inspecting the floor as members of the royal court edged towards the door, bowing. “And you as well,” The King said to Cromwell.

Over the years, the King had come to appreciate Cromwell’s cold logic with angular planes of complexity.

Just that morning, in private conversation, Cromwell said, “You must proceed with execution. Every day you wait intensifies division.” And the rioting? Although he doubted the advice at first, it was now clear, Cromwell was right. More had many friends. But, he did not want Cromwell’s company tonight.

“At your will, your highness.” Cromwell’s hands shook as he shut and latched the leaded windows with spindly fingers, obsequiously bowing, leaving the chamber. Outside, Cromwell banged the heavy oak doors together.

Silence at last! The King stared in the mirror, hovering between two memories of Sir Thomas More; former confidante and now his fallen foe.

The King studied his graying hair and wrinkles in the mirror. A slight movement was detected, a faint image of Sir Thomas bobbing in and out. Henry shook. Upon closer inspection, he dismissed the vision realizing it was just the bust of Socrates in back of him.

King Henry's sodden breath crystallized in the icy air in spite of the heat outside. Windsor Castle was cold and drafty these days. His satin brown doublet with flounced yellow velvet sleeves provided no warmth. Henry stoked the fire as another of his victims, Bishop John Fisher, danced on the top of the flames. He never begged for mercy either. Poor John was the size of Henry's finger that adorned his ring of piety. The King scribbled wildly over the embers trying to erase the image in his eye. The heat from the fire clouded the jewel in the King’s precious ring. “Be gone,” he hissed, "I order you to leave. And you as well, Sir Thomas. I saw you in my mirror. Leave my chamber now. Both of you are just the pale specter of a tired man. There is only one King, one ruler in England. But, why? Why, Thomas, did you not stand true? I thought you were my friend.”

As though by royal decree, More’s head appeared before Henry with a slight bow. A flicker of forgiveness crossed More’s face as he swirled around the King, the King turning in pirouettes, shaking his fist, “High treason, siding with the papacy. Thomas, you knew what price you would pay, the same as Fisher's.”

More answered like a vesper in the King’s deaf ear, “I owe my allegiance to a higher court. Death is a low price when talking of immortal souls.”

“So be it and now eternity is yours. There is no higher court than the King of England's. With a small nod of my head, your head is gone. And now? You obviously find no solace at heaven’s gate or you wouldn’t be visiting mine. Perhaps I will pardon you in death,” Henry laughed.

More flew above the King’s head and came to rest on the mantle of the fireplace. He closed his eyes and melted into the finely chiseled sculpture of Socrates.

"You always did have a sense of humor, Sir Thomas. Or should I say, 'Socrates'?" The King tipped his glass of port, plopping down by the window, drinking until the last dreg was gone, wiping his bloody lips on his sleeve. He stared blankly out the window, finally weeping for his dead friend; afraid to gaze into the mirror or close his eyes and rest, keenly aware of larger things.

Then, the sculpture of Socrates rippled, marble lips sewn shut, blood dripping from each suture, as King Henry bellowed, “So, I have finally silenced you in death. Be gone, be gone.”

Musky scented rose petals rained in the King’s chambers, lulling him to sleep.


A hunter green tapestry embroidered with thousands of tiny golden, pink and mauve stitches displayed a unicorn and a delicately boned maiden with flowing golden hair. It hung from the King's canopied bed.

The folds of the heavy fabric shimmered and crushed together tightly as the unicorn shifted weight from one foot to the next. A maiden caressed the spiral horn of the white beast as a fly perched on her graceful pink hand. She stretched it between the weft and warp of the fabric scraping the fly off with the fibers close to Henry’s face. She tucked her hand back into the tapestry and sat down in a field of dainty blue forget-me-nots and crimson roses with a few fallen petals. Henry rolled over, eyes fluttering as a tiny black insect bit his cheek.

He awakened groggy, far from his royal chambers, rocking on the weathered stone gate he had just visited yesterday. The King brushed his large spherical eyes with prickly front legs, back and forth and steadied himself.

"My god, I’m a fly. A fly!" Henry cried as he preened his lacy wings with hairy hind legs. The area was deserted except a couple of men chatting. He recognized one of them.

William, his Royal Executioner, asked, "Do ya think it were worth it, Christopher?”

King Henry silenced his agitated buzz realizing it was More’s head the two were talking about. Unbelievable. He was able to see in back of his body with his new eyes – in a complete circle with no effort. The King listened as he studied the definition in Christopher’s face with his sharpened sight; perhaps a raised eyebrow, a modest hint of disagreement.

“He thought so,” Christopher said. "More was the King’s friend and Bishop Fisher too – tutored him when he was just a lad, buried the King and Queen.” A weird light sparked, circling More’s head and the two men shifted uneasily.

“Sympathy,” Henry said in disbelief. Neither of them could hear him. Maddening.

William leaned close to Christopher. “I understand the Queen’s next; didn't give him an heir. She’s a witch, bedding 'er own cousin so they say. I know a good woman who can make fine ale though.” William winked and slapped Christopher on the back.

The King's proboscis detected the smells of blood and rotting flesh. He landed lightly, sponging decaying skin with his mouth, listening. Audial faculties were intensely tuned for hearing unsuspecting prey such as insects and disloyal subjects. The raucous talk of the men hurt the paper thin membranes of his ears.

“Aren’t you afraid to be here, William? Without your hood?” Christopher said.

“It’s still soaked with More’s blood. Naught needed until another day of executions, roastin' under that thing, pantin’ like a bitch in heat yesterday,” William said his large belly spilling over his pants held loosely with a drawstring. “No one will be botherin’ me soon thanks to the King's guards. Glad ya helped me with the body, but I wish you hadn't said them prayers. Stop at the Dragon Slayers? Proper brew they do there, none ah that low water. The ale wife’s a tasty drink ‘erself.” He grinned revealing broken, rotted teeth and wiped his sweaty forehead with his pinky. “Uncommon hot, even for July.”

Henry was enchanted with this intimate view of William and his friend.

Christopher stared once again at the tortured head and shivered. He was sure Sir Thomas More vaporized like a winter breath; Bishop Fisher's head now resting on the pike. He swatted at a fly circling his head.

King Henry somersaulted through the air, slowing in the wake of the zephyr.

“I hear his daughter’s coming for it in a few days,” William said.

“For John Fisher?”

“And what would More’s daughter be doing with the Bishop’s head? Fool.” William stared at More. “A terrible thing to have to carry home. Fisher's 'ead were thrown in the river as the axe were raised for More. Chills me heart, them eyes – followin’ you. Never know it were dipped in tar, though, would you? That soft, white flesh – like he’d just washed his face in the Thames. I dipped it twice, the tar would not stick. And that strange light.”

"Fools," King Henry corrected William's speech. He came to perch on Christopher’s shoulder.

Christopher raised an eyebrow. “Evil omens last night. I thought I ‘eard a harp strumming by More's head, but there were none to play it, and now the moon the shade of a black pearl."

They turned and started walking.

Henry's antennae sensed the ice and fire of More’s eyes. He followed William and Christopher as they entered the dark half timber pub. The stench of sweat, spit and urine was delicious. Henry saw another fly. It had a spark of its own, prancing along the walls with the flicker of the candles and the musical chatting of the drunken boors.

King Henry ignored it and landed on a keg. Enough food for a thousand flies here, but a far cry from Windsor, he thought. No one bowed either.

“Two pint, have yah?” the ale wife asked.

"That it would be," William grinned.

She was wearing the fashion of a tight bodice with warm rounded breasts, a white apron and rosy cheeks. When she delivered the mugs to the table William grabbed her. She slapped him lightly and pulled away returning to the barrels to refill more mugs a faint smile crossing her face.

Henry's thoughts faded to the pretty wench and Queen Anne and came to rest on William’s beard.

A staghound sniffed at William’s dangling hand. “You mangy cur.” It turned with glowing red eyes, teeth bared. William’s thick hands trembled.

“Git, you 'hore hound from hell,” William spat, kicking the dog. It yelped, tucking tail and ran.

“Be too hot to sleep," William said. "Bad enough to suffer through a winter’s night, but to be cheated ah rest in the summer. And now the sight of good men at the Tower and on the gate. Me dirtiest job ever – slicin ole More’s head off, but he ‘ad it comin.”

Henry sipped drops of ale from the curly hairs on William’s lower lip sharing his thoughts.

“What's the King's orders? Queen Anne?” Christopher whispered.

“Never executed a Queen 'afore; dun not know. Just told me to sharpen the axe. But, I done one better. I had a new one made. The head’s about three pound, the helve’s perfectly straight, true in line from top to bottom; a work ah art she is. The edge were so dull on the last one, couldn’t slice a melon. More were just lucky. Put my back in it. Been practicin’. Worked on the sow last night. Didn’t quite get her on the first swing, went with two squeals. His highness wanted the next traitor to go with one.”

“Soon.” King Henry said. The bristles and hairs on his legs quivered.

Christopher pulled his shoulders up and shifted on the stool.

"Aye. Two edges tah any blade, Christopher. One for the fine ruler of the land and one for the executioner. King Henry is wanting to know the names of those becryin’ More’s death yesterday. Offerin' two shillin’ for each name. And, Cromwell noticed ya was helping me toss old More's body over. He asked me 'bout your position on divorce and such.”

“Five shilling,” King Henry enhanced the meager purse, as a dog pricked his ears, but the chatting friends ignored him.

"Divorce?" Christopher asked. "I’ve no position on the matter."

"That's what I says, but he thought different," as William winked and downed the ale in several long slurps. “That's right. Saw you prayin for that traitor."

"Cromwell knows nothing,” Christopher snapped.

Christopher and William looked for the loud buzz, hands ready to swat, but couldn’t find it.

"Mind yourself. He’s the King’s lawyer and knew enough to get Sir Thomas More his execution."

"'Two shillin''? Naught a value for a life. What is it yer trying to say, William? Turn friends in? For the King? Everyone loved More. Don’t mean he were right about divorce. But, don’t mean he were wrong.”

Christopher leaned close and lowered his voice. “Some of the royal guards say the King spends more time chattin' with the dead than the living, those he had beheaded no less. Ya been my friend since we was younglings, William. Ya know I can not do that."

"The King's secretary would have ah word with ya then. Be best to do this quiet, Christopher," William said. “Friends and all. Yah know what ya got to say to 'im. If ya don't, I’ll make it quick.” William sneered, “Nah to those names.”

“So, now yer saying I’m a traitor? For two shillin’'? I’ve done nah wrong," Christopher stood and backed away.

William hesitated. Growing up they often hunted quail together, shared each other’s secrets and later women. Christopher was a true and loyal friend.

Henry nestled on his shoulder stating firmly, “He knows the names of my enemies. If the crown falls, so do you. This friend of yours is a dangerous man.”

"Don't make this hard," William said.

"You know I’ve got no names and never will. What have you become, man?”

"Sorry, Christopher. I’ve got to or I’m afraid it might be me ‘ead too.”

“Aye, let's go get this over with. Is it the tower then, William?”

A second fly perched on Christopher’s shoulder to the annoyance of the King, whispering. The King could not understand the other flies buzzing."

“The King may find favor in you for cooperating." William led him to the door.

Henry remembered Bishop Fisher's lesson. “Aristotle believed, Prince Henry, Mercy is not an attribute of God.”

They stepped into the heat giving More one last glance. More's head tilted towards Christopher's sheath.

"Come," William urged.

Christopher shook his head, jerking from William's grip.

"Nuh execution for me." Christopher freed his knife bringing it to William's face.

"Yes, by all means, let's go." Christopher spun William around. With one slice, he ripped into his throat; blood squirting onto the front of his burlap shirt as William fell to the ground. “Didn’t even squeal once.” He wiped the blood-soaked blade and hasp on his pants.

The screech owl of a craggity old woman peeled him from his state.

The King flew on Christopher's shoulder, gluing his feet with mucous to the rough fibers of the burlap. He had just enough to hold strong through the torque of the wind as it whistled and whirred past him. He tucked his wings down tightly.

On the pike, More's head shifted and Christopher ran in that direction.

"No," Christopher said when he saw the scaffold. "Ca nah be, the chopping block."

A dull hard thud, cracked Christopher's head and sent him to his knees. He looked up at William holding a bloody throat as Christopher floundered in exploding pain. On the precipice of life and death, a small fly rested on his broken collar bone with a crown slightly askew. Guards dragged his body off.

King Henry flew home and wiggled into his chambers through a crack in the joists of the ceiling. He came to rest in his large canopied bed. How dwarfed – shivering in the chilly room. No fire was in the hearth and he had no means to order one lit. Henry could not pull the silken covers over him nor crawl under them, so he nestled in the fur of the mink pelt of his collar, falling into a deep sleep. Again, the tapestry rippled and an insect came and bit one of his wings off, then the other. Scratching his back, the golden sunlight awakened him to a new day, King again as more executions were ordered.

Henry made a rare visit to a commoner's execution scheduled for the afternoon. He wanted to see for himself if Christopher was the man he'd met when he was a fly and oversee his execution. It might be fun. He watched William force his friend to his knees, locking him in place, his head on the block, awaiting the blade.

A minor distraction caught the ear, a soft flutter like an angel's wings, clouds weaving into gossamer and lace hanging over Christopher's head. A small insect tormented the King as he swatted with his hand. Talk from the crowd drifted by.

"Sad really," one Londoner said to the second. “The King kills his best friend and the executioner follows suit. A rash of evil plagues this city."

“Turned ‘im in for the reward, I reckon."

The second one added, "And the favor ah the King. Not a wit to do with God, he don’t want killin’ in his name - not for the Pope or 'im," as he flipped his head toward the King. A few feathery wings protruded from the tunics of the two Londoners.

King Henry turned from them attending to the execution. He would get them later.

”Not yet,” the King ordered, approaching William. “He’s your friend, is he not?”

William bowed low.

“Speak up man.”

“Aye, that he was, your highness. But, I’m your servant. He’s a traitor and I’ll do my job.”

Christopher shook as King Henry nodded his head.

The blade swiftly severed Christopher's neck, eyes popping out. His head toppled from the block, blood spraying in a sudden rush, flowing freely, soaking into the wood and the executioner’s blackened heart.

Christopher’s mouth opened in a scream that never came, eyes dangling from sockets, one of them staring at William.

William stumbled back. He licked his lips, tasting the copper of Christopher's blood as it soaked through the hood, feeling faint. The priest attending the execution rushed over and grabbed William. One of the King’s guards gave him a dipper of water.

Christopher’s mirage shimmered on the surface of the silver liquid. William took his final dark drink of life as infected pus exploded from the wound on his neck.


The Thames ran red with the blood of the King’s enemies that year; Bishop John Fisher, Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell and many more. In the King's dreams, he often relived each execution, haunted by their ghosts.

Several years later, he was greeted once again by William, his royal executioner.

King Henry rasped out in lucid moments, “Not time yet, not time," but no more time was had. Henry died in his sleep, several royal physicians scattered round his bed replacing leeches as they grew sated with royal blood. A heavy fog settled around the mote of the castle.

Henry, from his deathbed, watched his old friend, Sir Thomas, lean back in a throne of jeweled stars, sharing a glass of sherry with Bishop Fisher who joined him on the crescent moon. King Henry, in his thirst, listened to them chat about the sweet, fruity bouquet on their palette, Michael, the Archangel, perched on the Northern Lights, sweetly crooning a madrigal with his train of angels as bright greens and purples flickered with the lilting voices. Sir Thomas caught a dribble on his lips, with a cloud no less.

Translucent wings sprouted from Henry’s back as he started to shrink and his eyes formed two large globes filled with diamond glass prisms.

His hearing was acute now noticing subtle nuance and detail in the conversation. Thomas and John talked well into the evening, of hope, of life and senseless death; reminiscing about the third edge of power, the one King Henry never recognized until it was too late.

A J Brown

Diane Smith:

Diane Smith is the recipient of a few writing awards; she received an honorable mention for the Surrey International Writer's Conference, "Tapping the Limits of Existence," grand prize for The Ottawa Valley Writers Conference, "The Dance of Life" and poetry in the Binnacle at the University of Maine. "The Third Edge of Power," co-authored with A. Jefferson Brown is her first foray into the realm of horror.

A. J. Brown:

A. J. Brown lives in the south where the raccoons occupy his yard on a regular basis. When not chasing off those furry animals, he attempts to write. Some of his stories have appeared at Necrotic Tissue, The Absent Willow Review and Allegory among others.