Books I read in 2020

I usually keep track of the books I finish* by pinning them on Pinterest, but this year my reading was so haphazard that I didn’t do it until I scrolled through my kindle today! There were huge swathes of time this year when I didn’t read a word – unusual, for someone who has always been a massive reader – the kind of kid who had to get special permission to take out double the number of allowed books from the library because I flew through them so quickly! Anyway, despite the upset to my reading habits caused by day job, writing, general life and pandemic-madness, I got through more than I realised… I’d actually forgotten about a few of them, which is further evidence of this year’s state-of-mind. What will 2021 bring? Who knows. I’m hibernating until spring.

*sometimes I go back to books later, if they aren’t grabbing me at the time – usually more about me than the book. I suspect a lot of the unfinished will appear in next year’s post.

Books I read in 2020

So, let’s analyse… I see:

  • 22 books by women / 17 by men (and 1 mix of both as it’s an anthology)
  • 22 books set in the UK / 10 books set in the USA / 7 books set elsewhere/mixed locations
  • 19 books where this was the first time I’d read that author / 20 repeat offenders
  • 3 books by the same author (a Peter Swanson binge)
  • 2 books that I’d say were ‘nice’ rather than dark / 37 books I’d describe as crime/psychological/horror
  • 3 books that have either hints or actual supernatural things in them
  • 4 books that were really dark and disturbing in a real-life kind of horror way
  • 4 books that made me laugh-out-loud (2 of these were very dark!)
  • 8 books that are not out until next year

And which ones were my favourites? Well, I think the five below stood out for me this year:

  • Dead Head by CJ Skuze
    • Third instalment of the hilariously dark serial killer series. The main character, Rhiannon, is an absolutely genius creation and I’m so excited for the TV series.
  • Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Malloy
    • One of those books that you can’t say much about without spoilers, but it’s a psych thriller with heavy nods to Stephen King’s ‘Misery’, and I loved it.
  • The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
    • Another one that I can’t say much about other than it is like nothing I have read before. Dark, unusual and ultimately heartbreaking. I think this one is going to be huge next year.
  • The Apparition Phase by Will Maclean
    • A very cleverly executed ghost story, this genuinely scared the pants off me.
  • Call Me Mummy by Tina Baker
    • Another in the very dark but very funny camp, this is all about the characters. I think Tonya might be my favourite character of the year.

There are lots of books on my kindle that I didn’t get around to reading this year. Just a few on my to-be-read list are:

  • Recursion by Blake Crouch
  • The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward
  • The Push by Claire McGowan
  • Daughters of The Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson
  • Fragile by Sarah Hillary
  • Queen Bee by Jane Fallon

…and now all that’s left for me to say is thank you to all the authors, audiobook narrators, readers, bloggers, reviewers, agents, editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, booksellers, events coordinators, marketers, publicists, sales teams, librarians and anyone else who loves books and promotes reading.

Books will save us… Read a book!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and here’s to 2021 being memorable in better ways than 2020!

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You can find my books here: UK / USA – and you can sign-up to grab a free short story collection HERE.

My brand-new horror novella, Mr Sandman, is available as a limited edition hardback HERE.

Greedy George

SO… I decided to start writing some flash fiction again, and as Miranda is already running #MidWeekFlash with photo prompts, this seemed like a good place to start. Right. It’s been a while. Deep breath. Here goes…


Greedy George

George took a bite of his burger and felt the grease oozing down his chin. OH GOD IT TASTES SO GOOD. George had been a vegetarian for 27 years. Ever since that school fete where his (ex) best friend, Harry Baudsley had eaten a burger from the van and puked chunky yellow vomit all over George’s brand new trainers. Two cycles through the washing machine and they were clean, but the logo had faded and it was obvious that they were nothing but cheap fakes.

Like George.

It’s not what he’d planned for himself in life. When the teacher had asked him, aged 10, what he wanted to be, he’d said A LAWYER, LIKE MY DAD (because back then, it seemed like his dad could do no wrong, and it was like that right up until the day when he got arrested for some dull and boring tax evasion and his mum had told him to ROT IN HELL.) So George had taken another route, and anyway, being a con man was a hell of a lot more fun than being a lawyer, right?

He’d done well on this latest venture: THE HOLIDAY SCAM. It’s amazing how gullible people can be when they let their greed cloud their pea-size brains. He used one of those buy and sell websites, always a different name, different email, but the same old story – I can’t make this amazing 5-star luxury holiday due to illness but I forgot to take out insurance, I can  transfer it to you, and I don’t mind losing out… if you want to take my place, CALL ME. He took more calls than his cheap phone could handle. He fleeced more fools than a box full of foolish.

Then he got greedy… too greedy… as greedy as the greediest of the greedy fools.

He tried a new scam. It involved his own magical mystery tour. He set up a fake outdoor adventure company. Got people to turn up to a secret location, where he’d trick them and rob them and leave them to find their own way home – miles away, with nothing but the clothes on their backs – no money, no phones… and when they made it home, they’d look for his number and it’d be gone. His website would be gone, always rerouted some way that no one could ever find it.

Every time he made bundle of cash, he’d stroll down to the park, and he’d sit by the burger van, under the canopy of dark, spindly trees… and let the smell of frying onions tempt him in… but he never touched one. He still couldn’t get the image of Harry Baudsley and the yellow vomit on his brand new trainers out of his head.


‘Hey…’ the man from the van called to him. ‘I see you here all the time. How come you never eat one of my delicious burgers? I’m offended!’

‘Nah, nah,’ George said. ‘I don’t eat meat. I’m a vegetarian.’

‘SURE you are,’ the man from the van said. ‘Until you try one of these…’

George stared at the man. There was something weird about his eyes. Something shiny and twirling and bewitching. He stared, and found he couldn’t look away. Eventually, he said, ‘Sure… OK. Maybe just a bite.’

So he took that bite, and let the grease run down his chin, and he flashed back to the image of Harry and the trainers and he blinked and blinked, let the smell of the frying onions lift him away… and he felt great. FOR A MOMENT. Then he started to feel swirly and dreamy. The burger dropped from his hand, although he didn’t feel himself letting go of it. The man from the van came out around the other side and he spoke, but his voice seemed to come from far, far away… and he said:

‘You don’t remember me, do you?’

And as George fell to the floor, he remembered… he remembered the first man that he conned for £5000 for the holiday to the Maldives that never existed… the man who said he was taking his wife, and his sick child, because it might be their last ever holiday together, the man who said he would GET HIM for this, ONE DAY…


The last thing George saw was the shapes of the trees, their swirling twirling branches as they spun round and round, their vine-like tips caressing and strangling and choking. Until the last few breaths fizzed and popped from him as his cheap fake life slithered into the damp grass, leaving nothing but a greasy stain.

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You can read the other entries HERE.

Q&A with Horror Writer Nic Parker

Nic Parker
Nic Parker (she looks so sweet…)

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (How long are we supposed to keep saying that for?!) Anyway, today I’m pleased to welcome a good friend of mine, Nic Parker, to tell you about her love of horror and her excellent new book, Descent to Hell. I asked Nic a few questions, and she gave me some excellent answers – btw, in case you don’t know Nic already – she’s very funny and she swears. A lot 🙂

So I know you’re a big fan of horror. What is it about it that really attracts you? Monsters? Gore? Psychological chills? Ghosts? Or none of those – you just have an unquenchable bloodlust?

Probably the latter 😉 As long as I can think I was fascinated by all things dark and obscure. While others in my class were taking dance lessons I could only think about how to find an uncut watchable video copy of Evil Dead. Horror is the genre with the widest range – for example, Alien is sci-fi but also horror – and I adore all facets of the genre. I’ve been fed up a bit with vampires and zombies lately and I’d say I wouldn’t want to see the 645th torture porn bullshit with a story as thin as a wafer but other than that horror is the genre that just keeps on giving.

What’s your favourite horror movie? 

If I have to break it down to just one it is definitely John Carpenter’s The Thing. I was lucky enough to see the movie on the big screen for the first time ever this year and I was almost moved to tears. Thirty years after its making it remains pristine with awesome actors, perfectly applied tension and handmade effects that get every horror geek drooling.

What’s your favourite horror novel?

I’d have picked a classic like Stephen King’s It or Clive Barker’s Coldheart Canyon and I said I am fed up with zombies but I read M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts this year and the characters and story just blew me away. Carey managed to inject completely original ideas into the genre and a zombie novel that is so poetic without being pathetic and that makes you cry at the perfect ending is worth putting at number one.

Do you think horror works better in books or on screen, or does it depend on the story?

I think horror works on many levels, the obvious, the subliminal and the subconscious. There are monsters that scare you shitless when you see them on screen but two hours after seeing the movie they are cool but not scary anymore. Then there are characters that cling on to you and that keep haunting you for months or years. No matter if it’s written or on the screen, if it’s well done it will scratch at your soul.

What do you really hate about the horror genre?

As I mentioned above, serving the same shit for the umpteenth time, like endless rape and revenge shit. I love gore and violence in movies but not just for the purpose of serving base motives. I am not bothered about sequels as long as they continue the story or tell another story. My absolute pet hate is the goddamned bloody remakes that the coke snorting Hollywood producers come up with.

Who is your favourite horror character? 

My big role model: Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Awesome characterisation of a villain everyone would love as a friend.

He’s my favourite too. With Patrick Bateman coming a close second 🙂 Your debut novel, Descent to Hell, focuses on an important quest – the search for a missing child. What made you want to write about this, in particular?

Well, the main character of the story is Charlie Ward, who will stop at nothing to help his niece because she is more like a daughter to him. My central idea was that he descends to Hell to help a loved one who is trapped down there. I wanted Charlie to be completely unprepared on how to try and find his niece because, honestly, how would you prepare for a trip to Hell? Sunblock 50 and holy water?

So, what did you enjoy most when writing the book?

Conjuring up places in Hell that nobody has read about before, making Hell my own place. Also, being lazy as fuck and doing zero research as you can bend the rules to your own will when you are writing about Hell and demons.

Are you working on something else at the moment?

I’ve got few projects in the pipeline, one is another supernatural story, the other a psychological thriller and I am one third into the sequel to Descent to Hell.

What advice would you give to anyone who’s trying to write a horror novel?

The first advice I’d give to everyone thinking about writing a novel would be: Fucking write it because no one else will do it for you.

Horror is so great because you have so much to choose from, ghosts or ghouls, vampires or monsters, serial killers or aliens – just make them your own creatures and don’t be afraid to add your own ideas – the more fucked up and extraordinary the better!

Writing about fictional characters and the supernatural is a great way to let your mind completely run havoc – anything is possible and the sky – or Hell – is the limit.

And finally… What did you think of Stranger Things? 🙂

There isn’t a love button big enough to express what Stranger Things means to me. I was quite late watching it and this television series captured the essence of the 80s immaculately. Apart from Winona Ryder’s terrible overacting this TV series was an event not to be missed and I wish I had written the story. Watching it meant feeling like being 14 again. The set design, the actors, the awesome soundtrack – a nostalgic blast and beyond brilliant!!

I loved it too! Thanks Nic!

Nic Parker was born in 1971. Her love for the horror genre flourished in early childhood. She enjoyed the opulence of genre productions in the eighties, chasing after forbidden video nasties with friends, and reading mainly Clive Barker and Stephen King. Since her twenties she’s had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing many household names from the horror genre in her role as a journalist for Moviestar magazine. She is an avid book collector, passionate about art and likes to try out new recipes from her many cookbooks. She lives in rural Germany with her husband and six cats. Descent to Hell is the first part in the Hell trilogy with main character Charlie Ward. You can find Nic at her blog and on twitter.

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In case you’re wondering what I’m up to… my latest novel THE DAMSELFLY is out on 2nd Feb (you can pre-order HERE) – and if you sign-up to my website, HERE (or click on the prize image), by the end of January, you can win this very cool bunch of goodies.


AND for another chance to win a copy of the signed paperback (and a mystery gift) – check out the goodreads giveaway HERE.

THE DAMSELFLY will be launched at branches of Waterstones in Edinburgh and London in February – full details HERE.

Little One – A Short Story

I wrote this a while ago but has never been posted anywhere before… it’s a little bit creepy… hope you enjoy.

Little One

There was something about the house that had drawn Alice in. Maybe it was the warmth of sun through the window of the front room; or the way the front door seemed to sigh with pleasure when she pulled it shut, locking her inside with the Victorian fireplace and the tarnished brass doorknobs.

Alice had always loved a challenge; and after spending so many years in far flung places, she was glad to have a little space of her own. Even if it did need a complete overhaul. After learning so many things on her travels, she hoped to do most of it herself. It wasn’t just about teaching when you were in a small village in the middle of the African plains. There was everything else that went with living in such a place. Helping to re-build a school with packed-mud bricks was a lesson in life. Those smiling faces had made the resulting backache more than worthwhile.

She would miss it. But she couldn’t stay there forever. When Kitty had died, something had died with her. She felt drawn back to her hometown, to the familiarity of her own people; though none even knew she’d had a child, never mind that she’d lost her so tragically in a flash flood. They’d never found the body.  In a way, Alice was glad no one really remembered her. She relished the fresh start; a time to mourn in quiet.

She tackled the small jobs first. Buffing the green off the brass and making it shine like gold lifted her spirits; freshening her mind so she could focus on the bigger tasks at hand. The one thing she would definitely need help with.

At first she’d thought it was the bulbs, so she’d replaced them all. But still the lights flickered. Plumbing, plastering, painting and papering – anyone could do those things with a bit of time and effort. But electrics – no. She’d seen the results of amateur electricians and it was never a pretty sight.

She’d found him online: Customer recommendations, discount on call-out fee. The knock at the door came just as she was unloading the last of the washing. She was already impressed: he’d even turned up on time.

“Hello,” he said, flashing an ID card bearing a smiling picture of his face and a number of acronyms that said he was part of all the appropriate professional bodies.

Alice opened the door wide, smiling.

“I’m David,” he said, “not Dave… sets me apart from all the other tradesmen.” He had a gleam in his eye and Alice liked it. A bit of charm never went amiss. Then he cocked his head to the side, looking into the hall, and said “hello,” again, and this made Alice frown. Now she wondered if it wasn’t charm at all, and actually he was just a bit odd. She ignored it, ushering him in to the living room, and the door made its usual swish as she closed it.

“As I said on the phone, it’s just the downstairs lights that are flickering. The living room mainly. But if you could do a general check of the whole house…”

His eyes swept around the room. “Of course,” he said. “It’ll take a bit of time though.” Then he cast his eyes down towards the fireplace, and winked.

A tick, Alice thought. Well, two, actually. The repeating things… the winking… Some form of Tourette’s? Alice had seen all sorts. She was fascinated by the quirks of the human condition.

“Fine… well I’ll leave you to it,” Alice said. She glanced back to see him crouched down by the fireplace, unloading various tools and instruments from his bag. He appeared to be talking to himself, but so quietly she couldn’t hear what he was saying.

Make that three, Alice thought.

She busied herself in the kitchen while he worked. She heard the clicks as he shut off each of the trip switches in turn. Heard him go up and down the stairs. The beep of his impedance meter as he checked the ohms.

All the while, muttering away to himself.

By the time he’d finished, she’d bleached the back doorstep, steam-cleaned the ancient gas oven and taken down the curtains.

“All done,” he called through from the hall.

She padded through, drying her hands on a dishcloth.

“There was a bit of damage up in the bedroom,” his eyes flitted up to the ceiling, “from the storm?”

She looked at him strangely. “I was going to say, do you think the flickering had something to do with the radiator pipes? They run round the inside of the fitted wardrobe. They whine when I turn the heating on, not that usual whistling and clanking, more like…”

“No, no. It was the leak in the roof. The water was everywhere, apparently,” he said, butting in. “The little one told me.”

Alice felt like someone had dropped an ice cube down her back. What was it her neighbour had said that day? It’d seemed strange at the time, but now…

She’s just a little one, Alice. She just wants to go home.

Alice had ignored her. She’d been too busy thinking about the green brass doorknobs and the tortured sound of the pipes.

“Alice? Are you okay?”

Alice blinked. “I heard you… thanks.” She took her chequebook from her bag. Her hand shook as she held the pen.

Now it was his turn to give her a strange look.

“You sure you’re okay, Alice? You look like you’ve seen a…”

“Don’t say it,’ she said, ‘don’t say it. Please.”

She handed him the cheque and he stuffed it in his pocket. He looked scared now. Scared of Alice.

“Bye,” he said, scuttling off.

Alice glanced up as a floorboard creaked overhead. The pipes began to whimper. That’s when she finally recognised it for what it was: giggles.

The laughter of a small child.

Alice sucked in a long, slow breath. “Kitty?” she said, placing a foot on the bottom stair, “is that you?”

Books I’ve Enjoyed in 2013

There are a lot of ‘best books of 2013’ posts circulating at the moment, so I thought I’d share with you the books I have enjoyed this year, not those necessarily published this year… although I am not selecting those that come out early next year (even though I have read them…) Confused? Ok, in no particular order – I really liked these:

Merry Christmas!

Friday 13th Flash Fiction: MOTEL



As they pulled up outside the white clapboard building, Jeremy knew he’d picked the right place. Catherine lay comatose in the passenger seat and he decided to leave her be. The nosey bitch at the desk asked if his wife was okay. ‘Oh she’s beat,’ Jeremy said. ‘She’s had this weird viral thing… I’ve brought her up here for the air.’ The woman uh-huh’d. ‘Sounds serious,’ she said. Jeremy found it an effort to smile at her. ‘Oh, it is,’ he said. ‘But I can deal with it.’ The woman clicked her tongue and swivelled back round towards the sound of the screeching television. Catherine still hadn’t stirred. Jeremy grunted as he scooped her up in his arms; she was heavier than she looked. She opened her eyes when he threw her on the bed. First she looked confused, then scared, then her mouth opened but no sound came out. He’d been right to make her drink that battery acid. ‘Hey baby,’ he said as he crawled across the bed. ‘Hope you like the room?’ He cocked his head and smiled as he watched a single tear leak from one eye. ‘You know you can’t ever go home again, right?’


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This flash was originally written back in March 2012 for Cara Michaels, using the phrase ‘sounds serious’ and the prompt ‘You can’t ever go home again.’


Trick or Treat? 100 Doors to Madness

From one hundred of the world’s finest storytellers of the macabre comes an epic anthology of short form terror fiction that will frighten, disturb and delight the reader.

This is the cover of the latest anthology from Forgotten Tomb Press. I really like it: the sharp colours and crisp fonts, the open door leading to some unseen horror… oh, and the names of the authors on the cover too. In fact, the one second from bottom is my favourite 😉 (click image to enlarge)

Originally longlisted in the Writing on the Wall: Flash in the Dark competition, I have a flash fiction in here called Sweet Dreams – and there are 99 others too… take a look, if horror is your thing.

Also features stories from Miranda Kate, James Hazzard and Chris White.

Available on Amazon UK and US.

As a Halloween treat, you can read my story below. Don’t have nightmares! 😉

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Sweet Dreams

by SJI Holliday

It started with little things. A jacket left on the sofa ending up on the back of a door. An untidy screed of mail found neatly stacked and ordered. She wondered if she was tidying things in her sleep; her subconscious mind finally making her sort out her life.

It niggled her, of course. But it wasn’t enough to really worry about. She was sleeping much better, you see. She’d always been someone who’d struggled to get to sleep and stay asleep; spent the night blinking at shadows, imagining dark figures watching her. Staring at the gap between the wonky wardrobe doors in the darkness of the room, sleep-deprived mind inventing a bogeyman living in there.

Waiting for him to appear.

She’d tried all the usual stuff. Herbal remedies. Camomile tea. Even lettuce sandwiches – apparently there was a amino acid in lettuce that was supposed to trick your body into sleep. She’d started having a small glass of water and lemon before bed; although she rarely drank the whole lot. She’d prepare the drink, leave it by her bedside before popping through to clean her teeth and wash her face; then she’d settle under the covers, drink half then find herself drifting off.

Since she’d started the routine her sleep had been deep and she rarely woke before dawn. Could she finally be hitting that deep sleep state? Sleepwalking her way to a tidy house with no memory of it when she woke? The thing that worried her most was the grogginess. She woke with a fuzziness in her head; a dryness in her mouth. Vague memories of strange dreams that evaporated when she woke. A low feeling of unease bubbling under the surface.

A face in the darkness.

She’d once taken a sip from the lemon water from the night before and found it bitter; the water oxidised, the lemon taking on a strange fermented tang. From then on, she’d stumble out of bed and take gulps from the bathroom tap until her head started to clear.

Maybe there was something wrong with her. Maybe she had some sort of illness that was knocking her out, causing her to sleepwalk; causing her to wake up feeling like she’d been… drugged? She took to double-locking the doors and windows, hiding the keys. What if she rose one night and wandered outside the house?

She stopped adding the lemon. Tried again with the camomile tea. But still she slept deeply and still she woke with that incessant fuzz that seemed to be getting worse, not better. Should she go to the doctor? It was probably nothing. The dreams were probably… nothing. Just a symptom of her over-active imagination.

You’re being silly, she muttered to herself as she drifted off to sleep that night. She was only vaguely aware of the slight movement of a shadow. Didn’t see the pair of bright yellow eyes peering out at her as the gap in the wardrobe doors slowly became wider.

Winners of the #SJIBFS Flash Fiction Competition

Well the day is finally here – and hopefully some of you have been involved in the activities detailed on the National Flash Fiction Day site? If not, get over there now and see what’s happening! Flash Flood has been running since midnight and stories are being fired out every ten minutes – so there’s loads to read over there…


*Drum Roll*

Here are the winners of the inaugural #SJIBFS Flash Fiction Competition, with some comments from our head judge Sarah Pinborough on what made them stand out from the crowd.

3rd place – Saving the Planet by Juliet Boyd

2nd place – A Little Light Relief by Zoe Gilbert

1st place – Rabbit by Al Kratz

Sarah says…
I think this did everything a piece of flash fiction should do. It gives you a snippet of a story that somehow manages to tell you the whole without cramming too much in. It was very well constructed, subtle and chilling. I loved it.
A Little Light Relief: 
I thought this was a lovely little vignette piece and such an original idea and well-written.
Saving the Planet: 
I’m a sucker for Triffids and this was a really nice take on that kind of story. Again, a good snippet insight into a bigger story that manages to convey that story within it.


Well done Al, Zoe and Juliet!

 The pieces will be published in the  Summer BFS Journal which should be out in August.

Big thanks to fellow judges Phil and Sarah for giving up their time, and thanks to Harper Voyager, Gollancz and the BFS for the fantastic prizes 🙂


P.S. If anyone who entered is planning to post their entry on their blog, or gets it accepted elsewhere – let me know and I will link back to it and spread the word – I think everyone who entered would love to read them!

P.P.S. Same time next year? 🙂

The Boy Who Listened in at Doors by RJ Barker

So… while you all eagerly await the announcement of the longlist for the #SJIBFS competition (which is a tough job, incidentally…) I’d like to share with you a brilliant flash fiction from a writer I am very glad to call a friend. Not only does he write brilliant fantasy, crime and horror of his own, he has also been an invaluable sounding board for my work, giving encouragement and constructive criticism and a kick up the arse when required. So, without further ado –  please read, enjoy and let us know what you think in the comments. RJ is one to watch. You can say you saw him here first…

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The Boy Who Listened in at Doors
by RJ Barker

There are Witches out there, with skull faces.

On windy nights they gather in the tree outside his window and huddle together on branches winter-shorn of leaves. They chatter and laugh, flap their cloaks and watch him with beady black eyes.

All witches, all watching. Laughing black leaves on the cold oak’s boughs.

“They’re just crows,” says Mother with her half-sad mouth. “Just crows, my boy, just crows.”

The Boy pulls his curtains together tightly.
not even the mercurial moon
can peek into his room.
Better the dark than peeking Witches,
with skull faces.
Hard, black, leather-skin carapaces
Long dead grimaces.
Grinding and eating and cawing and gnawing.

He has protectors, many and varied.
Can’t, doubt the bravery of Flying Fred Ted nor Keemo the duck that Daddy brought him from the hospital.
When Daddy was still here.
Stick thin on the bed.
The bears hate the witches with Skull faces and he hugs his small army close.

He should feel safe.

Witches talk
And squawk
And screech and cackle and yatter and caw-caw the night away.
Outside those thick black curtains that Mummy, with the half-sad mouth, fitted.

“They’re just crows, My boy, just crows,” she had said as she hung the curtains, shoulders slumping, a pale hand covering tearfilled eyes.

When they first visited – black flecks falling out the dusky sky to populate the bare oak –  Raggedy capes making excellent wings for those who wish to be something else.

The same night the Terminal took Daddy went away.

Witches have guile, they know people would spot birds with skull faces straight away.
(Make a fuss.
Call animal protection.
Or the newspapers
Get the T.V. People
Or maybe write a book.)

Witches don’t want that.

So they slip their black pointy hats down over their shiny-leathered skulls.
Hard black beaks
Cover hard black faces.

“Just crows my boy, just crows. Where do you get these things from, my son?”

Sometimes, the caw-cawing and yattering starts to swirl in his head, stops being squawks and screeches and becomes words.

Always the same.

Taunting, teasing, sneering, squealing, high pitched, rakkety-ratchet old-hag, warty-chinned voices

“Shall we eat the boy tonight? Good and plump he is. Who’d miss the lonely little scrap? Our bellies would be full and his mother not be sad.”

Again they say it.
Again and again.
Each time more teeth-on-glass voices join the chorus until eventually, in a great taunting, teasing, sneering, squealing, high pitched, rakkety-ratchet old-hag, warty-chinned wail the whole flock of skull-faced, witch-crows takes to the sky.

Raggedy capes flap. Hat mouths croak. A dark spiral rising up and out over the city.

‘They’re just crows, my boy, just crows’ she says but the tears in her eyes and the tremble of his lip won’t leave.

‘Daddy would scare them away.’

‘I’m sure he would,’ she looks at the floor to hide her tears as she tucks him in. ‘There are no monsters, my son. Nothing eats people They’re just crows, my boy, just crows.’ Her voice a strangled sob.

He tries to be brave but he knows she lies and pulls the covers over his head and curls up, folding in his fear and pain with ganglion arms.

Monsters are real.

‘I’m sorry, Mrs Taylor,’ said the doctor. ‘There’s nothing we can do. It’s eating him away.’

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RJ Barker is slightly eccentric and lives in Yorkshire with his wife, two year old son and a constantly growing collection of poor quality taxidermy. His short fiction has been published in all manner of places (including charity anthology ‘Off the Record 2: At the Movies‘) and received three honourable mentions in, ‘The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror’. RJ’s illustrated poems (together with Mikko Sovijarvi) ‘Interment’ and ‘The Social Diary of A Ghoul’ have received pretty good reviews (like, here) and are available through Amazon for electronic readers. A paper version is planned soon.

He’s recently signed with Literary agent Robert Dinsdale of Dinsdale Imber and is working on something a bit longer.

You can find RJ on Twitter as @dedbutdrmng or read more of his work on his blog at

When not writing, RJ dreams of growing a huge pair of antlers and hiring himself out as a novelty coat-rack.

The Man #flashfiction

This is my entry for Chuck Wendig’s latest challenge, based on a first line from Jake Bible. I suppose it’s sci-fi/horror, I’m not entirely sure… it just made itself up from the first line… The Light


by SJI Holliday

The problem with the ringing phone wasn’t how loud it was, or that it hadn’t stopped ringing for an hour, but that Tom didn’t have a phone.

It’d been 172 hours since The Man had visited and told him what he needed to do. 167 hours and 47 minutes since Tom had burned all The Technology in the furnace in the basement. The Man had talked for nearly an hour. 55 minutes, to be exact. Once he was done, Tom realised he hadn’t moved a muscle the entire time. He had drool running down the side of his mouth from his slack jawed acceptance of The Man’s speech.

Tom was no different to anyone else, he’d thought. Everyone had The Technology. Years before, Tom remembered vaguely, there had only been landlines. There was no way you could lie about where you were. That was one thing Tom was particularly guilty of, in fact he’d done it just the other day. 185 hours ago when Kimmy had called saying ‘Where are you baby? I thought you were coming to see me.’ Tom had said, ‘I’m just picking us up some beers, then I’ll be on my way, honey. Get yourself warmed up for me, huh?’ He hadn’t been picking up any beers. He’d just finished boning Clara, the hot blonde from across the hall. It wasn’t the first time either. After that he’d just turned off his cell. He hadn’t spoken to Kimmy since. Wasn’t much chance of it now either, since he’d melted the phone in the furnace.

Which is why it was kind of a problem that he could still hear it ringing.

He’d gone back down there, just in case there was any way that the phone might’ve fallen on the floor; maybe someone recognized it as his and stuck it though his mailbox.


He’d struggled a bit with the TV. Damn flat-screens were heavier than they looked. He’d watched it pop and shrivel inside the furnace before he’d shut the door. The stench of the melting plastic had caught at the back of his throat.

It was easier with the other stuff. The laptop was small and light. He tossed it in. He hesitated over the brand new android tablet. He’d only had it a week. Just managed to set it up to be able to record the TV, not to mention converting and transferring all of his music and videos on there. He’d stood at the open door of the furnace, the flames licking the sides of the dark cavern; tablet in hand. When he started to feel the heat scorching his eyebrows, he tossed the tablet inside and slammed the door shut.

That was it. That was all The Technology he had. Wasn’t it?

‘All of it,’ The Man had said. ‘It will only work if you toss all of it.’

‘How long will it take?’ Tom had asked.

The man had cocked his head and stared. He had a face like an inquisitive sparrow. ‘I can’t tell you that,’ The Man said, ‘I still have a lot of people to see.’

After The Man left, Tom sat in the dark and waited for It to happen.

Waited to see The Light.

His stomach cramped.  His head spun like a merry-go-round. His mouth felt like an old rug that’d been left in the sun.

Still, the phone rang.

Using a final burst of energy, he’d turned the apartment upside down. He’d looked inside the empty shell in the wall where he’d pulled out the microwave. He crawled into the space near the sink where he’d disconnected the dishwasher. He trawled though the trash. He even checked inside the toilet bowl. Just in case.

If he could just find the damn thing and answer it. He could tell them to stop ringing. Tell them he needed to get rid of the phone. It was holding things up. Stopping It from happening.

He peered into the darkness of the unplugged refrigerator. The smell of the rotting vegetables sucked inside his nostrils. His appetite was long gone.

He folded himself back into the space near the sink. Knees pulled up to his chest. He felt things crawling in his hair; heard The Man whispering stuff inside his head; jittering, crazy noises. Like a jar full of flies.

He pushed his fingers into his ears to drown out the incessant ringing of the phone.

Closed his eyes, and waited.

Waited to see The Light.