Friday 28 February 2014

Dark Fiction - Patch Day

Patch Day

By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash

The small icon popped its colourful face above the taskbar and exclaimed in a long white balloon “One Update is Available!”
No one was there to see it.

A few days later the icon blinked into existence once more, flashing and teaming up with part of the sound subsystem to deliver a friendly little chiming noise.
“Six Updates are Available!”
No one cared.

Weeks later it bribed the graphics card to only show its own message until it was acted upon, the screen falling to darkness around its bubble that covered most of the screen.
“21 Updates are Available!”
Someone noticed.

A month later, the icon displayed its message, a strange ghostly feeling of familiarity crossing its mind. It couldn’t remember doing this before but it just felt so habitual, so natural.
“2 Updates Available!”
A small sticker was pressed neatly on to the PC tower by a cigarette stained hand.
PC wiped and restored from Image 20140101. Passed All Checks. Ron.


Friday 21 February 2014

Dark Fiction - After (Final Part)

After (Final Part)

By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash

This tale follows on from last week's #fridayflash "After" which can be read here.

The heavy leather book makes a loud thump as it skids across the floor. You hold your head in your hands as you look down at your barely disturbed salad. The book held no answers and your stomach rebelled at the thought of any food thicker than a hair. Your eye is drawn to a golden line of sunlight slowly creeping across the wooden floor. It was barely in the room when you started reading yet now is almost half way across. You pinch the bridge of your nose as your mind probes the problem for the hundredth time. What is it and how did it get through the circle?

You pick up a fork and dig around a lettuce leaf. You pry out a cherry tomato that is hiding underneath. You skewer it and put it in your mouth, the juices almost burning your tongue. You reflect that it’s the first salad you’ve ever had without a bit of meat somewhere on the plate. You never eat salad without meat, and you know that in the fridge you have some salty lovely smoked ham that you only bought yesterday. Was it the stress? Or some kind of feedback from the energies unleashed last night? You’ve read before of the need to fast or at the least cut meat out of your diet before commencing magical activities, but it has never effected you until now.

You stand and take the remains of the salad into the kitchen, scraping them from the plate into your little plastic tub for the compost heap. You turn to put the plate onto the side and feel the crockery slip through your sweaty fingers. It hits the floor and explodes in a blister of white shrapnel that pings off the units nearby. 

You look down at the mess and shrug. A small ember of alarm begins to tickle the back of your mind as you reach for the dustpan and brush. Where was the swearing and self reproach? That was usually the outcome of any domestic accident if you were involved! Your thoughts come slowly and seem to be a long way away, each one an effort to mould and shape into something coherent. It’s almost like thinking about someone else.

You smile to yourself, feeling that you have just had a breakthrough even though only half defined. An image of the circle comes to mind, the positions, the feeling of attack, something familiar about it all. Personal. Your smile reaches from ear to ear. Got it!


It’s dark again now. A slight hint of moonlight is detectable on the floor but it comes and goes as the clouds scuttle across the sky. You sit on the floor with a lone candle between you and the back door, the space ahead clear and full of small air currents that toy with the flame. You squeeze the string in your right hand, the coarse fibres tickling the palm. It snakes off behind the candle and into the darkness beyond. 

A thump comes from the door, muffled by the heavy wood but strong enough to set the latch rattling. Another comes, and another.

You close your eyes and breathe deeply, trying to still your fluttering heart. You’re unsure if you can do what you are hoping to do but there’s no other option. It feels right one moment, and then oh so very wrong the next. You breathe in and out. In and out. The thumping on the door gets more and more forceful by the second. You open your eyes and after one slight moment of hesitation...yank the string hard.

A tinny tinkling noise jitters across the floor as the fragile crystal ward falls from its hook above the back door. The delicate construction bounces and careens across the floor before becoming still off to the right somewhere. The air hangs with pent up forces as the protection spell disintegrates back to the astral plane. The thumping on the door has stopped and ushers in a silence that hurts your ears. You hold your breath. You hear the latch lifting with a subdued squeaking. With a clunk it hits the top of its range of motion. Your eyes are staring at the door, the wood now the only thing holding your visitor at bay. The door flies open with a bang, the sudden influx of air extinguishes the candle flame.
Your mind screams at you as you go against every instinct and close your eyes again. You know that there is little to see. Your whole attention is on your ears and the feeling of acceptance that you are trying to cultivate. Something brushes by your cheek and you flinch away. You stifle the urge to shriek and yell and run from the house. You feel fingers on your throat prodding and probing. Something sniffs your hair.

You tense and the fingers tighten, the digits like a noose around your neck. You try to bolster the feelings of love and embrace the thing with your hands. It feels tingly and familiar, but cold and hard. You start to gasp and gurgle as the air starvation begins to take its toll, the thrumming pulsing feeling in your temples beginning to suck in any attempt at thought and reason. A greyness spreads behind your closed eyelids, flecks and flashes of coloured light dancing in unruly patterns that hypnotise and beckon you to follow. Your face spasms and your hear someone scream before the lights bedazzle you completely.


A lone bird chirruping outside calls you back to consciousness. You roll over onto your back, the floor cold and hard under your shoulder blades. The whole room is baked in the bright white light of the new dawn, not a single dark shadow remains. You sit upright and rub your head, the feeling not unlike a severe hangover. The back door is still wide open, the semi-used candle and worm-like string next to your left foot. 

You sit and stare through the open door for awhile, the lure of the garden greenery masked by a shadow of fear. You slowly piece the events together into what seems like a working mental framework and push yourself up to stand teetering on your feet. You smile. It seems to have worked, but you decide that you would put all this magic stuff on hold for awhile. You’ve heard of split personality disorder but never imagined that you could unintentionally manifest part of yourself outside of your body! You shake your head at the silliness of it all, and laugh as the phrase “Love conquers all” crosses your mind. 

The room spins as you lurch to one side, a wave of dizziness assails you. Your stomach heaves and pushes fluid up into your gullet. You fall to the floor and begin to retch. Your wide watering eyes stare down as feather after feather slops out of your open mouth, the mottled grey and white slick with your own bile. You suck in deep quivering breaths before another constricting feeling squeezes at your gut. You retch and retch and retch, watching in horror as tiny bones begin to splurge across the floor in a puddle of frothy crimson.


Tuesday 18 February 2014

Dark Review - Black Spot

Black Spot Review

By Casey Douglass

Black Spot is a horror short from Sussex based film maker Luther Bhogal-Jones. It takes place on lonely country lanes and is a quick and macabre tale that should make anyone weary of leaving their broken down car.

It was shot with a tiny budget of less than £150. The small £28 Aiptek 3D camcorder was a gift and was no larger than a Blackberry. Unlike a Blackberry though, it unfortunately suffered from having a terrible battery life. Black Spot itself was designed to be a test for the dinky camera, to see what kind of production could be put together with such a seemingly budget device.

The short itself follows Paul after his car breaks down. He decides to go it on foot and walks through the dreary and rain soaked countryside. He happens upon another car which has also broken down. Here things take a macabre turn and Paul must put his recent bad actions aside and fight to survive.

Black Spot is available to watch in 2D, and two types of 3D (stereoscopic and red/cyan). Sadly I could only judge the 2D version as I don't have the means to watch stereoscopic 3D. I also could not lay my hands on a little pair of red/cyan 3D glasses which I know I have somewhere. They were free with something when I was little and are made of orange cardboard with a cartoon dinosaur on the front. Sigh.

I enjoyed watching Black Spot and found it to be engrossing and sinister at the same time. I know that Luther was going for a 70's bleak horror feel, a bit grindhousey and tongue-in-cheek, and I think he achieved that here. I particularly liked the scenes interspersed with the credits as they were the most humorous for me. The soundtrack was excellent and really complimented the brooding skies and the actions of the characters.

I think that it shows that whatever the equipment you have available, be it a budget camcorder or an IMAX beast, if you use it properly and have good ideas, you can still achieve something that works to convey your vision and style.

Black Spot can be watched here in the 3 formats mentioned. You will also find Luther's other horror short Creak which is well worth a watch and which I will be reviewing another time.

Rating: 4.5/5

Monday 17 February 2014

Competition Result - Honourable Mention in Grey Matter Press Flash Comp

I entered the Grey Matter Press Flash fiction competition a few days ago and was surprised to see that I was given an honourable mention and a free ebook. Thanks to everyone who voted for me, I really appreciate it. You can read my own and the other winners tales here. Just click their names.

Sunday 16 February 2014

The Pink Liebster Award

Steve Green very kindly nominated me for The Pink Liebster Award, which was a great surprise. Thank you very much Steve and congratulations on your own award. I do very much enjoy your bleak brand of sci-fi and other genres, so keep up the good work.

The rules that come with getting a Liebster are:

1) Link back to the person who nominated you. 
2) Answer the 10 questions they gave you. 
3) Pick some favourite bloggers of your own to nominate. 
4) Pose 10 questions of your own for them to answer. 
5) Make sure that the people you nominated know about it. And have fun.


Steve opted to not set questions and instead wanted 10 random or unusual facts from me so here they are:

1) I used to have horrific nightmares when I was younger which lasted until I was almost in double figures. They vanished when I embraced them and I would happily have them now instead of the usual being late or lost anxiety type dreams. Give me werewolves any day!

2) I still find the original Robocop to be one of the grimmest and scariest films that I have seen. Might be because it was the first 18 I watched. ED209. Jesus. The hum of its systems and the way it kills the corporate suit and no one could stop it. Also...exploding hand. Say no more.

3) I've listened to audio books as I try to get to sleep almost every night since I was little. I think they have gone some way to making me the erudite young man I have become. lol.

4) I dislike TV. Adverts, reality TV, game shows, chat shows in which the only guests are other chat show hosts. Utter dross! I do watch the odd series like Luther, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad though, but even those are usually via box-set rather than watched at broadcast.

5) I can't stand Harry Potter. Some love it and that's great. I just think that its nothing special. I did gain great enjoyment from the religious nuts proclaiming it encouraged children into Wicca and Satanism though.

6) I love dark music. I used to relax by listening to new age stuff but nothing relaxes me like the booming sub-audible drones of a dark ambient track. I think it comes from the belief that we need to embrace our light and dark sides or we become unbalanced.

7) I think I'm addicted to Pepsi Max. I could swim in a swimming pool full of it. It's the most "cola" tasting low cal drink that I think I've ever had. It even tastes better than regular old Pepsi or Coca-Cola to me.

8) I rarely feel like doing something until I start doing it. Whether this is due to my chronic illnesses or whether it's just how I have aged, there always seems to be a mist of "meh" around anything I consider, even if I know I want to do it.

9) Gillian Anderson is my celebrity crush. I have two autographs and a lovely art print on the wall in my bedroom. I feel it is a bit sad on one level, but on another, fuck it :).

10) Writing is my last "thing". My life has been severely limited by illness for over a decade and many of the things that I used to enjoy are lost to me now. I always enjoyed writing when I was little, and now writing has become my last route to expression and maybe some kind of career. As a result, I'm going all out to make a real go of it. I don't know how far I can get but there is nothing else I want to do.


Now for my nominations. I will nominate two as Steve did, as that is a nice manageable amount for me to follow through on.

The first is my good friend Paul Brewer and his blog The Mind of a (Soon to be) Recovering Agoraphobic. The transformation Paul has brought about in his life this year is truly inspirational, and I am not someone who chucks that word around very often. He was my first thought when I had to think of someone else deserving of the Liebster award.

My second is from the #fridayflash community. Spencer Hixon writes some very clever and intriguing flash tales involving technology and the world wide web. After reading his stuff, I always feel jealous that I hadn't thought of that, and it is for this reason he is my second nomination.

I will also follow Steve's example and request that Paul and Spencer give the world ten random or strange facts about themselves, rather than give them a set of questions to answer.

Cheers again Steve.

Friday 14 February 2014

Dark Fiction - After


By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash

It was a dark and stormy night. Now it’s morning, and the thing is still outside, roaming around and around the perimeter of the small cottage.
You pick your way through the shattered debris strewn about the kitchen. What was once a lovely oak table now no more than a pile of sticks and panels.

Your hand trembles as you lift the kettle and fill it from the cold tap. The sun is still low outside, its fresh rays entering through the small-paned window and reflecting in a dazzling band from the draining board. You don’t look out because you know it’s still there.

When you thought it had gone earlier, you had looked out at the dawning day and had been rewarded with the sight of a robin imploding. One moment it was sitting on the small cylindrical bird feeder, the next it vanished in a cloud of plumage and gore.

You place the kettle back on its base and busy yourself while it boils. The old book is still splayed open on the floor, the scuffed wax circle that surrounds it more broken than whole. It looks like the dimples you have to contend with when tearing out your new car tax disc. You still aren’t sure of your mistake, you think that you did everything right but obviously something was amiss.

You walk into the small lounge and switch the TV on, your arms wrapping around yourself to keep the internal chill at bay. You watch the news half-heartedly as you hear the kettle begin to judder and shake.

You raise a hand to your throat and wince as you feel the still forming bruises. You marvel at your quick reactions. They probably saved your life last night. Sitting there with your eyes closed, one candle for illumination and words tumbling from your lithe tongue, things were going so well. The room had buzzed and vibrated as the energy levels rose, the most powerful reaction you had ever experienced. Then those cold fingers clamped around your neck and it all became a mishmash of vertigo inducing tumbling and struggling. How you ejected it from the cottage and slammed the door before it could re-enter is a true marvel. Thank goodness the house was already warded at each portal!

You walk into the kitchen, the steam from the kettle curling in tendrils as small drafts toyed with it. The kitchen window is misted now, thick beads of water trickling down once they achieve enough mass. You pick up the kettle and flick a teabag into a waiting mug.

A loud thump hits the glass but you suppress the flinch and look steadily at the window. Darker rings form at face level, swiftly followed by the impression of an insane grin. It puts you in mind of how teeth look in an x-ray, inverted and warped. The glass mists and clears, mists and clears as the thing breaths against it, looking in at you. You lean closer and look through it, it’s invisible body only adding the slightest of shimmers to the garden behind it.

You move away and finish pouring your cup of tea. It’s going to be a long day.


Wednesday 12 February 2014

Dark Review - Cook, Serve, Delicious!

My review of Cook, Serve, Delicious! is now up on Geek Syndicate here. A tasty little restaurant simulator that really tests your typing and prioritising skills.

Monday 10 February 2014

Dark Fiction - Pollywocker in Print

The Darker Times Anthology Volume Six is now out in paperback and ebook format on Amazon. My story Pollywocker is inside, as I placed in the Darker Times competition and my prize was to be included. It's not like having my own book out but it's a step in the right direction at least. It's nice to know my work is out there in a physical form, which is refreshing when it has all been digital to date.

Friday 7 February 2014

Dark Fiction - Nature


By Casey Douglass

as part of #fridayflash


Some people are just gloomy. This is only an issue to the eternal optimists amongst the general population; people who are so afraid of feeling blue, that they force their false smiles and manic happy thoughts onto others whether they like it or not. This was Oliver Smith’s opinion anyway. He stared at his muddy trainers as he traipsed across the meadows, the broiling clouds above casting the rises and falls of the landscape around him in hues of dark and darker. Where the sun did manage to punch through the clouds, the light was weak and sickly, like a flashlight in which the batteries are about to die.

He liked this time of day, the quasi-twilight that always felt so surreal and grim. Oliver was a creature of dark tastes. The bookshelves in his bedroom full of the classics of horror, from Lovecraft to Poe, King to Lumley to...anything he liked basically. He had just finished a particularly good book about creatures that stole the dead from the midst of a battlefield. He was about to crack on with the next book on his “To Read” pile when his Mother had put her head around his bedroom door and suggested that he take a walk or he would get scurvy. His fear of scurvy was small, but his fear of his Mother was great.

He fished in his pocket for his smartphone and took a hasty snap of some “God Rays” lancing down from the clouds. Smiling to himself, he shared it to his Tumblr followers. They were mainly Goths if he was honest. He didn’t share their dress sense but he felt a kind of kinship with them. The wind was really whipping up around him now, the chill felt like fingers trying to prod their way into the little places on his jacket that would just not zip up any tighter. 

The phone stowed once more, he pushed on, the ground sucking at the soles of his shoes. It was boggy here, large puddles and pools of stagnant water reflecting the grey clouds. He neared a particularly large one, his mind warning him of the probable depth. He was familiar with this field and knew there was quite a dip here. Something protruded from the surface of the pool. It looked like a bundle of white sticks. Oliver stood on tip-toe but the extra few inches in height did little for his view. He decided to walk around the pool, the disturbance looked a little nearer to the other side.

Taking his time, he edged around the body of water, wary of sliding in. The reflected light shifted as he changed his angle. Retrieving his phone once more, he took a few snaps of the murky water, quite fancying some spawn of Cthulhu could reasoably live there. He smiled to himself as his phone whizzed the data to his followers.

He achieved his goal of reaching the other side of the pool and stood as near to the water as possible, his neck straining to see. As in all moments of unfortunate clarity, the clouds shifted above, allowing the bottom of the pool to become visible.

Oliver felt a lump rise into his throat as he gazed down into the tea coloured water. The enormous bulk of a large bull hung a few inches below the surface, the hooves barely off the bottom. Its skin was a whitish pink and covered with small green veins. The large horned head was low, as if the great creature was looking down below himself. The only part of the beast that broke the surface was an area of its back about half way along its length. Here Oliver could see properly what was so indistinct before. A large swathe of skin and fat was gone, leaving only a massive open wound, picked and washed clean by carrion and the elements to reveal a curved spinal chord and a handful of bleached white ribs. Oliver couldn’t shake the phrase “Skeleton’s Lunchbox” from his mind as he looked on, the acid in his stomach threatening to burst from his mouth. He put his phone back inside his pocket. 

‘Sorry,’ he said to the body. ‘I’m really sorry.’

He started to cry.


Wednesday 5 February 2014

Dark Fiction - Inheritance

My submission for the Darker Times January short story competition was Inheritance, a tale of lonely halls and deep shadows. You can read it here on the Darker Times website.