Strange Spotlight: They Found Him Weeping
Taking a look at the thing that uncoils from the darkness.
Here’s a thing; a series of posts (well, up to 20, presumably) that each shine a spotlight on a piece from Strange Matters! Don’t worry, I won’t post any spoilers.
Returning visitors to Doing Words will know that I wrote a collection of short fantasy tales, called Strange Matters. The eBook’s available from Amazon, Smashwords, Google Play and more, with the hardcopy on Amazon. Strange Matters contains 20 pieces of fiction and poetry that all contain a glimmer of magic; for some it’s overt, for others it’s subtle. Some are high fantasy, some are modern.
They Found Him Weeping is the baby of the bunch, the shortest fiction piece at around 2,100 words. This story fits into the modern category and features rather overt magic, in the form of an impossible beastie which lives in the tunnels of the London Underground. TFHW is a little unusual for Strange Matters, in that it’s almost a horror story; the majority of it is brutal and killy, rather than whimsical or fantastic. Why the London Underground? I just think it’s creepy and interesting. In fact, it’s going to be featuring in future stories of mine. The thing that always weirds me out is the warm breeze you get down there, smelling of oil and machinery. An ill wind indeed.
Our tale starts thusly:
The first shudder was light, enough so that it could be misinterpreted as the usual rattling motion that Tube trains made.
Ali looked up from his book and glanced at the windows, wondering what the source of the noise and shaking might be. His eyes met those of the few other passengers taking the 11.45pm Central Line eastbound. The assembled strangers shared awkward grins, embarrassed to be scared of a bump in the dark.
They were not to know.
So, here we meet the hero of the piece, Ali. ‘Hero’ might be pushing it a tad, because he doesn’t get much opportunity in this story to be heroic. I’d say it’s more accurate to call him the ‘main victim’. I wonder, looking back, if James Herbert was poking my brain when I wrote this piece, because there’s a trait of his horror stories mirrored in the above statements.
I read a lot of Herbert when I was a teenager, attracted to the Rats series, then the awesome Sepulchre (I had and still have a boner for all things Sumerian). I’m not a big horror fan, but Herby wrote supernatural horror, which appealed to my love of fantasy. Long story short, a lot of his books start by following a character who appears to be the protagonist, only to have them die horribly in a few pages; like the poor, doomed characters in the opening prelude to a horror film. I liked this because you got to know them a little, which highlighted the nastiness of what happened, simultaneously teasing the nature of the book’s supernatural threat. Ali feels like one of those characters to me, because TFHW is so short; he arrives, we find out a little about him, then everything goes to hell.
Ali’s a young British Iranian who lives apart from his family and has a cat called Poe. Is he named after Edgar Allan, the Tellytubby, or (via astonishing prescience) Dameron? I’ll let you decide. He finds himself on a late tube train when the aforementioned shudder occurs- the shudders are a recurring motif in this story which I’m pretty proud of. What do you think of them? They’re a prelude to the arrival of an unpleasant beastie. If you don’t want any spoilers at all, look away now, but this is pretty overt in the story:
The Kraken. Yep, ol’ tentacle face. Of course, it may not be the Kraken- that’s just what the tramp believes.
So, the tube train is attacked by tentacles! I wanted this to feel very strange and unnatural, so they aren’t fully clarified as being actual tentacles or just ‘solid shadows’. I still won’t clarify that, but suffice to say that the idea of this story is that the unreality of the situation is more important than the literal, body-part-squishing threat. Think of it as realities colliding. The story was originally going to be a little more madcap, with a London bus instead of a train and a heavy ship analogy, with the driver being the captain. A little bit of Moby Dick, perhaps. Instead, it ended up being underground and not very funny. Here’s another snippet:
“Come away from the door, you idiot!” ordered the tramp.
“Fu-” began the skinhead before the glass shattered.
Ali struggled to fully perceive what happened next; just looking at the scene made his head hurt. His eyes began to water and a sharp pain split his skull. Shapes entered the train, but never quite entered the light. Instead, they brought the darkness of the tunnel with them.
Long, thin tendrils of solid shadow smashed through the glass and grasped the skinhead. Ali’s eyes cleared just enough for him to see what he could only call tentacles, though his mind tried to reject the notion. The tentacles (three, then four, then five) worked in intelligent concert to pull the doors open and reach in.
A groping limb smothered the skinhead’s face with sucking pads. That was the last detail Ali saw before the tentacles withdrew and took their prey with them.
Oops, potty mouth. This part demonstrates what I’m talking about with the tentacles and also shows two characters, a skinhead and tramp. There are actually six other people in Ali’s carriage, but none of them get names, because there isn’t time for introductions. I quite liked the challenge of giving them each a hint of character, without ever going into detail. Part of the reason for this is the low word count, which wasn’t actually a choice. I wrote to a tight limit to make the piece suitable for competitions, though things didn’t work out that way. I considered expanding it more, but I like it short, sharp and sudden.
So, that’s They Found Him Weeping. Yes, as you may have guessed, the title is in fact the ending! I’m pretty darn pleased with that, too. FORESHADOWED!
You can read the full piece in Strange Matters, which is cheap as chips in eBook format. If you use Smashwords (which lets you download books in any format, including Word and PDF), then feel free to use the code RK77F to get half off (making it £1.05). This code expires on the 7th February, 2016.