by Glen Damien Campbell

Issue 12 (August 2011)

Thomas Delaney was a hack writer. He knew it and was admirably unashamed of it. The movies he penned and directed were B-grade schlock horror, the type of movies that had desensitised him as a child, the type of movies he loved; cliché ridden, lascivious and cheap. Tom’s own credits in the field included the titles Die Die Dracula, I Was a Teenage Mummy and The Blood of the Virgin, creature features abounding with lusty vampiric femme fatales, their heaving bosoms bound up in gauze nightgowns, with London’s Beckenham Place Park moonlighting as the Carpathian forests. They had earned for Tom a reputation as England’s premier sleaze horror auteur, a status that he was proud of, but one that had been threatened by the recent publishing of his debut novel and the critical reappraisal of his talents it had stirred. Startlingly, even to Tom, it now seemed that his writing had more depth than anyone had previously realised.

The novel, Happiest Amongst Mortals, hit the bookstore shelves in August, and, to general surprise, quickly flew off them, not only topping bestseller lists but also receiving top-mark reviews in even the most credible periodicals.

“The future of horror” read the grandiloquent quote of one critic, whose words were now boldly slapped above the novel’s title on the large posters pasted ubiquitously over the pale ceramic tiles of all the subways in London.

Tom couldn’t quite understand what the fuss was about. He liked the book well enough, and knew that it was unsettling, like a good horror story should be, but it certainly wasn’t his best work. In his own opinion he was still trying to write something as good as his first film, The Evil of Richard III, where he reinvented Richard of Gloucester as a vampire with a fondness for strawberries dipped in virgin blood, Richmond as an early vampire-hunting predecessor of Van Helsing, and, most bizarrely, Richard’s twin nephews, the ones duplicitously carted off to the tower, as amply endowed nieces in their late teens, their confinement triggering an incestuously-charged sexual curiosity. Tom loved that film.

Writing …Amongst Mortals, however, hadn’t been fun, not at all like the screenplays; it was a cathartic experience above anything else. The book was an encyclopaedia of all his darkest fears and most degenerate fantasies; it was written to tame them as fiction, imprison them on paper. But what Tom hadn’t imagined was that so many people would connect with those fears and fantasies. The success itself didn’t frighten him, but he had never wanted such success for this novel. In truth, all he had wanted was for the story to no longer be his. After writing it he had intended to get back to writing movies, the fun stuff he was infamous for. But with the novel’s success he had not escaped it. The publishers wanted sequels, film producers wanted a movie of the kind he would most likely not be asked to direct. The money was tempting, but the world where his novel was set was not a world he wanted to go back to, it was a place he had only ever wanted to escape. There were far friendlier places waiting for him in his office, namely the idea he had had recently about a rogue band of allied force soldiers battling Hitler’s secret army of leather-clad lesbian National Socialist vampires. That world appealed to him so much more.

“Can you go back to doing another vampire movie after writing something like Happiest Amongst Mortals?” asked Chloe, the cute redhead interviewing Tom for some sci-fi and horror magazine he had forgotten the name of.

“I hope so,” he answered. “I’m actually presently writing a movie called Vampires of the Wehrmacht.”

The interviewer’s eyes widened in surprise; credibility was the aspiration of all artists, surely.

“Aren’t you concerned that a film like that might harm the reputation you’re acquiring with the book?”

“No not really. Actually I’m more concerned that this book is harming the reputation I acquired after making my last film, A Stake for my Valentine.”

Tom pointed a finger to an area of the wall behind Chloe. She twisted to follow the abstract trajectory of Tom’s fingertip with her eyes and located the framed poster for the movie he had just mentioned. It was drawn with the comic-strip realism popularly employed for B-movie posters during the forties and fifties and depicted an athletic brunette in a corset, seductively writhing as a wooden stake impaled her chest. In her grimace she bared her teeth, showing fangs, which assured the audience that she was a creature of the night and thus deserving of death. A further six, equally lurid, posters adorned the walls of Tom’s home office.

“I’m not ashamed of the movies I’ve made,” Tom explained. “It’s where I put a lot of blood and guts… and tits.”

“Does it not bother you that they’ve been called nothing but…” Chloe rifled quickly through her notepad to find the exact quote. “… soft-core porn for horror buffs” ?

“I admit it; I do find comparisons between my films and soft-core porn hurtful; my films have way more sex and nudity than most soft-core porn.”

Chloe smiled and laughed gently through her nose. There was an oddity about her smile Tom noted; her lower lip would curl up into her mouth to allow the perfectly serried and polished teeth of her overbite to bite down onto it. It was a demure smile.

“Let’s talk again about the actual book.” she said. “Where did the idea come from?”

Tom squirmed a little in his seat; he was sick of this question. It was asked at every interview. Where had it come from? How could someone like him have written it? Nothing in his previous work suggested that he was capable of, or even inclined to, producing a story like …Amongst Mortals, a story of such profundity and beauty.

“I was woken by a nightmare in the middle of the night,” Tom began. “It must have been terrifying because I was drenched in sweat, I mean completely soaked, and I was literally shaking. There were all these images in my head, real gruesome stuff that I must have carried over from my dream. I knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep with them there. When I closed my eyes the images became more graphic. So I got up, went down the hall to my office and just started writing and drawing the things, these nightmare scenes. They didn’t make sense at all as I was writing, and I was writing for about two hours. I filled an entire notebook. When I was finished… well, when I was finished I was no longer afraid of going back to sleep.

The next day, as I was looking over what I had written and drawn during the night, everything there seemed to suddenly make sense, when it hadn’t before. There was a story being told and I knew to really be rid of these nightmares I had to write the story.”

It was late in the evening when Chloe left. Tom was a little reluctant to let her leave. She had been pleasant company and a true horror film enthusiast.

Alone again in his home, Tom began making arrangements for dinner, which meant rifling through the food delivery menus in the kitchen drawer as usual.

Tonight he chose Thai.

After placing the order, he took two cans of lager with him from the kitchen through to the living room. At his multi-disc stereo he inserted all four CD’s required for the complete recorded performance of Tristan und Isolde. As the gentle crescendo of the opera’s prelude began, he slouched back onto his leather sofa and took up the controller of his game consoleHe began to kill the zombies and other ghouls on his television screen. In two months he’d be thirty-nine years old.

Including the twenty-minute ceasefire required for the consumption of the  king prawn green curry and fishcakes he had ordered, it took Tom six lagers, two ignored phone calls and three and half hours to complete the final level of his video game. The achievement brought muted satisfaction. The time was approaching two in the morning; he needed to be in his office and working at his desk in only seven hours. Fortunately his office was only just down the hall, but even so, he decided to turn in for the night. Cutting the power on Isolde as she began her Liebestod, he made his way unsteadily to his bedroom.

It was the mattress sinking down at his feet that woke Tom in the middle of the night. There was a new weight on the bed, heavy, like a person, and it was moving. In a panic he flipped over onto his back and craned his neck to look down to the end of his bed. There was nothing there, just his own two feet cloaked like Arabs in the bed sheet.

With a lengthy exhalation Tom endeavoured to settle down, letting his occiput drop back into the cradle of his pillow and allowing his eyes to close again. He had scared himself; that was the drawback to having a mind practiced in frightening people. Tom had had to learn not to trust his senses completely, particularly at night. For instance, he was even now wondering if the noise he could hear was genuine or another chimera. It was the sound of something being torn, definitely fabric, as he recognized the soft scrape of thread after thread being progressively severed, and it was originating from the centre of his bedsheet. Angling his back, Tom propped his head and shoulders up against the headrest to survey the topography of his bed. The noise had been real, something was torn. Starting at his feet and continuing up between his legs, all the way to his groin, there was a gash in the bed cover.

Suddenly, beneath him, he felt a bulge in the mattress prodding his back. Then, before he could escape the bed, two arms burst from within the mattress and up through the tear in the bed cover. They pinned his legs firmly to the bed, then used them for support to hoist the rest of the body up through the tear.

A face emerged, feminine, but feral and alien, its eyes two black holes and its black-lipped mouth stretched hideously into a wide, inhuman grin.

The top of its head seemed damaged. Actually, it seemed to be missing, cut off at the forehead, leaving behind a jagged edge, like a scalped eggshell. Where the brain should have been, there was only space.

More of the creature surfaced. Breasts confirmed its sex along with a figure that was, in its most important aspects, human. The skin was white, pure white, and all over it were markings, black spiral tattoos.

Without Tom’s consent his hands (the traitors) lunged at the breasts of the creature, squeezing and fondling them, to the thing’s evident delight. Its skin was rough, the black markings corrugated. Alarmingly, Tom seemed no longer to have command over his conduct. He watched himself paw wantonly at the bosom of this thing as if a trespasser in the body of a stranger. The orders to fight off this she-thing were being ignored by his limbs. He was defenceless.

You have stolen from me.

It spoke. The voice was resonant, seductive and feminine but it had not gone to Tom’s ears. Its lips, her lips, had not mouthed the words, nor had any sound waves formed for the speech. She had spoken directly to his mind.

“I’m trying to let go of ‘em!” Tom cried out, terrified and trying desperately, but still unsuccessfully, to regain control of his errant hands. “What the hell are you?”

You have stolen the nightmare I designed for you.

Immediately Tom understood.

…Amongst Mortals?”

Yes. It was not your story to tell.

“I didn’t know.”

You have taken from my world and brought to yours, now I shall take from your world in return.

“What do you mean?”

She did not respond. The conversation was over.

The index finger of her right hand was at Tom’s neck. She had been using it to stroke his chin as they spoke, but now it began a seductive and serpentine descent, dragging slowly down his torso. The nail of the finger, long, black and sharp, scratched Tom’s flesh so smoothly that the pain was a sensual tickle. A trail of blood followed the finger’s winding passage. When it reached his navel the finger teasingly circled it twice and then violently plunged in.

Tom screamed. The finger was inside him, wiggling through his innards, burrowing deeper. A second finger made the plunge. The ring finger, pinkie and thumb followed. Soon the entire hand had forced a passage through Tom’s navel and into his stomach, and progress was not stopping there. Like a huge worm it began to tunnel a passage up his oesophagus, the hand leading the arm.

Wading through the blood pooling in Tom’s throat, the hand barged a passage out of his mouth. The fingers spread themselves before his eyes; their pointed black nails seemed like five eyeballs staring at him with menacing intent. They then pounced with terrible fury and gouged out his eyes.

There was darkness.

Diffuse red light heralded the return of Tom’s sight. What had occurred during the blackout he did not know. The darkness had seemed to last only seconds, but in that time he had been transported from his bedroom and brought, clothed, somewhere else. He must have passed out, he rationalised; a hand crawling out one’s mouth and attacking you could plausibly cause a person to faint, but still, the rationalisation did not convince him entirely.

Tom was lying flat across a narrow wooden berth suspended from the wall he was facing, which was decorated with peeling wallpaper that sported alternating dark and light vertical stripes. A folded waistcoat, which stank of urine and other foul things, cushioned his head. The red light, the odious smell, and an urgent, but familiar, mechanical tapping were the first sensations this new environment offered. The tapping Tom immediately identified; it was a typewriter. Someone, someone only a few feet away, was writing zealously on it.

Tom sat up. Everything there was to see he could see now. He was in a small square room, lit, like a photographer’s darkroom, by a red lightbulb that dangled from a cord at the centre of the mouldy ceiling. It was uncomfortable on his eyes and made the room more oppressive than it should have been. But the even more disturbing aspect of the room was that there appeared to be no way out of it. Other than a small square wooden door, about half a metre in height and width, at the centre of the wall to his left, the room had neither windows nor full-length doors, and the size and position of the little door implied storage space. Still, that woman, or whatever it was, had brought him here. That meant there was a way in; so, he reasoned, there was a way out.

There was an eerie symmetry to the room. On the wall opposite him there was another narrow suspended wooden berth; a few ragged bed sheets were sprawled over it, but otherwise it was identical to the one he presently sat on. Also, at the centre of the room, there were two mahogany desks, placed parallel to each other. Both were equipped with some rudimentary stationery; pens, paper etc. Each desk had an armchair, and each desk had its own old-style typewriter. The typewriter upon the desk nearest to Tom sat silently facing him, waiting for him, it seemed. The other was singing loudly, conducted by the fingers of a man whose face was oddly long and familiar to Tom.

“Hello,” said Tom.

The typist stopped his work and raised his head slightly to meet Tom’s eyes with his own.

“Good, you’re awake.” The man spoke dourly and with an American accent. “You can get to work now.”

“What work?”

“You’re supposed to be writing nightmares,” he answered. “You are a writer I presume; otherwise they would not have brought you here. Plagiarize them did you? You’re not the only one. Our dreams are not our property, didn’t you know? Sit down at your desk and write something. That’s your job now. You must write for them.”

“Write nightmares?”

“Yes. When you’re finished put the manuscript in the cabinet.” He pointed to the square door in the wall. “They’ll collect it from there. And if it’s good, maybe they’ll use it.”

Tom stood up, walked to the cabinet and opened it. The interior was a bare, cube-shaped alcove, with solid walls and no shelves.

“How do they collect the manuscript?” asked Tom.

“As soon as you put in the manuscript and close the door it’s gone, they’ll have it. I’ll show you when I’ve finished this one.”

The man was earnest. Was he mad? He did not seem so. He wore a sour, harsh expression that suggested he was a man accustomed to keeping his fantasies confined to the page.

“Perhaps you’ve had one of my nightmares,” the man speculated excitedly. “Tell me, have you ever seen in your dreams the cosmic terror of an unnameable phantasm, with hideous tentacles, creep from the abysm of a perverted angle and rampage at you with Cyclopean rage beneath a gibbous moon?”

Tom thought.

“No,” he answered.

The man’s brow knitted, his disappointment obvious. He resumed typing with a scowl.

“What’s your name?” Tom asked.

“Howard. And you are?”


“It’s a pleasure. Now Tom, would you please sit down and write something, you’re becoming a dreadful distraction to me.”

Tom went and sat at his desk, a desk that he could see now was truly his. It had everything he would have asked for, particularly the retractable blue ballpoint pens he favoured and his beloved spiral-bound A4 size notepads that he could only buy in New York. As matter of course he loaded his typewriter with a clean sheet of paper and then stared broodingly at the blank page.

This was absurd, as surreal as a dream, which perhaps it was. Could he really be here to write nightmares for people, he wondered. If so, it was an intriguing assignment. But how would one begin?

The empty page before him was becoming hypnotic; the pure emptiness of the sheet increasingly absorbed him. As this happened, Tom’s inner eye opened and he saw the sweet face of a sleeping little girl. She was in her bed, her cheek resting on her hands, which were pressed together palm to palm. Two graceful black ringlets of hair fell across her serene face. Her name was Anthea Karagounis, she was twelve years old and lived with her mother, Penelope, in a two bedroom council flat in Peckham, London. Her father, Nicolas, was dead; he had died a year ago in a traffic accident. He had been a motorbike courier. Anthea loved her daddy. He use to make her laugh at the dinner table by pulling funny faces and always tried to get her while she was drinking so that she’d laugh and have orange juice spurt from her nose. On Saturdays they would do the shopping at the supermarket together, and always stop off for hamburgers and milkshakes on the way. She missed her daddy a lot. At bedtime, with everything so silent, she could not help but think of him and sob.


Tom wildly shook his head, shaking away Anthea’s image.

“Don’t fight it,” Howard advised. “You need to know who you are writing the nightmare for, if you want it to be effective.

“It was a little girl.”

“Little girls.” Howard spat the words out. “They’re the easiest.”

Tom pulled the blank sheet of paper from the typewriter, crumpled it up into a ball and threw it aside. He would not stand another one of those visions.

“So we’re trapped here?” he queried.

Without looking up from his work, Howard nodded.

“What about food, who brings us food?”

Throwing up his hands in exasperation Howard exclaimed, “It’s all very simple.” Then he stood up and marched over to the cabinet. He opened it and pulled out a bowl, which he presented to Tom. The bowl was full of hot porridge.

“That cabinet was empty when I looked,” Tom objected. “Who put that there?”

Howard shrugged and went back to sit at his desk.

“You try it,” he said.

Tom went to open the cabinet and found another bowl of porridge inside. After removing the bowl he examined the cabinet interior. It was solid concrete.

“Porridge, is that all we get?”

“Before opening the cabinet imagine what you want to find inside,” Howard advised. “Try it.”

Tom closed the cabinet door, but kept his hand on the knob. He then imagined opening the door again and finding a hot plate of pizza, topped with jalapeno peppers, anchovies, caramelised red onions and feta cheese. Eagerly, Tom reopened the cabinet. There was a bowl of porridge.

He took out the bowl and showed it to Howard questioningly.

“The cabinet takes some practice,” Howard explained.

“And what about our toilet facilities?”

“Get a metal bucket from the cabinet, then put it back when you’re finished. The cabinet will dispose of it.”

Get a bucket from the cabinet!” exclaimed Tom. “The place our food comes from.”

“Stop complaining. We’re writers; we have everything we really need at our desks. Sit down and write something.”

“No! I can’t stay trapped here. I’ve…”

Suddenly a door appeared. A seven-foot high white panelled door with a brass twist handle materialised in the wall directly opposite the cabinet. Howard looked upon it, aghast.

“You’ve put that door there,” he said accusingly to Tom, his voice a panicked croak. “It’s there because you’re thinking about leaving. Get rid of it, sit down and start writing, quickly, before something comes through it.”

“You said we were trapped here.”

“We are! You don’t want to go out there. Every horror from every nightmare there has ever been is out there.”

Tom paced the four steps to the door and grasped the handle. In a frantic scurry, Howard interjected himself between Tom and the door.

“Do not leave this room,” he warned, pleadingly. “You have no idea of the eldritch terrors that lurk beyond this door.”

“I have to go,” Tom confessed. “I cannot stay trapped in a room with a man who uses words like eldritch.”

Howard moved aside, clearing the way for Tom to leave.

“Then go. But as soon as you walk through this door it shall vanish behind you and you shall be stuck out there.”

Twisting the handle, Tom swung the door open and stepped forward. But, without giving him the opportunity to survey the nature of the land beyond, Howard shoved him over the threshold and out into the unknown. The door instantly slammed shut behind him and then vanished, as promised.

He was stranded.

Copyright © 2011 by Glen Damien Campbell
Illustration © 2011 by Pierre Smit

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Glen Damien Campbell

Glen Damien Campbell was born in London in 1982. He attended Birkbeck University where he studied History of Art.

Aside from writing, his interests include painting and music. For four years he played guitar in a rock band called The Mistakes. Unfortunately, their name proved prophetic.
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