after working a twelve-hour shift and you feel the joints in your shoulders
wind tighter, struggling to keep both your arms from dropping to the floor. You
open the door to your very own pit of unease. There he is. Just as you left
him. Silent and staring. Less your dad and more an ominous space where he had
once been. An empty husk of a person, slouched in a large brown armchair
covered in yellowish stains, matching the colour of his fingernails. With him
in the dark sits a television, loud and bright and never resting. You peel back
the curtains to reveal dusty sunlight dancing about the window ledge. As the
light soaks over his pale face, you notice tiny streams of blood running over
the white of his eyes. Still staring just behind the TV screen, you doubt he
has even noticed your presence. You kick your boots off which hit hard against
the skirting board, leaving a trail of dirt across the lower part of the wall.
You finally remove your jacket, hanging it up next to a moth-bitten fishing
jacket belonging to your dad, bait hooks still clinging to the front pocket
from its last adventure.
You glide into the kitchen, skidding on
the hard floor in your socks, your big toe peeking out from a large hole you
hadn’t noticed till now. The kitchen is small, with a single blocked-off window
that once looked onto the garden at the back of the house, which is now more of
a tiny jungle filled with vines and rotting pieces of wood. A rusty oven sits
unused to the right of the sink, which hasn’t worked since before you moved
back in, over two years ago. After trying to fix it on several occasions, you
realised that it had accepted its fate and so should you. Turning on the balls
of your feet you make towards the grey- coloured fridge, the handle
mysteriously sticky. Peering in, you expertly move your hand up and around the
piles of microwave meals to the back of the shelf, where you hid a large
chocolate bar. Half-eaten by you on previous days, you take two pieces from the
edge and place it lightly into your mouth. It melts quickly over your tongue,
moving about your cheeks, leaving bursts of flavour between your teeth as you
reach for two portions of macaroni and cheese. You remove the layers of
packaging and peel back the thin layer of plastic as a mound of sticky cheese
sauce claims the edge of your right pinkie finger.
tossing the two meals into the microwave and setting the timer to four minutes
and thirty-five seconds, you spend the time staring vacantly into middle
distance. The microwave tells you that it’s time to eat. You grab the meals;
knives, forks, and a large grey plastic tray, with a worn picture of a blueish
butterfly printed across the middle. You set the tray down across his lap, you
feel his stale breath against your cheek for a moment before you pull away. The
smell of fermented coffee curdled with beer, hot saliva and impressive amounts
of tobacco burns at your nose. You gag as the aroma pounds at your gut,
bringing what is left of your lunch, up into your throat. You purse your lips
together tightly as half-digested tuna thickened with chocolate slips back down
your throat, eyes watering as escaped stomach acid drips from your nose,
drowning you in its sting. You swing to the side, hand covering the lower
portion of your face, hiding the disgust. You give yourself a good minute to
compose yourself. He doesn’t notice. You clear a large pile of newspapers from
a small leather foot stool, moving around it clumsily, your meal burning into
the palm of your other hand. You sit to the left of his chair, your bodies
the screen, you look to the window just above. You watch the unsettled dust,
still swaying in the warm light spilling through the dirty glass. Every so
often you glance over to him, the sides of the chair hiding his eyes and nose.
His hands shake. They hadn’t before. They shake, gripping tightly to the cheap
metal fork as he shovels lukewarm pasta deep into his mouth. Slurping at the
sauce and gnawing at the pasta with his imperfect teeth, orange from years of
smoking. Sauce dripping down the corner of his mouth, falling deep into his
wiry stubble. Scoffing as the cheese sauce combines with the thick layers of
phlegm dangling at the back of his throat.
You try not to stare, but you carry
on despite yourself. This is the most noise he makes. The last time you recall
him speaking was that one summer evening just over a year ago. You passed him
on the landing, he was staring wide eyed into one of the large display cases
drilled to the wall, having a conversation with his reflection in the glass.
Since then, conversation has turned to grunts. Looking down at your meal, you
feel a knot forming in your gut. You take a bite. The thick tangy sauce spoils
your appetite. You give up and instead slide your meal onto the edge of his
hungry.” You mumble.
even left the room, you hear him tuck into your meal without hesitation. You
make your way up the narrow set of stairs, eyes on your feet to avoid catching
your toes on the carpet tacks sticking out a little too far. Reaching the
landing, you come face to face with the bathroom door. Carefully you move
through the equally narrow hallway, most of the head space taken up by rows of
bulky display cases, each filled with an array of brightly-coloured insects, their
wings held down by silver pins. Each with a tiny handwritten label just above
its antennae. You take a short while acknowledging the names of some of the
butterflies as you pass by: Protogoniomorpha cytora; a light blue
butterfly with black details, almost watercolour like. Cymothoe mabillei;
a bright orange butterfly from Africa. Thailand’s Burara gotmata; also
known as the pale-green awlet. Your favourite. Its wings black and white
striped with a dusty orange body. An extensive collection, accumulated by your
dad during his travels decades ago. Just to the right of your door a case
filled with pressed plants, like the bugs accompanied by their Latin names.
Ceres violaeque; colligentes zizania and muscus.
your room at the end of the hallway. In one swift movement you brush the pile
of clothes from this morning’s events onto the wooden floor and lay down in
their place, the springs in the mattress creaking slightly as they break your
fall. Your room is only just big enough to fit your single bed and the bulky
chest of drawers pushed up against the wall, the back corner of it scratching
at the paint work each time you bump your hip against it as you leave for work
on a morning. Your window is the cleanest in the house, facing out over the
back-garden jungle, looking onto endless fields filled with cattle and corn.
You take your phone from your back pocket. You press play on the audio book you
began the day before, ‘Submarine’ by Joe Dunthorne. Sweeping your hands
up into the air, letting them hang there for a short time, examining your own
battle scars. Just beneath the forefinger on the left hand sits the ghost of a
cigarette wound which still burns today, less the burn and more of the fear it
carried with it. A lesson, and you haven’t touched a pack of dad’s smokes since.
As the furnace-orange light fades to darkness, you lie there waiting for the
next day, eventually falling into a deep slumber losing all the meaning to the
words still spouting from your phone.
The small alarm clock resting on your
windowsill cries out to tell you it’s Saturday. You hop out of bed, realising
you slept in clothes from the day before. You hunt through the pile on the
floor, changing clumsily. You throw on a light jacket hanging from the edge of
your door and make your way swiftly down the stairs. You peek into the sitting
room, he slept there last night. You see the corner of his face, mouth open,
half dried dribble falling down the curves in his chin. You notice that he’s
stopped making the journey to bed just over a month ago.
you make for the tray,
bending down to scoop it from the floor in front of him. You avert your eyes
from his stained boxers, the hem peeking out from beneath his sleeveless shirt,
that too was a shade of burnt yellow. You notice the backs of his legs are
covered in swollen red lumps, outlined with a tinge of yellow. You stand up slowly,
tray in hand, your eyes gently falling over him. You study the wrinkles in his
skin, thin like antique paper that could tear in the slightest breeze. Equal
parts of love and loathing cloud over your memories of him, locked doors, and
silence echo through your mind. You would always be the least interesting thing
he stuck pins through. Taking a glance at the ashtray resting on the arm of his
chair, you see ash piled to the rim of the glass, the cigarette butts nowhere
to be seen. You take the tray into the kitchen, pouring the two plates into the
sink. You fill it with hot water, hoping that the solid lumps of cheese will
fall off in time, with little effort.
You grab your fishing bag and rod from
the back of the cupboard built deep under the stairs; slip your muddy brown
boots, coated with clumps of moss onto your feet and head out into the village.
It doesn’t take long till you reach a
small winding alley taking you away from the houses and into the fields. Following
down the path, you kick small pebbles into the thick nettles growing up into
the hedges on both sides. The early morning sun invades your vision. Like a
swarm of flies, batting it away with the side of your hand. This walk has
become a part of your weekly routine, heading out alone to fish. Willmore lake
has been boarded up since before you were born, rumours of murders and strange
creatures living in the deepest parts of the lake spread through bedtime
stories and urban legend. Not long ago you found an opening in the tall metal
fence holding the sign reading “Keep out. Danger.” Since then, you find it to
be the perfect place for solitude and fishing. You push your bag and rod
through the gap and follow suit. The grass is long and entangled with weeds and
wildflowers. You hear a crunch beneath your feet. Looking down you find it’s
broken glass from a beer bottle. You wade through low-hanging branches from the
rows of trees leading to the water, catching your shirt on sharp twigs as you
Each time you visit you can’t help
but remember your father’s version of ‘The tales of Willmore’. He’d sit on the
edge of your bed, his face orange in the lamplight and begin.
the sixties a group of kids cut down part of the wired fence around the lake
and held a party on the grounds. They parked their vans on the other side of
the trees to the lake and began to drink into the night, playing music and
dancing beneath the moon. A young girl by the name of Jeanie Martin drank too
much and stumbled through the trees, to the edge of the lake. Some would call
it a drunken mistake; others say the water called her like a drone beneath the
music. She fell to her knees, ripping the bottom of her thin floral dress and
began to hurl that night’s food and drink into the water. Delirious, Genie
reached out for something to cancel out the taste of bile swimming about her
mouth. She pulled a thick chunk of brown moss from a jagged rock poking out
from beneath the water. Doing so, she smashed the palm of her hand into the
sharp part of the rock, pulling the flesh from her bones. Her blood dripped
from her veins and was absorbed by the moss. She shoved it deep into her mouth.
It glided down her throat like cream, no need to chew. She pulled herself up,
onto her feet, walking back towards ‘the gang’, who hadn’t noticed her leave.
Before she could take another step, Genie fell hard onto the ground, clutching
her stomach and howling into the night. She felt the moss contract and squeeze
her organs, moving about inside her like a snake twisting tight around her
lungs. She dug her bloodied fingers deep into the back of her throat, choking on
The howling and choking went on, as her
entire body spasmed, lying curled up amongst the tall winding grass. She
stopped. Spontaneously her pain was relieved. She stood up, her dress coated in
stains of green and dark red, clotting about her waist. Hand still oozing
blood, the wound encrusted with strands of moss. Staring up, her eyes gleamed
red in the moonlight, the blue in them completely washed away. She ran through
Their screams could be heard from miles
around, they echoed in the night, disturbing the birds asleep in their nests.
She dragged their bodies through the grass and trees, forcing them into the
water. Their blood gliding over the ripples, terror still spelled clearly
across their faces. She was the last of them. It was said that after diving
headfirst into the dark, Genie swam amongst her friend’s corpses till daylight
came. When the police finally found the remains of that summer night’s party,
no sign of carnage was found. No corpses floating face up in the water and no
sign of Genie. They drained the lake and they found nothing but a mossy bottom.
Some years later, a man’s dog disappeared behind the wire fence. When it
returned, in its mouth was a blood-stained floral dress, untouched by time or
Those stories scared you to sleep most
nights as did the man funnelling them into your tiny ears. Reminiscing on
nightmares, you sit down among the tall grass, baiting your hook and casting it
into the water, your mind turns blissfully clear. The natural quiet ensnares you.
didn’t notice the sky turn dark. You pack up and head home, without a single
fish, wondering where the time went.
Your week starts on a Sunday. Each
day from then rolls into the next, visiting Willmore to fish on a Saturday like
clockwork. The dirty plates pile high in the sink, more mould forming each time.
You ignore it. Each day your dad eats more and more but somehow loses more
weight than he started with. His skin like thin latex laid over the bones in
his face, the corner of his lips burnt from smoking. Ash crusted between the
flaps of skin between his fingers, the ashtray left full and forgotten. You observe
that the sores on the backs of his legs have grown and mutated into mass bags
of fluid, almost ready to pop.
evening as you
place another microwave meal in front of him, you stop. You notice the side of
his jaw moving, gnawing. His bottom lip is coated in deep red; the blood glazed
over it like blackberry jam. As his lips move apart and thick black fluid pours
down his chin, you see his tongue, torn to pieces, resting between his bloodied
gums, limp like skinned meat. He begins to choke.
heart screaming out beneath your ribs. Ignoring its cries, you stand, grounded.
You watch as his eyes change quickly in and out of panic. They lock onto yours.
You can feel him, staring deep behind your eyes, unearthing lost memories you’d
learnt to repress, sucking them from you like a leech.
The air in your lungs turns stale. Without
warning, he leaps to the floor, sending searing lasagne down your chest, the
sauce seeping through your shirt, cooking the skin beneath. You scream, running
to the kitchen and throw the sauce-covered shirt straight to the floor. Eyes
watering from the burns, you force yourself beneath the cold tap, the cool
water easing the sting. A great crack echoes from the next room, followed by an
array of crashes and thuds.
you peek your head back through the doorframe to see the rear end of your
father scampering towards the front door, moving on his hands and feet with an
agility you weren’t aware humans possessed. Clutching your hand over your bare,
blistering chest, you reluctantly follow behind him. Rounding the corner to
find the door smashed clearly open, shards of wood hanging over the door frame.
You pull the fishing jacket from its peg and drape it around you before heading
out after him.
Somehow the day has fallen into the
night without you noticing. The moon framed perfectly by grey clouds, illuminates
the pale yellow of your father’s legs in the distance, bounding on all fours
like a wolf in the night. Breathing heavily, you run through the village, begging
the universe for all the neighbours to be fast asleep. Quickly you break into a
sprint, the hairs on your arms standing on end from the night’s chill. Swiftly,
you reach the all-too-familiar winding alley, leading out into the fields, out
to Willmore. Eyes watering, you push on, sprinting through thick nettles,
feeling your untied boot laces rasp against your ankles. There it is, the “KEEP
OUT. DANGER!” sign welded to the fence. As you reach the opening you swallow a
breath, gulping it back like a tennis ball in your throat. The torn metal edges.
Pulled back further than before, each end dripping with blood. Carefully you
twist your way through, regardless. A stream of cold blood falls down your left
shoulder, causing you to grimace. As you grow closer, you can hear him. Low
growls held in the gentle breeze. You navigate through the low-hanging trees. Batting
flies and rogue leaves away from your dry mouth, you see him.
back and forth, crouched on all fours amidst the tall grass bordering the water,
the joints in his wrists creaking under the pressure. You begin to circle him,
peering with terror and curiosity. A small pile of yellowish teeth has formed below
him, scattered among the flat patch he has made amidst the weeds. He continues to
gurgle on the fluid dribbling from his mouth, choking on his teeth as they fall
from his gums. You home in on his spine. It ripples like waves beneath his skin,
each section dislocating, twisting back on itself, springing up, piercing
through his paper-like back, releasing swells of orange pus, falling over him
and stiffening like wax. The joints in
his hips have snapped back, taking on the form of a dog’s hind legs.
keep your distance. Peering through the
dark, you shudder as he plunges his long fingernails into the soft dirt, edging
closer to the murky water. The gleam of the moon can do nothing to mask the lake’s
startling emptiness. Suddenly his hand slips, plummeting into the water, splashing
it up onto his orange pus-coating. It lets out a great hiss, fizzing, turning
white from contact. Startled, you move in just enough to better your view. The
white upon him begins to move, pulsing, tiny pieces falling from him. Maggots.
Once again, he begins to choke, heaving maggots and black flies into the water.
They stream from his mouth and ears. The flies swarm to his open wounds,
burrowing more eggs into the crust of his blood. You gag. He begins to crumble
into a mass of bugs and tiny wings. The sound of them catches in the light
breeze, melding with his screams, muzzling him with their tiny bodies. You know
you should help him, do something, or scream but you can’t. The muscles in your
feet have turned to stone. The blood in your veins still like red frozen
rivers. The weight of the air rests gently on your back as you stand there
useless and weak.
You hear an immense splash. Using the
last of his strength, your father hurls himself into the lake. The light of the
moon gives you small glimpses of bare bone beneath the layers of maggots and
wings. Suddenly, he is sucked deep into the cold, leaving only a ripple of
flies on the water’s surface. You hear him gargle a last word.
falls from your lips. “Moss, the, the moss.” Your breath catches in the back of
your throat. Years of night terrors. Years of nightmares. You begin to cry,
wailing into the night like a slaughtered pig, mouth dripping with saliva,
choking you. The thought twists in your mind, turning the pain into laughter. The
feeling bursts from your throat, ugly and free, you fall to your knees as the
sky turns pink and the birds begin their song.
Alice Stone is a
young English writer, who specialises in the
surreal and uncomfortable. Still studying her craft as a BA in creative
writing at Edge hill university, Alice is currently working on her own
experimental novel. Her main ideals as a writer is to show more
representation within the genre of horror, challenging the usual format of a
scary story and her readers.