Getting Ready for Christmas Early

meowxmas

Every year Christmas seems to get earlier and earlier. It’s the middle of November, and I’ve seen houses fully decorated, I’ve heard endless Christmas music played in shops and I’ve even overheard people talk to each other about how they’ve completed their Christmas gift shopping.

It’s been no different in our underground lair, as from about November 10th, all Her Evilness has done is talk about her Christmas plans, or at least, what her Christmas plans should be.

Oh, where are my manners? Well, I’m an evil henchman, I’m not supposed to have manners. Nonetheless, hello again, my name is Bert, robotic assistant to the evil Dr. Meow, half-human-half-cat scientist and the world’s most infamous villain.

Christmas has always been Her Evilness’ favourite time of year, though she may deny it. Often, you’ll hear her say ‘Bah, humbug!’ or she’ll claim the reason she stole presents or tried to zap Santa or tried to zap people dressed as Santa was because she “hates Christmas”, but she’s always happier than usual around the holidays. Just last week, her plan to flood the city with wet food was foiled by a certain superheroic dog, and today, I see her pacing around the room, smiling and muttering to herself about her many ideas.

She and I had enacted many of the archetypical seasonal plots; we’ve stolen presents for ourselves, we’ve tried to weaponize Santa’s sleigh, but both of us know this year, we have to up our game.

Last week, fellow villain Flamefan attacked a fireworks display with a giant bonfire monster, along with a robotic rocket that soared across the sky with a vacuum that sucked up the money from people’s pockets. He was defeated when that superhero dog, the same one I and Her Evilness battle, came in and extinguished the fire monster with her breath. Nonetheless, most other villains agreed that it was a spectacular attack, especially since before then, no other villain had enacted a plan based around Bonfire Night. Now, my mistress racks her brains on how she could top such a thing.

‘I know,’ she says to me, pointing at the air, ‘you know The Nutcracker?’ Not only do I know of it, I have ETA Hoffman’s book downloaded in my brain. ‘We gather some mice, and not only do we brainwash them into serving us, we create a giant mutant mouse king!’

‘I don’t think that’s a good idea, my mistress,’ I reply, though the sudden thought that I might have ruined her good mood makes my circuits feel like they’ve frozen, ‘wasn’t the Mouse King quickly defeated, and off-screen? Besides, that makes me think of that Magnificent Mega Rat you told me about.’

‘Oh yeah,’ Her Evilness replies, putting a claw on her chin, ‘I remember how quickly he fell.’ She cackles as she rubs her stomach. ‘I might still get some mice for the plan, just in case I get hungry.’

‘Well,’ I tell her, ‘keep in mind we have an entire month until Christmas, so we have plenty of time to…’

‘No, no, no,’ replies Her Evilness as she grabs me by my metal shoulders, ‘you know how quickly the years pass. People will be expecting us to bring forth a grand Christmas scheme, and if we don’t think of one now, we might suddenly find ourselves on Christmas Eve without a plan. I mean, you look at all these people shopping early…’

‘That’s it!’ I say, ‘I know we’ve stolen Christmas presents before, but the problem with that was that those presents were brought back because they could be brought back. Instead of stealing presents, why don’t we destroy them? Just imagine, all those people who made sure to buy their presents the month before, seeing all their presents disappear into nothing on Christmas Eve!’

Her Evilness gives her seal of approval: a wide grin and a long, malicious laugh. ‘Good idea, Bert,’ she replies, rubbing her hands together, ‘and I’ve got just the thing to accomplish that!’

She leads me to a table where she has a number of blueprints, books and even half-finished villain  songs lying around, but brings to my attention a blueprint featuring a number of insects. ‘I thought of a plan to turn insects into “This-Insect’s-Greats”, which can disintegrate anything I tell it to. A push of a button and anything they’re on will be reduced to almost nothing. I’ve just been trying to think of a good scheme for them.’

‘Wonderful,’ I reply, ‘Once you’re done with the presents, we can put one on that dog too!’

‘No!’ barks Her Evilness, before composing herself and adding, ‘We don’t want to kill her! It’ll be more delicious to see the look on her face when she sees my plan come to fruition!’

I’ve told you before about the dog. That super-powered heroic dog that just happened to show up when Her Evilness threw away one of her inventions. There’s an unwritten rule that any villain responsible for a hero’s origin becomes that hero’s arch-enemy, and Her Evilness loves being an arch-enemy.

When she deals with people in the streets, Her Evilness blasts them with her ray gun or throws an exploding cat toy at them. When the dog invades our lair, Her Evilness ties her up in easily-breakable rope, dangles her above a vat of acid which she is slowly lowered into, and Her Evilness doesn’t even stay to watch.

Yes, the dog always escapes, and I let her escape; I love seeing my mistress happy.

She is certainly happy when we work on creating the This-Insect’s-Greats, creating bubbling green potions, pouring them over butterflies and cockroaches and watching them reduce cardboard standees into nothing. Both of us imagine a man pulling presents out of his cupboard, only to see them vanish before his eyes, and both of us have a good laugh.

It even feels like Christmas came early.

After the insects have been mutated, we put them in their own little enclosure, and Her Evilness goes to bed while I shut down for a few hours to recharge my batteries.

The first thing I see upon being booted up again is Her Evilness’ grin.

‘Bert, I can’t wait! Let’s send out the This-Insect’s-Greats today instead! I mean, it’ll probably be less malicious than actually doing it on Christmas Eve, and they’ll buy more presents, but doing that’ll mean they’ll have less money and that’s still evil!’

I don’t protest. How can I? She’s as happy as…well, a child on Christmas.


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Saving Christmas

Christmas is a time for children. Christmas is a time when you become children.

I was pushing thirty at the time, but when I returned to my parent’s house for Christmas, I gave my Mum a great big hug, guzzled down hot chocolate, stuffed my face with mince pies and sat down to rewatch some of my favourite Christmas cartoons.

When I was a kid, my favourite Christmas specials were the ones starring my favourite superheroes, where the hero’s arch-enemy would try to kidnap Santa Claus or steal all the worlds’ presents, only for the hero to thwart the scheme and, as they say, save Christmas.

Christmas seemed a lot more…well, special, if you thought of it as something rescued from destruction at the hands of an evil scientist. Santa Claus seemed more relatable and believable when you saw him as someone who needed saving rather than an omnipotent omniscient character. Also,  Christmas is a time for children and there’s nothing children like more than superheroes.

So, even though I was 29, I, along with Mum and Dad, sat down to rewatch The Slithering Super Snakes Save Christmas. The titular Snakes – Tennyson, Shelley, Whitman and Blake – find out the evil Dr. Hartem has built a machine that teleports Christmas presents to her lair, and they have to find a way to stop her. Santa didn’t make a physical appearance in the special, but he was there in spirit, with the Snakes finding devices to help them along their adventure and the special ending with the Snakes looking up into the sky and hearing a “Ho Ho Ho”.

The special aged rather badly, with awkward animation, over-the-top voice acting and noticeable mistakes like the Snakes changing colours, but just one viewing of it was enough to awaken the Christmas spirit within me. Enough to awaken the child in me.

That was another reason I liked those specials; it made me believe that I could save Christmas.

Every Christmas Eve in my childhood, my Dad got me to go to sleep by telling me a story, one he made off the top of his head, about how I saved Santa Claus from vampires, monsters, supervillains or anything that came to his mind. I would listen intently while hugging my cuddly Whitman toy before falling straight asleep.

Dad didn’t read me bedtime stories at 29, but he still kept my cuddly Whitman, leaving him on my bed waiting for my return. That Christmas Eve, I made up a story in my own head about how Santa was saved from a vicious mad scientist by yours truly, and fell asleep quickly.

I awoke just as fast when I heard loud gargling.

“Loud gargling” was the best way I could describe such a noise. Just hearing it made my heart pound and my stomach twist. I leapt to my feet with a sudden energy and crept downstairs, hoping that the noise I heard was just my imagination.

At the foot of our Christmas tree was what looked like a blue, hairless anteater with skeletal limbs and no ears, crawling around the floor with mechanical movements. With its elongated nose, it sniffed each of the presents under the tree, and then sucked them up, making that gargling noise all the while.

My common sense demanded that I creep away, wake Mum and Dad, tell them about the monster in the living room, phone the police and thus become famous for discovering a new species, but my inner child’s voice was louder and it yelled and yelled that this was my chance to save Christmas.

So, almost as soon as the creature sucked up its first present, I grabbed a lamp off a nearby table and threw it at its head, hoping it would fall unconscious. Instead, its already large nose inflated, and it marched towards me.

My common sense screamed for me to run, to flee, to dart out screaming about the beast in my parents’ living room, but I found myself frozen in place as I was devoured.

Seconds later, I found myself among other blue anteater monsters. I stood among them, not in my own room, but what looked like a medieval castle, illuminated by the sunshine pouring through the slit-like windows. Each of them looked at me curiously, scratching their heads and noses, each of them making that gargling noise.

Smaller versions of these creatures ran out from the crowd, running past me and towards the presents from my house, now sitting at the foot of a statue of one of those creatures. They gargled as well, but it was a gargle mixed with laughter as they opened the gifts. The monster that had invaded my home stood by them, nodding his head and smiling.

Even Mum and Dad stood by, smiling and nodding along with the monster, silently telling me the little creatures needed the presents more than we did.

I hadn’t saved Christmas from a monster, but the monster had saved his own holiday.


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Jolly Jungleland

I not only created an entire world I could escape to, but I made money from it, too.

For as long as I remember, I’ve had an entire world in my head, one that has expanded and thrived ever since I imagined it as a child. Jolly Jungleland, a place with trees as tall as skyscrapers, with markets and cafes and funfairs, where all the inhabitants were animals. The place may have been called “Jolly Jungleland”, but in it, there lived animals from all over the world. There was Clifford the Cat, who owned a clothes shop. Zoey the Zebra, who liked nothing more than to sit and read, a bit like me, actually. Eddie the Elephant, who wrote stories, a bit like…well, you can guess.

Jolly Jungleland lived up to its name. It was a happy place, where any problems were solved quickly. All it took was a speech to get Terry the Tiger to stop being jealous of Jerry the Jaguar’s spots. It only takes a day for Clifford the Cat to get business booming in his clothes shop. There was rarely any rain or storms; it was almost always a sunny day in Jolly Jungleland, and there were bright green trees and bushes as far as the eye could see.

It was where I went in moments of stress or worry. It was where I escaped to after dealing with bullies and strict teachers. I kept escaping to it as a child, and wrote about what I saw there and the animals I met. When I was a teenager, life got a little more stressful, so I went to that world all the more, and wrote more and more stories. I not only wrote more about Jolly Jungleland when I was an adult, but I got them published.

Over 75 books in print, with the promise of plenty more. A bestselling children’s book series, each entry focussing on one of the many wild and wacky residents of Jolly Jungleland. Zoey the Zebra Wants Some Peace and Quiet. Eddie the Elephant Meets the Fairies. All of them beautifully illustrated by Zachary Guinell. I’ve stared at his illustrations for hours, for they perfectly captured the world as I imagined it. When I’ve looked at them, I feel like I could reach in and touch the leaves or the sparkling rivers.

Certainly if you’ve spent the best part of your life creating a world, you might as well try and make some money off of it. Of course, income from the series has gone towards food and bills, but it has also gone into buying cuddly toys, artificial plants, paintings of wildlife and fauna, transforming my home into my own Jolly Jungleland. The first thing I saw when I woke up was a painting of a rainforest that reminded me of Zoey the Zebra’s favourite spot to read her books. I had shelves lined with animal toys and figurines, all species that had appeared in my books. I even had a rubber bat hanging from my bedroom ceiling, a homage to Barry the Bat, who worked at the Jolly Jungleland café.

One night, I awoke to see my Jolly Jungleland destroyed.

The rainforest painting that hung at the front of my bed had fallen to the floor, the glass shattered. Barry the Bat had been ripped from his spot, with his string snapped in two. The shelves were now lined with mutilated soft toys and headless figurines.

The sound of smashing from the living room had me spring from my bed.

crow

One of my artificial plants had been flung to the floor, with the pot shattered just like the glass of my rainforest painting. Standing over it was a giant crow wearing a gas mask. Actually, its head was a gas mask; it had gigantic blank eyes and its beak resembled a filter cartridge. It carried around the stench of rotting garbage, and I swear I saw smoke coming from its back. Its wings resembled a bat’s more than they did a crow’s, only with an entire hand where bats had a thumb, resembling crow’s feet.

As I stood there frozen, I uttered the only word I could utter: ‘What?’

‘Ah, you’re awake.’ The crow spoke clearer than I would have imagined a gas-mask-headed creature to speak. It shook its head before adding, ‘How could you?’

‘What?’ I blurted out again.

‘Jolly Jungleland,’ the crow said, its massive eyes narrowing, ‘is the name of where I live. The Jolly Jungleland you write about in your books is nowhere near as beautiful as my home.’ It picked up one of my books – Terry the Tiger Goes For A Walk – with its wing hands, and turned to a page revealing a wide forest. ‘How could you allow such disgusting imagery to be published?’

It threw the book against a wall, and from its feathers, it pulled out what resembled a giant boil with a screen embedded in it. On the screen there popped up what looked like England during the Industrial Revolution; tall, crooked houses under a sky clogged with smoke. Gigantic naked trees sprung from between the buildings, threatening to engulf them with their branches.

That image faded away to be replaced by another. A street lined with cobblestones, the streetlights resembling black snakes with glowing orbs for heads. Down the street there walked what resembled a panther, only with thinner legs and a hose where there should have been a snout.

More and more images the crow-thing showed me, each filthier than the last. Just looking at them made me smell the smoke and smog they depicted. ‘Now that is beauty,’ hissed the crow as it showed me the pictures, ‘how dare you corrupt such wonder?’ When it had finished its sideshow, it said to me, ‘Consider this a warning’ and vanished into thin air.

In times of stress and worry, I would escape into Jolly Jungleland. Now I couldn’t even do that.


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My Haunted Memories

This story features characters from My Haunted Home and A Visitor to my Haunted Home.


Emma walked through the halls of her home, noticing how unusually quiet it was at that moment. Normally, Calvin would either be watching TV or arguing over current events with Jimmy or Stan would be making one of his famous dishes, filling the house with the sound of clattering silverware and roaring fire. The unusual peace reminded Emma of how quiet she was; were she still flesh and blood her hooves would be echoing throughout the halls.

Reminding herself of her spectral status made Emma stop for a minute to look at her surroundings, at the faded, peeling wallpaper and the dusty paintings. Even though a human was now living in this house, it looked little better than it had been for so many decades. Then again, thought Emma, the human who now lived in this house was a student, and he only lived in the house because it had cheap rent.

Many had trespassed upon the haunted house, many had even tried to take advantage of the cheap rent, but Calvin was the only one who stayed. He entered the hall, didn’t even bother to sweep the leaves on the floor and sat down at a table to check his dongle worked.

Emma trotted in, the sunlight doing nothing to diminish her ethereal glow, and he looked at her not in horror, but in interest.

Jimmy sprung in, hanging from his ghostly noose, and Calvin didn’t flee.

He didn’t even flinch when he saw Stan Skulton the flaming skull float in.

Calvin came up with a variety of explanations on the spot. After the threat of student loans, barely anything seemed scary anymore. He had watched several horror movies and played several horror games, so he was desensitised to an actual appearance of the supernatural. It was a relief for him, as he had often feared there was no life after death.

He even said, ‘Maybe I’m like the girl in Beetlejuice’ and was surprised when the three ghosts recognised the reference.

That was when he was introduced to the fourth ghost of the household; a spectral television, which, despite being an old model, could pick up almost any channel. Jimmy had found it while floating invisible around a tip, floating from a discarded TV set. Televisions had souls of a sort, manifestations of its owners memories of watching it.

Hearing about television ghosts made Calvin smile; the revelation that there is a life after death is even better when learning your prized possessions have one too. Each of the ghosts told him their favourite programmes; Emma watched the sports, Jimmy watched the news, Stan watched the cookery shows and sometimes in the evenings, they would all get together and watch a movie. All things, Calvin said, he liked watching, even suggesting he and Stan collaborate on a dish together.

Remembering the day she met Calvin, Emma said to herself, ‘I should have told him then and there.’

The ability to talk was something animals gained when they became ghosts, and Emma quietly cursed herself for wasting her gift. When she was alive, she knew something the humans in the household didn’t, and wanted to tell them all, to yell it, to scream it to everyone who lived there. She wanted to run out of her stable and let everyone know. At night, she would wish and pray for speech, so she could say what she knew.

When she gained the ability of speech, however, she never told anyone.

She kept telling herself she couldn’t tell anyone because as soon as they saw her, they ran away screaming, the very same problem that befell Jimmy and Stan when they tried to say something. There were some people, Emma remembered, that stayed to admire her, as they found a ghostly horse more majestic than frightening. When they stayed, Emma opened her mouth to tell them, yet always found herself tongue-tied.

The present Emma took another look at the hall’s walls, and the paintings that hung from them. There was also a spot where there used to be a painting, before the ghosts removed it. It was one of Emma when she was alive, standing next to the Master of the mansion. The Master was one of the house’s residents that didn’t linger on Earth as a ghost, and Emma, Jimmy and Stan were all pleased that was the case.

Emma walked out of the hall into the living room, where she saw the rest of her friends. When Calvin had come back from lectures earlier that day, he challenged Emma to a race around the house – with Emma, perpetually-energetic, winning -and was still trying to catch his breath. Jimmy and Stan floated beside him, the latter chatting with Calvin about what recipes to put in a book he wanted to publish.

Emma smiled. Stan loved cooking in life, and he loved cooking in death. He even saw his spectral form as a giant flaming skull as an advantage, using his head to cook pies and crumbles. Ghosts could eat, even though they were no longer in danger of dying of hunger, and the ghosts of this house ate plenty, especially with Calvin being there to buy ingredients.

It was because of Stan’s love of food it happened.

Again, Emma remembered her living, breathing days, when Stan was, of course, the Master’s cook, and Jimmy was the stable boy. Despite working with meat, Stan had a fondness for animals, and made sure to visit Emma whenever he could, even giving her a few extra apples from time to time. When Stan paid a visit to Emma, he paid a visit to Jimmy too, and even gave him a few treats just to make the work a little more bearable.

Both Jimmy and Emma agreed that Stan was a fine food provider, but the Master didn’t share that opinion. Every time Stan came to the stables, he had a new story to share with Emma and Jimmy, a new complaint from the Master. The scones were stale, the cake was too dry, he just seemed to like complaining.

Jimmy had a job no-one wanted, but he kept at it with a smile on his face, because he liked Emma, even sleeping in her stable some nights.

One of those nights, the Master came into the stable himself.

Emma remembered opening her eyes, and seeing the Master creep in, a glint in his hand. Looking back, she wished she had sprung up, wished she had kicked him, but instead, she just closed her eyes again, thinking it was just a dream.

It wasn’t.

The next day, Stan was found dead, stabbed in the heart several times. Jimmy was found in the stables, beside a knife and covered with blood.

Jimmy begged and pleaded and protested, saying that he and Stan were friends and he would never do such a thing, but the Master had told the other servants that Jimmy resented Stan, and they were going to believe their employer over a stable boy. Jimmy’s reason for being in the stable seemed especially unbelievable – no-one thought he could actually like his job.

After Jimmy was sentenced to death, the Master and his other servants spoke for days about why and how Jimmy could have done such a thing, with Emma overhearing the conversations, wishing she could tell them what happened that night. She even wanted to burst out of her stable, find the Master and kick him in the back with her hind legs, but there came the thought he could do to her what he did to Stan, and get away with that too.

The only thought that comforted her was that when she died, she would be reunited with her friends, and she didn’t know how true that was.

When she became a ghost, and first saw Stan Skulton as a giant flaming skull – a form he gained from the anger of his murder and his friend being wrongfully accused – all she felt was glee, imagining the Master cowering in terror at what his victim had become.

That glee vanished in seconds when Stan spoke to her. He knew who really killed him, and followed the Master everywhere he went, screaming and screeching and letting his fire burn. Many servants screamed in terror, but the Master didn’t notice him.

You were more likely to see ghosts if you believed in them. The Master didn’t believe in ghosts. He didn’t believe in life after death, which, Emma thought, was probably why he did what he did.

Murderers were more likely to see the ghosts of those they murdered if they regretted the murder or feared a haunting. The Master felt no guilt, no fear. He felt no remorse for what he did, or feared anyone finding out, so he had no reason to expect the ghosts of his victims coming to haunt him.

When he died, he never became a ghost. Emma, Jimmy and Stan knew full well where he ended up.

Yet his crime was never exposed. In fact, it was forgotten. People still expected to see ghosts in the house, so they saw Emma, Jimmy and Stan, but only because the house now looked like the type of place where you’d expect to see ghosts.

‘Hey, Emma.’ Calvin broke Emma out of her reminiscence. ‘You want a rematch?’

Calvin didn’t know the story. He never questioned why Jimmy was hanging from a noose or why Stan was a skull or how any of them died.

Maybe he thought it would be rude.

Emma wanted to tell him the story right there and then. She no longer had a heart, yet she felt it pound. She no longer had a stomach, yet she felt clawing within.

Jimmy and Stan looked at her quizzically.

If they wanted Calvin to hear the story, Emma thought, they would have told it themselves.

Over the years, they had been trying to get the truth heard. Most people, however, belted when they saw a giant skull. Most people don’t believe the words of a hanged, undead man.

Then Jimmy and Stan realised that no-one was going to listen to them, and they spent their afterlife waiting in the old mansion for intruders, just so they could have fun frightening them. They’d spring out of floors, walk through walls, make the paintings spin, filling the halls with vicious red light.

It seemed they had forgotten Stan’s murder as much as the rest of the world had.

Calvin was here. Calvin was their friend and thus willing to listen to anything they had to say.

Stan never mentioned his murder to Calvin.

Jimmy never mentioned being framed to Calvin.

Calvin never asked about their deaths.

Maybe Stan and Jimmy didn’t want to relive their deaths. Maybe Calvin wanted them to forget how that they were undead monsters.

Maybe all three of them thought it would ruin their friendship.

‘Emma,’ said the present Calvin, ‘are you alright?’

‘Yes,’ said Emma, ‘I’m fine.’


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The Lemon Possum’s Funhouse

This is a Weirdverse story.


karlmirror

‘I’m certain you’re running out of ideas by now,’ sighed Karl, looking up at the multicoloured monstrosity before him. A large yellow and red and green crooked house, with the entrance being a gigantic grinning clown head, a tongue acting as a red carpet. All around the base of the house were multiple jack-o-lanterns, a reminder of the holiday the house was made for. Above the clown’s head was a banner reading: “The Lemon Possum’s Fun House! £5 Entry! Make it through and get a year’s supply of sweets!”

Karl the Kangaroo then looked down to see The Lemon Possum who owned the Funhouse, now wearing the straw hat and striped jacket of the archetypical barker. ‘I suppose this was the suggestion of your new friend “The Ringmonster”?’

The Lemon Possum chuckled. ‘What’s the matter, Karl? Is the mighty kangaroo frightened?’

Karl sighed as he remembered his previous encounters with the Lemon Possum. When the little creature had attempted to convince him to make games promoting unhealthy diets. When she invaded his house just to remind him of his troubled relationship with his adopted daughter. When she had kidnapped him just so she could torture a poor half-pizza-half-human woman. When she teamed up with a sadistic beast called “The Ringmonster” just to irritate him and others.

Whatever she was doing with this funhouse, thought Karl, I can’t let her have the last laugh.

‘Very well,’ said Karl, ‘I’ll have a go. When I win the year’s supply of sweets, I’ll dump them in the ocean just to see the look on your face when I do.’

‘Five pounds.’

‘I’m not giving you any of my money.’

‘Five pounds,’ the Lemon Possum repeated, holding out her paw before slapping her palm with her fingers.

With a groan, Karl reached into his pocket and pulled out a £5 note. As soon as he did, the Lemon Possum sprung up towards his hand and took a bite into the note, snatching it away with her teeth. ‘Thank you,’ she said as she tucked the note away in her pocket.

Karl walked towards the giant clown head and swore that its mouth grew larger as he entered.

Suddenly, Karl found himself in pitch blackness, that clown mouth entrance having vanished. A cold wind dominated the inky void, making Karl involuntarily shiver.

Then there came the laughter.

A cacophony of laughter from several different voices. Deep, booming laughter, high-pitched laughter, laughter that sounded like it was sped up, even what sounded like a mixture of laughter and throat coughs.

As the laughter got louder, the room was bathed in lurid red and yellow lights, illuminating a hall of mirrors, each mirror showcasing the source of the laughter. Clowns, their palms pressed against the panes of glass, chuckling away.

Karl folded his arms. ‘Is that the best you have?’

One mirror disappeared, revealing a wooden door underneath an “EXIT” sign. ‘If this is getting too scary for you,’ came the disembodied voice of the Lemon Possum, ‘you can always forfeit.’

‘As if I would,’ sneered Karl, before spitting in the direction of one of the mirrors.

The clowns vanished and most of the laughter stopped. Karl still heard chuckling, coming from a single source.

All mirrors were completely blank except for one, one showing a female kangaroo, one that Karl had barely seen in his life yet was far too familiar.

‘Mum?’

Karl had waited for an opportunity to speak to his mother his whole life, mentally rehearsing everything he wanted to say to her. When she was standing right in front of him, her grin slowly turning into a scowl, he stood silent.

‘Why aren’t you dead?’ Karl’s mother snarled at him.

Karl swallowed, looked up and said, ‘I know this is a trick, possum. This…’

‘I wanted you dead, Karl,’ his mother continued, ‘Everyone wants you dead. Everything would be a lot better if you were dead.’

Another female kangaroo appeared in the mirror next to Karl’s mother. A teenager dressed in a black tank top and matching boots. Sadie, Karl’s adopted daughter.

‘She would have been better off without you, Karl,’ the mother continued, ‘she was only happy when you were out of her life. Why don’t you just get out of everyone’s life so you can get what you deserve?’

Karl turned around to see the mirrors behind him filled with flames, and the shadow of a man with a goat’s head. A figure he had seen before and dismissed, yet at that moment made his stomach sink.

When he turned around, he saw another figure he had faced before: a young woman with completely white skin, eyes and fangs as grey as stone and glowing blue tattoos covering her arms.

‘Your mum wants you dead, Karl,’ she sneered, ‘why don’t you let me help you with that?’

‘If this is about the prices…’

‘Oh no,’ laughed Emily, shaking her head, ‘I just think it’s amusing to see you squirm.’

‘Well, nothing you do will…’

‘Did I see a tear?’

‘What?’

‘I’m certain I saw tears when you saw your mummy! What I showed did affect you!’

‘You….’ Karl’s hands shook. ‘You did not…’

Emily laughed. ‘The Lemon Possum was right about you. You’re as pathetic as she says you are!’

Karl lunged for Emily, only for her to stretch her already elongated claws so she could escape the mirror and grab Karl by the throat. She pulled Karl into another room, one that looked like the living room of a Victorian mansion. The walls were lined with crimson wallpaper with golden stripes, the furniture consisted of two armchairs and a sofa coloured the same crimson and gold as the walls, and illumination was provided by a roaring fireplace.

‘This is my own little house of horrors,’ said Emily with a wide grin, ‘what do you think?’ She gestured towards a door, one with that “EXIT” sign above it. ‘Though, if you’re scared…’

‘I’m not.’

Emily chuckled again. ‘You know, if you walk through that door, people will at least appreciate your honesty…and your common sense.’

‘I’m not letting the Lemon Possum win.’

‘If you didn’t want that, you wouldn’t have gone in at all.’

The exit door vanished, replaced by a wooden one more fitting for the setting. It slowly creaked open.

‘Must I do this, Your Evilness?’

Emily walked towards the door. ‘Yes, come on in and terrify him!’

‘But I look ridiculous!’

Emily rolled her eyes. ‘No you don’t, you look terrifying, now…’ She turned to notice Karl hopping away into a hallway. ‘He’s getting away! Go get him!’

That was the last thing Karl heard Emily say as he did what he rarely did – hopped – and explored the halls of Emily’s house of horrors. He looked at the multitude of doors before him, and reminded himself to avoid any with an “EXIT” sign.

‘Prepare to meet your fate!’

emsmonster

Karl turned around to see who Emily was talking to: a pale white creature like her, with similar grey eyes and fangs, only taller and thinner, towering over Karl. It had tentacles where there should have been legs, one of its eyes was a worm crawling out of its socket and in its right hand it clutched a hatchet.

‘You were right; you do look ridiculous,’ said Karl, arching an eyebrow.

The monster threw the hatchet onto the ground, threw up his arms and walked back to where he came from.

Karl picked up the hatchet, saying to himself, ‘This might come in useful.’

Feeling a small smidgen of relief from being more armed, Karl threw open a random door and stepped inside.

He immediately received a custard pie to the face.

‘Roll up, roll up!’

As Karl rubbed the cream away from his eyes, he smelled popcorn and elephant feces, he heard calliope music, he saw multicoloured lights, sights and sounds and stenches that made him feel like a weak little joey again, confined to cages for the amusement of humans.

‘I’m not…’ Karl looked down and saw that he was dressed as a clown, with a purple jumpsuit with white polka-dots, a yellow ruff, and shoes too big even for his colossal feet.

‘See the world’s most pathetic kangaroo!’

Karl raised his hatchet, only to find it had transformed into a balloon model of one.

Standing right next to Karl was a fat monster with a tall top hat and a red coat, looking over Karl with three yellow eyes. The Ringmonster, a creature Karl had met, yet still rendered him barely able to move.

Images of early childhood flooded Karl’s brain. Standing before circus audiences, shuddering at their laughter. He danced, the only thing that brought him joy during those days, but even then, some children in the audience thought it funny to throw discarded food at him.

He imagined his mother in the audience, laughing along with them, yelling that he should have died.

Snapping back to reality, Karl looked at the audience watching him perform. It was mostly made up of little blob monsters and little demons that looked like they came from Halloween clipart, but three members, all on the front row, stood out. The Lemon Possum, still wearing her barker outfit. Emily, with a grin showing all her grey fangs. Then there was one other person: a young woman about the same age as Emily, fully human but when Karl recognised who she was, he shuddered.

He had seen that woman on the news. She was wanted for murder.

That woman – Acacia as Karl remembered her being called – leapt from the audience and walked towards Karl, pushing the Ringmonster aside as she did so. ‘You could leave right now,’ she said to Karl, gesturing towards another EXIT door, ‘People won’t think less of you if you do. You’ve made it longer than most people who’ve tried to win the prize.’

Karl felt his leg twitch, as if it was demanding he run through the exit and go back home. That, he told himself, was what most people would do when a wanted killer was staring at them right in the face. Just looking at her made Karl feel like he was going to vomit.

She held a broken bottle in her hand.

Karl seized her by the wrist, holding the balloon axe as if it were a real one.

Acacia laughed, dropping the bottle to the ground. ‘Well, well, you never do give up, do you?’

The Ringmonster faded. Emily and the Lemon Possum faded. Karl was back in his usual clothes and standing in a black void again. No-one except him and Acacia.

‘You’re persistent. I like that,’ said Acacia, in a voice that wasn’t her own.

‘Wait,’ growled Karl, ‘I know you.’

‘Yes, we’ve met before, haven’t we?’

darac

That shark. That shark from “Wonderland”. Not Derek or Jenny, the one with blazing red eyes. He was speaking through Acacia. Karl was even certain Acacia now had his eyes and teeth.

‘I’m slowly getting stronger, Karl,’ said Acacia, or what was using Acacia to talk to Karl, ‘and I have my friends to thank for that. Don’t you think that Emily has so much potential? So do you, in fact.’

‘What are you saying?’

‘Join me, Karl. Join me so I can finally be released onto Earth. Then we can get revenge on the humans that have made our lives so frustrating.’

‘If you think….’

‘But it’s the humans’ fault your mother left you to die! She wanted to be like them!’

‘Don’t you dare…’ Karl shook his fist.

‘You passed the test, Karl. You proved that even when facing your greatest fears, you still carry on.’

‘I only did it just to spite your little friend.’

‘I’m sure you’ll like her once you get to know her. Once you help us dethrone the Mad Hatter, release me into the world and finally show the humans…’

‘Shut up!’ Karl yelled, balling his fists.

The shark laughed. ‘Well, maybe Sadie will be more willing…’

Karl grabbed Acacia by the shoulders and said through clenched teeth, ‘Don’t you dare come anywhere near her or I’ll…’

‘You are just so perfect,’ said the shark, before Karl let go, ‘Claim your prize. Leave. Consider what I said. I know you’ll turn around eventually.’

Suddenly, Acacia shuddered.

‘Just…’ She held herself tightly before collapsing onto the floor. ‘Just go away.’ Karl could tell that was her own voice.

Acacia vanished, and in her place was a mountain of chocolates, cakes, ice cream tubs, gumdrops, wine gums and even a big bowl of lemon posset.

‘Keep it,’ growled Karl before he found himself back on the wet grass, no sign of the Lemon Possum and her funhouse.

He turned around to see people – humans – walking down the street. Parents taking their children trick-or-treating.

He imagined them lying on the road, dead.

The thought made him laugh.


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The Ghost Train

This story contains some death and violence.


If I told you the scariest thing I’ve ever seen was on a ghost train, you’d laugh at me. You’d think I went to the funfair and after trying to hook a duck to win a cuddly Bugs Bunny, I got frightened by a plastic skeleton dropping down on me.

Well, for one thing, it didn’t happen at a funfair.

My story begins a few Fridays ago, when my best friend Jim and I were having a couple of drinks down at the pub. Jim had just left to go back home to his wife Barbara, and I, having had one too many pints, decided to walk back to my flat to clear my head. I made sure to walk slowly, so I could take in the night air and so I could see how different my street looked at night.

One thing was a little too different.

There was this alleyway I had passed by several times, day and night, but never had I seen a small train-shaped cart there, illuminated by red neon.

The first thought I had upon seeing that was, of course, “I really have had too much to drink” but I walked down the alleyway, just to make sure I saw what I thought I saw. A funfair car in the shape of a small steam-engine, on a track that went through two wooden doors, and a red neon sign reading “GHOST TRAIN”.

I attempted to open both doors, but both were locked. Even then, I still couldn’t help but stare at this anomaly, and yes, I even sat down in the little train-car.

As soon as I did that, it moved.

As soon as I did that, the doors opened.

I half-expected myself to find myself riding through a house with bedsheet ghosts painted on the walls, but when I burst through the doors, I found myself on the streets again, the night air still blowing in my face. The tracks were on the road, close to the pavement, tracks that, like the neon sign and the doors, I had never seen on the streets before that night.

I almost leapt onto the car and back onto the pavement, but I immediately froze in my seat when I saw a man pass by my car, staring at me all the while. It wasn’t how he stared that chilled me, nor was it the blood that covered his clothes, nor the blank eyes.

It was how familiar he looked.

The car swerved away from him towards a woman, sitting on the pavement, resting her head on her hands.

A broken noose was around her neck.

As the car approached her, I heard her mutter, ‘It won’t end, it won’t end….’

I almost opened my mouth to say something to her, but the car turned around, slowly trundling towards a man cowering on the pavement. That was followed by a man hitting himself in the face, a woman looking around in confusion and even a child wailing before I burst through another set of doors back into the alley.

I suddenly found myself standing, with no memory of getting out of the car. In fact, the car, the sign and the doors had vanished.

I ran back home, my mind fixated on all the people I saw while riding the Ghost Train, especially that man who stared at me. The first thing I did when I got back to my flat was boot up my computer, forcing myself to remember where I had seen that face before.

It was on the news. A few months ago, a man was found dead with multiple knife wounds, lying not too far from the alley where the Ghost Train was found. Further searching revealed the identities of the other people I saw on the streets, stories about suicide, brawls and violence.

The Ghost Train revealed what was usually invisible.

I told Jim all about it. In fact, it was the last thing I ever said to Jim.

Just a day after I told him about the Ghost Train, he was in a car accident.

I’m going back to that alley tonight. I’m going back, and Barbara is joining me. We need to tell Jim goodbye.


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Emily’s House of Horrors

emgina

Spectralman screamed. The hero known for striking fear into the hearts of criminals screamed as loud as he could, struggling in vain against the straps that held him to the operating table. As he breathed heavily, he scanned the room – a room filled with flies buzzing around an open box on the table, a room with stained walls covered with nostalgic circus posters and the only source of illumination being a dim lightbulb dangling from the ceiling.

Calliope music filled the air, punctuated by a high-pitched laugh.

Into the light came a woman wearing a doctor’s coat and a necktie, an outfit that clashed with her candy-floss hair, ghostly-white makeup and big red plastic nose. She stared at Spectralman and grinned a grin that showed all her rotting yellow teeth, before taking a swig of a nearby jumbo bottle of cola as if to explain how her teeth got that way.

‘You won’t get away with this!’ snarled Spectralman.

The clown repeated Spectralman’s words in a sing-song fashion before adding, ‘That’s what they all say!’ Off the floor, she picked up a rusty saw and rubbed a gloved hand against it. ‘Mr. Chuckles wants you dead,’ she laughed, ‘and what Mr. Chuckles wants, he gets.’

I switched the TV off.

Friday night and I decided to relax – I didn’t even bother taking my uniform off. I treated myself to some comedy on the telly, only to fall asleep and wake up in the middle of the night to what I recognised as The Return of Spectralman. My new friend Patty had tried to get me to watch that movie, but I had to stop watching halfway through.

Spectralman battled criminals by wearing a tattered cloak with a face-concealing hood, looking more like the Grim Reaper than the colourful superheroes my friends and I pretended to be when we were young. When I dressed up as “Fantastic Fawn”, I wore a bright red cape and mask, not the monochrome gear of Spectralman. Also, when I was young, clowns danced and entertained; they didn’t murder like Mr. Chuckles. They didn’t kidnap surgeons and manipulate them into being their “Mrs. Chuckles”.

Just looking at Mrs. Chuckles made me feel like I would vomit. I looked at her and saw an innocent woman, tormented and tricked into a life of crime and murder. I looked at her and saw a broken mind.

I looked at her and saw myself.

As I got off the sofa that was briefly my bed, I remembered that parody of the Mad Hatter I met by the cinema, who told me he could restore my happy forest if I killed Rachel, the best friend I’ve had in years. Not a day has gone by where I don’t picture myself stabbing Rachel or strangling Rachel or drowning Rachel…

I came to Larford because I was told I would be accepted there. They accepted a kangaroo bringing mobile games, they accepted a demon who stocked shelves, so surely they would accept a bipedal doe. They wouldn’t try to hunt me for veal, they wouldn’t shoot my family or friends, I wouldn’t be left alone.

And I wouldn’t be alone. Though I seemed to be invisible during my first few days in this realm, Rachel approached me at a pub and gave me a shoulder to cry on. She not only helped remind me of the halcyon days of childhood, she chatted with me, took me places, made me feel more comfortable about this world.

I thought to myself that I should go back to bed, but my mind, my memories, my regrets filled me with energy, and I found myself pacing back and forth in my flat. Maisie the Mole, Felix the Fox, all my friends from long ago. What happened to them? Couldn’t they come here? Couldn’t they find someplace safe?

More images entered my brain. Maisie the Mole and Felix the Fox lying dead in a ditch, ignored by the humans who pass their carcasses.

How could I think such a thing?

Humans liked to corrupt things that were wholesome and innocent. Superheroes should be colourful, clowns should be cheerful, yet Spectralman was being put on TV screens and celebrated.

I needed something to eat.

I looked around in my kitchen for something to calm me down, even considering wearing that nice red apron I like wearing when cooking. Maybe just a banana or two…I definitely need a glass of water…

‘Is something the matter?’

I turned around and saw the TV had been switched back on, the screen filled with another inhuman face. A creature completely monochrome, with even her eyes and fangs being as grey as stone. She had no hair, nose or ears, which made those cold eyes and teeth stand out all the more. I wanted to turn away, yet my eyes fixed themselves towards the screen.

‘You’re a cute little animal, are you not?’ the creature asked. I didn’t answer, for I didn’t know how to respond to that. ‘Well, I’m a villain, and torturing cute little animals is what villains do?’

Any fear I had dissipated, making way for a fire in my gut. ‘Are you with the Hatter?’

‘Him? No, I’m eviller than he is! I’m far more terrifying! That’s why they call me Lady Frightening!’

The fire instantly extinguished and I couldn’t help but laugh. ‘That’s what they call you?’

‘Well, my name is actually Emily, but I thought that since I’m a villain, I should have an alter ego! You know, like the villains do on that movie you were watching!’ She then listed names she considered, some of them making me laugh harder.

I imagined what Patty or Rachel would do in a situation such as this, and responded to her with, ‘I’m not afraid of you,’ crossing my arms as I did so.

‘Oh, but you will be,’ Emily laughed, raising her arms.

As she did, my flat faded away, and I found myself standing in a Victorian mansion, the walls sporting wood panelling and crimson wallpaper with gold stripes. Despite how clean and regal the halls were, a musty smell was still present. Illumination was provided by gas lamps on the walls, between monochrome paintings depicting twisted forests, crooked houses and creatures that didn’t look too dissimilar from Emily.

The face of Emily herself filled one of the paintings, moving and laughing as she looked at me. ‘Welcome to my house of horrors!’

I imagined Patty in these halls, laughing and saying, ‘Is that the best you got?’ so I did the very same thing.

‘Silence!’ snarled Emily, ‘I’ve been watching you, I know your fears! Do you remember the Haunted Tree?’

The memory sprung back into my head, the summer’s day when I was playing football with Felix and Maisie, and Felix kicked the ball into the window of a large grey oak tree. ‘You’ve done it now, Felix,’ Maisie said, ‘That’s the Haunted Tree! The ghosts have got our football!’

All of us went inside to get the football back, and we almost ran out when we saw what looked like a ghost floating before us. It was actually a curtain blowing in the wind.

At that present moment, however, there stood an actual ghost, though one with resemblance to a curtain. A giant living curtain with eyeballs and a mouth. ‘Boo!’ it yelled at me.

My only response was to sigh. It was probably because being friends with a demon desensitised me to the supernatural, or because laughter was how I, Felix and Maisie kept our cool in the Haunted Tree, but I laughed at the living curtain before me.

Then I heard a familiar calliope tune.

At first, I was prepared to laugh it off as another illusion created by Emily, but a horrifying thought crossed my brain; if I, a character in a cartoon, could be here, why not a character in a movie?

Sure enough, the curtain ghost evaporated into nothing just as a door slammed open to reveal a certain clown in a doctor’s outfit. Mrs. Chuckles herself.

I didn’t laugh. I didn’t scream. My throat was far too dry to do either. Instead, I ran. I ran as fast as I could down a hall, passing more of those macabre paintings, all of them seemingly laughing at my pain.

‘Gina!’

Rachel.

I stopped running.

‘What have you done with Rachel?’ I snarled, looking around the hall.

One of the pictures – depicting a graveyard under a full moon – transformed into the visage of Emily, who laughed and said, ‘It’s not what I’ve done with her.’ Emily vanished, and the painting became a photo. Mrs. Chuckles, smiling, with her arms around two young women with ghoulish makeup.

No, it wasn’t Mrs. Chuckles.

It was Rachel.

‘Gina!’ I turned around to see that the Mrs. Chuckles chasing me was also Rachel, her makeup stained with sweat and tears. As soon as she saw me, she held me tightly.

‘Oh yeah,’ sneered Emily as her face showed up in the picture again, ‘you welcome Rachel now, but that clown you’re scared of? That clown you fear you will become?’ Emily laughed. ‘Rachel idolised her. Bought all the comics with her in, has loads of her toys, dressed up for her as Halloween as I have just shown you. She loves this corruption of innocence! She takes pleasure in seeing someone warped into a monster!’

As Rachel released me, she said, ‘Gina, I…don’t listen to her.’

‘Don’t listen to her,’ Emily repeated in a high-pitched voice before adding, ‘That’s what they all say. This woman, this fan of yours who said she loves your cartoon? She wrote this.

Emily was replaced by the first page of a story: Gina the Jolly Fawn Meets Spectralman.

It described my younger self playing on a swingset until Spectralman burst in and yelled, ‘I hate happy things! Everything should be dark and miserable like my soul!’

He tore down the trees.

He pulverised my friends.

He even reduced my parents to nervous wrecks just by growling at them.

‘Rachel is the proud author of this masterpiece,’ Emily said, appearing briefly before showing the next page of the story.

‘Gina,’ said Rachel, ‘I was just a stupid kid, I…’

The next page involved Mrs. Chuckles. Mrs. Chuckles killing Spectralman by shoving a saw in his brain.

Mrs. Chuckles becoming my friend.

‘Rachel….’

‘I didn’t know you were real…I wrote it when I was young and when I was bored…if I had known…’

‘Oh sure,’ said Emily, ‘keep saying that. Gina should have killed you. I know you really want to do it, Gina, I know…’

‘Shut up!’ snapped Rachel. ‘Why don’t you come here and fight?’

‘Rachel, no…’

‘I said fight me! Are you afraid?’

Emily chuckled. ‘Oh, listen to her here. Gina, maybe you should kill her now and do us both a favour.’

Rachel reached into the painting and grabbed Emily by the shirt, pulling. Emily fell out of the portrait onto the floor, only for Rachel to then grab her by the throat and punch her in the face. Then Rachel punched her again and again and again. And again, knocking out a grey fang.

Emily only laughed.

‘Is this the type of person a happy little deer who teaches children lessons should be friends with? This woman who glorifies violence and corruption? You may leave my house of horror, but don’t think this is the end…’

With a blink of an eye, both Rachel and I were standing in my flat, Rachel no longer wearing her clown costume.

‘Rachel,’ I said, my eyes watering.

‘Gina,’ she said, placing a hand on my shoulder, ‘I’ll…’ She turned towards the door. ‘I’ll let myself out.’

Just as she was about to turn the doorknob, I said, ‘Rachel, wait!’ She turned to me. ‘I…I think I know why you wrote that story. I think I know why you dressed up as Mrs. Chuckles.’

‘Why?’

‘Well, I think…you were trying to laugh at what’s frightening, and…I think that’s a good attitude to have.’

After we hugged again, I turned the TV back on. Rachel and I watched the last half hour of The Return of Spectralman, and we had a good laugh too.


You can read more about Gina the Not-So-Jolly Doe and Emily in the Recurring Character Index.

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