In it, a self-declared master of horror makes a bargain - and soon gets more than he bargained for.
SEND ME YOUR HORROR
by Stephen Walker
When the timer pinged, it found me ready. I got my oven gloves on, the oven open and pulled out that night's meal - my ex-wife's cat on a baking tray. Taking great care not to spill any juices, I placed cat and tray on the worktop by the cooker, closed the oven and stood back to admire my handiwork.
A feast for a king.
Admittedly not every king would want to eat a cat - especially one still in its fur - but my guest tonight was to be no ordinary royalty and I'd been assured it was the perfect meal for him. Just to be conscientious I popped a Satsuma in "Tibbles's" mouth, and turkey trimmings on his ears and, satisfied with my evening's work, I carried the repast from the room.
I took the meal upstairs, eagerly anticipating the outcome of my efforts, then crossed the landing to the spare room, which had been made ready. My hands being full, I toe-poked the door open then entered.
The room was in near-darkness, its windows blocked by shutters, all bulbs removed. The only light came from four candles on chest-high stands that formed the points of an imaginary square on the floor. I crossed to it and placed the cat and tray dead centre. Now I took a stick of chalk from my pocket and drew a circle around the cat, adding a mystical symbol for each point of the compass.
I crossed to the table in the corner. It held my guide; a leather-bound tome bought from a certain man in a certain shop in a certain town in North Yorkshire. It had cost me four hundred and fifty pounds but, if it worked, it would be worth every penny.
For I had a problem.
My wife had left me.
That wasn't the problem. Frankly she was a vain, vacuous thing who'd cost far too much to support and whose performances in bed achieved nothing like the standard a man of my style has a right to demand. I didn't even mind so much that it was Daniel Hobsgood, my deadliest rival, she'd gone with, though it did raise our rivalry to even greater levels. Now, more than ever, I was determined to outdo him in everything he did.
No. My real problem was that, since she'd left, I'd not had a single idea. I'd tried stealing them. I'd tried generating them through the I Ching. I'd even tried recycling my old ones but the truth was that I, Harcourt Stenslow, master of horror, had no more tales to tell.
This could not continue. I had a reputation to protect - not to mention a bank manager to feed, and so the time had come for drastic measures. Returning to the 'square' I opened the book and, by candlelight, began to read from it. I took care to make my performance suitably dramatic. I've done readings at libraries, festivals and conventions and like to think I know how to deliver a text; feet apart, head back, voice booming, building to an apt crescendo to leave any audience gawping in wonder. Many's the time my oratory has reduced a child to tears - and that's a fact I'm proud of.
Once I'd finished this latest reading, I slammed the book shut and waited.
At first nothing happened.
But then the candles dimmed, as though announcing the arrival of an important personage and, with that, I placed the book on the floor and left.
I emerged onto the landing, closed the door behind me and made sure to lock it. The one thing I didn't want was my guest escaping.
Again I waited, listening as something in that room began to eat, gnaw and slaver. Trotters, or hooves, or feet, or claws, or something, moved around the bare floor, or possibly the walls. It may have been the ceiling. Twice came the flutter of what might have been wings, though it was hard to tell. And, as it ate, the sound grew - grew till it seemed to fill the house.
But then - just as the noise threatened to grow unbearable - with one last grunt, it ceased.
Was my guest gone?
I had to be sure.
I waited a moment.
And then I removed the key from the door and peered in through the keyhole. Seeing nothing but darkness though it, I stuck the key back in the lock and carefully turned it. The lock opened and, warily, warily, I pushed the door. It moved with a long slow creak.
And was I pleased with what I saw before me?
I was delighted.
It had all gone; the cat, the tray, the book, the table, even the shutters on the windows. Clearly my guest had been more than exceptionally hungry. That didn't matter. Everything he'd eaten could be replaced. What mattered was the deal had been accepted. Now I could look forward to my reward.
And so it was that, next morning, I woke with a stretch, a yawn and a leap that took me from my bed and toward the door. I rushed downstairs to the kitchen, where I keep my typewriter, sat before it and prepared to write.
This wasn't right. According to the man who'd sold me the book - and to the book itself - I should now be brimming with ideas, finding them so fast I'd have trouble getting them all down on paper.
But perhaps I was doing this wrongly. Perhaps the secret was to switch off my mind and trust in fate. So I closed my eyes, held one finger over the keyboard and prodded it. I opened my eyes to see what I'd produced.
I'd produced a full stop.
A full stop? Of what possible use to me was that as the opening of a tale?
But still, a man must have persistence. And so, after crossing out the mistake, I tried again.
This time I got a comma.
The next time, I got an exclamation mark!
This was too much! I rose to my feet, about to set off for that shop in North Yorkshire and give the owner a piece of my mind.
But then, just as I was about to storm out of the kitchen, something stopped me in my tracks.
It was a sound.
And it had come from my hallway.
Going to investigate, I found no one.
But I did find something- an envelope on my doormat.
That was odd. The postman had already been that morning. The junk mail he'd delivered had been despatched to the kitchen bin before I'd sat down to write.
Nonetheless, there it was, an envelope.
I took it through into the kitchen, reclaimed my seat at the table and inspected this new arrival. It was a curious thing, pale and green, with no sender's address. Its front bore the strangest stamp I'd ever seen; a round, black thing featuring a picture of Venice.
I took my silver letter-opener and cut the envelope open. It contained two sheets of neatly folded paper. The first was an explanation;
Dearest Mr Stenslow.
You won't have heard of me but I'm a huge admirer of your work. This in mind, I wonder awfully if you'd be interested in a collaboration? You see, I have plenty of ideas, such ideas you wouldn't believe. However, sad to say, I completely lack your divine gift for story telling. Thus please consider the enclosed suggestion. If you like it I have many more I could share with you.
I'd do this on two conditions. One, that I receive fifty percent of any money earned from my ideas; and two, that you never, ever, try to meet me.
I look forward to hearing from you and seeing more of your magnificent work in print.
Yours; Demliston Clipperwicke.
Could it be? Could this letter be the deliverance promised by the mystic tome?
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