“Killer App” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

Nestled amongst row upon row of icons, the little grey square with the smiley face on it didn’t stand out. Beside it, a crimson chameleon and a maroon camera jostled for Laura’s attention. They had the advantage. Warm colours get people’s attention. Every app designer knew that. It was one of a million little brain hacks that should have been second-nature to whoever made the grey square.

Laura’s finger hovered over her phone screen. Against the red tiles, the little grey square receded like a stone at the bottom of a pond. Below it, the words “Happy Time” sat forlornly. Her eyes drifted over to the camera beside it. It was a “Blood Red Halloween Selfie Filter“. Only ninety-nine cents. It looked suspiciously like the “Rose Red Valentine Selfie Filter” she’d bought a few months earlier.

Her eyes drifted back to the grey square. It smiled back at her. Happy Time. There wasn’t a price below it. Her eyes flitted over to the chameleon icon. ‘Privacy VPN‘. Ten bucks per month. She thought about tapping away and doing a currency conversion. Ten bucks had been about seven quid the last time she’d checked. The economy couldn’t have gotten that worse in that amount of time, could it?

She shook her head. What the hell did she need a privacy VPN for anyway? If any of the five intelligence agencies currently watching her internet traffic actually paid any attention, the worst thing they’d discover was the obscene amount of time she spent on Facebook.

Her pattern of likes was so bland that every political party, even the fringe ones, thought that their campaign ads might stand a chance come election time. Maybe that was suspicious in and of itself? Maybe some suits in an undisclosed location had thought she was covering something up? Maybe they had people watching her right now? Maybe she needed that privacy VPN after all?

Laura sighed. No, that in itself would look suspicious. Her finger hovered above the icon. This was silly. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Plus, seven quid a month too. It’d be smarter to buy nothing. It wasn’t as if her phone’s memory chip was short of apps. Half of them cried out for updates every day. It was hit or miss whether she recognised their names.

Do the smart thing. Buy nothing. What’s the point of buying something new if you aren’t going to use it? Her eyes flickered back to the grey square again. No price. It could be free. She tapped on it.

The square expanded to fill half of the screen. Below it, the words ‘Happy time fun‘ appeared in tiny print. It had to be a scam. A virus that would brick her phone at best. She was about to go back when she spotted the review score. Five out of five. She swiped down and read the reviews.

Don’t be put off by the shoddy icon, this game is really addictive. A real indie project too, no micro-transactions. Just don’t expect to get past level thirty. (5/5)

OMG! Downloaded this 4 a laff on my old phone. Stayed up half the night playing. Awesome 🙂 (5/5)

The list went on and on. Each review looked real. There was enough variation in register, syntax and tone to tell her brain that humans had written them. There were enough grammatical errors, mispellings and sloppy phrases to tell her that whoever wrote the reviews hadn’t been paid for them. She tapped the icon.

A pop-up appeared: ‘This app collects personal data in order to improve the user experience.‘ She tapped it without thinking. A few seconds later, the program downloaded. She opened it.

To Laura’s delight, it was a fun game. As simple as Tetris, but with all of the complexity of chess. Sure, the animations were a bit primitive and the sound effects reminded her of computers in old ’90s TV shows, but that didn’t matter. It was fun.

Every now and then, her phone pinged and buzzed. Laura didn’t care about the notifications. The Facebook messages could wait. She reached level thirty. The review was right, it was tough. Something tinkled behind her. The wind howled. She almost beat the level. Nearly. Another go.

As the blade whipped across her throat as swiftly as a bullet, Laura barely registered the single second of stinging pain. Her final thought before the choking darkness engulfed her was ‘Goddamn it, I was so close.’

The masked man stood over the cooling body. An unseen smile played across his lips. As he wiped his knife on his lucky cloth, something buzzed in his pocket. He trembled with glee. Peeling off his gloves like a surgeon after a long operation, he tapped his phone. So many downloads, so little time….

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“Let’s Play” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

In a tiny window inside a tiny window, GialloBlade81 leant closer to the camera and put on an ominous voice: ‘Happy Halloween everyone! We’ve got a real treat for you tonight.’ Under the bright studio lights, his dark hair stood out like a tarantula above the pale zombie make-up.

Beside him, Elvirus23 tugged on one corner of her plush slime monster hat and gave the camera a wonky stare: ‘Oh god, it isn’t a horror game is it?’

GialloBlade81 looked shocked: ‘Why, no. It’s the beloved SNES classic Super Mario World. Bringer of cheerful childhood nostalgia and innocent fun to millions of gamers.’

Elvirus23 let out a conspicuous sigh of relief: ‘Whew! I was worried that you’d dug up some scary indie game or something like that. Can we just play the first couple of levels? The ghost house level used to scare the crap out of me when I was a kid. That spooky music!’

GialloBlade81 cackled: ‘Oooonly joking! Of course it’s a scary indie game!’ He leant forward and pressed a button. On the screen behind him, a start menu with the words EMPTY HOUSE: REQUIEM dripped ominously. The howling laughs of hidden clowns skittered through the air. A CGI cockroach scuttled across the bottom of the screen.

Elvirus23 flinched and glowered: ‘You fiend! You know that horror games give me nightmares for..’ She corpsed. Once her hissing laughter had subsided, she said: ‘Better cut that from the episode, Norman.’

GialloBlade81 flashed a puzzled glance at the camera. ‘Really, it’ll be funnier if we leave it in. I mean, it’s not like any of our viewers don’t know that I’m the one putting on the brave face and you’re the one who only acts scared. It’s ironic. Postmodern, even.’

Elvirus23 shrieked with laughter. Finally, she took a deep breath and put her slime monster hat back on. She fixed the camera with wobbly eyes: ‘B…But, you said we were playing Mario.’

‘One of the cannibal clowns inside the Empty House is called Mario. The developers were kind enough to share that intriguing fact with me when they sent us the game key.’

‘S…Spoiler alert! Wait, did you say clowns?‘ Elvirus23’s eyes widened.

‘Oh yes!’ Another cackle. ‘It’s a real funhouse, I’m told!’

Elvirus23 made a show of covering her eyes and shivering. GialloBlade81 reached for the controller. Keeping his trembling fingers below frame, he pressed another button. The screen behind the presenters dissolved into the dilapidated hallway of a photo-realistic abandoned mansion. Lightning flickered through the gloom, illuminating dried stains on the flaking walls.

Keeping his voice under control, GialloBlade81 said: ‘Well, I’m giving this hotel a bad review on HolidayAdvisor when we get home.’

Elvrius23 opened her fingers and peeked out: ‘It had to be a haunted mansion, didn’t it? I can’t even go round National Trust museums thanks to those.’

‘Aren’t they usually only open during the day? Oh god, that would make a brilliant horror game. Just think of the number of restless spirits who roam the..’

Elvirus23 quivered theatrically: ‘No, don’t! Just get on with the game.’

He got on with the game. The first-person camera took slow, crunching steps through the swaying hallway. As it passed a locked door, loud banging and squeaking suddenly filled the air. GialloBlade81 barely managed to keep his composure. Beside him, Elvirus23 made a big show of screaming and falling off of her chair. As she climbed back onto the chair, GialloBlade81 ignored the furious pounding in his chest and kept playing.

He paused in front of the stairs. The only other place to go was a dark corridor. As he turned towards it, two red eyes glowed back at him. He nearly dropped the controller. Elvirus23 let out a piercing scream, worthy of any late-night movie. He took the stairs. Like the loading screens in the original Resident Evil, every creaking step seemed to take an age. He kept moving.

Neither of them heard the silent tread of oversized shoes behind them. It was only when the smell of greasepaint reached GialloBlade81’s nostrils that he dropped the controller and turned around. A giant motley clown towered above him, the smudged red smile on its face wider than ever before. GialloBlade81 tried to scream. Instead, his eyes widened. He clutched his chest and slumped forwards. His head hit the desk with a loud bang.

Elvirus23 couldn’t stop laughing. Within seconds, the clown joined in, his spiky green hair quivering and swaying wildly. Finally, Elvirus23 caught her breath and said: ‘Oh my god, Fred. That was too funny! Brilliant!’

Fred chuckled: ‘I wish I could have seen the look on his face. Oh well, there will be plenty of time for that during editing.’ He glanced at the slumped man: ‘Sorry about that, Norm. It was Sophie’s idea.’

Norm said nothing. Fred’s voice trembled: ‘Norm?’

Sophie frowned: ‘Come on, Norm. That’s the oldest joke in the…’ She leant closer. A single droplet of blood dripped from the edge of the desk. This time, there was nothing fake about her screams.

Short Story: “Snow Beast” By C. A. Brown

Beneath the thick snow, the creature moved silently. If anyone looked closely at the heavy mounds and snow drifts, they wouldn’t have noticed so much as a flake moving. After all, this ancient beast had millennia upon millennia of practice at creeping beneath the snow.

Above it, the snow beast could feel crunching footsteps from the surface creatures. The movements were fast, the pressure heavy. It wasn’t as bad as the giant beasts that the creature remembered encountering as a hatchling.

It had only seen these once, when it had strayed from the burrows. A pair of vicious teeth had cut through the snow like silver things cut through snow melt. Taking a deep gulp of air, the snow beast had risen from the deep snow and taken a look.

A giant, two-legged feathered creature had towered high above the snow beast. For some reason, the thing that the snow beast remembered the most were the arms. Compared to the giant tail and the huge snapping jaws, the arms were tiny.

Then, there had been a sound like death and something dived from the thin snow high above. It was another creature. The head looked like an elongated bone and the arms were like nothing the snow beast had seen before. Wide things dangled from them.

The snow beast dived. The snow beast stayed below the surface. The snow beast felt scared. It didn’t like this feeling. It got good at staying below the surface.

When the snow beast returned to it’s burrow, it did not tell the other snow beasts of the things that it saw. After all, the elder snow beasts had probably seen such things before. It was, the snow beast now understood, why they kept pulling him away from the top of the deep snow.

Then, after some time, the other snow beasts left. At first, the snow beast noticed that one of them had been gone hunting for longer than usual. Then another one left, then another, then another. Not wishing to be the last one left, the snow beast had gone out hunting. The snow beast had decided that it would be a long hunt. Maybe the other snow beasts had the same idea. After all, hunger roiled in the snow beast’s belly.

The snow beast found food, then more food, then even more food. When the snow beast decided to return to the burrow, it could not remember which direction it was in. So, the snow beast had followed the collapsing trails that it had left. As it traversed the maze, it found more food. It slept sometimes.

Then, after lots of food and sleep, the snow beast found the burrow again. It was completely empty. There were no other tunnels leading away from it. The snow beast pounded the rocks below, but no echoes replied. The snow beast slept. The snow beast felt hungry. The snow beast left again.

Sleep. Food. Sleep. Food. Sleep. Food. Sleep. Food. The snow beast noticed that these things happened more quickly, like the food was easier to spot and the sleep didn’t last as long. It also realised that it knew exactly how far away from the surface to stay. The snow beast wondered if it had become like one of the elders.

After more sleeping and eating, the snow beast felt another two-legged beast above it. This one was lighter and smaller. As time went on, the snow beast realised that there were lots of these beasts. Perhaps they were the young of the giant feathered beast with the tiny arms. The snow beast stayed deep below the surface.

But, then, the snow beast couldn’t find food. The snow beast felt tired. It had even begun to forget what other snow beasts looked like. So, against all of it’s instincts, it had decided to rise to the surface once again when it heard one of the small two-legged creatures. It was so hungry that it had started to wonder what it must be like to be food.

When the deep snow parted, the snow beast stared out into the thin snow. The two-legged creature had long arms and small teeth. It looked at the snow beast and it didn’t swoop or bite, it ran. The snow beast burrowed and followed the noises. A smile crossed it’s slavering jaws. For the first time in many sleeps, something was scared of it.

Short Story: “Floor Seven” By C. A. Brown

After the garish lights, incessant muzak and crushing crowds of the Westview Street Mall, I was actually glad to return to my apartment block. Of course, I hadn’t emerged unscathed. The two reflective red bags in my hands and the pamphlet advertising “X-MAS SPECTACULAR ’97” that had remained stuck to my shoe like a piece of gum were proof of that.

Although the lobby was thankfully empty, the rancid stench of last night’s drunks and a rotting hot dog still hovered in the air. As I pressed a scuffed button and waited for the deathtrap to descend to the lobby, I also detected a subtle note of spray paint chemicals too. Yet, there didn’t seem to be a single new piece of graffiti on the tiled walls. How odd.

Finally, with an unsettling clatter, the dented metal doors of the deathtrap creaked open and I stepped into the dim streetlight-amber chamber. It must have been because I was carrying bags, but I actually looked at the buttons this time. Normally, I’d just reflexively jab the “32” button with the speed of a roadhouse knife-man, but the effort of putting one of my shiny bags down totally threw my reflexes off. So, I looked at the buttons.

And, just like realising that the videotape you’ve been looking for for the past two weeks was inside the VCR the whole damn time, I realised that the “7” button was still covered with tape. It had been one of those things that I’d seen every day ever since I moved into this crapheap six years ago. Yet, now, it seemed odd. Surely someone living on that floor would have complained by now? Was anyone living on that floor?

It could have been because the prospect of sitting back on my bed-of-nails couch, sipping rotgut whiskey from a paint-spattered glass and admiring the beautiful view of smog-darkened bricks from my lounge window had lost some of it’s appeal. It could have been that the idea of working out where I was going to store all of my newfound festive bounty in my match-box apartment seemed like too much of a stress. It could even have been because there was nothing but commercials on TV at this hour. But, whatever the reason, I found myself pressing the button.

I’d expected nothing to happen. The button was probably broken. But, a second later, the deathtrap squealed. The doors began to creak shut and, for a pulse-pounding second, I thought about making a jump for it. The moment passed. Slowly, I felt the floor rise beneath me as the air was filled with the soothing howls of gears and cables. Like a cabaret line of drunken fireflies, the buttons lit up one…. two.. three.four.five… six… Then nothing.

For a second, I’d worried that the doors wouldn’t open. That the deathtrap might have jammed on this floor. That the tape was actually there for a good reason. But then I remembered that it had sailed past this floor many times on many days before. No, it was just the usual “will it won’t it?” delay. I let out a sigh of relief half a second before the doors reluctantly parted.

Above, the strip lights flickered like red carpet paparazzi in the middle of a thunderstorm. The walls were a floral pattern of flaking green paint. Looking down, I noticed that the floor wasn’t even carpeted. It was just pitted concrete covered in scraps of paper and alleyway trash. As another flicker lit up the hall, I saw what looked like a rusting bed frame propped up against one of the walls. Then something touched my foot.

I flinched. But, it wasn’t a rat. It was just a ball of faded yellow paper. Kneeling down, I picked it up and unfolded it. In the dim light of the carriage, I squinted at it. It was the front page of the City Post & Courier. The faded date read “198-“. Below it, in surprisingly fresh ink, the headline read FLOOR OF DEATH. Against my better judgement, I read on.

Police were greeted by a scene of unprecedented carnage at the Brite Fields Apartments this morning. It began when the janitor had noticed an unusual lack of complaints from the seventh floor….‘ I stopped reading for a second. We actually had a janitor once? ‘…When authorities entered via the stairwell, they found themselves in the middle of a grotesque charnel….

Plod! Plod! Plod!

The footsteps got louder. I didn’t even pause to drop the paper. I heard it tear with a deafening rip as I watched my finger punch the “32” button repeatedly. The deathtrap didn’t even bother squealing or groaning. With eerie efficiency, the doors slid shut and I felt the reassuring rising feeling beneath my feet. As the buttons lit up erratically, I let out a long sigh. I’d obviously been imagining things. The “footsteps” were probably just the frantic pounding of my heart or something like that.

By the time I saw the threadbare carpet of my floor, I was practically laughing. At the very least, I was smarter than every dumb schmuck I’d ever seen in a horror movie. I hadn’t even set foot outside the carriage for the whole time I was on the seventh floor. No doubt that this would make for a funny story to tell the guys tomorrow night. Maybe I could even start an urban legend? I’ve always wondered how they got started.

As I turned the key in my apartment door, I noticed that someone had slipped junk mail under the door again. It was the third time this week. If I wasn’t used to it, I’d have probably done a Charlie Chaplin pratfall on top of the shiny leaflets. Dodging them and chuckling to myself, I squeezed into the narrow hallway and nudged the door shut with my heel.

The laughter died in my throat. The bathroom door was closed. It hadn’t been closed when I’d left.

Plod! Plod! Plod!

Short Story: “Specimen” By C. A. Brown

Order! Order!‘ Dr. Farlingsworth tapped his fist loudly upon on the stout dissection table. Squinting against the dim lantern-light, he perceived that the rabble of medical students in the surrounding seats were still jostling, joshing and scuffling merrily.

What, oh what, would noble Asclepius think of this horde of roisterers I see before me?‘ He bellowed. This only served to draw a few hearty laughs from the depths of the rabble.

In an instant, the good doctor felt like an actor on a Shakespearean stage, surrounded by an audience of churls, drunkards and orange-sellers. An impression hammered further home by his memory of catching young Wilkinson sneaking in before the dissection to proclaim “Friends! Romans! Countrymen!” to his amused cohorts. At least, Farlingsworth noted with some relief, the impetuous fellow had refrained from using the cloth covering the specimen as an improvised toga.

Of course, the specimen! With a showman’s grace, Dr. Farlingsworth doddered over to the other side of the table and unveiled the specimen with a flourish. The noise continued. Alas, he surmised, these students were fresh enough to make merry in the halls of learning but seasoned enough not to fall silent at the sight of a body.

Above the clamourous rabble, a voice called out: ‘One of Mr. Burke’s, sir?‘ Another voice called out ‘I didn’t see that poor fellow at Tyburn today.‘ More laughter followed.

Taking a deep breath, the good doctor bellowed: ‘Gentlemen! What you see before you on this table is no ordinary man!

Another voice laughed: ‘Of course not, he’s croaked it!

Flashing a steely glare at the source of the voice, Dr. Farlingsworth continued: ‘Stevenson! Pipe down, will you! Where was I? Oh, yes! What you see before you today is no ordinary man. In fact, I would even hazard to guess that he is some hitherto unknown advancement of the human species.

For once, the only reply was blissful silence. Against the dim flickering of the lanterns, Farlingsworth noted with some satisfaction that thirty pairs of eyes stared forwards at him in rapt fascination.

Farlingsworth continued his lecture: ‘This unfortunate fellow was discovered in the nets of a fishing trawler three days ago and yet he appears to be perfectly preserved. Although the more superstitious amongst you may be keen to attribute this to a miracle, I posit that there is a rational scientific explanation for this phenomenon. An explanation, gentlemen, that I plan to uncover today.

The theatre remained as silent as a tomb. Allowing himself to stand an inch taller, Farlingsworth gently opened the specimen’s mouth and said: ‘Preliminary examinations carried out by my colleague Throckmorton noted that the body displayed notably enlarged incisors, perhaps comparable to those of the hyena skull we recently added to our collection.

Around him, the students jostled and leaned forwards, eager to catch a glimpse of this unusual feature. The stout oak bannisters surrounding the theatre creaked quietly. As the warm glow of the lantern played across the faces of his audience, Farlingsworth could not help but think of Joseph Wright’s scientific paintings or perhaps that clumsy copy of a Caravaggio that Throckmorton hung in his dining room.

In an instant, Farlingsworth’s reverie was interrupted by the sight of his students recoiling in horror. For a second, he stood there bewildered until he felt something grasp his neck. Then, two sharp pains like the bodkin needles used in Jenner’s famed vaccinations. He glanced down to find that the specimen had not only returned to life, but was at his throat like a hungry wolf. Yet, he felt no terror. Instead, a comfortably warm sensation, not unlike quaffing a bottle of good cognac, seemed to wash through his body.

When one of the panicked students finally saw fit to inform the local constable, an examination of the theatre turned up neither the doctor nor his specimen. After further investigations proved fruitless, the authorities procured the services of a well-respected amateur. Yet, even this famed consultant could deduce no cause or trace of what was said to have occurred on that frightful night.

Within no less than two weeks, the ghastly event had passed into university folklore. Despite the efforts of the faculty to suppress such macabre rumours, it was not uncommon to find copies of Varney The Vampire and other such penny dreadfuls surreptitiously placed amongst the hallowed tomes of the university library.

Yet, within several more weeks, the incident had been mostly forgotten. Ghoulish whispers had quickly been overtaken by the excitement of such things as the inter-varsity cricket championships and that well-renowned boat race. Yet, dear reader, even to this day the medical students never so much as grin or chortle when taking anatomy classes. If poor Farlingsworth was still amongst the land of the living, he would no doubt have permitted himself a smile at his newfound legacy.

“Larkminster Library” By C. A. Brown (Short Story #3 – Halloween 2016)

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT/UTC

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT/UTC

Larkminster was a town that looked like it had been preserved in gelatin sometime during the fifties. Only the flaking paint on the shop signs and the ash-ringed “no smoking” sign on the pub’s gnarled door showed the passage of time. Other than that, a thousand time travellers could visit this town and never be shocked or surprised.

And travellers are often the only people to see the town. Most of them don’t stop. I did. Not entirely by choice.

Luckily, the town had a petrol station- although you still actually had to ask for unleaded. Since I wasn’t expected in Shrewsbury for another four hours, I felt like exploring.

If there’s one thing to be said for the town, the parking is still free. The pay and display meter had yet to reach these distant parts and, no doubt, the last parking warden who set foot here ended up getting a practical demonstration of the town’s historic gibbet. A gibbet which, according to it’s faded sign, had been occupied by none other than five sheep rustlers, a fugitive pirate and one of Cromwell’s generals.

The less said about the pub, the better. Despite the bright sun outside, it may as well have been midnight inside. Not only did The Huntsman’s Bugle not serve food, but exotic imports like wine and lager had yet to grace it’s cellars too.

In fact, the only interesting place in town was the library. It was tucked away in a plain, brick building beside the church. Given that this place barely had landlines, let alone the internet, it shouldn’t have surprised me that the library was so large. Yet, the only sign of human life was a silent librarian – her face hidden behind a large leather ledger.

Finding a dusty book about impressionist art, I sat down in the corner and started reading. If there’s one good thing to be said for old libraries, it’s that they haven’t got those cheap plastic chairs that modern libraries sometimes use to make sure that people don’t stay for too long.

Fifty pages later, the door creaked and I heard slow, unsteady footsteps. It was probably just one of the library’s regulars. Probably an old codger who came here every day to read the same almanac again and again. I returned to my book.

Once I’d reached a chapter entitled “The vile debauchery of Edgar Degas“, the footsteps began again – this time from behind a nearby shelf.

Oh crap, I thought, I hope I’m not sitting in the old guy’s chair! It smelled of must, pipe smoke and soap. Not wanting to profane the sacred relic, I got up and went to put the book back. It was then that I saw him.

He had to be at least two hundred. Far from being wrinkled, the grey skin of his face was pulled taut in a cheerful rictus. His thin hair had obviously got tired of being grey and had turned sepia many moons ago. In the withered fingers of his left hand, he held a nameless hardback book.

All I could think to say was “sorry”. The man said nothing. It was a library, after all.

Gingerly, I stepped past him and began to walk towards the exit. That was when I saw the second one. She was poking at one of the shelves with a bony finger. It looked like she was squinting to read the spine of the book, but I quickly noticed that her eyes were nothing more than dry, hollow sockets.

I kept moving…. and almost tripped over another one. He didn’t grumble. He didn’t even stop to pick up his foot. He just kept shuffling towards the gardening section. I made a beeline for the exit.

As I reached for the door, I heard a quiet tutting sound. The librarian lowered the ledger and, with the one remaining finger of her skeletal hand, pointed to a sign that said “No running!“. I mumbled an apology, before throwing the door open.

To this day, I still can’t understand it. Perhaps I fell asleep in the library and had a nightmare? Perhaps spending an eternity in the nearby graveyard was too dull for the dead? Perhaps a library in a small town is the only place where the dead can walk without getting hassled? Who knows?

But, when you see a picturesque town flash by the car window. Don’t stop! Keep driving, because who knows what could lurk behind the beautiful scenery.

“The Law Of Nightmares” By C. A. Brown (Short Story #2 – Halloween 2016)

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT/UTC

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT/UTC

People always make one fatal mistake whenever they have nightmares. They fear that things will get worse. Inevitably, things always do.

If you think that the old pile of leaves beside the empty house looks a bit like a monster, then it will become one. If you’ve seen one too many horror movies and expect a jump scare when you look in the mirror, then you’ll get one.

Nightmares always follow this logic. Once you’ve learnt this, you can fight back. Or, you can try at least….

The trouble with nightmares is that they rarely start out as nightmares. They lull you into a false sense of security with their surreal normality, until things gradually begin to get worse and worse. Before you even realise that you’re not supposed to worry, the nightmare already has you within it’s claws until you wake up gasping and sweaty in your darkened bedroom.

By the time that this has happened, it’s too late to take back control. After all, when things become so terrible that you realise that they just can’t be real, you’ve still got to work out what to do about the robed man in the doorway, the bodies on the linoleum or the shrivelling flesh on your face. Fear sets in, instinct takes over and you’ll just end up making things worse for yourself.

Nightmares start out by making a small bite in your mind and they let you do the rest. They’ll show you something slightly out of place, something slightly wrong and then they’ll let you scratch at it until the fear flows freely. Nightmares are the ultimate parasite. Not even the humble mosquito or the sneakiest tapeworm could ever dream of gaining the evolutionary advantages that nightmares have.

But, like every good parasite, they remain hidden. No scientist has ever been able to trap one in a jar, or dissect one on a table. Well, not officially at least.

There has, of course, been clandestine research into the subject. Very little is known about this, but what evidence exists suggests that, in the fifties, the US Government managed to extract one. They had apparently thought that, with the right conditioning, they could train it to be a new type of weapon. But, they forgot the one law that nightmares always follow.

Descriptions of the nightmare are vague at best. An unconfirmed fragment of an old report that surfaced online during the nineties described it simply as “alien” and “fearsome”. This was, of course, their largest mistake. If you are afraid of a nightmare, you’re putting a tempting meal in front of it. Once it gets hungry enough, not even the thickest glass or the strongest chains can hold it at bay.

Declassified files and interviews with relatives seem to suggest that approximately thirty scientists all died within a single week from an outbreak of smallpox, following a lab accident. Of course, with the bodies swiftly cremated, there is no way to tell whether it was smallpox – or something else.

Nightmares always follow one law, but they may have others. These are, unfortunately, not known to us. They may slither and scuttle around the realm of sleep, unseen by all of us in our waking lives – but they are always there. They must have some kind of unwritten criteria for selecting their victims. After all, some people are fed on by them every night and some can go months or years between being bitten.

Perhaps we all taste different? Perhaps some nightmares are hungrier than others? Perhaps they have rotas and quotas? Perhaps they choose people who will try to fight back, or perhaps they don’t? Perhaps one is even lying in wait for you tonight…