Below are a few short stories I wrote for college and university assignments. If you have a chance to read one, let me know what you think in a comment.
Fear by Sam Whitehouse
As I stare into the inky heart of darkness, it stares back at me.
My bare feet are numb against the glacial air and I can no longer feel the sting of the lacerations inflicted by the thorns and shards of rock that jut from the frozen ground like pointed, black teeth. A bitter wind snaps at my fingers and so I bury my hands in my pockets, searching for any last morsels of warmth. There are none. Cold dread permeates everything.
The forest’s yawning maw beckons me closer, seeming to draw me forth with an unnatural pull. But with what little self-control I have left to me I do not move.
I stop. I stand. I stare.
Gnarled roots erupt from the earth, tearing it asunder, making it pulse and writhe; they furl forwards, breaking away from their shadowy retreat, edging towards the last of the light… only to recoil: creatures of the dark.
My eyes watch unblinking, fearing that to avert my gaze will render me vulnerable to her. She is risen from her slumber now and is hungry. I hear her send forth her children: Crows with slicing razor beaks; clicking, hissing insects; thorny vines, creeping and winding. All advance hesitantly; they are wary of the burning light.
I can hear her breath, it echoes from the depths of the trees: stinking, foul and retch-inducing. She is tasting me. She knows I am here but she cannot take me yet. Not while the light keeps her and her voracious brood at bay.
I want to run, to turn and flee the way I came but something holds me here… keeps me paralysed and rooted to the darkening hilltop. What warmth I felt on the back of my neck is fighting a losing battle. For soon the sun will submit to the moon, she who waits impatiently in the first traces of twilight to take his brother’s place, and spread night across the land.
My quickened breath is no longer alone in daring to break the steely hush; there comes the snapping, cracking steps of the forest’s children. And though I cannot see them, I sense their approach; feel their footfalls sending tremors through the earth.
Though I cannot turn, I see the moonlight’s probing fingers stretching ever closer; casting pale, skeletal columns through the forest’s fringes and throwing her bone yard into ghostly relief. The remnants of her victims are suddenly revealed: cloaks and jerkins torn and tattered beyond all recognition, hanging from gnarled branches and shifting in the forest’s breath; shattered lanterns oozing waxy beards of tallow, their once revealing lights long since snuffed out; and the mould-encrusted axe of a man who tried to cut the forest down. But she doesn’t stand for that. No, she won’t let harm come to her servants, her children.
I stand. I stare.
Sharp wind cuts at my exposed flesh. It screams to be covered, concealed, but I never planned on remaining here, I never expected to be this long. I only wanted to look, to see…her.
And now the night is upon me, advancing from the horizon like a line of stampeding black stallions. What little sight I have left to me is occluded and those final hopes of returning to the warmth of home and leaving behind this fearful place are snatched away.
Deep down I knew that escape was never an option, but I held the possibility close, warmed my body against its weak flames. Now… now I know what my fate is to be. In this nightmarish place, where what lives delights in despair and decay.
They will be here soon.
Why did I come here? Why did I want so desperately to see her, see the rotting heart of the forest? I’d heard the people talking – those few who paid such things mind and were old enough to remember when the forest first grew – in furtive tones about what lurks here. And I’d taken their tales to be nothing more than a means to frighten children into behaving. I’d put little stock into their – what I’d assumed to be – whisky-induced ramblings. What reason had I to believe them? But now I see my folly, my ignorance… and I understand the cost of it.
A flicker of movement in the shadows: her children are growing nearer, frolicking in the gloom, liberated now by the swallowed light. They come scuttling, flapping and burrowing their way towards me. For like her they can smell me; smell and sense the fear and despair that oozes from my body. To them it is like tendrils of the most delicious aroma imaginable. My teeth rattle together, vibrating a jarring rhythm in my skull. Shudders flit up and down my spine like cold bolts of lightning.
I can hear them, even closer now, their shrieks and cries and yelps, their rattling breaths: the forest’s orchestra. They arrive at the treeline, lingering in the darkness and watching with gleaming black eyes. Alighting on the branches, clacking their sharp scarred beaks and beating their scraggly wings and stirring the last of the dead leaves that spiral listlessly down and land at my feet…
… And the barrier is broken. No longer is there a wall between her and me, between this world and theirs. And they know it, for now they advance- and I can see them! Wicked, twisted, snarling faces. And now they’re around me, circling, closing in and yet paralysis still holds me in its infuriating grasp. Until something dawns in my mind, a distant door is unlocked and I can suddenly move again. I can turn, I can run… But no, now they are at my feet, biting, clawing, scraping. Teeth like hot needles, claws like daggers, grasps like vices. My arms flail in the darkness, beating them off only for them to bound forward again and sink their fangs still deeper, brace ever tighter. They wrestle me to the floor and my face slams into the dank, stinking earth. I feel myself being pulled, dragged inexorably backwards and away from the winking lights in the windows of the village. Dirt fills my mouth, nose, eyes… obscuring my senses. I splutter and cough, the taste is foul. Screams and pleas for help come, gushing from my open mouth in an incoherent torrent, only to be stifled by the choking mulch and the darkness, so thick and impenetrable. No aid will come tonight!
I dig my fingers into the dirt, grappling at sods of grass and sharp rocks and roots, but her children are stronger, riled into a frenzy by their hunger, and I cannot hold on. The soft earth crumbles away beneath my scrabbling, desperate fingers and my grip is lost. I hear her calling them back, beckoning now for her children to return with their prey. And their claws: terrible, scraping, scratching claws.
Writhing in their grasp I scream for help. But the only replies are the echoing remains of my pleas. The leafless boughs and gnarled branches rush by overhead, like the ribcage of some long dead beast and stabbing through is the harsh moonlight. Between the flashes of illumination my rolling eyes catch sight of the gnashing jaws of my captors; their twisted limbs and wild, hungry eyes. And from the bowels of the forest her slurping, sonorous voice resonates, louder, closer. Beneath my clawing fingers the earth becomes waterlogged. The foul stenches of stagnant bogs, rotten vegetation and something metallic thicken in the air.
Suddenly the jostling, clawing creatures that bore me through the darkness scamper away, shrieking. They gather between the slime rimed trees that girdle the clearing. Hot blood pumps down my legs and arms, but I do not feel the sting of the wounds. For now the marshy floor shudders beneath me and I watch as, with a sucking, guttural roar the ground before me swells. Boiling like the contents of a cauldron, the root-tangled earth heaves upwards. From this lurching mass of dirt and moss and root a form takes shape. Limbs strangled with vines and moss emerge, trembling under the weight of her colossal body.
A scream lodges like a stone in my throat as the forest’s mother turns to face me. From a head of snarled roots, clogging moss and pitted boulders stare two bulbous, glistening eyes. I am held fast in her gaze, my limbs rendered leaden. Her face is suddenly cloven by her parting maw, revealing fangs of boulder and bark. From the depths of her cavernous throat gusts her wet, stinking breath and the sound of bones rattling in her stomach. The thick carapace of her body writhes with insects as she lurches slowly forward. Her children gather at her feet: squealing and grunting impatiently.
As I stare into the darkness it stares back at me: it is the last thing I see as she and her children swarm.
The Father of Lies
by Sam Whitehouse
She felt the whispering before she heard it. It traced the nape of her neck, drawing the fine hairs of her pale flesh into salute. It might have been a caress if it were not so cold. But this was the chill of a breath.
The voice seemed to speak to her from every dark corner of the cell. It whispered words that Sarah Buckley’s thumping heartbeat muffled before it gave a great retching cough. Then, out of the shadows flanking her came a hand, curled into a fist even blacker than the gloom; gnarled and calloused as if it had been hewn from an old tree root. The long, spindly fingers creaked as they unfolded, as if the bones beneath the meagre flesh were snapping. Sarah Buckley’s blood roared loud in her ears as her darting gaze caught sight of the symbol branded into the flesh of the palm. It was an inverted cross, and from it issued a thin tendril of smoke as if, only seconds ago, it had been seared into the skin.
There was a rattling intake of breath and the voice came again. “Are you well, Sarah Buckley?”
She did not answer, could not, for fear had lodged in her throat like a stone. Her wide, green eyes were unblinking as she watched the hand withdraw, seeming to melt into the darkness from which it had taken form. Her shaking hands gripped the wooden bench she sat upon and the terror rendering her paralysed made her unable, even, to feel the splinter of wood piercing her soft palm. Blood pumped from the wound, falling in beads to the earthen floor of the cell. The cold air congealed her blood into rubies that winked under the moonlight reaching its skeletal fingers through the bars of the cell’s solitary window.
“Do you fear death? The voice said. “Do you fear the eternal torment that awaits you, the abyss of despair that encroaches?” The words came slowly, growing louder as if they were travelling a great distance to reach her.
For a seemingly endless heartbeat a ringing silence filled the cell, closing in on Sarah like the pressing bodies of a crowd.
“Let me show you what waits beyond the noose, Sarah Buckley.”
A sudden pain lanced through her body, akin to a thousand bodkins piercing every inch of her. The hand returned from the shadows and fingers like hot pokers tightened about Sarah’s shaking wrist. Tears streamed down her pale cheeks, leaking into her mouth and filling it with a bitter taste. And through the blur of her tears she saw a sliver of scarlet light growing from the darkness before her; as if the very air were being sliced open. The scar widened, opening like the scarlet stained maw of some smouldering beast. Hot coals gushed from the fissure in a tide, smoking and hissing as they spilled across the damp earth.
The next instant she was standing, held fast by the blistering hand’s grip, on the periphery of a jutting cliff. The sight that opened up before her was one so unimaginably horrific that she could not tear away her gaze. A sea of roiling lava swept against the cliff face, showering the rippling air with smoking embers. Flames gushed and writhed across the vast expanse of shadow and caverns, clawing at the roof of darkness above like desperate hands. Gusts of heat such as that Sarah Buckley had never felt, assailed her from every angle, filling her lungs and searing her throat. She saw silhouetted forms, hunched and marching slowly in endless lines across the swelling waves of fire. She heard the manacles binding the figures’ twisted hands, clanking; the glowing links emblazoned with the sins they had committed in life. The boiling air rang with the animalistic screams of a hundred million tortured souls. The sound of snapping limbs, of sloshing blood, of necks twisted and broken by ropes drawn taut, assaulted her ears. A haunting orchestra of screaming and roaring and howling, conducted by the fingers of a thousand flames.
Now she did speak, but her uttered words gushed forth in a scream that rendered them incoherent. She thrashed at her face, beating her tightly fastened eyes with the hands she had balled into fists. Yet the sight she had just bore witness to would not diminish, it played before her closed eyes just as clear and horrific as before. And all the time she writhed and howled, unable to escape, the voice spoke to her.
“You served me well, Sarah Buckley. The Father of Lies always rewards those most faithful to him.”
Sarah’s lamentations met no mercy; the white knuckles of her clenched fists, pressed against her closed eyes gave no subsidence to the sights that still danced across her vision. Her echoing scream could not drown the chanting voices of the dead and her shadowy tormentor paid no heed.
Until, a drawn breath… and silence.
The burning fingers that had clutched her wrist let go. She took a breath and felt cold air rush mercifully down her throat, filling her lungs. And though it seemed to demand all of her strength, Sarah Buckley opened her eyes to see not the burning plains of fire and lava but the hay strewn ground of the cell and her own bare feet. Relief flooded her, shunning the despair she had been teetering on the edge of. As she stared down at the floor, at the silver dappled earth, the final tendrils of clinging fear left her. She took in great lungfuls of air, not caring that it was so glacial, just relishing how real it was, thinking she’d never tasted anything so sweet.
“A price must be paid for your sins.”
The voice struck out of the silence like a knife.
“Do you not agree, Sarah Buckley? Those who sin must pay.”
“Sins? I didn’t commit no sins.”
“But surely you must remember?”
“Yes, the contract and your signature upon the curling page.”
“I never signed no contract.”
“I never signed no contract!”
“Yes, Sarah Buckley, you did.”
“I didn’t. I never!”
“And the hurt… the hurt you put on those people.”
“I never hurt no people. I never hurt nobody.”
“Remember, Sarah Buckley, remember… her.”
There was the sound of something thudding softly against the ground. Opening her eyes that she had clamped shut once more Sarah looked down upon the object that had landed by her feet. It was a doll, staring up at her with black, unseeing eyes. Like her eyes had been that day. The doll’s white smock was raggedy and blood-stained, sodden and dirt smeared. Like her dress had been that day.
“I…” Sarah said, as memories crept back from the corners of her mind she had banished them to.
“Yes, Sarah Buckley…”
She saw the shore, her feet bloody, torn by the sharp rocks as she ran to the lake’s edge. She felt the cold, searing through her skin and numbing her as she plunged into the water. The girl’s pale face- her girl’s face- breaching the lake’s black surface like a fallen moon. Green eyes staring up through the murky water, wide and unblinking. Raven hair rippling about her head and shoulders like tendrils of blood. The white dress, shifting about her ivory body, patterned with crimson tears and smears of black earth.
“I remember her… my girl.”
“Yes,” the voice urged, “your girl, your poor, innocent, pretty girl. And what they did to her.”
She saw herself turn from the lake, from the sight of her dead daughter and through the blur of tears she saw them. Silhouetted against the red sun were five figures, like scars against the scarlet sky. Standing there and calling down, voices carrying on the whining gale, “Witch, witch, witch!”
“They murdered her.”
“Yes,” said the voice, the word transforming into a drawling laugh. “And you delivered them their just deserts, did you not, Sarah Buckley?”
“Oh, but I think you did. You signed the contract in exchange for those powers you needed to avenge her life. You hurt those murderers with witchcraft.”
“I never did no witchcraft.”
“I think you did, Sarah Buckley, I think you did. Let me show you.”
Voices echoed up from the recesses of her mind: chanting, jeering voices. “She deserved what she got, that little witch.”
Sarah was standing in the doorway of a house, looking down at a fat priest sitting at a table, his face ruddy, thick yellow fingers clasping a tankard. Rage boiled in her, it seemed to rise in her throat like bile. She brought her trembling fist from behind her back, clutching the crude effigy of the man sat before her. In the other she held a bodkin.
“What’re you doing, witch? D’you think-”
In one swift movement she plunged the bodkin into the doll’s chest, saw it appear, sharp and shining through its back. At that moment the fat priest’s sickly yellow eyes bulged. The tankard thudded to the floor, spilling ale across the flags as the priest’s fat fingers scrabbled across his chest. Raspy, choking breaths rattled from his throat. Veins, blue and thick as cords, struck out across his pale, doughy neck. The next second his eyes rolled back in their sockets, transforming into two bloodshot white orbs, and he fell limp.
“Ahhh,” the voice said. “Is revenge not the sweetest of tastes?”
“I never did no witchcraft.” Sarah closed her eyes, willing the memory to change. She saw herself again, standing in the doorway. It was not a doll and bodkin clutched in her hands but an axe, her white knuckles wrapped tight about the haft, the blade shining dully in the wavering flame light of the priest’s hearth.
“I never did no witchcraft, liar! You’re lying.”
The answer came as a drawling, guttural laugh. “Yes… yes… But you must forgive me, Sarah Buckley, I cannot be without lying. It is in my… nature. After all, what is the devil, what is the Father of Lies without deception?”
In her fury, Sarah forgot her fear. Forgot the terror keeping her from looking upon her tormentor. She turned, and the sight that met her eyes sent her mind spinning. Her already racing heart quickened its beat, hammering at her ribcage so hard it hurt. Her eyes, wide and uncomprehending fell upon no creature, no hellish daemon sent to torment her. The Father of Lies did not sit beside her, his palm did not expose the branded symbol of an inverted cross for there was no palm to bear it. And the whispering voice did not thaw from the cold silence for there was no mouth from which it could be uttered.
The jailer bound Sarah’s hands with a lopsided grin on his pockmarked, stubbly face. The thick rope bit the flesh of her wrists as he tugged her out of the cell and led her up towards the grey daylight. A driving rain greeted Sarah Buckley, beating her exposed flesh like the fists of a hundred angry townsfolk. She did not lift her gaze to meet the eyes of those who watched. Instead, she scrutinised the ground she walked upon, her bare, wounded feet in the soft churned mud, her blood staining the puddles scarlet. There were taunts and jeers from the gathered crowds, but she did not hear them. She heard nothing but the voices of the crows that had taken perch upon the freshly cut beams of the gallows, their shrill cries cutting through the thrum of the rain. Something struck her, thrown by a member of the masses, but she did not flinch or wince. And the rain came harder, stronger than she had ever imagined rain could be. It wasn’t long before the rags that hung from her emaciated body like folds of pale, dirty skin, became burdens on her aching back and shoulders.
She arrived at foot of the stairs up to the gallows. One… two… three slow steps up. The jailor led her across the slick boards. The splits in the wood grinned up at her like so many sardonic mouths. Splinters bit the soft flesh of her feet, but she did not feel them. She stumbled, almost giving into the weariness pressing upon her. But hesitation provoked a jab in the chest from the jailor’s staff.
“Don’ worry,” he sneered. “There’ll be plen’y o’ time for rest soon enough, witch.”
Sarah stepped up onto the stool. Invisible fingers seemed to press down on her eyelids but she managed to keep them open. She felt the saturated noose fall about her neck. Rough fibres chafed against her skin, as if tasting her, bristling, almost, in anticipation of a fresh victim.
“You, Sarah Buckley, have been accused of four counts of murder by means of witchcraft.”
Now Sarah’s eyes grew wide, life ebbed back into her. That voice… She looked down, searching the sea of pale, scowling faces. Her searching gaze found him, taller than the rest, face pinched, eyes black and empty. “Do you confess it?” said William Yfel.
For a moment the only sounds were the crows and the rain.
Sarah Buckley met the eyes of William Yfel, the man who had ordered the murder of her daughter. The man who now stood there, unblinking, figure unyielding save the trembling of his lifted arm.
Then Sarah Buckley answered, she bellowed her reply to the heavens, screaming her words at such a pitch it burnt her throat. “You’re a liar! I’m no more a witch than you are, and neither was my daughter. You are the only servant of the Devil here, little man, and if you take my life, he will deliver you and all those who follow you to the burning gates of Hell!”
William Yfel’s raised arm dropped and the noose drew tight.
By Sam Whitehouse
“Core malfunction alert.”
“Yes, damn it, I know.” My knuckles burn against the heat pulsing off the core casing. I grind my teeth and force my fingers behind the titanium panel. I smell my flesh burning. Every instinct in my body screams at me to pull away, but I need to get the panel off. I need to get to the core before—
“Core malfunction alert.”
The ship’s hollow voice echoes around the circular chamber again. And whether it is the sound of the voice, setting my teeth on edge, or the terror pumping through me I forget the pain and manage to get my fingers far enough behind the panel. And I pull. It comes loose and I throw it aside, tightening my fists in a vain attempt to lessen the pain. I look down at my trembling, blistered hands. Numbness spreads through my fingers. I shouldn’t be able to feel the effect of the core’s radiation. Not yet. It’s working faster than I thought it would.
“Core malfunction alert.”
I shake my hands, clenching and unclenching them as I examine what the panel has concealed. Black and white wires strangle a thick silver tube studded with bolts. I reach inside, probing the wires. Most are severed and scorched, spraying hot sparks that sting my arms. I close my eyes, willing my addled thoughts to order. Anna’s face appears in my mind. Eyes closed. Face glazed with frost—
“Impact imminent. Core has suffered irreparable damage.”
I open my eyes. “Tell me something I don’t know!”
I run my fingers through my hair, staring into the tangle of wires. I realise I cannot feel my hair, and I bring my hands to my face. My breath catches in my throat. It looks like someone has scrawled across my hands with a marker; every vein stands proud and black against my raw skin. Tears sting my eyes. I will not have time to get to the core—I need more time. But even if I did reach the core, what could I do? The radiation will kill me before I can even get close enough.
I turn away from the panel.
Sparks flare against the intermittent dark, spewing from cables that explode from the ceiling as panels buckle and warp. The roar of the engines is absolute, save the eerie moments of silence when they stall. I glance to the narrow window on my right, and look through the splintered glass. Flames and debris rush past in the dark.
“Computer!” I say.
“What is the probability of passengers’ survival after impact?”
My heart quickens. “What is the probability of cryo-chamber three withstanding impact?”
“Impossible. Damage to core is irreparable.”
“List emergency protocols for core meltdown.” I close my eyes, willing that hollow voice to tell me what I want to hear, willing it not to say what I know it will—
“All emergency protocols are futile. Damage to core has disabled all available vessel functions.”
My legs buckle beneath me, and I fall. I hit the charred floor. Something whistles over my head, so close I feel it brush my hair, and there is a metallic clang as whatever it is hits the wall opposite. Anna’s face comes to me again. This time she is smiling. Her green eyes stare into mine. Her soft, soft hand touches my cheek. Through my tears I watch sparks of electricity fizzle out against my hands. I don’t feel them. I feel only the tightness in my chest.
Anna’s face disappears.
I push myself to my feet. The floor tilts beneath me and wreckage hurtles at me from all angles. A crate careers across the room, spilling its contents. I launch myself at the door and hook an arm through the handle just as the ship lurches to the left. Pain throbs through my bicep, but I manage to hold on long enough for the ship to right itself. My knees smash into the floor; I ignore the flaring pain and slam my palm against the glowing lock panel. The door slides open and I clamber through.
Thick pillars of smoke leak from the walls. Debris rattles across the floor and wires swing back and forth from the ceiling. I haven’t taken two steps when the ship tilts again and I’m thrown forwards. I am airborne for less than a second before I slam into the far wall. My head hits a door handle and suddenly everything is muffled. Pain carves a burning line across my skull. The explosions rumbling beneath me are dull punches of sound, and the lock panel is only a blur of pale light behind white flashes. I realise I am sprawled against a door. It’s the Cryo-chamber door. I splay my hands against the lock panel and the door slides sideways beneath me. I fall. As the ship lurches again I manage to get to my feet.
I see the silhouette of Anna’s head through the frosted glass of her Cryo-tube, on the far side of the chamber. My gaze lingers there for a second before I look to the airlock five feet to the tube’s left. My chest tightens again. I know what I must do. I know there isn’t time for anything else.
The flickering lights fail altogether and the chamber is plunged into near darkness. A pillar of blue light projects from the window of Anna’s Cryo-tube, and I use it to guide myself to her. Warped shards of metal shift around my feet as I slide across the chamber. I collapse against the airlock. I look through the door’s window, past the tide of flames swirling across the fuselage, and see Earth. Deep blue and verdant green—like her eyes.
Sound rushes back. Everything seems louder and closer. The numbness creeps up my arms and my legs buck and shiver beneath me. I don’t have long.
Calling on what little feeling I have left in my arms, I heave myself over to the Cryo-tube. I trace the outline of Anna’s face through the glass with fingers I cannot feel. I wish I could see her face, her eyes, if only for a moment. One last time before I… I turn away, kicking open the clamps holding the Cryo-tube to the wall and hold it in place as it lurches forward.
Pain breaks across my chest, cold and sharp. I manage to roll the tube in front of the air-lock. Using the heels of my hands, I ease an energy rod from my belt. I depress the cap with my teeth and feel the rod vibrate to life; it starts to glow a muted orange, gets brighter.
I press my forehead against the cold window of the Cryo-tube and imagine Anna’s soft whispered voice in my ear, telling me everything is good, we are going to be fine; we would go for a walk after dinner, watch the stars come out. She tells me how she has always wanted to see them up close. And I tell her I’ll take her to them one day.
“For you, Anna,” I say.
I slam the rod against the airlock’s seal.
A flash of white, hot light and the door is gone.
My throat tightens.
The Cryo-tube pulls away from me, spins out through the airlock and I follow it.
My lungs contract.
I see the tube—Anna—spinning away from me.
I see her smiling face again.
Debris and fire engulf me.
And then all I know is cold.
And then there is only darkness.