The Stranger (collage poem)

There was something very strange

About this kid,

A stout girl, dark faced and whiskery,

She seemed nervous, aloof

And terribly lonely


She told me she had been twice

As a guest to the parties at Osborn,

But it was as if

She had no social skills


My yielding flesh in her hands,

Hot with fear,

Sticky with sweat and blood,

I knew she would kill me if possible


Men and women differ as heaven and earth.

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Otranto (collage poem)

Only think of the air!

Blasts of wind shake the doors

Of the subterranean regions,

The white monotonous passageways

And the bare, bare cells

Hollowed into insignificant cloisters


Is your castle haunted by demons and goblins?

Look at that disfigured corpse in the hall!

The place must be a breeding ground

For every kind of illness and disease.

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Graduation (poem)

Is this how things end?

A white sheet of paper

Inviting you to your own graduation,

Mortar board stiff and unyielding,

Black robes far too reminiscent

Of the reapers cloak


Rough steps catch at your hem,


A thousand faces watch

As the podium swallows you whole

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The Stench (short story) Part Six/Ending

I am sat beside a roaring fire, Timmy on one side of me and my mum on the other. In the soft, flickering light from the flames she looks much younger. Timmy gets up and starts jumping up and down with enthusiasm. He looks several years younger too, his cheeks puffed out with baby fat.

‘Tell her mummy tell her!’

‘Tell me what?’ I say, giggling.

Mum just smiles, reaches underneath her feet and comes up with a huge, bumper packet of marshmallows.

‘Oh my God… how… where did you get these?’

‘I traded for them’ she says coolly ‘a few tins of sweetcorn, some game from the woods… nothing serious.’

‘But mum… it’s been years since there was game in the woods.’

‘Don’t be silly! The woods are crawling with deer.’

I swallow nervously. Something about this doesn’t seem quite right. Mum tears open the packet and passes it to Timmy. He takes out a single white marshmallow, squeezing it between his thumb and finger, eyes filled with wonder and awe.

                Timmy skewers his marshmallow on a stick and puts it straight into the flames. We watch the sweet blacken, melt and slide into the fire. Then Timmy’s face starts to blacken and melt. His skin dripping down in huge rivulets like candle wax, revealing patches of grey skull and bright red muscle. Timmy looks like he is about to scream, but the melting flesh seals his mouth shut and he can only make pitiful gurgling sounds, the molten flesh bubbling where his lips used to be. Timmy slumps to the ground unconscious, slowly choking on his own skin.

                I wake up stiff and freezing. Timmy is lying next to me on the stone floor of the cave, his chest rising and falling with each ragged breath. He is still breathing. His face is still attached. A shadow falls across Timmy’s sleeping body, but he doesn’t stir. My nostrils are filled with the awful, pungent smell of rotting meat.  I scramble backwards, eyes locked on the terrible thing lurching through the mouth of the cave.

                The rocks bite at my skin and catch at my clothes, unravelling the fabric. The Lurker follows me, red eyes filled with fury. Its grey skin hangs loosely on its bones, peeling back to reveal decaying flesh. I think it would be easier if it was running, but the Lurker shuffles forward at an unbearably slow pace. When it opens its mouth the stench gets even worse. I remember Cathy’s arms around me, clothes still soaked in congealing animal blood. I inch backwards again and my head bumps against rock. Trapped. The Lurkers head jerks towards Timmy, then back to me again, its nostrils flaring like a dog that has caught the scent of a fox. Then it starts to inch towards Timmy.

                Timmy shivers, his mouth clamping shut at the smell of Lurkers rancid breath. I think he is still sleeping. The thing bends over him. It’s shrivelled black lips curl back to reveal sharp yellow teeth. White foam oozes from its mouth, dripping onto Timmy’s cheek in big fat globules. That’s when my hands close around a rock.

                Thunk. The rock crashes into its head with the sound of breaking eggshells. The Lurker turns towards me, dazed from the blow to its head. In the half-light its eyes look almost… human. Thunk. It slumps to the ground. Thunk. Wetness sprays my face. Thunk. Its limbs flail desperately, broken fingernails catching in my hair. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Its stops moving. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

‘Mattie?’ Timmy rises into a sitting position, mouth puckered, still blinking sleep from his eyes. ‘Mattie what are you doing?’

I look down. My arms are covered in stinking gore, their muscles taught. My fingers are ache, still clamped firmly round the rock. I have never lifted anything so heavy before. The shape on the ground is motionless. From the neck down it looks almost normal. Above the neck there is nothing- just a mass of bloody pulp splattered across stone. Here and there I can see a fragment of skull no bigger than a cats tooth.

‘Mattie? Was that a person?’

The rock clatters from my hands and smashes in two on the ground.

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The Stench (short story) Part Five

I look up at the tangle of branches above us. The deeper we go into the forest the closer together the trees seem to grow. I think it might be evening, but it’s hard to tell. The canopy of dark green leaves almost blocks out the sun.

‘Mattie, I’m hungry.’

‘I know sweetheart… I’m hungry too.’

It’s been two days since we entered the forest, and I’ve not come across anything edible. I try not to think about how skinny Timmy is, how I could snap his arms and legs as easily as twigs.

‘Aren’t there any berries in the woods Matt?’

‘There must be. We’ll find some soon, we just have to keep following the river.’

The shallow brown water that snakes through the forest is barely more than a stream, but I daren’t stray too far from it. We could walk for days before we find another source of water. The tree’s start to blur and distort, their edges blackening. I lean against a trunk and wait for the wave of dizziness to pass, my stomach clenching with hunger.

‘I’m tired.’

‘I know you are Timmy. But we have to keep walking.’


‘You know why!’

Timmy winces and fixes his eyes on the forest floor. I shouldn’t have spoken so sharply. It’s not his fault we’re in this mess.

‘Do you remember what Mum used to say?’

‘What?’ Timmy says cautiously. I can tell he’s worried I’ll start snapping again.

‘She said all rivers lead to the sea. If we keep walking we’ll get there eventually. We can live on the beach, catch fish and eat them for every meal.’

‘Mum bought the women to our house.’

I stop walking, kneel down in the mud and cup my brother’s face, forcing him to look me in the eye.

‘She didn’t have a choice. You know that.’

‘They were scared of me. Scared I might get sick and end up like the bad men who live in the woods. The Lurkers.’

His soft pink lip is trembling. His big brown eyes glitter with tears. The idea of him scaring anyone seems utterly ridiculous.

 ‘ Tilly? Do you remember when they took George?’

I feel my whole body tense up. Nobody has mentioned George in three years. Timmy was so young… I suppose we’d all hoped he wouldn’t remember.

‘George was sick.’ My words come out in a harsh croak. I bend over the stream, cup my hands and take a couple of gulps of freezing brown water. It’s thick with mud.

‘George was very sick, and they took care of him as best they could.’

‘But he never came back.’

                We walk in silence after that. The forest growing darker and darker. Black outlines of trees loom above us, branches reaching out like beckoning fingers. I slip my hand into Timmy’s wordlessly. His fingers feel much too hot.

Eventually I spot something up ahead.  At first I think it’s a boulder covered in tangled, rotting Ivy, but when I drag Timmy closer I realise I’m staring into the mouth of a cave. We curl up on the dry stone floor inside, Timmy shivering, his breath coming out in harsh, ragged gasps. When I put my hand on his forehead the skin is boiling hot. How could he have gotten sick so quickly? This didn’t happen with George. But then, George’s family managed to keep him secret for a long time. When one of the women eventually found him he was tied to the bed, white foam dripping from his mouth, lashing furiously at the restraints. Cynthia said they’d been feeding him. That children started to disappear from the village one by one… I clench my fists furiously, eyes burning, fighting back tears. Cynthia was a bitch. A lying, devious, conniving, spoiled little bitch. And I’ll never see her again.

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The Stench (short story) Part Four

 ‘Well, what do you think?’ says Cynthia, her perfectly arched eyebrows raised in mock innocence.

‘I… I…’ I try to adjust the way I’m sitting so my knees don’t touch the gift, but my legs feel like they’re stuck together with black treacle.

‘Well?’ her blue eyes are so wide they’re practically popping out of her skull. ‘Is something wrong?’

The black treacle is in my throat this time. I try to swallow, but it’s choking me, binding my teeth together so I can’t speak. The gift tips forward. I hear a soft thunk as it hits my right leg and foul, nameless liquid begins to seep through my jeans. Somehow that breaks the spell. I force myself to bring my gaze down slowly until I am looking at my brother’s scalp. His feathery brown hair is tangled and matted with blood.

‘Well?’ says Cynthia ‘tell me what you think!’

I look down at the severed head, willing my hands not to shake. I swallow. I can still taste the cloyingly sweet black mess at the back of my throat, but it’s getting easier to breathe. I have to say something. I have to. I have-

‘It’s lovely Cynthia. Just what I’ve always wanted.’


            I wake up and stumble out of bed, hands shaking, skin covered in a sheen of cold sweat. My breath comes out in rapid, shallow gasps. Timmy is sleeping soundly. I lift the edge of the blanket slightly, just enough for me to make sure that his head is firmly attached to his neck. He is so small. I stroke the top of his head, giggling when the feathery brown curls tickle my fingers. He doesn’t stir, but a soft, mewing sound escapes his lips. I pull on my denim jacket and walk out of the shack, needing the space and clean air. The breeze cuts through my skin, and all at once I’m wide awake. There are people waiting for me.

                I blink. They’re still there. Marjorie. Jill. Carla. Sian. Jeanette. The only person missing is Cynthia. Even more women are standing behind them. Their eyes are cold dark flints. Each woman holds something in her hand. I glance down just once, and see an old baseball bat covered in rusty brown stains. That’s enough. I remember the noise I heard in my dream, the soft thunk when Timmy’s head brushed against my knee and the feel of his flesh through my jeans… soft and smelly, like apples that have been left in the sun until they turn black. They’re not here for me. They’re here for Timmy. Oh God- Timmy.

                The crowd parts to reveal my mother. Why didn’t I notice she was gone when I woke up this morning?  Her mouth is set. Her eyes are glistening, but I know she won’t cry. Mum is twisting something in her hands. It’s a coil of rope, one end of it tied in a loop just big enough to slip over a little boys head.

                ‘Mattie…’ She bites her lip. I think she is going to say sorry, but she’s thought better of it. ‘Mattie it’s time. Bring him out.’

                I’m back in the bedroom. I don’t remember walking here. I bend over Timmy and gently shake one of his shoulders.

‘Mattie? Is it morning?’ His speech is slurred, his eyes still half closed.


‘What’s wrong? You have a nightmare?’ Timmy wraps his arms around my waist and nuzzles his head into my stomach. Timmy. Timmy. Timmy.

‘Come on Timmy. We have to go.’ I disentangle our limbs and grab one of his hands.

‘Tilly! I’m too big to hold hands’

‘Shh. Just make sure you stay close to me. Ok?’

‘Okay. Why do you smell funny Tilly?’

                We walk outside. I expect Timmy to run when he sees the women, but he just stands there blinking stupidly in the sunlight. Then his face crumples. His little shoulders begin to shake. One of the women- Jill I think- walks towards us, her left hand curled around the baseball bat. Timmy squeezes his eyes shut. A steam of brown urine runs down his left leg. Why are his legs bare? I didn’t dress him. I didn’t even dress him. Jill raises the baseball bat. Timmy. Timmy. Timmy.

                ‘Wait!’ I mumble, the words sticking to the back of my throat. The women can barely hear me. My mouth is still full of black treacle. I swallow it back, feel the bile rising in my throat and force that down too. I didn’t think there was anything left in my stomach.

‘You’ve got two minutes Tilly.’  

‘I’ll do it.’ I say  ‘It should be someone who… someone who loves him.’ I reach for the bat and Jill hands it to me it wordlessly. Somebody whimpers. It could be mum or Timmy. I can’t look at either of them right now. If I do- I know my resolve will break. ‘Let’s go to the woods. It shouldn’t happen here.’ The women glace at the dilapidated shacks. Jill gives a stiff nod, and we start walking.

                When we reach the edge of the tree line Timmy collapses. I pick him up carry him the last few steps, barely noticing as his piss soaks through my clothes. His little hands are clinging to the back of my neck. I wonder if this is the last time I will feel his heat and weight against my own body. No. No. No.

I set Timmy down, and he slides from my arms without a struggle. Jill stands next to me, her eyes narrowed, ready to take on the job if I show a moment’s hesitation. The rest of the women are at a respectful distance. Timmy takes one last look at the sky. I raise the bat. It connects with the side of Jill’s face with a sound like breaking egg shells. She lets out an inhuman grunt and slumps to the ground, dazed. My hands reach for Timmy and I haul him to his feet.

‘Run Timmy.’

                We are running. Tree’s rush past us in a blur. The confused shouts of the women become fainter and fainter. My breath is ice. I can hear footsteps behind us. Deer? No. Only two footfalls.

‘Timmy! Matilda! Come back!’ Timmy has stopped. I whirl round and reach for his arm. It’s my mother. Our mother.

‘Come on Timmy.’ We lurch forward. I am sure we’re running even faster now, but mum is gaining on us. She’s so close now I can hear her breath going in and out. Then her breathing grows quieter. I risk one last look round and see her standing motionless, shoulders shaking, surrounded by soft green light.

‘Run!’ she shrieks, all the coldness gone from her voice. ‘Don’t look back! Just keep running.’

My vision clouds over with sweat. I try to brush it out of my eyes with my free hand but it just keeps coming. When we’ve eventually stopped for breath I realize I’m crying.

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The Stench (short story) Part Three

As I walk through the tangled, sprawling mass of houses the women eye me reproachfully, their pupils like lumps of hard, cold flint. Anna Smith clings to her mother’s brown skirts, eyes wide, thumb jammed in her mouth.  Her dad was supposed to be one of the last men to go rabid. I suppose Anna must have gone funny in the head after she watched him turn into a Lurker. Cynthia Dunst says Anna’s just simple, but I don’t believe her. Simple girls never last long.

                I reach the well, unravel the rope and drop the bucket in. It takes both hands to pull it back up again, so I’m completely defenceless when someone comes up behind me and wraps her arms around my waist.

                ‘Hi Mattie’ says Cynthia, her breath tickling my ear. I’m so stunned the rope slithers out of my hands, and it the bucket drops to the bottom of the well with a huge splash.

‘Shit.’ Her laughter is horribly high pitched. ‘That’s not funny Cynthia.’

‘Yes it is.’ She says, absentmindedly wrapping a strand of light blonde hair around her finger. Her lips form a perfect bow.

‘I’m serious. The other villagers will kill me if they find out I lost that bucket.’

‘Just get another.’

‘I can’t just get another.’

‘Why not?’ asks Cynthia, her eyebrows raised in mock innocence.

‘Because not everyone’s got as many supplies as your mum.’

                ‘Maybe this should make up for it.’

Cynthia reaches into the cotton bag she’s been carrying and pulls something out. It’s a tin. At first I think it must be something processed like soup, or if I’m really lucky, tuna. Then I read the label.

‘Black treacle!’

‘Yep.’ Says Cynthia, and for the first time since we’ve met her smile seems genuine.

‘But… but… where did you get it?’

She raises one long white finger and brushes it against my lips. I shiver, not really sure how to feel.

‘Shhh… Just don’t ask about that. Ok.’


Cynthia takes my hand and drags me to an old barn. We used to use it for food storage, but fights broke out over who had taken what, and when part of the roof fell in nobody bothered to replace it. I look up at the bare rafters and the pillars they are connected too, imagining I am inside the skeleton of a giant beast. We sit down on the floor, breathless, not even caring if our clothes get dusty. Cynthia passes me the tin along with an old metal spoon.

‘Wait!’ she says ‘When did you last have something sweet?’ I shake my head.

‘Can’t remember.’

‘Go slowly then. It’d be such a waste if you threw it all up.’

I dip my spoon in, and watch hypnotised as the sticky black goo runs off it and back in the tin. For a moment it’s all gone- Timmy, the deer, Cynthia, mum- everything. The first mouthful is wonderful, but after that it starts to taste a little too sweet. The sticky, syrupy mess coats my teeth, clamping my jaw shut. I swallow nervously. Cynthia is staring at me.

‘Aren’t you having some?’

‘Yes.’ She makes a show of searching her pockets. ‘Oh. But I’ve forgotten my other spoon. You’re going to have to feed me.’

‘Feed you? Look, there’s no way I’m-‘

‘Feed me.’ Cynthia says with more force, blue eyes narrowed, eyebrows arched, just daring me to challenge her.  A creaking sound comes from the ceiling and I tense up, wondering if the whole roof will cave in and squash us both flat. I suppose that’s part of the appeal for Cynthia.

‘Jesus… okay then.’ I dip the spoon in.

‘No. Not like that. With your finger.’

‘With my…’

I’m not sure if I’m excited or just plain uncomfortable. I sigh. I suppose she did give me the treacle. I dip my finger into the tin, wincing as it gets engulfed by sticky black syrup. Cynthia’s tongue is rough and wet, like the tongue of the pet cat we had when I was very small. I close my eyes and try to pretend that it is the cat, not Cynthia, who is licking the treacle off my finger. Her shallow, rapid breathing could easily be mistaken for purring. Then Cynthia leans in to kiss me.

                I stay exactly where I am, eyes open, too shocked to push her away or kiss back. Cynthia eases her tongue into my mouth and my stomach lurches horribly. The kiss gets deeper. Her fingers clamp round my wrist, firmly guiding my hand to Cynthia’s left breast.

‘No. No not that.’ I say, pushing her away from me with as much force as I can muster.

For some reason I keep picturing Cathy Green’s face. Do I like Cathy? I didn’t think I liked any of the women. Cynthia has landed in the dust on her backside. For a moment she looks completely stunned, then she blinks and becomes herself again.

‘Oh come on. You know you want to.’ Her voice is smooth and cutting, like a slither of broken glass. One of her hands is in my hair, the other on my thigh.

‘No!’ I shout, starting to back away from her.

‘But everyone in the village wants to!’ Cynthia wines.

                I look at her properly. Her curly blonde hair is dishevelled, her pink lips form an ugly pout and her blue eyes are just a little too wide and watery. She blinks rapidly- fighting back tears. Suddenly I am completely and utterly repulsed.

‘I don’t want to! Jesus what… what’s wrong with you? Just get away from me!’

‘But I gave you the treacle. I let you have as much as you liked.’

‘I’m not like your mother Cynthia! I don’t fuck anyone who’ll have me just to get my hands on the best supplies!’

Cynthia’s jaw drops. A single tear spills over her long black lashes and forms a pale line down her cheek. I’ve gone too far. I know I shouldn’t have said that, but the thought of her touching me again makes me shudder with revulsion.

‘Sorry. I’m Sorry.’ I mutter, patting her blonde curly head awkwardly. I’m almost at the entrance to the barn when Cynthia calls me back.

‘Matilda? How olds your brother?’

‘None of your business.’ I say, wincing at the slight tremor in my voice.

‘He must be at least eleven now… maybe older. It won’t be much longer before he starts to get… vulnerable…’

‘You leave him alone.’

‘Has he experienced any fever lately? Any tendencies towards… violence.’

I picture my brothers tiny, heart shaped face. I can’t imagine him going rabid. He’s never been violent towards anyone. Suddenly I’m standing next to Cynthia and my pocket knife is three inches from her throat. My hand is shaking. She doesn’t even flinch.

‘You lay one finger on my brother, and I’ll kill you. I’ll leave your body in the woods for the rabid men. They’ll pull out your intestines and munch on your pretty blue eyes.’

I lurch backwards, panting, the pocket knife slipping out of my clammy hands.

‘Oh. I won’t hurt your brother. But I can’t vouch for the other women.’

                My head is spinning. I can’t kill everyone in the shanty town. I don’t think I could even kill Cynthia if it came down to it. She’s won. She knows she’s won. I unbutton my shirt and pull it over my head.  Cynthia looks at my naked breasts for a moment, the expression on her face completely unreadable.

‘You idiot. You think I want you now? After what you’ve said to me?’


‘Go home Mattie. Go home and finish your brother before somebody else does. As long as he’s alive we’re all in danger.’

                I leave the barn. The wind tears at my skin and I realise I’m still naked from the waist up, my shirt bunched up in one hand. I walk past row after row of dilapidated shacks, almost bumping into them in the fading light. Timmy. Timmy. Timmy. I reach home and pull back the strip of congregated iron. It’s completely dark inside. Mum and Timmy must have already gone to sleep. I put my top on for warmth and lay down next to them, glad it’s too dark to see their faces properly. Part of me wonders if I should wake mum up and tell her what happened, but I feel sick with shame when I think of what I said to Cynthia. That bitch. That slimy, wheedling, manipulative bitch. I rub at my mouth with my sweaty hands, wanting to wash away every trace of her kiss. 

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