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With exams over I’ve been trying to get back into writing. It feels bad knowing I’ve neglected my magnum opus for so many months so I’m trying to get back into the swing of things by writing a few shorts to warm up my creative mind. As usual, I don’t bother editing stuff that’s just meant for practice so excuse any errors you may find; it’s just a first draft.

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Sanity

He couldn’t see it, but he knew it was there. He could feel it – a warm, sticky sensation that hung thick in the air. It weighed heavily on his lungs, and even worse on his mind. It was oppressive and paranoid. It was fear.

Footsteps tapped in the background, distracting his senses. No, the sound of footsteps did not scare him. What hunted him could not be heard. It had no feet.

Trapped in a moment of respite, he tried to think of an escape but he couldn’t focus. His mind jumped from one thing to another in a frenzy of disjointed thoughts. As the panic burgeoned, he began seeing in brief flashes and blurred impressions. Each vision that appeared in his mind’s eye shook violently as it was quickly replaced by the next until he was stuck watching a cacophony of muted colours. But one thing solidified, right in the centre of his vision. The outline of a familiar man.

He muffled a scream as he opened his eyes. Without realising, he had closed them against the swirling images. He could feel the sweat on his clammy skin but it was still dark. What if it had come closer? How could he be so stupid! To close his eyes at such a dangerous turning point? Absolute stupidity.

Rising from the corner he had been crouched in, he quickly scanned his shadowy surroundings. Nothing moved but the footsteps got louder. They were approaching.

A cold shiver teased his skin and he started at the sensation. It was getting closer, but he had no escape!

The footsteps stopped and there was a metallic grind of something being slid aside. Brilliant white light poured in. Illumination, hope and salvation beckoned. The chilling sensation tingled through him again, somehow more urgent. He could see the outline of a man again. But his eyes were open!

Fear blossomed in his chest and his mind fixated on the only thing it could identify. The light. It promised escape.

He ran, full speed, towards that glorious square of hope. The man got bigger, closer, but he couldn’t stop. He was almost there.

Something crashed into him, solid and cold, stopping him dead in his tracks. Metal bars. Holding him back, keeping him away from the light. Trapping him in the room with the man. He could see the man clearly now. There was a mirror on the opposite wall showing a man behind bars in a dark padded room. It was the man that haunted him. One last burst of courage shot through him and he slammed the bars but they would not budge. Then all he could see was an explosion of colour – images and impressions flooded his mind and whispers echoed in his ears. All remaining strength in him fled, and he sank to the floor laughing.

“As you can see, the patient has lost any remnants of his sanity. His condition has progressively worsened upon arrival at the asylum, so we recommend a full lobotomy. For his own good.”

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Foreword: So I was getting bored of writing my novel and wanted to blow off some steam. Short stories are definitely not my thing. I have a huge inability to confine a story to a small word limit as I feel it restricts me too much. Worse, this is only the second time I’ve tried a horror. I don’t believe monsters and killers are scary any more so I try to focus on the psychological side a bit more. I’m not sure how it turns out, but writing this did make me feel a bit paranoid (maybe because I was writing past midnight in the dark).

Anyway, this is just a throw-away to mix up my thoughts a bit for my novel. It’s a first draft and probably doesn’t resemble what was going on in my head. I tried to avoid using character names so the reader wouldn’t have to associate with a name and would be forced to focus more on his/her own psychology rather than that of the characters. Doubtful whether it works; teasing the mind requires time – something you don’t have in a short.

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Portrait

It was the strangest crime scene he’d ever seen. There was no blood, no corpse, no apparent problem at all, and yet they had been treating the case as if it had the markings of a psychopathic serial killer.

There was a victim though – or rather, there were two, but only one was at the scene.  The other? According to the unusually calm young lady, they had been sucked into a painting, but only she had made it out. The whole case would have been ridiculous if it wasn’t for the fact that the painting did indeed feature the missing girl, sprawled across the floor in a puddle of her own blood. The detail was incredible – too accurate to be a coincidence. It was undoubtedly her, but how?

A great man had once told him that detectives were not allowed to believe in coincidences. It was a sentiment that was beginning to prove unnecessary. Police had been on the scene for two hours now and many of them were beginning to show signs of distress. Tension hung thick in the air, charging it with an electric feel, as if the slightest disturbance would cause panic to erupt.

Why were all these trained officers scared? Because the more they figured out, the more the victim’s story seemed true. She had indeed entered the abandoned manor with her friend, and forensics identified their footprints in the fine layer of dust on the wooden floorboards. They led straight up to a large, gilded painting, but only one set of prints led away. There were no signs of a struggle; the girl had just disappeared. Except, her body was in plain sight. It was in the painting.

The only witness, the young girl who had ventured into the manor with her friend, sat wrapped in a blanket on the back of one of the ambulances. He approached her, grim and sceptical.

“Tell me again,” he said gruffly to the girl. “What happened after you got … sucked into the painting?” The last part was difficult for him to add. It sounded ridiculous coming out of his mouth, but at the same time, saying it somehow made it more true.

“The painting changed,” she replied, her eyes vacant but her voice unshakably calm. “Words appeared, scribbled across the surface, and then the picture turned into a picture of me. Like a portrait, except I was screaming. I wanted to take a step back but for some reason I stepped forward, right through the painting. Next thing I knew, I was right in front of the painting again, but facing away from it, and the house looked different. There were random words all over the walls and floors like graffiti. That’s when I realised that we had been sucked into the painting – there’s no way that could have been the real world.”

“Try not to let your own ideas affect your story,” he said curtly. He was disappointed. It sounded like complete delusion, but he still couldn’t explain the painting. Why was the missing girl in it? Reluctantly, he kept probing. “So, what happened to your friend?”

The girl didn’t object to further questioning. She seemed sluggish and devoid of any strong emotions at all.

“We walked around a little, trying to figure out what was happening. That’s when the door opened and a man walked in. He had a very welcoming smile and looked very proper. We started asking him questions as he walked towards us, but then I noticed he was carrying something in his hands. A small axe.”

He felt stunned silence descend around him as everybody within earshot froze. Forensics had taken a look at the painting of the missing girl and had concluded that the wounds in the picture looked to be inflicted by a heavy bladed weapon – most likely an axe.

The tension in the air was straining and he had to do something about it. He put on his most irritable, unconcerned face and barked orders to those nearby, sending them away. Soon it was just him and the girl.

“Please, continue.”

She looked up at him with a sudden jerk, a fast movement that completely contrasted with her vacant, languid movements earlier. Instinctively, he reached for his gun, but all she did was smile at him –insane and maniacal.

“Most people think the house is haunted. They’re wrong! It’s that painting. He’s in it. He kills them. Makes them disappear. We weren’t the first. We saw corpses, graves, dismembered limbs. They’re all over the grounds, near the trees. I left my best friend in the world, while he killed her, and ran back through my portrait. I got away.”

He’d heard enough. The girl was clearly crazy but the painting needed some more investigation.

“Take the painting down, I want it back at the station so we can have some people examine it more closely.”

As people hastened to obey, he heard a commotion. Rushing to the scene, he found himself skirting the trees near the entrance. A circle had formed around something, and he had to shove through to see what they’d found. It was a pale, lifeless arm, reaching up through the dirt where the dogs had been sniffing. Some officers were still digging, and they unearthed more and more body parts.

He needed to see that painting again. As he rushed into the atrium, he found himself already considering burning it. Goosebumps rose on his flesh and an incessant chill teased his skin. It was a feeling of danger.

There were men removing it from its hooks now. It was a large piece of work and the gilded frame made it very heavy. As he watched them take it down, he thought he saw movement near one of the windows in the painting. A man shaped shadow, observing. Cursing to hide his surprise, he waved the men off, yelling at them to load it into his truck. They hastened to obey, not even questioning his irrational agitation.

He looked at the wall one last time, now naked without the painting. There was a square of lighter, dust free wallpaper where the painting had been. The edges continued down in what he had first thought to be a purely aesthetic pattern, but with the painting removed, it looked a bit like a door. Could there really be somebody inside? A smiling axe murderer? He approached the wall cautiously, and touched the line. I was too perfect, too fine. There was barely a gap and no hinges in sight. He tried shoving at the square but it didn’t budge. Never mind, he was just being paranoid.

Thoughts, questions and answers chased each other around his head chaotically as he walked back to his truck. Try as he might, his logical deductions all carried an undertone of fear. He knew he couldn’t explain it but he kept trying. He clambered into the driver’s seat, feeling irrationally nervous and breaking into cold sweat. Finding an answer was so important to him because he didn’t want to accept the truth. That there was a killer somewhere, and he was most likely here, right behind him in the back seat.

He couldn’t let that thought go. Reaching up, he adjusted the rear view mirror to get a look at the painting. Within that gilded, square frame, his face stared back at him. Screaming. His name was scratched all over it along with the word “Portrait”.

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