Halloween Haunts: Short Stories, Long Journeys – Halloween Lights
by Anna Taborska
Halloween has been lucky for me as a writer. The first story of mine ever published was a Halloween-themed story, and it came out in time for Halloween.
When an author publishes a novel through a publisher, they usually sign away their rights for many years, sometimes indefinitely – if they’re not careful. This is generally not the case with short stories, where a publisher might ask for first rights to a book for a year after publication or perhaps even ask for non-exclusive rights to a story. Thus short stories (and the rights to them) often keep coming back to an author – rather like horses returning to their stable. So it is that a short story might have more adventures than a novel, and it might even generate a little bit of income for its creator several times – sometimes more for a reprint than when it originally came out. Some short stories have more lives than a black cat on Halloween.
Which brings me back to my first published short story, Halloween Lights, which I’m delighted to share with you below. Despite being written back in 2009, it hasn’t had many adventures, but it has done a little “travelling”. It was conceived in the UK, born in the US, crossed The Pond to the UK, went halfway around the world to Australia to be featured in the Nocturnal Transmissions podcast by Kristin Holland, only to end up back in the US, with you – at the Horror Writers Association.
Perhaps atypically for a short story, which traditionally tended to start out in print (perhaps in a magazine or an anthology) and got put online later, Halloween Lights was written for The Horror Zine (created by Jeani Rector), and featured in the October 2009 issue of the ezine. When Jeani Rector published her first anthology, And Now the Nightmare Begins: The Horror Zine, Halloween Lights came out in print.
In 2010 I read that Jean Goldstrom of Whortleberry Press was looking for Halloween stories, so I sent Halloween Lights along and it was published in the anthology Halloween Dances with the Dead.
Three years later, I had written enough short stories for a book, and my late friend Charles Black, creator of the Black Books of Horror series, published my debut collection, For Those Who Dream Monsters, through his UK-based publishing house Mortbury Press. I was very fortunate to have met fellow Black Book author Reggie Oliver, who was also a talented illustrator and very kindly offered to illustrate For Those Who Dream Monsters, including of course Halloween Lights.
Reggie did a wonderful illustration for Halloween Lights: a man’s hands on a steering-wheel and his eyes in the rear-view mirror. There was just one problem: the steering was on the British side of the car – on the right – but the story was set in the US, and the 69 Chevy convertible in the story needed to be a left-hand drive. Undeterred and ever patient, Reggie ingeniously flipped the illustration right to left, and the steering-wheel was now on the left-hand side of the car, perfect and ready to drive on the right-hand side of the road. To date, nobody has commented on the fact that the protagonist of Halloween Lights is wearing his wrist-watch on his right hand.
For Those Who Dream Monsters, with Reggie’s stunning illustrations, came out in 2013. Date of publication: October 31st, of course.
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Anna Taborska is giving away a copy of For Those Who Dream Monsters. Comment below or email email@example.com with the subject title HH Contest Entry for a chance to win.
Anna Taborska is a filmmaker and horror writer. She was born in London and studied Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, before being awarded a scholarship to study directing and screenwriting at the Polish National Film School. Anna has written and directed two short fiction films, two documentaries and an award-winning TV drama, and worked on over twenty other film and television productions, including the BBC series Auschwitz: The Nazis and ‘The Final Solution’ (PBS title: Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State). Anna’s debut short story collection, For Those who Dream Monsters, published by Mortbury Press in 2013, won the Dracula Society’s Children of the Night Award and was nominated for a British Fantasy Award. Anna is a Bram Stoker Award nominee, and author of the feline-themed micro-collection Shadowcats. Her latest collection of novelettes and short stories, Bloody Britain, is out now from Shadow Publishing.
What are you afraid of? What are you haunted by?
What waits for you in the dark?
Face your fears and embark on a journey to the dark side of the human condition. Defy the demons that prey on you and the cruel twists of fate that destroy what you hold most dear.
A sadistic baker, a psychopathic physics professor, wolves, werewolves, cannibals, Nazis, devils, serial killers, ghosts and other monsters will haunt you long after you finish reading
FOR THOSE WHO DREAM MONSTERS
18 tales from the abyss.
With chilling illustrations by Reggie Oliver.
Available now from
Watch the book trailer here.
Read an excerpt from For Those Who Dream Monsters by Anna Taborska below or listen on Nocturnal Transmissions:
Where am I? The dark road, the bushes and trees on either side, shrouded in mist, all look the same. I strain my eyes, searching the night for something familiar – something I can grasp. Then the road bends slightly, dips a little, and that’s when I see the light. It has a warm, orange glow and I know that I must reach it. If I reach the light, everything will be fine.
I stagger through the mist, trying to remember what happened. A cold wind tugs at the branches of the trees and scatters the autumn leaves. I sense movement behind me and spin round, but see nothing. I hurry towards the light, confused as it fragments into a thousand glimmering specks, dancing on the horizon.
How long have I been walking? The leaves crunch beneath my feet as I hasten along the side of the road. Then a twig snaps behind me. I stop abruptly and hear a leaf rustle before silence falls. I look round. Is that a shadow, a darker shade of black against the night? I step up my pace, desperate now to reach the light.
Walking, I hear sounds behind me. When I stop, they stop. When I move on, they start up again. I hurry forward, sure I feel eyes burning into my back.
I break into a run, not slowing until I reach the edge of town. As I head towards the houses, I see the source of the points of light. Not what I expected. They shimmer in a hundred carved pumpkins, orange teeth casting strange dark shapes on the wood of porches and the grey wetness of paving-stone.
The shadow behind me forgotten, I wonder at the intricate forms of dark and light dancing before my eyes. Not sure now which way to go – like a moth that believes itself soaring towards the moon, only to find itself trapped in a house full of dusty light bulbs. I pause a while, unsure what to do next.
I cringe as a shriek pierces the night and footsteps grow and echo in my ears. Excited voices are coming closer. I cower behind a tree, uncertain. The trick-or-treaters pass and I breathe easy.
I move on and hear that crunch of trampled leaves behind me. The shadow – how could I have forgotten the shadow? I scour the street and think I see movement in the bushes to the right. I move off fast.
More youths approach. I look for somewhere to hide, but it’s too late. They’re upon me, laughing and shouting. “Nice costume!” I lower my eyes and keep moving. They pass by, staring.
From all around, the twinkling lights distract me once more and my mind wanders. I can’t remember how I got here. I recall walking along the side of the road, with trees and bushes on either side. I close my eyes for a moment and try to see with my mind’s eye. Glimpses of road, of trees and bushes, but they rush by so quickly – I’m not walking, I’m driving. Of course – my car. The 69 Chevy convertible that I lovingly restored with my own hands, smoothing every screw, every piece of metal into its rightful place. It took me five years of weekends to turn the rusted hulk into a thing of beauty – its Cerulean blue and white more worthy of an angel than of an ungainly, un-special man like me.
Where is my car? Now I remember: I had to leave my car behind. So that’s what I’m doing – I’m looking for a phone to get some help out to my car. My cell phone is gone; I must have lost it getting out of the Chevy. I can’t remember. I must focus. I can’t be standing here in the middle of the road.
A scream brings me out of my reverie and I look down at a whimpering child dressed as a ghost, its face as pale as the sheet that’s draped over its body. It drops the plastic jack-o’-lantern it is carrying and wails at me, its body trembling. I reach down to comfort it, but the child’s mother pulls it away, cursing me loudly.
Two teenage boys and a girl run past. The girl is wearing small, red devil’s horns. She reminds me of someone – someone I loved or love still, someone I should remember. Broken images of a woman’s smile form in my mind; of bright green eyes and a wisp of dark blonde hear blowing in the wind as fields and trees stream by behind her. I struggle to put the shattered pieces together, but the boys’ shouting dispels the fledgling vision and plastic severed limbs are waved in front of my face before the teens disappear down a side street.
What am I doing? A cat hisses at me from across the street and I move on. Where am I going? Ah yes, I am going to find a house – so many to choose from – and ring a doorbell. And then what? I’m ringing a doorbell, but the sound of movement inside makes me panic. I can’t remember what it was that I wanted.
I run behind the house and listen as the homeowner looks up and down the street and says “Hello?… Anybody there?” before going back in and locking the door. I grasp desperately at bits of thoughts; I search my mind for what I’m meant to be doing, for where I’m meant to be, but all around me the lights flicker and purr, and pumpkin eyes are mesmerising, disorientating. Where am I?
I remember – my car. I need to call a garage to get my Chevy off the side of the road and get it fixed so that I can drive to the girl with the dark blonde hair and green eyes… Alice. Alice is waiting for me at her parents’ house. We are supposed to see a double bill at the local cinema: Halloween and Friday the Thirteenth. Or is it The Evil Dead and The Fog?
I struggle with the mist that’s rising before me, getting into my eyes and obscuring the lights. What am I doing? Focus… oh yes. I need to find a house and ring a doorbell. I need to phone a garage and get the Chevy fixed so I can take Alice to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Or is it The Exorcist?
I concentrate hard and push the mist away. I walk to the house with the largest number of pumpkins lining the steps. Here the mist is weakest – the lights are fighting it, keeping it at bay. I ring the doorbell.
The woman’s smile fades; she looks startled. But then she smiles again. “Your costume,” she tells me, “it’s very… gruesome… And aren’t you a little old to be trick or treating?”
I open my mouth to speak, but I forget what it is that I want to say. I rack my brain… Alice… Alice… the woman turns away. A tear runs down my cheek.
The woman returns, holding a box of chocolates. I can’t recall. I raise my hand, pleading for patience, pleading for her to wait while I remember, pleading for help.
The woman’s face changes. “What’s that smell?” A distressed grimace distorts her mouth. The box slips from her hand and chocolates fall in all directions. She is staring at my extended hand. And then she starts to scream.
I follow the woman’s gaze. My hand has burst into flames – orange and yellow – licking up my arm. I look down at my body. I am a mass of open wounds and charred flesh. Still I burn.
The mist thickens before my eyes until I no longer see the screaming woman. A wind starts to blow, whipping the mist into a spinning, howling vortex. Cold arms envelop me, holding me steady, strangely soothing against my burning skin. The shadow is whispering in my ear, telling me not to scream, telling me that nerve endings have burnt away and it doesn’t really hurt. “Hush now. It won’t be much longer.”
I hurtle through the mist. The wind howls a crescendo and stops suddenly. There is a jolt. My muscles spasm – like that second between sleeping and waking, when you think you’ve been falling, but when you finally crash it’s into your own soft, familiar bed, and you never really fell at all. The mist clears. For the briefest moment all is still, and then the burning begins again.
I’m in my Chevy, speared to my seat by blackened metal. My hand burns on the steering-wheel, my body burns in my seat. My world is flame. I open my mouth to scream, but the shadow’s words resound in my ears. I look up and see it watching me through the windscreen. Behind it there is light. Not the distracting orange glow that led me astray, but brilliant white light. Light that I long for more than anything in the world… anything except perhaps… Alice…