Get yourself in the Halloween spirit – read these chilling extracts from our favourite spine-tingling stories.
When Margaret returned to the cottage she saw that her father and stepmother had retired to bed, though it was not yet night.
She put Esmerelda in a chair and the child settled down to sleep as she sang softly to her. The light in the room was made strange by the dark sky and glittering snow. The quiet of the house seemed to swell with each passing second. Margaret sat upon the settle and took up the workbasket and began to mend her father’s shirt. It was torn under the arm and this she made good before turning it over to inspect it for other signs of wear. She froze at what she saw, for there on the chest where it lay over his heart she found a small puncture hole, the edges of which were stained in a halo of what must be dried blood. She gasped to see this for to her mind such a wound was unlikely to strike the same place twice.
A chill crept over her flesh and looking up she saw that the sun was at the lowest point in the sky and shadows filled the room. Then while she looked about her she saw a movement in the darkest corner of the room that she likened to a moving cloth, such as a woman’s cloak, for there was a sort of fluttering wavelike movement to it. Never had she perceived the like before and there was nothing in the room to cast such a shadow.
She kept to her place too terrified to move or make a sound, then just at the moment when she had made up her mind to gather Esmerelda in her arms and flee the house, she heard a step upon the stair and there was the sailor’s eldest daughter, dressed in her shift and a wrap, her cheeks aglow, her eyes bright and her lips red and wet and swollen.
‘Bring me cheese,’ she said, ‘and bread and wine.’
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from Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray:
His cry echoed in the empty shed, his breath coming out in puffs of white. Dieter thought about London: he thought of the broken buildings and the cracks, he thought of the wide spaces and the rubble, and he thought of all those adventures he was missing. He gazed up at the dust dancing and the cobwebs pulsing, and Dieter heard a noise.
‘Pop!’ it said. Then,‘Pap!’
There were sparks and a shimmer that had to settle. Then, by the window and the filthy crates, there was a boy’s face.
The face was moving as if the boy was already standing up, but there was no body beneath it.
The Cheshire Cat, Dieter thought, as the face moved towards him. He gripped his pa’s crisp shirt tight, he stopped breathing, but he was determined that this time he wouldn’t run away.
The face was making a strange noise, as if tiny wings were fluttering in its throat. Dieter felt the balloon’s skin crackle beneath him; there was electricity: a crackle beneath his bottom and a crackle in the air.
He’s not a duppy, Cyn, Dieter thought, he won’t hurt me.
‘I – I brought you this shirt, these trousers,’ Dieter said. ‘I thought you’d be cold.’
Then Dieter wondered how the boy could use the shirt if he didn’t have a body.
A hot breeze of golden sparks cut through the freezing air and suddenly the boy was all there: his chest, his arms and legs, his neck and around that a silver collar. The boy shook himself and stretched up: Dieter had never seen anyone so naked, not even himself. The boy walked from those filthy storage chests and it was soundless, but Dieter watched the pit–pat, pit–pat of his footprints in the dust. Pit–pat, pit–pat; like steps in the sand and no one there.
The boy was thin. He was small, but Dieter couldn’t tell how old he was.
The boy hunched over and bent into a squat. His arms dropped, hands palm–up and circling in the dust like little fish. The golden sparks were gone and Dieter saw the boy was pale for all his blackness.
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From Masque by Bethany Pope:
It was my job to see that she was properly dressed for company, to escort her to the room to meet her lover and the other admiring gentlemen, and then to change the subject any way I could when her natural whimsy took a turn for the disgusting as it often might.
One night, while De Changy was speaking to his managers (this was, you remember, two sets of managers back) she started speaking to a tall, nearly skeletal man who had appeared, dressed in a cloak and dinner jacket, a fine fedora aslant, shadowing a face as bland and unlined as a new-born baby’s. Her laughter had grown its most dangerous edge, the short hairs on my neck, cheeks, and arms rose in fear. La Sorelli was sweet, and she had a good heart, but her tongue could suddenly become impolitic and there were many investors present there this evening.
Annie and the stranger were standing at the point where the glorious stairs that make the Palais Garner famous intersect and form an enormous marble Y, glittering in the light refracted in a thousand tear-shaped crystals that drip from the tremendous chandeliers and gaslight torches. Whoever he was, he stood terribly erect, his gloved hands hidden behind his narrow waist, clutching a fine ebony stick. My friend, who I was meant to be watching, was sloppily drunk, spreading her barely covered breasts against the wide, pink-veined bannister. I could not read his face as he looked at her, his features were oddly stiff, expressionless, but the arch of his body signalled contempt. I rushed to her side, a quickly as I could, pleased that my new silk shoes did not slap against the carved stone stairs, pleased that I did not slip and crack my skull against the pavement…
Bonus: download Jaki McCarrick’s short story, ‘Blood’, for free!
Shabby academic Fred Plunkett, working alone in his aunt’s Victorian house, has his peace disturbed by a sleek intruder with matt red lipstick, a lampblack dress and high, plastic heels. Lara claims to be researching vampires and the theory that Dracula fled his native Transylvania to take refuge in the Cooley Mountains of Ireland, in Fred’s home town. But when she smiles, submerged thoughts of blood and desire begin to wake in Fred’s mind…
‘Blood’ is one of nineteen stories in Jaki McCarrick’s critically acclaimed short story collection, The Scattering, available from the Seren website: £8.99