David A. Sutton’s horror and dark fantasy fiction has been published in Final Shadows, Skeleton Crew, Shadows Over Innsmouth, Best New Horror, The Mammoth Book of Zombies, The Mammoth Book of Werewolves, Beyond, The Merlin Chronicles and many other publications. He has edited a number of anthologies, including The Satyr’s Head & Other Tales of Terror, The Best Horror from Fantasy Tales, The Anthology of Fantasy & the Supernatural, Phantoms of Venice, five volumes of Dark Voices: The Pan Book of Horror and most recently, six volumes of Dark Terrors, The Gollancz Book of Horror.
David A. Sutton has been working within the fantasy and horror genre for nearly forty years. In recognition of this devotion and achievement in the field, he was awarded the British Fantasy Society Special Award in 1994. He has also won the World Fantasy Award, The International Horror Guild Award and twelve British Fantasy Awards. From producing his own small press magazine and extensive editorial and design work for the British Fantasy Society during the 1970s, he has been involved in editing and publishing numerous small press publications, including the multiple award-winning Fantasy Tales magazine. More recently he edited and produced Voices from Shadow, a small non-fiction anthology celebrating the 20th anniversary of his genre review magazine Shadow. Fiction anthologies under his editorship include, New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural (two volumes), The Satyr’s Head & Other Tales of Terror, Phantoms of Venice and, jointly edited with Stephen Jones, The Best Horror from Fantasy Tales,The Anthology of Fantasy and the Supernatural, Dark Voices: The Pan Book of Horror Stories (five volumes) and the acclaimed Dark Terrors series. His short stories have appeared in a number of periodicals and anthologies, including Skeleton Crew, Kimota, Best New Horror 2 and 7, Final Shadows, Cold Fear, Taste of Fear, Kadath, Fantasy Macabre, The Mammoth Book of Zombies, The Mammoth Book of Werewolves, The New Lovecraft Circle, Shadows Over Innsmouth and Beneath the Ground.
David A. Sutton lives in Birmingham, England.
It was perhaps the steady drone of voices that brought him out of the dream and into the nightmare.
At first there was nothing but the black frame of his unconscious mind, unaware that there were eyes to see with. The voices whispered amongst themselves quietly, but there was no discernable subject to the conversation or even anything that stood out as familiar. It didn’t seem to matter just at the moment because, he realised, this was that soft, luxurious moment just before waking from a sound and dreamy sleep on a bright, warm summer’s morning.
It was then that the first twinge of unease assailed him. Of course the voices shouldn’t have been there, but he hadn’t latched on to that strange happenstance. No, it was the summery feeling that was amiss. It shouldn’t be like that in the dead of winter. Early. The sky would be black and the ground frost-bitten. Cold air would be seeping around the encircling duvet.
He’d be warm, but the surrounding air in his bedroom somewhat chill. The central heating would not yet have re-established its dominance over the cold embrace of the small hours. Nevertheless, as these thoughts occurred to him, he wallowed in an exceptional feeling of warmth.
As he opened his eyes, a second shock came, albeit slowly. He couldn’t focus, not at all. Everything was a blur, a soft green blur. All green and hot and wet. He could feel moisture drip on his face. With this singular phenomenon came the realisation about the voices, the ones that should not have been in his bedroom this cold winter’s morning. And the green light, the warm dew on his face... It was a conspiracy of sensations that threatened him then. None of them could in a million years be real. Had he been kidnapped, he asked himself, taken away to a warm place and put in a green room? For the life of him he could not imagine any reason why he should be kidnapped. He had neither money, fame nor political stance. He hadn’t witnessed a major crime that he could think of. He certainly did not resemble anyone from High Society or the Political Arena. He was merely Richard Hawkins, bank official, of London, England.
The problem of his eyes reasserted itself into prominence in Richard’s consciousness. He did not wear spectacles, so the only reason for the blurring of his vision that he could think of was that he had been drugged. That would fit in very nicely with the kidnapping theory, thank you very much, he thought! Richard blinked a few times to test the sensation. It became just a little better; the colour, though still predominantly green was now of different hues, some darker, some lighter. And they moved, waved about. Somehow he must have been injected with a drug and whisked off somewhere. It was frightening, but the pressing problem was to regain full use of his faculties and assess his situation. He was a rational man and it was no good screaming like a demented child lost in the dark. He didn’t even know if he could scream anyway. Better to try to find out where he was and what had happened to him before doing anything rash. For all he knew there might be a gun pointed at his temple right this minute...
So? So, the next thing to try, surely, was to speak, to attract the attention of the disembodied voices he heard around him. At least some form of communication would be preferable to this half-life of colour and no images, of susurrations that couldn’t be deciphered because of their intrinsic nature. But... if there was a gun pointed at his head, maybe any sudden act - speaking included - would result in a bullet through his brain. The best plan of action, he decided, was simple: a slight movement, a stirring as though awakening from deep slumber. Surely that would not, could not, arouse violent action?
It only then occurred to Richard that if he already had his eyes open, which he was sure he did, then one of the whisperers, surely, should see he was in fact already awake, pretence was unnecessary.
. He began to panic again. There were so many unanswered questions. Most of all, what in the hell had happened to him?
'Help...' It was a quiet plea, birthed by sudden fright at his situation: the unfocused vision that disallowed the complete apprehension of his environment; the quiet talking that should not be part of waking up in his bedroom; the colours and temperature of summer and not winter.
The talking stopped, like a tape-recorder being switched off. It wasn’t a recording though, because the background sounds continued to penetrate his ears. Rustlings, the drip of water. It appeared that all these sensations were intensified in his newfound state. Maybe, after all, he was dead? This was a concept that had been there, in the back of his mind, should, of course, the subconscious be an aspect of death. Richard had to take the thought seriously, though God knows, the only apocryphal evidence available to him had been the literature he’d partaken over the years. His copious reading of the experiments of the Society for Psychical Research and its latter-day exponents and proponents. And of that, only the Near-Death Experience had ever had any real influence on his beliefs. If survival of death existed, then the NDE was clearly, to him, the most likely example of, at least, death’s early stages. And, of course, he couldn’t remember having an NDE at all. He had gone to bed as usual in his modern apartment in Pimlico, almost flattered by his latest girlfriend’s fending off of his advances.
Yes. He’d drunk too much. Alcohol had, as usual, increased his sexual appetite, but subdued the physical ability to that of a damp squib. Booze did that with total efficiency and it was better to sleep unaccompanied than sleep with a girl whilst sexually incompetent.
* * *
Richard was beginning to doze off again, the lack of stimuli available to him making him too lazy to accept wakefulness, but something nagged. It nagged more and more as he dwelt upon it. It was pain. A pain insistent and growing. He felt it in the left side of his stomach. Food poisoning? He’d eaten that Chinese takeaway last thing in the evening, to soak up the beer... However, it just did not feel like rolling, churning intestines. It felt like lacerated intestines. It became hell. His hand grabbed at his abdomen for mercy from this sudden new arrival of goading torment and his hand came away wet...
He wanted to sit up suddenly but knew that any movement now was going to be a supreme effort. The new thought had to be admitted - whatever else was going on out there in that blurred world, one thing was sure: he was seriously injured. Blood was pumping out of his belly and with it agony. He had to do something though. Didn’t the now silent whisperers realise what was going on? Why wasn’t he in a hospital being treated? It didn’t matter what had happened, although the idea that he’d been knocked down on his way to, or from, the takeaway seemed a likely scenario; except for the light and the other sensations that continued to surround him.
Then something new assailed Richard’s ears. Like rotor blades cutting through dough, almost slow and not very loud. For all the world like a helicopter landing.
'Won’t be long now son,' a disembodied voice said. 'Take it easy.'
He nearly choked on his indrawn breath. Somebody had spoken to him. Spoken with an American accent.
'What?' There. He’d finally found the courage, born out of the sick pain and fear he felt, to voice his consciousness again.
'This is Sergeant Tomelty, Frank. You remember me? Now don’t worry, you’re gonna be okay... We got that bastard VC sniper!'
'Sniper... Frank?' He asked incredulously, but before he could even contemplate anything beyond the question he was doubled in pain. The breath he’d taken in, the small movement of lungs and larynx resulted in an invisible hand kneading the gaping wound in his midriff. He groaned and almost lost consciousness, hand again reaching down for the wet flesh like a tongue constantly poking a new cavity. He could feel some sort of bandaging, but this was wholly inadequate to staunch the flow of his life’s liquor.
The languid, drawn-out slap of rotor blades against air continued to invade all other sensations as though they, above all else, were his salvation. And in a way he couldn’t apprehend, he knew that they were.
Suddenly he felt himself lifted, roughly jerked from side to side. His eyes flashed open automatically while the white fire in his gut stabbed, probed and wrenched.
He could now focus properly, but didn’t need eyes to know himself to be on a stretcher. Four men clad in military uniforms, which looked well worn and soiled, carried him. Above him a greenery of forest leaves rushed by. A face came into view, pacing him on the stretcher. 'Not long now, old buddy,' it said. The face was helmeted, dirty, and unshaven. Blood streaked a line from its left eye down to lips. 'This is the tough bit, though, Frank. Just hang on in there.' The face disappeared.
He knew that this must be Hell. He’d woken into a living nightmare. A nightmare where he was someone else, someone he did not want to be. He was somewhere that approached Hell in reality: A forest, American servicemen. His wound. Was it really Vietnam...? Suddenly more light assaulted his vision. The forest was behind them and the four men supporting Richard were running for their lives in open ground. His body was jostled, flung from side to side. The sound of the helicopter’s blades was a rhythm that made the crazy dash across uneven ground appear to be unbearably slow. Gunfire from automatic weapons spit in the air now and the bearers carried their load more erratically. A few more yards gained and he could see the ’copter. It didn’t look big enough to hold more than a couple of people, he thought amidst his torture, but was dumped into screaming unconsciousness as the soldier on his right slumped from the snip-whistle of gunfire. Red ribbons spurted from his back in several places as he dropped his hold on the stretcher, but that was all Richard saw before blackness closed his eyes and mind to the other darkness - that of his possession of another’s soul.
* * *
In a hypnagogic state he felt relief flood through him. A dream! A crazy dream, he knew it had got to be... The familiar sensations began to crowd him again. The now lovely cold air that lingered around his head and slipped uninvited under gaps between the quilt and bed. The expected darkness of this freezing winter’s morning. Bliss, he thought.
That was one of the best sensations of all, he told himself, to realise that what had been terrifyingly real was merely a nightmare. You could delight in your newfound confidence, free of night’s abysmal terrors. And in his dreamy state Richard did just that. Half awake, half asleep, contemplating the forthcoming day and dreary - but comforting! - sameness. Getting up, showering. Down to the underground for the morning crush-hour! Settling behind the bank’s desk and resolving account holders’ problems, processing forms, doing the tasks he did almost automatically...
The cold air began to liven him up, even at six o’clock. Any moment now and the radio alarm would burst into life and the animated a.m. deejay would enact his rituals after the news broadcast. A minute or two passed in this way when he began to think that perhaps his alarm wasn’t going to sing out after all. Notably, he thought, this usually happens after a Good Session. In a drunken high it was easy to scorn the radio’s infallibility to wake him up. Easy to dismiss the inexorable onslaught of the next day, so why not put paid to the alarm and yank the plug from its socket? He’d done that often enough after a binge, and not quite remembered the next day.
The silence finally ate at his thoughts, told him to be sensible; he couldn’t afford to be late for work. He had a responsible career ahead of him. Just open one eye and take a peek at the clock. If it was earlier than six, fine, have another forty, fifty or sixty winks. If, on the other hand, it was around the half dozen since midnight, he’d just have to sigh and take it like a man; and get up!
Finally he opened both eyes.
His sky was purple and there was no shadowed ceiling over his head. But he knew that he was encased in something. Perspex, a clear something through which no sound issued. In the intervening space between Richard and the puce sky several things paced. He wanted to describe those horrors to himself, those blubbering, drooling reptilian lips and sharp green eyes, narrow slits of hate. The hands that had evolved for millennia more than human hands, more dextrous in their capabilities to saw, slit and dissect what they held in them. The barbed hooks on their chests from which to hang their prey whilst the vivisection went calmly ahead. The silent, screaming human faces above the red meat that hung below. Most of all he wanted to go back to another dream, back to the torment in the Vietnamese forest if needs must.
He wondered how long it would be before his plastic box was opened. Richard screamed for his insubordinate subconscious to intervene, but for the moment it looked like it had forever on its metaphysical hands...
(C) David A Sutton
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.