Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Write...Edit...Publish : Halloween Fearfest




Thinking back to childhood, long time ago now, I can’t remember any monsters…all very fuzzy…The only thing that I remember being seriously frightened of were masks - they gave me the heebie-jeebies.  The fright quotient tapered off as I grew up - I now have a corner with several of them. But I am still disturbed by the less literal masks I come across sometimes as an adult.  

Welcome to the Halloween Scarefest of Write...Edit...Publish, hosted by Denise Covey (who has just published her vampire novella! Congrats Denise!) and by murder-mystery writer Yolanda Renee.  Read the rules here and join in the Halloween fun!  We are talking about -





I also can't really recall any scary stories as a kiddie kid.  The truly, memorably disturbing books came in teenage, my very first was Rosemary’s Baby - blew my youthful self away. Sometime after that, I was given an edition of Maupassant’s Collected Short Stories, got acquainted with Le Horla.  Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey; Edgar Allan Poe.  Much of Daphne du Maurier's super-subtle tales – Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, The Birds, Don’t Look Now, Not After Midnight – became firm favourites. A lingering sense of menace in ordinary stuff has always spooked me, fascinated me more than anything else.  I loved titles like Graham Greene’s The End of the Party, Roald Dahl’s The Landlady, Stephen King’s The Road Virus Heads North….Of course, if Stephen King is mentioned then one cannot overlook The Shining. Deliciously, excruciatingly horrifying.  

King himself sums up the raison d’être for our love of scary stories  -

"If...terrible occurrences were acts of darkness they might actually be easier to cope with. But instead of being dark, they have their own brilliance…To look directly at such brilliance is to be blinded, and so we create any number of filters.  The ghost story, the horror story, the uncanny tale – all of these are such filters."

My flash here grew out of a recent news item I came across, on new mothers selling their excess milk through the internet rather than milk banks, and a fragment of an ancient epic embedded into every Indian child. Reading and writing are certainly my own filters, I look at the hard brilliance of every fear through it, process life events big and small.


Milk. Blood. Money. 

Piyush looked down at the phone, there was no mistake.  He had come to the right address, only it looked like no-one lived here.  Beyond the wrought iron gates, the garden was overgrown, the windows were shut and dusty with the accumulated dust of many weeks.  He hesitated before he unlatched the creaky gate and pushed in.    It felt lame not to try the front door once.

But the door jerked open before he reached.  He stopped, unnerved by the suddenness and the appearance of the woman standing in the frame.  She looked older than he had expected, light eyes with narrow pupils, flecked with blood-red, deep burning embers in large sockets; the bones of her face altogether too prominent, the brow jutting, the cheekbone too high and gaunt for beauty, the chin and jaw square, forbidding. Piyush felt exposed under her steady gaze.  A sudden qualm, a stabbing regret that he had not turned back when he had the chance. 

The hallway was surprisingly clean after the grounds, the sitting room orderly, no traces of dirt or neglect here. His shoulders unclenched in stages of relief, the level of his own stress dawning on him for the first time. The past few weeks had been tumultuous – the chaos of his emotions, the household in sudden confusion.  He had come upon this advert on the web – the sales pitch factual, crisply effective, an emotionally supercharged product sold in two or three lines of text. He had not thought much about the ins and outs of the matter and called. Formula did not make for happiness. That was a given.

“I’d like the checks as –,”

“Yes, of course,” she did not let him finish. “Wait here.” 

The room was sparsely furnished, a sofa and a couple of armchairs, a small table, a narrow, long ottoman against the far wall opposite the door, no curtains on the large windows. No knick-knacks, no china, not even a table lamp anywhere.  Above the ottoman was the sole concession to décor - a set of masks. 

They were not the usual tribal or theatrical masks, things of ceremonial dances and flamboyant colours.  His brain registered what his eyes were seeing with a tiny, shocked lag.  They were replicas of infants’ faces.  Seven masks made in the likeness of human babies.  Perfect in every detail from the strawberry marks on the forehead of one to the suckling blister in the upper lip of another.  Something strangely repulsive about each, less than cherubic, the eyes - were they glass? -  looked horribly old, the skin had crinkled in crow’s feet around them, the expression desperate and knowing at the same time, disquietingly tired somehow; they looked like old men, parched and papery - some trick of the light and glass.  And was there a faint resemblance somewhere, the same strong squarish line of jaw, the same thrust of the forehead? Or was that too, a trick of the light? Piyush was rooted to the spot, mesmerised, a sudden sharp unease clutching again at his midriff.

As he watched, the insides of the cases slowly began to blur, much like a snow globe gently shaken.  A flurry of flesh coloured fragments swirled around, faster and faster, and he realised with increasing horror that there was something liquid in there, the masks had been pickled. In a few seconds the cases were obscured, the masks appeared to be disintegrating in front of his eyes.  It seemed to Piyush that he had stood here forever watching these fragments of tissues whirling around.  By and by the bits gradually slowed down and reconfigured behind the glass of each case.  To a place and time that seemed disconnected with every realm of possibility.

A riverbank, on the distant horizon a low flat pink palace, a dust-coloured oblong blob marking an ancient city.  The water muddy and wide, silky-slow, its edge crowded with a thick fringe of reeds beyond the ghat. A woman with a mewling bundle on the last step thrusting it into the waters where it kicked and thrashed feebly and then went still.  She took out a sharp ornamental knife and carefully cut around, then peeled off something and threw the bundle back into the waters.  The cloth fell away and finally exposed the flayed faces of the infants, seven drowned newborns in seven cases; pink raw flesh smeared horribly with blood that swirled in the water and clouded up the glass, dissolved everything inside into a terrifying, obscene red haze.  His gasp was choked in his throat, he swayed on his feet, sick. 

“Here's the milk, and the reports.  No HIV, no drugs or booze.  I like to keep things…clean.”

She had come back silently while his back was turned to the door.  The knot between his shoulder-blades was immeasurably tighter, sweat was trickling into his eyes, he could hardly see. He tried to calm down, blink away the sweat and surreal scene from his eyes. His nausea threatened to spiral into terror.

He paid the exact amount, he did not want to linger for the change.  Weird now, this transaction, the notes crisp in his hands -  money for human milk.  He shot a glance at the cases again, the masks were back in place, impassive, still, the glass clean. As if nothing had happened. He thrust his right hand into his pocket and wiped the clamminess out.  But the tremors he could not wipe away, his skin that prickled into goose-bumps. To his relief, the woman did not offer her hand. 

The distance between the front door and road was covered in a few huge strides. As he turned the corner, he fought to bring his panic under control.  He dumped the pouches in a waste-bin a few streets away and stumbled on, his vision clouded with a red streamer slowly dissolving in a muddy river; his hands still unsteady as though they would never again shake their tremor off.




WC – 994

FCA



A few words here about the Mahabharata - which is an Indian epic written some 2-3000 years ago, rather an involved and complicated story of dynastic struggle for power.  Somewhere in the beginning there is this tale of a king falling desperately in love with a beautiful woman.  She agrees to marry him on the condition that he will never question anything she does.  And then she proceeds to drown their sons as soon as they are born. Kind of like Moses's story in reverse. Seven times she kills the newborn princes, the eighth time the king reaches the end of his tether and asks her why, so she lets the prince live but leaves her husband because he had broken his vow.  



ghat - paved steps on a riverbank leading down to the water.





28.10.2015.







45 comments:

  1. What a truly gruesome story, brilliant really, and so on the level of a Stephen King story!!!! And so odd as I recently wrote a short story where the MC donates breast milk for those mothers who can't. But in my story, she didn't kill the child that brought it to her bosom. Very frightening indeed to think someone could make a living that way.
    An excellent contribution, Nila, truly!
    Happy Halloween!

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    1. Almost forgot! Thanks for participating in the WEP Halloween Challenge! You rock!

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    2. Of course the majority would be donating/selling to help people in dire need and without affecting their own babies. The article I read had one mother saying she didn't care what happened to it afterwards, and some of the uses breastmilk is put to are strange to say the least...it just got me thinking...what if... :)

      Thanks for co-hosting Yolanda. Enjoy WEP immensely, always have..

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  2. OMG Nilanjana! What an horrific story, beautifully written. The measures some people could go to to sell a product! I love how you introduce Piyush, and the details of the room and the river beyond. Those masks recalled that hideous scene in Apocalypse Now when Sheen arrives at his destination to find the dead hanging from trees all around him. Chilling! I like the way the pace changes too. Really moved the story and the tension along.

    Thank you for participating in WEP for the October Halloween challenge! Denise :-)

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  3. Ha Ha, Yolanda and I must have been typing away at the same time! :-)

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    1. Thanks for hosting and creating this space Denise, as I said WEP is special...motherhood is always portrayed as benevolent and unconditionally loving and so on, and mostly it is in real life...but it can go wrong in fiction with terrible and creepy consequences...perfect for Halloween :)

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  4. Oh my. An all too believable nastiness. I wonder too, what would have happend if Piyush had not dumped that milk. Some things cost too much.

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    1. Oh yeah, they do indeed. I think you have provided me with the germ of another creepy flash..... :)

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  5. Deliciously creepy! I'm so glad he dumped the milk. Who knows what would happen to his kid. This really gets my creepy vote.

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    1. I'd stick to formula any day if I were him :) thanks for the vote!

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  6. Gruesome! The tension here actually made me feel weird. I was expecting the woman to do something to the man, but I'm glad he trashed that tainted milk! Very cool, creepy story! I'm going to have to look into this Mahabharata story.. I've never heard of it, sounds interesting!

    You also list a bunch of authors I need to check out, thanks!

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    1. The Mahabharata is a very interesting book indeed, part of the Hindu scriptures, an epic written in 18 chapters, very long, more than ten times the length of Iliad and Odyssey. Tough job to read in the original but there are excellent abridged versions available. Penguin has one, I know. .

      The man got away, she would have done something no doubt had he not rushed off. :)

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  7. Oh wow, that's so creepy! I bet he couldn't wait to get out of there.

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  8. Very well written. I am left with questions about the reason for the mutilation of the infants, a creepy ritual? And the woman who answers the door, I hope it was not her milk. I am glad he threw it out but feel somehow now he is cursed as well.

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    1. It indeed was her milk, and he probably is cursed now :~)

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  9. Gruesome is right, and the milk she offers is the side effect of having the infants. .wow, the special effects of the swirling flesh almost as if that was all that was left after water predators took the remains. This is definitely a haunting memory, Nila. Very well done.

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    1. Have to keep having babies if a living is to be made from selling breastmilk :)..seriously though, it's pretty costly at the banks, that's why there's an unregulated market...

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  10. Well now, I am totally creeped out and as others have said, well done. You should think about putting together a collection of these stories.
    Nancy

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  11. Gruesome. The contrast between the baby theme and the horror theme adds depth to the story.

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  12. Puts a whole new light to the saying: LET THE BUYER BEWARE. This was chillingly gruesome. Great job. Thanks for the kind words about my story. :-)

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  13. Thank youz! @ Nancy, Olga n Roland.

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  14. I agree, the less literal masks we come across can be much more frightening. Also a great quote by King!

    Your story seriously gave me chills. The uneasiness of the opening, the dissipating tension and then the sudden jerk into the realm of full-blown horror. Amazing stuff.

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    1. King is truly King of horror, he nails it like no-one else.

      Glad you liked the story. Thanks for being here.

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  15. That is one spooky story. Petrified/shrunken baby heads? Ooooo. I liked learning about the source for the story. Personally I think the king was better off without his murdering wife.

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    1. Kings never know when they are better off, do they? :-)

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  16. This is the first story that I know of that crosses the natural wholesome healthiness of milk with the dastardly evilness of the macabre.
    GOT MILK? I think that the house described could easily be one of the haunted houses at a theme park, like Busch Gardens or Universal Studios. It was so creepy that I had to go take a shower after I read it. :)

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    1. 'Shower' and the word 'macabre' close together will always make me think of Psycho :) Glad you liked the dose of creepy. Thanks.

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  17. love not restrained
    no questions be ask
    I'll take you love
    and give none back


    Not a wife I'd want for me

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    1. It was all pre-ordained and she was a goddess in disguise releasing cursed demigods from their sentence on earth as humans...very complicated and no story without her and the king. :-) not a wife I'd recommend for any normal man or king :)

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  18. Whoa, that was next level horrific,with disturbing imagery that leaves a mark long after the last line. The Shining still creeps me out. Every. Damn. Time.

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    1. Reading that book is enough to creep me completely, haven't got around to watch the film yet :) thanks for the visit.

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  19. Something so nurturing as breast milk for babies made in to a horror story - creepy stuff. Well written, always enjoy your writing.

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  20. Yep, Rosemary's Baby is up there with Carrie for going beyond my limit of entertainment. Saw both once. Never again, ever.

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    1. I haven't watched the film yet, the book's enough! Thanks for visiting.

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  21. A morbid and compelling story based on an equally morbid and compelling one! What a treat and what a shocker. Thanks.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the kind words.

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  22. This is fantastically creepy!
    Really great job on the gruesome description of seven masks that morph into 'pickled' infant faces... *shudders*
    I echo C.Lee's words above - a SHOCKING treat!

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  23. What a great, positively magnificent story. I could not stop reading. It did a fabulous job of stirring my horrific Halloween fright. Delectable job. I am so glad I stopped by here. Yours is going to be one of the winners, I'm sure. Brilliant.

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  24. Congratulations on winning the ENCOURAGEMENT AWARD for the WEPFF challenge!
    I loved your entry.

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  25. Congratulations. Very well deserved. I look forward to reading your next submission.

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  26. Whoa?! I mean thank you! @ Michelle n Feather Wow!

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  27. Wonderful work! I enjoyed this piece.

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