The Cave

We used to make our way to the river when we were young. Grabbing mother’s keys while she slow-cooked the lamb stew. Running through the cracks of the suburbs we would hold our conversation until we arrived at our destination. Strumming our fingers over the bricks and railings. Other kids used to be so harsh, throwing berries as we would run past their houses. All those houses were brought down in the nineties. Snapping our swords from the trees we swiped and chopped our way to the river. He would scream “Excalibur!” and raise his sword in triumph, slashing the nettles in delight. He would scream so much I had to grab him. Hold him close to me tighter and tighter. Squeezing until all the noise bubbled away. I was his medicine for the blues. We carried on walking beside the river, kicking pebbles from the side. Sometimes he would talk about how the other kids called him names when I wasn’t around. I pushed my sword as deep as it would go into the murky mud in the river, churning up my face with thoughts on those kids. I would tell him to do the same. He gave a gap toothed smile and his eyes glinted. It was the glint of ice-cream sundaes and that first peel of the Christmas wrapping around his presents. 

We had found a possible new base. A small cave beside a stream. We had spent several hours following the rocks and unknown signs. Holding our shoes up as we let the water lap at our ankles. Stevie wanted to catch a crayfish with a loose netting he had stolen from his neighbours shed and a sharpened stick. Excalibur. We stood on either side of the entrance, ears cupped to make us hear better. A tapping came from the darkness, perhaps water dripping over the ground. Then a scraping and clicking sound appeared.

‘It’s a crayfish.’ Stevie said, raising his spear. He threw the net over to me. I clutched it eagerly.

‘What if it’s something bigger?’ I had asked, knowing that we would just run away. Sometimes I worried that Stevie could not understand the dangers we were always scorned about at school. I felt a fear he would be too brave.

We twisted to the entrance and was blinded by a growing light coming towards us. Stevie dropped the spear infront of me. Frozen. I raised my hand to block out the light.

Children, do not be alarmed. A voice called out strangely clear. Yet I could not hear it through my ears. It spoke over the world. The whistling of branches in the wind, the water passing down the stream, they all drifted away. It reminded me of the headphones I would use at night. I would press the padding over my ears and all sound would disappear until I pressed play.

I shouted to Stevie but he could not hear me. I could not hear my own voice.

Stay still darlings, I will not harm you.

Light fading, I caught the shape of the thing the voice belonged to. A long one-armed creature loosely made of what seemed to be fish bones and jelly-like flesh. Translucent skin stretched smooth over the angular face. Long mouth with small black pebble eyes. It stretched out from the cave. It’s long jutting nose aiming towards Stevie.

I couldn’t move my body. Other kids would have ran away. Wailing in terror that the creatures they saw on late night television were real. I was just numb to it all. Distant to my own body. The creature was almost atop Stevie now.

‘Wh-what are you?’ I asked, barely loud enough for myself to hear.

It turned slowly to face me, shark-like nose almost stroking Stevie’s frozen cheek. It’s face seemed circular with lips so thin like a line cut through clay. Yet behind those lips, like a kid ashamed to show their braces when speaking, it hid its teeth. 

God. It replied. Placing the white webbed fingers around Stevie’s skull; it spoke to him and him alone. 

little-black-horn-v1

 

A woman struggles to hide the truth from a creature she believes to be her lover; a man journeys to Southern Italy in search of a witch; a child makes a pact with a voice he hears at the bottom of his garden.

From adult fairy-tales to suburban horror; dark intentions seep through this collection of tales from the imagination of Harley Holland.

Available now on Amazon and Kindle.

Purple Haze (Extract)

pppp
Licking the cigarette paper before twirling it tight around the weed and tobacco, Jamie contemplated multiple decisions. Summers unbearable length was coming to a stark ending and he still had no idea where Sasha had disappeared. Spread out on the deck chair in the shabby grass of his back garden, charcoal hood lifted up over his head. Sparks and the glow of embers reflected in his eyes, sucking in, he let his mind wander. Tapping it, the ash floated down onto the ground.

‘I’ve made so many mistakes recently Sasha,’ Jamie spoke into the darkness. Taking another drag, he packed it into his lungs. Hanging over the void of no reply. The tree’s rustled and melted together between half-closed eyes. Releasing, he let the smoke crawl out of his mouth.
Feeling light but
Shackled to the chair. Expanding with each breath, rising up. Floating down. ‘No-one knows a single thing. I should have come back that night you rang.’ Jamie felt his most comfortable away from people; he couldn’t help but live a lie in front of them. Closing himself off, eyelids tightly shut.

Three quarters through, he rolled the roach back and forth. A weight pressed onto his shoulders. Tar smeared the back of his throat. Teeth clenched tight. ‘You found me.’ He said, smiling. A single tear escaping as the wind ruffled through his fringe. Fingers covered his eyes. Jamie laughed without a sound, his body bobbing up and down. Slowing, the laughter scratched into a deeper melody.

‘I’m getting your fingers all wet hun.’ The heat pinched his lips. Her image trickled over the walls.

His Bed of Dirt

 

There is a man at the bottom of my garden where the trees grow low and the ground seems upturned. He is far below, buried deep, he tells me. I know he’s a man and what he says is true as I listen to him speak. I came across his humming one day while scratching lines into the mud to make small rivers for my toy figures to sink into. Mother does not let me into the house when her friend comes over. Often I find myself waiting for hours in the cold. It was a day like that did I hear the humming, pleasant at first, coming from the bottom of the garden. Crawling under the scratching twigs I saw where the melody was coming from. It felt like I had heard it in a dream. Sitting down I listened to it until I heard the back door latch unlock and my mother call out. I did this everytime I found myself out in the garden. Happy to listen to the singing come from the dirt. Sometimes the humming slowed and I found that if I stomped my feet on the ground it would pick up again. Maybe he was delighted he had company. A week later I found a small red root risen from the dirt. Flicking it out of curiosity I heard a whisper. I leaned in closer and to my surprise the root had a voice. It was like mine when I would not speak for a day. Croaky and garbled like a stone being smoothed on the road. “Hello?” I said, “Who is this?”

I am the one who hums and sings.” the root replied.

You are a funny thing. A root that sings.” I replied.

I am not a root. I am a man. The root is just a part of me now. I made it so we could talk.” For a moment I wondered just what I could ask a man who lived underground. The root curled out slowly in the breeze.

Are you still there?” He called out, still a whisper against the rustling leaves over my head. Boom. Boom. Boom. A thumping against the back doors window pane startled me. Three times she knocked against the glass – it was time for dinner.

I have to go. I’m sorry.” Rubbing the dirt from knees I heard him call out once more.

What is your name child?” I hesitated. There was power in a name. Mum had said it to her friend once, I had heard it without her knowing. Creeping down onto the stairway to listen to the music my mother was playing. I had never heard her scared before. But there was no strength in or soul being sapped from learning a name. But it felt too personal, like knowing someone’s phone number – they could call you when they wanted.

(more…)

His Bed of Dirt Extract

There is a man at the bottom of my garden where the trees grow low and the ground seems upturned. He is far below, buried deep, he tells me. I know he’s a man and what he says is true as I listen to him speak. I came across his humming one day while scratching lines into the mud to make small rivers for my toy soldiers. Mother does not let me into the house when her friend comes over. Often I find myself waiting for hours in the cold. It was a day like that did I hear the humming, pleasant at first, coming from the bottom of the garden. Crawling under the scratching twigs I saw where the melody was coming from. I didn’t have my cardigan yet the noise filled me with warmth. It felt like I had heard it in a dream. Sitting down I listened to it until I heard the back door latch unlock and my mother call out. I did this every-time I found myself out in the garden. Happy to listen to the singing come from the dirt. Sometimes the humming slowed and I found that if I stomped my feet on the ground it would pick up again. Maybe he was delighted he had company. A week later I found a small red root risen from the dirt. Flicking it out of curiosity I heard a whisper. I leaned in closer and to my surprise a voice came out from the hollow center of the red strand. It was like mine when I would not speak for a day. Croaky and garbled like a stone being smoothed on the road. “Hello?” I said, “Who is this?”. “I am the one who hums and sings.” the root replied. “You are a funny thing. A root that sings.” I replied. He laughed. “I am not a root. I am a man. The root is just a part of me now. I made it so we could talk.”

Sad Violins (Extract)

violin animation

 

Retreating to his music room, giddy in excitement, Alwin knew the realities of his talent-less body. What was once a room to practice, had become a private concert between him and Sofia. He would linger there for hours, bringing all work to this room when she rehearsed. It wasn’t just listening to the high craft of a genius, watching her playing – with such devotion and peace – let him forget his troubles. Being in her presence eased the pain that he could never replicate such delights.

Resting the case on the wooden table, he unclipped it and took hold of the violin. Light as a birds bone, he eased the chin rest into place. Plucking the strings lightly while twisting the pegs, Alwin was amazed that it was all in correct tune. Taking hold of the bow, he eased his mind to recall the month he spent on the violin as a child. His clunky fingers held down on the neck ready for the bow string. Old Joe Clark. At fifteen, his mother had gifted him a violin for his birthday. Sat on the long windowsill to his room, he cracked his knuckles and twisted the digits, letting sandwiches harden out on the table untouched. The hum of Old Joe Clark still remained in his adult self, a constant whisper. Here he was again, a man now with heavy fingers, fat and sprouting hair. Drawing the bow back and forth, he went over the tune, surprised to find how easily his fingers adjusted. He played it slow, discomforted by the lack of difficulty. Picking up the pace, he went through the repetitions, swiftly dithering his hand at the correct beat. Lost to his senses, he did not notice his fingers stretching along the neck. Finger tips along the razor wire.

He stopped. Pouring himself a celebratory glass of whisky from the cabinet. Running his finger along the spines of music books, he stopped over the violin sheet music. Shuffling through the papers, he rested on one and took position once more. Danse Macabre. Swiftly he began to play, not a touch incorrect. Raising his eyes to the ceiling, tears streaming down his cheeks. Rocking back and forth, the playful notes began to turn bitterly haunting. Fingers pushed down forcefully and switched nimbly. Frozen in ecstasy, he could feel his eyes rolling back into his skull as if possessed. Chin wet with tears, they dripped down the neck.

‘Alwin!’ Sofia screamed. Fingers froze as her presence. His soul sliding back between the familiar bones and flesh. Turning, he saw her with Stephanie, his daughter, clung to her legs. My darlings, he thought, they’re in shock at my skill.

‘Sofia, my love, did you hear? Had you been deceived in thinking I was playing a record in the music room? It is something is it not. To think, I had been so cruel on myself – too brutish in my early years, to not give myself the possibility I had potential. Will you play with me? Let Stephenie dance until ten even if it’s a school night. She can tell her teacher and classmates she danced to the music her father made.’

‘You’re bleeding Alwin.’ Sofia said, trying to comfort Stephanie with her hand.

The Witch & The Spiders Bite (Extract)

Like the veins of a leaf did the Amalfi coasts pathways twist, narrow and steep, throughout the city. Stepping down through the streets I found myself in constant awe of the sea, unmovable and ever-watching. Growing over me as the heat bore down. The pastel pink and yellow painted houses were darkened with age in this part. Cracks ran through, splitting open to reveal cement and yellowing stains. It was not far now, just a ten minute walk from the hotel. I thought back to the woman rummaging through her desk drawer when she asked for the reason of my visit. Grabbing a handful of sight-seeing pamphlets and bus schedules. The two boys playing in the sun stopped at the mention of the name. Crawling to the nearest seats to eavesdrop easier. The woman smiled politely and said she did not believe in such stories but it was wise to not talk so openly. Superstition chirps around the area like cicadas, heard but elusive to catch sight of.

They had spoke of her as Walking Weaver, or more apt the Spider Witch. A recluse, shut off in her home. She would come out to feed her minions and take word on their gossip. Ever-waiting for the news of a new-born baby. For the first night a baby would sleep alone, The Weaver would skitter over the rooftops when all was silent. Tapping on the glass to check for weary parent, she would descend. Upon morning the parents would check their child and witness a horrifying sight. Their child would lay still. Soulless.

I caught sight of The Weaver. Hobbled over the front porch of the address I had been given. Her straggly grey hair ran black at the end of the two fishtail braids. Speckled grey and black like the horses that ran across my grandfathers land. I put my hand on the cast-iron gate, unsure of how to breach this silence between strangers. Plants stretched out and tangled to form a tapestry of herbs and flowers in the front garden.

The old lady seemed oblivious to me watching. Pursed lips hidden under the furrows of her cheeks. The whites of her eyes shone out over the deep tan she must have acquired from walking outside for hours. I could hear her muttering to herself, scraping apart the remains of a fish with two forks. Digging into the skin, she tore it into smaller pieces.

She spoke louder, catching sight of me. Turning to face me she repeated her words. I froze, unable to remember any Italian I had recited before the trip. I waved my hands in the air, catching sight of the black mongrel beside the bench on the porch. Ears pricked, awaiting a command. I stammered a phrase. Pausing to recall the word for “speak”. It was the first line I had jotted down when I had made the decision to come here. I had repeated it countless times over the flight, under hushed breath to not engage the sweating businessman beside me in conversation.

‘I speak…little. You came. For witch?’

I nodded, dropping my bag onto the ground. Rifling through the side-pockets for the travel dictionary. How could I translate what I needed to say to her. ‘I traveled far.’

‘American.’ She repeated my word, letting it linger as she recalled something. Perhaps she knew why I had ventured all this way. ‘Yankee fucks.’ She spat out, plunging the fork through the fish head. Dumping the carcass into the dish on the floor. She tapped the dish several times before making her way to the bench.

‘Scusi,’ I said, finding I had jotted it down on the front page.

Her pebble eyes seemed sharper as they looked over at me. A long drawn out cry wailed through the garden like the breaking cord of dolls voice box. Crawling through the gates and other slivers of darkness, several cats slid out towards the fish. She waved her hands at me.

‘Please, can I just speak to you-‘ I darted back as the mongrel lunged towards to the fence. The folds of its lips raised to bare its teeth. I snatched my bag and backed away. She stood on, letting her mutt end the conversation for us. I would have to return the next day.

The Stretched Lamb

Two little deer, playful and free, ran through the woods. Over thickets and between the spindle-thin trees, they dashed and hopped. Chasing one-another as the rabbits called in their children. Birds began to nestle into the trees – ever watchful for the rebellious worm to break through the ground. The warm glow of the sun slid further down their fur until a chill crept over. Only then did they notice that only their hooves crunching down on the leaves were the only sounds left in the forest. Crunch crunch crunch. The rest had gone to sleep. Ansa, the oldest, began to worry. They had strayed so far from their home. She spotted Kauko, her sibling, rustling through a large pile of leaves, ignorant of the situation. The long strip of black fur along his spine flicked up as she called him back.

The darkness began to seep in, from the trees above it finally settled all around them. Ansa knew it would take a long time to get back. Their mother had warned them of what lurked around the forest in the darkness. Not to cross the smooth stone unless she was there beside them. Kauko called her over.

Standing on the ridge of dirt, they had found it, the long black smooth stone. Stretched over the ground like the belly of a snake, it parted the way home from them. Kauko urged them to go across but her mothers words came back.

“What is wrong over there little ones.” A voice came out from across the smooth stone. Then they saw it, laid out. The lamb, it’s body stretched out long and flat. “Are you lost?” It continued. It’s voice a gurgle and hiss. Ansa stood her ground but Kauko nodded.

“It is lucky you came across me. I know where all sleep. Let me see both your faces. Come down here onto the road.”

Kauko stepped forward, almost crossing before Ansa caught him. He had already forgotten everything their mother had said. She could see the stretched lamb at greater detail now. How it lay frozen, yet under its fur, it moved. Wriggling.

“Yesss. Yes. We – I mean I, know your mother. We had met long ago.” The stretched lambs gaping mouth never seemed to move. “You are so very lucky, your home is just across this stone. We are sure she is worried for you. Just cross the stone. Come come.”

Ansa shook her head to Kauko, but he ignored. This was easier than walking back the long way. Ansa watched him step out onto the black rock, too afraid to move. The lamb made a pleased noise.

“You are doing the right thing little one.” A bright light stretched from the corner of the grove, bright and fast. “We needed a larger body to fill.” Kauko darted back but the light was too fast. Swallowing him. A deafening screech rang out. Startling Ansa, she fled back through the woods. The gurgled buzz of laughter and rumbling machinery following her.

She never saw Kauko again, nor the stretched lamb. But every now and then she would hear whisperings from the other animals. How when the night was at its darkest, it would call out to snare any unlucky creature who answered. It’s body slithered out from across the smooth stone.

A large stripe of black running down it’s wriggling back.