So happy to WELCOME BACK Author Michael Bray today and hear all bout his latest endeavor into the realm of horror! It's a frightfully fun anthology called (appropriately enough) Funhouse.
Here is some info. on Michael and Funhouse and then we will have an excerpt from one story as well as a full short story on another (very generous of Michael)!
About Michael Bray
Michael Bray is a Horror author based in Leeds, England. Influenced from an early age by the suspense horror of authors such as Stephen King, and the trashy pulp TV shows like Tales From The Crypt & The Twilight Zone, he started to work on his own fiction, and spent many years developing his style. In May 2012, he signed a deal with the highly reputable Dark Hall Press to print and distribute his collection of interlinked short stories titled Dark Corners, which was released in September 2012. His second release was a Novella titled MEAT which was initially self-published before being picked up by J. Ellington Ashton Press. His first full length novel, a supernatural horror titled Whisper was initially self-published, and following great critical acclaim, sold to Horrific Tales publishing where it went on to reach as high as #3 in the amazon paid best sellers list.
EXCERPT - CANDYLAND
“So, what ya think of Candyland?” Clayton asked.
“It’s different to what I’m used to.”
“You from the city?”
“We manage to avoid all the troubles of the wider world here in Candyland. Nobody really notices us out 'ere on our slice of the world.”
“You must have some kind of trade though, right?”
Clayton glared, and again, Norton saw that little flicker of pure rage bubbling beneath the surface.
“Actually, ma family have worked 'ard to make sure Candyland remains entirely self-sufficient. We look after our own, and are quite happy for the world to go on without knowing we exist.”
Nobody knows I’m here.
It was the first time such a thought had entered Norton’s head, and the reason for it was simple.
Clayton Candy scared him.
As a physical presence, he wasn’t in the least bit intimidated, but there was something about him that was making the hairs on the back of Norton’s neck stand up as they picked their way through the crowd. He no longer wanted to speak to Clayton, and with Christine’s words still fresh, he turned to Herb.
“Mind if I ask what happened?”
Herb opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Clayton interjected.
“Ol' Herb 'ere had a nasty fall around twenty years back. Broke his spine in three places.”
Norton looked at Clayton, searching his face for any hint of a lie.
“Can't Herb speak for himself?”
“Oh he can, but he doesn’t like to say much these days. Do ya Herb?”
“No, Mr Candy sir.” Herb said, looking at Norton with such desperation, that he decided not to push the subject.
The trio walked back past the barbecue, which despite everything still smelled as good as ever. Norton could see the blue paintwork of the caddy, glittering in the sunlight, and his mood lifted at the thought of leaving such a backwards little town behind.
Norton’s Cadillac was exactly where he had left it, except now it was without wheels. They had all been removed, and the car was propped up on bricks.
“God damn it! God damn kids!” Clayton raged, looking into the throng of people at the fete.
“Messin’ with our guests like this, wait till I get my hands on the little bastards…”
For all of Clayton’s flapping and making a show of his dissatisfaction, Norton was more interested in Herb’s reaction.
Unlike Clayton, he didn’t seem in the least bit surprised.
For the next few hours, Clayton made a song and dance about trying to find out who had removed Norton’s wheels. He stalked around the fete, asking questions, and demanding answers. Norton was certain that the entire performance was for his benefit. He leaned against his car, watching Clayton stalk around the fete, and keeping a watchful eye on the sun as it started to get lower in the sky.
He looked at Herb.
At first, he didn’t respond. He simply sat in his wheelchair, chewing at his filthy, overgrown thumbnail. Just when Norton thought that he had only imagined Herb speak, the old man looked at him, his eyes wide and frightened.
“This is how it always goes.”
“How what goes?”
“'Ere in Candyland. It always works like this.”
“What is it Herb? Tell me what to do and I can help you.”
The old man smiled without humour and shook his head.
“Ain’t nobody 'ere who can help you, me or anyone else.”
“As soon as I get back on the road, I’ll come back. I’ll bring help.”
“You don’t get it do ya son?” Herb said as he held Norton’s gaze. “You ain’t never getting outta Candyland now.”
FULL SHORT STORY -THE BOY WHO SAW SPIDERS
The party on Pointer Street was where Andy had planned to tell Jenny how he felt, and perhaps take the next step in their relationship. But now, any idea of such things had evaporated, disappeared into the ether as he sat and tried to come to terms with the situation. He tried to regain focus, but it was no good.
All he could think about were the spiders.
When he arrived at the party that night, he was just like everybody else. An average, run of the mill student who didn’t really excel at anything in particular, and had made an academic career of remaining almost completely anonymous. However, none of that mattered. Not anymore. He chewed at his bottom lip, scratched at his greasy mop of brown hair, and tried to make sense of it all. He was perched on the end of the sofa, his beer long forgotten and clutched in his hand, as he watched the spiders scurrying over the carpet and skittering across the walls with horrible, jerky urgency. They were far too numerous to even attempt trying to count. The big ones were hanging back in the corners, peering out from the dark places and watching, their smaller, olive-sized cousins were bolder, and exploring the room as if the throng of people were nothing more than enormous lumbering obstacles.
He took a slow, dazed look around the room and wondered why nobody else was making a fuss. He would have expected screams or panicked yelps of disgust, but with sick realisation, he understood why.
Only he could see them.
He reflexively curled his toes as one darted past his shoe and into Melissa Freese’s Handbag. Melissa didn’t notice, she was too busy jawing with that smart mouthed, pig faced friend of hers — Alison something-or-other — who was blathering on and on about some personal injustice that had conflicted with her narrow minded view of the world. He looked to his left. On the opposite side of the sofa, Jonny Marshall, and whichever unfortunate girl’s face he was chewing off, were slobbering as they groped at each other and tongue wrestled in the way that horny teens did.
One thing for certain was that the pair hadn’t noticed the spiders either – even the one that was working its way into Jonny's ear, its thin legs kicking and scrabbling for purchase as it delved deeper. Completely oblivious, Jonny and his date continued swapping spit and feeling each other up. Andy half wanted to warn him, but Jonny was a jock, and more than that, he was an arrogant, bullying son of a bitch who was at his happiest making the less gifted, less attractive, less ‘Jonny’ type kids’ lives miserable.
Let it burrow.
He saw a flicker of movement, whipped his head around just in time to see it, and immediately wished he hadn’t. He watched as a plump, ugly looking funnel web spider darted into an open pack of Cheetos that were on the table. Once again, he had half an urge to call out and tell someone, but held his silence. Other than Jenny, he didn’t really care for anyone at the party anyway, and none of them were people who he could actually call friends. They were just acquaintances, some of which he barely knew. So he swallowed his words and watched in morbid fascination as
Chip Denning — who if rumor was to be believed, preferred boys to girls and had a homophobe of a brother who would break your teeth if you ever asked about it — picked up a handful of the cheesy snack. Andy saw the plump spider wriggling as Chip shoved the snacks, spider, and all, into his mouth and crunched down, then turned back to his conversation.
Andy’s stomach quivered a little, and he suddenly wanted to run away from both spiders and classmates alike, but he knew he would never be able to pluck up the courage. He was also sure that if he tried, his legs would refuse to cooperate, and he would be left standing like an idiot frozen to the spot.
And they would know.
The spiders that only he could see.
He became conscious of the fact that he was holding his breath, and let it out slowly. His eyes flicked to the door, the thought of escape still lingering in his mind, but even if he could move, what he saw made the point moot, as that route was already being cut off.
Hundreds — no, thousands of the spiders were constructing an intricate web which covered the entire doorway.
The scale of it was too much to bear, and he forced himself to turn away. His stomach lurched, and he let out a shallow, booze-flavored belch. It was only then that he noticed the bottle of Budweiser still clutched in his fist, and he took a long, grateful swig, just about managing to keep his trembling hand steady enough to get the bottle to his lips. It was warm and flat, but made him feel better nonetheless.
Still the party went on.
Still the spiders scurried.
Dale Thompson crossed the room, standing in front of Andy with a distracted, uncomfortable look on his acne-ravaged face.
“Hey Andy, you drinking that or what?” Thompson said pointing to the bottle clutched in Andy’s hand.
“Uh...Yeah. No... I don’t think so.” Andy replied, unable to rationalise his thoughts.
“Mind if I have it?”
“No, go ahead.” Andy mumbled, handing Dale the barely touched, too warm beverage.
“Thanks. Take it easy Andy.”
“Yeah. You too.” He said as he watched Dale swagger away.
Dale’s T-shirt was swarming with hundreds of spiders, crawling over and under each other as they explored their host’s portly frame.
How could he not have noticed? Andy wondered, and as he considered the question, that little voice — the one that went so often ignored – popped up in his mind.
Dale can’t see them because they aren’t there. Not really. But you already know that, don’t you?
The thought sparked another question, which presented itself in his inner monologue with much less subtlety.
Am I insane?
He considered the question. He was nineteen. Reasonably intelligent, no history of mental-health problems. In fact, life had been pretty uneventful until he arrived at the party that night. But no matter how he tried to spin it, there was no explanation for them.
They were now everywhere, swarming out from behind furniture, and covering almost every wall and surface.
He glanced at Andrea Gill, she who had cheated in last month’s chemistry exam by reading his answers. He had let her, because he didn’t care. He was going places, and regardless of her cheating ways, the Andrea Gill’s of the world were destined to become single parents, welfare scrounging fuck-up losers for life.
He watched in fascination as a fat house spider with disproportionately long, spindly legs scurried up her body, finally coming to rest in her hair. One thin black leg clung onto her cheek as the spider paused above her ear.
Andrea carried on talking to her friends, none of them spotting the new addition to the party.
He thought to himself as he looked at the table full of half-eaten buffet food, now pulsing and flexing with a life of its own as the arachnid mass explored the fleshy sandwiches and small containers of dips and breadsticks.
He supposed that the little voice in his head might be right. He could well have lost the plot, gone mad, bought himself a ticket to the funny farm, lost a few vital sandwiches out of the picnic basket. Because the world ticked on as normal, but for him, it was filled with spiders.
Spiders here, spiders there, spiders everywhere.
He felt a shrill, giddy laugh begin to move up to his throat, and he knew that if he let it out they would hear, and like the words smallest army they would come for him. He knew it as a certainty.
The laugh was close now, and he lifted a clenched fist to his mouth and bit down hard enough to draw a little blood and make his eyes water. The pain didn’t bother him though, in fact, he welcomed it, because the laugh had gone, and the status quo was maintained.
He started to relax, and then drew a sharp breath.
There was one of them perched on his knee.
He looked at it, too afraid to swat it away, and
the spider looked back. He could feel its glassy multi eyed stare boring into him, and could do no more than wait to see what would happen.
It was as if time had stopped, and even though the party and its oblivious guests went on with the business of drinking, pairing off and trying to boost their popularity, his world was no more than the small square of denim on his left knee.
The spider skittered forwards, just a few inches, but it was enough to make Andy try to push himself back into the sofa. He was going to scream. He knew it and knew there was no way that he would be able to stop it this time. When it came, he knew he would be gone — his mind broken as he fell into the black hole of perpetual insanity – but at the last second, the spider changed direction and ran instead off his leg and down out of sight into the dark place between the seat cushions.
He felt sick and saw small white spots dancing in front of his eyes. He was going to faint, and knew he couldn’t allow it to happen, because if he did they would come for him.
A short, shrill, cackle which went unheard amid the thumping bass and the constant stream of party chatter. Yes, he was sure of it. Something in his brain was defective. Something had broken, and now he could see them everywhere. He imagined how his life would be; living in his own personal world filled with spiders.
He heard a groan. Jonny’s date had come up for air, and when she smiled, thousands of tiny newborn spiders streamed out of her mouth and nose, covering her face and neck as they looked for dark places to shelter.
The terror bubbling in Andy’s guts told him that his brain was on the verge of shutting up shop and refusing to play ball, and so he closed his eyes, trying to regain a little composure and maybe bring himself under a modicum of control, but even that was no good.
Because even with his eyes closed he could still see them, cast in stark white negative on the blank canvas of his mind’s eye. He blinked away the image and found that his reality was only marginally better than the squirming, scurrying mass that lived in his brain.
He glanced towards the corner of the room, and when he saw it — saw her, he felt something break, a sharp click as whatever small thread had been connecting him to his sanity snapped.
Jenny was slumped in the corner.
The girl he had known since they were four-year-old neighbors.
Jenny who had always seen him as more of a friend than the more serious thing that he one day hoped they would become.
Jenny who had brought him to the party, even though it was a place where a quiet, reserved kid like him wouldn’t have otherwise been invited.
However, all of that was before the spiders.
Her petite frame was swollen, chin resting on her chest. As he watched and his broken mind processed what was in front of him, he knew without doubt that he was irreversibly damaged.
He could see them moving under her skin, making it ripple and pulse, and bizarrely reminding him of childhood trips to the coast and the way the tides ebbed and flowed as they crept up the beach. They were streaming out of her nose and ears, and as he watched, her mouth slowly opened and a huge, thick-limbed monster of a spider pushed its way out. Andy had seen them on T.V.
He was sure that’s what they were called.
The huge spider dragged its immense body out of her gaping mouth, and flopped down on to her chest where it stood in splayed legged triumph. Andy was beyond screaming, beyond anything other than looking on with a sick and twisted fascination.
She’s the queen, and Jenny was her nest.
The thought danced, darted and spun in Andy’s mind, and when he couldn’t make any rational sense out of it, it danced and spun some more. He wanted to ask what it wanted. Why him? What did he ever do to deserve this?
But he couldn’t move, and his mouth remained tightly closed as still more of them came – a never-ending procession from every conceivable place in the room.
His skin itched, and his stomach danced as he tried to put the situation into some kind of order. But his brain wasn’t cut out for dealing with such horror, and so it had decided to leave Andy to his own devices.
He saw Jenny move, and for a moment, there was hope, hope that she was ok, hope that he could get her out of there and maybe then she would look at him in the same way he looked at her.
But it wasn’t Jenny that was moving, not really.
It was the spiders.
The spiders in their Jenny skin that were going about their business and making her loll and dance like a macabre marionette.
Spiders Spiders Spiders
He would do anything. Anything to avoid having to watch the jerky, skittish way that they moved in that horrible, stop start motion. Anything to avoid having to watch the spider filled Jenny puppet that pulsed and rippled along to the bass line of the party.
You know what it’s going to take. You know what you have to do.
The voice in his head whispered, and he did. As terrifying as the thought was, it was the only way. He lurched out of his seat with a defiant roar and did it before he could change his mind.
His scream brought the party to a halt. The music cut out and his fellow classmates, students, friends, and those that he was indifferent to were looking at him. He could feel their judging gaze, and found a bitter irony that for the first time in his life, he wasn’t an anonymous face. He was finally the center of attention.
The silence was broken by a single high-pitched scream. He thought it might have been Andrea Gill — she of the over the shoulder wandering eye on test days, but couldn’t be sure. Whoever it was; they set off a chain reaction, and the silence morphed into chaos.
Andy simply stood where he was and smiled. Because although the sounds of the screams were loud, at least they were natural. They were normal, everyday things that he could rationalise and make sense of.
He thought that the world made more sense when it was rational. And he thought that he would be just fine now that it was done. He began to laugh, a sound rich and hearty and full, because he had won.
The chaos was a thick, heavy thing and seemed to hang in the air like a physical entity. Yet, amid the confusion, he heard several distinct things.
Someone shouting for help.
Someone else repeating ‘oh god, oh god, oh god’ like it was some kind of bizarre mantra.
Someone quite close to him, crying.
He thought it might have been Jenny, and hoped that it was, because that would mean he had saved her. He would have looked for himself, but he had already torn out his own eyes.
He continued to laugh as the sound of police sirens drew close.