Horrid Spider

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2018

Me dad he said
the horrid spider
comes
and takes your head.

Me dad he told me
it spits on your lips
then the horrid spider slides
its bulb from behind,
saliva squeezing hips
tight.

Horrid spider babies feed
inside you,
masticating rot, imbibing
dead snot, loosening clots
and lots of babies are freed.
Nose bleed.

Me dad he drew
his fingers through,
smells
of day-old dew.

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No Hallows

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2014

Tonight your kids dress their hooves and yellow their eyes
like Satan, like Pagans with tridents, like sirens and fallen,
begging for chocolate from strangers and secretly
dreaming of razors or hoping for razors
and wanting a razor
in the chewy black centre
waiting to cut their teeth
tonight
before the moon wanes and the wax pools and the wick is lit
for the slippery parades, the cold-curdled festivals of light.
One more night.
And elders – elder than eighteens – wait
in exhilarating silence
for realistic blood and a knife and a violin scream
and slashers and old Hammers and things that are alive
and wings out the window and living dolls that die
and the strength of the one girl
who reds
the plastic mask man and shames his dull white.
She’ll buy it in the sequel and he’ll be gone in the morning,
climb out from under the rock.
It’s all right.
There’s no fear of damnation tonight.

Amber’s Ward

by Chris Buchanan
Flash fiction, 2010

The stockroom is faded and blurred at the edges, like her. I don’t exactly know if it’s too dark in here or if I just need to blink. I don’t want to close my eyes so I try not to think about it.

She’s just sat here, barely glancing at me but holding me still with her silent shuffling. If I could concentrate I might be able to identify the specks across her cheek. It’s either mud or blood. It’s dark and it’s dry, so I can’t say, even at this distance. She keeps scraping off the spots, usually cracking or crumbling them when her nail hits their edges. Now she has gotten better at lifting them off in one piece. Whenever she successfully pries one away, she flicks it at me and mimes chuckling. They’re on my face now, too, but I don’t mind.

I had decided the stories about the A&E at night must be an outlet for the stress the doctors go through. They call it ‘the grey lady’s ward’ sometimes. I didn’t want to think that Preston Royal was staffed by crazy people, so I made excuses for them. In some jobs, maybe you just need to believe in an afterlife. Only the doctors and nurses ever claim to see her. Never the hired help, even those who have been here longer than me. Just those people who come to work each day knowing that they might fail to save someone’s life.

But now she’s right here, with me, next to an aluminium cabinet, smiling with her head cocked. How have I never noticed her? When she smiles at me like that, I don’t know what she means by it and my feet feel light. Sometimes I twitch and she turns her face as if to laugh. Maybe she just finds me funny.

She would have caught my attention even in life. Her hair is blonde, I suppose. I might be able to tell if I could just rub the sleep from my eyes or splash some water across them. I have to wonder what all this ‘grey lady’ stuff is about; she’s wearing a football shirt and I never heard of any Newcastle player named ‘Amber’. Has nobody spent enough time in her presence to look at her back?

They’re too busy, eh. I would have made a terrible doctor. I took the time to learn her name. And I’m staying with her. They’ll just have to run their own errands tonight. This is important. I wonder what happens to her during the daytime. I’ll stay and watch. I think she wants me to stay with her.

Another dot of mud-or-blood hits me, on the nose this time, but I don’t react. She stares at me and I try to read her expression.

The dots are on her shirt, too, only visible on the white stripes. They merge into a black splash on her legs, beneath the shorts. Finally I work it out; she’s been playing football. It’s just mud. With relief I move to cradle my head in my hands. There is more of the mud on my sleeves.

Of course it’s mud. She snapped the bones playing football. That’s why she came in. That’s why they needed me to hurry down here and fetch Doctor Hay. It was an emergency. She wasn’t here and I looked in the stockroom. But I never left. I couldn’t find her and I panicked.

After a while, I relaxed. It didn’t matter. She was with me. I was too careful, too nervous to save her, but she’s here with me now. Smiling.

There is a harshness to that smile now. The more I remember, the closer her face seems to come to mine. I am reminded of how small the room is. I think I hear the studs of her boots squeak a little against the floor.

The door opens above us, momentarily stealing my attention. When I glance back, she’s gone. A nurse is here and she looks frightened by something. She must have seen Amber vanish. I hate myself for missing it and I hate the nurse for disturbing me. She has to drag me out as I scrabble and try to flick the mud onto her. I feel myself grappling against her, determined to stay here and wait. She gets me out and I am still.

I have never seen Casualty this busy. As the night ends, the corridor is full of patients, each one’s image as colourless and undefined as the girl I have been watching. Each one grey in their own way. When the nurse finally sees them she loosens her grip and stares into the corridor, unblinking. Maybe she recognises somebody too.

The ghosts are everywhere, silently shifting into the rooms and into reception. Amber is by the vending machine, giggling. I run.

Empty House

by Chris Buchanan
Flash fiction, 2012

The ghost looked more like a drawing of a woman; not a breathing body but just a collection of dry ink lines or etched cuts, setting into the walls and furniture. Everything she touched was marked with her thin, sharp lines. Everything became part of her.

The walls and the floor seemed as though they were tilting upwards, like a silent and gentle earth-quake, like someone was holding the house very carefully between finger and thumb and watching through the window. The ghost, even blacker as the light sled away from her and into the corners, the ghost stretched. The movement of what she had marked gave the illusion that she was coming to me, and a shadow made it look as though her eyes were moving.

More than anything I had ever wanted, I wanted to get out of the house. I chastised myself, the way my mother used to do, for ever wanting anything else. For ever worrying or being afraid, when this was the only moment that would actually require these emotions, these wishes. I felt as though I had nothing left now, that I had wasted my life.

The ghost seemed to shriek, like a mad animal who thought it was marking its territory. The mouth gaped unnaturally downwards as the house kept tilting. The spidery mass that looked like the trunk of her body grew longer and blacker. There was a bitter taste in the air, like rust and water.

I wanted to get out of the house. I didn’t want to believe it was real. And I wanted so badly to forget this.

The Vampire of Three Acres

by Chris Buchanan
Flash fiction, 2012

It was late September when Michael slipped away from his family’s house and ran to the woods. With cold hands in his hoodie pockets he jogged down the main road, under the watch of street lights who looked as though their thin metal poles were drooping under the weight of their orangey heads and the white-yellow fog they emitted. In minutes he reached a little turn-off with a little second-hand car in it and a little handmade sign advertising it for sale. The Three Acres wood was not accurately named, for over the years it had shrunk to accommodate more roads like this, and more cars, but it was deep enough to satisfy the strange urge that had overcome our young hero.

He had burst out of the silence of his bedroom all of a sudden, and never really had the time or interest afterwards to explain why. But at that moment he was sure that he wanted to go to the woods and be alone, and perhaps to die. He had no plans for this death, but he felt that he would have welcomed it, were it to take him, and he thought it might dwell some place dark and unfamiliar. This mood held until he was deep enough that the lamplight fully faded. There was moonlight in fits and spurts, when the pinkish, purplish clouds passing overhead were thin.

There came a point, sooner than Michael would have liked, when he found he had no direction. He was surrounded thoroughly by trees. His fingers and nose were still cold. He was growing tired. He did not know the woods’ layout but he suspected that if he went deeper he would only encounter paths, stiles, coke cans and faded crisp packets. One of the trees ahead was short and full-black. Guided by curiosity alone he strode toward it. In five paces he realised that it was not a tree and he stopped.

The vampire’s teeth were less like a serpent’s thin needle-fangs and more like sharpened tusks, like a saber-toothed tiger’s. Its mouth was wide and angular and its ears were slight and pressed-back. The skin was off in more small ways than it is worth getting into, but these accumulated into an altogether inhuman appearance. The creature, all in all, looked more like some prehistoric cousin of mankind than any vampire Michael might have imagined or seen in films or pictures, and yet without doubt he knew that a vampire is what it was. It is impossible to say what clothes the creature wore, except that they were black and still. It never spoke but it moved decisively and strangely. It met and held the young man’s eyes from somewhere in its own face, and the lips moved briefly over the teeth.

Michael became aware of the sound of a distant stream he had not noticed, and he thought it was pleasant. He mused that during the day, or alone, he would not have noticed this, or if he had he would not have enjoyed it. But it sounded lovely.

The vampire approached, now, and howled. By all reports the sound was not especially like any animal howl we know, but it was loud and shrill. Michael’s body froze. He heard his own fast breathing, too fast to let him speak, and he thought that perhaps he smelled blood.

The monster’s eyes were visible in the moment before poor Michael lost either his consciousness or his memory; it is hard to say which it was. They were brown, the eyes, like anybody’s. They were round and unremarkable, and blunk when they needed to and had lashes. Michael watched them screw up in a snarl, and he thought of the eyes of school bullies and angry parents and excited soldiers.

He thought of how angry his father would be at the next parent’s evening. He thought of the new end-of-year exam that had been established in place of the old ones, and how frightening and important the newsreader had made it sound. He wondered what he would do at the weekend and who with, and what everyone else would think of him for it. He panicked about other things that were more private and which he would not have liked to see repeated here, the thought of which made a spreading, watery heat rise up from his bottom lip to the bridge of his nose and all across his cheeks.

He felt ashamed that he couldn’t stop that heat, and he felt paralysing anger toward the vampire’s brown eyes. He wanted to shout and swear at them.

That howl again. Michael collapsed, hitting his head and landing heavily on one arm.

He awoke in a uniform-designed, antiseptic-smelling hospital; the same one where he had been born, so he was told, and where he had stayed when his ankle snapped in that rugby match the previous year. The same place where he had always been driven by some frightened or miserable adult, whenever some friend or relative had been taken ill, and usually recovered shortly after their arrival. A nurse had noticed him waking before he had seen her, and as she towered over his bed she smiled.