Authors: K.C. Finn
A Horror Collection
K. C. Finn
Copyright © 2014 Kimberley Finn
All rights reserved.
This collection is for Toni Lesatz, who first encouraged me to enter the bizarre and challenging world of horror fiction, and for Amy Freeman: the original Halloween Queen.
With your kind permission, I should like to tingle your spine…
This book is a collection of my darkest short tales, written between February and September of 2014. Within these pages, you will find horror, thriller and suspense stories, most with supernatural twists and unpleasant endings. I’m also very excited to be able to share with you two exclusive preview chapters from my full-length horror works, due for release in 2015.
I almost turned back at the sight before me, my briefcase threatening to slip out between my wet fingers as I paused in the downpour. He was sitting on a bench, his hands and chin leaning on the hook of his wrapped-up umbrella, letting the rain soak through his skin. I knew it was him; no-one in their right mind would be out braving a storm of this calibre, unless they had a purpose. I had a purpose. And it was right in front of me.
When Shirley at the tower first told me about the Maybe Man, she had told me that he was handsome. Now, as I approached him, I caught sight of his thin blonde hair slapped wet against his slim skull, cheekbones jutting sharply like they were ready to burst through his delicate skin. He had a hooked nose that was sneering down at the pavement; drops of rainwater leapt to their doom from its tip as regular as the dripping of a faulty tap. He was deathly still. He was interesting.
But handsome? I wrote myself a mental post-it to tell Shirley to have her eyes checked at the next company medical. Shirley was getting on: greying hair, menopausal, constant hot flushes of late. She had clearly lost touch with what the standard of handsome was nowadays. But she had spoken of the Maybe Man like he could do anything, with a fervour so strong I couldn’t deny my interest when she offered me his number.
The Maybe Man was my chance to be the next big thing. The Old National hadn’t had a real scoop for months, reporting on celebrities doing minor drugs and filling its pages and blog sites with top ten lists, movie reviews and other worthless fluff. We needed a break,
needed a break, and he was my pathway to getting it. Shirley had done it a few months ago and now she was heading up the whole sports department, picked out above all the obvious male choices because of that one story, the golden carrot she had dangled in front of the higher ups. She was drinking at the Ice Bar every night in celebration now.
After much persuasion, she’d let her secret slip, just for me. She said she did it because I was handsome. Now, seeing her other usage of the word, I felt my confidence shaken just a tad. I ought to have been a god compared to the skinny thing I was approaching on the dark, wet street. He hadn’t looked up yet; his small eyes were cast into shadow by the dimming street lamp some three feet away from the bench where he sat. He must have heard me coming, my faux-leather shoes were squelching along the damp slabs, my socks filling up slowly like sinking ships. The gap closed between us more rapidly once I too was caught in the streetlight’s waning glow.
He didn’t look how I’d expected him to, but I was starting to learn that that was the way things worked in the city. The sweet little old lady who lived in the flat above me kept a bowie knife tucked away in the soft down of her feather mattress, and the tramp I’d avoided on my first day in town pulled me out of the path of a speeding motorcycle three days later. I had learned very quickly that suspicion was my ally, a lone male in a new place, fresh out of uni, struggling for success. The Maybe Man had suspicion coming off him in waves. His suit must have cost hundreds, yet here he was letting it soak like a wetsuit. I was already worrying about the state of my own bargain basement attire; his lack of shame made me feel guilty that I cared so much for my appearance in that moment.
The first impression was everything; every book about making it in the world of media had told me so. I had rehearsed very carefully what I intended to ask him for, how I would approach him, the smile I would choose to offer when he looked my way. My pace slowed as I crossed the last three footsteps to where he sat. I opened my mouth to speak.
“You’re early, Mister Allerdyce.”
He’d cut me off without so much as sparing me a glance. I stammered, not knowing how to react.
“I like a keen one,” he said.
The Maybe Man rose, hooking his umbrella over his elbow and straightening his sopping lapels. I wondered for a moment what the hell that umbrella was for if he was so happy to soak himself to the skin. He only arranged meetings in the rain: that was the condition I’d been given in the text message I’d received. Seventeen nights I had waited for the rain after that. Now that it was here, it made my bones feel empty.
A change of scenery wasn’t something I’d expected. He turned away from me, the full sight of his face still eluding me as he strolled off down the pavement. I followed quickly, my squelching step meeting his near-silent stride. As I came level with him I realised he was taller than me. At six-two, I wasn’t used to meeting men who could look down at me if they so chose. The Maybe Man didn’t choose to, he kept his head high and his thin lips tightly shut.
“Sir, about my problem,” I began, breathy with the effort of keeping up his pace.
He held up one long finger.
“All in good time.”
We walked an eon in the eerie stillness of the city, no sane person had ventured out into the torrent of water that still gushed down the street towards us. I had always despised sideways rain. The Maybe Man cowed me into silence with the promise that my problem would be discussed and I trotted beside him like a faithful pet, until he suddenly stopped outside a tower that cut a hollow shape into the night sky. I looked up at the building, wincing at the bright sight of its neon overhang. It was a giant pink heart with a white arrow shooting through it. The Maybe Man approached its front doors. I paused on the wet stoop.
“This is Dirty Weekender,” I said, pointing up at the obvious signal. “You know that, right?”
He turned his sneer on me, nose first.
“In the interest of saving time, let’s just assume I know everything, shall we?”
And I really saw his face then. His small eyes glimmered with the reflection from the hotel signage, two pink rings glowing out of their blackness, like they were targeting me. From the front his nose wasn’t quite so obtrusive; he looked better proportioned and younger than a moment ago. But his skin was impossibly pale, translucent in its wetness like pastry rolled too thin. He looked ill. And he looked impatient.
“Sorry,” I said, biting my lip in a childhood habit. “I haven’t done this kind of deal before.”
The Maybe Man broke into a smile. It grew gently in one corner of his thin lips, curving them up until the other side of his face caught wind of what was going on and slowly rose to match it. His teeth were small when they appeared and he let out a little huff of derision.
“You can’t know that,” he insisted. “You have no conception of the kind of deal you’re pursuing.”
“Shirley told me about you,” I said before he could turn away.
His tiny eyes narrowed to mere slits for a moment, lips quirked in thought.
“Hamilton?” he asked.
“That’s her,” I replied.
We were still standing on the steps of the couples’ hotel. A few moments of silence passed as the Maybe Man stared back out into the rainy street we had traversed. He laughed sharply to himself.
He swung the glass doors of the hotel open and stepped inside, leaving me to catch them before they smacked me. I scrambled after him, feeling much more helpless than a man in my position ought to. A Chinese woman sat behind a counter where a series of aids for gratification were on display. There was an extensive price list for the toys and liquids right next to the room rates. The Maybe Man perused the list in a way that made my stomach churn, but I decided against interrupting him again.
He procured a room, which I only knew by the sight of the woman handing him a key after they had exchanged words in unfathomable Chinese. It disturbed me that I didn’t know what he had asked for, but I followed him up the stairs for three flights before we emerged into a grey corridor that made me feel like I had stepped into a submarine. It was a long stretch before we reached the room, filled with more silence than I ever wanted to experience again in my whole life. He opened the silver door with a swish of the plastic key card, shifting aside for me to enter first.
It was themed space. An aquarium wall of colourful fish trickled past me on the right as I stepped inside, my pruned fingertip looking for the light switch. The bulb in the overhead lamp was tinted blue and a carpet made to resemble pink coral got trampled by my wet squelching feet. It was warm inside, at least, but more water was the last thing I needed. There were costumes hanging on the far wall beyond a shell-shaped bed, outfits for mermaids and accessories like shell-bras and a trident. My throat had run dry somewhere between the corridor and the sight of the three-pronged instrument. I found myself wondering if I could use it as a weapon against the stranger if things started going awry.
The Maybe Man closed the door behind us with a click and I felt his shadow moving behind me, to a little table and chair set painted to look like seaweed. There was a brighter lamp there that he snapped on as I turned, a white spotlight circle framing him where he sat. Something was wrong, but it took me a moment to work out what. I stared at him a good minute before the raindrops trickling down the back of my neck made me realise what I was seeing.
“So it’s true,” I said. “You can…
things.” It came out in a whisper.
He was bone dry. I stood over him, the leftover rain permeating every inch of my clothes and shoes, even my belt was contracting with cold water. But the Maybe Man, somewhere along the way, had shed the layers of liquid that he’d been coated in out on the street. Even his fair hair was totally dry and curling a little where it sat atop his head. He formed that slow grin again.
“What’s true about me is my business,” he said calmly. “I believe we’re here to discuss yours?”
The moment had come. I took a chair beside him, wringing my wet hands together and leaning them on the cheap little table. In the right light, he looked rather friendly with that smile. Strange location or not, this meeting could give me what I wanted, so long as I was clear and concise. That was something the media self-help books had told me too: clear, concise phrasing had power in it. I was ready for power.
“It’s Greg, isn’t it?” the Maybe Man said, cutting me off again when I had found the brink of speech.
“It is,” I answered, embarrassed by the quiver in my throat.
“And I presume that this request is career related?”
“Yes,” I said, nodding eagerly.
The Maybe Man sat back, that thin but highly amused smile back in place. He opened his hands, long fingers extending down toward the table, palms facing me.
“I’m up at Old National, the same news corp as Shirley,” I began, my sentence ending with an upward lilt, questioning without meaning to. The Maybe Man nodded, a pinnacle of politeness, and I realised my heartbeat in my ears was slowing a little. I hadn’t registered its panicked thump until now. “I write for the culture section, but I can’t catch a break with the big bosses.”
“Why is that?” the Maybe Man asked, one fair brow rising.
I smirked awkwardly. “They don’t want a homo in charge,” I admitted, “even though they wouldn’t know culture if it smacked them all into next month. I get patted on the head like a little kid with a picture for the refrigerator. ‘Nice work Greggie, now go back to writing up the 3am drag club scene’. It’s infuriating.”
The Maybe Man brought his fingertips together, leaning his nose against them. His eyes were thoughtful and narrow once more.
“You’d like some recognition? Power? Respect?”
I felt a greedy kind of grin slipping onto my face.
“All of the above,” I replied.
My dealmaker nodded, matching my expression with a wickedness of his own. I was starting to see why Shirley had told me he was handsome, there was something lurking behind his less-than-ideal features: a spark of excitement flaring in his gaze. He had charm, a kind I’d never experienced. I couldn’t find it in myself to look away from his grin.
Something had changed again. I noticed it faster this time, because the change had happened to me. I was dry too. The heaviness of my cheap soaking suit was lifted, leaving me strangely exposed, with my clothes feeling suddenly thinner. I ruffled my hair, amazed that not a drop of water remained. I wriggled my toes in my toasty warm socks, stretching the faux-leather of my stiff shoes as I shook my head at the Maybe Man.
“You can help me,” I said, breathless. “I know you can.”
“Did you believe her?” he asked, leaning forward with eyes bright. “Did you believe Shirley when she told you I could make things
“You made things happen for her,” I answered. “That was proof enough.”
A premier football player had practically landed in Shirley’s back garden, tossed out of a car with a bank book full of bribes for all the games he’d been fixing. She had collared him and grabbed the whole exclusive scoop, promising to tell it from his perspective as a helpless pawn caught up in a world he didn’t understand. The company had made millions from the revelation and Shirley had risen to the top of her chosen heap. She put it all down to luck. The Maybe Man brought her that luck.
“She didn’t tell you… anything else?” he said.