October Writing Challenge: The Shrieking Stream

Every month I ask my Facebook author page followers to give me writing prompts. It can be anything from a visual prompt, to a song title or lyric, overheard conversation, a piece of flash fiction, or a poem. This month however, I have taken my prompt from suggestions made by some of the young people who attend my writing clubs. A few weeks ago I gave them a challenge. They were given lots of words and had to make creepy story titles from them. ‘Ancient Stream Drowns Shrieking Person’ really caught my imagination! I should add, that I normally post my writing prompt challenges at the end of the month, and this post should have been about creepy book recommendations. However, I still have two books to read that I want to mention, so I decided to do the posts the other way around. Therefore, next week, please expect a book recommendation post and for today, here is my October writing challenge response. This was supposed to be flash fiction, but as you can see, it grew and grew! Tell me what you think. It’s a first draft, so needs a little work at some point!

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

The Shrieking Stream

Of all the haunted places that fill this green and quiet county, The Shrieking Stream is next on my list and as luck will have it, I arrive in its vicinity the day before All Hallows Eve. If that isn’t perfect, I don’t know what is.

I pull up outside The Green Gate Inn in the tiny village of Brackenhurst at midday and I am shown to my room by the elderly proprietor Mrs Pence. She is a thin grey-haired lady, slightly stooped and with an air of distain about her. She welcomes me, of course, and smiles patiently as I explain that her B&B has come highly recommended by some backpacking friends of mine. She shows me my room which is situated on the third floor of the eighteenth-century inn she runs with her husband and informs me that lunch will be served in the dining room at one o’clock sharp. I thank her and say I will be glad to have some. It has been a long journey and it won’t take me long to unpack and get settled. She smiles her thin smile, while her eyes remain as cold as the pale October day beyond the windows.

Once alone, I unpack my two bags. One, a simple backpack contains enough clothes and toiletries to last two days and two nights, which is how long I have booked the room for, and the second, a suitcase on wheels, contains my recording equipment and laptop. I unpack this first and spread it out across the neat wooden desk that is tucked under one of the tiny windows. A quick glance at the street below confirms my first thoughts on arrival; Brackenhurst is one of those forgotten rural villages, lost in time. There is minimal traffic and the pedestrians all have a lost and lonely look about them.

This is good though. This is just what we need. I turn on my camera and microphone and start recording.

Hey there freaky folks, how are you all doing today? Well, just a quick update from me before I grab some lunch. I just arrived in the tiny village of Brackenhurst, home to The Shrieking Stream, a place supposedly so haunted by the lives it has taken over the centuries, that at night, you can hear the lost souls shrieking from under the water. Sounds spooky, right? Well, I’m here to investigate, record and share with you, my lovely followers. After lunch I’m going to try and find the stream, which is said to be quite well hidden in the local woods known as Green Gate Woods. I should also mention that the extremely ancient inn I am spending the night in is called The Green Gate and I’ve got to say, it has a sinister vibe, people. Even the landlady scared me a little bit! Just kidding. I’ll be back later to update you all and to let you know if I found the stream! Of course, to hear it scream, you’ve got to go there at night and I’m planning on doing that tomorrow, Halloween night. Okay freaky folks, thanks for following as ever. Don’t forget to like, share and subscribe and above all else, stay freaky!

I end the recording and press share. Within seconds I’ve received a barrage of likes and reactions, and a smattering of comments. My followers are desperate to see photos and videos of The Shrieking Stream and so am I.

When I finish unpacking, I grab my wallet and leave my room. I bump right into Mrs Pence and almost scream. It shocks me so much; I lean over my knees with one hand pressed to my chest. She merely steps back and observes me quizzically with her arms hanging at her sides.

‘I’m sorry,’ I sputter, although really it ought to be her apologising, after all, what was she doing right outside my door like that? ‘I didn’t see you there.’ I straighten up and offer a weak smile. ‘You scared me!’

‘I can see that,’ she replies in her soft, yet monotone voice. ‘I thought I heard voices. It is just you here? I only have a booking for one.’

‘Oh!’ I nod and wave a hand. Of course, that makes sense. She heard me chatting and thought I had a friend in there. ‘That was me talking. I was recording my podcast.’

‘Podcast?’ she repeats the word as if it offends her.

‘Yeah, you know, like videos you make and share online? I’ve got followers all over the world.’

Mrs Pence’s eyes narrow ever so slightly and I notice for the first time that they are a pale grey, almost the same shade as her wrinkled skin. She turns away from me without another word and makes her way slowly and carefully down the stairs.

I shake it off. I’m starving. I follow her down and join the other diners for lunch. There are a young couple who are obviously enjoying a romantic break together. An older man with thinning hair, dressed entirely in waterproofs, who spends the entire lunchtime poring over what look like very old maps. Two women, possibly in their fifties, who are giggling as they eat their way through large slices of cake. And me. I order a ploughman’s and when it arrives, it brings a smile to my face. A large hunk of granary bread, thick slices of dark pink ham, wedges of apple, two huge, pickled onions, some chutney, cheese and a large tomato. I eat it all and wash it down with two mugs of tea, before deciding I better get a move on.

Today’s mission is finding the stream. Tomorrow night, I will venture out after dark and record everything that happens. I return to my room for my waterproof coat and boots as it has just started to rain. In the porch, I zip up my coat and double check the map I’ve downloaded on to my phone. An exhalation of breath behind makes me jump again. I whirl around and there is an old man standing there. He is wearing loose brown slacks that wrinkle around his knees and a heavy overcoat, the colour of dark chocolate. Grubby slippers poke out from the bottoms of his trouser legs. There are several keys jangling on a lanyard he wears around his neck.

‘Going to be a downpour,’ he warns me, pointing past me to the dark skies above the village.

‘Oh, that’s okay,’ I tell him, patting my chest. ‘Got my waterproofs on.’ I hold out my phone and show him the vague map which was the best Google maps had to offer. ‘Just checking, is this is the right way to go? I’d like to explore the Green Gate Woods.’

The man does not look at the phone, instead he recoils from it as if it upsets him. He even waves a hand at it, almost knocking it from my fingers. I frown and slip it into my front pocket.

‘Long trek that way,’ he nods to the right of the inn. ‘Turn left. Cattle grid. Keep going. Road turns to mud. Another cattle grid.’ He gives a little shrug of his shoulders and exhales again as if he is finding just standing here particularly taxing. ‘Bit further on. Should see the sign on your right. You’re there.’

‘And the famous stream?’ I ask him. ‘Is that easy to find once you’re in the woods?’

The old man lowers his head like a child in trouble. He exhales once more, this time the breath filling out his cheeks and pushing out his lips as he shakes his head once. He slips his hands into his pockets, shakes his head again and then very slowly, turns away from me and shuffles back towards the dining room.

What the hell? I smile though. That’s one for the podcast later! There are a lot of ‘characters’ here, that’s for sure. I get going. The skies have darkened and as I step outside, I am pelted with light rain. I pull up my hood and walk right, following the narrow road away from the inn. He was right about it being a long trek. I walk for half an hour before I see a crossroads and can turn left, as he advised.

On the way I pass old fashioned shops that are crammed together as if they are huddling against the weather. If buildings could have faces, these would all look like that old man, I decide. They would all be sighing and looking down in a weary, fatalistic manner. I make myself smile imagining the shops with eyebrows above their small windows, and downturned moustaches above their front doors. There is a dressmaker, a bakery, a grocery, a post office, a pet shop, a butchers, a toy shop, a hairdressers and a book shop and after that, I walk past the occasional house or cottage. They all appear the same; small and squat, whitewashed or grey, some with thatch that has seen better days, some with tiles that look fed up of clinging on. Most have small front gardens and plots of land behind them. I catch glimpses of wet bedraggled washing hanging on lines, cats at the window looking out, the occasional swing set or trampoline, and vehicles that just seem to be sat in mud. I take out my phone and start taking pictures. This place has a vibe to it, all right.

I come to the first cattle grid and cross over. After that, the road does indeed turn to mud. Further on, I cross the second cattle grid. I don’t see any cattle or anything else, as it happens. The skies are quiet. There is no birdsong. No cars, no people. I keep walking, enjoying myself immensely, because this is going to make a fantastic episode later. I will probably prerecord this one so that I can edit in the creepy photos as well as any footage I get.

Another twenty minutes later I finally see the sign to Green Gate woods. It is an old-fashioned wooden sign covered in wet moss and lichens. I take some photos and move on. It soon becomes apparent that the woods are huge. I get a bit nervous. The road has turned into a path and even that is getting narrower. Evidently, not many others have been this way for a while. Perhaps visiting The Shrieking Stream is not top of the list for locals or tourists. Brambles snake out from either side, occasionally catching and clawing at my waterproofs. I hear the odd tear and swear under my breath. My boots are covered in mud and the ground is uneven, causing me to reach out for whatever I can, branches, tall grasses, even the brambles, to help keep me upright. I take more photos because this is turning into quite a journey and my followers are going to want to enjoy every moment of this.

The things I do for fame and glory, I grin to myself and keep moving. It seems to me that although the rain has all but halted, the sky has continued to darken. I stop and look around. The trees are incredibly dense here. It takes my breath away for a moment because they are so tall, so foreboding and so watchful, I can’t help feeling awed. I identify a mixture of silver birch, oak, sycamore, hazel and ash. There are others I don’t know the names of but most have started to change colour and the air around me is full of floating leaves. They drift down like colourful snowfall, each landing in the mud to rot and become part of it.

I feel a little tense now. For some reason, the falling leaves standing out against the dark sky makes me feel, I don’t know, watched, maybe. It’s silent. That’s another thing. Despite the size of these woods and the abundance of mature trees, there are no birds, no squirrels, nothing scuttling or scurrying away. The only sound is my footsteps as I push on through the thick mud.

Now I am starting to feel silly and annoyed with myself. Another half an hour passes and the path is almost gone. I am weaving my way between tree trunks, using them now to stay on my feet as the thick mud and dead leaves suck at my boots, trying to hold me still. How am I supposed to find the stream if there is no path to follow? No sign?

Since it is no longer raining, I take out my phone and check the map. The red line wriggles through the village like I did, lurches left like I did and then keeps wriggling. Left, right, on a bit, left, right, right, right, left. It makes me feel dizzy. I can’t follow that and anyway, I have no idea where I am to attempt to follow the line.

All right, this is ridiculous. I make the decision there and then to turn around and head back. I am exhausted from wading through mud and fighting with brambles. I will make my way back and see if I can get hold of some better maps. I turn around and take two steps and that is when I hear it.

It sounds like someone calling out; maybe a name, maybe something else. It’s far away and faint, but it drifts up above the trees and ends in an ‘ee’ sound. It sounds like someone calling a cat, for some reason. It reminds me of my neighbour back home. Every night after dark, she opens her back door and calls for her cat.

I resist the urge to shout back by biting my lips. It might not be anything. I might have imagined it, or it might have been a bird, or something. Then I remember the stream… It couldn’t be, could it? I laugh at myself. I tell myself now is not the time to chicken out. I did come here to see a shrieking stream and maybe that is just what I have found. I look around me, frowning at each possible direction.

The ground looks drier to the left, so I head that way. It’s still wet, especially where the leaves are lying in thick drifts, but the ground is rising and falling in small hillocks which feel soft and spongy underfoot. Nearly every tree trunk is covered in old moss and fungi of various kinds. This place has the feel of something very ancient…

I hear another noise. This time I freeze and my heart thuds stupidly against my ribcage as I try not to breathe too loud. It wasn’t the same noise. It was more like a hoot, like an owl would make. And there is another one. Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo. I relax. Just an owl. It’s a relief to know there is something alive in these damn woods after all.

I keep going left and the land rises slowly. I wonder if I am on a slope, or small hill. I think it would be good to get to higher ground if there is any. I might be able to see my way out if I can get higher, so with fresh energy, I push on, grabbing trees and hauling myself through them, kicking my way through the sludgy rainbow of dead leaves on the ground.

The noise comes again. Not the owl noise. The one that ends in ‘ee’. It’s closer this time which makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, only because I don’t know what it is and we all know that not knowing is worse than knowing. It drifts up again and peters out over the treetops, but I was right the first time. It’s a human voice, and they are calling something or someone whose name ends in ‘ee.’ Maybe a dogwalker has lost their dog?

‘Hello!’ I shout back and then instantly regret it. Silence hits me like a wall. If it was quiet before, then this is something new. It feels like the woods have frozen around me. My eyes widen in their sockets as a shiver twists up my spine. Not a single dried leaf flutters from the treetops. I feel like I have broken something.

I can’t stop the panic now. I am not a baby. I am someone who travels the country looking for scary stories, but I have never felt like this before: like the woods are watching me; like they are holding their breath while they examine me. I can almost imagine lips of gnarled wood rising into silent snarls as they prepare to devour me. I keep moving to higher ground and I take out my phone, desperate for a signal. I’ve been lost for a long time now and it is nearly dark. My watch says that is impossible because it is half past three, but the world around me says otherwise. But I don’t have a signal. I try anyway, finding the number for the inn and trying that first as someone there might just be able to direct me out of here. But it won’t connect. It just ends the call every time I try.

The silence drags on, forbidding me to move. Just breathing feels like I am breaking the rules here. But I can’t stay still and I can’t stay here. I press on, trying to breathe, trying to calm down, reminding myself that I packed a flask of tea and a packet of biscuits and a first aid kit, just in case. I’ll get higher and then I’ll be able to figure this out.

Looking up I can see a ridge lined with smaller, thinner trees. If I have been slowly clambering up a hillside, then this must be the top I am now approaching. I breathe out in relief and keep going, grabbing at trunks and branches as my body slows in weariness. I am almost at the top and grateful to find drier, crisper land underfoot when I hear the scream.

This time there is no doubt about it. It is a wail of utter despair that bursts out of the trees ahead and rushes past me, making me stumble and drop to one knee. It lingers, drawing out into a strangled gasp before it fades to nothing. It occurs to me for the first time that perhaps someone is playing a joke on me. Locals, maybe, fed up with people like me trampling all over their stories.

‘Who’s there?’ I yell, cupping my hands around my mouth.

No one answers me but another scream cuts through the trees, hitting me with a blast of icy air that leaves me staggering again, almost losing my footing entirely. I right myself and cringe as it sails over my head. This one is louder, more agonised, like someone is having their insides ripped out of their body. It peters out, but in horrible little breathless gasps of pain.

I want to run, but I don’t. I do what I should have done minutes ago. I take out my phone and start recording, at first turning the camera on myself to exclaim; shit is getting real here, freaky folks! I’m lost in the woods, no kidding, slightly shitting myself actually, haha, Green Gate woods, no kidding, Brackenhurst, if you never hear from me again, hah! That’s where I am, but I am seriously lost, guys. Seriously. And I keep hearing weird noises, like screams or someone calling someone else. I’m gonna keep recording so you can hear it too. I’m climbing a hill now so I can see better, I hope. Nearly there. Okay. Let’s take a look.

I turn the camera around and sweep the area with it recording. I am on a narrow ridge, not much of a hill but I can at least look down on the way I came. I can see the wandering trail I made through the trees and I can see how the land is much wetter and thicker below.

What is really weird though, I say to my audience, is how dark it is. I get its October and I’m in thick, thick woods, but my watch, unless its wrong, says half three, guys. And look, how dark is that? Almost full dark, right? Yeah, freaky folk, I’m about to be well and truly lost in the dark in the woods! This was not the plan. But finding the stream was so I’m gonna at least try and do that. Okay. Holy shit! Did you hear that?

My hand is trembling as I turn the camera on myself again. My eyes are so wide they ache in the sockets. Another scream has filled the air around me. It seems to come from everywhere, even me. I jumped about a foot in the air when it started. It sounds ferocious, I think, like the noise an animal might make when caught in a trap. There is rage in that scream and my head is starting to hurt.

There is another one, but this one is closer to the voice I thought I heard earlier. It ends in ‘eeee’ again, and I can’t help thinking there is a question mark to it.

‘Who’s there?’ I shout back, desperate for it to be a person, desperate for it to be someone looking for me, or a local playing a prank.

‘Ooooooeeeee?’

Shit, they’re not saying Toby, are they?

‘I’m here!’ I yell back, hurrying along the ridge, turning in circles, squinting through the trees to see. ‘I’m Toby, I’m here!’

‘Oooooobeeeee!’

Toby? Yes, Toby, I’m sure of it. Someone is calling my name. Someone is looking for me!

You hear that? I say to the camera as I keep moving. Toby! Shit guys, someone is out here calling my name. Please say you can hear that too! And how dark is it now, seriously? Look! I can barely see my feet or my hands in front of my face. I’m gonna call back.

‘I’m here!’ I yell again and that’s when I see a bright light twisting through the trees below on the other side of the ridge. I stop and gasp. No, not a light, it’s water! I move towards it. Yes, as I get closer, I can see it is water. The surface is shining back at me as it ripples through the thick ferns and gorse and heather down there.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Italk to my camera again. Look guys, I think I found the stream! Or a stream, at least. Oh my God, could this be it? The Shrieking Stream? They say you can hear it in the village at night and I believe it, and I’m sure you do too now. Shit!

Another scream slices through the darkness, making me drop my phone in panic. I drop to my knees and search for it frantically, sinking my fingers into claggy earth and leaf mulch until I find the hard rectangle and see it’s camera light blinking back at me. The scream was horrible: a gargled, gurgled, helpless sound; despair and defeat and dread all mixed together.

I grab the phone and walk briskly down to the stream. At last, I have found it. I stand on the banks which are brown and littered with pine needles and cones, and smothered in thick white fungi, and moss and lichen in various shades of green. I hear a splash and my head snaps up. I look left and right. The woods have been swallowed by darkness so I use the phone as a torch, sweeping it this way and that, recording the curve of the stream, which is not more than a few feet deep by the looks of it.

So this is what’s been making all that noise, I tell my followers, I give you, The Shrieking Stream, and you better be grateful guys, because this is genuinely the most scared I have ever been doing this shit, and I’ve still got to find my way out of here.

‘Toby! Toby Barnes!’

My head whips around and I see a figure coming towards me from the left. He or she appears to be wading in the stream. I stare in a mixture of hope, dread and utter confusion, because nothing about this makes any sense…

As it comes closer, I can see the shape of a man, with thinning hair and glasses on, and waterproof clothing, and boots that come up to his thighs. Wading boots.

‘Are you? Are you the…’ I’m not sure, but I think it might be the man who was in the dining room earlier, the man with all the maps. I breathe out in relief because maybe he has come to save me, he has come to help me with his maps! My shoulders relax and I lift the camera so my followers can see my rescuer making his way down the stream.

‘Toby! Toby Barnes!’

‘Yes, that’s me!’

The man doesn’t seem to hear me though. He keeps coming, splashing through the stream which seems eerily still around him. I get that feeling again, that the woods are holding their breath and their secrets and something is about to happen. My scalp tightens and my bowels loosen and then it does, it happens.

The man’s arms fly upwards like he’s taking part in a Mexican wave. His eyes widen and the glasses fly off. His mouth gapes and a whoosh of startled air escapes his lungs. He starts sinking, rapidly; the water is suddenly over his knees, then his waist, then up to his shoulders. It all happens so quickly, I barely have time to react, but I stuff my phone in my pocket and race towards him, thinking he must have slipped or something.

He screams.

It’s a piercing shriek that makes my blood run cold and my guts curl up, but by the time I reach him, it is too late. He is gone. I plunge my hands into the stream and there is nothing there.

‘Shit!’ I sit back, breathing hard, my eyes flicking wildly over the surface of the stream. I lean forward, try again, wave my hand around in the water but there is nothing. There should at least be his hand, or his head, or…

The water bubbles further down the stream. I stand back, wary now of its wet edges, and stare in horror as something begins to emerge. Surrounded by rippling circles growing, I see pale fingers begin to rise. I scrabble for my phone and film it. Because this can’t be real. I must be asleep, dreaming, back at the inn. Or I fell and hit my head and I’m hallucinating or something. I want to say something, to my followers, but I can’t talk. My tongue is a useless lump of meat and my body has turned to stone.

I just stare in horror and hold the phone as the fingers lift through the water. They are pale and bloated, the skin sagging and wrinkled around the knuckles. I start to move back, slowly at first, my heels digging into the mud in front of me, pushing me away. The hands give way to slender wrists, followed by thin arms. The sleeves of whatever she was wearing have rumpled down to her shoulders, and I know it is a ‘she’ because her head breaks the water at the same time, her grey hair flattened on her bony skull, her eye sockets empty and her mouth a hole filled with wriggling maggots. She opens her mouth and screams.

I drop the phone and cover my ears.

It seems to go on forever. The treetops are shaking. The earth vibrates and growls beneath me. I move with it, shaken from side to side, until I manage to reach out and grab the trunk of the nearest tree. I pull myself to my feet, reach down and pick the phone up again. It’s still recording. I leave it running and place it in my pocket.

When I look back at the stream the woman, who I am certain was Mrs Pence from the inn, has gone, only a few ripples letting me know she was ever there. I have to go. I have to get out of here.

I turn and start to scramble away, back towards the ridge. I don’t look back when I hear the two women screaming. The two women who were enjoying their cake just hours ago. I recognise their voices, and I can hear nothing but horror and useless fear in their screams, which are high-pitched and jagged, hurting my brain.

I run on. I think I won’t make it. I don’t let myself think that. I push thoughts away. Blind panic now, blind. Pure instinct. Survival mode. I mutter to myself as I run.

Run, run, run, just fucking run, don’t look back, don’t, don’t just run, run, keep running, oh God, just run, run, don’t listen, don’t look back, just run!

I am hurtling down the other side of the ridge when the young couple reach for me. They appear together, holding hands, on the other side of a large fallen trunk I am scrambling over. I run right into them and start choking on the smell of rotting flesh. Their mouths are open and screaming. The screams hurt my bones and my heart judders. I think, I am going to die here. I turn my head away as they both snatch at my clothes, for I have already seen the swollen, waterlogged skin hanging from his face, and the missing jawbone on hers, and the wet, hanging hair, tangled with leaves and sticks and pine needles.

I don’t think I’ll get away but I do.

I run, faster and faster and faster. The screaming follows me. It never stops. I run on and on, stumbling and falling, rising and skidding, grabbing and snatching, barely breathing. I am running on empty now, every part of my body on fire with fear and adrenaline and exhaustion.

I don’t think I’ll make it but somehow, I do.

Somehow, I stumble out onto what can only be a narrow, mud choked path. The path I was on before. I can see my own footsteps in the mud and I laugh in joy and relief and start to follow them. The sky is lighter again. I can see a few clouds.

I pull out my phone and talk breathlessly into it.

Guys, guys, I hope you got all that. As soon as I get a signal I’m gonna upload the whole thing to my channel, fuck editing, I can’t believe what just happened, I have to show you now!

I cry when I see the sign to Green Gate Woods. I lean against it and sob. I am drenched in sweat and covered in thick mud that is starting to drop of in chunks. I can now feel the pain of countless scratches, scrapes and bumps. I start to wonder if any of it happened. I see the young couple rearing up behind the log and almost vomit. No, it was real. I will never forget the ripe, sour smell of their rotting organs.

I stumble on. Every part of me aches. As soon as I see I have a signal, I pause and log into my podcast channel. In less than a minute I have uploaded my entire recording with the title, This just happened right now!! Oh My God!!

That should be enough drama to get my followers excited. I think I will edit it all together later though, with the photos I took on the way here, and maybe I’ll try and get some interviews too from the villagers.

My phone is back in my pocket and I am trudging towards the first cattle grid when I spot the old man from the inn. How strange, I think. What’s he doing out here in his slippers? He’s standing on the other side of the grid looking just the way he did in the hallway of the inn before he turned and shambled away. His shoulders are hunched, his keys are hanging, his hands are in his pockets and his head is low. He exhales sadly as I approach.

I expect him to say something about the state of me. I am covered in mud and twigs and leaves. I must look awful. He must know something bad has happened to me. I am shaking now too, as the memories hit me one by one. I don’t want to think about any of them right now, but I can’t seem to shake them away.

Did I dream it all?

The videos on my phone would suggest otherwise.

‘Hello?’ I call out warily as I get closer.

He doesn’t answer. He just looks sad, his lower lip jutting out as his hands sink even lower in the pockets.

‘Hello?’ I ask again. ‘Are you all right? What are you doing out here?’ I glance again at his grubby slippers. When I look back at his face, I see something awful.

His skin is grey and wet. Bubbles have filled his mouth and are expanding and then popping between his sagging grey lips. His eyes have lost all colour. The eyeballs seem to swim in grey liquid before rolling away into his head. The skin on his nose is flaky and as I stare in horror, a chunk slips away and hits the ground between his slippers.

A foul smell meets my nostrils and as he lifts his hands from his pockets, I see dirty stream water running from his arms down to his wrists. It spatters against the ground, quickly forming puddles.

He opens his mouth and I fear a scream. I start to lift my hands in anticipation, to press them over my ears.

‘What?’ I yell at him then, staggering backwards. ‘What are you trying to tell me?’

He lifts his awful swollen hand and points right at me. ‘One of us now.’

‘What? What?’ I shake my head, keep walking backwards. ‘No, I’m not. Leave me alone. Get away!’

He laughs and more stream water pours out of his mouth, revealing grey rotten stumps for teeth. A small silver fish wriggles through them and drops to the ground where it writhes and gasps. I stare in horror and his mouth stretches wider. I expect a scream but again, it doesn’t come.

‘We are all dead here…’ he gurgles as more filthy water fills his mouth. He starts to choke then, choke on the water and on the wet leaves and pine needles and he twists his head, as if trying to escape it, and then finally, his lips part and the skin tears open, revealing the bone of his jaw and he shrieks.

Author Interview: Q.L Pearce

Q. L Pearce is the author of over 120 books for middle grade and young adult readers, and I was lucky enough to receive a copy of her latest short story collection, Spinechillers to review. I enjoyed this book immensely and can’t wait to delve into more books by Q.L. Q.L also kindly agreed to be interview for my blog, and here she talks about her writing and publishing journey, what attracts her to scary stories, where her ideas come from and more! Enjoy!

spinechillerscover

1) What attracts you to the spooky and the paranormal? What makes it your favourite genre?

As a reader I am drawn to plot-driven books. That doesn’t mean that the characters aren’t important, but the central story is what I love. I have found that paranormal tales often have a strong plot at the core. As a writer, middle grade to YA horror, sci-fi and mystery are my favorites. I enjoy the world building and the suspension of disbelief required in a ghost story. Things that go bump in the night are part of my British heritage and I enjoy researching creepy tales and urban legends.

2) Who are your favourite authors and why?

Ray Bradbury, George Orwell and Roald Dahl are among my favorite classic masters. I love Bradbury’s writing style and, of course, he was amazing when it came to short stories. The clarity and intelligence of Orwell’s work, and his focus on social injustice places him at the top of my list. Animal Farm is an all time favorite book for me. Roald Dahl’s books for children worked on so many levels and he wrote some of my favorite children’s books, like The Witches and The Twits. His work could be sweet and sentimental, whimsical or darkly humorous. Sometimes all in the same book.

Neil Gaiman, Holly Black and Ransom Riggs are some of my favorites modern authors. They are all so great at world building and creating unique characters. Coraline and The Graveyard Book are a couple of books that I wish I had written.

3) Can you tell us where you get your ideas from?

Ideas come from everywhere…magazines, newspapers, travel. An offbeat article about Scottish castles or crop circles might catch my eye. I might see a strangely shaped tree while on a hike and wonder what lurks at its roots. I enjoy prowling through antique stores for curious objects or photographs that might spark an idea, or hiking around in new environments to use as settings. My dear friend, author Tamara Thorne, and I sometimes take road trips. We visit haunted hotels, abandoned buildings and ghost towns, all for inspiration.

4) When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I could first scribble a story on paper. I won my first school writing contest in third grade and my first city sponsored contest at age eleven. I actually got into a little trouble when I was a kid for telling scary stories that frightened my friends.

 

5) Can you tell us a bit about your writing and publishing journey so far?

When I was in my twenties I decides to start sending short stories to magazines. Once I began seriously submitting I gathered an extensive collection of rejections. Over the course of ten years or so the rejections went from definite “no” to “no, but keep submitting.” My first contract with a major publisher was for an activity book about dinosaurs. It was with Price Stern Sloan. My first contract for fiction also came from Price Stern Sloan when they published Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs. It did very well and I wrote quite a few books in the series.

To date I have written more than 120 books for young readers including educational, nonfiction, biography, and fiction for all age ranges. Spinechillers is my latest. It is a collection of short stories that includes classic ghosts, a monster or two, urban legends and one tale that is an homage to The Twilight Zone. The stories are perfect for reading aloud at a sleep-over, or under the covers with a flashlight. The book is in the tradition of Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs. Spinechillers is for a new generation of tweens to teens.

6) What would you say have been the highs and the lows? What are you excited about?

I like all of the elements of the writing process. I enjoy the research, “meeting” my characters for the first time and getting to know them, sketching out the first draft, and shifting the elements like pieces of a puzzle.

Some of the best memories in my career are meeting young fans of my books. Red Bird Sings is a title that stands out for me. It is an adaptation of the autobiographical works of Zitkala Sa, an important Native American writer and activist. My co-author and illustrator, Gina Capaldi and I worked hard to honor her story. I’m very proud of the book and it received many awards including the Carter G. Woodson gold medal for picture books.

The down side of writing is rejection. I’ve had manuscripts turned down, books in work cancelled, and negative reviews. I try to find the lesson in each rejection that can make my work stronger. I’ve developed a thick skin over the years.

I think as writers we can learn from every review, good or bad as long as you don’t take it personally. You have to use what helps you to grow and leave the rest. I remember when Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs came out it received a “bad” review early on. The reviewer said that it seemed that before writing the collection I had downed a bottle of wine and watched a Twilight Zone marathon. I actually took that as a compliment since I loved Rod Serling. The series went on to sell in the millions.

7) What is the scariest story/book you have ever come across?

I can’t decide between two books. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is so dark and atmospheric. I think it’s one of the best haunted house stories ever written because it leaves so much to the reader. It has all the elements of a ghost story but there is an underlying question about the true nature of the haunting.

One of Stephen King’s early books, Salem’s Lot, terrified me! It’s a vampire novel and I was only able to read it during the day. For a while I also kept a nightlight on because I was so creeped out.

8) What is a normal writing day like for you? Tell us about the process

When I write I usually sit at my dining room table. I have an actual home office with a desk, but my dogs prefer the main room and I like to work with them close by. I begin my day with meditation even before my first cup of coffee. I start my reading and research mid-morning then spend two or three hours writing. My dogs take me out for walks a couple of times a day and I use that time to brainstorm. I usually write for another hour or so at the end of the day.

I hate an empty page so when I’m working on a first draft I just keep going. I write anything as long as words are going on the page. Once I have something to work with I can go back and edit and tweak the manuscript into shape. Sometimes that approach can take your work in surprising directions.

9) What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a few things including the next volume of Spinechillers. I have three fact-based fiction picturebooks in work with coauthor/illustrator Gina Capaldi, a middle grade mystery adventure with coauthor Francesca Rusackas, and a YA horror novel.

10) What advice would you give to other writers who enjoy writing creepy stories?

The advice I give to working writers is finish what you start. I have several manuscripts that are sitting in a file folder because I didn’t push through when I hit a weak spot. Once that happens I start second-guessing and lose momentum.

The advice I would give to those who enjoy writing horror is to let the readers do some of the work. The unknown is deeply emotional. Provide the story, the characters, atmosphere, the dread, but don’t fill in every detail. Leave some room for the reader’s imagination to personalize the fear.

11) What are your plans and dreams for the future?

My husband is a physiologist and a huge sci-fi fan. We have a plan to someday write a book together. I remember one night we went out to dinner and spent the evening coming up with an alien world and determining what sort of species would populate such a planet. We wrote notes on napkins. It was a fabulous evening!

Recently I was thrilled to be join Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross as co-host for YA nights on Thorne and Cross Haunted Nights LIVE, part of the Authors on the Air: Radio Network. I’m looking forward to inviting some terrific authors to be the show!

12) Tell us three interesting things about yourself

Years ago I was an assistant SCUBA instructor. That’s how I met my husband.

I’m not happy about flying but I love to travel. In the past couple of years we’ve visited Florence, Vancouver, Shanghai, Lhasa, and Cambridge, England.

I’m currently completing my meditation teacher training. I would like to work with writers and other creative people who want to be able to find a calm inner space when faced with deadlines, rejections, blank pages and other stressors.

Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed, Q. L! 

You can find out more about Q.L Pearce below!

About Q.L Pearce

Q.L.Pearce is the author of more than 120 books for young readers, from picture books to YA, as well as film tie-in books for the Fox animated film Titan AE and the Universal animated series Land Before Time. Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala Sa (Carolrhoda Books, with co-author and illustrator, Gina Capaldi), received several awards including a Carter G. Woodson Book Award gold medal from NCSS and a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award gold medal. Her fiction includes the popular middle grade series, Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs italisize (Price, Stern, Sloan). Q believes strongly in the value of scary books for young readers. When asked what credentials she has which qualify her as an expert in this area she replies, “I was a child once. That was very scary.”

Link to Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/RedBirdSings

Buy Links: Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Spine-Chillers-Hair-Raising-Tales-Book-ebook/dp/B01M7U859N/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477782518&sr=8-1&keywords=ql+pearce+spine+chillers

Author Info:

Author’s contact info: contact@bamliterature.com or http://www.qlpearce.com/contact

Author’s social media links:

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Q.-L.-Pearce/e/B001H9RTXO

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=db4aQLSyKMg&feature=youtu.be

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ql.pearce

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/q-l-pearce-7926604