(This is part of the blog tour to promote Ashley's latest release, Cursed. Now read on...)
I’d like to begin by thanking Simon for letting me visit here today and share this. This is an extract from my latest novella, Cursed. Cursed is the third in an ongoing series of novellas, all loosely related by the location in which they’re set, Innsmouth, and it’s going to be released on March 1st, 2021. This chapter occurs halfway through the story.
Innsmouth University's Explorers Club meet once a month to share stories of the supernatural. They meet in empty houses, abandoned buildings and derelict churches. They meet in the dead of night. They tell stories of the impossible, the unbelievable and the most terrible. And now, it appears, their meetings have been cursed.
There were shadows at the base of the clocktower. At this time on a winter’s evening, with the first of the ten o’clock chimes ringing out through Innsmouth’s empty town centre, shadows were not unexpected. But, for anyone paying close attention, anyone watching the dark shapes that came and went of their own volition, the shadows would have seemed darker around the base of the clocktower on this occasion.
Derek Brown, lost in his own thoughts as he took Horatio on his evening constitutional, had not noticed the shadows. It was a cold night and, not for the first time, the threat of rain made him wish to Christ his wife’s French Bulldog would hurry up and do its business so he could get back home. Horatio was not the brightest dog he’d ever encountered and this nightly walk was always made tiresomely protracted because Horatio needed to sniff every lamppost, piddle at least three hundred times, and take one shit that was slightly larger than the turds that Derek could produce. On top of that, with Horatio being a chunky little bastard, who waddled more than he walked, the nightly constitutional took forever.
“Is this what my life’s come to?” he wondered, glaring down at the dog.
Horatio had paused to take his last shit of the day and it was never a pleasant experience to watch. With his bulging eyes, which always seemed to bulge further when he was straining to squeeze one out, Horatio reminded Derek of his wife. The idea that a pet could look like its owner was never truer than when Horatio was standing on a street corner with his fat arse trembling, his eyes bulging like chapel hat pegs and an expression of stupid surprise on his tubby face as though he didn’t know what was happening. Derek had often thought it was like having his wife with him on the walk, except with less inane chatter and slightly more outdoor defecating. He repeatedly told himself he’d take a picture of this moment when it occurred so that he could post it on FaceBook, alongside a picture of her, and ask his friends to spot the difference.
And this evening, to his surprise, Horatio was providing him with the perfect moment. It was almost as though the fat, simple dog had decided to pose for the shot.
Derek snatched the mobile from his jacket pocket and opened the camera app. It was set on selfies when the screen opened and he found his own pudgy, gammon-coloured features being displayed on the screen. Recoiling only a little, he pressed the button to turn the camera around and found himself staring down at Horatio as the dog stared up at him.
With the eyes bulging, the tongue lolling out over a double-chin, and a facial expression that looked like it had found three consecutive answers on a word search puzzle and was bursting to boast about the achievement, the shitting Horatio could have been his wife’s twin. Admittedly, one of them had a little more facial hair than the other, but Derek thought that was such a small distinction it was close to being negligible.
He snapped three pictures in short succession, chuckling softly to himself as he anticipated the repercussions of sharing this picture with friends. Horatio, clearly unimpressed with being photographed in the middle of a relatively private act, shied away from Derek. It was an abrupt lurch that caught Derek by surprise. One moment he was taking pictures of a shitting dog whilst holding its leash and chuckling to himself. The next moment the leash had been pulled from his hand, Horatio was waddling toward the clocktower, and Derek watched his phone, fall from his fingers and land on the freshly laid turd that Horatio had deposited.
“Bloody hell,” Derek complained. “Horatio,” he called. “Come back here.”
He reached for his phone, picking it up gingerly between thumb and forefinger, and realised Horatio’s sticky turd had adhered to the screen. Derek sneered in disgust, sure the dog had done this deliberately and he scanned the empty street looking for his wife’s French Bulldog.
“Horatio,” he called. “Where are you?”
Innsmouth seemed surprisingly quiet this evening. On the positive side, that meant there had been no one around to witness him dropping his phone on top of a warm and steaming dog turd. On the negative side, the silence unsettled him and there was no one around to tell him where his wife’s stupid dog had gone. A mist of drizzle hung in the air. The night seemed chillier than it should have been and, for the first time, he noticed that quite a few streetlamps seemed to have stopped working. The night was darker than it had any right to be and the subsequent shiver that tickled down his spine had nothing to do with Innsmouth’s low temperature.
This story is built on my fascination with the way people share their personal ghost stories. To celebrate this fact, on Monday March 1st, I’ll be hosting an online book launch/virtual event where I (and some friends and fellow writers) will be sharing our own personal ghost stories. If you fancy joining us, either to share a ghost story or simply to listen, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll happily send you an invite.
And, to find out what happens in the remainder of this novella, you can pre-order a copy of Cursed on Amazon.