Dear reader, please don't be too harsh on this trio of attemptedly scary tales. Remember I was writing a hundred of them. I wanted to write as many different types of horror story as I could. I concede that calling some of them horror stories is a stretch in itself. I found it especially difficult coming up with non-supernatural tales, but I wanted a good smattering of those, too. These three are not amongst the best, but they might at least rouse your interest.
It had been a long, long time since Gregory had taken a bus.
It was a strange feeling, but then again, everything this weekend had seemed strange. It had all started with meeting Debbie. Once upon a time, he had intended to marry her. But when they ran into each other in the carpet shop, it had taken him a minute or two to remember her name.
He had spent the rest of the day trying to remember their time together. They had been together for more than two years, before she went to university in England. He had gone to study engineering, and met Yvonne. He’d imagined himself in love with Debbie, because young men need somebody to imagine themselves in love with. But his love for Yvonne was as real and solid as a suspension bridge that doesn’t even buckle when a train hurtles over it.
Memories had come back, but slowly. And so much was missing. He couldn’t remember their first meeting. He couldn’t remember them saying goodbye before she went to England. He knew that they had spent hours together every day, for months. But nothing was left to him besides a few images, a few snatches of conversation.
He remembered them sitting on her bed, laughing over an nineteen-fifties girl’s comic that Debbie had found in a sale of work. The advice column had been almost Victorian in its quaintness. He remembered them eating chips on the way home from a terrible zombie movie. He remembered her laughing at his impression of Ronald Reagan, as they walked home from school. Those were pretty much his only memories of their time together, and they were like snapshots.
As soon as he’d come from his meeting with Debbie, he’d gone upstairs to the spare bedroom, where he’d kept the satchel full of adolescent memories. He hadn’t opened it in over ten years. But somebody else must have, because all that was left was his school reports and his college projects. All the film reviews he had written for the college magazine, all the narcissistic diaries from his teenage years, and the absurdist comics he had sketched out during free classes, were gone.
When he asked Lauren and Kate about it, they gave him baffled looks. “Why would I go looking through your old stuff?”, Lauren had asked, looking up from the text message she was writing. There had been genuine bemusement in her eyes.
That Lithunian cleaning lady must have stolen them, he thought. He had caught her once, looking through a pile of CV’s that he’d taken home to read. God knows why she’d steal them, but a woman that muttered to herself incessantly wasn’t ruled by logic.
The bus was getting more crowded now, as they moved closer to town. God, Greg hated the city. Moving to the village had been his best decision. Aside from ditching his job and going into business for himself, that was. The city was full of drifters. Some of them wore grubby anoraks, and some of them wore smart suits, but none of them had a clue where they were going. They were pushed around like litter in the wind, he thought, looking out at the drifts of rubbish that jerked along the paths in the October breeze.
He got off at Moore’s estate agents. At least that didn’t seem strange. He’d got off the bus here all through school and until the third year of college, when he’d moved out of his parents house and got an apartment with Yvonne.
People said the pace of change in villages and small towns was slow. It was much slower in cities, Greg thought. Shops closed and opened in cities, and commuters didn’t even notice. Dublin was ten times sleepier than Shanlee. Sleepy? It was in a perpetual stupor.
He might have phoned up his old friends, but he’d drifted out of touch with them in the last few years. He wasn’t even sure if the numbers he had for them were current. It had been hard to talk to them, ever since Centaur Solutions had started making money. Their horizons were so limited. They lived vicariously through soccer and movies, and resented him for not having time for either.
He walked down the row of smog-blackened bungalows, past the special needs school, past the the tennis-courts and the church that looked like a spaceship, past the credit union. He knew exactly what he was looking for.
Him and his friends had written their names in wet concrete, on the path outside the off-licence, on the day of a World Cup Final. He had scrawled his name all over walls in this area, but doubtless they had been painted over now. He felt pretty confident that day’s work would have endured, though.
It did. But he gave a start when he saw what it read:
JOHN O DRISCOLL OH YEAH!
JOHN PAUL CRONIN BURGER BOY
DAVID DOYLE THE ANIMAL
And, at the very end, where his own name had been:
GREGORY STEPHEN LAWLESS, MANAGER, CENTAUR SOLUTIONS
The Terror Machine
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
Chester laughed nervously, looking at the leather-upholstered chair, the white plastic bowl lying on top of it, and the mass of machinery to either side. More than anything else, it reminded him of an electric chair.
“Are you really sure you want to give me second thoughts?”, he asked.
Dr. Henry didn’t laugh. He rarely did.
“I’m not going to let you go through with this until you tell me that you’re absolutely, one hundred per cent committed to this—experiment—with no reservations whatsoever.”
“I don’t even step into a bath without reservations”, said Chester Lewis.
“This is very serious”, said Dr. Henry, leaning towards Chester, his eyebrows shooting up. He was a tall man with bushy black hair, and he seemed charged with perpetual intensity. “I’m seriously considering aborting.”
“Oh, come on, Martin”, said Chester, clapping the neuroscientist on the shoulder. “Don’t take my banter for nerves. I’m always like this.”
“This is a very dangerous procedure, Chester”, said Dr. Henry, stubbornly.
“You’ve told me all that”, said Chester, lifting the bowl from the chair and sitting down. “So this is the thing that goes on your head?”, he said, holding the plastic bowl in his hands and examining it.
“That’s it”, said Dr. Henry, still with a disapproving frown.
“It just looks like a chunk of plastic”, said Chester. “Where are the nodes, the wires, the little prodding spikes?”
“All beneath the surface”, said Dr. Henry. “The receptors stimulate the brain centres by the gentlest of currents. That’s all it takes.”
“And that finds out what spooks me?”, asked Chester, glancing around the banks of machinery to his right and left. These were less streamined than the headpiece. In fact, they looked as though they were being built. They seemed like little more than two masses of wires, insulating tape and circuit boards.
“Exactly”, said Dr. Henry.
“And after that…”
“After that, we know nothing”, said Dr. Henry, sternly. “My aim is that the machine will have a cathartic effect, exposing the patient to his utmost fears, allowing him to overcome them. But that is far from guaranteed.”
“It’s worth it”, said Chester. Suddenly, he seemed serious, even solemn. He was a young man, not at all handsome, but with a face made pleasant by enthusiasm and good humour. He was the youngest ever vice-president of Barton Electronics. When a reporter asked him how he had reached such heights without ever being accused of ruthlessness or unfair dealing, he said: My greatest hope is to prove that success—business success, economic success, social success—comes from people working together, not cutthroat competition. My greatest hope is to prove that all men are essentially allies.
“I can’t believe you have any fears, Chester”, said Dr. Henry, his tone softer.
“You bet I do”, said Chester, fitting the plastic cap over his head. Dr. Henry frowned but didn’t protest. “I’m scared stiff of women, as you know.”
Dr. Henry gave a stiff smile, but he made no move.
“Come on”, said Chester, impatiently now. “You have my video waiver. Now go ahead and flick that switch.”
“Before I flick any switches”, said the neuroscientist, taking a transparent plastic box from a shelf on the wall, “I have to put you to sleep.”
“Maybe the big sleep, eh?”, said Chester, unbuttoning the cuff of his shirt and drawing the sleeve back.
“I’m going to administer the sedative, now”, said Dr. Henry, in a worn-out voice. “Good luck, Chester.”
“Thank you, Martin”, said Chester, as Barton Electronics’s Director of Research and Development pressed the syringe against his skin and pressed the plunger.
* * * *
“Chester? Chester? For God’s sake, Chester, wake up!”
Chester Lewis, his skin shining with sweat, opened his eyes. He was still screaming. It took him a few moments to focus on the man in front of him, but as soon as he did, he lunged forward and grasped him by the throat.
Chester squeezed and squeezed, watching Dr. Henry’s face turn a bright purple. He only stopped screaming when the neuroscientist’s fine features hardened in death. He was safe—for now. But there were millions of others out there, just as hellbent on murdering him as Dr. Henry had been. Life was a battle to the death. In his heart, Chester had always known it.
A cold winter dawn was filling the sky when the ball finally ended. Figures in tuxedos and silky gowns streamed down the stone steps of the old Medical College. Generations of young people, dressed not very differently, had poured down those steps for more than a century and a half.
They lined up at the railings, scooped up one by one by the waiting taxis. One group of four were amongst the last left standing.
“Are you venturing over the river once again, Vinnny?, asked Ally, drunkenly.
“You know you can come back to our place?”, asked Celia, wrapping her willowy arm around the dark young man’s shoulders. They were all emotional.
Ally cackled. He punched Vinny in the shoulder. “How can you refuse an offer like that, bro? They’re both tanked to the gills. This will be your lucky night.”
“At least it will be somebody’s lucky night, then”, said Kathy. “Poor Ally, you didn’t get much change out of Mary Regan, did you?”
Ally let out of a gust of laughter at that, and locked Kathy in a bear-hug. At that moment a taxi pulled up.
“Well, if you’re going to retreat to the outer limits, you take this one”, said Celia, pulling open the back door, and ushering Vinny into the back seat. She spoke a few words to the driver, pushed the door shut, and the three friends waved as Vinny was driven away.
* * * * *
“Good night?”, asked the taxi driver, as they moved through empty roads, into the suburbs.
“The best”, said Vinny, feeling voluble. He had never felt so good in his whole life. “The very best.”
“I pick them up every year”, said the taxi driver. He was a man in his forties, lean, dark, lightly-bearded. “The Scullion’s Ball. My sister always fantasised about being asked to it. But she never was.”
“Maybe she will be, still”, said Vinny, feeling light-hearted and generous.
“She’s dead”, said the taxi-drive, curtly. “She died of breast cancer when she was twenty-eight”.
“I’m sorry”, said Vinny, taken aback.
“No, you’re not”, said the taxi-driver. The taxi began to pick up speed. Soon it was moving faster than any car Vinny had ever been in.
“Hey, what are you doing?”, asked Vinny.
“I’m sick of it”, said the taxi-driver, his voice suddenly agitated. “I’m sick of getting the crumbs of life. I’m going to end it, and I’m going to take one of you bastards with me.”
“You bastards?”, asked Vinny, expecting the car to slide off the road at any moment. “What do you mean? You think I’m rich?”
“If you’re not, you will be”, said the taxi driver. “Look at you. You’ve sailed through life. You got all the brains and all the looks and all the breaks. Look at those girls who were hanging out of you. I could never dream of anyone like that.”
“Hey, hey”, said Vinny, frightened to move in case it drove this lunatic over the edge. “What do you mean? The first thing I thought when I saw you was He’s cute.”
“Oh, you’re one of those, are you?”, asked the taxi driver.
“Are you religious?”, asked Vinny, hopefully.
“No, I just think it’s disgusting”, said the taxi driver. “Look, I hope you enjoyed your spoiled-little-brat big night out. Kiss goodybe to your glittering future. Kiss goodybe to your brilliant career. Forget the golf club and the executive box and the dinner parties.”
“I hate golf!”, cried Vinny, almost squealing with desperation.
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”, shouted the taxi driver. He veered to the left, and they crashed into the rails of the small suburban bridge.
* * * * * *
“And they found him the next morning”, said Celia, shuddering.
“But really? The Tolka?”, asked Kathy. “It’s not very deep, is it? I’m surprised you could drown in it.”
“Well, apparently, you can”, said Ally. “Remember how cold it was, too? It must have been horrible.”
“Well, I don’t feel sorry for him”, said Celia, grimacing. “He deserved what he got.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”
They looked up. Vinny had returned to their table, brandishing a whiskey.
“I mean, he had a tough life”, he said, sipping it and lowering himself into his seat. “Bad luck right to the very end. I heard that, if he’d strapped himself in, he wouldn’t have flown through the windscreen like that.”