Saturday, 31 December 2016

100 Word Chiller: Password Protected

Courtesy of
‘You’re cyber-safe,’ said Damien, the tech man. ‘Everything is password protected.'

The next day, I tried to message Sylvia. My password didn’t work. I tried to text, but my phone was locked and that password failed too.

I began to sweat. Was I getting them wrong? I must call my son! But all my numbers were in my contacts, not in my head.

And then my car key didn’t work. Nor did the pass code to my front door. I sat on the step and wept as darkness fell.

I was too stupid to live.

Damien stood over me, smiling.

Monday, 14 November 2016

100 Word Chiller: Fugue State

Courtesy of

The Fugue State has officially reached epidemic proportions. It began with traffic accidents in which drivers were so engrossed in phone activity that they forgot they were driving. 

Next children were injured and even abducted while their parents stared at screens nearby, oblivious. 

NHS figures show thousands have lost all connection with the world around them, unaware even of their bodily functions. Some have been found dehydrated, starving or filthy. Bizarrely they maintain communication through social media, but no longer operate in the real world.  

How are you reading this?

When did you last look around you?

Thursday, 27 October 2016

100 word chiller: The Halloween Dare

The Halloween Dare held no fear for me as I don't believe in witches, zombies or ghosts. I sat with my back against a gravestone as midnight approached, secure in my unbelief.

I chuckled as no tombs cracked, no corpses rose. Nothing. I was alone with my thoughts.

But then they came...

'What are you trying to prove?'

'You keep failing.'

'You're mediocre.'

'Your dreams have come to nothing.'

'Everyone despises you.'

'You have failed those you love.'

'You are ruining your children's lives.'

They burned through me. I could not even cry out, so toxic was this unbelief.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Childminder

Courtesy of

‘I don’t want to go,’ I say on the way to the childminder’s.

‘Don’t be silly, you love Delia!’

It’s a long, dark road through the woods to the house. ‘It’s so beautiful,’ Mum says. ‘Quirky, like a gingerbread house!’

Della opens the door holding the fat baby. A hot cake smell creeps out. The pudgy boy, Ben, peers from behind her. 

‘Oh you’re baking. In that lovely, enormous range!’ Mum says. ‘He loves cake. I think he’s putting on weight.’

I cry. I scream – but she leaves me anyway.

Delia smiles at me. A worm crawls from her eye.

Monday, 19 September 2016

School Run

She was there when I got back from the school run, sitting in my kitchen as if nothing had happened. Even through the shock, the disbelief, it was good to see her.

‘Em?’ I said.

‘Of course.’

‘But how did you get here, how..?’

‘I don’t know what you mean. I always come.’ She looked away as though my face worried her. ‘I need to ask you.  I don’t get it.  I mean, where is Ella?’

‘She’s – with your Mum.’

‘But why?’

‘Em,’ I said, gulping. ‘You died. We buried you.’  I blinked away tears, and her chair was empty. 

Thursday, 8 September 2016


Courtesy of

The trip goes way beyond the promises of the Vietnam Tours brochure. Their speedboat roars along jungled mangrove swamps, and on to a raft with barely fenced-off edges, where a rod dangling fish corpses attracts ravenous crocodiles. They set sail, watching monsters leap, thrashing from the murky water.

She’s thrilled. She sees him chuckle at the health and safety abomination, and breathes; his mood, their earlier row, have passed.

The boatman smiles and turns to reach for more rotting flesh.

Hands slam into her back and shove. She tips in the humid air, drinks mud, feels writhing texture, tearing agony.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Other Holidaymaker

Sorry for the interruption in weekly posts - holidays and family illness have intervened. Here is this week's chiller:

Who is the one who always walks beside me – along the holiday hedgerows and across the beach, leaving no footsteps? He flickers at the edge of vision and looks overjoyed, bounding among family and friends, at ease, like me in better times. He is there through the tasteless chill of ice cream; he savours the acid coffee that only burns my gut. Happiness comes easily to him; he throws it in my face, mocking my unshakable mood, my sharp longing. I see his quick look of disgust. I think he would destroy me if he could. I wish he would.

Friday, 15 July 2016

100 Word Chiller: Mummy's Precious

Courtesy of

My brother would give me a Chinese burn when she wasn’t looking.

‘I didn’t mean it!’ he’d say when I screamed.

She’d shake her head. ‘I can’t stay cross. His sweet little face!’

He sneaked up on me at the paddling pool when she was asleep. The sun had gone in and everyone else had left. Hard little fingers twisted my flesh. I turned in agony and saw his violent joy.

I didn’t mean it, the shove in the chest. The head cracked on the concrete bottom, the sweet face under cold water. The crying, the body in a box.

Monday, 4 July 2016

The Crossing Patrol

Courtesy of

I don’t like the phrase ‘Lollipop Man.’ I was in the military.

You see it all. Hyper-vigilant mummies, pampering. Cooing. They share their concerns with me: a homeless man or teenager, loitering. They clutch hands and huddle over pushchairs.

Then the dizzy ones. They natter in sing-song voices as if the world is jolly and safe, while their children run in the road.

Some mums don’t turn up at 3.30 – their kids like abandoned lambs. Misfits. Outcasts. The teachers usually take them in. But one day they won’t. I have picked one out. I watch and wait.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit - The Chiller

The votes were counted. The forces of ‘slam the door – we’re full!’ had won. The man with the pint rejoiced, ‘Call it Independence Day!’ he said. Wait, wasn’t that a disaster movie? The blond one from Eton was said to speak for the people, and asked to lead. The Tories, the Labour Party, the country, the Union, all bitterly divided; the calls for cooperation shouted down. What now for the desperate people, fleeing terror? What now for the world? The nylon-haired one, who shouts from the hip, leader of the most powerful nation? If only it were a horror story.

Saturday, 11 June 2016


Courtesy of

This chiller is inspired by my time as a gweilo (a foreigner, sometimes translated as foreign devil or ghost person) in Hong Kong.

The flat was cheap, since no Chinese person would go near an old mortuary. ‘Do come round!’ I teased my colleagues. The day I moved in, I went out in Wan Chai: Joe Bananas, then a club. I crashed out around two, hot but happy.

I woke up cold. The bed was marble-hard against my back and my sheet, for some reason, was over my face. I went to pull it off, but I couldn’t move.

And then the sheet was whipped away. Above me was a Chinese man in a surgical mask. In his hand was a cutting tool.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Mother of the Beast

Courtesy of Getty Images
Crowds shriek and howl at his prison van and at me – the Beast’s mother. How much did she know? the tabloids demand. Did she make allowances, turn a blind eye? Photos show him at five, cute and smiling. When did it begin? they ask. As if he emerged from me a writhing larva of what he would become, then burst from his maggot self transformed, hardened – a monster. As if I didn’t give birth so much as he shucked me off like an old skin and slithered away. But I remember, after the agony, his downy head, his tiny hands.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

100 Word Chiller: He

We must all have played this playground game. We called it 'He' although when you tagged someone, they were 'It'. In the way of childhood games, the roles switch dramatically from one moment to the next: the predator becomes prey and an ordinary player is transformed into someone to run from in terror.

Courtesy of


‘Tag!’ A finger jabbed my shoulder. ‘You’re It!’

The others shrieked and fled, then turned and ventured nearer to tease me.

‘You’re It, you’re It! You can’t catch me!’

I chased, lunged and grabbed at air, to hoots of laughter.

But Charlie Gee was fat and slow. I saw him stop, gasping.

‘I’m not playing.’ He leaned on his knees.

I pounced. ‘You’re It!’

‘I said I’m not playing!’

 ‘You’re It!’ we shouted.

Charlie stood up, staring, twitching. He bared his teeth; his hands curled. From fat fingers, raptor claws erupted. It leaped and swiped, roaring; tearing ribbons of flesh.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

100 Word Chiller: Comeback

Courtesy of

Lacey collapsed onto the sofa. They had tried to make the funeral a celebration of her brother’s life: his relentless wind-ups, his love of scary films. She had spoken about how he terrified her with endless tricks. Everyone had laughed through their tears. They tried not to think about the shock ending: his poor ruined face after the accident.

Was it terrible to feel relief, finding the house at peace?  No one jumping out at her, no fake spiders in her bed.

But then a dragging sound approached the door. There was silence, then scratching. A rattling breath. A moan.

Friday, 18 March 2016

100 word chiller: Blocked

Here's one to chill the writers among you:

Courtesy of

Dexter had given it all up to be a writer: the salary, the power, the perks and the pension. His head was clear of that corporate nonsense, his energy released from servitude. No more did he have to cram his creative output into fevered bursts at the crack of dawn or late into the night. He would write all day.

But nothing came. Instead of the wonderworld of a living imagination, where angels danced, sparks flew and treasures were crafted, he appeared to be working with a block of wood.

He had no talent. He had no job. Dexter panicked.

Friday, 11 March 2016


Courtesy of

If your thighs meet, you’re too fat. I’ll just eat the apple at lunchtime and leave the cheese sandwich Mum packed, which is 261calories. I need a gap between my thighs, like the girls on my websites. They look amazing.

Mr Havers is on about our new textbook on the Third Reich. I keep imagining breakfasts. Bacon melting the butter in soft white bread. Typical fat greedy cow with thighs squishing together.

I turn the page. There’s a girl lying there with perfect separated thighs. Really, properly slim. Then it hits me. My girl’s a body, thrown on a pile.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

100 Word Chillers: Distraction

Courtesy of

A cat in a shoe. Like. My neighbour’s oldest son, home again. Like. Creepy lad, actually. Always gawping at Lily. Don’t like, I think. Someone’s lunch. Like.

‘No! Stop it, Jonah!’  Lily’s screams distract me. Her brother is tickling her and they’re laughing.

 ‘I’m off, Mum!’ he calls. The back door bangs but doesn’t click. Must get that fixed. A fat woman has lost four stone. ‘You won’t believe her ex’s reaction!

Lily is screaming again. How am I meant to read?

‘No!’ A bloodcurdling shriek. Wait, didn’t Jonah go out?

Her scream stops short. Nobody is laughing.

Don’t like.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


Courtesy of

We'd had fun out on our bikes, but I just wanted Mum now. I must have pedalled hard all the way home because my legs were wobbly. She’d be busy and she’d say, ‘Wouldn’t you rather be out playing?’ But sometimes the world’s too big and I want to curl up at home with her near me.

But a strange man opened the door, looking cross.

‘Who are you? Where’s Mum?’ I said.

‘She’s not here,’ he said. ‘What are you doing here again? Look at yourself!’

I looked down. A grubby nightdress. And my hands – wrinkled. Wizened. Old.

I watched the M. Night Shyamalan film The Visit the other night – a bit of a return to form for the writer/director of my favourite horror film The Sixth Sense. It is about two children who go to visit the grandparents they have never met before because of a falling out with their mother. As the visit progresses, things that at first seemed a bit ‘off’ about the old couple become increasingly alarming.

What struck me afterwards is that the film taps into fears we all have about old age – about dementia, incontinence and other horrors. We fear them happening to those we love; perhaps even more we dread suffering them ourselves.

This reminded me of misgivings I have had about my own writing. I worry that my psychological thriller Unspeakable Things exploits fears of mental illness. People very close to me have suffered anxiety and depression, and others I know and respect live with bipolar disorder and other conditions. The last thing I want to do is perpetuate prejudice against the mentally ill. However, one of my deepest fears is of madness – the loss of control, order, peace and reason, so this was a subject I wanted to explore.

Should there be holy cows in writing – things that must remain untouched? Or is fiction a legitimate way of exploring what frightens us? Perhaps it is a question of sensitivity in the way these subjects are portrayed.

As I write these 100-word Chillers, I am often challenged by these issues. What’s a good scary story, and what’s exploitative and best left untold? I’d love to hear your views – what films or stories go too far for you? What subjects should we leave alone?

Sunday, 24 January 2016

100 Word Chillers: Monkey

I am starting a series of '100 word chillers' - stories that explore something frightening in only 100 words. There will be one a week. You have been warned!

How do you set up and tell a story with a satisfying conclusion in so few words? 

It has been a fascinating exercise. It makes you focus on how much each word matters. If it isn't essential, it's gone!

What chills us?

I've thought a lot about what I find chilling. It's certainly not just haunted houses. This first story, Monkey, harks right back to one of my oldest fears, and as I wrote the story, I found that it still frightens me now.

I also thought hard about what stories to include. The idea is to thrill and entertain. There is enough in this world that is distressing, and some things that chill us seem too close to the bone. I had to come at the fear factor from a different angle, raising some interesting questions.

Here's the first story. I would love to  read your own 100 word stories.

Courtesy of


‘Hush, go to sleep, baby. Here’s cuddly monkey.’

When she went out, the room went dark and hard. Soon it was cold as death. And monkey was not cuddly like in the day. He squatted in the corner of the cot with his black lips grinning. I could see his teeth.

I cried.

Footsteps. The door clicked and a golden light came in. I smelled her milky warmth.

‘Shhh, baby, go to sleep’. The door closed.

Monkey chattered and shrieked. He ran up and down the cot, his claws scrabbling over my arms and face.

I screamed, but nobody came.

Where the story came from

When I was a baby, there was a cute little rabbit painted on the headboard of my cot. I was a child who hated to be left alone in the dark. In my memory, once night fell, the rabbit came to life. It grew great long scary legs and it walked all over me. Apparently, I screamed every night until I was taken out of that cot and put to sleep in a bed. Thinking about this while searching for 100 word chillers, I thought about a baby's vulnerability. It doesn't even have the physical control to avoid what frightens it, and it can't tell anyone what is wrong. All it can do is cry - and babies all cry, don't they?