Scenes of Mild Peril
by David Court
Genre: Horror / Sci-fi / Satire , Short Stories
Across thirty disquieting stories, we'll encounter such tales as, "Sovereign's Last Hurrah", featuring a team of retired super-powered villains embarking on one last caper with their legendary super-hero rival.
"A Comedian Walks into a Bar", in which a hungry and ambitious amateur learns that the fabled secret of comedy may come at too high a cost. "83", where the interview for a dream job becomes a nightmare, and "In Vino Veritas, In Vino Mors", where a dying wine collector takes part in a very special tasting session, courtesy of a very special visitor.
You'll encounter possessed little fingers, magic swords, sanity-defying factories, stranded astronauts, lovecraftian librarians, virulent plagues, and pork scratchings ... all with a twist in the tale, courtesy of the equally twisted mind of David Court.
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In Vino Veritas, In Vino Mors
To hear him tell his tales was to be there yourself. Here was I, a being considerably older than Albarossa, who had only seen a fraction of the world—both known and unknown—in comparison. He spoke of sentient fungi from different worlds (whose tubers could be distilled into quite a reasonably flavoured spirit, apparently) in the same breath that he’d talk about the complexity of finding and fermenting mandrake roots (blending them with honey and molasses was one of his trade secrets). He’d stolen fruits and herbs with mystical powers from kings, barons, and holy men and had fought with ghosts, ghouls, and formless things with unpronounceable names. The evening flew by as more bottles from his exquisite collection were opened and openly quaffed—each bottle had an origin story as delicious and as addictive as the drink itself.
On a sliding scale from zero to catastrophe, this was pretty much off the scale. On a particularly quiet day at the helm, he’d gone to the trouble of working it out. At the end of his calculations, he had confirmed his suspicions—nearly eighty percent of the rules and guidelines in the Navy Spacefaring manual could be summed up in two simple words.
Heroes and Villains … there was almost mutual respect between us, back then. The good guys would try not to rough us up too much before turning us in, and we villains would always do our best to make our convoluted death traps escapable. We villains didn’t used to kill people. It was mostly just about stealing stuff. Today it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad. They’re all angst-ridden brooders clad in black or purple with guns and knives. An old-school puzzler like me wouldn’t have a fighting chance these days. How would it be possible to be a decent schemer when everybody and their super-pet has access to a dozen or more search-engines?
The Digit That Was Death
I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, and I’d happily bet you a week’s wages I could tell you the most common last words spoken by people just before they die. All you romantics out there would love it to be something like a muttered heartfelt “I love you,” followed by a death rattle and the smile that provokes an “Aww. He’s at peace now,” but I’m sure it’s not that. Do you know what I bet the most common last words are? “Watch this.”
It was only when I was quietly mumbling the preparatory prayers and rituals that I remembered one last item. I crossed myself, walked over to my locker, and carefully took it from its special place on the shelf. The lump hammer was devoid of any magical or eldritch qualities, but the layers of blackened dried blood coating its leaden metal sang its worth. I had nicknamed the lump hammer “Kathy” after my ex-wife, as both were short, dull, and capable of fucking you up.
At first, she thought it to be a trick of the light, but then realised that the shadow itself had form and weight. A child’s hand emerged, but as it moved into the light she could see each of the fat stubby fingers was a single, thin, red tendril folded over itself. The fingers extended to their full length and grasped at the air. The thing emerged in much the same manner, spreading and unfolding itself to its full size. Hannah was frozen in fear and could do nothing but watch as the whole thing now stood in front of the door, perched on top of impossibly thin limbs. The horror was bright red, thick indents across its surface marking muscle—a thin thing which for all intents and purposes looked like a child’s drawing of a stick man, albeit one with the face of an infant. It swayed where it stood, as though it were acclimatising to its form. Eyes on a face of raw muscle and sinew darted around the room as the child’s mouth opened and closed noiselessly. It blinked in the light for a few moments before it noticed her—two baby blue eyes narrowed; they stared at her as the mouth opened again. “Mama.”
Try as he might, even with a third slug of poitín burning its way through his innards, Turlough Hylle couldn’t shake the last image he’d had of those poor unfortunate souls. The last thing he had seen as he lifted the hammer to nail the final plank across the window were the bright blue eyes of Ciara and her infant Bradan staring back at him. Not the pleading eyes of somebody begging for both their lives, just the blank and tired expression of somebody resigned to their fate. That somehow made it that much worse.
Turlough placed the small pottery beaker down on the table and looked around the inn, his heart aching. There was not a person in here who had not lost a friend or a family member in this latest visitation of the plague, and the mood in here was a sombre one. As little as ten days ago, the inn would have been filled with both people and music—somebody would be playing a harp or beating on a bodhrán, and there’d always be someone who’d had a little too much of the strong stuff merrily singing along. Now the only music was that of a broken voice singing a haunted and mournful lament to the dead. The few occupants stared down at their drinks so as not to meet each other’s gaze, and a fog of thick pipe smoke clung to the rafters like a rain cloud.
David Court is a short story author and novelist, whose works have appeared in over a dozen venues including Tales to Terrify, Strangely Funny, Fears Accomplice and The Voices Within. Whilst primarily a horror writer, he also writes science fiction, poetry and satire.
His writing style has been described as "Darkly cynical" and "Quirky and highly readable" and David can't bring himself to disagree with either of those statements.
Growing up in the UK in the eighties, David's earliest influences were the books of Stephen King and Clive Barker, and the films of John Carpenter and George Romero. The first wave of Video Nasties may also have had a profound effect on his psyche.
As well as being a proud VIP writer for Stitched Smile Publications, David works as a Software Developer and lives in Coventry with his wife, three cats and an ever-growing beard. David's wife once asked him if he'd write about how great she was. David replied that he would, because he specialized in short fiction. Despite that, they are still married.
Favourite foods and music?
I’m a keen cook - I do a Jambalaya and Lasagne to die for - but I’m really fond of a decent curry, which, being stuck in the Midlands, there’s no shortage of. Music wise, my tastes are pretty eclectic - film soundtracks when I’m writing, various bits of electronica and industrial stuff the rest of the time, but I’ll listen to anything. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures in music - if you like it, why feel guilty? I used to be a complete musical snob but think I’ve grown out of that. Life’s too short – if you like it, don’t feel guilty.
What makes you laugh or cry?
Comedy-wise, I’m a real fan of dark humour, so League of Gentlemen and Rick & Morty are right up my street. Classic British Comedy is also my weakness. Crying? I seem to blub at the drop of a hat but the two things guaranteed to get me bawling like an infant are (a) The very end of Silent Running and (b) the bit where John William’s music swells and the bikes take off into the air in E.T. Both reduce me to an absolute sobbing wreck. I can’t look at a watering can or hear Joan Baez without sniffling now.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I’m a huge fan of movies, so a lot of my time – when I’m not writing or reading – is spent watching films. As a huge geek, I’m also a huge fan of board-games. The sort of games that take about eight hours to play and involve way too many dice. I’m also – as my stomach and beard will attest to – way too fond of craft beer.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Kind. Sarcastic. Shy. Excitable. Happy. Innumerate.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed telling stories. Once upon a time that used to be through table-top roleplaying – I’d invent worlds and situations for my group to play in. I started writing a few pieces of short fiction based around some of those characters, but they were pretty much only for my viewing only.
A while back, I got involved with a (sadly now defunct) online fiction forum. One of those places where you submit your stories, and readers and other authors get the chance to comment and provide a critique of your work. I submitted a short horror story I’d written (solely for fun, never intended for publication) and it went down really well. So I wrote another story, and another – and became somewhat addicted to the reaction.
As writers, all we really ever crave is the adulation of our audiences, regardless of how we package it. Buoyed by the positive responses to my stories, it gave me the courage to submit one of them (that first one, The Shadow Cast by the World, which became the lead story in my first collection) to a publisher, and it was accepted.
I guess it was then I thought “Yeah, I’m a writer now”. That feeling rarely lasts though – I go meandering through phases veering from over-confidence to horrible impostor syndrome. But yeah, I guess I’m a writer now
Do you have a favorite movie?
This is a tricky one and my answer tends to vary to questions such as this, but I always end up gravitating back to Aliens. I’ve always said that it’s about as close to cinematic perfection as you can get – the plot, the pacing, the acting, the SFX. And it also does the rare thing of being an excellent sequel to an equally excellent film. It’s a film I come back to again and again, and it’s one of those films that if it’s ever on television, I have to watch the whole thing again. Even though I own them all on Blu-ray and can watch them any time I like
Depending on my biorhythmic cycle for any particular day, feel free to replace this answer with The Thing, The Princess Bride, The Empire Strikes Back or Children of Men. And many, many more.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
If Hollywood is reading, “Any of them. Any of them would make a perfect movie, and my rates are relatively cheap. Call me.” Honestly though, the one I’m working on at the moment – It’s called “The High Room”, and it’s a deviation from my standard stuff – literary fiction, as opposed to my typical genre stuff. It’s a semi-autobiographical coming of age story set in the Midlands, UK during the eighties and is some seriously heavy stuff. It’d make a great gritty drama, but wouldn’t be easy viewing. I wrote it to provide some catharsis following my mum dying, and it evolved into something I hadn’t expected. It’d be the sort of drama that would end with a voiceover going “If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this film…”
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I don’t need a spirit animal, I’ve got three actual ones who decide to bother me every time I commit myself to writing. Three cats (Lilith, Aslan and Twist) who only find my lap appealing when I’m sat at my computer about to dedicate myself to a serious writing session. Spirit animals would probably be considerably less fuss – certainly less miaowy and scratchy. And they don’t need litter trays emptying.
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