Horla Fiction (May 2020)





Y’KNOW, I wish I’d never had the idea in the first place. It started when I were put on this Yorkshire Community Payback thing. Unpaid work. It’s crap, but it’s better than prison.

They had eight of us doing gardening in the park. We did nowt but plant bulbs in these flower beds for days on end, and we all had to wear these stupid hi-viz jackets with “Community Payback” on ‘em. But we got breaks and we took turns skiving off for a fag, so it were only really shit if it rained. Hey, and just wait – the dozy bastards weren’t watching. See, we planted these daffodils so come next spring they’ll get this big “FUCK OFF” in yellow flowers.

One day we ran out of bulbs, so Eric, one of the minders, went off to a garden centre for some more, and I got to go with him to help. The others had to stay and dig, so I got the cushy job. Eric even let me smoke in the van as long as the window were open. I’d never been to a garden centre before. There were all sorts of crap like soil and plant pots, but there were good stuff there too, and that’s when I got the idea – to rob it. See, they had loads worth nicking; not plants, but power tools and that.

You can do all right flogging them, no questions asked. And they had booze too, tons of it. Best of all, we walked all over and I didn’t see any cameras or alarms or owt. I couldn’t believe it. There weren’t even any of them stupid stickers they put up saying “these premises protected by Dickhead Security Services”. As if yer average tea leaf’s gonna see that and think “oh well, in that case I won’t rob the place”.

Well, with that much stuff I knew I’d need some help, I couldn’t shift it all on my own. So I got Kev and Andy along. Kev, he were a worrier, but he were what you might call loyal too. I mean, not exactly the brightest lamp on t’street but good at doing what he were told. Well, mostly. Andy were different – cocky, always fancying himself. With this hair oil smelling like furniture polish and never without his precious leather jacket. Forever telling everyone he’s not gay – yeah, right. I reckon he were that far into t’closet he were nearly in Narnia. Anyhow, the plan were dead simple.

Me and Kev would go there one afternoon, late on, pretending we were shopping, like. When it got near closing time we’d just hide somewhere, let ‘em lock us in and wait. Once everyone had buggered off we’d have the place to ourselves to sort out what we wanted to pinch. Meanwhile Andy were gonna nick a van from somewhere and park it round the back. We’d open a window and let him in. Then we’d load up, move the stuff, and ditch the van. Like I said, dead simple. And, y’know, the great thing about dead simple is that it’s really hard to screw it up, but I were still worried that Kev and Andy would give it their best shot.

We went on a Sunday when it’s crowded, so we wouldn’t look obvious. This were a few weeks later and they’d changed it round a bit. Most stuff were still where I remembered it from before, but they’d stood these two massive great scarecrows in the middle, near the way in, next to some stupid-looking wooden wheelbarrow full of plants. I dunno who reckoned them things were gonna make folk buy stuff, they gave me the creeps. I remember years back nearly shitting myself when we all took some acid at Kev’s place and watched this horror film with scarecrows in it. They chased people and chopped ‘em up. I had nightmares for months after. And these ones looked worse than that. The heads were like sacks stretched over their skulls. If you watched for long enough you started feeling you could see ‘em breathing. They’d even got these red glass eyes so they looked angry all the time. The clothes were sacking too, with ropes round their waists, and bunches of twigs for fingers. One were holding a garden fork and the other one had this scythe over his shoulder.

I soon stopped looking at ‘em, but whenever I turned back it were like they were still looking at me.

Anyhow, we split up, looking for hiding places. Kev went and hid near all this stuff people put in their gardens. Y’know, concrete statues – cats and dragons and that – and plastic toadstools and stupid things with bells on that tinkle in the wind. It were like a graveyard in a cartoon film. He said he’d seen this massive stack of plant pots and he’d find somewhere behind them, so off he went. Where I hid the place had a glass roof. There were all these wooden tables and shelves covered with plants and it were a piece of piss to just crawl under and disappear.

I sat down on this concrete floor to wait. I could see through the gaps that it were getting dark and I started feeling cold.

Bit by bit everyone started leaving. They’d been playing this granny music all afternoon, but they stopped it, made some announcement about closing in five minutes and then turned it off. There were sounds of a couple of people moving about, clearing up, then the lights started going out. Doors were locked, and it all went quiet. You could still see a bit ‘cause they’d left a couple of lights on. Little green lights on the ground they were, shining up. What with the yellow through the roof from street lights outside, everything looked horrible, like the plants were all sick and dying. And the place smelled weird too, like the compost heap my old man used to have on his allotment, where he left stuff to rot.

We’d all got mobiles, so we could text each other without making any noise. I texted Andy to see how he were getting on with that van. When he answered he said he were running late ‘cause he’d had trouble getting it started, but now he were on his way.

Then, would you believe it, he texts again, this time saying that he had to go and get petrol, so he’d be even later. I mean, what sort of getaway driver nicks a van with an empty tank? He said he’d let us know when he’d got parked up round the back, so we could open up for him.

Then I heard a clunk, then this hissing noise started, getting louder and louder. I couldn’t work it out, it sounded like it were coming from everywhere at once. I felt summat on my shoulder, then on my head, and then all over. Freezing cold water started dripping on me, then the floor were running with it. Turns out they had some sort of automatic sprinkler watering the plants. I got soaked and it were freezing cold and all. I texted Kev to check if he were all right and tell him Andy were gonna be late, but there were no reply.

Crouched down in t’dark, dripping wet and shivering, I were starting to wish we’d never come. I were gasping for a fag and wondering why he didn’t answer – I thought maybe, with him being such a muppet, he’d forgot to charge his mobile or maybe even forgot to bring it. Ages after, he sent a text saying he’d been hearing things. Said it were like squelching noises.

I texted him to sit tight and wait, but then he texted again, saying now he could hear some of them stupid wind chimes tinkling. A minute later he sent another, saying he were scared and was gonna go home. I knew if he bottled it he’d fuck everything up, so I sent back telling him to stay where he were and get a grip. I couldn’t see nowt from where I were, I just hoped he did what he were told. Then Andy texted saying he’d got parked up round the back. Said he couldn’t find a garage, but instead he’d siphoned some petrol out of a car somewhere, into this can he’d found in the van. That worried me too – with him being such a dozy get I reckoned that he’d probably sucked a load out of a diesel.

I told him to stay put and I’d let him know when he could come in.

I decided I had to make a move, I just wanted to get on with it. I’d had enough of the place, my back were killing me squatting down like that, and I were soaked through and freezing. I crawled out from under these plants and stood up. It all looked different now. The sprinklers were still pissing out this mist, like you get from aerosol cans. It were drifting about in this yellowy green light, so things kept changing. Y’know, like in dreams, stuff looked closer and then further away, so you never knew where you were.

The wet made the plants droop and drip, so they brushed against you in the dark, smearing across your face and sticking to it, like dead hands. And that rotting compost smell were ten times worse now, too.

I needed to get a window open for Andy, so I had to get going, but it took ages, slithering around in the shadows with all these wet things sticking to me. My trainers leaked and my feet started feeling all squelchy. I found this window at the back of the place, easy big enough to climb through. Outside I could see Andy had parked the van behind this massive wood chipper machine, that way you couldn’t see it from the street. The window weren’t even locked. I opened it, then went off to find Kev. It were scary, tiptoeing round in this green mist with everything smelling like it were dead. To be honest, I just wanted to grab some stuff and get out, the place were starting to creep me out too.

By the front doors I could just about see that wheelbarrow and one of them scarecrows. It were that dark I couldn’t see the other one, mostly it were all shadows. Then there were a clunk and that hissing noise faded away. The sprinklers stopped but the mist just hung there, flickering. The only sounds now were dripping water and me splashing through puddles and then calling out for Kev. I soon stopped that; he never answered, and my own voice echoing back through that green mist were fucking me up.

Looking back, I thought I saw what looked like somebody clambering through that open window. That bloody idiot Andy were supposed to stay in the van. But there were nowt I could do, the first thing were to find Kev and stop him panicking. He’d sounded really spooked before and I didn’t want him freaking out and doing summat stupid. I found him in this place where they had all these tables and chairs laid out on plastic grass. Kev were just stood there, like in a dream – stock-still in the shadows under this wooden trellis arch thing, looking like he’d ducked under to get out of the rain. Head down, not moving, just staring at a table, like he were gonna walk out for afternoon tea.

His face was all green and sick-looking in that horrible light, like a waxworks dummy. I waved and called out, but he did nowt, didn’t even blink. I ran over and shook him and he just slumped to the floor, face down. His mobile fell out of his hand and clattered on the deck, really loud. There were a garden fork buried in his back.

I totally lost it. All I wanted were out. I dunno how long I ran around, falling over things in the dark. I ducked into this garden shed, trying to figure out what the fuck were going on. I stayed there for ages, shaking and listening. There were noises. Slow squelching noises, getting nearer and nearer, like somebody struggling through a swamp. They stopped right outside the shed.

I could hear these angry, hissing breathing sounds right outside, waiting for me. I were so close to freaking out; I mean, I were in the pitch black stuck in this shed, shit scared and freezing, Kev were dead, I had no idea where Andy were or what he were up to, it were miles to that open window, and now I were thinking some Thing were wandering around out there.

I knew I had to do summat but I couldn’t think what. Then I had an idea. Dead slowly I got my mobile out. I guessed that, what with Kev being thick as two shorts, he’d only put texts on silent, and I were right. I found his number, pressed Call and from somewhere out there I could hear this crappy ringtone. Them hissing sounds outside moved off.

Feeling a bit calmer, I snuck out and started tiptoeing towards that window. I passed this rack of gardening tools, and took hold of a spade – I felt a bit safer, holding it out in front of me, like a soldier with a rifle. Soon I could see the open window in front, maybe thirty feet away. I was gonna get out.

Suddenly this scythe slashed out from nowhere and just smashed the spade out of my hands. I ran for it. These grunting, wheezing sounds were following me but I didn’t dare look round. I jumped through the window, landed on the gravel and raced to the van, yelling. The engine started and the door flew open. I threw myself in, shouting at him to drive. He were reversing before I’d even got the door shut, then he tossed me some fags.

I were shaking that much I could hardly get one in my mouth. I flicked the lighter, and there he were – with these two red eyes. The sackcloth face slowly stretched out wide into this evil grin. I dropped the lighter, then bang! Flames were everywhere, Andy had left the siphoning gear under the seat, petrol were all over t’place. My clothes caught fire as I threw myself out, and it hurt like fuck as I hit the side of that shredding machine.

I landed in this sticky, sludgy puddle, then rolled over in it a couple of times to put the flames out. The van ran back into a wall, it were blazing like hell. I stood up, covered in this horrible stinking crap. It were all over the ground by the shredder. There were bits of a leather jacket in it.

A text came in from Kev’s mobile. It said “These premises protected by Reaper Security Services.”





Malcolm Timperley studied medicine at Liverpool University, spent more years than he likes to remember as a psychiatrist, and is now a writer and heritage steam railway signalman, living in the Highlands of Scotland. His published writings include non-fiction (railway history), horror short stories and comic flash fiction. Most recently his work was short-listed at the 2020 Edinburgh International Flash Fiction Awards. 

The photo shows him on stage.

Incidentally, he says of his story, that it ‘reads best with a Yorkshire accent, though this isn’t compulsory’. (But – for those who don’t know it – Yorkshire’s a big and proud county and, er, that’s one thing that we at Horla aren’t going to get into!!)

Title photo credit. Photo by Parker Coffman on Unsplash

Standard Horla disclaimer – the image has no direct connection with the fiction.