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“A Game of Horrors” Dark Fiction by Philip Laverty

The Chamber Magazine: Contemporary Dark Fiction and Poetry

The Game has commenced, and Alan’s fear gives me such a thrill, such a shiver-inducing rush of adrenalin that my heart actually skips a beat.

It is played by two people who possess the Talent. Alan and I are playing it in a little coastal town, which is as good a place to play as any.

There are three, I feel, very significant years between us. Of those years I will say this: I developed quickly in cunning, cruelty, selfishness and greed, meaning Alan never stood a chance by the time our mother drew her last breath, her blood gushing forth onto the sheets that her labour had turned her as white as. I lost the only person I was capable of loving. Alan ripped her open to get here.

He was born with the Talent, as I had been, and I had already heard the first whispers of the Game from an uncle visiting my father, there, in that old Edwardian house that we grew up in. I heard these whispers as they drank whiskey, and my uncle smoked his repugnant pipe. Puff-puff he went, like a little train or a chimney.

 Puff-puff he went as he visited me in my room one hot Sunday afternoon when I was eleven. I had watched him playing with Alan in the garden earlier. I had looked down from my bedroom as he showed Alan one of his tricks. It was impressive, I must admit: he seemed to make a necklace disappear from his hand and then reappear hanging from the low bough of a tree at the bottom of the garden. I suppose that Alan considered himself close to this trickster, but I perceived the real truth of the relationship: a man and his obedient pup.

Puff-puff he went as he closed the door and raised his hand in a gesture which I daresay he meant to be calming. What odd notions these monsters have.

“Shh. Hush. There. See? ‘Tis only I. There now. I hear you are scared of rats.”

I was and am. How did he know? Of course, the answer was simple: Alan.

“It is good for someone with the Talent to confront their fears.”

I recall that he was wearing a V-neck pullover with diamond patterns of yellow and orange. He had ginger hair, combed in a neat side pattern. He wore a white shirt under the pullover.

A movement under the covers, and then the thing was beside me–long, hideous tail and cruel eyes.

“I can’t move,” I said, feeling like a prisoner in my own body.

“Do not panic,” he cautioned as the rat scuttled up first onto my lap, and then up my stomach, and eventually onto my face. It smelled of damp, dirty places.

“Please, make it stop,” I pleaded.

It seemed like I sat there for an eternity before he replied.

“Weak little bastard, aren’t you?”

The rat sank its front teeth into the flesh under my right eye. 

“Please.”

“There,” he said with the wave of the hand, the rat instantly vanishing.

“And now I too must take my leave.”

He walked out the door, and although I could now move, fear kept me sitting on the bed, fear that the rat would return.

My heart thudded as, outside, heat oppressed the world and made everyone capable of no more strenuous an outdoor activity than sipping cold drinks on loungers. In fact, my father, in an act of brotherly loyalty and paternal betrayal that I was never able to forgive him for, insisted that this was exactly what my uncle was at his side doing throughout the whole time that he was, in fact, in my room.

“It bit me, father!” I screamed at him as we had it out in the kitchen on the day that he showed his true colours.

“I see no bite marks.”

There were none. I could not account for this.

“He is my brother, and my truest friend,” he continued. “And it is impossible that he could have been with you at all.”

I returned to my room, and we never spoke of it again.

I formed my first horror that night. The Talent allows you to give form to your imaginings, and my mind had, for some time, been tormented by the image of a cat formed entirely from cat claws.

Take a moment to imagine. Imagine a claw first, just as I did. See it scratching a human hand and infecting it. Feel the invasive burn, like a nasty, filthy hypodermic needle. See the colour, not quite white or grey, and yet not quite yellow. Smell it too: a smell like decaying flesh. Now imagine a pile of such claws, and that piecing them together will form a cat –a hollow-eyed, clicking, scratching cat, always in disagreeable temper, always ready with a hiss. Imagine touching it, how its back would yield slightly. Not that you would ever get to touch it, mind you, unless you were fighting it off.

Creating this horror took me three hours of trial and error. However, once perfected, it was at my command, as every horror I would create henceforth would be. I christened it Horror No.1, fancying I would christen them all in this manner, and that they would one day number in their thousands. I lost count–or lost interest in keeping count–quite early on. Take the most recent horror, the one that Alan awoke to just this morning: she is called Yesterdaytodaytomorrow. I could name her nothing else, and will describe her soon. Suffice, for the moment, to say that she is quite dreadful.

That night, I set the cat upon Alan as he slept. He woke with Horror No.1 sitting on his chest, hissing viciously. He screamed, and I had the thing attack. As I lay on my bed, my attention focused completely on what I was making happen, it cut him as deeply as I had hoped it would, and he still has the four diagonal scars across this left cheek to this day.

He ran from his bed, his screams waking my father, who came to my room and demanded that I destroy the thing. I reluctantly did just that, and somewhere in the house, in the dark corner it had retreated to, Horror No.1 vanished back into my imagination.

A man not easily frightened, who in fact might have been immune to fear entirely, my father was simply appalled that his son could have created such a thing as Horror No.1.

“You want to play the Game, I suppose.”

“Yes,” I told him.

“You think you’re a player? Do you see a future in it?” he asked, removing his belt and striking my bare legs. “This is not what the Talent is intended for!” he yelled. “We do not unleash horrors upon the world.” Two more strikes followed, and I thought that a third might follow that, but instead he turned, without saying another word, and left the room.

Now it is February, and it is early morning. I have come to the park, from where I look up into the hills. A car creates a foggy searchlight as it makes its way down towards town. The patchy clouds in the dark morning sky are blast furnace orange, blast furnace black, as the sun begins its slow, furious ascent.

Now, let us say that you had the Talent and wished to play the Game. In general–with some deviations based on style, or upon the whims of the players–it takes the following shape:

 Day 1–dawn: A coin is tossed to determine who will go first. The player who loses the toss drops the mental defences that we are taught to develop from an early age

Day 2: The player going first is given this day to prepare their horror. If it is already prepared, then perhaps the player can refine it.

Day 3–dawn: The horror is given form by the player going first, and it is set upon the opponent, who then must hold their nerve for twenty-four hours. If they do, then, after three days of rest, it is their turn, and so on…

The Game is won when the opponent begs for the horror to be destroyed. He has to say that specific, ancient, most sacred phrase: “No more. Please destroy it. I beg you.”

At this point the victor may withdraw from the game, or agree to another, if their opponent wishes. Some players are content with the glory and retire from playing completely.

And now we come to Yesterdaytodaytomorrow. So-christened because this is what she repeats over and over again in a voice that is more like buzzing–ceaselessly monotone. She is the height and shape of a three-year-old child, but is covered in the feathery hair of a bee. I have given her a yellow dress to wear, and each of her fingers has a venom sack on the end with a stinger protruding from it. The venom is not fatal, but the sting will be far more painful than a cat scratch.

Alan woke one hour ago to find Yesterdaytodaytomorrow standing at the foot of his bed. Her droning recital of the only three words she knows was what stirred him from his sleep. I saw what she saw, saw him sitting up, and the terror on his face. You might wonder how he could have slept at all. However, players know they need their strength for the day to come, and those who have not trained themselves to sleep will often take a remedy.

He ran from the house in his pyjamas. I had Yesterdaytodaytomorrow don a black, oversized, rain poncho that I had purchased especially for her, and pair of red wellington boots. I had her put up the hood as, using my mind, I steered her from the house in pursuit of Alan. If she is challenged–if someone sees her–then I will improvise. These encounters can be amusing sometimes. And should the worst come to the worst and I am forced to destroy her, then I will, and it will be Alan’s turn.

All part of the Game.   

I can give the horror as much attention as is necessary. I am enjoying this early morning stroll, and want to concentrate on that for the most part. Yesterdaytodaytomorrow should catch up with Alan soon. After all, he cannot have got far in his pyjamas.

I check on her progress a little more closely. Imagine an idea or other thought bubbling away at the back of your mind, but enabling you to concentrate on other matters. You can bring it to the forefront whenever you please. That is what I am doing now.

She is buzzing along a street, but it is the wrong one, and she is moving in the wrong direction. In fact, it seems that she is coming towards the park. Gentle early morning tides lap against the beach, and the moon still hangs in the no-longer-night sky.

“Turn,” I command her, and am so perturbed I actually utter the word. “Turn round, Yesterdaytodaytomorrow. Come on.”

I can see her now for real, intently striding towards me, the hood of her poncho still up.

Losing control of a horror is unthinkable. The best ones –the only ones that are worth creating–have to terrify the creator too. It horrifies me to be inside her buzzing head, where all that can be heard is the echoing of those three maddening words.

She has reached the far edge of the park. As she does so, a man comes towards me from the other direction. I assume he has been hiding behind the ruin of a wall that separates the park from the beach. He is, I note, in his pyjamas, although he has acquired a coat and boots from somewhere.

“Alan,” I say by way of a greeting.

“Brother.”

My fair-haired brother, whose handsome face mysteriously no longer has the scars left by Horror No.1.

“What is going on?” I ask, glancing towards Yesterdaytodaytomorrow as she comes to a halt within stinging distance of me. “What have you done?”

“You have at least accepted that I have done something. I am heartened. It saves tiresome explanations, eh?”

I am truly at a loss as to what to say to him. Part of my mind is preoccupied with trying to reason out this conundrum, the other with attempting to regain control of Yesterdaytodaytomorrow.

“Nothing to say, brother?” he asks. “No? Well, I suggest that you begin by asking who won the toss. Who went first?”

“I did,” I reply, pouncing upon the one thing that I am sure of.

“No, I am afraid not.”

“I did.” I incline my head towards the horror. “And I created her.”

“Untrue. OK, well, let us try something else. What is this town called?” 

It is…on the tip of my tongue. Or is it? Is that merely a memory, or my brain coming up with some generic name for a generic seaside town?

“Come now, brother, you are usually so verbose! The fact is I never gave it a name. Perhaps I should have. It is a coastal town – that is all. To be precise, it is an amalgamation of a few I have visited. I have never had much of an imagination, which is the chief reason why I should never have become a player. You were keen to play me though; and I suspected you would have had the bad form to set horrors upon me anyway–ones even worse than that fucking cat from when we were children. I had to have some boundaries, and those of the Game were all that were afforded me.

“So, there I was, eighteen years of age and playing for the first time. How unprepared I was! The horror you conjured up almost drove me to insanity.

“Almost, but not quite. My sanity remained intact, and I was keen to exact revenge upon you, keen to best you at your precious game. However, your command of the Talent was frightening, and this presented a problem.

“Do you remember our uncle? He was very kind to me and assured me he could help. He had devised a move, based on a skill he had learned from a woman in Argentina. It was a move he had only utilised once, but to great effect. He told me his opponent had never recovered his senses, and that he himself had then retired from the Game. The skill had not gone to waste though, and he had continued to use it for his own ends, his own pleasure.

“It took me three arduous years to learn, and when I was ready, I asked if you would agree to a rematch. You did, and very eagerly, I might add.”

I recall none of this. In fact, I am starting to find that attempting to grasp at any facts in this regard is like grasping at smoke.  

“Now,” he continues, “I needed luck. I could think of no plausible way to fix the toss, and so I had to hope you would lose. If not, I would have to steel myself to endure your horror before I got my turn.

“You lost, you lowered your mental defences, and I made my move.”

“What did you do?”

I can tell by the twitch of a smile on his lip that he recognises how perilously close I am to begging.

“I used the skill our uncle taught me.”

“What is the skill?”

“To create one’s own reality in the mind of another. We are in that reality now, and I control every aspect of it.”

Attempting to refute what he has told me would be foolish, especially in light of how I am now feeling. My mind feels suddenly sleep-deprived, and so my thought processes are…sluggish. Meanwhile, Yesterdaytodaytomorrow shimmers and fades from view, reappears, shimmers and fades, over and over again. Her buzzing repetition has ceased, but a poster on a bus shelter has caught my eye in the dawn light. It depicts me as a child holding my uncle’s hand as we walk through a plastic replica of a seaside town inside what looks like a snow globe. The copy reads: Yesterdaytodaytomorrow.

“Now,” he says, “you will say the words, and I will win.”

“No.”

“Well, we will see if you feel differently as the day wears on.”

He vanishes before my eyes.

I wonder where I am really. I wonder where we are playing the Game. Wherever we are, I picture Alan sitting at my bedside, holding my hand as I endure the trance that he has put me into.

No, this is…ludicrous. I won the toss. I went first.

I won the

I should have argued that this is an illegal move. Would that I felt sharp enough to argue!

I feel a hand take mine. It is so strong, and I cannot resist it as it leads me towards the beach, which is covered, every inch of it, with rats. The air is filled with their maddening screech.

Puff-puff we go. Puff-puff goes the owner of the hand, and he whispers, “Shh. Hush. There. See? ‘Tis only I. There now.”

My father is sitting on a bench beside the slide behind the see-saw. He watches as we go.

“They will bite me, father,” I protest.

“They will not leave a mark,” I hear him reply.

I close my eyes and say the only thing I can think to say.

“No more. Please destroy it. I beg you.”


Mr. Laverty notes:

“I am currently working on new horror fiction while editing various other pieces and trying to place them with publishers and agents. I live in Scotland and have two daughters. My main horror influences are M.R. James, Sheridan Le Fanu, William Peter Blatty and David Lynch.”


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