Are you brave enough to discover what figures of fear haunt the imagination of the “master of modern horror”
From the beginning of history, men and women have been haunted by figures of fear – and now, in his latest short story collection, award-winning horror writer Graham Masterton reveals the figures that haunt his own imagination and keep him awake at night.
FIGURES OF FEAR presents eleven stories, introducing eleven new evils, guaranteed to unsettle and disturb.
Meet the little girl whose mother is keeping something important from her, with fearful results . . . Tremble at the artist who can see the future and prevent it, at a price . . . Beware of the dark, and the evil that lurks within it . . . Tremble, and hide, at the sound of the jingle-bells . . .
Do figures of fear really bring bad luck? Or are they nothing more than stories? Only you can figure out how fearful you are . . .
|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Graham Masterton, a “master of modern horror” (Library Journal), is one of the world’s best-selling horror writers. A journalist by trade, Masterton’s debut novel, The Manitou, was an instant hit and was filmed with Tony Curtis and Susan Strasberg.
Read an Excerpt
Figures Of Fear
By Graham Masterton
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2014 Graham Masterton
All rights reserved.
'Señor Foster! This way, señor!'
Henry stepped out of the shadow into the sunlight and into the middle of the marketplace. All around him, stalls were selling melons and tomatillos and decorated leather belts and scarves and holy statuettes and sticky-looking cakes and dishwashing brushes and bottles of Radiante floor cleaner.
Mariachi music was playing loudly from competing loudspeakers precariously wired on top of the stalls, and the noise of shouting and laughing and dogs barking and parrots squawking was so deafening that Henry felt as if he had found himself in the middle of a riot.
He caught up with Esmeralda, who unexpectedly took hold of his hand, as if he were a child rather than a forty-five-year-old man with thinning brown hair and a flappy white linen suit.
'You said that you wanted souvenirs, señor,' she reminded him.
'Well, yes. But something artistic, you know. Something truly Mexican, of course. But reasonably tasteful. I can't give the head of my sociology department a plastic cactus.'
'We will find something for you, señor,' said Esmeralda, and continued to tug him through the crowds. Henry had no choice but to follow her, as much as he didn't like being jostled. A gap-toothed man leered right in his face, holding up a necklace strung with large red chilli peppers.
'Show your girlfriend that you are hot stuff, señor!'
'She's my guide, thanks,' said Henry. 'Not my girlfriend.'
He didn't know why he had felt obliged to say that. After all, Esmeralda was stunningly pretty, with shiny brown curls and feline eyes and a mouth that seemed to be permanently pouting. The only trouble was that she was young enough to be his daughter.
'I know what we buy for you!' she said, as she pulled him through the acrid smoke that was wafting across from a carne asada stall. 'I know exactly for sure what you would like!'
She led him down a shady alley by the side of the marketplace, where old men with faces like wrinkled gourds were sitting on doorsteps together, smoking. At the end of the alley there was a makeshift stall constructed of packing cases and blankets and sacking.
A roughly painted metal sign outside the stall said Retablos. Inside, a woman was sitting on a kitchen chair with an easel in front of her, painting a small sheet of metal with enamel paints from twenty or thirty different little brightly coloured pots.
'Buenos días,' said Esmeralda. 'Mi amigo quiere comprar un retablo.'
The woman turned toward them. She must have been about forty years old, with high, distinctive cheekbones and hooded eyes that were as shiny and colourless as ball bearings. She wore a black scarf twisted around her head and a black dress with grey serpentine patterns on it.
'Ah,' she said, and her voice was deep and throaty, as if she had been chain-smoking Delicados cigarettes since she was old enough to breathe. 'I have been waiting for you, señor.'
'Excuse me?' said Henry.
Without another word, the woman stood up and went to the back of her stall. She produced a small package wrapped in newspaper and handed it to him.
'What's this?' Henry asked her.
'Your retablo, señor. Ex-voto.'
Bewildered, Henry unwrapped the newspaper. Inside was a thin sheet of metal with a shiny picture painted on it, like a scene from a comic strip. It showed a city street, with a crowd of people standing on the sidewalk. A man in a white suit was lying in the middle of the street, with one arm pinned underneath the chassis of an overturned truck. He was cutting his own arm off with a large saw, and there was blood all over his sleeve.
Up above him, floating in the sky, there was a saintly figure dressed in blue and gold, and attended by golden cherubs.
'I don't understand,' said Henry.
'It is simple,' the woman told him, pointing to the man in the white suit with a long, silver-polished fingernail. 'People come to me when they have survived a terrible accident, or a life-threatening sickness, or maybe they have been robbed and nearly killed. I paint for them an ex-voto, a thank you to the saint who saved their lives, which they will put up on the wall of their church.
'In this case I have painted yours before your accident. Sometimes I can do that. It depends on who you are, and which saint will preserve you. In this case it is La Virgen de los Remedios, Our Lady of the Remedies. She told me many weeks ago that you were coming, and what would happen to you, and how your life could be saved.'
Henry said, 'What? You think I'm going to be run down by a truck?' 'All fates are unavoidable, señor.'
'I'm going to be run over by a truck and I'll cut my own arm off to get free? That's insane.'
The woman shrugged. 'I do not decide the future, señor. I will sell you this retablo for twenty dollars. You will be able to thank Our Lady even before she has saved you.'
'This is sick,' said Henry. 'This is totally sick.'
He twisted his hand from Esmeralda's grasp and started to stalk back toward the marketplace.
Esmeralda called, 'Señor Foster! Señor Foster! Wait!' But Henry refused to turn around and angrily shouldered his way through the crowds.
He crossed the marketplace and walked back along the shadowy arcade that led to his hotel. His whole life people had treated him like he was some kind of a dupe and even now he was here in Mexico on business he was still being taken for a mark. He felt hot and sweaty and embarrassed and outraged.
If he hadn't been so angry, maybe he would have looked to his right before he stepped out into the blinding white sunlight at the end of the arcade and across the street in front of the Soledad Hotel. An old Dodge truck loaded with oil drums hit him at no more than fifteen miles an hour, but it knocked him through a wooden barricade that had been erected around a twelve-foot-deep excavation in the street, where the sewers were being replaced.
He fell right to the bottom, amongst the sewer pipes, and then the truck skidded on the dusty surface of the street and dropped into the hole on top of him, with a shattering, ramshackle crash.
He opened his eyes. It was gloomy and surprisingly chilly at the bottom of the excavation, and there was a strong smell of sewage and gasoline. He tried to sit up but found that he couldn't move an inch. His right shoulder was crushed under the right nearside wheel of the truck, and the truck itself was jammed at an angle.
He looked up. He could see anxious faces peering down at him from the sunlit street.
'Señor Foster!' a girl called out, and he recognized it as Esmeralda.
'Are you hurt, señor?'
'I can't – I can't get out,' Henry called back, his voice blurry with shock. 'My arm ... it's stuck under the wheel.'
'Señor Foster, you have to get out. The truck is pouring gas.'
'I can't. It's my arm.'
Henry could hear Esmeralda talking to some of the men up on the street. Then there was a long pause. The stench of gasoline was growing stronger and stronger, and it was making his eyes water. It suddenly occurred to him that he was going to be roasted alive, down at the bottom of this stinking pit. That was how his life was going to end, and he had never even found anybody to love.
It was then that he heard a clanking noise. He lifted his head again, and realized what it was. A large carpenter's saw was being lowered down to him on the end of a length of cord.
It came to rest next to his left hand. He stared at it in horror.
Esmeralda called down to him. 'It is terrible, señor, I know! But what choice do you have?'
Henry picked up the saw and positioned it against his upper arm. The cross-cut teeth were so sharp that they snagged in the fabric of his linen coat. He closed his eyes tight, clenched his teeth, and pushed the saw as hard as he could. It cut through his coat and his shirt, and ripped into his skin. He had never felt anything so agonizing in his life, and he screamed, or he thought that he screamed. He was deafened with pain.
He dragged the saw back, and then pushed it across his shoulder a second time, cutting through muscle. So much blood welled up that his whole sleeve was flooded bright red, but he realized that he would have to push even harder, or cutting his arm off would take hours.
He pushed a third time, so forcefully that the teeth cut into his bone. But the saw also skidded against the iron sewer-pipe, and set off a spark. There was an instant whoompph of exploding gasoline fumes, and Henry's face was seared by a blast of 300-degree heat. His hair flared and shrivelled and his eyes were fried.
Henry blazed like an effigy. His linen suit turned brown and shrank and fell apart. His skin was scorched scarlet, and then charred black. But unlike an effigy he sawed harder and faster, with the jerky motions of one of those little figures on a weathervane. Within a few minutes he was a mass of flames, but he kept on sawing and screaming until he had cut right through his upper arm. He dropped backward, blackened and smoking, but free.
The painter of retablos had joined Esmeralda in the street above. She laid her silver-polished nails on Esmeralda's shoulder.
'Le Virgen de los Remedios, she warned him,' she said, in her throaty voice. 'He had no faith in her, no trust. But the Virgin of the Remedies ... she has a remedy for everything, even that.'CHAPTER 2
WHAT THE DARK DOES
'Mummy – please don't close the door.'
His mother smiled at him, her face half lit by the landing light, the other half in shadow, so that she looked as if she were wearing a Venetian carnival mask.
'All right. But I can't leave the light on all night. Honestly, David, there's nothing to be scared of. You remember what Granpa used to say – dark is only the same stuff that's behind your eyelids, only more of it.'
David shivered. He remembered his granpa lying in his open coffin at the undertakers, his face grey and half-collapsed. He had thought then that Granpa would never see anything else, ever again, except the darkness behind his eyelids, and that was scary.
Darkness is only benign if you know that you can open your eyes whenever you want to, and it will have fled away.
He snuggled down under his patchwork quilt and closed his eyes. Almost immediately he opened them again. The door was still open and the landing light was still shining. On the back of his chair he could see his black school blazer, ready for tomorrow, and his neatly folded shorts.
In the corner of his room, lying sprawled on the floor, he could see Sticky Man, which was a puppet that his granpa had made for him. Sticky Man was nearly two feet tall, made of double-jointed sticks painted grey. His spine and his head were a long wooden spoon, with staring eyes and a gappy grin painted on to it. Granpa used to tell him that during the war, when he and his fellow soldiers were pinned down for days on end under enemy fire at Monte Cassino, they had made Sticky Men to entertain themselves, as many as ten or twelve of them. Granpa said that the Sticky Men all came to life at night and did little dances for them. Sometimes, when the enemy shelling was particularly heavy, they used to send Sticky Men to carry messages to other units, because it was too dangerous to do it themselves.
David didn't like Sticky Man at all, and twice he had tried to throw him away. But his father had always rescued him – once from the dustbin and once from a shallow leaf-covered grave at the end of the garden – because his father thought that Granpa's story about Sticky Men was so amusing, and part of family history. 'Granpa used to tell me that story when I was your age, but he never made me a Sticky Man. So you should count yourself privileged.'
David had never actually seen Sticky Man come to life, but he was sure that he had heard him dancing in the darkness on the wooden floorboards at the edge of his bedside mat: clickety, clackety, clickety, clackety. When he had heard that sound, he had buried himself even deeper under the covers, until he was almost suffocating.
What really frightened David, though, was the brown dressing gown hanging on the back of his bedroom door. Even during the day, it looked like a monk's habit, but when his father switched off the landing light at night, and David's bedroom was filled up with darkness, the dressing gown changed, and began to fill out, as if somebody were rising up from the floor to slide inside it.
He was sure that when the house was very quiet, and there was no traffic in the street outside, he could hear the dressing gown breathing, in and out, with just the faintest hint of harshness in its lungs. It was infinitely patient. It wasn't going to drop down from its hook immediately and go for him. It was going to wait until he was so paralysed with terror that he was incapable of defending himself, or of crying out for help.
He had tried to hide the dressing gown by stuffing it into his wardrobe, but that had been even more frightening. He could still hear it breathing but he had no longer been able to see it, so that he had never known when it might ease open the wardrobe door and then rush across the bedroom and clamber up on to his bed.
Next he had tried hanging the dressing gown behind the curtains, but that had been worse still, because he was sure that he could hear the curtain rings scraping back along the brass curtain pole. Once and once only he had tried cramming it under the bed. When he had done that, however, he had been able to lie there for less than ten minutes, because he had been straining to hear the dressing gown dragging itself out from underneath him, so that it could come rearing up beside him and drag his blankets off.
His school blazer was almost as frightening. When it was dark, it sat hunched on his chair, headless but malevolent, like the stories that early Spanish explorers had brought back from South America of natives with no heads but their faces on their chests. David had seen pictures of them in his school books, and even though he knew they were only stories, like Sticky Men were only stories, he also knew that things were very different in the dark.
In the dark, stories come to life, just like puppets, and dressing gowns.
He didn't hear the clock in the hallway downstairs chime eleven. He was asleep by then. His father came into his room and straightened his bedcover and affectionately scruffed up his hair. 'Sleep well, trouble.' He left his door open a little, but he switched off the landing light, so that his room was plunged into darkness.
Another hour went by. The clock chimed twelve, very slowly, as if it needed winding. David slept and dreamed that he was walking through a wood, and that something white was following him, keeping pace with him, but darting behind the trees whenever he turned around to see what it was.
He stopped, and waited for the white thing to come out into the open, but it remained hidden, even though he knew it was still there. He breathed deeply, stirred, and said, out loud, 'Who are you?'
Another hour passed, and then, without warning, his dressing gown dropped off the back of his bedroom door.
He didn't hear it. He had stopped dreaming that he was walking through the wood, and now he was deeply unconscious. His door was already ajar, but now it opened a little more, and a hunched brown shape dragged its way out of his bedroom.
A few moments later, there was a soft click, as the door to his parents' bedroom was opened.
Five minutes passed. Ten. David was rising slowly out of his very deep sleep, as if he were gradually floating to the surface of a lake. He was almost awake when something suddenly jumped on top of him, something that clattered. He screamed and sprang upright, both arms flailing. The clattery thing fell to the floor. Moaning with fear, he fumbled around in the darkness until he found his bedside lamp, and switched it on.
Lying on the rug next to his bed was Sticky Man, staring up at him with those round, unblinking eyes.
Trembling, David pushed back the covers and crawled down to the end of the bed, so that he wouldn't have to step on to the rug next to Sticky Man. What if it sprang at him again, and clung to his ankle?
As he reached the end of the bed, and was about to climb off it, he saw that his dressing gown had gone. The hook on the back of his bedroom door had nothing hanging on it except for his red-and-white football scarf.
Excerpted from Figures Of Fear by Graham Masterton. Copyright © 2014 Graham Masterton. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Recent Titles by Graham Masterton,
What the Dark Does,
Saint Brónach's Shrift,
The Battered Wife,
The Night Hider,
Night of the Wendigo,
Spirits of the Age,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have read several of Graham Masterton's novels, but this is the first time I have encountered his short stories. Overall, Figures of Fear is a strong collection, but it is very uneven. The strongest are "Night of the Wendigo," "Witch-Compass," "Resonant Evil," and "Beholder"; together, these four stories address all of the main varieties of "horror," including supernatural threat, science gone terribly wrong, and the evils that human beings can visit on themselves and others. That "Night of the Wendigo" is so good deserves special mention because an author's note at the end explains that it was the result of a contest in which Masterton wrote the beginning, a reader supplied the middle, and Masterton then furnished the ending; despite being written by two authors, the tone is consistent throughout, and Masterton must be complimented for his ability to take someone else's idea and run with it. What prevented Figures of Fear from receiving 5 stars were the sub-average offerings: "The Battered Wife," which is a strange mash-up of ghost story and abused wife tale, and "Underbed," which tries to do too much with the trope of children who find their way into an alternate world, with predictably horrifying results. By the time Masterton sent his protagonist into the fourth world, he had lost my interest completely. I would not choose Figures of Fear to introduce a new reader to Masterton's work, but for those who are familiar with him, Figures of Fear is an entertaining addition to his oeuvre. I received a free copy of Figures of Fear through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.