Simon Bleaken lives in Wiltshire in the United Kingdom with his partner and two cats. His work has appeared in magazines and chapbooks in the USA, UK and Japan, including: Lovecraft’s Disciples; Schlock Webzine, Dark Dossier, Lovecraftiana, Strange Sorcery; Tales of the Talisman and Night Land. He has also appeared in the anthologies: Eldritch Horrors: Dark Tales (2008); Space Horrors: Full-throttle Space Tales #4 (2010); Eldritch Embraces: Putting the Love Back in Lovecraft (2016); Kepler’s Cowboys (2017)and Twilight Madhouse vol. 2 (2017). 

His first collection of stories A Touch of Silence and Other Tales was released in 2017, followed by The Basement of Dreams and Other Tales (2019) and Within the Flames and Other Stories (2021).

His favorite authors include H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Stephen King, Robert E. Howard and Michael McDowell.


by Simon Bleaken


The attic hatch creaked as Paul Quinn pushed it open, one hand groping bravely into unknown darkness thick with mystery.

Let’s see what the crazy old kook was hiding up here.

With a tug on the hanging cord, a single dim bulb clicked to life, illuminating numerous stacked boxes of junk, a few cobweb-shrouded tangles of old furniture and—at the very end—a long table stacked high with old notebooks.

Paul climbed up through the opening and dusted off his knees. He gave the boxes little more than a cursory inspection as he passed them, seeing nothing more than old kettles, an ancient record player, broken crockery and plates; stuff that wasn’t even worth dragging over to a garage sale and would be dumped unceremoniously once he got around to it.

It was the table and those heaped notebooks that he had come in search of. They were his uncle’s hidden legacy, though the old man had refused to let him see them while he had been alive. There were dozens of them, all sealed shut with different colored rubber bands.

He felt a quiver of excitement as he set the keys down on the table and reached for the first book.

It felt wrong to the touch; slimy, clammy against his skin.

He wondered if he should actually open it.

Orme Cornell had been a difficult man in life, reclusive and aggressively foul-tempered. Consequently, he’d had very few friends, and even his own family, by and large, had abandoned him to his dark moods and desire for solitude. Of all his family members, only Paul had bothered to reach out to the old man and had endured the darker sides of his nature patiently, without complaint. That hadn’t been out of any sense of family loyalty or love, or even the goodness of his heart, but simply because for all his awful flaws, the old man had been extremely wealthy. Paul had determined, from an early age, to slither into Orme’s good graces—far easier said than done—in the hopes of receiving a hefty pay-out one day.

He had quickly learned that his uncle’s dark reputation had been well deserved. Despite the old man’s rigorous privacy, it was commonly rumored about town that Orme Cornell was a sorcerer, and not the nice kind either.

The narrow rooms of his gloomy house were crowded with shelves of old books, yellowing animal skulls, dusty jars of pungent incense and herbs, and the walls and floors were etched with circles and bizarre sigils, echoes of whatever dark arts his uncle practiced when he was alone. There had always been a strange smell about the house too, more than just the usual mustiness of old, closed-up rooms.

When Paul was allowed into Orme’s life, he asked him about it, but his uncle refused to talk about it, claiming only the initiated could truly understand. It had taken Paul a little while to get used to Orme’s evasiveness even though the proof of sorcery seemed to be all over the house. The whole thing was something that still struck him as odd. But then, odd had been the very definition of his uncle.

“Do you write your spells down?” Paul had asked the old man once, testing the water to see how far he could go. He was curious, even if he didn’t believe a word of it.

“Only the ones that don’t work like I want them to,” Orme replied, his cold grin flashing a row of uneven yellow teeth. “Some things are too dark, or just go bad. They need to be hidden away.”

“What do you mean?”

“Certain thoughts, certain experiments…well, they’re too dangerous to keep up here,” he tapped his forehead. “Those things I write down and trap. It keeps them out of my head.”

“You can’t just forget things by writing them down,” Paul had laughed.

“You’re not me,” his uncle muttered gruffly, shooting him a fierce glare. “I lock it all up in the attic; everything that I need to get out of my head. All the stuff that’s too dark to let out into the light of day. I trap it in the pages and seal them shut with rubber bands. I don’t let that stuff out, ever. Well, except sometimes those old rubber bands get brittle, and they snap. You’ve always got to check them. Sometimes, things get loose and hide up there in the dark.”

For years Paul had wondered exactly what kinds of things the old man had meant, but he’d been expressly forbidden to go up into that attic, and his uncle had the only key to the hatch. Paul made sure to stop asking when he saw how intractable Orme was on the subject. He feared that if he asked too often, his uncle might grow suspicious and refuse to ever allow him back into the house. Paul didn’t want to risk losing his shot at the inheritance, so he’d played it safe.

And then it happened. Orme Cornell kicked the bucket.

He died alone one day in the lounge of his house, naked, likely stoned, sitting in a circle of candles that he hadn’t even had a chance to light, his body daubed in sigils drawn in chicken blood. It had raised a few eyebrows, but the cause of death—a heart attack—was mundane enough.

Paul returned to the house immediately following the funeral; as soon as he’d got hold of the keys, in fact. The house was his now, the rest was just a formality, a simple matter of time.

He didn’t see any point in wasting the chance to properly evaluate his uncle’s admittedly eclectic possessions, hoping there might be something else he could add to the already sizeable amount of money that would be his inheritance. Sadly, much of the stuff was little more than moth-eaten clutter with very little resale value. Even his uncle’s large collection of occult books, seemingly ancient, mouldy, and splitting at the spines, didn’t seem to be anything especially rare or valuable on closer inspection.

Orme had been such a skinflint in life, he’d spent the bare minimum on everything, including keeping the house maintained. Paul was starting to wonder if it might just be simpler to burn it down and sell the land, when he remembered the attic and realized he now held the key to that little kingdom. He had wondered for years what secrets the old man had hidden up there; so shedding his tie and jacket, he went straight up to the hatch, feeling a giddy wave of excitement as he used the key he had been denied for so long.

Standing now under that dim bulb, the house beneath him silent and his, he pulled the rubber band off and opened the notebook.

The pages peeled apart beneath his fingers, like something soiled and rotten, revealing a mad helter-skelter of frantically scrawled words, almost illegible in their haste. They curled in tangled jumbles across that page like coiling tentacles, and as Paul turned page after page, revealing more of the same, he found himself swaying as though the floor beneath his feet were rising and falling like a ship at sea. The effect was mesmerizing, disorientating and unexpected. It felt like the air had been slugged from his lungs.

He snapped the notebook shut.

A headache was forming behind his eyes.

More cautiously this time, he reached for another book, pulling off the rubber band and slowly opening the cover. Again, the pages felt slimy, almost greasy, and he grimaced at the revolting feel of them. More jumbled words in insane tangles met his eyes, spiraling wildly as they crawled across the page. He tried to read some of the sentences, but they twisted, merged and clashed so badly with the ones around them, that he kept slipping from one sentence into another without ever finding the ends. Some of the words weren’t even in English, or in any language that he could readily identify.

Jeez, he thought, tossing the book back onto the pile. The guy was crazier than I thought.

And then he heard something flitting across the room behind him. Paul whirled in time to see a shadow shift near one of the piles of stacked boxes.

It figures that a run-down place like this would have rats.

He glanced around, finally seizing an old umbrella. It was a pretty pathetic weapon, but better than nothing. It had a solid handle that would make a decent enough club, and a sharp-looking metal tip, suitable for spearing any unwanted pests. He edged towards the boxes, umbrella readied to strike, and tapped them with his foot.

When nothing happened, he reached out with his free hand and dragged the boxes aside. They toppled rather than move, spilling assorted junk in a graceless heap. But there was nothing behind them.

You’re getting jumpy.

That was when he saw the impossible shadow.

It was clinging to one of the rafters, right out in the open and under the light, with nothing to cast it. He could make out a kind of squat head, and thin arms that seemed to be clinging to the wood. Then that head turned, flashing pale-gold eyes at him.

He stepped away, tightening his grip on the umbrella.

The shadow flitted, moving off the rafter and back into the darkness at the other end of the attic, disappearing in seconds.

It took a lot longer before Paul was able to move. In fact, his heart was the only thing moving quickly. His mind felt as frozen as his limbs as it tried to process what he had seen, or what he had thought he’d seen. Surely, he must have imagined it.

“Sometimes,” Orme’s voice whispered in his memory, “things get loose and hide up there in the dark.”

But his uncle had been crazy. Hadn’t he?

It was the faint sound of scratching from the darkness, like nails dragging against wood, which broke his paralysis.

Screw this, he thought. I’ll just lock this place back up and be done with it. Whatever is moving around can stay up here by itself.

He turned to grab the keys from the table. His jaw went slack.

The notebooks he had opened were writhing, the covers flexing and squirming as the words within leaked out onto the surface of the table like blood from a wound.

But it wasn’t just words coming out of those pages, he realized with a jolt of shock. Other things wriggled out too; shadowy things that flexed and stretched as if from a long imprisonment. Things like the creature he had seen clinging to the rafters.

Paul gripped the umbrella so tightly his knuckles were a bloodless white.

He took an unsteady step backwards.

The two notebooks he had unbound burst open, sending a shrieking cloud of dark spectral shapes rushing into the air. They moved in defiance of the light, coiling and swooping. He could hear their excited whispers, could feel the displaced air as they soared. He felt fingers run through his hair, cruelly playful, like a cat toying with a mouse.

He tried to turn. He planned to run for the hatch and the sane world beyond it, but nebulous hands stretched from the darkness and seized his limbs, holding him immobile, shadows that somehow possessed substance. More hands reached out, wrenching the umbrella from his fingers.

The words were pouring off the edge of the table, wrapped in shadows as thick as blood. They dripped in spatters of dark ink onto the floor, running in swift rivulets around his shoes and gushing up over them, turning the brown leather black. Now they began to spread, wet and cold, up his legs like a living oil slick.

More phantoms were rising out of the opened books. Their whispers like the dry sound of leaves in an autumn breeze. They were nightmares grafted onto reality, the formless given substance. They clung to the rafters with needle fingers and watched him with their pale eyes, or joined the others soaring about him, rejoicing in their newfound freedom.

The living ink had reached his shirt now, soaking through it like blotting paper. His body shivered from the touch of it. It burned like ice.

Please!” Paul whimpered, his body shaking. “I didn’t know! I swear I didn’t—”

The whispers only grew louder, more frenzied.

The ink blackened the collar of his shirt and continued spreading over the flesh of his neck. It moved faster—greedier—as it closed in upon his mouth, eyes and his ears. A wave of dizziness washed over him and he swayed, but those ghostly hands held him firmly in place.

Then it poured into him: past his lips, into his ears, even soaking through his eyes.

He felt it pulsing beneath his skin like blood.

He wanted to scream, but the sound was drowned before he could make it.

On some level he was aware that all the notebooks on the table were flexing now, the rubber bands straining as they battled to hold all those pages shut. Several of them snapped as more notebooks burst open in a cloud of shadowy shapes. But that was all getting distant and foggy. His consciousness was slipping. He could feel them inside his head, inside his brain, their essence carried within that living ink. It was the ultimate home invasion, attacking his very consciousness. They flooded his mind with their whispers, dwarfing him into silence and insignificance.

He was outnumbered inside his own head.

As their alien thoughts swiftly replaced his own, crowding him out of his own body and casting him into the empty darkness of oblivion, a single final recollection fired dimly inside his mind: a warning his uncle had given him so long ago, one almost forgotten.

“That’s the thing about those kinds of thoughts,” Orme had cautioned with a shiver. “On the page they’re harmless. But let them get inside your head, and that’s when they have real power over you.”