Simon Clark

The September Special Guest Writer is

Simon Clark

Please feel free to visit Simon HERE


by Simon Clark

“I told you, I saw them moving.”

The nighttime attendant at the crematorium had almost shouted the words into the ‘phone. This thing had frightened him, his hands were shaking. He wanted to let loose a mouthful at his supervisor who obviously didn’t give a flying fig. The lazy sod was probably sitting at home, a can of beer in his greasy hand, gawping at the television. What did he care that his assistant was alone in the crematorium with them moving about there… making those noises that made him sick to his stomach?

“I’ve looked in there, Mr. Winters, I can see them moving about.”

He heard his boss over the ‘phone give a sigh. The sigh that says ‘Oh, no, here we go again.’

“Danny,” his boss began, “when you were offered this post, you were told it wouldn’t be very pleasant. To be bloody blunt, our job, Danny, is to burn dead people to ash. Specifically, your duties are to watch over the equipment at night. If it malfunctions then call me. Otherwise, just leave me to a bit of peace and quiet, okay?”

“But they’re moving around in there, Mr. Winters. And they’re making these horrible sounds. You can hear them above the gas jets; I bet you can hear them over the ‘phone, if I hold it to the ovens for you. They’re going-”

“Danny, Dan—just listen to me, Danny. If I come down there now, I’ll have to file a call-out report. When my gaffer sees why I’ve had to come out at midnight you’ll be out faster than shit off the end of a shovel. Now, think carefully, Danny, do you still want this job?”

“Course I do. It’s the first I’ve had in a year.”

“Didn’t any of the blokes down there tell you what to expect?”

“They said I’d got the cushiest job going. Just sit here all night and keep checking the burners are working all right.”

“Bugger,” said his boss, stoically. “Look, Danny. As I said, it’s not a pretty job. We burn people, right? Burning people isn’t like burning old cardboard boxes. They’re complicated mechanisms made up of skin, muscle, bone. Inside they’ve got organs—those are bags of fluid and gas. You with me, Danny?”


“Also they’ve got mouths and arse holes. So if you heat them up fast, fluids boil, and I’m talking about blood and piss now. Gasses expand. They’ve all got to come out somewhere. So what you’re hearing is basically belching and farting. But on a grand scale, you follow me, Danny? Sometimes it works on the vocal chords, too, so you can actually stand outside the crematorium oven, and it sounds like people are groaning their heads off. I’ve heard it. It is nasty. It takes some getting used to. Believe me, Danny, I’ve heard a burning corpse actually sound as if it’s singing; it nearly turned my hair white.”

“How is it then, they can move?”

“You must have good eyes, Danny. When I look through the spy-hole into the ovens all I can see is flames.”

“But they do move about in there, Mr. Winters.”

“Then it’s got to be a muscle reaction. When muscle burns it shrinks. I’ve heard stories of burning corpses suddenly sitting up. There are other things, too. You might hear bangs. And I mean really loud bangs like a cannon firing. Fluids boil in the stomach making it inflate like a balloon. Eventually, the pressure’s so great— BANG!—the belly explodes.”

“I didn’t know that. They never told me.”

“All right, Danny. They were wrong not to warn you. You all right now?”

“Yes, Mr. Winters. Sorry to disturb you. It gave me a bit of a scare, that’s all.”

“Don’t worry, Danny. As the blokes at the Crem said, you’ve landed yourself a good job. All we’re asking is you keep an eye on the place. Apart from that your time’s your own. Is that old radio still down there?”

“Yeah, over on the fridge.”

“Switch it on, it’ll drown out the sounds.”

“Thank you, Mr. Winters.”

“Good night, Danny.”

The ‘phone clicked, then purred softly into Danny’s ear. He imagined Mr. Winter’s shaking his head while he thumbed up the television’s volume on the remote. Danny replaced the phone and switched on the radio. Late night ballads throbbed from the speaker. He wasn’t fond of them, but it buried the sounds coming from beyond the oven doors.

Danny felt better now that he’d talked to his supervisor. So it’d been natural what he’d heard. What he’d glimpsed, too, through the oven spy-hole. It gave me a bloody fright, though, he thought with a shiver. The blokes here should’ve warned me. He made himself a cup of tea, then he sat on a chair with its back to the wall. There, it faced the oven doors. The room consisted of bare, whitewashed walls. The floor was of concrete; it was still damp and reeked of industrial strength disinfectant where it’d been sluiced down earlier. This was the loading bay for the crematorium oven, he’d been told. In the adjoining crematorium they held the services. After that, the coffin glided smoothly along the conveyor belt, through the curtained hatchway into here, where it was stored with the other coffins until evening. The crop of the day as it were. Then the late-shift stacked the coffins, along with their cold contents, into the ovens, removing lids and brass handles as they did so. The supervisor checked paperwork to ensure that heart pacemakers had been removed. An overlooked pacemaker could detonate with enough force to knock the oven doors off of their hinges. When all the coffins were inside, the doors were shut, the controls set, the gas ignited. There they’d burn through the night until all that was left was white ash.

Danny’s was the easy job. Just sit. Watch. Wait. Then clock off as the early-shift came on at six to clear out the ovens. Even so, Danny, like most people, was frightened of dead human beings. Even in butchers’ shops it’s rare to find a recognizable animal lying dead on the slabs. All you get is nicely processed meat. No pig’s heads with ears and eyes; no cow’s legs covered in fur.

So, yes, no bones about it, this job frightened him. But it was the only job he was likely to have again. For thirty years he’d been a skilled craftsman in an engineering firm. He cut differentials for tractors. He’d been proud of his exacting work. Every day he’d worn his neatly ironed boiler suit.  He was a professional with skills that took years to acquire. Only trouble was, in his early forties he’d been struck by crippling Osteoarthritis. The back pain could be so bad he was reduced to shuffling round on all fours. Then just a week after his fiftieth birthday they’d sacked him because he’d been forced to take so much sick-leave. If you’re short-term sick you get cards and sympathy. If you’re long-term sick you’re treated with contempt. Like wild dogs that turn on one of their own kind when its hurt, society turns nasty on you.

But he’d got this new job, thank the Lord. He was determined to hang onto it.

Keep busy, he told himself. Don’t let it prey on your imagination. It isn’t easy, though, when you know that just behind that steel door twenty men and women, and even children, are being burnt down to something that will be used as plant fertilizer in the next few days, if it isn‘t all collected by relatives for funerary urns.

Danny went to the employee’s rest room. It was a cluttered place: nude girl pin-ups mixed with work rotas and union circulars on walls. Scattered on the sink worktop, pieces of pastry, bacon, bits of foil that had wrapped sandwiches, used tea bags, brown mug rings. On the radio some part-time cowboy was yodeling about his best friend being killed in a bar fight down Mexico way. It drove Danny back to the loading bay.

For a while he stared at the oven doors. The thing might as well have been a magnet; he found himself putting one foot forward. Then another. Before he even knew it, he stood at the doors. The spy-hole, covered in inch-thick glass, glowed white from the fires inside. First time he put his eye to it had been a shock. He’d looked in expecting to see nothing but vague oblong shapes being gobbled by the inferno. What he saw had been very different.

He swallowed at the bitter taste invading his mouth. He felt queasy again, his ears rang, his neck ached where the muscles tensed.

“Never mind, Danny boy—only ten more years of this, then you can retire.”

The first time he looked through the spy-hole he saw nothing for a while. It was pretty much like looking through one of those windows set in the walls of swimming pools. You know the sort—to look out underwater. It’s a bluey colour; while every so often a body appears as someone jumps in—there’s a mess of bubbles and arms and legs. Here, instead of water, you see fire filling the space between the walls; it fills it completely as if it’s a liquid.

Slowly, as his eyes adjusted to the glare, he made out the oblong shapes of coffins on fire. Then suddenly, as if someone had rung a bell, he’d seen the bodies just sit upright in their coffins. His eyes bulged; he couldn’t move his head. All he could do was watch twenty dead men and women sit bolt upright in this blue fog of gas flame.

Mow-wurrr… Mow-mow-wurr-harrrr…

When they began to groan out loud Danny moved back so quickly it brought pain stabbing through his spine. He limped away, holding his back. The bloody thing seemed to ring like a bell with stabbing pains.


Now he knew it was merely expanding gas forcing its way outward through the anus or vocal chords. But the sound was still bad… so bloody, bloody bad. It sounded as if they were crying to be let out. As if the fire hurt them.

“Christ, bury me when I die. Please bury me.”

He put his eye to the spy-hole. “Don’t put me in there with, oh …Jesus!”

Inside the oven, within all that fire and light, he saw the twenty burning men and women. They were working.


“How did it go, Danny boy?”

It was one of the guys from the morning shift. He walked in grinning and swinging a plastic bag full of sandwiches.

“Fine… Not much happens, does it?”

“Dead quiet.” The man laughed. “See y’ later, I’m going for a dump.”

Danny’s mouth didn’t have so much as a pinhead of spit. Dry as the ash the morning shift would soon be raking. He didn’t know how he managed to say the words, or drive to the supermarket to buy the bottle of whisky he’d drink at home while his wife worked. Later, he drank so much he couldn’t walk, but the words kept coming out of his mouth as he told himself: “I looked in. I saw them. They’re dead. But they’re working.”

Two emotions worked powerfully in Danny. He was frightened sick by it all. And yet… and yet he was also curious. The next night he clocked on early. Was all this some kind of miracle he was supposed to see? Or was it some kind of nightmare that he wasn’t?

Soon he was alone in the crematorium loading bay; the concrete floor still wet; the stink of disinfectant roughening the back of his throat. The gas jets had been burning for half an hour by then. Already it would be hot enough to melt metal in there. He stood ten feet from the spy-hole, building himself up to look in. The muscles in his back were so tight they curved his arthritic spine like a longbow. Pains sparkled up and down his legs as sciatica kicked in. The slightest movement made him wince. But… But I’ve got to look in there, he thought. I’ve got to see if it happens again.

Last night, he’d pressed his watering eye to the spy-hole in the oven door. He’d witnessed burning corpses moving around. The heat so tremendous it had ignited the fatty tissues so the figures had moved around crackling with flame, spitting out gobs of fat like burning beefsteak. Thankfully, you couldn’t see the faces; only that they were incandescent shapes atop human torsos.

Danny held his breath, then planted his eye to the glass. His vision adjusted to the brilliant glare. Now! It was happening now!

He let out a stuttering blast of air from his lungs through pure shock. One, two, three…. four, five… six. One after another they sat up in their burning coffins.

What now? What did they intend to do? What drove them? Was this proof there was a God? Did He make them do this?

Jesus… Jesus… My back … Oh, Christ! He didn’t scream with his mouth; his back did all the screaming for him. Muscle spasmed. It clutched around his spine as if a sharp-toothed animal was trying to bit through it. He held his breath again as he leaned forward against the oven doors; his open palms taking some of the weight. I must keep watching. I’ve got to see what happens next. Only his back wanted to force him from the oven. He clenched his jaws together, screwed his eyes against the intense glare. Then he watched.

They had left their coffins; moving with speed and agility; even the geriatrics. Now he could see funeral clothes flash into flame to drift off in layers like burning tissue. The flames ate the skin, peeling it off in feathery pieces of ash. But the flames had no effect on their purpose. Danny watched them work.

They picked up the coffins. Quickly, they stacked them into two pillars side by side with perhaps a metre between them. It reminded Danny of his days at the tractor factory when he’d watch the skilled engineers at work. These people in the oven, even though they burned like fireworks, spitting jets of flame from mouth and ears worked with the precision of craftsman, knowing exactly where each component went. When the coffin pillars were complete they laid the lids across from one pillar to the other until they had formed something that resembled an archway.

Even in that raging inferno they took their time; they made careful adjustments to the archway as if it needed to be perfectly aligned with some invisible geometric line.

By now, even once fat corpses were thin as soft, fatty tissues boiled into vapour; ribs began to show; fingers naked of skin dropped away. Arms and legs became jerking sticks. Movements became clumsier.

But the work was nearly complete.

Danny whispered in wonder: “What are they making? For God’s sake, what are they making?”

His eyes watered so much from staring into the brilliant flames, he was forced to look away, then blink until they were clear. When he looked back, the shock of what he saw forced him to recoil so violently he fell flat on his back.

Because there, on the other side of the glass, a face looked back at him. The face burned furiously. The picture burned into Danny’s mind was of a beautiful girl with hair blowing around her face; only the hair was aflame. Skin burned away: layer after shriveling layer. The teeth were chips jutting from bubbling gums. The tongue, a charcoal stick, sliding from side to side over charred lips. The eyes alone seemed untouched; they stared back at him, coolly, with such a shocking intensity he couldn’t breathe. He saw them scrutinizing his face, assessing from his expression why he was there, and what was he thinking? Maybe the burning girl wondered if he would interfere with their work? When she appeared satisfied he would not, she returned to assist her colleagues with their labours.

After the furious pains in his back had at last eased sufficiently, he pulled himself back to the oven doors where he looked in through the spy-hole. Through the roaring jets of fire, so bright he had to screw his eyes almost shut, he saw what the burning corpses had built. It was a doorway made from coffins and coffin lids. The wood blazed furiously. In that intense heat the construction could last no more than a few minutes.

Then, as Danny watched, the burning corpses began to slowly file through the doorway. They never came out the other side. One by one, the burning corpses simply vanished.

“Ahh…” The pains in Danny’s back grew so intense that he had to hobble through to the restroom. He dissolved three painkillers in a mug then swallowed the fizzing liquid down in one. Then he dragged himself back to the crematorium oven with its spy-hole that possessed such an irresistible pull on his curiosity. With a huge effort of will he forced himself to focus his eyes so he could see through the inferno. The gateway was little more than a white flare; the outline skeletal now that it had been burnt almost to ash. It couldn’t hold together much longer. But still the dead men, women and children walked through.

Through into what? Into where?

The painkillers oozed through his body to dampen the back pains. What’s more, they lightened his head. He wasn’t afraid; no, only curious. In the name of God, what lay beyond that incandescent doorway?

Then… just for a second… he saw.

Going, going… gone. The doorway collapsed into ash. Those that hadn’t made it through the doorway stared vacantly at the pile of burning embers. Then they began working in an unhurried way on a second doorway. Only it was far too late now. Bone burnt to cinder maneuvered coffins that were little more than shells of ash. Futile. Within moments, the gas jets had devoured them; one by one the corpses that had been left behind sank to the floor where they stopped moving, to lay in this bath of roaring fire. In the morning they would be shoveled into urns. Nothing more than cold dust.

Danny staggered, panting, to the rest room; there he sat on the floor, his back to the fridge. It had only lasted a second, but he had glimpsed something beyond that doorway built by the incandescent dead. He’d seen cool, green meadows; a stream lined with willows; in the distance had reared a mountain of grey rock. Only this mountain had a human face. He’d seen the dead leave the inferno. They had walked into paradise… because he was certain it must be paradise. And he’d witnessed the burnt cadavers instantly become young again. The expressions on their faces stayed nailed inside his head. Happy.Happier than he’d ever seen anyone before. He closed his eyes.

Before his brain shut down, the word HAPPY circled around the inside of his head like a new moon trapped by the gravity of a cold and lonely planet.


The next night Danny stood alone in the loading bay. Softly he sang, “Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…” He sang as he waited for it to happen again. He knew that it would. Inside, something new orbited the centre of his mind. Revelation. He knew without the tiniest, most insignificant scrap of doubt that he witnessed a miracle take place every night. Should I tell anyone?

Will I hell!

Share your cake at school, Danny, his teachers would tell him. Share your cake with your friends. That’s the polite way to behave. He’d been left with crumbs. Danny had learnt the tough way that sharing really meant allowing others to take your possessions. So, share this? No! No way! This is all mine!

Danny had lost his career in engineering; he’d lost his health; he’d lost his self-esteem. Now that he’d found the burning path to happiness there was no way on God’s Earth he’d lose that!

So. Eye to the spyhole. He watched that day’s crop of corpse work in their life-giving atmosphere of flame. He rehearsed mentally what he’d do. As soon as the doorway was complete, and they had begun their exodus to paradise, then he would follow them there.

That exodus began. Danny spun the gas valves shut, killing the flames. The heat would still be enormous, but he’d be in through the oven doors, across the floor, then into the doorway in less than three seconds.

Danny gripped the brass valve wheel. Quickly he spun it shut. Then he swung open the oven doors.


The hot air scalded his face; he gasped; his eyes watered; roast meat smells filled his nose; post mortem grunts filled is ears. Without the flames the corpses simply collapsed to the floor. Danny stepped over them as they lay vomiting boiling blood.

Fierce blue flames jetted like Bunsen burner jets from mouths and anuses as expanding gasses sputtered outwards.

The doorway of still burning coffins was closed. All that lay beyond was the asbestos block wall. Choking, skin scorching, Danny stumbled back out of the oven into the loading bay, where he limped back to the restroom to dissolve more painkillers into a mug before gulping it down.

Yes, it’s a setback, he told himself as he glared at his scorched face in the mirror, but he’d find a way through. By heaven, he would. He promised himself that. All it required was effort and commitment, then he would pass through to the other side of that burning doorway, to a sublime realm where pain, loneliness and misery could not survive.


Danny was ready the next night. The burning corpses had finished the doorway. Slowly, they filed through the opening into cool, green pastures.

Without fire, that incandescent animating force fled from the corpses. It killed the doorway, too. Tonight, Danny must leave the gas jets blazing. He would simply open the doors, dash into the oven, then through the miracle doorway. To give him some protection from the inferno he’d made a suit of kitchen foil backed with sacking; on his head, a helmet of wire netting covered in layers of foil. Two tiny holes punched by needles in the material served as eyeholes. For a whole five minutes he’d sluiced himself down from the hosepipe to soak his clothes and layer of sackcloth beneath the suit of aluminum foil. That drenching with water, plus five painkillers, would deaden the effects of the intense heat. It would be enough to get him through the blazing doorway. He sang to himself as his gloved hands pulled back the oven doors. They dripped water. The fingertips steamed as they came into contact with the hot metal handles.

This was going to be hot. He’d suffer some burning. And yet he promised himself any burns inflicted by the fiery interior of the crematorium oven would be supernaturally healed the second he passed through the doorway. Once on the other side he’d rest for a while. After that, he would enjoy a pleasant stroll to the mountain with the human face.

The heat from the oven hit Danny with the force of a concrete slab. Winded, he wanted to gasp for air; only he knew he must hold his breath or this heat would reduce his lungs to paste. Through the eyeholes he saw his goal. He waded through the sea of flame, pushing aside corpses that waited patiently in line to file through the doorway. He could see nothing but blazing yellow. Adrenaline together with the Solpadol quashed the pain. Yet he knew he was burning. He could feel the itch of bubbling skin on his back. His hair singed into a molten cap inside his foil helmet.

Danny fought his way through the line of burning corpses. Now faces lunged into view, flames jetting out of mouths. Eyeballs popped with puffs of steam; faces peeled away like they were plastic masks. He felt hands grip his arms.

They’re attacking me! The thought left him panic-stricken. But then he realized they were helping. The burning dead supported him, and then guided him towards the doorway they had built. They knew his need was greater than theirs.

There it was. He was six feet from the doorway of burning coffins. Beyond its flaring archway were lush meadows, sprinkled with a million golden dandelions. They looked like stars against a sky of surreal green. Willows swayed in a light breeze. Butterflies with wings of a delicate cornflower blue flitted above the grass. And in the distance, the mountain with the human face. It was smiling.

Danny was still inside the oven. The flames were eating into his hands now. The gloves had turned to ash. Fingernails went black and curled back from his fingers; the skin bubbled red and brown like a pizza in an oven, but:

“I’m there! I’m going through. Oh, thank God! Thank God!”

A woman, grossly humped with tumors, stood in his way; eagerly he pushed it aside where it burst against the wall like an egg.

Nearly there!

But the suit made him clumsy. Danny’s flailing arm brushed the burning doorway. He hardly touched it but it toppled. It hit the floor in a cascade of sparks that streamed up into his masked face like machine gun tracer.

Howling now, more from frustration than pain, he swung around to face the burning corpse. They stood placidly watching him. “Work, you bastards… work!”

They had to build another doorway. They had to do it quickly. Wood coffins were crumbling to ash. Gaping holes appeared in his suit, allowing tongues of flame to lick his flesh. Through his eyeholes he saw his hands trailing skin as they grabbed at coffins and begin to stack them.

Inside his head, his mind detonated into splinters: one screamed with burning agony; one, insanely optimistic, believed he could build another doorway in time, then slip through into cool, cool paradise. Another splinter of his reason was realistic; it knew that time was running out. He’d blown his one and only chance of heaven; that soon the fist-size chunk of muscle that beat in his chest would begin to labour, then judder.

And finally stop.

Simon Clark lives in Doncaster, England. When his first novel, Nailed by the Heart, made it through the slush pile in 1994 he banked the advance and embarked upon his dream of becoming a full-time writer. Many dreams and nightmares later he wrote the cult classic Blood Crazy. Other titles include Darkness Demands, Stranger, On Deadly Ground and The Night of the Triffids, which continues the story of Wyndham’s classic The Day of the Triffids. The Night of the Triffids has been adapted as a full-cast audio drama by Big Finish.

Films, news, and tips on writing horror fiction, can be accessed at his website HERE