Gruesome Beauty

Hey, it’s Halloween tomorrow, in case you hadn’t noticed. And I’m delighted to host a suitably terrifying guest story from horror writer Nick Stead. Are you brave enough to read on?

Gruesome Beauty

Rotting leaves blanketed the forest floor, dull brown and pale yellow. A far cry from the vibrant greens of summer, this was nature’s decomposing carpet to welcome Death as he rode in on the cold winds of the coming winter.

Rain turned the carpet to a thick mulch, riddled with all manner of unwholesome creatures. Worms wriggled their way through the sodden vegetation and maggots fed on this free banquet gifted by the turning of the seasons. And as the carpet shifted and changed, something new began to appear beneath the surface.

Lifeless as the leaves themselves, its unblinking stare should have been horrifying to all passers-by. Except there were none. This was private land, closed off to the general public. Only the wildlife would look into that milky gaze as they moved through the forest, and look away again moments later. Even the ravens had not descended on the scavenger’s feast it promised.

A man strode across the mulch, his boots squelching with every step he took. He came to a stop beside the dead eye and sank into a crouch. The land was his. No human visitor would ever discover its secrets unless he invited them in, not even the police. There would be no interfering from the outside world.

“I’m here, my sweet,” he said. “I know it’s been a while but life has been hectic. The days pass and time slips away.”

Trees stirred as a light gust of wind whispered through the bare branches, and a bird took flight with a startled caw. The man frowned.

“Is that disappointment I sense?”

The sky seemed to darken and his frown deepened.

“Surely you did not think I’d leave you out here to rest in peace?”

The dead eye rolled in its socket to fix him with its clouded gaze.

“Ah, forgive me, my sweet. I admit, that was a poor turn of phrase. You’re not at peace, are you?” He brushed away the leaves to reveal a face made repulsive with decay. The sight of it turned his frown to a smile. Pulling a mirror out of his pocket, he held it over the corpse’s skull. “Don’t be sad. See how death has transformed your pretty face into a new kind of grotesque beauty? This gift isn’t for just anyone. I picked you specially.”

The face stared at its reflection but only its eyes moved, though to say they widened in terror would not be entirely accurate as there was no longer any flesh surrounding them to express terror with. But terror is what she felt, this poor cursed soul condemned to an eternity of imprisonment inside her own rotting corpse.

“Soon the whole world will know your beauty. But you must be patient a while longer, my sweet. The world is not quite ready for your vision of ghoulishness, so we will wait a while longer.”

She wanted to scream, but her wasted muscles no longer obeyed her soul’s commands. His power over her was absolute. Only her eyes worked. They followed him as he raised himself up and began to walk away, this mad man in command of forces the modern world no longer believed in. Yet even when he left her alone, her terror never waned.

This was a special kind of hell her tormentor had devised for her. And most terrifying of all, it was one without any foreseeable end. Would she be trapped like this for all eternity? That thought was too much. The wind was beginning to pick up, and nature voiced her scream for her.


Nick specialises in supernatural horror and dark fantasy, and is best known for his Hybrid series about a Yorkshire werewolf struggling to survive in a world which would rather see him dead. He lives with his two cats in Huddersfield, where he spends most days chained to his desk, writing to the scream of heavy metal guitars. When he does get out, he has been known to terrorise local libraries and give talks in schools, as well as making appearances at various horror and comic conventions across the country. He is just putting the finishing touches on his first non-Hybrid book, a horror based on the infamous Pendle witch trials of 1612, and has already begun work on his sixth novel – a new project which has yet to be revealed!


Here’s a bit of fun I wrote at Holmfirth Writers a while back. I seem to remember that the first line was the prompt for the exercise.


The day was coming to an end, but still the heat fell like hammers.

So much so, in fact, that several people were injured, innumerable tiles broken and an unfortunate garden gnome smashed beyond repair.

A cart containing two people rolled slowly down the rutted – and now hammer-strewn – road and past a large wooden sign that said ‘Welcome to Metaphoria – be careful what you say!’

The couple were grimy and covered with sweat – it really was hot, never mind all those hammers.

“I am so sick of this bloody weather,” said the woman. Almost immediately, red droplets began falling from the sky and splashing on their clothes and faces.

“What is this? Why is it red?”

“I don’t care,” said her husband. “I’m just glad of a bit of water on my skin. It can rain cats and dogs for all I care.”

“Nooooo ….” screamed a woman from a nearby house, before her wails were drowned out by a chorus of barking and hissing as surprised animals began to tumble from the sky. A small poodle landed on some sacks in the back of the cart, then dusted itself off and jumped into the road.

The woman stomped angrily towards the cart, dodging a couple of falling moggies on the way.

“Didn’t you read the sign? This is Metaphoria. Everything you say here gets taken literally by our crazy local God, who also has a warped sense of humour.  So you mustn’t use metaphors.”

“Point taken. I’ll avoid them like the pla…” said the man in the cart, before she managed to get a hand over his mouth.

“Similes too. If I hadn’t stopped you just then, everyone in this town would have been dead within three weeks. It’s best not to talk at all while you’re here, but if you must, do so in plain, unambiguous language.”

“OK, fair enough,” said the man. “I get the message.” His wife was not so convinced.

“What about nice metaphors, though? Does your God react to those too? I mean …” She winked at her husband. “… we came here because we’d heard the streets were paved with gold.”

And sure enough, in a flash, the road gleamed a metallic yellow.

“Oh wow, I’m starting to like your God! I’m going to have another go. “Life’s a bowl of cherries.” And there, suddenly, was a bowl of ripe cherries in her lap.

“Don’t get too excited,” said the local woman. “He has a budget. The gold is paint – don’t think we haven’t tried that trick before.”

“Still, the cherries are real enough, though,” said the man on the cart, taking one and popping it into his mouth. “And very nice too.”  His wife turned to him again.

“We should make the most of this. We could think of some good metaphors and get lots of great stuff for ourselves – clothes, food, drink, whatever. And then we can party like there’s no tomorrow. Oh ….”

From the side of the road came a piercing scream of anguish. 


It’s been a little while since I put one of my own poems on here. This one was first published in Precious (Hammond House 2018) and is also in my collection Sea Without a Shore.

I will be reading this and other poems on Tuesday 15 October at Honley Library (West Ave, Honley HD9 6HF)), 7-9 pm, a double bill with Alan Prout, plus guest poet Anne Broadbent. There will also be refreshments and an open mic.

Proud I was in life, but foolish, believing crowns
and flattery were signs of real power.
But scarcely was my chamber dug
when I was sent to dwell in it.
Here, I was meant to dine in splendour with the gods
but gold and jewels have no sheen
in endless dark: what use are chariots
and hunting bows inside this womb of stone
that drip-feeds me its cursed gift of ever-life?
Disembowelled, bound, and blind
how I have known the infinity of night!
You come as thieves:
I do not care – these things are yours.
Gladly, I exchange them for your gifts, of space, of light.