Direct from the mind of A. P. Gilbert, 'Driftwood from the Specific' is a fantastically diverse collection of short stories and poems. Serial killers, through mysterious illnesses and all the way to 'The Wall', this collection is sure to grip, amuse and entertain. From a simple ditty to a short tale, it will soon become a favourite accompaniment to your moments of idle.
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The first one appeared under his right arm. Small, disguised by the mass of dark hair that grew there. Just a black line, a hole, no more than three quarters of an inch in length. David thought it was just a hair at first, hardened by his roll on deodorant. He scratched at it to try and soften it but to his obvious disgust, the tip of his finger slipped in. David let out a small yip and took a step back.
"Whoa, what the hell?"
There was no pain, just a strange pressure as his finger stretched the tiny hole. He lifted his arm above his head and walked over to the bathroom mirror to get a closer look. It didn't look like an injury, could have been a simple black biro mark if he hadn’t known any better. There was no redness or inflamed skin, just a line. Then it moved. Just a small movement. David would have missed it if he hadn't been staring straight at it. It had moved, almost like a fishes gill. No, more like a blink. David let his arm drop and rubbed his eyes.
"I definitely need more sleep" he said and let out a small, slightly nervous sigh.
Tiredness can do that to a person; make them see things, believe things that cannot possibly be real.
David turned to the small cubicle behind him and turned the shower on. As the water poured out he walked from the small bathroom to grab the towel, still damp, from its place on his bedroom floor. His mobile barked from the table next to his bed. A text message from his girlfriend; what time are you getting here this morning? David opened up the small touchscreen keypad and typed his reply. When he walked back into the bathroom, the steam had clouded the mirror, his fingerprints visible along the edge.
David hopped under the shower, his skin reddening almost immediately under the hot flow. He washed quickly, remembering the promise to his girlfriend; he needed to be out of the door in about 10 minutes. By the time he had got out, realised he had left his towel in the bedroom, dripped all over the floor, slipped and stubbed his toe, got dried and dressed and left the house, he had forgotten all about the line under his arm.
David didn't emerge from his bed until gone 11, after a light and broken sleep. Charlotte had left at 6 for work but he had no work today. It had been a good evening. They had watched a romantic comedy at the Odeon; which seemed as funny and romantic as every other romantic comedy released in the last ten years. This had been followed by dinner and drinks, then home so Charlotte could say ‘thank you’.
David walked into the small kitchen/diner and turned on the TV. There was a cartoon playing. He yawned and stretched, remembering last night. They had never filmed it before; it had been Charlotte’s idea. She had made him promise not to watch it before she got back from work. David thought about this. She would never know, and “what she doesn't know won't hurt her”.
David went into the bedroom and ejected the disk from the digital camera at the foot of the bed. He only had a 14 inch combi in his room so strode purposefully into the living room to make full use of the 52" HD TV, blue ray player and Bose surround sound system. The curtains were still drawn, a small sliver of light came through in-between them separating the room into two unequal sides and causing a reflection on the TV. David walked over and pulled the curtains together. The light disappeared. He sat down, master controller in his left hand and watched. It was all looking good, both of them had better than average bodies, Charlotte had a fantastic bum. It was about ten minutes in when David had needed to stop the disk, skip it back and watch it again.
He had already removed Charlotte's top and had his arms above his head while she slipped off his. It was once his armpit was revealed that caused him to sharply intake a breath. He had forgotten all about the line under his arm. He held his hand over his mouth, his index finger resting against his top lip. The line was still there, and not only was it longer and wider, there was now something protruding from it.
"What the hell is that?" David put his hand up his T-shirt sleeve and tentatively felt the hair under his arm. There it was, not large, about 2 inches from the line to the tip, and hard. A trip to the doctors was in order. Grabbing his trousers and his car keys he left the apartment at a jog.
David arrived home at just after 3pm. It had been a wasted trip. It was only a short drive and as he travelled he had phoned for an emergency appointment. He arrived, checked in and walked into a room so full of snot filled, coughing kids that he had to stand back outside again. It was loud and warm, there was no air conditioning and the small window on the far side of the room was only open an inch. People were called out of the waiting room by the doctors on duty and other people arrived with paper white children wrapped in their arms. Kids argued and shouted at each other and David had begun to get a headache.
He left the vicinity of the waiting room, walking down the narrow stairs and outside to get some air. It was warm for September and there were no clouds to shield the early afternoon sun. It was still cooler out here than in the waiting room which was surely a breeding place for sickness. Why is it that doctors never seem to get ill? David had absently checked his arm pit again, through his T-shirt, feeling a light sweat but no lump. It didn't take much persuading to stop him from going back in. He had headed back home.
His phone rang. David walked over to the small table next to the front door where he had left it along with his car keys and the half-drunk bottle of Evian he had bought on the way back. 'Charlotte Work' was displayed on the large screen. The words disappeared before he could answer it.
He unlocked his phone and dialled the number back, but was met with the familiar 'beep beep beep' of a phone in use. Walking back down the short hall towards the living room he noticed something on the light cream carpet right next to the skirting board. He bent to his knees and looked closer at his find. It would have seemed fairly insignificant if in the right area but it was completely out of place.
It grew from the carpet. David picked it up, one tiny root snapped with an audible pop. A translucent stem split about 1cm from the root into two small, round green leaves. David stood, rolling the stem in between his index finger and thumb. The leaves were solid but soft to the touch and they let out a small amount of clear liquid onto his palm as he pushed his thumbnail into it. David walked into the living room and left into the kitchen/diner, dropping the weed into the bin.
He filled and began to boil the kettle while checking the voicemail which had appeared as a message on his phone. It was from Charlotte; she wasn't going to make it round tonight, too much work on, and don't watch the video without her. "Sorry babe" thought David, "too late, but not to worry, don't think I'll be watching the rest!"
He turned off the kettle and opened the fridge, pulling out a Bud before heading into the living room and jumping onto the sofa. He turned the TV on, flicked through the channels until he found a violent action movie and promptly, surprisingly fell asleep.
He knew he was dreaming because Charlotte was there but she didn’t look like Charlotte. It was just the two of them, walking down a paved, walled in alleyway. Everything was right angles, nothing out of place. One hundred yards into the path, there was one of those little stems. He picked it up and Charlotte held out her hands so David placed it gently on the palm. They continued to walk. Between every five paving slabs another one of those little stems grew. David continued to pick them and place them into Charlotte’s hands. They reached the end of the alleyway, blocked by a solid brick wall. Charlotte turned and looked him dead in the eye, smiled softly and whispered, "run".
David opened his eyes with a start. The TV was still on but the film had finished and now there was a man with far too much makeup on trying to sell him a special tool that helped to fillet fish. David looked at the clock, it was a quarter past midnight. He had been asleep for more than eight hours yet he still felt tired. It was very warm so he cranked the window, downed his flat Bud and stripped to his boxer shorts before walking to the toilet for a piss. He flushed and took a step over to the sink to wash his hands.
He was greeted by a drawn dark-eyed face in the mirror. "Christ" he said "I'm glad I don't have to be in work until ten". He turned rubbing his eyes and walked out of the bathroom, failing to notice the two protruding spikes appearing from beneath his arm.
Charlotte had been ringing all morning but there had been no answer. Also, she had received no responses to her text messages and now she was beginning to worry. It was very unlike David not to answer, maybe he was unhappy about her missing their DVD night. Still, she expected at least some sort of response, just something to let her know he was okay. Charlotte decided that if she heard nothing before lunch, she would walk round the corner to the garage where he worked. "Are you coming down the cafe, Charlotte?" Jessie already had her purse in hand and was standing by the office door tapping on her mobile.
Charlotte looked up from her computer screen, "I'll meet you down there, I've just got to pop over to the garage" she said.
"Still no reply then?"
"No,” Charlotte laughed, “bastard.” There was, however, a hint of unease in her voice.
Logging her computer off, she left the small office and the door shut softly behind her as she walked into the busy street outside. There was no air and as she walked, her pale pink shirt clung to her chest and stomach, vacuum packing her body in a sticky wetness. Charlotte heard car horns and revving engines from the nearby city centre, the heat of the afternoon making tempers rise. As she walked, she tried to phone David but it once again rang through to voicemail. She didn't leave a message.
Charlotte rounded the corner and could see the garage, shimmering like a mirage in the distance. She reached it in two short minutes and walked in, straight up to the till. Stephanie was sitting behind the counter reading some sickly romance novel with a shirtless man on the front.
"Hey Steph, could you give David a shout for me please?"
"Little shit, didn't turn up for work today" replied Stephanie, "hence I get woken up at 10:30 on my day off to come and cover for him." She looked up from her book. "I thought you must have pulled a skive with him for a bit of late morning sex!"
"No," Charlotte looked confused, "No, I haven't spoken to him."
Charlotte left the garage at a slightly quicker pace than she came in, and started heading to the apartments David lived at. On the way she text Jessie, letting her know that she may be back a bit late, and to cover for her. She tried David again, still no response, so for the third or fourth time she left a message after the beep. As she walked purposefully past tall buildings, housing multi million pound businesses, past what felt like hundreds of newsagents called things like 'Choudhry's' and 'Deepak's', past people holding out free papers and others trying to sell expensive ones, she kept her hand outstretched to hail a taxi. One stopped just outside 'Gupta's Off Licence' and she jumped in.
The taxi ride took five minutes and cost £7.50. Charlotte jumped out and jogged towards the main door to the four storey apartment block. She pushed the buzzer to call David’s intercom and waited thirty seconds. No answer. She tried again and waited another few seconds. Each floor held two apartments, one north facing and one south. The lift, which Charlotte had never seen out of order, ran up the centre.
David had lived in his apartment for just under four years now and Charlotte had been with him for three, so why, she wondered, had she not introduced herself to the neighbours? Charlotte tried each of the apartment buzzers and got two answers. One was an elderly lady from apartment 1A who wouldn't let Charlotte in without ID, and before the man who answered the 3A intercom could speak, he was dragged away by a giggling female.
She was wondering what to do next when the postman came out of the lift with his royal blue satchel over his shoulder and walked towards her. He opened and held the door for her as she walked in. She walked past him and straight into the lift, selecting the fourth floor.
As the lift rose, Charlotte looked at her reflection in one of the three mirrored walls. She could see the worried look on her face. She was worried that David had hurt himself and was lying dead on the floor or worried that David had decided that he didn’t want to be with her anymore. She didn't know which was worse. The lift came to a slow stop with a ring and a mechanical voice announcing the destination reached. The doors opened immediately and Charlotte walked out, her heels tap tapping on the grey tiled floor. She reached the door to David’s apartment and lifted her hand to the brass knocker just above the letter box. Before she could knock the unlocked door began to open.
In the early hours of that morning, after David’s marathon sleepathon, he was struggling to sleep again despite feeling utterly exhausted. The light from the streetlamps two floors below his window cast a glow from the top of his curtains. He had lain awake for what felt like hours just staring blankly at the ceiling; his eyes following swirls in the Artex. Lifting his hands to the top of his head, linking his fingers, he stretched. He felt like shit; had never felt this tired, this drained. He twisted his body to the side, taking up as much of the wide bed as possible, tousling up the duvet beneath him. Then something caught his eye - a cobweb, a thin strand that ran across the room from the deep red lampshade and into the corner where a thick funnel like web attached itself to the coving. He could have sworn that it hadn’t been there earlier but just assumed it was a quick working spider. It wasn’t large, maybe four by three inches wide and a solid white in colour. David propped himself up onto one elbow and glanced around the room; vision starting to blur as the night continued to take its toll; but he couldn’t see the webs lodger. Not to worry, he thought, even his thoughts were beginning to slur, I’ll find you in the morning. He chuckled out loud; or was it in his head; as he slipped gently into delicious sleep.
David woke up suddenly, a few beads of glistening sweat had sprung up on his forehead, a scream only just held inside his lips. He had experienced the dream again. It had begun the same, the walk down the paved alley, solid walls either side, the same plants every four or five steps. It had changed as they had reached the end of the alley with the daunting red brick wall blocking their path. Charlotte had turned to him, her hands cupped in front of her, full of the round leafed weeds and it had actually been Charlotte this time, not just a dream interpretation of her. This time, however, she didn’t say “run”. In one swift motion, she dropped the plants to the floor and grabbed the sides of his face. David had instinctively grabbed her wrists but he couldn’t move them. His eyes looked towards the floor, the stems seemed to be rooting back into the ground and spreading towards his feet. He tried to move them away but his feet were stuck to the paved floor with some sort of invisible force. The weeds moved onto his shoes and up underneath the hem of his trousers. He could feel them sticking into his legs, bare beneath his chinos. They felt like tiny mosquito bites but deeper. Beads of blood dripped gently down his legs. Now Charlotte spoke, although it was nothing that David could understand as the English language, more of a guttural, tribal cry. As she did, a second set of arms ripped from her torso, spraying blood in little rivulets that the weeds seemed to lean towards, and tore into David’s chest. Long, jagged fingernails scraped though skin and muscle, boring a deep hole inside him, her fingers curling around his ribs. Then she jumped high, landing on the wall amidst the sound of bones breaking and flesh tearing…
Before David had woke, he had seen the thick trail of webbing that she had left behind.
David rubbed his eyes furiously, “stupid”. He said this aloud, the voice sounding strange in the dark, making him feel even more stupid than he already did. He realised, of course, that the dream had been caused by that damn spider’s web that still sat in the corner of his room. He glanced at the clock on his bedside cabinet; a Jack Daniels alarm clock that his Aunt Kate had bought for him a couple of Christmases ago. The little hand was halfway between the three and the four. Despite the early hour, David had already decided that his friend, Henry the Hoover would shortly be evicting the arachnid from its stolen home.
He pulled the duvet off his chest, throwing it to one side and pulled his elbows up on to the bumpy mattress, half sitting up. He stopped, a confused frown on his face and slowly moved his hands towards his body, fingers reaching out. There was something there, laying each side of him. He moved the thumb of his left hand over something hard, rutted and thin. He did the same with his right hand, suddenly feeling very cold. His palm grasped the foreign object in his bed. He quickly pulled both hands away, falling back onto his pillow. Not only could he feel the gnarled sticks lying adjacent to his semi naked body but he could feel himself feeling them. He launched himself out of the bed, duvet falling to the floor, and hit the mahogany cupboard shoulder first, ignoring the bolt of pain that shot up his neck. Panic hit him, the sane part of his mind telling him to calm down, that it was only a dream. He didn’t quite dare to flip the light switch, wasn’t ready to look just yet. All the same, he needed to know.
“From this day on,” David spoke in short gasps, “I will stamp on every fucking spider I see”.
He reached across his body, his right bicep grazing against a scab-like roughness and put his finger to his left armpit. The gash had gone; it had been filled up with whatever was growing out of him.
David heard the buzzer going off, heard his girlfriend’s voice as she talked to Mrs Draping from downstairs. He heard the giggling couple from directly beneath him, both through the floor and as the sound came through the window from the entrance doors intercom. She couldn't get upstairs to him. He stood strong, didn't go to the window to look out at her.
Then, there was the postman. David heard the click of the heavy wooden door, the cheery voice of one of Her Majesty’s servants and soon enough the loud merry ring of the elevator reaching his floor. The click of stilettoed shoes moved towards his apartment, getting louder on the wooden floor. He heard her raise the knocker on his front door. No, that was wrong. He felt her raise the knocker. Felt her grip and felt the door slowly begin to open.
The door only opened a few inches at first and Charlotte could smell something that didn't belong there. An earthy, mouldy smell, like a fungus, and it was strong. Charlotte squinted and wrinkled up her nose as she pushed the door further with her foot and the smell hit her with an even greater severity. It wasn't just that earthy smell, there was something else, something rotting, festering. It smelt, almost, like death.
"David?" she called, "baby? Are you in here?" Charlotte pushed the door fully open, peering in to the hallway, barely lit even with the afternoon sun. She breathed through her mouth to keep the smell from entering her nostrils but she could still taste it. She gagged, glad immediately that she hadn't yet had her lunch. Turning her head she had to will her accelerated breathing to return to normal and she pushed the cramp in her belly away.
Charlotte had to find out if David was okay, realising with that thought that she loved him, more than anything. She turned back to the open door and cautiously stepped over the threshold into the apartment. Two steps in and the air seemed to change. It became cooler and the smell less fetid. There were sounds too, movement surrounding her. Only soft, but enough to send a shiver up her spine. Charlotte reached her hand towards the light switch, found it and pushed the button. Her pupils contracted as soon as the light hit them and she realised how dark it had been.
She blinked her eyes, overwhelmed by the bright light, floaters momentarily blocking her vision. Her hands instinctively rose to her face, rubbing away the strange shapes. She pulled her lower eyelids down, looking up and then blinking, refocusing on the scene in front of her. She was too shocked to do anything but shake her head, not understanding the scene in front of her. On the floor, the carpet was alive, moving. It was covered with weeds, bright green, round leaved and each plant about ten inches long. The walls were almost totally with a thin patchy green-black moss, pale tendrils that seemed to reach out towards her. She looked up. Hundreds of long legged, spiderly creatures moved between hanging, twisted vines, along thick strands of newly sewn web. Millions of eyes staring straight at her. Suddenly and at the same time every spider let go of the funnel web or their leafy vine. With a simultaneous hiss they fell quickly to the floor, their inch long legs tucked in to their swollen, black bodies. They opened up as they hit, the full four and five inch bodies sprinting towards their target. Charlotte couldn't suppress her scream this time, she turned back to the door but it had noiselessly shut behind her.
She grabbed for the handle, ripping through the vines that grew thickly there. She screamed again as she felt the long legged arachnids touch the skin beneath her trousers. She screamed as they crawled from the thick overgrowth down her fingers and up her arms, disappearing into her shirt. She screamed as she furiously slapped at her stomach to stop the creeping, hooked legs moving over her; the things exploding like balloons of creamy white pus. They held on to her hair even as she relentlessly shook her head backwards and forwards in violent disbelief. She kept screaming until the creatures found her open mouth.
David looked down at the corpse of his former lover, watching the pitted skin shift and stir, moved by the creatures climbing her bones. He watched through closed eyes. He watched through the multiple eyes of the spider like creatures, the ones that still crawled from blinking, breathing holes in his hardened skin. He could see as their hooked feet pulled at the ravaged flesh from the inside of the rapidly disappearing bag that once housed the soul of Charlotte Ellen Maille.
David could feel his subconscious stretching out as the vines grew down from the ceiling, spreading dark leaves across the walls. He could feel them using the energy they had taken from the dead woman on the floor, growing, reaching out, meeting the round leafed stems on the floor, intertwining, as if they were holding hands. The whole apartment seemed to beat in rhythm with David’s heart and every throb sent a shimmer across the floor.
Light from the hall still filtered faintly through the thickening foliage and the moving leaves on the floor sent flashes across the walls like a jungle rave. David couldn't help but think of the lines "Hush my darling, don't fear my darling. The lion sleeps tonight". He tried to laugh but nothing more than a scraping, dry rasp emerged from the small hardened slit where his mouth had been. He stood in the living area between the mossy sofa and widescreen, high definition TV, unmoving, surrounded by mouldy photos in cracked glass frames held at impossible angles by twisted leafy stems.
He heard the loud, merry ring of the elevator reaching his floor. He heard the voice of Mrs Draping enquiring as to the scream she had heard from downstairs. He felt the brass knocker of his front door being raised up. His door began to open as the hall light stopped shining through.
Jeanie skipped around the corner, trying to keep up with her brother “You’re ‘spose ta walk me home from school Jakey, slow down”.
He had slowed down, in fact, had stopped in the middle of the pavement. She almost bumped right into him. Jake was staring straight ahead, open mouthed. Jeanie peered around his leg to see the blinking lights of both a police car and a fire engine. There were a number of people standing around, most with the same expression as her big brother. They were all staring at the green mass in front of them.
“Jakey”, Jeanie said, looking up at him and tugging at his trouser leg, “why is everyone looking at a bush?”
Jake didn’t speak, just took her hand as they walked across the road. Jeanie looked confused as they stopped just outside of the short wooden fence, the same wooden fence that had, this morning, circled round where she lived. It wasn’t a bush that everyone was looking at; this was her ‘partments’. Jeanie stared at the leaves covering the building that had been bright, clean and white before she had left for school. They flashed blue and white and yellow in time with the turning lamps on top of the vehicles in front of them.
Jeanie thought how pretty it all looked. She thought how pretty it looked until she saw the hundreds of eyes staring out at her, each one an individual flashing ball. Everyone else appeared to notice this at the same time because it became almost silent, just the low hum of the vehicles and the distant drone of faraway streets.
Jeanie let out a small squeak as she saw a giant spider creeping towards her; it was as big as her head! Jake had seen it too and he took a step forward, stamping down on the arachnid with a sickening squelch. Thick white jelly oozed from beneath his black plimsoll. The instant his foot hit the floor a deep, dark, other worldly sound came from the building. That sound caused almost everyone to shiver, hair standing up on the backs of the necks.
David lifted the curtain of vines from what used to be the main doors and walked slowly outside. He limped along on legs which were too thin, his trousers viciously torn in places showed the ripped, gnarled flesh. He must have been in pain but what was left of his face gave nothing away. The lower jaw hung at an awkward angle from what could have been a thin tendon but looked more like a bloody vine. His left eye was black and swollen, weeping thick viscous fluid down a split cheek. His right eye was missing, in its place a woody stem. His hair still looked fine.
The shout of fear and disgust from the still growing crowd was very obvious and most took an involuntary step back. One of the police officers, a female in her mid-twenties, took a few step forwards, towards the obviously wounded man, ready to help or to run. It would turn out to be neither.
She began to say, “are you okay?” when the man, David, stopped and let out a loud rattling cry.
It could not have come from his mouth, which no longer existed but it did come from him. He lifted his arms, tearing the shirt from his yellow withered body and as he did, revealed the two new arms which grew from beneath his own. They stretched out, unfolding and pulled his body backwards, the rattling growing louder. His legs began to crack open releasing two more new limbs which anchored into the ground. The upper limbs had pulled his body into something resembling a giant, wrinkled mouse foetus. This all happened in less than thirty seconds. The policewoman had drawn her baton.
Most of the crowd stood and stared, both loving and hating the freak show which took place in front of them. It was what happened next which caused them to move. The body of David began to split.
The tear began at his groin, slowly at first and then speeding up as his skin ripped all the way to his throat with a sound like ripping paper. The two halves flapped over like a popped balloon. This is when the spiders leapt from the building, running towards the crowd in a blanket of black.
Almost everyone who had been there died on that first attack. It was only Jake and Jeanie who saw the rest of the show. It was only Jake and Jeanie who saw the swarm of anthropomorphic creatures pulling themselves from the belly of the man in front of their home. Only Jake and Jeanie who saw the spiders turn from their feasts and run towards the creatures emerging from the broken body of David, covering them with their hundreds of legs, embedding into blue-green flesh, creating a living armour. Only Jake and Jeanie saw the creature’s standing in a line before the vine covered building; wide muscular bodies with thick necks and angular heads; before they began to march forwards in unison, weapons held at their chests. It was only Jake and Jeanie who looked straight into the creatures eyes; oval, expressionless purple swirls. It was only Jake and Jeanie who saw the rest of the show, and it was the last thing that they ever saw.
About the Author
Married father of four, A.P. Gilbert is better known as children's author, Tony Gilbert. He has released several short works to raise money for charities such as Bliss and Winston's Wish and works with world class illustrators for his range of picture books. Recently his focus has been towards a more adult market with a collection of his genre-hopping short stories and poems being released very soon. You can find his work on Amazon and through his publishers, Visionary Press and Ghostly Publishing.Twitter * website
Read more from AP Gilbert: http://smarturl.it/APGilbert
Also check out his children's book: http://smarturl.it/TonyGilbert
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