“This is horror for the 21st century: intelligent, literate, and disturbing. Quite why it works so well, I don’t want to think too hard about.. I want to sleep tonight!” – Pat Mills, creator of 2000 AD, Crisis, Serial Killer, and SpaceWarp.

SIMON WOLFE sat at his bookstall for an hour without selling anything. The organisers had shuffled him into the hall, apologising that ‘indie authors’ were over represented this year. Not that any of the others were faring much better, Bristol Horror Con was well attended with cos-playing fans, but nobody seemed interested in new home grown talent. Instead they were spending their cash on plastic figurines, movie discs, computer games, and other mind numbing rubbish. Did nobody read anymore?

Rearranging his titles on the fold-out table, he sat Teenage Ripper next to Blood Orgy, with Unrepentant Necrophile to the other side. When this made no difference he repositioned his promotional sign higher on the wall behind him; Warning – Extreme Horror – Adults Only.

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, his bowels punishing him for last night’s curry. Smiling whenever anybody looked in his direction, he clenched his cheeks and hoped someone would come by he could ask to watch over the stall.

A girl wearing a pseudo-medieval crushed velvet dress and dripping in cheep pewter jewellery paused at the stall. She picked up a copy of Blood Orgy, black fingernails flipping through the pages. Her painted eyebrows arched, then frowned as she put it down again. When she looked directly at him, Simon noticed her reptilian contact lenses were on the skew. Her tone was condescending as if his work were beneath her. “Do you have any vampire erotica?”

He smiled and politely told her to “Fuck off.”

She did, nose in the air. Simon chuckled. He was finally starting to have some fun.

The next to come by was a zit faced boy, perhaps thirteen years old. Simon had not expected the event to admit under eighteens. All his books warned clearly of adult content and this kid was clearly not an adult. Nevertheless, he wanted a copy of Teenage Ripper, which had some of the goriest scenes Simon had ever written. Looking around furtively he signed the book ‘To Derek – don’t tell your parents.’

Derek grinned like a fox chewing carrion. It was moments like this, thought Simon, that made the effort worthwhile. All the same, he still needed the toilet.

He looked up from counting the cash and there was a nerd at the stall, staring at him while hopping excitedly from foot to foot. He looked perhaps nineteen years old, wore an anorak with the hood up despite being indoors, and steel framed glasses. He held before him a tattered first edition of Simon’s first book, Satan’s Apprentice.

“I’ve been following you for a while,” he said.

Simon could not help but be flattered. “If I was famous that’d be a collector’s item. Want me to sign it for you?”

“Would you?”

Simon produced his pen with a flourish, “That’s what I’m here for. What’s your name?”

“Nigel C. Skinner,” said the nerd.

“Do me a favour, Nigel. Keep an eye on things while I take a shit?”

“”Er.. yeah,” he replied, faintly amused. “Anything for my favourite author.”

“If anybody want me tell them I’ll be back in a minute.”

With that, Simon rushed off past Chucky, three Scream killers, Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, Freddy Kruger, Leatherface, several vampires, an old school werewolf, a horde of shopping dead, countless blood splattered generic victims, and an out of place Darth Vader. Just in time. It felt like he was already touching cloth.

Nigel gave back his chair and sat on the ground. With the unkempt brown curls sticking out from under his hood, and the wideness of his eyes beneath the glasses, there was something of the feral child about him. Simon felt a strange paternal warmth towards his young fan and fought the urge to pat his head. To make small talk he asked, “How come you’re not in costume like everybody else?”

Nigel cocked his head, eyebrows raised above the steel rimmed glasses, “I’ve come as a serial killer.”

Simon groaned, “They look just like everybody else. An oldie, but still a good one. Here’s one for you.. How dd the unrepentant necrophile get caught?”

Nigel sniggered. “Go on, tell me.”

“Some rotten cunt split on him.”

Nigel proved good conversation and hung around the stall for the rest of the event. He asked a lot of questions about Simon’ work, showering him with appreciation.

“What stories do you like the best?” Simon asked.

Nigel’s eyebrows bobbed above his glasses, “My favourite is Satan’s Apprentice. I just love stories about serial killers. Its a fine narrative tradition.”

“Narrative tradition, eh?” said Simon. “I’d never thought of it like that. I only wrote the book because it was so much fun describing all the violence and gore.”

Nigel’s eyebrows vanished again, “Doesn’t it worry you, the responsibility of writing stuff like that?”

Simon chuckled. The idea of writing being a responsibility seemed a little overblown. “What do you mean?”

“Some say books like yours can fuel the fantasies of genuine psychopaths. They contribute to real life violence the way porn supposedly inspires rapists.”

Simon scoffed. As a regular visitor to a number of smutty websites he had never been inspired to become a predator. “Porn doesn’t inspire rapists. If anything it probably decreases the chances. Most blokes are more likely to stay at home and shuffle one off than to go to all that bother. Its no surprise that rapists enjoy porn, any more than real killers enjoying books about serial murder, but it doesn’t make them the way they are.”

Nigel chewed on his bottom lip for a moment, “That’s not what Ted Bundy says. He says porn was entirely responsible for what he became. That it desensitised him to sexual violence.”

Simon smiled uncertainly, “I like to think my books provide a safe outlet, making for a healthier psychology.”

“Perhaps we’re both right. I’ve read your works and I’m well adjusted to modern life. At the same time, it has definitely inspired me in resolving my instincts. Where do you get you amazing ideas?”

“All kinds of places. Unrepentant Necrophile is based on a real case back in the seventies. I relocated it from New Orleans to Basildon and made the antagonist an embalmer. Its a comment on the death care industry and how we all get ripped off in the end.”

Nigel laughed, “I love the cynicism. What about Teenage Ripper?”

“That’s pure fantasy but also kind of based on Bruno Lüdke, who killed girls he was attracted to because he couldn’t lose his virginity. I guess you could say its a coming of age story.”

“So, is Blood Orgy inspired by real crimes?”

“Its mostly based on Fred and Rose West but I made them swingers. I really let my imagination go with that one.”

Nigel held up his signed first edition, “And what about Satan’s Apprentice?”

“That was inspired by the diaries of Gregory Davis, a home grown serial killer from Milton Keynes. Like my character he was inspired by reading books about famous killers and wanted to be just like them. He was pathetic in real life, killing only three people, even if he did gut one in a kid’s playground. I upped the body count to make the story more entertaining.”

Nigel nodded enthusiastically, “Fact inspires fiction, and fiction inspires fact. The true crimes of serial killers become the myths of our modern age and are never forgotten. Of course, all the big names are American. They like to pretend they invented the whole serial killer idea just because they have more of them. There are 2,6025 known cases in the USA, compared to 142 in the UK.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Simon. “Considering our relative populations we still have a much higher chance of meeting one here in the UK. That’s a bit worrying when you think about it.”

“Plus we have Jack the Ripper,” said Nigel. “Which was way back in eighteen eighty-something, so we were definitely first. Serial killing is a British phenomenon but as usual the yanks nicked our idea and sold it back to us. Its a lot harder for your small, independent UK killer to get the attention they deserve.”

Simon laughed, “You might have a point there.”

Another customer came by the stall. They were dressed as either Pennywise the clown or Sam Wayne Gacy, it was hard to tell. He guessed the former, signing Blood Orgy in his confident scrawl, adding the message, ‘Stephen King is a creepy old sleazebag.’

Simon was happy to have met a fan and spend so much time talking about some of his favourite subjects. The event had been a big success despite his early misgivings. He was glad to have made the long journey from Basingstoke. All too soon it was 9.30, time to count his profits and pack up the stall.

“You don’t mind helping me load this back in my car, do you? The bar’s still open. I’ll buy you a beer. There’s some kind of after party, apparently.”

Nigel bowed as if addressing royalty, “Its an honour.”

Arms full of boxes they headed out to the car park.

“Mine’s the Ford with the personalised plate, “said Simon proudly – he had bought the number secondhand, keen to give the appearance of success, “80 Wolfe X.”

“I see it,” said Nigel. “Parked right next to the BMW.”

Simon came round to find himself in a car boot, his limbs manacled and his mouth uncomfortably stuffed with a large rubber ball gag. The stink of exhaust made it difficult to breath and his head throbbed like he had been hit from behind with something heavy. He could hear the car stereo speakers in the back blaring Talking Heads, David Byrne’s clear voice over the roar of the engine posed the question, “Psycho killer qu’est-ce que c’est?”

For the second time that day Simon feared he might be about to shit himself.


Excerpt from Everybody Needs a Hobby, a novella by Nathaniel J. Harris, published pseudonymously as Nathan Mortlock, 2015. Available from Amazon UK USA

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