Exterminator – a flash horror story

Joel walked into the kitchen. The linoleum was cold beneath his feet and the room smelt faintly of refuse, a reminder to take the bins out tomorrow. He should do the washing up too, but not at three in the morning.

He bumped into a chair, cursed, and walked back to the doorway. He flipped a switch and the light buzzed into brightness, the bare bulb casting a stark light and sickly shadows.

For a moment, he heard chittering, but then it vanished. Work was getting to him, imagining bugs where there weren’t any.

Joel walked over to the sink, rinsed the sticky dregs of beer from the bottom of a glass, and filled it with water. He reached inside his boxers and scratched his arse while he drank.

Through a gap in the curtains he could see his van with its company logo of a crushed beetle. His neighbours hated that van, but that didn’t stop them hiring him to deal with their infestations, from ants to woodworm to rats. Hypocrites, the lot of them.

There was the chittering again, and a single tap. Joel turned around to see a beetle lying on its back on his kitchen table.

He grabbed a pan off the stove and slammed it down, crushing the insect. He grinned as he did it, then grinned even wider as he pulled the pan away and saw the results. The biggest beetle he’d ever seen, and he’d crushed it.

Sometimes he dreamed of doing that to his neighbours too. Maybe one day. For now, he’d made do with laying down poisoned treats for number fifteen’s cat. He’d got some dark looks after that fleabag died, but no-one could prove anything, so fuck them.

The chittering came again. Two more beetles landed on the table, even larger than the last one. These ones scurried away fast and the pan hit the table with an angry but ineffective clang.

The bugs landed on the linoleum. There was a tickling as one ran across Joel’s foot and up his leg.

“Get off me, you bastard.” Joel swatted at the creature, but it scurried around the back and up his thigh. “Get the fuck off!”

He reached around and grabbed the bug. Pincers dug into the flesh at the top of his leg. There was a flash of pain as he wrenched the thing off and flung it away. Blood dribbled, hot and sticky, down the back of his thigh.

More skittering. The tap of bugs landing on the table. Beetles, maggots, cockroaches, worms. Joel’s eyes widened as he looked up. Shadows were moving inside the light bulb, turning into the outlines of creatures that emerged at the top, becoming real as they slipped between socket and glass.

Joel stumbled back across the kitchen, tripped over a chair and landed with a thud. His head hit a cupboard door and black dots danced across his vision. When he blinked them away, they were replaced by giant flies buzzing around him, beetles climbing up his body, maggots wriggling beneath, the touch of their bodies making Joel’s skin writhe in disgust.

“Get away from me!”

He grabbed the counter and hauled himself to his feet. Bugs fell away, pattering onto the floor, but more clung to him, digging their pincers into his flesh, crawling through his hair and towards his face.

The light. They were coming from the light. Turn it off and this nightmare would be over.

But as he reached for the switch more crawled out of it, cascading down the wall and across the floor.

“Help!” Joel screamed. “Someone help me!”

If his neighbours heard then none responded. Instead, a beetle seized its chance to climb into his open mouth.

Joel froze in horror as the thing wriggled across his tongue and brushed against the inside of his cheeks. Then it was at the back of his throat and it was too late to scream.

With a wild, flailing movement Joel slapped the light switch. Something crunched beneath his hand, spattering him with its insides, but he still hit the switch.

The light went out.

The chittering continued.

Joel sank choking to the ground. Bugs crawled across him as the world faded to black.


This story was inspired by an art exhibit at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, where bugs were emerging from light fittings. I’ve never seen contemporary art so clearly ready to inspire horror.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.


By Sword, Stave or Stylus

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

A gladiator painting with manticore blood.

A demon detective policing Hell.

A ninja who can turn into shadow.

Prepare to be swept away to worlds beyond our own in these thirteen short fantasy stories.

Action, art and mystery all feature in this collection, available in all ebook formats.

From reader reviews:

‘These fantasy genre stories take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’ – Writerbees Book Reviews

‘There isn’t a single story in here I don’t love. All short and sweet (or dark), all fantasy with history woven through, all a slightly skewed perspective that will make you rethink assumptions. Totally worth a read.’

Stay With Me – a Flash Friday story

7953444098_b59d5abce7_zElena Dubrass sipped her tea and stared across the plantation. From here on the porch she could see fields of snappers, their verdant heads bobbing to catch the frogs that occasionally hopped across their roots, while grey-faced gilgar labourers worked their way along the lines, draining the sap.

A cloud was appearing over the jungle, like a wave creeping up a beach.

She heard their butler Stiviss approaching. He had an eery elegance, his scales glistening above an impeccable tailcoat. And though his features were ill-suited to smiling, there was a warmth in his voice that she seldom heard from Harald, whose long absences were not what she had hoped for in a husband.

‘If I may, mistress.’ He placed the cake stand on the table. ‘You might wish to join Mister Dubrass in town.’

He looked as happy as she felt at the prospect of her going to Harald. This life must be lonely for Stiviss too, separated from his kin by a higher station.

She leaned back in her chair, layered skirts rustling. There was a lonely beauty to this place, with its scarlet frogs and its hungry plants, its snake-faced natives and its golden sunsets.

‘Why go to town?’ she asked, taking a honey wafer. He had been harping on this issue for days.

‘The frogs.’ He held her gaze a moment, then turned abruptly away. ‘There are few left, and they are turning brown early – an ill sign.’

‘Nonsense.’ She would rather stay here with Stiviss than be chased by superstition towards Harald.

A cry rose from the plantation, and then another. Gilgar were running out of the fields and into the jungle. Elena stared the way they had come, towards the dark shape she had taken for a cloud. She could hear the buzz of razor locusts descending to devour the snappers. She had witnessed small swarms before, felt a thrill of fear as she shuttered the house against them, but never so many, and never so fierce.

‘Mistress, the balance has tipped,’ Stiviss said. ‘They will devour us all.’

She gazed enraptured at the approaching swarm. She had known this place was beautiful, but outside of the jungle it had felt safe. Now it was a dark thing that made her heart race.

‘Into the house,’ she said, pulling herself away from the sight.

Stiviss shook his head and pointed at the mansion’s upper floors. Already locusts were swarming across one corner of the roof. A window cracked and then shattered beneath the weight of the swarm, a shutter falling free with a crack of flying nails.

‘You were right, Stiviss,’ she said. ‘We must go into town.’

She began to hurry round the house, realised that he was not following. She turned and saw him standing, gaze shifting between her and the jungle, face full of doubt.

‘Come on,’ she said, grabbing his hand. ‘If I’m losing this place then I can’t lose you too.’

His hand tightened round hers and they ran for the barn.

The buggy was out and they leapt aboard as the bulk of the swarm reached the fields. Jasmine, the old brown mare, snorted in panic as the buzzing grew.

Stiviss helped Elena up, those ridiculous skirts getting in her way. She cracked the reins and they jolted off down the dirt track, stray razor locusts slashing at them with sharp, narrow legs.

Jasmine raced with all the fuel of fear, but the swarm was faster. Elena felt them slashing at her arms, saw blood run pale down Stiviss’s face. The creatures seemed to have more taste for him, and for Jasmine, whose flanks were soon raw and seeping. The horse stumbled and fell, the buggy grinding to a halt as she panted out her last.

‘Quickly!’ Elena leapt in terror from the carriage, began running up the road. Behind her, Stiviss slid to the ground with a thump and lay groaning in the dirt.

She ran back, winged bodies battering her face, and put an arm around him.

‘Stay with me,’ she said. ‘We have to get to town.’

‘This is just a warning.’ He shook his head. ‘Just the beginning. Too many snappers, eating all the frogs. Nothing left to eat locust eggs. The balance has tipped. The jungle will devour your fine colony.’

‘And you?’ she asked with growing horror.

‘My people will be safe,’ he said. ‘We are part of the jungle.’

‘But you… this…’ She gestured at his wounds, then at the buzzing swarm.

His wheezing laugh turned into a wince.

She stared in horror at the ruin of the buggy, at the red mess that had been her fine horse, at the pain across Stiviss’s face. And then she looked at the jungle, the swarm thinner near its foliage. A place full of beauty and terror, full of the unknown. Could it be safe? Could she ever become one with that?

She should run for town, flee all of this with Harald. But what if she took a risk, for all that beauty?

And for Stiviss.

She lifted him in her arms, struggling under the weight and her own pain. She had never had to carry a person before, but between his kindly face and the locusts’ assault she somehow found the strength.

‘Stay with me,’ she said as she ran from the road, locusts slashing her all the way.

‘Stay with me,’ she groaned as she stumbled into the trees, the creatures still buzzing around her head.

‘Stay with me,’ she murmured as she collapsed into the undergrowth.

Now the swarm no longer reached her, held off by the thick greenery and the easier prey that small birds made.

She turned her head, saw Stiviss smiling back at her. The jungle was lush around them, frogs croaking, birds singing, the scent of sweet, strange flowers on every breath. And through the pain, through the buzz of the swarm vanishing into the distance, she felt freedom.



If you liked this story then you can find links to the rest of my Flash Friday stories here. You might also enjoy my fantasy collection By Sword, Stave or Stylus. And check out the #FlashFriday tag on twitter, which seems to get used for a bunch of things, including other authors posting their flash stories.

Tomorrow sees the beginning of NaNoWriMo, in which I descend into the pits of madness trying to keep on top of my own word count as well as my freelance writing work. If you’re also doing NaNo you can find me on the website as gibbondemon, feel free to add me as a buddy and we can egg each other on through the insanity.


Picture by tvnewsbadge via Flickr Creative Commons.