Category Archives: War

No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches – Extract

Just over a hundred years ago, fighting in the Great War came to an end following the signing of an armistice between the Allies and Germany.

What better time than to share an extract from my novella No Man’s Land?

No man’s land was deathly still and quiet. Nothing stirred.

As he and Sergeant Lewis made their way through almost complete darkness exasperated by a swirling ground mist, Harry’s heart hammered so hard in his chest he could almost feel it in his throat. Either as a result of nerves, anxiety, or the bone-numbing cold, he was trembling so much that several times his finger slipped onto the trigger of his Enfield. Despite having the safety switch being on, each time it happened he mentally checked himself, afraid he would loose off a shot by mistake and shoot the Sarge up the arse. That wouldn’t look good in the report.

The pot-holed, water-logged ground was soft and boggy underfoot. So much so that in some places, his feet sank past the ankles. Each time he pulled out his boot it made a disgusting wet squelching sound as the ground tried to suck him back in, possibly in an attempt to swallow him whole. Occasionally he would tread down on something hard and unforgiving, some foreign object trapped beneath the surface which felt almost brittle underfoot. He daren’t look down to see what it was, even if visibility allowed such a luxury.

It was far too risky to use lamps to light their way, which in Harry’s opinion made reconnaissance missions worthless. If they didn’t know what they were looking for, and it was too dark to see anything anyway, what was the bloody point?

But he wasn’t in charge. He had been a soldier long enough to know that very often, there were ulterior motives for being asked to do things. Sometimes the real reasons were hidden behind veils, and subordinates like him were rarely afforded a glimpse of the bigger picture.

He kept losing sight of Sarge, even though he maintained a distance of no more than three or four yards behind him. Each time he did so, he felt a small knot of panic begin to bubble up inside him and quickened his pace slightly to catch up. Then, the rugged outline of his NCO would drift back into view and the panic would be replaced by a surge of relief. If he could choose anyone he had ever met, or anyone from history for that matter, to be out here with him tonight, he would choose Sergeant Lewis. Or maybe Ghengis Khan.

The darkness and the unfamiliar terrain were disorienting. Even though Harry was sure they were heading diagonally away from the allied trenches, with no markers or even stars to light the way, there was no real way to be sure. For all he knew, they could be walking a path straight into enemy lines.

Don’t get lost, don’t get lost, don’t get lost, he repeated to himself. Keep calm, stay alert, follow the Sarge, and above all…

DON’T GET LOST!

If Sarge was suffering from nerves, it didn’t show. Instead, he just carried on moving silently across the ravaged landscape, crouching slightly to make himself a smaller target, and turning his head slowly from side to side as he went, constantly scanning their surroundings. He had substituted his standard-issue Enfield for a Vickers machine-gun. The Vickers was a fearsome weapon, and quite new to the battlefield. Harry had never even fired one, but he knew all about the reputation they had. Capable of firing up to five hundred .303 rounds a minute to a distance of over four thousand yards, they could literally rip men to pieces.

The Sarge’s choice of weapon sent mixed signals to Harry. Due to its sheer size and weight, the Vickers gun was usually manned by a crew of two; a gunner and someone to feed belts of ammo through it. The fact that Sarge carried the thirty-five pound weapon, plus ammo, as if it were a toy, suggested he was as strong as an ox. It also suggested he expected a fire fight.

As Harry pondered this Sarge suddenly stopped walking, holding his machine-gun steady with his right hand while signalling with his left.

Harry hurried to catch up, clutching his webbing tight to his body to stop it jangling. He had decided to leave most of his kit back in the trench, the whole idea of this mission was to be in and out quickly, then back inside an hour. Even so, there was a combat knife strapped to his leg, several ammo pouches scattered about his person, a number five grenade, and a water bottle clinging to his belt. He also found room for a mini-first aid kit, a box of matches, and some meagre rations. Without wanting to overload himself, he felt he should be prepared for anything.

Dropping to the ground and sinking into the mud next to Sarge, Harry squinted in the general direction that had caught his Sarge’s attention. The NCO made another hand signal and pointed a single, thick, callused finger. From his position, at first Harry could see nothing but swirling clouds of smoke mixed with ground mist. Then, to his horror, his eyes began to distinguish movement.

Something was out there.

There were figures approaching. Two, three, maybe more, moving swiftly and silently across the terrain like ghosts. They too moved without lights.

A German patrol.

Harry’s mouth suddenly lost all its moisture, and he felt his bowels shift uncomfortably. He had never been this close to a German before, having only spied them briefly across the length of the killing fields. The patrol undoubtedly consisted of Sturmmann. Stormtroopers. Specially-trained soldiers known to operate in no man’s land as merciless execution squads. Their mission was simple. To seek and destroy, and they took no prisoners.

Death was practically within touching distance.

Luckily, the patrol was approaching from an angle. Harry and Sarge were not in their eye line, but to risk running for cover now would be suicide. The troopers would certainly be on the lookout for transgressors. Why else would they be prowling around out here in the middle of the night?

Slowly, Harry raised his Enfield, aimed it at the German patrol, and looked down his sights. He could take one out before they even realized that they were under attack, he was sure of it. He and Sarge had the element of surprise on their side.

But Sarge hissed at him through clenched teeth, and shot him a sideways look that didn’t need words to convey its meaning.

Don’t shoot!

No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches is out now via Deviant Dolls Publications.

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RetView #6 – Dog Soldiers

Title: Dog Soldiers

Year of Release: 2002

Director: Neil Marshall

Length: 105 mins

Starring: Sean Pertwee, Emma Cleasby, Kevin McKidd, Liam Cunningham

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“It puts things into perspective when you have to scoop your mate up with a shovel and put him in a bag.”

So says Sgt Wells (Pertwee). There haven’t been many British horror films over the past decade or three more worthy of praise than Dog Soldiers. From the opening scenes, when a couple camping in the Scottish Highlands are ripped apart by a ferocious beast, you’re left in little doubt that this is a werewolf flick. The signs are definitely there, not least the inclusion of a solid silver knife, which the couple don’t use to defend themselves. Doh. Cut to a few weeks later, and a group black-clad SAS fellas as part of a training exercise. Whilst sitting around a fire telling war stories and complaining about missing the football, a mashed-up animal carcass somehow gets chucked at them. I think it’s a deer, but it’s pretty hard to tell. While investigating this strange occurrence, they stumble across their SAS adversaries. Except they’re all dead, the only survivor being a severely traumatised Captain Ryan (Cunningham) who is full of gory tales of his company being attacked and torn apart. Luckily, they left their guns and ammo, which our boys gleefully commandeer as they were only given blanks. I sense a plot hole here. I mean, if it really was a training exercise, how come one side was given live rounds? Anyway, moving on, it soon becomes apparent that what they are up against isn’t human. At least, not all the time.

Soon after they come under attack and Sgt Wells almost gets ripped in half. (“My guts are coming out!”). He doesn’t die, though. In fact, being mortally wounded just seems to piss him off. He keeps soldiering on and swearing at everyone. A passing zoologist called Megan (Emma Cleasby) saves the day when she drives up in a Land Rover and offers them a lift. Yes, please! She takes them to an isolated farmhouse, where they hope to regroup and radio for help. Obviously, things don’t quite work out that way, and a bloody battle to the death between soldiers and werewolves ensues. Can they survive until dawn? Will it make any difference if they do? Why is the SAS bloke acting so sketchy? And perhaps most importantly, who won the footy match they were all so concerned about?

The answer to that last question is England, as the match they are referring to is believed to be the World Cup qualifier on September 1st 2001 in Munich when they thrashed Germany 5-1. The best scene is when Sam the sheepdog keeps trying to eat Sgt Wells’ guts as they spill out of his body, one of the other guys sees it, and throws up on Captain Ryan’s head. Soon after, they perform some much-needed first aid on him with the help of a bottle of whisky and some superglue.

“How’re you feeling, Sarge?”

“Absolutely fucking top bollocks!”

Despite his woes, Sgt Wells makes a splendid recovery and outlives most of the others. Must have been the whisky. Or the fact that he’s slowly turning. The cast is like a who’s who of English acting talent as we see a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Kevin McKidd teamed up with a pre-Game of Thrones Liam Cunningham and a post-ID Sean Pertwee whose character is named Sgt Harry G Wells, a clear nod to the sci-fi writer HG Wells. Throughout the film there are also references to Zulu, the Matrix, An American Werewolf in London, and Evil Dead among others, making it an anorak’s dream. Even 90’s lad show They Think It’s All Over gets a tongue-in-cheek mention. The director, Neil Marshall, went on to be involved with The Descent franchise, Doomsday, Centurion, as well as episodes of Westworld, Hannibal and Game of Thrones. If you like your horror bloody, funny, and gore-tastic, you can do a lot worse than Dog Soldiers. You’re probably never going to see another northern bloke holding a flare aloft and singing, “Come and ‘ave a go if you think you’re ‘ard enough!” to a group of rampaging lycanthropes ever again. That man, incidentally, was played by Chris Robson, and he’s a French teacher in the north of England now. Famed for it’s (very) black comedy elements, upon its release, Dog Soldiers achieved cult status in the UK, but I have no idea how it was received in the rest of the world. A much-anticipated sequel Dog Soldiers 2: Fresh Meat was supposed to have been released in 2014 but wasn’t forthcoming. More’s the pity. The world needs more movies like this.

Trivia Box:

Although set in the Scottish Highlands, apart from a few aerial shots the movie was filmed almost entirely in Luxembourg.

This is the latest installment of my RetView series. For past entries, please go here.


RetView #2 – Shock Waves

Title: Shock Waves

Year of Release: 1977

Director: Ken Wiederhorn

Length: 90 mins

Starring: Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams, John Carradine

Welcome to the second installment of my #RetView series, following last month’s Lost Boys feature, where I re-watch and review ‘forgotten’ horror classics. I love old horror movies, and it’s always fun to revisit them. Or in this case, belatedly discover them. I recently saw Outpost, and Outpost: Black Sun (aka Outpost II) on the Horror Channel, and decided I kinda like Nazi zombies. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the whole idea of twin evil. Total nastiness.

On watching the Outpost double-header, I realized that the whole Nazi zombie thing is an actual sub genre. Admittedly, this mini-revelation making me feel only marginally less of a freak. In recent years we’ve had the Dead Snow films, Blood Creek and several other notables that I can’t remember off the top of my head. This all reminded me of a film I saw when I was a kid which frightened the absolute shit out of me called Zombie Lake. The original plan had been to track it down and watch it again to see if it was still scary, or if the intervening three decades or so had lessened its impact.

Whilst searching for it online, I kept seeing references to this other film, which is credited with kick-starting the whole Nazi zombie craze long before Zombie Lake. When I saw that it starred Peter Cushing, I was sold. Come to think of it, unkillable Germans have been a ‘thing’ of mine for quite a while.

Carrying the impressively corny tag-line, ‘The deep end of horror,’ Shock Waves was directed by Ken Wiederhorn (best known for Return of the Living Dead Part II and Eyes of a Stranger) and unleashed on an unsuspecting public in the summer of ’77. For context, it came out just when serial killer Son of Sam (David Berkowitz) was at his peak, if that’s the right way to say it.

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The film opens with Rose (played by Brooke Adams, who is perhaps best known in horror circles as being Christopher Walken’s love interest in the Dead Zone) being rescued from a little boat in the sea. Slowly, she remembers how she got there. She’d been traversing some islands on ‘one of those small dive boats’ when the engine seized, stranding her with a bunch of other people including the captain (John Carradine) and his mate, Keith, who is afflicted with tragic hippy hair and a 70’s porno ‘tache. As the boat flounders in the water that night, it is stuck by a ‘ghost ship’ which isn’t really a ghost ship, not the supernatural kind anyway. It’s something much worse.

In the morning the captain inexplicably turns up drowned, which understandably sends the rest of them into a mild panic, and after finding the boat is taking on water decide to decamp to a nearby island which, conveniently, comes equipped with an abandoned hotel. Now you’re talking. When abandoned hotels are involved, you just know it’s gonna be zombie time soon. Except this one isn’t really abandoned, Peter Cushing lives there. Now the alarm bells would really be ringing, because murder, monsters and mayhem followed that guy around like herpes.

In Shock Waves Cushing plays the role of an eccentric recluse, who later reveals himself as a former SS commander who, during the war, was in charge of a fearsome bunch of misfit soldiers he moulded into an unkillable aquatic fighting unit. When they proved too difficult to control, he sank their ship. Or, he thought he did. Yep, it was THAT ship!

It all goes a bit south when zombies start coming out of the sea. Do you hear me? They come out of the sea! Eventually. I’m not sure why all needed diving goggles, but they otherwise seemed in extraordinarily good nick considering they’re supposed to have been literally dead in the water for thirty-odd years.

I was a bit disappointed to find that these aren’t the flesh eating kind of zombie. They’re more the throttling kind with a penchant for drowning people. In the sea, ponds, swimming pools, even, on one memorable occasion, a fish tank. Basically, if it has water, the fockers (sic) will find some way to drown you in it. This obviously limits their creativity somewhat. But still, I suppose any Nazi zombie is better than no Nazi zombie.

Things go down a predictable enough path from then on. The zombies slink about looking menacing, not saying much, and taking out the tourists one-by-one. They reserve an especially nasty demise for their old commander, who they presumably haven’t forgiven for trying to annihilate them. The film plays for atmosphere than shocks, which are few and far between, but one thing that really creeped me out is the musical score. For the most part, especially when the zombies are in attack mode, it’s a long, unbroken high-pitched whine, which is both annoying and unsettling. In the end, we come full circle to find Rose, rather the worse for wear, being rescued from the boat. The sole survivor. About those diving goggles, it’s revealed toward the end that if you remove them, the zombie dies. It’s never explained how or why this works, but fuck it, small details.

Shock Waves didn’t do much at the box office, and only really started receiving attention when it was released on VHS during the video nasty heyday of the 1980’s. Though it has attained cult status amongst horror movie aficionados, especially since being released on DVD in 2003, it has generally failed to impress in wider circles. Patrick Bromley of DVD Verdict summed things up nicely when he wrote, “More concerned with atmosphere than with shocks, it avoids a number of what would become the cliches of the genre; the flip side of that coin is that it delivers little of what we want from a zombie film.”

Trivia Corner:

Alternative titles used in various overseas territories included Almost Human and Death Corps, both of which are probably better than Shock Waves.

Come back next month for more #RetViews!


No Man’s Land Review

Mallory Heart kindly reviewed my recent novella No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches in The Haunted Reading Room.

Review copied below.

No Man's Land
Review: NO MAN’S LAND: HORROR IN THE TRENCHES by C. M. Saunders

Told as a series of continuing vignettes, NO MAN’S LAND relates the experience of Harry Doyle, a young Welsh soldier in the First World War. As terrifying as are the usual horrors of any war, Harry and his cohorts face additional horrors of an implacable nature. Harry is a wonderful protagonist, because he’s not a one-dimensional fearless hero, but rather he is a true human, fearing, loyal, emotional, introspective. NO MAN’S LAND is a literate and vivid narrative of an ugly war, a war which for Harry Doyle and his fellow soldiers extends beyond the boundaries of consensus reality.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Bookshelf 2016

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Every year I keep a list of all the books I read, and post it here. Yep, that’s how anal I am about books. If you’re interested, you can find last year’s riveting instalment HERE. The weird thing is, these posts are usually among my most popular, which suggests that either my other posts are even more boring or perhaps I’m not the only one obsessed with books and lists.

As you can see, I tend to lean toward contemporary horror fiction, for obvious reasons, but I try to read widely. Promise. I love a good autobiography, the odd debauched rock tale, and the occasional peak into history. The only rule is I have to actually finish the book in order for it to qualify. So without further a-do, here is a complete list of the books I read in 2016.

The Mannequin by Darcy Coates (2014)

Welsh Murders Volume I (1770 – 1918) by Peter Fuller & Brian Knapp (1986)

Bazar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (2015)

The Haunting of Blackwood house by Darcy Coates (2015)

Community by Graham Masterton (2012)

Death’s Sweet Echo by Maynard Sims (2015)

The Wind-up Toy by David Owain Hughes (2016)

Alfred Hitchcock & The Three Investigators: The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur, Jnr (1964)

Nails by Fiona Dodwell (2015)

Tales From the Lake 2 by various authors (2016)

The Supernatural Murders: Classic True Crime Stories, edited by Jonathan Goodman (1992)

Dead Harvest: A Collection of Dark Tales Vol I by Various (2013)

War Letters 1914-18, Vol I by Mark Tanner (2014)

Mind Fuck by Renee Miller (2016)

Rayhven House by Frank E. Bittinger (2016)

The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel (1975)

Pictures of You by T.J Alexian (2014)

Last Words by Jackson Lear (2016)

The Hidden by Fiona Dodwell (2016)

Auto-Rewind by Jason Arnopp (2015)

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin (2012)

I Can Taste the Blood by Various Authors (2016)

The Scariest Reddit Stories by Hannah J Tidy (2016)

Mistrel Bed and Breakfast by Darcy Coates (2016)

The Films of Danny Dyer by Jonathan Sothcott & James Mullinger (2013)

Revival by Stephen King (2014)

Surviving the Evacuation, Book 1: London by Frank Tayell (2013)

The Christmas Spirit by Brian James Freeman (2016)


The Halloween Sale!

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Being your typical horror nut, I absolutely love Halloween. I love it so much, I’m going to give you a special gift. Not only that, but I’m giving it to you early. Five times, baby. From now until 1st November, all my indie titles are 0.99. I’m also open to offers for my body, my soul, and an Iron Maiden Number of the Beast limited edition 7″ red vinyl, but let’s start with the books.

The sale means you can pick up a novel, two novellas, and two short story collections for less than a fiver, including the Top Ten Amazon bestseller Sker House and my new release No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches. Details and links below. So in the immortal words of David Coverdale, If you want it, come an’ get it.

No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches

The Somme Offensive, 1916. Harry Doyle is a young, overawed British infantryman struggling to come to terms with the insanity of war. His main objective is staying alive, and getting back home to his family in one piece. But his hopes begin to diminish when he realises the full extent of the misery and destruction around him. And the German war machine isn’t the only thing he has to worry about. Something else is preying on his friends and comrades in the trenches, picking them off one by one. Something no amount of military training can prepare him for.

Proceeds from this book will be donated to the Help for Heroes foundation.

This book contains descriptions of graphic violence and is not suitable for minors.

UK LINK

US LINK

Sker House

Dale and Lucy are two students with a fascination in the supernatural. One weekend, they travel to Sker House, South Wales, a private residence with a macabre history which has recently been converted into a seaside inn. They plan to write an article for their university magazine about a supposed haunting, but when they arrive, they meet a landlord who seems to have a lot to hide. Soon, it becomes apparent that all is not well at Sker House. An air of oppression hangs over it, while misery, tragedy and ill-fortune are commonplace. Gradually, it becomes clear that the true depth of the mystery goes far beyond a mere historical haunting. This is a place where bad things happen, and evil lurks.

Little by little Dale and Lucy fall under Sker’s dark spell, and as they begin to unravel the mysteries of the past, they realize that nothing stays buried forever. Welcome to Sker House, a place where past and present collide.

UK LINK

US LINK

Out of Time

Joe Dawson is a struggling 41-year old writer battling a serious case of writer’s block. When he travels to Wales in a last-ditch attempt to reignite his career, he finds himself staying at a mysterious seaside hotel, where nothing is quite what it seems. As the secrets of his past finally catch up with him, Joe is thrust into a life or death situation where his every action could have terrible consequences.

UK LINK

US LINK

X: A Collection of Horror

This is what happens when you ‘wake up’ inside a dream, when the urban myth you heard turns out to be so much more, and when that hottie you pick up in a bar springs a terrible surprise. But what do you do when your wife gives birth to something not entirely human? When your past discretions come back to haunt you? Or when a serial killer moves in next door?

The first collection of horror and dark fiction from C.M. Saunders, including three previously unpublished stories, plus an introduction and extensive notes. Also features exclusive artwork by Greg Chapman.

Table of Contents: Introduction: That’s Entertainment, A Thin Disguise, A Hell of my Own Creation, Monkey Man, The Awful Truth, Mr. C, Fame / Infamy: A Deconstruction, Another False Dawn, The Night Everything Changed, The Devil & Jim Rosenthal, Club Culture, Afterword

UK LINK

US LINK

X2: Another Collection of Horror

The sequel to 2014’s successful X: A Collection of Horror features ten more slices of dark fiction from the blood-soaked pages of Fantastic Horror, Unspoken Water, Dark Valentine and several anthologies. Also includes two previously unpublished stories, extensive notes, and original artwork by Greg Chapman.

Meet the teacher who sees dead pupils, the ambulance crew who pick up a casualty who won’t die, and the childhood friends who spend the night in a haunted pub. Along the way you can meet a man who refuses to accept his wife’s death and goes to extreme lengths to keep the flame of love alive, the boy who just likes to watch you sleep, and maybe even pay a visit to an antique shop with a deadly secret. If you dare.

Table of Contents: Little Dead Girl, Curiosities, Intruder, The Night Visitor, Hero of the Day, Embracing Solitude, Treat Night, Handsome Jack, Tiny Little Vampires (Flash Version), Roadkill, Afterword

UK LINK

US LINK

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Devil Dogs

My new novella, No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches, tells the story of a young British infantryman called Harry Price at the Somme in World War I who ends up fighting not just the Germans, but also an unseen enemy that makes his friends ‘disappear.’ Amongst the usual death and destruction to be found in a war zone, the book features a reanimated corpse, unkillable death squads, and what I refer to as ‘Devil Dogs.’ In the story, these are vicious German Shepherds, symbols of the German war machine, who had their brains transplanted and replaced with those taken from dead SS soldiers. So in effect, they are dogs with people brains. Angry people brains. They are then sent out to prowl no man’s land, the area between the allied and German trenches, looking for victims.

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I wish I could lay claim to making this shit up. But rumour has it that this area of research was part of the infamous Nazi human experiments of the 1940’s during which all manner of cheerful things took place, from sewing sets of twins together to making people drink nothing but sea water so they could study the effects. Some of these experiments also included forced amputations and limb transplants. Yep, just like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Most of this stuff was inflicted on POW’s during World War II, but I moved it to the trenches of World War I to suit my purposes. During war time, or even outside war time, people do such incredibly fucked-up shit to each other you don’t have to make it up. Just read a bit of history.

I couldn’t find any online sources for the transplanting-people-brains-into-dogs thing, so maybe I did make that bit up. Who knows? However, there is some literature relating to Soviet experiments along similar lines concerning the pioneering ‘work’ of Vladimir Petrovich Demikhov in the 1950’s which supposedly led to the first heart transplant in 1967. One of his greatest achievements was bringing a dead dog’s head ‘back to life.’ There’s even footage on YouTube. Some sources suggest this was a continuation of research started by the Nazis a decade earlier, and it’s anyone’s guess what really went on at those sketchy Unit 731 camps.

Ultimately, nobody knows how far they want or if the experiments were successful. Probably not. I imagine it came down to size in the end (doesn’t it always?). I mean a man’s brain wouldn’t fit inside a dog’s head, would it? Unless these particular dogs were genetically engineered or something to make them bigger than the average canine. And the Nazis would never do that, would they? By the way, I took the term Devil Dogs from a nickname the US Marine Corps were given by the Germans. According to Marine Corps legend, they fought with such ferocity at the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918 that they were likened by the enemy to ‘Dogs from Hell.’

It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?


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