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Exquisite Field Corpse

March 10, 2011

On Monday, Nightjar Press published a short horror story of mine as a chapbook. The story is called ‘Field’.

The stunning cover image was made by the artist Beth Ward, and, as with all Nightjar chapbooks, the cover was brilliantly designed by John Oakey. There are only two hundred copies, all signed and numbered, and it won’t be reprinted.

I’ve got three signed-and-subtly-doodled-upon copies to give away, though, so I’m going to run a small ‘exquisite corpse’ competition here on this blog. I’ll leave the first few lines of ‘Field’ as a comment, below – and in order to enter the competition, all you have to do is leave a comment that progresses the story. The idea is to write a new story, communally. (It might be weird, disparate, ridiculous, funny, amazing, any or all of the above – we’ll see).


1. Comments which do not form part of the emerging story don’t count.

2. Only contributions made before 12 noon on Thursday 24th March count.

3. Your contributions may be as long or as short as you like.

4. You may make as many contributions as you like.

5. In keeping with the title of this blog, whoever ‘ends’ the story – i.e. whoever leaves the last contribution – will automatically win a copy.

So – whoever leaves the last comment will win a copy. The other two winners will be drawn at random from all of the other contributors. If you’re reading this, I urge you to join in – even if you’ve already got the chapbook (or just don’t want one) it might be fun. (I hope it’ll be fun). Good luck!

EDIT: I’m really pleased at how many people have contributed so far – thanks all. There have been a couple of instances of people commenting simultaneously – I suggest that everyone tries to finish their contribution with a complete sentence, and that way there’s more chance of one comment flowing on to the next in a way that makes sense (even if they’ve been written at the same time).

Also, I’ve been thinking that once the story is done I’ll give it an edit to ensure continuity and then post it as a new blog post. (If anybody has any objections to that, let me know). If you want to know when that’s up, and when I’m announcing the winners, then you can subscribe to the blog, follow me on Twitter (@fellhouse), or find me on Facebook –

Thanks again.

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  1. Tom Fletcher permalink

    Tony was tall and strong and had an unusually small, square head. He tried to disguise the shape of it by wearing a woolly bobble hat. Nobody apart from his family ever saw him without this hat – he did not remove it outside of the house, even when the weather was hot.

  2. Under extreme circumstances, such as gale force winds or Indian Summers, Tony would take particular measures in which to accommodate the variables. For the more robust and blustery days he affixed a strong piece of elastic to the rim of the hat, so as to secure it firmly in place on his head.

    For the occasional days of overbearing heat he fashioned small, discrete air holes using a bit of rubber piping that he’d found in the science labs to allow his head to breath. Further to that he contrived a ‘blower’ to cool his head, using the remainder of the piping and the hand pump from his SLR camera cleaning kit. There was something comforting about pumping with his palm and feeling the wafts of air in his hair.

    On really bad days he was tempted to use hat pins to pierce the hat firmly in place. But that was only when the weather was really bearing down, which put him on edge.

  3. RichardW permalink

    It was a rather unremarkable hat. Plain and green with a yellow pommel. But he hadn’t chosen it for it’s looks. No, he’d chosen it for its unusual thickness. It was a fat bastard of a hat, and it softened the unsightly angles of his head perfectly. It had been his most prized possession for the last 8 years, the most wonderful birthday present he had ever received.

  4. Or was it simply the memory of that birthday? His best birthday ever, after a series of earlier disasters. It had been such a surprise to Tony that that particular birthday had passed without incident, that he poured all of his hope into the belief that his hat was a lucky charm.

  5. Tony had known Clara for several weeks now. They had met whilst Tony was out walking one day. She had just moved to the village and appeared to be lost out on the moor. Rather than pointing out the way home, they had walked together. She’d worn an old Barbour jacket that day and a green beanie hat and although she had appeared in different attire each day, the beanie hat was always present.

  6. Clara’s ever-present hat was quite seasonally appropriate when the two first met. But when Clara was still wearing the hat after March had blustered by and April bloomed into May, Tony began to wonder whether Clara, too, had ulterior hat-wearing motives.

  7. He went to great lengths to discover what Clara’s head looked like beneath the beanie, such as . . .

  8. Sibyl permalink

    Tony’s mother was worried about him.
    Other young men – with medium-sized, round heads – were earning good money, using internet dating agencies, and going to the pub on Friday nights.
    Was it her son’s dependence on the hat which was holding him back?
    She wrote to several broadsheet problem page agony aunts about her son.
    Their replies – though differently worded – all agreed on one thing.
    So early one morning, just before the refuse collectors were due, she tiptoed into her son’s room and removed the hat.

    • trish nicholson permalink

      She pushed the hat down the side of the bin, under a stinking mess of cabbage leaves, tea bags and little packets of dog poo, and rushed back into the house letting the door crash behind her. As she stood at the sink washing up the breakfast dishes, and idly looking out of the window as she waited for Tony to come down for his frosties, she clenched her teeth on a terrified scream. Smoke was bollowing oiut of the dustbin.

  9. She clamped both hands onto her mouth to muffle the scream. She stood at the sink looking out the window, her cheeks flushed with red. Get a hold of yourself woman, she told herself, it’s just a bit of smoke.

    The fire extinguisher was on the garage wall where her late husband always kept it. Tony had never been himself since his father’s death, in fact, it wasn’t long after the buried him that Tony started wearing the hat.

    She unclamped the extinguisher expecting it to be quite heavy. It wasn’t. She squeezed the trigger to test it, click click. Nothing. It was empty.

  10. archaism permalink

    She panicked. Looked around.

    Tony’s mum remembered seeing the fire blanket. Momentarily, she was jerked out of her panicked mind by Tony’s explanation for a fire blanket as a kid; when the mummy fire and the daddy fire and the little fires all go out for a picnic, they have to take the fire blanket to sit on.

    Maybe that’s where it was now?

  11. Or maybe it was in the place she’d dreamt of one sleepless night the previous year – the Museum of Fire – and which she had then proceeded to dream of on all subsequent nuits blanches, as her late husband, Pierre, had called them. It was after Pierre’s death, in a factory fire resulting from an industrial accident, that she had become determined to find and visit this Museum of Fire, believing that her earlier dreams had been portents she had been foolish to ignore. And so she logged on to the internet.


    440 error – File not found

    Google search: where is the fire museum?


    Fire and Police Museum at Sheffield, Greater Manchester fire and rescue service, Mansfield Fire Museum.

    Google search: recurring dreams


    Dream Moods: Recurring Dreams1 Aug 2010 … The message in recurring dreams may be so important and/or powerful that it refuses to go away. The frequent repetition of such dreams …

    Recurring dream – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia The subjects of recurring dreams vary, and they often include events or settings from the dreamers’ own experiences. The following examples are common: …

    Google search: malformed head issues

    baby born with a malformed head – Infant Care (up to 18 months old …baby born with a malformed head Infant Care (up to 18 months old) … Is the babys head misshappen from coming down the birth canal? or does s/he have a medical …. Mesothelioma · Military Health Issues · Miscarriage & Still Birth …

    Clara turned the computer off. She looked at her reflection in the screen.

  13. “Who could ever love me?” she thought, thinking of Tony. “What would he say upon seeing this?” Clara abruptly turned away from the mirror. “No more!” she said aloud. “I can’t live like this!” She put on her beanie and her coat and strode purposefully out the door.

  14. Tom Fletcher permalink

    Of course, Clara was not thinking about Tony her son – she was thinking about Tony the toothbrush salesman, who was as yet unaware of her deep yearning for him.

    Things could get confusing, she reflected, as she went to the outside tap and turned the hosepipe on. Two Tonys. Two Claras, what with her and that strange woman who was always out on the moors, claiming to be lost. And three little hats – though not for much longer, judging by the way that the fire now raged inside the dustbin.

    Clara put her finger over the end of the hosepipe so as to direct the water with more force towards the flames. Once she’d put the fire out, she would work out what to do about Tony the toothbrush salesman. To avoid confusion, she thought it might be best to refer to him only as ‘Toothbrush’ from now on.

    Meanwhile, Tony was rooting around in his bedroom, wondering where his hat had got to. He’d spent hours last night in the garage, consolidating all of the climate-control devices into one incredibly complicated electronic system, which used an experimental new power source he’d bought over the internet. All he still had to do was fill it with the coolant; he was worried, because if it accidentally got turned on before it was full of coolant, the consequences could be disastrous.

    • Judith Clarke permalink

      It was at this moment in time that Tony looked up from the mess that had become his room to peer out of his bedroom window. Puzzled, he lent forward and looked harder. His jaw slackened and dropped open and froze as a steel like fist gripped it and the air emptied from his lungs was he saw his mum reversing out of the wheely bin which was wet and smoking with something familiar, green and yellow clutched in her her hand.

  15. He watched in horror as the scorched fibres of his beloved hat coiled around his mum’s fingers and snaked up her arm. Her mouth contorted as she grappled with the mess of burnt wool and wires. Could the experimental new power source have animated the hat?

  16. benjaminjudge permalink

    His head itched. His scalp felt separate; other; hungry. It yearned for his fingers, his thick fingernails, their butter-knife points. The fine hairs at the back of his neck ached for him. The soft moons of bare skin that hugged his ears longed for his touch.

    His hairs were wires that crept and crawled beneath his skin, teeming like worms in a corpse, writhing in ecstatic knots, gorging on the thin slice of flesh between his scalp and his skull. He wanted to crush them, to claw at them, but he wasn’t going to scratch.

    He wasn’t going to crack first.

  17. Terri Lucas permalink

    He threw on a hooded jumper to cover his head and ran downstairs to help his mum. The smoke from the bin created an opaque curtain between him and his mother. He tried to get to her but couldn’t find a safe way through. Then a breeze moved some of the smoke and he could see that along with the scorched fibres of his hat were dark orange flames climbing up his mum’s arm. The highest flame had just attached itself to her thick hair.

  18. Sibyl permalink

    ‘Can I be of assistance?’ a voice enquired.
    Tony – and his inflamed mother – turned around.
    The speaker was a man holding aloft what appeared to be a toothbrush.
    And yet it was no ordinary toothbrush.
    Because suddenly……

  19. archaism permalink

    It took a while to fully understand. His brain was pretty fried by the sight of his mother being fried by the fire in/on/from his hat and if he was completely honest, he’d only seen a talking toothbrush once before and that was after too long a weekend experimenting on the time-altering features of opiates.

    This one didn’t have a gruff American-Italian accent.

    Neither did the man, who was holding the toothbrush aloft. He probably lacked an accent entirely, since Tony could see that his larynx hung gaping open, black blood caked on the front of his immaculately ironed shirt. His stare wasn’t vacant, but rather seemed to oscillate between a feral feline glare and a wide-eyed divine fear that would not look out of place on a startled nun.

  20. Susan M permalink

    The man exhaled; fibrous shreds of – something, Tony didn’t care to look too closely – shifted in his gaping throat and a wave of putrefaction rolled over Tony and his mother, dousing the flames.

    ‘Don’t you know me, Tony? What excuses did she give you?’ Doe-eyed nun morphed to feral feline as the man pointed the toothbrush towards Clara. ‘You thought you were so clever burying this with me. Have you any idea how difficult it is to dig through six feet of soil with a single toothbrush?’

  21. Judith Clarke permalink

    Claras mouth opened and a high pitched, ear renting scream thrust itself forth from the red lipped caven. Her eyes as round and wide as her mouth stared disbelivingly at the longed for face as his hand comically waved the toothbrush accusingly at her. Tony stared at the toothbrush weilding apparition as the cogs of his brain worked overtime. His accusing orbs flickered between his mother and the unwanted stranger as the smoke from the bin finally dispersed. Mom?? Tony asked in a voice that sounded like a squeak. Then turning to blood caked man he said quietly, disbelivinly and hesitently dad???
    At this exact moment the hat began to turn and slither emitting a wet squelching noise, all three turned in unison to look incredulously at Claras still smoking hand……

  22. Waxed white strings unspooled between the incredulous tableau, a living snake of magic floss, rooting out the bits of ash between them and flaking them into the air.

  23. ‘I am the interdental unifier’ said the snake.

  24. She was dead.

    The smoke, as if suddenly exposed as an unwanted stranger, dissipated away to cause havoc in some other dimension. The fire died also. Tony was not sure if it was following Clara or the smoke, but he assumed the latter.

    They watched that hand. They watched its movements; the crackling of the skin shrinking away from the bones.

    Tony turned to Tony.

    ‘I’m sorry,’ he said with no real remorse.

    ‘It was just a fucking hat.’

    ‘I know. But she really didn’t like it.’

    ‘I was going off it myself.’ He coughed, suddenly aware of his dangerous levels of smoke-inhalation. Tony patted his back. ‘I’m growing up aren’t I?’

    Tony didn’t seem to know how to respond. He turned away from the smouldering body. ‘I suppose you are, mate.’

    He snapped the toothbrush in half. ‘Here,’ he said handing the brush-half to his companion.


    Tony walked away.

  25. But no, it wasn’t just a hat. It was a hat he had found out on the moors all those years ago. Right near the place where, the previous evening, he had found that old book, and read aloud some nonsense from within – it surely couldn’t have summoned something so unspeakable, so ancient into their little suburban bubble. Could it?

  26. ‘Just don’t think about it mate, its too much trouble’ said Tony back to his namesake.

    Tony dropped his bit of the toothbrush. His head felt cold

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Tom Fletcher’s ‘Field’ – My First Nightjar Chapbook « ersatz esoterica
  2. Time off | fall and fall again
  3. Exquisite World Book Day Corpse « The Endist
  4. Exquisite World Book Day Corpse « The Endist

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