First, a confession: I’ve never been very successful when it comes to subscriber-based self-publishing. I gave a Patreon a try for a time, but found it largely unsatisfying for a variety of reasons – fiddly software, low patron turnout, lack of focus. I jumped ship when Curious Fictions came along, but while the overall experience was better, I was still plagued by low subscription numbers and that nagging lack of focus. I could live with the former, but not the latter.
Curious Fictions went on hiatus a little while back, which meant I had a decision to make – go back to Patreon, or find a new outlet…Substack, say, or something similar. Only, none of those options were appealing, for various reasons. However, I still wanted to self-publish some short fiction. So, I decided to just buckle down and do it here.
On October 1st, a new Free Fiction page will appear on this site. On the first of every month, a new story will be posted to this page. These will mostly be reprints with the occasional new one to liven things up. Each story will be available for a month before being replaced by the next one.
Also, I figured it’d be appropriate to start it on October 1st because I’ve always liked giving away free Halloween stories and this year is no different. So, the first entry on the Free Fiction page will be “The Fear-Collector”, a new Royal Occultist story. Like my previous free Halloween stories, it’s based on a horror film – in this case, ‘The Tingler’.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is a stopgap measure. I might well wind up going back to Patreon at some point in the future. But this lets me scratch the itch to put up free fiction, and you get something fun to read once a month.
Speaking of which, I’ve included a preview of “The Fear-Collector” below. Enjoy!
“Fear is the great leveller,” Chapin said, giving his brandy a swirl. He was a scalpel of a man, all sharp angles and edges. He took a sip, gave a sigh of pleasure and added, “Don’t you agree, Charles?”
“Never gave it much thought, Warren old thing.” Charles St. Cyprian replied, studying his own glass in the firelight. He was fairly certain Chapin had slipped something into it, though he wasn’t sure what that something was, just yet. Not poison – a sleeping draught, perhaps. And yet he didn’t feel tired. He considered asking his host about it, but decided against it for the moment.
“I’m surprised. I’d have thought you’d be more interested in the subject, given your time in the trenches.” Chapin took another sip of brandy. “Ypres, wasn’t it?”
“I was at the Somme, myself. Refresh your drink?”
“No thank you.” St. Cyprian set his glass down. “You were talking about fear…?”
“The great leveller,” Chapin said.
“You mentioned that bit.”
“I thought it pithy enough to repeat.” Chapin’s lean face was positively skeletal in the firelight. He was a tall man, cadaverous but nonetheless aristocratic. In contrast to his host, St. Cyprian might’ve stepped from a Leyendecker canvas. They sat before the fireplace in Chapin’s study. Outside the room’s tall windows, London sank into the quiet of evening.
St. Cyprian wondered if he’d made a mistake, paying a call on Chapin. The man had to know that the police suspected him of the recent spate of killings in the East End – killings of a sufficiently curious nature so as to also attract the attentions of Charles St. Cyprian, His Majesty’s Royal Occultist. It was St. Cyprian’s duty, if not privilege, to investigate the unusual and outré in the name of His Majesty – and Chapin’s handiwork was certainly both. Half a dozen corpses scattered across the East End, found with grimaces of fear and backs flayed open to the bone. The question was – why?
As if reading his thoughts, Chapin smiled. “Are you certain I can’t get you something, Charles? You look somewhat peaked.”
“Fine and dandy,” St. Cyprian said. He felt somewhat drunk. Rather more than somewhat, in fact. Not a sleeping draught then. He blinked. The fire was looking at him. He shook his head, and the leering face vanished. “I say, did you see that?”
“Hallucinations are a common side-effect,” Chapin said, somewhat absently.
St. Cyprian glanced at the other man. “You did slip something in my drink, then.”
“It’s a chemical derivative of ergot,” Chapin said, his smile widening into a cruel rictus. “I developed it myself. It heightens the subject’s perceptions and loosens the tongue – I am curious to see what it does to a fellow such as yourself…”
TO BE CONTINUED IN “The Fear-Collector”…