Henry wasn’t doing anything wild or exciting; he had simply wanted to go down to the local pub. His publisher had returned his manuscript earlier that week, and he’d been craving beer ever since.
The Royal was his Dad’s old pub. Henry had also come here in his early twenties, before moving into town where he had met his wife, Anja.
After renting for a few years, she was the one who had convinced him to move back out here, to his childhood suburb, so they could buy a decent-sized home for Ollie.
Henry bought a schooner of IPA – the only remnant of his innercity life, and sat down under a big screen with the dog races going.
He took one sip, and swore loudly.
The bouncer glared at him. Henry mouthed a ‘sorry’ – then looked down at his beer, at the bubbles racing to the surface.
Four fucking years of work; down the drain, just like that!
Henry pulled out his phone and began to scroll through Instagram, letting himself get angry at bank ads instead.
But then he came across something familiar – a post from The Daily Dread website – and he felt his heart drop.
He squinted; it was a photo of Peter Clifford. They’d met at a poetry reading over twenty years ago; and when Henry had innocently mentioned his admiration for Stephen King, Peter had turned his nose up at him, as if Henry had said something horribly racist.
Henry’s hand shook as he clicked on the video to hear his nemesis say:
“You know, horror is just such a rich genre to mine, in ways that aren’t possible with lit-fic! In my latest book . . .”
Henry felt like throwing up; Clifford had aspired to be a literary writer back then – Soviet novelists, Greek classics, beat poetry.
Now, he was a published writer of horror – exactly what Henry had wanted to be all his life, but had never quite been able to achieve.
Henry guzzled down half his beer, and in a few foul taps, he commented that Peter was nothing more than a failed beat poet, a horror fake.
As he hit send, Henry felt a twisted pleasure rush through him, forceful like two waves crashing together on a night beach.
Getting another beer, the girl at the bar would not make eye contact with him as she returned his change.
But with a fresh IPA in hand, Henry let a tidal wave of anger crash out of him, nasty tweets against all the people who he felt had slighted him on Twitter.
Then, with a third beer, he sent an abusive email to the publisher.
Fourth beer; told everyone to get fucked on Facebook.
On his fifth beer, he deleted all of his social media accounts.
Going up for his sixth and final beer, the girl turned, saw him – and screamed!
The bouncer ran over to help – but the moment he saw Henry, a look of disgust broke out on his face, and he grabbed a nearby chair, charging at him.
Henry bolted for the toilet, jamming the door shut behind him. As he scooted past the sink, a cold shudder ran through him, but the cause didn’t register. He scrambled up the wall of the urinal, wriggling through the transom window to fall onto the tarmac outside.
He sprinted up the street, away from the pub.
Reaching the town hall, he sat down on the step – and suddenly, the image of a monster flashed into his mind; he saw twisted ears, swollen lips, eyes that didn’t match – and a sinister grin. But he recognised the moustache; it was his . . . he’d glimpsed his own reflection, back at the Royal.
And then his phone rang; it was Anja.
He didn’t answer it, but the thought of her and Ollie suddenly filled him with hope; the fact that his manuscript had been rejected didn’t matter.
Henry picked himself up and walked home.
“Dad! You’re just in time to see Doctor Who fight the Daleks!”
His wife looked at him: “Henry, what happened?! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
And he gave them both a big hug; the two bright lights in his life, able to shine through any kind of darkness.