Welcome to the most terrifying edition of Barren Island Books yet! We’ve gathered together five authors whose interests vary from horror to the paranormal to Gothic fiction – five authors who like to unsettle their readers and send a chill down the spine – and turned the tables by marooning them together on a haunted island. Whether or not they escape with their lives will depend on what (and who) they choose to take to the island with them. So please say hello (and possibly also farewell) to Adam, Hazel, Ivan, Tricia and Will!
Right, guys. You’re going to be stuck on a mysterious island with no shelter except a tumbledown mansion where a murderous ghost is rumoured to lurk. So obviously, the first thing you’ll want to take with you is some appropriately creepy/macabre/gruesome reading matter. Which book do you go to if you want a scare?
Adam: I’m not much of a horror fan. The scariest books I ever read were I’ve Been Deader and The Book of Mormon (original ed.). If both those books were sold out (God willing), I’d go with The Shining by Stephen whatshisname.
Hazel: Most definitely The Shining. It’s an oldie but a goodie and I am a massive Stephen King fan. You can’t beat that novel for creep factor, and no matter how many times I read it, I still get shivers like it is the first time.
Ivan: To be frank, I don’t usually read Horror books, but recently I finished a great zombie book, Odium by Claire C. Riley, and it creeped the hell out of me. There are a looooot of deaders in there, so that would be my choice.
Will: I think that I’ll need a bit of variety. So I’m going to go for The Collected Ghost Stories of M R James. James was a ghost story teller in the traditional fashion. He loved nothing better than a drink, a roaring fire, and a raging storm outside, and then to tell his stories verbally to a group of enthralled listeners. This collection includes a story many believe to be the greatest ghost story ever, ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’. Perfect for this atmosphere.
Tricia: Well, if Will doesn’t mind, I’ll think I’ll take one of his books with me. The Showing totally creeped me out when I read it.
Also on the island are a sinister old forest made up of gnarled and twisty trees, an ancient burial ground, and a well*. Things could get pretty dangerous out there, so each of you can take someone to watch your back – only, it has to be a character from a book (any genre). Who would you choose?
Ivan: Ha-ha, nice one! Well, I think I’ll take Tram (Trammeler) from Lindsey R. Loucks’ The Grave Winner. Tram mostly tried to protect girls in that book, but I hope he’d help me out if I asked. He’s hanging out around the cemetery so it won’t be a problem for him.
Hazel: Can I just say for the record, The Ring terrifies me also; however, it is also one of my favourite films (what can I say, I’m a masochist).
I would take Sherlock Holmes. ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ is one of my favourite Sherlock stories and it is also one of my favourite horror stories as I have always found it quite petrifying. Sherlock, however, can be relied upon to separate what is really happening from what appears to be happening and, thus, keep you safer with his cool head and logical reasoning.
Also, Sherlock Holmes rocks.
Adam: I bet you think I’m going to plug my book again by saying Jon Tanner, the twisted breather in I’ve Been Deader. But actually my first choice would be Xavier from Penthouse Forum Letters, vol. 13. But I can see how some might say that isn’t a book. So I’ll go with Anne Rice’s Lestat. If he starts droning on about moral choices, etc, at least I won’t have to listen to him after sunrise.
Tricia: I’ll choose Sam from Lord of the Rings. His courage and loyalty are surely assets in any situation.
Will: I’m taking Fangorn, the Ent. Treebeard is his name in the Common Tongue. If there is a forest to be negotiated, who better than an Ent? Strength, moral purpose, an ability to manage in difficult woodland – and intelligent conversation.
Now, there is a slight possibility that after you’ve been on the island a while, the five of you will start being killed off, one by one, until the traumatised sole survivor is rescued by helicopter at the end of the movie. So to give you all an equal chance of being the last person standing, you’re each allowed to take one other item to the island with you. What would you pick?
Ivan: That would be a machete. I wouldn’t give up easily.
Tricia: A can of insect spray. I can handle nearly anything except insects and spiders. Being able to kill off the little buggers will put me on an even playing field with the rest of the castaways.
Will: I’m going for a silver, rune-scored sword. Ghosties and ghoulies are not too keen on silver, and long-legged beasties (except possibly my ex-partner) can be deterred by a slim blade.
Hazel: Erm ... I think I’d go with either the scythe from the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Dean’s funky blade in season eight of Supernatural, the one he brings back from purgatory.
Adam: Hmm ... How to survive four other spooky writers. I think I would bring a hardcover edition of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. I believe the sight of me reading that would cause their heads to explode.
Finally, before your excursion degenerates into the inevitable bloodbath, you’ll have the chance to sit around the campfire and tell ghost stories. Care to share one with us now?
Adam: She touched his hand. It felt warm. A single fly lazily crawled above his eye.
She thought she’d be terrified and guilt ridden but the whole thing had excited her immensely, and she took a few extra, delicious minutes to pleasure herself in the shower.
Later she popped her head inside the bedroom. He had company. Or rather, more company. Several flies, landing on open eyes, lips, and nostrils for a brief respite before taking flight. Frowning, she closed the door.
Eventually she felt compelled to pop her head in the room one last time and was greeted, and consumed, by a roar of buzzing.
When the police came, they found a broken door, and a dead silent house. No body. No victim.
Not even a fly.
Ivan: This is a slightly modified excerpt from my latest release, Diary of the Gone ...
Grass crunched under my sneakers as I walked farther into the Swamps. I’d never been where I was heading, but my strides were confident, like I’d known what lay beyond.
The picture flickered, and I found myself in front of a circle made up of thick logs sticking from the ground. I counted seven of them, and each except for one had a motionless body tied to it. I took in large gulps of air, hunching my shoulders at the inevitability of what was going on.
Something moved behind me, but so quickly I had no chance to defend myself. Someone’s shape pounced at me, and the next moment a sharp blade thrust through me, its tip sticking out of my stomach, blood seeping profusely. I dropped to my knees, defeated without a fight. My hands clung to my stomach gushing with crimson. Then I dropped dead.
Will: When I was a lot younger, the scouts went regularly to camp in the wooded grounds of a large Country House which lay about 20 miles away from where we all lived. I went lots of times, but never forgot my first visit.
It was the practice at the time to camp in things called “Patrol Tents”. These were large ridge tents, really old-fashioned now, which would hold maybe ten or twelve eleven- or twelve-year-old boys. And it was a tradition of the Scout Group that a particular story would be told on the first night, and – well, I’ll tell you about the other tradition a bit later.
The camp was always set up in one particular clearing. No one wanted to camp in the next clearing, where stood a tall but dead tree, withered and blasted by lightning, hung about with legends. And on the first night, when the youngest of the scouts were in their sleeping bags, many away from home for the first time and all a bit over-excited and nervous, the older scouts would come round and tell them ghost stories. And the Legend of the Headless Horseman would always be the last story.
“At the time of the Civil War, one lonely supporter of the King was bearing messages to the Lord who lived in the Country House here. But he was waylaid by the rebels, and fled, driving his horse hard through the night. But there were too many of the rebels, and they caught the King’s Messenger. Cutting off his head, they flung it into a hole in a nearby tree, and leaving his body, the rebels departed with the King’s messages.
But the Messenger, left behind and unburied, began to search for his head. And on stormy nights, his horse can be heard as he makes his way to the withered tree, to look for his missing head. Cursed be those he meets …”
Not too many wanted to sleep after that, especially after the hints that the cursed tree was in the next clearing. So most of the kids would be wide awake in the tent an hour later, when the older boys sneaked round the tent with a couple of coconut shells making ‘clop, clop’ noises, to sound like a horse. The second tradition of the group.
Well, the first year I went, I was terrified by the ‘clop, clop’ noises from the coconuts. So were all the others except Peter Jones, who just laughed at it. As did we later, when the grinning faces of the older boys came through the tent door, waving the coconuts at us.
The next night was a bit stormy again. When the ‘clop, clop’ noises started late at night, Peter Jones took out his water pistol, and sneaked out through the back of the tent, to get his revenge on the older boys. He didn’t come back, and although the Police dragged the lake half a mile away, and sent frogmen into the canal in the village, they never found him.
But the next time the Scout Group camped in that clearing, some members swore that on the stormy night of the week they heard not one horse riding slowly towards the withered tree, but two.
With that, you’re all set, so goodbye and good luck. I hope I’ll see at least some of you again …
Adam Sifre is the author of I’ve Been Deader, a near perfect blend of horror and comedy.
Hazel Butler is the author of literary Gothic novel Chasing Azrael, and also the founder of Aädenian Ink, an independent publisher dedicated to alternative art and fiction.
Ivan Amberlake is the author of paranormal urban fantasy The Beholder and young adult horror Diary of the Gone.
Tricia Drammeh is the author of young adult occult novel The Séance, first in the Dark Summons series.
Will Macmillan Jones is a comic fantasy author who unleashes his dark side in horror novels such as The Showing.
Many thanks to all five authors for volunteering themselves into exile, terror and possibly death.
* Because the film The Ring scares the pants off me. Seriously. I’m shivering right now just thinking about it.