Saturday, 4 February 2012

And Then by A J Humpage - February Femmes Fatales

If it hadn't been for AJ Humpage I might not have had the courage to continue writing. She gave me advice when I needed it, support from Day 1 and a friendship I value enormously - and for all that I thank her.

As a Creative Writing teacher, she generously runs an incredibly useful blog at that answers all the awkward questions writers regularly face. I highly recommend it.

Ally's own writing is second to none. Her words are poetry in darkness; exquisite description dances and spirals throughout her work. She approaches human nature with stark observation, seeing layers invisible to many. A mistress of the craft.

Having read excerpts from her first novel I simply cannot wait for the day it hits the shelves. Let's welcome AJ Humpage back to February Femmes Fatales, with her first of five pieces of gold.


Minutes. His life ticked away.

Sounds echoed around his head - muted, strange and tinny, and somehow detached - they lapsed into his conscience like the colours of a long forgotten sunset.

Sounds of the crash echoed around him like a residual tear in the fabric of space and time; he remembered the deceptive lull of speed and the stinging flash of chrome. He remembered hearing the grinding shriek of metal against metal, followed by the eerie hissing of air from a tyre.

And then... a strange lingering silence enveloped him; cold, tight and full with dread.

Cool air fingered his skin. The stench of gasoline clung low, poisoned the back of his throat.

He had been returning home along the country lanes as the evening shadows descended across the inky horizon. It had rained earlier in the day, but he remembered the skies had cleared and he recalled looking up at the stars that glimmered against a thick indigo blackness punctured by the arctic glaze of the moon.

He didn’t know what caused him to lose control of the motorcycle. All he knew at that moment was the shifting umbra which pressed against him.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been lying there – it seemed such a long while, even though outside of his slanted sense of reality, it had been only a minute - and for a moment, he couldn’t move; his body and senses had numbed and become compacted by the impact. But then, gradually nerve endings trembled and feeling returned. Skin tingled. His veins swelled and his muscles contracted. He was able to clench his fingers and move an arm.

He reached up, lifted the visor from his helmet.

He couldn’t be sure, but he thought his neck felt wet; something dribbled down his jaw and around the bottom of his earlobe. He couldn’t move his head, not at first. A strange feeling spiralled across his shoulders and down his spine like a wave of needles pricking his skin. His vision appeared skewed; he lay staring at the glittering glass fragments close to his face, saw his bike lying in the road just ahead, wrecked.

Legs moved, and arms and hands. But his head felt so heavy.

The minutes evaporated.

And then that strange sensation rushed through him again when he tried to move – his head remained skewed.

Something trickled into his stomach, flooded his abdomen and he winced against the sickly eddy, tried hard not to vomit.

He remained still again, swollen heartbeat pumping furiously beneath his clammy skin, deep burnished breaths filling his lungs. The contents of his stomach swilled and frothed, yet somehow he refrained from retching.

He removed his glove, lifted his arm and touched his neck. It felt strange and wet, just as he had guessed. He tried movement once more, slowly sat up; ignored the dull ache around his shoulders. He didn’t feel any pain, but he felt a peculiar dragging sensation around his neck.

His vision blurred momentarily. Light and colour blended into one before the world around him came back into view. His vision refocused, but he found it hard to blink and his eyes shuttered in response.

Cold air laboured in his lungs. The corridors in his mind sank into a dismal mire of heavy confusion - his vision still seemed strangely lopsided, as though he was staring across his chest, and yet he was sitting upright.

He reached up, felt across his shoulders and sensed the tight, twisted flesh. He tentatively put his hand against what he thought was his neck, felt something soft, sticky and warm. He knew it was blood. The steady stream from the serrated gash soaked through his clothes and stained his flesh. It dribbled down the inside of his leather jacket and soaked through his shirt now that he was upright. He felt the roundness of the crash helmet resting against his chest.

The thought tore through him that he should feel immense pain; his body should have reacted to the crash, yet his entire body remained insensate and it confused and distressed his brittle senses.

He realised then; in the silent minutes that remained, that his head had become partially detached from his body and now hung around his chest, held by wrenched slivers of muscle, bone and sinew.

His stomach contracted and forced adrenaline into every open pore. Vomit lodged in his gullet, as though afraid to expel.

He wanted to scream, but his vocal chords didn’t work.

Minutes to seconds. The darkness crowded him.

He wanted to cry like a lost child, but the tears wouldn’t come.

His life - counting down to a blackness he didn’t want to enter - made him so frightened of approaching finality, so raw in his fear, that he couldn’t shriek in the face of a truth, and the help he so desperately wanted he knew would never come. He could barely grasp any of it and his thoughts rattled inside his skull; a dreadful, terrifying cacophony that drowned out the inevitable.

He couldn’t be saved. He was going to die. In the middle of the road, in the middle of somewhere, next to bristling leaves and whispering fields of wheat, beneath the bleak, nonchalant glare of the moon.

The life he knew melted into the slow darkening corridors in his dying brain. Moments, snapshots, family, voices...

Then the minutes stopped.

Amid the suffocating inner silence, his final moments vanished into the encroaching darkness and his vision instantly turned into an infinite blackness.

He slumped back against the cold tarmac.

And then...

_________ The End _________

Bio: A J Humpage has short stories and poetry published in anthologies like 6 Sentences, Pill Hill Press, Static Movement and many e-zines, and has completed her second novel.

She offers writing advice at

Her work can be found at and you can find her on Twitter: @AJHumpage


  1. Ally, that was stupendous. Really. I went from not carrying one whit about him to being touched and almost weepy at the end. The fear he feels, the way you write about it, it's palpable.
    Nice work.

  2. I was carried along with the momentum of the story. Half way through I thought something's happened to his head, then bam the truth was revealed. I found myself grimacing as I read yet unable to stop. I think you captured perfectly the feelings of the character, his confusion and his fear.

    Nice writing!

  3. Oh wow, what a ride! An incredibly masterful slice of drama and a crash I couldn't turn away from even though the inevitable sticky end loomed. Clever, realistic and emotive writing. In a word, superb.

  4. Speaking from personal experience, been riding bikes since I was 16. Crashed 5 times over the years,1,ice,2,spilled diesel,3,speed & poor judgement,4,ignorant car driver.5 pot hole, :-) My very first thoughts were always for my bike before myself. Engine screaming, turn off ignition, petrol leaking, get bike right way up. That kind of thing. However, I was never badly hurt. I know that there is a point when severe damage has occurred, the brain dumps endorphin's, decides there is no point rebooting this mess and calls time. You described that moment brilliantly. Not a place where one would want to dwell.But it is human nature to want to probe that bloody gap where the dentist extracted the tooth.I look forward to reading more of your work.

  5. "Sounds . . . lapsed into his conscience like the colours of a long forgotten sunset."

    I just love a tale where the sounds lapse like colours and the indigo and umbra come out to further set the scene. Then EGADS! What a careen of a scream you bring to that scene Ms Ally. To change poor Cathy's emotive response down to me being very, very concerned each time SK Adams takes to the open road -- that's quite a response-generator your words fling out. Now, as to this bloody mess . . . yuccccccch, you describe tight terror to being lost in helpless sadness as if you're at the scene.

    ~ Absolutely*Kate: 'Brava'

  6. Stunning writing all purposed towards seating the reader inside this corpse-in-waiting. I defy anyone to not feel everything this guy is feeling...

    Outstanding piece of work, AJ.

  7. Amazing. So much captured in so few words, everything he is going through and then some. Magical writing, a feast for the day. I am going to lunch now ... with visions. My daughter's boyfriend rides a big powerful Ducati motorbike.
    AJ, you did it again. Produced that stunning impact work.

  8. Lily, you weren't kidding when you said her words are like poetry. I loved this line. "Sounds of the crash echoed around him like a residual tear in the fabric of space and time".

    I really enjoyed AJ's stories last year. This was another nice dose of darkness.

  9. This is fantastic, Ally. It really swept me up and pulled me along, very touching. Beautiful, detailed prose. I'm looking forward to your next four.

  10. Thanks everyone for such great comments and kind words. When asked why I write, I always say the same thing: To move, to illicit emotion, to touch, to leave a lasting mark. And that's why writing is so fulfilling.

  11. AJ, you definitely captured the turmoil of the protagonist, eloquently, and I loved the ending. Beautiful, congrats!

  12. I have two points to add. First is that horror, true horror, is about horrific things that happen to real people. When we read these we worry that it could happen to us or people we love. There is more anguish in that emotion than duvet full of monsters in a child's bedroom.

    The second is the best horror is about being trapped. Whether it's in an elevator with the Devil or a haunted hotel in winter. Here you have taken both and created a piece that is uncomfortable to read. The claustrophobic moments of a man trapped in his own broken body is truly horrific.

    I think this refreshing use of the trapped device was a stroke of genius and I'm a little more than jealous I didn't think of it. Dark fiction, horror or whatever else people call these tales one thing runs through them. They make us pray it is never us.

    Beautifully haunting with your usual high standard of poetic darkness.

  13. You have an unflinching eye for detail Ms Humpage. You unerringly home in on the most intimate, horrifying moments of existence, and you don't let the reader go until you're good and finished. That takes a large talent.

    I just loved how you didn't "cut away" from the protagonist, and had us follow him through confusion to realization, to nothingness. Well done.

  14. Thanks Tony and Chris, I really appreciate the comments guys.


Lily Childs is a writer of horror, esoteric, mystery and chilling fiction.

If you see her dancing outside in a thunder storm - don't try to bring her in. She's safe.