Dark Morning Star

Dark Morning Star

Mark knew there was something wrong with his little brother the minute the baby was brought home from the hospital, but no-one believed him. A handful of people suspected the baby had a unique gift: the ability to detect disease in others, but the truth was far worse. Now, years later, people have begun dying of cancer and it's up to Mark to hunt down his brother before he can do any more damage - but first he has to escape from the mental hospital he's in.




Guardian Mistakes (United Kingdom)

1. Monsters under the bed
I remember vividly the first time I read the ghost story. It was on the computer we were only allowed to use for an hour a day – if you remembered to book it before someone else did. We called this PC the ‘Cock-Blocker’ even though that made no sense because a cock-blocker is someone who stops someone else from having sex. All this computer did was stop you from accessing websites that might help you kill yourself.

We would try to Google something like "which pills for a successful overdose?" and the Cock-Blocker would not only serve us a page featuring an ironic skull & crossbones (warning us our search had been terminated for breaching firewall conditions) it would also send an email to Maria to tell her someone was up to no good.

We thought we were pretty clever coming up with that name for Mrs Heath. Her real name was Lucy, but we called her Maria after the robot in Metropolis, that Fritz Lang film. It was on Channel 4 one night and, remarkably, we were allowed to watch it, which is funny given that two hours of German Expressionism is enough to tip anyone into despair. It was typical of The Ranch. They always banned the obvious things but completely overlooked the subtle stuff. So they banned scissors and knives from the kitchen, but not hard plastic clips that keep packets sealed (Paul managed to open up his cephalic and basilic veins wielding one of those). They banned films like Heathers, Girl Interrupted, The Virgin Suicides, or Dead Poets Society, but let us watch Breaking The Waves, Oldboy, Million Dollar Baby, and Romeo & Juliet. Downfall: they let us watch that because they thought it was an educational film about the Third Reich, but they forgot the entire Nazi command off themselves in the bunker. They would make us wear slip-on shoes so we couldn't do anything mischievous with laces, but they'd allow us to use drawstring gym bags. They'd lock us up at night, but let us walk along the canal path during the day.

You get the idea.

Back to the ghost story. It was probably the case that I stumbled across it while searching for something completely different, news stories about my brother no doubt. So it jarred. It surprised me into fright.

In the story, a dad enters his son’s bedroom and is asked to check for monsters under the bed. Kneeling down and peering underneath he sees another boy, identical to his son, telling him there’s something in his bed.

I read it, shuddered, looked around, read it again. I looked up at the ceiling, just in case, then back at the screen. Read it again. Fell in love with it. I began to imagine I was the father and the boy was my little brother, but once I started doing that, I couldn't stop, which made the story even more unsettling. After I've told you about my brother, you’ll know what I mean. He was the boy on the bed, always was.

That night, at The Ranch, I struggled to sleep and fished a couple of sleeping pills from the lining of my mattress – one of my ever-changing storage spots. The staff were pretty good at checking our rooms and I could rarely manage to stash more than four or five pills before they’d be found. Still, that night I had three in my mattress and I thought it would be enough to send me off to sleep. Not so.

In the dream I walked into my brother’s room, empty except for a grey-coloured book on top of his bed. It wasn’t a book I’d seen before. As I approached, the front cover flapped open and pages began to turn quickly back and forth, like it was alive and seriously pissed off. I knelt before the bed and the pages suddenly stopped turning. The book was open at an illustration of me, seen from behind, kneeling before the same book that was sitting on top of the same bed. In this picture, the illustrated me started to move, turning around to face me, and I saw that it had some kind of growth on its face, like a tumour. It looked up, spotted the real me peering down at it and began to scream.

I put it down to the sleeping pills of course. We were only meant to take one at a time so I had technically been responsible for an unreported overdose. Maybe the extra pills had done something to my hard wiring. But even without them, stone cold, I continued to see that other me in my dreams; turning, turning, turning, that deformity, that horror.

Here’s a memory for you. My little brother, Him, coming back from the hospital, old man skin on his hands, bruised eyelids like a newborn baby bird. He was ushered into the house, swaddled in cream hand-me-down blankets, loved but also feared (not feared enough I suppose). My mother let us peek at him in her arms and all I could see was an angry red face, distorted from forceps, poking out from the blankets like a giant kidney bean on a bed of rice. I felt nothing when I looked at him. He was a perfect blank and I was his mirror. But I'm pretty sure he had his gifts, even when he was a day or so old. Scratch that, I'm certain of it.

Sleep-deprived and haunted, a plan began to form in my mind. I was going to find my brother and put an end to it. I didn't know how, because finding him would be hard, but I had time, oceans of time. All I had to do was get out of The Ranch.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1



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