'The Shepherd' by RJ Barker

Dear All,

Today we’re delighted to be able to give a piece of original fiction on the Gollancz blog.

I first came across RJ Barker on Twitter (@dedbutdrmng). His twitter feed was consistently quirky (in the best possible way), witty and fun. Here was a man using his writing to strike the world smartly with. So when he got in contact about his novel Felt’s Theorem I was very happy to take a look at it. The writing was great but the world wasn’t quite there. So I sent it back with a reluctant ‘no’. But I’ve kept watching what RJ has been up to. So when I saw this on his blog, it seemed just too good not to share.

A very short, very fantastic horror story. A zombie story with an electric and, in the end, heartbreaking, twist.

Let us, and RJ, know what you think.


The Shepherd


I – Lift.

I used to hear foxes screaming and dream it was people.

Now I hear people and wish it was foxes.

Only occasionally now, screams drift across the heather carpeted moors and into my hayloft prison, carried here on freakish, warm winds. The first time I heard them had me pacing up and down the barn loft, desperate to do something.

Hob nailed boots drummed out my impotence on the wooden floor. Pacing doesn’t feel safe now.

This old building creaks like a ship under sail.

I only have one shotgun cartridge.

My world is green and purple, brown and white and red.

Yan, Tam and Tethera rule here.


II – Fetch.

Yan is eight. Purebreed border collie and the best sheepdog I ever had. Tam is ten, Yan’s mother and always the calmest of the three. Tethera is one and a half, only just out of puppyhood. He’s rotting away the fastest. I don’t know why.

Tam sits well back, ready to return any of the flock that try to make a break. Tethera runs tireless circles around the herd, his legs trailing strips of filthy skin and fur.

Yan drives them forward. He sits, staring up at me from empty eyesockets, for hours on end. Then he hunkers down his forequarters, raises his tailless rump into the air and runs forward, frightening the flock. Pushing them against the barn.

It moans under the stress of so many bodies.

Sour rot and the stink of sheep fills the air. The dogs don’t kill members of the flock but they won’t let them eat or rest either. A ewe burst from the pressure of a thousand of its fellows this morning. Spraying red over the dirty, white, bawling mass around it.

They never bark, the dogs.

I’m so hungry.

I used to love lamb.


III Drive.

My legs wont work.

My shotgun miss-fired, leaving a nasty burn and a huge bruise under my chin. It did something to my neck and in last night’s rain something went. Something structural. The whole barn heeled over by about forty five degrees. Cold water poured in through the roof.

The dogs can almost jump into the hayloft. Every so often Tethera makes an attempt to get in and I have to fend scuttering claws away from the hatch in the floor with my shotgun. The weapon’s useless for anything else. So am I.

Tam sits patiently at the edge of the flock. Her tongue lolls from her mouth, lifeless and dead without her animating pant.

The pressure of the flock forces, rhythmic, groaning breaths from the old building’s timbers: a splinter, long as my arm, vibrates at stomach height. The only sharp thing I can reach.

I’m not scared of dying.

Just pain.

Yan hunkers down his forequarters, raises his tailless rump into the air and runs forward, frightening the sheep, pushing them against the heeling barn. With a whip-crack report something else breaks and the barn moves another inch.

Sightless eye sockets stare up at me as a sea of sheep wash against the building.

Not long now, Lad.

Not long now.

Best sheepdog I ever had.


RJ Barker is slightly eccentric and lives in Yorkshire with his wife, two year old son and a constantly growing collection of poor quality taxidermy. His short fiction has been published in all manner of places and received three honourable mentions in, ‘The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror’. RJ’s illustrated poems (together with Mikko Sovijarvi) ‘Interment’ and ‘The Social Diary of a Ghoul’ have received good reviews and are available through Amazon for electronic readers. A paper version is planned later this year.

He is currently seeking representation and re-writing his idiosyncratic fantasy whodunnit, ‘Felt’s Theorem’ as well as trotting towards completion of a rip-roaring SF adventure, ‘The Worlds Within.’

You can find RJ on Twitter as @dedbutdrmng or read more of his work on his blog at http://wah-wahwriter.blogspot.co.uk/

When not writing, RJ dreams of growing a huge pair of antlers and hiring himself out as a novelty coatrack.