Courting Seraphs

Courting Seraphs, in Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar and other stories (anthology)

Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar and Other Stories, featuring 'Courting Seraphs'


Bloody Parchment is the international literary festival component of the annual South African Horrorfest event. The Root Cellar and other stories comprises creepy tales from 2012’s winner, Toby Bennett, runners-up Anna Reith and Chris Limb, and other finalists.

Courting Seraphs by Anna Reith: Ouseman Fahd is unusual. Somewhere along the line between life and death, mortality and the infinite, he walks. And where Ouseman walks, the seraphs watch.

An Excerpt from:

© Anna Reith. All rights reserved.

IT WAS DARK, and that was good. He liked the dark. It made it easier to see the first hints of fire.

Darkness was easier to hide in, too, although currently Ouseman wasn’t doing so well at that.

“Nah…they call it a polo club,” said the balding guy, tapping one thick thumbnail thoughtfully against the side of his whisky glass. “I swear. We got there, and I get out of the car, and I look up and there’s this sign: Coltrane’s Polo Club. Classiest name for a strip joint I ever heard. Sounds like jazz and horses, right?”

He’d said his name was Royle. Bill, or Ned, or something…something Royle. Ouseman couldn’t remember, because his head was full of other things. The man smelled like car seat leather, and the elbows of his grey jacket were worn thin and shiny, just like the little bald spot on the top of his head. His tie, loosened over a pale blue shirt, had tiny white dots on it that swam before Ouseman’s vision.

Tinny country music seeped into the gaps between the people pressed into the small, ugly bar, and mixed with the miasma of sweat and pink neon to create something physical, something that sat on the tongue like a sour taste. Royle’s tapping thumbnail pocked his words with glassy little ting sounds that mirrored the pock-tschook-dunk of the leather-jacketed boys playing pool on the other side of the room. A woman laughed, shrill and short, and the whole place reeked of an empty, hollow kind of time: a second-hand Americana dislocated from its origins.

Nothing really had roots anymore. Identities, nations, realities…they’d all seeped away.

I remember when this was all fields. Yeah. Right back before they paved Paradise.

“Ponies,” Ouseman supplemented absently, staring into the amber depths of his own drink. One greasy ice cube, eroded both by the liquor and the warmth of the bar’s musty ambience, bobbed forlornly. “They call them ponies.”

Royle grimaced, the disdain smeared across his broad face like lard. “Ponies? Can’t be pissin’ ponies. Ain’t big enough. Gotta…gotta run around hittin’ a ball and shit, right? Big men. Can’t ride bleedin’ ponies. Jesus.”

“That’s what they call them,” Ouseman repeated sullenly, still staring into his drink.

He ought to have known better. Even as he brought the glass to his lips, he should have known. He could see all the ways tonight was going to go wrong unfolding before him like a map, like the spidery veins of ink dripped into water and left to thread through it in a clouded bloom.

“They’d get crushed!” Royle protested, frowning deeply at the outrage of such an obvious affront to logic. “Tiny little things. Broke in two ten minutes into round one!”

“Chukka,” Ouseman said into his glass.

Royle’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “What’d’choo call me?”

And that was how the fight started.


Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar and other stories features horror and dark fiction from the winner, runners-up and finalists of the 2012 Bloody Parchment Short Story Competition, the literary arm of the South African Horrorfest. Visit for more on this awesomely horrific international event!