Stephen Volk has long been a master of the art of chilling the reader’s blood — as his latest piece, while modest in length, demonstrates. His continuing ability to hone his prose (so that not a word is wasted in delivering the impact on the reader) is undimmed. In fact, The Little Gift reads very much like one of the early stories in Herbert Van Thal’s fondly remembered Pan Book of Horror Stories series in its quiet but powerful effect (and note that I’m talking here about the early volumes in that series before it lost direction). Volk’s subject is intriguing: the layers of disquiet that might be found even in such things as our relationship to the simple domestic pet. Are cats the creatures we like to settle in our laps… or something more sinister? With his customary readiness to go where other writers do not, Volk demonstrates that the quotidian can be as deeply disquieting as a trip to a dank cellar in a haunted house. Take the first paragraph, for instance:

‘The nocturnal scampering invariably signals death. I try to shut it out. The cat might be chasing a scrap of paper or a ball of silver foil across the bare floorboards downstairs, say a discarded chocolate wrapper courtesy of my wife, who likes providing it with impromptu playthings. I tell myself it isn’t necessarily toying with something living, but my stomach tightens…’

Who would not be inspired to read on after that? One caveat, perhaps, and it’s probably one that Volk will like: it’s not a piece to be read at night.

The Little Gift by Stephen Volk is published by PS Publishing

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