Thursday, September 17, 2020

Moses and Men

I'm absolutely delighted that the lovely Mr Paul Finch has taken one of my stories for his latest Terror Tales collection, Terror Tales of the Home Counties.

Moreso as that's where I was born and grew up: Tolworth in Surrey, near to Surbiton and Kingston-Upon-Thames. It was nice to revisit some childhood memories for the story, and to also bring in some real places, locales and people ...

I decided to set the tale down by the Hogsmill River, which runs through Tolworth and Berrylands and on into Kingston where it joins the Thames. Just beside the A3 road - which is the main thoroughfare from London down to the South Coast, and which is claimed to be the UK's busiest stretch of non-motorway road - there is a patch of greenbelt alongside the river called the Elmbridge Open Space. The river also runs under the A3, and just beside there, as in my story, there is a small block of flats (,-0.270892,329.16h,8.1p,1z). The tunnel under the road is there too, as are the hideouts and fallen trees where my brother, Alan, and I used to go as kids. It was a different world back then, when there were not predatory pedophiles hanging around on every street corner to snatch you away, and when your pocket money could buy you a bag of chews and sweets to last a week - or at least it seemed that way. The view of the river from the A3 can be seen here:,-0.270032,343.93h,-7.03p,1z.

To the mix of my story I also added a real life character, sadly now deceased, called Moses. And it is from him that the story gets its name. For I have realised Moses - a friendly chap, outrageously dressed, who was often to be seen in and around Kingston and New Malden, just chatting away to people - as a sort of unknown and unappreciated superhero!

To find out more you'll have to read the story!  It's in Terror Tales of the Home Counties, edited by Paul Finch and available from Telos Publishing Ltd - ... or see farther down this post :)

In the meantime, here's a pic of the locale:

And there's a nice piece all about the river here:

And if you'd like to see the real Moses in action, here's a couple of videos:


As it's the anniversary of Moses' passing ... here's the text of the story for free ... hope you enjoy ...


David J Howe

 The moonlight barely made it through the tree branches overhead, but Toby was glad of the darkness. He listened intently, but there was no sound, just the gentle rustling of the trees in the wind. Maybe soon he’d be able to move away from here ...

For the hundredth time he wondered why he had gone out that night at all. It was all Simon’s fault. If his school friend hadn’t double-dared him to spend the night in their hideaway by the river he wouldn’t be there ... and now look at where this stupid adventure had got them.

Toby drew in as much breath as his eleven-year-old lungs could manage. He had to stay calm or the thing might come for him. Toby settled his back against the tree trunk and let the breath out in a silent huff. He focussed on holding the panic in, all the time wondering how he would escape this awful nightmare.


It was about five o’clock in the afternoon the previous day, when Simon and Toby had made their way down to the Hogsmill River. They lived in a small block of flats alongside the A3 road – one of the main routes into London from the Home Counties. About a mile away they could see the stark outline of Tolworth Tower. Office blocks for the most part, though with a large Marks and Spencer’s shop underneath.

The Hogsmill was a small stream, which flowed under the A3, heading for Kingston, where it joined the Thames. Where it came from no one seemed to know – explorations upstream tended to end where the river diverged from the footpath – certainly there was a large hill here, but where the river emerged was something of a mystery.

But down by the flats where Simon and Toby lived, it was easily accessible, and there was also a strip of green land all the way alongside it. Various exploratory trips had revealed the presence of old hiding places and camp sites, sometimes with the remains of fires still in them.

The boys had never seen anyone else use them, but this didn’t mean there was no-one about. The sites were often well hidden right on the bank on the edge of the river within enclaves of fallen trees and branches, and could be entered by crawling through hidden tunnels which were often themselves blocked with wood or foliage. It was a paradise for Toby and Simon. They loved the idea of their own secret hiding places, and often headed down there with sandwiches and bottles of drink.

On this particular evening, Toby had managed to smuggle a blanket out of the flat, and some crisps, and a bag containing a couple of Mars bars and an apple. Simon was to bring his own supplies, which included a battery powered radio. It was summertime, so the weather was warm, and there seemed to be no issue with what they planned. Just some harmless excitement for the summer holidays. They’d each told their parents that they were going to the other’s home for the night, so their families would not be worried.

They met at the gates into the greenbelt beside the river, and made their way to the hiding place.

Simon even had a box of matches and a tightly rolled wad of newspaper in case they decided to light a fire, but both boys were wary of that. Both were in the Cubs, and had gone camping with their troop. They had seen first-hand how hard it could be to get a fire going, and also how hard it could be to control once it was lit.

Neither wanted the whole of the area to go up in flames and for it to be their fault.

So this was brought as an emergency measure only.

They settled down in the den, and busied themselves throwing pebbles into the river. One side of their lair opened to the side of the river, so it was perfect for watching the water and idling away the day. The river had fish too, which could be seen flitting in between the algae and plants, but despite various attempts with rods made from old sticks, and line from bits of string with bent paperclips on the end, and the occasional bait of worms or other pieces of food, they had never managed to catch anything.

The evening drifted by and the boys were calm and relaxed.

All was fine until darkness fell.


Toby looked out of the den again. It was pitch dark outside, and there was no movement at all. Maybe he should try and make a break for it.

Simon had run. He had taken his chance and raced for the exit to the greenbelt area. Toby had heard him go and the last he had seen had been his heels flashing in the faint light. He hoped he had got out.

Toby stirred and moved slowly, trying hard not to make any noise. When he got to the entrance to the den, he paused.

The night was silent and still.

He pushed aside the brush that partially covered the entrance and stepped out.

His foot cracked a twig.

Just a gentle snap.

Toby froze. Foot poised.

From somewhere in the darkness he heard something moving, something careful and predatory getting closer once more.

He pulled his leg back and retreated to the den again, pulling the brushwood over the entrance behind him with a rustle.

He wasn’t sure if whatever it was in the dark would hear that. But it was close now and making a gentle crunching sound as it moved around.

The smell was awful. A rotting, noxious mixture of everything that was bad. Toby had once found a rabbit killed by the side of the road, and the smell from the decayed corpse as he and Simon investigated it with sticks had been similar. But even that wasn’t as bad as this miasma, which accompanied the thing.

The creature was snuffling around outside now, stirring the dry leaves and grit as it went. There was a scraping sound. Toby saw what seemed to be a giant spider leg, thin and segmented, with lots of large hairs or thorns growing from it.

This went on for a few minutes. Something big and heavy moving about outside, shifting things noisily. Toby clamped his hands over his mouth and nose to still his whimpering and his breathing and to keep the stench from his nostrils. The worst thing he could do now was make a sound.

Toby could hear his own heart beating. Thumping in his ears. He was sure that whatever was outside could hear it too.

He forced himself to calm down. He shut his eyes tight and took in a deep breath and let it out as slowly as he could. This helped and after a few more breaths, he opened his eyes. The darkness was still there, but there was silence outside now.

He looked around. Nothing to see. The box of matches and paper was still on the floor. Toby picked up the matches and shook the box. There was a soft rattle as the matches moved. His eyes shifted to the river, still flowing gently past. The sound was relaxing somehow. Maybe he could wade along the river and get out where there was more light and open ground, perhaps by the main road?

He leaned out of the hide and looked upstream. It was no more than a couple of hundred yards to where the water passed under the road. He could do it.

He crouched still, listening.

There was nothing to hear. No night-birdsong, or insect noise. There was usually some sound but tonight there was nothing. He suspected that all the usual night creatures had the right idea and had stayed at home … nothing wanted to be outside at the same time as whatever the thing was that he had heard.

Toby made up his mind and returned to the riverbank. He took off his shoes and socks and rolled up his trousers. There was no sense in getting everything saturated. He dipped his toe into the water and the sharp cold bit him. He scrunched up his face and put his whole foot in the water. It was chilly, but not unbearably so.

He was pleased that the water was at least clean. The river was fairly well maintained by various associations. They would come every year and pull out all the rubbish that accumulated there, old bicycles, bottles, traffic cones, supermarket trolleys and the like, and generally keep it neat, tidy and healthy for the fish and the ducks.

He slid his other foot in and smiled. It wasn’t so bad.

Something moved against his foot and he jerked. It was just a fish or something. Having a little nibble on his toes. Nothing to be worried about, he told himself.

He picked up the matches and paper and his shoes and socks, and gently pushed himself away from the bank. The river bed was uneven and slimy, and every time he moved his feet they slipped a little. With the current pushing against his legs, it was tricky to stay upright. Every time he looked down at his feet, the patterns on the black water running past gave him a sort of dizzy feeling and he had to either close his eyes or look back up to stop himself falling over.

He fixed his eyes on the lights of the road, and started wading slowly in that direction. With each step he put his foot down carefully, waggling it a little to ensure he had a firm perch before moving the other one. He didn’t think there was any glass on the bed, but there were rocks and stones and other unidentifiable objects, and the last thing he wanted was to trip and fall. The water gurgled and bubbled as it ran past him, and the sound of his legs cutting the surface was hushed and quiet. He hoped that nothing could see him, smell him or hear him.

He looked across at the bank. It was pitch dark there. There was no moon tonight and no stars – clouds had come in – and so apart from the lights ahead on the main road, there was no source of illumination.

He pushed on through the water, one foot after the other, slowly and steadily.

As he moved he could hear the gentle drone of cars on the A3 increase. There weren’t too many at this time of night, but the road was so busy that there were always cars passing.

At this moment though, Toby was pleased to see any sign of normal life.

There was a crack and a rushing sound on the bank, as though something large had just moved past him. Toby stopped and stood still in the water.


He turned his head and in the light from the road he saw something moving among the bushes and reeds that lined the bank. He couldn’t make out exactly what it was but it was big and quiet, and the light seemed to fall off it.

He stepped forward again, toes searching for a hold underwater. The water sloshed around him, and he felt rather than saw the thing on the bank pause and listen.

He stopped moving again.

The current run of traffic on the road passed, and there was silence as no cars approached. In that stillness, Toby thought he heard something breathing. Then more cars cruised past and the sound of their engines overpowered the slow, heavy exhalations.

He moved forward again, every step bringing him closer to the traffic bridge.

Toby realised that his feet were growing numb. He could barely feel his toes as they sought out the best footing, and the chill was extending up his legs. He shivered, gripping his belongings against his chest as though they would help to keep the heat in his small body.

He started to count in his head as he stepped. One, two, three … Every step brought him closer and closer to the bridge. And every step was a success.

Eventually Toby was standing by the black mouth of the tunnel under the road. Up above he could hear the sound of the occasional car passing. In between the sounds of the cars, there was silence.

Toby swallowed and looked around. There was nothing to be seen in the inky gloom. The streetlights far overhead shone a yellow glow over the grass and river, but the shadow of the bridge was dark.

Toby took a further step under the bridge, the water washing up his legs. His foot hit something on the concrete base of the riverbed under the bridge, and it gave. Something moved beside him … and shifted above him, and Toby instinctively jumped back as a wooden plank of some sort clattered from the bridge roof and splashed into the river. He had obviously dislodged something and the plank had fallen from above

There was a movement over on the field, and in the yellow glow Toby saw the thing that had been hunting him. It was hard to make out any shape, except a large, dark, multi-legged shadow that moved swiftly across the grass, heading for the bridge.

Toby let out a squeal of terror and scrambled into the tunnel.

His feet stumbled on bricks and other rubbish there, and the concrete was slippery too. He managed to get further under when he heard the splashing of something coming up behind him. He could dimly see the slightly lighter arch at the other side of the bridge, and he headed for it as fast as he could. His feet slipped with every step on the mossy and treacherous concrete; his few possessions were clamped to his chest.

Suddenly, something loomed out ahead of him, something man-sized.

There was a splashing sound, and as Toby continued his way to the other end of the tunnel, he heard someone clearly say, ‘No-one’s gonna take children from Kingston town. No. Not happening.’

Then there was a swoosh of air and a muffled crunch. There was more splashing, and a growling, keening sound echoed around the tunnel.

Toby paused and looked back. Silhouetted in the tunnel entrance, a black shadow on a grey background, was the figure of a man.

He was large and stocky, and had a plank of wood in his hands. Toby could see in the gloom that it seemed to have nails protruding from the end. The figure braced itself and swung the wood as a shape that Toby could not make sense of leaped out of the darkness. The wood connected with the monster with a solid thump and a sound like breaking twigs. There was a hiss and the creature rapidly backed away towards the far entrance to the tunnel. It had more legs than Toby wanted to count, and one of them was dragging behind it.

The creature lunged back and the man swung the plank again, missing the monster narrowly, his weapon swishing through the air.

Toby pressed himself to the side of the tunnel. There was a slight indent here, and a flat area on which to stand. No water went over this, so Toby’s footing was firmer.

He realised that he was still holding the newspaper in his hand. He hooked his shoes over his arm and pulled the matches from his pocket. The first match scraped on the side of the box but wouldn’t light. But the second caught with a fizzing flare, and Toby lit the top of the wadded roll of newspaper.

There was more splashing and hissing from where the man and the creature were still holding each other off. With a rush, something came through the blackness at Toby and he held the burning paper up in front of him.

He caught sight of a hideous mouth with fangs, multiple eyes and legs, and an alien intelligence, before the stranger took advantage of the distraction and caught the creature full on with the nails and plank of wood.

In the flickering light from his makeshift torch, Toby saw the thing convulse and shake. The man took another smack at it with the wood, and it fell back, hissing and mewling like some baby. Toby took a shuddering breath as it backed away down the tunnel, the water splashing around its legs.

With a final hiss, the thing vanished beyond the entrance, and over the man’s breathing, Toby could hear splashing and the cracking and breaking of the trees along the riverbank as it departed. The man walked to the end of the tunnel and checked outside. He paused, listening, and then, after a moment, returned to where Toby was crouching at the side.

‘You okay?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ Toby said. ‘I think so.’

‘Come on then. We can’t stay here. Gonna get you out of here.’

Toby allowed the man to help him up. He held out his hand and it was almost engulfed in a large paw.

The two moved to the other end of the tunnel on the far side of the main road above.

There was a low barrier there of wooden railway sleepers with a section of wire mesh above it. This seemed to be there to stop rubbish from flowing down river under the bridge, and there was indeed a traffic cone wedged in the wire along with some large pieces of wood and other flotsam.

The man moved a section of the wire, creating a clear path through and he and Toby emerged on the other side of the bridge.

‘It can’t get over the top,’ said the man, nodding upwards. ‘And if it tries to come under … well I’m waiting.’

He helped Toby cross the water, which was fairly still here due to the barrier created by the mesh, and the two of them stumbled up the bank.

Once they were standing safely on dry ground, Toby got his first good look at the man who had saved him. He was stocky, maybe just under six feet tall, but what intrigued Toby most was that his skin was black as coal. The man smiled down at Toby, his teeth gleaming yellow in the light from the road above them.

‘You OK?’

Toby nodded, and as his eyes took in what the man was wearing, he realised that he had seen him before. Even in the yellowed light from the lamps, Toby could see that the chap was wearing a crazy mixture of clothes, most of them wildly patterned and coloured pink, red and white. Slightly farther up the bank, Toby saw a supermarket trolley festooned with items ranging from a pink skateboard to a child’s brightly coloured pull-along luggage.

The man grinned again. ‘You got nice skin,’ he commented. ‘Gotta keep it that way.’

‘I know you,’ Toby said. ‘I see you in Kingston on the way to school sometimes.’

The man nodded. ‘Kingston, yes. I’m Moses.’

Toby nodded. Moses was something of a local legend. He was most often to be found in the centre of Kingston, sitting on one of the benches, or standing on a street corner, dressed in the maddest and craziest outfits. Toby remembered one that was all red and white stripes.  Moses was currently wearing a clown wig that was similarly patterned. Another time he had been dressed all in black, with a highwayman hat on … but regardless of what he wore, Moses always had time for everyone. He wasn’t a beggar, he never asked for money, but he smiled and talked and told everyone how wonderful everything was … he was a legend. You couldn’t see Moses without a smile coming to your face.

Toby looked around as Moses smiled at him. He hoped that the thing wasn’t going to come back.

‘Should we get away from here?’ he asked.

Moses smiled. ‘You can get away,’ he said. ‘You could.’

Then Moses seemed to stop for a moment. Toby saw his face crease as though he was trying to think of something important. His eyes darted around and narrowed, but then he relaxed. His lips parted in a wide grin.

‘Yes,’ the man said. ‘Let’s move away.’

They made their way up to where the trolley was standing. Moses reached into it and pulled out a bright red hat. He swept his hand over his curly hair and crammed the hat down.

Toby smiled. He looked so ridiculous that you had to smile.

Moses glanced at Toby. ‘You smilin’,’ he said, and his own grin returned. ‘That’s good. Keep smilin’.’

Toby looked back at the river tunnel under the A3. ‘What was that … that thing?’

Moses’ smile dropped. ‘That’s the bad thing,’ he said, suddenly serious. ‘That’s why I’m here, keepin’ a look out, and a watch. It’s why I’m an inventor and not a builder, why I know about the animals and the flowers and rhododendrons and people …’

His eyes clouded slightly once more, and Toby realised that Moses was affected by the battles with this dark creature. He was struggling to stay focussed.

‘Come on, Moses,’ said Toby. ‘Let’s get you back to Kingston.’

Moses grinned and took hold of his trolley. ‘It won’t be back,’ he said. ‘Tonight, anyway.’

He looked at Toby, again suddenly serious. ‘You shouldn’t be out. Not at night. There are … things … which you don’t want to meet or see.’

Toby thought of his friend Simon. He hoped he had got back home safely.

‘Come on,’ he said.

The two made their way back up to the main road. There were hardly any cars, and they walked together along the pavement towards one of the footbridges over the road. The bridge happened to be right by the flats where Toby lived.

Once they had crossed the footbridge, Moses took Toby’s hands again.

‘You stay safe little friend.’

Toby nodded.

Moses moved off, walking back along the road towards Tolworth where he could jump on a bus towards Kingston and home. Most bus drivers knew him and allowed him free rides. Moses, it seemed, was allowed to go wherever he wanted. As he walked, he talked. Even on his own. He was Moses.

Toby nodded to himself. That was only right, he thought. After all, if a town or a city has a protector, whether it’s someone from the comics like Batman or Spider Man, then they ought to have the freedom of the place for all the good work they did.

But sometimes, the person doing all the good work was unknown. Sometimes he was an apparent itinerant called Moses, who never had a bad word about anyone, but who lightened the day for everyone who met him. Someone who just made you feel good.

And who kept the monsters at bay.