Supernatural Short Story Competition - Winner

James Perkin

Always in Memory
Supernatural Short Story Competition


James Perkin has been an avid reader for as long as he can remember. He especially enjoys writing science fiction but as a long-term WM subscriber, and recently resolving to enter a competition monthly, he is trying out different genres and styles.

After his first shortlisting just under a year ago, he has now won twice in consecutive months.

Always in Memory By James Perkin

Oscar Harold, eyes closed, breathed in deeply. He held it for ten seconds then slowly exhaled. Calmness washed over him; his heartbeat decreased and he could feel the fog lifting – his mind cleared.
He opened his eyes and stared deeply into the mirror. He wished Kent was still here.
The intercom cracked, then Zelda’s voice: ‘Oscar. Five minutes to go.’
He turned to the camera in the corner, nodded and gave a thumbs-up. He was ready.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to Launch Night!’ He sounded more confident that he felt and could feel the nerves rising. God, he so wished Kent was here – this was his forte – selling the dream. He caught himself – forget that, he just wished he was here full stop.
He squinted in the harsh stage lights and continued. ‘Tonight, we see the next step in the evolution of remembrance, the next step in using technology to keep our loved ones always in our hearts, always in our minds. Always In Memory!’
The crowd went crazy. Of course they did. Rent-a-fanboy overload, numbers bulked out by eager interns. Maybe he was learning from Kent after all? Can you learn from a dead man?
‘How many of you longed to hear, once again, from a dearly departed loved one? To see a tweet from a lost friend, or a message from a missed family member? AIM can do all this. And so much more.
‘Using the latest AI algorithms, AIM can analyse all the content a user has ever posted online, then, depending on the package and options you decide upon, regular updates, from your loved ones will be sent to you. We AIM to make loss more manageable, and to keep loved ones Always In Memory.’
The lights dimmed, and the screen behind him glowed into life. Zelda glided from the wings, handed him a pad, and continued across the stage without breaking stride.
‘Kent Brockleheim was a genius – his code is the driving force beneath the heart of AIM. But he was more than just a technical marvel. He was my friend. And I miss him dearly.’
He’d rehearsed this dozens of times but still it clawed at his heart – his greatest friend, his colleague, his mentor, was dead. But, in a wonderful piece of serendipity, his life and his work, were about to collide.
‘Kent’s digital footprint is, by most standards, very large, but the rest of us me mortals,’ pause…wait for laugh, ‘only a few hundred tweet-equivalents is enough to create a meaningful experience.
‘What I’m doing now, is sending an instant message: ‘Hi Kent, just at the launch party. Hope my AIM is good!’’
The crowd all laughed, again – exactly as the script dictated. Maybe all those focus groups had been worth it after all.
‘AIM will also know how quickly a loved one would normally take to reply and factor this into the response, adding a further layer of realism into the experience.’
‘Hi Oscar. Sounds a blast! Wish I could be there.’
Oscar felt a shiver. He knew it was all code, all trickery behind the scenes to link into Kent’s social media accounts, to converse in approximately the way he might have done. But still. To receive a message from a dead man’s account.
Oscar was relieved to be off stage, to be back in his own little world and aware from the crowds. He’d be even happier back in the labs.
A familiar buzz and vibration in his back pocket stopped his thoughts. He pulled out his phone, briefly glanced at it. Then stopped. He stared at it in silent horror:
‘I know what you did.’
Kent’s name, at the top of the text, burnt a hole in his retina. His mind raced. How on earth was Kent’s account sending him messages? Apart from the demo earlier, it wasn’t even hooked into AIM.
‘You are going to pay.’
He switched the screen off, threw the phone to the other side of the room. Either this was someone’s sick idea of joke, or something had spiralled out of control with the code. It couldn’t be anything else.
Phone now out of reach, he picked the tablet up from the desk; just as an email notification came through. His heart filled with dread. Even before he opened it, he knew who it was from…
The subject line read: ‘No Oscar, this is NOT a joke.’
He didn’t want to read on but found he couldn’t help it.
‘Nor is it a coding issue. It’s not even someone messing with you, or someone hacking my account. It’s me. And I know what you’ve done.’
He didn’t read anymore. The tablet went the way of the phone.
The lights in the room flickered for the briefest of moments; the room flipped into darkness before snapping back. The persistence of an image burnt into his mind’s eye: Kent behind him, in the mirror, his head damaged and bloodied; fragments of glass and plastic and metal puncturing the skin.
He knew it was crazy, but he spun round – checking no-one was there; yet all the time, out of the corner of his eye, he could feel the image still in the mirror. Staring at him. Cursing him.
‘I know what all this is,’ he said, to the mirror, to himself; to the imagined bloody remains of his dead best friend and business partner. ‘It’s just my mind. Playing tricks on me.’
He struggled for the words. ‘Guilt making me see things that just aren’t there. Well, I’ve got nothing to feel guilty about. It was an accident.’
‘Who are you talking to Oscar?’
A small cry almost leapt from his mouth, stifled at the last moment; at the thought that the mirror was responding. Without turning, he looked at the reflection, over his shoulder, of the open doorway.
‘What do you want Zelda?’
‘Just checking on how you are after the presentation,’ she said, all cold and clinical.
‘I’m fine thank you.’ A pause, then: ‘Has anyone been modifying the code?’
She walked closer, frowned. ‘AIM? Shouldn’t have. A few of the developers have been tinkering away at the edges – cosmetic stuff only. I can check?’
He nodded.
She moved to his laptop on the dressing table and logged in. A few seconds later: ‘No. No updates today. No errors reported.’
He remained transfixed by the mirror.
‘If there’s nothing else… I’ve got some things to attend to…?’ She went to leave, turning round just as she reached the door, ‘Oh, you’ve got a ton of Teams messages.’ She smiled, ‘Meet you back at the lab?’
He looked to the screen, still open, still illuminated, still on his log-in. He hesitated; his fingers hesitated. Then, unable to wait any longer, he reached forwards…
‘I know what you did.’

‘You won’t get away with this.’

‘I’m going to make you pay.’

‘You killed me.’

He slammed the screen down. Terror now gripped his body. He knew. He knew what he had done. How could he know? He was dead! How could he know, how could he know anything? How could anyone know? He’d told no-one except­—
His phone pinged. He looked across the room to where it lay, battered but still defiantly receiving messages from beyond the grave. Slowly, he walked towards it. It pinged again.
He picked it up; held it in his sweaty fingers. It pinged, vibrated, then pinged again.
He couldn’t not. He had to look.
‘I know what you did.’
The words burning into the screen as much as they were into his skull.
‘I know what you did.’
The phone took on a life of its own. The words disappeared. Another application opened: an image appeared on screen – a car wreck. ‘I know what you did.’
The car wreck again, closer, more detailed. ‘You won’t get away with this.’
Fuel, and oil, and blood, mingled on the tarmac. ‘I’m going to make you pay.’
A mangled body, slumped over the steering wheel, head damaged and bloodied; fragments of glass, and plastic, and metal punctured the skin. ‘You killed me.’
Detective Divers looked carefully at Zelda Harris. His instinct was telling him that something was off, but not what, or why.
‘To lose one CEO might be considered unfortunate, but two…’
‘Oscar and Kent were very close. I think the pain of losing his best friend was simply too much for Oscar. He couldn’t go on.’
‘Hmm; yes, unfortunate. Not for you, of course.’ He watched as it hit home, then quickly changed tack before a dismissal could be issued. ‘Do you think wallowing in all this was the best way to cope with the grief? Rather than moving on?’
She smiled, ‘It can be very therapeutic. Some people just need a little help in moving on.’
‘And now Oscar has… moved on. You will too, I presume to take over?’
‘If the board see fit.’
‘It seems you feel they most likely will.’
‘They are aware of my skills.’
‘And Oscar? Was he aware of your skills? You were close. Weren’t you?’
She forced a smile. ‘That was a long time ago. A very long time ago.’
From her jacket, her phone buzzed, and gave a small chirrup.
‘If there’s nothing else Detective…? I have some appointment.’
‘Of course.’ He stared intently in her eyes, daring her to look away. As her eyes flicked down, he turned to depart, leaving a final comment hanging in the air, ‘I’m sure our paths will somehow cross again soon.’
Zelda didn’t hear him. All her concentration was on her phone screen – the message from the now recently deceased Oscar Harold: ‘I know what you did.’  

Judges Comments

Always in Memory, James Perkin's winning entry in WM's competition for supernatural short stories, brings a classic ghost story format bang up to date with its use of digital technology as the medium for messages from beyond the grave.

The idea that the dead can send commuications is a well-used trope in ghost and supernatural fiction, and James has created a very contemporary chiller as Oscar receives messages from Kent via his phone and tablet.

The story is given an extra layer via its backstory, as the unfolding tale reveals Oscar to be a cynical chiseller who is more than willing to use new technology to exploit the bereaved and cash in on their grief. The way in which James shows Oscar being first spooked and then terrorised, with the implication that Kent is enacting his revenge from beyond the grave, is really well conceived and executed, appealing to the reader's sense of poetic justice as well as delivering the requistive level of terror - not an over-done jump scare, but sufficently horrible to create a chill.

Like all the best supernatural fiction, there are layers and ambiguities woven into Always in Memory, so that the reader is unsure whether the ghostly effects in the story are caused by supernatural entities or rationally explained by digital manipulation. And then, there's the twist at the end, placed with sure skill in such a way that it pulls the rug out from under the reader. James has created a most effective, and enjoyable winner that uses today's technology to give a very modern edge to his tale of the unexpected.



Runner-up and shortlisted
Runner-up in the Supernatural Short Story Competition was Charlotte Bracey, Lancaster, whose story is published on
Also shortlisted were: Rosy Adams, Trefechan, Aberystwyth; Michael Arthur, Winchester, Hampshire; Dominic Bell, Hull; Valerie Bowes, Caterham, Surrey; Michael Callaghan, Glasgow; Maria Dean, Thackley, West Yorkshire; Andrew Hutchcraft, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire; Damien McKeating, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire; Annie Percik, Enfield, Middlesex.