Nailed By The Heart
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Nailed By The Heart (1995)

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Hodder cover 1995

Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 1995, ISBN 9780340625729 hardback

Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 1995, ISBN 9780340625736 paperback

Leisure Books, USA, 2000, ISBN 9780843947137 paperback

When Chris and Ruth Stainforth move to a pleasant coastal village to start a new life with their six-year-old son, David, it seems like a dream come true. Or so they think.

But they have no way of knowing that the village was once a sacred site for the old religion. And that the old God is not dead – just waiting.

Already its Power stirs, changing supernaturally what it touches. It ought to herald the dawn of an age of miracles. But when the Power arouses the sleeping horror-cargo of a ship that sank thirty years ago, the magic is tainted. And Chris, Ruth and David find themselves right in the path of a living-dead nightmare made all too murderously real…

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Simon writes:

Nailed By The Heart is my first novel. The story of a small group of people besieged by an inhuman foe had been gestating in the back of my brain ever since I was fifteen or so. It was a story I was burning to tell and after a long apprenticeship writing short stories I told myself it was time to knuckle down and write that novel. Perhaps the real trigger event that prompted me to make a start was a trip to England’s East Coast where I saw what appeared to be a beached ship. It was only when I looked closer that I realized it wasn’t a ship at all but a building standing out there on the beach. Now this really set my imagination alight.

I learned that the building was an old sea-fort built during World War 1 to guard an estuary against enemy warships, and that it had been abandoned since the 1950s. In my imagination I roamed round this strange marine castle, poking amongst the empty rooms, walking the ghostly corridors and running my fingers over rusting artillery pieces. To add to the strangeness of the building it was surrounded twice a day by the tide, so for a few hours it would be become an island cut off from the mainland. That’s when my musings about the sea-fort collided with the siege story that had been floating around my brain for the last fifteen years. That’s it, I told myself. That’s where I’ll set my story. So Nailed By The Heart was born. A man frustrated and bored by the nine-to-five buys a redundant sea-fort on a remote stretch of coast. He moves there with his wife and young son and begins work converting it into a hotel. But this slice of coast is infused by an ancient magic that refuses to allow the dead to stay dead. And not only does it re-animate the dead, it does so in a dynamic and terrible way, distorting the once dead bodies and minds into ghastly new configurations.

In the following chapter the sea-fort is under siege and Chris Stainforth, the novel’s central character, dreams that he’s walked up onto the sea-fort’s walls…

And now, just for a closing aside: when I wrote the book I kept asking myself is it just that bit far-fetched that someone would buy one of these eerie old sea-forts with the intention of converting it into a hotel? After all, these ancient buildings are pretty ghostly places; what’s more, at high tide they are cut off from the outside world; if anything goes wrong then you’re well and truly on your own … so, I tended to agonize about that for a while, wondering whether I should ditch the hotel conversion idea for something else. But then a few weeks ago I opened a newspaper to read that the sea-fort I’d seen out there on the beach all those years ago had been sold off by the military to a private developer. The newspaper report added that plans had been drawn up to convert the building to a … yes, you guess right … a hotel.

I hope you enjoy the following chapter. I hope you enjoy it enough to read the rest of the book. And that it doesn’t discourage you from paying a visit to the sea-fort hotel and perhaps taking that midnight stroll around the battlements.

Exclusive extract: Chapter 31

This is Chris Stainforth’s nightmare:


He had been walking around the sea-fort searching for an axe head he could fix to the end of the axe-handle he’d chosen for a club. He wanted to upgrade his makeshift weapon. He knew he would need it soon.

His dream search for the axe-head took him onto the sea-fort walls. The dream, unusually vivid, was richly detailed. He saw his surroundings clearly – the car in the courtyard, the timber and bricks piled behind the sea-fort gates to strengthen the barricade, the caravan in darkness. All the good villagers of Out-Butterwick soundly asleep.

He reached the walkway that ran around the top of the walls and looked out. The night-time beach, a vast expanse of sand; the causeway ran ruler-straight toward the dunes.

Tide out, the Saf Dar sat, sentinel-like, dark, brooding, staring a the sea-fort. As he leaned forward, his hands resting on the cold stones of the wall, he saw more things. These were truly awful.

Lucky it was only a dream. If this were real he didn’t know whether he could take it and stay sane.

Approaching through the mist, more figures … eleven, twelve, thirteen.

As he watched the figures emerge from the mist, the dream became a nightmare.

They formed a procession. Like the victims of some nightmare weapon that existed only in a diseased mind.

He knew these were people lost to the sea.

They were the recently dead, and the long dead.

Almost straight away he recognized Fox. The beard hung down in rats’-tails. The wild-hair had gone, along with the scalp, leaving nude bone gleaming whitely. Only one eye remained. The other socket, a raw split, looked as if it had been roughly packed with raw liver.

One hand lacked fingernails. From the tips of the fingers grew pink cones. As if the force that had thrust its version of life through what had once been dead flesh had also crudely repaired the damaged body. Pink growths sprouted from any break in the skin. These men weren’t dead. This was life – some form of life – at its most explosively dynamic.

A larger figure followed Fox, its man-shape being lost beneath the volcanic pressure of growth beneath the skin. How little of the original man remained Chris did not know. But from the resemblance to Fox, Chris instinctively knew it was Fox’s brother who had died ten years before. This figure was a bloated copy of his brother. Shellfish grew across its forehead, creating a heavy black crust; barnacles rashed in white speckles over its bloated chest, which was bare of any clothing; sea anemones clustered in red and brown lumps around its distended genitals.

A sick feeling bit into Chris’s stomach.

The creature followed his brother, its oversized feet slapping against the sand.

Behind the Fox twins came more.

A drowned pilot wrapped in a rotting parachute like a funeral shroud.

Then a boy who’d swam too far out twenty summers before, now bulbous-headed with hands the size of footballs.

Following him, a fisherman with a monstrous growth erupting from his throat; as big as a beachball, it was stretched so tight you thought it would burst with every step he took. Then came the accountant, Wainwright, walking a different kind of step now, the white bandage still hanging around his neck; from his smashed mouth a growth the size of a tennis ball and as red as a strawberry budded out.

In the nightmare Chris’s mind zoomed in on every detail.

Then came more men, with heads that looked as if they had been formed out of beef – red-raw and moist – which shook and quivered with every step.

Behind them, six men who had drowned in the same small boat. They had become welded together by the explosive growth of flesh to form a single creature with bent legs. It moved like a crab, scraping a furrow in the beach.

(Thank Christ it’s only a dream.)

They reached the causeway and crossed it.

He sensed they had one purpose. One single craving. They all wanted to go home. Whatever remained of their minds must have mumbled the same word like an incantation:

Home, home, home…

They moved like travelers nearing the end of an exhausting journey. Home, home, home…

Going home…

But then they suddenly stopped.

He noticed that the Saf Dar were no longer watching the sea-fort but had turned to watch the figures crossing the beach. The figures turned; then, as if compelled by a will that defeated their own, they began to walk toward the sea-fort, their eyes fixed on it.

And what eyes. He gripped the top the stone wall. The eyes were like walnuts, convoluted shapes with ridges and bumps that protruded from their sockets.

They approached.

As he watched, the ones that possessed mouths opened them. They began to cry out, their faces distorting even more grotesquely. The cry vibrated with their agony. They were being forced to do something they desperately didn’t want to do. And it was the Saf Dar who controlled them. He knew they had become their slaves.

Only a dream, he told himself.

Abruptly the force that drove them toward the sea-fort released them. Their old impulse reasserted itself…

Home… home… home…

And they moved off once more down the beach and away into the darkness.

The Saf Dar watched them go. Then, as one, their heads turned smoothly back and they stared at the sea-fort.

A movement at his side startled him.

It was Tony.

Tony looked at him for a full moment. Then said: “No, Chris. You’re not dreaming, you know. You’re as wide awake as I am.”

Chris leaned forward over the wall, then vomited forcefully onto the sand more than twenty feet below.