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Disturbia in the U.K – ex-Big Issue vendor becomes horror author

Tobias K. Phipps used to sell The Big Issue, now he writes horror tales. He tells us about his journey and presents an exclusive, chilling short story...

Tobias K. Phipps sold The Big Issue in the 1990s when circumstances meant he had little other option. “I still have my badge!” he says. “Selling The Big Issue was extremely helpful and I was able to get back on my own feet, so to speak.”

Born in London, Phipps grew up on the “somewhat legendary” traveller site in Wales called Llangybi Common. “In 1995 my life changed severely when my aunt Jill Phipps was killed tragically on an animal rights demonstration in Coventry,” he says. “You may have seen it on the news as the public response was huge.”

After spending time selling The Big Issue in Coventry city centre, Phipps became a political activist then pursued his love of dance and techno music, opening a record shop and recording studio, Piranha Records, in 2000.

Selling The Big Issue was extremely helpful and I was able to get back on my own feet

“But with age comes change and when I hit my thirties I decided to wind down my music career and pursue a different sort of shiver,” he explains. “My grandmother, Nancy Phipps, wrote and published a supernatural horror novel called Mother Likes Making Dolls many years ago so a love of horror-fiction seems to run in the family.”

Phipps now lives in Bridgnorth, Shropshire and is engaged to be married in September. His first book Disturbia In The U.K is a deliciously disturbing glimpse into the world of fantasy, addiction, abuse – a fresh take on things that go bump in the night with humour as dark as its subject matter. The book is available on Amazon and we have an exclusive story, SHAKE-DOWN, from the collection below. Read on if you dare…

SHAKE-DOWN

Clock-watching is a pastime shared by children and adults alike. Whether it be counting down the exciting final few minutes until the school-bell chimes or the endless, monotonous drudgery of work; watching helplessly as the days of your life tick away, becoming weeks and then months, finally years. The saying states that ‘a watched pot never boils’ but we all watch the pot and no matter how tedious the wait, it always boils eventually.
Just seven more packets to go, then Johnny would be finished for the evening and could return home to discover what tantalising culinary delights his useless mother may or may not have rustled up for him tonight. Be it rich, creamy mashed potatoes underneath a glistening slick of thick, brown gravy, or perhaps something more exotic like a stir-fry with oriental vegetables and aromatic spices – Johnny couldn’t wait and his stomach growled. Yet sadly, in his heart the twelve year-old boy knew that little more than a plate of beans on toast awaited his arrival, provided that his mother had remembered to buy a loaf of bread. Her pipe and her tin-foil seemed to demand the majority of Sharon’s attention, coupled with whatever fella she had in tow at the time. But still, fantasising about dinner is what kept Johnny going.
The lift-door beeped and then slid open. Thirteenth and final floor. After this he’d call it a night; seven packets or no sodding seven packets! The idea of starting a new block was just too depressing to contemplate. But with a dash of luck he’d off-load a few more before home-time, and maybe even treat himself to the last packet. This idea made his stomach rumble further.
Johnny had been holding his breath as the foul stench of urine in the lift made him nauseous. As he stepped into the hallway Johnny gasped for air and drew several deep breaths until his cheeks returned to their normal shade. The smell here wasn’t much better, cigarette smoke being the dominating pong, but it was less gross than in the lift.
Johnny had tried a cigarette for the first time just two weeks ago, behind the bakery with Jaz Patel. It’d made him cough and splutter uncontrollably, leaving him green in the gills and baffled as to its attraction.
The strangely empty, stagnant glow from the overhead strip-lighting flickered, startling Johnny and making him question what the hell he was doing here on the Trunmore Estate. His mother had advised him against it – but hadn’t strictly forbidden him. Strict wasn’t a term you could use to describe Sharon Hessle; absent, distracted, useless, but not strict. In fact Johnny was the only child in his class allowed to sell the cookies door-to-door without adult supervision, since Mortimer Giles went missing a fortnight ago.
Johnny gave himself a shake and got his bearings. Twenty flats to a floor, thirteen floors on this ugly, grey block, so he did the maths and decided that flat number 240 would be the best place to start. He turned left and headed down the corridor, following the signs.

Johnny had a mission and he wasn’t one for giving up so easily. He swallowed the anxious lump in his throat and headed to the first door

Johnny pushed open the landing door and his nostrils were immediately bombarded by a completely different and by no means unpleasant array of smells. Somebody was cooking their supper, and from where Johnny stood he doubted if they were having beans on toast. He could also smell weed which was another whiff he wasn’t totally adverse to, though he’d never sampled it for himself.
As before, the lights flickered, startling Johnny and drawing his eyes to the ceiling.
Flies!
An entire swarm of the dirty sods! The massive blue-bottle variety. All buzzing about in a furry frenzy of black and blue. They sickened Johnny and he felt the urge to turn around and go home, but, Johnny had a mission and he wasn’t one for giving up so easily. He swallowed the anxious lump in his throat and headed to the first door.
After pressing the plastic bell-button a few times Johnny became suspicious as to its working order, as he certainly didn’t hear a chime, so he knocked the door with his knuckles.
Thump, thump, thump!
After a few moments the dim light behind the small, circular, glass peep-hole became obscured as the unknown inhabitant peered outside, if only to determine who’d disturbed his Call of Duty tournament. The door opened a few inches and a curious face gazed down at Johnny. No doubt where the dank smell of weed had been coming from! The man’s eyes were like two red slits on an otherwise gaunt and stubbled face.
‘What d’ya want lad?’ the man asked, abruptly.
‘I erm … ahem, I wanted to know if you’d like to buy a packet of cookies? It’s to raise funds to send our class on an outdoor pursuits weekend?’
The man eyed-up Johnny’s satchel and he licked his lips.
‘Cookies? What sort? You got any double choc-chip?’ he asked him, eagerly.
‘I’m all out.’ Johnny replied. ‘But I do have Smartie and cinnamon, they’re my favourite.’ He grinned at the man, who grinned back at Johnny, admiring his choice.
‘Yeah they sound good. How much?’
‘Two pounds a packet.’ Johnny replied.
‘That’s a bit steep mush.’ the man remarked.
‘It’s to send us to camp.’
The stoned occupant considered the proposition for a moment, but the THC induced “munchies” soon got the better of him and he reached into his pocket for change.

The man twitched and glanced up and down the corridor. ‘Is this the first door you’ve tried on this floor?’

‘I’ll take a packet little dude,’ he said, and the deal was done, or so the boy thought.
Johnny smiled and unclipped his satchel, delving inside with his left hand, but his new customer kept talking and after a while little Johnny began to feel rather uneasy.
‘So erm … how’s business. You going to camp you reckon?’
‘I hope so.’ Johnny replied, peering inside to find the right packet.
‘How many have you sold tonight?’ the man asked, casually, but Johnny had his shrewd side and wasn’t about to openly divulge how much cash he was carrying.
‘Not many.’ he replied dismissively.
‘Oh yeah? How many you got left?’
‘Erm … seven, I think.’
The man twitched and glanced up and down the corridor.
‘Is this the first door you’ve tried on this floor?’ he asked, hurriedly.
‘Erm … yeah.’ Johnny replied, startled by the change in the man’s demeanour and a little puzzled by the question.
‘Hand them over!’ the man ordered Johnny in no uncertain terms.
The young boy backed away slowly. ‘My dad’s downstairs, he keeps the cash.’ he lied, trying to hide the instant fear in his eyes.
‘That’s bullshit, but I don’t want your money just the cookies. Now empty out your satchel or I’ll bust you up little dude.’
Shit! If this scumbag robbed him then he’d have to pay for the cookies himself. No summer camp and an empty piggy-bank for good measure. The question of why the man was prepared to rob him of the goods but not the dough was a curious one, but the guy was stoned and even little Johnny aged-twelve had a vague understanding of what that meant.
Johnny’s bottom lip began to tremble. ‘Please don’t rob me.’ he managed to mutter, but the man was growing impatient.
‘Look Kid’-
-But the click of a lock being turned on the next door along brought an immediate halt to the shake-down, followed by a creak as it opened on its hinges. Thank God for that! Johnny thought, relief flooding his veins.
‘Simon? What are you up to?’ an elderly lady snapped.
The thwarted mugger sighed and replied: ‘Nothing Aunt Mary.’
‘That’s good because I could’ve sworn I heard voices.’
Johnny seized his moment.
‘He was trying to steal my cookies miss!’ he blurted out.
The accused man sighed and closed his eyes.
Silence followed as the old lady hobbled out onto the landing to investigate, with the aid of a walking stick which was fashioned from a dark wood and had a polished finish; a tasteful looking item.
She was an attractive senior; age had been kind to her it seemed. Her eyes hadn’t lost any of their sparkle and wouldn’t have looked out of place on a young lady’s face. Her wrinkles were few and ran shallow and if it wasn’t for the silver in her hair you’d be hard-pushed to estimate her age at all.
‘Is this true Simon?’ she asked.
‘I just wanted the cookies.’ he replied, sheepishly.
The lady tut-tutted, shaking her head. And then, turning to Johnny: ‘I must apologise for my rotten nephew, young man. Tell me, what are these cookies in aid of?’
‘It’s to send my class to an outdoor pursuits camp this summer. I really want to go.’ Johnny replied politely.
The lady smiled in response; a warm and comforting smile. ‘I bet you would, it sounds like fun. How many boxes have you sold?’ she asked.
‘Twenty-three so far.’ he replied.
‘Twenty-three? That’s most impressive and I find your determination most admirable. Of course I’ll buy a box from you. The other old hens indoors will enjoy them with their tea.’
Johnny returned the smile.
‘Thank you, that’s very kind.’ he said and he retrieved a packet of cookies from his satchel, any flavour would suffice. The lady fished out an old crumpled five-pound note from her purse and handed it to Johnny.
‘Here you go young man and I don’t want the change.’
‘Really? Thanks, that’s … also very kind of you.’
‘Don’t mention it.’ she assured him.
But then the lady gave young Johnny a long and inquisitive stare. The concern in her face was obvious and not uncommon among strangers meeting Johnny for the first time. Something about his appearance perhaps? His Sally Army coat, his threadbare jeans or maybe his tattered Reebok trainers which squeaked when he walked and were much too tight?
‘Tell me young man, how come your parents aren’t with you? It is getting late you know. Won’t your mother be wondering where you are?’
Johnny shuffled awkwardly on his feet and shrugged his shoulders.
‘Not really.’ he replied soberly. ‘My mother … she erm, drinks.’ he admitted, bending the truth a little, if only to cover his mother’s back.
The lady gasped and clasped her hand over her mouth. ‘Does she? Such a shame!’ she cried, seeming genuinely saddened, heart-broken even.
‘It’s okay, really. But you see why going to camp is so important to me.’ Johnny explained.
‘I do and I think that you’re a most courageous young man. I’ve got an idea … why don’t you come inside and meet the other hens? Only for a little while. I’ve got some toad-in-the-hole in the oven and there’s a big, juicy slice with your name on it. I’ve ice-cream too for dessert, strawberry.’
‘I erm …’ But then Johnny caught a whiff of the dish on offer, wafting from her doorway, and his mouth began to salivate uncontrollably. Johnny was ravenous!
‘Sure.’ he replied, what harm could it do?
‘Oh good!’ the lady cheered. ‘Simon, you don’t get any you scoundrel!’ she scorned the stoned man in the doorway, whom Johnny had almost forgotten about, and she laid her arm across Johnny’s shoulders and led him away.
Johnny gave his would-be-mugger a shifty sideways glance; smirking as if to say: Hah, you don’t get any, and you got ‘owned’ by an old lady . . .
. . . But Johnny’s gloating was cut short when he noticed the single tear rolling down the man’s cheek. ‘I was trying to save you kid.’ he whispered.
Suddenly, the toad-in-the-hole didn’t seem quite so tempting.
‘Actually miss, I shouldn’t spoil my appetite. My moth’-
-‘Nonsense young Johnny, you’ll come in and have some tasty grub. I insist.’ she continued.
I didn’t tell her my name! Johnny thought, panic-stricken! He tried to struggle free but the woman’s grip was as tight as a vice. The soft hand on his shoulder dug into his flesh like a talon.
‘Don’t wriggle young man.’ she cackled jovially, dragging him through her doorway. ‘Come inside and meet the other hens. We don’t bite, I promise.’

Disturbia in the U.K is available now – buy it here

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