“Footsteps” by Janine Pipe (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

DiabolicaBritannicaStudent friends Becky and Felicity head out into the Dorset woods for a camping trip. As they try to rendezvous with the third member of their group, Loz, they find that the woods are inhabited by a monster with a taste for human flesh…

The Splatterpunk Award nomination of “Footsteps” (published in the Diabolica Britannica anthology) raises the question of what, exactly, a literary is award for. Some would answer that an award should honour the works with the most potential to become modern classics, destined to provide lasting value to future generations. Others would argue that there is no shame in an award celebrating literature of the moment: the sort of fiction that may be forgotten a year or two down the line, but which at least deserves a loud bang before fading away. The Splatterpunk Awards have generally favoured the latter philosophy, and we see evidence of that in “Footsteps” – a story with the simple aim of capturing the ephemeral thrills offered by monster movies.

The influence of cinema has already been plain in some of the other short stories up for the Splatterpunk Award, with “Next in Line” modelling itself on the kaiju genre and “Phylum” patterned upon the Alien/Thing school of space parasite movies, but “Footsteps” is even more determined to emulate film formula. It even opens with a scene in which a character is introduced purely to be killed by the monster and never seen again, like the prologue to a horror film or the pre-credits scene in a monster-of-the-week TV show.

Formulaic is not the same as lifeless, however, and author Janine Pipe puts effort into making sure that her characters have enough personality to keep the reader engaged. Becky is the indoors girl who goes camping in party attire, Felicity the outdoors type who knows the proper items to pack. Becky has her mind on an ex-boyfriend; Felicity is more concerned with the book on folklore that they intend to write, the trip being intended as research. Loz, although a background character, is still about as fleshed out as is necessary: “Loz was your stereotypical hippy-artist type. She shouldn’t be too hard to find. They’d just follow the smell of patchouli and hope for rainbow tie-dye in the distance.”

The monster, meanwhile, is satisfyingly intangible. It appears first as an animalistic (if oddly tall) shape on a camera display, which Becky dubs “a fucked-up wolf-man”, and over the course of its next fleeing appearances it grows steadily more anthropomorphised: the story works a solid moment of creepiness from the creature simply smiling. Again, while there is little here that departs from monster movie convention, it all works rather well.

Amongst all of this, the one aspect of “Footsteps” that truly stands out as unorthodox is its gynaecological motif. The story implies that the monster is attracted to the scent of menstrual blood, with both Becky and the character killed in the prologue being caught in the woods during their periods. It would not be hard to tease feminist subtext out of the story – a symbolic connection between Becky’s ex-boyfriend who haunts her mind and the wolf-man who stalks her in the woodlands, perhaps.

Factors like this add a little depth to the story, but really, not that much depth was ever needed. “Footsteps” seems designed to provide a familiar thrill-ride to horror fans who lack the spare 90 minutes to watch a complete monster movie, and it fulfils this goal.

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