Death by DVD


(850 words)

Horncastle Suicides, a special report by Genevieve Messier for the Horncastle Times. January 2018.

Horncastle, a small Roman town dating from the ninth century, and situated in the Lincolnshire Wolds, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, lies at the confluence of three waterways – the River Bain, the River Waring and the Horncastle Canal. Today, many of the old wharf buildings lining the canal and the river Bain, once traversed by barges laden with grain, timber, and coal, have now been converted into smart, desirable apartments and townhouses.

Horncastle boasts a plethora of antique shops, from the smartest emporia of expensive furniture and rare porcelain to a converted church, shared by a number of dealers, with a myriad illuminated cases displaying bright, enticing jewellery and knick-knacks, to the chaotic and mind-boggling maze of bric-a-brac and junk that is Archer’s.

But this picturesque town and its surrounding villages hold a dark secret. In the past two years, since January 2016, there have been twelve suicides, predominantly of young people under the age of twenty-one. An astonishing SIX times the national average.

Genevieve Messier spoke to Mary Todd.

Mary, your son, Saul, was just seventeen years old when he died. He was a pupil at the local grammar school. Are you able to tell me about it?

Yes, it was in February 2016, nearly two years ago. He’d gone to school, normal like, he didn’t seem upset or anything. When he didn’t come home I thought he’d gone to Wayne’s. That’s his best mate. About eight o’clock I phoned Wayne’s mum, Karen. She said Wayne was there but Saul wasn’t and that Wayne hadn’t seen Saul at school neither.

That’s when I got worried. I texted him, then later I phoned his mobile but he never answered, so I called the police. I spent a sleepless night, as well you can imagine. Then the next morning they came to tell me they’d found him in the woods, down the river just past Tesco’s. He’d hanged himself with his school tie.

I’m so sorry Mary. Did he leave a note?

Yeah, he did. It was under a pillow. He said he realised there was too much evil on Earth and that on ‘the other side’ it was just light and love, and that he wanted to join his friends there.

It was several months later that a rumour about a ‘suicide DVD began to emerge. The police have denied any knowledge of it, but Genevieve Messier spoke to Susan Brown (not her real name), a pupil at the local Grammar school, where it is understood five students have taken their own lives in the past two years.

Susan, what do you know of this ‘suicide DVD’?

Well, some say these kids killed themselves cos there’s nothing to do around here and no work, or else cos their parents wouldn’t let them go into Lincoln of a weekend. But what others are saying is that there’s a DVD. You watch it and you just want to kill yourself afterwards. But you have to write a suicide note about how it’s horrible on Earth and lovely in Heaven, and how you just want to go there, now rather than later. Then you have to pass the DVD on to someone else, before you … top yourself. And that person is sworn to secrecy.

Have you seen this DVD?

No, I haven’t! But a mate did. Kelly Ann.

What did she say?

Well, she said once the DVD starts, you can’t pause it, so she kept going out of the room and looking in from time to time. Anyway, it starts off showing all these horrible scenes from concentration camps, and the music’s really sad. Makes you want to cry, y’know. Then there’s film of these people disfigured by the nuclear bombs, and then these kids with awful injuries and mutations from gas attacks. Modern ones, y’know.

She could’ve turned the DVD player off though?

No, she said she wanted to see what happened. Anyway, after about twenty minutes, there’s all these coloured lights flashing on the screen and this weird pulsing music. It’s really hard to look away, she said. Then it finishes off with instructions about how to hang yourself, how to do the knots and all that. Or if you don’t want to hang, they tell you about what pills to take, and how many.

Why didn’t Kelly Ann take it to the police?

Well, she’d been sworn to secrecy, y’know, so she had to pass it to a friend, Saul, his name was.

How did she feel when she heard he’d killed himself?

I dunno. She’d committed suicide herself by then.

Thank you, Susan.

Just a fortnight ago, another young man, nineteen-year-old Jake Tyler, was found hanged in woodland by a disused quarry on Tetford Hill. The police are continuing to investigate this mysterious outbreak of suicides and would ask anyone with information to contact them.

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch – see for details.

Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories

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12 thoughts on “Death by DVD

    1. Hello Jo, thank you. It didn’t even get on to the shortlist for the Writers’ Forum horror/ghost story news report flash fiction comp. I thought the two winning stories printed were actually a lot more far fetched! Perhaps they didn’t want to feature a suicide theme? It can be a touchy subject, I know. Anyway, many thanks for your input and comment!

      1. I enjoyed the story. I wonder it you’re right, that it took a subject they were uncomfortable with so they didn’t publish it. The way you presented it was also creative – telling it in the form of an interview. Sometimes it has to do with the judges and not the story, as well.

        1. Well, they said to include dialogue from interviews, so the winners did too. It sometimes seems to me that they pick winners almost at random though!
          They did say a ghost or horror story. I can’t remember the winners offhand but they were both very far fetched horror stories, I think with some humour.
          I felt my story fell into the horror story category too, but I personally felt it was a lot more plausible.

          1. Perhaps the outrageous was more in the comfort zone of the judges, rather than something that could be real. Did the judges provide feedback? I’m thinking of entering a contest where they provide feedback – for no other reason that to better understand what the judges were thinking.

  1. Simon this one is so sad because its happening, not due to a secret message via the TV or anything like that but there is an epidemic happening in some rural communities in Canada and there doesn’t seem to be any real solution.

    1. Hello Margaret, as mentioned in my reply below, it started off inspired by events in Bridgend, Wales, but I also read about a university in Ohio where a high number of students took their own lives recently. At the end of the day, they CAN’T be random events, as the odds are astronomical against that. The fact that the authorities often say they can’t find a link, doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

      Also, it is interesting that you say it’s happening in out of the way places in Canada too. I didn’t know that.

      1. There are really remote communities that have zero employment, very few entertainment options and the youth are depressed, drinking and taking drugs. According to experts its the socioeconomic conditions that result in young people feeling that there is no way forward and when you combine that with abuse of alcohol and drugs its a downward spiral.

  2. At first, I just thought “well, this is ridiculous”. Because it is. Kids “sworn to secrecy”, not able to stop watching it, killing oneself and passing it on. But the painful truth is that… this is our reality, actually. Not a DVD, since those are so 2002, but the same idea…

    1. The idea came after watching a program about the ‘Bridgend suicides.’ That’s a place in Wales, Britain, where 26 people, mainly young, killed themselves in just over a year, all but one by hanging.

      Suicide is actually extremely rare. Here in Britain it’s about one person in 10,000 per year, so these anomalies MUST have a reason. The program in question postulated effects of military microwave testing. I chose an alternative hypothesis, completely imaginary, which might be unlikely, but nevertheless I don’t think is out of the question, although maybe not in this particular case.

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