's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"The Snail's Shell"

Submitted by Joseph JG

Cochleahphobia. That's what they call it. Fear of snails. I have a fear of snails.

It's not their soft, grey apparently scaly skin, glistening wetly in the light. Nor their tiny eyes perched dangerously atop fleshy, retractable pillars. It's not even the dirty trail of mucus betraying their every sleazy movement as they glide like a phantom on a layer of corruption.

No. Strange to say, it's their shell.

It happened a long time ago, as a boy. I loved turning over the rocks in the garden to see what lurked beneath.

It was always interesting. Centipedes rushing into the surrounding undergrowth. Millipedes slowly climbing out of their furrow with an air of annoyance.

Sometimes I would almost leap back as a large, black beetle frantically escaped the intrusive light. Other times I peered quizzically at a collection of large, brown slugs doing almost nothing at all.

One day, I saw... something else.

Half the garden must have once been covered in cement to form a kind of unattractive patio. It had come to ruin, cracking away into flat chunks of stone resting on the soil. The process was continuing, and there were often new stones to be lifted.

So it was on that day. A great, big one which I flipped over with excitement, wondering what earthy creatures may lay beneath.

I seemed to have struck on the snail kingdom. There were loads of them; the small ones with long, spiralling shells and bright yellow bodies. I loved those guys back then.

However, while I couldn't help but notice the sheer number of snails, there was something else that caught my eye.

It was a large, black object, smooth, shiny and moist. I could almost see my reflection in it. I hoped it was the snail king, half buried in the damp mud, but I knew it was probably a pot or something. Not an old one, either.

I ran my finger down its surface. It wasn't pleasant - wet and a little slimy. But I was shocked when two, pale structures rose to sheathe the black surface. It was just like a cowry, but they're snails that live in the ocean. They certainly don't bury themselves in garden mud.

I was confused.

The pale structures soon uncloaked that shiny black surface. I touched it again, this time with a stick. The pale, slightly translucent mantle again began to cover the shell, but this time I was astonished when the whole thing suddenly disappeared. With impressive speed, the entire animal seemed to dive into its burrow. I stared down the hole and saw nothing but darkness which was immediately filled once again by the black shell.

With my faithful stick I again stroked it, hoping to have a better look at the mantle and the depths of the burrow.

This time the snail, if that's what it was, immediately dived into its burrow as if annoyed at my rudeness.

I stared into that burrow and saw nothing but darkness and shadow. I had no idea how far down it went.

As I gazed into that miniature abyss, something slowly began to come into view.

It looked like a filthy piece of wood or bark covered in soil. For one absurd moment I thought the snail was about to take its revenge.

I moved back as it began to emerge right out of the burrow. What looked like a piece of bark seemed to be the helmet of some kind of cylindrical creature. Perhaps a strange burrowing reptile, I thought. Sharing a home with a snail?

The reptile continued its ascent. It was standing erect, its head pointing straight upward. The helmet covered just an inch or two of one half of the animal, before curving down to protect the front of the head.

It stood and took several steps back as the creature extended a full foot from its burrow, its entire body rigidly upright. Apart from that tough head it was pale and horribly soft. Its smooth, damp skin glistened in the light and I could see what looked like blood vessels beneath the surface.

An amphibian, perhaps? I was almost aware that honest inquiry was becoming a kind of hope.

The body seemed to be divided into three parts, each one separated by a slight constriction where the skin became wrinkled and creased.

I felt the blood drain from my face as the creature began to bend at the constrictions. The head slowly took on a horizontal position, before returning to the upright. It did so again. Slowly. Deliberately. And then it began a decent back into the unknown depths of its burrow.

As it disappeared into the darkness, I breathed, not realising that I'd stopped at some point. My stomach felt empty and hollow. It wasn't because this thing was utterly unfamiliar. It was the sickening familiarity that was the trouble.

The shiny black shell returned. I stared at it from a distance.