Saturday, June 13, 2020

Is This All There Is?

Lately, my life has been reduced to working from the dining table at a job I hate for people I want to punch, and sleeping (or trying to). That's it. There's nothing more. My existence has never felt so empty.

Karate training is the only chink of light.

I wish I could find it in me to write again. It seems like I've lost touch with the only thing that defines me as a person. The only thing I'm good at.

I'm not sure if the Corona virus crisis has prompted an existential crisis, or if it would've happened anyway. In April I turned 51. I started thinking about how I've spent my whole life drifting from one situation to the next, buffeted by external forces.

I've never had a plan, only a series of Plan Bs.

I've never had a real purpose.

I'm not sure why, but recently this has begun to bother me.What have I been doing here all those years, and why? I have a sense of urgency, a great burning need to change things, but I don't know how.

I come from a background, and a generation, who were written off before we even started. Fatherless children. Rudderless lives. Half the people I went to school with now have alcohol problems. Too many of them are already dead. At school, we weren't taught how to hope; we were taught to make do. Nothing was ever expected of us.

I'm not sure what any of this means, but I want it to mean something. I want to come out of this period of my life having changed things. My fear is that nothing will change. It'll all just stay the same.

Maybe next week will be when I'm able to write again. Maybe the words, when they come, will be the harbingers of those changes I desire.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

White Rabbit Story - December

I'm sorry this final White Rabbit Story is so late. Christmas got in the way, and illness (both myself and my wife), and a lot of other real-life banalities I won't mention.

But here it is, December's White Rabbit Story. I hope it was worth the wait.


Last night I saw the ghost again.
            I was coming down the stairs and he appeared in the hallway, as bold as brass. Startled, I took a step backwards, stumbling slightly on the worn carpet, and yelled “get out!”
            The ghost looked at me with bagful eyes. “No. You get out. This is my house.”
            “Why are you haunting me?” I said, feeling bolder.
            The ghost looked confused. “But it’s you that’s haunting me.”
            Neither of us moved. A phantom stand-off. One of us was lying, but both of us was convinced that we were the one telling the truth.
            “Just leave,” I said.
            “I was here first,” he replied.
            There was no wriggle room here, no space for discussion. I wasn’t going to back down, but nor was he. We had reached an impasse.
            “I’m alive,” I said. “I know I’m alive.”
            He smiled. “As do I.”
            “So where do we go from here?”
            He paused, blinked. He looked solid enough, but when I looked down at my body, so did I.
            “I have no idea. We need something to help us get past this – something to tell, once and for all, who’s the ghost.”
            The rest of the house was silent. Outside, it was dark and cold. Rain began to fall against the windows, but I could not hear it, only see it on the glass.
            “I’m cold,” he said.
            “I’m not. The dead are always cold.”
            He grinned. “Oh, it isn’t going to be that easy.”
            “How about an arm-wrestle,” I said, jokingly.
            He nodded. “That sounds as good as anything, I suppose.”
            I followed him back down the stairs and into the living room. The lamps were on, providing some mood lighting. The television was off. He sat down at the small dining table near the window and rested an elbow on the table top, flexing his fist. I sat down opposite and did the same.
            I nodded. “I guess so.”
            We both leaned in, ready to take the strain, and clasped hands. Or tried to. Our hands passed through one another, not making contact.
            “Interesting,” he said.
            “What does it mean?”
            He had no answer. Neither did I.
            Outside, the rain continued. There was no sound. Not the house creaking, the wind blowing, or the rain falling. I could not even hear myself breathing. Or him. I could remember nothing before coming down the stairs: everything prior to that moment was lost in a mental fog. It was if I only came to exist in that moment.
            I wondered if he felt the same.
            Silence filled the house.
            We waited.
            And we wait still, sitting together at this table, searching for feelings that we cannot experience, emotions that will never come to fill us, lost memories that cannot be found.
We are both the ghosts of this place, and yet neither of us can remember dying. If we’re honest, we cannot recall ever living either. It is as if we have always been here, in the house, in the silence.
            The rain continues. It never stops.
            I do not believe it ever will.


                                                                                                                           ©Gary McMahon 2019

Monday, December 2, 2019


About a week ago I finished the first draft of a new novella, Glorious Beasts. This pleases me for several reasons, not least because it's the first substantial piece of writing I've managed to finish for a few years. I've done the occassional short story, but nothing longer than 5,000 words. The novella clocks in at just over 20,000.

It's a strange beast, this one. And hopefully a glorious beast. It's set decades after a cataclysmic event that reduced the world's population by more than 50%. It feels like a western wrapped up in a horror story - there are a lot of influences in there, including Julia Leigh's The Hunter, The Road, Mad Max, The Hills Have Eyes, and the Turkish horror film Baskin.

In my head, this world-breaking event - The Plague Years - happened in the mid 1970s, well before home computers and mobile phones came into existence. I wanted to hark back to a time before social media, a more innocent time when everything wasn't splashed across the Internet. I also wanted to write a story where I didn't have to write about moden technology. I'm bored by it; I needed to bypass it for once in the plot instead of having to allow for it.

The story started off being about a man and his son climbing a hill. Then, as I wrote it, things evolved and it became the story of what was inside that hill, and what was inside the man's barren heart.

I'm about to start the second draft. I only hope I can do the story justice.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

White Rabbit Story - November

This month's White Rabbit Story is a little different. It forms the opening of a novel I'm working on. The novel is called Fingers, and now that I'm back in the swing of writing regularly, I'm hoping it'll be the next big project I actually finish...

Don't Talk

When he woke in the night he was thirsty and his eyes were sore. He climbed out of bed and went downstairs to the kitchen, where he filled a pint glass with water from a tap and drank it down in a series of huge gulps.
            The dream still clung to him like scraps of paper blown in a gale. He couldn’t shake it off. Probably wouldn’t be able to until it was morning and he was fully awake.
He always knew it was a dream. He’d been experiencing it for most of his life. It wasn’t what he’d call a recurring dream, because it didn’t come often enough; but it was certainly a dream that had repeated since he was a small child.
            As best he could remember, he’d first had the dream when he was twelve years old, so that meant he was always twelve years old in the dream. It was as if the dream had stuck there, like a stylus in a scratch on an old record, and he’d been unable to move on.
            The dream always followed the same strand. It never wavered.
            It went like this:
            He was a small child and he’d just woken up from a dream. The bedroom window was open and a light breeze was blowing the curtains. He got up and closed the window, shivering from the chill. The streetlight outside his window flickered once, twice, three times, and then stopped.
            He turned back to his room. The family dog was sitting on the bed. They’d had the dog a long time. It was old, and its fur was patchy. It was a mongrel but nobody had ever managed to decide which breeds had mixed to create this hybrid hound.
            “Come on Fluffy, get down from there.” His mother didn’t like the dog climbing up on the beds.
            He glanced towards his bedroom door but it was closed. He had no idea how the dog could have gained access to the room, unless it had somehow got outside and climbed in through the open window.
            He walked over to the bed, sat down next to the dog, and stroked its neck. The dog nuzzled his hand.
            “Come on, boy. I’d better let you back out, or mum will kill me.”
            Standing, he heard the bed creak; the mattress undulated.
            As he walked towards the door, he heard someone cough – a polite cough, like the kind of sound someone makes when they’re trying to get your attention.
            Turning, he stared at the dog.
            “No one will ever believe this,” said the dog, in a voice that was calm and soft and quite well-spoken. “Tell whoever you want that your pet dog spoke to you, and they’ll just laugh and think you’re joking. Persist with this fantasy, and they might think you mad. Dogs don’t talk.”
            He felt a chill again but this time it wasn’t the wind.
            “Fluffy? What did you say, Fluffy?”
            The dog stood up and plopped down off the bed, then walked to the centre of the room. It squatted down and took a shit on the carpet.
            He didn’t know what to do, what to say; this situation was too much for a twelve-year-old boy.
            The dog strolled calmly to the door and waited to be let out. He opened the door and watched it leave. The dog didn’t even look at him, it just walked along the landing and vanished around the top of the stairs. He heard its paws gently padding on the carpet as it went downstairs.
            This was always the point at which he woke up, his head filled with questions that he couldn’t have verbalised if someone had asked him. Usually, he felt some kind of obscure muted terror.

It always took him a long time to get back to sleep.


                                                                                                              ©Gary McMahon 2019

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

White Rabbit Story - October

This month's White Rabbit story is, again, a little late. I think I've abandoned the first of the month as the date for posting these, but as long as they go up monthly the experiment remains valid.

So here it is...

Made Redundant

When our regional manager came for his annual tour of the office, we were all quiet. His walk through the halls of the building was accompanied by a kind of hushed awe. Nobody dared speak in case it drew his attention. We all just got on with our jobs and prayed that his gaze would not come to rest upon us.
The truth is, none of us workers knew how to react. Our regional manager had been dead for six months.
He looked good, for a dead man. His skinned was tanned, his muscles were tight. He looked as if he'd been on a holiday and come back fit and healthy.
The fatal car crash hadn't seemed to produce any adverse effects, at least as far as his appearance was concerned.
When he went into a boardroom and shut the door, there was a sense of relief, yet it was edged with a note of despair. Something was about to happen. We all knew it.
Fifteen minutes later, something did happen.
"Good morning," he said as I walked into the meeting room, where I'd been summoned to see him.
"Good morning. Is everything...okay?"
He nodded, smiled, shuffled papers on the desk. His hands were large, with big knuckles. They, too, were tanned.
Without further preamble, he said: "I'm afraid we have to let you go. We're scaling down the work force. Your role has been made redundant." It was like a list of items rather than a spoken sentence. An agenda. He looked right through me as he spoke.
I hadn't even been given the chance to sit down. There was nothing much left for me to say so I said nothing and turned away.
And yet I did not feel too broken-heated. After all, it was my role, and not I, that had been made redundant.
When I left the room, I shut the door gently behind me. As I walked back along the corridor, I glanced at him through the glass panels. Our regional manager. Once again, he was looking at me, but at the same time he looked through me, as if I wasn't even there. His eyes were glassy and devoid of anything that I would describe as humanity. The word that crossed my mind was insectile.
On his calm, dead face was a tiny, wan smile. A single fly buzzed around his head but he didn't seem to notice it there. I didn’t even know if he could see it.
I left the building without picking up my stuff or saying farewell to my colleagues. I’d barely known them anyway. Five years working alongside these people, and we were strangers to each other.
I sat in my car and stared at the building, noticing for the first time the mould on the bricks, the cracks in the structure, the way the doors and windows sat at odd angles in their frames.
As I watched, our regional manager opened the meeting room window and climbed out onto the narrow ledge. He shuffled along a few yards, then paused, raising his hands to the sky and looking upward. Then he stepped off the ledge.
I started the car and backed out of the space, drove towards the main gate. When I glanced in the rear-view mirror, I saw his small, dark-suited figure stand and brush itself down. There was a hint of disappointment in his stance, the way he carried himself…or so I thought at the time. I might be romanticising the image, making more of it than there actually was.
He turned to stare at me as I drove away. I couldn't make out his individual features, only the blank, white oval of his face and the sudden movement as he raised his pale hand to wave goodbye.

©Gary McMahon 2019

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

White Rabbit Story - September

During 2019, as a kind of literary experiment, I plan to publish a new piece of flash fiction during the first week of every month. These pieces are called The White Rabbit Stories.

Sorry about the delay posting September's story but I was away on holiday in Turkey during August. This should see me back on track with this project.

Where Things Would Take Him

Gary McMahon

He went down to the beach and stared out at the sea, trying to clear his head. There was a huge grey rock a few yards from the shore; he waded in, knee-deep, and sat down on the rock. It was covered with patches of kelp, but not so much that it was slippery. The rock’s surface, in fact, was smooth and oddly soft. Once he’d adjusted his position, it made a comfortable perch.
            So much had happened in the past few days: his wife leaving him for another, much younger man; being made redundant; finding out that that his wife had re-mortgaged the house and had not kept up with the payments.
            Everything had happened so fast, taking on its own trajectory. A life pulled apart in the space of a week. Now he had nothing left. His entire life before this point was a sham; scrape away the surface matter and there was nothing underneath.

            He smiled. This entire period, now that it was finally over, had proved liberating. He was free. He could do whatever he liked with the rest of his life, and, surprisingly, the prospect did not scare him. It made him feel alive. For the first time in many years, he was truly living.
            Staring at the horizon, he wondered where things would take him, what path he might eventually follow. The sun dipped lower and the sky changed colour, a dark expanse with slashes of yellow and orange.
            What a beautiful sight, he thought. What a beautiful end to the day.
            The sound of the sea was peaceful. Gently lapping waves. The occasional splash of something darting near the surface.
            It was then that he understood the tide must have come in without him noticing. He looked back at the shore; it was a mile away. The beach was empty. He could see his car parked on the gravel car park next to the road, but no other vehicles were visible.
            Puzzled, he looked around. Surely the tide could not have come in so fast…and, now that he thought about it, there was a sensation of floating, drifting but with purpose. It felt as if he were on a small boat, bobbing on the tide, heading slowly, almost furtively away from land.
            He looked down at the rock. It was moving, muscles flexing at it pushed itself gracefully through the water.
The rock was taking him out to sea.
At first his mind was unable to grasp this concept, but reality slowly seeped in, and then came the terror. The knowledge that he was in danger, the nature of which he could not completely understand.
            By the time he realised it was not a rock he was sitting on, the smooth, grey thing beneath him had rolled smoothly over to show him its teeth.

© Gary McMahon 2019

Saturday, September 7, 2019

White Rabbit Story - August

During 2019, as a kind of literary experiment, I plan to publish a new piece of flash fiction during the first week of every month. These pieces are called The White Rabbit Stories.

Sorry about the delay posting August's story but I was away on holiday in Turkey. I'll post September's tale in the next couple of weeks.


Gary McMahon

The film was over and I was tired. I reached out for the remote and switched off the television and the blu-ray player. The sudden silence seemed deafening, like the air pressure at high altitude.

I stood, stretched, and turned towards the door.

The door was not where it should have been. The place where the door had been for the six years we'd lived in this house was a blank wall.

I spun around and saw the door in the same wall as the main window. As I took a step towards it, the door vanished. It didn't fade away, or shrink back into the brickwork, it just wasn't there any more.

Turning again, I saw the door in the floor near the sofa.

It vanished again as soon as I made a move.

This time, none of the walls appeared to have a door. I turned and turned and didn't know what to do. Every wall was just a wall, apart from the ones with windows. Should I break a window in order to escape the confines of my own front room?

Slowly, I looked up. The door was now in the centre of the ceiling, where the plaster ceiling rose and the light should be. Somehow the light that was no longer there still provided illumination: the room was just as bright as it had been.

Panicked, I grabbed my phone and called my wife, who was upstairs in bed.

“Erm...hello?” She sounded sleepy; I must have woken her.

“Helen, I'm trapped. I can't get out of the lounge.”

“For fuck's sake, Bob, stop it with your stupid games. You woke me up for this shit?”

“I'm not joking, Helen. Really, I'm not.”

“Bob?” The fear in my voice must have convinced her. She sounded concerned and fearful. “Honestly, Bob?”

“Honestly, Helen. The door...I know this sounds insane, but it won't stay put.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, the door keeps moving. It won't let me out.”

That was when the phone went dead.

I heard banging noises above me, coming through the ceiling: Helen was obviously getting out of bed and moving across the room.

Then she screamed.

It was at that point I realised it was happening to her, too. The doors were toying with us, playing some kind of game. They'd trapped us here like prisoners, and I didn't understand it at all.


I've been here for two days now. I did eventually try to break the window but the glass wouldn't shatter. It was like throwing things against the wall. The laws of physics no longer apply; only nightmare logic works here.

I'm writing this on the Notes app on my phone, but the battery is almost flat. I'm not sure how much longer I have left.


The door finally stopped moving an hour ago.


I haven't heard Helen's voice from upstairs since late last night. The last time I heard her, it sounded as if she was talking to someone. No, not talking: pleading. Crying. Then she went quiet and I heard a door slam. I'm hoping she managed to get out.

I'm hoping...


The door to this room is no longer inside the house.

It's in the same place every time I look out the window. The door and the frame – all of it – are standing upright in the middle of my garden, on the small lawn.


The last time I looked, the door was open.


Not long afterwards, I saw a shadow move quickly across the window.

I think there's something out there.

I wonder if it's the same thing that stepped through to see Helen, or if there are more than one of them. Whatever they are.

I'm going to switch off the phone to conserve the battery. If there's nothing else after this, it means that something came calling. Something came through the door and got me.

Or else, another door appeared and I managed to get out to somewhere else.

Neither option fills me with anything but dread.

© Gary McMahon 2019