Thursday, March 14, 2019

At Home in the Shadows



Next month (the month of my 50th birthday!) sees the official release of my new book, At Home in the Shadows

It's a slender volume containing five short stories, each one based around the loose theme of "domestic horror". Three of the stories have been published before. Two of them are brand new, appearing for the first time in this mini-collection.

Here's the ToC:

  • Text Found on a Defunct Webpage
  • The Chair
  • The Table
  • On the Walls
  • Open House


The book can be pre-ordered direct from the publisher by using this link:

Black Shuck Books

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

White Rabbit - March

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. 

Here's March's White Rabbit Story:





HOWL



The dog was howling again. It had been howling like this all week; each night, always at the same time, a similar high-pitched keening sound.
            Daryl checked his watch: just after midnight. It never varied. The howling always began at the same time and went on until exactly 1AM, like clockwork. Like a machine.
            He wriggled out of his thin sleeping bag and walked slowly to the window, being careful not to step on any sharp debris or broken glass.
            A few nights ago, he’d nailed an old piece of tarpaulin across the shattered window pane to serve as a curtain. He reached out and moved it aside, looked out into the empty, lamp-lit street below. Nothing stirred down there; there was not even a breeze to shift the littler gathered in the gutters.
            The moon was a thin pallid thing stuck onto a sky without stars. The buildings surrounding the one where he slept where all empty, abandoned. Some of them had boarded doors and windows. Yet more of them had been partially demolished – broken stubs of stone walls stuck up out of the foundations like shattered teeth.
            The dog continued the howl.
            Daryl slipped on the boots he’d salvaged from a skip three days ago. He grabbed his old, torn jacket and left the room, moving down the scorch-marked stairwell that still held the ghost-aroma of an old fire. Out, out into the darkness.
            There was no real purpose to what he was doing, other than the vague notion that if the dog was in pain, he might be able to help it. Life on the streets was lonely; perhaps a companion would make things more bearable.
            He followed the keening sound, tracing a route through dirty, nameless backstreets behind empty tenement buildings. The howling drew closer; he was nearing its source.
            Ducking along a narrow gap between a row of derelict shops and a decades-empty warehouse, he came upon a hidden alleyway.
            Litter was piled against the walls. The ground looked damp, glistening as if it had rained here - but Daryl knew it hadn’t rained in weeks.
            The sound drew him to a pile of rags in a shallow doorway.
            “Hey, boy,” he said. “It’s okay. I won’t hurt you.”
            Reaching out, he grasped the edge of a filthy blanket and pulled it aside.
            There was a woman under the rags. She was thin and pale, with long limbs and a short body. She might have been naked, but the rags provided her a modicum of modesty. Her head was bald, and her eyes were so dark they looked completely black. She had no eyebrows. Her nose was tiny, barely comprising much more than a raised strip of flesh around two holes in the centre of her face.
            Her mouth was open wide, and she was still howling, but the sound seemed to be moving farther away, along the length of the alley and away from him.
            Rather than fear or even confusion, Daryl felt sympathy, compassion. He knelt before the woman and opened his arms, a simple gesture to show her that he meant no harm.
            She had not blinked since he’d arrived. It was an odd thing to notice, but he had noticed it anyway, perhaps because it was so unusual.
            She stopped howling and licked her lips. Her tongue, as it darted between her thin lips, was short and narrow.
            “Are you hurt?”
            She smiled. Her mouth contained no teeth, only bare gums. These were as pale as her skin, and translucent.
            Daryl did not move as she leaned towards him, embracing him. He lay down beside her, shifting the rags so that he could maximise the contact between them. Her hands were cold. Her breath was warm. She did not smell of anything: an absence of odour. There was something primordial and comforting about her presence, as if she were the origin of whatever he was, the true source to which he must finally return.
            As she pressed those thin, cold lips against his cheek, Daryl heard the howling once again, but this time it was far away, nothing but a distant lament. A long, sad song to accompany him as he eased down into her darkness.

                                                                                                                             © Gary McMahon 2019

Friday, February 8, 2019

Can You Dig It?

This week I started working on a new story called Digging In. It's an urban piece - or rather, a suburban piece - about a man trying to cope with a terminally ill wife who starts obsessing about his neighbour, a chap who keeps digging holes in his garden.

I write a lot of stories set in this milieu. Urban or suburban dread seems to be a theme I work at relentlessly. Sometimes I think I'm wasting my time; this isn't a very marketable genre, or subject matter. Urban dread. That line where the quotidian meets the weird. It doesn't sell. Sometimes I wish I could write sprawling fantasy epics instead. But I don't. I write this stuff.

As writers we create the stories we must. We have little choice in the matter, and are driven by forces so much deeper and stronger than we can really understand.

Long ago I came to terms with the fact that I'll never be an author who sells well, and I'm resigned not not gaining the plaudits some of my contemporaries enjoy. I plough a lonely furrow. But a lot of us do, and we do it because we have to. We write about these things because we can't live a life in which we don't. It really is that simple. And that complicated.

So I shall return to my character, who sits and the window and watches his neighbour dig. A man who's inner life I am uncovering, layer by layer. A man who, like me, lives a life that is driven by forces he cannot understand.


Friday, February 1, 2019

February's White Rabbit

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. 

Here's February's White Rabbit Story:


----------------------------------------------------------------------



Video Group 7.1



He has no idea how he’s become connected with the WhatsApp group. He had not asked to join it, nor had anyone contacted him about becoming a member. The group simply appeared on the chat screen in the app. It has no name, just a vague heading identifying it as “Video Group 7.1”
            The video messages are all shot in the same way: badly lit, amateurish, probably using the video app on a smartphone. There are four of them, each one seemingly more incomprehensible than the last.
            It seems that there must be a reason behind the order in which they are sent, and a message he could decipher if only he studies them hard enough.

Video clip #1:

A pale hand rests upon a wooden table top, the fingers splayed apart. There is dirt under the fingernails. Someone – presumably the owner of the hand – draws around it with a blue ballpoint pen, pressing down hard and gouging the outline into the wood. This goes on for approximately 30 seconds and then it stops. The pen remains between the pointing finger and the thumb, resting against the web of flesh there.

The video ends.

His dreams become dark. Grubby. In those dreams he finds himself alone and wandering dirty streets, looking for something he cannot identify. Searching. Just searching. Behind him and around him, buildings crumble soundlessly to the ground; ahead of him, the landscape opens like a wound, presenting an empty horizon. The sky is fluid and yellow, like a draining abscess.

Video clip #2:

Someone is using a bright yellow crayon to colour the shape of the hand on the table top. Their hand is dark, tanned, and broad. They are colouring lightly, not using much pressure. After a short time, the colouring stops. Then it starts again. There are two more pauses before the colouring is complete. Then the unseen artist presses down hard on the crayon, breaking it in two.

The video ends.

When he was a child, his mother wrapped him up in cotton wool, not letting him out of the house if it was too cold/too dark/too late in the day. At night she would enter his bedroom and stand at the bottom of the bed, take of her nightgown, and touch herself. She would remain silent during this nightly ritual; her eyes were always closed.
            He developed an acute fear of the night and the sound of doors opening, footsteps crossing the hall. He became afraid of everything.
This fear stayed with him into adult life.
None of his adult relationships lasted; he was too afraid to commit. Friendship was a concept he could never quite understand; its complex mathematics are beyond his ability to solve.
Connecting with women is even more difficult. Nobody ever explained to him the rules of engagement. His last girlfriend had called him a “baby-man” as she walked out the door.

Video clip #3:

There is a bed in a small room, which is otherwise empty. The room has no windows. Its walls are blank plaster. Unusually for the videos so far, the camera zooms in (video clips #1 and #2 had all been static), revealing a large hunting knife on the bed, near the grey pillow. Someone picks up the knife. They thumb the blade, drawing a speck of blood. The camera zooms in on the spots of blood.

The video ends.

His eating habits are terrible; all he consumes is ready-cooked meals bought from the local supermarket. He has a good job – he is an accounts manager for a sporting goods manufacturer – but all he ever does is go through the motions, counting down the minutes to the end of the working day. He rarely socialises with his workmates. He doesn’t like to be around people. He prefers to stay at home, binge-watching shows on Netflix and eating macaroni cheese out of a plastic microwaveable container with a plastic fork.

Video clip #4:

The same spartan room. The same narrow bed. This time there is someone lying on the mattress. A middle-aged woman. She is naked, but the camera is positioned that her head is out of shot so her face remains unseen. She is motionless, arms held stiffly at her sides. Someone approaches from off-camera. A naked man, wearing only a pair of black leather gloves. In his left hand, he holds the knife. In his right hand, the yellow crayon. As he steps up to the side of the bed, it becomes clear that the woman is holding the blue ballpoint pen. He leans over her, places the crayon on her pallid caesarean-scarred belly just above her navel: crossways, hip to hip. He puts the knife on her chest, between her breasts, the blade pointing downwards. The woman raises her hand and brandishes the ballpoint pen like a weapon, then freezes and holds her pose. A large shadow falls across the two people and the bed, almost obscuring them. The camera wobbles.

The video ends.

It's dark inside and out.
Despite the darkness, the sky beyond the living room window looks yellow. He has never felt so alone in his tiny house. His phone is the only source of light, and his last connection to the world.
He has been watching and rewatching the video clips for hours, trying to understand them, to get to the heart of the mystery they represent. Attempting to identify the source of the fear that grips him – a strange and formless sense of dread that has leaked like a virus from the video clips and into his life. It is as if the video clips are separate parts of a larger ritual, or an invocation. A sequence of images designed to summon.
There is a sound behind him: it could be a faint brushing of footsteps upon floorboards or it could be a breeze outside. It might be nothing at all. He gets up from his chair and turns around to face the room. There is nobody there. He is all alone.
Upon the coffee table are three items that were not there before: a blue ballpoint pen, a yellow crayon, a hunting knife. He sits down on the floor and begins to weep.
His phone vibrates in his hand, but he cannot bring himself to look away from the objects on the table and open the incoming message, the final video in the sequence.
He does not want to see what it is he will soon become.






Friday, January 18, 2019

At Home in the Shadows

My new "mini collection", At Home in the Shadows, will be published by Black Shuck Books this April.

Here's the rather fetching cover:


Thursday, January 3, 2019

January's White Rabbit Story...

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.

Here's January's White Rabbit Story:




HITTING



“You hit me,” Lisa said softly, with tears in her eyes and a note of disbelief in her voice.
            “What?” I stepped away from the sink, drying my hands on a tea towel. “What did you say?”
            “You hit me.” She raised one hand and rubbed at her cheek. The skin there was red.
            “I’ve been washing the dishes. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
            Her bottom lip was trembling; she was on the verge of breaking down. I could see it in her eyes.
            “Tell me what happened?”
            “Just then,” she said. “When I was walking into the hall, you hit me across the face, for no reason.”
            I took a step towards her; she took a step backwards, moving away from me, keeping the distance between us the same.
            “I…”
            “Just keep away, Brian. Keep back.” She raised both her hands in a defensive gesture.
            “Come on, Lisa. What’s going on?” I moved my own hands so that the palms were up: what I thought was a nonthreatening gesture.
            Suddenly, without warning, she slapped herself across the face. The sound was hard and flat, how I imagined a gunshot might be.
            I stood there in the bright little kitchen, staring at her and wondering if she’d gone insane. Thinking about what I should do next. The moment seemed to stretch beyond breaking point.
            “Bastard! Stop hitting me!” She turned away and ran out of the room.
            I followed her, unsure of what else I was supposed to do.
            Lisa stumbled and fell, going down heavily at the bottom of the stairs.
            “Stop it!” She was screaming. “Get off me!”
            I stood above her, my hands waving slowly in the air, making little circles in front of me. “Please…stop doing this.”
            She kept hitting herself about the face and neck, slapping and punching and scratching. Then, slowly and deliberately, she began to slam her face into the bottom step. There was blood on her mouth. I saw a couple of teeth on the carpet. She kept doing it, smashing her face against the edge of the step, turning her beautiful features into a bloody ruin.
            I was too afraid to touch her.
            Before long, the violence was reduced to a small, tired movement as she raised her head repeatedly and let it fall, smearing the damage against the step. Then, finally, it stopped altogether.
            I hadn’t raised a hand to help her; my confusion had rendered me immobile, useless. I fell to my knees and cradled her broken face in my lap.
            You…hit…me.” The words were barely words at all, just a series of gargled sounds pushed through her shattered teeth. Her eyes were empty. No, not empty: they were dead. There was nothing left alive in there. Briefly, something brushed against me; it felt like a light breeze ruffling me hair and tickling my skin. It passed into me and through me, leaving a trace of something behind. The air smelled of honeysuckle.
            After gently setting Lisa back down on the floor, I went and phoned an ambulance. I didn’t know what to tell them, so I said she’d suffered a bad fall. My mind felt as if it had been squeezed into a small box; my body was a suit of clothing that I’d borrowed from someone else. Everything felt wrong. I sat next to her until I heard the siren, and then a rapid, insistent knocking at the front door.
            The paramedics stood on the doorstep, looking at me. Two of them: a man and a woman. “What’s the trouble?” said the man, stepping forward. He had kind eyes. His face wore a look of genuine concern.
            Something clicked into place, a tiny mechanism I hadn’t even known existed. We never know what’s missing until it appears.
            He was the one. It was him; I knew it was. The bastard.
            He spoke again, confirming his guilt: “What’s happened here, sir?”
            I knew what to say. What needed to be done.
            “You hit me,” I said, rubbing my cheek where the pain was already burning through the shell of my skin, ready to hatch.
            Then, as hard as I possibly could, I punched myself in the face.


© Gary McMahon 2019

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Lists, lists, I love a good list, me...

If only to piss off people who don't like these kinds of lists, here are my top film, TV and book picks of 2018:

Favourite 10 films Released in 2018:

  1. Hereditary
  2. Leave No Trace
  3. A Prayer Before Dawn
  4. Roma
  5. Possum
  6. Suspiria
  7. Ghost Stories
  8. Hold the Dark
  9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  10. My Friend Dahmer/First reformed (joint)
Favourite 10 Films Watched for the First Time in 2018:

  1. 81/2
  2. L'Avventura
  3. The Duelists
  4. La Strada
  5. Los Olvidados
  6. Ivan's Childhood
  7. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgoisie
  8. L' Eclisse
  9. Mystery Road
(Interesting to note that none from the first list made the second list, and the second list are (all but one) foreign films.)

The best 5 books I read in 2018:

  1. The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
  2. Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez
  3. The Terror by Dan Simmons
  4. The Booking by Ramsey Campbell
  5. Ghost Story by Toby Litt
Top 3 TV Shows I watched in 2018:

  1. Channel Zero S3: Butcher's Block
  2. The Haunting of Hill House
  3. Mystery Road