Saturday, September 3, 2022

White Rabbit Story: September.

 

Not A Place I Recognise

 

 I’m driving at night because it’s the best time to catch them. They like to stay in the shadows, the dark little sanctuaries that form after the sun goes down.

Several miles out of town, I finally find myself on a road I do not recognise. It’s more like a neglected track than a road: the pitted Tarmac is uneven; the verges are overgrown with weeds; the drainage channels behind the cracked kerbs are dried out and useless. This is exactly the kind of place I’ve been looking for.

I sense him before I see him, so I’m prepared for the sight of him walking in the middle of the road, shoulders hunched, feet dragging. He’s small, not much over five foot tall. He’s wearing a long coat, dark trousers, and big boots.

I slow down the car. I know he must be able to hear me but he doesn’t react, just keeps on walking. Finally, as I draw closer, he shifts at a diagonal to the side of the road, still walking at the same pace.

I slow right down as I come alongside him, sliding down the driver’s side window. The side of his face is pale and drawn. He looks young but tired.

“Need a lift?”

He doesn’t respond.

“I can take you a few miles up the road. There’s another town. You could probably find a ride with a trucker or a farmer there.”

He turns his face towards me. It’s a beautiful face, I can see that now. Like that of a Michelangelo sculpture. White and pristine and filled with a longing that is impossible to put into words.

“Yeah. Thanks.” His voice is normal. No accent. Nothing to make it distinct from any other voice one might hear.

I stop the car and wait as he walks round to the passenger side and opens the door. His clothing rustles softly against the upholstery as he slides onto the seat.

“I’m not going far,” he says, staring straight ahead. “Just looking for somewhere to stay.”

I push the accelerator and let the clutch pedal rise, moving slowly away.

“I have a place. I can offer you a bed for the night. No strings. Just one stranger helping another.”

“Thank you,” he says, his voice soft and quiet. “That would be good. It’s been a long time since I slept in a proper bed.”

I knew he would accept my offer. They always do. They think they’re the hunter and I’m the prey. They’re wrong, so very wrong, but they only find that out when it’s much too late to matter.

We don’t speak as I turn around and drive back to the cabin. It takes me a while to find the right road, but once I’m in a familiar spot I start to feel calm. Serene. I keep glancing at him but he doesn’t move, just keeps staring through the windscreen, at the dark and the road and whatever lies ahead. Making a good show of ignoring the small silver crucifix dangling from the rear-view mirror.

“We’re here,” I say as I pull up on the gravel outside the cabin. “My humble home.”

I get out of the car and walk towards the door, getting the keys out of my pocket. Behind me, the car door opens and then slams shut. Footsteps on the gravel. His presence at my back. For a moment, I almost flinch, expecting an attack, but then I remind myself that he doesn’t know anything and he’s biding his time, waiting until my guard has completely dropped before making his move. It’s how they operate: hit you when you least expect it.

I open the door and walk inside. He follows.

The door closes; I spin around, pulling the pistol from my inside coat pocket. I see him register momentary alarm, and then I move in, hitting him across the side of the face with the weapon. I think his cheekbone breaks. He stumbles, reaching out to grab the door frame, but I kick him in the knee and he goes down hard, face to the floor.

He’s still conscious as I strip him but he’s in too much pain to resist. Once he’s naked, I check his back, the curve of his spine. There are no signs there. His tailbone looks a little lumpen, the coccyx more pronounced than normal, but it’s still not what I expect to see. He’s hiding it well; this skinsuit is a good fit.

He struggles a little as I tie him to the wooden kitchen chair, but I’m easily strong enough to subdue him. His face is starting to bruise. His eyes are fogged. Once he’s securely tied, arms and legs bound against the chair, I walk across the room to the old chest of draws and take out the clippers.

“Please,” he says, but it’s barely audible, as if he realises it’s pointless to beg. Part of the act.

I return to his passive form and switch on the clippers. Rechargeable. No lead. Professional quality.

“Don’t move. It’ll be easier if you keep still.”

I start to shave the hair off his head. Blinking, he mumbles something, but I don’t listen.

Before long, his scalp is almost bare; just a fine layer of dark stubble remains. It’s enough for me to see, to find what I’ve been looking for.

They’re small, but they’re visible if you know what you’re looking for. Small nubs, sticking out barely an inch from the surface of his skull. It looks like at some point he might have tried to shave the horns down, or remove them entirely, but he couldn’t quite manage that last little bit of hard bone.

“I knew you were one of them.”

He stares at me. The expression on his face could be a smile or a grimace, I’m not sure which.

“Let me go,” he whispers. “I won’t tell anyone about this. You can trust me.”

I pause a moment before I speak. “De profundis clamo ad te domine.”

He begins to laugh, a low, deep chuckle; the sound of mocking. It’s all the proof I need.

It doesn’t take long. I use the short sword I keep in the bottom drawer of the dresser – the gun is only ever for show; it isn’t even loaded. The sword is a holy relic, meant for this task. When I found it buried in a field on the other side of town, it was rusty and worn yet still held the glow of something touched by grace. I cleaned it up and sharpened its edge.

Unlike some, he doesn’t make much of a fuss when the end comes. Just a whimper.

After cleaning up the blood and burying the body in the forest at the back of the cabin, I sit down on the tiny porch and drink a cold beer. It tastes good. It tastes…holy, somehow, like wine from His table.

The moon is full and bright, the stars are small and insignificant, punctuation points in the black sheet of sky. It’s still early. There’s time enough left for me to go out again. To see if I can get lucky twice in one night.

I know where they are, the places they like to wander. I hunt them on the lonely roads and byways, in the empty plots and forgotten edgelands.

All the lost and blighted places.

I’m the last thing they expect to encounter on a cool, dark night. The final thing they see as I end their bloody reign upon this earth.

I am the Good Shepherd, doing God’s dirty work. His servants – just like his enemies – must never sleep.

I am the road less travelled. I am the sword in His hand.

From out of the depths, I cry unto thee…

I finish my beer and lock the cabin door. Climb into the car and pick a route at random. I’m driving at night again, because it’s the best time to catch them. I plan to keep driving until this is no longer a place I recognise.

 

© Gary McMahon, 2022

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Handmaids and Glory Holes

Not a lot of writing activity to report this week, I'm afraid. I'm still working on the new novella but at the minute it's all about the thinking and note-taking phase rather than the actual writing. But, as we know, that's still classed as writing because it's part of the process - and my process almost always involves a hell of a lot of thinking and prodding ideas with a stick before I get much of anything down on the page.

Over the past few days I've binge-watched the last few episodes of The Handmaid's Tale Season 4. As always, it was brilliant - powerful, heart-wrenching, and incredibly bleak. I found this season so downbeat, in fact, that it affected my mood all week. If you can take it, this remains the most powerful show on television. I think it's a masterpiece.

I also caught a great little indie horror flick on Shudder. It's called Glorious, and despite the limitations of a low budget, it's a very ambitious piece of work. Set in a public toilet, it's about a man who meets a god and what happens when the god asks him for a favour...

There's a good mix of black humour and cosmic horror, tied together by a tight script and some great performances. Highly recommended.

The trailer can be viewed on YouTube: 




Saturday, August 20, 2022

Peking Men & Pallbearers

This is the first of what I hope will be a weekly update, just to get me blogging again. 


  • Writing

As usual, I'm up and down with the writing. The sense of urgency that used to grip me is simply no longer there, and I've come to terms with that. So instead of writing obsessively, as if my life depended upon it, I've begun to write only if and when the mood takes me. Writing isn't my job; I no longer want to treat it like one. Instead, I'm using it as an outlet for my anxieties - which it always was, anyway.

This week I made some notes and got down a few hundred words on a new project, initially titled Smackmouth. It's a proposed novella about a young man returning to his childhood home to confront his personal demons. I know this is a common (and even cliched) theme in horror - it's also been a common theme in my own work ever since I first started writing seriously - but I really don't give a fuck. I'm just going to write it and see what kind of darkness is dredged up from my depths.

This project - if I complete it -  will feature some elements of northern folk horror, a little home-made magic, and some body horror. I feel positive about it but I'm also aware that over the past few months I've started several projects only to see them wither on the vine. We'll see. We'll see.

  • Viewing

I've been unwell this week so haven't been to karate classes so my evenings have been spent watching films and TV shows. 

Earlier this week I binge-watched The Sandman on Netflix. I've not read the comics so I came to this cold. I thought it was rather hit and miss but overall I enjoyed it - with some reservations. It was a bit "Dr Who-ish" for my tastes, and parts of it were downright cringey (as my teenage son would say). I also felt that it was trying too hard to not offend anyone and kept falling over itself to appeal to all-comers, so, to me, it felt far too safe...or perhaps safe isn't the right word: virtuous, maybe, or reverent? I imagine the comics are much more grungy and irreverent.

Midweek I re-watched an old favourite, John Cassavetes' Gloria. Gene Rowlands is glorious in this, and the film is a love letter to New York in the early 80s. Wonderful.

I'm slowly working my way through the brilliant Arrow bluray box set, ShawScope Volume 1. It's a sheer joy. Last night I watched The Mighty Peking Man, a film I'd wanted to see since I was a kid. It was a delight. An unparalleled work of mediocrity. One of the best worst films I've ever seen, up there with Food of the Gods, The Giant Spider Invasion, and Empire of the Ants

ShawScope Volume 2 has just been announced. I put in my pre-order two days ago.


  • Reading

I'm still working my way through Paul Tremblay's The Pallbearer's Club. I'm enjoying it immensely and looking forward to seeing where the story takes me. 

I'm also still working through Steve Toase's short story collection, To Drown in Dark Water. So far, it's a solid read.

  • General

For some reason. my mind is currently drawn to cold things. Endless stretches of barren tundra, looming white mountains of ice, the stirring of something desolate, tired giants moving slowly through the black depths beneath the ice cap. I have an urge to re-read At the Mountains of Madness. Icebergs gather in the ocean of my dreams. Part of me feels as if there's a story idea building. For many years now, I've wanted to write a horror story set in the icy Arctic wastes. Maybe it's coming. 


Thursday, August 18, 2022

White Rabbit Story: August

 

Ascendant

 

Rainer had no idea what he was doing in the little church.

It was as if he’d fallen asleep somewhere else and then woken up here, dressed as a vicar, standing in front of this small, eager congregation.

            The people sat on the pews and stared at him, expecting him to begin a sermon. He didn’t know what to say. He was not a religious man – in fact, he rarely ever thought about things like faith and belief.

            He tried to think what it was he did for a living, but drew a blank. All he knew was his name, and that he was standing here.

            Faces shone with expectancy. He smiled. The stone walls of the church looked cold and damp. It was a tiny building, not much more than a single room with pews and an altar; he was standing behind the altar, lost and confused.

            Not knowing what else to do, he turned around to face the wall behind him.

            But it wasn’t a wall; it was a window. A stained-glass representation of angels ascending towards a blazing star. Hundreds of them, with gossamer wings and holding golden spears. Their faces were upturned, bathed in the glorious light emanating from the star.

            It was beautiful.

            When he turned back to face the congregation, the church was empty. Dust and cobwebs lay piled in the aisles, and on top of the seats. Bibles and pamphlets lay torn and scattered like the detritus of a disaster.

            From behind him, Rainer heard the fluttering of wings, as if a million birds had suddenly taken flight at once. The sound was deafening, and it was glorious.

            Then, around him, the church walls began to crumble. The windows shattered, piercing his skin with shards of painted glass. The church roof came off, as if ripped away by a hurricane. This all happened to the accompanying sound of beating wings: a soundtrack which drowned out all other sounds.

            He looked up, at the near-blinding light of the star above him; held in its fierce light, he saw the army of angels rising upwards, holding their spears. Because of him, they had been freed from the stained-glass prison to finally finish their ascension. One of them turned its golden head to look at him. It bore Rainer’s own face, but washed in a light so bright that its skin was translucent.

            Now he knew why he was here, and he didn’t want to leave. His feet started to rise from the floor; he was hovering inches above the cold stone. This was it. He was about to join them. Everything would be fixed.

Rainer smiled, so close to understanding everything that the distance between here and there was meaningless.

The angel smiled back at him; but the smile became a snarl.

Then, as one, all the terrible angels drew back their arms and threw down their spears, the sharp, silvered tips tearing him apart like a sack of meat. Sending him back where he belonged, so that they might raid the dreaming-lands above, with no mortal remaining to witness the horror of their infinite savagery.

 

*

When Rainer awoke from the dream, his eyes remained unfocused for several minutes. He blinked, rubbed at them with the heels of his hands, and waited for his vision to clear.

            There was a stone angel sitting in the chair at the end of the bed. Its huge bulk shifted as he watched, accompanied by the grinding of stone as its furled wings flexed.

            “Who are you?”

            “I’m your guardian,” said the angel, its voice like gravel being mixed in a steel hopper. “I’m here to watch over you.”

            Rainer got out of bed and approached the angel, aware that he was naked but not really caring. Surely an angel wouldn’t be offended by nudity?

            “What do you want?”

            “To serve you.”

            “Why me? Why now?”

            “Because I am yours and you are mine. Your dream was a spell to summon me.”

            When it stood, the angel’s stone arms brushed against the walls, scraping off the plaster; its enormous head crushed the ceiling, causing wide cracks to appear. A fine white dust drifted down and covered its shoulders.

            Rainer looked down at himself. At the wounds on his body, healing now, forming scar tissue across his entire torso. After being broken apart by the spears, how on earth had it been able to come together again, and so quickly?

            The scars were edged with gold; pale light bled from them, illuminating his flesh.

            “Are you really here to serve me?” he asked, afraid of the answer.

            “Of course not,” said the angel, grinning, bringing down its mighty stone fists to grab him and lift him high, smashing through the roof of the house to offer him up to the sky, and the light. “My mistake. What I meant to say was, I’ve come to save you.”

            Rainer was filled with elation.

At last, he was truly ascending. Guided by this strange entity, he would finally take flight and achieve some form of enlightenment.

If only it would stop squeezing him so tightly…and why did it grin so broadly?

 

© Gary McMahon, 2022

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Pointless Update...

Day job stuff: I'm back in the office three days a week. 

I changed jobs during the first lock-down, so I've basically been working from home for over two years. It's tough adjusting. Getting up early. Wearing big-boy clothes. Interacting with colleagues. Driving to and from the office. But at least it's only three days a week; for the other two days, I get to sit at the computer in my shorts and flip flops, scratching my balls when I'm on a Teams call.

I've tidied up this website. Removed some stuff to make it more like a blog. I might go further and really freshen it up, but I probably won't because I'm lazy when it comes to technology.

Oh, I've started working on short stories again, and - more importantly - submitting them to fiction markets. Hopefully I'll get into some kind of routine again with the writing and start to feel like a proper writer again. Despite my various (and boring) creative droughts over the past few years, I do miss it when I'm unable to write regularly. It feels like that creative part of me - whatever organ it is that makes me put pen to paper, or fingers to keys - has shrivelled up and is just hanging there, a limp dick awaiting some kind of stimuli.

Maybe that's it...perhaps the creative drive is like the libido, and sometimes we need to give it a little blue pill to get it going. 

Where am I even going with this? I have no idea. Just random thoughts I felt I'd share with the void as I try to get back into the habit of updating this blog on at least a semi-regular basis.

Pay me no heed. I'm just a typing fool.






Saturday, July 2, 2022

White Rabbit Story: July

 Wide, Sweet Eyes


It didn't happen the way they say it did in the newspapers and on the local news programme. Not really. It happened like this:

A small group of us had been day drinking. Hiking around town and hitting every decent bar we could find, necking ales for the first few hours and then, when we felt bloated, moving onto the shorts. The Whisky had made me weary so I decided to leave. 

I staggered out of the bar - I don't recall which - and across the road to a taxi rank with a single car. It was still early evening so there was nobody queuing. I climbed into the taxi and told the driver my address. He nodded, flicked on the meter, and pulled away, joining the one-way system that would take us to the ring road, then the bypass, and home. The radio was playing softly. Weird music that might have been jazz.

"And she didn't even cry," he said, as if we'd been in the middle of a conversation and he was resuming the chat. "No matter what I did, she never shed one tear."

I glanced at him in the rear-view mirror: a thin face, ace scars on both cheeks, short black hair, dark eyes with slightly less dark smudges beneath.

"She didn't speak either. Not a word the whole damn time."

I realised that he'd forgotten I was there. He was talking to himself; a sad, strange monologue. I wanted to get out of the car. Right there and then. In the middle of the busy ring road. I didn't want to hear any more. But he kept on talking, and it was as if his words were physically pressing me against the seat, trapping me there. Binding me in place until I heard what he so desperately needed to say.

"I wanted her to tell me to stop but she didn't. She just stared at me the whole time with those wide, sweet eyes and I felt like I couldn't stop what was coming. It was beyond my control. There was nothing I could do but let it happen."

He drove carefully, if a little far over to the right, not speeding, not making any erratic manoeuvres. Just cruising. Hugging the white line. The exit for the bypass was just up ahead; our journey was almost done.

"She's a small girl so she fit inside the car boot easily. I didn't have to cut her up. Not this one."

I closed my eyes. I didn't want to know this. Not any of it. When I opened them again, we were entering my street. He pulled up at the kerb and sat there, saying nothing else. 

Fumbling for the door handle, I stared at the back of his head. It was damp with sweat. His shoulders were shaking. When the door popped open, I almost fell out of it and into the road. As I walked slowly around the back of the vehicle, staring in horror at the lock on the boot, he pulled slowly away. He hadn't even asked for the fare.

I called the police on my mobile. They arrived quickly. No siren. I told them exactly what had happened and then went inside, where I made a cup of strong tea and sat staring at the wall while it went cold, trying not to scream.

A couple of days later a police constable called by to check my statement and give me a brief update. 

She said they'd caught the man a mile or two from my house. He'd parked outside a carpet shop and sat weeping, his hands still gripping the steering wheel. He kept crying while the police car pulled up in front of his taxi. When the officers checked the car boot, there was nobody inside. They did find some spots of blood but when they passed the DNA through the system, they got zero hits regarding an identity.

Whoever she is, she's still out there, either injured or dead. I often think about her. Who she is, or was. Whether that maniac killed her, or if he let her go. She comes to me in my dreams, with her big, kind eyes and her forever open arms. She's bleeding, always bleeding, but she never cries.

                                    

                                                                                                                               © Gary McMahon, 2022


Sunday, May 8, 2022

Extract


 

Charles stared into the darkness, at the dim outline of the tall trees and low bushes. A figure detached itself from the darker mass of the foliage. Then another. And another. More of them, stepping forward into the clearing.

          There were men and women. They were dressed in formal wear: dark suits and ball gowns. Some of them had flashlights, which they switched on. Most of them were carrying hunting rifles. Their faces were covered with masks depicting the faces of well-known actors and actresses, politicians, famous musicians, and some that he didn’t recognise but assumed were celebrities of some sort.

          Charles held up his hands in a placatory gesture and started to back away. “I’m sorry…I’m lost. I don’t want any trouble.”

          One of the figures snorted like a pig, someone else giggled, and several others grunted in a guttural, wordless manner.

          They were all moving forward, coming towards him.

          Charles turned and ran.


(an extract from "After the Reading")



THIS ISN'T ANYWHERE YOU KNOW


a collection of short stories available to preorder now from Black Shuck Books: