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
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

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The White Rabbit Stories

Over the next twelve months, as a kind of literary experiment (and a useful writing prompt for me as I continue to put distance between myself at the creative block that's plagued me for over two years) I plan to publish a new piece of flash fiction during the first week of every month.

I've actually already done this three or four times, without really having any sense of direction regarding the process. But these fragments have now revealed themselves to be "The White Rabbit Stories" - very short pieces, usually written in a single draft, often during my lunch hour at the day job. These tales are either too short or too obscure to submit anywhere for publication, so they'll have a home here, where such things probably belong.

The next White Rabbit Story will appear at some point during the first week in January.




Monday, December 3, 2018

December again...


WHITE RABBIT


It was a strange time for us, made even stranger when my wife brought home the rabbit. She arrived home from work trailing it behind her on a little dog leash. The rabbit was perfectly white with dark eyes. It was small and chubby. Some people might have called it cute.
            “What’s that?” I said.
            “A rabbit.” She shut the door. The rabbit hopped lazily to the centre of the room and sat down.
            “I can see that. But what are you doing with it?”
            “I found it at the side of the road, near the Ridley roundabout. I couldn’t just leave it there.”
            I looked at the rabbit. The rabbit looked at me.
            “Hello,” said the rabbit.
            The most surprising thing to me is that I wasn’t surprised when the rabbit spoke.
            “Hi,” I said.
            “My name’s Mike.” Its little black nose twitched.
            I sat down on the sofa and stared.
            “Thank you for letting me stay here,” said the rabbit. “I need somewhere to rest up, just to get my shit together. It’s been an exhausting week.”
            “I…that’s fine.” I didn’t know what else to say.
            The rabbit hopped to the bottom of the stairs, and then hopped up them. “Goodnight,” it called back to us.
            “Goodnight, Mike.”
            When the rabbit was out of sight, I turned to my wife. “What the fuck?”
            “I know,” she said, taking off her coat. “Pretty cool, eh?” She’d had her hair cut short the previous week. I didn’t like it. The style made her features seem larger than they really were.
            Later that night, went I went up to bed, the rabbit was lying on top of the duvet on my side of the bed. My wife was reading a book, one hand idly stroking the rabbit’s ears.
            “Hi,” said the rabbit. “I hope you don’t mind. I get scared when I’m alone.”
            I slipped gently into bed; the rabbit adjusted its position to accommodate me but clearly didn’t like doing so.
            “Sorry,” I said, unsure of why I was apologising.
            I didn’t sleep well that night. I kept waking up to see the rabbit staring at me, its nose twitching, its black eyes unblinking. “Go back to sleep,” it said, one time. “I’ll take care of her,” it said another time. I remember it sitting at one point on my wife’s chest, massaging her breastbone the way cats will do sometimes.
            The next morning, after my wife had gone to work, I cornered the rabbit in the kitchen.
            “Mike, you and I need to talk.” I felt vaguely absurd.
            “What’s wrong?” it said.
            “I don’t want you here.”
            The rabbit sat up on its rear legs. “Your wife does. She likes me. She loves to stroke my ears.” If a rabbit can smile, then this rabbit did so.
            There was something lascivious in the way it said those words; I didn’t like the rabbit’s tone.
            “I don’t like your tone,” I said, confirming it to myself.
            “Tough shit,” said the rabbit.
            “You shouldn’t be here.” I took a step closer to the rabbit. “I don’t want you in my house.”
            The rabbit shrugged its small shoulders and turned its handsome head to the side, dismissing me. As if I didn’t matter.
            That sealed the deal.
            In one smooth move, I bent down and picked up the rabbit; I used my left hand to grip it by the throat and my right hand to twist its head and snap its neck. The sound this made was horrible: a single loud crunch.
The rabbit hung lifeless in my hands. Its dead eyes accused me of things I couldn’t even understand. Its white fur was the purest, most beautiful thing I had ever touched. I wept for a while, and then I calmly skinned the rabbit over the sink. I’d grown up on a farm, so I knew how to do such things. Some memories never leave you; some physical acts become hard-wired in your body, like muscle memory.
The waste went into a carrier bag, which I sealed and put in the black wheelybin outside the front door. The now naked rabbit I wrapped in cellophane and placed on a shelf in the fridge.
After I’d cleaned up the mess, I poured myself a glass of whisky. The good stuff. The bottle a friend had bought me last Christmas. When I’d finished the drink, I got to work in the kitchen.
            When my wife came home from the office, I served up the dinner I’d spent the afternoon cooking. Halfway through the meal, she put down her knife and fork and smiled at me. The smile was enigmatic. I wished that I could read it, but I didn’t have the right tools for the job. I bet the rabbit would have understood what it meant.
“This is a tasty rabbit,” she said.
            I smiled. My eyes were filled with tears.


©Gary McMahon 2018

Monday, November 26, 2018

Tribe

I've never been a big "joiner". I tend to shy away from clubs and cliques, and am prone to circle such things like a shark - keeping a little distance, skimming at the edges. I deflect this stuff with humour, and a kind of staged cynicism.

Whenever people go on about "their tribe" and "the community", I inwardly cringe. I'm not sure why this is; possibly something embedded from my childhood, something deep inside.

But this weekend, at Sledge Lit, an annual genre convention in Derby, I realised that, however much I object to the concept, the people I was with are my tribe. My people. I'd go to the wall for a lot of them. They enrich my life - they really do.

So thanks to everyone I spent time with over the weekend. To everyone who listened to me bullshit my way through a panel or crack bad jokes as I hosted the raffle. Old friends. New friends. Casual acquaintances. There are too many people to list here, but you all mean a lot to me.

And here's a photo of me and that Sarah Pinborough hosting said raffle, accompanied by a grumpy little Christmas fairy:




Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Homespun

Currently I'm doing the final edits on the five stories that will comprise my forthcoming "mini collection" AT HOME IN THE SHADOWS.

I'll make an official announcement about this at the appropriate time, but for now I'm rather excited about because it's got me writing regularly again.

Three of the stories have been published before, in slightly different forms, and two of them (the lengthier pieces) are brand new, and were written specifically for this project.

Three of the tales are loosely connected, but they all share a theme: home, or houses, or domesticity. I've been calling them my "domestic sequence".

Home.

It’s a funny word, isn’t it? Use it in one context, and it suggests safety and security; family. But use it in another context, and it becomes unwelcoming, even a little disturbing.

“I’m tired, so I’m going home.

“She went mad, so they put her in a home.”

See what I mean?

As a horror writer, I’m attracted to such conflicting meanings. I also like to look for the darkness that sits at the heart of the familiar, the welcoming, and in this case the homely.

That’s what I set out to do in this sequence of stories: dig until I found the horror at the heart of the domestic. The terror that dwells within the spaces in the places we call home.



Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Island

A long time ago, a ship went down in the middle of a vast ocean. The lone survivor of this wreck was washed up on the shore of an uninhabited island. He walked into the forest and, knowing a little about survival, he built a shelter among the trees. It took him several days to construct, and during that time he ate fish that he caught from the sea and fruit from the nearby trees.

One night a storm came and destroyed his shelter. So he started again. He rebuilt what had been torn down, taking his time, trying to make it even stronger this time. He continued to take the fish from the sea and gather the fruit from the trees, and even set traps for small animals in the forest.

Weeks later, another storm came and his new shelter was destroyed. So he built a new one, even stronger this time - spending weeks rather than days to make sure it would withstand the storms.

Years passed. He ate. he slept. He walked the beach, looking for ships that never came. A great storm arrived, lashing the island with rain and hail and vicious waves from the sea. This third shelter took a lot of damage. Once the storm had passed, not much of it remained. But the man survived. So he started again.

More years passed, and the man was dying of a fever. He lay on his bed in this final shelter - one that had lasted all this time - and he thought about his life, what it had become; he looked back on his time here, on this island. He had never married. Nor had he fathered children. He had been in the prime of his life when he came ashore here, and now that life was almost over.

The man decided that he did not have any regrets. He had worked hard for what little he had, and once he was gone the island would once again be uninhabited. He would become part of the island, absorbed by it. His flesh and bones would feed the island. His ghost would walk the beach and look out to sea, watching the distant horizon. No ships would come. They never did. But it was enough that he had existed here, upon this small patch of land, and that his life had made but a small dent in the fabric of things before fading away.

He died. He rotted. The shelter stood for two decades more, and then was torn down in yet another huge storm. The wood was washed away. The man's ghost eventually faded.

Then one day, a ship came. Men came ashore and walked the beach, entered the forest. they kicked through the scant remains of the man's shelter and wondered who had lived here, making their home in such a desolate place. When they left, their footprints faded into the wet sand.

The island continued to exist, until one day it awoke from its slumber, rolled, and dived beneath the surface like a great whale, going deep, returning to a cool, dark place it could barely even remember, even during the long dream from which it had emerged.