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.


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.






Door


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


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Some Bruising May Occur

I'm delighted to announce that the well-respected US publisher Journalstone/Trepidatio will publish my next collection.

Some Bruising May Occur will be released in April 2020.

I'll update regarding details as and when I can.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

White Rabbit Story - July

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, but here's July's White Rabbit Story:



Lunch Date

He was waiting for me in the Arrivals enclosure, all bulging muscles and wearing a suit that was at least one size too small. His hair was cut short and his eyes were bright. He put me in mind of an over-eager puppy. I hate people who are too keen to please.
            “Mr Jones?” His voice grated on me; it was too high-pitched for his frame.
            “That’ll be me, I guess.” He smiled because he didn’t know what else to do, what else to say.
            “I assume you’re my driver?”
            He nodded. “I’m Tony. I’m to take you for your lunch and then wherever you’d like to go next.”
            Handing him my suitcase, I walked past him towards the exit. Already, I was bored of him.
            As we drove, he pointed out landmarks and I tried my best to ignore his dull commentary. I fiddled with my phone, re-reading old emails and sending a few texts to people who I’d promised to let know when I landed.
            The air-conditioning in the car was good. It cooled me down, dried the sweat off my brow and my back. Relaxing into the seat, I started to doze.
            “We’re here.” Tony was looking at me from the front seat, all teeth and perkiness. I wanted to shoot him in the face. “Everything has been arranged.”
            The backstreet luncheon club he’d brought me to was renowned for catering to a certain type of clientele. They came here from all over the world to satiate their hideous appetites for underage boys and girls. I got out of the car and approached the heavy steel door at the front of a bland brick building. When I knocked, a small hatch slid open and a woman’s face appeared.
            “My name is Jones. I have a lunch appointment.”
            The face smiled – or tried to. The hatch slid back shut and the door opened. I walked inside.
            Tony waited in the car with the engine running. It seemed he knew the score.
            The woman’s strange smile caved in when I hit her with the hammer. She smelled of greasy burgers. Her pain tasted of cooked meat. To me, it was not an unfamiliar flavour.
            I went through the club like a starving beast. Because it was daytime, there weren’t many customers inside. None of them put up much of a fight. I slit and shot and beat their flesh, smashed their bones, and piled the corpses high, inhaling through my mouth the beautiful energy I had released. It tasted good; my belly was filled. But when it was done, I was still hungry for more.
My own appetites are far stranger than those of the people who came here. Killing was my food and drink; slaughter my sustenance. By dining at places like this one, I could justify the carnage and make a bit of cash on the side.
I let most of the kids from the upstairs rooms out the back way and told them to never stop running until they got somewhere safe. Some of them are probably still running even now. Safety is an allusion, a lie we tell ourselves and each other. I know this: I am an apex predator. Nobody is safe from me.
The little girl I’d come for was in the last room I checked. She was sitting on an unmade bed wearing a white lace party dress. Her face was inexpertly smeared with make-up. I washed her face in the sink and led her downstairs. She didn’t say a word; they rarely did. If she ever spoke again, it would never be of this place and the things she’d been made to do here.
            Back in the car, Tony drove slowly away from the kerb.
            “Did you find what you were looking for, Mr Jones?” He stared at me in the rear-view mirror, no longer smiling.
            “It’ll do for now,” I said. “Until you find me a place that serves bigger portions.”
            Tony nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. This city caters for all tastes and her father is a very powerful man.”
            There was a black courier case on the floor near my feet. I knew it contained my previously-agreed fee. I glanced at the girl. She was staring out of the window, her body stiff and hunched.
            Outside, the sun continued to shine. The people on the streets continued their endless, oblivious dance towards the end of the world. I watched them all, still hungry.
The girl remained silent at my side. After a few moments, she reached out without looking at me and grabbed my hand. For a moment – just the smallest fraction of time – I felt almost human again.


© Gary McMahon 2019

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Fifty

This April I turned 50. Not a big event in the great scheme of things. Hardly even a great age these days, when we have a populace that is healthier than ever and expected to live longer. But, to me, it felt momentous.

But since my birthday I've been trying to make small positive changes in my life. Drinking less alcohol, working on my flexibility and my karate kata, meditating, reading more, attempting to write more...small things, little changes that, when I add them all up, should improve the quality of my life.

I'm currently working on a novelette titled A House With No Windows, and a novella called The Noble Rot. I've made a lot of hand-written notes, mostly with a fountain pen. It's nice to be working on paper again rather than directly onto a screen. It feels like I'm trying to connect with my younger self, the kid who wrote frantically, like a maniac, and never seemed to run short of ideas.

I've started sketching. I used to draw a lot when I was a child but once the writing took over I abandoned it. My father was an artist - a pretty good one, too - but a frustrated one. That frustration formed part of his problems. My own sketches are, in truth, a bit crap. But I don't care. That isn't the point. The point is that it makes me happy, and I'm slowly beginning to see an improvement in my technique. It seems to be helping my writing, too, the creativity fueling more creativity, which will hopefully help me power through the two above-mentioned projects.

This April I turned 50. Nothing much changed. Everything changed. I'm trying to change all the time; trying to improve in all the ways I can. I think that's a good thing. And in this life, we need to grab all the good things that come our way.