Wednesday, May 1, 2019

White Rabbit Story - May

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 May's White Rabbit Story:

In Our Town

Somewhere in our town – I won’t say where – there is a small, abandoned one-storey house. The windows are boarded. The doors are sealed shut. At the back of the house there is a tree, and beneath that tree there is a pit covered by a sheet of corrugated steel.
            Lift the steel sheet and lower yourself into the pit, and you will find a stairway carved out of the hard earth. That stairway leads down and around, under the foundations of the house.
            Follow the passage and you will end up directly beneath the house, in a large, hollow chamber with a low roof though which the bottom side of the concrete foundations of the house protrude. The chamber is lit by torches set in shallow alcoves around the walls. Those torches never go out, but nobody ever lights them.
            In this chamber, right at the centre in fact, there is a large black box. The box is made of timber, painted and lacquered. It glistens in the gloom. A master craftsman constructed the box; he carved it by hand from the oldest tree in the forest on the outskirts of our town.
We are very proud of our craftsmen.
            Inside the box there is a key. The key opens a lock that will only appear when the key is taken out of the box.
            The lock is in a door. The door was carved from the same wood as the box; it is painted and lacquered in the same way as the box. It glistens in the same way in the light of those undying torches.
            Behind the door there is a child. Nobody can remember if the child is a boy or a girl. The child has been there too long for anyone to remember, and over time its appearance has altered so much that gender is impossible to assign.
            The child is silent. It is blind and mute and deaf; its eyes, mouth, ears have fused shut.
            The child must eat once a year, but it is always hungry.
            The child feeds in its own strange way.
            We, the town councillors, provide what is needed.
            We, the lawmakers, send people like you to the house, to the pit, to the chamber, and, finally, into the room.
            You are the food that the child needs so that our town will continue to thrive.
            You are the food. The drink. The sustenance.
            You, or someone just like you.
A lone traveller lost on the road outside our town.
A camper who wandered off the path in the hills or in the deep, dark woods that border our town.
A salesman whose products we didn’t want or need.
A teenage runaway.
A rough-sleeper looking for a quiet little town like this one to lay his head.
Here, take this map – the route is drawn upon it in blood.
It will show you the way. 

© Gary McMahon 2019

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

White Rabbit Story - April

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 Aprils White Rabbit Story:

Hands On

We were standing in the drizzle at the corner of Tallow Street and Grand when she casually put her hand on my leg. Gently, she touched my right thigh. It was an intimate gesture, but she was like that. A little bit touchy-feely.
            I smiled and carried on talking – I don’t remember what the conversation was about, only that it was about something. Small talk at the end of a long day.
            As we parted company, she leaned in close and whispered something in my ear that I couldn’t quite make out. The noise from passing traffic drowned it out, and I’m pretty sure she spoke the words in a foreign language anyway, one I’d never encountered before.
            For a moment, I watched her as she faded into the light rain.
            I was in no rush to get home, so I called into a local pub and ordered a beer. People stared at me as I stood at the bar. Nobody spoke to me. I felt excluded from a joke whose punchline had been delivered badly and caused an uncomfortable atmosphere.
            I finished my drink and left the place, heading back to my small apartment by the canal. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary until I got inside and took off my coat.
            It was still there. Her hand. Still resting on my thigh, holding on gently but firmly enough not to lose its grip with her long, pale fingers.
            The hand had not been severed; the wrist ended in a neat, smooth nub of flesh, like that of a healed amputee. I’m pretty sure she’d been in possession of both her hands when she’d walked away from me at the junction. I’m certain she’d waved at me with the hand that was now attached to my leg – the left one, if that made any difference.
            When I touched the hand, it twitched. The fingers tensed. The stubby wrist jiggled slightly.
            I had to cut off my jeans to get undressed. By now I could barely feel the hand gripping me, but it was holding on so tightly that I was unable to pull it away, no matter how hard I tried.
            I took a shower. I even washed the hand. Shock must have set in by then because I don’t remember feeling any emotions. I simply accepted what was happening to me. What the hell else was I supposed to do?
            That night, I slept on my back and tried not to disturb the hand. I wasn’t sure if it was asleep or awake – or even if it recognised such notions – but I didn’t want to take any chances. It was like a huge spider clinging to my flesh.
            The next day, I went looking for her, but nobody knew where she was. She’d ghosted out of my life and left me with a permanent reminder of her presence. I barely even knew her; she was just someone I often spoke to on my way home from work, passing a few pleasant, if forgettable, minutes at the end of the working day. I didn’t even know her name.
            After that, I stayed home a lot. I started wearing baggy trousers and jogging bottoms as I slouched in defeat through the lonely rooms of my apartment. I avoided all human contact. Had my food delivered and only ever talked online. The only touch I experienced was one I’d never asked for. It didn’t seem fair: I was being singled out for no reason.
            I never saw her again. But I feel her through that phantom limb. I feel her every day.

© Gary McMahon 2019


At Home in the Shadows is officially released on the 11th of this month - that's twelve days before my 50th birthday. It's my first book release for a while, so I thought I'd do a blog entry about the stories in this "mini-collection" to help publicise it.

Text Found on a Defunct Webpage story is a short ditty; a tongue-in-cheek warning about the games estate agent's often play.

The next two stories - The Chair and The Table - are linked by the main character, a young man afflicted with psychological problems and a troubled family life - and haunted by a darkness that somehow finds ways to express itself through seemingly innocuous items of furniture.

The last two stories are brand new, and have never been published before.

On the Walls links to The Chair and The Table by virtue of a connection with the protagonist of those two tales. It's a very personal piece about mental breakdown, family secrets, and the way that houses can sometimes store bad energy from the past and turn it into something even more harmful. I think it's one of the best things I've ever written.

Open House was written after my wife and I went through the interminable process of viewing houses before we finally bought our current (and hopefully forever) home.

Order now direct from the publisher via this link: Black Shuck Books

Or through Amazon

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Story Sales

So I've sold a couple of new stories.

The first one is for a long-in-gestation anthology that I think is to be titled The Porcupine Boy & Other Anthological Oddities (that's what it says in the contract, anyway).

The story I wrote for this one is called Outside. It's a piece I first attempted several years ago, and then put it aside because it didn't feel as if I'd quite achieved what I wanted to. When I was thinking about an idea for this project, I took another look at the story and something clicked - I rewrote it, and managed to get it right this time. The story is about urban dread and paranoia.

The second story is a reprint of Strange Scenes from an Unfinished Film, which will appear in Nightmare Magazine.

In other news, a UK small press whose work I admire is looking at my new short story collection - provisionally titled Some Bruising May Occur. I'm pretty excited about this, and if they take it on it'll be my first collection since 2013.

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:


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.