David McGroarty

Writer of strange stories

Category: Uncategorised (Page 1 of 2)

The Brambles in Nightscript


My story, The Brambles, will feature in volume V of Nightscript, the annual anthology of strange fiction edited by C.M. Muller.

There are some top names alongside mine in the table of contents, if you like strange stories. It’s going to be ace.

Here it is in full:

Mother Sylvia — Patricia Lillie
The Brambles — David McGroarty
American House Spider — Shannon Scott
The Plague Victim — Samuel M. Moss
Sometimes We’re Cruel — J.A.W. McCarthy
The Orchard — Sean Logan
Mr. and Mrs. Kett — Sam Hicks
Jason’s in the Garden — Simon Strantzas
The Parchment Thief — M.K. Anderson
The Border — Dan Stintzi
Sin Deep — Tracy Fahey
Paradise Point — M.R. Cosby
The Surgeon — Mary Portser
The Surrey Alterations — Charles Wilkinson
Eternal Roots of Lane County — J.C. Raye
Wed — Brady Golden
The Valley — Casilda Ferrante
Sitting Shiver — Adam Meyer
One For the Wolf — M. Lopes da Silva

Nightscript V is due on October 1.


A World of Horror – Table of Contents


I realised I was a bit remiss in not posting the table of contents for A World of Horror. Here it is. Some brilliant people in there.

  • Introduction: Diversity in Fiction by Eric J. Guignard
  • Mutshidzi by Mohale Mashigo (South Africa)
  • One Last Wayang by L Chan (Singapore)
  • Things I Do For Love by Nadia Bulkin (Indonesia)
  • On a Wooden Plate, On a Winter’s Night by David Nickle (Canada)
  • Country Boy by Billie Sue Mosiman (United States of America)
  • The Wife Who Didn’t Eat by Thersa Matsuura (Japan)
  • The Disappeared by Kristine Ong Muslim (Philippines)
  • The Secret Life of the Unclaimed by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (Nigeria)
  • How Alfred Nobel Got His Mojo by Johannes Pinter (Sweden)
  • Sick Cats in Small Spaces by Kaaron Warren (Australia)
  • Obibi by Dilman Dila (Uganda)
  • The Nightmare by Rhea Daniel (India)
  • Chemirocha by Charlie Human (South Africa)
  • Honey by Valya Dudycz Lupescu (Ukraine)
  • Warning: Flammable, See Back Label by Marcia Douglas (Jamaica)
  • Arlecchino by Carla Negrini (Italy)
  • The Man at Table Nine by Ray Cluley (England)
  • The Mantle of Flesh by Ashlee Scheuerman (Australia)
  • The Shadows of Saint Urban by Claudio Foti (Italy)
  • Warashi’s Grip by Yukimi Ogawa (Japan)
  • The White Monkey by Carlos Orsi (Brazil)
  • The West Wind by David McGroarty (Scotland)
  • Illustrations by Steve Lines

Did I mention this was the first thing I ever had illustrated? And it looks great too.

Here’s the link again, to save you scrolling down.

A World of Horror



I should have done this a couple of months ago, but there’s an anthology called A World of Horror, from Dark Moon books and edited by Eric J Guignard. It has a story of mine in it, but much more interestingly it has lots of stories from writers representing countries and cultures from around the world. Basically, this means wherever you’re from you’re likely to find something new in there – a lesser-known mythology, a different point of view. The good stuff.

For my entry, The West Wind, I’ve tried to bring a little bit of Celtic folklore to bear on my characteristic wistful melancholy. It’s a return to the magical landscapes of the West coast of Scotland, a place that really feels like the end of the Earth when the weather is right. I was so chuffed to have been asked to contribute, and I’m really proud to be part of this.

You can buy the book here.

Craig Shee in The Five Senses of Horror


My story, The Impression of Craig Shee, will be appearing in a new anthology called The Five Senses of Horror, due out in April from editor Eric J. Guignard.

This is a really cool project, and one which puts me in very prestigious company. Short stories include:

  • Heading Home by Ramsey Campbell (sense of touch)
  • Soft by Darrell Schweitzer (sense of touch)
  •  Feel the Noise by Lisa Morton (sense of touch)
  • In the Cave of the Delicate Singers by Lucy Taylor (sense of sound)
  • Sounds by Kathryn Ptacek (sense of sound)
  • Malleus, Incus, Stapes by Sarah Totton (sense of sound)
  • His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood by Poppy Z. Brite (sense of taste)
  • Cassilago’s Wife by Sarah Singleton (sense of taste)
  • Sweet Subtleties by Lisa L. Hannett (sense of taste)
  • The Beholder by Richard Christian Matheson (sense of sight)
  • In the Porches of My Ears by Norman Prentiss (sense of sight)
  • The Impression of Craig Shee by David McGroarty (sense of sight)
  • Shem-el-Nessim: An Inspiration in Perfume by Chris Bell (sense of smell)
  • The Scent by John F.D. Taff (sense of smell)
  • The Odor of Violets by John Farris (sense of smell)

Plus, there’s non-fiction from psychologist Erika Price and original art from  Nils Broß.

I’m really excited about this. It’s due out in April.

There’s more – including cover art – at Eric’s blog.

McBirdy lives on

Car park at night

I haven’t posted much lately because I haven’t had much to post. I had a bit of a dry year in 2015 as far as writing goes, but am now fully back in the flow with a couple of pieces looking for a home and another on the way.

Anyway. News.

I was chuffed, thrilled and flabbergasted to see that Ellen Datlow has given an honourable mention to my story McBirdy in her Best Horror of the Year Volume 8. Seeing my name on the same list as Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Aickman is something I can’t get used to and I’m not sure I ever will. Well flattered.

This caps off a very nice little life for McBirdy. Des Lewis called the story ‘deeply disturbing’, saying it ‘gives a dark obsessive coda to this wonderfully cohesive anthology’. Risingshadow.net commented on the ‘disturbing’ ending, saying McBirdy is an ‘excellent and memorable’ story. Ellen Datlow, writing on the SFEditorsPicks Twitter account, also described the story as ‘a disturbing tale’. (I think people found it disturbing.) And Peter Tennant in Black Static had this to say: ‘It is a story in which the outré elements barely impinge and yet are central to the story, one in which nothing supernatural takes place and yet the whole is imbued with a sense of the weird.’

You can still buy Strange Tales V direct from Tartarus Press.


I failed to get this into a WWI anthology and it’s been sitting in a drawer – virtual drawer, I suppose – for a year without me doing nothing with it, so I thought it’s probably time I set it free.

Americans in World War I (8)


The fighting was half a year over, it was spring, and like the saplings that had started to appear amid the wreckage of the forest, the world as it used to be was beginning to break in small ways through the layers of dirt and ash. Jonas Welby, a Lieutenant in the 116th Labour Corps, stood at the foot of a sloping field where the northern edge of the Moué wood had once been, gazing up the slope, shielding his eyes. A little French girl had come from nowhere, skipped along the ridge of the hill in silhouette: a shadow puppet in her long dress against the bright grey sky. The appearance of the girl jarred—the kind of sudden incongruity that would cause one to lurch from a dream into the waking world—and Jonas was overtaken immediately by a fit of violent, uncontrollable sobbing, the likes of which he had never experienced.

Jonas had to steady himself on the splintered stump of a birch. The section of forest in which he stood had been utterly ruined by the last ferocious months of the war. Further to the south, trees remained, but here, where the birches were younger, every one had fallen, blasted apart at the trunk, their stumps white and frayed like shattered bone ends protruding from a wound. Life persisted—birds pecked grubs from the dead trees, and there were pattering disturbances in the shrubs—but the scene overall was of devastation.

Jonas waited until he was composed again, long after the girl had gone over the ridge of the hill and out of sight, before he went back among the tree stumps. A little way into the forest was a crater, and the crater was filled with water, and there was a body in the water. He had come for the body.

He found it soon enough. The body had been identified as British by its coat and helmet, had probably died in whatever blast had created the hole, had lain beneath a layer of soil until the frost had thawed and snowmelt filled the hole with water and loosened the earth enough to free it. The identification would likely never progress beyond its country of origin. Its flesh had in places bubbled out from under its clothes, puffy and white around its waist and ankles. Its hands, huge and fingerless, like rugby balls. Its head, mercifully, was turned-down in the water, but Jonas had seen enough corpses in enough water-filled craters to know that beneath the surface its face would be featureless and doughy, just as he knew that when he recovered the body from the water, its flesh would fall away from its bones, cloud the water briefly pink, and then dissolve altogether.

He spread his canvas by the edge of the crater and dragged the body out of the water by the heel of its boot, the ankle of its trousers, the tail of its coat. The clothing had enough integrity to gather around its bones and hold the remains together. On the canvas, the remains spread out flat. Jonas put his hands through the coat. The pockets were filled with silt. He crossed himself, gathered the thing up in the canvas and tied it off with a length of rope.

There was a movement in the trees: something small and dark. His first thought was that the little French girl had come back, and he felt glad that the corpse was in the bag and out of sight. But the forest was deadly, pitted with bomb craters that were filled with freezing water. And everywhere were unexploded shells. He shouted, “Come out! It isn’t safe!”

His voice came back to him in pieces. Something moved again between two clumps of ferns, lurching, black and shabby. It was not the girl. He was seeing the ragdog again.


For his friends and family at home, the war had ended in November. Not so for Jonas. The work of the 116th—recovering, retrieving, repairing—which was almost as old as the fighting, had no end so easily defined as the firing of the last rifle.

Jonas had learned this when his senior, Captain Marks, triggered a detonation while surveying an old trench outside Reims, lost a leg and bled to death in the snow, a month after the armistice. There were others before Christmas: a boy in another unit sucked through the wet turf into a flooded mine and drowned in mud; another explosion; two suicides. It seemed to Jonas that it would never stop, just as he and his men would never stop plucking bones from the fields of France. There would always be more bones, more friends to bury.

They stopped digging when the frost hardened through the day as well as the night. There was other work. Through the winter, Jonas and Bill Canning, a lad from Sunderland who had fought in Ypres, carried out eyes-only searches of the fields, marking graves and retrieving what they could from the surface. Bill was not someone Jonas would have encountered in his life before the war, a colliery boy with a thick, dark accent who had received only a whisper of a schooling and had never needed more. He was good company. He had a dog—a Labrador he had inherited from an officer who had gone home to England—and when he was not talking to Jonas, he was talking to the dog. At Christmas dinner, Bill got up and sang I’m Henery The Eighth, I Am, and the dog joined in, and by the end of the second verse neither man nor dog could be heard over the company’s laughter.

They were out on New Year’s Day when a shell exploded in Bill’s face. Jonas, though sheltered by the side of a hillock, was knocked from his feet by the blast. He got up, deaf and dizzy, and staggered in the direction of the explosion. Jonas found Bill kneeling in the dirt, his back turned, his torso swaying rhythmically from side to side, giving Jonas the fleeting impression of a snake he had once seen charmed by an Indian piper in Piccadilly Circus. And he saw that Bill had lost both of his arms. Jonas edged around to Bill’s front. He began to have difficulty then, in understanding what he was experiencing. Bill’s face was gone. His jaw was missing. He continued to sway, side to side. He was a creature in the dirt, no longer human. Jonas would come to understand that what he experienced in those moments was disgust.

Through the ringing in his ears, Jonas heard a sound that did not belong. He thought it was a baby’s cry: a scream, urgent, in greater need of attention than the pitiful thing that had been his friend. He followed the sound and abandoned Bill Canning, left him on his knees in the mud, and never saw him alive again. That sound took Jonas over the knoll that had sheltered him from the blast, and into a furrow in the ground that might once have been a trench or a cattle track.

The explosion had changed him. In ways he was numb, seeing the frosted field as if from a distance, through binoculars. In other ways his senses were exaggerated, or altered. He felt the contours of the ground through the soles of his boots, guiding him on his course. He saw sparks of colour in the frost. The sky seemed to bulge and throb. And he could almost see the insistent, agonised cry as he followed it down the hollow, like a ragged black shadow that receded with every forward step he took.

He came to a place where the hollow opened out into a circular crater. Muddy water had welled in the centre of the depression and frozen into a smooth, black circle of ice, in the centre of which stood Bill Canning’s dog. The explosion had not, as it had the dog’s master, transformed the Labrador into something monstrous. It was recognisable as what it was. But the dog’s fur was hanging from its back in tatters, rags of wet, black pelt that dangled and shivered. Its mouth hung open in distress, puffing clouds of vapour as it screamed. It had never occurred to Jonas that dogs could scream.

The dog staggered to Jonas and lay down in front of him. Jonas drew his pistol, aimed at the creature’s head and fired. The ringing in his ears became a cacophony then, but through it he could tell that the dog’s cries had stopped. It lay still, its blood pouring out steaming hot onto the black ice. He turned and walked back along the furrow, but had gone less than ten paces when the scream started again, more pained and desperate than before. And it was clear to him how he was able to hear it through the sound in his ears: the screaming was not coming to him from the world outside. It was coming from within him.

He turned again. The dog was on its feet, staggering away from him. The scraps of flesh and fur that dangled from its back seemed to be multiplying, seemed alive, snakes of shadow that danced to the sound of the dog’s howls. The ragdog limped up the far side of the crater, stood at the edge, glanced down at Jonas for a moment, and limped off. Jonas ran after it, but it had gone. By the time he got back, Bill had died, but Jonas could still hear the dog’s scream.

He saw the ragdog again twice before the spring. On the first occasion he had been in a trench, planting flags beside human remains for retrieval by the company. He climbed a ladder out of the trench and saw the dog at a distance, across a field, where it was not much more than a black smudge in front of a line of trees, but he could see its one eye twinkling and feel the sound of its cries trying to invade his thoughts. He turned and ran, and it did not follow. The second time was on a weekend’s leave in Paris, late at night, where it came shambling towards him among a crowd of revellers. Then, he sidestepped into an alley, and when the crowd passed, the dog was not with them, but its cries lingered.

He could hear them still in his bed that night, and still, if faintly, in the morning.


The French girl was the daughter of the family who owned the neighbouring farm. When Jonas returned with the fallen soldier’s remains, she was standing outside the station, in her pristine blue dress, holding the hand of a tall, white-haired man. Jonas smiled at her as he entered, but did not say anything, as he could not imagine that she would know any English, and he would not know what to say to her if she did. Later, Captain Walsh told him that the family’s name was Lejeunne, and that the older man—the girl’s grandfather—had invited the officers to the farm for a meal, as a token of thanks for the company’s support in restoring the farmland. He and the Captain went on the Sunday morning, after service, came up the long lane that traversed the hill on which the farmhouse stood, in pressed uniform and polished shoes, carrying wine and tinned meats as gifts.

The farmhouse was a squat stone building which had been left almost untouched by the fighting. From the outside, Jonas could see that someone—perhaps the old man—had repaired part of the roof with wooden boards, and the same type of boards had been used to cover two of the windows. The walls were intact. They were mossy, and a sort of vine had started to climb the doorframe. There was an overgrown lawn in front, and a weedy gravel path from the lane, through a wooden gate, to the front door. The door opened as the Captain and Jonas arrived and the old man stepped out, introduced himself as Arthur, and welcomed them. Jonas followed the Captain and the old man inside and was enveloped as he came through the door by the warm, moist air of the farmhouse and the thick smell of wood smoke and sweet onions.

There were four at the table: Jonas and the Captain, Arthur Lejeunne, and the little girl whose name was Élodie. Jonas noticed that the girl was wearing the same blue dress as she had worn at the station the previous day. Lunch was a chicken stew, and when Arthur brought it, steaming in a clay pot, to the table, Jonas said that it might have been the most welcome meal of his life.

Arthur insisted on using English. As he lifted the lid on a dish of roasted vegetables, he laughed nervously and said, “It is very little.” The old man poured the wine. “The herbs are ours. In the garden, nothing else is left. And the markets in Reims are— ” he struggled for the word, “very bad now.”

“It’s wonderful,” Jonas said. “Thank you.”

“Things will be better this year,” Arthur said.

“Well, let us drink to a better year,” the Captain said.

They raised their glasses, then took turns in spooning the stew into their bowls. Arthur passed the girl a golden loaf of bread and she cracked it open. The Captain grunted with approval, grinned at Jonas and elbowed him excitedly in his ribs.

The stew was as good as anything Jonas had ever tasted, although there seemed little to it:  soft, sweet chunks of carrot, floury potato, and little onions that dissolved in his mouth, bound by a rich wine sauce that glistened with the fat from the chicken. After a minute in which the only sounds were of cutlery and breaking bread, the girl, who had not spoken since the officers had arrived, said, “I see you. In the trees.”

Jonas did not at first notice that she was speaking to him. He was preoccupied with his bowl of stew. He had unknowingly given himself both of the chicken’s legs and was considering whether it would be polite to put one back.

“You,” the girl said.

Jonas looked at her. “Me?”

“In the trees.”

“Yes.” While the others looked at the girl, he tried to lift one of the chicken legs and drop it back in the pot, but the meat fell from the drumstick into his bowl and he found himself holding a bare bone. “In the trees,” he said.

“With the dog.”

He froze.

“What dog?” The sharpness of his tone startled her, and she looked down at her bowl and shook her head.

“I am sorry,” Arthur said. “My granddaughter is learning English.”

“What dog? What bloody dog?”

“Pipe down, Welby,” the Captain barked.

He was ashamed to look, but he could feel the old man staring at him. He laid the chicken bone at the side of his plate and hung his head, and ate the rest of his meal in silence, while the Captain complimented the Arthur on the food and the furniture. Once or twice he glanced at the girl and she looked back, her eyes wide, like she was a party with him in a dangerous secret. At the end of the meal, while the Captain collected the plates, the girl turned to Jonas and said quietly, “I am sorry,” and he felt a stab of guilt.

“I am sorry,” he said.

The men went outside and stood on the small lawn in front of the house. The sinking sun had painted the landscape in warmer colours than were present in the full light of day when Jonas and the Captain had arrived. The wasted fields were copper and gold. The forest had a silver glow. Arthur Lejeunne produced a pouch and a pipe which he prepared with deft, well-practiced motions, scanning the fields all the while.

“We were in Troyes, with my cousin,” he said. “The fighting here was…” He shook his head. “I have not seen like this before. I am happy my grandchild was away from here. There, they said that where a man fell, a flower grew, and that our fields would be fields of flowers when we returned.”

Jonas had read the same stories in the letters from home, but had no appetite to write and tell his parents what he had learned, that one could tell where a man had fallen only by a protrusion of bone, the ragged corner of a coat, a chemical blue discolouration in the blades of grass.

“We’ll sort this mess out,” the Captain said. “Right, Welby?”

“Right, sir.”

The door opened behind them and the girl ran out, through the men, through the garden gate, across the lane and down into the fields. The old man laughed, but the Captain shook his head. “It isn’t safe,” he said. “Bring her back.”

“She is a child. Let her be a child.”

“No.” The Captain followed Élodie through the gate and stood on the lane, yelling at the girl to come up off the field. Jonas followed and stood with him, struck again by the incongruity of the carefree child on the ravaged landscape. The field sloped gently down from the lane, and the sun was low enough behind them that their shadows stretched out across the field and surrounded her, though she was fifty yards or more down the hill. She turned her head over her shoulder towards them and smiled, but ignored their calls and walked casually down the hill towards the forest.

“I’ll get her,” Jonas said.

He was conscious that he had already managed to frighten the girl over lunch. He vaulted the fence into the field, but then approached her as casually as he could without losing ground on her as she carried on down towards the woods. He was more than halfway down the field when she cast a glance back and, seeing him, sprinted into the trees. He ran. With what little height the slope gave him, her path was easy enough to follow; she was taller than the ferns, and what trees the war had left intact were bare. Although he could not see the girl, he could easily make out her bright blue dress, darting through the trees like a sprite.

But when he reached the foot of the slope, the hedgerow at the end of the field obscured her, and by the time he found his way through she was lost. In crossing the hedge into the trees he felt he had passed from afternoon into twilight. The low sun strained to reach through the bare trees and the shadows were deep. In the half-light, movement seemed to be everywhere around him. He shouted the girl’s name, and somewhere ahead of him she responded with a giggle.


Somewhere nearby was the crater from which he had pulled the decaying body of the soldier. He imagined the girl stumbling in, falling silently into the water and sinking, and having to pull her out by the ankle, and the skin dropping away from her bones.

He began then to hear the scream, and knew it was not the girl because she was still giggling somewhere in the bracken. The shadows that moved around him were coming together, taking form: low, limping shapes that were scattered and yet whole.


He wandered further into the forest, no longer sure if he was really following the girl’s laughter or if he was simply avoiding the dark movements that converged around him, that threatened to adopt the shape he feared to see. The scream grew louder all the while, and it also began to take shape, became something outside of him, as it had not been since the day he had seen Bill Canning maimed and killed. He could feel his heart quickening in a way that was familiar since his days in combat. It was a sense that, after the long waiting, things were about to happen. And there was a perverse comfort in that. Around him, the forest was becoming a world out of time. The Captain and the girl’s grandfather on the hill were a universe away, in another place where there was light and colour and hope.


At last, the ragdog came, staggering along the trail in front of him, dragging its broken leg, its bloody tail, leading him into the trees, away from the last of the day’s sun. The scream was the same as it had always been: pained and pleading. He could not help but follow.

Then, a flash of pale blue. Élodie Lejeunne darted between two clusters of holly in front of Jonas, and in front of the ragdog. She came around and stood in the trail, twenty or so paces ahead, turned to face him. She smiled, seemed to glance to where the dog was, but without reacting to its grotesque appearance, smiled again, turned and ran on.

The dog picked up the girl’s pace, galloped gracelessly along the path after her, its pads making a sickening wet sound where they struck the soil. Jonas followed again, half-walking, half-running, mesmerised yet determined to keep at a distance from the dog, straining to keep sight of the blue dress beyond it in the failing light, until abruptly the girl vanished from view and he and the dog emerged from the trees into a large clearing where the ground fell away into a crater, two or three times larger than the one from which Jonas had retrieved the body.

The dog stopped and stood on the crater’s edge. It was brighter here, and Jonas could see the light from the sky reflected in a large pool at the centre of the crater. And there was the blue dress, and the girl, her arms stretched out like wings, silently struggling to stay afloat in the water, her desperate eyes sparkling in the dark. He came to the edge of the crater but the dog jumped, stood in his way, staring at him with the one bulging eye that remained in its socket, mirroring him, blocking him. He stamped his foot. The dog pounded the soil with its front paws. Bloody saliva ran from its dislocated jaw. There was no way down to the drowning girl except through the dog. He took a step back. The ragdog rocked backwards onto its broken hind legs, the scream now unbearable in Jonas’s ears.

He screwed up his eyes, sucked air into his lungs, and—astonishing himself—he let out his own scream. It began as cry of frustration, but the frustration dragged anger along with it, and grief followed, and he felt emotions spilling out of him that he had long forgotten were there. He screamed until his lungs were empty, and then filled them and screamed again. He opened his eyes, channelled everything at the dog, howled until his own sound was all he could hear and the dog was cowed into silence. And again. He felt the tissues of his throat tearing under the strain, heard the bubbling of blood in his own cries.

The dog shrank back, then shrank, physically, into the ground, and became shadows again, and the shadows dispersed.

Jonas threw himself into the crater, skidded down the side and up to his chest in the icy water. Straining to breathe in the cold, he thrust his arm towards the girl, and grasped her hand, felt it grip him, cold and weak. He pulled her from the water and laid her on the steep bank of the crater. She gasped, looked at him and smiled. Jonas fell down on his back beside her, exhausted, unable to speak.

Then the girl laughed, and the forest and the sky swallowed her laughter entirely, so that when she stopped, it seemed she had never laughed at all. And then for a long time there was silence.


McBirdy in Strange Tales V


The fifth volume of the award-winning Strange Tales series of anthologies, edited by Rosalie Parker, from Tartarus Press, will be published on 9 April, and features my story McBirdy.

McBirdy is a sliver of suburban strangeness, like my earlier stories The Prize and Mary, Thomas and Joe… but quite a bit darker than either of those. It also, I think, just barely qualifies as speculative fiction. I hope I’ve infused the story with a sense of the supernatural without making the supernatural elements the whole point of the story. It’s a story about the weird and terrifying experience that is adolescence, and about how people recover from it, or don’t. It’s about memory, and loss, and trauma.

Volume 1 of Strange Tales won the World Fantasy Award for best anthology in 2004, and the series has consistently featured work by some of the most interesting new and established writers of short speculative fiction. Tartarus also happen to produce the most gorgeous books. I remember drooling over them at the World Fantasy Convention a couple of years ago. Needless to say, I’m very excited to be involved in Strange Tales V.

The Impression of Craig Shee in Sensorama

craig shee

Here we are then. Sensorama, an anthology of slipstream stories, is now out from Eibonvale Press. The book includes my new short story The Impression of Craig Shee, which deals with my favourite topic, the fragility of memory, but also explores the fragility of perception itself. It’s probably the straightest thing I’ve ever written, only just scraping into speculative territory by the skin of its teeth. I’m so pleased editor Allen Ashley felt it was a good fit for the book.

Allen and David Rix are launching Sensorama at the British Fantasy Society’s open night in a couple of weeks, which is happily taking place in my manor (did I use that right?) just down the road from Angel Station in Islington. I shall be there. Here are the details:

Venue: The Blacksmith & the Toffeemaker pub, 292-294 Saint John Street, London EC1V 4PA

Date and time: 6 March 2015, 7pm to 11pm (although it looks like the Eibonvale crew will be there from 6)

Nearest tube: Angel (Northern Line)

Directions: out of Angel tube, turn left and follow road downhill. Pub is on a corner after 5-7 mins walk

The BFS website has this to say:

“Sensorama” consists of 21 knockout stories exploring the conventional and unconventional senses; it features some of the most exciting writers in the genre. Everyone who purchases a copy of the book on the night will receive a ticket offering them the chance to win framed artwork from the book.

Join us.

Torn to Rags in Wordland

Fabric Heart

Wordland 5, edited by Terry Grimwood, has gone online. It includes a story I co-wrote with another Clockhouse London writer, Sandra Unerman.

The theme of the issue is True Love. We wanted to write a story about heartbreak and as a parent I think there’s no one can break your heart like your kids can. So we wrote a story about that.

It’s a very different kind of story for me, which betrays the fact that it’s probably more Sandra’s than mine. We brainstormed it together. Sandra wrote the first half in a wonderful medieval romantic style. I tried to write the second half in the same style. (If you’re familiar with my stories you will know that curly, lyrical prose is not my natural mode.) Then we took turns at editing.

It was an interesting process. Apart from the stylistic challenge, knowing that I had to stay true to the characters Sandra created, I found intimidating. I must have read the opening of the story twenty times before writing a word. Not to mention, writing endings has never been my favourite thing. But I think we got a nice story out of it, and it pushed me to places I wouldn’t normally go with my writing.

Wordland 5 also contains work by Douglas Thompson, Allen Ashley, Sarah Doyle, Mark Lewis, David Rix and a bunch of other talented bods. Have a look.

The First Foot

Cottage on the Machair

I was twelve the first time Da let me stay up for the bells, and that was the year Grandad died and left him the cottage by the sea in Applecross, so we had Hogmanay up there, just him and me and Katie. It was half a day’s drive from Glasgow and Katie drank most of a bottle of Cava on the way. Somewhere around Glencoe, while Katie was pishing in the dark at the side of the road, Da leaned over the seat rest and gave me a telling off for letting her get drunk, like it was my fault somehow. He had met Katie at work. I didn’t think much of her the first time she came around. She seemed too old for one thing, and she was trying too hard, but once she relaxed she was sound enough and I was never going to have that much to do with her in any case. I think she’d started to sober up again by the time we got to the cottage. It was December 30th: New Year’s Eve Eve.

The next day he took me to meet the neighbour. There were three cottages sitting in a little triangle on the machair. Ours was one, another was empty, and the third belonged to an obese old man named Ken McLean. His place smelt of peat smoke and also of the two arthritic German Shepherds that slept by the fire. Ken made us a cup of strong tea and he and Da talked while I looked around his kitchen. He had black and white pictures on the wall: old fishwives and crofters in tweed. I noticed that when Ken and Da weren’t talking, in the long silences, Da wrung his hands, like he was nervous. I’d never seen him do that. Afterwards, Da told me that he had been coming to stay in the cottage since he was a boy, and that Ken McLean had been living there even then. “He’s always been old,” Da said.

The snow fell. By five to midnight, Katie was drunk, I was bored and Da was pacing. He’d been drinking malt out of a tumbler, giving me lemonade. Then, just before the bells, he came over to me and said, “Right, you’re going to be McLean’s first foot.”

There was a lot I didn’t understand, aged twelve, about tradition, about ritual. I didn’t know the importance in the grown-up world of being able to clear away all the tired old crap of the past and start clean. I’d had no experience of needing that. And I grew up in a world without superstition; the idea of ‘bringing luck’ made as little sense to me as might ‘bringing rain’ or ‘bringing a good harvest’. Like with so much else, I did what I was told, went out into the dark and snow with a dish of stew in one hand and a bottle of Laphroaig in the other, and a lump of peat in my pocket, ready to hang the whole experience on a peg marked ‘it’s just something people do’.

McLean’s light was on so I waited until I was sure the hour had turned and chapped his door. The response was strained, thin: “Just come in.”

I found the door unlocked, and I stepped through into an intense heat; my eyes turned dry as I crossed the threshold. The fire was piled high. McLean was lying on top of the dinner table, on his back, feet flat, knees in the air. His breath was a rapid pant: wheezing in, moaning out. The two German Shepherds crouched beneath the table, dribbling into the shagpile. I stopped inside the door, unsure of myself. It’s just something people do.

“Put the peat on the fire and the whisky and stew on the floor.”

I couldn’t get near the fire, the heat was so intense, but threw the lump of peat into the hearth from a comfortable distance and edged towards the table and McLean.

His face was the colour of granite. He sighed as I placed the bottle and the casserole dish on the floor, then turned limp. His skin went from grey to blue. I was certain he had died.

By my feet, the dogs started to pant and wag their tails. I leaned over the table and put my face alongside McLean’s, like I’d seen folk do on TV, checking for breath. A wet stain, a pink diamond, had appeared in the centre of McLean’s shirt front, and it grew until it spanned from his neck to his belly, and I noticed that he hadn’t buttoned his shirt, or that he had unbuttoned it, and that something was emerging from a wound in his chest and through the open seam.

It was a tiny human hand, wet and red, grasping. Another came out beside it, and they reached out of and over the body’s open ribcage and took a grip on the table edge.

A small, thin, bloody child–a boy–dragged himself out of McLean’s chest cavity and fell on the floor with a wet thlump. The dogs licked him clean.

Just something people do.

Da told me later that I’d done everything I was supposed to. I couldn’t see that I’d done anything at all, except manage not to be sick. As I left the cottage, the child picked up the bottle of whisky and doused himelf – the air filling up with that phenolic hospital smell – and then started to shovel the stew into his mouth with his hands while the dogs set about devouring old McLean’s carcass.

Da greeted me at the door of our cottage – I was his first foot too – and he gave me a hug, said Happy New Year and let me have a glass of whisky. I didn’t feel like drinking it, but forced it down, and we danced – the three of us – to the music on the radio until early in the morning. We left after lunch on New Year’s Day and the boy next door came out to wave us off, the two German Shepherds leaping and tussling beside him in the snow.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén