The Perfect Short Story

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Books. I love ’em. But only the good ones. Only the unputdownables, whose brilliance has you gasping/ salivating/ doing a bit of a sex wee. 

But there’s a thing, and the thing is this: I don’t have time to read for pleasure any more. What with reasons and stuff and things, the only sort of bookage my eyes get to see is that-which-I-am-being-paid-to-edit. 

And then last week happened. I took a basketball to the chops, stabbed myself in the foot with a fork, and the laptop threw a six. What’s a gal to do when she can neither walk nor work? 

And so, I started a sentence with ‘and so.’ Then I regrouped and decided to delve into the pocket universe of Steve Shaw’s Black Shuck Books; specifically, the Shadows collection. T’is a darling l’il assortment of tasters —micro-gatherings that showcase individual authors. Or, y’know —single-author collections, as they’re more commonly known. 

Gorgeously designed by Steve himself, and complimenting one another like blackcurrant ‘n’ liquorice and pineapple on pizza (what?), these wee bookies are a delight to behold.  And once beheld, they shall be reviewed. And the reviewer should read a book in its entirety, right? Because unputdownable, remember? 

Nope. Nuh-huh. I just read a story so fucking good I just had to put the book down. I had to leave it alone while I did a rather ungainly thigh-wobble of a jig, and immediately messaged seventeen-thousand-and-thirteen friends to tell them about it (the story, not the wobble). 

This was a first for me —virtually nothing impresses me these days— but Gary McMahon just.fucking.floored me. The fucker. 

I couldn’t think straight. I could barely breathe. And no —I’m not exaggerating. I was bouncing off the walls and squeeing ’round the house. I just wanted to savour the taste of those words —that idea— a little longer, so I didn’t —couldn’t—move on. What I’d just witnessed was, well, perfection.  

I’m talking about *Text Found on a Defunct Webpage; which opens Gary’s collection, At Home in the Shadows

Jesus. Hermione. Christ. How on Kepler-452b has this work of art passed me by for eleven frickin’ years? And how the HELL am I supposed to do it justice without spoilers? I dunno, like. But I’ll try. 

Originally published online as ‘Under Offer’ (The Hub, 2008), this story is smarter than the average bear. It is, as they say in those parts where they use terms like ‘a fucking diamond,’ a fucking diamond.  

Not every story has to be story-y. Not every beginning has to begin with a start. IT’S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT, FOLKS! I’m not talking about clever choices of tense here, or ‘surprise’ dog-POV, or anything of the sort. I’m talking unique. Despite its originality, the piece is deceptively simple. And yet, this dude is writing so far outside the box that he isn’t even in the vicinity of the forest where the trees are felled to make the cardboard.  

I’m not gonna do that fucking annoying comparison thing. McMahon isn’t the next so-and-so, and neither is his work reminiscent of such-and-such in their finest hour. But what I will tell you is this: it’s impressionism at its best. Monet didn’t paint every leaf, right? He painted GREEN; your brain fills in the rest. 

From conception to execution, Text Found is one of those sinister AF pieces that stays with you for yonks afterwards. Why? Because omission, my friends. Because ambiguity. The power of suggestion —literally (and I mean ‘literally’ literally, not figuratively, before you say it, pedants). Take an idea, suggest the events, hint at the characters, and tease the reader. Be subtle; leave ’em wanting more —brevity is the order of the day.  Be sneaky; be wickedly funny. And be out-and-out creepy. Be everything on the list of must-haves and definitely-dos, and do none of the don’ts. Be. Just be. 

And Gary McMahon has beed, indeed. And that ending —damn.  

 

The Obligatory Link (i.e. the BUY EEEEET) Section: 

 

Black Shuck Shadows on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bookseries/B07NRKT4M5/ref=dp_st_1913038114

Gary’s Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gary-McMahon/e/B004B6NN3A?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1565956801&sr=1-1

And, for Steve Shaw’s freelance design: http://www.white-space.uk

Black Shuck Books: https://blackshuckbooks.co.uk/shadows

 

 

 

 

Think me Under the Table

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This daycare daymare is the horror. The madness of sadness and the onset of fetid, fettered recollections where your snark and sarcasm eventually battle to the death, fighting with, for, and against your thoughts.
The thoughts in the brain that sits in your head; the head that rests on your pillow; the pillow that adorns your bed; the bed that’s in your room —the room where he used to be.
And he —what of him? Is he now? Shall he be? All you know is that once, he was. Unsure of what he appeared to be, and as uncertain now as he had been back in That Place.
There, transmogrification took time and it took forever, where a week was a month and a month was a year —and a year was a nanosecond for the taking. His face, his eyes – they haunted and they haunt. Where were they then? The same place as now? The fuckspace of demonic intervention that your memory inhabits?
You saw them.
Those eyes.
That’s the only matter of importance: that you saw them.
It was those eyes that had drawn you in and ushered you out of yourself, all things inherent in a persistent world of unfinished symphonic celibacy and helplessness, where you were expected to lead.
To teach.
To help.
But you hindered, despite all your best efforts to save him from himself and from the particular You who was a petty rescuer, ill-equipped and foreboding.
Love, then. Or that which seemed to masquerade as such. The veils that spilled, those which dripped down in drab droplets from the planetary persuasions of his sentiment; chairs uncomfortable, recliners upright – a bitter suite for the tetchy, harmonious soul.
Temporary temperaments would reveal themselves inside a package of narcotic hotness, amidst a rushing crowd of skewed, queuing people, all waiting for the same incoming outcome. The post orifice of Valhalla’s aunt would have it that lines of scores of dozens of white embittered souls collected that day at six, all for enveloped missives, to where, to whom, and how?
Insensibility, insensitive illogic where nothing is anything and everything is less than zero. Unscrupulous festivity and blame for a life of lovelessness across the other side of an expanse not unlike the one that surrounds the globe and its moons, stars that are long since dead; dead seas continuing to undulate and outlive you via the emission of light that is no longer being emitted at source, but which is nonetheless travelling in the faculty of space. He’s there, exactly where he is/was/will be— but no longer does he wait for you. And as he no longer waits, so did he never, and neither did he ever. As he no longer loves you, not once did he so.
Think on this: recalling him erases you, yet erasing your thoughts puts him back at the front of your mind and its demons of forever, a haunted, tainted taunt to paint the blood of his kind inside rudimentary cascades —wherein lies the rub.
To sleep, perchance to undream him.
To never dream again.
To awaken yourself from this madness, this event of erupted terror.
Wake up.
And then, may you sleep.

My Verse

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It seemed as though my verse had gone;

I hadn’t rhymed in far too long

He took my words and killed them, see;

And then, there was no poetry.

No stanzas came, no stories nor;

All victim to my saboteur

My words no longer coursed through blood;

For what is poetry, sans love?

Of pen and ink: my paper broke;

Of diction: nary a word was spoke.

CM

Sonnet 2,865

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I cannot feel the pain he’s given me;
Parental blood be spilled, I hide my thoughts;
And as I cannot speak the things I feel,
Instead I find I’m saying what I ought.
My birthdate came; he wrote the rules of us:
A contract in accordance with a bond;
No more, nor less, no reason for distrust;
He cannot split a kingdom once he’s gone.
Descending into madness left him blind;
With horror mainly happening offstage;
But had he spoken sanity, been kind,
No need for institution, law, or cage.

The father’s deaf to youngest daughter’s way;
He’ll never hear the things she ought to say.

POSH

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Universes ago, no ticking constraints existed:
Time, an invented partner for space
Appeasing and squeezing, tock-by-tock
Manufactured gods, divine excuses for humanunkind
One landmass, on one secular orb
Anyone could see it was Good.

The requirement of Openness took thought:
Taking flight, sprouting wings, thinkstuff soared.
Into existence came something from nothing
Sixes and sevens eighted themselves infinitely;
Entire paths crossed on that loop
Somewhen eternal, near nothingness became allstuff.

Godlessness became the new old way
We infected plagues with zesty pestilence
Accidents were rewound and hate unhappened
Death went, unless by nature’s kindness
Old, optional, terminated, cheap and free
This would be our infinity, squared.

Rank planets oozed, blood splats seeped.
Old mould decayed in a day
New muses chose prose for
immortality
Perception’s edge shielded and shelved plans
Nothing doing, no carrots, no waiting
Veni, Vidi, Vici, in Saecula Saeculorum.

Third person passive past words went
You don’t like second, too tense
Literary narratives and linear timelines spent
Bulksome, lengthy word counts redundantly done
All I have now is me:
My own primary, secondary, tertiary person.

Nearing endness, I float to escape
With Eternal words booked, I board
In my everwhere, there’s no nothingness
Stars and univi belong to me
Staccato sensations from beautifully musical
storybooks
Now this: Pain Over, Starlight – Home.

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